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How to Start a Homestead – Is Self-Sufficient Living Right for You?

Imagine waking up and heading straight outside to let out your flock of hens. While you’re in the coop, you gather plenty of fresh eggs for breakfast.

Many people dream of starting a homestead for several reasons. Perhaps you’re looking for ways to be more self-sufficient. Maybe you’d like to have a large garden or raise livestock to save money.

Or perhaps the pandemic is forcing you to reexamine where you want to live. CNN reports that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are leaving big cities and opting for life in the country instead. U.S. News & World Report notes that an April 2020 poll conducted by Harris Poll found that 40% of urban dwellers said they were considering moving to a more rural area. And 43% said they had visited a real estate website to look at rural properties.

But starting a homestead can feel overwhelming, especially if you go into the process without a plan. It can also get costly if you’re not careful. I know because right now, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

After buying 10 acres in rural Tennessee, my family and I immediately began clearing sod in the pasture for a large garden, where we’ve planted everything from squash to wasabi radishes. We’re raising a flock of 13 hens, and we’re getting several goats. We’ve started a compost pile, set up a rain barrel, built a clothesline, and are looking at ways to use the big creek on the property for hydropower. We’ve cleared several smaller beds to grow medicinal herbs, and we’re learning everything we can about solar so we can get that set up this summer.

There never seems to be enough time in the day, especially since we both work and home-school our two boys. And yet it’s been an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling process.

Many people imagine homesteading is a simple life. And it is. However, it’s also a lot of hard work, and there are many pros and cons to this lifestyle.

Advantages of Homesteading

Woman Planting Petunia Flowers In Garden Outdoors

Although it might look like it on Instagram, homesteading is not a perfect life. However, for many people, the chores and hard work are worth all the great benefits homesteading provides.

1. You Have Greater Self-Sufficiency

Homesteading enables you to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on society to meet your needs. You can grow your own food and preserve it, raise livestock, start beekeeping, and find plenty of other ways to make money off your land.

During times of crisis, this self-sufficiency means your family will be less impacted by food shortages or price hikes at the grocery store.

2. You Can Save Money

Moving out to the country can save you and your family quite a bit of money. You’ll likely pay less in property taxes and spend less on eating out or shopping because you have to drive further to get to those places. If you have a successful garden, you’ll spend less on produce from the grocery store. And if you decide to home-school, you can avoid the everyday expenses that naturally stem from having kids in public school.

3. You Get More Exercise

You also get a lot of exercise on a homestead. The physical nature of gardening, raising and taking care of livestock, and doing various farm chores means you’re always on the move. Getting more exercise can help you avoid severe health conditions like heart disease and obesity.

4. It’s Good for Children

Homesteading allows your children to grow up in nature instead of in front of a screen. Instead of suffering from nature-deficit disorder, they can spend hours outside exploring and learning.

There’s always something for children to do on a homestead. They can develop carpentry skills by building forts. They can learn how to identify plants and animals and how to forage for edible foods on your land. They can learn how to fail when a project or idea doesn’t pan out and how to get back up and try it a new way. And they can also learn the value of hard work from doing farm chores.

Homesteading also shows them in an up-close and personal way the cycle of life and death. They will get to watch baby animals being born, and they will feel the devastation of losing a beloved barnyard friend to a predator. While these aren’t easy lessons to experience, they’re essential for building character, resilience, and compassion.

5. You Experience More Gratitude

Growing food is hard work. And when you put hours each week into tending your garden, you tend to appreciate the food that comes out of it more than you would food bought at the grocery store.

You might find that you and your children have a more profound sense of gratitude when you garden and tend livestock simply because you know the work involved in doing those things.

Disadvantages of Homesteading

Raking Leaves Rubber Rain Boots Outside

Are you willing to wake up at 5am on a cold January morning to milk your dairy cow? Or clean out the chicken coop when it’s 97 degrees F outside and you have to wear overalls and a face mask?

Homesteading is an amazing life, but there are definitely some downsides to running a small farm.

1. Expenses Can Get Out of Control

Yes, homesteading can save you and your family money compared to living in the city. However, a homestead can also get expensive if you’re not careful.

Simple-sounding projects like putting up a fence or building a chicken coop aren’t as cheap as you probably think. If you choose to raise livestock, there are vet bills, medications, extra feed, and plenty of other expenses that are hard to plan for when you’re just getting started.

2. It’s Constant Work

Homesteading is a seven-day-per-week job. And the more animals you have or the bigger your garden is, the more chores you have to do.

Starting and maintaining a homestead takes a lot of time and energy. You probably won’t have time to watch all your favorite shows every night or hang out with friends as often as you’d like because there’s simply too much to do — or you’re just too tired to leave the house.

That said, most homesteaders don’t mind the constant work of their farm because it’s their dream. And this hard work has its benefits too. It feels good, and it teaches you to push through your comfort zone and how to fail. It can also boost your confidence and empower you to try things you never imagined you would.

3. Vacations Require Planning

If you want to raise livestock like chickens, goats, or sheep, it’s essential to realize that you can no longer just go on vacation with your family.

Livestock needs constant care, so if you want to take a break, you’re going to have to find someone to take care of your farm while you’re gone. If you don’t have a neighbor who’s willing to do a work exchange or a family member willing to do it for free, you’ll have to hire someone. Hiring help can be expensive. You’ll also worry they won’t take care of your homestead as well as you would.

4. Internet Access Can Be Challenging

Many rural areas still lack basic Internet services, and it can be an expensive process to get connected.

For example, when we bought our homestead, we knew there would be connectivity issues. We didn’t even get a cellphone signal, and there certainly wasn’t any broadband available. We both work online, so that was a significant concern. So far, we’ve had to invest $1,000 in a WeBoost cellphone booster and $500 on satellite Internet. And the signal is still unreliable and slow at times.

Before you decide to move to a rural area, make sure you research what Internet and cellphone options are available and factor in any additional expenses you might incur to stay connected.

Starting a Homestead

Notebook Action Plan List

You might be ready to leave suburbia and buy a farm out in the country. Or perhaps you want or need to stay closer to the city and simply want to be more self-sufficient where you’re currently living. But there are several things you need to do before jumping in with both feet.

1. Create a Homestead Plan

Your first step is to think about what you want to do with your homestead. What is your goal?

For example, are you interested in starting a small garden and keeping a few chickens, or do you dream about having cattle on an off-grid spread far from a big city? Do you want a farm for something to do in your spare time to relax, or do you eventually want to quit your job and do this full-time?

While it’s important to think about your dreams, you also need to consider reality. If you work a full-time job, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to devote to a large homestead. Trying to maintain one anyway could lead to significant stress and frustration because you don’t have time to do both well.

With that in mind, let yourself dream for a few minutes. Write down what you want your homestead to look like. Where is it located? What does the land look like? What animals do you want to keep? What fruits and vegetables do you want to grow?

The picture you’re painting here might take years to turn into reality. But putting pen to paper will help organize your thoughts and create a vision that moves you forward.

2. Decide Where

Your next step is to think about where you want to live. Consider these questions.

  • How far do you want to be from schools or a grocery store?
  • How much land do you need? How much can you afford in the area you want to live?
  • Do you need your land to have water access, such as a spring, creek, pond, or lake?

You also need to think about what kind of land you need. For example, do you want to buy vacant land and build a home and barn, or would you rather look for property with a house already on it? If you plan to keep livestock, do you need land with an existing barn and fenced pasture, or are you willing to build these structures yourself?

Another option is to consider alternative living arrangements, which would free up more cash to buy land. For example, buying land and living in a yurt or RV would be less expensive than buying property with a home already on it.

There are plenty of websites that can help you find the right piece of land, including:

But if you’re flexible with your future location and don’t want a lot of acreage, you might be able to get your homestead for free.

The federal government no longer gives away land through the Homesteading Act of 1862. However, many states are giving away land to encourage population growth, and with it, increased tax revenue and jobs.

You have to apply, and most offers have strings attached. For example, you might have to build a home on the land within one year or stay there a specific amount of time. Most free land opportunities are in small towns, on subdivision lots, or on lots located near the downtown. However, you don’t need a ton of land to start a small homestead, and plenty of people are using their city lots to become more self-sufficient. For example, you’d still have space to start a small garden, keep bees, or raise a few hens for eggs.

The following states are giving away free land:

3. Consider Additional Income Opportunities

Using your land to earn an income is especially important if your goal is to eventually quit your current job and homestead full time.

Some homesteaders earn extra money by selling:

You can also rent out a pasture for another homesteader’s livestock to graze or create a u-pick farm for extra money. There are many ways your homestead can earn an extra side income. For more ideas, check out Tim Young’s book “How to Make Money Homesteading.”

4. Get to Know Your Land

Starting a homestead on land you just bought brings some unique challenges.

You’re trying to make plans and work land you’re unfamiliar with. And that can lead to a lot of expensive mistakes.

We located our garden in the pasture next to the house because it got so much sunshine. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the spring’s piping was in that exact spot. It was painful to realize the tiller blades had just destroyed our garden’s water source.

But that wasn’t the only rookie mistake we made when choosing our garden spot. We didn’t account for the slope of the land. It slopes slightly downward toward the creek. So far, two heavy rains have washed away plenty of seeds we’ve had to buy again and replant. Next year, we’ll have to relocate the garden, which means another round of deep tilling and plenty of time (and sore backs) removing rocks.

If we had taken more time to get to know the land before we began working it, we probably would have avoided these mistakes.

If you have the time, take the advice of Ryan Mitchell at The Tiny Life. He suggests spending a year living on your land before you commit a lot of time or money to develop it. That allows you to see how the land reacts to each season. You can discover where the warm spots and cool spots are, how the water flows or sits, and how shadows from trees move (which would affect solar or gardening plans).

Of course, that’s often easier said than done, especially once you move in and you’re excited to get started on projects. If you can’t wait a year, try to at least hold off for a month or two until you have a better feel for your land and what it offers.

5. Break Down Your Projects

Chances are you have a long list of things you want to do on your homestead. But before you start on them, it’s smart to break down every project step-by-step so you can grasp what’s involved and budget for expenses.

For example, imagine you want to start raising hens, and your goal is to let them free-range on your land. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, starting a flock involves several steps. You need to:

  1. Make sure that chickens are allowed in your area.
  2. Research which chicken breed is right for your situation.
  3. Decide if you want day-old chicks, which require more care, or pullets, which are older birds that are more expensive but are almost ready to start laying.
  4. Find out where to get chicks.
  5. Buy or build a chicken coop.
  6. Make sure your coop is predator-proof.
  7. Buy nesting boxes, bedding, chicken feed, a heat lamp, and a feeder and waterer.
  8. Once chicks arrive, care for them daily until they’re old enough to survive outdoors, roughly six weeks if you buy day-old chicks.

Farm projects almost always involve more steps and more expenses than you imagine at first. Researching steps, necessary materials, and costs before you get started can help you avoid unexpected costs and give you a realistic picture of what’s involved. Carla Emery’s “The Encyclopedia of Country Living” is a great resource to have when you’re planning homesteading projects because it’s so comprehensive.

6. Get Inspired

Starting and developing a homestead doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s easy to get discouraged by the sheer number of steps it takes to get there.

That’s why it helps to connect with people who are already living the life you’re dreaming of. Following along with their ups and downs is not only inspiring, but you can learn plenty.

Instagram is a great place to find other homesteaders. Use the following hashtags to connect with these people:

  • #homesteading
  • #farmlife
  • #homesteadlife
  • #gardening
  • #growyourown
  • #countrylife

You can also scour Pinterest, using the same hashtags, to find great how-to articles and beautiful pictures to stay motivated.

How to Homestead Where You Are

Baking Bread Dough Proofing Loaf

If you can’t relocate to your dream farm right now, there are still plenty of ways you can start homesteading right where you are. Homesteading is all about being more self-sufficient and independent, and you don’t need 40 acres to do that. Many money-saving tips from the past are just as useful if you live in an apartment or the suburbs.

So, think about the skills you can start learning now to prepare for the homesteading life. Consider these ideas:

You might also want to check out the book “The Suburban Micro-Farm” by Amy Stross, which is full of ideas for turning even a tiny yard into a productive minifarm.

Final Word

Homesteading is gaining popularity as more people look for ways to save money and live a simpler life. Some homesteaders are motivated by the desire to live off-grid and be completely independent. The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted more people to consider living out in the country so they have more control over their food supply.

If starting a homestead is a dream of yours, keep in mind that it won’t happen overnight. Take time to figure out your goals so that when you do start looking for land, you make the right choice. And always remember you will have as many setbacks as you have successes, which is just part of the journey.

Are you dreaming of starting a homestead?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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