I have mostly been a stay at home mom and the one in charge of the gardens, cooking, childcare and the animals. My husband KC used to tell me “don’t worry about selling stuff–just grow for us” That worked as long as he had a job. He was pretty much the one that paid the bills and did all the mechanical and construction work on the place. This rather traditional set up brought on by our realization that we each were best suited for these tasks. Our philosophy has always been to feed the family first and sell or trade anything extra for what we needed.
At one point things got very tight and it looked like I would have to sell the horses as they would seem to be a liability to feed rather than using a machine which we already had and did not have to feed . In reality there is economic truth to this. Our place is too small to use horses and the gardens near the house were set up for using a tiller and working by hand.
There is a whole other dimension to this however. I sell eggs to cover the cost of chicken feed, sell a few rabbits to cover the cost of rabbit feed. I sell produce and garden art to cover the costs of amendments and tools for the gardens. How do my horses pay for themselves when I do not ride or work them ? I buy in hay for them as well as sawdust for bedding. I even haul leaves for bedding from the surrounding community which all becomes compost. This compost is the heart of the gardens and without it we could not produce such wonderful foods.
Many farms bring in compost from municipal waste streams or commercial chicken farms. This is full of questionable materials that I do not want on the land or in my body. Keeping the horses gives the farm its own inner source of fertility even if we can’t grow the hay. I do buy from a local race horse farm that does not use chicken manures and produces quality grass hay. Our horses eat every bite with no waste. I also need to maintain the pastures for them. When there is a drought. Our gardens are watered with sprinklers and I mow the grass paths with a grass catcher to feed the horses as well as provide grass for the chickens in their summer, movable pens. It saves the pasture and cuts back on the expense of feeding hay. The horses also recycle other garden wastes such as corn stalks, dropped apples and pears and bean vines. I have saddles & harness, they have been minimally trained to ride & harness. I have some equipment so if there ever is a need or the opportunity I can use them to work the soil and haul things. I would need an experienced teamster to help train them however.
Another way the homestead is economical is in saving and selling/bartering seed. When you use open pollinated seed not only can you save $$$ for seed you buy but you can also trade and sell some for income. Seed can be improved to grow better in your location. Some seed is good for several years so you don’t need to grow it every year.
You can also dry and can foods to put up. This does not require electricity to maintain and if there is a crop failure one year you will still have foods from things dried or canned in the years before. You never know when the grid will fail and it saves money by eating your own foods grown in a way that you trust. These foods are portable too and travel well.
I also have learned to make baskets to sell using roots, tree branches and vines that grow wild here. I planted nut trees to provide nuts–rich in protein and omega oils. I also am making a dye/ink/stain and sell the dried hulls. I also make many herbal medicines from the herbs growing here. I believe all this saves me money on medical bills. I have not had even a cold for years and have not had the flu in many years and never have had a flu shot.
When we moved here, the soils were worn and there were only 5 almost dead trees in the yard. Now there are many trees so I could supply my own firewood from the farm. I also heat with wood which is much more economic. It does require labor to haul in wood, haul water to the animals and build compost but I don’t need a gym membership so I save money there too.
I do believe a homestead life is very economical and provides security in these times. It is also a life that is interesting and surrounded with beauty.