So you are thinking of “homesteading”? Before you till up your front yard, purchase a hundred acres, or – most importantly – invest in any farmyard animals – stop and think about what you want to get from farming, and the pros and cons of doing so in your situation. Farming is not for everyone, and with animals and landscaping involved, you need to be aware that this lifestyle change will be with you for many years to come.
First of all, consider what you can accomplish in your current living situation, and if you can achieve your goals in your current location. There is a lot to be said for apartment gardening, and there are disadvantages to rural living, so don’t be discouraged if you have limited space but still want to garden.
If you live in the city or on an acre or less, you would be considered an urban garden or farm. The easiest way to start farming in an urban environment is to plant a small garden. You can garden at almost any scale, including growing plants like tomatoes, peppers, and many herbs in pots either inside or on a porch or deck. Even larger plants like zucchinis and melons can be grown in containers, although you need to have enough space around them for them to vine out.
Where you run into difficulties with urban homesteading is in the number and size of farmyard animals you can keep. Every animal needs space and most farm animals cannot be kept indoors. For example, here are the spacing requirements for common livestock:
Poultry – 4 square feet of floor space per bird for night shelter. More for daily ranging.
Pigs – 9 square feet per pig.
Sheep – 16 square feet per sheep.
Rabbits – can be kept in a small hutch.
Cows – 2 acres per cow.
Horses – 1 acre per horse.
Alpacas – five alpacas can be kept on one acre.
Goats – 15 square feet per goat.
Bees – need a hive, and forage for up to 5 square miles.
Urban farmers usually keep chickens, if any animals. Rabbits and bees are easily kept in a small space, and you may be able to have alpacas or goats on an acre or less. Animals bring in a whole new set of problems, ones that are exacerbated in cramp living conditions. Chickens will be loud – so much so that many cities have ordinances against keeping roosters at all. Neighbors may complain and you must consider the humane living conditions for your animals depending on your space. However, you can easily supply yourself with enough eggs with only two or three hens on your property.
Sometimes, not getting animals can be the best option for you, even if you have the space. Farmyard friends take up a lot of time and require more than just shelter. They’ll need vet visits, sheep need to be sheared and goats milked, and they all need to be let out in the mornings and cooped up in the evenings. This is a great reason to consider investing in a local CSA or farmer’s market. Across the country there are plenty of small farms which will appreciate your support and treat you to delicious eggs and meat without you having to commit the time or space to raising animals yourself.
So if you have a small lot or an apartment, put some vegetables on your deck or in your front yard, and consider a few feathered friends to keep you well supplied.
Small Scale Farming
The ideal farm for many hobbyists, a small scale farm is between two and ten acres. This acreage allows for a significant vegetable garden that can include several varieties such as corn, potatoes, and pumpkins. The added land will also allow you to keep more animals, such as a larger flock of chickens or other poultry, and small livestock like goats and alpacas. This size of farm will allow you to be completely self-sufficient, if that is your goal.
At a small scale farm, you do still have to consider city ordinances and neighbors. A real nonconformist lifestyle may be your dream, but if you have close neighbors their opinions need to be taken into consideration. You may also find yourself on a main road with a small farm, and protecting your animals from that is its own issue.
Small scale farming gives you the best opportunity to try a different lifestyle in a flexible and easy to change way. Just remember, if you are experimenting with farming, that many farm animals live in excess of twenty years and large changes to your landscape or outbuildings can last even longer.
If your dream is living off the grid, consider taking the jump and moving to the country. On a working farm, you can grow large crops and become your own CSA, contribute to your local farmer’s market or sell to consumers or distributors directly. You can raise livestock for produce, and you can have as many farmyard friends as you would like.
There are definitely downsides to moving to the country. Basic lifestyle changes have to be considered, like not having a corner store to run to or the nonstop work involved in maintaining a large quantity of land. The conveniences of modern living, however, can often be quickly replaced by the conveniences of being able to milk your own cow or rely on your hens for eggs.
For some – myself included – the remoteness of country living is part of the appeal. There are no neighbors to complain about a rooster crowing and all the space you need to try your hand at crops and raising your own livestock.
Whether you’re in an apartment or on a hundred acres, there are always opportunities to try a more self reliant lifestyle. The benefits are countless and the satisfaction is boundless.
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