Prosperous Homesteading raises very few objections with most people. Some elements initially surprise, especially those that haven’t received much thought. These include the motto “No farming!”: farming is a business that feeds strangers in exchange for money; a homestead is a family that feeds itself; these concerns are orthogonal. Another element that may be hard to grasp is the entire financial scheme that allows homesteaders to prosper: no debt; no monthly bills; no insurance; only the bare essentials as far as unproductive assets such as a house or a car; few assets at risk. The suggestion that young people should work, save, buy land and start families instead of going to keg parties and cramming for tests while hung over may seem radical to some; but then what about the radical notion that young people should be pushed into the higher education racket, from which a majority of them emerges with few practical skills, uncertain job prospects and a mountain of debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy?
Yes, such practical considerations take a while to wrap one’s head around. But another point of confusion comes from an image, apparently held by many, that a homestead is a house with a garden. Homesteading is not gardening. You should certainly eat your vegetables and, since you won’t be shopping for food any more, you should certainly grow plenty of them. Fancy horticultural experiments are not out of the question once the homestead has achieved prosperity—defined as not needing an external source of money—but the basic ingredients for success are water (from rainwater capture), energy (in the form of deadfall harvested from the woodlot) and hay (from hayfields and pasture). These are all free—which is why you shouldn’t pay for them. Energy grows on trees, water falls from the sky, and grass keeps growing… provided you spread manure on the hayfields, and for that you need livestock. Hence, Jeffers concludes, “No livestock—no homestead!”
Here is another common image: providing for yourself involves much backbreaking labor. Scratching a living out of the ground using a fork, a hoe and a spade is indeed difficult. Jeffers prefers to skip most of that, and let the animals—and the children—do much of the work. This isn’t possible without the right equipment—tools and attachments—but once the homestead has all it needs the amount of physical labor becomes quite manageable. Weeding a huge garden by hand is sheer drudgery; on the other hand, having a horse trot along between your crop rows dragging a cultivator looks like almost pure fun. And once you have a huge garden, what will you do with all the produce that you won’t eat? Why, feed it to the pigs and the goats, of course!
Yes, taking care of a lot of animals is work, but it’s easy work. Lots of people somehow manage to feed and water their cats and dogs; feeding livestock is the same thing multiplied by a hundred. But milking cows is real work: do a little too much milking, and you develop carpal tunnel syndrome. And the homestead needs two cows, not one, because they stop lactating for a time before they calve. By staggering the breeding of two cows, a homesteading family can keep itself in dairy year-round. But what about all that milking? The solution is to get feeder calves who will suckle most of the day but spend the night in a pen by themselves, so that there is fresh milk available every the morning. And if that’s still too much milk, the excess can be used to quickly fatten up pigs.
And so it goes: the land provides for the animals, the animals provide for each other and for the homesteaders, and the homesteaders mostly just orchestrate. But here comes a big psychological issue: all of this livestock is, in the final analysis, food. There is no elderly animal hospice care on the homestead; livestock is there for three main reasons: as a source of food for the homesteaders; as a source of capital (unlike the sale of meat, the sale of livestock is largely unregulated); and, in the case of horses, as a source of traction for pulling farm implements. No sane homesteader would feed an animal just for its poop. In the end every animal defaults to a source of food: elderly laying hens go into the stew pot; elderly horses get ground up for dog food and so on. This is very much at odds with the “animals as pets” theory, and requires quite a different mindset. People who did at least some of their growing up in a rural setting tend to be more habituated to the way of nature, where everything gets eaten, and understand how wasteful and disrespectful it is to feed a tasty animal to the worms or the vultures. But it does require some psychological adjustment from the rest.
But this is just a matter of reacquainting oneself with what’s normal and natural. It was certainly part of my upbringing: the Russian equivalent of “lost the shirt” on some unsuccessful endeavor is “ate the dog” (собаку съел). (Not out of any ill feelings for the poor dog, but eating your family pet is preferable to starvation.) How various body parts of various animals tasted was part of the experience, and the education. I was particularly fond of lamb’s brains, beef tongue was considered a delicacy, and we always fought over the bone marrow in soup bones. Humanity’s position atop the food chain was never questioned.
No doubt, certain virtue-signaling bicoastals would label such practices “inhumane” and consider them the hallmark of the rural poor—those who refer to armadillos as “possums on the half shell.” (Armadillos are ugly and a real pain to slaughter, but slaughter them we must, and I’ve been told that they taste a lot like pork.) But really what is most humane is to kill an animal swiftly instead of letting it suffer or cause damage, and then to make good, respectful use of the body. If you like, you can call your piglet “Delicious,” and then when you are eating it you can exclaim “It’s Delicious!” and be correct in more ways than one.
There are a lot of changes and adjustments a family must make in order to embrace homesteading. Some are cultural and financial, some have to do with physical habits, but this particular one is visceral. You don’t have to eat every part of every animal on day one, but perhaps you should at least think about it.