Originally published on Homestead.org
Not that long ago, I thought I had it all. A cushy well-paid job making awesome innovative musical gadgets. I drove a German convertible. I ate out a lot. Sushi at least a few times a week. A nice condo. Life was all music, video-games, Netflix and chill, but deep in the back of my mind, I kept asking myself, was I really accomplishing anything real, anything noteworthy with my life? Did I have a feeling deep inside of living a life, my one life on this Earth, in deep fulfillment? Was I even living a healthy life?
As hard as it is to admit, I have to say that the answer would be a BIG FAT NO.
I was one of those pale faced, unhealthy looking guys, who spent most of his time in front of a computer. Working in some lab, data-center or out of a tiny cubicle. Sure, I would try to eat better and go to the gym, and occasionally I would have a short-streak where I maintained it, but most of the time I spent indoors, becoming pale and unkempt looking, sitting in traffic, going to work, coming home, aspiring to live in some crummy little overpriced townhouse, watching TV, getting takeout and hanging out with my cats! Not that there’s anything wrong with cats. I still have cats, but they mostly stay outside now. Like me!
I had a good job, I was making decent money, but I felt a deep lacking in the fulfillment department. There were moments when I really liked what I did for a living. After all, I was a Computer Engineer working in Silicon Valley, at the pinnacle of my career! At work we made all sorts of cool music gadgets, yet somehow the world of music was not any better because we made more gadgets. I started thinking that maybe not every innovation really leads to progress. Ask yourself, do you feel like all this technology that surrounds us has really improved your connections with Nature, Society, Our-World, One-Another or Even Yourself?
Despite choosing an education and a career as a passionate technologist, overtime I just grew a certain type of melancholy & nostalgia for the way things used to be. The good old days, before all of this. What was wrong with me? I was only in my early-thirties. It was way too early for a midlife crisis!
At some point along my journey, I heard of the Financial Independence Retire Early movement (F.I.R.E.) and it intrigued me greatly. It seemed like a solid framework to get out of the 9-5 grind. I started to save as much money as I could in order to have financial independence and retire early. Eventually I wanted to get the heck out of that rat-race! I took some pretty intense and drastic steps towards minimalization. I ditched the tiny apartment and moved out into an even tinier camper in the work parking lot. I sold my car. I stopped eating out. I finally felt like I had a firm grasp on this “Financial Independence” part, and was working steadily towards it. In the back of my mind however, the “Retire Early” part was not well flushed out. What would I do in my early-retirement? For I knew if I did nothing, and sat around and played video games all day, I would soon expire early too. I wanted to really live! I wanted to experience and learn new things. I wanted to read more and I wanted to write some ideas of my own. I wanted to have hobbies which kept me busy and kept me happy and feeling fulfilled.
There I was, saving money, living in a camper, dreaming about what kind of future awaits me? In my spare time and on the weekend, I would travel around my state, and several adjoining states, to see what sort of remote land was for sale. I thought that maybe a healthier lifestyle could be found out there, in the place which I was forever drawn to, the chaos of the rural wilderness. Perhaps I could start my own homestead? Somehow this felt like a fulfilling endeavor in retirement. I still never knew when that would happen exactly. It just seemed like a good idea, so that whenever the time did come, I would have healthy hobbies instead of unhealthy ones.
I saw all sorts of interesting places in my camper. From land you would need a 4X4 just to get to, so steep your transmission would give way eventually. To places in the desert with no prospects of water. I even bought some land with a close friend, who was also living in a camper saving for retirement. We bought 10 acres for less than $1,000 in the middle of the desert. After getting towed out of the sand while trying to reach my new desert oasis, I realized that sort of land was not so fruitful for me. This went on for some time and eventually, after I met my soon to be future wife, who perhaps had a more discerning eye than myself, we found 15 acres in a remote location that was not too hard for us to get into and didn’t break the bank. It had decent water prospects and glorious views. We jumped on the opportunity post-haste.
It was soon after we had bought the 15 acres that the large company I was working for at the time suddenly went bankrupt. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, after all they had me living in a camper in the parking lot. Now what? I had my 15 acres but I no longer had a steady job and I had to decide, did I want to find a new job and keep working in Silicon Valley? Or did I want to come up with something else I could do with my new plot of land. My savings was nowhere near where it should be to do such a thing, but I kept thinking of how to make it all work. In my mind I really just needed to work for at least 5-10 more years to be where I needed to be financially. It always seemed like that was the case anyways, “Just 5 to 10 more years and I’ll be out of here!” was probably what I had been telling myself for the last 5 to 10 years prior. Despite my low funds, I thought, is there ever really a better time to go out on your own and homestead than today?
In a desperate struggle, to avoid working for some new, faceless, nameless, corporate giant, I researched to death what I could do with that 15 acres of land. Everything from raising Emus to growing Hops, all sorts of crazy ideas! Someone told me Ostrich Eggs are where it’s at. That’s when it came to me, as if from an old forgotten memory.
Years before, I had known a family from Southern Asia and with them I had eaten a lot of goat and I enjoyed it greatly. I knew it was somewhat hard to find and that most immigrants really wanted to eat a lot of it. I knew that the prices were high and that there was a low supply. Americans didn’t really breed and raise many goats for food consumption because we don’t really eat them. In fact, there are even less Goats today in the United States than there were 10 years ago, yet the demand keeps increasing! Was this the idea I needed? I either stumbled upon a really good idea, or a really horrible one. Goats glorious Goats! What about goats!?
I kept thinking about them. Then my mom sent me a podcast that she listens to and they were interviewing someone in my state who grazes goats professionally and how he gets paid just to rent them out to clear other peoples overgrown brush and noxious weeds. Goats eat star-thistle, tar-weed, kudzu and poison oak! Who does that… Crazy goats! I then researched renting out goats, and I had decided since I had a home-base for them, why not see if I can make some money and try my luck at renting goats out to other people for the year! I quickly acquired about 20 of these crazy things called Goats (I even got some for Free!) and posted online to see if anyone was interested in renting them from me.
We quickly found some customers. They actually weren’t that hard to find, but perhaps this was because, in retrospect, we probably priced ourselves a little too cheaply. My newly-wed wife and I would clear new fence lines, set up fencing and move the goats around various places, including our own fence-less property. After getting some customers setup, and experiencing a few “break-outs”, we realized early on that we had to check on them quite frequently. At least a lot more frequently than we had originally anticipated. Twice a day or more, first in the morning, once before evening at least, and the occasional phone-call exclaiming “Goat Break-out!” These frequent drives to make sure our goats were safe burned through a lot of the profits. We were also heavily invested in portable net fencing and portable electric energizers to keep the goats contained both on and off our property and the path to real profits seemed far away. We kept on going, trudging forward, and we rented out goats all season long for a few hundred dollars an acre. We should have probably charged $500-$1,000 an acre.
Regardless, by the end of the season we had paid for the goats, the equipment and some permanent fencing for our own property. Perhaps we had little leftover and had made it through by the skin of our teeth, but I was now in the best shape of my life! That hard work with those goats, it gave me a respect for the goats and myself that I never had working in a cubicle. You really can accomplish a lot if you just put your mind and body to it.
It’s not long after that, my wife was pregnant with our first son and all of our goats were pregnant too. I got a job at a farm down the street to make ends meet for a bit, and to learn some more about farming til the dust settled in our life a little.
Soon after that, we started having enough goat kids each year that we were able to sell the extras and start making an additional profit off our goats through easier means. We also started breeding and selling livestock guardian dog puppies because they were a necessary tool for our growing herd and flock. We also started selling goat meat both in-person and online and that seemed like one of the final pieces of the puzzle, but not the final piece, because as a homesteader and a farmer you learn quickly that you make money however you can. Focusing on one particular aspect of the farm, putting all your eggs in that one sole basket, is never a wise decision.
Now we have almost a 100 goats and two sons and through all the related goat side-hustles we are enjoying the humble life of the Goatherd.
Do I miss Silicon Valley and all the technology and the lonely life I used to live? Not a bit. Feeding the goats everyday with my 2-year-old son, helping and sweating it out by my side, makes it all worthwhile. I found that fulfillment I was looking for, I found it way out there deep in the wilderness of the rural homestead life.
-Jesse Dustin of The Unists & rejectmodernity.substack.com, homestead.org & heartlandgoats.com
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