Many of us want a homestead, where we can begin to take back some control over our own lives and live more sustainably, in closer harmony with the natural world. One of the most common questions people ask when contemplating a change to this way of life is how much land they need. Are 5 acres enough for a homestead? How much land is enough? (How much is too much?)
Five acres should be typically enough for a homestead for a family of up to around eight and animals they may keep. For the family of four on 5 acres, apart from food and animals, the family may keep, it is often possible to be self-sufficient in energy and other needs in addition to basic foods. It also gives a lot more options when it comes to which livestock are kept.
When deciding how large a homestead needs to be, you need to answer a few questions. Where is the land (and what are conditions like there)? How many people need to live off that land? What will your diet be like? How self-sufficient do you want to be? And how much work are you prepared to do to meet your goals? Answering these questions will help you work out whether 5 acres is enough for your homestead. In answering these questions, you may find that 5 acres are just right, that it is not enough, or that it is more land than you need to meet your goals.
Where are the 5 Acres Located?
The first thing to understand is that 5 acres of prime agricultural land are not the same as five acres of desert. How productive a 5-acre homestead can very much depend on the climate and conditions. Temperatures, water, and soil are key considerations. In challenging or degraded environments, it will take a lot more land to feed a family and meet their basic needs.
One often-overlooked factor when choosing a homestead is water. Annual water needs for 1 individual = 7714 – 14,463 US gallons (29,200 – 54,750 litres) per year. Though this figure can drop considerably when sustainable water measures and water systems are implemented. When deciding how much land is required, it is always vital to think about your water requirements, your family, and any plants you grow and livestock you keep.
In an ideal location, abundance can be easy. In other locations, starting a homestead can be far more challenging. Understanding the characteristics of the land in question is crucial to understanding whether it can meet your needs.
How Many People Should Your Homestead Support?
In addition to examining the land, it is also important to take your own needs into account. An individual or couple will require far less land for self-sufficiency than a family of seven. A good starting point to help you decide how much land you need is what you and your family currently eat and consume.
Of course, each family is different, and it is important to start from reality and acknowledge the truth about your particular needs. Some families may be perfectly happy to make do with less, while others may be more accustomed to the finer things in life and need more than a basic level of subsistence.
Examining your own needs involves thinking about the current composition of your diet. How much land is required for a homestead, and whether 5 acres is enough, will depend on what food you need to produce.
If you intend to live on a predominantly plant-based diet, you will require usually far less space. A huge amount of fresh produce can be grown in a typical backyard – often enough to be almost or completely self-sufficient in these things.
As a general rule, it is often stated that to produce the requisite number of calories from vegetables/ grains and achieve a balanced vegetarian diet, you will require 0.44 acres. However, many gardeners have shown that it is possible to grow enough food for a balanced vegetarian diet in far less space.
I myself have a 1/3 acre homestead, which allows our community of four to produce almost all of our fruits, vegetables and herbs year-round, and to keep chickens for eggs. There are examples of less than 1/5 acre gardens producing a yield of over a tonne each year.
Potentially, in just a well-managed 400 sq ft – 20×20 ft (37 sq m), you can grow all the vegetables you need for a healthy, balanced diet. (Though in this small a space, more land will likely be required to supplement the diet with grains, eggs, dairy, fish or meat.)
Will You Include Grains/ Dairy and/or Meat in Your Diet?
Grains generally take a lot more space to grow than fruits and vegetables. Except for quinoa and amaranth, which can more easily be grown domestically on a smaller scale, eating high quantities of grains is usually a challenge when it comes to self-sufficiency. So it is generally better to restrict this part of the menu and include only small quantities of grain in the home-grown diet where space is at a premium.
The average person eats around 1.5 lbs (c. 0.68kg) of wheat per week. To maintain that amount, you will need at very least 3,003 sq ft (0.06 acres or 279 sq m ) of wheat for annual requirements per person. Of course, you will need to grow far more grains for feeding livestock if you are also keeping these and want to be entirely self-sufficient.
Keeping poultry for eggs is something that can be achieved on even a small homestead. The average hen lays between 80 and 300 eggs per year. We keep up to 15 rescue hens in our orchard, which is around 2,000 sq ft (186 sq m) (and also produces an abundance of other foods). However, we buy in grains that we do not have sufficient space to grow on our property. Chickens require housing and a minimum of 8-10 sq ft (0.75m-1m) per bird in an outside run or forage area.
Other great options for integration into a smaller homestead are bees, rabbits, and other poultry such as ducks, geese, and quail.
If dairy is required for the diet, goats are a better option than cows, as they take up far less land and are more manageable for a single person.
A Nubian goat will provide 1,844 lbs (836.5kg) of milk a year. They will need to have a companion and grazing land. Two goats will require around 10 sq ft (1 sq m) of indoor space per goat, and at least 200 sq ft (18.6 sq m) per goat outside yard and ideally around 1/10th acre per dwarf goat for grazing land (or at very least a varied diet and plenty of entertainment. Larger breeds will need more space.
If you wish to add meat to the diet, three pigs will provide enough meat for meat six times a week for one person all year round. This will require at least 207 sq ft (19.3 sq m), and 9 sq ft (0.84 sq m) extra for each additional pig or piglet. Of course, this space does not account for the food the pigs will require. If this is also included within the self-sufficient system, then a lot more land would be required.
How Self-Sufficient Do You Want to Be?
Another question you need to ask yourself when deciding how much land you need for your homestead is how self-sufficient you truly wish to be. Typically, a family of four could be self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat in around 1.5 acres. But this does not take into account additional needs.
For example, do you want to be able to grow feed for any livestock you will keep?
To be self-sufficient – for three hens, for example, you will need to grow 273.75 lbs (c. 124kg) grain. This could be grown (depending on location, etc.) on around 4,000 sq ft (372 sq m). (This can be further reduced by giving access to good forage and feeding scraps and other extras from the garden.)
Typically, on 2 -3 acres, it is possible to be self-sufficient in food for a family of four, and animals they may keep.
If you also want to grow wood/ fuel for heating/ cooking etc. on your property, and for construction and crafts, then this is something else you will have to factor in. On 5 acres, it is often possible to be self-sufficient in energy and other needs in addition to basic foods. It also gives a lot more options when it comes to which livestock are kept.
How Much Work Are You Able/Willing To Put In?
The final question to ask yourself when deciding whether 5 acres is enough for your homestead is how much work you are willing or able to put in.
Many of the assumptions made above about how much space is required are premised on the idea that the land will be managed in a relatively intensive way. It is important to ask yourself whether you are willing to put in the work and effort to obtain yields from the land.
The yield of a piece of land is theoretically unlimited (or limited only by our imaginations). The more you put into a piece of land, in terms of time and resources, the higher yield you can obtain. A high level of self-reliance and self-sufficiency certainly is possible on many 5 acre sites. But you do have to be prepared for hard work.
If you are able and willing to put in the work, a 5-acre site (or even a smaller property) can frequently provide for the basic needs of you and your family for many years to come.