As a new homesteader, it can be hard to know what to do FIRST on your homestead. Or, if you've been homesteading for a while, what to do NEXT. In this podcast, I'm sharing my tips to know what to do next, and how it worked out for my family when first getting started so many years ago.
Knowing where to get started with homesteading is going to be different for everyone. What you choose to start with might look very different than what your neighbor chooses to start with.
And both of you might be 100% right!
To know what each homesteader should do FIRST, you have to ask yourself (and your family) a couple of questions.
- What are we already doing?
- What's most important to us?
The answers to these questions will help guide you in making the decisions for what to do next on your homestead.
In this podcast, Episode #278 of the Pioneering Today Podcast, I'm sharing what my family's journey has looked like. Everything from where we started, so many years ago, and what steps we're implementing next!
One thing I know for sure, as a homesteader you need to love learning because the learning never stops when you have a homestead! There will also be really tough times, if you missed last week's episode, be sure to check out What To Do When Homesteading Gets Tough.
In this episode:
- How to know where to start FIRST on a new homestead.
- How to know what to do NEXT if you've already been homesteading.
- Questions every homesteader should ask themselves.
- What it was like when my husband and I first started homesteading.
- How we determine the “next steps” once we tick another task off the list.
- What I really think about store-bought beef.
- Homesteading tasks I find most important.
- Verse of the week, Psalm 25:4-5.
Hey, pioneers. Welcome to episode number 278. On today's episode, we're going to be talking about where to start first with homesteading, but really, even if you have an existing homestead, using this criteria is also going to help you decide what to start next, so it can either be what to start first or what to start doing next. First off, let me officially welcome you to the Pioneering Today podcast. I'm your host, Melissa K. Norris, a 5th generation homesteader who got back to my roots of using simple, modern homesteading for a healthier and more self-sufficient life after a cancer scare in my late 20's. This is the place for you, my friend, if you've sometimes wondered if you weren't born 100 years too late, if you've always thought that you and Laura Ingalls would be best friends, and if you think that every home and kitchen would be better if they were filled with mason jars and cast iron, and those things were used daily with homegrown and homemade food.
If that is you, then welcome home and welcome to this amazing community of modern pioneers. When I was at the Homesteaders of America's conference, and we were doing the live Q&A panel, so for those of you who were there for that, was so much fun getting to answer your questions and listened to all of the other presenters as well. One of the questions that comes up often, and not only did it come up there, but it also, I get this question emailed to me quite a bit actually, is where to start with homesteading, because unlike just growing a vegetable garden, or maybe just learning how to knit, or so many of those things where you are just picking one skill set and you're starting at the very beginning and working your way up until you're more advanced, with homesteading, there is so many aspects and skill sets and things to do, which is one of the reasons why I think I love homesteading because you're never ever going to get bored and you're never ever going to know how to do it all or be a master on every single level, so there's always new things to be done or to improve upon, which I actually personally kind of like that challenge and I like knowing that there's always more for me to learn. That gets me excitement. At heart, I am a learner.
I really enjoy that, and so I think that's kind of a prerequisite if you're going to be a homesteader, is you really have to have a love of learning or gaining knowledge on new skill sets, because it's like you start one thing with homesteading, and it all begins to lead into other things and you are never going to come back out of the rabbit hole, which is really a really good thing, but it can be very overwhelming when you're first coming to this lifestyle because you do want to do it all, but we know nobody can do it all and you certainly can't start just doing it all if you're an absolute beginner, so where do you decide to start, or on the flip side, you've been homesteading and you've been doing some things for a while, but you're like, "Man, I know I really need to add some new things, but again, I don't know where to start, where to add," and so this is how I started. We always had a vegetable garden because I grew up always having a vegetable garden. My husband and I, we got married. We've been married 21 plus years, but we got married when I was 18. We got married in the fall, and so spring came around and I'm like, "We need to buy a rototiller, or borrow a rototiller, or have someone come and rototill up the section of the backyard for the vegetable garden because it's going to be time to plant pretty soon."
He looked at me, because he did not grow up with a homesteading background at all, one iota. For those of you who've been listening to the podcast for any amount of time or following me on YouTube, you know this, and so he just kind of looked at me and he's like, "Oh, you want to have a vegetable garden?" I remember in all of my ... I think by that time, I was actually 19. I'd had my birthday by then at that spring time, and I'm like, "What do you mean want to have a vegetable garden? It's just what you do."
"Every spring, you plant the vegetable garden for summer. There's no want to, it's just what we do," and so we did. We borrowed, I think it was his grandpa's rototiller or maybe my parents'. I don't remember now at the time, but we tilled up our first part of the backyard. That was just the backyard, and we did our first vegetable garden.
We've had a vegetable garden ever since, but as many of you know, from listening to my story, is we only really did a vegetable garden for a number of years. It was a fairly small vegetable garden. I always grew and canned enough green beans because my family has been growing and seed saving a particular heirloom strain of Tarheel green pole beans, and they're the only green beans that I like to eat. I think all other green beans pale in flavor, and I don't like them, and so I've always grown and canned enough green beans to take us through an entire year. I never bought them from the store, but that was really the only food for the most part that we had enough of for an entire year, and a lot of the other foods that we were buying from the store and I was cooking with were by no means, like whole foods or anything.
It was a lot of processed kits and oh, the goodness. Do you know that they used to make casseroles in a box? I kid you not, it was you bought this box and it was like a casserole kit, and so it had like a can of meat, I think in it, or like soup and like condensed something, and then it had like a little packet where you added to the topping, and so you would add like butter or whatever liquid and put it on top. It was like literally, I know it sounds really gross now that I think about it, but back then, I thought, because I was buying this packaged kit and putting it together, I thought I was cooking from scratch. Like I was cooking our meals.
We weren't going out and eating very often or out to dinner or any drive-throughs or anything like that, but it's no wonder that I really started to have health problems and they really begin to compound and get pretty bad, and then that's when I turned back to my roots in our whole foods. It's been about almost 12 years ago now, and we started raising our own meat and really increasing the amount of food, and I totally revamped our kitchen, and the foods that I cooked and how I cook too, everything that you see now. I share that because when we first started out, that was where ... We actually started with the vegetable garden, and it was just the green bean crop that I was raising and preserving a year's worth of food. We had other stuff, but it was just for fresh eating.
Then, we decided, because I had been raised on homegrown grass-fed organic beef and we didn't do organic because of any certification or because we knew it had health benefits, just quite simply, that's the way everybody raised their beef. We didn't have money to pay for sprays or what, anything or even to buy grain. The grass and the pasture was free and we could buy grass and hay to feed during the winter months, and so we just had grass-fed beef growing up and it was organic. That's just the way you did things. We didn't even know how amazing it was for our health.
I was no longer living at home. Obviously, my husband and I were married, and we had our own place, and I bought some beef for my dad, but I didn't know how to budget, and I went through all of our beef before it was the next time to butcher, and so for the first time in my life, I went to the store and we bought beef and cooked it. I was appalled at the flavor and the color, and all of the liquid that came out of the meat, and the way that it smelt because I had never cooked with, or really eaten, unless it was at a friend's house or a restaurant or something, regular, conventional beef, and it was gross. I just flat out told my husband, I said, "I can't cook with this. We can't do this," and so we started raising our own grass-fed beef, and we didn't even have our own property to begin with. We actually leased the pasture from my uncle.
That was the property we do live on now we ended up buying from him, and so that was where we started. It was really with our food, but the reason that we started with those things was because it was things that I did not want to eat from the store and we're going to make a fairly large impact, but after we started raising our own beef, then it was really making things over in the kitchen, so it was swapping out Crisco for coconut oil, for example. It was getting rid of anything ingredient wise that had high fructose corn syrup, or soybean oil, or canola oil, or those hydrogenated fats, high GMO crops, food dyes, et cetera. That was really the first place that we started, and then we began to increase in the garden and the amount of livestock. The reason I share that story with you is because your starting place may look like mine, but it may look completely different, and everybody's where should they start with homesteading should vary and differ depending upon your circumstances and your family and what's going to make the biggest difference for you or what's the most important to you.
My advice is always to pick one area first and really dive in on that. If you're going into, coming at this time in the middle of winter, then you're likely not going to be doing a big, huge vegetable garden, unless you live in a really warm growing, Southern area, where you can grow things all winter long. Of course, there's that weather and seasonality part, but what you can do is if you know I want to have a really, I want to provide more of our own fruits and vegetables for my family this year, but you're coming into it into fall, is you can begin to decide what crops that you are going to be planting, and then you can look at and see, "How many do I need to take us through a whole year?," if that is your goal. Then, you can begin evaluating your property and the actual growing space that you do have available to you right now, because oftentimes, we have this ideal. Like you may look and see it all of the different gardening beds that we have, and we're actually even putting in a new gardening bed.
We'll see if we're doing this right now in the fall. We're looking towards spring and summer for next year, and we know that we want to be putting in a new gardening bed, so sometimes that could involve for putting in your new gardening bed. One is picking the location, so making sure it's an ideal location on your property, then it's going to be, you can tarp it to kill the grass over the winter months, or you can put cardboard down, different things like that to kill that grass. It's going to be, "How are you going to break up it in the spring? Do you need to rent some equipment?"
"Are you going to buy some equipment? How are you actually going to get that, or are you going to do raised-beds instead, and is raised-beds the best financial decision, or why are you going to be doing your raised-beds? Is it because the soil doesn't drain very well, it's really hard and compact, or it's hard for you to bend over, and then what type of raised-beds are you going to do, your supplies?" You can see where we, when you think about the gardening, you're like, "Oh my goodness, that's a lot to think about," but that's going to be your main focus for this coming year, is going to be walking through those steps and getting your garden in. If you have my book, The Family Garden Plan, which you can get the worksheets for free, that tell you how to determine how much to plant per person for a year's worth of food, you can start tracking and doing that right now, and that's step one.
Then, that's going to help you to determine how much of a garden space you need, and then you decide where you're going to put it. That may be if you're just deciding to expand, what you're going to be expanding, what crops in the space, et cetera, and so that'll be your focus for the first year. It's not going to be trying to bring in chickens, and pigs, and cows, and making everything in the kitchen from scratch and doing sourdough. You're goin to have to pick your battle and decide what is going to be the thing that makes the biggest impact for you and your family that you can do right now. Now, some people will decide to just go at that, like I said, and as the gardening example and just putting in a garden, or it may be like we're doing, is we're going to be adding in one new garden bed next year to do more of our shelled beans in order to do also more winter squash.
Part of that is we really love to eat those foods, and secondly, those foods require very little preservation on my part. I don't actually have to can any of that, I can just dry the beans. There are dried beans, and I don't have to do anything special. They'll be fine, shelf-stable, and then for the majority of that winter squash, I can just cure it, and it can just set right on the pantry shelves and floor in our back room and stay almost all winter long, without me having to buy more canning jars or find more shelving space, more canning lids, or other types of equipment, et cetera. Then, you can apply this to different areas, so maybe you're going to say, "Okay. I'm just going to do this extra in the garden," and then you're going to look at what you're cooking and what you're doing in the kitchen, and you're going to make just one change.
You're going to decide, "What's something that we eat on a fairly regular basis that I'm buying from the store or I know I could be making with healthier ingredients, or a healthier way, or a more self-sufficient way?" Then, you pick just that one thing and you get that mastered, and you get that skill set down, and then you move on to the next, and that's why I say this is really going to vary based upon your current skill level and based upon what your family likes to eat a lot. We've already revamped and done quite a bit. I do sourdough now, and pretty much everything is from scratch just from the base ingredients that we have, flour, salt, sugar sometimes, depending on what it is, your fat source, et cetera, but one thing that I haven't mastered is doing aged, hard cheeses. I love cheese.
Cheese is, just so you know, cheese and coffee and chocolate sometimes they're together, especially if it's cream cheese or whipped cream, but those are my love language foods. Like I love cheese, like love cheese, and so I want to learn how to make more of the aged, hard cheeses, and really learn cheesemaking. I do soft cheeses, but I haven't done aged cheese yet. I don't have a cheese press and I've done some feta, but I haven't really tackled doing a lot of aged cheeses and those hard cheeses, so that's an area that I'm looking to start at next on my skill list and to really tackle, so use ... Yours might be though, you'll be like, "Why buy yogurt from the store all the time?"
"I want to learn how to make homemade yogurt," or, "I'm buying a lot of chicken broth from the store or beef broth," and broth is super easy to make at home. I want to learn how to make broth at home. By the way, if you're wanting to learn how to make amazing, healthy bone broth and/or canning it, I've got two tutorials for that up on the website. I also actually have How to Make Homemade Yogurt on the website as well, and in my book, Hand Made, but I'll have in today's blog post that accompanies this episode. You can find that at Melissaknorris.com/278 and grab access to those. Now, when we're talking livestock, there's lots of ...
Like I said, we actually started with cattle because for me, I could raise one cow, and that would feed my family ... Well, back then, it was just the two of us, so one cow would feed us for almost two years, really. We decided to start with cattle rather than chickens, and that was because I could not eat the store-bought beef honestly, and we wanted to do our own grass-fed beef, and so when you're doing cattle, you can do one cow, which I will say that cows really, they're a herd animal, so if you're looking at herd animals, which most animals are, that's how they find their safety and they really do a lot better if you at least have two cows. Same with fox or chickens. You really want to have more than one chicken.
They are going to feel safer. They're going to be happier. It's just better, and it's really not that much more work to raise two chickens as it is one, and if you're doing two cows than it is one, yes, you're going to have an increase in your feed costs, but you're really going to be building the fence no matter what. You're going to be out there feeding them the hay during the winter months daily anyways, and so it's not that much more to really just raise two instead of one, and they'll be a lot happier. Then, you can also choose to sell the meat if you're not breeding back.
It kind of depends on if you're going to keep a cow and just breed her back each year to have the baby, and that's what your meat animal will be. There's lots of ways to go about it, but we found it's usually easier to raise at least two, if not, more than it is to do singular, and they're a lot happier as well, but you have to look at what your needs are. Maybe you don't eat a lot of pork, so doing pigs wouldn't make sense for you, or maybe you have a source where you can get good pasture, organic-raised birds, chicken, and so you're like, "I don't really want to deal with raising 26 chickens," and then having to butcher them all. I would rather do a one, like a cow or a pig where I'm getting a lot of meat at once that can last us for a year or maybe two years, depending upon your family size. You also have to look at, of course, the cost of the animal upfront if you're going to be purchasing it.
It's going to cost you a lot more to buy a cow than it is to buy a pig. Then, of course, a pig is going to cost you a lot more than it is to get a chicken. Chicken and poultry are pretty darn cheap to get into. We're talking a dollar or a couple bucks usually for a small chick versus a piglet's going to run you anywhere from 100 to 150 bucks usually for a piglet, depending on where you live, of course. This is average in my area.
Then, if you're looking to buy a calf, depending upon the breed and the size, I mean, usually around 400 bucks if they're really small. Yearlings are going to be a lot more, so you have to look at that upfront cost, and then of course, your space, what space do you have for that animal. Do you have the infrastructure? Cattle are going to require your fencing, and that's going to be barbed wire and fence posts and a lot of physical labor putting those in. You're going to have to have pens when it comes to the pigs. They also need to have a shelter.
With pigs, you usually need to run an electric fence, so you need to make sure there's an electricity source where you're going to be having them. You got to put the electric wire around the bottom so that they don't root out and get out of the pen, and then with chickens, of course, you're going to need to have predator-proof, a coop of some sort, and then a run out area that's well-protected as well. When you're looking with your livestock, you really want to balance out, one, the space that you have and the pasture and land that you have that are going to be able to support them, because cattle, depending on where you live are going to be anywhere from an, usually an acre to two acres per cow so that you don't have to feed them year-round, and then it's going to depend on if you live in a more Southern area or where it's really more dry. You're going to need a lot more acreage per animal. That's about an average where we live.
There's just all of those things to consider. Of course, if a chicken gets out, that's pretty easy for you to chase or to go back and to pick up and to catch and to put back in the coop, but if a pig or a cow gets out, one, if they get out on the highway and the road and someone hits them, where we live, there's not any open range law, we're liable, so if they get out and cause damage, we as the owner are liable for that, so making sure we have really good fencing is really important to us so that that doesn't happen. Then, if something goes wrong with the pig, or a cow, and/or a chicken, well, I'm really not going to ... Now, I look at my chickens as livestock, and I'm very pragmatic about them. We take excellent care of all of our animals, and you can listen back into some of my previous episodes, especially where I talk about the baby calf, and we did have the vet come out for that calf, and that was a bill.
That was over almost a $400 vet bill for that calf, but I knew if I had to go and replace that calf, I would be spending that same amount of money, if not more. Now, for a chicken, you're going to have a really hard time getting any type of vet bill that you could replace the chicken for much cheaper, so if something goes wrong with the chickens and it's not something that we can easily treat or get them better easily, I don't take my chickens to the vet. Like I said, they are livestock. We don't let them suffer, we take very good care of them. I actually have never ...
I've had a chicken just die of old age, but we've never actually had anything take out any of our fox or chickens other than predators, and so, but I know if it came down and a chicken got really sick and I wasn't able to treat it well on my own, I wouldn't take it to the vet and have an office call in a vet, call of 60, 80 on upwards of hundreds of dollars for a chicken when I can replace that chicken for a small amount of money. You need to look at the care that those animals are going to involve and things in order to keep them well and your skill set level on that. Of course, it can all be learned. You can learn as you go, and that's really how we do the best learning. I think it's very important that you have education on the animal and know what you're getting into, but not to let it fear and paralyze you because you're going to learn as you go, and so really, just putting that garden in and jumping in on these tasks are going to be a really good teacher along as you have a decent base of knowledge there in order to do so.
To say what livestock should you start out with, well, it's going to depend upon your space and what your family needs and how much meat you want per animal to bring home because a chicken, one chicken will probably feed your family for a few days, whereas one cow is going to feed you for at least a year, but there's different levels of work and money required in order to raise each one of them, and so you really have to do that evaluation based upon where you are, what your family likes to eat, the finances that you have, and the space that you have in order to raise them, and there are workarounds. Like I said, we started raising cattle where we were leasing pasture from a family member that was right next to where we lived, but we didn't actually have our own property when we first started raising our cattle. There's definitely always workarounds there, but I would recommend starting with one type of livestock first, really getting that down and becoming comfortable and confident with them before bringing in another one, and that's how we did. It was cattle first, and then it was the laying hens. Then, it was the pigs, and then it was the meat birds the very next summer, and now, we just raised all of those every year, I shouldn't say no problem.
There's definitely still work involved and occasional problems that crop up, but we're used to that workload now, but we worked our way up each year. I hope that you found this episode helpful. Remember, if you, especially for your garden, want to be growing more food with less stress, grab your copy of The Family Garden Planner, which is my brand new planner, that helps you to organize all of your food-growing year with worksheets, weekly tasks, expert advice in a one-stop solution for keeping track of everything in this easy-to-use planner. You can snag it at melissaknorris.com/planner, and also get the bonus on how to cure vegetables. You heard me say that we were doing more and more winter squash because they're so easy to keep, and it's all about knowing how to cure them properly, and that is the bonus that you get when you grab your copper ...
Copy. Excuse me, not copper, but your copy of The Family Garden Planner, and you can do that all at melissaknorris.com/planner. Welcome to our Verse of the Week. This week, it is from Psalm 25:4-5, and this is the Amplified translation, "Show me your ways O, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and faithfulness and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation, for You, You only and altogether, do I wait expectantly all the day long." This was a verse that was actually in my morning prayer this morning, in my morning devotional reading time, and one where I've been praying this, and I wanted to share this verse with you because I feel like I sometimes go in phases.
I don't know if you experienced this, but I feel like I have phases where I am really digging into the word and I feel the Lord's presence in His direction, like really, really strong. Then, there are other times when I don't, honestly, and it almost feels like a dry spell in a way, and I've kind of been feeling like that lately. Part of that is because I have not been putting the Lord first, and oftentimes, if you're a Christian, I don't think it's a conscious thing that we do. It's not like we consciously be like, "Oh, I'm going to put all these other things before my relationship with the Lord," but it's just our choices. We choose how we spend our time.
We truly do. I find myself lately, I've been listening to all business podcasts or health podcasts, but not podcasts or not the word. I'll read my Bible in the morning and I'll have prayer time, but then throughout the whole rest of the day, I'm kind of just going about business as usual, and I'm not really spending time with the Lord and incorporating it all throughout my day, so I've been making it a point to when it's, I have that time that I get to listen to podcasts, which is not like I ever really get to sit down and listen to a podcast. I listen to podcasts when I am working out, when I'm doing chores out in the garden, or when I'm doing some of those mindless things like folding laundry, or washing the dishes, or cleaning the bathroom. That's when I listen to podcasts, but I found that I've not really been listening to any of the devotional ones or listening to sermons or things like that, that really put me in, into the word and into a closer relationship and understanding of the Lord.
That has been by choice, but it definitely begins to affect my walk when I'm not setting aside time, even if it is while I'm doing something else to intentionally be spending time with the Lord, and so that's something that I've really been praying lately, that the Lord would show me His ways and that He would teach me His paths and He would guide me in His truth and faithfulness, and show me where I need to go in all ways and to make sure that I keep Him first. You may be like me, and maybe you need that reminder, so I hope that this is a reminder for you to be able to put the first things first. For me, I say that that is my faith and my relationship with Christ first, but it's not always what I actually end up walking out, so I'm purposely putting that back in to my daily walk. Well, thank you guys so much. I can't wait to see what you thought of this episode, and if you have more questions, do let me know so I can make sure and make more episodes helping you become more healthy and self-sufficient on your homestead journey, so blessings and mason jars for now. We'll talk again next week.
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