Most of us want to live on a homestead in order to get away from the hustle, bustle, and dangers of life that are associated with living in the thick of society. But, it isn’t all fluffy clouds on an impossibly blue sky when you live on a homestead.
Homesteads are usually hard-working environments with a lot going on, including large and powerful animals, hazardous chemicals, power tools, and heavy machinery.
It is no place for the foolish or the complacent, and the dangers are made worse by bad practices.
In this article, we will be discussing 16 such practices on the homestead that are downright dangerous.
If you or anyone else you know engages in these practices, you should double your caution. Watch your back, step lightly and let’s get going.
Home Can Be the Most Dangerous Place of All
Home is where we are in control, where we set the rules and we know the environment better than literally any place else.
Home is where we should be able to take a load off, where we should be able to relax. And so we do…
And that is precisely why so many accidents, including fatal ones, happen at home. Whether you live in a small apartment or on a bustling homestead, the hazards of complacency are just the same.
A lack of attention, a moment of carelessness, or an honest-to-God mistake regarding an unseen danger is all it takes to change your life for the worse, and sometimes permanently.
In fact, these dangers are often magnified on a homestead. In addition to possessing all of the usual household threats like accidental fire, wet tile, electricity, and more homestead’s host unpredictable and sometimes hostile animals, abundant tool usage, all sorts of dangerous chemicals, and heavy machinery which can dismember or obliterate a person in the blink of an eye.
anywhere, but especially on a homestead, you must never let yourself fall victim to carelessness or complacency, no matter how long your day has been, no matter how stressed you are, no matter how tired you may be.
The following list represents 16 of the most common and most dangerous homesteading practices that I have observed.
These 16 Homestead Practices are Downright Dangerous
1. Using a Farm Jack
Farm jacks, also known as high-lift jacks, or one of the most useful but also the most dangerous implements that you will find on a homestead.
As the name implies, they are commonly used to jack up farm equipment, lifted trucks, and other tall or massive vehicles that common automotive jacks simply cannot handle.
Besides this typical duty, they are also employed as come-alongs, board benders, spreaders, and more owing to the tremendous mechanical advantage that these devices can generate. Truly, they are handy!
They are also phenomenally dangerous. For all the power that they can generate with relatively little effort, they are capable of propping up or holding back immense forces and balancing at all on a tiny footplate or relatively small jaws.
It is obvious why this can create an opportunity for disaster if something slips.
Even when used conventionally, if the person cranking the lever fails to fully engage it and then it releases tension on the handle it can backlash with force proportional to the load placed upon the peg.
This can easily give someone I concussion, knock them out or remove teeth. I’ve seen it happen live in person more than once.
So, farm jacks are one of those seemingly indispensable items around a working homestead and one that I will continue to use myself, but I urge everyone to keep their head screwed on straight when using one and always be aware of what will happen instantly when things go wrong.
2. Lack of Respect for Farm Machines
This next one is a general category that includes multiple individual items but I wanted to lump them together because they all arise from the same fundamental issue.
There is a lack of respect for the potential power and destructive capability of many common farm machines.
This can manifest in many ways, such as not wearing eye-pro while using a brush hog or taking basic safety precautions when dealing with augers, presses, balers, or any other number of devices that can crush, mangle, or otherwise injure human flesh in an eye blink.
I have seen guys try to kick free jammed wood from wood chippers with the power engaged. No kidding.
And those machines are all relatively safe. You start getting into the big stuff like combines and tractors and you can be making a one-way trip if you screw up.
All because people are flagrantly unsafe around these big machines. Arguably, this kind of power means they are always dangerous- bad behavior just makes them more so!
Just because you see someone doing something time and time again without issues doesn’t mean it’s safe, and just because you’ve done something a hundred times before doesn’t make it safe either.
Good fortune covers bad practice. The only way to be safe around big farm machines is to take them seriously, and always employ basic safety precautions.
3. Carelessness around Animals
This is another pet peeve of mine that really gets my goat (pardon the pun, but I’m not sorry).
Luckily this issue typically becomes self-correcting and is usually less-fatal than the previous one. Nonetheless, it can still lead to severe injuries and even death in some cases.
The issue is, of course, carelessness around animals, primarily large livestock. Horses, cows, pigs, and even ostriches; these animals are big, strong, and have instincts.
They will do what they want to do when they want to do it and if you happen to be in the way you could easily get hurt.
But most folks don’t give these animals enough respect because they are usually friendly, if not tame. All the same, the risk endures.
I’ve seen people walking right up behind a friendly horse without so much as a second thought, or act a little lackadaisical when near a stressed bull or cow.
People also have no business entering the pen of any but the smallest pigs; these are animals that can take a hunk out of you, and pigs can and will eat people.
You pass out or have a seizure in a pig pen and you are probably done for, and your family will be in counseling for decades. These animals may not mean any harm, but accidents and misunderstandings happen all the time.
And then there are the times when the animal does mean harm. Bulls charge, horses will kick, and hogs can try to gore you.
I’ve seen all of these things happen, and I’m sure many of you have too. So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, show some common sense and basic caution around animals. Take no chances if you can.
4. Anytime You a Using a Chainsaw
Among cutting power tools, the chainsaw is only eclipsed in the blood toll it extracts yearly by the infamous table saw.
But you are much, much more likely to use a chainsaw on a working homestead than that other finger bone factory.
Chainsaws are another indispensable tool for the homesteader, but they are also one of the most dangerous.
Frightening powerful and leaving effectively no time to react when things go wrong, a mishap or misjudgment with a chainsaw means a massive injury at best, and amputation or death at worst.
Most of these accidents occur because people fail to follow basic safety precautions or wear PPE. This includes gloves, anti-cut chaps, helmets, face shield safety glasses, and earplugs.
In addition, people often try to cut through tree limbs or wood that is too thick for the saw or poorly positioned. This can cause the chain to become stuck and recoil.
Alternately the tip of the saw hits a knot or other obstacle in the wood and is forced back toward the user- equal and opposite reaction, remember?
Kickback happens so fast and forcefully that you cannot hope to stop it, only get lucky or pray your gear can save you.
You can minimize your risk when using a chainsaw by always using a sharp chain, employing basic safety protocols such as not cutting above your head or beyond your reach, and thinking through every cut.
But even when following all these guidelines you can still easily have an accident with a chainsaw; it only takes a millisecond for things to go very wrong.
You probably cannot get by without one in most places, but you must know what you are doing to avoid disaster.
5. Chopping Wood on the Ground
This is a subtle one, but one that can turn bad when you least expect it. Chopping wood with an axe or splitter is one of those chores that lots of folks seem to enjoy.
It is a good workout and a fairly meditative activity. Like golf, but for homesteaders!
But like all such chores done with any heavy, sharp implement it must be done with an eye toward safety and reducing the likelihood of accidents.
One way people often get hurt is by chopping wood that is lying on the ground. This can be logs or even firewood that has already been cut to length but not yet split up.
The problem with chopping wood on the ground is that it can roll or shift when you strike it, causing the axe or splitter to glance off at an angle and potentially hit you in the shin or foot. This is doubly likely when using a shorter camper’s axe or hatchet.
I don’t need to tell you how gruesome such a wound to the foot will be, do I? This is one accident that happens all the time and is easily prevented.
The best way to avoid this gruesome “self-own” is to use a stump or log holder to support the wood you are chopping at a level closer to your waist or thighs.
Either can keep the wood from rolling or shifting, and also give you a safe backstop in case of deflection.
6. Dry Oven Canning
Canning and homesteading go together like, uh, peas and carrots. It just makes sense: you spend so much time and effort bringing up and bringing in your own harvest you naturally want to preserve as much of it as you can, both to reduce waste and also to keep some on hand just in case!
There are all sorts of ways to can food effectively, and each seems to have pros and cons. But there is one method that, for whatever reason, still persists as viable despite an organized campaign warning people of the dangers.
This method is known as “dry oven canning” and it entails, you guessed it, putting jars of food in the oven to cook and seal them. This is commonly done with “dry” goods like grains.
The problem with this method is twofold, the first being that it promotes the grains to release what moisture they have inside a sealed environment, promoting spoilage.
Second, it does not provide enough heat to properly sterilize the contents of the jars. This means there is a risk of botulism poisoning, which can be very serious- even fatal.
You might think that cooking the food would kill any bacteria present, but in fact, it only takes a tiny amount of bacteria to cause botulism- and those spores are notoriously difficult to kill.
So why do people still dry oven can? I’m not sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the perceived simplicity of the method.
But whatever the reason, it is a dangerous practice that should be avoided, period. This isn’t me giving you a “be careful out there!” This is me telling you to not do it, period.
7. Microwave Canning
Sigh. Just when I thought I had seen everything, some new man-made terror announces itself.
This time it comes in the form of “microwave canning.” And just like dry oven canning, this is a practice that people think is safe, if kludgy, but it really isn’t.
The premise behind microwave canning is that you can use the microwave to sterilize jars and their contents instead of boiling them on the stovetop or pressure canning them.
This might indeed save you some time- but it isn’t going to save your life or even your harvest!
The first and most obvious problem with microwave canning is that you are putting metal components in a microwave.
That’s an obviously bad idea unless you like light shows, appliance fires, and broken microwaves.
But, no problem says the reckless straw man victim, I have a microwave set aside for just such an occasion and we do it outside or in the garage where it won’t cause problems. Oh boy…
Problem number two with microwave canning is that it doesn’t actually provide enough sustained, thorough heat to sterilize the contents of the jars properly.
This means there is a risk of food poisoning which can be fatal. Then there is the obvious risk of seal failure even if, assuming, you manage to get all the bacteria.
Microwave canning is an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem and a dangerous one at that.
If you are looking to save time when preserving your food, there are much better methods out there.
These methods will actually preserve your food and, more importantly, won’t put your family or home at risk.
8. Dehydrating Butter
Another food preservation foul-up and perhaps the last one. There are all kinds of ways to preserve food aside from canning, and one of the most reliable is dehydration.
Dehydrating is a great way to preserve all kinds of foods, from fruits and vegetables to meats and even some dairy products. But not butter.
Butter technically can be dehydrated, but it requires specialized machines and usually some additives for good measure. There is definitely a wrong way to dehydrate butter, too.
The wrong way is to simply slice up some butter, put it on a tray, and into the dehydrator it goes. This might work in the sense that you will end up with dried butter, but it won’t be safe to eat.
The reason for this is that butter is composed mostly of milk fat, which is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
Like all fats, milk fat can also go rancid. Wonderful! When you slice up butter and put it in the dehydrator, you are essentially creating little petri dishes of rancid bacteria more often than not.
At best, it won’t work or will taste awful. At worst, you have just created concentrated food poisoning.
Not a great play if all you are trying to do is keep some butter on hand for the long haul.
If you want to do that, you can simply get some powdered butter or some vacuum-sealed bags and a Foodsaver and be done with it. If you want to dehydrate other things, that’s great! Just don’t try to dehydrate butter.
9. Improper Fuel Storage
This is another common oversight on homesteads and one that regularly leads to disaster.
When you consider that there is a serious structure fire in America literally every minute, you might want to take this one to heart.
Most homesteads have some kind of fuel storage, whether it is for gasoline, kerosene, propane, or diesel. And most of these homesteads are not storing this fuel properly.
If you are storing fuel on your property, there are a few things you need to do to make sure it is being stored safely and will not lead to a fire.
First, you need to have proper containers for the fuel. This means metal containers that are specifically designed for holding fuel.
No plastic jugs or milk jugs! Second, these containers need to be kept in a cool, dry place away from any heat sources or ignition sources.
Lastly, and not least, adequate ventilation must be provided to prevent the explosive ignition of vapors.
Fail to handle fuel safely at your own peril. Even the smallest spark can lead to a devastating fire, one that could consume your buildings, home, animals and all.
And to think it is one that will be fueled by all the flammable liquids you have stored so conveniently in one place. Don’t let this happen to you.
10. Not Respecting Blood Borne Pathogens
Let’s face it. Part of living and working on a homestead often involves getting bloody.
Slaughtering animals, birthing young, medical checkups, and more often come with the territory, as they say. And where there is blood, there are also blood-borne pathogens.
But, since you get sort of numb to the gross factor when you work with and around this stuff long enough there often comes a point at which you might stop gloving or masking up for routine jobs. That’s a mistake.
These are viruses and bacteria that can be transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids.
Though not every animal disease can be transmitted to humans, many can, including some damn scary ones. The deal is that these diseases can be deadly, and they are often incurable.
The best way to protect yourself and your family is to take precautions when dealing with blood. This means wearing gloves, masks, and other protective gear when you are working with animals or their blood.
It might seem like a pain in the ass to do this all the time when you can just hose your hands off but it is a whole lot better than being infected with something nasty that you can’t do anything about.
11. Lack of Essential Maintenance
Proper maintenance prevents disaster. Without it, trains crash, planes fall, bridges fall down, and even relationships decay.
Deferring maintenance means you are setting a date with doom sometime in the future. Nowhere is this more true or easier to do than on a homestead.
There is a mountain of things to maintain on a working homestead. Gates and fences, tools and machines, your own home, everything.
But neglecting the important stuff and that includes some of the little things, can lead to a very bad outcome for you.
This could be something like an animal getting out or reaching you in an unexpected moment. A tool or vehicle might malfunction and injure someone. You might even be faced with a life-threatening situation in your own home.
I know it seems like an insurmountable mountain much of the time. No matter how hard you work there is always more to do. That list of chores will never end.
But do it you must, and you must prioritize your maintenance efforts for the things that matter the most. You can only put it off for so long before someone has to pay the piper.
You might think this one is cheating, but I can assure you it isn’t. I know that the point of homesteading for most of us is to get away from it all and connect with our work and our lives in a more meaningful way.
But that does not change the fact that there is an attendant danger with this isolation.
Whether you are far from your nearest neighbor and the rest of civilization or just far away by yourself working on a remote part of your property, whenever you are alone with no one else around the risks attended with any danger or mishap are magnified.
- If you wind up hurt or trapped when you’re all by yourself, how long will it be before someone comes looking for you?
- If you desperately need assistance or intervention when badly injured, how far away is help?
- If you needed the cavalry to come and save the day, how easily can people get to your property or even find you?
This is not to say this is a bad practice or one that you should give up for want of safety. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying it is a bad practice and a dangerous one to not plan around isolation.
You should let other people in your family or on your staff know where you are going, what you are doing and when they should expect you to be back so they can come and check on you.
Make it a point to regularly check in with neighbors and preflight routes to and from your house for first responders.
By taking a few, common sense steps you can maintain your separation from society and minimize danger at the same time.
13. No Medical Training / Kit
Out of all the things on this list, out of all the careless and complacent activities that someone might engage in this omission of action is by far the one that grinds my gears the most.
By now, reading through this list, you have probably imagined several dozen scenarios whereby you or someone you care about could be badly hurt on your homestead.
I promise I’m not going through all of this just to give you nightmares, or to increase your anxiety level. I’m presenting this list in an effort to help you be better prepared for those mishaps.
And this is where most people fall away, way short on preparation. Most people don’t even have a genuine first aid kit, much less have any skills or know how to use the items in the kit for anything worse than a burn, bug bite, or small cut.
When help is half an hour or more away, you and yours have to become your own first responders.
This means having the right supplies, knowing how to use them, keeping your skills sharp, and having the gear close at hand so you can reach for it when seconds count.
There is no excuse for not having at least rudimentary first aid kit and basic trauma care skills if you live on a homestead. Get trained, get the gear, and keep it close, no exceptions.
14. Mishandling Chemicals
Another facet of living on a homestead is the need to use chemicals on a regular basis.
Fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and more. You’ll be using these chemicals on a daily or weekly basis, year in and year out.
And like most things familiarity really does breed contempt. Many of these chemicals are safe enough to handle if handled carefully with an eye to safety, but that is something that is found in increasingly short supply on some homesteads.
Inhalation of vapors, contact with skin, and lingering residues all present near and long-term health problems for homesteaders.
Many of these negative effects, from lung dysfunction to cancer, can be avoided by following proper application and handling procedures along with wearing basic personal protective equipment.
A jumpsuit, respirator, and gloves will go a long way to keeping you out of an iron lung in your golden years.
I know, you get tired of people harping on about this stuff, but when you have watched friends suffer and die miserably because they wanted to save 30 seconds when the time came to apply pesticide for some years, you’ll feel differently about it.
15. Lack of Gun Safety
Gun safety should be the concern of everyone who owns a gun. Now, I’m not here to teach you how to shoot or to tout tales of the things I’ve seen or done.
But I am here to encourage you to take your gun safety a step further on a homestead.
Like any other tool, guns tend to be used more regularly on homesteads than elsewhere.
It might be for putting down a gravely wounded animal, dispatching a predator, going hunting, or anything else. For this reason, guns tend to travel with their owners more than usual.
Accordingly, I see people get more and more comfortable with the gun to the point of, you guessed it, complacency.
Pretty soon a gun is clattering around on the dashboard or on the back floorboard of a vehicle. Pistols are stuck haphazardly in waistbands instead of being holstered.
This invariably leads to loss and too much of the time leads to unintended discharges, potentially with life-altering or life-ending results.
Don’t forego good gun safety just because you are running around with one all day or have it kicking around in your farm truck.
16. Critter Carelessness
You have more animals to contend with than your own around your homestead. Predators might be after your animals, pests, and everything in between, and many of them can hurt you.
This is why it is so important that you up your IQ when it comes time to deal with any such critters.
I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard about people being bitten by snakes, venomous or otherwise, because they were trying to identify them, move them, or otherwise molest them.
Now, I’m not saying you need to dispatch every snake you see, and you shouldn’t, but if you know you need to get rid of one you need to do it as safely as possible, not play with it.
The same thing goes for bees, wasps, and other potentially dangerous, swarming insects.
A nest that gets built in the wrong place can put you, your family, and all of your animals in danger, and it definitely warrants dealing with no matter how badly we need our pollinators right now.
In such a case, the best thing you could do would be to call a beekeeper or exterminator as required to deal with and potentially relocate the nest or hive.
And there is more besides. Plenty of people lose a fingertip or risk a bite trying to deal with a captured raccoon, coyote, or fox that they have successfully caged after an interval of harassing their chickens. Be careful!
There’s a lot to be said for taking care of these issues yourself, but you don’t want to pay a pound of flesh when the time comes to learn the lesson.
Don’t Be a Statistic
Living on a homestead means you’ll be dealing with lots of dangers every day, some subtle and some obvious.
All can be overcome or avoided if you are careful, attentive, and make it a point to implement best practices.
Or you can trust that you can do it the way you’ve always done it and nothing will go wrong, and maybe end up as a statistic.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.