Amy Sliffe of Blue Whistler Farm and founder of Homestead Mamas lives with her husband, Josh, and their two little boys in Harrisonville, MO, where they are currently bringing back to life a 100 year old farmhouse on 5 acres. Her passion for farming and desire to provide nutrient-dense food for her family sparked the idea of bringing together a community of like-minded women.
When I first wrote down “Homestead Mamas” in my notes nearly a year ago, we were still living in North Carolina and I had just stepped out of farming full time the year before. As a farmer I was raising pastured poultry, hogs, and rabbits. I loved being a farmer, but when I found out I was pregnant I knew it was time to take a step back from the farm life and focus in on my little family. Homesteading allowed both my passions to thrive; raising my babies at home with me 24/7, growing our own food, and everything else comes with the homesteading title.
Both my pregnancies were quite difficult for me. With my first pregnancy I ended up in the ER for an emergency appendectomy at week 6, then had hyperemesis gravidarum up until about week 25. During those long months of not eating and extreme exhaustion, I was settling into the idea of becoming a full-time homestead mama and was really looking forward to all the things that allowed.
After the HG symptoms calmed down and I was able to eat even just one meal a day, I started working on getting my homestead orchard into shape. We bought over 100 bare root fruit bearing crops including blueberries, apples, peaches, plums, pears, figs, and tons of berries and grapes. We worked hard getting them into the ground and our homestead landscaping dreams were coming to life.
Being that our five acres had been nearly full with all the livestock I had been running the previous years as a farmer, our land was bursting with life due to the intensive rotational grazing we had implemented with the animals. Our pastures were up above our knees by May! We were blown away, and because we had no plans to do any farming that season, it was easy to convince my husband we needed a family milk cow to eat all that grass down. I had read all the books, watched all the YouTube videos on homestead dairying, and was convinced it was the natural next step for us as homesteaders.
I knew my life as a new mother would be overwhelming and exhausting, as we had no family near by to help. I should have listened to my gut a little bit more, but I wanted that family milk cow so bad that I pushed all the cons of getting a milk cow out of my head and continued looking for our future cow. I found a beautiful mid-mini Jersey in Virginia and we made the trip up to see her. We of course fell in love with her and decided she was the one. I would have a 3 month old baby Jack by the time she calved in October. It was all planned perfectly… But as many homestead stories go, this one didn’t end up like we had dreamed.
My sweet little cow Tilly ended up having a stillborn heifer calf after a long night of waiting for the vet who never showed up. I scrambled to find a replacement calf for her as soon as possible. The morning this all happened, I found a little jersey bull calf we named Georgie and grafted him onto her over a very frustrating and exhausting week. Once Tilly adopted Georgie, I started once a day milking, and everything was going well. But then… when Jack had just turned 8 months old, we found out that I was pregnant again.
I was once again bed ridden with HG, but this time it was more severe, throwing up about twice as often as I had in my first pregnancy, and also developing fevers anytime I would do anything for more than 5-10 minutes. This really rocked my world. I was losing weight rapidly, had a toddler, a milk cow who had to be milked daily, and a 5 acre homestead all under my care. Of course, my husband helped all the time, yet still I had convinced him to let me buy that very expensive cow under the condition that I would be the one milking her every day. Even her standard sized jersey calf couldn’t keep up with this mini cow’s milk production staying on her 24/7.
Now I bought the cow when I was personally drinking nearly half a gallon a day, but then with HG, all milk consumption stopped. My body would immediately expel any milk I drank. I was getting 2 gallons a day from Tilly, and Jack being a baby wasn’t drinking cow’s milk yet, and my husband Josh doesn’t drink milk on a regular basis. I had zero energy to turn it into anything, so all the hard work I put into getting that amazing creamy raw milk wasn’t necessarily wasted but was being fed to the chickens and our Kune Kune pigs. They of course loved it, but I felt like such a failure as a homesteader throwing all this expensive milk out to the animals.
The timing was all wrong, and my husband made the final call telling me it was time to sell my sweet little cow. Within minutes of posting her online, she sold. I was heart-broken but also relieved, as milking her every day was just too much for my tired and weak body that was beginning to become heavy with baby number two. After we sold Tilly, we still had her calf (now well over 6 months old), and a companion jersey heifer we had purchased alongside Tilly, named Maggie. We had them out in the field with our Kune Kune pigs, a handful of rabbits, and a mix of barnyard birds ranging from a big grumpy goose to tiny little bantam hens. We ended up with a small weed covered garden that summer, and the young blueberries were hidden in the tall grass, but we still harvested quite a bit off our 5 acres.
We harvested the cows and were thrilled at the flavors that came from our first cattle experience. We processed some hogs and sold their little babies to friends and old customers who were building their own homesteads. During this time, my mother visited us so often in North Carolina that the airline crews started to recognize her. Once November hit, she flew out and stayed until our Charlie boy was born on the 20th, and then graciously stayed a few weeks after that as well. It’s been a busy couple of years to say the least.
I share these stories to remind you that this homesteading life is a long journey. It’s filled with highs and lows. You “fail” with some things and you excel at others. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Prepare for things to change and not go the way you planned. And not just occasionally; plans change often. Over the last year we have added a new baby to our family, decided a month later to move back to Missouri, sold our homestead in North Carolina, and within that month moved across the country with an 18 month old and a new born.
Once we had been back here in Missouri for about a month or two, Covid happened to our nation. I’m so glad we rushed our move before all that happened! When we moved here, we thought we’d only be staying with my parents for a couple of months until we found a homestead to buy. The housing market was pretty much closed down, but finally in June we found and bought a 100 year old, 4.78 acre homestead. We gutted it and are currently still living with my parents while the new (old) home is being renovated.
Because things didn’t go as planned (as with much of life), I didn’t get to put much food from my dad’s garden up for the winter, and I didn’t raise nearly as much meat or dairy as I hoped. We still ate a ton of meals that were 100% homegrown during the growing season and we are now enjoying the freezer full of chicken we raised. We will also harvest our lambs here soon. I’m still milking my ewe every day. Needless to say, we’ve been busy and we are still figuring out our life as new parents, (although it feels like I’ve had these kids forever, and yet it’s not even been 2.5 years!). On top of it all we moved away from what we thought would be our forever homestead in North Carolina.
I’m learning to give myself grace at this point in my life and reminding myself that it’s ok when things don’t go as planned. I will eventually have my little homestead where we grow most of our own food, and I’ll have all the animals I want, and can (maybe) do everything I dream of. But right now, I’ve been forced to take a break from the life that I love, and that is OK. This new life is also beautiful.
There will be times when you cannot have a family milk cow, or plant that last succession of lettuce. There will be times when the plants go to seed, and you don’t reap the harvest you planned. I think the goal with anything you love should be, as cliche as it sounds: never stop dreaming, never stop learning, and never stop growing. With this homesteading life, you must think long term. You won’t have everything you want when you want it, and that’s a good thing. Life is gonna get in the way, but just keep trying to reach those goals, but remember to give yourself grace, time to learn and grow, and you will!