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

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.

2/9/2018 5:06:59 PM

To Zorba 1 A cheap but effective greenhouse is a hoop house type green house made out of 1" PVC conduit (gray PVC) or larger diameter such as 1 1/2" or 1 1/2" To add the needed rigidity to the hoop house you run 1" x 4" boards down each side lengthwise connected to the hoops; have a rigid peach that the top of each hoop is connected to; and have 1" x 4" braces on each corner. Cover it with regular greenhouse plastic. Make it so you can roll up the sides to the half way point and put a window in one end and a door in the other. Use raised beds inside for planting. If you have much snow, you will need to brush the snow off the sides on a regular basis if you leave it up all winter long. Otherwise the weight of the snow will collapse the PVC conduit hoops. CountryhomesteadlivingJohn.

2/9/2018 5:06:56 PM

To zorba 1 A cheap and probably effective green house would be to build a hoop house using at least 1' PVC Conduit for the hoops. I have one like that that has withstood winds of up to 75 mph without problems. A secret to making it withstand high winds is to place 1" x 4" down the middle of each side lengthwise about midway up the hoops; have a ridge pole to give rigidity to the peak of the hoop house and to have corner braces of 1" x 4" on all 4 corners. I used to live in the high desert of California on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada's and there were times the wind exceeded100 mph. Country Homestead Living John.

2/7/2018 7:47:37 AM

I'm 69 and just helped build my SHACK as I call it. 800 square feet, all wood inside and a metal building around. Actually put up the metal building first. At this age, and even in decent health, it was an overwhelming task and the very first thing I learned about building is that all the materials are really heavy. I injured my hamstring in a fall almost detaching it from my pelvis. I now have golfers elbow in both arms from all the heavy lifting. However, I got through it and now we are warm and cozy in our little shack. The thing about building at this age is being careful and knowing your limitations.

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