With the growing popularity of homesteading on Instagram, it’s easy to look at this lifestyle through a romanticized filter. No one would say that the homesteading life is 100% glamorous, but it’s hard to fully grasp the weight of the difficult moments until you are in them. Ash of Turner Farm wrote a beautiful article for Homestead Mamas on this very topic, so I’m excited to bring her on the podcast to dive deeper into this conversation. Ash shares about the ups and downs of starting and growing her homestead from scratch— everything from losing newborn livestock to milking her cow in a field under a beautiful sunset. Whether you are dreaming of starting a homestead or you are already in the trenches, may this episode inform and encourage you about the challenges and blessings of this lifestyle.
In this episode, we cover:
- How most of us aren’t prepared to experience the hard parts of homesteading until we get there
- Some of the challenges that come with livestock births and deaths on the homestead
- The surprising moments of beauty that make homesteading worth it
- How you can start a homestead with modest resources
- Stories of different animals’ fencing needs
- Does homesteading truly save you money on food?
- Why you might want to wean a calf from its mother
- The best ways to learn about homesteading if you don’t have a background in it
- Why now is the perfect time to start homesteading
- Ash’s favorite sourdough recipes and what she is currently experimenting with in her kitchen
Ash lives in rural Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband Daniel and their children Ellie and Anderson, where they raise pastured pigs and wagyu cattle. The winters are long and the summers are magic and you can often find her in the kitchen or curled up next to the wood stove during the winter months and milking the cow in the yard during the summer. Her greatest passion is teaching others, and her greatest teachers are her children.
Misconceptions of the Homestead by Ash Turner
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today I am in between going to the county fair. So this morning we went to the fair. We’re going back this afternoon. Luke’s there with the oldest four; I’m here with the younger three. During this conversation, definitely had some issues with kids not wanting to take their naps. So bear with me as we try to get through that and some technical difficulties. This discussion is going to be worth the listen even still. I am chatting with Ashley Turner from— on Instagram, she’s @Turner.Farm. We are going to be chatting about homesteading misconceptions, so things maybe you thought before you got into homesteading that were a little bit different than you expected or things that maybe you’re still thinking about homesteading. Some of the things that maybe are misconceptions. She and her husband have a homestead in Nova Scotia. They raise beef, they have chickens, garden, all that good stuff. So she’s going to be sharing a lot of her wisdom there. She also shares really beautiful sourdough content. So if you—like me—are obsessed with sourdough— I love watching sourdough reels. Instagram totally knows what I’m into because when I press that little search button, all it is is people like stretching and folding dough and doing all kinds of beautiful things. Her account is one of my favorites for that. You’ll be so inspired with so many different ideas for things to do with sourdough from chocolate bread to— what was she telling me? Lindor chocolate bread that she does. Amazing. So anyways, join us for this discussion. It’s going to be a really good one.
Lisa Bass My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way.
Lisa Bass Thank you so much for joining me, Ashley. I really appreciate you taking the time to come on. This article was partially prompted by an article I saw on your blog. I either thought on your blog or I originally saw it on Homesteading Mamas or something, but about homesteading misconceptions. So things that people might think about who are dreaming of living on a pod— oh, my goodness, sorry. So things people are dreaming about that are— sorry about that— who are dreaming of living on a homestead, not a podcast. Would love to hear from your perspective some homesteading stereotypes that maybe aren’t actually so true. So first, tell us a bit about your homestead.
Ash Turner So we live in Nova Scotia, Canada, so we live right on the Bay of Fundy. So it’s like an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean. We raise dairy cows, and we have some chickens, and we used to have a whole bunch of pigs, but we took a little break from pigs, so we kind of downsized a little bit. But yeah, so we mostly have just the cows here now and yeah.
Lisa Bass Cool. So can you tell us how you ended up on a homestead? Did you grow up on one? Did you always dream living on one or— yeah, how did that come about?
Ash Turner So our farm journey was a little bit unorthodox because we never really— a lot of people kind of, I think, live in maybe a small piece of land or they live in an apartment and they have dreams of having a big farm and they go out and they look for property to kind of facilitate that dream. And that was not our experience at all. We had a tiny little piece of land and a small little house, and my intention was I just wanted a little bit more space to have maybe a garden and a couple chickens and a yard for the dogs to run around in. So when we first moved here, we had just two acres of land, and I bought my first four chickens, and then it sort of snowballed from there. And so we started bringing home more animals and delving into kind of like the homesteading world and sort of like what that meant for us. And we ended up with sheep in the chicken coop and all sorts of different things like that. And so it sort of just expanded from there. And so over the years, we’ve just kind of accumulated more land. We were really lucky in that the gentleman that owned the land around us owned all of it. And so he was really great, and we were able to kind of like pick away at building the farm slowly as we kind of expanded the animals. And so now it’s much larger than two acres. We don’t have cows on two acres of land, but that’s how it started.
Lisa Bass Wow, that’s such a great situation. I feel like that’s the dream to be able to buy— like expand your farm from where you are. For us, that’s not a possibility, unfortunately. I wish that it was, because if we ever want to get bigger, we have to somehow, like, I guess move would be the only option. So before you lived on a homestead, how did you imagine that it would be?
Ash Turner So I think—kind of going back to the article that I wrote—I think there was a lot of misconceptions. And so I don’t necessarily think that I thought that it was going to be easy or that it was going to be romantic or those types of things, but I think when you look on Instagram or any of— even YouTube, and you’re kind of watching people talk about the hard parts of homesteading, it’s a lot different than actually being in the hard parts of homesteading. And so I don’t think I really had a concept of exactly how that was going to feel and how— the type of knowledge that you really need to obtain when you’re working and dealing with animals and growing vegetables and that sort of thing. And so I think I thought it was going to be smoother, I guess is a good word. I thought it was going to be a little bit smoother coming in to homesteading and that we would buy our animals and they would do their thing and it wasn’t going to be overly difficult. And that really wasn’t the experience for us. And I don’t know if that’s the experience for really anyone. I think there’s so many growing pains that happen when you’re starting a homestead from scratch. To learning to grow your own vegetables and failing for the first season and learning to raise animals, and when we grew our vegetables and maybe something got overtaken by pests or weeds or things like that, it wasn’t enjoyable, but it wasn’t really super, super hard emotionally. But then when you get into dealing with animals, especially like hoofed livestock, especially like the sheep, and then when we got into cows and pigs— usually when you make a mistake in those situations, it often ends up in casualties with the animal. And I don’t think I was fully prepared for the emotional component that comes along with that because I didn’t grow up inside of that cycle of life and death. And so having to deal with those situations and grief and emotions as an adult is very different than learning to deal with and cope when you’re a kid. And so I don’t think I was overly prepared for that piece of it before coming into it. I sort of just imagined that it was going to be a lot prettier than it really was.
Lisa Bass Yeah. On your blog post, I think you mentioned some of the things that happened to you in the first couple of years or maybe months—hopefully years—on your homestead.
Ash Turner Years.
Lisa Bass Okay, good. Some of the stuff that surprised you. I don’t know. For people who don’t live on a farm, do you want to share any of the most surprising things that maybe you didn’t expect that happened in the first couple of years?
Ash Turner You know, what’s really interesting is I really come from a place of loving— I thought I would really love the birthing aspect of having livestock. And I really actually found that to be the most stressful thing when first starting the farm. And how I kind of like came into it from— we had a lot of mentors that come from the conventional side of things that are truly so hands-on and helpful, and they can effortlessly dive in and help an animal that’s struggling whereas I really couldn’t, and I didn’t really anticipate that that would be the case. And also when you think of I guess like maybe bad stories of pigs and when they have babies, you don’t really think that that’s going to happen to you because you’re like, “Well, I mean, they’re going to have their babies in the middle of the forest, and it’s going to be magical. And it’s going to be a beautiful, sunny day. And the babies will just come out and nurse off their mom and they’ll all live happily ever after.” And really, that’s just not the case. You know, there are going to be incidents where the mother maybe does reject the babies. And maybe she’s a first time mom, she does know what she’s doing, and maybe they all end up dying. Or maybe she becomes really savage. And those are all situations that can happen and they have happened. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing anything wrong. It just— those are all learning experiences for us. And those were not things that I came into or really prepared for because I think maybe I came from a maybe more righteous perspective of like, “Well, we’re going to do things like this and this and this, and they’re going to turn out very differently.” And I think even if you’re studying the best people, like the Joel Salatins of the world who are doing all of these types of regenerative farming, they’ve all experienced those hard days as well. It’s just they’ve experienced them years and years ago before they came to this place that they are. And they probably still experience them just in a very different capacity. And so I think those were huge pivotal moments for me farming that I wasn’t overly prepared for when we came into it. Mostly around animals having their babies and that sort of thing. I don’t think I had any idea what I was doing when we first got into it.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I grew up on a farm, so I remember watching. We had actually an elk farm, and every once in a while a mother would reject the calf and we’d have to bottle feed it, get up in the middle of the night. So I was exposed to all that. We haven’t been homesteading long enough to witness anything like that. Not saying that it couldn’t happen, but so far, everything— just we’ve been very fortunate because we haven’t done a lot of these best practices to really give ourselves any credit that it’s worked out. But so far we’ve had a goat that had triplets, a cow that had a calf, and both times I didn’t even know that they were going to. So I just went out to the barn and there they were. That is not the norm necessarily to just get through it that easily.
Ash Turner I think there’s a beginner’s luck component. It’s sort of like—
Lisa Bass Ah, there. That’s what we’re at. You have to do it longer.
Ash Turner I remember the first year we farrowed piglets and we accidentally farrowed all of our pigs in the middle of February, and— I say accidentally, but we just weren’t calculating it right. And it was in the middle of February and it ended up being a really mild February. And they all had their babies and barely any losses at all. And we thought, “Wow, we’re really winning this whole farming thing.” And then the next year, it was not the case. So I feel like it maybe goes in ebbs and flows, and it’s almost really good to have those wins at the beginning. And we definitely did have some of those wins at the beginning because it just like— I don’t know. You grew up on a farm, so I guess you can kind of get past that emotional component. But if we had had all those bad experiences in the very first season, I don’t know if we would have emotionally been able to to keep going, you know? So I always like the stories of the people who—like us—get into it for the very first time and those little wins at the beginning because the highs are much higher than the lows and it really sucks when you have a lows to start.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Oh, that completely makes sense. I think it’s kind of like— sort of— I’m going to put an analogy here to kids. Sometimes your first couple are very, very easy and then you congratulate yourself on how good of a parent you are, but you just need to have more kids. I feel like it’s sort of like that. Like if you farm long enough, you’re going to encounter some of these things that are happening.
Ash Turner Yeah, if you have more and more kids or more and more animals, there’s more likely to have the harder experiences, for sure.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I can relate to that. So let’s dive into some more of the homesteading misconceptions. So the first one I had on my list is that homesteading is always beautiful and romantic, and I don’t think anyone really necessarily thinks that if you actually sit and think about it. But I do think that there is an image that happens that maybe is not necessarily completely based in reality. So what are some of the hardest things that you’ve witnessed on your homestead?
Ash Turner Yeah, and touching on that, I don’t think that people think it’s romantic, but I don’t know if maybe they fully conceptualize the stories that are told about the hard parts, if that makes sense. So for me, it was like, “Oh, that can happen. That would really be hard.” But even like before you have children, it’s like having a baby that never sleeps and being completely exhausted. You don’t really understand that exhaustion until you’ve really experienced the exhaustion. And so it’s sort of like farming. It’s like you hear the stories and you know that it can happen, but you’re still so excited to get pregnant and have a baby or start a farm. You kind of bypass those hard parts. You put it in the back of your head and hope that maybe they just won’t happen. So I don’t know if I came into it thinking that it was going to be beautiful all the time or romantic. But I just, more or less— I don’t think I really quite had a full understanding of exactly what those bad parts really were. So I would say the hardest parts for us— you know, Nova Scotia winters are really no joke. And so we live very north and we’re on the ocean. And we have months and months and months that really are very relentless. And so I think those were the hardest things of like, you know, animals being born in the winter. And even though we had adequate shelters and things like that, there’s always going to be situations that arise that you can’t predict that make it really hard where you can’t get down to the animals one day because the snow is too deep or a mom rejects her babies in the middle of the winter and that sort of thing. And I think those were really hard. I can remember specifically a lambing that was really difficult that one of the moms had triplets and the lamb ended up wandering away from the mom and falling into a puddle and getting frostbite. And we nursed it back to health. It lived in our kitchen for, gosh, weeks, I guess. It must have been weeks, probably over a month. And my kids fell in love with it. We bottle fed it every day and really seemed to be doing really well. And then all of a sudden one day, its foot just fell off because it had frostbite and there was no feeling in the foot, so it just fell off. I never knew that was even a thing that could ever happen. And I don’t even know if a lot of people even knew that that was a thing that could ever happen. But it was awful. So it was really not— you know, that’s not a great experience and just different little things like that that you would never really ever expect would happen. And I think those were— it’s sort of the death. And not even so much like you come down to the farm and maybe an animal has passed. It’s the animals that you try really hard to save and then they don’t end up making it. And that has been such a really hard piece for me because—coming from someone who only ever really had house pets, dogs—you’re trying to save them. You develop this emotional connection and attachment to the farm animals sort of in a similar way that you were to a dog in the beginning when you don’t have very many of them, and then they don’t make it. And those emotions to kind of move through were really low, and that’s really hard. And from someone that doesn’t come from a farming background, the kind of process of moving through grief of losing animals can be really overwhelmingly hard.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. Well, okay. So in contrast to that, what are some of the most beautiful moments you’ve seen on your homestead?
Ash Turner We had a mother cow that had twins one year. She was massive and everyone told us it was sort of rare to have twins. And born in the caul. And I was the only one there, so I was with her when she had her calves, and they came out in the sack which I think can happen. But it was like— so I had to break the sack and bring the calves out. And it was such a cool, beautiful experience. And the mom was just so calm. And I just love watching births that go well. Those were all— all of them that’s happened here were really beautiful that go well. So but that was one that kind of stands out in my mind. Milking a cow in your backyard at sunset. Like little things. I think it’s all the little things on a homestead that kind of build up to become the really big things. So even when the big things that happen that are really hard, it’s like you have all of these little things that happen every single day that make it so much worth it to keep going. Something bad might happen, but you still get to go out at dusk and milk your cow in the field and you still get to make butter from their milk or their cream. And all the little things that kind of come together, I feel like, are probably my favorites.
Lisa Bass Yeah, the everyday moments—more than anything really big—is I think the reason most people want to homestead to just enjoy, like you said, the milking at sunset or picking fresh flowers. Those kind of moments are what definitely keeps me going.
Ash Turner The simplicity.
Lisa Bass Yes, the simplicity of just life sustaining milk, meat, all that.
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Lisa Bass Okay. So the second misconception I have on my list is you need a lot of equipment, land, outbuildings, just so much stuff to homestead. So this is probably a very loaded question, but how did you and your family build out a homestead if you didn’t have any of these things when you first started? I know you mentioned that you did it really slowly, but what did that look like over time?
Ash Turner So slowly, I guess, it depends on what you’re— we’re about five years in now, so, yes, it’s super loaded. So we started our homestead with a Ford Escape, a 2013 Ford Escape. That’s all we had. And I mean, we did it like that for several years. I wouldn’t say we did it really well or efficiently, but I think that in year three, my brother-in-law lent us his four wheeler. We bought a small trailer to attach to it, so we didn’t have to drive the Ford Escape down to the forest to feed the pigs. So we felt like we were really winning that year because we had the four wheeler. And then year four—so last year—we got our tractor. It still doesn’t have a cab on it, so we still drive the tractor with no cab. And in the middle of the winter and in a snowstorm, that’s a little bit inconvenient. And then this year, my Ford Escape died and we bought our first truck. And so we’ve really relied on other people since we started the farm in that— we were really lucky in that we met a lot of amazing friends that are around us that also farm. And we had this dream that they were all really interested in helping us facilitate. And so that’s been a really kind of beautiful experience. Like over the years we’ve had friends lend trucks and lend tractors or lend equipment or man hours. And so it’s been sort of this progressive accumulation of people more or less than necessarily equipment. And I think that’s a really important thing because I think that oftentimes in social media world or on the Internet or Pinterest, we see these people who come with a lot of wealth into situations of building a homestead, and I think that’s really great, and it certainly doesn’t discredit the amount of work that still goes into it, but it can be discouraging for people who maybe don’t or aren’t able to do that. They think, “Well, I have to wait until I have X, Y, Z in order to do that.” And we came on two acres of land with a Ford Escape, and we did that for three years before we did anything more than that. And then we just sort of built from there. And so now we have our own hay fields, but we still have to contract out to other farmers to hay them for us cause we don’t have the infrastructure to do that. And we built a barn and we slowly pick away. But there’s so many more other costs associated with starting a homestead than buying equipment that a lot of people may have to do first. So for us, it was fencing and shelters and the livestock themselves. Livestock isn’t cheap to buy, depending on what you’re buying. So it can be done. It’s not super fun to do it that way. But we did it and it’s been really, really wonderful to have a truck and a tractor. But we certainly made do for those first few years with people that were generous enough to lend a hand when we needed it. I also think it depends on what type of animal you want, too.
Lisa Bass Right. So yeah, obviously fencing for goats is going to be something you’re going to have to think more about, like making a fort basically to keep them in. And then just something like cattle, maybe you don’t need as sturdy of fencing. And I think a lot of people start by getting into goats because they’re not large and so it’s less intimidating. But that’s probably another podcast in itself, just talking about why you would choose which animals you would choose to start out with.
Ash Turner Yeah, well, I think that if you can keep goats in, you can keep anything in.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. Well, when we built our fencing on our property, we had goats, and so we had them in mind with it. But then we’ve since gotten rid of the goats. And now I’m like, I think what we have is actually totally overkill because we were thinking goats at the time. So I think we wasted more money on goats than even we saved by getting into goats first because we didn’t realize how easy it would be to keep other stuff in.
Ash Turner I know, I know. Yeah. Cows are very easy to keep in. As long as they’re happy and they have everything they need. Pigs aren’t super easy to keep in if they decide they don’t want to be in. And I think goats are probably the worst for that.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I know. My sister was telling me a story because we’re— actually it’s the county fair here where we live this week. And so we were at the fair this morning and we were at— we’ll be at the fair after this probably. And my sister brought hogs to the fair. We didn’t grow up around hogs. My parents had— we had cattle, we had elk. So we never dealt with pigs at all. And so they thought it would be a good idea to bring the pigs out of the woods where they stay up to the dog kennel. And that way they’d be closer to where my dad was with the trailer when they got here. Oh, man, they destroyed it. They literally destroyed their dog kennel, which I didn’t even know was possible. It was just two pigs.
Ash Turner They can destroy anything they want. It’s impressive, really how strong they actually are. They’ve done a lot of damage in certain situations here, too. We don’t have very many pigs anymore, but at one point we were up to— I don’t know, we had about 75 that we kind of like rotated through our forest back there. And yeah, when they’re good, they’re very, very good. But when they want to be bad, it’s not— it’s awful.
Lisa Bass Yeah, they were good for a little bit, and then they made up their minds that they wanted to destroy the dog kennel. And I’ve also heard that pigs are really smart, which I didn’t know. And so I guess, too, they maybe decided that they were— like together, they decided they were going to destroy the dog kennel which apparently— we didn’t know they could be that destructive. And my dad, he gave her the advice to to put them up there because he also isn’t familiar with pigs. And so I don’t think any of us knew what they were capable of.
Ash Turner Yeah. We had a sow once that destroyed the front door of our barn. She just destroyed it. She just decided one day— she was “I don’t really want to be in this really nice shelter in the middle of winter.” And she destroyed the barn because she felt like she wanted to be outside.
Lisa Bass That’s another learning curve for us was we kept a bull here for two months and the cow came up open afterwards, so that was frustrating. But if you want to talk about an animal that can destroy some stuff.
Ash Turner A bull if they want to. Our bull, we’ve been really lucky with our bull so far. Knock on wood. We call him Ferdinand. His name is Ferdinand, and he— if you’ve ever watched the movie, he is literally Ferdinand.
Lisa Bass Oh, wow. Oh, wow.
Ash Turner He is the most— like, he’s in the woods, and Daniel can go out and call his name, and he just comes running. He’s just the nicest. He’s really great. So our experience with our bull has been wonderful. But I do think if he wanted to, if we had him penned up somewhere, maybe he would be able to destroy things. But we’ve not really had to do that with him. So he’s been really good. But our pigs, we’ve definitely had some casualties like from equipment and things from pigs.
Lisa Bass Yeah, we had nice gates until we had a bull. No, he didn’t destroy it that bad, but it was definitely different than we expected. We didn’t think it was going to be that hard just to have a bull.
Ash Turner Yeah, yeah. I think it just depends on the breed. Like anything, really.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So is that your Wagyu?
Ash Turner Yeah. Yeah. So we have a full blood Wagyu bull and then we have a full blood Wagyu heifer. And then the rest of our cows are either a cross of Angus and Wagyu or Angus. So Daniel kind of dabbles in the genetics of full blood Wagyu, and that’s sort of like his long term goal. But that’s more of— it’s hard to get them, so we’ve had to do some embryo stuff. So we’re going to look— we flush our heifer. We’re going to flush her after she has her calf, and we’ll do some embryo work. And that will be sort of like his full blood genetic work. And then our bull breeds are black angus cows. So then our beef is half and half, which is a really nice mix. We really like the mix.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I haven’t tried it, but I’ve heard really great things about it.
Ash Turner Oh, it’s like butter. It’s so beautiful.
Lisa Bass That’s what I’ve heard.
Ash Turner Yeah. The first time I ever had a Wagyu steak, it was like— I’ve never been someone that likes the gristle on the outside of the steak, like the little fat parts on the outside of the steak. But it literally melts in your mouth. I was sitting there, I was like, “I can’t even believe this is real.” It’s just so good. So much different than regular.
Lisa Bass Yeah. This is totally off topic, but why would you not or why would anybody not do like 100% Wagyu? Is there a benefit to having the half Angus, too?
Ash Turner Yeah. So Wagyu— I love 100% Wagyu, but it’s also really rich. It’s like really, really, really— because it’s a lot of marbling and a lot of fat, right? So it’s almost like you’re eating this truffle of beef. But then when you mix in the Angus with it, you still get that sort of robust and beefy flavor, which a lot of people still really appreciate. So you’re getting just a really marbled, nice steak, like an Angus steak with that nice, beefy flavor. So I think it just depends on a preference, but it’s also a lot more cost effective for people to buy a Wagyu cross than it would be to go out and buy 100% or full blood Wagyu steak. So it’s nice to be able to have both.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that makes sense. I really want to try it sometime. So we were talking a little bit about the cost of getting into homesteading, and I feel like the misconception maybe I had before homesteading was that you save money with homesteading. But then also lately a few different people I’ve been talking to, they’re really sharing some of the ways that you can homestead that are more cost effective because I think a lot going around right now is that it’s not actually cheaper, and so there are smarter ways to do it. What would you say about that? Whether it’s the misconception that it’s cheaper or the misconception also that it’s actually way more expensive to raise than to buy stuff?
Ash Turner For us, especially because we started with raw land, I think it’s really expensive to get into it, like to build the infrastructure and that sort of thing. And then it just sort of depends on what type of homesteading kind of like you’re doing. So with the dairy cow, for example, I remember having this conversation with a friend of mine that she was saying it’s not cost effective until you start making hard cheese and then it’s really cost effective. But now, dairy is very expensive. I don’t know about there, but here it’s very expensive to buy at the grocery store. So we eat yogurt and we eat cheese and we eat cream and milk, and all of those dairy products are things that we consume in our family. So when we really break down the cost of keeping a dairy cow, it does actually make sense. It is cost effective if we have the skills to make the butter and the soft cheese and we have the cream and all of that, ice cream, all those things that we can make from her milk, it does actually make sense. It is economical once the infrastructure is there to keep her inside of a fence and have her be able to live and all of that sort of thing. Once that’s in place. I am finding now that we’re this many years in, it is in fact cost effective for us to raise our own meat and have our own dairy and that sort of thing. And then I’m not a great gardener, but I really do believe that people that can all their own food and they grow it all and all of that— I do think there’s a cost effective component to that as well. It’s just not something that I overly— like I haven’t delved into all of that yet.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I want to ask you a question, though, with your dairy cow. Do you find that it’s most cost effective to have the cow raise the calf for a while so you can sell it for more or to pull the calf right away so you get the cream from the cow?
Ash Turner Yeah. So I’ve done both. And I believe that it is better to pull the calf. I think that there’s lots of schools of thought on that. And actually I had a friend that would let the calf nurse while she milked, and I did try that. It’s just never been— the way our stanchion set up, I’ve never been able to do that. So yeah, the last time we did that, I let her raise the calf, and this time she’s actually due in like a week. So I’m trying to figure out if we’re going to let her raise her calf or if we’re going to pull her off. And that’s not to say that she can’t still live with the calf. There’s lots of ways that you can still allow them to kind of be together and then bottle feed the milk to the calf. And I have a friend that’s doing that right now and it’s just working so much better for them. The cow is not as aggressive. They’re not protective of their baby, which is a big thing when you have small kids on a homestead. For me, anyway, my kids like to be in there. And if you have a cow that’s really protective, sometimes they can be like that. And that’s not really enjoyable for anybody.
Lisa Bass Yeah. We’re trying to figure out the economics of that too, because the first time around, we just did the lazy first timer approach of just leaving the calf with the cow. And now she is over one and she still nurses. And not all the time. Like we’re separating them most of the time, but when they get back together, she still nurses. And so I think we’ve messed up there because also—until we finally just separated them in different pens—we weren’t getting hardly any cream. And now we’re getting all this cream, and I’m like, “We would have gotten this cream this whole time, like this entire year.” And so now I’m thinking it’s probably better to completely separate them right away.
Ash Turner And it’s hard because it’s a lot more work for you because then you can’t leave the farm unless you have— you know, it’s nice sometimes because you can be like, “Well, I’m just going to leave the calf with her all the time and we can go away for the day,” or whatever it is. So there’s that component, too. But I agree with you. They really do hold back that cream for their calf. And actually, I know that there’s an argument that it’s not humane or whatever. It’s actually harder on the calf because eventually you have to separate them anyways. And if you live on a homestead where you only have the two of them, that can be really stressful for the calf to— then they’re living by themselves. At least this way they sort of live together. I don’t know if you’ve tried the paddle in the nose. The paddle in the nose is a really good trick.
Lisa Bass We are currently trying something in the nose and yeah, it worked for a while. And she figured out how to bypass it. Finally. Yeah, she finally figured it out. All of the sudden, we’re getting less milk.
Ash Turner Well, when they’re bigger, they can kind of figure out how to maneuver that around. When they’re young, they just sort of give up because they’re like, “Well, I’m going to get that bottle twice a day. It’s coming. I might as well just wait for it.” And they sort of just wait for it. But I know. I am not sure what we’re going to do this time. I’m not set up and ready to be milking twice a day that much right now. So I don’t know what we’ll end up doing, but I do think that it is better to separate them.
Lisa Bass Yeah. If you’re looking from a strictly economical, not really maybe thinking about your freedom from the farm then yeah— just based on my limited experience of doing this for one year, I think I completely agree with you. I didn’t know that at first. But it’s becoming more and more clear to me that that’s why people do that.
Ash Turner Yeah.
Lisa Bass So, okay, another misconception is you had to grow up on a farm to homestead, to learn things. So what are some of your favorite recommended resources for those who dream of learning old fashioned skills but didn’t grow up knowing them? Like, how were you able to build up the confidence in learning this kind of stuff?
Ash Turner I probably do everything backwards. I just do it and then figure it out as I go, I guess.
Lisa Bass I guess I’m the same way, so—
Ash Turner I did milk a cow. I went to a friend’s house. I bought my first cow. I had never milked a cow. And then the second cow we bought, I went to her house and I milked with her to make sure that the cow was going to work for us. I did that twice and then brought her home and then just figured it out from there. But I think that the important thing— I think because for me, I’m not good with reading or watching things and applying it before I’m actually in that situation. And I know I have a friend that’s really great with that. She just reads everything and then she knows all the things and so she knows exactly how to handle all the situations. And I just don’t. My brain doesn’t work like that, so I find I have to just do it. And so what I’ve found, as we’ve moved through the last five years, is finding mentors that are just really good at that specific thing that you are doing. We had a mentor for the pigs who taught us how to castrate the piglets, and he was excellent for like if you had a sick pig to come over and you didn’t have to call the vet, so he would come over and help with that. We had a mentor for the cows, and then I had a mentor for the dairy cow. Just finding people that are excited to tell you all about it because they love it. And that would be my biggest recommendation, but only strictly speaking from what has really worked for me as we’ve kind of come through this whole cycle of the last five years. I can’t say I’ve read a whole lot of things, but I know that Daniel did dive a bit into Joel Salatin when we first got started with the cows, and we are going to implement a lot of his stuff on the farm as we start to fence off our pastures. So we really did like him and what he has to offer as far as like rotating pigs and cows and that sort of thing.
Lisa Bass Yeah, we’re looking into the same thing because another newbie mistake we made was we bought our son a pony and we put the pony out in the pasture and thought, “What damage could a pony do because he’s just a little pony?” Well, he completely ruined our front hill. Apparently, ponies eat all the way down with their teeth. And so we basically have no pasture left. And so we’re going to be doing a lot of the rotational stuff that Joel Salatin recommends. But how are you finding these mentors? Just through friends of friends, maybe from church, from Facebook?
Ash Turner All of it. I don’t even know. I feel like they just sort of came to us. It was just random. Now, I will say for our cows, that was a neighbor. So he ended up actually being the— he’s a crop farmer. So all the land that we ended up buying, he actually farmed it. He had hay fields and crop fields and stuff around us and had introduced himself to us really early on. And they had a giant sheep farm. And so I got into sheep, and then we got out of sheep, and we started cows, and he sort of came in and helped us with the cows. I think meeting people in your area. Church is another really great place. There seems to be a lot of old farmers that love to give you their kind of two cents on things. And you just take what works and leave what doesn’t, and people are always really eager to lend a hand. We had a calf that was born in an ice storm last year. No, this year. And the mother rejected it. And we had called a friend of Daniel’s that he knew in high school, but really wasn’t friends with him for years after that just because life gets busy. And he came like right away. He came over, he tied up the cow, he tried to get the calf on her. Just like really willing people to help. And I think in the farming community, you find a lot more of that than you don’t. If you’re willing to kind of put yourself out there vulnerably and ask for help.
Lisa Bass Yeah, we even met a few through Instagram, so some that are remote. Like we have to actually just ask questions from people that we know on Instagram, but then also some friends that we met who also are local. So whenever our cow had her calf— and we expected the calf several months later than she had her. That’s a whole long story. And so when she had her, we needed a milk stand right away because we didn’t have one and we weren’t prepared. And so they came over. They gave a lot of their tips. And like you said, it’s not as hard to find those real life mentors as you might think if you’re looking and if you really need it. You know?
Ash Turner And Instagram is amazing for that, too, because there’s tons of people on Instagram that provide so much of their knowledge for free and love to help. And there’s lots of people to kind of browse through highlights and look at their stuff. And as far as dairy cows, there’s specific people I could think of off the top of my head on Instagram that would be the best go-to people for that. And then for gardening, same thing. I have a list of people that I would go to on the Instagram and ask questions to that I’d met through that app. So it’s a great place to kind of see and learn information because there’s a ton of it floating around on there.
Lisa Bass Oh, there is. So who would you mention for gardening and dairy right off hand?
Ash Turner Right off hand, Kate from Venison for Dinner. I’m sure you know Kate from Venison for Dinner.
Lisa Bass Yes. I just had her on the podcast, actually.
Yeah. Just had her on. I don’t even know if that— yeah, that aired. It aired.
Ash Turner Yeah. Kate for dairy cow questions for sure. She seems to have seen it all and has a very rounded homestead approach to owning a dairy cow. And she also has Jersey cows which is what we had. Abby from The Gateway Farm is also another one that I would recommend for dairy cows. She grew up on a dairy farm, and then now she has, I think, three or four Guernsey cows. So anything like if your cow gets bloated or has milk fever or from a medical perspective, Abby really knows her stuff and has quick answers that she— she’s kind of my go-to in the middle of the night if I have a quick emergency cow question. And then for gardening, I would say @RuthAnnZimm. So, RuthAnn Zimmerman. I don’t know if you follow her.
Lisa Bass I do, I do. And actually I had so many people recommend her to come on the podcast.
Ash Turner Oh yeah. She would be amazing to have on here. She is a wealth of all of it, really. But especially her gardening and her preserving and all of that. If I ever had questions about that, she is just like— she’s always able to help.
Lisa Bass Those are all really, really good tips.
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Lisa Bass Okay. So one more misconception that I have before I’m going to have to pick your brain just for a few minutes about sourdough. The last one is that the market’s too high. We need to move to a different town. I need X, Y, Z to start. What would you say to someone who wants to homestead but feels like the timing is never right?
Ash Turner Yeah. Timing is such a funny thing, isn’t it? I think it’s less about timing and more about— what I’ve learned over these years and the years waiting to get here even— it’s less about timing and more about perspective. So we have this idea of the perfect timing. But is it really the perfect timing? And I feel like any timing is the perfect timing because there’s like divine time. And I’ve watched my timeline crumble around me of what we thought we were going to be doing. And then all of a sudden something else opens up. And so I think it’s like, instead of putting your sights towards this specific thing, it’s like, “What can we do here and now in the circumstances that we’re presented with to kind of build knowledge, to build skills, to propel us toward what we’re working towards? What can we control in this moment?” And so for us, we started—again—like we had two acres of land. It doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t have to be the perfect Pinterest house. You know, I think that there’s this misconception. It can be like a small fixer upper on an acre of land and you learn the skills that you need to propel you towards the next goal. And it’s like just being in the journey of it, which sounds really cliche, but it’s like we’re always kind of striving to the next thing and what the perfect timing is. And really, I don’t know, every time you get to that thing, there’s always going to be a next thing. So I think that not lowering expectations, but what can you do here and now where you are to kind of propel you towards those goals? And that doesn’t necessarily have to mean picking up and moving. It could just simply mean I’m going to do some raised beds in my backyard and learn to make sourdough or I’m going to make butter from cream that I buy at the grocery store for my family because— like those types of things. Perfect timing. It’s like a loaded— I think that’s like a loaded thing, isn’t it?
Lisa Bass It is. And I agree with you. I feel like we’ve been homesteading for our entire marriage pretty much. But really we’ve only had acreage in the last three years. So all of the things that I do now have been just very much a progression. There isn’t much more that we do here that we didn’t do at our last house, even though— now, we have a dairy cow. But before, I got dairy from a local raw organic dairy farm and did all the same stuff, just I didn’t milk it myself.
Ash Turner Exactly. And I think that that’s really important. Or even learning to preserve your own food or learning to do things with vegetables in preserving things before you actually have the space to have a garden or those types of things. I think there’s so many things that can build up which looking back, I wish I had done more of them before we got here. I just— my brain just doesn’t work in that way. But I think if that was the advice I could give to anyone, that’s what it would be.
Lisa Bass Yeah, definitely. Okay. So since we talked about learning things that you don’t necessarily have to have a homestead to learn, let’s go into sourdough just a tiny bit because I love sourdough. I’ve had my starter for going on 12 years now, long before it was like Instagram trendy like it is now.
Ash Turner Cool. Same.
Lisa Bass And I know you are a sourdough person as well. I actually look back through my DMs, I’m like, oh, we collaborated on something sourdough two years ago. Over two years ago.
Ash Turner Yeah.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Okay. So I was looking at your page and I noticed that you have the most beautiful chocolate loaf, which I’m actually testing one for my blog right now, and I actually already photographed it. But yours is so beautiful and you have so many different beautiful recipes on your Instagram. So what are some of your favorite sourdough recipes?
Ash Turner Yeah, the chocolate bread would definitely be up there. I don’t know about yours, but for the one that I have, it looks like chocolate cake, but it’s actually not super, super sweet. And so we use it for everything. It’s like the most satisfying bread that I make for us is the chocolate loaf. I absolutely love it. The cinnamon dough that I have on there— I think on my Instagram, I think I’ve made it into maybe like four or five different things on there, but the cinnamon dough would definitely be the next one. That’s a discard recipe, which is really helpful for people who are feeding their sourdough starters and have a ton of discard in the fridge. That one you can do so many different things with. So those would be my two probably top. And then every Christmas, I make Lindor truffle sourdough bread.
Lisa Bass Oh, okay. I’m going have to keep my eye out for that one.
Ash Turner And you know what’s funny is that a lot of people in the States that I taught in my classes made that bread— because I gave the recipe in the classes. And I think your Lindor truffles are different than the ones in Canada. They have more oil or something in them. Anyways, I know that people in the States had trouble with that one, but anyway, we make it. We just chop them all up and I put it right in the dough of like regular sourdough recipe. So you can do it with any sourdough recipe. You just chop up a whole bunch of Lindor chocolates and toss it in, and it will blow your mind. I gift it to everyone at Christmas.
Lisa Bass Okay. So I’m going to have to follow that. I don’t know if I have to order in some Lindor from Canada or what, but that sounds amazing. So with your chocolate bread, are you doing butter and honey or do you do some peanut butter or what’s your favorite way to serve it?
Ash Turner Yeah, I like butter and maple sugar on it. I love maple sugar, so we sprinkle the maple sugar on it. But if I don’t make it with chocolate chips, we actually make sandwiches out of it, like regular roast beef sandwiches. And I know that sounds really crazy.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah. As long as the chocolate chips aren’t in there, I could see that.
Ash Turner It’s just a really dark, rich type bread. And with beef, it just is really, really nice. So that’s one thing that we make with it is just regular sandwiches.
Lisa Bass We need to try that. I haven’t thought of that. We just did the chocolate chips and I put the cocoa powder and I basically just based it off of my normal everyday sourdough bread recipe and just maybe increased the liquid a little bit. But it made it more cakey, and we just did butter and honey and it was really good. But I need to try that with the roast beef. I could totally see that being good.
Ash Turner Yeah, it’s really good. And it’s such a lovely dough to work with. When you’re making it— I’m sure you found that with yours. Like the cocoa makes it this buttery, soft, beautiful dough too work with. And it’s definitely a really nice recipe for beginners because it’s not overly wet. It’s a bit of a drier dough. It’s like a little bit of a lower hydration because of the cocoa. So it’s a really nice one for beginners to try out.
Lisa Bass Cool. What are you experimenting with right now in regards to sourdough in your kitchen?
Ash Turner With sourdough? So it’s really hot here in Nova Scotia, so I’ve been making lots of discard recipes. So any snacks— like we’ve been doing lots of scones and cookies and lots of stuff with my discard. I’m kind of trialing using discard as a batter. So we do a monthly subscription and one of the participants that’s in the subscription had dipped her cauliflower or something in the sourdough discard and then and then fried it in oil. Have you done that?
Lisa Bass I’ve done it with chicken.
Ash Turner With chicken. Oh, that would be really good. Okay. So I’m trying to get enough discard so I can do a big cook with something like that and frying it because I haven’t tried that. I’ve made a batter out of discard, but I haven’t done just simply the discard with that.
Lisa Bass Yeah. People always ask me how I build my sourdough starter up, and I find that I can feed it as much flour and water as I need. Like I can feed it eight cups. It’s going to be totally okay. Do you find that, too, with your starter?
Ash Turner So I actually feed my starter super small. I do like the two jar method, so I feed it into a clean jar. I go between two jars, so I’ll feed into a clean jar and then discard what’s left. So then I make 11. So that’s like a super sized feed to use in my bread instead of keeping a really large starter. And then I don’t have to use as much flour, so I just kind of go back and forth between two jars and I feed it like just a tiny little bit, just enough to keep it kind of thriving. And that’s sort of how I’ve always done it.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah.
Ash Turner So this is the thing with sourdough, though, isn’t it? There’s so many different ways to do it. There’s really not a wrong way to feed your sourdough starter. It’s either just going to just ferment faster or it’s going to ferment slower depending on how much food you feed it. So I think people get really caught up in sourdough starters and how difficult they perceive it to be because there’s so many ways to do it. But really, it’s just flour and water.
Lisa Bass Yeah, exactly. I’m always trying to help people to understand just what it is behind the sourdough starter so people actually know what they’re doing because a lot of times they take my directions and then they have questions that make me realize that they don’t understand what I’m saying still. I’m like, “If you’re asking that question, we still need to go back to the beginning here on what’s actually happening with the yeast and the flour.”
Ash Turner Yes, I think there’s quite a divide. I see that in the subscription, too. There’s a divide initially with people who are learning how to make a sourdough starter. They don’t really quite understand the concept of what it is and what they’re trying to accomplish with with the starter. So yeah, I agree with that for sure.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. It’s my goal to help people understand what’s actually— what are we actually doing here? And then you can adjust that for however it fits your lifestyle. If it’s keeping a really small starter, keeping a lot— if you know what it is you’re trying to cultivate here, then you can really take that a lot of different ways. Okay, so tell us where to find you, where to find all of your wonderful sourdough recipes. I know I was looking through your Instagram when I was ready to just be in my kitchen for the rest of this entire year. So, so much good stuff over there. Tell us about where to find you and also what you offer as far as your sourdough classes and all of that.
Ash Turner Yeah. So on Instagram, I have just a linktree link in my bio, and then it has all of my offerings there. So I wrote a sourdough cookbook with Lizi from The Food Nanny. We collaborated on a sourdough cookbook. So that is actually available for pre-sale, but it’s probably not going to actually be ready to ship until about November. So we’re really, really excited for that. So that will come out in the fall. And then I do a monthly subscription offering as well. So it’s kind of a little bit more broad than just sourdough, but it’s pretty much every single thing that you’d ever need to learn for sourdough is kind of included inside of that subscription. We started that because I have been teaching the classes for so long and like you, I was getting lots of questions realizing that, okay, that two-hour class, they’re not getting it. It’s still confusing. And so we started the subscription to kind of carry people through the seasons because I don’t know about you, but when my starter goes from summer to winter, it completely changes and so does my bread. And so it’s been so wonderful to have people go through the seasons and the subscription and be able to help them kind of figure their bread out as they move through. And then my husband does competition barbecue, so he does a lot of his recipes in there as well. And then I also teach just like a single beginner sourdough class. I have one left this year on September 17th, so you can find all that in the link in my bio, though, on Instagram and kind of browse through it.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So @Turner.Farm. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge on homesteading and then also on sourdough. I think we could do a whole separate sourdough episode and just talk all about it.
Ash Turner For sure.
Lisa Bass But make sure to go check out all of her recipes and all of her content over @Turner.Farm over on Instagram. So much good stuff there. So thanks again.
All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Simple Farmhouse podcast, and I will see you in the next one.