So you want to homestead? That’s great!
But if you’ve never done anything like this before you probably have more questions than answers. We’ve been at this for years, and we’ve learned it all the hard way, by trial and error. When we bought our property there was nothing here at all. It was just an over-farmed tobacco field. No trees, no fences, no barns. Now 15 years later, we have a nice home, an orchard, gardens, and a few barns. We also have cattle, horses, chickens, and sheep.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about starting a homestead from scratch:
1. If you’re buying empty property, think carefully about the layout for where the house should stand, where the driveways are located, and where all the gardens and orchards will be planted. If you ever even think you’ll buy livestock, plan for plenty of space between your house, outbuildings, and other things to get a truck and trailer wherever you need it.
2. Before you add animals, you may want to plant your orchards. It takes a few years for the trees to bear, so do this in the first few years.
3. If you’re building from scratch, have the piping put in for a few yard hydrants. These will keep you from having to trail hoses all over the place to keep your orchard alive.
4. Do one species of animal at a time. Each kind of livestock has its own unique needs. Don’t try to jump into 3 or 4 different kinds of animals from the beginning. Of course, the big plan is to have lots of different kinds of critters, but you don’t have to do it all at the same time. Go slowly and learn as you go.
5. Before you buy a large animal like a horse or a cow, research how much that thing will eat. It’s WAY more than you ever imagined, especially in the cold winter months. Be sure that you can afford all of the upkeep for that animal, too. Horses especially need regular infusions of cash, such as vetting, dental care, and foot care. Also, figure out how you’re going to feed the animal, even in the cold. Square bales require lots of handling, and large rolls need a tractor with a loader.
6. Check with your county agricultural agent about classes and opportunities for farmers in your area. Taking a class and being certified in certain areas of production may pay off by giving you access to grants that can improve your farm.
7. Cultivate friendships with other farmers in the area. Those who have been at it longer than you have will have knowledge and advice that you need.
8. Don’t invest in registered, purebred anything until you’ve raised a few cross-breeds. You want to learn on something that’s a bit less expensive and hybrid animals are a little more resilient.
9. Animals can enrich poor ground. Mob grazing is one way to rapidly improve the soil fertility of your place. We began feeding out our slaughter steers in our garden area, and now the poor, stripped-out soil has been replaced by black, rich, crumbly earth.
10. Don’t plan on making any money from your farm for many years. It’ll take you quite a bit of time to recover money invested in equipment, animals, and fencing. Be patient and slowly build your farm.