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.

6/1/2019 10:56:32 AM

SP - John Seymour lived in England, so his advice tends to be very climate specific. That doesn't mean he was an idiot, just that his experiences with homesteading came from a much easier growing environment. His USDA hardiness zone equivalent is about a 7 or 8, if memory doesn't fail me. Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest maritime climate where I live can translate most of his suggestions to practice without modifications (except for irrigation in the dry summer months), because our climate is essentially "Stereotypical English Rain and Fog", but I wouldn't expect it to work on the prairie. If forage is not sufficient for a cow, the stocking rate as provided by the local extension office can lend itself to supporting a couple of goats, that can manage on more marginal land and still provide milk and meat and manure. Where I'm at, the land can on average support just under one animal unit per acre, so with the acreage I have, I could keep a couple of cows or steers and hay a couple acres for winter with my available pasture, rather inefficiently, I might add. I'd rather use that space for an orchard and graze sheep. If I can in stead graze a well managed flock of ewes (4-5 per acre, plus their lambs in the summer, and sheep can graze under fruit trees without damaging the trees, unlike goats or cattle, so I can expand my orchard) in the same area, and get fruit from the trees, milk I can digest, fiber, and grass fed meat from them with much lower inputs than with cattle, with a better rotation, and lower winter feed expenses, due to lambs reaching slaughter weight before I need to start supplementing with hay. It's all about adaptation to your local conditions.

5/31/2019 10:15:51 AM

Vladmir5 - if you're just looking for available properties in your area you can start with the Mother Earth News Land for Sale site: Some of these properties are posted by owners which would eliminate the realtor. Good luck SP - Much as we wish we could provide one article that would work for the entire world, it's just not possible (sorry Antarctica, you can't raise a cow on an acre in your neck of the woods either.) You can raise a cow on an acre though in the right locations - but yes, it would take proper management of the land. The whole point of the article is to just give the reader an idea of how they might be able to maximize their property and minimize their reliance on third-party factors. Given the rainfall you've had in Nebraska this year - you might see how many fish you can raise on one acre. Take Care!

5/30/2019 11:36:32 AM

Hello to all! Who can help suggest which organization need to contact about the land to begin farming activities.? Realtors are very expensive.


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