How much land do I need to feed a four person family (5-200 acres)? : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

My wife, two kids and I are following our dream to live in the country. I got a new job and moved to a rural part of SW Missouri. We have been renting a house in town until our old house is sold.

Now that we have started looking for a home the question of how much land do we really need comes up. We seen houses on 5-200 acres. We do not want too little and have to move but we do not want too much and have to pay taxes on land we do not need.

We are not interested in going into agribusiness. We just want enough to be self-sufficient and have fun. We are interested in having 2 steers, 2 hogs, 4 goats, 2 horses, 4 sheep, 12 chickens, 6 ducks, 2 rabbits, 1 dog, 1 cat, a big garden, a small orchard, and "a partridge in a pear tree" :)

Do you have any suggestions on how to narrow down our search? How much land do you have and how much do you need? What would you have done differently when buying your land?

Thanks for your help.

-- Iron Man (, September 04, 2000


i too am in sw missouri in wright county near hartville. i am not really the one to answer all your questions but i think whoever does will need to know do you plan on raising the feed for the animals you mentioned and if so do you plan to provide a. pasture, b. raise hay, c. raise grains, d. etc.

also you need to plan your physical layout of your homestead how big of a house, how many outbuildings and size, the number and size of animal pens.

also do you plan to heat with wood because then you would want a woodlot to provide the wood needed for heat.

these are not all of the things to take in consideration but will make a good start. gail

-- gail missouri ozarks (, September 04, 2000.

Excluding the horses, your biggest need for pasture during the summer and hay during the winter would be the steers. Do you really need to raise your own? When you are ready for one to go into the freezer really all you would need to do is to go to a local livestock auction, buy a steer to your requirements, and have it taken to the processing plant/meat locker. I know people want to raise their own so they know what goes into them, but close to 100% of those sold at a local auction come straight off the farm, where they likely received little, if any, supplemental feed. Of course, this would be lean beef, versus the marbling in feedlot beef. But even here you could buy a steer, free-choice feed them for a couple of months, then take them for processing.

How much beef do you currently consume? A rule of thumb is a 1,000 steer will produce 465 pounds of beef, of which only about 75 pounds will be steaks. The rest will be cuts like roasts, ribs, stew meat and hamburger, with emphasis on the last. This is an average of 1.3 pounds per day or nine pound per week, or 2 1/4 pounds per person for a family of four.

On cost, say it costs you $1,000 to either raise or purchase a suitable steer. For 465 pounds you are paying $2.15 for what actually goes in the freezer. To this needs to be added transportation, processing fees and the annual cost to own and operate a freezer. Say it bumps it up to $2.40. The average retail cost for all beef cuts hovers around $2.65 per pound.

There are even compromises. Say your family mostly eats hamburger. You can go to the livestock auction and buy a cull cow probably for no more than $.45 per pound (and I have seen them sell for as little as $.03 per pound). Have the usuable meat on the carcass (and some have the hearts, tongue and liver ground as well) turned into hamburger (and you can ask for extra fat to be added if desired). Then buy your 'Sunday' cuts retail.

On acreage requirements, my climate is similar to yours. I run 40- 50 cows, two bulls and their calves on 100 acres. So it is about 2 1/2 acres per cow/calf pair. I suspect a horse would require about the same. Check with your local ag agent as they can likely give you rules of thumbs for various livestock on pasture requirement.

On your overall question, there are just too many variables. For example, do you want to hunt on your own land? A rule of thumb around here is 100 acres will support one hunter.

I suggest going over your plan with your local ag agent.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, September 05, 2000.

If you want to graze the steers year-round, 3 or 4 acres for the pair should be more than enough. You'll need some hay for when it snows, but of you manage your pastures well, you can graze much of the year. If you are willing to buy hay, an acre or 2 would do. That's if it's cross-fenced and you can let one pasture rest while grazing another. If you're buying what feed you need for the hogs, then a fairly small pen would do. If you plan on grazing them or raising all of their feed, then an acre or two should be needed.

Four goats or sheep to the acre sounds about right. Too much land is better than too little, so say 4 acres for the lot. You might be able to graze the goats for free' as it were. They prefer browsing on bushes and trees and broad-leafed forbes rather then the grass the cattle and sheep will want. So if you rotate things correctly and have a well planted pasture, you won't need any land for the goats. One possible rotation would be to put the steers in a pasture until the grass is getting low, then rotate them to the next pasture and put the sheep in. After the sheep have cleaned up the grass, they follow the cows while the goats come in. Since the goats are busy eating the brush and roses and such, the grass has some time to recover. After the goats leave, let the pasture set until the grass is big enough for the cattle.

The small stock will need a negligible amount of land if you are buying feed. If you add chickens to the above rotation, they will keep the flies down.

A Orchard can be anything from a few trees to acres. If it's only to meet your families needs and is well thought out, a quarter of an acre should be plenty. If you protect the trees you can graze livestock, especially the sheep, under them in the spring and early summer. Since the livestock will eat any early dropped fruit, they will keep some of the pests down as well as keeping the grass down.

When I was a kid our garden supplied all of the vegetables for a family of 6 plus usually one or two foster kids. It was never bigger than half an acre. There are better ways to garden than we did then too. Look into raised (or at least permanent) beds, deep mulching and square-foot gardening.

So adding up the above, but not counting on a wood lot, 10 to 15 acres should be enough. If you drop the large livestock and rely on rabbits and chickens for all of your meat, you could grow all of their food, plus your garden and orchard etc on probably less than 3 acres.

Give careful thought to using rabbits instead of steers and hogs. They are so much more efficient and so much easier to butcher, you don't need a huge freezer, they won't trample you, and I could go on. If you have enough scraps to feed a hog or two, they might be worth while, but if you have to buy feed, or even grow it, they may not make sense either.

Finally, Welcome to the Ozarks, I run a small but friendly list on egroups. com for Ozark Homesteaders. You can sign up from:

-- paul (, September 05, 2000.

Another question -- how old are your children? It is nice to have some extra space just for elbow room, and for children roaming around playing their games and just being children. When mine were still elementary age, we lived at the back side of a huge grass-seed farm in the Willamette Valley, right next to a thousand acre wildlife refuge. The wild-life refuge was on what had been some kind of military instalation during WWII, and there were still paved streets crisscrossing the area, old fruit trees (from before the war when it was a farm), and a few foundations, a pond or two and a couple of creeks -- my girls spent almost all their time wandering that place, having a great time -- a thousand acres was none too big!!

Also, you mentioned that you have four people in your family, but only want two horses -- do you have some non-riders? Or is it possible that after a while you might find that in order for your whole family to ride together, you would want to have a couple more horses? Plus, if you get nice horses, you might want to raise a foal or two someday -- so your land needs could increase. Figure out what you need right now, then add a little extra for growing room. And another thing, in a few years it might be getting harder to find land at reasonable prices, and you might possibly want to be able to give each of your children enough land to grow their own food on and build a house someday.

-- Kathleen Sanderson (, September 05, 2000.

I would buy as much land as you can afford .You can always change your home or barn to make it bigger but it is very hard to increase your land .After a few years if your sure you don't want the extra land you can always sell it.

-- Patty Gamble (, September 05, 2000.

I don't mean to be discouraging, but it might be a good idea to start out with fewer animals, and only a few species to start ouut with. Learn about those first, and then gradually add another species, one at a time. You might find that you love sheep but hate goats, or vice versa. I would rather have just one or two kinds of animals, and know their needs and upkeep really well, than to have a lot of everything and know a little bit about all of them. For some reason, it's also a lot easier to take care of 12 goats than it is to do the chores for 2 goats, 2 sheep,2 horses, 2 cattle, 2 chickens,2 rabbits,etc. The other thing is that these animals tend to multiply every year or so if you're doing things right, so start out with one or two goats and sheep. It can be very hard to eat the first lamb or kid that was ever born on your place, and inevitably, you will want to keep a few of the females. Also, get a nice, big barn, bigger than you think you'll need. You will use it, and animals can reproduce so quickly that small barns become a problem, with more sickness and stress due to overcrowding.

-- Rebekah (, September 05, 2000.

5 acres would probably be plenty to feed a family of four but I have known too many people who bought 5 acres thinking after living in town that they have a hugh space! Not too long after they realize how small 5 acres is in terms of "country" and want more land. I would suggest at least 20 acres. Most of the tax money will be for the property on the farm anyway, not the land. We have 90 acres but ideal to me would be around 40 acres. One thing about land, they ain't making no more of it!!!!!

-- bwilliams (, September 05, 2000.

Forty Acres and a Mule!

-- Deborah (, September 05, 2000.

I recommend getting THE HAVE MORE PLAN it is offered in the Countryside bookstore. Though it is over 50 yrs old it is still packed with useful information about the questions you are asking. It has a veggie planting chart that tells how much you need to plant for a family of five. (But I recommend that you plant in raised beds instead of the long rows that was common back then)

One of the best features is the homestead layout. They give examples of a 2 acre and 5 acre spread. Lots of tips on things not to leave out. It is excellent for getting you started thinking about your place.

I laid out our future homestead on graph paper using 1 square for 10 feet. I planned how big I wanted the house, yard (just right for mowing), garden, shade trees, orchard, berry patches, nut trees(double as shade), barn/chicken coop, garage, driveway, trees for wind break, and even space for a second little house for our elderly years or guests. When I was done I added it all up and was surprised to find it was only one acre! That didn't include pasture, which I would want, and maybe an acre or two for alfalfa. So anything beyond 6 acres is elbow room and I want some of that too.

That's a great idea mention above about buying enough land to pass a plot on to your kids. So, if you need 10 acres for your needs and 5 acres each for your kids look for about 20 acres.

The Have More Plan also talks about animals on the homestead. More current info can be found in Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living. She says you can raise a steer only on pasture without buying food (interesting reading). But 2 steer and 2 hogs seems like alot for 4 people. My wife and I have talked of having a steer one year and a hog the next, alternating cost and care.

But first of all ask yourself "What do we really NEED?", then "What do we really WANT now, and in 10 years?" Work from there.

-- Vaughn (, September 05, 2000.

Vaughn mentioned raised bed gardening; we have always used raised beds, and they are very productive, but I think we are about to go back to wide-row gardening for two reasons. One is that raised beds need to be hand weeded, which is fine for a small garden, but not so fine for a big one. Rows can be weeded (other than right around the plants) with a wheeled cultivator, or maybe someday we will have a draft animal to pull one. Then we would only have to hoe right around the plants, and there would be room to do that without chopping half of them down. The other reason is that if you can't water your garden, the plants will survive a water shortage better if they are spaced farther apart. Just some things that have us reconsidering how we garden.

-- Kathleen Sanderson (, September 05, 2000.

We are a family of 6 , a dressed hog at 230 lbs lasts us about a year .It doesn't keep us in ribs though . This year we will put 2 in the freezer , as the kids get older they eat more ! I have not done a cow yet but figure 1 will do .This spring I will raise up about 100 chickens .

We have 140 a and would not sell one .You have to remember if you only have 5 or 10 a you might still have a close neighbor to butt into your buisness .Complain about the animals and so forth . Things around you may change in 10 years and the city may grow to close .With more land you are safer with town laws , such as we are taxed as a farm ! Lower taxes , we don't need burn permits , actually we never even pulled a building permit .

-- Patty Gamble (, September 06, 2000.

If you can afford 500 acres, by all means get it and put your house riht smack in the middle of it ( affords for good neighbor distance). You can begin proving up land as you need it for the type of lifestyle you are pursueing. Land is always a great investment, Bankers love it and if you don't want to deal with them, theres timber or Christmas trees. Our family of 3 is making it without livestock at this time on 1.2 acre . Next year we hope to grow 75% to 80% of our groceries, trading for some goat meat , pork and beef

-- Jay Blair (, September 06, 2000.

Iron Man, Having been there and done that (making the move from city to country) I will offer the following advice. 1. Be really careful that there is a diverse gene pool in the new neighborhood. You don't want to move into an area where two or three families make up the majority of the population. You will never fit in. 2. Buy as much land as you can afford. Pay a lot of attention to easements, etc.. Relationships can change down the road (even if you are not directly involved) and you may find that access to to your property becomes difficult. Try to stay on a town, county or state road. 3. With livestock, start small. 10-12 chickens and a dog will do for starters. Critters are not as self-sufficient as you may think and taking on too many problems at one time can lead to early burn-out. By the way, the dog should not be one of the retriever or hunting type if you intend to have goats or chickens. I recommend a Collie or a Doberman. Don't ask why. Jonn and Pat.................

-- John and Pat James (, September 06, 2000.

I would agree with those advising not to get so many species of animals at first. We started with horses (3)then chickens (20) then goats (9) then sheep(2) and geese (3)then added a calf, 2 turkeys and 2 pigs over a span of four years. Without a doubt, caring for that many species of animals is neither simple nor easy. My vet refers to it as a "zoo" with all the attending problems of a real zoo maintining numerous species confined to a small area. There is parasite sharing among species, certain diseases cross species lines and caring for all these animals can be a logistical nightmare causing more stress than is necessary. Managing the worming and vaccinations schedules for that many species alone is a task.

I am rethinking our farming model to decrease the number of species on our farm. The best solution, in my opinion, is to raise 2 or three species and then swap with neighbors who grow/raise something different. For example, I'll probably eliminate the broilers and only keep 5 or so laying hens. The sheep will go and I'll get any wool I want by trading for it. The biggest mistake I see newbie countrysiders make is acquiring too many animals too soon, i.e. The wrong type of dogs, livestock that gets treated like pets rather than a farm commodity thus turning your farm into a money pit.

We have 10 acres, btw and I wish I could have more fenced pasture but, in all honesty, we can grow what we need on this much land easily. The negative aspect of land is that the more you have the more work it takes to keep it maintained, particularly pasture and fence lines. We could not keep up with more than 10 acres at this time.

-- Jeanne (, September 08, 2000.

Hi Iron man I agree with pattys advice. Get as much land as you can. It is much easier to sell it latter than to buy more with out moveing your homestead. You could even make some money selling small parcels of land. Just be careful who you sell it to. I bought 2 acers from a freind. who had 40 acers I paid way more per acer for my 2 than he did for his 4o. you get the idea. Were I live people are always wanting small parcels of land, but no one wants to sell any of there land. wich I understand. Have fun on your homestead, I could not be happier with mine. God Bless, Lisa

-- Lisa Hopple (, September 11, 2000.

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