Ashley is a homesteader/farmer living on a small farm in rural Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband, Daniel and their two children Ellie and Anderson. On the farm side they breed Wagyu/Angus cattle and forest raised pigs, on the homestead side Ash has her Dairy cow, Janet and their laying hens. She loves cooking and exploring in the kitchen and teaches online live sourdough classes for people to tune into from anywhere in the world.
My motivation to start homesteading sprouted many years before I spent any amount of time on social media.I’d never even spent much time on a farm! Oh, how I was so naive. I loved the idea of becoming self sustainable and growing/producing my own food. At the time I mostly wanted a garden and laying hens. I thought both would be romantic and magical.
You see, there are misconceptions about homesteading, images we make up in our minds about how it will be, and stories we create about what our days will look like. It’s no one’s fault, before you embark on this lifestyle there are very few resources that can properly prepare you for the emotional AND physical aspect of owning animals. Enter Instagram, where everything is pretty and curated and life on the farm is displayed as magical – matching all the images we have created in our mind. Most of us still talk about the hard parts of this lifestyle, we discuss the good the bad and the ugly, and yet showing it and experiencing it is an entirely different thing, and even if we are able to show it, nothing can accurately prepare your heart for losing your favourite cow, or having coyotes kill the flock of meat birds you were raising for your family, and the list goes on. When you are not living immersed in this cycle of life and death, the emotional attachment is difficult to accurately portray in an instagram post.
I have bared witness to things I never imagined I would, being someone who once refused to eat meat, to being someone who is present and participating in the active role of raising and harvesting meat we eat – there is a certain level of character that is built to sustain that type of change and lifestyle. But do we want to hear about the bad parts when we are preparing to homestead for the first time? Not really. We usually scroll past thinking to ourselves “yes but if I rotationally graze, properly prevent, and fence adequately, those things just won’t happen to me.” It’s like being the perfect parent but not yet having any kids. I get it, I’ve been there.
I thought all these things and yet I have witnessed sows eating their brand new babies, I have found baby lambs half frozen to death in a puddle because they wandered from their mom – I’ve nursed that baby back to health unknowing that her feet were frostbitten only having to put her down weeks later after both her feet inevitably fell off. I have milked a cow that I love every day, and found out she has an incurable mastitis infection and can both never be milked again, and can pass to other cows – I have watched that cow stand in my back field not having the heart to cull her. I’ve spent two years training a livestock guardian dog and falling deeply in love with him and then decided to sell all of our sheep – I’ve watched that same dog grow aggressive from boredom and bite my child forcing us to rehome an animal who captured a large piece of my heart. I’ve woken up every two hours for days bottle feeding an orphaned piglet until grafting it to another sow, watching as she accepted the baby as her own and then came down hours later to find it dead. I have cried, and wanted to quit some days.
BUT, you know what else I have seen? I’ve walked from the barn to a hen I thought we lost, and 12 babies chirping behind her. I’ve pulled a twin calf in the caul from a mother who cast herself on a hill and watched that mother raise both twins. I’ve witnessed conventional farmers save our animals with precision and knowledge, forever changing my opinion and judgement of this industry. I’ve watched a sow birth 12 babies in the middle of the woods and keep every single one alive. I’ve sat on a stool at dusk during some of the most beautiful evenings of the summer, watching the sun set behind the field and milking my cow under a pink sky.
I don’t share this to be gruesome, I share it to be honest. Because I am not alone in any of the stories I shared above, I know so many other homesteaders have similar stories just in a different context. These highs are real, they can light your soul on fire and you have to let them or else the ugly parts will swallow you whole. When there is life, there is death – the homestead is no exception. We are blessed to live in a time when people talk about all the parts of this so we don’t have to be in it alone – we are meant to do this as a community. Our farm is my most favourite place in the entire world, the beauty I share from it is palpable and real! But please do not mistake the beauty with perfection, because everything in life has a contrast and with immense joy and beauty there is always some pain. I have gotten to a place in this journey where I don’t fight against the painful parts of it anymore, and that is truly liberating. Because each and every time I experienced pain or loss on the homestead, I have gained knowledge and it ignites my heart to keep moving forward, I come out the other side of those experiences changed once again. I sometimes chuckle at the flip flop wearing urban gal who cried when her first rooster chased her across the backyard. Oh the things I would tell her about how far she would come. This life is truly the biggest blessing and sometimes I cry tears of gratitude thanking God for placing it in front of me.