Complete food self-sufficiency is the homesteading dream.
Generally, we’ve been satisfied with producing enough green vegetables for the table with a few months of good roots.
We’ve also sporadically raised chickens for meat, usually in batches of 25.
We’ve also raised some herbs to spice things up, along with chickens and ducks for egg production.
We’ve kept milk goats.
But we found them to be too much trouble, so we switched to milk cows.
We raised rabbits for a year or so, but found the management to be too much work.
We had about 25 cages of rabbits at one point. They just weren’t for us, though – or the Florida climate.
And this year, we finally raised a pair of hogs and discovered them to be very productive.
Pigs are going to be part of our homestead from now on. Last week we bought six more.
But can we raise all our own food?
Yet raising all our meat and produce and roots? Would that be possible?
It’s starting to look possible. We now own over ten acres, and managed to produce over 2500 lbs of produce, over 3,000 eggs, hundreds of gallons of milk, and about 500lbs of meat this year. And that’s just the first year we’ve lived on this land.
We also produced all that on about seven acres of space, not on the complete space we own. And most of the space we used was cow pasture, not even high-production space. The pen where we kept our two pigs was just 512 ft2, and our garden was 5265 ft2. Our chickens live in about 750 ft2.
One of the big issues with raising animals is keeping them fed. Currently, we don’t have to buy feed for the chickens or the pigs because we made a deal with a local restaurant to cart away a trashcan of scraps daily. Those scraps include vegetable peelings, cooked meat, shrimp shells, eggshells, noodles and more. It’s a rather balanced diet for omnivores like chickens and pigs!
If we couldn’t get that kind of deal, however, we would have to add a lot more gardening space in order to keep the animals fed.
If we wanted to just eat a vegetarian diet, it wouldn’t be too hard to make a bunch more cassava and yam beds, and increase our production of potatoes, sweet potatoes and other filling crops. However, a vegetarian diet is less than ideal, so instead, we could grow some of those crops and use them to feed animals – then eat the animals and/or their eggs/milk. We plan to add more Jerusalem artichokes to the homestead this year as those are particularly good for pig feed.
That’s the current goal as a backup to buying feed and collecting restaurant waste – grow more calorie-dense vegetables we can then convert into meat.
Reaching complete and utter self-sufficiency is unlikely, since we’ll still be buying some coffee, flour, some spices, bourbon, etc.; yet we’re certainly getting closer.
If we wanted to be purists, we could live pretty well on yams and pork. We had mashed yams and a smoked pork roast last night for Christmas dinner.
Rachel mixed in a few small purple yams with one large white one, hence the lavender mashed yams! Both varieties were cultivars of Dioscorea alata.
The cows give us milk, cheese, yogurt and butter, which they make from grass.
That’s homemade cheese with freshly baked bread.
We buy our wheat and grind it, however, so that isn’t coming from our farm.
We don’t have to buy cooking oil since we got gallons of lard from our pigs.
What else could be done?
We could also:
- Make our own raw sugar from sugarcane
- Stop buying coffee and drink yaupon tea instead
- Stop buying wheat berries and grow corn as our grain
- Plant large swaths of productive brassicas to feed the cows in winter instead of buying hay
- Add a dozen high-production egg-layers with low feed input needs (Leghorns!) to the chicken flock
- Grow more food in the greenhouse
Trying to be completely free of the grocery and feed store isn’t easy, but we are definitely getting closer. Some items, like salt, are simply impossible to replace on our homestead.
However, if the grocery stores closed tomorrow, we wouldn’t be hungry for a long time. We would just miss some things. We have over 100lbs of yams and 200lbs of pumpkins on the porch, with over 400lbs of pork in the freezer – and in a few months, spring will be here and we could quickly add a lot more to our food supply as the weather warms up and gardening gets going again.
We have been truly blessed to have land of our own again. The gardening and homesteading lessons we’ve learned over the years have helped us utilize it well, even in the first year of ownership.
Even if we don’t ever make it to full self-sufficiency on food, we certainly eat a good diet.
Rachel sent this picture of a home-raised egg a few minutes ago:
Look at how orange that egg yolk is! That’s some serious nutrition.
Our meals often consist of whatever is in season.
I’m curing some bacon in the fridge this week, so we won’t even have to buy that anymore.
And we eat homemade live-fermented pickles and sauerkraut all the time.
So how do you Reach Food Self-Sufficiency?
Food self-sufficiency is a goal you can reach for one day at a time.
First, learn to grow some vegetables. Get one garden growing well.
Then plant some fruit and nut trees.
Then, add a few chickens and learn how to raise them.
Then plant bigger gardens and learn how to dehydrate, can and pickle.
Then you can move on to a couple of pigs or sheep or goats or even cows.
Read a lot, make long-term goals, get your hands dirty and don’t give up.
And don’t just buy a bunch of animals and then spend money buying them feed. Build as you can, and grow as you can, keeping in mind that you want assets, not liabilities.
A cow that eats hay all winter and produces nothing is a liability.
A cow that produces more value in milk than she consumes in feed is an asset.
Pigs in a pen that you feed from the feed store and never butcher are an expensive hobby.
Pigs that are raised on “waste” and then butchered at a good size are an asset.
Sometimes we have to buy things, and that’s fine – but over time, we can move closer and closer to closing the loop on our homesteads and producing great food without spending too much to grow or raise it.
And remember, you don’t have to start with a big working homestead.
Just putting in a little garden and growing some organic tomatoes and cucumbers is a great start. Keep on going from there and you’ll be amazed at what you accomplish!
Our fruit trees aren’t even producing yet. Just wait until they kick in…
You can sure get close via concerted effort over time, even on a small homestead. Within a week I’ll post our final food production numbers for the year in the annual “year in review” post. Keep watching for that.
And if you want to reach food self-sufficiency, stop dreaming and start doing. One piece at a time.
Finally… Merry Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr for Christ.