It can be hard to make connections and build relationships when you are trying to establish a homestead. Most people drawn to the self sufficiency lifestyle tend to be fairly introverted, and even more common is the desire to do everything for yourself without asking for help. Let me be the first to tell you, we all need help. Especially when you are just getting your start, you don’t even know all of the things you don’t know yet, and you can save yourself a world of heartache by building a community of like minded and more experienced individuals.
When we first started ‘farming’ we made so many stupid mistakes. We were extremely fortunate to have a very knowledgeable and kind neighbor, who patiently gave us advice and saved numerous critters that we had gotten into trouble. It must have been so hard for her to not just tell us we were idiots and be done with us. Obviously I am very thankful that she didn’t, and she had the self control to teach us instead of just writing us off. Not everyone is lucky enough to happen into a great neighbor, so you may have to seek mentors out. Over the last few years we have found other experienced farmers online, and whenever we are fortunate enough to buy animals from good successful breeders we try to stay in touch with them and learn whatever they are willing to teach us.
Staying in contact with the original breeders of your stock is probably the simplest lowest tech method of building community and learning about the type of stock you are working with. Not everyone is interested in continuing to stay in touch, and that is fine; if you always ask you will eventually find passionate people who care to pass on their knowledge to newcomers.
In this modern age, there’s almost no excuse for staying ignorant. Join every facebook group or forum you can find pertaining to the types of animals or projects you are looking to work with. Though these groups can turn into a bit of a time suck and mental masturbation if you aren’t careful, more often I have found that I am learning about topics and issues that I didn’t even know that I needed to learn about. The great thing about these groups, is you can get instantaneous feedback about ongoing situations on the farm. Simply post your photo and ask your question, and the community usually delivers.
Another vital connection to make is with your local veterinarian. It can be a bit tricky building a relationship with your vet, seeing as you want to avoid employing them as much as possible, but their input is going to be essential to your success. Try to find an excuse to go into the clinic and give them some business. Buy your syringes from them, ask advice about vaccination and deworming, and then buy these medications at their clinic. Even if you could save a few bucks online, it’s far more valuable to start a dialogue with your local vet and get familiar with them. You can even volunteer to do some grunge work if you are willing to work hard and not be a bother. Treat everyone around you with gratitude and humility as a rule anyway, but especially your vet. They have difficult job, and are often treated pretty poorly by their clients. If you are someone they don’t mind working with they are much more likely to take the time to help you learn to do some of your own minor vetting.
Lastly it is important to offer to lend a hand to your local community; neighbors need to look out for each other. Don’t wait until you are the one up a creek before you engage with your neighbors and local farmers. Even if there isn’t an obvious way to lend a hand, offer general help or extra farm produce, bring some treats by or at least introduce yourselves and be friendly.
All of these people can be there to answer your questions, or if you’re really lucky, to help lift your cow when it goes down. Don’t let pride or social anxiety convince you to try to go it alone, a piece of good advice can save you thousands when it comes to farming. Let us know what methods or places have worked the best for meeting other farmers in the comment section below!