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These days, most people define “homesteading” in terms of lifestyle. This is especially true among preppers who seek self-sufficiency by embracing old-style, pioneer era skills to define their independence from traditional supply chains and government interference. This does not necessarily mean we live off-grid in some far out location where there are no modern conveniences whatsoever. Quite the contrary.
21st century homesteading is a mindset that can take place in the city core, an apartment, a planned community or suburbia. And of course, the homesteading mindset prevails in rural communities, farmlands and other more traditional homestead-type locations.
Becoming a 21st-century homesteader means downsizing, minimizing and living a healthier life.Today I share 46 skills that most modern homesteaders will want to learn as they strive to live a better, yet simpler, life. For a comprehensive list of modern survival skills, check out this post.
46 Pioneer Skills for the Modern 21st Century Homesteader
A simple raised bed or container garden is all you need to get started on the wonder path towards producing your own fresh fruits and vegetables. For some guidance and ideas take a look at our post on what to grow in your survival garden.
2. Cooking on an Open Fire
When you don’t have an easy way to turn the heat up or down, cooking can be a bit more tricky. Start out with a basic soup or stew and then if you like that go on to more complicated breads and other dishes.
Most of us enjoy some baked goods at least occasionally. Baking your own bread, for example, can save you lot of money and allow you to choose your ingredients more conscientiously than otherwise. While the first loaf or two may not be ideal, making bread is not as hard as you might think. Check our our post on breadmaking to get started.
4. Herb Gardening
During good times and bad there is a lot of value to be had when it comes to herb gardening. The cost of a lot of herbs and spices is high but they are quite easy to grow in containers or small beds.
5. Herbal Medicine
Medicine that you can forage and grow yourself is a win win. While some may not believe in the power of herbal medicine, it is important to remember that a lot of the medications in the world are extracted from plants. Check out our start page on survival medicine for some great posts.
6. First Aid and Emergency Medical Care
During a medical emergency, seconds can make all the difference. Reacting quickly and confidently is easier to do if you learn and practice skills before something happens. A good general medical book is something you should consider for your prepper library. If you have the chance and are just starting out in the world of prepping then you should consider taking a first aid or CPR class when one is offered in your area.
7. Animal Husbandry
Raising livestock can be very enjoyable and it is something that a lot of kids really like to do. Rabbits, cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, geese, pigs, and more can help keep your land cleared and provide a variety of food, fiber, leather, and more.
While butchering may not be the job you want to do, it is extremely valuable to know how to butcher out your livestock or game. While it is slow going at first, you get better at it. When Matt and I first started butchering, the first 4 chickens took us most of the morning. The last time we butchered them we did 42 in a single day! Safe butchering at home can save you a lot of money in processing fees and even lead to a better quality selection of meats.
9. Fire-starting and Fire Building
Firewood gathering can be a lot of work, especially if you live in a place where it gets particularly cold. Different woods give you more BTUs of heat. A fire made with locust or hickory is going to burn hotter and longer than a fire made with tulip poplar. Using wind fall wood is possible but it must be somewhat dry to do much good.
While it takes some special tools to do some projects there are a lot of basic things you can make with a minimal tool cost. When Matt and I started building our house I had zero experience with carpentry. He had built decks and did some other small scale building projects but never took on such a big project as building a house. We did it though and I think that shows that carpentry is not as unapproachable as you might think.
I love good block and rock work. What you can do with concrete blocks around the homestead is amazing. You can also build a house or solid outbuilding with block. These types of structures are great for those that are on a budget because you can lay a few block at a time as you can afford it. That means building in $50-$100 increments rather than spending thousands all at once. Repairing existing masonry is also a very valuable skill to have.
I want to tell you something about plumbing. It costs a ton of money to hire a plumber. On the other hand they deal with all the small fittings that cause you to make a million trips to town. There are some great new materials such as PEX tubing that can make plumbing a lot easier than it used to be with rigid PVC. My husband did all the plumbing in our house and we have not had any issues. We did purchase a good book on plumbing for reference and used internet resources when we wanted more detail. Even if it is just patching a pipe, knowing a little bit of plumbing could save you a lot of hassle and money. Remember that even a small leak can cause major damage over time.
Repairing and mending items can be done if you know a few stitches. On a larger scale you can make your own clothing, linens, quilts, and more. I save a lot of money and have better quality blankets because I make a lot of ours. Since they last so long, I can just make a few every few years and be fine.
14. Knitting and Crochet
Sometimes you might want a productive task where you can just sit down for a few and use your hands. Knitting and crocheting can also be a productive artistic endeavor. If you are staying in place rather than bugging out you may want some projects that can be done with few materials and keep you entertained. Knitting and crocheting have both seen an increase in interest recently from women and men alike.
15. Weaving and Spinning
Basic weaving can be done on a very small hand loom. If you want to you can sew sections together to make bigger blankets and clothing. Big looms are nice but they are a big investment and take up a lot of a room. Spinning and processing fiber is an extremely valuable skill too. There is a lot of fiber animals out there but it requires a lot of work to get it to the point of being usable for clothing.
Protein can become scarce in a survival situation. Hunting is a great way to add some meat to your survival food. Of course, the amount of game where you are is going to vary and during really tough times, game can get scarce but you should know some hunting skills if possible. Those that plan on bugging out should even more strongly consider how much they know about hunting. There are a lot of hunting enthusiasts that would probably take you out and show you a few things if you ask and pitch in on the trip.
Fishing is a lot of fun and if you live somewhere that has a lot of water then you should definitely go out on a few excursions. To get started you can read up on survival fishing kits in this post.
18. Canning and Preserving
Learning how to can is one of the major ways to put back food and also one of the first things someone learns when they start on the prepping path.Knowing how to can foods properly is essential to safety and shelf life of your food. Meats and canned food blends that contain meat must be pressure canned to eliminate the risk of botulism. To learn about pressure canners check out my guide. For detailed instructions on canning meat products be sure to read my post detailing the process and procedure for all types of meats.
19. Home Brewing
My husband and I started making beer together 14 years ago in college but he had been making it for awhile before that. Any kind of alcohol production is a valuable skill to have. Even if you don’t partake much yourself, there is always a demand for alcoholic beverages. While we are lucky to have inexpensive and easy to get water filters, the fact remains that years ago, alcohol was consumed because the process of brewing could turn undrinkable water that caused illness, into a drinkable beverage that still had a high water content.
There is a lot more to owning a gun then just carrying it and shooting. While a lot of guns operate for many years without any trouble, over time parts on even the best-made gun are going to wear out or even break. Knowing how to do repairs and safely troubleshoot problems are skills that are worth a lot in terms of barter. Also is you plan on hunting or using guns as part of your defensive strategy than knowing how to maintain and fix your own guns will be a major asset.
21. Soap Making
Cleanliness is important to health and wellbeing. Soap used to be made at home quite often. There are various methods for making soap. Check out the Backdoor Survival posts on making your own cold press aloe vera soap.
22. Candle Making
Making your own candles is easy and inexpensive. I did a post on emergency candles that includes instructions for making your own candles for just a few dollars each that burn for a very long time.
23. Power Generation (Solar and Wind)
There are so many ways to harness the power of the sun and wind. Solar panels and wind turbines alike have become much more affordable. You can also build your own solar ovens to cook rather than using propane or wood.
Creating your own back up solar generator is very possible. My post on DIY generators can help get you started. You will be amazed what can be done with second hand parts or very little investment. For those that don’t want to build their own systems there are plenty of generators you can buy at a reasonable cost, like the Yeti 400 that I had the pleasure of testing out recently.
24. Vehicle Maintenance
Unfortunately, a lot of modern vehicles are made so that it requires some specialized tools to work on them. Computerized everything has made vehicle maintenance and small repairs something that a lot of people just don’t do or can’t. Basics like changing oil, checking fluids, ect, and beyond are good to know. During an emergency, you don’t want to have to deal with a major repair. Parts can be scarce or impossible to find. That also brings up that it helps to have a vehicle with easy to find parts and that there is a lot of on the road.
25. Mechanical Repair and Maintenance
Things break down over time and need replacements or repairs not matter how well made they are. Mechanical moving parts help make it possible to get more done. Sometimes out on farm you have to improvise and when you are starting out you are probably going to want to be frugal with funds. Minor tractor, tiller, truck, lawnmower, and other small engine repairs is something a lot of people learn to do over time.
If you are moving really far out from the nearest town, it is even more crucial to learn. Maintenance routines will help prevent a lot of major repairs that require a lot of skill and time. Set up reminders to do maintenance even if you are normally a person that doesn’t procrastinate or forget. On a homestead, there can be enough to remember that it is all too easy to forget or put off when there is no problem yet.
26. Equipment Operator
If you ever have had the need for heavy equipment on your property then you know how much it can cost. Knowing how to do it yourself could save you a lot of money and it gives you an invaluable job skill that you can trade or use to make some money on the side even.
27. Home Maintenance
I know some people that literally have all their landscaping done for them and a housekeeper. I get it that if it makes financial sense to outsource, then you are creating another job but that doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t know some basic home maintenance like knowing how to change out the water filter, use a long brush to clean out the gutters, ect. Even if you hire a lot of the work out you still should inspect your home visually for any issues at least once a year and always be on the lookout for those little things that pop up. Never put off addressing a problem unless you absolutely have to. A small leak, for example, can cost a few hundred or less to fix right away but waiting for two months could lead to thousands of dollars and/or a lot of work for you to do.
If you know how to weld then there is a good chance you can earn or barter your skills and do quite well. Putting metal together and being able to mend mechanical parts is something that is always going to be in demand. During hard times, people are more likely to try to keep older machines and tools going for longer than during good times where a use, break it, toss it mentality is the norm whenever possible.
Oh blacksmithing! I always loved how an ugly old piece of iron could be turned into something useful and beautiful. Forging your own tools and farm hardware can be rewarding. Where I live the local community college has an excellent blacksmithing department where you can learn from beginning to advanced skills. Everything from hardware for cabinets to knives and hooks for hanging things can be made using blacksmithing techniques and the major bonus is that iron will last many lifetimes.
Leather was once the absolute go-to for strong material for belts, saddles, clothing, and more. Even today a lot of things are still made with leather. Knowing how to cut, sew, tool, and even make leather from animal skins is an amazing skill to have. Leatherwork can help supplement your income and is fantastically artistic. I am a big fan of things that are beautifully done and useful as well. I have a tooled leather belt that I bought at the famous Wall Drug in South Dakota nearly 13 years ago and I still wear it all the time. Leather lasts and is very strong plus it is a byproduct of meat production or hunting!
31. Well Building
Getting a well is a huge endeavor. When ours was done it took them a few days to do the drilling and it went for hundreds of feet. People can dig their own but it is hard. Knowing how to dig a well and how to encase or repair wells is a great skill to have. Hand digging wells is only practical in a major situation and where the water table allows for a shallow well.
It can be quite fun to take walks and learn about what plants are available in your area. Mushrooms can be tricky so it is good to learn a lot before foraging. If you have a local mushroom club then it is worthwhile to go out on a few trips with others to hone your skills. You might be surprised just how much out there is edible and nutritious if you know what to look for and how to prepare it. Backdoor Survival has some good posts in foraging to help inspire and educate. Here are a few to get you started.
How to Forage and Use Purslane & Stinging Nettle: Two Super-Foods for Spring Foraging
3 More Late Fall Foraging Plants You Don’t Want to Miss
Top 5 Easy-to-ID Edible Mushrooms for Beginners
Guide to Edible Bark: Using Trees for Medicine & Food
33. Knife Sharpening
A dull knife can make a lot of jobs take car longer than they should, cause more stress on your hands and wrists, and even be dangerous. Sharpening knives can be done with a few inexpensive stones and some light oil.
Growing up I always had a lot of my dad’s friends around bartering and trading and I have to say there is an art to it. For starters you never want to start too low on what you are asking for an item. You can always go lower but you can’t go up. Bartering can take some patience but during hard times it is likely to be very common and during an extended emergency, may be the way most commerce is done rather than with cash or digital funny money.
Milking is actually a lot harder than it looks. There is a method to hand milking that takes practice to master and it requires some intense work of your hands. If you don’t do it right then an animal can try to hold their milk and make it more difficult for you to milk them. If you can’t find someone to help show you then find a book and study up. You can even practice on an artificial teat to get an idea about the motion before trying the real thing. Youtube is an excellent resource for this type of thing.
Honey is one of nature’s finest sweeteners. Years ago white table sugar was a luxury that wasn’t used as often. Honey was cheaper and easier to come by because it could be produced at home instead of having to be processed and shipped from a distant area and then bought in a store.
Beekeeping is an activity that has a lot of enthusiastic people in it that love teaching others. Do a search online for a beekeeping organization or club in your area and you will have a wealth of knowledge to learn from and make some great new friends.
37. Seed Harvesting and Saving
Saving seeds properly means you will have a good stock for the following few seasons. You can save extra seeds and sell or trade them to others so they can grow their own food too. Remember those old heirlooms that are not hybrids are best for saving because they give you predictable results and genetics year after year. Hybrids produce seeds that while they might be viable, may give you a totally different plant when you use the seed. Storage conditions are critical to maintaining viability and germination rates.
38. Orchard Management
Fruit adds a lot of nutrients and antioxidants to your diet. A very small orchard can yield a lot of fruit. There are a lot of different trees out there that can fit into very small spaces. Columnar apple trees can be grown in containers even if you rent or have a small patio. They also make an excellent hedge or border. Learning how to manage a larger orchard may involve grazing animals beneath the trees and using natural practices to reduce disease and insect damage.
39. Waste Management
It is amazing how much you can reduce waste in all areas of your life by taking a few steps. Choosing products based on how much waste they create can sometimes help. For example, canned beverages can be crushed and recycled or at least made to take up less space in a garbage can whereas bottles are heavy and take up a ton of space. Frozen vegetables come in a plastic bag that can be balled up and have better nutritional value their metal can versions.
There is also the waste created by cooking meals and not making good use of leftovers or buying too much of something only to have it go bad before use. Buying in bulk is great but only if you store it right and rotate out your supplies so none have the chance to go bad.
40. Pest Control
If you ever move out to a rural area or older home, then pests can be a big problem. The good news is that getting pests under control doesn’t have to involve heavy duty poisons or nasty traps. Fences, dogs, cats, and things like diatomaceous earth can go a long way towards alleviating pest issues. Chickens and guineas can reduce spider populations as well as that of ticks. For some tips on natural spider repellents check out this post.
41. Grinding Wheat and Other Grains
Whole grains store and keep longer than ground flours. A hand mill can be used but the small electric motor versions are nice to have. Grinding grains makes it possible to create breads and make grain easier to digest for people and animals alike. Backdoor Survival has done a few posts on grain mills that are worth reading so you can make a good choice when buying a mill.
Best Manual Grain Mills for Milling at Home
42. Interpersonal Skills
This is something that can be hard for those of us that work alone or with just a few others. There are a lot of different views on how things should be out there and the key is understanding that just because someone has some different views that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get along or even do business together. A lot of times if people give each other a chance they have more in common than they realize and quite possibly want some of the same things.
Some people are born leaders and some people have to work at it a bit. Someone has to fill this role on most any project. Part of being a leader is listening, considering, and being assertive when decisions need to be made. A good leader appreciates a good job and tries to make people feel appreciated. On the other side of this a good leader also needs to be able to tell someone to straighten up or correct them if they are not doing what needs done or acting out of line.
As someone that helped build the house they live in, I have to say that patience is something I have struggled with. When it comes to farming and homesteading, it is best to realize that things rarely happen as fast as you would like. It took us years to build a house without getting a big bank loan but it was worth it. We had to live really rough at times. Now planting a vineyard and producing grapes is taking years too and it is very hard to not be impatient. My point it that good things come to those that keep persevering towards their goals and don’t get impatient and make no so great decisions for the long term.
Somethings are going to disappoint while others will lead to great joy. There will be times when things seem quite hopeless. When you first start out homesteading or prepping it may seem like you are not in good shape or you may burn 4 loaves of bread learning how to bake but getting through the learning process and some soreness and pain is part of the process and you will find satisfaction in the fact that it gets easier and you have some useful skills to be proud of.
Believe in yourself and those you are working with. Sometimes it is nice to hear that someone else believes you can do it. When someone is trying to do something meaningful and feeling discouraged, look for ways to push them along. My husband amazes me with how he can just look at something and tell how it goes together. He has done a lot of repairs around our place where he was having to do the task for the very first time. I try to tell him not to doubt himself and then name all the similar things he has done and the success he had. It is natural to be concerned when doing something new but next time that happens to someone you care about, point out why you think they will be successful!
Tips For Success
Set reasonable goals
Sometimes when we have had folks come out to help at our place, they get really inwardly frustrated because they can’t do everything that we do or do it as fast. I hate to see people give up like that. When Matt and I moved up to our property I was huffing and puffing to get up the first hill just walking. It takes time and its going to hurt and cause you to be sore if you are going to learn some of these things. You can do it but don’t expect to just start all out homesteading and farming all at once and with a lot of skill.
Be willing to teach others
After you learn a skill then you should try to help others to learn when you can.
Seek out those you can learn from
There are a lot of people that would be glad to show you how to do some of the things on this list if you volunteer to help them out or join up with at prepper group where you can share skills. There are a lot of social media groups that offer the chance to meet others.
The Final Word
The homesteading mindset embraces using less energy, eating wholesome, locally sourced food, and making life choices relating to a rich and rewarding family life. It means living comfortably yet within the bounds of doing as much as you can in a sustainable manner.
In addition to having pioneer skills, most 21st century homesteaders are good citizens and community minded. They are also preppers of the highest order.
Can you think of some other useful pioneer skills for the modern, 21st-century homesteader?
Bargain Bin: Here are some items to consider in your quest to be a modern, 21st-century homesteader. Of course, the rule of thumb is always this: first purchase what you need to get by and later, as budget allows, add the extra items that will enhance and add dimension and depth to your gear.
Lodge Pre-Seasoned Dutch Oven with Dual Handles: While not huge, this 5 quart Dutch Oven is, in my opinion, the perfect size for use indoors and out.
Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet: This purchase changed the way I cook. I use my cast iron cookware for everything from burgers, to bacon and eggs, to biscuits. Be sure to select the Value pack Skillet with Silicone Handle which is less money and a better deal.
US Forge 400 Welding Gloves Lined Leather: These well-priced gloves provide complete heat and burn protection. They are made of soft and supple top grain leather for comfort and pliability, plus they have an internal liner gives more comfort and durability. These will keep you hands and arms safe while cooking outdoors over an open fire.
Swedish Firesteel: Using this basic pocket fire-starter, you can get a nice fire going under almost any conditions.
Bicycle Canasta Games Playing Cards: This timeless classic will keep the entire family occupied when the power it out. Playing cards or board games should be in everyone’s preparedness kit.
Rothco Type III Commercial Paracord: You can get 100 feet of Paracord for very affordably. This is a real bargain but be aware that price can vary substantially depending on the color.
Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: Don’t let the price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these and feel that these lights are worth double the price. Using D-cell batteries, the Dorcy floodlight will light up a dark room or a dark stairway in an instant. I can not recommend these enough.
Quikclot Sport Brand Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.
Israeli Battle Dressing, 6-inch Compression Bandage: This is another inexpensive, yet critical item for your first aid kit. Combat medics, trauma doctors, and emergency responders all recommend this Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) for the treatment of gunshot wounds, puncture wounds, deep cuts, and other traumatic hemorrhagic injuries.
47 Responses to “46 Pioneer Skills for the Modern Homesteader”
Thinking about all that gets me dreaming! I was also thinking skills as an arborist, forester, or saw-milling lumber would be good if your homestead includes timber lands or space to plant some.
Thanks for the info.
Thanks for sharing your valuable information with us. I’m also a homesteader and I knew that these skills are very important for every homesteader’s whether they are new or old on a homestead. According to me, you have done great jobs to provide this information.