Four years ago, our family made a really big change. We moved from living in a duplex in town with 3 adults, 2 young children, and our big dog Molly, to a home for just the four of us on 125 acres. Living in that duplex with my brother was good for a time, but it was crowded. We all felt like we didn’t have our own space, and our yard backed up to an apartment building.
I always had an uncomfortable feeling about there being this apartment building full of people we did not know being able to see right into our yard, watching our children and every part of our life. We wanted the freedom and space to raise our children without any neighbours being able to see us. Our big dog Molly also was very unhappy living in town. When we bought her, we didn’t really understand her breed, being a livestock guardian dog and what that meant.
One weekend, I went to my parents’ cabin with the kids and dog, and she was such a happy dog, completely different behaviour. She was able to do her job out there. That confirmed to me 100% that we needed to get onto some land right away. That week I went home and came across this rental home. We looked at it the next day and moved in a few weeks later. It was one of those times in life where I felt so firmly that God had his hands on our life and was guiding our path.
A Seed Was Planted
I had grown up on a hobby farm most of my life. My parents always said how they never wanted to live where they looked out their kitchen or bedroom window and saw into their neighbour’s yard, or worse, their house. I felt very strongly the same.
I loved the freedom, the space, the quietness. Growing up we raised some animals for meat and did our own butchering. We raised pigs, Cornish cross chickens, and I even roped my dad into buying a bottle calf at an auction one time. If we didn’t raise it ourselves, we would buy from local farmers, or my dad would hunt and we would process the meat ourselves.
Pig butchering has long been a tradition in my family with our Mennonite roots and all. Each year, my parents would pack us up to drive 6 hours to my dad's hometown of LaCrete, AB to do pig butchering around Thanksgiving with his family. Looking back on that, I realize my parents' deep dedication to keep us connected to our roots, to know where our food came from, and to keep family tradition alive.
Homesteading for Health
When we moved to this acreage, our children and I were eating a plant based diet so we really didn’t have homesteading in mind. We were simply wanting to have the space and freedom to do life out here. About 6 months after moving here, we discovered the GAPS diet, which stands for Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome. Our children are both diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and so we transitioned to this diet as a way to decrease/eliminate some of the symptoms of autism.
This diet focuses on pasture raised meats, eggs, animal fats, and locally grown fresh produce. So we sought out local farms doing things right. I connected with local farmers and started to dive deep into learning about regenerative agriculture.
We bought some chicks, brooded them in the house, and I deep cleaned the chicken coop when it was time to move them out there. Shortly after that, we bought 2 bottle calves. This is sort of where our homesteading and homeschooling worlds collided. Our boys, who were 6 and 4 at the time, bottle fed those calves.
They were so dedicated to caring for them. Gerius (4) named his calf Marshmallow, and Noah (6) named his calf T-Bone. We decided that animals whose purpose was for meat would receive food names so that our children could make that association right from the beginning.
Just a few months later, we bought a breeding pair of Dexter cattle. A bred heifer named Marmalade and a bull named Thunder. This was with the intention of Marmalade becoming our family milk cow after she had calved. If she would have been a male calf, he would be castrated and be raised for meat.
In January of 2021, we had our first calf born on the farm. He was affectionately named Loafbread by Noah, who had said if the calf would be a boy like Thunder, he was going to name him Loafbread and he was. With the calf being born came training the cow to be a milk cow. This was quite an undertaking, but I was successful and she has become a really lovely little milk cow. She had her 2nd calf in January of 2022, and I am milking, learning to make cheese, and training her calf up to become a 2nd milk cow.
Learning While Homesteading
In the fall of 2021, we butchered our first 2 cows that we had gotten as bottle calves. The boys were involved in every step of the process. We prayed over the animals and thanked them for their lives, the lessons they taught us, and the sacrifice of dying to provide nourishment for us. They helped with skinning them and watched the gutting process. They helped load them up and haul them to my parents' makeshift cooler in their shop to hang them for 2 weeks before we would process the meat.
When processing day came, they helped with grinding meat, separating piles of fat, scraps, and meat. Gerius discovered 2 bones and found how the joints went together, how they could bend and turn, then he found a kneecap and put it on and explored how it worked. This could be classified as science, biology, home economics, and so many more life lessons.
All of this to say our homesteading and homeschooling journey have come as a natural progression. We knew even before our first was born that we wanted to homeschool. We did not know how that was going to look for us, and it still changes over time.
Our homeschooling looks a lot more like unschooling. If you aren’t familiar with that term, here is a really great explanation from Wikipedia: “Unschooling is an informal learning that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction.
Often considered a lesson- and curriculum-free implementation of homeschooling, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, fixed times at which learning should take place, conventional grading methods in standardized tests, forced contact with children in their own age group, the compulsion to do homework, regardless of whether it helps the learner in their individual situation, the effectiveness of listening to and obeying the orders of one authority figure for several hours each day, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child.”
This really describes our learning lifestyle well. Our boys learn through life experiences by raising our animals for food and pleasure. They do therapeutic riding lessons, swimming, and mainly child-led learning through our daily life.
Since learning more about our dog and her breeds, we have gone on to take in a 2nd Great Pyrenees/Anatolian shepherd and turn her life around, and last fall a 3rd Great Pyrenees cross.
Not only have our children learned so much through our homesteading lifestyle, but I have as well. I am constantly learning as we get different animals, have different challenges with them, and overcome all kinds of different circumstances. I am amazed at how this unschooling lifestyle has me learning right alongside our boys, getting out of my comfort zone, and doing things I never imagined possible with them.
Written by Breanna Harder
Breanna is a homeschooling, homesteading mom of two boys on the autism spectrum. She lives with her spouse Nico and their two boys Noah and Gerius in Northern BC on a large acreage. Together as a family, they enjoy spending time outside in nature, fishing, boating, kayaking, and camping in the summer. Breanna keeps a large garden and tends to the animals and the homestead. She enjoys milking the cow, making cheese, fermenting dairy and vegetables, and cooking from scratch. She spends a lot of time reading, both books and blogs to continue learning about all kinds of things from homesteading to neuroscience. She enjoys getting messy but not so much the cleaning part. You can follow her on Instagram @beaharder to keep up with their homesteading and homeschooling adventures or check out their very new Youtube channel Nourishing Noah.