Have you ever wanted to just drop everything, and stop relying on other people and businesses for food, an energy?
Living a self-sufficient lifestyle where you don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on groceries, electricity and water every month is a dream that is fast becoming a reality.
You grow your own fruits and vegetables; raise your own livestock, and generate your own electricity. Imagine it: no more utility bills, no more noisy sirens in the middle of the night and no more noisy neighbours!
Obviously, living off the grid comes with certain dangers. Apart from the obvious dangers posed by local wildlife, living in isolation means that you don’t have easy access to help if and/or when you need it.
This means that you have to be especially careful of how you go about doing things on your homestead. Making things work year after year will take a great deal of trial and error.
All this experimentation will typically entail a lot of practice; the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ exists for a reason after all. Constant practice will show you what does and doesn’t work as well what is or isn’t safe.
Using the methods that work and are safe breeds good homesteading practices. Unfortunately, however, life is unpredictable, and we can never be truly ready for anything and everything thrown at us.
That unpredictability can lead us into doing things differently or doing things that we may not normally do. This can, and often does, result in dangerous practices that lead to serious injuries.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Here are X dangerous homesteading practices to avoid…
Note: Dangerous practices can be both accidental and deliberate – I’ll be discussing both.
Table of Contents
Biggest Mistake of All: Being Situationally Unaware
Let’s start off with an easy one: awareness.
You need to be constantly aware of your environment, and any changes that may occur therein. Being unaware of the world around is a proven danger in today’s world and on a homestead that’s doubly true.
Think of it this way; when you run a homestead you are often dealing with plants, animals, and machinery.
A lack of awareness can lead to some pretty nasty injuries, but I have to acknowledge that a lack of awareness isn’t usually a ‘practice’ in the typical sense of the word. We don’t set out to be unaware of things going on around us, sometimes it just happens by accident.
What do I mean by this? Well, let’s start by looking at our relationship to the animals on our homesteads.
Well, yes, you do; but don’t get too comfortable. What I mean by that is; don’t get so comfortable that you forget about or downplay the damage that an animal can do to you.
What kind of animals are on your homestead? A typical homestead may have horses, cows, sheep, and/or pigs. What comes to mind when you think about horses or cows? If I had to guess; I’d say horseback riding and milk, respectively.
When you let your guard down, you forget that these are big animals that can weigh around two or three thousand pounds. That’s a lot of muscle to carry around, and they can use that weight to do some serious damage to you, or to the people around you.
Horses can bite, kick, and step on you. Cattle have horns that can be used to gore you in addition to the possibility of being bitten or trampled.
To a greater extent, this applies to the use of machinery as well. In this case, it comes down to basic human and/or manufacturer’s error. You can check and maintain a machine to the best of your ability, but if there’s something wrong with the machine that you don’t know about then you could get hurt.
On the other hand, wilfully misusing your machinery can result in serious injuries. It’s one thing if it’s an accident, but doing something that you know to be unsafe to any of your homesteading equipment will certainly result in serious injuries and likely void any and all warranties or insurance.
Dangers Around Livestock
This relates to the situational awareness point I made earlier. Animals are great, but we have a tendency to forget or underestimate the dangers associated with working with them. This can lead to some very unpleasant situations.
Forgetting the Safety Measures
We talked about letting our guard down around animals. We move behind horses, turn our backs on rams, get a little too rough with our canine companions…the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, this extends beyond just us and reaches the people around us. We get so comfortable that sometimes we may forget to warn visitors about what not to do. This often leads to them being seriously injured.
Not Knowing Potential Predators
When it comes to working with animals on a homestead you have to be aware of any potential predators in the area around your property. This is so that you know what’s in the area and how to deal with it.
That’s not to say, you should kill an animal trying to get at your stock – although, admittedly you may need to at times – rather when I say ‘deal’ I’m referring to your actions and reactions to the presence of predators.
Knowing what predators frequent your area allows you to build enclosures for your livestock that will withstand an attempted break-in by a wolf or other animal.
It also alerts you as to how you should behave in the event that you have a close encounter with one of these animals. You can also take that knowledge, and share it around so that anyone who comes to visit is also aware and can keep themselves safe.
“That’ll hold him!”
How many times have we heard that line in film and television? The main characters trap the villain and he escapes because they forgot one tiny detail.
This applies to real life too – especially concerning livestock and predators. All too often we put up security measures to keep our animals in but we neglect putting measures in place to keep the predators out!
One example of this is using chicken wire on its own to contain chickens. Sure, it’ll keep them inside but it’s so flimsy that a wolf, mountain lion, or bear could just hop over or break it down.
Overreacting around Predators
This is a big one! When it comes to dealing with wild animals – particularly predatory animals – a single mistake can get you killed.
To some extent, this is true for all members of the animal kingdom; both carnivorous and otherwise. Encountering wolves or other dangerous animals isn’t a common thing unless you’re dealing with snakes – they typically avoid people.
Snakes are very much the same. Even in places where encounters with deadly snakes are commonplace, the snakes themselves will typically move out of your way.
Regardless of how common or uncommon an encounter might be, you don’t want to meet a potentially dangerous animal and freak out about it. If we consider wolves and bears, encounters aren’t commonplace, but you don’t want to run from these animals at the best of times.
Bears are large, and have jaws strong enough to crack/crush bone they can also run ridiculously fast. Wolves are also strong predators, stronger when you consider that they typically hunt in packs.
When it comes to snakes and spiders…don’t try to pick them up. I know it sounds dumb but please don’t try handling them. They aren’t called ‘deadly’ for nothing.
Dangers Related to Machinery
Mishandling your machinery/equipment can cause serious problems when it comes time to harvest your crops. Every time a machine breaks down, you have to either repair or replace it.
So, where does mishandling your machines start? It starts with the user manual.
Not Reading the User Manual
How many times have you actually read the manual that comes with a piece of equipment? Most of the time when new piece of machinery is purchased it comes with a guidebook.
That little book contains everything from starting procedures to troubleshooting so you’d think that they’d be the first things checked. After all, it’s easier to fix a problem yourself than wait for a technician to do it for you.
Unfortunately, some people don’t even bother to look at the manual. This brings up another serious issue: maintenance.
Poorly Maintaining Equipment
Regular maintenance is vital if you want to keep your machines running effectively. Have you ever looked at one of your machines and thought: “I’ll fix it later, it’s not urgent.”?
I’d say we’ve all done this at least once, a piece of machinery needs to have repairs done, but we downplay them. This poses an obvious danger. If the worn parts aren’t replaced on time there’s a chance they can fail while you’re out in the field working.
On the other hand, if a part fails, we tend to replace only that part of the machine instead of checking the other parts for wear and tear. This leads to further problems later on when the unchecked parts fail and damage the machine.
The user manual has all the maintenance information you need. Without that information you end up doing the wrong things at the wrong times. This creates more problems than it solves.
Neglecting or Removing Safety Devices
This is something that doesn’t seem to happen too often, but it’s something you should NEVER do!
As inconvenient as they can be, things like safety shields are there for a reason: to keep you safe from harm. Neglect increases the chances that the safety devices will fail. If that does happen, the results can be decidedly unpleasant.
Removing these devices increases your risk of injury and/or death. It also puts a future owner at risk as, unless you’ve kept and stored the devices properly, they have to do without them.
Purchasing or Working with Faulty Equipment
Speaking of future owners, second-hand purchases are a common thing nowadays – especially with how expensive new equipment can sometimes be.
As long as it’s in good shape, purchasing second-hand equipment is not a problem. A good, thorough examination is needed, anyway, to make absolutely sure that you won’t have any problems with the machine.
Almost nobody will knowingly purchase faulty equipment, but the search for an affordable machine can lead to a misjudged purchase. You see a bargain price, and snatch up that piece of equipment only to have it fall apart on you.
This is frustrating because it means you have to replace that piece of equipment. Bargain prices or cheaper equipment may seem like a good thing, but that’s not always the case. Cheaper equipment may be more likely to fall apart on you.
Overworking your machines can be very, very dangerous.
Every piece of equipment has a limit in terms of what they’re capable of doing. As you get closer to this limit, a warning signal will go off. Ignoring these warning signals can lead to engine failure, burnout, failure or damage to the brakes, shock absorbers.
Working in Bad Conditions
Working in bad weather conditions increases the risk of damage or mechanical failure, and one could end up seriously injured.
Letting Untrained Personnel Use the Machines
This happens more often than you would think. You allocate work to someone in an effort to save time. When it comes to machinery, training isn’t always provided.
This means that the people who work for you may not know what they’re doing with that piece of machinery. Working without training can lead to them seriously injuring themselves or others.
Using the Machinery Incorrectly
Building on the previous point, untrained people tend to use machinery incorrectly. This leads to serious injuries.
Chainsaws can cause deep cuts, tractors can cause serious fractures, and you can get your hands caught in gears or grinders. A good example would be cutting toward instead of away from you.
Dangers in the Garden
When it comes to dangers in your garden, there are only two that come to mind.
Planting the Wrong Thing
Let’s say you want to plant mint in your garden. You do a lot of research, and find what you think is mint only to discover later on that it’s actually something poisonous. Now, this is not a ‘practice’ in the typical sense of the word.
Generally-speaking, if you’ve done enough research – which most people do when they start out – you’ll know what’s safe and what’s not. This means that you’re less likely to plant something dangerous.
On the other hand, planting the wrong thing at the wrong time can lead to a poor harvest which means you’ve lost a lot of money and, by extension, time.
Inadequate Crop Rotation causes Nutritional Depletion in the Soil
Planting the same crop every planting season in the same area will eventually deplete the soil in that area of all of its nutrients. Crop rotation is a method that allows the soil to retain some of those nutrients by planting crops with different nutritional requirements in the same area each planting season.
When done correctly, crop rotation reduces the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides, and lowers the level of soil erosion. This increases the farm’s productivity and longevity. On the other hand, if done incorrectly or not at all… well, basically, everything falls apart.
The soil erosion and nutritional depletion make it almost impossible to grow anything on your homestead. If you rely on your harvest for food and trade, this can be a serious problem as you have little to eat and less to trade/barter.
Overgrazing Lowers the Health of your Livestock
Overgrazing is similar to crop rotation in that, you’re moving your livestock from one pasture to another. As the grass in one pasture decreases, the herd/flock is moved to a new one and the grass in the previous pasture is given time to recover. This is a literal case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence.
Grazing on healthy grass ensures that your stock get all the nutrition that they need; keeping them strong and healthy.
On the other hand, if they are allowed to overgraze – meaning they eat all the grass in a field without giving the ground a chance to replenish itself – damages the land and lowers the nutritional quality of the grass.
This can pose serious health problems among your animals and severely limit your productivity and longevity.
Letting your Grass get Too Long
This may sound a bit… odd, but stick with me for a bit. I’m sure we’ve all neglected our lawns at some point or another.
In an urban area, this isn’t really an issue, as we seldom end up with dangerous things lurking in the grass. On a homestead, however, this is a very dangerous mistake to make.
Depending on where you are, you may have poisonous snakes or spiders. Longer grass provides an easy hunting ground for these animals, as it provides ample camouflage and attracts certain prey items.
The worst part is that you won’t know the snake or whatever is there until it bites you, and that could mean a very long drive to the nearest hospital.
On a somewhat related note, not checking your clothes for snakes or, more particularly, spiders; can also be a huge problem as when your foot goes into your boot, it connects with whatever’s hiding in there, and you get bitten.
Using the Wrong Pesticides/Herbicides
Nobody likes seeing bugs or weeds in their flower beds and, while certain bugs and weeds have a purpose in your garden, there are certain ones you don’t want making the rounds.
With that in mind, you typically grab a pesticide or herbicide to kill the things yourself. This is all well and good… until you’ve used the wrong stuff.
Using the wrong compound can contaminate and damage or kill your crops while doing absolutely nothing to the things you’re trying to kill.
Now, you can’t sell or trade your crops because they’re damaged, and you can’t eat them because you’ll end up poisoning yourself and your family.
This leads me to my next point.
Improper or Inadequate Pest Control
Building on my previous point, you need to keep a careful eye on what bugs come into your garden so you don’t end up killing the wrong ones.
A regular inspection should be done to make sure you don’t have any unwanted guests in amongst your crops. You can do the inspection yourself, but generally-speaking, it’s better to have a professional come in and do it for you.
Most of the time it’s not too expensive, and it’s better to have someone who knows what they’re doing come and look over the place. They can move quickly and get the job done thoroughly.
This way you get rid of the pests correctly, protect your crops from damage, and protect yourself and your family from any unpleasantness resulting from the damaged crop.
Canning and Preserving Food Mistakes
Properly preserving food is vital in order to keep it edible. If you don’t preserve your foods properly it can lead to serious health risks, and some really unpleasant experiences.
Dry Canning Can be the Source of Mold and Bacteria
Dry canning usually involves sealing dried foods (i.e. grains or nuts) in canning jars, and heating the sealed jars in an oven at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Some instructions say to seal the jars AFTER heating in the oven.
All foods contain moisture, and the use of an oven brings that moisture to the surface of the food where it evaporates. In dry foods, this may form pockets of moisture in the food or cause condensation inside the container.
Once sealed, the moisture has nowhere to go and may support the growth of mold and bacteria such as Clostridium Botulinum, or pathogens like Salmonella – which are resistant to drying.
Dry canning can also lead to food spoiling much faster as the food itself is exposed to higher levels of oxidation.
There’s also a chance of the glass shattering in the oven as the glass isn’t designed to handle that kind of intense heat. For this reason, oven canning is neither recommended nor approved as a method of preserving food. In fact, it presents a high risk of botulism poisoning.
Open Kettle Canning puts You at Risk of Food Poisoning
This method involves sealing hot food in jars without any additional heat treatment. The amount of applied heat is often not enough to destroy bacteria.
The product may spoil faster or give you and your family a bad case of food poisoning when eaten. With that in mind, this is not a recommended method for at-home use.
Microwave Canning is a Bad Idea
Microwave ovens should never be used for at-home canning. Microwaved food reaches a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius), but the heat isn’t evenly distributed.
An additional risk posed by using a microwave oven for canning is that the jars may blow up in the oven or as they’re being removed.
Not Using the Right Method: Pressure or Water Bath Canning
Two methods for safely preserving food are pressure canning, and water bath canning.
Water bath canning is the simpler of the two methods, and involves placing jars of food in boiling hot water. Something to keep in mind is that this method us only safe for highly acidic foods i.e. fruit-based jams, tomatoes – anything with a pH of 4.0.
Any other, un-pickled foods need to go through a pressure canner. The reason for this is that the water is at the acidity of the food which allows it to help in preserving food but it cannot guarantee that the food will be safe to eat.
Pressure canning also involves placing jars of food in boiling water but you also need a pressure canner. This method allows you to can low-acid/alkaline foods i.e. meats which would be dangerous to can in boiling water.
Using a pressure canner is a must with these types of foods. Why? Because clostridium botulinum and the resulting toxin are destroyed in boiling water; its spores, however, can survive.
These spores require a moist, oxygen-free environment in order to release the botulinum toxin; which is exactly what they get in sealed jars.
A pressure canner can heat the food inside the jars to a higher temperature than the temperature of boiling water – high enough to kill the botulinum spores.
Keep in mind that, although you can theoretically just pressure can everything and avoid the water bath method, there are a few trade-offs, the main one being you’d have to adjust the timings in the recipe. Adjusting any canning recipe should be avoided!
Dehydrating the Wrong Food
Dehydration is a common method used to preserve food and extend its shelf life. Some foods dehydrate very well and others do not. Dehydrating the wrong foods can cause some major problems.
Dehydrating Butter can create a serious Health Risk, and it tastes Awful
Butter is mostly fat, and dehydrating it is a nightmare. It takes a long time to do, and yields poor results. You lose all the flavour provided by the fat which means it tastes dreadful.
Dehydrating Fatty Meats takes a Long Time, and the Meat can turn Rancid
Dehydrated meat is fine in stews and as jerky, sure, but that’s only as long as it’s a lean cut. Meat with a high fat content should be avoided when it comes to dehydration. The fat takes forever to dehydrate and there’s a chance that it will make the meat go rancid.
Dehydrating Cheese is a Nightmare, and it goes Rancid Easily
Cheese is a high-fat dairy product and as such dehydrating it is a nightmare! It takes forever, and because it’s a dairy product, it goes rancid very quickly.
Dehydrating Condiments Is Very Risky
Tomato sauce, mustard, salad dressing, you can get these things at stores everywhere. Dehydrating them is more than a little bit risky; however, as they’re typically full of preservative chemicals which you probably don’t want to mess around with.
Dangers Around Everyday Activities
When it comes to everyday activities, we seldom consider the risks and dangers affiliated with those activities.
Improper Firewood Chopping Technique
Wood fires are great because they last much longer, and don’t leave funny smells when they die out. Of course, in order for a wood fire to work you need wood but you can’t fit an entire tree in your fireplace!
To get around that problem, you take an axe to the wood and chop it up into manageable sizes. Additionally, you may take a fine-edge knife and do some feather-sticking to put some wood-shavings together for kindling/tinder.
This will require some practice but it’s not too difficult to learn. That said, however, using an axe incorrectly can lead to some very, very unpleasant consequences.
You could miss the log, and end up with the blade cutting your leg. You can also end up cutting your hands if you’re using the axe one-handed, and using your other hand to steady the log.
Even if you don’t cut your hands, you’re still going to put a massive amount of strain on the muscles in your back, arms and shoulders which can be rather painful.
Preparing an Indoor Fire Incorrectly Is a Serious Fire Hazard
This is an obvious one but, please, don’t play with fire! When it comes to preparing fires either indoors or outdoors, there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.
Preparing an indoor fire the wrong way presents a risk of damage to the property and injury, or death to yourself and your family.
Always prepare your fire in the fireplace, keep all fire-starting materials (tinder, matches, lighters, etc.) out of reach of kids, don’t leave children near the fire unsupervised and, above all: don’t leave the fire unattended.
An unattended fire – even in a fireplace – isn’t a good idea. This is especially true if the fireplace is in your living room and you’ve got carpets/rugs on the floor. Fires throw sparks and it only takes one spark to take and an unwanted fire starts.
Improper Fuel Storage
Needless to say, you don’t want any accidents involving generator fuel. Petrol, Diesel and Methane/Propane gas are all flammable, and have very specific storage requirements.
Improperly stored fuel can become contaminated – which would make it unusable and it can cause serious problems if and/or when it leaks.
Gas Accumulation: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
If your generator runs on gas, you have to be careful that the tanks are in good condition. When a gas leak occurs, the gas will typically build up in your house.
Breathing in the gas results in carbon monoxide poisoning. This can be fatal, so the tanks should be checked thoroughly on a regular basis by a professional maintenance service.
When you’re living far away from immediate help, you want to be as safe and secure as possible. Unfortunately we can prepare the best measures possible and still make mistakes.
Improper Weapon Maintenance and Storage
This is another one of those practices that isn’t really a ‘practice’ in the typical sense of the word. If you’re a hunter, then you probably have a firearm or two and more than a few knives in your house and storage and maintenance are a big deal.
You wouldn’t put your hunting kit where your kids could get it, would you? I didn’t think so and that’s why this isn’t a practice in the typical sense of the word.
Most people who own firearms and knives or other dangerous tools/weapons have enough common sense to keep those things away from their kids. Even with that in mind, however, accidents happen. You get up to get something i.e. a drink.
You’ve left the room for two seconds and that tool is on the table – unattended. At this point I must acknowledge that most children are smart enough to know what they can or can’t play with. The children who don’t know are the ones likely to hurt themselves.
Maintenance is a similar issue. When you work with a tool it needs to work perfectly or at least well enough to be used safely. Rushing through a maintenance session will lead to foul-ups where you’ve missed a section on the knife’s blade and that section is damaged or a spot on in your gun’s magazine well and the gun jams.
Damaged tools/weapons can lead to you being seriously injured or killed, so take special care of them.
Installing Overcomplicated Security Systems
The phrase: “You can never have too much security” is true but there’s a catch. The catch is that you can’t go overboard with a system. All too often we see these setups that look very cool and interesting.
We get the same or similar systems without actually knowing what goes where and how each piece fits together. In short, we’ve gone for fashion over function.
On a homestead this can cause more problems for you than a potential intruder. If the system is too complicated the intruder will be inside long before you’ve gotten the system going.
On a related note, any damage to the system will need repair work which, depending on the severity of the damage, may need to be done by a specialist. Specialized repair work costs money which you need for other things.
So, with that said, if you have to install a security system you should remember to keep it simple. Sometimes, the simplest plans/methods are the most effective, and this goes for almost everything but is especially true of home security.
One example I like to use is the end of the marketplace fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones has just finished off a fight with multiple bad guys; he’s exhausted.
The crowd separates and a new bad guy appears waving a scimitar around as a form of challenging our protagonist. Instead of engaging in a fight with the guy, Jones draws his revolver and shoots him dead.
That, to me, is the perfect example of the KISS principle. Indy had the option of getting into it with the enemy swordsman and it could’ve been a great fight scene. Instead, he chose the easiest (and most obvious) method to deal with the situation; resulting in one of the funniest scenes in a film.
Overall, homesteading is great and if you can make it work then it can be a very profitable venture. So long as you take the necessary precautions and maintain your awareness of the area around you; you should be fine.
One last piece of advice that I can give is to always do your research, and make sure you know what you’re doing.
Make sure that you are legally covered on all aspects and that you stay ahead of the changes in legal precedent. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that you found it to be informative.
Thank you for reading, and happy homesteading!
Greg spent most of his childhood in camping grounds and on hiking trails. While he lives in suburbs nowadays, Greg was raised on a small farm with chickens. He’s a decent shot with a bow, and a knife enthusiast.