Thursday, October 29, 2015

Starting Your Homestead the Right Way

This post is an addition to and an expansion of the Tips for Picking Your Forever Homestead post. In it we gave you a system to use to evaluate property, eliminate the ones that do not fit your family and your hopes, and pick the one that you can hopefully make your forever home. I believe this post will help you.

Honest Self Evaluation


Why am I starting here? This is actually the single most important aspect of whether or not you will be able to achieve your goals in anything, even more so on your homestead.

Your knowledge, skill,  physical ability, and the amount of time and money you can invest will determine what you can accomplish and how quickly you can do so. Some things on a homestead have a steep learning curve. If you are like I am, you will quickly find that your greatest limitations are time and money. If you have more of one than the other there are still things you can do, but it is a lot tougher.

By doing an honest self evaluation you may find that you will have to adjust your timeline. We will get a lot deeper into that later, but you must have a good understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

Set Homestead Goals

I believe that most people have goals in mind when they do most things, even if that goal is something that others would think unimportant. If something is a goal, it is important to you. Setting goals when it comes to a homestead is a not that much different from setting goals for a career. You have to decide the destination that you wish to achieve. George Harrison had a line in a song that went, "If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there." This is even more so when it comes to your homestead. Here are somethings to ask yourself and some considerations for each.
  • Are you wanting to make an income from your homestead?
  • Are you wanting to produce most of your family's food?
  • Do you want to have animals on your homestead?
  • Are you willing to market a product?
  • Are you willing to allow people to come to your homestead?
 Not setting goals is a big mistake. It doesn't matter if you are wanting to completely make a living off of your land or if you are just wanting to be as self sustainable as possible, goals are necessary.

Have a Plan for Your Land

If you used the selection process we suggested in Tips for Picking Your Forever Homestead, you already have a preliminary plan. You should take the time to develop this plan before you get too far into the process.

I have known some people who once they purchased a piece of land they started planting things. They didn't have a plan at all. They would place a tree here and a shrub there and something else over there. There was no rhyme or reason to where they put anything. If someone were to purchase the land from them, they would have either had to cut or move trees and shrubs to be able to do most anything.

Graph paper is your friend. You can scale up or down your plan based on the size of your property and the size of the graph paper. Even if you have to get one of the big pieces of poster board that has the really faint grid, I would use one of these. You can do a proper layout of your property plan with blank paper, but you will have to establish a scale and use a ruler to get the measurements correct. If you just hand sketch your plan the measurements will be off and it will be easy to make mistakes. Take this extra step.

Don't be too Devoted to Your Plan

I know I just told you that you had to have a plan and now I am telling you not to be too devoted to the plan. You may be wondering, what the hay? Your plan is a guide and shouldn't be set in stone. You will find as you begin working toward your goals that somethings just will not work like you thought they would. Even if you did your research, things will pop up. You may find that in the part of your land that you had hoped to put a vineyard the soil is to shallow. You could find that an area has a wet weather spring or any number of other things. You should be able to adjust your plan while staying true to your goals. Who knows? You may even find that your goals change as you truly learn your land.

Are you wanting to make an income from your homestead?

If you are hoping to make an income or even more so a living off of your homestead there are more things you should consider.

Your homestead becomes a business.

As soon as you decide that you wish to make an income from your homestead it becomes a business and should be treated as such. You will have to track expenses and income. You will have to evaluate possible markets, what products to market, how much effort will you have to apply to produce your product, what is an acceptable profit margin, and finally how much to price your product.

What are you planning on offering to make a living?

If you are planning on selling a product you will need to consider what your market is going to be. There is no shortage of things that can be offered for sale. Some things like artisan soaps or crafts can be made anywhere and shipped. Others require a close proximity to your market. What things can you grow or make that would have a demand in your area?

We will look at selling chicken eggs because it is the most common commodity sold from most small scale homesteads.

If you live in a rural area or even drive through one you have probably seen a small sign stuck up in someone's yard that reads "Fresh eggs for sale". Around here the average price for a dozen homestead eggs is between $1.50 and $3.00 a dozen. You may be wondering how you can make any money selling eggs for $1.50 a dozen. The simple answer is you can't, no matter where you are. If you are wanting to make a decent side income from chicken eggs you will have to go far beyond the sign in front of your house.

How could you make a profit from chicken eggs?

First, produce a superior product. The eggs you buy in the grocery store are the lowest quality that should be considered for human consumption. Those chickens never see the outside world. Most are caged in a very small area, their entire lives consist of eating and drinking what is placed in front of them and laying eggs. No bugs, no scratching, no life. By giving your chickens a life and access to grass and insects their quality of life is much greater. If your chickens have a better quality of life and better nutrition they will produce higher quality eggs.

Second, find a market that cares about better quality. You are not going to make any money trying to compete with the prices at your local grocery store or Wal Mart. That is just a fact. These places support industrial agriculture. The best markets for good quality food is upper middle income areas. These people are willing to pay for higher quality and many of them truly care about where their food comes from. This is a growing trend. People are beginning to reject the idea of factory farms.

Third, price your products fairly and include a good profit. How do I do that? You will need to spend some time and learn how to use a spreadsheet. You will need to include all of the costs to produce the product and a profit. This can be a tricky process so let's work our way through with chicken eggs.

Purchasing chicks. For the purpose of this exercise we will consider production red chickens. Pullets run around $2.77 each when you buy 50 or more. These ladies will not start laying till they are around 22 weeks of age. On average they will lay for two to three years and normally lay an egg every 25 hours. This will slow down some during winter months and during times of molt. You will have to figure how much it will cost to feed and water each hen over the course of her life add that to the cost of purchase, then divide that by the average number of eggs she could be expected to produce. This will give you the cost of goods sold. The average hen will lay around 530 during her lifetime.
Note: I do not include housing costs in my figures because this cost can be amortized over many years if constructed well.

There are several things that will impact the cost of production, some of these things include: what type of feed you use, whether or not you provide supplemental lighting, how much your birds are allowed to forage, at what age you cull your hens, how you purchase the egg cartons. We could keep going, but this should give you a good idea. After you do all of this, you will have a good understanding of what it costs you to produce each dozen eggs. A good range of cost of production is between $1.75 - $2.50 per dozen. This is what it will cost you to have your hens produce these eggs. If you charge less than this you are taking a loss. In order to make a profit you will have to charge more for these eggs than the cost of production plus what it costs you to sell them plus your profit margin. This is why you will see free range eggs for anywhere between $5.00 to $8.00 per dozen. Again I only used eggs as an example because it is a really good illustration.

Offer things that are unique but would have demand

Around here I wouldn't try to sell chicken eggs. I have been researching a couple of different idea. One is producing kiwis. Kiwis are expensive and if I can offer locally and naturally grown kiwis, I believe I could have a good market quickly, that would have a nice profit margin. No one is growing kiwi locally and I have other ideas as well.

Another idea I have been playing around with would be plant propagation. Figs, blueberries, blackberries, and kiwis can be propagated by cuttings. I am wanting to take it a step further and create something really unique, blueberries and apple trees produce better with a cross pollinator. Why not graft different varieties of blueberries together to produce one plant that will benefit itself with cross pollination. Apple trees have been done this way, but to have someone who could create a plant that is designed for your area would be really nice. This would be a major win for those with small spaces. You will have to use your imagination and work that spreadsheet.

Now I want to point out the end of the last heading "but would have a demand". If you have an idea and no one is doing anything like it anywhere close to where you are think really hard about your idea. It could be that there is not sufficient demand to support a business. You will have to do your research.

Over estimate time requirements

I had to learn this one the hard way. If you really want to get yourself in a bind, give yourself only the amount of time you think it will take to get something done. Normally you will find that you underestimate by a bit. Sometimes by a good bit. Until you have learned the ins and outs of a job or project always overestimate the amount of time it will take to complete. If you get it done quicker, you will have more time for other things. If not you haven't put yourself in a bind.

Don't try to do too much too fast

Unless you have a good deal of experience in farming or homesteading this is a real danger. Many times we want to jump in with both feet into whatever new adventure we are pursuing.  Homesteading should not be that way. If you try to do too much too quickly you are likely to not see the results you had hoped for. It is easy to get discouraged and want to give up. By pacing ourselves we can reduce the likelihood of frustration and burnout. Failures are going to happen, that is just part of life. How we deal with those failures is what matters most.

Always evaluate your results

This is something that we really should be doing in all of our life. At the end of a family weekend I always ask "What was your favorite part? What was your least favorite?". This is a simple evaluation. On the homestead we have to be a little more thorough with our evaluation. What plant did well and where? What plant had difficulties? How can we improve the fencing to reduce predator impact on our livestock? What sold best? What product did we offer that had the greatest profit margin? How can we improve.

This year our pastor gave us several plants. None of them were labeled. Some you could simply look at and know they were tomatoes of some variety, we couldn't tell what kind, but at least that was something. Others we had no idea what they were till they grew much bigger. One of the tomato plants that was given to us was a type of cherry tomato. This plant has really outdone itself. It has produced incredibly well and the fruits have an amazing flavor. This plant will be in the mix from now on. Some varieties of sauce tomatoes do better than others in our garden. Our jalapenos have done really well, but they are too small to be used in some of the ways my wife wants. This variety will still be included in our garden, but in fewer numbers and we will continue to search for a jumbo jalapeno variety that will do well here. What types of herbs do we use most? Can we grow those here?

Evaluating your results will help you tweak your plan for next year. Your homestead and its results should get better each year. There will be years when there will be extenuating circumstances that may have to be allowed for as well. Things like a really wet year, a really dry year, a late frost, or an early frost will impact your results. Notes should be taken on all of these things and plans should be developed to deal with all of these possibilities.

 The Gardening Notebook is the ultimate gardening tool. This printable notebook has over 120 pages of information and organization to help you have the garden you've always dreamed of.

I hope you enjoyed this post and podcast. I know for some this has been really in depth and for others it has just scratched the surface. If you will use these suggestions you really can make your homestead into something of which you can be proud.

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