In readying for retirement, the world changed. As a
result, we redirected our efforts into an endeavor which would
mitigate the reduction of purchasing power when living on a fixed
income. We are planning for a
hyperinflation scenario. During the hyperinflation years of the
Weimar Republic, the farmers made out fine. Applying lessons of
history, we wanted to acquire a farm or ranch or land.
We chose to become homesteaders. It was an
educated decision to become as self-sufficient as possible. We are
not spring chickens anymore. We are an older couple, ages 65 and 57
this year. So, with that in mind, choosing to become homesteaders
also took on a different slant in that we wanted to minimize the
workload for a couple of old farts playing the homestead game.
Over the past three and a half years, we left the
comfortable lifestyle of our urban home for a ranching lifestyle with
Himalayan Yaks, Buff Orpington chickens, our livestock guardian dogs -
a Great Pyrenees and an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, mouser
barn-cats, a garden and a hay crop. Before making the plunge
into this latest life endeavor, our prior experience was limited to
some exposure to running big equipment (airplanes) and tractors, a
well developed urban garden, and food harvest and storage.
Economics of a Homesteading Retirement
In the process of deciding how to become homesteaders,
it occurred to us that not only could we grow our own food, but that
we could also generate revenue from an agricultural piece of
property. The right property might support an agricultural crop for
income, livestock for income and food, as well as producing livestock
feed, our own garden, fruits and nuts.
These factors influenced our property selection
priorities. Where a modest home and one to five acres would likely
have been enough for us to retire and be mostly self-sufficient, it
was unlikely to produce the income desired to replace retirement
income, nor adequately grow our own livestock feed.
Farmland is very expensive, especially bottomland.
Finding a property with agricultural potential meant finding a
property which was mostly flat, which had good southern exposure, good
soil: not too much clay, decent drainage, and adequate water. The
facilities and home became a secondary concern compared to the
features of the land. In addition, we were looking for a fenced
property. This is a huge labor/expense-saver when is comes to
considering livestock. Finding a property that met these requirements
was a tall order, especially one within our budget constraints.
The Acquisition: How Did We Get Here?
Over a two-year search, we surveyed real estate in
three states. Features we were seeking included water, good soil for
gardens and agricultural endeavors, land for livestock, good southern
exposure, buildings enough to house us and our stuff. There is an
incredible amount of information available via the internet including
real estate brokerage websites, county property searches which provide
a lot of background on a property often with aerial and terrain maps
with parcel lot lines, Google Earth terrain and aerial views, and
of Ecology Well Logs - which also have terrain maps, all
allowed us to walk a property without leaving our living room.
We only set foot on maybe a dozen properties after
hundreds for bad sun exposure, too steep to grow
crops and livestock, too wet, inadequate water, well-depth too deep,
too difficult an access – especially in winter where one would need to
plow-out of your own driveway, and so forth.
We acquired a "fixer". It was all we could afford.
Since bank financing is not available for “agricultural” properties
unless you have three years of agricultural experience, a stick-built
house, with an approved well, so that left us to self-finance. We
liquidated IRAs, and the 401-K, set aside the funds for the tax man
first, set aside funds for the move (and the box truck), set aside
funds for repairs (not enough), and then what was left-over was what
was used to make an all-cash offer for the ranch, which was accepted.
It was wonderful! Now, after a flurry of moving and fixing, we
finally had a ranch, with no livestock. However, we had made the
first step towards being Homesteaders. We were ecstatic!
For us, we passed on goats and rabbits due to the daily
work load. As we moved into our ranch, our hay crop was ready for
harvest. Luckily, the former owner had already arranged for a
sharecropper to bring in the hay. A hay crop can be shared with the
sharecropper doing most of the work. We maintain the fences, and a
few other things, and still get a cut of the hay as the land owner.
Yea! That resulted in minimal work for the maximum benefit.
With our portion of a hay harvest we could sell it or
use it to feed livestock. Our first year was without livestock, so we
sold it. The proceeds paid for property taxes. The second year, we
acquired livestock so we kept our portion, one third of the crop, to
winter-over our animals. We now have a herd of ten yaks. If we get
four to five calves a year, we will be able to sell at least one yak a
year to cover the same property taxes and also have a yak to butcher
for our own meat.
If we acquired used hay cropping equipment, we could
harvest the hay ourselves and generate about a thousand dollars a
month. However, we would have to do the work ourselves. With
retirement in mind, we’re continuing to share-crop the hay. With fuel
prices rising, we have decided to start acquiring used haying
equipment as the opportunity presents itself and the funds become
available. We already have a Case tractor. We would like to be
capable of bringing in the harvest if we needed to.
crop is Orchard Grass, champagne-quality hay which requires an annual
investment to maintain this crop, yet fetches an annual income which
is not likely to go away in the future.
Equipment to Facilitate Comfort
We spent our first season on the property getting ready
for winter. There is real snow here. Temperatures can drop down to
30 degrees below zero and we needed to be prepared. We put up
firewood in log-cabin style stacks and tarped them for the winter.
Most of the firewood was seasoned deadfall gathered from around the
property. A firewood shortage is highly unlikely on this ranch.
Slinging a maul to split wood is hard work. We split
about eight cords of wood over the first two winters here, but it’d be
nice to not have to work so hard in retirement for our heat,
therefore, we have decided to build a log splitter! Building it
ourselves is about a third of the cost. Every penny saved is another
penny we can apply toward something else which we need.
we hadn't counted upon were
the fence repair requirements of a ranch. After windstorms, several
trees came down. In the eighteen months living here, we’ve had three
trees which have fallen across our fences. It required removing the
deadfall, then fixing the fences. It doesn’t take long to become
familiar with fencing pliers and barb wire. Fortunately, yaks are
much easier on fences than cattle. If they want on the other side,
instead of leaning through the fence and wrecking it, the yaks just
jump the fence. I think they’re related to goats... just kidding.
They’re related to cattle, bison and water buffalo. The good news is
that they generally don’t jump the fences. The youngsters have a few
times out of curiosity, but then panicked when separated from their
herd and leapt back across.