When I told a friend I was moving out of town and onto 20 acres to start living in my retirement house, he replied, “So you’re getting a second job?” Owning land takes a lot of work to maintain, and it takes up your free time if you aren’t careful. I knew this because my parents had 50 acres outside of Austin, TX, that I use to work on and help clear while I was in college a decade ago. Now that I am older, with a full time job as a teacher and coach, raising three kids, with their activities, and my wife and her plans for me as well (dinner at some peoples house again), I needed to set up my land in a different way that didn’t require so much of me. So here is how I have done this and some of my lessons learned after 6 years of country living.
Let’s talk about my failures first. One of the first things we did was plant a garden in our rich sandy loam soil and get six chickens. We had a nice 6’x4′ raised garden and three chickens in our neighborhood house. The chickens free ranged in our 30’x40′ backyard and the garden was small enough for a sprinkler to easily water and produce plenty of veggies. So we plowed up some land, sorted out the bermuda grasses and made a nice 12’x12′ fenced in garden to keep the wild rabbits out. Our chickens got a bigger house and more land to free range on with plenty of bugs and wild grass seeds. It all worked great as our veggies began to grow and our chickens laid 4-5 eggs a day. Then the grasses decided to try to come back, the Texas heat picked up and dried the nutrient-rich soil out quickly, and I began to weed every day, and water 2-3 times a day in the garden. The chickens began to get picked off one by one by hawks, raccoons, and mystery predators. We tried to make the chicken house predator proof, but once we let them out during the day they could easily become prey. We realized that the garden is an endless chore of weeding and watering, and the chickens would constantly be in danger even in the trees because they loved the pasture land too much. That was our first six months of trying to take advantage of our country life. FAIL…
Once I rethought our approach I decided we can’t fight nature. This land could be farmed and ranched, but it didn’t want to be farmed or ranched. It wanted to try to convert back to its natural state of trees and wildflowers gathered nicely on the banks of our 3-acre pond. It wanted to support wildlife in the sky, on land, and in the water. We already had a wildlife agricultural exemption for songbirds and waterfowl, so let’s make this land a wildlife preserve. I thought that if we wanted the land to support our family we would have to do as the animals and become hunters and gatherers. So, we reintroduced squirrels to our property, created brush piles in the forest to support our wild rabbits, set ducks free on our pond that lay eggs on its banks and attract wild ducks and geese migrating through, we have bee hives to support the wildflowers and spread more wildflower seeds in the pasture, we looked for drought-resistant fruit tree varieties and placed them near the pond or drainage areas so they will not need lots of water from us, and we planted over 300 southern loblolly pine seedlings mixed in with our trees to help attract new and endangered bird species in our area. We stocked our pond with some feeder fish to help our bass and catfish populations to grow and we put out fish feeders and wild bird feeders that need to fill up just once a month. We also cleared out the brush around the wild blackberry bushes and started to plant Ozark strawberries in our forests to see how that goes. We let wild mustang grapes grow on our fences and some sort of wild passion fruit grow on some trees and cedars. We help nature do as it was trying to do already and it requires no maintenance from us at all. It’s all natural and provides us with opportunities to hunt and gather.
We also have an arrangement with our neighbor on our property that helps us have much less work. We open our back gate to our property, and his cows graze our back 10 acres of land. This fertilizes the land, keeps the grass cut short, and the cows even trim the trees and keep new growth bushes and trees from popping up in the back. He also cuts the grass on 5 acres in the front for us 3-4 times a year and bails it for hay for his cows. We get our grass mowed and he gets the free hay. With this arrangement, we have to maintain about 2 acres with our tractor pulling a 6′ brush hog. It takes me 45 minutes to mow the yard with the tractor every two weeks in the summer and another 45 minutes to push mow the parts that the tractor can’t reach due to the trees. My kids do the push mowing these days, so I end up with 45 minutes of work driving a tractor every 2 weeks. Also, once a year I have to trim the trees around my pond to keep the views and that takes about an hour, and we spray our gravel driveway a few times a year to keep the weeds and grass from taking over. That’s about 3 hours a year of work.
There is also general maintenance needed like a tree will die and needs to cut into firewood, or a storm blows through and we have to pick up branches. But, this is just good exercise and I count it as my workout on those days. Its good old fashioned work that gets you lifting and squatting and moving in a functional way. It’s not work if you categorize it as your daily exercise. 80lbs bags for Quickcrete can be a workout, once you lift them a few times to put them in place to stop your drainage pipe from washing out.
So owning land doesn’t have to be a second job and really I spend about 7 and half hours mowing and another 10 throughout the year doing random work needed. I can always go around and look for things to do to improve things, but sometimes you can’t fight nature and it makes your entire place better to enjoy.