Homesteader, writer, and goat expert Deborah Niemann explains how she left a life in the city and mastered self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship living on a farm.
Deborah Niemann of The Thrifty Homesteader
Website: Thrifty Homesteader
Facebook: Thrifty Homesteader
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Pinterest: Thrifty Homesteader Shop
Would you like to move to the country to start a new self-sufficient life, but don’t know where to start? Are you put off because you’ve never done anything like it before and you’re worried about making costly mistakes? With the wealth of information now available online, there’s never been a better time to learn from the experience (and mistakes!) of others.
Deborah Niemann and her family moved to the country in 2002, and soon two goats turned into twenty, and a desire to make a simple chevre launched a new career helping people raise goats. Deborah is the author of Homegrown & Handmade, Ecothrifty, and Raising Goats Naturally. She blogs at thriftyhomesteader.com from her farm in Illinois.
Deborah shares how she made mistakes with both her farm and her business and how she’s now helping others to learn from those mistakes.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- [1:18] The resources Deborah has created to help people understand how to raise goats.
- [2:38] How the desire to eat healthy home-cooked meals influenced her to move to the country.
- [5:28] How she and her husband rearranged their lives to accommodate their move to the country.
- [6:12] Teaching people “why” they need to do certain things when living on a farm, not just “what”.
- [10:24] The lessons Deborah learned in her first year of moving to the country.
- [11:40] Deborah explains in detail how her family went from wanting to be completely self-sufficient to learning not to do it all.
- [16:00] Why she and her family decided to stop being vegetarian after raising animals on the farm.
- [20:23] The health problems with goats and how she taught herself to deal with them.
- [22:07] How she found platforms online and offline to disseminate the knowledge she had acquired over the years and help others not make the same mistakes.
- [26:36] Why Deborah wishes she had understood sooner the meaning of entrepreneurship with her business.
- [32:42] Setting goals and doing the research before starting a commercial venture.
- [34:31] Stop trying to be perfect, just do!
Resources mentioned in this episode
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To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.
Episode 58: A life in the country: leaving the city, becoming self-sufficient and farming entrepreneurship - with Deborah Niemann of The Thrifty Homesteader
Jeremy Cline 0:00
Have you ever dreamt of upping sticks and moving to the country - leaving your corporate job, growing your own food, looking after animals? Sounds quite idyllic, really, but what would actually be involved? That's what we find out in this episode. I'm Jeremy Cline and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:30
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast where we're all about beating Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. Now a change of career is one thing, but what about a complete change of lifestyle? What about for example, moving to the country? Well, my guest this week did exactly that when she moved out of the big city to the country in 2002. Now Deborah Niemann is a blogger at thriftyhomesteader.com and she's become an authority on keeping goats to the extent that she even has a podcast called For the Love of Goats and a book Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat and More. Deborah, welcome to the podcast.
Deborah Niemann 1:07
Thank you. I'm very excited to be here. This is one of my favourite topics!
Jeremy Cline 1:12
I can't wait to explore your story. But let's start with the dinner party question. How would you describe what you do to people?
Deborah Niemann 1:18
Now, if I am if I'm at a conference, a business conference, I tell people that I help people raise their goats without losing their mind or going broke.
Jeremy Cline 1:27
Okay, and if people say, right, what does that mean? What do you say to them?
Deborah Niemann 1:31
I basically cover the whole gamut. I've written books. I spoke at conferences a lot back when people still spoke at conferences. In fact, I was supposed to be in the UK this summer. I have online classes. I have a blog. There's over 450 articles on the blog. And 125 of those are about goats. Oh, and I started the podcast. So I think I pretty much have the bases covered for depending on how you want to learn. We've got for video people, we've got the classes online, for audio people we've got the podcast, people who like to read, I've got the blog with all the articles as well as all the books.
Jeremy Cline 2:09
Just to set in context your comment about you're supposed to be in the UK and people used to speak at conferences if people are listening to this in a couple of years time and thinking, What on earth are they talking about? We're still in the COVID-19 crisis, we've got lockdowns going up and then going back down again. So who knows what's going on, but certainly very few conferences are going ahead at the moment. So let's go back. You took a decision to basically leave the city and move to the country. What were you doing before you took that decision?
Deborah Niemann 2:39
The last job that I had, I was actually a newspaper reporter. And I covered city council meetings and school board meetings and fun stuff like that in the suburbs of Chicago. And we wanted to move to the country mostly so we could grow our own food organically because back then that wasn't in the grocery stores yet. You know, you still had to go to a health foods store and it was more expensive. And I found a farm where I could buy eggs right from the farmer. But it was really challenging. And so we just felt like if we want to have our own organic food, and if we really want to eat an organic diet, we're just going to have to grow it ourselves.
Jeremy Cline 3:14
And what led you to that desire at that stage? Why did you want to grow your own foods, have an organic diet, all that sort of thing?
Deborah Niemann 3:24
Well, it all started when I got pregnant with my first child. I had never heard anyone talk about the connection between your diet and your health. And I had grown up a very sickly child, and I was sick all the time. My mother was always taking me to the doctor. And I remember her asking him one time, can't we do anything to keep her from getting sick? And he said, No, she's just a sickly kid. Some kids are just sickly. And so I grew up with this terrible self esteem thinking I'm just a sickly kid, and there's nothing we can do about it. And then when I got pregnant with my first child, I started reading books about pregnancy and childbirth, and every single one of them talked about how you're diet affects your health. And I was very surprised by that, but I thought I had nothing to lose - this seems simple enough, right? So I started reading labels and I was absolutely shocked and horrified and angry to discover that there were no blueberries in my blueberry muffins, and so I started cooking from scratch and making blueberry muffins from scratch and blueberry muffins are a far cry from health food, but it's definitely better to eat real blueberries than to eat artificially coloured, artificially flavoured blue bits of something that are stuck in your muffin mix. And it just went from there basically to like baking our own bread from scratch to cooking a lot of stuff from scratch and then discovering like, oh, organic? What, they spray pesticides and herbicides and stuff on most of the food that we're buying at the store?! Oh my gosh, that can't be good for you. So we started wanting to buy organic and it just kind of snowballed from there.
Jeremy Cline 4:59
Taking the decision to leave the city, move out of the country and start growing your own vegetables. I mean, were you envisaging essentially still doing what you were doing - still being a newspaper reporter - but just doing it in a different environment, an environment which enabled you to grow your own food and that sort of thing? Or were you looking at this being a complete and utter lifestyle change, not just in terms of growing your own food, but also in terms of what you were doing day to day.
Deborah Niemann 5:28
For me what was going to change was I was going to go from working as an employee of a newspaper to just being a freelancer and writing for newspapers and magazines, and basically anybody who would pay me for freelance writing work, and I thought I would write the great American novel, which I did, but it never got published. So I thought it was gonna be great because we were moving to the middle of nowhere. My husband had tenure at a college. So basically, we said we need to move somewhere that is within a one hour drive of the college so that he could still continue going to work and we would have his income to live off of. And then whatever I earned as a freelancer would just be kind of a bonus.
Jeremy Cline 6:04
And what did you already know at that point about growing your own food and living the rural country lifestyle?
Deborah Niemann 6:12
Nothing. It was pretty funny. When I was growing up, even though we ate really badly, my parents did have a garden but I did not help with it at all. In fact, I think the only thing I ever ate that came out of there was green beans. I just did not like most vegetables at all. We started growing our own food. The started growing our own food thing actually started a little earlier - we tried gardening in the suburbs and the first garden was hilarious because I thought you basically just plant seeds and come back a couple months later and harvest dinner and it wasn't like that at all because weeds took over. There was nothing to amend the soil to fertilise it or give the plants any additional nutrients. This was a suburban backyard that had been growing grass. And so the garden was a complete dismal failure. And the only thing that was actually harvested out of there was a handful of green beans that were so stringy, it was like flossing your teeth to try to eat them. We actually gave up for a few years after that. And then I did a little bit more reading and research and like, Oh, we need to get some kind of fertiliser and like, Oh, we can get an organic one. So you know, like, I got fish emulsion and some other organic things to use to amend the soil. And that worked much better. But I always tell people, when we moved to the country, our livestock experience consisted of two cats and a poodle. So we had no idea what we were doing.
Jeremy Cline 7:39
So why did you do it? I mean, what was the pull - why weren't you put off by the fact that you didn't have a clue what you'd be doing?
Deborah Niemann 7:46
I thought it was gonna be really easy. It's really funny because most people hear about this, and in the beginning, when they would hear what we had done, they'd be like, Wow, that's really hard, isn't it? Did you grow up on a farm? How are you gonna know what to do? And in my head, I was the exact opposite. I thought, Oh my gosh, people have been doing this since the beginning of time. It can't be that hard. That's why I really thought like you just plant the garden, come back a couple months later and harvest dinner. And I knew nothing. And so we made so many mistakes. And in fact, that's kind of like an unofficial tagline. I say this a lot when I do podcasts and stuff or not podcasts more, as much as like Facebook Lives and everything. I make all the mistakes, so you don't have to!
Jeremy Cline 8:27
Crash test dummy.
Deborah Niemann 8:28
Yeah, and I think that is exactly I am a crash test dummy. But people have told me when they read my books, that they really like that I include all of our mistakes, because it makes it feel like they can do it. Because very, very few people are living a lifestyle like this. And there are a lot of people who live in the city who have a corporate job or something and they would like to get out of the rat race and move to the country. And so many people have said to me, you know, like, wow, you're living my dream, but I didn't grow up on a farm. How do you learn to do this? And well, you read books, and I think one the strengths of my books is that I do talk about the mistakes I made. When I got started the books were all written by people who had been doing this forever, you know, like they did grow up on a farm. So they left out a lot of really important stuff. A lot of them would just state the facts, 'you do this', and they didn't explain why. But I'm really big on explaining why because if you don't know why, a) you may just try to go do it the wrong way anyway, because you don't know how, what a bad mistake that is. And b) if you don't understand why then you're not going to understand what appears to be all of the contradictory information that you find on the internet about like raising goats, for example.
Jeremy Cline 9:36
So when you first moved out your plan to do pre launch writing, did that happen? Were you doing freelance journalism?
Deborah Niemann 9:44
I did a little bit not huge, but I did go to the local newspaper. Well, it was an hour away. That's as local as you get when you're in the middle of nowhere. So I did go to that newspaper and I did some freelance for them and I also taught some community, I had classes at the community college about freelance writing, how to write for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer. But for the most part in the beginning for the first few years, it was just being on the farm and taking care of the animals in the garden and canning and all that kind of stuff.
Jeremy Cline 10:15
So what was the first year like? How quickly were you able to move to the grow your own, eat your own? Or were you still driving an hour into the city to get your get your shopping done?
Deborah Niemann 10:25
We were definitely still driving into the city. In fact, it was really hilarious because even though we had pretty well nailed the gardening thing, by the time we moved out here, we had never gardened with chickens. And I wanted my chickens to be free range. And that first year we never had a red tomato and I had no idea why. It wasn't until the next year that I saw the chickens were eating all the tomatoes while they were still green. So that was one lesson. It's like okay, well the chickens can be free range, but then you have to fence your garden so that they don't get in there. And a second year also we had geese and the geese were going into the garden and eating the lettuce and everything. There were a lot of mistakes and we were vegetarians. So the first year, the way that we really actually saved a tonne of money was the fact that we were an hour away from a city and so we couldn't eat out anymore. And so we literally cut our food bill in half the very first year simply because we had to cook at home. We learned very quickly that like driving an hour to go out to eat is crazy. Dinner winds up taking you four hours out of your day.
Jeremy Cline 11:29
When you first moved out, was your plan to be entirely self sufficient, or was it to just be sort of self sufficient in some areas, but otherwise it would be going to the grocery store and that kind of thing?
Deborah Niemann 11:43
I wanted to be as self sufficient as possible. And so we just kept doing more and more and more stuff. And actually, after we got out here we started thinking about things we had never thought about before. You know, initially it was just like we're gonna have a garden and we're gonna have chickens for eggs and we're gonna have goats and cows for milk so that we can make cheese and butter and stuff. And we thought that was going to be really good. But then after we got out here, we realised after a few years that we have tonnes of maple trees so we could make our own maple syrup. And that was something that was not even on my radar screen. And we tried bees, and I say tried bees because we don't have these anymore. We really did not do well with bees. And I kind of learned so I really did want to be self sufficient and everything. We got sheep so that we could have our own wool. So that we can, you know, make our own scarves and hats and mittens and everything. So we really did want to be as self sufficient as possible. And I think the thing that kind of snapped me out of it was trying to shear our own sheep. We had a sheep share come for about three or four years and then people would say, Oh, you shear your sheep yourself? And I felt terrible saying no, because I'm like, Well, we've got to do it all. So I bought shears, and the next year we attempted to shear the sheep - and we did, but what had been an hour and a half job with a professional turned into a day and a half. It was unbelievable. And I would be kind of horrified at a little nick that like two or three of the 20 sheep got when the professional did it, well, when we did it, there were a lot more nicks. It was just terrible, and it took us so much time. And that was when I realised, you know what, we don't have to do everything. There's some things that we don't have to do. And then when my kids were all grown and left, then it really started to hit home. Like with the cows, it's like we don't have to have cows for our own beef. I know somebody now and that's one of the cool things about moving out here is making connections with people and I don't necessarily mean nearby because nearby means like a lot of corn and soybean farmers, but within an hour or so meeting other people who are interested in organics and stuff. I know somebody who lives like an hour 15 minutes away who is certified organic and his cows are out on pasture, his pigs are outside. And so I feel great buying stuff from him because I know how the animals were raised. And I mean, they're raised exactly the way that we would have raised them here, if we wanted to continue doing that stuff. But the big 'wow', was when people would ask in the beginning, isn't that a lot of work? I would say, Well, yeah. But you know, there's five of us. And so each person has about 45 minutes of work in the morning and the evening. Well, as each child grew up and left, that got piled onto somebody else. So if you do the math there, there's an hour and a half per person per day, total times five, so at the point where like, all of our children were gone, and my husband was at work every day and it was just me, that's a full day.
Jeremy Cline 14:41
It's a full day's work!
Deborah Niemann 14:42
That is a full day's work. And that's when you go, we don't have to do it all.
Jeremy Cline 14:47
In terms of - let's leave aside the clothes and that kind of thing - but just in terms of food, are you entirely self sufficient or you get in from other organic places or are there things where you still get them from the supermarket or get them delivered or whatever?
Deborah Niemann 15:03
Yeah, so a lot of the meat that we eat now is still homegrown. But pretty soon this fall, we're going to be butchering our last pigs. And so we will definitely then be getting pork from another local farmer. I do get vegetables and things like that from the store and grains and like flowers and things, but we still grow quite a bit. And especially in terms of meat right now. Right now the only meat that we need to buy is beef. And we get it from the one farmer that I talked about, because my big fear with the cows, I was afraid that cows were going to get out one day when I was home alone, and it was hard enough to bring them home when there were three or four of us. If the cows got out while I was home alone, I never would have been able to bring them back!
Jeremy Cline 15:46
One thing I'm curious about you mentioned that you were vegetarian and clearly you're not now which is a slightly unusual direction to go in particularly these days, although that is actually a direction I went in myself. I was vegetarian for years and then stopped being vegetarian. So what made you stop being vegetarian?
Deborah Niemann 16:02
Well, I became a vegetarian and so did my husband and we raised our children as vegetarians, because back in the late 80s, I read an article about factory farming. I was shocked and horrified and felt terrible because I had always assumed that the meat on my plate came from animals who'd been living outside, like at my grandparents farm, when I was a little girl, I visited there, and they had chickens and ducks and cows and everything just all outside. And my parents actually would buy meat from local farmers when I was growing up, too. So I was really shocked to discover that's not where your meat came from. And so that was the original reason that we quit eating meat, was because of the ethics behind factory farming. And then, of course, once that happens, and you start to see Oh, well, there's health benefits. And then we moved out here with no intentions whatsoever of not being vegetarians, and we discovered that when animals have babies, half of them are males. And with chickens, males don't give you anything. They don't give you eggs. And my original thought was Oh, but they're beautiful and beauty is important. So we're not going to butcher our roosters because they add a lot of beauty to the homestead with their pretty feathers. Well, then they start killing each other literally. They start fighting over the girls. And that was one of the things the books told me - oh, you only need one rooster for every 10 hens or so. It didn't say you don't want to have more than one rooster for every 10 hens! But I did it. So after a couple years, because I had originally bought 24 hens and four or five roosters, and after two years, we had 44 hens and 24 roosters and the hens were literally run ragged. They had no feathers left on their back because the roosters were chasing them all the time and hopping on their backs and then the roosters would fight with each other because they would both want one hen, and it was just terrible. And then after the first one was killed, we had this big long ethical discussion about well, how ethical is it to just let them kill each other? It seems like they are going for some kind of equilibrium here. I mean, we need to make a decision about are we going to let them just keep killing each other until they're happy with the odds? Or do we step in and decide to have some chicken dinners. And ultimately, we decided it really wasn't nice because like quickly cutting their throat is much more humane than the way they kill each other, because they're literally pecking each other to death, which seems like a horrible way to go.
Jeremy Cline 18:31
During the first couple years in particular, were there any points at which you thought, Oh, we've made a terrible mistake here, let's go back?
Deborah Niemann 18:38
There are two times that I had that feeling. One was when our livestock guardian dog bit our oldest daughter, and that was horrifying. And I just I felt like I was completely clueless and had no idea what I was doing and my child could have died and it was all my fault. So that was pretty awful. And then the other time actually was when a goat died. I took her to the vet hospital. She was having problems. She had five kids and they were all tangled up. And yeah, that's way beyond the norm. Most goats have twins. Some have triplets, every now and then you'll see quads. But five is extremely unusual. And they were all tangled up, and I took her to the vet. And after they got the kids out, she died from a uterine rupture. And that again, it was about ethics. Oh my gosh, this poor goat died. And the only reason she died is because she was pregnant because you have to get pregnant to make milk because we want milk. And I went through so much in my head about Well, now that you know as much as you know about commercial dairy, do you really want to go back to buying cheese? No. So it's either we keep doing this and doing the best job that we possibly can. Because I mean, that's really all you can ask anybody to do is just do the best you can, either that or just completely give up on the whole concept of dairy consumption, because I felt like what I'm doing is much nicer than what happens in commercial dairies.
Jeremy Cline 20:10
And how did you move into becoming the expert specifically on goat? Clearly, you had to learn a lot about animal husbandry, generally chickens, cows, goats, and about growing your vegetables, that sort of thing. So when did goats kind of become your thing?
Deborah Niemann 20:25
Raising most animals really is easy, as long as you know you can't have too many roosters. Chickens and animals who are raised outside in a natural environment are extremely healthy, they don't have health problems. I think we had chickens for 14 or 15 years before I could have listed more than five that died not for someone's dinner. About once every three years a chicken would just die of natural causes. And we had 50 to 80 chickens all the time. So that's really healthy. But with the goats, they actually had a lot of health problems. And I realised it was - ultimately through a lot of research - I discovered it was because they were deficient in copper, and that that was a really big part of the problem. And so I had goats not getting pregnant, not staying pregnant, they would miscarry with little kids that were so tiny that there was no way they could survive. And the vets were just clueless, they had no idea why they were dying. One of my daughters who was 16 at the time and I started doing a lot of reading and looking at scientific research and found that copper deficiency can be a problem with goats. And that was what it was. We also had problems with, like dewormer resistance, meaning that the dewormers didn't work. And we had so many problems with our goats, that to keep my goats alive I basically learned enough to write a book that's more than 300 pages.
Jeremy Cline 21:57
So going on from that, so you had become the expert in terms of needing to keep your own goats alive - what made you decide that you had to get out there and start disseminating your knowledge and telling other people about it?
Deborah Niemann 22:10
It all started very naturally. Initially, people would call me and say, Hey, so and so told me that you make your own soap? Can you teach me to make soap or make cheese? And then when we would sell our goats, I would wind up spending an hour or two with everybody when they came to pick up a goat because I would be teaching them how to trim hooves and how to do all these different things and telling them all this information about nutrition and everything. And so I decided that I should just start scheduling classes on my farm so that I don't go through the same information 20 times every summer. You know, when people are picking up kids, I can go through it two or three times because I'll have a bunch of people here. So it just evolved like that. And you know, when I would mention something on my Facebook page about having a goat class on the farm today, people would say you need to have an online class. When are you going to put this online? And so people were asking for it, basically. And, and I felt like I learned all of this the hard way. There's no reason anybody else should have to go through everything I did. I did the research, I made the mistakes. Here you go.
Jeremy Cline 23:10
Were you aware of the online world at this stage? Or was this all new and exciting as well?
Deborah Niemann 23:15
I had been online since 1993. And I actually learned a lot of what I learned from Yahoo groups, back when Yahoo groups were a big thing in the early 2000s. But I guess the online course world was still in its infancy, because I didn't know about online courses. In fact, I started teaching online for the University of Massachusetts initially, and then I heard about online courses that were just done by individuals. And that was when I said, Oh, I should do this because University of Massachusetts classes - great and everything, but it is for credit, and so it's a university class. It's very expensive. And so the classes that I can teach just independently are a lot less and most people don't need a college degree in agriculture. Most people just want to know how do I take care of my goat, that's it.
Jeremy Cline 24:05
Was this sort of just a means by which you could share your knowledge or were used to consciously thinking ooh, online courses, passive income, business opportunities, that sort of thing? Or did that just kind of evolve out of that?
Deborah Niemann 24:18
I definitely thought about being able to make money from it. Because my idea - I had such a silly old fashioned idea - was that I'm going to have a blog, and then I'll get discovered and get asked to write a book and make lots of money. And that would have been totally accurate if it was 1995. But it wasn't. It is not the way that it works now. I think pretty much everybody's in agreement that writing books is not the way to make money. It's a nice way to show that you have authority about something or to just provide a very low cost product for people and an easy way to share your knowledge, but you really don't make money with it. And it all worked very much like that for me up to the making money point. I started a blog in 2006 - my antiquity oaks farm blog, and wrote in it faithfully, it was just a journal - like this is what happened today, this goat gave birth, this is how it went. And then I got asked to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair, the very first Mother Earth News Fair, which was in Pennsylvania in 2010. And when I was speaking there, a woman came up to me and said, Hi, my name is Heather Nicholas, and I'm with New Society Publishers, and I'd like to talk to you about writing a book. And I was already working on the third book before I realised this is not a good way to make money, you're going to work yourself to death writing books, because I was right - I wrote a book a year initially, and you're not making much money. Don't even do the math for how many hours it took you to write this book because you could have made more money at McDonald's.
Jeremy Cline 25:45
What happened to the freelance writing and reporting and that sort of thing. Did you keep a hand in that or did that just drift by the wayside?
Deborah Niemann 25:52
I quit writing in terms of like city council meetings and things like that, because let's be honest, nobody goes to those meetings because they're boring for the most part. So I did not I was totally doing that reporting just to make some extra money. But then as I became an expert in the homesteading space, I switched my writing over to magazines like Hobby Farm and Mother Earth News and Grit and other magazines that are devoted to this whole topic. So I still do freelance writing for those magazines.
Jeremy Cline 26:27
So what would you say is the toughest thing about your journey? What's the sort of biggest challenge that you've had to overcome? And that could either be in the moving out to the country and starting your own farmstead or in the online space?
Deborah Niemann 26:39
That's a tough question to answer. The big thing where I really have regret was in starting my own business. I was just feeling like I was so far behind in my thinking about how to make money because at some point, I realised that there is a real need for this because when you look online on goats, you're gonna find there's stuff from A to Z. One site will tell you do this, and another site will tell you to do the exact opposite. And people are confused, and rightly so. Because the people who wrote that are usually saying this is what works. And the reality is, that's why it's really important to know why you're doing what you're doing. Because what each of those farms is doing is best for their farm and it is working, but you need to know how it's working. What's the management that means you should do it this way. Are you dam raising your kids? Meaning are the moms raising the kids? Or are you feeding them all artificial milk replacer? Because the way that you would raise those kids is completely different.
Jeremy Cline 27:35
You said your biggest regret was when you were starting your own business feeling so far behind. Could you expand on that?
Deborah Niemann 27:42
There are a lot of people who started a blog much later than I did, because I started in 2006, who were making millions. And I was still sitting over here making absolutely nothing. And I had written books and I had published my blog and I did not understand that I needed to be keeping a mailing list, I needed a way for people to be able to connect with me. Somebody comes to your website because Google sends them there, and they they read what they want to read and then they leave, probably never to come back again. But some of those people would really like to hear more of your information. And you need to keep an email list so that you can send them a newsletter every week to give them information that they need. And that's really the clue. I felt like, Oh, that's spammy, nobody wants an email. I didn't realise that I had a really important information that people needed. And they would like to get my emails. I have a 25 to 30% open rate. And I haven't even pruned my list in a year and a half, maybe two years, and it's because my open rate is still way up there. And it's because I'm not spamming people. And that's what I always try to tell other authors or entrepreneurs who are really shy about an email list. You are not going to spam other you're not going to spam people. Don't you dare spam people, you are going to send people information that they really need. And in fact, I've had people who have dropped out of my class, my membership programme and stuff and sent me an email recently and said, I'm really, really sorry, I just have to do this because I lost my job. And as soon as I get a job again, I'm signing up because this is so helpful. And that's it. I was recently talking to somebody about what is an entrepreneur, and she was saying an entrepreneur is somebody who solves a problem for people, it really doesn't have anything to do with making money. I feel like it took me way too long to figure out that I could solve problems for people with the knowledge that I had about goats and that the way to do that is have an email list so you can send them email so that they can connect with you. And then to have more products - not just write books and call it done, because not everybody wants to read a book. Some people want to listen to a podcast, some people want to watch videos,
Jeremy Cline 29:54
When you first moved out., did you at that stage thinking you were going to be an entrepreneur or is this just something which turned up much later than that?
Deborah Niemann 30:02
When we moved out here because I was reading books, I did think we were possibly going to become entrepreneurs or business owners, but I thought it was going to be with the farm. I thought we are going to become these amazing organic farmers, we're going to sell this great organic meat from animals that spent their whole life out in the pasture with green grass and fresh air and sunshine. And as the farm got bigger, and we still weren't making a whole lot of money, I started doing the math and discovered that yeah, we would have to raise something like 100 pigs every year to make enough money to survive, or an equally large number, like we would have to have this many chickens to sell enough eggs. And when I started running the numbers, it was just like, holy cow. I don't want to have a farm that big. I don't want to have 100 piglets!
Jeremy Cline 30:53
If you were to go back and talk to your younger self, would you encourage them to start all this a bit earlier?
Deborah Niemann 30:58
Definitely. Yes. So many people say to me that they are planning to move to the country when they retire. And the first thing I would say is if you think that I'm living your dream, then do it now. We moved out here when I was 39. And there is such a big difference between what I can do then and what I can do now. And that's just even in terms of like, your ability to hurt yourself really increases as you age! I got a slipped disc in my back five years ago, it was absolutely horrible. I was completely worthless, I couldn't even walk across the room without screaming. So it can happen to somebody who's young, but it's more likely to happen when you're older. And thank goodness I finally recovered from that, but definitely do it sooner rather than later if you're thinking of the farming aspect of it, but also even online. I think the marketplace online is not getting any less busy. It's getting harder and harder to rank with Google. And I feel like I actually have it really easy because the marketplace for goat information is not crowded yet! But I know there are people out there, there are copycats. I've seen some because people email me like, Hey, have you seen this person? She's got goat classes. So I know there's at least two other people out there who are offering classes about goats now, and there's a couple other people who have written books about goats also. So the sooner you get into something, especially if it's untapped, like goats was when I got into it, that's a really, really great opportunity.
Jeremy Cline 32:30
In terms of the country lifestyle, people who are listening to this and thinking, Oh, yeah, I actually really do like the idea of buying a farm and moving out, but I just wouldn't even have the first clue where to start. What's a good first step that people can take in order to look into this.
Deborah Niemann 32:47
Well, first of all, think about what is your goal? Is your goal to be just to feed yourself? Do you just want to be able to have more organic food, or do you want to make a living with it? And then if you think you want to make a living with it, do the math before you even buy anything and see, well, what do you want to do. If you want to have a cheese making operation or sell gelato or something, do the math in that and say, Okay, how many goats am I going to have to milk every day to reach this business goal? And then ask yourself, do I want to milk that many goats every day? Because that's why we don't have a dairy. Milking more than 10 goats a day is a lot. And we actually were milking as many as 22 one time. And so when I hear people talk about milking 100 goats a day, I'm just like wow! And granted they have a big commercial setup, where they're milking like eight at once, but still, that is a lot of work. And I just interviewed somebody on my podcast who has a gelato dairy, and he talked about what he did not expect to spend so much time washing up between the milking and then making gelato and stuff he's like, you wouldn't believe how much money you spend on cleaning supplies. So that's another thing too is that if you want do something commercial is to go visit places. Because I thought I wanted to have a commercial cheesemaking operation, everybody would eat my cheese and go, Oh my gosh, you should be selling this. This is so good. And thankfully idea to go visit some cheese making operations, some onfarm cheese making places, and after talking to them, I decided I really didn't want to do it.
Jeremy Cline 34:23
Do you have any resources which have helped you or which you can recommend to other people who are either interested in sort of the moving out to the country or the online business or anything in between business generally that you can suggest?
Deborah Niemann 34:36
Oh my gosh, my list of resources is a mile long. There's so many. But there is one quote that I understand Silicon Valley operates on and that is 'done is better than perfect'. Because I got stuck in perfect for a really long time, mostly with my online business. When my course finally came out it sold really well and I think it's because I was telling my followers for six months, it's coming, it'll be here in a week or two, it's coming. And by the time it finally really did come, they were all excited to buy because they're like, well, it's about time! But I got so caught up, I completely redid that course, three different ways on different platforms using different methods. It was terrible, but it was good. And finally, at the end, thankfully, I saw a quote from somebody that said, if you're not embarrassed by your first course, you waited too long to launch. And I was like, Okay, fine, I'm just gonna launch. And I did. And so even now, I still sometimes have to remind myself done is better than perfect. It's not gonna be perfect. And just think that's why we have to update our computers constantly!
Jeremy Cline 35:47
Yeah, I mean, I guess you can kind of update Kindle versions, and I've seen people do that. But if people have got the hard copy, then yeah, that's kind of it.
Deborah Niemann 35:55
Yeah, it works. That idea works. And one of the things I love about courses rather than books is that I can update a course anytime. If I think that my people need an extra bit of information, I can go add it. Where's the book, well, there's 5000 of them that have been printed, and they're not going to print anymore until those first 5000 have been sold. So if you've got any changes or whatever, it's gonna take a while!
Jeremy Cline 36:21
This has been an amazingly interesting conversation, absolutely fascinating. Where can people go if they want to follow you, find out a bit more about you?
Deborah Niemann 36:28
Pretty much if you just look for Thrifty Homesteader online you will find me I'm at thrifty homesteader.com, and I'm also on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, all at Thrifty Homesteader also.
Jeremy Cline 36:40
I will link to all that in the show notes. Deborah, thank you so much for your time. I've thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Deborah Niemann 36:47
Oh, great. Thank you. It was fun chatting about it.
Jeremy Cline 36:50
All right, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Deborah Niemann of the Thrifty Homesteader. It fascinated me the way that Deborah has combined this sort of rural, idyllic, quite difficult lifestyle of looking after animals and growing her own fruit and vegetables and all that sort of thing with an online business. So she's helping people do the same as her. She's offering courses, she's writing books, she's running classes, that sort of thing. It's really interesting how she's kind of combining these two on the face of it very different lifestyles. I also really like the fact that she'd identified that her one of her unique selling propositions was that she didn't just tell you what to do, but she told you why to do it. So that if you were scratching your head thinking that doesn't make sense, I'm going to try something different then she would actually explain why it was that she recommended doing things a particular way. And I can see how a lot of people would benefit from that approach. It was also clear that whilst Deborah had thought about entrepreneurship, but in the context of selling her own produce, she had kind of fallen into the kind of business that she now offers. And again, that was because she'd realised that she was able to solve people's problems, and as she said, an entrepreneur is someone who solves other people's problems. There's links to where you can find Deborah and the other things we talked about in the show notes for this episode, which are at changeworklife.com/58. And I've recently upped my social media presence, so now as well as being able to find me on Facebook, you can find me on Twitter and on Instagram, and you'll find the links to those in the show notes and on the website at changeworklife.com, so do please check those out. Next week, we're revisiting the question of what it takes to turn your hobby, your creative passion into a career - into your livelihood. If you have a hobby and you've been toying with the idea of turning it into something for which you can be paid, then you definitely want to listen to this episode. I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.
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