Start a 1-Acre, Self-Sufficient Homestead

Expert advice on how to establish self-sufficient food production, including guidance on crop rotations, raising livestock and grazing management.

| August/September 2011

  • Dairy Cows
    A dairy cow can provide butter, cream, milk, yogurt and cheese, plus lots of manure to build soil fertility. 
  • Homestead Plan
    Your 1-acre homestead can be divided into land for raising livestock and a garden for raising fruits, vegetables, plus some grain and forage crops. 
  • Chicken Coop
    Get creative and make your own chicken coop: This ark can be made out of used fertilizer bags for nearly nothing. 
  • Drying Hay
    You can grow your own wheat and dry it on simple tripods made from poles. 
  • Chickens
    Chickens for eggs, meat and pest control are the top livestock choice on most homesteads. 
  • Pig Breeds
    Omnivorous pigs will eat almost anything, and can convert your surplus crops into delicious meat and fertile compost. 

  • Dairy Cows
  • Homestead Plan
  • Chicken Coop
  • Drying Hay
  • Chickens
  • Pig Breeds

Everyone will have a different approach to keeping a self-sufficient homestead, and it’s unlikely that any two 1-acre farms will follow the same plan or methods or agree completely on how to homestead. Some people like cows; other people are afraid of them. Some people like goats; other people cannot keep them out of the garden. Some people will not slaughter animals and have to sell their surplus stock off to people who will kill them; others will not sell surplus stock off at all because they know that the animals will be killed; and still others will slaughter their own animals to provide their family with healthy meat.

For myself, on a 1-acre farm of good, well-drained land, I would keep a cow and a goat, a few pigs and maybe a dozen hens. The goat would provide me with milk when the cow was dry. I might keep two or more goats, in fact. I would have the dairy cow (a Jersey) to provide the pigs and me with milk. More importantly, I would keep her to provide heaps and heaps of lovely cow manure to increase my soil fertility, for in order to derive any sort of living from that 1 acre without the application of a lot of artificial fertilizer, it would have to be heavily manured.

Raising a Dairy Cow

Cow or no cow? The pros and cons are many and various for a self-sufficient homestead. In favor of raising a cow is the fact that nothing keeps the health of a family — and a farm — at a high level better than a dairy cow. If you and your children have ample good, fresh, unpasteurized, unadulterated dairy products, you will be well-positioned to be a healthy family. If your pigs and poultry get their share of the milk by-products, especially whey, they likely will be healthy, too. If your garden gets plenty of cow manure, your soil fertility will continuously increase, along with your yields.

On the other hand, the food that you buy in for this family cow will cost you hundreds of dollars each year. Compared with how much money you would spend on dairy products each year, the fresh milk supply from the cow plus the increased value of the eggs, poultry and pig meat that you will get, along with your ever-growing soil fertility, will quickly make a family cow a worthwhile investment. But a serious counter-consideration is that you will have to take on the responsibility of milking a cow. (For different milking plans and estimated savings, see Keep a Family Cow and Enjoy Delicious Milk, Cream, Cheese and More.) Milking a cow doesn’t take very long — perhaps eight minutes — and it’s very pleasant if you know how to do it and if she is a quiet, docile cow — but you will have to do it. Buying a dairy cow is a very important step, and you shouldn’t do it unless you do not intend to go away very much, or unless you can make arrangements for somebody else to take over your milking duties while you’re gone. So let’s plan our 1-acre farm on the assumption that we are going to keep a dairy cow.

1-Acre Farm With a Family Cow

Half of your land would be put down to grass, leaving half an acre arable (not allowing for the land on which the house and other buildings stand). The grass half could remain permanent pasture and never be plowed up at all, or you could plan crop rotations by plowing it up, say, every four years. If you do the latter, it is best done in strips of a quarter of the half-acre so that each year you’re planting a grass, clover and herb mixture on an eighth of your acre of land. This crop rotation will result in some freshly sown pasture every year, some 2-year-old field, some 3-year-old field and some 4-year-old field, resulting in more productive land.

Grazing Management 

At the first sign the grass patch is suffering from overgrazing, take the cow away. The point of strip grazing (also called intensive rotational grazing) is that grass grows better and produces more if it is allowed to grow for as long as possible before being grazed or cut all the way down, and then allowed to rest again. In such intensive husbandry as we are envisaging for this self-sufficient homestead, careful grazing management will be essential.

4/26/2019 8:53:21 PM

I usually love Mother Earth News and the information it provides. Then I read an article like this and realize some contributors to MEN are just idiots! You cannot keep a cow on 1-acre of land, even if that was the only thing living there. In prime grass country, it takes about 3-acres to provide sufficient food for a cow. Where I live in central Nebraska, a cow could starve on 10-acres.

3/13/2019 1:38:04 PM

People should read John Seymour's "The Fat of the Land " ..He lived this experience, starting out of necessity when his small canal barge sank and he had to rent a remote farmhouse with his pregnant wife Sally. He was a journalist with no experience of farming. The book details his journey to becoming one of the foremost authority's on self sufficient living in the 20th century. I personally lived this experience myself with no idea of how even to milk a cow and I had never had a garden. I was an immigrant to Canada from the United States.. I was homesteading in the wilderness in the British Columbia interior, a thousand km north of Vancouver ... seven miles up a river and 80 miles at least from a town and 12 miles from the nearest neighbor all on dirt roads. There was no electricity anywhere along the lake then , no one had it unless they had a generator and it was never coming up the river . There was no shelter but the tent, a moose fell in love with the Jersey cow and the chickens conveniently laid eggs in the bottom of a salvaged cupboard .The garden provided everything can grow a lot even if you are at 2300 feet and it frosts often at night in the summer. We learned to plant potatoes on the hill side as frost drains to the low land. Mr Seymour didn't have that problem in Britain... but if you talk to and listen to the local old timers you will find out everything else you need to know. We had very little money , we salvaged and made do and learned. We had read John Seymour's book. We were successful and prospered . It is a wonderful way to live and a cow, some chickens and a garden can provide all you need to live and you can go anywhere from there if you have dreams and are willing to work . For any dream to come true you have to believe in it first.

3/5/2019 11:34:43 AM

Plants are living things too! the circle of life requires that some life is eaten in order to sustain the circle. ... I am planning for a small organic orchard. Have not decided on animals but I am partial to rabbits and ducks/chickens (need to find our which is allowed in my town) for manure and food. Looking for how to's about the orchard and so far find the methods conflicting. My soil is mostly clay which drains okay but not sure if I should dig it out and replace as some articles suggest.


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