125 Skills for the Modern Smallholder

When I moved to my first smallholding in my mid 20’s, I already knew all the things I wanted learn and do.

And as I’ve morphed into a large commercial farmer and shrank back again to small farmer, that list has grown along with me.

I thrive on learning new skills and gaining knowledge and being a farmer is the perfect way to learn & grow in sooo many ways.

Over the past 18 years I’ve learned things I once would have thought impossible. It is a real confidence builder to learn skills you can do with your hands and complete tasks you never thought you were capable of.

I moved to my first smallholding in my mid twenties and perhaps naively, never imagined the kind of things that the smallholding would expect of me. I never thought I’d be able to do a quarter of the things I can do today or that I’d be making a really good full time living entirely from my holding.

The best thing is almost twenty years later I’m still learning everyday! 

One of the biggest skills I’ve learned is developing a balance and ensuring we have quality family time as well as tasks on the holding being complete.

The list below are skills that I’ve learned over almost two decades of being a smallholder and farmer, many of the skills won’t apply in some situations and there are many other skills that I will learn or use.  You can pick and choose some of the skills and ideas to inspire you!

  1. Milk a goat, cow, or sheep.
  2. Compost both kitchen scraps and animal manure.
  3.  Make the perfect pie crust.
  4. Learn how to cook a whole chicken.
  5. Grow a vegetable garden in your climate.
  6. Learn first-aid and CPR.
  7. Know how to dehydrate foods to preserve for later use.
  8. Give an animal an injection (the muscle, in the vein, or under the skin)
  9. Assist with foaling, kidding, lambing, and/or calving.
  10. Know how to assist an animal with a difficult birth.
  11. Grow a windowsill herb garden.
  12. Learn how to safely cut down a tree.
  13. Make perfect sausage gravy from scratch.
  14. Know how to drive a tractor.
  15. Learn basic metal working skills and welding.
  16. Master basic mechanic skills so you can fix your tractors and vehicles.
  17. Change a tyre and change oil.
  18. Learn how to hunt wild game–both large and small.
  19. Know how to properly store game.
  20. Learn the laws and regulations regarding hunting wild game in your area.
  21. Learn how to humanely kill, gut, and clean an animal.
  22. Know how to butcher an animal and the proper cuts of meat.
  23. Learn how to kill and pluck a chicken.
  24. Use a smoker to smoke cheeses, meat, bacon, hams, etc.
  25. Learn how to fish.
  26. Learn how to clean, fillet, and cook fish.
  27. Learn how to tell if your chickens are moulting.
  28. Know how to tell if you can doctor an animal at home, or if it needs to be taken to the vet.
  29. Dry laundry using a drying rack or clothesline.
  30. Make your own laundry detergent.
  31. Know how to build a fire.
  32. Cook over an open fire or on a wood stove.
  33. Make cheese–master simple soft cheeses and hard cheeses too.
  34. Learn how to make yogurt.
  35. Make sourdough bread and maintain your own starter.
  36. Keep bees and harvest honey.
  37. Make basic yeast dough which can be turned into loaves, rolls, buns, etc.
  38. Incubate fertilized eggs and hatch your own chicks.
  39. Learn how to identify and manage a broody hen.
  40. Learn how to cut, bale, and stack hay.
  41. Make your own jellies and jams.
  42. Master the art of intensive grazing so you can better manage your pastures.
  43. Make your own soap.
  44. Make your own candles.
  45. Learn how to darn a sock.
  46. Mend damaged clothes so they don’t have to be thrown away.
  47. Sew clothing and fabric items from scratch.
  48. Knit, quilt, or crochet
  49. Learn the art of no-till gardening.
  50. Learn how to candle eggs so you can tell if they are fertilized.
  51. Cook outside with a dutch oven.
  52. Heat your home with wood or other sustainable sources.
  53. Trim the feet of your goats and sheep.
  54. Learn how to build and fix fence.
  55. Master basic carpentry skills so you can repair outbuildings or even build basic furniture pieces.
  56. Learn how build a dry stone wall.
  57. Learn how to save seeds.
  58. Use a water bath canner to preserve foods.
  59. Learn how to feed and care for orphaned lambs/calves/horses.
  60. Learn how to drive a quad bike
  61. Learn how to tow, reverse and feed from a trailer with a quad bike
  62. Forage for wild edibles in your area.
  63. Learn how to identify the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms.
  64. Learn how to load livestock in to trailers/wagons.
  65. Learn how to safely tag calves
  66. Learn how to shed cattle and run them through a crush safely.
  67. Learn how to sharpen a knife or ax.
  68. Learn how to prepare for a blizzard.
  69. Learn how to prepare for flood.
  70. Understand the basics of animal breeding.
  71. Learn how to work together with your neighbours to accomplish more and foster a sense of community.
  72. Know how to halter-break and train an animal.
  73. Learn how to harvest, split, and stack firewood.
  74. Learn how to make butter.
  75. Learn how to use essential oils properly and safely.
  76. Build/use a greenhouse or cold frame to extend your growing season.
  77. Learn how to start seeds indoors.
  78. Learn how to tow a trailer with a pick-up/jeep.
  79. Make your own vinegar.
  80. Make your own skincare items.
  81. Make your own cleaning supplies.
  82. Learn how to make herbal extracts, infusions, poultices, and tinctures.
  83. Learn how to reverse a trailer and jeep.
  84. Learn how to drive a wagon.
  85. Learn how to load horses in a wagon safely.
  86. Learn how to handle a large animal in distress.
  87. Learn how to repair a roof.
  88. Know how to run sheep in off a wide-open hill with a sheep dog.
  89. Understand how to identify the weeds in your yard/pastures and figure out which ones are poisonous.
  90. Learn how to use a chainsaw.
  91. Know how to purify water.
  92. Learn how to make bone broth.
  93. Know how to use non-electric lighting.
  94. Put together a 72-hour kit for emergencies.
  95. Learn how to cook eggs in a cast iron skillet without a sticky mess.
  96. Put food scraps like eggshells, coffee grounds, apple peels to good use.
  97. Make your own bacon and cured hams.
  98. Know how to protect your livestock from predators.
  99. Learn how to make your own chicken feed.
  100. Live within your means and get out of debt.
  101. Learn how to shear sheep by hand.
  102. Learn about parasite management in livestock.
  103. Learn how to deal with fly strike in sheep.
  104. Learn how to process and spin wool.
  105. Know basic plumbing skills (like unclogging a toilet!).
  106. Learn how to fix a leaking tap.
  107. Learn how to start your own business.
  108. Learn how to use vermiculture (composting with worms) to create nutrient-rich food for your garden.
  109. Learn how to plan your garden by sun mapping.
  110. Use alternative energy sources like solar or wind to power your holding.
  111. Implement natural pest control measures.
  112. Learn how to tie a variety of basic knots.
  113. Learn how to make and set traps.
  114. Know how to clean, dress, stitch/staple a wound in the event of an emergency.
  115. Learn how to weave.
  116. Learn how to make natural dyes.
  117. Understand how to propagate plants through root cuttings.
  118. Learn how to clear pasture and brush.
  119. Master the art of home brewing.
  120.  Learn how to make baskets.
  121. Learn how to hang a field gate.
  122. Learn sales so you can sell your products/produce
  123. Learn how to light a coal fire using kindlers and pinecones
  124. Learn how to muck stables and barns in a way that save you time and money.

I have no doubt there are another 125 skills I've missed off the list but this gives you an idea of the personal growth journey a smallholding will help you develop. Comment below any skills you’ve learned or want to learn and don’t forget to check out The Good Life Club facebook group for loads more inspiration!

1 comment

  • I grew up on a ranch in Montana, USA. We are Native American, Scots, Irish, and English by decent. The only items on your list I haven’t done is anything related to Cheesemaking or yogurt. But then at 72, there isn’t much I haven’t seen , done, or tried to do. Love your independence, and can do spirit…wish more young people had it. May the “One who made us all” bless your ventures.

    Denise Y Harper

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