Living on a ranch was never something I thought would ever be a possibility for a ‘city-girl’ like me. I’m not strong, am a city girl brought up in the suburbs of a town in the Smokey Mountains. Sure, I’ve always enjoyed riding horses, shooting guns, having a dog and wearing jeans and boots but living on a ranch? You know, one with chickens and dogs and one day goats and cattle and a garden. Me - I kill every houseplant I’ve ever owned and had to give away a cactus just to ensure it stayed alive. And yet, here I am, 39 years old and living the dream. It may have taken a while and a few bumps in the road but I found my cowboy, dogs and chickens. Goats, cattle and yes, a garden, are coming soon whether I’m ready or not and I cannot wait to share this adventure with you.
In my early 20’s, I was diagnosed with an incurable illness that left me on a lot of medicine, surgery and without hope of ever having children, a big yard and ranch home for the kids to play in and of finding a husband to share life with. I struggled with loosing my good looks and freedom to the side-effects of the medications and constant trips to the doctor and hospital. Eventually, I sought treatment overseas in the hopes of alternative treatment. Things started to change with a series of acupuncture, asian medication mixed with conventional medication and I was able to have two healthy children! What a blessing and a miracle!
Moving back to the US with these two bundles of joy brought on new challenges - being a single mom with a chronic illness brought on a new set of obstacles to work through and at the end of the day, I’m sitting in front of our wood burning stove, 2 kids, 2 dogs and with the most incredible man I have ever known. God is good. This last year has been incredible and I have done farm things I never imagined doing!
Getting our chickens was an interesting process. Did you know baby chicks are sent through the mail? I didn’t know that and it was fun going to the post office and picking up a chirping box. We all gathered around this box like it was magical; took off the lid and much to our surprise (although it shouldn’t have been a surprise), we were chicken parents! 50 baby chicks all portioned off neatly ready for a new home. How hard it was not to try and name them all because most of them were going to become dinner in a few short months. Little puffs of soft fur moving in a small mob toward the heat source and food. That’s all they cared about. Food, pooping and eating - the life of a chick. Watching the wonderment through the eyes of our kids is a whole other story.
As life went on, the chicks grew and soon it was time to butcher them. Ohhhhhh I cannot adequately describe the fear, apprehension and curiousness of the whole experience. The sound of that first machete chop on the chicken’s neck, the feel of it jerking as I held it upside down to the let the blood drain out and then the smell. The smell of the warm chicken as the skin is being ripped off mixed with smell of the gut and then when I nicked the intestines and all the crap squishing out. All the while trying to act brave in front of my kids and Mackay. I could do this and I did. Yes, I cried during and afterwards and even writing about it makes me want to cry but more than that, am thankful for the nourishment those chickens are providing my family. That homemade chicken soup, the chicken potpie, broth and other foods Mackay so tenderly makes for us is worth every chicken that has to be butchered.
Gathering eggs is a daily chore we do together. Farm fresh eggs taste so much better than even the expensive cage-free eggs from the store. We did a blind taste test for everyone and it was apparent quickly which bite of egg was from our ranch and which was not. We eat eggs almost every day and there is something so satisfying about knowing the chickens we protect and care for are in turn helping and feeding us. At this point we have 14 hens that lay and it’s fun counting the egg production every day and picking off the feathers and washing off the poop before cracking them over a hot iron skillet. Mackay and I love to simply hold hands and go out and watch them all pecking around and listening to the roosters crow. Simple and intimate and a perfect quick escape together.
We started the summer off with our four year old German Shepherd named Freyja and ended the summer with an addition, Razor Blade. He is a sweet boy that’s some sort of mixture of Doberman and possibly a terrier. He was about six months old and just days away from becoming a snack for some predator. It’s hard to believe someone could dump this sweet boy who wants nothing more than to cuddle and sleep on your favorite blanket. They run and play, tease each other and are best friends now. Freyja is definitely the alpha and leader of the two and Razor has gracefully accepted his role of being at the bottom of the pecking order. Freyja has had an interesting year as well. She went from being Mackay’s one and only girl with the run of the house to having to share her best friend with a new female and two more ahead of her in the chain of command. She too has had her own growing pains and adjustments to make with her new family. Her first love will always be Mackay and wherever he is, she is. I always know when Mackay is almost home because she instinctually seems to know and sits on alert for him. At times, I think she remembers her quiet previous life and flashes of her simple past shine in her eyes as she adoringly looks upon Mackay. She is very talkative and communicative for a dog who doesn’t bark much. She has this beautiful whine when she sees Mackay and one can almost hear her love for him in those tender moments of joy for her. She is moody like me and grunts when I ask her to move over so I can sit next to Mackay which she grudgingly does when told. Last night she buried herself in his legs while he was outstretched on the couch. She needed her love bucket filled and reassurance that she was still Mackay’s girl. Both Freyja and Razor are great with the kids and are fine-turning the art of playing all together. Freyja is their protector and Razor is the instigator. It’s a joy listening to shrieks of joy from the kids and dogs barking and yipping outside. They all bring such joy to our family.
Mackay is the absolute love of my life and best friend. It’s hard not to gush on and on about him. This handsome man that took my breath away the first time I saw him speak at a networking event who still takes my breath away and makes my heart race. He may be a tough army veteran with tattoos and pierced ears with vocabulary that makes me blush but he is thoughtful, kind, super smart with a mind that never shuts off. He is patient with me as he teaches me the basics of how to do everything here at Ironside Ranch. He steals kisses from me at every opportunity and is quick to grab my hand as we work or walk the property. He prays for me and the kids, talks to his mom every day and gives himself sacrificially for us every single day. He cooks gourmet meals just about every day and has ruined me for life from restaurant food. Every meal out gets compared to his cooking and generally falls short big time. Life suddenly changes when you can share it with someone you can completely trust, laugh with, love and cry with. He doesn’t seem to mind my hidden talent of belching either! Can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost just catching myself daydreaming about him when we aren’t together; it would probably be embarrassing. I love how he focuses his attention and time on our family and seems to be as content as can be here at the ranch all together. I pray we can add to our family of 4 with another little one sometime soon. He is such a good father and treats Joshua and Hannah as his own. One day, I will share more about Joshua and Hannah but at this moment let's leave it at them being safe, happy and well-adjusted, super smart kids with a mom and dad that adore them and are proud of them.
Mackay and I both have full time jobs on top of caring for our ranch. Mackay is a co-owner of Timberline Inspections, LLC and I am a realtor with Keller Williams Metro South and owner of Rosewood Realty, LLC in Birmingham, Al. We both enjoy our jobs and find them very fulfilling. And yet, at the end of the day, we enjoy nothing more than coming home to our family here at Ironside Ranch. As I turn down our gravel driveway, it’s like the weight and worries of the day evaporate. I’m greeted first by two rambunctious dogs, kisses and hugs from the kids and then a smile and kiss from a man that stops my heart. Doing laundry and cleaning, homework and taking care of the animals no longer seem like a chore but a blessing. What a gift to be able to come home to a safe place and enter a whole new world of animals, livestock, trees, dirt, guns, tractors, plants and life! I’m filled with wonder every day at God’s beautiful workmanship! It’s quiet here and easy to hear to the wind whispering through the trees, chickens cackling and causing a raucous, squirrels jumping from tree to tree and noticing unidentifiable bird calls. We have a spider on our water pump that won’t go away and spin her web elsewhere. It seems like she’d tire of constantly rebuilding it! We walk the property dreaming of what is to come, the new life stirring within - which hill will be transformed into wildflowers for the bees that will arrive in March, which spot will be the launching pad for our barn, the area for our orchard and which trees we want to plant where. And the list goes on. Will be sharing all the updates on our ranch with everyone bit by bit and I cannot wait to share this wonderful life with you.
Lately, I have been researching composting and everything involved with starting one as well as discussing ways to improve our future garden site’s soil. As I look at the clay mess that’ll one day hopefully bear fruit; literally, I’m amazed at how much our life revolves around dirt. My house is dirty. The kids are often covered in dirt. The dogs need a bath because of the dried mud that’s now shedding on my floor. My boots are dirty and covered in who knows what. My car is dirty, inside and out. Dirt gets everywhere! And yet, without it, we simply couldn’t live.
As I look about our culture in general and see kids suffering from so many illnesses that didn’t exist with such prevalence even 50 years ago, namely obesity and everything associated with childhood obesity, I can’t help but wonder if a little dirt might not be part of the solution. We have taken away most electronic devices for our children with the exception of a Kindle that is strictly monitored and the few family movie night together. We do not have wii’s or Nintendo’s or X-boxes. No cell phones for the kids to play on. We do have an iPad that is collecting dust and was last used during a 23 hour road trip to Colorado which was really more to help preserve the sanity of us parents vs the kids really needing it. Thankfully, our kids are considered fairly healthy and definitely within normal weight range for kids their age/height. But even a case study on them makes me wonder just how much healthier they are now that we live on a ranch.
For example, two years ago, we lived in a subdivision with houses practically on top of each other, the tv was on a fair portion of the time, the iPad had regular but monitored usage, the kids ate school lunches and rode the school bus daily. They missed an average amount of school due to the common cold and our daughter missed almost two weeks because of the flu. This past year, they stopped riding the bus, eat healthy most days, take homemade lunches (much to their chagrin I daresay) to school and there are virtually no electronics around and certainly not for everyday use. The main kicker? They play outside now almost every single day. They have farm chores consisting of collecting eggs and keeping the wood crypt full during the winter. They run and play, often shrieking in delight. They play with the dogs and roll around on the ground (much to my chagrin). Coincidence or not, they have not had a single cold or flu since they’ve started playing in the dirt!
Now, dirt is not the end all miracle cure for the common cold but I do somehow wonder if there isn’t something powerful at work when we are closer to it. Is it an excuse not to clean and keep order? No, unfortunately not. But even I myself have seen drastic health improvements by being in the dirt more and mine are documented through regular checkups. Whatever I’m doing, my doctor instructed me to keep doing, because it’s working. I have an autoimmune disorder that has taken it’s toll on my body and at the age of 39, am now healthier than I was 2 years ago and even 15 years ago. A lot of answered prayers, I have no doubt. Cleaner cooking by Mackay and a lot less stress. But also a simpler lifestyle revolving around dirt. The four letter word that good clean southern ladies don’t say or allow in their immaculate houses.
We have been planting blueberry bushes, peach trees and various trees along the border of driveway. We are digging in the dirt making a shooting range, clearing land and trees for pasture. Using our tractor to till the land for our garden. I sift through seed catalogue pages and books about gardens in hopes of discovering some of the magic hidden in the soil, dreaming of tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, onions and hot watermelons fresh from the vine and ground. I can almost smell the dirt as I sit by the fire looking at the wind tearing through the Pines on the hill swirling the dirt that I hope and pray will help heal our bodies as the work heals our minds and souls. Dirt around here is no longer a four letter dirty word but one one we laugh over as we wash off in the sink, we play over as we run the fields with the chickens and dogs and the occasional tumble upon all the while playing swords or throwing pinecones. Dirt. The good stuff of life. Yes, the vacuum comes out tonight along with a bath for the dogs and kids (although not together) and I’m a stickler for hand-washing, but now, I look fondly upon the dirty faces full of smudges and kiss their noses while giving them a few more minutes to go outside and play. Maybe, just maybe, a little dirt don’t hurt.
I meet with a lot of home buyers (obviously for my profession), and a large majority do not have even a basic set of tools. However, new home owners especially first time buyers tend to have one common problem; they just bought a house and have no money. I could have drawn up a list of 100 or even 1000 tools everyone needs! I don't usually have a problem justifying the need for more tools, and most guys that grew up similar to me don’t. Keep in mind this is different than the video I did talking about ten tools for new homesteaders.
Before we get in to the mix of tools to start with let me make one point clear. Nothing drives me crazier then to have people use my tools because they don't want to mess their's up. Tools were meant to get used, beat up, and banged around. Care for them, but use them! Don’t shy away from using them for their intended purpose, and always remember you use the 1 right tool not 3 wrong tools.
I tried to put these in some type of order to buy the ones you need first but don't stress about that. Get the ones YOU need immediately first but preferably all 10 at one shopping spree.
#1 A Good Hammer
Every home owner will be hanging pictures, tapping rusted and worn hinges, and in general beating stubborn objects. My number one pick is a quality hammer; I use it more then just about any tool in my shop and they cannot be substituted without sacrificing precision, finesse, and fingers!
Working construction as a teenager my foreman told me once that when I buy my hammer only buy brands that start with a V. Not knowing what he meant I went to the nearest hardware store and learned that the V he was speaking of was Vaughan, score one for me at less then $20 for a hammer and I’m set. Though Vaughan is not the best hammer out there it is a quality hammer and the best bang for the buck. My hammer has built many houses since then and it still has the original wood handle.
Now you ask “what type of hammer do I need?” A framing hammer tends to be the most versatile and can be used for any job but is only perfect for framing. I’ll be honest I cheat here and rarely ever grab another hammer over my framing hammer. Choking up on the grip gives you good support for driving finishing nails and all the way back will remove a rusted wheel rotor.
Grips change preference by many people, though most prefer a curved wood handle. Wood is easy to replace and lasts a long time, fiberglass handles cant always be replaced. They also seem to balance and generally feel better in your hand. Plus there’s just something that makes you feel like a man holding something your ancestors could have been using to pound their way through history! $24.95
#2 Screw Driver
Ok so technically 2 tools but since they really go as a pair screwdrivers will be considered 1 tool. For basic jobs you need a flat head and a phillips and they will likely cure anything that ails you. However, an 8 piece Craftsman set is $14.99 and well worth the cost. This set will cover most anything you need it for and will take apart almost anything in your home.
A quality screwgy will do everything from hanging a TV mount and removing the remote battery screw to changing a will socket. My old Drill Sergeant told me there’s 3 rules a man needs to live by: Don’t ever mess with another mans kids, never take his money, and the last beer in the fridge belongs to the one who bought it. Since then I’ve added a fourth one… buy quality screwdrivers! There’s nothing worse then the tip breaking in the middle of a job forcing your immediate surrender.
#3 Needle Nose Pliers
Needle nose pliers, can grab about anything you have in the house and can even assist you in reaching those hard to get areas. Believe me the list is endless as to what you will use these for! Wires will need to be re-routed, clasps pinched, and rusted knobs turned. This list truly needs to have more then 1 number 1, because tools like this are invaluable and impossible to substitute.
#4 Channel Locks
Now some of you reading this are asking why I said needle nose pliers instead of regular pliers and here’s why. You truly need both but when starting out you can accomplish most tasks with a decent set of channel locks and needle nose pliers.
Channel locks cannot be substituted with pliers but pliers can be substituted with channel locks. You cannot use pliers to open a beer bottle, it’s simply uncivilized! But Channel locks provide the necessary torque and mannliness required for such a task and you then upgrade from uncivilized to truly barbaric!
Ok in seriousness, channel locks provide more versatility for a home owners tasks then do pliers and you always have the needle nose pliers when they cannot be used.
A lower end but still quality set of channel locks can run you about $15 until you can afford something a little higher end. However I would urge you not to purchase Husky pliers, they seem to break when you attempt to pick up a pudding pack. Stanley may not be the best brand anymore but their channel locks will rip the legs off a bear... that you happened to strangle with your bare hands.
#5 Adjustable Crescent Wrench
Adjustable crescent wrenches are not necessarily fun but a 20 inch one does complete your art of manliness starter package. But lets dial it down for just a bit and look at a 12 inch adjustable crescent. They can fit in to almost any space your home provides (admittedly they can get a little tight in an engine compartment) and are up to the task of most home maintenance projects.
If you're really in a jam you can always grab your channel locks and framing hammer and they will rip the door out of its frame and you can just hang a blanket. Again it’s another item that falls in to that $15 range.
#6 Tape Measure
This item could have easily gone higher on the list but a tape measure is invaluable. I like a Stanley Fat Max 25’ or 35’ but you don't necessarily need that much of a hog to carry around. Fat Max is nice if you use it a lot because the wider tape makes it easier to span distances without support, I’ve had that bad Larry out to 14’ unsupported!
You can stick to the 25’ tape as this will suffice for home repairs but when you start doing framing and landscaping a 35’ is nicer. Buy a second one when the time comes right now you just want to handle repairs.
A Fat Max will run you about $30 but you can get a knock off 25’ tape for around $15 at your local hardware. The choice is yours and unlike Highlander their can be more then 1! One last thing to consider is the tape measures with the magnetic tip. They can be very handy when you're working alone, so its worth a little extra if you don't find them irritating.
#7 Torpedo Level
Next you need a torpedo! Every guy reading this is salivating right now running to their spouse with their well thought out excuse to buy an underwater projectile that explodes on impact. Unfortunately We are talking about a level that you can use to plumb pictures.
These levels can be substituted for longer ones by strapping a straight edge to it. Though guys do not tend to care if the Wolverine mount in their man cave is level, or if it looks like you bolted it to the wall while you were drunk with a rabid ferret clawing at your balls, your spouse will thank me for this one and your marriage will likely last at least another 6 months. It’s all about sacrifice boys!
Look for a level with a magnetic strip on one of the sides because when you actually start using it to do minor repairs and remodels the strip is invaluable. Plumbing a metal fence post will never be easier then with two of these with a magnet.
Now you may be tempted to buy the electronic calibrated level for $735 (I’m not joking this really exists) you can pick up a normal duty use level for $15 - $30 depending on the brand. Again though this is another great item to go with Stanley, I’ve had mine for over 10 years and I use it constantly.
Ok so I hate to even stick this one in there but it has to be said, because it blows my mind how many people do not own a flashlight. You're home repair tool box should have a decent flashlight. $20 gets you an LED Maglight that is perfect for repairs, I love Surefires too but this isn't weapons training 101, just get what you can afford and Maglights are a good bang for the buck.
The reasons for the flashlight should be fairly obvious; bottom line here is that you cannot do anything if you can’t see. Not to mention often when you are doing home repairs you have to shut off the electricity so you have no light from the inherent light source of the room. So when you pull out your straight razor in the morning and go to trim the neck line of your 2 and a half foot beard and the power goes out, you can immediately wash the razor and realize that shaving is second priority to swinging a hammer for 8 hours in the dark!
#9 Allen Wrench
Allen wrenches are unfortunately one of those things that seem to be on every mechanical piece in your home and there is truly no substitute. Everything from your furnace to your sink will have them and you need it to really get anything done. A quick tip if you haven't yet purchased your allen wrenches and you desperately need them you can always pound the furnace cover like Thor with your hammer and harvest the power of Zeus to rip the cover off with the channel locks. This again can be something to anger the beast (wife) I recommend the $14 for allen wrenches.
#10 A Ladder
Lastly, A ladder though not fun or mannly they keep you from breaking both your legs instead of balancing a bucket on a chair on the hood of your wife’s Honda while your best friend moves it forward as you clean the debris out of the gutters.
This is the most expensive item on this list and brings up the price for the list as a whole. An articulating ladder is best if you're only going to own one and can accomplish almost any home owner task unless have an extremely high roof. 17’ or 19’ articulating ladder is ideal for the home owner and allows you to the highest peaks of 90% of homes. If you do have an exceptionally high roof you can get a 25’ extension ladder and get your man card back from your neighbor who uses an articulating ladder.
The Little Giant is the gold standard for these types of ladders but they are overpriced and knock off brands can be had for less then half the price with the same material quality. You just have to lower your standard of aesthetically pleasing. Northern Tool often has them on sale for $125 delivered to your door, or a little cheaper in stores.
I'm a wife, mom of 3 wonderful children, homeschool teacher and loving ranching. After Mackay and I married, we've been steadily pursing our goals of having a self sufficient life and teaching others along the way.