426 | Homeschooling and Homesteading (Jessica Smartt with Megan Ross) | REPLAY

426 | Homeschooling and Homesteading (Jessica Smartt with Megan Ross) | REPLAY

Show Notes:

In this episode, Jessica interviews Megan Ross, who amazingly juggles both homeschooling five children AND running an impressive homesteading operation. We talk about all the things - balancing schoolwork and farm chores, butchering animals (yes), growing fruit trees, and which homesteading ventures offers the biggest ROI.

About Megan

Megan Ross is a first generation homeschooler and homesteader in North Carolina. She raises five children, along with goats, rabbits, chickens, and lots of crops on her two-acre well-maximized space.

About Jessica

Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.


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Show Transcript:

Jessica Smartt Hey, everybody! Welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jessica Smartt and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. I'm also the author of Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids, and the creator and founder of Homeschool Bootcamp. Each week we bring in encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title is Homeschool Solutions, of course, we don't pretend to have the answer to every question. It's our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ, that you'll seek his counsel as you train your kids in the way they should go.

Jessica Smartt Here's a riddle for you parents: Homeschoolers love them. Enemies of freedom hate them. What are they? They're the Tuttle Twins books. With millions of copies sold, the Tuttle Twins helps you teach your kids about entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, the golden rule, and more. Get a discounted set of books with free workshops today at TuttleTwins.com/homeschool. That's TuttleTwins.com/homeschool. And now on to today's show.

Jessica Smartt Hi, this is Jessica Smartt. I'm one of the hosts of The Homeschool Solutions podcast. I'm so glad to be with you today. I have a wonderful guest that I think is going to be really interesting and helpful for you. I know that everyone is kind of launching into their summer routines, and both of my books are, I think, an amazing accompaniment to Summer for moms: Let Them Be Kids is a great easy read, funny and I think motivational too, so you can pick that one up. It's actually been kind of fussy on Amazon. If you don't see it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Target should have it. And then Memory Making Mom: Building Traditions That Breathe Life Into Your Home — I love reading that and kind of thinking about those traditions as we launch into the fall, and so I think it would be just a helpful and easy read if you're looking to build a little bit more meaning into your home, if you haven't picked those up, you want to do a copy of that this summer. And if you're looking to find me on Instagram or you have any questions or follow ups about this, I am @Jessica.Smartt over on Instagram. So I'm glad to be with you today. Today I have my friend Megan Ross with me. Megan's going to tell you a little bit about herself. I know that this will be encouraging interview because although she's amazing, one of my favorite things about Megan is that she doesn't make you feel that you're behind, or... She's just very encouraging in what she says. So, I'm hoping that it can be really helpful, no matter how far along you are on this stage because of homesteading or gardening, preserving, any of that, because I certainly am not very far along, so don't worry. But, Megan, just glad to have you here. Welcome to the show.

Megan Ross Thank you, Jessica. I'm really excited to be here. This is going to be, I think, super fun... Hang out with you and hopefully some of you guys listening will benefit.

Jessica Smartt Absolutely. Yeah so, Megan, just tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

Megan Ross Sure. Well, my husband's name is Mitch, and we've been married for 17 years. We have five children from 13 down to four months old. My husband is a business owner, and I homestead, so... and homeschool.

Jessica Smartt Yeah, that sounds great. Megan and I actually know each other through our homesteading co-op, and she's just a wonderful addition and all of her five children. So, Megan, tell us a little bit about your, like, homestead and what you have going on on your little plot of land.

Megan Ross We do have a little plot of land that is a very real statement. So we have, just a little bit over two acres and half of it is just the grass around the house, and the other half is the woods, and a creek running through the middle of those two things. We have three mama goats. They're those Nigerian Dwarf mini goats, and we often have their babies around until they sell, so we milk them. And then we also have turkeys and chickens, and we used to have rabbits for a while. Plus we garden and we have fruit trees and herbs and flowering things that we really enjoy.

Jessica Smartt Yes, and Megan brought some of her goat milk products to co-op to let us try... I was shocked because I kind of thought goat milk had a very particular taste, but it tasted very similar to dairy milk products, and there was such a wide variety in the texture and flavors of everything. What all did you make again for this year with your goat milk?

Megan Ross Okay, let's see. We used the cream to make some butter and to make some whipping cream. And then I had made cheese curds and pudding. I can't remember what else right now. Oh, and goat milk caramel. I actually have a batch on the stove right now, and I'm making some fresh goat cheese that's fermenting on the fridge.

Jessica Smartt Wow. Amazing. Like you said, I've seen it. It is a very small... Well, not very small, but it's not a giant farm and I think that can be kind of encouraging to people. And it's not like you grew up on a farm. You kind of started this and learned everything from scratch, right? So what was your first experiment as a homeschooling mom? What was your first dabbling into this world? What was the first step you took?

Megan Ross Oh gosh. The very first step I took probably was just when my kids were, you know, preschool — my first two kids were in, like, preschool — I just started gardening and I had things out in pots on our patio. We were in a rental house, and I just, I remember a friend of ours had horses and she said, "Do you want to come get some manure?" And I was like, "Yes!" So it really just started with some pots on my back porch in a rental house. And then we moved and I had some like a half an acre to play with, and I did fruit trees and a garden there. I dug up like 4000ft² of that... I remember that house. And it fed us a lot and then when we moved here, I just kind of just jumped in. I'd read a little bit about chickens and goats, and I got both within a week's time.

Jessica Smartt So what do you think in your whole homesteading journey has been the hardest project or the most overwhelming as you're also parenting and homeschooling?

Megan Ross Oh, I think weeding. I think weeding is my nemesis. No, but okay, so there was... So let's see, when I first started like the homestead homestead with the live animals five years ago, I had a little baby. That was Noble when he was, like four or five months old, and I just noticed that I had some middle of the night anxiety about keeping the animals alive. And now I'm kind of back in that place again with another baby that's four months old, and I'm waking up with the same anxiety. And honestly, I mean, those of us that struggle with that kind of thing, I don't normally, but we know how hard that can be... you start questioning yourself and wondering if it's the homesteading's fault or just your hormones. So, that's hard.

Jessica Smartt Yes. Well, it is a lot of responsibility on you. And I mean, my hunch says it's probably just like, maybe misplaced maternal instincts or something. But, I think you're doing a good job. What do you feel like the projects are that are the most rewarding? That if you had to drop things, would be like the last to go?

Megan Ross Well, for us, the goats are probably the most rewarding. It's the constant supply of milk for a family with this many kids, it's kind of nice when that's available to you.

Jessica Smartt So if somebody is considering goats, obviously you'd want to look at your HOA, but what do you have to have to have goats? What does it take?

Megan RossIt takes a couple of goats. And you've got to have like pasture or forage for them, which in our case is some dense woods.

Jessica Smartt Fenced in?

Megan Ross Yeah, they need to be fenced in and we actually have portable electric fencing because we don't have what you call a dry lot. They are on fresh grass or in the woods always. We move that around every other day and sometimes we get to leave it out longer. So electric fencing is important because it keeps the goats in and it keeps the predators out.

Jessica Smartt So does your electric fence... Are they wearing a collar like a dog or is it…?

Megan Ross Well, the fence itself is electrified. It's a physical fence that we... kind of like netting that we put up, and then we have an electrifier for it and have it hooked up to the fence.

Jessica Smartt So obviously you have young kids. That system has worked well, though?

Megan Ross Yeah, so I know that sounds really scary, but my kids go out into the livestock area in rubber boots, so if they do get shocked, it's not very bad.

Jessica Smartt Interesting. Okay, so that's interesting. And then, what are you feeding them and how often is it? Are they pretty hearty animals you feel like?

Megan Ross They can be. They have some issues they can have and you've got to kind of learn about that and learn about their nutrient needs. But for the most part, they're pretty easy. And the Nigerian Dwarfs especially are pretty hearty, and they're good at giving birth without much help. So they've been great. We actually, in the five years that we've had goats, have never had one die. So that's huge and I'm glad because I think that would make me really sad.

Jessica Smartt So basically you've got a male and a female or, no. You have just females that you then whatever the word is?

Megan Ross Yeah. So we do only keep females here and then they go to another farm for one week in the fall and they usually get bred there. And then we bring them home and five months later we get babies and milk.

Jessica Smartt Okay. And you are the midwife for the goats?

Megan Ross I am, yeah.

Jessica Smartt Is that hard or is that something you would not recommend to a novice?

Megan Ross Well, with the Nigerian Dwarfs, they usually do a pretty good job. But if you've never been around for it, I highly recommend you grab somebody who knows something about any type of animal giving birth.

Jessica Smartt Yeah. Wow. Okay, so the goats, and then tell me about your rabbits. You know, I didn't say this opening, but I think my renewed interest in this... I'm not naturally like you, like, oh, I want to just dig up a bunch of things and, you know, care for more living beings. I'm already overwhelmed with the living beings, but I think my interest is piqued, and probably a lot of other people, as we're recording this in 2020 and there's, you know, food shortages talk and things are visibly more expensive. So I have been and my brother-in-law is really interested in the meat rabbit idea, just as like having a backup protein source. What does that require? And how was that experience for your family?

Megan Ross Well, we had a really positive experience with rabbits. The only reason we don't have them at the moment is because of the recent baby. And we just are trying to pair things down, but one of the reasons we felt okay selling them was because we had so much rabbit meat in the freezer. And rabbits are fairly easy to come by. You know, our goats are from good milking lines, they're registered, they have papers, like... I wanted to only take care of them if they were going to be worth it. Rabbits... I've had good luck, almost with any breed I've tried, depending on what you're trying to do. So they just require like... You've got to give them dry hay, alfalfa and you can buy rabbit feed that's all pressed together in they're little pellets and it's very easy, but that's kind of one of those things that the price is probably going to go up and probably is already up. But we never did that because they have wheat in it and we are a strictly gluten free family. My son and I both have celiac disease, so we don't want to be touching it. So we always mixed our own grain with sunflower seeds and oats and some loose mineral that you can find in the livestock world and mixed all that together and then gave them dry hay. So they do need a lot if you have them in a little cage, like above the grass, but we would also put them out in little rabbit tractors around the yard and push that around and that saved a lot of feed. And was good for them, you know, that they could go out and eat that. So just have to feed them and they have to provide clean water but it was never an overbearing chore, I don't think. Like my seven year old would argue that she didn't want to do it, but for me, it's not really a big deal. And you get a lot of rabbit, you get a lot of meat.

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Jessica Smartt So my two big concerns with rabbits are number one — that I would get attached to them because they're so cute. Do you feel like you just have a mindset change when you know it's a meat animal?

Megan Ross I do on some level. It takes some... I'm going to call it practice. You kind of have to talk to yourself, you know, that this is... Not everyone's going to agree with this mentality and I totally understand that and that's fine. But for us it's just looking at the animal and saying, you know, "This is why we have the animal. This is its purpose for us to be humans and to have food." And when you have a lot of them, I guess that kind of makes it easier on some level because, you know, you can't just keep them forever. And so you've planned from the beginning that they're going to be your food. And I know that's a really hard mentality for some people but you've maybe have heard it said that, "these animals have one bad day." And that's always our goal is that we are able to give them a good life, with lots of good food, that they don't get hungry, that they are cared for when they're sick, that they get to be outside as much as possible, that we try to make it a good life for them, and then one day it's over. So it is hard, and it isn't like a joyful moment ever. But you do kind of get used to that feeling.

Jessica Smartt Yeah. And I would suspect... We don't have any animals here on our property that are meat animals yet, but I feel like you would probably appreciate your meals so much more. Like when you eat meat, It's like... I mean, I saw somebody on Alone that was so grateful to eat their rabbit. Like, thank you very much. I mean, they were a little bit weird. So they were thanking the... But I do feel like it would make you kind of be a little bit more thoughtful about your meat consumption, do you think?

Megan Ross I think it does. We would try to make it stretch, you know, to some extent. We try to use every part of the rabbit we can and we do.

Jessica Smartt So that was my second question about rabbits is... And if you're listening to this, I know that your opinion of Megan will rise to the surface as mine did when I found this out, but Megan herself is the butcher. Like, you're the one that's doing this and I am just trying to picture this whole thing, but, is it something that anyone can learn or do you feel like you have this very unique skill set, and most people would probably send the animals off?

Megan Ross Oh, that is a really fair question. It's not something I feel like anyone should expect themselves to just be able to be okay with and do. I think that you can try and you maybe don't know until you try and have raised the animal —

Jessica Smartt I mean, did you like, watch YouTube? [00:16:07][1.3]

Megan Ross Yes. Lots of YouTube videos. And I had previously butchered chickens and turkeys, which are not the same, you know, as a mammal, but it kind of gives you an idea of what you're doing and how to keep everything tidy. But yes, YouTube. I'm not going to lie, that is the place.

Jessica Smartt And so you do it all in one day. How long did that take you? How many rabbits did you have the last time you had them and what kind of a time commitment are you looking at?

Megan Ross Well, so I do this mostly alone. So it's just me, one person in the backyard. I usually spend from, like 8:00 am getting everything ready until about lunchtime. Everything's cleaned up and sanitized. I can get eight to ten rabbits done in that amount of time. Which is not a lot. So some people are probably like giggling at me but for just doing this as a hobby for our family, I'm pretty content with that.

Jessica Smartt Oh, I am not giggling. So I think that leads into the kids question because I'm picturing like, do you try to kind of keep your younger ones out of the way? And then secondary question is, and this is a bigger one, but like what benefits have you seen in them through this whole lifestyle? So the whole process of life and birth is very real to them — they're watching the goats be born, they're watching the, you know, rabbits aren't there and we know we're eating them... How do you bring them along in that process, like mentally, emotionally and what benefits have you seen — either with that aspect or just in general — of homesteading?

Megan Ross Well, specifically, like during the butchering part of things, I try to give them the choice. I try to let them know what's going to happen, what it's going to be like, because it's not always a pretty sight. And, you know, some of them are more prone to come and watch and some are not. And some have insisted they want to watch the whole thing and then since then, kind of shy away from that part. And then one of my daughters, who really doesn't like to watch me butcher, will come and actually do the killing, which is interesting. She wants to be part of that, but then she doesn't want to see the rest. And I just let them. This is a thing, I'm not going to push them. You know, I just kind of let them choose what part they want to be involved in. But none of them have ever not eaten it when I will tell them, you know, "This is our rabbit that we raised." They might be visibly uncomfortable, but I've never forced them to eat it, but everyone always has. So, I mean, my kids are... I guess just because they're walking alongside and seeing everything and there's lots of animals here, you know, I guess maybe they don't get attached to just the one so much so often. Yeah, but with the rabbits, I have sold rabbits instead of butchering them that my daughter is particularly attached to just because I didn't want to do that to her. But it's a process, and sometimes they're ready and sometimes they're not.

Jessica Smartt So talk about your kids. I know because I know you, that your kids are really involved in the farm and your oldest, we didn't talk about ages, but your oldest is 14? 13?

Megan Ross He's still 13.

Jessica Smartt And he's a big help to you. When you look back on this part of your life, what benefits do you think you'll be most grateful for with your kids?

Megan Ross I guess my hope is that they are learning some real deep stuff, you know? Not only is this like a skill and a mentality, a lifestyle — to be aware of and understand how it would function should they need that — but also just that building that responsibility and routine. I see them growing in like compassion. You know, if they don't take care of the animals and they don't have water all day or food all day, you know, they get to think about that. How did that feel to the creature? And then I think it just... Well, my hope, I mean, obviously they're not grown yet, but my hope is that they'll look back and see the value of what we've done. When I think about this kind of thing, I always have like one word that just pops into my head and that word is efficiency. You know, we're not running a business. We're not making big bucks. We are providing something healthy and nutritious and wholesome for our family. But we're also... Some of the words I said before, we're causing my children to have a routine. As homeschool families, a lot of us like to run take ships, right? We want to get the math done, we want to complete our lessons. But like, I want some of those lessons to be outside, you know? This gets them outside into the fresh air, it gives them a routine; they're not packing backpacks and lunches and all this, like my friends who are going to, you know, conventional schools, but they are getting up, taking care of the animals, getting that fresh air, and I just think that it creates a rhythm and a routine that is healthy and good. They don't always want to go out, but they do, so.

Jessica Smartt Well tell me about how you structure your year or I guess what I'm getting at is how do you kind of fit homeschooling in? What changes have you chosen to make to kind of make it work for your family?

Megan Ross Well, so first of all, we do run our school year from January until we finish with our curriculum, which is typically into September/October. So then we get like a break where we can travel. My husband actually was raised on a grain farm. So we go up there and help with the corn harvest and all that, so that's neat for us. And then we take like a two week break in the spring while the babies are born so that we can just be outside, get the garden planted, enjoy those little babies and just not have to think about the other things. So that's the first thing. We do have our school year be a little bit different. And for us, that's six months ahead of a conventional school schedule. So if we ever got behind, my kids would actually be a few months ahead. They could just take off until August and they'd be in the correct grade, if that makes sense. The other thing is, we can change what hours we do school at home. So right now it's starting to get pretty hot in North Carolina, here. And I can see that if I wanted to, we could start school at like 10:00 instead of 8:30 and that would give us some time in the morning before it got too hot to be out there harvesting the berries that are coming in or weeding in the garden and all that. And so we have that flexibility where we are accomplishing a lot, but we can move those units of the day around so that we're doing school inside during the heat of the day.

Jessica Smartt And if you don't mind me asking this, you don't have to answer, but do you pay your kids for some of these chores? Or is it kind of like, "Hey, we're all a family, we're all in this together."

Megan Ross Totally pay them. I totally do because these are our chores and we do use that as a motivator, but we also have some requirements on them for things that they are supposed to pay for. So like when they go to a birthday party, they actually are purchasing those gifts with their own money. So we don't just, you know, give them the money, we give them the responsibility of things that they can take care of themselves. It kind of balances it out so they don't just have all this cash.

Jessica Smartt I love that.

Megan Ross Another neat thing we do, which is totally unrelated, is when my kids get paid their chore money, if they will give us half of it back, we put it in the bank for them and we have a matching program.

Jessica Smartt Wow, that's awesome.

Megan Ross It's kind of the Dave Ramsey thought of the day. That's what we do.

Jessica Smartt I love it. And you are a Dave Ramsey family.

Megan Ross Oh yes, we have been debt free, except for the house, since 2009.

Jessica Smartt That's awesome. I almost want to let you do the debt free scream that I hear him do on his podcast, but I won't make you do that because I know you have sleeping babies —

Megan Ross We never got through to do that!

Jessica Smartt So I guess my last question is, let's say you're somebody on the fence or who just really feels a yearning to become more self-reliant, to provide their own food... What would you say to start with and what would be your general words of encouragement for somebody wanting to get more in this direction but may feel overwhelmed with where they are in life or just locale? What would you say?

Megan Ross Well, if you're truly seeking to have like a self-sustainable lifestyle and it's not just that you want some chickens for pets, but you truly want a self-reliance, I would say just survey what is already around you and figure out what is edible, like, in your yard, and then try to figure out a way that you would enjoy those things. So cultivate, in my words, cultivate a taste for the things that already thrive around you.

Jessica Smartt Weeds, you're talking about.

Megan Ross I am kind of talking about weeds, yes. And then, you know, we're five years into this particular property and I can see kind of also just which fruit trees don't have so many bug problems or diseases.

Jessica Smartt And which are those, by the way? We are in the zone five, right Megan?

Megan Ross We are in 7b, and so my Baldwin pear and my moon glow pear don't have any issues, like I don't normally spray at all and they do fine. And then I have an Elberta peach that the bugs don't really bother, but I have a nectarine — I actually don't know what variety it is — that they gobble up. And then persimmons don't really have anything attacking them and they grow really well here. You know, start looking around you. What is doing? Well, what can I already take advantage of? And start there and then also just try growing something you enjoy that you would already buy at the grocery store. So kind of do both, you know? If you love cucumbers, grow some cucumbers, ferment them, make some pickles. Just start dabbling in it and beyond that, my advice is get out there and do a few things and fail faster because lots of things die. You figure out what you do and don't have time for, but just get going, have some fun.

Jessica Smartt Yeah that's great. And I do want to clarify, you know, when you're talking about trees, you bought those trees, right? They weren't like you moved to a place that had these giant trees because I think trees to me... Fruit sounds so interesting because fruit is getting so expensive and we eat a ton of it and it feels like, oh, I'll plant a tree and it will take forever. But didn't you buy it? And you're eating the fruit now?

Megan Ross Yes, yes. And so that's 4 to 5 years in but I mean, there aren't peach trees if you buy them just at Lowe's. Sometimes if you put them in in the spring or the fall, you'll actually get fruit that first year.

Jessica Smartt Wow. Well there you go. So thank you, Megan, for lots of those tips. And I just love what you're doing. I think you're a superstar. Not just because you're butchering rabbits, but the whole thing. So thanks for sharing your wisdom. And it just was really fun to have you on the show.

Megan Ross Thanks, Jessica, I've been glad to be here.

Jessica Smartt All right, everybody, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. If you have any follow up questions, I can pass them on to Megan and I certainly will not know the answers, but I bet she will. So reach out on Instagram if you want to let me know your thoughts about this conversation. And, again, you can pick up Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids on Amazon and wherever books are sold. And hope you have a wonderful June and a great kickoff to your summer. Bye bye!

Jessica Smartt Guys, thanks so much for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medicare and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. That's GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and leave us a review, and that'll help other homeschooling parents find our community. And finally, don't forget to tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom. That's @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.

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