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Homesteading Skills You Need to Master

Look virtually anywhere on the internet and you will find tons of exhaustive lists of recommended homesteading and off-grid skills that you must have or must learn. It seems each author finds different skills important. Part of the confusion results from quite a bit of overlap and more than a little ambiguity about the differences between homesteading, and off-grid living.

The terms mean different things to different people. The result is those skill lists can often be confusing and overwhelming. You may finish an article wondering the following:

The reality is that no one could possibly write an article that would give each person one definitive list as to where to start and where to focus because every single person differs in their knowledge and skill levels, current situation and their plan for the future. This article will categorize the skills with a brief description of why they are needed. It’s designed to help you create your custom learning plan.

making apple sauce: a popular homesteading skill

1. Evaluate your current living situation and think about your future goals:

  • What knowledge and skills do you have already?
  • How do you want your living style to be different in a year?
  • What about five, or even ten years from now?

2. On a piece of paper or in a blank computer document, create five columns and label them as 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. It may help to have a goal for each time period written at the top. For example, in 3 months I want to be more prepared for emergencies. Or 6 months from now I want to have my own garden.

3. Skim our major categories first. Based on your preferences and goals, there may be some entire categories you can skip or read later. If you have an aversion to killing animals yourself for example, you can skip over the list of skills under animal processing. If you want to live off-grid and have a garden but have no interest in having or raising animals, you can skip the animal care and animal processing sections.

4. Look at each category and prioritize the skills you feel you will need to learn in the next 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc. based on your current knowledge and future goals. Write them in the appropriate column. If you’re not sure whether to include a skill, try to related it to your goals or just list it last in that section. You can always decide later whether to actually pursue it or not.

5. When you finish, you’ll have a customized learning plan to get where you want to go. Focus on learning the skills you listed under the 3-month column first and when you’ve mastered those, move on to the next column.

Ready to get started?

Shelter Building

Building a temporary or permanent shelter is a crucial skill to have as well. Animals on the homestead need shelter from the elements. Although you may start out with a sturdy barn, you may find that your animals need some kind of temporary or even a permanent shelter out in the pasture.

  • How to make a shelter
  • How to construct a wood shelter
  • How to build a tarp shelter
  • How to create a shelter from debris or trash
  • How to make your own oilcloth. This is a water resistant cloth, similar to canvas, that can be used for building a temporary shelter, temporarily protecting equipment that can’t be put away from rain, etc.

fire

Fire making

The ability to keep yourself warm and dry and to cook over a fire is a key skill for any homesteader. On a homestead, there may be times when you are caught way out in the field, or woods perhaps with a sick or injured animal. You should know how to keep yourself and the animal dry and warm.

collecting-water

Collect, Filter, Purify, and Store Water

The average person can survive only 3 days without water. Normal water sources may be unavailable or become tainted in a power outage, natural disaster, or SHTF scenario. The ability to collect, filter, purify and store water for drinking and cooking is a vital survival skill. The ability to develop and maintain a reliable long-term source of water is important for both homesteading and off-grid living.

wind-power

Renewable Power

The term off-grid typically refers to a lifestyle that allows the homeowner to be disconnected from the traditional public utility grid. In many cases, power is provided, partially or completely via a renewable power source.

This can be in the form of a gas powered generator for some, but many off-grid and even homesteaders prefer to get all power from renewable sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, or even hydro power. Renewable power sources greatly reduce and even eliminate a monthly utility bill and are better for the environment.

  • How solar power works, what equipment is needed, and how it benefits your home.
  • How wind turbines work and what is required for it to work at your homestead or off-grid home.
  • Learn the differences between alternating current and direct current appliances.
  • How to estimate current electricity use and plan for an alternative power system.
  • Understand the differences between thin film, monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar cell panels.
  • How to choose the best type of solar panel power system for your homestead or off-grid home.
  • How to install and maintain a solar panel power system.
  • How to install and maintain a wind turbine system.
  • How to install and maintain a hydro-power system.

foraging

Foraging and Wildcrafting

These are important skills to have in any situation where you may have to survive temporarily or even long-term by “living off the land”. Learn these skills to gather supplies, food, and medicine that you can use to reduce what you have to buy.

Not everyone will take the time, but if you do, you can barter what you collect or make to gain other items you need but don’t have. Medicinal plant use may save your life.

  • Identify and forage edible weeds and plants
  • Identify and forage plants for alternative medicine
  • Determine the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms
  • Learn when, where, and how to scavenge

radio

Communication Skills

In today’s society we have become so used to technology that many of us will be at a complete loss as to what to do in an emergency when computers and cell phone towers go down.

The normal way we receive weather and information updates may be gone. Your family will need you to take the lead and know what to do. Your neighbors may look to you to help them protect their families.

Unless you have an alternate means of communication, there will be no way to call for help or get updates on the danger so you can act wisely to protect your family. In a home invasion situation, you may need to communicate with your family without attracting attention. You could be trapped beneath a house or building that caved in during an earthquake and unable to call out loudly.

  • How to use a ham radio
  • How to become a licensed ham operator
  • Use morse code for signaling
  • How to communicate silently using hand signals or sign language
  • How to use secondary and tertiary languages
  • How to be a leader for your family and community
  • How to work together with neighbors to get more done

dough

Cooking Skills

Cooking skills for survival, homesteading, or off-grid living situations should not be underestimated. Our modern kitchens are equipped with temperature controlled stoves and ovens and timers.

Knowing how to cook tasty and delicious food can boost morale during a SHTF scenario or even after a hard day of working the homestead. Feel free to add to and customize our examples to suit your family.

  • Make a delicious pie crust from fresh ingredients
  • Make basic yeast dough for loaves, pretzels, rolls, etc.
  • How to grind your own wheat for baking
  • How to make bone broth
  • Master the skill of home brewing
  • How to make sausages
  • The best way to cook eggs in a cast iron skillet
  • How to make fresh dairy (cheese, butter, yogurt)
  • Curing cast iron pans
  • How to make apple cider vinegar
  • How to render lard
  • How to clean, fillet, and cook a fish
  • Cooking over an open fire or using a Dutch oven
  • How to cook on a woodstove
  • How to cook outside with a solar oven

animal-care

Animal Care

Having animals on your homestead or in your off-grid living situation can pay big dividends by providing food to supplement your garden and stockpiles. Animals can also help with farm labor, and help to manage pasture and dense growth. But animals require careful attention and very hard work. Experts recommend you add animals a few at a time and master their care before adding others.

  • How to care for and feed chickens
  • How to identify and manage a broody hen
  • How to hatch and care for chicks
  • How to trim the feet of your animals (sheep, goat, etc.)
  • How to give animal injections (in the muscle, vein, or under the skin)
  • How to halter break and train an animal
  • How to humanely castrate an animal.
  • Learn the art of horsemanship and driving horses
  • Training animals
  • The basics of animal breeding
  • How to assist with birthing animals (foaling, kidding, lambing, or calving)
  • How to evaluate whether an animal needs home medical care or veterinarian care
  • How to properly milk a goat, cow, or sheep
  • How to make your own dog food
  • How to keep bees and harvest honey

grains

Basic Farm Management

Regardless of your garden size and whether or not you have animals, there are always going to be some basic farm management skills you need to master. In fact, managing your farm with proper recordkeeping and planning can be key to its success.

  • How to drive a manual transmission or tractor
  • How to back up with a trailer
  • Record keeping and inventory for gardening
  • Record keeping and inventory for animal care and breeding
  • How to manage pastures better using intensive grazing
  • The use of all natural pest control techniques
  • How to manage insects and pests.
  • How to protect livestock from predators.
  • How to cut, bale, and stack hay
  • Recycle and re-use everyday items to reduce waste

repair

Basic Repair & Maintenance

One of the things about homesteading and even off-grid living that many people overlook is the amount of daily work and upkeep that can be needed to create and maintain the lifestyle you want. In a survival, homestead, farm, or off-grid living situation, things are going to wear out, break down, or need maintained. Here are some of the more common skills you may need to learn before you need them.

  • How to build and fix a fence
  • How to safely cut down a tree
  • How to make and apply whitewash
  • How to change a tire and change oil in a vehicle
  • Basic plumbing skills (unclog toilet or drain)
  • Intermediate plumbing skills (fix a faucet or broken water line)
  • Roof & Gutter repair and maintenance
  • Basic carpentry for building repair
  • Basic furniture building
  • How to build and maintain your home, shed, barn, wagon, and more
  • How to clear pasture and brush
  • Repair and maintain electrical systems
  • Install, repair, and maintain alternative power systems (solar, wind, hydro)
  • Boat maintenance and repair
  • Wood working skills
  • Cobbling
  • Basic metal working and welding skills
  • How to tie basic knots
  • Installation and maintenance of alternative power (solar, wind, hydro)

tools

Tools, Weapons, and Security

Skills with tools, weapons, and security are crucial in any environment. Nothing is more crucial than knowing your family and home are secure. Even if you aren’t ready to make your own tools or weapons, you need to know how to properly use, maintain, and store them. Knowing how to make your own tools and weapons is crucial in any situation where new tools are not readily available.

  • How to make tools or weapons from trash
  • How to sharpen an axe or knife blade
  • How to make knives
  • How to maintain tools
  • How to forge tools
  • The art of blacksmithing
  • The art of gunsmithing
  • How to handle, shoot, and clean a gun
  • How to make and reload ammunition
  • Learn how to camouflage
  • Learn martial arts for self-defense
  • Learn hand-to-hand combat
  • Learn how to hide from an enemy
  • Situational awareness and decision making
  • The best ways to fortify your home
  • Identify and distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes in your area
  • How to prepare for a blizzard or other natural disaster

Food-Preservation

Food Preservation and Storage

One of the most important skills in any scenario is food preservation and storage. There are many, many ways to preserve your food for long-term storage. Which skills you learn and how you store your food will depend largely on your personal preferences. How prepared do you want to be to feed your family over the long-term if grocery store food is not available?

  • How to dehydrate vegetables
  • How to can food safely
  • How to save seeds for future use
  • How to ferment food
  • How to make jam
  • How to use a pressure cooker
  • How to use a smoker for meats and cheeses
  • How to use a water bath canner
  • How to store food in a root cellar or cool basement
  • Make your own bacon and cured hams
  • How to build and maintain a root cellar
  • How to pasteurize milk
  • How to stock a pantry
  • How to store dry items (flour, sugar, etc.)
  • How to preserve eggs
  • How to make your own wine
  • How to chop ice

gardening

Gardening

Gardening skills have great benefits for any living situation. First and foremost, growing your own food enables you to eat foods that are more naturally grown if you want to do so. You know what’s in your food because you grew it, picked it, washed and cooked it yourself. It can help you cut grocery expenses. It’s very relaxing for most and can be a source of pride and accomplishment. Most importantly, you will have food readily available to you and your family in case of a SHTF scenario.

  • How to plan your garden
  • How to prune or graft fruit trees
  • How to plant and care for fruit trees
  • How to break ground for a new garden
  • How to grow grapes
  • How to grow vegetables in your climate
  • How to start seeds indoors
  • How to grow a windowsill herb garden
  • The skill of no-till gardening
  • How to construct and use a greenhouse or cold frame to lengthen your growing season
  • Fish farming and aquaponics gardening
  • How to grow fodder as animal feed
  • How to propagate plants through root cuttings
  • How to test soil and manage PH levels for maximum production
  • How to compost kitchen scraps and animal manure
  • How to build a compost bin
  • The art of permaculture
  • How to tap trees and harvest maple syrup

Alternative Gardening techniques

There is a method of gardening that can suit just about any lifestyle. Vertical and container gardening work great for small spaces. Straw bale and lasagna gardening work well in places where soil may not be ideal. Aquaponics is a truly great way of gardening for those looking at off-grid living. Forest floor or camouflage gardens are great when you need to conceal your garden from sight.

  • Aquaponics
  • Mushroom gardening
  • Vertical gardening
  • Container gardening
  • Straw bale gardening
  • Forest floor gardening
  • Lasagna gardening

first-aid

Medical Skills and Techniques

Basic first-aid and CPR skills are basic survival skills for everyone. The further you are from a hospital, the more important it is to know more advanced medical skills. For those living in remote areas or in a SHTF situation, where medicines are not readily available, alternative medicines such as medicinal herbs and plants or essential oils will be more crucial. The more you know and practice in this area, the better.

  • CPR-Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation
  • Midwifery Skills
  • Learn general first aid
  • How to surgically stitch a wound
  • How to identify and treat dehydration
  • How to identify and treat heat exhaustion
  • Learn to resolve dentistry issues
  • How to make infusions, salves, extracts, tinctures, and poultices from herbs
  • How to use essential oils properly and safely to treat common illnesses
  • How to apply a tourniquet
  • How to treat a snake bit
  • How to treat a bullet wound
  • How to splint a broken bone
  • What to watch for and how to prevent and treat infection
  • What to look for and how to prevent or treat shock

Animal-Butchering-and-Processing

Animal Butchering and Processing

While most homesteaders and those living off-grid understand the reasoning behind killing and eating animals for food, some people prefer not to kill and process themselves. If you are interested and able to butcher and process your own animals for food however, you can supplement your food supply and gain valuable components (hides, wool, gelatin, bones, sinew) to use for all kinds of things you need.

  • How to humanely kill, gut, and clean an animal
  • How to butcher an animal and the proper cuts of meat
  • How to tan an animal hide
  • How to sheer sheep, process, and spin the wool
  • The art of skinning, tanning, and leather working
  • How to make tools from animal bones
  • How to use animal sinew for threadmaking
  • How to get gelatin from animal hooves
  • How to butcher and pluck chickens
  • How to butcher a pig

crafting

Crafting

There are so many things you will need on a homestead or in an off-grid situation that the more you know how to make yourself, the better protected you will be. Definitely learn how to make rope from alternative materials, to make your own candles, and to do simple repairs to clothing as those are basic survival skills. Other skills you learn in this area will depend on your situation and interests.

  • How to mend damaged clothing
  • How to make a quilt.
  • How to crochet, or knit
  • How to weave
  • How to create your own natural dyes
  • The art of broom making
  • How to make rope from alternative materials
  • How to sew clothing and fabric items from scratch
  • How to make beeswax or tallow candles
  • How to make lip balm and lotion
  • How to make your own paper

money-management

Money Management

Money management skills will benefit just about everyone, regardless of their lifestyle. Homesteading requires significant investments in seed, equipment, animals, etc. and may never become “profitable”. Off-grid living using alternative power methods such as solar, wind, or hydro will also require equipment. Start off as close to debt free as you can and to know how to barter for anything you may not be able to afford.

  • The art of bartering goods and services
  • How to create a budget and manage money
  • How to reduce expenses and become debt free

hygiene

Personal Hygiene and Sanitation

Sanitation is crucial in any living situation. Poor sanitation practices can lead to infection, other illnesses and can attract rodents. For homesteaders and those living off-grid, the desire is often for more natural ways that use less chemicals or less non-renewable resources (fossil fuel based electricity).

  • How to make your own laundry soap
  • How to make your own cleaning supplies
  • How to make your own skincare items
  • Tips for hanging and using a clothesline to dry clothes
  • How to wash your clothes without electricity
  • Off-grid hygiene and sanitation practices
  • Composting toilets, pros and cons
  • How to build a greywater containment system

Conclusion

If you followed the steps in the beginning of this article and you’ve gone through the entire list of skills, you now have your own customized learning plan. Start learning the skills you listed under the 3-months column, then move on from there. Be flexible with your plan and add new skills as you come across them or become interested in them. With a little time and some hard work, you’ll be living your dream homestead or off-grid lifestyle!

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About Megan Stewart

Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of six grandsons, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.

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