This is a loaded question that is personal, individual, and can only be answered by you, your family and your land’s capability. At the end of the day, every single homestead is going to look different. You may not want a lot of animals or you may not want huge gardens. You may have to work off farm or on a fixed income. There are so many variables to building a successful homestead. But here are my thoughts on how to build your successful on the homestead.
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What Is A Successful Homestead?
Before you start the first project, buy the first piece of land, or anything else, you need to determine what will make your homestead successful to YOU. Is it being 90% self reliant? Raising 100% of your own meat? Surviving or Thriving? It’s so important to have a definition of your success so you can measure your progress. And it’s okay if that definition changes or evolves. But if you cannot figure out the benchmark for your successful homestead, you won’t be successful.
Defining A Successful Homestead
If you already know what your successful homestead looks like, congratulations! You are ahead of the game by a LOT. I didn’t really understand that I needed to define what my vision of success looked like until I had been homesteading for a couple of years and realized that I was spinning in circles, getting a lot of things done, but nothing that was moving us towards “success”.
So Jared and I sat down and really thought about how would we define the success of our homestead. The question we needed to answer was, “What is THE thing, that when it’s done, we can say we were a success.”
For our homestead, we define success as growing 75% of our food and our animals food, that means meat, dairy, and produce for us. It also means fodder like corn, oats, BOSS, squash/pumpkins and other veggies. Success also means building as much of our infrastructure ourselves whenever possible. Finally, I will deem the homestead and this blog a success when it not only supports itself financially but also allows us to retire early.
Measuring Against Your Definition Of A Successful Homestead
Every single goal, project, expectation, or purchase needs to be measured against your definition of success. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do that project, set that goal, or make the purchase. But the KNOWING is the most important thing.
To give you an example, I want a greenhouse so badly. I want to grow coffee, citrus, and other heat loving plants that my zone gets too cold for. Towards the bottom of the blog post, I have listed out our definition of success, but one of the big ones is growing 75% of our food. Measuring the want of a greenhouse against growing 75% of our own food, the greenhouse would be a good purchase and project. If I build a greenhouse, we could start our garden plants in the greenhouse which would greatly improve their chances of surviving Blu. It would limit the amount of citrus and coffee we purchase from the store. Win.
Another example would be buying a milk cow right now. This would definitely help us with grow/ own 75% of our own food because we would save a ton of money on dairy products and potentially meat. But if we do it now, before we have solid pastures set up, we would not be working towards success because of the amount of hay we would have to purchase. Lose. BUT it’s something that can be done later.
So before you start doing things to or for your homestead, make sure it’s getting you closer to success instead of further away.
Setting Expectations For Success
A long time ago, I heard someone say that the #1 relationship killer was unmet expectations. I thought it was a crock, because everyone knows it’s communication, right? But when he explained it further it makes total sense. Let’s say you expect your spouse to always do the dishes, but you never said “this is your chore” and they never agreed. They can’t meet your expectation. Or if you have told your spouse a million times that you can’t stand roses. But they get you roses all the time, you have the expectation that they will not buy you roses because you don’t like them. That expectation is not met. Overtime it causes immense frustration and anger that ultimately can kill a relationship.
It’s the same for homesteading. If your expectation is to have all of your infrastructure in place within one year, and it doesn’t happen, you’re going to be upset. If you keep failing to meet your expectations, you could hit burnout and give up.
One of the things that every single homesteader is guilty of is setting unrealistic expectations. We think that we have to have everything done, RIGHT NOW! The reality is that unless you have the capital to buy a farm that is already where you want it, it’s going to take years of work and a ton of capital to get you where you want to be. And if you don’t have a ton of capital, it’ll take even longer.
It’s saying I’m going to buy a cow with absolutely ZERO grass to raise them on. Or I’m going to heat only with the trees harvested from my land and there isn’t a single tree on your property. Or my favorite, I’m going to grow 100% of my yearly food needs in an unproven garden with no experience.
These unrealistic expectations will not be met. Sure, you can get a cow, but you will be buying TONS of hay. You can’t heat with only wood from your farm if you have zero trees on your land. And trust me when I say, you won’t grow a year’s worth of food in an unproven garden if you have zero experience.
Realistic Expectations For A Successful Homestead
Setting your expectations for a successful homestead should be in line with your definition of success. For example, if you’re definition of success is for the homestead to feed you and your animals, maybe don’t get animals before the garden. Which ALL of us do, no matter how many times we say we won’t.
Your expectations should be worked into your goals. There is a huge difference between a goal and an expectation. A goal is something you are striving for, while an expectation is something you expect to happen. If your goal is to grow 75% of you and your animals feed, the expectation is that you are going to put in a garden.
Having a realistic expectation of what you are able to do, the capital available to do those things and a clear set of goals will set you up on the path to a successful homestead.
Your Land’s Capability
I feel like this is very important when it comes to homesteading, that you really look at what your land is capable of. I mentioned that if you have an expectation to heat with only wood harvested from your own land, but you have zero trees on your property, that is unrealistic. But I wanted to take it one step further because I don’t think new homesteaders truly understand what they are getting into.
If your land is steep hills, mountains, etc, it is not necessarily capable of supporting a cow. If your land is mostly trees, you are going to have to do some major work to get a garden in. I want everyone to homestead in SOME capacity where you are right now. But at the same time, you have to be realistic in what you can and can’t do base on what your land can do.
Neighbors may not want to listen to your goats scream all day. Local ordinances may not allow more than so many chickens. Before you start defining your successful homestead, you have to be aware of what land you are buying and what it can actually do for you.
Our Successful Homestead Plan
For Jared and I to feel like we have been successful in building our homestead, it has to have 3 key points:
- The homestead grows 75% of the food for us and our animals.
- We build, create, or source from our property as much as we possibly can.
- Our homestead (and blog) would be considered a success if it can fully support itself and allows us to retire early.
Let’s break this down
75% Of All Food
This is a big expectation because it’s a lot of food. But I don’t expect that overnight or even in one year. We learned a lot in our first garden and we’ve learned even more since. But we have realized that we have to grow slowly so that we don’t end up packing too much work on ourselves. Since we both work fulltime, we have to be aware of how much we can actually do. This is where that homestead flexibility comes in.
We also have a ton of trees on our land. Which is great for heating the house, but sucks when it comes to sunlight and garden space. This year we installed a kitchen garden in this weird lawn space in between our driveways. It’s a lot of space and a great place to have veggie plants, flowers, herbs, and lettuces. We can even put in our potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions. But I forgot that in the summer, there are a ton of trees that block the sun. This isn’t a big deal because those trees need to come down anyways. But our garden may not thrive because of them.
Our gardens are a process and that’s okay. 75% of our food doesn’t need all be done right now.
Being Self Reliant
Jared and I are both city kids and we don’t have anyone teaching us how to do these things. Because of that, it’s really important to both of us that we learn how to do stuff for ourselves. I didn’t know how to make bread before I started this journey. Now, I can make sourdough!
Jared had never felled trees before coming to the homestead. Now? He’s really good at it. He didn’t know how to sharpen a chainsaw. Now, he does.
Leaving behind a legacy is really important to me. I’m not going to get my great grandmother or grandmothers cast iron pans. I didn’t get cooking skills from my mom, grandmother, great grandmother. Jared and I didn’t learn how to butcher animals or put in gardens from our family. And that’s okay because that’s not the life they lived. But because this is so important to us, we are also teaching our kids how to do these things. We are teaching them how to repair toilets, install light fixtures, build chicken tractors without plans, put in gardens, sharpen chainsaws, and so much more.
That’s a legacy I am proud to leave behind.
I started this blog and our homestead with one single end goal: Retire early. That’s it. We are putting in the work now, while we are young, so that we can have systems in place for retirement. When the homestead produces 75% of our food, that puts approximately $900/mo back in our pockets. When it produces 75% of our animals food? That’s $600/mo!
While this blog is not currently making a lot of money, the reality is that it is getting to the point of being self reliant. Thanks to you guys!
Walking into retirement with virtually zero bills or debt allows us to not worry so much about a crashing economy. Knowing that we can garden and sell the produce or sell goat kids? That brings more options to the table than praying my 401k and social security will still be there.
Building Your Successful Homestead
At the end of the day, your homestead is not going to look like anyone else’s. You’ve got your own hopes, dreams, capabilities, resources, and needs. But if you can define what a successful homestead looks like to you, and then start setting expectations and goals for it, you will get there so much faster.