Homesteading After Retirement: Part 4

Infrastructure for Retirement Ease

Homesteading After Retirement: Part 4

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When we first began homesteading, I had zero thoughts about infrastructure for retirement in the future. Later when we first brought sheep to the farm, I had no idea what would help me manage the flock. At first, we kept the sheep in a paddock attached to the barn. As I saw the beauty that was created from their fleece each year, my desire for more sheep increased. This was when the thought of infrastructure first entered my mind.  

Having a bigger flock meant either more cleaning of the stall and paddock or letting them out. We had one partially fenced field in disrepair, and lots of open space, before the property became heavily wooded.

How hard could it be right? I’m the shepherd. I will tell them where to go. Easy enough. Except it wasn’t. As I nicknamed them, the free-range sheep took me on a daily romp through our rather large property. It only takes one sheep to go rogue and you’ve lost the battle! Sometimes they would end up where I wanted. Many days I considered sending them to sheep boarding school. 

At the point we started with a larger flock of sheep, I was also having knee issues. Which of course would react badly to any romp through the woods following the flock. Hey, wait, I thought I was the leader! 

So here is my point: homesteading after retirement can be physically demanding even if you don’t see it coming. I talked with a fellow shepherd about her setup of paddocks, gates, and shelters. In our talk, she stressed the importance of a well-thought-out infrastructure. Keeping a flock or herd on regenerative pasture requires the animals be moved often. How will you manage that? She stressed to me that infrastructure was the only way she could manage her flock of sheep, the breeding season, and sheep that need to be kept separate from the main flock. I took her advice to heart. 

We began to plan and install fencing and gates that helped me move the sheep without the daily hike through the property. These types of aids remove the frustration and exhausting problems that can come with moving livestock. 

Poultry can also cause infrastructure problems. Chicken tractors are a wonderful method of raising pastured poultry both for meat and eggs. Make sure that the chicken tractor you choose allows you to move the poultry easily. Some of the chicken tractor plans end with a structure that needs to be moved with a tractor. That is great if you have one! 

Small coops are the perfect size for a small backyard flock of chickens. Check that you can easily clean the chicken coop without twisting your entire body into a pretzel! Kneeling to clean the small coop can be painful in our golden years. Adapt the design by building the coop higher off the ground to eliminate so much bending and kneeling. With slight modifications, poultry can be part of your homestead for many years! 

You are starting homesteading at a great point in your life. Unlike the younger me, you know what you need at this point in life. You can start strong with a good infrastructure for a retirement plan.  

Whether you plan to garden, raise livestock, or keep poultry, you have a lifetime of experience to draw from. 

Here are a few tips that will help you start strong:

1. Visit other farmers and homesteaders doing what you plan to do. Nothing beats seeing a good plan in action. I like to ask people what they would change about their current setup if they had the time and resources. 

2. Review stocking rates: the number of animals recommended for a set amount of property to avoid overgrazing and parasites.  

3. Start slow. Instead of purchasing a flock or herd of 50, start smaller and work up. It’s easier to disband a small number of animals if you need to move on to another choice of livestock.  

4. Are you interested in breeding? Are you familiar with all of the elements that go into this choice? Are you physically able to crawl around on the barn floor on cold winter nights, assisting an animal in labor if necessary? I am not saying you are not capable. I am saying this is something to think long and hard about. We stopped breeding here because I was no longer willing to deal with the consequences to my body from nights sitting in the barn during kidding or lambing season. We are all different and age differently. We now raise strictly for fiber/fleece, which suits my abilities. When I want to increase the flock, I find respected shepherds that are selling lambs with good fleece qualities. 

If animal husbandry is all new to you, you are fortunate in today’s world. Resources in the form of books, websites, and online classes are bountiful. Don’t overlook the old-fashioned phone call to your local agriculture extension service and your neighbor who is living your dream.  

We continue to adapt and strengthen infrastructure on our farm. Every week I notice something that could be made easier with a small adaptation or adjustment. I firmly believe that very few of us need to give up on our homesteading after retirement dream due to physical limits. I hope to be farming actively for many years to come. With the right infrastructure, equipment, attitude, and continued good health, it should be a piece of cake (along with the Tylenol arthritis formula for the not-so-good days). Homesteading after retirement is a dream of many people. I believe that with the right plan, you can make it work for you, too.  

Read the first three installments of this series at:

Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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