Keys to Finding Free (or cheap) Resources for the Homestead

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I was in the house the other day when my wife called and said that our neighbors were there and wanted to talk with me. We had gotten to know them a bit over the past few weeks. The husband runs a local company and he breeds horses as a hobby.

When I got outside, they told me that their company was getting rid of a bunch of old stuff and that some of it might be useful for our homestead—old fencing and the like. They wanted to know if I could go with them right then to check it out. So I jumped in the car and went.

Starting a homestead requires a lot of resources. In addition to the land itself and the house and outbuildings, you need a lot of equipment and a lot of raw resources.

In terms of equipment, I plan to write something maybe a year from now about what we thought we needed, what we ended up buying, and how much it all cost. Everything from hand tools and the BCS to butchering equipment and fruit trees. I’ve been keeping spreadsheets on this for a long time, so I hope to be able to present some helpful numbers. More to follow, but in broad terms, I estimate that I started off (before buying the land) with about $25,000 worth of homesteading equipment and will spend somewhere between $50,000 and $80,000 over the next year or two. It’s simultaneously a fun shopping spree and an unnerving amount of money to spend. But we’ve lived well below our means for years in order to do this. It’s the beer/boat/motorcycle money a lot of my peers spent over the past twenty years.

But in this post I want to talk about the raw resources we’ve procured over the first few months here on the homestead. By “raw resources” I mean the following things; I made a list of them when we first got here:

  1. Wood chips
  2. Compost
  3. Manure
  4. Hay
  5. Tarps
  6. Firewood
  7. Pallets
  8. IBC totes
  9. Scrap wood
  10. Chicken feed
  11. Fertilizer

The bottom line is that we’ve found most of these items, either for free or for very little cost. This has been an encouraging process for me. Here are some quick stories about how we got each product.

  1. Wood chips. We plan to use wood chips for many things, from feeding the Johnson-Su bioreactors to placing in garden pathways. I called a few tree services and didn’t get much response, but with all the storms lately I figured there had to be a lot available. Turns out a friend of a friend put a sign along the road that says “Woodchip delivery site. Any time. Any amount.” It works. They were overwhelmed with the recent arrivals and have let us take whatever we want. So far my oldest daughter and I have taken four loads, and our trailer holds about three cubic yards. We’ll eventually use the chipper for our BCS as well. 
Wood chips, pallets, and firewood -- resources for the homestead.
  1. Compost. Compost is getting more expensive. I called several bulk dealers and couldn’t find anything for cheaper than $50 a yard, plus delivery, and most were more in the $70 range. That’s for a full truckload of thirty to fifty yards. I would absolutely do this if I were a professional market gardener, but I’m not ready to spend $2,500+ for it. Eventually I found a farmer at the market who lives about a mile from us and gets regular deliveries of “Dairy Doo” compost; he’s willing to sell us a few yards at bulk prices. But I haven’t done so yet because of our great bonanza horse manure find …
  2. Manure. I originally thought I might be able to find a local organic dairy farmer and could compost their manure. But there are very few organic operations of any kind in our county, and the local conventional dairy spreads their slurry back onto their own fields. But then we met our neighbor who breeds horses. Before we knew it, he was delivering tractor buckets full of nearly fully composted manure straight to our backyard.
Horse manure, IBC tote, and pallets -- resources for the homestead.
  1. Hay. The same neighbor cuts about twenty acres of alfalfa, which he does not spray at all with herbicides or pesticides. This was of course a prerequisite for us—both for purchased hay and for manure—and finding this source was a true blessing. I was planning to plant a half acre or so of alfalfa myself, but there’s no need now. We’ll of course pay him for bales, but I’m sure his price will be reasonable.
  2. Tarps. Another great find: the conventional dairy down the street has been throwing away thousands of square feet of once-used silage tarps, every month for who knows how long. I simply asked if I could get it instead of it going into the landfill, and they were more than happy to let me take it. I stop by once a week or so and pick it up. So far I’ve tarped most of my garden, my compost bin area, and most of where my firewood stacks are going to go. This source is basically limitless. The only slight inconvenience is that it mostly comes in strips of about 10 by 150 feet. I cut it to length and weigh it down with the omnipresent rocks that were in our soil and now line our property boundaries.
Used silage tarps to smother perennial grass -- resources for the homestead.
  1. Firewood. The only limit to the amount of free firewood I can collect is my time. I’ve invested pretty heavily in firewood collection capabilities—buying a second, larger chainsaw, extra chains, safety equipment, axes, etc.
  2. Pallets. These are available pretty much everywhere. All you have to do is ask. I’ve gotten them at the local lumber store, the local HVAC supplier, Tractor Supply, and several other places.
  3. IBC totes. These are for rainwater collection, although people use them for a variety of projects. I was driving by a recycling center a few weeks ago and saw a stack of IBC totes in the back. I drove in and asked if they sold them, and I got two food-grade ones for $50 each. This is a pretty good price—I would have been willing to spend maybe $80 if necessary.
  4. Scrap wood. This is a resource I procured that I wasn’t really even looking for yet. The neighbor I mentioned at the beginning of this post had a stack of 1-inch lumber of varying lengths and widths that looked like it had come off someone’s sawmill. It’s been sitting inside a trailer for who knows how long, but it’ll be great as siding or flooring in some outbuildings I’m planning. My plan otherwise was to mill my own; this find will enable me to mill different sorts of larger dimensional lumber.
Free milled 1-inch lumber -- resources for the homestead.
  1. Chicken feed. This is available at the Tractor Supply, but in talking with a lady at the farmers market I learned about an Amish guy in the county who gets non-GMO feed from a mill in Indiana. I’ve gone there twice now and have built a nice relationship with him. His prices are better than Tractor Supply, and he’s able to get cover crop seeds or anything else we want. Buying from him supports his family and keeps dollars in the local economy.
  2. Fertilizer. This is the only item on my original list I haven’t found a great supply of thus far. I’m looking for feather meal, alfalfa meal, fish hydrolysate, etc.—fertilizers for organic operations. I may have to venture down into Ohio to get this.

As mentioned, when I jumped in the car with my neighbor the other day I discovered a bunch of great raw lumber. But I found a few other things I wasn’t expecting. He had old 55-gallon oil cans, which I plan to clean out and use to store an emergency supply of aviation fuel (it’s leaded fuel, but I can use it in my BCS or the car in a pinch, and it stores for years, unlike any other type of gasoline). He also had a number of used chain-link fence posts, which I plan to use to bend into hoop houses.  

The key components to this story are that (1) we had built a relationship with our neighbors to the point where they were enthusiastic about helping us find the things we wanted for our homestead, and (2) that even though there were a million projects I needed to do, I was free enough to drop them and jump on the opportunity.

You just need to have a sturdy trailer and be willing to talk with people. We did all of this without Craigslist of Facebook Marketplace. Pick farmers’ brains at the market. Get to know your neighbors and ask them where they get stuff. Don’t be afraid to ask businesses if they need the pallets in the back of the building.

There are plenty of free raw resources out there. With just a little effort, you’ll find them.

Read more Homestead Blog posts by Paul Meyer.

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Paul Meyer

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