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Advice on finding the right locale: read local newspapers, and fly over.

Our Countryside subscription began in 1972. 1993 will start our 22nd year as COUNTRYSIDE subscribers. I believe we started our subscription after seeing an ad in Organic Gardening Farming. We also subscribed to Dairy Goat Guide, Backyard Poultry, Rabbit World, sheep! and National Stock Dog Magazine, other former Countryside publications.

But our quest for a place in the country started before that, in 1968. We had not yet formed any ideas toward homesteading goals, but we did know that we much preferred country living to urban life, and I've always liked gardening and animals. We had been married for 2 years, and Tim still had a year left to serve in his four year term in the Air Force. We were stationed on Okinawa at the time and needed a source of information on suitable places. We had the whole world to choose from, and narrowing a location down took some time.

Our local library was very helpful. Most libraries have large volumes listing all periodicals published, which includes the name, address, and subscription rates for all newspapers. We would pick a likely looking area off of a map and then subscribe to a few area papers.

Besides offering a lot of mail for a couple of kids stationed overseas, the newspapers gave detailed information about specific locations, at a very low cost for short term subscriptions. Newspapers list weather, crime rates, legal hassles over zoning, services offered, job opportunities, food and living costs, churches, hospitals, land prices, problems or awards won by the local schools, and just about any other information you'd want to know about a place. The newspapers provided information about things that we would never have even thought to ask about. The postal clerks gave us some strange looks as they'd hand us an armload of newspapers from all over the U.S., but we saved ourselves a lot of leg work by checking out the places by mail.

We also wrote to local chambers of commerce when our most promising areas were chosen. Chambers of commerce quickly send out maps and real estate brokers' listings to anyone interested in moving to the area.

Since Tim has become a pilot, we've learned the advantages of also checking out any area you're interested in buying in, from the air. If we were interested in moving, we'd definitely hire a local pilot to fly us over the area before purchasing, if it was not convenient to take our own plane. A local pilot would have the advantage of being familiar with the area, and problem areas that may only show up at certain seasons. You'd be surprised at the things that you can see from the air that are not visible from the road while driving by. Swamps, dumps, factories, beaver dams, and oil wells can all lead to problems. It is a realtor's job to sell property, and they will just naturally take you to the site by the smoothest road, with the best neighbors in view. Once you fly over an area you may discover that what seems like a remote site is actually located near an overcrowded subdivision of tourist/vacation cabins. A small dirt road or driveway can lead to the most amazing of things, not all of which would make good neighbors. The airport manager, or whoever is on duty in the terminal at the local airport, should be able to recommend a pilot to take you up for an aerial tour.

Take a camera along when you go to view a prospective place with the realtor, and when you view sites from air. (Flying in a "high wing" airplane will give you a better view and allow for better picture taking. "Low wing" planes usually have the wings placed just below the passenger section and the wings will block the view directly down. You can still see the area from a low wing plane much better than you can from the ground, but the increased angle of view is not as good for picture taking.) A camera will record things that you may forget or confuse with some other site. The pictures can also come in handy when planning future building sites and changes.

Over the years we've realized the value of some additions to our homestead that seemed rather expensive when we purchased them, but which have paid for themselves time and again. Some options that seem less expensive at the time actually end up costing more monetarily in the long run, plus they usually cost more in hours and physical workload to operate.

The soil on our property consists of very heavy clay. We battled with the clay for several years before we finally got smart and had a few loads of sand brought in for our garden area. Soil nutrients can be built up in just a few years with the addition of organic matter, but heavy clay soil, or lots of rocks, just lead to frustration at weeding time, along with broken tools and sore muscles.

Placement of work areas is also very important, and a few extra dollars spent to improve an area near the house will often pay off. Gardens do better in sun, and animals do better when the barn is in a well drained location, but the barn and garden areas must be traveled to often, and what appears as the best location may not work out if it is any distance from the house. An area with natural drainage or sunlight may be just too far away, and distance will tempt you to put off needed chores, or neglect them entirely. Think about traveling the path to your barn in the dark, rain, snow, mud, etc. Just how far will you want to travel? Keep in mind that distances appear much longer as the decades go by!

I realize bringing in the proper soils to provide good drainage in a lower area, or sandy soils for a garden area seems expensive, and cutting down trees may seem too drastic when another suitable area is available, but stop to think how many years you will be using that area!

Other than hoof trimming, hauling hay, and helping with newborns, the most physically taxing barn chores involve hauling water and hauling out bedding. Automatic waterers eliminate lifting, and actually provide more and cleaner water to your animals for better growth and health. Not only are the animals served with clean fresh water, but the saving of your own back and joints is tremendous. Hauling water at 20 may seem like good exercise, but believe me, someday your body will thank you for not abusing it by lugging gallons of water daily.

A few well-placed gates and a little forethought can also eliminate a lot of physical effort at cleaning time. I realize that your budget will probably be tight while building a barn, but at least plan your barn with the piping built in for the automatic waterer, and also plan to use good quality strong gates on good hinges.

Expanding your barn area will also benefit from pre-planning. We had originally planned on building a second barn to meet our growing needs, but after much agonizing debate and trial and error we discovered that we could enlarge and re-side our present barn for only a fraction of the cost of a new structure. Water and electricity were already available, the main support beams were already in, plus we could do the labor ourselves a bit at a time and save construction costs.

We also discovered that adding interior walls to our barn greatly reduced usage options. Hinged gates instead of permanent walls have enormously increased the usefulness of our barn space.

A tip for shepherds: we discovered that sheep are in the habit of urinating upon rising, after lying down for any length of time. They may take a few steps first, but then an enormous amount of fluid is added to the area. Loafing areas more than 8 feet deep quickly became swamps. By making our loafing area open to the south, and long and narrow, most of our sheep at least make it to the doorway, on their way out, before urinating. The sun and wind can much more effectively dry the doorway than the inside of our barn, and the new area stays much drier with no effort on my part.

Windows can often be purchased very cheaply at rummage sales, for installation in your barn. Care must be used in window placement so an animal is not injured by trying to run through it, but windows placed high up on the wall, or in areas the animals do not have access to, can provide a lot of light and ventilation. The cost of extra bracing for the windows and the time spent in installing them will most likely be saved by not having to treat sick animals. Light and fresh air are the enemies of most problem-causers.

My highest recommendations for food preparation equipment are a Victorio strainer, a large pressure canner, and a food dryer. There are cheaper devises for straining the seeds and skins from tomatoes or apples, and you can use a water bath for canning most foods, but the extra time involved often means that you just don't put up as much. New gardens and orchards may not produce an abundance, but after a few years most folks find that the amount of produce they put up depends more on the amount of time and energy they have than the amount of produce.

Food dryers can be built very inexpensively with an incubator thermostat, a light bulb fixture, and some screening, with assorted wood or metal braces and sides. Hyssop and chamomile teas are very easy to make and dry, and vegetable and fruit preparation is no more difficult than for other methods of preserving. The amount of "fuel" needed to preserve foods by drying is, however, a fraction of other methods.

Set priorities. I know you've heard that lots of times, but that is because it is so important. Time: what must be done first, what is really important, will it make any difference 10 years from now? Energy: is there an easier way, (animals grazing, hens brooding chicks, etc.), is another piece of equipment needed? Space: how much freezer space, barn space, and storage space is available? Don't fill your freezer or canning jars with unnecessary items.

We butcher several chickens every year, and what works best for us is to just keep the parts we really want. I skin out the breast and legs, eliminating the need for plucking. I then cut the breast meat off and package it separately as skinless boneless breasts. The legs are packaged skinless with the drumsticks and thighs in one piece. I then break open the carcass and remove the hearts, gizzards and livers. The livers are packaged separately (several to a package) and the hearts and gizzards are packaged together (also several to a package.) I usually, but not always, also save the necks. We save freezer space by not keeping all of the unwanted bones, and time by not plucking. We lose a small amount of back and wing meat, but we do not have the time, energy, or space to keep these, so they are not efficient for us.

Perhaps most importantly, check ALL of your equipment for stress on you. Is your milking stool, or stand, set up so that your back remains straight from head to tail-bone, or are you hunched over or twisted at an odd angle? Are your meat-cutting, vegetable scrubbing, and meal preparing tables at the right height, or do you have to bend over while working? Do your gates swing easily, or is your back supporting the weight every time you go through? Are your gates wide enough to easily go through with wheelbarrows and other equipment? Check tool handles for length and tool edges for sharpness. Dipping tool handles into bright colored paint or plastic coating saves lost items. Check the air pressure in the tire on your wheelbarrow and grease the axle. It is easy to concentrate on the job you are doing without thinking about stress, but don't wait for your body to send you warning pains and muscle spasms before checking your work positions and equipment condition.--Gloria

Just a few notes from Tim to expand on Gloria's thoughts:

Keep in mind that the animals are here to serve you. You should definitely take care of your critters and see that their needs are met and they are healthy. However, it is easier for your goat to jump up onto a milking stand than it is for you to bend over for every milking. Your meat animals will have less stress going further to a gate that is convenient for you than your stress will be the other way around. You hopefully will be around for a lot longer than most farm animals and your various body parts should be pampered early on to avoid problems later on.

Maintain communications with your spouse. It is very easy to start in a direction you are certain you are both in agreement with, only to find your other half charging off in the other direction. I would recommend taking each other out to a restaurant on occasion to have some private time without other family members, pets, telephones, neighbors, television or radios to interrupt. Even a fast-food place has tables where you can be one on one for a minimum expense. If you really can't tolerate the food, just get a hamburger and a glass of water. Your dog will appreciate the hamburger when you get home, and you and your spouse will get the chance to be a bit more in tune with each other.

Look carefully into each new endeavor before you start. Do some research on the costs and personal commitments of your project. Ask others what they experienced. The cheapest lessons are ones somebody else learned and will share with you.

Don't despair

If your endeavor does fail, don't despair. You will have learned quite a bit, you may have interesting stories to tell, and you can help others avoid mistakes.

When a person first sets up a homestead, money will usually be too short to get all the equipment you need (or think you need) in good quality. Obtain tools and equipment that are adequate and safe, but don't get the best at first. The inexpensive items you don't really need and use won't get worn out. As the tools you do need and use wear out or break, this is the time to get the very best tools you can afford. A high quality tool is not an expense, but an investment.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Lessons Learned, Changes Accepted, in the Last 10 Years of Homesteading
Author:Bake, Tim; Bake, Gloria
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:I do the best I can to maintain a homesteader's lifestyle in the suburbs.
Next Article:"Expect the best and prepare for the worst." (Lessons Learned, Changes Accepted, in the Last 10 Years of Homesteading)

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