For a great many preppers, their dream or at least their ultimate prep seems to be a homestead of their very own where they are completely, totally self-sufficient. Dependent upon no one else except their family if they have one and certainly not upon their government or any municipality.
If you ask them about it they can describe it to you readily enough: a modest house, some crops, some animals, perhaps a small workshop and some way to provide power, perhaps. It is a fine dream and a great idea, but where the dream starts to fall apart up against the rough and painful skein of reality is in this question:
How much land does it take to be self-sufficient? The amount of land required is highly variable, with answers ranging anywhere from two and upwards of 10 acres. A more realistic assessment is around of 2 – 5 acres depending on factors such as climate, soil health, viability for crops and animals, personal skill and aptitude, as well as diet, number of people in the household, available technology, and more.
No matter how ideal this might be when it comes to surviving tough times, you must not rush into this unprepared, because the consequences, even if they are only financial, are likely to be devastating.
We will look at just a few of the many factors that should go into your decision to go off grid and become self-sufficient below.
How Many People Are You Responsible For?
One of the chief variables in determining how much land you will need to be self-sufficient is simply how many mouths you have to feed.
More people to take care of means more calories are needed to keep them healthy, along with proportionally more water. And water not just for drinking, but also for bathing, and other hygiene related tasks. You must never assume you will have an infinite supply of either.
Quite a few would-be homesteaders think they can get away with a large garden plot in tough times to feed their families, and, while a productive garden can produce a surprising harvest of fruits and veggies regularly, they are typically too vulnerable to mishap or disaster to consider as your primary source of calories for the long haul.
Even so, for people with sharply limited room or adverse soil conditions a small garden might be the only cropping you do on your homestead.
You must also calculate this against the type of foodstuffs you are planning on raising and how you plan on raising them. Crops of any kind even on a modest scale will require less room than many livestock animals that need pasturage in order to feed and roam.
Large livestock species typically require considerably more acreage than you might be anticipating, with many experts in the field recommending a minimum of 20 acres for even a few cattle, sheep or goats. Anywhere from 30 to 50 acres is likely more realistic.
How Many Able Hands Do You Have?
Having all the land in the world might not make any difference if you do not have enough hands to work it effectively no matter what you are raising on it, plant or animal.
If you are taking care of very young children or old and infirm parents, you will not be able to depend on them for anything but menial tasks, and even then probably not for very long.
Older children, or a younger, fit spouse and some siblings of comparable age and ability will provide you a considerably larger pool of manpower to draw on.
You might be able to offset a lack of manpower by using technology or beasts of burden, though neither one is as versatile and adaptable as another human being, even if they are more powerful.
Also don’t lose sight of the small-time tasks that make a big difference in your longevity: Food preservation, be it dehydration or canning, requires a lot of time and work to pull off successfully.
Are you able to get all the meat taken care of before it spoils? Can you get all of the vegetables and fruits you laboriously raised canned before they rot?
You cannot underestimate this: it is imperative that you have a realistic and accurate assessment of how many man hours are required to successfully carry off the raising of food or the completion of any task to its end. Oftentimes you will have to make choices if there are not enough able hands to go around.
What is the Climate and Soil Like?
Not all soils are created equal, and not everyone gets to site their homestead in a place with a year-round idyllic climate suitable for the growing of all kinds of crops or the raising of all kinds of animals.
Some soils will be difficult to work, or they will be completely unsuitable for the rearing of certain crops or animals. You don’t always have a choice in the strictest sense of the word; much of the time you will have to make trade-offs.
A homestead plan or strategy that is viable in one climate may be drastically less efficient in another or even impossible necessitating a change in strategy. A strategy that has worked reliably for some years may become invalidated by changing weather or some other unforeseen circumstances.
Generally speaking, the richer the soil overall and the more agreeable it is to the raising of animals, the less you will need. Soil that is not very productive or that is sparse and barren as pasturage will necessitate more for growing the same amount of crops raising the same number of animals.
Consider Technology Base and Requirements
Technology can be both boon and burden for those looking to live a completely off-grid lifestyle of total or near total self-sufficiency. Manually working 10 acres of land is a significant challenge for a single person, but trivial for one that has a tractor.
Likewise, the yield of crops you can expect using traditional and time-tested farming techniques can be doubled or even tripled using state-of-the-art hydroponics-enabled growing techniques and other technology. Truly we live in wondrous times.
However, for all of the efficiency and yield boosting advantages of technology, there is an associated logistical and support cost attendant to it.
A tractor requires both ongoing maintenance and gasoline or some other liquid fuel to operate. If a tractor breaks down or the fuel supply dries up, it is nothing but a large and ugly lawn ornament or a convenient perch for the crows.
Similar constraints accompany any other technology, from power tools to hydroponics to off-grid electrical generation. You will require a certain amount of know-how and lesser but necessary technologies to support your labor-saving device.
You must consider this carefully before you go all in on a plan that is dependent upon technology, because the more dependent it is on technology the more likely it is that you are still dependent on the logistics and supply train made possible by civilization.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to be honest with yourself about what you are trying to achieve. Ask yourself if the homestead but you are envisioning and is made possible by a certain piece of technology is still sustainable or achievable without that essential piece of technology.
If that central invention or device fails, do you have a substitute of perhaps lesser technology that will fit the bill, or are you completely dead in the water?
You must account for the depletion and degradation of land from repeated cropping or pasturing of animals. This is why crop rotation is so important.
You can expect diminishing returns if you keep growing the same things over and over or keep letting your animals graze and wander across the same patch of land. The soil and the minerals that it contains need time to regenerate and replenish; in short, it needs rest in a way just like people do, just like animals do.
Consider the best return on your investment of space, energy and cost. Resources like eggs and dairy products can be created and harvested repeatedly and for less space than traditional crops or the rearing of beef or veal.
Certain animals like pigs are “one-trick provisions” providing only meat (no matter how tasty!) in return for a big commitment in space and resources. Chickens, on the other hand, need far less room and provide eggs and meat, whereas cows and goats can provide meat and milk for dairy products.
Clever and careful selection of locations that can support certain crops that have a complete dietary profile, like quinoa among others, can ensure your nutritional requirements are much easier to meet, even if the menu gets a little boring. This allows you to leverage your labor for a better return, nutritionally.
Consider the margin for error, changing conditions and acts of God. The less land you have, the less margin you have for error or for things to go wrong.
A hyper-efficient one acre micro-homestead consisting of a state-of-the-art hydroponics growing installation, small garden plot, a large flock of chickens and a handful of fruit trees along with a small vegetable garden will be extremely vulnerable to being wiped out.
If some blight or disease decimates your flock of chickens, can you start raising another animal on such limited pasturage?
Do you have room to grow something else if your hydroponic system gets knocked out? Having room to spare means you’re more adaptable, and can work a “Plan B” when you need to even if you do not work certain sectors of your land full-time.
The amount of land that a person might need to create a completely self-sufficient homestead varies depending upon a whole host of factors, but the average across most domains seems to be between 2 and 5 acres at the absolute minimum assuming one wants to make use of labor-saving technology and techniques.
Traditionally-oriented homesteads will likely need considerably more room. Make sure that you perform a careful analysis of all of your requirements before you pull the trigger on a parcel of land intended to be your off-grid homestead.
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