Tag Archives: homestead

Character Lessons from the Homestead

When we bought our house, I had dreamy visions of gardening, egg-collecting, and happily tending to our chores as a family. It will be perfect, I said. We will homeschool and homestead and my children will learn how to live a nature-filled life that carries the perfect balance of freedom and self-discipline. 

As you may imagine, it isn’t always as dreamy as I had originally hoped.

Reality: My sink runneth over and so does the poop. I change diapers and clean coops.  The rabbits escape and we have to choose whether we should chase the bunnies or the babies. Decisions, decisions.


I was lamenting the truths of our less-than-ideal scenario to my sister-in-law, and wished aloud, “I just hope the kids get something out of all this.”

“Isn’t that how all parenting is?” she replied.

The revelation struck me. I really want to see character development in my kids, especially in relation to all of our homestead efforts. But I must remember that most character development doesn’t happen overnight, or even over months or years. It’s the nitty gritty, day-to-day stuff that forms a person.

How important it is that I don’t give up too quickly.

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Which Homestead Projects are Right for You?

The whole idea of building a self-sufficient homestead can seem really appealing, but it can also quickly become overwhelming. Grow your food, raise your food, build your home, preserve your food, build off grid systems, switch heat sources, cut your own rags, etc., etc., etc. Does anyone really do it all???

Which Homestead Projects are Right for You

I usually get the bug to take on a few projects–generally, those that are food-related. I like cooking good food, canning what my hubby grows, helping to process maple syrup…  But even those few things can feel like too much when I’m also trying to wrangle three kids, homeschool, and keep up with daily responsibilities.


This year has been a lesson in burn-out for me. I’m coming to realize how important it is to keep our project lists manageable.

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(A porch rebuild project that my husband completed in under 3 weeks.)

In our house, we each generally have responsibility for certain projects. I tend to do food preservation and general animal care; my husband tends to do food growing, butchering, and building/renovation projects. Of course, there are many jobs that wouldn’t get done without each other’s help. There are jobs at which we fail miserably. And of course, there are many projects that we don’t take on at all!

So how do you choose which projects you should take on?

  1. Research before you begin. Do a lot of reading/video watching/pro-con weighing before you bring home an animal or rent an excavator. It’s good to know what you’re getting into before you start.
  2. Think about your skill sets. Say you’ve always really wanted to make your own clothes out of scrap material but every sewing project you’ve ever taken on comes out looking like a 3rd grader made it. (No, I’m not talking about me at all. Why do you ask?) Let’s put it this way: you can take advantage of the skills you already have (like cooking or gardening) while responsibly outsourcing the ones you have yet to learn (like sewing or woodworking).
  3. Be willing to learn new skills. The above being said, it’s totally great to work on learning new skills for a project, and there are some that nearly anyone could tackle successfully. Water bath canning, for instance, is pretty simple, and can be learned in an afternoon. My husband learned a lot of new things when he essentially rebuilt our porch and garage. Don’t be afraid to try something new– just don’t feel like you have to learn every new skill under the sun.
  4. Consider time restraints. I don’t care how many blogs you read– you have to realize that in real life, these people are not doing everything all the time. Consider your priorities, and make time only for what’s really important to you. When you are able, you can still enjoy trying something new without the pressure of making it a regular commitment.
  5. Budget your resources. How much money does a project require? Which materials do you have on hand and which will you have to purchase? Do you need a certain amount of land? Think through your needs before you get in over your head.
  6. Be realistic. I struggle with this. I want to it all, then I get burnt out while trying to do it all. There’s an ebb and flow to life, and you must remember that it’s totally okay– and even very good– to not bite off more than you can chew.
  7. Remember that it’s not a competition. Maybe this is silly, but sometimes I experience Little House on the Prairie Jealousy Syndrome (LHPJS). For some reason I want to be off in an off-grid cabin in the woods somewhere, and I can’t help but feeling a little bit of longing when I see someone else already there. But there are no awards for how homesteady you are, and everyone’s story is different.

(Our goat was quite the learning curve!)

It can be wholesome, invigorating, and- yes- very beneficial to pursue projects in the name of self-sufficiency!  But remember, you don’t have to do everything. Start small, try one new thing at a time, and go from there.

Just a note: You can actually learn a lot by getting into an overwhelming homestead venture. So if you find yourself in that position, take heart and don’t give up too quickly! You might just end up really proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Have you ever gotten in over your head? Have you had a proud new project moment? Tell me about your experiences in the comments. 

P.S.- It’s not too late to join our February Decluttering Challenge on Instagram! Why am I decluttering? So I can have more time for the projects and people that I really want to be spending my time on. Jump in here.

Spring Has Sprung! (An Update)

Spring Has Sprung

It’s officially spring, but it doesn’t feel like it too much this morning. I shivered my way over to the goat field for milking, and found all the animal waters frozen. Sigh. But I probably shouldn’t complain as we’ve had an extremely mild winter this year.

I wanted to give you a springtime family update. I’ve let the blog slow down a bit as we’ve been working on several big projects in our “real life.” We’ve had a lot of momentum going in our household as we work towards several goals, but also a lot of stress as we try to make it all happen. Progress is never easy, but at least you grow through it, right?


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First: homeschool. This whole year has been a search for balance and an exercise in trial and error. I suppose I’ll never come to a point where I feel like I’ve “arrived” with successful homeschooling, but it would be nice to not have to wonder whether or not I’m a massive failure as a mother and teacher. BUT recently I’ve been blessed with some encouraging talks with friends, other homeschool moms, and posts from bloggers I love (like this one) that have given me the courage I need to press on. So, despite a momentary cave and desperate calls to area schools for pricing and schedules, we’ve decided to carry on.

#sap boiling away in my husband’s #cinderblock #evaporator. #maplesyrup #sugaring #latergram

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

On the homestead: We cut our maple sugaring season short. It’s been a weird spring, with February temperatures getting up to almost 70, and mid-March temperatures getting down below freezing. We’ve also had too much other stuff going on to properly watch our sap, leading to another burnt syrup disaster. Sigh. You think we would learn after three or four years doing it.

And remember that seed starting post I just wrote? We still haven’t started ours. And NOW is the time to do it in our zone. So, today, I’m going to try to make a rough draft map of the plot, then hopefully team up with the hubby to get those plant babies growing. (I’m really a dreadful procrastinator.)

The hubby has been keeping himself busy with essentially re-building our garage. Off with the old cardboard siding through which we could see daylight, on with new sheathing and siding. We had a nice pavilion for a day or two:

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But now he’s really making progress:

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It’s been a bit of a construction zone around here, but it’s only for a time.

With the animals: We lost our first litter of baby rabbits. Five of them, dead, found in the cold early morning lying out in the run instead of in the nesting box. We lost another hen to an unknown cause. But, on the plus side, the goat has been unusually well-behaved as of late.

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With music: Oh yeah, remember that music thing? I do have an entire category devoted to music, but I write on it rather rarely. However, we’ve been working towards pursuing our music more now that I’ve finally gotten into a perfect routine, err, a manageable schedule, umm, now that I’m surviving having three kids. Kind of. Regardless, I’ve got some concerts to sing in this spring, I’m teaching more voice lessons, and the hubby and I have been accepting more gigs to play in together. It’s reviving to my soul to be singing together.

Here’s a spring haiku song, written by my husband, roughly recorded, and played with friends. What do you think?

And lastly, I’ve taken up therapeutic art journaling alongside my kids. I have NO idea what I’m doing, but it’s been keeping my hands busy and my mind relaxed while the munchkins are playing outside or working on their own art projects.

So that’s what’s been going on around here. My life is full, and while it’s sometimes hard, it’s been rewarding too. Not much good comes without some hard work along the way, right?. 🙂

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How Can I Tell if My Rabbit is Pregnant?

You’ve bought the breeding pair of rabbits. You’ve let them do their business. (Perhaps by accident, like us!) Then all you can do is wait and wonder for a month whether or not you’re going to be a fur baby mama. Right?

Not necessarily. Some indications of pregnancy in rabbits are not all that different from pregnancy in humans! While none of them are surefire, there are several different factors you can check to “test” for pregnancy in rabbits.

How to tell whether your doe has been bred successfully

  1. Your doe is being moody. Rabbits undergo pregnancy hormones just like people, and may start acting cranky or mean. (Phew, it’s not just me.) Perhaps she is spending more time by herself, or even running from you when you come to her cage.  Unusual behavior of this type may be a sign of pregnancy.
  2. You’ve got a nest-buiding fiend. If your doe is frantic to dig holes, gather hay, pull fur, or otherwise make a cozy nest, it’s likely she may be pregnant. Rabbits, like people, want to prepare for the arrival of their babies by making a safe and comfortable place.
  3. You can feel babies. In order to feel the baby rabbits, you must palpate your doe. This is best performed between 10-14 days gestation, when the babies are large enough to feel, but still small enough to be distinguished from the other internal organs. Palpation is done by gently securing the doe with one hand while feeling along the undersides of her abdomen for grape-sized lumps with the other hand. (Lumps on the sides are babies, and lumps in the center are poop pellets! Just a minor distinction. 😉 )

You must know that I have not been able to successfully palpate our doe, as she is quite irritable and won’t let us handle her right now. So, I present to you a video of someone more experienced than I performing this task:

As for our doe, my guess is that she’s likely pregnant. She’s not letting us handle her at all right now. Also, she usually visits us at the water bottles every morning, but recently she’s been hanging out in her nesting box almost nonstop. She’s been out of character and solitary- so perhaps we will have babies in March?

However, aside from a successful positive palpation or a blood test, it can be somewhat tricky to tell if your doe is actually pregnant. Rabbits don’t always get all that large during pregnancy (unless they have a big litter), so you can’t always see it. Rabbits also have this tricky little thing called false pregnancies- when they act hormonal and pregnant, and may even build a nest- but all to no avail.

So as you can see, pregnancy signs in rabbits can be a little bit of a guessing game. I’m getting the gist that it’s best to look at combined factors to make an educated guess on your doe’s status- and then wait 31 days to find out for sure. 😉

Here are more resources on checking your rabbit’s pregnancy status:

This post was shared at Front Porch Friday.

Ebb and Flow

Some days I feel so on top of this whole thing. I’m canning like a mad lady, the garden is overflowing, the lawn is beautiful, the chickens come when my husband whistles, and the kids don’t kill each other. Always a plus.

Chickens on the loose!

Other days aren’t so encouraging. Like when we find a pile of rotten chicken eggs layed neatly in the hostas. Or when my son’s cucumber plant dies. Or when there’s a collection of red tomatoes staring at you and you have a fever and you don’t want to think about canning.


The garden has been slower overall this year. Some of our seedlings didn’t transplant well, then we lost several of our tomato plants and potatoes to our black walnut tree. (Thanks, juglone.) A few squash vines have died prematurely. And I think we may have given up on weeding.

Aug 2015 100(Part of our jungle.)

The goat has been breaking all of her own rules, as I’m told goats will do. Some evenings she comes to us right away when she hears us scooping grain. Other days, she likes to provide free rodeo entertainment as we chase her all over the field. Some days she gives us almost a quart of milk, but when she’s feeling feisty we’re lucky to get two cups from her. You start questioning if the time and effort put into milking is worth the small return.

We’ve also had some distractions on our minds recently- some hard decisions for my hubby, the beginning of the school year for both of us, and the arrival of our third child have discouraged us from regular chores. The chicken coop needs cleaning, the lawn needs to be mowed, the kids toys are exploding on the driveway. There’s preservation to be done and fall garden plans to be made. Homeschool decisions, books that have to be read, arrangements for fall tasks, housecleaning, and the list goes on.

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Such is the ebb and flow of things. Today, I’m feeling very behind and frustrated with my lack of progress. But tomorrow brings a new day, and a new opportunity to keep moving forward.

Well then, let’s press on, shall we?