Homesteading is a lifestyle of doing. There are many skills a homesteader needs to insure the success of their operation. There is always something on the homestead that needs to be repaired, plowed, planted or preserved. The skills to do what needs to be done are varied, and we are not born with them. They must be learned.
Essential homesteading skills include gardening, basic welding, butchery, carpentry, animal husbandry, predator control and mechanical repair. Indoor homesteading skills include canning, dehydrating, soap making, seed saving, long-term food storage and more.
Those are just some of the skills that will give the Modern Homesteader the tactical advantage they need. With 40 years of homesteading experience, let me share the important skills I believe a homesteading man or woman needs to know.
Early homesteaders had to know how to cross a prairie, clear their land, and build their homes from the timber on the property. They had to produce enough to sustain themselves and their families while protecting themselves from hostiles, both four-legged and two.
When I bought my property in 1980, there was no internet, no YouTube for me to learn from, and I struggled. You, on the other hand, have the ability to be much more educated and mentored than folks did just a few years ago.
Thankfully, we don’t have to endure most of the things the early homesteaders endured. In fact, the Modern Homesteader typically has a day job that provides for their family but also has a strong desire to acquire new skills and to become more self-sufficient.
Some skills are needed inside the home, while others are related to the land. Both are co-equal to the success or failure of the homestead.
Contrary to what most bloggers would have you believe, the vast majority of homesteaders do not raise all their own food. They go to the grocery store just like you do. But they do raise some of their food, supplementing their income in the process. Food you raise is food that you don’t have to buy.
First on most everyone’s “skills list” is gardening. I think that is because gardening is the first basic skill everyone should know. Whether your homestead consists of a small backyard or a large acreage, I believe everyone should know how to raise at least some of their food.
Gardening is not something that comes naturally even though it is probably the world’s oldest profession. Many people think you can just put a seed in the ground, it grows, and you pick a piece of fruit in a few weeks. In a very simplistic way, that’s true. But, gardening is complicated and it is an important skill. Ask any Gardner and they will tell you they learn something new every year. No one ever graduates as an expert.
First, chances are the soil on your new Homestead is not perfect. It will have to be amended, tilled, mulched, have rocks removed, and a lot more things done before it can be planted. A decision needs to be made early on as to what type of garden you will have.
Will it be a traditional garden, a raised-bed garden, a container garden? The soil type and conditions you have will probably dictate that for you. It’s almost impossible to till a garden with large rocks or stumps in the ground. Yes, you can have them removed, but is expensive if you hire it done, and back-breaking if you decide to do it yourself.
Why not opt for a Container Garden or a Back To Eden deep-mulch garden? Those two alternatives can erase the problems Mother Nature has dealt you. If you have good soil then absolutely go with a traditional garden. If not, container gardening allows you to raise a lot of food with much less work and preparation. Here is a great article on container gardening.
The Back To Eden method of gardening is perfect for poor rocky soil. You can get the DVD here on Amazon, and read my article detailing my experiences with Back To Eden Gardening here.
So, gardening is one of the first and basic skills you need to develop. And, it is one of the homesteading activities that can be done by the entire family.
Learn how to save your own seeds. Find out which seed can be saved (heirloom/open-pollinated) and which seeds should not (hybrid). There are plenty of resources online to mentor you on the art of seed saving. It’s not hard, but there are different methods for different varieties that you’ll need to know.
Seeds are becoming expensive. Learning to save your own seeds can save you a lot of money. Also, you can free yourself from the GMO world that envelops us all.
You will need to decide if you are ready for small livestock. That is a commitment. Some livestock will be more “hands-on” than others. That means extended vacations might become limited because you have to be home to make sure the animals are taken care of.
Probably the first place to start would be with chickens. Chickens are very carefree animals. Yes, they need care, but most of the time they are happy to just do their own thing. Also, chicken waterers and feeders can be set up so that a person could leave the homestead for a few days, and the chickens would be cared for just fine. So, as far as small livestock goes, chickens (for me) are a no-brainer as the first livestock animal to arrive on your homestead.
Having a flock of chickens means you can enjoy the fresh eggs they produce, the insect control they provide, the manure they produce, and just the fun of watching chickens being chickens. And your kids will love chickens!
There are many articles written on Choosing the Right Breed, best practices, how to get more eggs from your chickens, and all other aspects of caring for chickens on the homestead.
Rabbits are another good “small livestock” choice. In my experience rabbits are a little more labor-intensive than chickens. Unless you are set up with an automated feeding and watering system, they will need to be cared for each day. Infrastructure can be set up that will make them less labor-intensive, but just understand, they will take a little more care than a free-range chicken.
Rabbits are a wonderful “first farm animal” for a child. Rabbits are usually very docile, well suited for children, and are a good introduction to 4-H if a child is interested in showing animals at a fair.
I’ve raised cows, sheep, pigs, and horses among other critters.
Cows, for the most part, are not very labor-intensive. There are times when problems arise and they will need special care. Perhaps even a veterinarian. But for the most part, cows will just be out on grass during the Spring, Summer, and Fall, and require very little attention.
The only major attention they will need is during the winter. You will have to buy hay for the winter and have a way to feed it. In other words, if you buy round bales that weigh a 1000 to 1500 lbs, you will need a way to deliver that hay to the cow.
They will also need other protein. It is unlikely the hay you feed will have enough protein to sustain them during the winter, even if your winters are mild like mine usually are. They will need supplemental protein like range cubes, or protein tubs for them to do well during the winter when grass is negligible.
Sheep are really enjoyable to watch and are not that hard to raise. They are like cows in that they do well all by themselves from Spring through Fall, as long as they have sufficient grass and water. They will need very little protein supplement in the warmer months, but will absolutely need it during the winter months.
Hair Sheep will need to be wormed every six months or so. Wooled sheep will probably need it more often than that. I strongly suggest you consider “Hair Sheep”. They are so much easier to raise than “wool sheep”. I have an article that delves deep into the differences and advantages of each. If you’re thinking about sheep or goats, I think you’ll benefit from This Article.
Pigs are more labor-intensive than the other animals listed. They (like goats) can get out of a lot of fencing. Goats get out through cunning, pigs get out through brute strength, If I were to raise pigs again, I would raise them on pasture. I wouldn’t do it in a “pig pen” again.
Pastured pigs do much better anyway, and don’t damage the land as much as you would think if you have enough land for them. If they have found all the surface of the land has to offer, they will start rooting deeply. That really creates a mess, but actually is good for the land long-term.
The modern Homesteader will need skills in Animal Husbandry and Livestock Management. That could mean anything from hatching chicks to pulling calves during a difficult birth. Veterinarians are expensive, so you’ll probably only want to call them in an emergency. Speaking of emergencies… Find out if you have a Mobile Vet near you that will make “farm calls”. Have his number handy. Sooner or later you’ll need it.
Unless you move to a homestead that already has structures on the premises, you’ll need to have barns, sheds, shops, a chicken house, and other things. And unless you have unlimited funds, You will want to build those yourself. Therefore, you really need to develop a certain level of carpentry skills.
That doesn’t mean you need to know how to build a house, but it certainly would help if you know how to build a pole barn or a pole shed, or some other kind of out-building. Simple structures for livestock and such are really pretty easy to build. If you need a temporary structure or a portable structure, consider a cattle panel shed.
This is My Greenhouse Design, but I have also used it for a chicken house and a sheep shed, among other things. Actually, many people across the country have built it for small livestock. It’s very easy to build, and very inexpensive. I’ve had a few ladies that were grandmothers tell me they built one all by themselves, so anyone can do it. The Plans for the Greenhouse are very affordable and will save you both time and money.
You may want a structure that is more permanent. If so, a pole shed is a good first structure to start with. There are plenty of plans and ideas you can find online. It’s just a matter of learning some simple carpentry skills, like how to use a circular saw, screwdrivers, power nailers, etc.
I think carpentry skills is one of the most needed skills a homesteader can have. But I would place welding as a close second (plus, it’s just cool). If you have old equipment like tractors, mowers, and just about anything else agriculture-related, they will break, and they are usually made out of metal.
So a small, inexpensive wire welder and beginner-level welding skills could mean the difference between fixing it yourself or having to make a trip to town. It could also turn into a side income. I have the Hobart Handler 140, and it is a quality welder, but there are many that are less expensive that have great reviews on Amazon. Let the Amazon reviews guide your decision.
Welders make very good money. So instead of paying one of them to fix your stuff, fix it yourself and perhaps even offer to repair someone else’s broken items. You could pick up some extra money like that.
If you raise livestock you will either be selling them, or you will be eating them. If you choose to eat what you raise, having the skills to butcher your own animals is a huge plus. Although my dad was a butcher by trade, I am not. However, I have butchered several of my own animals. It’s really not hard, some of it is just common sense. You’ll have to get over any squeamishness you may have, but the actual job of butchering is not difficult.
Here is a video I did when I butchered one of my Lambs. Again, I’m not a butcher. I just did this video to prove that if I can do it anyone can do it.
I have butchered many chickens and rabbits and have helped others butcher pigs and deer. I even (and I’m not kidding) butchered part of a cow, laying in a field, that had just got struck by lightning. I absolutely did not know what I was doing, but I got a lot of meat off that animal before I left. I did it, and you can too. You won’t know until you try. You may be good at it and even enjoy it.
Canning is typically an indoor sport, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for the ladies. My wife does most of the canning on the homestead, but I have done quite a bit myself. Canning is hard work but is very enjoyable and is a skill every Homesteader needs to know.
There’s something special about sitting down to a meal that you grew yourself and preserved yourself. It’s a pretty satisfying experience. We use the All American Canners. They are built in the USA to be handed down as an heirloom. We have the All American 41.5 QT Canner. It does 14 QUARTS PER LOAD!
There are obviously other ways to preserve food. We have done a lot of dehydrating. If you decide to do that, you will need a good dehydrator. We have a 9-tray Excalibur Dehydrator, and we think it’s one of the best. Because it has 9 trays you can do a lot of food at one time. check it out at the Amazon link above.
Other ways of preserving food are Smoking, Fermenting, and Salt Curing. Jams and Jellies are another way of preserving fruit. A very tasty way! I have made jelly and so has my wife. and it’s very, very good. And another way to preserve your bounty is Winemaking. Yes, if you make wine from your own produce, that is a way of preserving that fruit. Here’s my article on Redneck Winemaking.
And here is one of My Videos on Redneck Winemaking. It has over a million views!
I think one of the reasons people choose to be homesteaders is they want to be at least partially self-sufficient. One way to achieve that is food storage. You can be storing food that you raised or food that you bought, but I think it is prudent that everyone has a measure of food storage put back. And again, that can be canning, dehydrating, or buying freeze-dried food that is already prepared.
A good company that sells freeze-dried food, probably the best, is Mountain House. we have bought several items from them, tried them, and found them to be delicious. Most people would not believe they’re eating freeze-dried food when they are eating Mountain House.
Follow this Amazon link and look at some of the entrees they have. These products have a 25-year shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about them spoiling before you eat them.
So whether you store only what you make or choose to store other items, please consider a food storage program. Times are uncertain, the climate is uncertain, and having long-term food storage it’s just a good insurance plan against those uncertainties.
My wife has never made soap but I did one time. I like to try just about everything. It really turned out well. The soap I made lasted so much longer than the soap you buy in stores and did an excellent job of scrubbing off the dirt and grime from the farm. So try soap making. It might be something you really enjoy, and there are many many college businesses based on making specialty soaps.
Since one of the goals of Homesteaders is to become self-sufficient, and if possible to try to make a full-time income from their Homestead, soap making just might be what you’re looking for.
I don’t have any soap making videos or articles, but there are many on the internet that will allow you to learn the skill. Again, if I can do it you can do it.
Controlling Predators goes hand-in-hand with raising small livestock. I’ve said before… If you have chickens on your property, everything that prowls in the woods is of the opinion that you brought those chickens home for their supper.
I’ve had my share of predators to kill chickens and even lambs. Over the years I have learned some methods that, for me have been foolproof. In this article, I give the best methods for controlling predators on your property, including predators of sheep and goats.
In this article, I write specifically about controlling predators that would come for your chickens. Don’t wait until you lose livestock to start taking predators seriously. They are serious about their supper, and you should be serious about stopping them.
A determined Predator can absolutely wipe out your livestock in just a few days. I had an opossum on my property that killed 13 of my chickens in less than a week before I could tell how he was accomplishing that. Needless to say, when I finally caught him, he didn’t kill any more chickens. But the damage had already been done. Many months of raising chickens to a laying age were wiped out in just a few days.
You must control your Predators. You must take them seriously. Read the articles above on Predators, and take the necessary steps to stop them in their tracks.
Speaking of tracks, it would be helpful if you knew what animal is coming on your property. If you have beginners level tracking skills and could identify the animal by its tracks, you are a step ahead in knowing how to prevent that particular animal from becoming a predator to your livestock.
My tracking skills are not great, but I can tell a cat from a canine and a raccoon from a possum by their tracks. By making that distinction, I can take measures to stop them.
Which leads to trapping. I’m not saying I’m a great trapper. That is one skill that I would like to learn a lot more about. I did buy a nice set of traps when I was having a coyote problem. But I solved that problem using an electric fence, which I discuss in both of the articles above on predators.
But trapping can be more than just protection against predators. It can also bring in income to the homestead. If you live on a property with a lot of fur-bearing animals, You can make extra money learning to trap and even learning to skin the animal and tan its hide. It’s not a skill I possess, but it is a skill I desire. You’re never too old to be learning new skills.
The skill of fishing, in my opinion, goes right along with food storage. the old expression “teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime” is so true. Fishing is a skill. I wish I was better at it. So, it doesn’t matter if you have your own pond and can harvest fish from it, or catch from the nearest lake. fishing is a great way to add protein to the table without a great expenditure of money… Unless you are prone to buying bass boats worth thousands of dollars… Don’t.
Fishing can mean casting a lure, or it could mean learning how to trotline, or even spearfish. All of the above are good ways to put fish on the table. Many people are now “archery fishing”. I’ve never done it, but it looks like a lot of fun, and I would love to try it.
So, if you can hone your fishing skills, (without breaking the family budget on a bass boat), I strongly encourage you to do so.
Hunting is another sport that is also a skill. Hunting can bring home a lot of protein just like fishing. If you deer hunt, you are going to probably want to develop the butchering skills I talked about earlier, instead of having someone else butcher your animal for you. Deer processors charge a lot of money to cut up a deer, but it’s so easy anyone can do it. Try to partner up with a hunter that possesses those skills and let him mentor you on the finer arts of deer processing.
Everyone needs to Have some level of first aid knowledge. If you are working on the homestead, you will get hurt. It is usually something small that just needs a bandage, but it could be something that needs stitches. If not on you perhaps on one of your animals.
One of my sheep got a cut on her head. A pretty nasty gash about an inch and a half long. I got some Super Glue, applied it to the cut, pinched it together, and she was as good as new. That was the first time I ever tried it, but it worked. And I was pretty proud of my doctoring skills!
Chainsaws, tractors, tillers, saws, hammers… just about everything you work with on the homestead is a potential accident. I’m not trying to scare you, I’m just being real. I’ve gotten my share of cuts and scrapes, but have never been seriously hurt. I’ve had friends that have lost their lives on the farm. I can look back on many times, (mostly when I did something stupid), that my life was in jeopardy, or at the very least I’ve could have gotten hurt pretty bad.
For that reason, I keep several Israeli Battle Dressings around. I carry one on my tractor. I carry one on my golf cart. I carry one in my vehicles. Just in case. It is designed to stop severe traumatic bleeding wounds and can be applied by a novice. I’ve never had to use one, and I hope I never do, but if I ever need it, I have it.
I would strongly suggest did you get one of these dressings. They’re inexpensive here on Amazon, and they could absolutely save your life or the life of someone you love.
There are so many more skills that would benefit a Homesteader to know. Skills like Beekeeping, Campfire Cooking, Fire-Starting, Auto (and tractor) Repair, Reloading, Blacksmithing, Horse Farrier, and so many others. Never stop learning!
As you continue your Homesteading Journey, never get complacent with your skill level. Always strive for more. Always seek some other skill or trade to learn.
After 40 years, I’m still seeking out new skills to learn. I hope to be doing that for many more years. And I hope to be sharing them with good folks like you.
My YouTube Channel has around 800 Videos where I share many of the skills I’ve talked about here and lots more. Check it out!