How to Start a Self-Sufficient, Sustainable Homestead

A young baby goat lying down

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

How to start a sustainable homestead

Is it possible to be completely self-sufficient? 

Whatever the answer is, we can certainly work towards that goal, and strive to be as self-sufficient and sustainable 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 to live, I do think that we can be dependent on ourselves for happiness, entertainment, comfort, and much more.

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

I do believe that if our wants are simple, we can be self-sufficient to a large degree. We can be self-reliant, relying on ourselves instead of on others. We can be self-sufficient in the aspect of not needing outside input. 

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!

Wait! We can't? Let's explore what I mean by that.

The "mountain men" of old were considered self-sufficient, supplying their own meat, garden produce, furs and skins to make clothing and to keep warm, firewood, and the lumber and labor to build their own homes. They provided food for their livestock from their own resources.

But 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.

Yes, that's entirely possible - I have friends who do this. Their work is absolutely beautiful.

During the Great Depression, folks didn't "need" the amount of clothing that we seem to need now, or as many pairs of shoes. They made do with what they had, and that is a form of self-sufficiency too.

But there were still other items or materials they did need that they probably did not produce. 

Money was scarce, so they bartered - traded - for what they needed.

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.

But 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.

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. I eat a lot of tomatoes in the summer. On salads, in sandwiches, on their own. There's just no comparison to home-grown, vine-ripened 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. I want to avoid unhealthy chemicals and toxins contained in these foods, and growing them myself is how I provide healthy food for my family.

How your homestead can benefit your homestead

That sounds a bit odd, but your homestead really can benefit the rest of your homestead. It's a big part of being self-sufficient and sustainable. 

My goal is to run my homestead with as little outside input as possible. Right now, the biggest "input" on our homestead is livestock feed, and it's something I'm working on.

If you are too, you can check out this post for some easy ways to feed your chickens.

Let's take a look beneath the surface of homesteading, and see how we can run our homesteads by using our own homestead's resources.

Interwoven and connected

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.

A spotted female goat and her baby in a field of clover

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, and a good English shepherd to help protect our family
  • 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

Two black pigs eating their feed

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

Chickens provide eggs and chicks. The chicks replaced birds that were taken by predators, or were sold to other homesteaders. Eggs can be sold, traded, and even fed to the hogs, dogs and cats.

Goats produce milk and goat kids. The milk was made into cheese, soap and more. Excess milk was fed to the dogs, cats and hogs. Goat kids were sold or traded. We also took our best goats to the county fair each year, and used the premiums (prize money that they won) to pay for feed.

A bottle calf and pigs would love to drink our excess goat milk too.

Our garden provides food for people and for livestock and chickens. The goats stand at their fence, bleating in anticipation, when I am pulling weeds in the garden. They also eat comfrey leaves. And all those bugs that I can collect in the garden go to the chickens, who also like sunflower seeds I've grown.

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. 

The fruit trees' spring flowers feed the bees, especially our plum trees that bloom early. The bees pollinate the fruit trees and the vegetable plants in the garden and increase our harvest, plus they provide honey.

Plum blossoms in a homestead orchard

The chickens and goats also provide manure that is composted to fertilize our garden.  

Kitchen waste, plant waste and the straw bedding from the chicken coop all goes on the compost pile. The compost enriches our garden soil and nourishes the plants. And then the garden feeds us.

We grow some plants in the garden to feed the livestock, and other plants that are medicinal.

A brown shorthorn steer

How livestock benefits your homestead

Now think about how you can put those animals to work for you in additional ways. Pigs can till a new garden site. Chickens can clean up the garden in the fall. Goats can clear brush and can even eradicate wild blackberry thickets and poison ivy.

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 instead of relying on chemicals.

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

Goats are beneficial in so many ways. Here are some of the reasons you need goats on your homestead.

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

Here are even more ways in which your garden can benefit the rest of your homestead - and how it can benefit itself too. Now that's being self-sufficient and sustainable!

Comfrey plant in bloom

With careful planning your garden can even benefit itself.

  • 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, 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 flwoers attract pollinators. Comfrey tea is a super plant fertilizer. For more information about comfrey, see Five Reasons You Should Grow Comfrey.

White horse walking down a wooded path

Is there room on your homestead for something frivolous?

I'm not saying that you can't have something frivilous on your homestead, plants or animals or both. You might even find that they have some value after all.

Horses are often considered a luxury, but they do have their uses. I have two horses, my riding mare and a sweet, older gelding.

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

Well-aged horse manure fertilizes the garden and my rose bushes in the front yard. 

Are those rose bushes a frivolous 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.

Once you get your homestead up and running, don't be afraid to add something "frivolous" if it feeds your soul. Just be honest about the work, space and money they might require and make your decision wisely.

As a goat lover and a homestead gardener, I'm excited to also share my gardening tips with you - from planting seeds to enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor! You can find my gardening advice and insights right here, so let's dig in and cultivate some fresh, delicious produce together.

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, burned out, 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.

Start by making a list of what you want, and how those animals or plants will "earn their keep." Honestly evaluate how you're doing right now. Are there some things that aren't pulling their weight? Do you have too many chickens or goats?

Would a tractor or an ATV be a useful tool, or would it be a luxury that you can't justify yet?

Make honest decisions. Look at things in unconventional ways. Think outside the box, and build a happy, sustainable, self-sufficient homestead.

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!

A pepper plant in the garden. Text: How to start a self-sufficient homestead.

Related Posts:
How to Choose the Goat Breed that's Right for 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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