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?

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.

Of course, if our wants are simple, we can be self-sufficient to a larger degree.

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 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 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.

For instance, when I was drinking a green smoothie every morning, I grew my own spinach and beet greens, and foraged lambsquarters. I didn't have to buy any "green" ingredients for my daily smoothies.

(However, if you're prone to kidney stones, raw spinach and other plants that are high in oxalic acid aren't good for you. After my bout with kidney stones I no longer add greens to my smoothies.)

I also like to raise all the tomatoes we eat. There's just no comparison to home-grown, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes. And of course I save tomato seeds from this year's crop to plant next spring.

I also attempt to grow foods that are expensive to purchase, and those that are on the dirty dozen list of contaminated foods. I want to be self-sufficient in these areas and avoid unhealthy chemicals and toxins contained in these foods.

Blackberries, for instance. Blackberries grow wild here in Oklahoma and are incredibly invasive. Their thickets had nearly taken over our hayfield and we've spent many hours and much sweat reclaiming that pasture.

But blackberries are also incredibly expensive to purchase and absolutely delicious - and all I have to do is hike out there and pick them when they're ripe. Win!

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) protects our goats and chickens
  • Barn cats keep down the rodent and gopher population
  • Guineas to eat ticks and fleas (well, until they became coyote food)
  • 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 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.

Kitchen waste goes to either the dogs, the chickens or the compost pile. Chicken litter goes on the compost pile, then the compost pile 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 fertilizes 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 these 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.

Composting inside a hoophouse or making a hotbed will help keep your plants warm in cold weather. Keeping chickens in the greenhouse 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. 
  • Comfrey is a medicinal plant that also serves as animal feed and 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.

While you can't have a horse on an urban homestead, I have two of them here at Oak Hill. They're often considered a luxury, but they do have their uses.

For instance, horse manure is what heats up a hotbed.

Plus their "horse apples" go on the compost pile, and they keep the pasture mowed - without them, the Chief would have to keep the brush mowed down to reduce our brush fire danger - so the horses have worth.

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 two horses remind me of my father 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!)

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

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.

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

For more inspiration, you'll want to read my posts Homesteading: Where Do You Start? for help in making a plan for your homestead.

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
Homesteading: Where on Earth Do You Start?

This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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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  1. Enjoyed this Kathy because our views are completely on track. We're in the process of selling our livestock for a move that will set up a homestead community. It took me almost two months to decide to let go of some of our animals because I've enjoyed so much of everything you've shared here by having them aboard. Another day I guess because this new land is going to be quite the project.

    Carole @ Garden Up Green

    1. Wow, that sounds interesting! I'm looking forward to reading more about it, Carole.

  2. I was just discussing this with my husband since we are finally starting our laying hen flock this spring, and I have big plans for them. They give eggs, entertainment, bug control, weed control, and fertilizer. That's a lot for such a small animal, but so important to the homestead. We don't have enough land for cattle or pigs, so the meat rabbits and chickens work for us.

    1. Chickens and rabbits are an important part of the homesteading system, Michelle. Both are important in the scheme of things. Most people don't have space for large livestock; good for you for making the most of the space you have available.

  3. I love that aspect of homesteading - having our own little eco-system. I've tried to learn more and more of these things over the years.

    1. Eco-system, that's the perfect description, Michelle.

  4. Wanting things to have a purpose is why I wouldn't have ornamental plants...I need them to be edible, or at least really good for bees. Thanks for sharing on the Waste Less Wednesday Blog Hop!

    1. Edible, medicinal, or beneficial to pollinators - I agree!

  5. You are so right about everything on a homestead (smallholding) being interconnected and I just wish more people realised this. Sadly it seems many are too far removed from nature now to understand how important she is to our survival. We work to a similar rule here and it includes our boys - they have to help out with jobs and not just skulk on their computers all day! #WasteLessWednesday

    1. I agree about putting kids to work on the homestead. :-)

  6. Such a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!

  7. This is a beautiful, thought-provoking post, Kathi and I'm so glad you shared it with us at Hearth and Soul. Pinned to my Sustainable Living Pinterest board.

  8. Kathi,
    In today's world, bartering is a lost art form that I've used for decades. I've traded services and goods for decades. I've traded auto repairs and plumbing for accounting services, and currently, electrical services for making and canning his grandmother's recipes in bulk, eggs and fresh organically grown fruits and into a sizeable discounts including free PT/massage therapies, homespun fibers and fiber into meat. It doesn't hurt to ask.

    As you said, you'll may not get to 100% self sufficient, but there are ways to get what you need.

  9. This is spot on! Thank you for sharing it with us at the Homestead Blog Hop!

  10. I love the idea of begin self sufficient, this year's goal is to grow bigger and better garden. Thanks for all these ideas though!


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