Obtaining a self-sufficient homestead is something of a crown jewel for preppers. Off-grid, your own land, your own resources. No neighbors, no dependency and definitely no one else telling you what to do, when you can do it and where to shop.
For the ultimate and sustainable lifestyle and peace of mind having a homestead with your own crops, your own livestock and your own wide open spaces that you work yourself is certainly an appealing concept, and rightfully so.
But after we all get done with our pie-in-the-sky dreams, we need to get down to brass tacks. You have to eat. You have to eat a lot, and so does every member of your family or group. That means you are going to need a lot of room to grow and raise your food on.
How much land are we talking about here? While there is no specific answer or formula that can determine how much land is needed to become self-sufficient, you can rely on a general rule of thumb that states a family of four will need between 2 and 5 acres on the lean side, and 10 or more acres depending on the overall strategy of cropping against livestock husbandry.
There are many other factors that must be accounted for, including biome, typical climate, personal skill level, diet, available labor or labor saving technology and more.
In the current zeitgeist of prepping ultra-compact and hyper-efficient homesteads are all the rage.
But a real, working a homestead that is not merely a hobby project or lifestyle choice on the fringe of society is altogether a different beast from these theoretically possible, but difficult to establish and sustain novelty homesteads.
There is a lot to consider, and you had better get it right if you want to make a go of it for the long haul.
Do you think you can pull off a compact and super-efficient homestead on an acre or a little less, using nothing but a garden and a few runs for chickens or rabbits? Or will you in the end need considerably more land than you initially anticipated?
In the rest of this article we’ll examine just a few of the most important considerations that you have to take into account.
Where Are You Going and What’s the Soil Like?
Before you can make a reasonable determination of how much land you’ll need, you need to assess the land itself and the weather that typically affects it. You can’t grow anything you want anywhere on Earth; the soil gets a vote.
Everything from the temperature to the amount of rain and the amount of sunshine that the soil gets on average will strictly determine what you can grow and how efficiently you can grow it.
It also goes without saying that livestock of various kinds will do best or indeed can live at all only in certain climates.
Trying to shoehorn crops or animals into an environment where they are not suited it’s going to take considerably more work at best and will likely and with loss of your crops at worst.
Even if you can pull off growing certain plants or raising certain animals in an environment that they are only marginally suited ask yourself if this is the best use of resources?
If your efficiency is way down you should likely consider an alternate location for your homestead or the rearing of other crops.
If the soil is better suited for animals or a certain species or a particular crop you might be best off trying to improve only a small section of it, a garden of sorts, for veggies or fruits you are just not willing to go without instead of trying to battle ill-suited soil on the entire property.
Indeed for the smallest homesteads or ones doubling-down on animal rearing a small garden could be the only patch for veggies you have time or room for.
In short, the more ideal a given location is for the growing of crops or the raising of animals the more of both you will be able to raise dependably. The less ideal (or more marginal) it is the less dependably you’ll be able to count on a harvest.
Carefully consider this before choosing the site of your homestead and deciding on how little land you think you can get away with.
How Many Mouths to Feed?
There is a strict and simple formula for determining how many calories you need to create when it comes to your homestead’s output, and that is how many people you are directly responsible for.
Be it family, close friends or just people that have hitched their wagon to your horse, as it were, all of those people need a certain amount of calories to survive at the bare minimum.
They will need a certain amount of calories to thrive, and somewhere in between those two numbers varying amounts of vitamins, minerals and other essentials for good health.
If you should fall behind on your production that provides one or several of them, people will start to suffer. This is where the hard numbers really kick in: not all calories are created equal.
It is entirely possible to grow sustainable crops on significantly less land, reliably, than is needed to raise consumable livestock to maturity and harvesting age.
On the other hand, certain livestock can produce renewable consumables like eggs or milk in relatively confined spaces and do so year after year.
A worthwhile grow operation for crops may take anywhere from a couple to tens of acres, whereas making a good go of it with larger species of livestock and take you 20 or even dozens of acres at the minimum.
Recall that crop rotation and pasture rotation is an essential part of taking care of your land, and failing to do this can result in soil burnout where you cannot get crops to grow and animals will be unable to derive nutrition from their grazing.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
You can have dozens upon dozens or even hundreds of acres of land at your willing disposal, but if you do not have the ability to work and process the products on that land it isn’t doing you a lick of good.
Your first step to determining how much labor you can pour into the day-to-day operation of your homestead is in taking a look at your own family or group.
In short, how many able-bodied working sets of hands do you have access to? The younger and fitter the better, to a point.
Obviously, small children will not be good for much except the menial tasks and chores, and even then good luck getting a full day’s work out of them. Same thing goes for elderly members, or for those who are already infirm.
There’s an awful lot to do on a homestead, a heck of a lot more than you think, and it isn’t just the big ticket items like tilling and preparing soil and the actual physical planting or care of livestock.
Are you prepared to capitalize on your harvest so that they do not spoil or go to waste? This is important enough if it is for personal sustenance, but how about if you’re getting it prepared to go to market and sell?
All kinds of food preservation methods from dehydration to canning require meticulous prep, constant attention and brisk implementation to execute them before your food starts to spoil. They all take time and effort…
You must make sure you plot and chart absolutely all the labor that will go into every single operation on your homestead that is required for you to survive, dot your I-s and cross your T-s.
If you fall short on labor, people have to work longer and harder or you just have to go without. There are no exceptions and the brutal calculus of need will suffer no excuse.
High-Tech, Primitive or Somewhere In-Between?
It is no secret that labor-saving technology and advanced techniques can let one person do the work of many in our modern era. This is of course a good thing, as more production only means an increased standard of living for all of us.
Way, way back in the day a task on a homestead or working farm that might have been backbreaking, lengthy and laborious for one or two people using manual tools for primitive technology is now completely trivial thanks to our modern mechanical contrivances.
You can make use of this modern technology for your own benefit on your homestead. But there is a catch…
In short, modern technology always has associated upkeep costs and required secondary technologies in order to keep it operating. Consider the modern farm combine, used to effortlessly gather and process acres and acres of grown crops.
This can let one guy with a tractor do the work of dozens. But that combine requires skilled maintenance, replacement parts, and specialized fluids. Lacking any of them or going without them for too long will mean that it no longer works and cannot do its job.
Before you make the decision to rely on that machine ask yourself if you can afford to get by without it using your current strategy.
Do you have a back-up plan, preferably one that is not so reliant on power or advanced technology? If the answer is no, you might want to consider re-evaluating your acceptable margin for error on your homestead.
Reduced output but greater sustainability and, more importantly, durability against loss and mishap might be the better play in the long-term. This will also mean you could potentially get by with less land.
Primitive technologies will still help you be more efficient on your homestead, and they are generally less dependent upon ever more complex and intricate networks of support to keep them viable.
- Before you decide on how much land you need, have you done a cost-benefit analysis on the type of crops or the type of animals you will raise? Does your selection make the best available use of the room you have and the climate you are living in? Some animals, like pigs, need tons of room and only produce meat. Cows can furnish meat and milk, while chickens can provide meat and eggs, as well as being efficient fertilizers.
- Less land means less margin for error. Tiny, super-efficient micro homesteads can suffer no mistakes before disaster strikes.
- No matter what you are raising on your homestead, make sure as many crops or animal products are as nutritionally complete as possible.
- Don’t forget to make allowances for crop and pasture rotation due to depletion of essential soil nutrients overtime. You must give the soil time to rest!
In general, you can expect to create a self-sufficient homestead using as little as 2 to 5 acres of land, but this is extremely lean and will leave no margin for error. It is also dependent on a certain amount of advanced techniques and labor-saving technology.
A more realistic, operational homestead will probably require 10 acres or more at the minimum, allowing for mishap, mistakes and room to adapt.