How to Build a Self-Sufficient Homestead

The self-sufficient homestead: the plants and animals on a homestead can work together to benefit each other as well as benefit the humans.

Do you long to live a simple, self-sufficient life? Let's explore how we can be more self-sufficient, more sustainable, and happier through simple living.

How to start a more self-sufficient homestead, no matter where you live

While I'm not sure that a homestead can be totally, completely self-sufficient, we can certainly work towards that goal, and strive to be as self-sufficient as possible.

What is self-sufficiency?

Self-sufficiency has two definitions:

  1. Producing everything you need
  2. Being self-confident and not needing other people

While I don't think we can produce everything we need, I do think that we can be dependent on ourselves for happiness, entertainment, comfort, and more.

For instance, someone who enjoys "retail therapy" is dependent not only on those goods that they purchase, but also on the experience of shopping. 

So I believe that if our wants are simple, we can be self-sufficient to a larger degree. The mindset of simple living is a big part of being self-sufficient, in my opinion.

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Can we be totally self-sufficient?

I'm not sure that we can be totally self-sufficient, but all is not lost!

While the mountain men of old were considered self-sufficient, they traded their furs for items they needed but could not produce. Gun powder for instance. Flour and other foods. The yearly rendezvous was a place to trade for their needs and wants.

Unless a modern-day homesteader uses fur and skins to make their own clothing, they'd probably need to purchase or barter for clothing or at least for the fabric needed. 

Or if you raise fiber animals or linen or cotton, you'd need to shear the animals or process the plant fibers, then weave, knit or otherwise produce the "fabric" to use to make clothing.

And that's entirely possible; I have friends who do this. Their work is absolutely beautiful.

But there are still other items or materials you'd need that you probably did not produce. 

Bartering is the key here. I believe that bartering is a wonderful practice and one that we should all use more. Trade what you do produce for the things that you can't produce yourself.

Let's explore some of the ways we can be self-sufficient in today's world.

Self-sufficiency in the garden

My own goal is to produce as much as we can of our own needs, to be producers rather than consumers.

While we probably won't ever be completely self-sufficient, I want my garden to contribute as much as possible to our needs and grow as much food as possible.

I raise all the tomatoes we eat. There's just no comparison to home-grown, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes. I grow heirloom varieties so I can save the seeds from this year's crop to grow next year.

I also attempt to grow foods that are expensive to purchase, and those that are on the "dirty dozen" list of contaminated foods. [Source] I want to avoid unhealthy chemicals and toxins contained in these foods.

How your homestead can benefit your homestead

Let's explore a little deeper, beneath the surface of homesteading.

While homesteading is a healthy way of life and a great way to live simply and inexpensively, have you noticed that everything on a homestead is interwoven and connected? 

It's a web of things that benefit us and also benefit the rest of the homestead. It's amazing how closely connected these systems are.

And each of these systems - these parts of a homestead - help make the whole homestead more self-sufficient.

Animals have an important place on a homestead, benefiting the homestead itself as well as the humans who live there.

One of my rules when we began homesteading was that everything we did should have a purpose. If it didn't have a purpose, it had to go. My list looked like this:

  • Chickens to provide eggs and chicks
  • Goats to produce milk and goat kids
  • Garden to grow vegetables and herbs
  • Fruit trees for fruit
  • Livestock guardian dog (LGD) to protect our goats and chickens
  • Barn cats to keep down the rodent and gopher population
  • Guineas to eat ticks and fleas
  • Steer to provide grass-fed beef
  • Pigs to fill the freezer with pork
  • Bees to provide honey

The self-sufficient homestead: the plants and animals on a homestead can work together to benefit each other as well as benefit the humans.

On the surface those plans look great. But digging a little deeper taught me that many of these have more than one purpose.

Our little orchard not only provides fruit, but the fallen leaves go on the compost pile, and the leafy branches also provide shade for our home and cover for songbirds that eat insects. 

Their spring flowers feed the bees, especially our plum trees that bloom early.

The self-sufficient homestead: the plants and animals on a homestead can work together to benefit each other as well as benefit the humans.

The chickens and goats also provide manure that is composted to fertilize our garden. Extra eggs and milk are fed to the dogs. A bottle calf and pigs would love to drink our excess goat milk too.

Kitchen waste goes on the compost pile. The straw bedding from the chicken coop goes on the compost pile. The compost pile then feeds the garden.

We grow some plants to feed the livestock as well as to feed us, and other plants that are medicinal.

Plant waste is composted; the compost enriches our garden soil and nourishes the plants. The bees that feed on the plum trees' blossoms also pollinate our garden and increase our harvest.

One steer can benefit a homestead in many ways.

Now think about how you can put those animals to work for you. Pigs can till a new garden site. Chickens can clean up the garden in the fall. Goats can clear brush.

Our steer ate weeds that our horses wouldn't touch, so he contributed to pasture management. Rotating several species through a pasture is another way to manage pastures and control parasites using livestock.

Composting inside a hoophouse will help keep your plants warm in cold weather. Keeping chickens in the hoophouse will also help raise the inside temperature in the winter.

A homestead garden benefits the homestead in more ways than producing food

Let's look at a few more ways in which your garden can benefit the rest of your homestead as well as benefiting the garden itself.

A self-sufficient homestead.

With careful planning your garden can benefit your garden.

  • The garden produces compost ingredients. Spent plants and all those weeds you pull are a valuable addition to the compost pile
  • Weeds are also a source of feed for my goats.
  • The garden attracts birds that eat insect pests. Sparrows and cardinals are just two varieties of birds that eat weed seeds as well as insects on plants and on the ground. Plant flowers such as marigolds, sunflowers and cosmos to attract these birds.
  • Other flowers will repel insects that can destroy your vegetable crops: borage, marigolds (again), calendula and more. Using companion planting will help you avoid the need to use harmful pesticides.
  • Plant a chicken garden to save money on chicken feed. (Mary's Heirloom Seeds carries a Poultry Garden Seed Pack.)
  • Comfrey is a medicinal plant that also serves as animal feed and a compost activator. Comfrey also attracts pollinators and when made into comfrey tea it's a super plant fertilizer. For more information see Five Reasons You Should Grow Comfrey.

Not all luxuries are frivolous; on the homestead many worthless items still have merit and worth.

Is there room on your homestead for something frivolous?

Depending on how large your homestead is, you might want to add in a few "frivolous" plants or animals. You might even find that they have some value after all.

I have two horses here at Oak Hill. Horses are often considered a luxury, but they do have their uses.

They keep the pasture mowed. Without them, the Chief would have to keep the pasture mowed down to reduce our brush fire danger - so the horses save us a lot of work.

Well-aged horse manure fertilizes my rose bushes in the front yard. Are those rose bushes a useless luxury? While they are pretty, some rose bushes also produce rose hips which are medicinal. (Sometimes though, growing something just because it's pretty is enough value in itself.)

You may still think horses are frivolous, but they have another purpose, although it isn't as obvious as the animals that provide meat, milk or eggs: they feed my soul.

My horses remind me of my dad who hauled my horse and me to weekend shows when I was in high school, of my grandparents who gave me that horse, and of my youngest daughter who rode with me until she grew up and moved away.

Many large cattle ranches in our region still use horses to move and work the cattle. (But yes, it's true that we don't raise cattle on a large basis. One steer doesn't make this a cattle ranch!)

Self-sufficiency is a long-term goal

Please don't try to reproduce all of these complex systems instantly on your own homestead! You'll quickly become overwhelmed and ready to stick a For Sale sign in the ground.

Check out How to Make a Homestead Plan for help in defining your purpose and forming a long-term plan for your homestead.

Start slowly by striving to be self-sufficient in one or two things, and build on your success in the future.

For more inspiration, subscribe to The Acorn, Oak Hill Homestead's weekly-ish newsletter and join me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there!

The self-sufficient homestead: the plants and animals on a homestead can work together to benefit each other as well as benefit the humans.

Related Posts:
Why You Should Have Goats on Your Homestead
Homesteading Record Keeping Made Easy
How to Homestead No Matter Where You Live


My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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