Who needs a gym membership when you live on a homestead

A white dog and a brown dog run happily in a large field.
Looking for a good workout? Try chasing down two running dogs. | Photo by Julia Bayly

It’s no secret living on a farm or homestead can be physically demanding. That’s why those who choose that rural lifestyle don’t have the desire, need or time to join a gym to stay in shape.

Worried about your upper body and arms? Spend some time loading, unloading and stacking straw or hay bales. 

Does your core need some firming up? Hit the woodpile, reducing it from tree length to logs that fit into your woodstove before carrying it all into your woodroom and stacking it for winter.

Leg days can be tough, but nothing gets gives those muscles a good work out like hauling buckets of feed or water to livestock or poultry. And since critters need food and water daily, that means leg days are every day. Bonus points if those are heavy loads that incorporate some arm exercises, as well.

But when you really want to get that heart rate elevated with a whole-body, cross-training, endurance, aerobic workout, nothing beats an extended round of “capture the critter.”

It’s easy, and anyone can play individually or in teams. There are not a lot of rules, and the winner is the person who ends the round with both their critters and sanity intact.

All sorts of critters — livestock, poultry and pets — are common on homesteads. Here on Rusty Metal Farm, there is my small flock of egg-laying hens, the two mousing-ambivalent cats and tiny farm dog Chiclet. Over the years, there have also been chickens raised for meat production and a team of working sled dogs.

What they all had in common with each other and with their counterparts on countless other homesteads was the periodic drive to find out for themselves if, in fact, the grass was greener or snow was whiter — depending on the season — on the other side of the fence, coop or kennel.

Trust me, nothing gets that heart rate going like looking outside into whatever space your critters occupy to see just that — space. If you are lucky, you might also spot the location and method employed by the errant critter to make his or her escape.

Over the years, I’ve logged a lot of miles chasing down things that were not supposed to be running wild and it’s always exciting.

Not long after my late husband and I built and moved into our house in the mid-1980s, we got a call from friends a few miles up and over the hill. Had we seen their missing Black Angus bull?”

We had not, but it was a Saturday evening and, as we had no plans to hit the town, Patrick and I decided to grab flashlights, a rope and my camera to document this and head out for a Rusty Metal roundup.

The fact that both of us had zero experience with bulls or what to do if confronting a loose one, much less how to capture it was completely beside the point.

The first thing that happened was it got dark. So on came the flashlights. The second thing that happened was the farther we got away from the safety of the house and into the woods was how very much everything sounded like an angry, stomping ready-to-charge Black Angus bull. Or zombies.

By the time we gave up, it had started to feel like we were in a movie mashup of “Lonesome Dove” and “The Blair Witch Project.” And, oddly, I have no idea if the missing bull was ever recovered and could be wandering the woods to this day.

But it was a great workout tromping through the woods up and down hills with only our flashlights to guide us.

In subsequent years, Patrick and I had to chase down sled dogs who had decided running solo was more fun than running with the team or search for cats who had wandered too far from the house and were often found crying piteously in the middle of fields or up in trees miles away. All of this meant logging some serious distances on foot.

Sometimes critter chasing becomes a footrace between you, your animal and the local wildlife.

Twice I’ve had to drop what I was doing and sprint after a chicken who was not so much running away as she was being carried away — by a fox. Talk about a race to the finish. But I am happy to report that in each case, the chicken and I came out of it alive and fox had to go look for whatever consolation prize he could find.

Sure, maybe the local gym is temperature-controlled, has state-of-the-art equipment, music and a juice bar. But really, what homesteader has time for all that when there’s livestock to wrangle? And I can make my own juice.

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