Homesteading Record-Keeping Made Easy

A stack of spiral notebooks. Text: Homestead Record Keeping Made Easy

Record keeping might not be fun, but it's necessary. How else will you know whether you're successfully reaching your goals, or being a good steward of your homestead and livestock?

Let's explore how to keep homestead records, what information you should keep, why you should track these things, and how to make homestead record-keeping easier.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase I might earn a small commission, but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here for more info.

Why homesteading record-keeping is important

Record keeping is the sure-fire way of knowing whether you're reaching your homestead goals or not.

Let's use goats for an example. If you bought goats last year, your [probably unwritten] goal was to keep them alive, right?

I mean, that probably goes without saying, but it really was your goal.

So were you successful?

If your goats are still alive, hurray, you reached your goal! But there's more to look at here.

Because I'm sure that your goal next year will also be to keep them alive, among other things. 

You can make next year's goal easier by using what you learned this year, and that means writing things down, comparing results, and predicting what you need to do in the future.

Not to mention the fact that you need to remember when your goats were born, how long you've had them, and their pedigree even if they're not registered. Were they vaccinated, and when? When were their hooves trimmed last?

Without keeping records, how will you know how much hay you bought last year, where you bought it, and if it was enough? How much will you need to have in the barn this year before winter arrives? 

And if you have more goats next winter, either because you bought more goats or you kept the best babies that were born last year, how much more hay will you need?

Homesteading information you need to keep track of

Believe me when I say there is SO much information you need to keep track of.

Chickens, for instance.

Did you feed your chickens more laying pellets in the winter than during the summer? Did you change to a different brand of feed when the seasons changed? 

Did you increase their protein intake by feeding black soldier fly larvae or mealworms? How many new chicks were hatched or bought this year? 

(By the way, you can find out more about black soldier fly larvae and how they can benefit your chickens' diet and health right here. Then, if you'd like to see how your hens like them, you can use the code OHH to save 10% on your first order from Grubterra.)

Any of these changes could mean a change in your homestead budget. Knowing how many chickens you can afford to feed and house over the winter is an important thing to know. 

What did you do to keep your chickens' water from freezing? If you're like the average person, you may forget the details before next winter, so make it easier by writing them down. 

What about the rest of your homestead?

When was the last time the farrier came to trim the horses' hooves? When do you need to update your farm dog's vaccinations? When did you give the barn cats their last dose of dewormer?

Even if all you have is a pet dog or two, you need to remember when to give flea medication, heartworm prevention, rabies shots and other vaccinations. When will the microchip fee renew? Don't forget to renew their dog license. Do you have pet insurance? 

Plus you should have copies of their latest vaccination record, rabies vaccine and a copy of the registration papers with the rest of your important papers. (Ours are in our emergency grab and go binder.)

And your garden...

When did the apple trees bloom last spring? Did you have a large crop or a meager one? Did you fertilize the trees, and with what type or brand of fertilizer?

What kind of onions did you grow last year? Did you plant seeds, sets or plants, and did they grow well or not? Where did you order them?

What was that delicious variety of purple tomato you grew last year? 

Yes, you need to keep records! 

Why homestead recordkeeping is so hard

But if you're like me, record keeping is a lot easier said than done. Especially when the events I need to keep track of take place outside, and my record keeping supplies are inside the house.

There are so many things going on, and it's so easy to be distracted and completely forget what you were going to write down. There's a lot to keep track of!

I have some tips for you. I bet you'll find a couple that will make recordkeeping easier for you and your homestead.

The first step in this record-keeping system

The backbone of this homestead record-keeping system is to write everything down. Since I don't take a pen and paper outdoors with me, I record or type notes on my phone when I'm outside, or simply take a photo. 

I've tried keeping a paper and pen in my back pocket, but it just didn't work for me. I've lost the pen, dropped the paper in a water trough, or just totally forgotten that I was going to write something down as soon as I set that bucket down after feeding.

But I bet your phone is always in your pocket, like mine is. (Because, you know, you might lock yourself in the chicken coop and have to call for help. True story.)

So send yourself an email. Use your Notes app. Record your voice. Or take a photo, or a video while you talk.

The "name" my phone assigns to each image I take includes the date, time and even the second I took that photo. 

For instance, the image name might be 20221217_13335.jpg. This photo was taken on December 17, 2022, at 1:33:35 PM. So I know that whatever is going on in that photo took place on 12/17.

My phone is my secret weapon #1 when it comes to recordkeeping!

The next step in my homestead recordkeeping system

You might have a huge number of photos on your phone, like I do. And while they might be cute photos, many of them also have a purpose.

That photo of the barn cat with 4 newborn kittens? The photo details tell me that those kittens were born on June 1. Two were orange tabbies; the others were a grey tabby and a colorpoint kitten. 

(Colorpoint, in case you're interested in cat genetics - which I personally find fascinating - refers to what is commonly known as "Siamese markings." These kittens are born white, and their legs, ears and tail darken as they get older.)

Or that my goat Hope had black moonspotted twins on March 25. Or the plum tree bloomed on March 4.

But unless you take the next step, that information will be buried in your phone's photo gallery and it's so easy to forget. So you need to make that information more accessible, in a way that makes sense to you.

The best way to do this is to transfer the information on your phone regularly - to write it down where it belongs. And "where it belongs" will depend on how you personally keep your records.

If you have a binder with all of your livestock info, write the details on the proper page in that notebook. Write down your gardening information in your garden notebook. 

Or perhaps you use a spreadsheet to keep track of information. Add the details to your spreadsheet as soon as you can.

Just do it in a timely manner.

I'm not great at putting the information in its permanent home on a daily basis, I admit. Maybe you're better at this than I will ever be. 

However, I do copy those notes and details into my daily planner every evening. One day's entries might include:

  • the red plum tree bloomed
  • the brown Nubian goat is in heat
  • the farrier came, the bill was $xx
  • I gathered 11 eggs 
  • the garlic has sprouted and are about 2" tall
  • the high temperature was 54°F and the low was 34°F, sunny and windy

You guessed it. My planner is my secret weapon #2 in my homestead recordkeeping system!

All the day's information is now safe on this page. I'll move it all to its proper place (in my livestock or gardening notebook) once a week, or once a month.

I also write down where and when we bought hay, how much it cost and the farmer's phone number so I can call him again next year. Or not, depending on the quality of the hay! I include directions to the farm.

I know when I gave the horses a new protein tub, and when my female goats gave birth and how it went - whether she had a difficult kidding or had to be convinced to let her babies nurse.

Just don't let this job get away from you! Set aside an hour or so each week or month to move all that information from your phone, planner or other location to its proper location.

You can read about record-keeping for GOATS here.
Even though it discusses goat records, you'll find some handy
tips that apply to other species too,
plus my free printables.

Use a planner to keep homestead records

A spiral-bound weekly planner.

As I said, my planner is my secret weapon #2. I use a daily planner, 5.5" x 8.5", so I have plenty of room to write the day's notes.

A weekly planner might be perfect for you, or you may need a daily planner with more space to write. 

Planners come in many sizes, and in spiral-bound, ring-type or book-bound styles. If you've had trouble sticking to using a planner before, try changing to a different type or size and see if it works better for you.

Or simply use a spiral notebook to hold these notes.

Round bales of hay in a field

Use 3-ring notebooks or binders for homestead recordkeeping

My livestock and garden notebooks are the "final resting place" for a lot of the notes in my planner. They are my secret weapon #3.

But Kathi, can't you just write things down in your livestock notebook in the first place instead of using that planner? Yes, of course you can. I just don't get my notebooks off the bookshelves regularly, and my planner is already open nearby. 

YOU should do what works for you! If that means writing everything directly into a binder or notebook, or entering the information on a spreadsheet, go for it!

My livestock binder has all that hay information from my planner in it, as well as a page that tells me how many bales my goats and horses consumed last winter, and how many bales I should plan to buy for the next winter.

Livestock notebook, a 3-ring binder

The livestock binder holds the horses' Coggins test results for equine infectious anemia and their registration papers, the dogs' rabies shot documents and all spay/neuter papers for the dogs and cats.

I can grab this binder easily to take with me to the vet, on a trail ride, or to a show or the county fair.

Each animal has a page where I keep track of shots, worming, dental work and any injuries or problems.

I've developed a form for this purpose that you can download for your own use. You'll find the link further down this page. 

Although it was developed for my goats, it works well for other species of livestock too.

Printable medical record for livestock.

If you raise chickens or rabbits or other livestock, their medical records can go in the same notebook too, or in a binder of their own if you have a large herd or flock. 

You can also keep receipts, feed ingredient labels, feed costs and more in your binder.

Crunching the Numbers

Now you can add up all those numbers: what you've spent on feed for your livestock this year, how much you spent on hay, and how long those hay bales lasted.

If x-number of hay bales fed your three horses for four months, you can approximate how many bales you'll need in the future per horse. If you add a horse or sell a horse, you can order hay accordingly.

Make a note of the farm where you purchased that hay, so you can order more next year. Or, if the quality was disappointing, you'll want to remember where not to buy hay!

Add up the cost of feed, minerals, hay and any other expenses for your flock or herd. This is how much your livestock cost you this year. Dividing this number by the number of goats or chickens or rabbits you have will tell you your expenses per head.

Of course, that's an average cost because young animals, animals producing milk and older animals will all require different amounts, and even different feed types or quality, but it's a good approximation. 

Knowing how much your livestock cost you is important for your homestead budget and your goals.

You can also figure out how much it cost to raise the pigs that you put in the freezer, or the meat chickens you raised last year.

Homestead income and express spreadsheet

So, just how do you figure this all out? How do you keep track of those numbers over the entire year? I've discovered a set of digital worksheets from The Farm Wife that will help you do just that, if you're the type that prefers to keep digital records.

Use this Income and Expense Worksheet for Small Farms to keep track of the various aspects of your homestead. 

The preset categories cover poultry and egg sales, small livestock, equipment, garden expenses and so much more, but you also have the capability to add custom categories and delete those you may not want to use so that the worksheet is completely customized for your needs.

You'll be able to track your income and expenses by month and by category, and know exactly which areas of your homestead are making money - or not.

There is also a chart with an overview of how you're doing, showing income and expenses in an easy-to-digest format.

You can find more information on the Income and Expense Worksheet for Small Farms here.

Other homestead projects

You can use this record keeping method to keep track of any projects on your homestead. Write down how much you spent on the materials to make that new chicken coop or how much soil you bought to fill the new raised bed in the garden.

Make note of when you planted your garden seeds. Later, add notes such as: did you plant too early or too late? How was the yield? Did you try a new fertilizer this summer? What new plants did you add to your herb garden, and where did you buy them?

Did you have your soil tested this year? Keep the results in your garden notebook.

Were you plagued by insect pests? What kinds? What did you do to combat them, and did it work?

Free printables

If you'd like FREE copies of the health record printable mentioned in this post, just click the link below. This set of forms was developed for goats but is suitable for other species as well.

Please note that these are free for you to print for your own personal use; you may not sell them or include them in a salable product. 

If you'd like to share them with friends, please send them here to this post so they can download them from the original source. Thank you!

Click here to get your FREE printables.

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An unorganized stack of files, papers and notebooks.


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