Can You Homestead and Increase Your Self-Reliance on 1 Acre or Less?
The good news is that you CAN homestead on a small property of one acre, half an acre, or even less! If you would like to increase your self-reliance you can definitely accomplish that goal on a one acre homestead. You might be wondering what you can raise on such a small homestead. I have been homesteading on one acre or less for almost 30 years and I want to share my experience with you. So keep reading for my tips to be more self-reliant on a small homestead!
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So What is a Homestead Anyway?
The word homestead has more than one definition ranging from a home, and the adjoining land, occupied by a family to property acquired through the homestead act when early settlers moved west.
Many people today look back fondly on tales of pioneer life. We’d like to know we can survive great difficulties and be self-sufficient like our ancestors. Of course, very few modern homesteaders live in conditions as wild and dangerous as those the early pioneers faced.
Although complete self-sufficiency is a romantic notion, most of us just want to rely less on the grocery store and the power company. These days the term ‘homesteaders’ usually refers to people who grow gardens, raise livestock, and live a more self-reliant life.
Modern Homesteading is a Balancing Act
Modern homesteaders must find a balance between purchasing a property they can afford and having enough land to fulfill their dreams of self-reliance. Buying land, paying necessary taxes, and maintaining your property all requires income. Making the most of a small homestead gives you the best of both worlds…a smaller investment of time and money and the opportunity to grow much of your own food.
If you are working to increase your self-sufficiency by homesteading on a small property you might be wondering what homesteading projects are right for you.
What Can You Do on a One Acre Homestead (or Less)?
You can grow a lot of food and increase your self-reliance on a one acre homestead! I don’t believe you can be completely self-sufficient on a property this small. Over the years I’ve come to realize that my one acre homestead will never allow my family to grow all of our own food and necessary resources.
You also must invest money, time, and labor to homestead and provide for your family. Before you start adding livestock, gardens, and other elements to your property, determine what you need and can take care of, without burning out.
Here are some things to consider for your small homestead…
- Livestock and Pets
- Garden, Orchard, Small Fruits, and Grains
- Cooking from Scratch and Preserving the Harvest
- DIY Crafts, Woodworking, and Handyman Projects
- Home Energy Production
- Homestead Buildings
Livestock and Pets
A one acre homestead (or less) limits how many animals you can keep, but there are plenty of options. What do you want from your animals… milk, eggs, meat, or fiber? Maybe you’d like livestock guardians, draft animals, bird dogs, barn cats, or companionship.
If you choose to keep livestock, you’ll need to rotate their pasture yearly to prevent a buildup of parasites in the ground where they graze. Be prepared to learn everything you can about their proper care and nutrition. Most livestock will tie you to the homestead unless you have a farm sitter to care for your animals while you go on a vacation.
Make Sure You’re Ready for the Commitment…
Keeping livestock is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Prevention is obviously the best medicine, but you’ll also need to know how to give vaccinations, worming medications, and you may need to perform minor surgery such as castration, disbudding, or draining an abscess. If you’re squeamish about these things, reconsider keeping livestock or start out slowly to see what you can handle.
Perhaps your ideal homestead includes a cow to provide your family with milk and meat. Be aware that it costs a small fortune to purchase and care for cattle. Expect to invest a great deal in the animal, including a high initial price. You’ll need housing, fencing, hay, and grain not to mention medications, supplements, and possibly veterinary care. 1 acre isn’t enough to raise all of the feed a cow needs.
Most dairy cows will produce 5 or 6 gallons of milk a day, although you need to share that with her calf. She’ll give milk for 10 months to a year but must be dried off for 1 1/2 to 2 months before calving.
If you do decide to keep a cow for milk, the calves may be raised to sell or provide milk or meat. Be prepared to feed the calf for close to 2 years before breeding or butchering.
Consider a Dexter or a Jersey or other smaller breed. Dexters are ‘mini’ cattle that produce less milk but also eat less and are easier to handle than a full-sized cow.
In my opinion, it is better to keep goats on a one acre homestead.
Goats and Sheep
If you want milk and meat, goats are a great addition to a 1/2 to one acre homestead. You can keep 2 or 3 does in a small pasture. Rotate their pens to provide fresh forage and reduce parasites. They will be happy to clean up many of the weeds and brush around the homestead. Goats will cost much less to purchase and feed compared to a cow.
If you’ve only tasted goat milk from the grocery store and didn’t like it, I recommend trying fresh goat milk. It tastes much more like cow’s milk and is very rich and creamy. A good dairy goat will produce around a quart of milk plus enough for their kid each day.
Don’t try to keep just one goat as they are herd animals and will be very stressed living alone. Rotate breeding schedule for milk production year-round. Castrate bucks and use for pulling a wagon, carrying a pack, as a pet, or for meat if you choose.
Some breeds provide fiber, while some are best for dairy or meat production. Dwarf goats don’t produce a lot of milk but are wonderful on half an acre or less.
You may also keep sheep for milk, however, they will not produce as much as a full-sized goat. Sheep also provide wool for felting or spinning yarn for your homemade clothing, crafts, or blankets. Extra sheep may be processed for their meat or sold.
Pigs fit fairly well on a one acre homestead because they don’t require a large pasture. You will need to purchase grain for feed and straw for their bedding. They’ll happily eat scraps to supplement their feed and the composted manure is great for the garden.
Although you might do well to keep a sow to breed and raise her own piglets each year, I don’t recommend keeping a boar on a one acre homestead. It’s easiest to bring in 2 or 3-month-old pigs in spring to process when the weather cools down.
Pigs also do a great job of rooting around a field or garden for any tidbits left behind after harvest. Pen them in and allow them to plow the field in fall for the following season.
Check to see if there is a local butcher or be prepared to process them yourself. Make sure you have the means to transport the animals to the butcher. For those who wish to increase their self-reliance, you may build a smokehouse and cure your own ham and bacon.
Rabbits are the easiest and least expensive livestock to keep for meat, pelts, or fiber on a small homestead. One buck and 2 or 3 does can be bred to provide all of the meat your family needs. They also make nice pets or 4 H projects for kids.
Raising rabbits for meat production is a great way to provide your own protein. If you don’t wish to process rabbits for meat, try chickens instead. You might like to read my Confessions of a Former Rabbit Killer to find out why I switched to chickens.
Angora rabbits have fiber that is soft and perfect for home production of specialty yarn or felting material. If you prefer not to use the offspring for meat, sell them for income.
Whether you want farm fresh eggs or your own home-raised meat, chickens fit very well on a one acre homestead. You may raise laying hens to provide eggs and meat breeds for roasting. If you’d like to be as self-reliant as possible, keep dual-purpose heritage breeds. The hens will lay eggs and the extra roosters can be processed for meat.
For homesteaders who really want a meaty chicken like the ones you buy from the store, order a batch of Cornish x to put in the freezer each year. If you prefer a more active meat bird, try the Freedom Ranger. This isn’t exactly self-sufficient but you will know what your chickens ate and that they were raised and processed humanely. Read more about Raising Meat Chickens.
Some heritage breeds are well known for hatching and rearing their own chicks. If you don’t wish to order chicks or incubate eggs for replacement hens, try raising a few broody hens.
Turkeys provide delicious meat for the table. Raise broad-breasted turkeys for the best meat production. These hybrids don’t reproduce naturally. You’ll need to order poults each year but you’ll be rewarded with a bird as meaty as those from the grocery store. Heritage turkeys won’t provide a roasting bird with nearly as much breast meat.
If you’re not sure what breed of turkey to purchase, check out my article, Broad Breasted vs Heritage…What’s the Best Turkey for Your Homestead?
Be aware that turkeys typically lay eggs for only a few months in the spring. It is better to incubate the eggs instead of eating them.
Read more about How to Raise Turkeys.
Ducks and Geese
Ducks do double duty with tasty meat and eggs that are wonderful for baking. They will eat lots of slugs and bugs if they are allowed out on pasture. They also love many vegetables from the garden. You’ll need to provide some feed for them in addition to pasture.
Read more about raising ducks for meat.
White Pekins are one of the best breeds for sustainable meat production. They also lay very large eggs even through the winter. Muscovy ducks are prized for their flavorful meat and make excellent broody mothers. If you’re more interested in gathering lots of duck eggs, try raising Khaki Campbells. Their egg-laying abilities rival the most productive chicken breeds!
Geese may also be raised for meat and egg production. They don’t lay eggs for as long as chickens or ducks. Try raising African geese for meat and eggs or Embden for a quieter goose with good meat production. Geese need very little additional feed if they have plenty of pasture and grass for grazing. Provide some oats and vegetable trimmings to round out their diets and to feed them through winter.
Homesteaders who are too busy to care for livestock daily may find that pigeons are great livestock. These birds can be housed in a dovecote with the freedom to find their own food and water. They are extremely cost-efficient when raised this way.
Although they are quite small and it will take more eggs to make an omelet, you can raise them easily. Squab is considered a delicacy in many regions and one bird makes a nice meal for one person.
If you have an old barn nearby that already houses a flock of pigeons you can collect the young ones just before they fledge. Or capture the entire flock and move them to your dovecote. Pen them in with food and water for 2 or 3 weeks so they associate their new digs as home. You may be able to advertise a ‘pigeon removal service’ to populate your dovecote for free! Check regulations first.
Young pigeons need a steady diet of pigeon ‘milk’ (regurgitated food) from their parents until they are ready to fly. It is expensive to purchase young pigeons so consider capturing them if it is allowed in your area.
Bees are the ultimate micro-livestock for small homesteads. Some people keep bees successfully on rooftops and balconies in urban areas! 1 or 2 beehives should produce enough honey for your family and they don’t need daily care like most livestock.
Bees will also pollinate your garden and orchard, improving your home food production. Plant a pollinator garden for your bees. Be especially careful with any insecticides or other potential toxins on your property or you could kill off your hives.
If you are handy with woodworking you can build your own hives and supers to reduce the startup costs. You’ll want a bee suit, veil, hive tool, and smoker at the very least. Check to see if there is a local beekeeper group. They are a great source of information and may also have a honey extractor to rent.
Aquaculture, or raising fish for food, is a great way to provide a lean source of protein to your diet. A pond or a large stock tank on your property can be used to raise fish for your table. To make even better use of space and supply vegetables, try setting up an aquaponics system.
Tilapia has mild-flavored flesh and can be raised quite easily in mild climates. If you live in a cold climate you’ll need to provide more care for your aquaculture system. Check into native species of fish that do well in your area.
Many homesteaders choose to keep dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets on their homestead for companionship. Some pets also have duties such as herding, guarding livestock, killing mice, or pulling wagons and carrying packs.
Don’t take on so many pets that your expenses become burdensome. While we love our pets, I wouldn’t want to care for more than 2 or 3. Some homesteaders might wish to foster pets on the homestead. When possible, learn to treat minor health conditions and provide physical therapy for pets at home. You can also learn to make your own food and treats to help save money.
Garden, Orchard, Small Fruits, and Grain for the One Acre Homestead
A home garden is an integral part of any homestead. Growing your own vegetables and fruits provides a great deal of food to eat fresh or preserve. It is much easier to go on a vacation from the homestead when you don’t have livestock to care for. You’ll harvest more food for the investment from plants than from animals. For vegetarians and vegans, the homestead may be complete without any livestock at all!
The Kitchen Garden
A vegetable garden will provide you with plenty of food during the growing season and to preserve for later. Raise vegetables that you love to eat, plant intensively, and grow successive crops to increase production and self-reliance. If you have the funds, invest in a greenhouse or a few cold frames. You’ll extend the season and produce food into winter, even in northern areas.
Raised bed gardens work very well for small homesteads and using the square foot garden method increases your harvest. Include some herbs for seasoning and for creating gifts and herbal teas. Cool-season crops provide nutrient-rich produce in spring and fall or over the winter in southern areas. Include some perennial vegetables that will produce food for years to come.
Raise crops such as potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, and beets for winter storage. Pumpkins and winter squash also store well and provide delicious meals and deserts in winter. A root cellar will come in handy for stashing these vegetables for use all winter long.
Read How to Harvest and Store Root Crops for more information about the proper care of these winter veggies.
The Home Orchard
Fruit trees, small nut trees, and fruiting shrubs, briars, and perennial fruits provide nutrition and flavor for your diet. Dwarf fruit trees fit in small spaces and provide a harvest in 2 to 4 years. For very small spaces, try planting columnar fruit trees.
Each dwarf tree may produce a bushel of fruit at maturity, enough to eat fresh and preserve some for later. Choose semi-dwarf trees or plant more than one dwarf for larger harvests. Apples, plums, pears, peaches, and cherries are great additions to your diet. Freeze or can them, make jams and jellies, or eat fruit fresh from the tree!
Learn how to Select the Best Fruits and Nuts for Your Homestead.
Fruiting shrubs, briars, vines, and perennials such as blueberries, grapes, currants, raspberries, and strawberries are great for small homesteads. In as little as 1 year (for strawberries) you will be harvesting your own delicious fruit! These plants can be tucked into small spaces to provide fruit for your family. Perennial fruits are great for self-sufficiency.
Many of these small fruits bear fruit at a fairly young age, so they’re great for impatient homesteaders. Although strawberries need to be replanted in a new place every few years, they fit very well on small homesteads. Briars such as raspberries and blackberries can be difficult to manage, so consider a thornless variety for easier handling.
Homegrown nuts provide a source of protein without the need for raising livestock. Growing nuts can be pretty space-intensive. Most nut trees are quite large, so planting a grove of hickories or walnuts isn’t practical for small homesteads. Plant them as shade trees around the house or tuck several hazelnut trees into a windbreak or naturalized planting. They mature at 15 feet tall and wide making them much more manageable on an acre.
Note: Walnuts and butternuts produce a toxin called juglone that prohibits the growth of many other plants nearby. They are not recommended for small properties.
Grains and Legumes
A small homestead won’t allow you to grow all of the grain and legumes you’ll need. But you may supplement your purchases with wheat, corn, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and split peas for protein. Use some for feeding livestock and some for your table.
Start out with one variety of grain or legume and see how it goes. You may enjoy it so much that you want to plow up your lawn to plant more! Or you might decide that growing your own is more labor-intensive than you can handle.
Cooking from Scratch and Preserving the Harvest on a One Acre Homestead
One of the easiest ways to increase your self-reliance is to begin preparing food from scratch and preserving food for later. You don’t need any land at all to increase your self-reliance and save money by cutting down on convenience foods. You’ll be eating healthier too!
Find your local farmer’s market, join a CSA, or rent a plot at a community garden. Use fresh foods in season to create delicious meals and preserve some of those seasonal goodies for winter.
Making your own jam or jelly is a great way to start canning food. Dehydrating is easy with an electric food dehydrator. Try your hand at brine-cured pickles, homemade yogurt, farmer’s cheese, or kombucha to include healthy probiotics in your diet.
Baking bread, muffins, and desserts helps reduce your grocery bill and use healthier ingredients in your diet. You have control over the sugar, fat, and artificial ingredients in your diet when you make it yourself.
DIY Crafts, Woodworking, and Handyman Projects on a One Acre Homestead
Another great way to reduce your spending is by creating your own natural cleaners and bath and body products. You can use homegrown herbs to make many items for your home and to give as gifts. These are projects you can accomplish on any size homestead.
Learning to make repairs and maintain your home will also reduce your dependence on others. Be aware of your limitations and the cost of tools needed to tackle each project.
Take up fiber arts such as sewing, knitting, or crocheting to create your own clothing and quilts. Learn to mend and replace buttons instead of tossing out an old item.
Creating your own woodworking projects can be very rewarding too. With a few tools and lumber, you can build a chicken coop, toolshed, grape arbor, or trellis. Try making simple furniture for your home or walking sticks and canes.
Home Energy Production on a One Acre Homestead
Getting rid of the electric bill sounds like a great idea! Some homesteaders choose to live off-grid entirely so they don’t have any utilities to pay each month. If this is important to you, invest in solar panels for the roof of your home. Install a wood-burning stove to become more independent. You may also purchase a generator or propane to power our home and workshop, although this isn’t exactly self-sufficient.
There is an investment to go solar, but if you intend to live on your homestead for years it will pay for itself. Another option is to look for a solar company that installs the panels for free and then bills for electric service. While this doesn’t eliminate the monthly bills you’ll save money and reduce your carbon footprint.
We use a wood stove to cook and provide heat in winter. There isn’t enough wood to harvest on our one acre to supply us with all of our fuel. So we order several cords each fall. We save money on our bills and know that if the power goes out we won’t freeze in the winter. We supplement the purchased firewood with any trees we remove and the branches we prune.
Do your research before adding a wind turbine. They rarely provide enough energy to pay for themselves. On a small homestead, you may not be able to install one high enough to create much energy.
Buildings and Structures for Your One Acre Homestead
Of course, you’ll need a home that has enough space for your family to live comfortably on the homestead. Many people choose to downsize and live in a tiny house or a small cabin rather than go in debt. Be sure to allow room for storing your tools, home-raised food, and personal belongings. A small home may provide enough space for your family once you rid yourself of all the extras.
If you wish to keep livestock, you’ll need a barn, coop, or shed to protect them from the elements. Be sure to build the housing and stock up on feed before you bring home your livestock.
You might want to include a greenhouse in your homestead plans to allow for increased food production during the winter. Start out with cold frames if your budget doesn’t allow for a greenhouse right away.
How to Design the Layout of One Acre Homestead
Unless you buy a bare lot and build from scratch, you’ll need to work with the features that came with your homestead. The layout will depend on the size of your home and lot, existing trees, the terrain, and local ordinances. Start a list of what you already have and make sure your plans won’t break the budget or local laws.
Take Stock and Plan for the Future on Your One Acre Homestead
If you bought an existing home, the realtor should have the measurements of your lot. You can also go to Google Maps and look up your property. Use the satellite image to get a good look at your property. Now draw a map of your lot on graph paper, using the measurements of the lot lines for scale. Include existing trees, buildings, pastures, and hardscapes such as the driveway, sidewalk, and patio.
Make a list of all the features you wish to include in your homestead. You might even want to make little cutouts pictures of the chicken coop, barn, pastures, gardens, trees, etc. Play around with their location until you find a layout that works for you.
Carefully plan for placement of permanent structures, such as your home, barn, greenhouse, trees, electric, and water pipes. Other features like pens, gardens, and cold frames are much easier to relocate if their position doesn’t work out.
- Are there any low spots that stay wet?
- Where are electric lines and underground utilities?
- What features already exist that you wish to keep?
- Where are the water sources for livestock and gardens?
- Is there room for fruit trees to grow and thrive?
- Will the gardens be close to a water spigot and the house?
- Do you need to run electric service and a water line to the barn?
- Will you need to plant trees to shade livestock in summer?
- Is there a windbreak to protect livestock in winter?
- Can you position shade trees and a windbreak strategically to reduce energy needs for your home?
Prioritize Your Homestead Wish List
What homestead projects fit in your short term budget and which ones must wait? Starting a garden and keeping a few chickens might be enough when you first move in. Be realistic. Don’t take on too many homesteading projects at a time or you’ll burn out and empty the bank account. Self-reliance goes right out the window if you try to do it all at once and can’t handle it all!
Making the Most of a Small Homestead
No matter what size homestead you have, planning your needs and using space wisely is very important. Only you can decide what features to add and how much time you have to care for your homestead. Much of this will depend on your specific needs.
No two homesteads will look the same! Let’s take a look at three possible scenarios for small homesteads. Most likely, you’ll fall somewhere in between…
The Plant-Based Homestead
Perhaps you’re vegan or can’t keep livestock due to local ordinances. Instead of housing animals, you can grow a larger garden and produce some of your own grain and nuts. Plant a larger orchard and plenty of small fruits. Try growing extra produce to sell at a farmers market or put up almost all of your food.
The Animal-Based Homestead
Do you want to produce all of your own ethically raised meat, milk, and eggs? Choose livestock that produces the most food for the space needed. Replace some of your lawn with grain crops to reduce your feed costs. Plant intensively to make the most of your garden space. Learn to can your extra food for shelf-stable storage.
The Weekend Homesteader
Maybe you work long hours there isn’t time to care for a lot of livestock. Consider keeping raised bed gardens, a few fruit trees, and bee hives. Freeze or dehydrate your extra produce more quickly than canning. You’ll need to be more selective about adding new features to your homestead.
Finding a Happy Balance
I grew up on a farm with cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, and ducks. I loved the farm life. When I graduated and started working I realized that most people don’t have space to raise livestock.
I started out ‘homesteading’ in small plots around urban apartments in my 20s. Having a small garden was fun…but I wanted more…chickens, goats, pigs, a cow. I wanted it all!
When we moved to a suburban home I planted half of the yard with fruits and veggies. When we moved to a larger suburban home, I planted a bigger garden and more fruit trees. I raised rabbits for meat. Our freezer and pantry were filled with home raised fruits and veggies.
I’ve Learned a Few Things Along the Way!
Now that we own our one acre homestead in a rural area, I have room for many of the projects I once dreamed of. However, as I get older I am realizing that I can’t do it all…at least not forever! I’ve learned to downsize my plans a little bit and reassess what is most important for our family.
These days I realize that having a dairy cow is out of the question. I tried my hand at keeping goats and decided that isn’t a high priority for me. In the coming years, I expect that my homesteading plans will change again. For now, these are the most important aspects of the homestead for our family (not in order of importance):
- vegetable garden
- chickens for eggs and meat
- pollinator garden
- trees for shade and firewood
- privacy from the subdivision across the road
- wood stove for cooking and a reliable source of heat in winter
- belonging to buying clubs for purchasing food and products we can’t raise
- wild spaces nearby to forage for edibles
- ability to can, dehydrate, brine cure, and freeze the harvest
- having friends and family to care for animals when we go on vacation
- having some downtime to enjoy life!
If we were able to move to a new property I might include having a pond to go fishing for some of our food. That would be wonderful!
The point is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ homestead plan. Each homesteader needs to find a balance between what they want and what is possible!
So what does your ideal homestead look like? Leave a comment and tell me what projects, livestock, or resources you would like to include in your ideal homestead!
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.
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