Starting a new homestead can be an overwhelming experience. We start out full of hopes and vision. We look for a better quality of life through simple homesteading. Then the reality of bad weather, escaping animals and loss sets in. There is so much simple homesteading advice on the internet but how do we boil it all down to what we really need to focus on as we start the journey? What simple homesteading advice is most important? Let me share some basic advice that is often overlooked by homesteaders trying hard to get to a simpler way of life.
First, this life may not really be simpler. It may be more rewarding, better for your health, lots of hard work, and bring you back in touch with the meaning of life. But, simple isn’t always the word that comes to mind when I think of my life on our farm. It’s hard work and unless you have the money to hire lots of man hours (kid hours, farm help etc.) the work will be exhausting at first. Especially if you are not used to doing a lot of heavy physical work, carrying even five-gallon buckets full of water will seem very taxing. The advice. Keep at it and slowly build up your stamina and strength. Trying to clean a barn full of stalls, a chicken coop, and then tend a vegetable garden all in one day is possible but you need to work toward that goal or you might hurt your back! Our bodies are remarkable machines when treated right and we can rebuild muscle and strength!
Simple Homesteading with Your Neighbors
Even if the nearest human lives a few miles away, build a good relationship with them. They will be the first people to offer help when your milk cow wanders off, or your pigs break through the fencing. You may not get to the point of having barbecues together but you do need to be there for each other on many occasions. Also, if you are new to simple homesteading, growing vegetables and raising animals, there is no greater resource than an experienced farmer or homesteading old timer to guide you with tips that actually work.
The old saying that your fence should be horse high, pig tight and bull strong, is a good way to start this discussion. I would add my own. IF you raise animals, they will always be trying to escape and will succeed from time to time. Lessen the risk as much as possible by building the right fences for the job. Learning DIY fence installation is very important. We currently use our old cow field to graze the sheep. The problem is that the cows could not fit through the gaps in the three board fence. However, the smaller sheep can and often do. They jump right through the opening because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We are in the process of adding more boards to keep them contained. Until that is completed someone needs to be shepherding the sheep, when they are in that field. Pigs require an electric line surrounding the inside of the fence line. It should be placed down low to the ground because pigs root their way out of a fenced area. Goats will jump low fences. These are just some examples of the differences that each species requires in the topic of fencing.
Can you purchase fire insurance for the buildings on your homestead? What about the old farmhouse? Is it insurable? I never even considered this question until recently a friend lost her barn from an accidental fire while burning leaves. They did not have insurance because the home was very old and in their state, the insurance companies have limits on how old of a structure they will insure. Be sure you investigate this before you buy. Luckily no animals were hurt in the fire and they will be able to rebuild the barn but this could have led to a much more tragic ending. Many people each year lose their chickens and the coop to a fire from hanging a light bulb in the coop. I won’t get into the whole discussion about whether or not chickens need heat in the coop in this discussion, but please make sure that you use utmost care when mixing electricity with wood and dry straw. Also think through proper fire evacuation procedures for you family, livestock and poultry.
Needless to say your clothing style will change a good bit after you spend time building up your homestead. Dressing in layers is always good advice as you spend time throughout the day tending to the chores. Chilly mornings lead to warm afternoons and then back to the chill of evenings as the sun goes down. Dressing in layers enables you to stay comfortable throughout the day. I recommend natural fiber fabrics for clothing. Cotton and wool are my choice in clothing because they breath and wick away moisture so I don’t end up wearing damp clothing as the day cools down.
Canning and Cleanliness
As you start to harvest your own food from your homestead you will want to process it and preserve it for later. There is no one standing watch in the kitchen as we prepare our foods and jars for canning. We have to be accountable to ourselves on the topic of food cleanliness and safety. There is nothing hard about the process of canning and preserving food. However, following the recommended guidelines is very important to your health!
Save, Reuse and Repurpose for Self-Sustaining Living
This may seem like odd advice but really it has saved the day on more than one occasion. Saving what might be thought of as debris in some situations may give you the materials you need to fix a fence (boards, pallets), make a lead line for an animal (baling twine), prepare a place for a rejected baby animal or a make shift infirmary (dog crates, old towels). One pound coffee cans are great for storage and for feeding scoops.
Self-sustaining living has saved the day on our farm on more than one occasion. We have reused baling twine to repair a broken board, reused feed bags to insulate animal housing from drafts, reused feed bags to sit on next to an ill or injured animal, reused nails, pallets, wire fencing and many other items.
Many homesteaders have learned the art of seed saving, as part of their simple homesteading plan. When you plant heirloom varieties of vegetables, the seeds are viable for replanting. This is not true of hybrid varieties. Harvesting tomato seeds, from your delicious Black Krim tomatoes will enable you to enjoy them year after year with no additional cost. Harvesting seeds from cucumbers, squash, peppers and more, will save you money.
Last, I would add that the best advice is to keep it simple. Homesteading today can become overwhelming. When it does, and you need to seek an escape from the simple life, you might need to readjust on the homestead.
How do you keep from getting overwhelmed on your homestead?
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.