Wednesday, December 16, 2009

things to consider when building or buying your homestead

Many of us already homestead or at some point would like to homestead in the future. Often times it seems that we think we need more land than what we have available to us and fore go the thoughts of ever being able to succeed at it because of the availability of useful terrain. I say no matter how small a plot you have to work with , you can do something in the way of raising your own fruits and vegetables and with very small amounts of land you can also raise some of your other foods, particularly meat. With a little bit of planning; gardens, compost and animals can all be combined together to make a circle of life so to speak on even some of the smallest pieces of land.


Being part of the solution and not the problem means there are certain steps that should be taken before acquiring any farm animal. Here is a brief synopsis of each of the steps that must come first and foremost before even thinking about raising animals.

Identify your natural resources. Find out what amount of acreage you have available to you. Look at climate and elevations. Identify the types of soil and the vegetation on the land, look at the erosion of the area in its natural state . What is the availability or both drinking and irrigation water. Identify potential problems now, so that you can make the necessary steps before they arise. By doing this it will help you to decide; what types of animals you can raise without modifications as well as with. It will show you how many animals your piece of land can accommodate as well as many management techniques that you may or may not have to employ in order to keep your animals and property safe and well maintained.

For those of us with less than an acre, anything larger than a guinea hen is most likely out of the question. The animals you are able to have, will need feed, shelter and protection from predators. Small animals means smaller amounts of waste and a compost pile in the back yard would do for your manure management practices.

When we have two or three acres to work with, our animal raising capabilities rise immensely. In addition to the small stock, you can also go into small ruminants ( meaning goats, sheep etc). Again, most feed will have to be provided to the animals and they will require a pasture or fenced in area for them to graze about in. Predator protection is still needed as well as cover from extreme weather conditions. Manure management with small ruminants is still pretty easy since there excrement is in pelleted form and makes great compost material.

Moving on up into the five acre range, our options for livestock also become larger . A single cow or horse is not out of the question . A hog can be raised , as well as a single or pair of burros or llamas, alpacas along with the smaller animals mentioned above. This amount of land is still not enough to maintain animals solely off of the land. All aforementioned steps are still needed and feed costs do become a a factor when we move into the larger animals. manure management practices also have to be amended and taken into consideration. The small back yard compost heap is now a mtn and it becomes a necessary step to actually have a manure heap in its very own place on the land.

With ten acres or more of land, the opportunities for raising most any farm animal is there. Of course the more land you have the more grazing animals can do and the less they have to be supplemented with feed. Guardian animals become a good means of protecting from predators and your manure pile keeps on growing. The larger the animals you choose the less of them you can raise. Cows , if fed only grazed grasses need about 25 - 30 acres of good pasture land per head of animal. keep in mind as well most animals do better in pairs , most are herd animals and do not well on there own .

Elevation levels will dictate what vegetation can and will grow on your property. The higher up you go , the less vegetation there will be . Different animals prefer different types of vegetation. How much work is it going to be to turn the over grown brush into pasture? Think about what your elevation levels are as well as the weather conditions in your area. Some conditions are not suited to some animals.Will yo be able to provide housing or shelter for the animals in these conditions? Have a look see at the slope and overall lay out of the land.Some of our four legged friends do not do well on steep terrain while others thrive, just as all humans don't enjoy mtn climbing, neither do all animals.

Walk outside in the rain sometime and look at the run off of the land. Where water runs , manure will run. Look at where the water runs too, where is it going? Find out where run off is naturally,where does it end up, polluting our water sources can be a huge issue,not only health wise but monetarily as well. Keep in mind that animals also cause new run off areas in the land, they tend to blaze trails (soil compaction) where they make the same loops in pastures daily...thereby causing new runoffs and sedimentation .Buffer zones between waterways and animals are wonderful in keeping the pollution problems down as well as giving natural wildlife new habitat areas.

Find out what sources of water are available on the piece of land.Animals need fresh clean water and plenty of it. Is there a well that you will be using? If so , can it handle the animals needs as well as your own? Is there natural water on the property? Does this water go to supply anyone else water ? Is that water safe for an animal to drink or does it contain pathogens in it not suited for consumption. If there is not enough water available naturally , how will you come up with enough water to supply your livestock? Will you have to carry water to the animals or is there a means to get it for them near where they are housed? Again, keep in mind the bigger you go, the more water they drink . It is pretty typical for a cow to drink upwards of 35 gallons of water on an 85 degree day, where a chicken or rabbit may drink a quart . Carrying 35 gallons of water 500 foot every day is not fun.

Assuming that most of us have less than 20 acres of land to work with. Many of us have much less to work with.Start to plot out your homestead on a large piece of paper. If you have a yard, plot it out , no matter how small you think it is. If you don't, have a yard at all , come up with an idea of what it is you would like.( Keep in mind almost no property has everything wonderful and perfectly set up to just move you n your barnyard friends in without some sort of modifications. I know we all dream of finding a perfect plot with flat open spaces, well groomed fences and barns with rolling hills and plenty of water sources etc...they are out there but few and far between. If there is a house or outbuildings sketch them and any fencing in. If you have outside water sources, be sure to mark them. Pay attention to run off areas, show where they are... This is just for a general idea of what you have to work with, so that over the course of making your plans you can decide what beast is best for you and your homestead . If you don't already have a compost heap or bin started, think about where you could strategically locate one. (a good rule of thumb on compost is, between animal and garden areas, but out of the way). Begin to get an idea of possible locations for animal housing and fencing. (It is nice to be able to see your animals from a window or door in the house if possible, just for keeping an eye on them.) When done , keep your map handy so that you made add to it as you plo , plan and scheme your homestead no matter what the size.

A snippet from a friend who had this to say when we were talking of this the other day..
Water is a huge consideration in any livestock enterprise.
Wells are expensive to bore, and water line must be installed below frostline ... digging the trench is also expensive.
Some animals need more than others
... an adult horse or a milk cow consumes many gallons per day, and this is something you cannot skimp on.
A dehydrated animal is a sick and dying animal.

Ponds can dry up and springs can stop running during dry summers.
Also, in the summer, you will get scum growing on the water and on the bottom and along the sides of the stock tank. You will need to empty and dry out tanks and waterers (sun will kill lots of what's growing there) and occasionally scrub with a bleach solution to keep the water fresh.

Remember that water will freeze in the winter, and when it freezes it will ruin whatever it is in. If you leave a hose out overnight, it will be useless in the morning ... at best you will have to bring it in to thaw, and at the worst it will split and be ruined. A stock tank full of ice is just another thing to deal with ... it is of no use to the stock.

In short ... I think the first thing to do when planning a livestock enterprise is to secure the supply of fresh water.

Bottom line, if someone is going to get livestock they should REALLY learn as much as they can about the animals they are interested in first, and be as prepared for them as possible first. Know something about the animals you want to keep!They all have different "ways" and different personalities. Some are a lot easier than others. Some require tons of work, special fencing or housing. Some can just live nicely with a tarp for shelter.


  1. Our new JERSEY COW is arriving tomorrow afternoon!
    Plenty of hay in the barn, and lots of time to get acquainted because she's dry and expecting in March. I might have to teach her to lead and that could be interesting. She has the devil in her eyes...

  2. yeaaaaah mama, that is awesomeness.. Gots lots of milk buckets handy i hope.. good wishes to yall on yer cowventures:)