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10 Baby Steps to Take as a Wannabe Homesteader

Kayla McVey
Latest posts by Kayla McVey (see all)

Winter is in full swing and now is the perfect time to be getting a game plan together for Spring. In places like the south, the ground is still soft enough to plant fruit trees while they’re dormant. Schedules often open up since Summer has come to a close. It’s the perfect time to clear land, maybe start some sourdough, and build some coops for those chickens you’ve been researching.

#1 Take it Slow

Quality will eventually equal quantity. Read, plan, and prepare. Yes, you’re so excited to be embarking on this homesteading journey. Becoming self-sufficient is super rewarding. However, it takes time. Being disciplined enough to study and research (you’re already researching just by being here! Good job!), apply those skills firsthand, and attend any classes you can find will definitely pay off in the long run! This list is here to be a guide on how to get started successfully. 

#2 Start with a Simple Garden.

The biggest factor in having a happy, successful garden is planting food you WANT to eat. 

Don’t plant tomatoes if you don’t eat them. It’s a waste of time and resources. Mother Nature isn’t going to appear out of the ether and reprimand you because you didn’t plant squash. Take the time to research what zone you live in so you can plant the appropriate varieties in the correct time frame. 

Plants are also like teenage girls – mildly dramatic and cliquey. They do well when they get to “sit with their friends”. 

Example: Tomatoes LOVE to be planted with Basil, Oregano, Carrots, and Onions. They, however, DO NOT do well with Potatoes and Broccoli. 

We’ve already shared an article on in-ground vs. raised bed gardening.

Finding what gardening method works best for you is also a key step in success. Don’t feel as though you can’t garden from an apartment. There are opportunities to start community gardens, garden from a patio or window sill, and also the possibility of joining a Master Gardener Class with your local Ag Extension Agency!

#3 Use The Land You Have Access To

 Less is sometimes more. One would be very surprised at how strategically land can be used. When utilized properly, it can turn a large profit. 

Most people are working with an acre or less of land and rocking it. Draw up an outline of your land, measure out spaces for specifics (trees, beds, pens, coops, etc.), and organize them to produce the most effective outcome. This is going to look different for everyone. You may prefer to put your focus on livestock and another homesteader may prefer to focus on gardening – no one does everything exactly the same. Take into consideration that your land type may be too rocky or the soil has too much clay to have the most effective placement or size of garden you’d want. There are always raised beds to be used and they don’t have to be extremely expensive. Between using organic matter like sticks to build them up and repurposing old wood, raised beds can be made very cheaply. 

Money can be made from almost every facet of homesteading – if you want it to be! Sometimes, it’s best to just do something because you enjoy it. 

When planning space for birds, keep in mind that chickens require at least 4 square feet per chicken to remain happy and healthy in a coop while ducks require a minimum of 4-6 square feet. With goats, they need at minimum 15 square feet of bedding and a pen that’s at least 200 square feet. Properly maintaining your animals pays off much more in the long run despite it being a minimum moral obligation of being a good steward.

On the topic of being a good steward, planting a pollinator garden is a small way to make a big impact. Research what kind of pollinators live in your area so you can plant what they enjoy. It’ll pay off big time when spring and summer roll around. Outside of being useful, flowers are also an easy way to spruce things up. 

Clearing land is another good way to get started. The wood can be reused to build homes, coops, sheds, and raised garden beds. A few different ways of clearing land are by hand, a mulcher, burning, or dozing. 

Again, remember to personalize your homesteading journey along the way. Your homestead is going to be unique to you due to landscape and personal preference. 

#4 Duck, duck…. Goose? Animals on the homestead.

Just as stated earlier, animals are another part of homesteading that’s situationally dependent. Personally? Chickens terrify me. It is what it is. I’m getting better with them but growing up with Rhode Island Reds absolutely ruined it for me. I petted a chicken a few months ago and I can safely say that’s probably the highest my blood pressure has been this year. I’ll likely only have ducks or maybe quail when I’m mentally ready to take on birds.

The most important part of having animals is having enough space to safely and properly house them. Planning out your goals for your animals is the first thing that needs to happen before any are bought. Do you want to harvest wool from sheep? Make soap from goat’s milk? Or sell eggs at the farmer’s market? All very doable things with the right amount of space. 

Here’s some easy breeds of animals to get started with:

  • Chickens
    • Meat – Ginger Broilers are a great option for meat chickens. I’ve not had any personal experience with these specific chickens but through research, they’d be my first choice. Ginger Broilers don’t have the same amount of health issues Cornishes do, are high-altitude tolerant, and very active foragers. 
    • Egg – Orpingtons are fantastic. They’re probably the only breed of chicken I’d ever own because of how docile they are. This is completely subjective but they’re larger chickens and would be great for a beginner. Orpingtons are great egg layers and I’m very big on having animals that are naturally good natured. 
  • Pigs
    • Berkshires are an easy going, heritage pig breed and fully mature males grow up to 600lbs. They’re very intelligent pigs and typically are great sows. Litters average around 8-10 piglets. Berkshires have a higher fat content in their meat, meaning lots of marbling, and are considered to be lard pigs over bacon pigs.
    • Herefords take well to pasture or grain and males typically mature at around 800 pounds. They’re not the easiest breed of pig to come by but they’re docile, quiet, and mature quickly. Sows are very attentive to their piglets and produce large litters.
  • Ducks
    • Silver Appleyards are not only adorable ducks but they’re also dual purpose. They lay anywhere from 100-270 eggs per year, love to forage, and are a very docile breed of duck. Silver Appleyard Ducks produce lean, flavorful meat that doesn’t have a greasy texture – making them a perfect addition to your homestead.  
  • Cattle – maybe not the best animal to jump out of the gate with but most homesteaders want cattle at some point.
    • Milk – You already know what breed of cow I’m going to recommend for milk. They’re full of personality, produce rich milk, and are smaller – making them easier to handle. The Jersey. They’re a reliable breed of cow and their milk is easier to digest for people that are lactose intolerant. It’s also recommended to start out with a cow and not a heifer due to their lack of general life experience. 
    • Beef – Angus are never a bad decision. They produce juicy meat with high marbling. Angus are also the most popular breed of cattle in the United States and their beef is easy to market for a higher premium.
  • Turkey- Narragansett Turkeys are my initial choice for the homestead. They maintain a docile temperament, produce good meat (though not as much breast meat), are good layers, and excellent mothers. They are a smaller heritage breed of turkey and don’t require artificial insemination. 
  • Rabbits
    • Satin- this docile breed is excellent for dual purpose and is perfect for beginner homesteaders. They sport 12 different colors and have a fantastic bone to meat ratio. They’re great mothers and produce decent sized litters ranging from 5-11 kits. They also foster very well!
    • Champagne d’Argent – Arguably one of the most intriguing looking rabbits on the market, Champagne d’Argents start forming silver hairs around 4 weeks and by 5-6 months are fully silvered. They’re dual purpose rabbits, great to keep as a pet, and have a high meat to bone ratio. 
  • Goats
    • Dairy – Nigerian Dwarfs are my choice due to their high fat content in their milk, their smaller size, and ability to breed year-round. Larger goats obviously mean the ability to gather more milk; but due to the Nigerian Dwarf’s smaller size, I would consider them safer in regards to having children around and the lower likelihood of damaging property. 
    • Meat – Boers are one of the most obvious choices for meat goats. They’re huge, have a very fast growth rate, are docile, and extremely hardy. Boer skin produces high quality leather and their meat is consistently in very high demand. 
  • Sheep
    • All Purpose – Icelandics are a hardy breed of sheep. They’re not the best milk producers; however, their wool is great for spinning and they produce meat that has a good flavor. They need to be sheared at least once a year and are a great option for homesteaders. 
    • Wool – Commercially, Merino is the best choice. However, if you’re looking to sell wool in the commodity market that’s mainly geared towards personal crafting, Finn, Suffolk, and Romney breeds are good choices. They don’t produce as high of quality wool but they are great for felting, weaving, and more.
    • Meat – Suffolks are my choice for meat due to their hardiness, their ability to produce multiple lambs at once, temperament, and the meat they produce is distinctive and flavorful. They do typically require supplementation due to their growth rate. 
    • Milk – Lacaune Sheep produce more nutrient dense milk than East Fresians, are relatively around the same size, and are a hardy, disease resistant breed of sheep. They also mature much faster than the East Fresian. If you’re solely concerned with milk production, I would probably choose the East Fresian. However, the Lacaune seems to be the sturdier choice of breed.

#5 You CAN Do It

When I decided to start canning I found a local class hosted by my Ag Extension. It was not only tons of fun, I also got to take home what I made! I recommend starting out with something easy like making a jelly or pickles in a waterbath canner. 

Supplies needed to get started: 

  • Jars – you can always reuse your jars! Please don’t throw them away after you empty one. 
  • Lids – these can be reused, ONLY IF they are free from rust, cracks, and chips. This is the most important thing to remember. Your seal is everything.
  • Labels – it’s recommended to always label what you’re canning. Writing on the lid is always an option.
  • Jar Lifter 
  • Funnel – stainless steel ones are available 
  • Headspace tool – I would also recommend a stainless steel one for debubbling. 
  • Stainless Steel Water Bath Canner with a lid and preferably a rack

Always start out with clean jars. Just clean the lids, bands, and jars with hot, soapy water and allow them to dry. Most recipes will give a step by step direction on how to properly prepare your brine, jam, fruit, etc.; along with how to fully process and store it.

 It’s not recommended to use a glass stovetop to can – I do but do this at your own discretion. The reasons are due to weight, the possibility of a concave canner forming a suction to the glass top (it will shatter), and inconsistent heating. Ensure your canner has a flat bottom and that your stove maintains a consistent temperature to ensure all food safety precautions. 

Another option is to pressure can. Do thorough research on what model is best for you. I personally have used a Carey (Nesco is the same thing) and absolutely loved it. I used it with a friend but haven’t purchased one for myself yet. Be careful when using pressure canners and be mindful of the risks associated.

#6 Talk to your local ag extension agent!

One of your best resources for networking, learning, and growing as a homesteader is going to be your ag extension agent. Extensions offer a variety of classes like Master Gardener, Master Beekeeping, Master Beef, Master Backyard Poultry Producer, and much more. They can help you identify local plants, problem solve, and improve your homestead by teaching you valuable information. 

#7 Sourdough and Having Fun in the Kitchen.

One of my favorite things to do is spend time in the kitchen. It’s a fun way to make sure my family gets the best that I can give them. By cooking foods from scratch, even if it’s just baking, I can ensure they’re getting the safest ingredients I can get my hands on. We have tons of recipes on the blog already that you can apply in your kitchen. 

An easy way to work in new recipes is by designating a day each week to cook two to three new recipes. An example would be:

  • A new muffin recipe for breakfast or sourdough pancakes.
  • Sourdough pizza dough with canned pizza sauce, mozzarella, ground sausage, and fresh basil for lunch.
  • Mushroom soup with bread for dinner.

Also don’t forget that not every ingredient has to be something grown out of your own garden or made from scratch every time you cook. It’s fun to use things you grew or make stuff from scratch but it isn’t always realistic. I know that I definitely don’t have time for that between having a family and working as much as I do. Give yourself some grace; everything is a process. 

Fire Cider, Sourdough, and Canning are great homesteading hobbies to get started with and not the most overwhelming projects. I recommend starting in the kitchen or the garden, simply due to ensuring that you’re feeding your body as best as you can. Your health is the most paramount thing to focus on. Outside projects such as animals, heavy landscaping, and building can be very daunting, intimidating tasks. They’re also extremely expensive. The kitchen can be a remedy or a catalyst for that homesteading bug. 

#8 Hunting, Trapping, and Fishing

This one may be a tad controversial. However, hunting, trapping, and fishing are always ways to save money, be more self-sufficient, and eat healthier. Fishing gives you the opportunity to eat food that’s great for your heart and your brain. The bones can also be repurposed into fish stock! Hunting and trapping also give you the ability to use every part of the animal, instead of only having access to the meat. The hides can be used for clothing, leather, shelter, etc; bones can be used for stocks, tools, needles, and jewelry. Fat can be made into tallow, tendons into sinew, and antlers can be used as dog treats or decor. It’s ethical to use as much as you can from harvesting wild animals and a lot more cost effective. It can be timely but it pays off in the end. The meat that’s harvested is typically more lean and nutrient dense. 

#9 Failing is Part of Making Progress. Spend your Money Wisely.

The most important thing that can be taken away from this article is that it is OKAY TO FAIL.

You’re not going to be good at everything… if you are, I’m sort of jealous. The key is to try as hard as you can but don’t overwork yourself in the process. Water doesn’t pour out of an empty cup. At the end of the day, you and your family both deserve someone that is adequately rested and living to their fullest potential. Being run down due to trying to sort of do too many things is only going to result in extreme burn out. Pick out a couple of things to start with and reasonably block out your time. Devoting too much time to one task is going to result in procrastination or avoidance – aka, you’re probably overwhelmed and need to just step back for a minute. Don’t pour a ton of money into your projects at first either.

If you’ve never done something, how do you know that you’ll enjoy it? Try to tag along with someone who is doing the activity you’re interested in before you take out your wallet. It’ll pay off later… literally. 

Manage your expectations, don’t be afraid to try again, and it’s okay to not do something you don’t enjoy. 

#10 Repurpose Everything

Jars. Containers. Wood. You name it, it can probably be reused or recycled. However, don’t go overboard and end up on Hoarders. Know when to throw stuff away. Too much “stuff” is overwhelming and bad for mental health. Try to keep stuff like glass jars and containers to store food in – you can cut down on plastic usage. Old t-shirts can be torn up to dust or clean with. Buckets are always handy to have around and homesteading doesn’t have to be pretty.

Instagram homesteads are great but you’re realistically probably going to be carrying feed to your animals in an old ice cream bucket and be sporting pajama pants underneath your jeans with a Carhartt you’ve had since you were fourteen. Be resourceful and always cut waste where you can. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve read 10 Baby Steps to Take as a Wannabe Homesteader, what’s your goal? The new year is here and everyone is making resolutions. Cook from scratch more? Get an early start on prepping your land for your first garden? Please let us know! Take everything slow and enjoy the journey. 

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