Homesteading can mean a lot of different things. For some, it’s having a vegetable garden or a stocked pantry. For others it means being completely self-sufficient. In any case, having and planning a homestead is a lot of work. To me, homesteading is not only growing your own food, it’s also becoming less dependent on services, and connecting with other like-minded local community members to trade goods.
We’ve been homesteading for a while now, and I’m sharing the easiest ways to get started planning your very own homestead.
Find Your 'Why' Whatever it means to you, the first thing you have to determine is your “why.” Why do you want to homestead? Are you fleeing the city for a simpler life? Trying to provide for your family? Wanting to create intimate community relationships? Do you want to be totally self-sufficient? Or do you just want a few eggs?
After you’ve figured out your “why,” you can determine which animals you should get. One piece of advice from a farmer I look up to, Joel Salatin, is not to get anything without a purpose.
Why do you want those chickens? Why are you getting a cow? Will they help you? Help the land? Make you money? Provide for you? Getting an animal as a lawn ornament because it’s cute is one of the worst things you can do.
If an animal is not doing anything for you, care and maintenance will soon become a chore (in a bad way) and frustration will grow because it simply won’t be worth your time.
What To Look For When Buying A Homestead What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know, but a similar conundrum arises when looking for a lot to homestead on. Do you have in mind what animals you want to keep before you buy, or will you let the land dictate that after the fact? That’s up to you.
The ideal lot would have water, whether it be a pond, river, or lake access, some forested acreage that could provide firewood, and some pasture for grazing animals. These three things are important and would give you a well-rounded homestead.
But if you aren’t moving and don’t have all of these things, a backyard can still house laying hens, meat birds, and an amazing vegetable garden—not to mention solar panels or a well. All of these things help you become more self-sufficient.
Another key factor to look for is infrastructure. Purchasing a lot with preexisting shelters, barns, a well, or other improvements will only get you further along. While it might be ideal and romantic to buy a piece of land, the reality of starting a homestead and building a house or barn at the same time will only slow things down.
How Much Can My Land Handle? The amount of land you have will greatly affect how your homestead looks and operates. If you live in town on a small lot, chances are having cows and sheep won’t work for you. But having a vegetable garden, laying hens, and maybe even rabbits could totally work. If you live on an acreage outside of town, grazing animals like sheep and cows will be more successful.
Here is a cheat sheet on what animals you could have depending on what size your land lot is.
Under 1 acre: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and rabbits.
1 to 5 acres: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and pigs.
5 or more acres: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigs, cows, sheep, and goats.
These guidelines can differ depending on what kind of land you have, how many of each animal you want to keep, and how you raise them. Is your land all pasture, or is your property mostly forest? Are you by water? All of these things need to be taken into account.
It’s best to keep the things you tend to daily closest to your actual house, like the vegetable garden or laying hens. The pasture, no matter where it is, is best for other poultry and grazers like cattle and sheep. If you have a weedy area, goats would be best suited for that spot. And if you have a forested area, pigs and poultry can do pretty well there, too.
Investing Time and Money A good thing to keep in mind is how much time you have available to do chores. If you raise animals on pasture and rotate them with electric nets and mobile housing, you’ll be doing less cleaning. No mucking stalls–how awesome is that? But nonetheless, feeding, watering, and rotating all require time.
Another factor to keep in mind is budget. A lot of people think homesteading is cheap, and it can eventually become a money-saving strategy once you are growing all your own food and are completely off the grid. But the upfront costs do add up, between the animals, fencing, feed, feeder, waterers, building supplies, and cost of living while you’re still in the early phases of planning and construction. It's recommended to start with a few things at a time and go from there.
One other good tip is to always buy more than you think you need. Get more feed, supplies, chickens, buckets, tape, or whatever else is on your shopping list. You will always need more or end up wanting more. Keep this in mind when budget planning.
What To Start With This can be overwhelming. Homesteading is romanticized and people usually want to start hot and heavy and get everything at once. Your ability to do this is completely dependent on how much time and money you have. Start with something easier to keep upfront costs low. Here’s a general order of operations I would follow.
Chickens are super easy and have a low start-up cost. They are also a great dual-purpose animal, giving you eggs and meat. A quick search on Kijiji or Craigslist will find you some inexpensive birds, and a mobile chicken tractor and an electric net will go a long way.
Gardening is also very easy and cost-effective. A few raised beds will give you a decent amount of food to eat and preserve.
These two investments are a great way to get your feet wet in the world of homesteading and are often what most people start with.
The next animal you should consider introducing to your homestead is pigs. They are so fun, hardy, and super independent. A simple structure, electric netting, and all your foodscraps are all you need.
Cattle, sheep, and goats should probably come later in your homesteading journey. These animals take a little bit more investment and time. They generally have a higher upfront cost and require a larger structure and more attention. They also need more land and will take longer to grow out. But don’t let this discourage you. We love our sheep, and a milking cow is next on the list for us.
Homesteading is not for the faint of heart. But even with all the hard work, it’s incredibly rewarding. The first step toward getting there is creating a solid homestead plan.