Three years ago I retired from the US. Army. My wife and I relocated to Linesville PA where my grandparents farm was. It is a small farm (43 acres) comparable to the other farms nearby. On this land there was an old farm house built sometime in the late 1800's, an old barn and no fencing for pastures. In the past 3 yrs we have rebuilt the old farm house. We replaced the windows, rewired the electric, insulated the walls, updated the kitchen and baths, resided the house and replaced the roof.
One of the first thing we did with the exception to the house remodel was to put in an apple orchard, blueberry, black raspberry and red raspberry bushes, nut trees/bushes and established a location for the garden. Our next priority of work was to build a new barn and to emplace fencing for cattle. Due to the winter of that year we had a hard time getting the fence posts driven into the ground due to the frost. Thanks to a warm spell we were able to get the pasture ready for our beef cows about 2 weeks before they were delivered.
So for those of you looking to make the leap and start homesteading, here are some top items that WE feel are important.
1. Make a plan: Always have a plan. Make sure it is fluid or a flexible one that can be changed in the next hour. Something will always come up or your priorities WILL change. Do not spend to much time putting much detail in this, it will change or you may not ever start.
2. Start somewhere, anywhere. We started by putting in Fruit trees, berry bushes, nut trees/bushes. We choose this due to a 5-6 year turn around on the trees producing fruit. We also established a garden area. The area we chose had a slight slope to help with water run off. The area was also part of an old pasture. With that being said this year 2016 was the first year that the ground became rich enough for a good planting season.
3. Keep your "PETS" to a minimum: A good rule of thumb is "Every animal should and must serve a purpose. Examples: PIGS=Bacon, COWS=Milk/Beef, CHICKENS=Eggs/Meat. Remember, your "PETS" also require feed which equals more $$$$$$. Some "PETS" are needed such as a few barn cats to keep the mice, rats and snakes out of your areas.
4. Develop some skills: You will need some skills. Chain Saw-You will need to learn how to use one SAFELY. Just because you watched a YOUTUBE video on how to use one DOES not make you a safe operator. Find a neighbor that has and ask them to teach you. Butchering: Remember back to all animals serve a purpose. Now is not the time to be sensitive. That chicken has a broke foot, you need to learn how to humanely kill and process that chicken for dinner. Now YOUTUBE might benefit you on this one.
5. Shoot for interdependence, not just independence. Engage with your neighbors-they will help you (most will) all you have to do is ask. Now they might also need your assistance doing something. This is also a chance to Develop some skills. Unless you have the cash upfront, you probably will not have the equipment such as post hole diggers, tillers, plows, fence stretchers, tractors or trailers. You might have to trade off some free help in return for some of them. Engaging with your neighbors whether it's through trading skills or creating friendships will prove particularly helpful in these early stages of creating a homestead since you haven’t had the time to build up your own resources.
6. Barter: "The action or system of exchanging goods or services without using money" There is nothing wrong with this. We have been approached by many people asking if we barter. The answer each time is YES. Now I wouldn't trade a half a hog for a dozen eggs. It has to be close to what the monetary value is on both items, also you have to have a need for what they are offering. examples....Cucumbers for green peppers, squash for peas, potatoes for apples.
7. Always "PRODUCE" for yourself first. If you do not have enough for your self or family do not barter or sell. With that being said, if all you need is 5 pepper plants plant 7. Sell the produce from the other two and that will cover your cost on your 5. This equals to "FREE" Same goes to anything else that you grow or raise. Always add a couple of extra to sell in order to keep your costs down.