I thought I would create a page to put some of the answers I've given when people ask where to begin with homesteading and more importantly SUSTAINABLE homesteading. I hope this helps others.
I'm thinking of buying property where do I start?
I just bought property now where should I start?
First off if you are looking to get rich – don’t. Most likely you won’t ever get rich unless you can really come up with a high value niche product (maybe something like sheep milk for instance). However certain ventures will cost quite a bit to get going. You can however become quite self-sustainable. A lot will depend on the infrastructure you have available - livestock barns, outbuildings, fencing, cleared land, hay, browse, etc. The amount you have outgoing (house payments, bills, etc) of course will make a big input on how much it takes to reach your self-sustainable goal.
You want to (have to) keep track of EVERY expense and EVERY bit of income so you will quickly learn what is making money and what is costing you money. With livestock you will want to work on ways to trim the feed budget (your biggest expense other than initial brood stock purchases). With plants invest in perennials and learn how to save seeds. If you are new to gardening in your specific area look to neighbors and extension agents to find the best plants for your area (whether it’s for a pasture, the garden or even your hay fields). If you hope to raise livestock organically or naturally do your research first. Try and find stock from a herd/flock that has already been using the same methods you plan to implement. Having started with a conventional herd and transitioning to natural I can attest as to how hard it can be (and the losses that can happen) when going from conventional to natural (all genetics are NOT created equal). Of course check your local laws and ordinances. Here in Michigan we have great Cottage Food Industry laws which allow sales of jams, jellies, breads, etc. There are so many laws however when it comes to meat sales. We can process poultry raised on the farm (which includes rabbits) up to certain number a year and sell them. However we can’t sell by the pound unless we have a USDA inspected scale. We can sell a whole hog, deliver it to the butcher and let the buyer pick up meat from there. However we can’t pick up the meat for the customer unless we become certified for a Food Warehouse License. We also are regulated on what we can feed those pigs we sell– no meat or food scraps are allowed to be fed to them if we are selling for meat. Your local extension agent can help you know what licenses and/or certifications you need to legally participate in certain activities. Don’t forget farm insurance! Check your market for certain items. For instance in our area mini Rex rabbits are very popular. But the market is over saturated and the prices are pretty low. Now with standard Rex the market is still there with a price that makes it worthwhile to raise them. You need to research YOUR market before you jump into anything.
I will give you a run-down of the things we do here to make things pay for themselves.
1) We raise pigs on pasture and sell feeders, breeders and whole “ready to butcher” hogs.
2) We raise meat goats which we sell for market goats, breeders and whole “ready to butcher”.
3) We raise meat birds which we sell by the bird. We normally only raise what we have pre-orders for. Sometimes you may have to establish yourself before you can get pre-orders so plan on doing a few batches to sell outright.
4) We do CSA shares that include meats, vegetables, maple syrup and honey.
5) We raise pedigreed rabbits that we sell some nice breeding stock out of as well as selling meat rabbits. We raise French Angoras, Silver Fox, Standard Rex and mini Rex (just for fun). There are a few income sources from rabbits – pelts, fiber, pets, meat and breeding stock.
6) We raise Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs. NOTE: If you think you will make money on dogs – this one is one of those think again things. We make enough to pay for the feed of two dogs and that is it. I don’t generally recommend raising dogs as there is more to it than just putting two dogs together and the long term commitments are much more. I may be willing to eat “mistakes” when it comes to rabbits, goats or pigs – but dogs aren’t food around here and if they can’t find the perfect homes they become MY long term commitment.
7) Farm classes and tours. You can teach anything you know. There is always going to be somebody who would be interested in starting what you are doing, no matter how much you know. We provide classes on specific animal husbandry classes, gardening, herbal lore, beekeeping, soap making, canning and butchering. You could also add classes on fiber working, cheese making or whatever else you feel confident enough to share your knowledge of. Another option is to offer free classes as a marketing tool.
8) We can also do herd shares here in our state. We have one dairy heifer which is due to freshen in December and herd shares will be offered.
9) We raise Muscovy ducks. While nowhere NEAR a money maker, I love their eggs for cooking and they are such good mothers we have no shortage of ducks for sale (both grown and processed for meat and ducklings). Kind of a fun critter just to have around.
Over all everything pays for itself and we have a good supply of meat, vegetables, dairy and fruit. I couldn’t make a mortgage payment on what I bring in now, but since I don’t have one I guess that is okay. I don’t work THAT hard and since I love what I’m doing it rarely seems like work at all anyway. I would probably “make” more money if I didn’t constantly re-invest back into the farm (upgrading all the time it seems!). I could conceivably work harder and make more money – holding more classes or selling more stock – but I’m happy with the current balance of work and money. :D
There are so many ways to help make ends meet that it’s hard to list everything. But here are few: farmers markets, roadside stands, other types of livestock, traveling petting zoos and are just a few more. It is definitely doable, just do your research and take your time getting started as biting off more than you can chew at once can make it all pretty daunting. Be sure to remain flexible, if you go one direction and it doesn’t work out be ready to move on and go another direction. The business of “farming” really tends to go in yearly cycles as well as fluctuate seasonally. You may have a few great years but the market may change quickly so watch your local market and trends closely and be ready to change if needed. Or you need to be ready to ride out the dip in the market until it – hopefully- rises again. Remember you will have a glut of income certain times of year when crops (livestock or plant) are ready and then there will be times when there is no income, yet you may still have livestock to feed so plan your finances accordingly. Being diversified helps balance the cash flow quite a bit. Good luck!