One of the first questions people interested in having a homestead ask is: How Big A Homestead do I need?
Most homesteaders aiming for self-reliance and a high degree of self-sufficiency will usually find that a homestead of 2-10 acres is large enough to meet all or most of their needs. Five acres should be typically enough for a homestead for a family of up to around eight and animals they may keep.
How large a homestead you should take on depends on where you’re looking and the conditions to be found there. It depends on you and your family, budget, skill level, and personality. And it depends on the scope of your ambition and what you want to achieve. You need to think about your water, food, shelter, and energy needs and the area of land and size of the home required to meet those needs.
No matter what the answers to the above may be, it is generally best to look at a space smaller than 50 acres, a lot smaller if you are homesteading for the first time. A homesteading lifestyle can be achieved with even the smallest backyard lot – so you need no more than 1/10th of an acre to get started. You may not be able to achieve all your goals with that little land. But you will certainly be able to take great leaps in the right direction.
The goal for most homesteaders is to find a property that will allow them to directly meet their basic needs. The first things to think about are water, food, shelter, and energy. To live a homesteading lifestyle, you do not need to be entirely self-sufficient. But your goal will generally be to provide for as many of your own basic needs as possible and probably to provide additional yields that allow you to live in a healthier, happier, and more sustainable way.
Choosing a Homestead Size – Basic Considerations
A homestead will usually consist of a home and a certain area of land. How large that home and area of land will depend on practical realities relating to how much you can afford in the area in which you are looking for.
Consider your budget and what you can pay. Though there are ways to make dreams a reality – such as sharing purchasing costs with others – usually, the financial costs of purchasing a property in the first place will often be a limiting factor on homestead size.
Another key consideration, of course, is your skill level and experience. If you are a complete beginner, it may be a mistake to take on too big a homestead all at once. While if you are more experienced, you may feel limited if the site you select is too small.
Your personality also comes into play. Are you ambitious and happy to dive in at the deep end and take risks? Or are you someone who is typically more cautious and takes things slow? Is homesteading right for you? Remember, homesteading can be very rewarding. But it can also be a lot of hard work. Make sure you do not take on more than you can chew.
How big a homestead you need will also depend on where exactly you are looking to settle down. Obviously, in certain parts of the world, you will need far more land to reach the level of self-sufficiency you desire than in others. By looking at the basics of water, food, shelter, and energy, you can begin to work out how much land in a given location you might require.
Next, let’s take a look at the second basic need on a homestead: food. Food production is likely to be one of the major focuses for most homesteaders. And there are a number of questions related to this topic that you need to ask yourself before you can determine how big a homestead you need.
How Productive/Fertile is the Land Your Looking At?
The land itself and where it is located will make a big difference when it comes to how large a homestead will be required. How productive a homestead is can depend very much on the climate and conditions. You need to think about the following:
- Climate zone and typical weather patterns.
- The microclimate of the particular site.
- Soil type, pH, characteristics, and fertility level.
In challenging or degraded environments, it will take a lot more land to feed a family than it will do in ideal food-producing locales.
Climate conditions in most temperate climates allow for year-round growing only with protection (I.e., indoors/ greenhouse/ polytunnel). Light levels can mean a requirement for grow lights to optimize yield in winter. However, more optimal outdoor conditions can broaden options for outdoor growing systems in the main growing season. And in warmer temperate zones, food can potentially be grown outdoors all year round.
In arid climate zones, climate conditions can make growing food a far more challenging proposition. Aquaponics systems could be an optimal solution. Though ‘re-greening’ desert areas and taking an agroforestry approach also have great potential.
In humid subtropical and tropical climate zones, high temperatures can be a challenge for food production. But growing systems can be lush and deliver high yields when suitable crops and methods are selected.
How Many People Do You Need/Want To Feed?
Of course, when it comes to food, your requirements for the size of the land will depend on how many people will be living on the homestead. And, of course, on whether the homestead will grow food only for its occupants or also generate extra food for the surrounding community/ for sale.
Human beings generally need in the region of:
Adult Male: 2,500 kcal per day
Adult Female: 2,000 kcal per day.
Calories needed can vary considerably depending on size, metabolism, exercise levels, etc. But you can work from these figures to establish that a self-sufficient system would need to provide varied calories of a minimum of around 730,000 – 912,500 calories to sustain one person for one year.
Of course, not all homesteads will be entirely self-sufficient when it comes to food. But most will want to optimize yield and provide as much food as possible.
Which Growing Methods Will You Use To Grow Food?
One important consideration that will help to optimize food yields is which growing method to choose. This determines how big a homestead you need.
The easiest foods in which to become self-sufficient are fruits and vegetables. There are a number of different ways to grow these, and choosing the right one or ones can be an interesting challenge.
Of course, some strategies, such as vertical gardening and aquaponics, require far less land to implement than typical polyculture market gardens and forest garden systems, while they can also be implemented on the smallest of homesteads, also generally require greater land area.
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 (approx. 1,780 sq m). However, many gardeners have shown that it is possible to grow enough food for a balanced vegetarian diet is far less space.
What Food Do You and Your Family Want to Eat?
One key consideration in determining how large a homestead will need to be to meet food needs is what sort of diet you and your family want to eat. If you are living a vegan lifestyle, your homestead will obviously only have to be large enough to cater for a plant-based diet, as described above.
If you implement an aquaponics system, fish may also be on the menu.
If you would like to be self-sufficient and eat dairy products and eggs or eat meat, then a much large homestead will typically be required.
Will You Keep Livestock, and Which Livestock Will You Keep?
If you have decided that you would like to eat eggs and dairy as part of a vegetarian diet. Or if you have decided to eat meat. Then you will obviously be keeping livestock on your homestead. One interesting thing to consider is that even if you are eating a vegan diet, keeping certain livestock on your homestead could still be a very good idea.
Incorporating animals into an integrated growing system can make it easier to provide (through manure) enough nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus for growing areas to thrive, even when they are managed intensively. Livestock may also be beneficial on other ways – as grazing animals to maintain sward, for example, or in organic pest control.
Of course, how much land will be needed for a homestead will depend on which livestock you intend to keep?
Great livestock options that can provide food for a small homestead include chickens, ducks, quail, pigeons/doves, rabbits, guinea pigs, and honey bees.
If you want milk, goats can be a good choice. A Nubian goat will provide 1,844 lbs (c. 836.4kg) of milk a year. They will need to have a companion and grazing land. Two goats will require around ten sq ft (c. one sq m) of indoor space per goat. They will also need at least 200 sq ft (18.5 sq m) per goat outside yard and ideally around 1/10th acre (400 sq ft) 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 more 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 (c. 20 sq m) and nine sq ft (c. 0.85 sq m) extra for each additional pig or piglet.
Do You Want to Be Self-Sufficient in Feed For Animals as Well as For You
Of course, if you want to be self-sufficient in feed for animals as well as for you, then you will need a much bigger homestead. Growing grains for livestock as well as for your own needs will significantly increase the size of your homestead needs to be for self-sufficiency.
Another key consideration when deciding how big a homestead you need is how large your home will need to be. Here are a few things to think about when it comes to this area:
How Many People Need To Be Housed?
Of course, the size of your family or how many people will live together will determine how big a dwelling will need to be. Think about how many bedrooms you will need and how much space you will need to live together in a happy and comfortable way.
What Are the Inclinations/ Ages Of the People Who Will Live on the Homestead?
Of course, a nuclear family with younger children may well need a lot less space to co-house happily than a multi-generational family of adults or a group of friends. Thinking about the inclinations and ages of the people who will live on the homestead will help you work out the different private and communal areas that will be required.
Will Your Home Be a Business Too?
On a homestead, a home may be an office place and place of work too. This is something else to bear in mind when deciding how large a dwelling is required. Will a quiet and separated office space, or a workshop, be required, for example?
What Livestock Needs to Be Housed on the Homestead?
When it comes to shelter, remember to think about the livestock on the homestead as well as the people who will live there. Make sure that a homestead is big enough for you to build the livestock shelters you will need for the livestock you are keeping. And that each shelter is sufficient in size to keep the livestock you have chosen happy and healthy.
Finally, let’s take a look at energy and think about how your energy needs might influence how big your homestead should be.
Will Your Home Be On or Off-Grid?
Of course, the first thing to determine is whether you will be connected to a mains supply or will be generating electricity on-site. The size of your home and your homestead overall may be in some ways influenced by this.
What Potential Is There For Renewable Power Generation on the Site
If you are off-grid, one limiting factor on the size of your home might be how much renewable power you can reliably generate on-site.
Solar power generation through the installation of PV panels is, of course, one common option. Solar panel electricity generation can be calculated by the formula:
Sunshine hours per day x solar panel wattage.
In areas with lower sunshine hours, alternative or supplementary sources of renewable power may be required. It is also important to take into account the need for battery power storage.
You may also be able to generate electricity on-site through other means – wind power, hydropower, or geothermal systems, for example.
Remember, the amount of power you can generate or access should help you work out how large a home and other buildings (of the type you intend) you can reliably heat or cool, light, and power on your homestead.
How Will Your Heat/ Cool and Cook In Your Home?
How you choose to heat/cool and cook in your home may also influence how large your homestead has to be overall. If you are not relying solely on electricity, you may be using wood to heat and cook in your home.
If you want to be entirely self-sufficient, then you will need to think about how much timber you will need as fuel and how much space a reliable supply will require to grow. Logs (20% moisture content, air dry) typically provide 4.1 kWh per kg.
As fuel requirements can vary considerably, it is difficult to give an estimate of how much land will be required. But as a very rough guideline, 2-3 acres of well-managed coppiced woodland/ forest should provide enough fuel in many situations for a family of four living in a reasonably small home.
How Much Electricity Will Your Lifestyle Require?
The average household in the developed world (US/ UK etc.) uses approximately 8.5 – 10 kWh of electricity per day. A single person is estimated to have an annual electricity usage of 850 kWh. However, this energy usage is extremely high, and someone living sustainably in a well-designed property could survive with far less.
Still, it could be helpful to consider, for example, the intersection between the potential power generation – the size of the roof (for solar power generation), for example, the energy efficiency of the home, and how much electricity you will typically use.
First of all, let’s examine how big a homestead you need by looking at the first basic need: water. Water is a crucial element in choosing a homestead and one that is often overlooked. When determining how large your homestead needs to be and whether a potential site is suitable for your needs, here are some important things relating to water to consider:
Does the Homestead Have A Reliable Water Source?
Some homesteads may be connected to a mains water supply. But many will have an independent water source on the property itself. Having a reliable water source on the property is usually essential if you are planning to live an off-grid lifestyle.
You might have access to a natural spring, an underground aquifer through a borehole, or a well.
You need to balance the size of the homestead with the water that it is able to reliably provide. You need to know the rate of water that a water source will provide in order to understand how large your homestead can and should be.
What Rainfall Is There Is the Area You Are Looking At?
In a temperate climate, rainwater is often sufficient to provide a rainwater filtration system for the home, and to meet the needs of the homestead, even where a freshwater source is not available on the site. Water requirements for growing food are less than in other climate types too.
But when deciding how big your homestead can and should be, it is important to accurately measure annual rainfall in order to determine whether or not it will be sufficient to meet your needs. Of course, you will also have to have rainwater harvesting systems in place and be wise in water management, catching and storing it to maximal effect on the land.
In an arid climate, water is a significant challenge due to low rainfall. Boreholes can give access to sustainable groundwater, though water conservation measures are typically essential, and it is unlikely that natural rainfall alone will be sufficient for homestead needs.
In humid subtropical and tropical climate zones, water is typically abundant during the rainy season but can be very scarce during the dry season. It may sometimes be possible to run a homestead using rainwater alone, but water storage/ conservation is essential.
How Much Water Will You And Your Family Require?
There is no fixed, scientific measure for how much drinking water is required per person per day. Often, a rough guideline is given that each individual should drink around 2 liters per day. However, this figure can vary considerably depending on the individual’s physiology, how much water has been taken in through food, external factors such as temperature and humidity, and how much exercise a person undertakes throughout that day.
As a rough guide, assuming an average water consumption of 2 liters per day, annual drinking water needs would be 730 liters.
You also need to think about the water that might be used for sanitation:
Sanitation Water Use
|Average Per Use Water Use
|Average Daily Water Use
|Shower (Older, less efficient)
|15-20 litres per minute
|c. 75-100 liters
|c.9 litres per minute
|c. 60-130 liters per wash
|6 liters per minute (average washing up bowl, 9 liters)
|c. 13 litres per cycle
|Traditional water toilets
|Ultra low-flow toilets
Statistics show that the average person uses a total of around 21-40 US gallons (80-150 liters) of water per day on average (developed world). Annual water needs for one individual = 7714 – 14,463 US gallons (29,200 – 54,750 liters) per year. However, this figure can drop considerably when sustainable water measures and water systems are implemented. Of course, you will need to multiply this figure by however many people will be living on the homestead.
How Much Water Will You Need To Achieve Your Garden Goals?
You will also need to think about the water needs for food production.
Water needs for food production will depend on the following:
- Climate and other environmental factors.
- Types of crops grown.
- Where crops are located (outdoors/ indoors/ undercover).
- Growing systems used.
We’ll look at food production in a little more depth later in this article.
But here is an example showing the approximate water needs of grass in different climates per day:
|Mean daily temperature < 15 degrees C.
|15-25 degrees C.
> 25 degrees C.
There are many variables, but here is how a number of common crops differ in their water requirements: (For field cultivated crops during their peak period of production.)
|Around the Same
|Grains (e.g: millet, sorghum, maize, flax, oats, wheat)
|Banana (& some other tropic fruit trees)
|Potatoes (& sweet potatoes)
|Spinach (and other similar greens)
This can be used to work out a very approximate idea of water required for a vegetable garden/ arable production. Though there are, of course, still a great many variables to consider that can alter the amount of water required.
How Much Water Will You Need For Livestock?
Of course, if you plan to keep livestock, you will also need to think about their water needs. Again, there is a wide range of different variables. But it can be helpful, at the very least, to think about the water your livestock will drink. Chickens, for example, each need around 0.13-0.27 US gallons (0.5-1 liter) of drinking water per day.
Of course, your climate zone and the temperatures typically experienced is one of the crucial factors in determining how much water livestock will typically require.
By measuring the water available from rainfall and other water sources on a site and analyzing the needs of the homestead desired or required, it is possible to work out how big a homestead can be sustainably supported on a site.
Of course, there are other considerations. But thinking about whether or not you can meet the basic needs of water, food, shelter, and energy should help you work out how big a homestead you need.