Yet as much as we'd love to get the garden, the orchard, the egg chickens, the meat chickens, the goats, the pigs, and possibly other things going all at once, that is not practical. Homesteading requires a lot of time, energy, money, and planning. To succeed, we shouldn't take on too much at once. Setting up homesteading projects tends to take more time and money than maintaining them.
The question is, how does one decide which projects to do - and in which order? This is very much a matter of personal preference, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.
Read everything you can get your hands on concerning homesteading and specific homesteading projects.
Now read that last sentence again, because it is of utmost importance.
I can't tell you how many times novice homesteaders have asked me really basic questions about projects they are smack in the middle of. The worst is when it's about animals - and involves their suffering. (After you butcher your first chicken is not the time to ask questions about how to do it humanely, folks.)
Homesteaders need a lot of different skills. Skills take time to learn. Sure, YouTube videos and conversations with other homesteaders are helpful, but nothing (in my opinion) really takes the place of getting your fundamentals from reading.
Wants vs. Needs
In our society, wants often take precedence, but if you truly want to live a more self sufficient life, needs must take priority. Keep this firmly in mind as you carefully plan your homestead.
Get out of Debt
This must come before buying new land or beginning building projects. If you're always trying to earn money to pay off debts, you won't have the time or energy to homestead. Debt is about consumption. Homesteading is about production. Debt is about slavery. Homesteading is about freedom. Plus, from personal experience I can tell you that being out of debt and having a great credit rating will make buying your dream homestead much easier, even if you plan to do it with cash.
|Courtesy C. E. Price and Wikipedia Commons.|
Few of us can afford acres and acres of ideal homesteading land. (And, in truth, there's virtually no ideal homesteading land, anyway.) So it's important to wipe that ideal out of your head and look at things more realistically. First, consider how you can save money for your homestead, even if you're only putting aside a small amount each month. Then consider: Should you put off your homestead dreams until you can buy acreage? Or should you start homesteading now, where you are. I always think the latter is best. First, homesteading requires skills and skills take time to learn. Start learning and practicing those skills now and you'll be much better off later. Second, there's no reason to wait. Why spend a fortune on organic and grass fed food when you could be saving a lot of money by growing as much of your own food as possible? And the money you save can go into your homestead land fund, if you wish. This is how my family - and so many, many others - began their homesteading journey.
Also think about how you can make land that is considered less desirable (and is therefore less expensive) work for you. Anna Hess, author and well known homesteading blogger, bought land that's hard to get to in the winter; it was a disadvantage she was willing to deal with in order to afford homesteading in a rural area. My family and I are moving into a wooded area. Turns out, you don't need to knock down all the trees in order to homestead in the woods. (You just need a clearing for a dwelling and for your garden.) If money for land is a concern, consider that you may have to move where others don't want to live. Set some realistic priorities (within so many miles of town, a year round creek, etc.) but be flexible, too. Think and plan carefully. Roads and driveways should go in first; then utilities (including wells and septic systems). Remember that permitting can be way more expensive than you think. Actually, it will probably all cost more than you think.
A place for you to live must come before most other projects, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy or build a traditional house. Many homesteaders start off in a tiny house motor home, mobile home, or used manufactured home. (New manufactured homes often cost as much as modest stick built homes, especially if you use a construction company that offers a limited number of home models to choose from.) For some, these "temporary" dwellings will become permanent housing. For others, they are a place to live while they build something else.
|Courtesy of Spedona and Wikipedia Commons.|
I always recommend homesteaders start by growing food. Don't make the garden huge if you've never gardened before, or you have experience only with a small garden - because you'll quickly become overwhelmed. If you're in the city or suburbs, start by growing edibles in among the ornamentals. Then try a small edible garden. Later, if you have room, you can expand a little each year.
If you have the space (and it doesn't necessarily take much), plant some fruit trees and shrubs as soon as possible. They will take a few years to start producing much food, so it's important to get them planted now. (There's an old saying that fruit trees are best planted 10 years ago.) However, do pay attention to the needs of the plants and the quirks of your particular property before you spend a bunch of money on trees. If you plant them in the wrong place, you'll delay their food-producing years - and might even kill them.
Learn to Preserve
Begin learning how to preserve food as soon as possible. It doesn't make much sense to have a huge garden or animals for eggs, milk, and meat unless you know what to do with all that food. At the very least, homesteaders should know how to freeze, can (including pressure can), and dehydrate foods.
Start with Small Livestock
Chickens are excellent starter livestock. They are cheap to buy, easy to care for, don't require a ton of your time, and will give you healthier, cheaper eggs than store bought. Once we are moved, one of the first things we'll do is re-establish our egg-laying flock.
Once you feel comfortable with chickens, consider what other animals you might want to add to your homestead. Meat chickens are a natural second critter; their care isn't exactly the same as egg layers because they have different feed requirements and (unless you raise a heritage breed) are so dumb they will drown in a bowl of water. But they certainly aren't overwhelming if you're used to caring for a laying flock.
After that, it's really up to you to decide what additional animals you want on your homestead, perhaps adding a new type each year until you have all your want.
For us, goats are a priority because we'll need them as brush eaters. And while we eventually want dairy goats, I don't think I'll attempt them right away because my research shows they are pretty labor intensive compared to other homestead animals. Pigs are another high priority for us. My husband loves pork, and it's impossible to find store bought pork that's raised in a healthy way. Pigs are pretty easy to raise if you buy piglets from someone else, but it still takes time and money to build them appropriate housing and fencing - and like so many homestead animals, you can usually only buy babies in the spring or fall. Eventually, we will probably add meat rabbits to our repertoire, and possibly some turkeys. A dog to keep cougars away and at least one cat to help with woodsy rodent populations obviously have to come early on, too. Whenever we add a critter, though, we will first consider how much more time and money it will take us to do so...and we'll always have our property prepared (housing, food, water sources) before bringing them home.
|Courtesy wfmillar and Wikipedia Commons.|
Off Grid Options
Many homesteaders long to live off grid. I don't necessarily have that desire, but I do believe that if we use less stuff that needs electricity or other energy sources, we'll save money and be better able to live the life we want. If you have off grid dreams, start small. Hang your laundry to dry. Do dishes by hand. Use a wood stove. Then, if you desire, gradually work toward more expensive projects. Just make sure they make sense for where you live. For example, we live where it's overcast much of the time; it wouldn't make sense to spend a lot of money on a solar energy project (although our tiny house motor home is already equipped this way). On the other hand, we have quite a bit of wind, so we might consider harnessing some wind energy.
Really, all this advice comes down to a handful of things:
1. Do your research.
2. Plan carefully and as financially accurately as possible.
3. Take on one project at a time.
I hope this helps you prioritize your homesteading journey!