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How much land does a homesteader need?

My wife and I are in our late 20's, with a 1-1/2-year-old boy and another baby on the way. We are mortgaged to the teeth, as I am the sole breadwinner. (Actually, I'm unemployed. First time ever.)

While growing up I always wanted to be a farmer. After reading Countryside I realize that "homesteading" is what I really want. We own a house on five acres. We have a large garden and are starting an orchard.

One of my questions is how much livestock could you realistically have on five acres? Could you keep two goats or sheep? What about pigs? I imagine cows are out of the question.

How many acres is the average homestead?

Do most homesteaders butcher their own livestock?

I feel rabbits or chickens are good animals for me to start with, but I don't know if I have the stomach to butcher them. Are there places that do that for you?

My wife says she couldn't eat an animal we raised. She feels How do you handle that?

My family thinks I am nuts for even wanting to try there things!--Kevin McClellan, Metamora, Michigan

We know of a homestead that had three goats--which became more after the first kidding season.

Plus three sheep.

Chickens, rabbits, and a trio of geese.

And a pig.

Oh yes: there was a beehive, too, along with the garden and orchard.

All this was on exactly one acre.

Along with a one-man print shop... because this was where we started Countryside

This wouldn't suit every person, location, or situation, but for us it was almost ideal. it was extremely efficient, and there was no wasted space--not an inch! It was absolutely necessary to maintain everything in a neat and orderly fashion, so it was a very pleasant place of almost picture-book charm.

On later and larger places, we were never able to keep up with the mowing and weeds in odd places, and the extra room just seemed to accumulate more junk. Even larger gardens didn't produce as much.

So the answer to the question "How much livestock can you keep on one acre?" would have to be, "More than you probably imagine!"

We bought feed, of course. There are differences of opinion on this, but in most cases, it's economic folly to try to grow feed for small numbers of a variety of animals, especially when you're starting out, and definitely when space is limited. (We have discussed this in the past, and will talk about it again if anyone's interested.) You can feed most cull fruits and vegetables as well as trimmings and thinnings to animals, and you might want to play around with planting some extra corn or even a little hay with your regular garden tools. (We planted the lawn ... aside from the children's play area... in alfalfa, cut it with the lawnmower, and fed it out.) But don't plan on growing very much feed without some specialized equipment, which will take more money and time and space and experience than it's worth, at least at first.

This means the only area required for animals would be for their shelter, an exercise yard, and a small amount of space for storing feed and equipment. You can find these requirements in any good book on the specific animals you're interested in.

Average homestead size? The last time we asked, 12 percent of our readers had a city-type lot (or less; 31 percent had 1-5 acres; 42% had 6-40 acres and 15 percent had more than 40 acres. But the question really is irrelevant here because we don't know what they do with that land. Even people who don't grow feed crops often want some pasture, and a woodlot, and a wild area or nature preserve, as well as a little land just as a buffer zone. Many people actually use less than an acre even though they have more. And what they use, of course, depends on how many animals they have, how they manage them, terrain, soil, climate and rainfall and many other conditions, including personal preferences and financial resources.

On butchering: a constant sticky wicket for most people without experience. It's largely a matter of attitude. Some people learn quickly, while others never do come to grips with it.

You can find custom butchers or abattoirs in most agricultural areas. With few exceptions, especially with smaller stock, the cost wipes out any financial benefits of raising your own. Besides, it's not hard to learn, and it's a good skill to have even if you decide not to do it regularly.

Learning to butcher

The best way to learn is to watch or help someone who has experience. It need not be a butcher, farmer, or homesteader: you probably know a hunter who has cleaned game, and would be willing to give you some help and advice, perhaps for a portion of the meat.

Your wife's problem might be overcome when the chicken looks more like a package of meat from the supermarket than like the Henriena she remembers. Meat that has been in the freezer for a few weeks definitely most of its personality. But here again, it's a matter of attitude. Some people aren't bothered at all, while others become vegetarians. First-time butchering is never easy, and it never becomes pleasant, but most of us learn to accept it as a part of the cycle. We gain reverence for life, and greater appreciation for our place in the scheme of things, and thus feed our souls and minds along with our bodies.
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Title Annotation:to raise livestock
Author:McClellan, Kevin
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Every day there is something to celebrate and give thanks for.
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