Starting a homestead from scratch isn’t easy, but it can be done.
You don’t even need a lot of money.
When we started our homestead, we were pretty broke, but we still managed to do something every day to get us to where we are today.
We started homesteading because we wanted to produce more than we consume, live a healthier life, and feel the freedom our lifestyle affords us.
If you’re dreaming of starting a homestead from scratch but aren’t sure where to begin, then listen up, because here’s some of my top tips.
Starting a homestead from scratch
Despite some of the rumors you hear out there, you don’t need a lot of land to start a homestead. In fact, I know people who homestead in their apartments.
I think it does a disservice to our lifestyle to place artificial limits on what a homestead is; if you only have ¼ acre of property, then homestead away on that ¼ acre.
But I’m not going to get into a discussion of what homesteading is. If you’re here reading this article, you likely have your own set of ideas about what comprises a homestead.
Instead, let’s look at how to make the most of what you do have and the history of our homestead.
We have 10 acres, and yes, we started our homestead from scratch.
Once upon a time, our farm was homesteaded by settlers who did so out of necessity.
There was once what we modern people call an “off grid cabin” in the woods on our property, which later was abandoned for the house we live in now. The cabin no longer exists.
(“Off grid cabins” are a modern invention; when there was one on our property, it was a dirt floor shack that the family couldn’t immediately afford to replace).
How do I know this?
The people who owned our house settled here in the 19th century. The same family owned it until the elderly parents died and their late-in-life daughter sold the property.
Meanwhile, another child, who is now in his late 70s, has told us over time the story of our homestead.
How did we find our property?
My husband made a call to a family friend who happened to have some land for sale. We bought it at about $8,000 an acre.
In a lot of areas of the country, the cost of land is really, really high. But there are places out there still where you can buy land for very little or even get free land.
I’ve seen land for sale that people will even trade for trucks. You just have to look.
So, we had a farm.
But we didn’t have useful barns, animals, or even a place to grow our food because as the old owners aged, the farm fell into disrepair and modern conveniences became the name of the game.
What steps did we take to establish our farm?
We first started with our chickens. From them, we had meat and eggs.
We also established a garden, but our first year, it produced little. We had a lot of tomatoes, some lettuce, a few peas, and that was pretty much it.
Beets and carrots still elude me.
We then started adding green houses were we could protect a wheat crop from loose animals and extend our growing seasons.
When the right opportunity came along, I got some goats for milk and cheese.
Then the following year, rabbits seemed like a good addition.
The point is that we took it step by step, adding more to our homestead when the time was right.
Starting a homestead from scratch meant we had to build it ourselves.
We even had to redo both barns on the farm to make them useful for us.
We did this largely for free, reusing material we already had on the farm. For example, one barn had siding on it, but needed to be redone so we could use it to store farm equipment.
We were able to source telephone poles for free, which we used to support the barn as we refurbished it.
The other barn needed siding to make it habitable for our horses. Guess where we found the siding for it?
If you’re starting a homestead with no money, look at the resources you DO have, and make the most of them.
Don’t have money to build a barn for cows? Try goats.
Can’t keep large livestock? Keep rabbits in your garage.
Can’t keep chickens? What about quail?
There’s usually an alternative that will keep you moving forward on your journey.
Now, the thing you need to remember when starting a homestead from scratch is that this isn’t an overnight thing.
It takes years with annual and seasonal goals to actually get to a point where your homestead will start to support you.
Sorry if that bursts some bubbles. But it can be done, and we’re living proof.
Once you master a part of homesteading, even if it’s a small skill such as baking bread, you gain confidence to move onto the next skill.
It really is as simple as that.
Something else to consider is that homesteading isn’t all about keeping cows and milking the goats every day.
There’s a popular thought that homesteading is about stuff like that, and it is, but there’s another aspect to it.
But it’s not all about the land
What about what goes on inside the farm house? What about the cooking? The natural living?
Bottom line, if you’re someone who lives in an apartment or small property, there’s not much stopping you from engaging in this aspect of the homestead life.
Cheese can be made from store bought milk, and I’m friends with cheese enthusiasts who do just that.
For fresh veggies, if you truly have no land, you can join a CSA or find someone local to you who sells or gives away fresh produce.
You can also grow microgreens.
Even though we have 10 acres, I still grow microgreens because they’re easy and ready to harvest quickly.
Similarly, you can learn to cook from scratch.
Six months ago, I couldn’t make pasta. I took an online course, now I can make homemade egg pasta from scratch, and I no longer need to go to the store to get it.
So, starting a homestead from scratch doesn’t necessarily have to be all encompassing or require you to move to a new home.
The cost of starting a homestead doesn’t even have to be that much. It could be as little as $20 to learn to make your own bread.
The bottom line is that homesteading is not a journey that is mastered in one day, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice to assume that without 100 acres and a plow you can’t homestead.
There’s more to starting a homestead from scratch than working large tracts of land.
I’m better at raising livestock than I am raising dwarf fruit trees and vegetables, so while I garden and try to keep my goats from eating my orchard, I largely concentrate on raising animals for meat, dairy, and eggs.
I’ve written in the past about how to start homesteading today by getting livestock for little or no money.
Starting a homestead from scratch with livestock doesn’t need to be cost intensive. In fact, you don’t want to acquire too many animals at once.
You’ll be overwhelmed. Ask me how I know.
Along with animals comes a couple things.
First, you need to understand their different anatomies and needs. A goat is not the same as a chicken which is not the same as a rabbit.
How they eat and digest, how they give birth, and their medical needs and common illnesses are all different.
And you need to know them all, and be prepared for them all, especially if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on vets or if you don’t have good, reliable veterinary services in your area.
Second, you need to have good fences and an established place for them to live. Winging it won’t work, so if you don’t think you have the space, or don’t have the right fences for large livestock, stick with smaller animals that are easier to house and keep corralled.
Nothing will kill your homestead dreams faster than an HOA that alters regulations because your animals keep getting loose.
Your first couple years homesteading, you don’t want to go overboard on the livestock. Pick one or two, and go from there.
Now, the other thing about livestock is, whether you like it or not, we live in a society that is largely uneducated about the source of their food.
In a lot of areas, people have forgotten or are just plain uncomfortable with the fact that their meat actually comes from animals.
So, if you’re starting a homestead from scratch, you need to take your local area into consideration.
I’ve lived in areas where people regularly had cows removed from their farms by animal control simply because their neighbors didn’t understand that the cows were raised as food.
Or, they decided that a cow nursing a calf was “too thin” even though local livestock experts disagreed.
I’ve also seen people be indicted on animal abuse charges for butchering their own animals, and publicly humiliated for using established, humane (more humane than commercial), butchering techniques.
You need to consider whether you want to deal with all that drama if you live in an area where this might happen.
You can still homestead—you can buy meat from a local farmer, choose livestock that’s straight forward to butcher, or find an alternative solution.
Or you can simply engage in other aspects of homesteading such as growing vegetables, grains, and fruit.
In our area, none of this is an issue. There’s an established history of homesteading, and regulations protecting farmers.
Livestock for small spaces
If you want to homestead, but think you can’t because you live in suburbia with little land, then you might want to consider rabbits, chickens, ducks, and quail.
The reality of our homestead is this:
- We cannot afford a cow. Sorry, but spending $500-$2,000 on a single animal is not happening right now when I can spend a fraction of that on goats, pigs, or rabbits that will produce food for our farm, eat less, and have fewer space requirements.
- We do most of our homesteading on just 2 acres. Yes, you heard that right. We have 10 acres, but we’re able to keep pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens, turkeys, quail, and ducks on just two acres.
You need to remember that homesteading is about producing more than you consume and learning traditional skills, in whatever form that takes.
If you’re able to self-sufficiently feed your family with rabbits and chickens, then mazel tov. If you want a cow, then that works too. The point is that you’re doing what you can to take care of yourself.
So, you don’t need a lot of land to start a homestead, and there’s no homestead police that will take away your membership card if you don’t have every species of livestock under the sun.
Rabbits can easily be kept in a garage, out of sight. They’re quiet for the most part, are fairly inexpensive to raise, and breed quickly and easily.
Lastly, let’s talk about mindset
As I’ve shown you, starting a homestead from scratch doesn’t necessarily require a lot of land, money, or even skills.
There’s no rule book out there that requires you to split rails; trust me, if the homesteaders that settled our farm had access to our modern amenities, I know for a fact (because they told me) they would have taken advantage of them.
Starting a homestead from scratch is simply about mindset.
As I said earlier, there’s a bucolic notion that a valid “real” homestead is about working the land to produce everything under the sun for yourself.
I’ve learned this is a standard set largely by voyeurs who don’t actually do it themselves.
There’s a reason why 100 years ago, community was the pillar of our society and the way the homesteaders of old survived.
One person cannot produce it all.
Really, it’s about producing as much for yourself as possible regardless of your location. It’s ridiculous in our modern society to assume that the crux of homesteading is the ability to acquire land.
It’s not, and land is a scarce resource.
Starting a homestead is about adding skills to your life so you become a producer instead of a consumer.
It can be as simple joining a CSA (and supporting another homesteader) and preserving as much food as you can and cooking from scratch.
Later on, you might add some goats for dairy. Or you might choose to find a dairy near you.
It’s about getting it into your head that you’ll start producing for yourself, and taking the steps to start actually doing that (not dreaming about it).
That’s when the freedom begins, because you begin acquiring skills that you can support yourself with.
There’s nothing special about us. But we did it, and so can you.
I’d like to hear from you!
Do you think you’ll try starting a homestead from scratch? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.