Homesteading is not the idealistic, blissful lifestyle that magazines and news articles make it out to be, at least, not all the time.
Realistically, it requires a lot of good planning, researching, preparation and maintenance of land, finances, resources, crops (big or small), and livestock.
Before you take the plunge into homesteading on a large scale, you need to carefully research what your dream entails and work out a plan to attain and maintain the dream.
We, as homesteaders, always need to pool our knowledge base because no one is an island and because sharing knowledge gives us the opportunities to socialize, the opportunity to learn and grow as humans and on our homestead, and because sharing by ‘trade’ is a more efficient way to provide for ourselves and our communities.
There is a saying that a fool learns from his own mistakes, while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. This is something that you can take to heart.
Learn from other homesteaders what worked for them, and what didn’t work for them, so that you, in your own endeavor, can be successful right from the start.
With that, here are ten of the biggest mistakes that homesteaders make and what you can do to avoid these pitfalls.
Mistake #1: neglecting to form a detailed plan before committing to living on a homestead
For most of us, planning would be a logical first step. But many homesteaders just jump in without understanding all the work that goes into owning and running a successful homestead.
For most, the concept is simple: they want a debt-free life, fresh air, healthy food, and a wholesome environment in which to raise their families.
Realistically, you need to plan out how you will implement and achieve these goals.
Your plan should include:
- ☑ Finances to fund the purchase of property, tools, seeds, animals, etc.
- ☑ What livestock you hope to include
- ☑ What vegetables you hope to grow
- ☑ What other plants you hope to grow
- ☑ Your potential for income from the homestead
- ☑ Side businesses you could run from your homestead to bring in extra cash
- ☑ If you have children, you still have an obligation to them to give them quality education and opportunities to grow as human beings to be successful in their own lives (whether they want to enter into farming, the corporate, legal, medical, etc. environment)
- ☑ The layout of your homestead to ensure access to water, storage, grazing, etc.
I do not believe it is possible to over-plan. Be realistic when setting goals for yourself. And be patient with yourself when things do not go to plan. Life is a process, not a product. Expect at least three years of a bumpy ride.
Mistake #2: Not planning their budget carefully
Especially in the first three years, you will experience growing pains. Roofs will leak. Machinery will break. Livestock will die. Crops will not grow.
Set aside money for a crisis management fund, for when the bad comes knocking at your door. Even as a homesteader with years of experience, things still happen, so I keep a good fund stashed away for those months of drought, illness, and dumb luck.
Your budget should include:
- ? Startup costs
- ? Property and property taxes
- ? Building costs
- ? Cost of renovations of existing buildings
- ? Livestock
- ? Grazing and feed for livestock
- ? Seeds
- ? Compost for land preparation
- ? Pest control
- ? Medical treatment for family and livestock
- ? Access to resources like water and power
- ? Daily living expenses for your family
Mistake #3: New homesteaders can be unrealistic in their goals
I understand the desire to be self-sufficient but understand that it takes time, money, skills, resources, and mother nature behaving herself to get there.
If you have never farmed, you cannot buy 600 sheep, and expect to sell 600 full-grown Schwarzenegger-sized sheep on that first run. Understand everything that goes into raising a herd.
Study the land, and what you are hoping to grow or raise there. Be realistic of what you should expect.
If you plan realistically, every animal or pound of vegetables you get above your expected goal is a Christmas bonus – a thirteenth check.
Do not try to do too many things in your first three years at the same time. You will exhaust yourself and nothing will be 100% productive so you will be throwing your money away. Take time to perfect one skill at a time.
Mistake #4: Growing much more than they can consume
I do not know one single homesteader who got this right once in the first three years of homesteading. We all slip into this trap.
Always research everything you can about the particular vegetables that you and your family enjoy, and then farm on a very small scale. The great thing about vegetable gardens is you can always plant more.
My first attempt was a large-scale disastrous success. I did my homework and – as it turned out – my favorite vegetable turned out to be the easiest vegetable to grow (any squash or melon).
But they take up a lot of space because each seed goes crazy in good soil. You can expect to harvest roughly 15+ melons or squashes off a single plant. It is a good place to start, but do not plant 50 seeds for a family of five.
I fed us, all our family, all our friends, many locals who would offer to help load groceries in my car, all their friends and family, our deep freeze was full to capacity with butternut, pumpkins, and Hubbard squash.
If you overplant, you will end up with wasted food that took up your time, money, water, and soil nutrients. If you are ready with a farm stall, then the excess can go directly into that to add to your income.
Start small, and grow only what you need initially. Vegetables are easy to sell, so they can produce an ongoing income. But start with your family first. You will learn about growing conditions, and eventually will have better quality products to sell.
Mistake #5: Getting so caught up with being self-sufficient, that they isolate themselves
Being a member of a community is essential to succeeding in your homestead.
Network with like-minded people to receive guidance and to offer guidance. Join Facebook groups, Twitter, gardening groups, co-ops, and homesteaders close to home.
By pooling knowledge and resources, you will be increasing your own success and, within homesteader groups, you will grow a sense of belonging and value to your community.
Through networking and building up the success of your fellow homesteaders as much as your own, you can engage in the spirit of homesteading as it was in the pioneering days.
You can form your own trading goods group. A farmer who raises chickens can supply eggs and meat, one with a successful vegetable garden can trade with the fruits of their gardens, soy, maize, and wheat farmers can contribute with their harvests, dairy farmers can provide milk, and cattle, sheep, or pig farmers all can contribute meat.
Residents who are not able to produce on a large enough scale to provide for multiple homes can convert dairy products like cheese, butter, and yogurt.
All homesteaders can collect food scraps and peels, and any leftovers that would go to waste to distribute to pig farms to help the farmers reduce feeding costs.
Within a well thought out trading group, there is always something that you can do. It may take some creative thinking, brainstorming, planning, and execution, but by trading goods, you are reducing waste, and forming a like-minded, self-sufficient economy.
Finding good mentors in life is a challenge, finding mentors in a situation that involves a lifestyle rather than a skill or use of a product is even more challenging.
Joining gardening clubs, permaculture groups, homestead groups, or prepper groups will help you solve a lot of research time (it cannot replace doing physical research though).
Joining a group will grow your knowledge and skillset and teach you about the physical issues you will face in the environment where you want to build your homestead.
They can help you learn which crops flourish, and which do not. They can guide you to sell the best feed, seeds, compost, and fertilizer. They will also help with fitting, in and growing a real sense of belonging.
If you get involved with neighbors, helping them build, harvest, or improve their own marketability you will have an ally to help fight your own literal and figurative fires.
Many homesteaders can be a bit cagey, but given time and interaction, you will grow on them.
Mistake #6: Homesteaders tend to just build, build, build
You can save a lot of money by repurposing structures already on your property. Carports are great for shade on hot sunny days.
I highly recommend that you spend a lot of time planning the layout of buildings on your property.
I farmed chickens for many years. I thought I had it all figured out. I did my homework. I built for size, with separate pens. I built-in fans, heaters, and heating lights. I built a regulation foot bath. But I messed up!
Our borehole was right by our house, so we built our chicken house right near our house. The pen we put chickens in was right next to the building.
Number one, chickens stink! They draw in every fly in a ten-mile radius. You do not want them anywhere near your house or entertainment area.
Number two, customers coming to buy chickens jumped over the footbath into the run to see how we were doing it. They were not allowed in there, but if your back is turned…
Eventually, one such customer brought Newcastle’s disease into our run. We lost all the chickens – they had to be destroyed.
To top it off, the law in place was that if you had a diseased flock, you could not have any livestock anywhere near where the henhouse for up to five years.
Plan your buildings. It costs money to rebuild, so get it right the first time.
Mistake #7: This is going to sound like a contradiction, but homesteaders sometimes think too small
I know I’ve been saying start small. Do not get me wrong, I did mean it. But your family can do a lot more than just live off the land.
I homeschooled my three children. We had a blast making interesting things. I am somewhat of an artist, so I painted oil paintings, I painted trays and woodwork items. My son made soap, candles, and bath salts.
My oldest daughter crocheted children’s toys and clothing. She also made little elastic toys that kids loved. My youngest loved making sweets and jewelry. Once a month, we would hit the open air and farmers markets to sell our goods.
It had the effect of providing us with an extra income. Which you will need! There are some things you can’t make or grow on your own (medicine, books, etc.).
It taught our kids good marketing skills, how to budget for raw materials, profitability, and essential communication skills.
A homestead is a haven for big dreams and learning opportunities for you and your children. Turn your hobbies into cash.
Mistake #8: Know the livestock laws governing your area
This can be a very costly lesson to learn.
Every country and state has its own homesteading laws and regulations to ensure to the best of their ability that meat is safe for human consumption.
The focus is on the quality of meat; ensuring that steroids were not used to make cows bigger or heavier, to make them more profitable as steroids are passed to the consumer resulting in a laundry list of health issues.
Antibiotics are another critical thing that meat boards screen for as these are often passed to humans upon consumption.
In the U.S., all beef is screened for antibiotics, and any beef that contains any residue of antibiotics results in the meat being discarded and destroyed with no compensation to the farmer.
Some antibiotics can remain in the livestock system for a week while others remain for weeks. This means that to avoid the total loss of investment, farmers have to test all cattle, at their own expense, to ensure that no antibiotics remain before taking the cattle to market.
They will have to hold on to the livestock until they are sure the last dose of antibiotics is out of the animal’s system. This can add to the expense of feeding and accommodating livestock at the same time as purchasing the next batch.
Some of the major diseases that can be passed on to humans are Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (mad cow disease), Escherichia coli, rabies, salmonellosis, and many other life-threatening illnesses.
Check with your local SPCA if you are unsure of livestock law. You may even be able to adopt from them. Our local welfare society always has cows, goats, pigs, and sheep that are looking for a good home.
You may have a crop in mind that will not grow in the area you live in. You will have wasted a lot of time, money, and energy with nothing to show for it.
Mistake #9: Involving children in all the wrong ways
I have had interactions with parents on both ends of the spectrum.
On one side, you have the overprotective parents who do not involve their children in any area of the homestead. To these parents I say two things:
- Use this time to teach your kids responsibility, and how to provide for their own families one day.
- People: free labor! I am not talking slave camps, I am talking about age-appropriate, safe responsibilities that will save you a few minutes.
On the other end of the spectrum are homesteaders who take their kids with them to every task every day no matter the risks involved.
Animals do carry illnesses sometimes, no matter how careful you are. Animals are also unpredictable.
My son was two years old when a chicken tried to attack him. A chicken! My son was always very talkative; he caught that chicken and sat down and lectured it for 20 minutes. By the time I separated them they were on a first-name basis.
It is okay to let your small kids fetch the eggs from the chicken coop. It is not okay to have a two-year-old walking amongst cows that are being herded for vaccination.
Find age-appropriate things to get them involved with. Give them their own area to grow watermelons or berries. Let them water plants.
Let them fill water dishes, prepare hay nets, or make jam with your supervision. Let the help water and harvest vegetables. There are plenty of age-appropriate things they will love doing with you.
I know many parents who do not see anything wrong with having their kids present when animals are slaughtered. Personally, I do not see the benefit to a toddler seeing that.
Mistake #10: Homesteaders aren’t good at learning from their own mistakes
I am absolutely guilty of this. We have covered planning and communicating with locals, but when we mess up we tend to just shrug and say “Oh well, that didn’t work, on to the next thing!”, only to discover the same problem with the new crop.
Learn! Fix the problem as soon as it raises its ugly head. Brushing things under the rug will not teach you a thing. Communicate with locals, and ask for advice.
I guarantee that you will find others who had the exact same experience and made the mistake of ignoring it only to have it revisited.
I hope that you have found this article helpful and informative. I hope that you will learn from my mistakes and not from your own (but learn from your mistakes too).
In short, do your homework researching all you dream of having, network and get to know your neighbors, work with your neighbors to build a successful partnership that is beneficial to all, take action, build, plant, raise, harvest, and sell.
And when you fall or hit a wall, pick yourself up, evaluate the situation, figure out what you did wrong, make sure you have corrected the situation, and like a phoenix, rise from the ashes. Nobody ever died from a slice of humble pie.
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.