Producing food for your family is a goal for most homesteading families on the path to self-sufficiency.
Taking control of your food supply means more stability and less worry. You know what went into it and where it’s been.
You can incorporate sustainable practices that improve your production over time.
Plus, fresh, homegrown farm products taste better.
You can find a way to produce food regardless of where you are in your journey or the resources available to you. Small steps can make a big difference in understanding where your food comes from.
The food production options that I list below are meant to be a progression. Trying to tackle all of them at once can often lead to overwhelm and burnout.
I didn’t tackle them all when we first started homesteading. It was a slow progression as we tried to master one project before moving on to the next.
When we started our garden, I quickly learned I wasn’t the only individual who enjoyed fresh tomatoes. I had to learn how to keep other animals out of the garden.
Our first attempt at chickens resulted in 6 out of 6 chicks who were roosters.
Our first attempt at pigs resulted in runaway swine.
I’m still battling dairy goats who can climb fences. Let’s not even mention sticking to a milking schedule.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t master all of these at once. You may not even live in an area where goats or chickens are an option. Do what you can manage and work your way up.
4 Ways to Produce Food for Your Family
Start a Garden
Growing a garden is an easy first step for people who want to produce their own food. You can get started with minimal investment and within the space limitations available.
Don’t get wrapped up in the idea that you don’t know how to garden. There is no better teacher than doing.
Past failures don’t matter. I can guarantee I’ve killed more plants than you. The key is to keep at least a couple of them alive.
Choose plants that you enjoy eating. There is no point in growing lettuce if you hate salad.
Decide if you want to start from seeds or seedlings. Don’t let the idea of starting from seed intimidate you. A lot of plants like corn, beans, squash, and carrots do best when started from seed.
If you do decide to purchase seedlings, choose ones that are young, but established. You want to select a plant that looks healthy without any evidence of fungal issues like spots on leaves or black spots on the stem.
Some leaf damage is to be expected, especially if you are purchasing organically grown seedlings, but you want to check to make sure you aren’t bringing any pests home with you.
You do not want plants that are too crowded. A container with 10 seedlings in it may look like a good value, but many of those seedlings will be damaged when you try to separate them.
As a general rule, you don’t want more than three seeds per hole, and they will need to be thinned before the plant reaches maturity.
The next step is to ensure you have good soil. Soil need to have three basic components: organic matter, air, and water. A rich soil that holds a lot of moisture won’t do you any good if it’s too dense and the roots rot. Likewise, sandy soil will need to be amended because it lacks nutrients and moisture retention.
If you are purchasing a bagged mix from the store, pay close attention to what you are buying. “Garden Soil”, compost, and manure are meant to be mixed with your existing soil. They are too dense to be used directly and will burn or rot your plants. “Potting Soil” is a balanced blend that can be used directly in containers or raised beds without any mixing.
Next, you will need to have a plan for feeding and watering your plants. Vegetable plants need a lot of water and nutrients to produce food. They can get many of these nutrients from the soil, but you’ll need to encourage a deep root system to help them find what they need.
Rather than watering every day, plan to water for several minutes every other day. You can hand water small gardens, but you may find it’s easier to utilize drip irrigation on a timer for larger gardens.
Your feeding schedule will depend largely upon how you are growing your vegetables as well as the quality of your soil. Loamy soil that is rich in organic matter may need little if any fertilization. Sandy soil may need fertilized every other week. Container gardens will also need fertilized more frequently.
Watch your plants to see if they appear to be struggling or faltering in growth or production. Bless them with a balanced fertilizer when it looks like they could use a boost. I also like to fertilize mine at the beginning of each month to help keep them healthy.
There are a number of organic fertilizers available on the market that are usually a blend of kelp meal, fish emulsions, bone meal, etc. The one I use most often is Jobe’s Organic Heirloom Tomato and Vegetable Plant Food. It smells like dead fish, so I have to water it in to keep my dogs and cats from eating my fertilizer. It’s a granule, so it keeps my plants fed the whole month.
You’ll also want to walk your garden every day to look for problems. It is important to catch diseases, nutrient deficiencies, and pests early so they can be addressed before they cause distress to your plants.
Learn More: Low Maintenance No-Till Gardening
Raise Poultry for Eggs
Chickens are a common first animal for many new homesteaders. They’re easy to keep, require very little maintenance, and they poop breakfast.
What you may not have considered is chickens aren’t the only poultry you can raise for egg production. Ducks, quail, and turkeys are all popular substitutes. If you are feeling really adventurous, some people even raise guineas, emu, and ostrich for their eggs. (You may not want to go the ostrich route unless you’re feeding an army every morning.)
Determining factors for choosing the bird that best suits your homestead vary between size, noise, personalities, flavor, and production needs.
One factor that remains the same across the various types of poultry is the need for predator protection. Most of the birds we raise for eggs are prey animals and are vulnerable to predator attacks. They need shelter and a predator-proof house to lock them in at night. Depending upon your predator load, they may also need cover from ariel predators like hawks and owls.
Learn More: Raising Ducks for Eggs
Producing Your Own Milk
The two main animals used for milk production are goats and cows.
Goat are convenient because they eat less and require less space to raise. Many small homesteads that cannot accommodate a cow find they are able to keep goats.
Goats produce less milk than cows, which can be a better option for smaller families that may not be able to use more than a gallon of milk per day. On the other hand, families that need more milk may find goats to be too much work for the decreased milk production.
Goats are also easy to handle if you are intimidated by large livestock. While dairy cows are usually gentle by nature, they can be pushy and intimidating to someone new to owning livestock.
On the other hand, cows tend to be easier on fences. There’s a saying that if a fence can hold water, it might hold a goat.
Goat milk is rich and tastes a lot like cow milk when it is fresh and unpasteurized. Heating the milk tends to give goat milk a musky flavor, similar to what you experience with store-bought goat milk. For this reason, I like to drink fresh goat milk, but I still prefer cow milk for cooking.
The decision to produce your own milk is not for the faint of heart. Dairy animals need to be milked twice a day to keep up their milk production. Skipped or late milkings can decrease milk production very quickly. You need to consider if your lifestyle allows for keeping a regular milking schedule.
Dairy animals also need to be bred on a recurring schedule to keep them in milk. For goats, this is typically every year. Cows are typically bred every two years.
Consider how you will breed your dairy animals. Will you keep a male, borrow one, or artificially inseminate? Will you need assistance from a veterinarian?
Do you have a local mentor available to help coach you through labor and delivery? Do you know how to care for young animals and their needs?
It may sound like a lot, but I can also tell you that it is a wonderful experience. I love breeding animals and working toward making each generation better. Milking may not always be convenient, but I find it immensely satisfying. Plus, I prefer raw milk over pasteurized.
Raising Your Own Meat
The decision to raise animals for meat is a personal one. Some people are never able to do it. Others find it easier to hunt than raise their own because they haven’t developed an emotional bond.
I grew up around farming, so I learned at an early age that there is a difference between pets and animals raised for food. I still care about my meat animals, but there is a certain emotional distance there. It doesn’t mean there isn’t sadness when butcher day comes; it’s still emotionally draining. I guess you could say it’s more of an acceptance.
It’s also different from losing a pet. Losing a pet feels more like having my heart ripped out of my chest.
So why do we do it?
First of all, I try to make sure all of my animals live happy, healthy lives. They have space to live comfortably.
They have fresh food and water. They live in the fresh air and sunshine.
And when the day comes, we try to make it as quick and humane as possible.
We have also found homegrown meat to have far more flavor than what we’ve purchased from the store. Our focus isn’t necessarily on growing them fast and butchering them as young as possible, so the flavor has more time to develop. We aren’t trying to grow them as lean as possible either. Fat adds flavor and makes the meat more tender.
You have a wide variety of options when choose a meat animal. If you have the space on your land and in your freezer, you can raise beef cows or pigs. Smaller homesteads have the option to raise meat goats, meat chickens, quail, ducks, or meat rabbits.
I recommend selecting animals that have been specifically bred for meat production. You will find that they grow faster and have a better conversion ratio of feed to muscle.
The younger an animal is when it is butchered, the more tender the meat. On the flipside, the meat of older animals tends to have more flavor. You will probably find your preference somewhere in the middle.
Learn More: Why Every Rural Homestead Should Have a Pig
Food stability begins at home. The more food you are able to produce for your family, the less dependant you are upon the production practices of others.
You won’t be affected by the next food recall.
You won’t need to worry about price increases.
Your ability to eat healthy will no longer be dictated by your budget.
How are you taking control of your food supply? Leave a comment below.