If the idea is racing through your mind, then you’re probably wondering how many acres of land you’ll need for a homestead.
Let’s face it, land these days is not cheap, it’s expensive! In major cities, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find an acre, let alone one for under a hundred-grand.
But not to worry, deals come up all the time, sellers get motivated by changers in their lives, and if you’re patent you can get what you want, for the price you want.
When we originally bought our homestead land, we found a really nice 5-acre lot up in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado. It’s about an hour drive to the major city, Denver, but we like it that way.
The nearest town is only a ten minute drive. For us it works wonderful. But our land hunt wasn’t as easy as going onto Zillow or similar, and immediately seeing what we wanted.
Honestly, it took about a year to find the right lot. We actually toured a handful of lots, only to find out that the price, often times even high, were simply put, problem lots. One had an abandoned steel gated mine shaft. We can only imagine what would happen if the ground gave way or where those tunnels led to. Of course, what chemicals did they use in the mine to extract gold, and so on? Could you imagine if it was Uranium mine? Yikes!
In the end we found 5 acres, and after buying our neighboring property, we’ve sitting at a grand total of 30 acres or so. But here’s the deal, we’ll never end up using all 30 acres. Our land isn’t flat, and it’s super rocky, so the idea of farming hay, just isn’t going to work on a full scale here. We’re going to section off a small plot of land, say an acre or so for mowing hay, but that’s it.
With that said, let’s assume you want to grow fruits and veggies only (for now):
Garden homestead only:
These are really important questions, because if you’re only gardening and planting, the above doesn’t apply to you at all. If you’re not so efficient (which most folks aren’t starting out), 3500 square feet will get you around 6 months or so of food for a family of 6. To put this in perspective that’s a 35×100 square foot garden that serves 6 people. Give or take, it’s around 600 square feet per family member.
Dial in your green-thumb skills and you can get really close to a year’s supply of food for a family of 6 on that same 3500 square foot homestead. How does that happen? Well, the more you homestead, the more you start to understand nutrient dense crops, i.e., crops that take up a low amount of space and return a high amount of crop. Of course, keeping your plants healthy is another huge factor.
Bump up your homesteading efforts to an 8000 square foot garden, and you should have no problem hitting a year’s supply of food for a family of 6. Though, I say that lightly because if you plant the wrong seeds, fail to water/maintain them, then well, obliviously it’s not going to work out so great. So the magic number, in my mind, is 8000 square feet, or an 80×100 sized plot of land.
Woah, whoa, whoa… What’s all this talk about needing 5, 50, 500 acres all about then?
Well, let’s do some math here, 8000 square feet is only 0.18 acres. That means you can grow your own fruits and vegetables, enough to feed a family of 6, for a full year on UNDER an acre. Now, there’s something nobody is talking about it, but it’s the truth.
But let’s not forget something here, that’s garden only. We haven’t gotten into animals yet, so that answer is limited to the folks who just want to grow their fruits and veggies.
Now onto the animals, the answer is not as simple as the one above. Here’s where the 5, 50, 500 acres starts to make way more sense.
Garden and livestock homestead:
Let’s get some basic questions answered first before we dive too deep into how much land you need for a homestead:
Do you want to raise animals, such as alpacas, llamas, cow, goats, etc.? If so, which ones, and how many?
Do you want to grow your own hay for your livestock? Or, instead of growing hay, do you want to rotate your pastures year-round?
Obviously, fifty alpacas on one acre of land isn’t going to work, because they are going to strip all the grass off within a week or so. But, if you supplement with hay you purchase from farms elsewhere, you can make magic happen. Suddenly, you aren’t limited by the size of your land, rather your hay budget.
Now, hay isn’t terribly too expensive these days, though it is rising with the fertilizer crisis, increased diesel costs, and so on. Regardless, you’ve got to the do math. Multiply how many animals you want (times) how much they need to each eat per day. Multiply that number by (30), a month, and you’ll know what your monthly hay needs are.
How much natural foliage your land produces, depends on so many factors. You might be able to feed a herd on one acre, you might not. No one can answer that for you online. Consider that alpacas eat 2% of their body weight per day, while cows will also eat 2% of their body weight per day as well. A female cow can weigh 1,600 lbs., an alpaca, 190 lbs. That’s a huge difference. So now you’ve got another factor to consider, the type of animal.
See, there’s just a lot of variations to the magic number here. Your region, your land quality, your animal types, the number of animals, and so on. To make things more fun, you can rotate pastures, which makes finding this number even more difficult. How many pastures do you want? 1, 4, 8, 12, more? How often will you rotate your animals in them?
Another example just for the heck of it, you could have 20 alpaca easily on 6 acres, but for bison, 20 easily demands 60 acres or more!
The magical number:
Honestly, when you have 50 acres, it doesn’t mean you can actually keep eyes on all 50 acres. The truth is, 5 acres is plenty to start with and grow into. Unless you’re raising large livestock, 5 will be just fine for 90% of the folks out there. You can even opt for alpacas, chickens, goats, etc. without feeling cramped.
For those who want to raise a very generous amount of livestock and get a little more elbow room, shoot for 20 acres or more. That will serve most family goat, alpaca, chicken, etc. farms just fine with an abundance of space. Even cattle will work. If you’re serious about large-scale cattle, bison or just want a mega-sized ranch, 50-500 acres should be more in your range.
But remember, just because you have 50 acres, doesn’t mean, you immediately have 50 acres ready to rock and roll. Nope, you’ll need fencing, have to remove toxic weeds that can kill livestock, and figure out roads/paths for transporting water, feed, etc.
We know a lot of farmers and ranchers who have 50 acres, and use an acre or so for gardening, but decided another spot was perfect for animals or an orchard. Instead of keeping everything close by, in one nearby section, they are finding themselves struggling to keep an eye on these areas. Not to mention, hating the fact that they have to transport feed and water so far. Even worse, if your water source is downhill, good luck piping it uphill.
Or how about having to walk through a bunch of muck, because it turns out the path to your garden floods in the spring. Not fun. Really get to know your land before you jump into things. Perhaps that small few lush and grassy acres will work out better than the hundreds on rocky terrain.
Consider those types of things before planning out your homestead, ranch, farm, garden or whatever!
Other influences to consider.
When you think of homestead, most tend to think gardens and pastures. The truth is, you need to account for things like ponds, compost piles, barns, tool sheds, large machinery and equipment, and even your home. Where will you store hay, firewood, etc.? Will roads take up valuable real estate through your land? You’ve got to be able to access your land.
How much water tanks, either above ground or buried, should you forgo the pond idea. More on this in another content piece my friends.
So there’s you have it.
Did it surprise you to know that you can feed a family of 6 on less than one acre? It’s so simple, yet most folks now days don’t think that’s even possible. Everyone drives by farms, thinking wow, you need a lot of land to grow food, but that’s just not true.
Okay, if you want to be a commercial farmer or a serious player in agriculture sure, but for most of the population, we’ll be happy with a small, self-sufficient homestead.