A recent medical problem shone a spotlight on a problem we have in our homestead.
Nothing too serious, but I did have a small operation which put me out of action for 8 weeks. Under the doctors' orders I was in no shape to do any heavy lifting, and definitely none of the "work" I usually do around the farm. With a frustrated sigh, I agreed.
But, this got me thinking.
After a few years living on our off-the-grid homestead, my family and I have fallen into a particular rhythm. There's certain tasks I'll do, and certain things that my wife and kids do. It's all about delegating responsibility, so that we each play a role in helping the family, but you also need to ensure this isn't creating any knowledge gaps.
Of course, pulling weeds from the garden isn't rocket science.
But as the weeks passed I realized there was a particular knowledge gap in our house. Being the more technically minded, I usually take charge when it comes to building things. Like our wind turbine, or even simply starting up the tractor. I'd been doing the work, but I'd failed in my role as a teacher, because no one else could step in and replace me.
So as my family picked up the slack, I also learned the skills I'd been missing. You see, while I was out with my tractor or fixing something in the garage, my wife was doing an incredible number of things around the house.
Here's a few I'd recommend everyone learn if they're aspiring to live off the grid.
Basic cooking skills
Now I'm certainly no master chef in the kitchen, but knowing how to throw together a couple of meals is a smart thing to learn. Far too many people rely on home-delivered pizza, or microwave dinners. It's actually pretty easy to throw something together.
I'd recommend starting small, learning how to make a curry, or a pot of stew. Throwing some burgers on the grill, and building from there.
Then comes the self-sustainable bit. We trap and kill much of our meat, so basics like knowing how to clean and fillet a fish, butcher small game like rabbits or a pig, or even dress something larger, like a deer. Could you go out the back right now, dispatch a chicken and have it ready to cook and eat for dinner? It's something you must learn on the homestead.
Basic mending skills
We put most of our clothes through the ringer when it comes to heavy-duty use, and there's always something that needs to be fixed. After sitting around all day, I figured I might as well do something productive with my time, so I started mending.
Putting buttons back on jackets. Sewing up a split seam. And while I was out of order I actually wanted to make something for my son, so I followed a couple of YouTube videos and learnt how to make him a beanie in his favorite colors (Go Cowboys!).
If I had more time I would have liked to learn how to make use of the sewing machine my wife has tucked away, as clothing is one vital item you'll never have enough of. It simply wears out. But it's not just clothing. Think about your shoes and belts, and make sure you've got the supplies on hand and the experience needed to mend your clothes.
Basic food storage techniques
I've never really been into preserves, but without my wife working away we'd have less than half of the stockpile of food we've currently got. You need to learn how to can, pickle and preserve the produce while it's in season, so you've got supplies during winter.
The same goes for smoking and curing your meat. On a homestead nothing can go to waste, so it's imperative you've got a working knowledge of smoking, canning and drying different meats, so they will last for months on end. And not only that, you need to also invest in the cans, the smoker, and all the drying racks you need to do this effectively.
And everything else that needs doing
You should also be teaching your partner what it is you're working on every day.
We've taken the last few weeks to bring the entire family up to speed on the different tasks, the easiest way is simply getting them to help, and talking through it all as you're fixing whatever it is you're working on.
The rest of my family now has a much greater idea on…
- How to start and drive the "big" tractor (even backing up the trailer).
- How to monitor the power levels in our home's battery bank
- How to clean and change the oil on both our car and motorbikes
- When to start planting different crops, and when they're due for harvest
- The pesticides to use and the bugs to watch out for in the fields
- How to operate our pump house when the water tanks need to be refilled
- How to start the chainsaw and the right way to fell a tree
- How to jumpstart the cars when the battery dies
- How to navigate with a map and a compass
- How to sight and successfully shoot a rifle long-range at a target
And I'm sure a ton of other things they've learnt.
We call it "shadowing" (my kids have a thing for ninja's at the moment), but the idea is that you should never keep all of the information to yourself. Take every teachable moment on your property, and ensure your family could get through it without you.
Because if the worst happens, and your family does have to go it alone, you're doing them a disservice not teaching them everything they need to know to keep your homestead running effectively.
Invest your time now, and know they'll have the skills they need to survive.