This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.
No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.
It can take many forms, but at its core, a homestead is a self-sufficient lifestyle. This can mean growing or raising your own food – all or in part – to producing your own energy. Whether you’re dreaming of farm life in the city or you have a decent amount of land in the country, you can make homesteading a reality.
If it’s overwhelming to think about where to start, you’re not alone. The hardest step is often the first one, but by breaking it down, you can set small goals and make progress toward getting your homestead up and running.
A homestead can mean different things to different people. In the broad sense, a homestead is about self-sufficiency. That can mean owning land for small-scale farming, limiting reliance on external sources for food or power, or simply practicing sustainable living techniques in the city (urban homesteading).
For many homesteaders, the practice is more defined by lifestyle choices than location, land size, or the livestock and crops you harvest. Homesteaders practice subsistence agriculture, preserving their own food from the season to last through the winter.
Some homesteaders take this a step further by producing their own clothing, textiles, and other goods, all of which is used in the home or sold for income. In some cases, homesteaders don’t work outside of producing their own goods – and income – with their own land.
The idea of being “off grid” is often part of homesteading, but it’s not a requirement. Some homesteaders rely on renewable energy sources like wind or solar electricity, or take steps toward eventually going green.
However the homestead is set up, it’s almost always gradual. Few people have the know-how, setup, and finances to switch from modern lifestyle to homesteading in a matter of days.
Think about what homesteading really involves. Homesteading is often romanticized and idealized, but the reality is a lot of chores, physically demanding work, and plenty of time. Some people just aren’t cut out for it.
If you have a spouse or partner, it’s important to make sure they’re on board with what you want to do. Adopting that lifestyle will affect both of you, so you both need to be looking for it. Have open, honest discussions about the plan and what’s expected. If your partner isn’t willing to help, at least a little, it will be that much more difficult.
Once you make the decision, do a lot of research – like hours and hours of research before committing. You want all the knowledge you can get before jumping into a decision to become a homesteader.
Better yet, if you know someone with a homestead, see if you can visit and help out to get a feel for the day-to-day responsibilities. Ask a lot of questions.
If all of that sounds good…
Any homestead, small or large, should start with a goal. Think about what you aim to accomplish with your homestead.
Are you trying to reduce your carbon footprint? By how much?
Do you want to grow food in a garden?
Do you want to raise livestock? What type?
Are you considering an orchard? Will you need more land?
Are you planning on living on grid, partially on grid, or completely off grid? How quickly do you want to be self-sustaining?
Once you have these goals in place, you can decide your next steps.
Living a self-sustaining life is more challenging if you’re burdened by debt. It’s also more difficult to save money for your dream homestead.
Before you even begin to look at properties, make a plan to get out of debt and devote money to savings. Learn how to save, budget, and make do while you’re working toward your goal.
Homesteading is much easier if you have some friends that you can lean on for support. You may get some criticism when you express your dream to ditch modern life and live off the land, and it can be disheartening if that’s all you hear.
Having friends who homestead can also be valuable partners. For example, you may have skills at growing certain crops, while your neighbor or buddy has too much meat or eggs from their chicken flock. Then, you can trade to get everything you need.
Another benefit is having someone with experience. No matter how much you research, you will have questions. The best people to ask are the homesteaders in your area, since they’re likely to know the climate, weather patterns, laws, and community.
The goals you set out will help you determine how much property you need. If you’re planning to work and just have a hobby homestead, you may only need a small space in an urban or suburban environment.
If your goal is to go completely off grid, quit your full-time job for homesteading, and grow and raise a mix of crops and livestock, then you want a lot of space to make all that happen.
Along with choosing the land you want, you will need to choose a location. Do you want to be close to town? In a remote area? Somewhere in between?
Are you set on where you live now, or are you looking to relocate to another region or state?
Make sure any land you look at will work for the type of homesteading you want to accomplish. If you’re looking to grow crops, then rocky soil or sandy soil will be more challenging.
You should also consider the commute. Even if you want to be entirely self-sufficient, that could take time. Do you want an hour or more commute if you need supplies from town or if you’re going to work?
Another thing to consider when you’re in a remote area – emergency services. If you have a problem and need an ambulance or the police, how quickly can they get there?
A real estate agent with a background in agriculture will be helpful in narrowing down your options.
It may be tempting to look for 50- or 100-acre properties, but you probably don’t need that much. A single-family homestead will do fine with two to five acres, unless you plan on keeping large livestock like cattle or horses. If you get too much space, you’ll only have more work to maintain it.
Here are some other things to consider with your land:
Land safety: Drought conditions aren’t great for homesteading. You also want to avoid areas with fracking, oil drilling, or other environmental harvesting that can impact your natural water sources.
Water access: Are there natural water sources on the property? Do you have a well? Does it get decent rainfall? All of these elements impact how successful your homesteading will be.
Community: Homesteaders are self-sufficient, but community is still important. You will need friends and a social network in the area, especially if you plan to sell your goods.
Once you have your requirements outlined, you can start your search for your homestead land. The best first step is going to a bank for a loan. If you’re approved, you will know what you can spend and negotiate for your prospective property.
As you look for properties, keep a few things in mind:
Before you make a commitment, find out about your property rights. Check the deed for restrictions, easements, or rights of way that could prevent you from using your land fully.
As mentioned, you don’t want to go for as much land as you can afford – you still have to maintain it. Wooded land is better than pasture because it requires lower maintenance. Plus, you’ll have access to a lot of trees to harvest firewood for heat.
Any natural water sources on your land should be there all year, not just seasonally. Some ponds or creeks run dry during different seasons, and you’ll need a backup plan for your animals and crops.
Getting a “fixer upper” property that needs a lot of landscaping, or one that has structures that need work, may seem like a good way to get a deal. But you could end up with more work and financial investment than you intended, so be sure to evaluate the money you will need to contribute to get the property ready for your homestead and whether it’s a smart financial decision.
Having a budget is crucial to your success with homesteading, especially if you want to quit your job or go part-time. It’s easy to go hog wild and end up in a bad spot.
For example, don’t use all of your savings to buy property – no matter how tempting. You will need some cushion for renovations, improvements, supplies, and other necessities to get started.
If you’re quitting your job to become a homesteader, you’re going to need a plan to generate income. At minimum, you will still need to pay property taxes and some utilities, such as phone and internet service.
Many homesteaders rely on multiple streams of income, such as selling produce, milk, and raw wool, as well as finished goods like baked items or crafts. This is a layer of protection in case one source of income fails, such as a crop that dies.
You may have a 100-acre dream, but you don’t have to wait for that to get started with homesteading. You can get started with homesteading with small steps, because it’s more about lifestyle than where you live or how much land you have.
What can you do today to move closer to being a homesteader?
If you live in an apartment, set up a window box to grow herbs.
If you have a large backyard, set up some gardens and plant vegetables for the harvest.
If you’re set on some livestock, check about raising a small flock of chickens or starting some beekeeping hives. Just check on your local laws!
If you want to make a move toward more renewable energy, install solar panels to wean yourself off electricity.
Over time, you can add more projects. Homesteading is about what feels good for you, not what you imagine homesteading has to be.
Homesteading is all about the simple life. Homesteaders often practice minimalism and frugality – practices you can start long before you ever get your land.
A huge step in the right direction is letting go of the need for material things. Ditch the newest gadgets, seasonal fad clothing, fancy expensive coffees, and dining out all the time. These practices not only suck money out of your bank account, but they’re the opposite of the lifestyle typically associated with homesteading.
Consider the things that drain your money, time, and energy. What can you reduce or eliminate to make your life simpler?
Starting a homestead may mean taking some of your existing pleasures out, such as canceling a membership to an expensive gym in favor of building physical fitness with farm chores. Other things may be more subtle, so take a mental inventory regularly to see what you could do without.
The last thing you want on your new homestead is a successful growing season that falls flat because you don’t know how to preserve food for winter.
Preservation is a dying practice, unfortunately. There are many ways to preserve food, but with every generation, it becomes less and less prominent.
You can pick up any preservation skill long before you start your homestead, such as freezing, pickling, cold storage, dehydrating, and smoking. Learning these methods are vital to having a successful homestead when it’s time for harvest.
Homesteaders typically grow and harvest enough food to last the winter. If you can’t preserve food, you will have food going to waste and you won’t be set for a long winter season.
Even if you don’t intend to grow your own food, learning to preserve will give you the knowledge to buy food during the season – often when it’s cheapest and most ripe – and preserve it for year-round use.
A garden is another small step that you can take now, even if your full homestead plan isn’t going to happen in the near future. Gardening can be inexpensive and you’ll get good experience with the work involved.
If you don’t have your own land or yard yet, look into local community gardens or ask a friend if they’re willing to let you start a garden on their property. Most people are happy to help, especially if it means they get fresh produce.
All you need to start is some seeds, dirt, water, and the sun. You may not get the same crop yield as people who have a full setup, but some vegetables are easy to grow.
Composting is an important part of maintaining a homestead. Fertilizer can get expensive, but composting gives you nutrient-rich soil while getting rid of your waste.
Best of all, composting is simple to begin. You can get a kitchen composter to get rid of food scraps. Outside, you can use your dried leaves and dead plant matter. It’s difficult to do composting wrong, especially on a small scale.
Eventually, you’ll have rich, natural soil to put in your own garden.
Farm chores are hard and dirty work. Over time, you will wear out your clothing as you tend to your crops or livestock.
Instead of throwing out old clothes and buying new ones, learn to sew and mend to get more mileage out of your clothing. Remember, you’re working on sustainability.
All you need is some thread and a needle to learn how to sew and mend, so you can get months or years out of your clothing. If you have a sewing machine, that makes the process easier – but you don’t need one.
Sewing is one step in the right direction for learning to care for yourself. The next step is learning to build and repair things around your home and farm.
You don’t have to develop master skills, but having basic repair skills to fix things as they break, such as a broken fencepost, keeps you from having to call and pay someone else to do it for you.
There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes from working with your hands. Using woodworking tools to create the things you need is close to the heart of homesteading. Once you learn the basics, you can learn to visualize, plan, and build the structures you need.
Start small with repairs around the house or building small, simple furniture. As you go, you’ll learn the basic skills necessary to construct work tables, cabinets, benches, and other furniture to use on your homestead.
How a garden changes throughout the year, and what can be planted or harvested, depends on the climate and other factors. To plan a better garden, get in tune to the seasonal growing cycle.
If you don’t have the capacity to grow everything you eat yet, you can still get practice eating seasonally by shopping at your local farmer’s market to find out what’s common in the season in your area. Growing local food is what farmers do best.
If you can install a wood stove in your current home, it’s a fantastic learning opportunity for homestead self-reliance.
Along with reducing your home’s heating bill, the wood stove will teach your valuable skills to gather, split, and season your own firewood. You’ll also learn to manage your fire over the course of a cold winter, which is no small feat.
You may be thinking, “I know how to cook,” but cooking without a lot of modern conveniences can be challenging. You’ll be cooking your food from scratch on the homestead, and you may not be able to rely on takeout or pizza delivery in a remote area.
Start with the basic skills for cooking, then expand your knowledge. The most important skills to learn are how to make your own bread and soups. Eventually, you’ll gain the creativity you need to make use of all the ingredients you’ve stored for the winter.
For a lot of homesteaders, the dream isn’t complete without some animals. It’s important not to get carried away and just start collecting animals, however. You could get in over your head quickly.
If you never cared for farm animals before, take it slow. In your first year as a homesteader, unless you have farm experience, it’s best to start with a small flock of chickens. They’re a great “gateway” animal that’s hardy, low-maintenance, and productive.
There are several options for dual-purpose birds, meaning they produce both eggs and meat, including Rhode Island Reds, Sussexes, and Buff Orpingtons. They’re also suitable for free-range environments.
As you raise your flock, you will learn valuable skills in managing a group of animals, housing, animal care over winter, and deterring predators. You’ll also pick up some basic veterinary skills along the way.
Once you’re comfortable with your chickens, you can consider other animals to expand your farm. Nigerian dwarf goats and Muscovy ducks are good starter animals, though they require more infrastructure before you bring them home.
Starting a homestead is a balance of preparation and minimalism, but you can make things easier by getting all the tools you need to start.
Remember all that reading you did? Keep those books as resources if you run into problems. The local library can also be a great learning resource – just take notes to keep in a notebook for future reference.
A pickup truck or SUV is a must to get started in homesteading. You may need to haul feed or firework from one place to another, and a sedan simply isn’t suitable. Several trucks and SUVs have decent hauling capabilities as well, giving you peace of mind that you can transport animals if you wish to keep livestock.
A composter for your kitchen is a must for food scraps, but you may want a composter for outside as well. Otherwise, you can set up a composting area with bins and walls.
You’ll be preparing food from scratch (or mostly from scratch) when you homestead, so you need a well-equipped kitchen. Be sure to get cooking spoons, carving knives, measuring spoons, and mixing bowls, as well as pots and pans.
Digital scales are important, especially if you like to bake. Instead of guessing with measuring cups, a digital scale ensures you have the right amount of food and liquid for a recipe.
You will need to mix batters, eggs, and other ingredients to make a lot of your food, so you’ll need a mixer. You have the option of an electric stand mixer or a small, hand-powered mixer, depending on how much convenience you want.
Food can be dehydrated in an oven or next to a wood stove, but having a self-contained dehydrator makes the work easier and frees up space in your oven to prepare meals.
Certain foods can be canned in a water bath canner, but some need a pressure canner. You’ll also need supplies like mason jars, lids, rings, and measuring tools. If you’re not well-versed in canning, consider getting a reference guide.
Whether you have a small bed garden or a large garden that supplies food for you and your family, you will need some garden supplies.
A shovel, hoe, and trowel are the absolute must-haves to dig around plants, dig out weeds, and prepare soil for planting. You will also need hand pruners and hoses or watering cans to keep your crops hydrated – unless you plan on installing an irrigation system.
Other helping tools include a basket for produce and a wheelbarrow for hauling dirt, yard waste, firewood, and manure.
There are some basic tools you will need to complete small repairs around the house and farm, such as hammers, saws, a sledgehammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, axes, and hatchets. If you want some power tools, consider a drill and bits, a chainsaw, and electric saws.
If you plan on having livestock, you will need supplies to care for them. Beyond the shelters and fencing, you will need plenty of buckets for food and water. If you want automatic feeders and waterers, this will depend on the animals you’re getting and your climate.
A shovel is a must to keep things clean, especially with larger livestock. You should also keep an animal first aid kit for minor injuries. For small animals, get some crates to transport or separate sick or injured animals.
No matter what kind of homestead you have, there are some supplies that you’ll need around:
There’s a lot to manage on a homestead, even with help. If you miss some of the work, it could mean a significant setback.
While your chores will depend on how you set up your homestead, here’s an idea of what you can expect when maintaining your land and animals:
Daily chores will almost always include cleaning. If you have animals, you will be mucking out stalls or shelters, checking buckets or feeders, and weeding. Then, the animals will need to be fed and watered. Depending on the climate, your garden will also need to be watered.
In the evening, the animals will need to be fed and watered, then the shelters will be closed up for the night. If you have chickens, you may need to gather eggs and close nesting boxes. If you choose, you can spot clean the animal areas.
Later, before you go to bed, you should do another check of the animals to make sure everything is secure.
Each week during warm months, you will need to weed whack. Mowing may need to be done every week or two, depending on how quickly it grows.
If you have chickens in a brooder, that will need to be cleaned once a week. This is a good time to check on compost, add materials, and turn it all over. If you have kitchen scraps, you can add them to the pile.
The monthly chores for your homestead will depend on your location and climate. For example, southern homesteaders don’t need to worry about winterizing their homestead or preparing for cold weather with animals.
There are some chores that will be done each month, no matter where you live. Deep cleaning each month is not only important for the health of your animals, but it keeps the work from getting overwhelming.
For example, if you use deep litter methods with your chickens, you can throw fine pine shavings down each month. This gives the chickens a month to scratch through it.
Waterers should get a deep cleaning each month to prevent the buildup of bacteria, especially in warm climates. You should also deep clean nesting boxes, hutches, and feed buckets.
As for the yard and garden, this is a good time to clean up any yard waste or trash. You should clean your tools and sharpen them at this time and tidy up your workspaces and sheds.
Pruning happens each year, but it may be at different times for different plants. This is important for preventing disease or rot from wrecking your crops.
If you have animals, you’ll start seedlings, hatch eggs, and breed rabbits or other livestock at least once a year. Deep cleaning all the enclosures should also be done at least once a year – possibly twice. This includes cleaning, pressure washing, and disinfecting the surfaces, replacing bedding, and scrubbing buckets, laying boxes, troughs, and waterers.
Trees should also be fertilized at least once a year, though some may need more frequent fertilization.
Take this time to go through your storage areas and declutter. Get rid of broken tools, rusty tools, ripped gloves, and any other junk that piled up. Make a list to keep track of what you need to replace.
Finally, check the buildings and mend fences, latches, and doors as needed. If something is in poor condition, replace it to make the homestead more efficient.
Though it can be a lot of work, homesteading offers legal and financial benefits on top of the satisfaction of being self-sustaining.
In some US states, homesteaders can get the homestead exemption, which allows them to protect the value of their home and land from taxes and creditors. These benefits last for life, for you and your spouse, as long as you live on the property.
So, if you declare bankruptcy, your home is protected from creditors. In addition, if one spouse dies, the surviving qualifying spouse has ongoing property tax relief in certain states.
Homestead exemptions vary from state to state, however, so consult with a lawyer before making any financial decisions about your homestead.
Homesteads have minimal costs and expenses, especially if you plan to be self-sufficient and live off of what you grow and raise. There’s a feeling of safety and security that comes from having this sort of safety net.
And of course, living off the land leads to lower bills overall. Even though homesteaders may not have the high income that some do with full-time employment, they often find that their money goes further.
Homesteaders are working the land, developing a closer relationship to nature and what it provides than someone who lives in the city. They gain an appreciation for where their food comes from and the work involved.
Because of this, homesteaders are more environmentally conscious. The land can support them, and their future generations, and they have incentive to care for it sustainably.
There’s a lot of physical labor involved in running a homestead, promoting better fitness than working a sedentary job or spending days in front of a TV.
Homesteaders also eat a lot of their own food, which is healthier and more nutritious than processed fast food or snacks like chips and candy.
Homesteading comes with a sense of pride in owning land, tending it, being responsible for its care and production, and providing for the family. It may not be for everyone, but there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with the experience.
Most states allow homesteading to different degrees, but some of the best places are Tennessee, Oregon, Missouri, Idaho, and West Virginia.
An acre of good land can provide enough food for a small family, but it would take extra work to keep it operating at peak capacity. You also have limited options for livestock, since an acre can only support a small flock of chickens, a few goats or sheep, and a large garden.
If you want to homestead on a larger scale for self-sufficiency, five to 10 acres is a more comfortable and operational size.
Assuming you need to buy a home with land and equipment, set it up for homesteading, and perform some builds or renovations, a homestead will cost around $250,000 to start. You will also have ongoing costs for property taxes, healthcare, any existing utilities, vehicle fuel, maintenance, and insurance, animal feed, and more, which could be around $20,000 per year.
The Homestead Act was signed into law in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. The Act offered the ability for settlers to get 160 acres of public land for free, which encouraged people to migrate into the West.
In order to obtain land under the Homestead Act, you had to pay a small fee and live on the land for five years. After that, the US government would transfer ownership of the property. All land and buildings on it are exempted by a homestead law that prevents the property from being sold or seized to cover debts, as long as it’s occupied.
Many US states still offer the option to own land for free through the Homestead Act or similar programs. Usually, these are in small remote towns.
That said, you shouldn’t expect to get a huge property for free. Most of these programs give you part of a lot in a subdivision with specific provisions, such as a requirement to build a house within a year. When you apply, you have to prove you have the plans and funding to build a home.
The best way to start a homestead with no money is to work on learning the skills where you already live. Use the land and resources you have to start a sustainable lifestyle.
Depending on the size and scope of the homestead, it’s possible for one person to run it successfully. For example, if you’re working with vegetable gardens and a small flock of chickens for produce, eggs, and meat, you can do it on your own.
Homesteading has been gaining in popularity, especially as more people see a romantic version on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s not a lifestyle for the faint of heart, however – you get out of it what you put in.
If homesteading is the right choice for you, these steps will help you learn the skills you need, simplify your life, and make progress in your goal of having a self-sustaining, productive piece of land all your own.
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