A homestead can be any size. From an urban micro homestead to a rural spread of 100 acres or more. What makes a homestead the right size for you depends on your family size and what you want to achieve.
The number of acres needed for a homestead varies depending on factors like location, goals, and self-sufficiency level. Ideally, plan for at least 1 acre of land for a house, food garden, orchard, and small flock of chickens. With 2 – 5 acres, you’ll have space for a few goats or sheep and extra chickens; and with 5 – 10 acres or more, you’ll have plenty of room for a woodlot, pond, and extra livestock.
A homestead is a home capable of producing resources. Unlike a regular home which only provides shelter (and generates bills) a homestead can be your source of food, water, fuel, medicine, fiber, building materials, and an income.
To help you get started on your homestead plan, let’s get an idea of how much land you’re going to need.
How Many Acres Do You Need For A Homestead?
Small-scale homesteading on up to 5 or 10 acres is manageable for a couple or family, and you’ll be able to achieve an impressive degree of self-sufficiency on an acreage that size.
Bear in mind that managing the land to provide resources is the key to a successful homestead. It’s little use having 50 acres if you can’t put it to productive use. Don’t underestimate how much hard work is involved in growing large quantities of food, managing livestock, and maintaining land.
It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew, then find you don’t have the time, energy, or enough people to achieve those large-scale homesteading goals.
Another important factor you can’t ignore when you’re buying land is the quality of the land and its location.
Buying any old 5, 10, or 20 acre plot without doing your homework could be a huge mistake if you end up with rocky, shallow soil instead of a rich loam, or find to your cost, that you’ve built on a flood plain the first time the heavens open.
How Big Is An Acre?
An acre is 43,560 square feet.
If you work in metric, an acre is 4,047 square meters.
As a rectangle, one acre will measure 66 feet by 660 feet or approximately 45 meters by 90 meters.
If you aren’t familiar with just how big an acre of land is, these examples will help you visualize the area.
A tennis court (Inside the lines) is 2,808 square feet or 260 square meters. Tennis courts measure 78 feet by 36 feet or 23.77 meters by 10.97 meters. 16 tennis courts fit into 1 acre.
A football field (American) is 57,600 square feet or 5,390 square meters. The dimensions of a football field are 360 feet by 160 feet. In metric, that’s 110 meters by 49 meters. 3/4 of a football field fits into 1 acre.
From these examples, it’s easy to see that 1 acre is plenty big enough for building a homestead with enough space for a modest house, a large vegetable garden, an orchard, and a few chickens. With one acre you’ll even have enough land for a “double vegetable garden”.
What’s a “double vegetable garden”?
Unless you’re bringing in a steady supply of inputs to maintain soil fertility, you’ll eventually need to let your veggie plot lie unused (fallow) for 3 to 5 years to give the soil time to recover.
A fallow period also clears away any diseases that build up in the soil and removes the food source for the soil dwelling insect populations that damage roots and shoots.
With two areas allocated for growing vegetables, you garden on one plot for several years, then switch to the second plot and let the first plot rest.
How Many Acres Do You Need for A Homestead Vegetable Garden?
I can only give you a rough idea of the amount of land you’ll need for a vegetable garden because your ideal homestead garden size depends on what you want to grow, your climate, your soil quality, and how many people you want to feed.
If you plan to grow all your fresh vegetables along with a calorie crop like potatoes, then a half acre garden will easily be sufficient for 2 adults.
This amount of garden space allows for 1/4 acre for the active garden plot and a 1/4 acre for the fallow plot. You can get away without space for a fallow plot if you bring in manure and other fertilizers.
Allow more space if you want extra harvests of crops like beans and tomatoes for freezing, drying, or canning.
Aside from a regular vegetable garden, you’ll need extra space if you plan to grow arable crops like wheat, barley, or oats. To be honest with you, you’ll be better off buying your grains from a farmer instead of trying to grow it yourself (unless you like a challenge). That’s what we do.
The average wheat yield per acre (for an experienced farmer) is 60 bushels. With 1 bushel of wheat weighing 60 pounds, one acre could yield 3,600 pounds of wheat (1,632 kg).
That’s enough for a loaf a day (1.5 pound loaf x 365 days = 547.5 pounds) and you’ll still have over 3,000 pounds of wheat to spare for animal feed.
A 1/4 acre of wheat could produce 15 bushels or 900 pounds (408 kg) of wheat, giving you plenty of wheat for baking bread.
Your climate plays a big role in how much land you need for a vegetable garden. In a mild climate like mine where the ground doesn’t freeze and we haven’t seen snow in the last 12 years, we enjoy a long growing period, and it’s possible to grow a winter vegetable garden.
I’ll have fresh veggies like kale, Swiss chard, carrots, turnips, and leeks sitting in the ground waiting to be picked as and when they’re needed, along with a small second potato harvest in December.
Because I don’t need to grow everything for a summer/fall harvest, I don’t need as much garden space as a homesteader in an area where the ground freezes.
As I harvest plants in the summer, I pop a transplant for winter harvest in its place.
Another important factor for the size of your vegetable garden is the type of veggies you expect to grow.
- Do you just want leafy greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers in season?
Do you want to grow an abundance of green beans, peppers, and tomatoes to can or freeze?
- Do you want to grow shelling beans or peas for winter use?
- Do you want to be self-sufficient in calorie crops like potatoes, corn, and winter squash?
- Do you want to grow some extra veggies or calorie crops for your goats or chickens?
The more food you want to grow, the more space you’ll need.
It’s possible to grow more food in a smaller space using intensive gardening methods. Although, intensive gardening methods require a lot of organic material and fertilizer to meet the needs of all those plants relying on nutrients and water from a reduced area.
A good example of intensive growing is the highly productive square foot gardening method.
With square foot gardening, a pepper plant only needs 1 square foot of space compared to a traditional row garden spacing where the pepper plants grow 18 inches apart in rows with 36 inches between each row.
Square foot gardening and other intensive methods let you get a lot of food out of a much smaller space, which sounds great until you factor in all the soil amendments you’ll need to use and the higher watering requirements.
Even so, if you’re setting up an urban homestead and only have a small space to work with, intensive gardening methods are certainly the way to go.
Traditional gardening methods which give plants more room require fewer inputs and less water.
Unless you want to spend a lot of money to grow your crops every year, it’s better to go with a lower input, traditional row garden, if you’ve got the room for one. A row garden still needs fertilizer, but in smaller amounts which you can often source from the homestead.
How Many Acres Does A Homestead Need For Livestock?
The amount of land your homestead needs for livestock depends on the type of livestock you want and how many animals you plan to raise.
If you plan to feed your livestock from your land for all or part of the year, then the quality of the land, your annual rainfall, and your winter climate are variables which you’ll need to consider.
Fertile soil, in a climate zone with mild winters and adequate rainfall, will produce better quality grazing pasture and support more animals than land with thin soil in a dry climate.
Remember, homesteading is about producing food for your needs, so you don’t really need a lot of livestock unless you want to generate an income from surplus meat, eggs, dairy, or fiber. When raising animals provides your main income, you’ve switched from homesteading to farming!
Average Stocking Density And Carrying Capacity
Livestock farmers take account of stocking density when they’re working out how many animals they can raise on their land.
Since grazing animals aren’t all the same size, stocking density is calculated using animal units (AU). One AU is defined as a 1000 pound cow with a calf. Other animals are classified using equivalent animal units (EAU).
One sheep is 0.2 EAU. One goat is 0.17 EAU. Sheep and goats eat about one fifth of the fodder that a cow requires.
Livestock usually graze on rotational pasture with some pasture set aside for hay or other fodder for winter feeding.
With rotational grazing, you move your animals onto fresh pasture once they’ve eaten the grass on their current pasture. By the time you rotate the animals back to the original pasture, the grass has grown long again. Just like your lawn if you don’t mow for a few weeks.
Grazing on pasture is seasonal. You’ll always need extra land for producing winter feed.
Let’s look at an example using 5 goats.
A goat is 0.17 EAU. So 5 goats is 0.17 x 5 = 0.85 EAU. You could keep 5 (maybe 6) goats on the same amount of land 1 cow needs.
In a mild climate with plenty of rainfall, those goats will be fed directly from pasture for 8 – 9 months of the year, and with hay or other fodder for the 3 or 4 winter months.
Next, you need to estimate how much fodder an acre of land will produce. This varies depending on the type of grasses and other plants growing.
In particular, we need to look at dry matter fodder to figure out how much land the animals need.
What is dry matter fodder?
Dry matter fodder is simply the calorific measure of the fodder minus the moisture content, since the moisture in grasses and legumes doesn’t contain any calories, fat, protein, or other nutrients.
As an average, one acre of grassland will provide 200 pounds of dry matter fodder per inch of pasture height.
To keep the pasture in good condition, don’t graze below 3 inches. Those inches at the base provide the energy necessary for strong regrowth.
If you had 12 inches of grass and clover growth, for example, your livestock should only graze the top 9 inches before you move them.
The calculation for dry matter fodder per acre in this example would be:
1 acre x 9 inches x 200 pounds per acre per inch. The yield is 1,800 pounds of fodder.
1 goat consumes about 4.5 pounds of dry matter forage per day. 5 goats would consume 22.5 pounds per day.
How long will 1 acre feed 5 goats?
Divide the total amount of dry forage from the pasture by the daily feed requirement for all the goats. 1,800 divided by 22.5 gives us 80 days of forage on that acre.
A quarter acre would provide enough food for 20 days.
If you split a 1 acre pasture into four sections with fencing, you could rotate the animals onto a fresh section of pasture every 3 weeks.
With grass growing fast during spring, summer, and early fall, you would easily feed 5 goats by rotating them over 1 acre.
There’s always a chance, you’ll have a bad year now and then when the grass doesn’t grow well because of poor weather conditions. There’s two ways to deal with that. Allow extra land for grazing in your homestead plan, or buy feed in if you need to.
What About Winter Feed?
My goats eat bamboo and blackberry bushes in the winter. Both plants are zero work. They hold their leaves over winter, and they keep on growing and growing every year.
My goats also stuff themselves with the abundant beech nuts, chestnuts and acorns from the mature trees surrounding our land. Their winter diet includes winter squash, corn, turnips, and carrots from the vegetable garden; apples and pears from the orchard; and nettle hay.
Perennial food sources take time to develop, though, and you won’t have them ready if you’re starting with bare land. Which means purchasing hay for winter, or setting aside additional land for a summer hay crop or rows of corn, squash, peas, and root vegetables.
How Much Land Will You Need For Winter Hay
We’ll assume you need to feed hay for 4 months or 120 days. We’ll also assume you’ll get 2 cuts of hay in the season (although you’ll get as many as 3 or 4 if the weather gives you a long haying season).
An acre set aside for hay and cut when the grass is 12 inches tall will produce 1,800 pounds of fodder (dry weight). Two cuts will produce a total of 3,600 pounds of fodder. Enough to feed 5 goats for 144 days.
Of course, the land you use for hay is only off limits for grazing from say April to August. The grass will grow during April and May. You’ll cut and dry hay by mid-June as the weather allows. The grass will regrow for another cut in July and (if needed) a third cut in August.
With 3 hay harvests, would 1/2 an acre of land set aside for hay be enough for those 5 goats? Let’s see.
If an acre of grass will produce 1,800 pounds of dry fodder, then half an acre will yield 900 pounds per cut for a total of 2,700 pounds of hay.
With 5 goats consuming 22.5 pounds of fodder per day, those 3 harvests of hay will feed the goats for 120 days.
These are just rough examples so you can estimate how many animals you could raise per acre. You won’t know exactly how much grazing you’ll get until you’re living on the land.
I don’t recommend bringing animals other than chickens onto your homestead right away. Give yourself time to get settled in, watch how the grass and brush grows over your first spring and summer, then plan your livestock accordingly.
Examples Of Raising Livestock Without Land
I used to live in a hot, dry region.
One of my neighbors raised a big hog each year in their backyard. Their place couldn’t have been more than a 1/4 of an acre. But the hog didn’t even have the run of that space. It’s pen measured about 40 square meters (430 square feet).
Butchering that one hog provided about 150 pounds of free meat since the pig was fed on food waste from local restaurants and spoiled produce from the weekly farmer’s market.
Another neighbor had little land of his own (enough for a 3 sided goat shed inside a small fenced corral) but he raised around 40 dairy goats.
Each morning after milking, he’d head out into the hills with the herd, a slingshot, and his small band of dogs, returning home again in the late afternoon. He fed his herd on the scrub and wild plants growing on hundreds of acres of wilderness.
We always knew when the herd was passing by from the jingling bells the goats wore around their necks.
There’s also the concept of the “long acre” in places where lawmakers haven’t completely lost touch with reality.
Grazing on the long acre is an old practice where a few tethered or supervised cows, sheep, or goats, make use of the grass growing alongside lightly trafficked country roads and tracks.
One shepherd in California literally lives on the long acre with his small flock of sheep. The sheep pull his micro home along, grazing on roadside verges and vacant lots as they go. He calls his unique way of sustainable living “Guerrilla Grazing”.
His sheep provide milk, butter, and cheese, and being sheep, they’re an excellent source of wool fiber which he felts for clothing.
I share these examples to show that even if you can’t afford as much land as you would like, there are always inventive ways to raise a few animals.
How Much Land Do You Need For Homestead Chickens?
If you’re going for the free-range approach with your chickens, the more land they’ve got to scratch around on, the more of their own food they’ll be able to find.
Make sure the chickens can’t get into your vegetable gardens, though, because they’ll eat just about everything and uproot the rest.
Your orchard can pull double duty as your chicken run, letting you save some space.
But if you put chickens in your orchard, prune off the lower branches otherwise the chickens will hop onto the branches and peck your fruit. Ask me how I know 🙂
Fallow garden beds also make a handy place to raise chickens, where they’ll add a lot of fertility to the soil, thanks to their droppings.
If you’re planning to buy most of your chicken food, your flock won’t need much space at all. You only need to see the stocking density of chicken farms to realize how little space chickens “need”.
I can’t imagine densely packed chickens are very happy chickens though.
If you set aside an area about the size of a tennis court for up to 20 hens, they’ll have enough space to be happy and they won’t scratch the earth until it’s bare dirt (and a muddy mess when it rains). And happy hens lay more eggs.
Mobile chicken tractors are a great way to squeeze in some chickens when you don’t have much room to spare. Chicken tractors are fully enclosed chicken runs. You move the run onto fresh ground each day. Some plans have the coop built into the run, others just have the run space.
Moving a chicken tractor around the outer edges of your vegetable garden is a great way to reduce slug and snail populations!
And a nice advantage of keeping chickens in movable runs is you can put them to work clearing your planting beds at the beginning and end of the growing season.
Hens can also live alongside goats in the same pasture or follow on behind them once you move the goats to fresh grazing.
Even when you don’t have much room, you’ll find a way to fit a few hens.
For more on chickens, check out some of my other posts.
- Can chickens live off the land?
- How many chickens should a homestead have?
- What’s the ideal chicken coop size for 20 chickens?
How Much Land Does An Urban Homestead Or Micro Homestead Need?
Urban homesteads are amazing. Cleverly packing so much into relatively small spaces.
One incredible urban homestead in California which inspired thousands of similar projects, produces 7000 pounds of fruits and vegetables per year on a 1/5 acre lot with a 1/10 acre garden.
Take a look at the layout sketch of their sustainable small homestead here.
A 1/5 acre lot is about the size of 3 tennis courts. Their vegetable garden takes up an area roughly the size of 1.5 tennis courts.
Which just goes to show, you can grow a lot of food and keep a few chickens on a relatively small plot of land. Of course, the abundant sunshine in Southern California gives them an ideal growing season.
Across the pond in England, where backyards are often small, there’s high demand for allotments. Allotments are blocks of land owned and rented out by the city council.
A typical allotment is 250 square meters (2,690 square feet) which is almost the size of 1 tennis court.
These allotments are large enough to produce the majority of fresh vegetables for a family, but given the shorter growing season in the UK, a bigger growing space would be better.
Even so, those fortunate enough to rent an allotment (there’s a shortage) have all the benefits of urban homesteading without the need to own any land.
Soil fertility is the biggest limitation you’ll face if you opt for an urban homestead. Yes, you can bring organic materials in from outside to replenish your soil, but the health of that organic material is outside your control.
In the case of animal manure, the manure is only as good as the food the animals ate. The manure from horses or cattle on mineral deficient pasture won’t provide a balanced source of minerals for your soil. Compost made from green waste could harbor diseases or herbicides and ruin your crops.
When you’ve got more land of your own, you’ve got more control over the inputs your vegetable garden needs.
You’ll Need Space For Sheds, Barns & Greenhouses
At the very least, you’ll need a shed for tools and equipment. Hand tools don’t take up a lot of room whereas a mini tractor or walk behind rototiller need more space.
You might only need a standard garden shed if you mostly work with hand tools. While a garage sized shed will fit the bill for ride on mowers or mini tractors.
You’ll also need somewhere to store buckets, seed trays, plant pots, hoses, rope, wheelbarrows and handcarts.
Barns give you space to store animal feed and winter hay, although hay purchased in round bales wrapped in plastic can be safely stored outside.
If you’re homesteading in a harsh winter climate, you’ll need a barn to overwinter livestock and you might want to store your firewood in there too.
Anywhere from 430 square feet (40 square meters) to 1,200 square feet (112 square meters) will be big enough for most homesteading needs.
A greenhouse or polytunnel/high tunnel is a must for any homestead.
Growing in a covered structure lets you extend your growing season with early and late harvests. And if your summers aren’t quite warm enough for tomatoes, peppers, or melons, a greenhouse will give those plants a vital heat boost.
Greenhouses and polytunnels come as small as 6 x 6 feet but since undercover growing space is so nice to have, I would plan on having 200 to 400 square feet (18 – 36 square meters) at the very least.
If your polytunnel is empty over the winter months, it’s a nice, sheltered spot for chickens on foul (fowl?) days.
How Much Land Do You Need For A Homestead Orchard?
Again, this very much depends on how much fruit you want to eat and preserve and the types of fruit you want to grow.
For apple trees, the mature height and spread of an apple tree depends on the type of rootstock the tree is grown on.
Standard rootstocks produce traditional apple trees with a tall trunk and large branching canopy. Standards also produce the largest crops.
Standards aren’t planted in commercial orchards these days because they take too long to establish before they bear fruit, but if you’re thinking long-term and developing a homestead for your children and your children’s children, then definitely think about planting a few standard apple trees for the future.
These traditional trees are long-lived and bear fruit for around 100 years. They’re also more vigorous than apple trees grown on other rootstocks, have greater cold resistance, and don’t need watering as often thanks to their extensive deep root systems.
Semi-dwarf rootstocks produce apple trees with shorter trunks and more compact canopies. Semi-dwarf apple trees reach 60% to 90% of a standard apple tree.
Dwarf rootstocks produce very compact apple trees. A mature dwarf apple will be 30% to 60% the size of a standard apple tree.
How Many Apple Trees Per Acre?
The number of fruit trees you can grow on 1 acre depends on the rootstock, which determines the mature height and spread of the tree. With pruning, trees can be planted a little closer together.
|Root Stock||Height & Spread (feet)||Trees Per Acre|
|Standard||24 to 30||40 to 80|
|Semi-Dwarf||14 to 22||132|
|Dwarf||6 to 12||173|
You probably won’t need to set aside an acre for fruit trees unless you’re thinking about selling fruit, making cider, or selling your apples to a local cider mill.
For most homesteading families, anywhere from 12 to 20 semi-dwarf fruit trees will be plenty. And if you’ve got space, plan on growing some nut trees as well.
When most people imagine an orchard, they picture an area with multiple rows of trees. But that isn’t the only way to have an orchard.
If space is tight, grow your orchard around the perimeter of your property. To prevent the trees overshadowing other growing areas, grow the trees as espaliers or cordons.
Espaliers and cordons also grow well against buildings, and fruit trees grown against house and barn walls benefit from extra protection against strong winds.
How Many Acres Do You Need For A Homestead Woodlot?
Having your own supply of wood for cooking, heating, fencing, and building is a huge plus for any homestead. Imagine never having to pay another penny for heating your home.
If you want a woodlot for your homestead, the most realistic option is to buy land with mature or coppiced trees already on it. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting a long time before you get to use your own wood.
Of course, a woodlot is only feasible if you’re considering rural homesteading. There isn’t much you can do about fuel self-sufficiency on an urban homestead.
Now comes the question of how much wood you’ll need.
And that’s a tricky one to answer because so many factors come into play.
- How big is your home?
- How well insulted is it?
- How warm do you like your home?
- How cold is your winter, and how long does it last?
- What type of trees will you burn? (different species have varying heat outputs)?
Wooded land usually has a mix of trees on it at various stages of maturity. Anywhere from 5 to 10 acres should give you all the wood you need.
Always Do Local Research Before You Buy Land For A Homestead
Articles like this one can only give you general estimates for the amount of land you’ll need for your dream homestead. And land size is only one of the land purchase considerations you’ll need to think long and hard about.
So much depends on climate and soil quality, not to mention land zoning regulations, access roads, water sources, distance to power lines (unless you’re going off-grid), and so on.
5 to 10 acres in an area with a rich loam soil capable of producing lush grass will easily let you garden and raise livestock. The same acreage in a hot, dry climate with thin sandy soil may not meet your homesteading requirements at all and you’ll need to look for a larger plot of land or scale back your plans.
Always ask around locally when you go to look at land for homesteading. If possible, talk to some farmers or other homesteaders in the area. Find out what the weather’s usually like. Ask about rainfall. Ask what grows well. Ask about average livestock density.
The more information you get, the better you’ll be able to evaluate if that piece of land is right for your homestead.
Frequently Asked Questions
Thanks for reading: How many acres do you need for a homestead?