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how to homestead: 8 lessons learned in the first year

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Learning how to homestead isn’t just all about aesthetic Cottagecore Instagram profiles, cute baby animals, and a slow lifestyle. It’s not for the faint of heart.

It’s been an eventful first year at Arda Acres simultaneously feeling like it started yesterday and has been existing for 10+ years.

two people in front of a wyoming sign - how to homestead

Jumping headfirst into this lifestyle has brought innumerable learning experiences and a wealth of knowledge we could never have learned from just reading books and watching YouTube videos. For two Millennials who grew up with the majority of our food from grocery stores and just companion pets, it’s been a whirlwind.

What’s fascinating is that I’m one generation separated from true homesteaders and farmers on both sides of my family. On one side, farmers who emigrated to the United States from Sicily to start over completely in order to provide their family with a better life. And on the other side, homesteaders who raised their own food, had no indoor plumbing or electricity, and did homework by candlelight after chores were done.

All of this, not a choice for my grandparents, but out of necessity. And our choice is to move back to this way of living albeit incorporating some luxuries of modernity.

Many of these lessons I share are applicable to all walks of life. I hope these lessons benefit you wherever you’re at in your journey or at least provide some humor or insight into modern homesteading and the desire for greater self-sovereignty.

how to homestead: lessons from our first year

lesson 1: under and overestimating

Oh man, Rex and I always have the best of intentions when we tackle a new project. We learned pretty quickly on that every project takes longer and costs more than anticipated.

Especially when living rurally, we sometimes cannot find the right equipment or materials nearby or in an economical way to purchase for projects. So gathering supplies can actually take the longest time for a project.

man measuring wood to be cut - how to homestead

This can be a frustrating lesson for a punctual, type A planner like myself. I love to mark tasks off a list same day, finish projects, add new ones and let that sweet, sweet dopamine hit my brain.

I’ve had to learn to take things slower, expect to put projects down and pick them up over weeks or months, and to have realistic expectations.

Have I fully mastered this? Absolutely not.

Our toxic trait is anticipating a project to take 3 hours and it actually take 3 days.

Maybe we’ll learn eventually or are high expectations a virtue? You tell me.

lesson 2: highs are high but lows are low

This lesson is more so related to our animals. There’s nothing cuter than baby animals and seeing them grow up and thrive.

And there is nothing worse than seeing them fail to thrive and resorting to culling them for their own well-being.

eggs hatching in an incubator - how to homestead

We adore our animals and any cull or death hangs heavy on our hearts even months later. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the images in my mind from mercy culls.

And then there’s the questioning of what could we have done differently?

Was it our fault?

And the guilt that comes with sometimes not ever knowing that answer.

Days have been spent Googling, researching issues, and asking questions of those who know more than us to sometimes still not know the answer to why something went wrong. And that’s just life.

I’m sure when it comes to butchering our own animals that we’ve loved on daily, we will have a very rough time. We’ve helped butcher chickens for a friend, but those weren’t ours that we raised from hatchlings.

As silly as it is, I think about Juno’s lifespan (our livestock guardian dog) and it saddens me that I may only have 10 years more with her. And the same goes for my other animals, even the ones we intend to eat.

white dog sitting on yellow straw - how to homestead

But I actually think this is healthy. Too many humans nowadays are blind to where their food comes from.

If people didn’t purposefully turn a blind eye to how commercial livestock are treated, I don’t believe these large, uncaring, unhygienic, and destructive industrial farms would exist. And my belief is that smaller, decentralized food systems would grow.

Your average small, local farmer and rancher loves their animals as much as we love ours. But they recognize that humans need food too and provide their animals with a great life with only one bad day.

We intend to do the same.

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lesson 3: the right clothes and tools go a long way

Arda Acres is the first home we’ve owned. So imagine moving from apartment life in warmer climates to Wyoming with animals and land to take care of. It feels like we’ve been playing catch up this whole year.

I suffered through most of the winter in flimsy Walmart rain boots before I bought some Muck Boots off of eBay. Holy cow, I kicked myself for not purchasing them sooner!

Same goes for proper gloves. There is nothing worse than a cold windy day with frozen toes and fingers.

footprints in snow under a tree - how to homestead

Once I purchased those two items, my winter experience drastically improved.

There are also times where we’ve debated rigging something up instead of purchasing a piece of equipment. Now we still do that MacGyvering, but the proper tool can make life so much easier and actually less expensive. 

Do not wear rain boots you bought in Alabama to take care of animals in a Wyoming winter.

how does this grow self-sovereignty?

Any bit of self-sufficiency knowledge or skills we can add to our repertoire, the more self-sovereign we become. This year has been full of learning what to do and what not to do.

Not shying away from hard or daunting tasks help us better take care of ourselves and our land for future use.

lesson 4: the cheapest option isn’t always the best option

Sorta on the same note as the last lesson. Owning a home, land, and animals isn’t cheap. And coming from an apartment we had nothing related to home care let alone land and animals.

Craigslist, FB Marketplace, and local auctions have all been great resources but sometimes cheapest isn’t best. This even applies to hired help.

“Cheapest isn’t best” is now something we state when deciding a path forward on a project because we’ve had some rather bad experiences when trying to save a dollar.

Hint: more times than I’d like to say, the cheapest option ended up costing us more!

While the cheapest isn’t always the worst, it’s good to evaluate why a person or piece of equipment is the cheapest option. Not everyone has the best intentions for others in mind.

green pastures with hay bales on it under blue skies

lesson 5: those not homesteading, farming, ranching won’t understand your situation

Honestly this can be applied to any role or industry. No one will ever understand anyone else fully unless they’re that person.

I don’t even understand the life and requirements of those on a larger scale than us. Everyone is unique and has unique situations with land, water, environment, etc.

lesson 6: never pay up front for livestock without a contract

I cannot get into the details of this lesson but suffice it to say, don’t trust people even if they seem nice. We were just a month or so into living on Arda Acres and I was super excited about a new addition to our homestead. I was also dumb.

I have since learned to reign in my enthusiasm.

Contracts protect everyone. While we did get our money back, the situation could have gone way worse. We were lucky.

black goat closeup of face sitting in a chair

lesson 7: community is everything

Rex and I are unbelievably lucky to have moved next to some amazing neighbors that have generously given their time and effort to help us out.

Our lives have been drastically improved by their presence and we attempt to pay them back however we can even when they refuse payment.

I’ve even made fantastic connections through social media that I relish for the relationships and knowledge shared. Social media isn’t all bad.

A good community and good neighbors make all the difference. Be the neighbor you wish you had.

two people in a loafing shed by piles of hay

lesson 8: you will be BUSY

Now I knew we’d be busy, but I didn’t realize we’d be BUSY. There truly is no true downtime. There is always a project to finish, something to fix or improve, research to be done, etc.

Think winter is downtown? Think again.

We’ve already pushed projects to winter that can be done indoors because outdoor projects take priority in better weather.

And I don’t anticipate this fast pace to change.

But let me tell you this lifestyle sure beats a corporate job in a cubicle all to pieces.

cat sitting on a fence post in green pastures

So if you’re interested in this lifestyle, my advice (after one whole whopping year of experience) is to go for it.

Even if you’re in an apartment like we were, you can learn to bake bread from scratch, read and research how to homestead and take care of animals, and plan out your future homestead setup.

Everyone needs a bit more sovereignty in their lives over food, health, and lifestyle and homesteading can make that a reality.

Let’s see what year two has to bring us!

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  1. Best wishes on year number two! I enjoyed all your photography and honesty in this post. Youre right, it’s so important to know where our food is coming from!

  2. I couldn’t agree more about how some people today are blind to where the food comes from :/ It’s refreshing to know there are still people out there who can love animals and still use them for meat.

  3. These are so true, and many I have had to learn also! Thanks for sharing, hopefully others will not have to make the same mistakes when starting out after reading your post!

  4. great blog! some of these lessons we learned just owning a home haha! but great way to show the reality of homesteading and not just the social media portrayel!

    1. Well that makes me feel better too! Haha It’s always good to know when your own experiences match those in a similar situation.

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