We made the decision to homestead recently and are in the process of converting our little patch of earth into a nice little homestead. We hope that it can eventually be self-sustaining and off-grid. It may take us a while to get all the off-grid setup in place since we aren’t building from scratch, but nobody said we had to do it overnight. So how do you convert a semi-rural house on an acre of land into a self-sustaining homestead?
Step #1: Research Laws Regarding Your Homestead
The city offices are probably getting sick of me. I keep coming up with more questions to ask them but I would rather be safe than sorry. Nobody wants to go to the expense of building a barn only to have to tear it down. The first thing you want to ask is if you are even allowed to raise farm animals. Are there any animals your city says you can’t raise within city limits? We got pretty lucky because they said “any traditional farm animals” are okay and we aren’t raising zebras, but some cities have stricter laws than ours.
After you know you can have animals, you need to ask questions about how to house them. Know how big your enclosures can be before a building permit is required. You really don’t need the expense of permits if you can avoid it. A lot of places let you build something the size of a shed without a permit but you will want to make sure before you sink time and money into building something you have to tear down. If in doubt call. Being thorough at this stage of the game will save a lot of headache later on as you create your homestead.
Step #2: Find Ways to Cut Your Homestead’s Expenses
Although homesteading will hopefully save you money down the road it can be expensive to build up a small farm. You will likely have to pay for at least half of your animals, although it is possible to find free animals others don’t want anymore. I am also totally into not buying specially formulated rabbit or chicken feed from the store if I can help it but you will still need to buy hay and straw and that stuff adds up.
If you are like me you have been living fairly frugally for a long time now so it may seem like there isn’t too much you can cut out. Trust me, you can always cut something. We made the decision to homestead when we were living paycheck to paycheck and were hoping the checks we had just written to pay our bills didn’t bounce. I was couponing for all our groceries and saving around 45% on each grocery bill.
What could we cut? Disposable diapers for one (sorry if I just made you squeamish). We paid around $200 for a whole stash of cloth diapers, inserts, a diaper sprayer, and pail liners from someone locally. Although laundry increased a bit our utility bill doesn’t reflect nearly the same cost as disposable diapers. We currently have two in diapers full time and two in diapers at night so that adds up pretty fast. Someone with only one diapered child may not save quite as much but I promise you will save. The expenses you can cut out may not seem obvious at first but keep looking and you will find a way to save so you can build up the homestead of your dreams.
Step #3: Cuddle Up With a Book aka Learn How to Homestead
You must read things that will give you the knowledge you need right now because knowledge is power when it comes to homesteading. Never forget how precious a library card is and all that it can be used for as you search for resources to aid you in this new undertaking. We didn’t have the money for me to buy all the books I really wanted to when I started researching homesteading but I bought The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency on clearance at my local bookstore and found subsequent books at my library until I could save up the money to purchase them on my own.
If you want some good old fashioned page turning I recommend my new favorite author, Caleb Warnock. His books include The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency, The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins, and Stress-Free Vegetable Gardening: Thriving Gardens with Minimal Effort. If you are new to gardening on a large scale I would also recommend you check out Back to Eden Organic Gardening. It is a new approach to gardening and although a little preachy in places the idea behind how it works is great.
Step #4: Find Things For Your Homestead For Free Or Cheap
This is essential if you are a penny pinching homesteader who is embarking on this adventure to save money and live a self-sufficient lifestyle. If you are homesteading to be healthier and are really a trust fund baby you may either skip this step or consider it a step toward being more eco-friendly.
Freecycle, KSL Classifieds, and even Craigslist frequently have listings for free or super cheap items. Your local Habitat for Humanity Restore or Deseret Industries are also good places to look. Sure you will have to wade through a lot of trash but there can be some useful things to your homestead. Can you use old cabinets for nesting boxes in your chicken coop? What about a trampoline frame to extend your greenhouse? Be willing to think outside the box and you can score some really neat things. Don’t overlook your big box Home Depot and Lowe’s clearance racks either as there can sometimes be good scores there too.
Be advised you will need to be able to act on really good online ads fast. We found a post for free baby dairy goats online one day and I was super excited. I almost had the kids loaded in the van before I realized we needed to call and make sure they were still available, which alas they weren’t. The story has a good ending, though, because it inspired me to pick up some free pallets the next day and make a small livestock enclosure in the off-chance we stumbled upon something that great again.
Step #5: Get the Whole Family in on the Homestead Action
If you have kids involve them from the planning and decision making stages. I know that’s frustrating sometimes. Just remember in the end you still have final say but you want them to feel like they have contributed. My boys helped us measure every foot of our land so we could map it out accurately. The babies were in carriers while we did it and we all got in on the fun.
Some of you may be homesteading alone or with only a spouse at your side and that’s great. If you have a spouse please do as much of the building up of your little homestead as you can together. I mean literal building. Use a hammer and nails and maybe even learn how to use power tools. If you are going it alone try to find friends that support your endeavor and share your successes with them. If you truly don’t know anyone who supports what you are doing join an online community or start following one of the many homesteading blogs out there (like mine ;)) where you can chat with other homesteaders like you.
Enjoy building your small homestead with these 5 steps!
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