Start a 1-Acre, Self-Sufficient Homestead

Your 1-acre homestead can be divided into land for raising livestock and a garden for raising fruits, vegetables, plus some grain and forage crops. Illustration: Dorling Kindersley

Jul 21 UPDATE: But don’t dare try this in Lantzfille, British Columbia! See 1-acre “farm” owners face jail in Lantzville, BC

By John Seymour
Mother Earth News

Everyone will have a different approach to keeping a self-sufficient homestead, and it’s unlikely that any two 1-acre farms will follow the same plan or methods or agree completely on how to homestead. Some people like cows; other people are afraid of them. Some people like goats; other people cannot keep them out of the garden.

Some people will not slaughter animals and have to sell their surplus stock off to people who will kill them; others will not sell surplus stock off at all because they know that the animals will be killed; and still others will slaughter their own animals to provide their family with healthy meat.

For myself, on a 1-acre farm of good, well-drained land, I would keep a cow and a goat, a few pigs and maybe a dozen hens. The goat would provide me with milk when the cow was dry. I might keep two or more goats, in fact. I would have the dairy cow (a Jersey) to provide the pigs and me with milk.

More importantly, I would keep her to provide heaps and heaps of lovely cow manure to increase my soil fertility, for in order to derive any sort of living from that 1 acre without the application of a lot of artificial fertilizer, it would have to be heavily manured.

Raising a Dairy Cow

Cow or no cow? The pros and cons are many and various for a self-sufficient homestead. In favor of raising a cow is the fact that nothing keeps the health of a family — and a farm — at a high level better than a dairy cow.

If you and your children have ample good, fresh, unpasteurized, unadulterated dairy products, you will be well-positioned to be a healthy family. If your pigs and poultry get their share of the milk by-products, especially whey, they likely will be healthy, too. If your garden gets plenty of cow manure, your soil fertility will continuously increase, along with your yields.

MyShedPlans Banner 403 186

On the other hand, the food that you buy in for this family cow will cost you hundreds of dollars each year. Compared with how much money you would spend on dairy products each year, the fresh milk supply from the cow plus the increased value of the eggs, poultry and pig meat that you will get, along with your ever-growing soil fertility, will quickly make a family cow a worthwhile investment.

But a serious counter-consideration is that you will have to take on the responsibility of milking a cow. (For different milking plans and estimated savings, see Keep a Family Cow and Enjoy Delicious Milk, Cream, Cheese and More.)

Milking a cow doesn’t take very long — perhaps eight minutes — and it’s very pleasant if you know how to do it and if she is a quiet, docile cow — but you will have to do it. Buying a dairy cow is a very important step, and you shouldn’t do it unless you do not intend to go away very much, or unless you can make arrangements for somebody else to take over your milking duties while you’re gone.

So let’s plan our 1-acre farm on the assumption that we are going to keep a dairy cow.

1-Acre Farm With a Family Cow

Half of your land would be put down to grass, leaving half an acre arable (not allowing for the land on which the house and other buildings stand). The grass half could remain permanent pasture and never be plowed up at all, or you could plan crop rotations by plowing it up, say, every four years. If you do the latter, it is best done in strips of a quarter of the half-acre so that each year you’re planting a grass, clover and herb mixture on an eighth of your acre of land.

This crop rotation will result in some freshly sown pasture every year, some 2-year-old field, some 3-year-old field and some 4-year-old field, resulting in more productive land.

Grazing Management

At the first sign the grass patch is suffering from overgrazing, take the cow away. The point of strip grazing (also called intensive rotational grazing) is that grass grows better and produces more if it is allowed to grow for as long as possible before being grazed or cut all the way down, and then allowed to rest again. In such intensive husbandry as we are envisaging for this self-sufficient homestead, careful grazing management will be essential.

Read more at Mother Earth News

fat burning kitchen

57 responses to “Start a 1-Acre, Self-Sufficient Homestead

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  2. How small is that house? I live on an acre and I don’t have that kind of room. And My house is no mansion either.

    • if you want to get an idea of size of home to land. take a SMALLER average 210 foot by 210 foot square is ABOUT an acre, so take a smaller rectangle of your houses footprint and using graph paper, do your layout?

  3. I live in a mobile home and yearn for an acre of land to do something like this. Really liking the look of your blog, just browsing your links alone I see literally dozens of items that interest me.

  4. For a vegan, it would be difficult to keep animals, as the positive of chook poo and scratching would also be the downside when you start to think of eggs being sold to others, feathers, down and eventually chook meat. It is not within the principles of vegan lifestyle. And fields of beans would be necessary. And to not including wheat for intolerance, coeliac etc – so corn? Multiple uses for corn, corn on the cob, and corn kiblets, creamed corn etc. Corn flour. Wheat does provide wheatgrass as well as flour and the base for gluten recipes such as seitan though. To grow your own soy would be fantastic! Edamame – the baby beans in the pod, soy beans, the basis of soy sauce – tamari, ponzu, etc. Tempeh can be made from the fermented beans, and tofu. Soy yoghurt even and soy milk fresh! Wow!

    And of course, plenty of lovely vegetables and fruit trees, vines with grapes and olives and a range of herbs that you can buy non hybrid organic!

    Yeah! Yumm! What a goal!

    Blessings
    Samantha

    • you don’t have to kill chickens to get eggs and have them live a rather wonderful full life…and have a natural death. If you want truly good fertilizer though – rabbit droppings are the best quality-wise and don’t need to be processed, they are good to go right away. Also, very very few people have celiac disease. Extremely rare, a gluten free diet is really unhealthy (high in processed sugar and lacking nutrients) unless you are a celiac sufferer. Which you probably aren’t. Society has created some weird phobias lately.

      • My gluten-free diet is not high in processed sugar nor is it lacking in nutrients. In fact by eating gluten-free at home (to avoid cross-contamination), our family eats a lot more vegetables in place of processed foods.

        Current estimates for celiac are 1:133, which is not extremely rare. (and yes that’s for medically tested, not just deciding you are celiac)

        Gluten is not the ultimate health food, nor do I believe it is the ultimate evil. Be more informed before you knock what you obviously know very little about.

  5. I already do this on one acre. It’s not easy, but it is do-able with some planning and management.
    I have a smaller Jersey cross cow, and her offspring (and/or a foster bull calf for the freezer–heifers are sold), some free-ranging chickens and turkeys in a moveable pen.
    Having only 1/2 an acre pasture dedicated for just one cow is extremely hard, one must use (purchased) hay all year around to not deplete what small pasture I have. I rotational graze, only for hours at a time. Occasionally I have access to the neighbors 1/2 acre of grass, so that relieves some of the pressure off of my pasture.

    I grow a vegetable garden, have an herb garden and fruit trees. The cow is kept out of all of these areas, as she will eat fruit tree leaves (warning: wilted cherry leaves will kill bovines), and eat a vartiety of herbs (she adores comfrey!) and only gets into the garden area in the winter as I allow.
    Goats are nice, but can be noisy. If you do not have a bull close by, you will have to go the AI route for re-breeding. I do breed every other year, and enjoy the longer lactations.

    Being small scale, I still am able to keep my family of 4 in homegrown beef, eggs, vegtables and fruits (fresh, canned, frozen and/or dehydrated) and some chicken. (Hogs are not allowed where I live.)
    I do not do any grain crops at this time for the cow (or us) because of time constraints.

    Two acres would be more do-able, but you can get plenty done with just one acre.

  6. Stevens County Assembly takes Food Freedom Ordinance to the streets

    Stevens County Assembly of Stevens County, Washington has just approved a Food Freedom Ordinance. They are in the process of taking it to the streets for signatures.

    • What’s the next step? Is a legislator going to introduce it for you? Are the citizens of Stevens County going to vote on it?

      I see my argument about environmental protection had no sway with the Assembly. What was the main reason for rejecting it?

      thanks for stopping in.

  7. “I see my argument about environmental protection”

    Rady – I’m confused – please refresh memory or email me

    Thanks

    gathering signatures for Commissior 1st – then to ballot if need be

  8. I won’t post photos on the internet at this time (privacy), but could do a drawing, similar to the one above. And at this time, I, too live in a trailerhouse, it is not a valid excuse in my book to not get things done. A house has absolutely nothing to do with what you can/can’t do with what you grow. So what you have a tiny kitchen (like me); you learn to make do.
    I keep my big freezer in what I call my garage (more like a big shed) and keep my ‘big’ equipment out there as well (Even when I lived in a house, I kept these items in the carport). Things like extra canning/milk jars, and my hand grinder(s) (one for meat, one for grains) and store things like my canners there in the off season.

    The wonderful thing is: much of my food is zero food miles. It’s work to grow/gather/process/preserve/cook from scratch (all a lost art it seems), but knowing where much of my food is coming from, who grew it (and how) and what my animals eat is worth it to me. I know what is/isn’t in my cream cheese, or butter or salsa or canned peaches or frozen green beans simply because I made it or put it in the freezer.

    I think those who purchase foods that are replacing meats/dairy in meals are barking up the wrong tree. I’d like to see people make temph or soymilk from a field of soybeans, or get ‘milk’ out of an almond at home with simple kitchen gadgets. These folks have limited ideas of what all the processes (and chemicals) are to get it from the field/orchard to container for their convienience. All it does is support an industrial niche market. I personally don’t even like to feed my animals too much soy (or even corn), I couldn’t imagine eating it very often to replace this or that in a recipe or just to mimic traditional-named dishes/meals.

    The animals I raise are vastly different from the CAFO’s. I try to avoid things like GM foods (for me and my animals) and try to look at a simplistic, big picture. If the world goes to hell in a handbasket (or there’s a blizzard, ice storm, flood, etc), I already have experience on what it takes to raise/keep food, and more importantly: the tools and skills to get things done to be able to keep eating. (It might not be all perfect, but it’s better than nothing.)

    We all have to start somewhere. Start small, read, learn then DO. Experience is our best teacher….sure there will be some learning curves, and a few heartaches. There are no failures, only lessons on what not to do the next time!

    • Diane Denizen

      “We all have to start somewhere. Start small, read, learn then DO. Experience is our best teacher….sure there will be some learning curves, and a few heartaches. There are no failures, only lessons on what not to do the next time!” Excellent advice, this is where we started and we are still learning, that learning curve never ends. Talk to other gardeners, see how they do it, garner the most sensible ideas and use them, but don’t forget to pass on your good ideas also.

  9. We are on 1 acre and starting out with some chickens, a couple of ducks (great for weeding and debugging the garden), rabbits and a dairy goat. A lot can be done on an acre with planning. We’re still very much in the learning process! Our lot is kind of pie-shaped, so planning can be a little tricky, but we’re not giving up. :)

  10. This is a lot like what we are gradually trying to accomplish on our one acre.

    I’ve considered pigs, but the proximity of my neighbors may prevent that. We are opting for dairy goats and plan to get mini-nubians or nigerian dwarfs.

    One major problem we have with the use of our land is that our septic system takes up about 1/3rd of our acre. I could not keep a cow for this reason. I am hoping that the mini goats will not compact my leach field too much, or else I will have to make their pasture even smaller.

    We are trying to plant on as much of our remaining space as possible. I enjoy my flowers, but have to keep them to a minimum as I need as much productive space as possible.

    We keep a laying flock of 20-30 hens for their manure, eggs to eat and sell, and eventually use them as stewing hens. We also run a flock of 40 meat birds in the spring which are kept in a tractor.

    Another option for increasing the tilth of your soil is to go visit your local livestock market or county fair grounds. They will give you loads and loads of manure for free if you haul it yourself. Most neighboring farmers will also gladly let you take some of theirs off their hands as they usually have more than they know what to do with.

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  12. Hmmm… Has anyone thought about Dexter Cattle? According to, breeders and/or extremely proud owners, they say They may get to 3 feet at the shoulder so typically around 36″, They produce just as much milk as the full sized cattle and produce less meat than typical cattle, but their meat tastes WAY better than all other kinds of cattle! And females are just as great for meat as the males. Trust me, I have never owned one, but there is a dexter cattle seller and breeder only a few miles away from me. I believe Dexters would be a perfect choice! I would DIE to have at least just one acre! If I had got myself one of these properties, a would start out like this: Animals: A Eight hens, Two Gobblers, Two american runners (the common white farm duck), Three wieners, One Goat and One Dexter Cow. Crops: One Semi Dwarf Apple Tree, One Semi Dwarf Pear Tree, One Semi Dwarf Cherry Tree, One Semi Dwarf Fig Tree, Two Black Raspberry Vines, Two Marion Berry Vines, Iceburg Lettuce, A Variety of other Lettuce, Sunflowers, Barley, Corn, Carrots, Garlic, Onions, Potatoes, Tomatoes, and a variety of legumes. Sounds a little much for a person that basically doesn’t know a thing, but I have tons of relatives that own farms across the whole state of Oregon, and I’ve visited all of them. It’s funny. Everytime I go through the Goat exhibit at the Clackamas County Fair, Canby, Oregon, All the goats come running to the edge of their pens and constantly make their everyday noises except WAY louder! A pet everyone of them in the pen and they keep on nudging me. When I leave their pens, They make mournful sounds and rests their heads on the bars of the pens or they put there front legs on the top bar of their pens looking at me and once again making mournful noises as if they were saying, “Don’t go!”. Everytime my family and everyone who comes and see stares ahead, mouth ajar or they talk to each other saying, “Did you see that?” Although two people that don’t and just sit there and smile are my mom and brother. Everytime they both say, “Wow Danny, They absolutely love you.” Then they both look back and noticed they still are staring long fully and making mournful sounds and say, “Hey Dan, Look that and listen, they still don’t want you to leave.” Nobody has understood why they love me so much at the Clackamas County Fair. All other fairs they treat me as if I was just another ordinary passer by. So for some reason, I only get that reaction at the Clackamas County Fair. It makes everyone in my family wonder. Especially me! I enjoy it everytime though as I love animals.

  13. Yes, Dexters are nice, and a smaller framed cow fits better into the limited space and usually eats less. Just because they have a big udder doesn’t mean they will make lots of milk. (Aha, just like women!) A good way to tell how they will milk/how long is to look at their escutcheon (also called a ‘milk mirror’–google it).

    Anyone that has a certain breed of this or that (cattle, goats, chickens, etc) will try and convince you their breed is best. I get what works for ME and my situation. I like the mini cattle, but look at the total overall picture: how will I get a return on my investment? All I really want is milk for the house and meat. Nothing fancy will do, a willing cow (of any breed) that lets you milk peacefully is a godsend.

    I have had a variety of breeds and crossbreeds when it comes to homegrown meat. Much of the way they taste when butchered is simply what they are/aren’t fed while growing. Those left on mama longer will have more marbeling than those raised on milk replacer and grain. (Unless you are stuffing them with grain–which costs more and can lead to acidiosis.)
    I refuse to feed my animals a copious amounts of grain for two reasons: 1) it costs more and 2) is not self-sufficient.

    Milk the cow makes mostly comes from pasture/hay, so I concentrate on the best quality in that area. Grains are to help keep those milkers (cows) in condition.
    I do like goats, they are faster to milk out than the cow, but personally I prefer the cows’ milk. Goats are usually cheaper and a good start for learning the routine on and have milk to make products with. Goats are more of browsers (like deer) than cows as well. Good for brush control!

    I forgot to mention I do have raspberries, asparagus and just put in some grapes. I have turkeys almost ready for butcher, something new for me this year. I try not to take on too many projects at once (it can get overwhelming) and get good at one ‘project’ (canning, the garden, putting up fence, etc) before researching and tackling another.

    Years ago I got “The Encylopedia of Country Living” and is a good book to learn the basics from. The late Carla Emory (sp?) covers just about everything in it: fruit trees, animals, fencing, canning, gardening, dehydrating, smoking meats, recipes, you name it, it’s probably in there.

    • Hi Mrs. R. You must be a member of KAFC. ;-)

      We just got 4 turkeys from a friend. Aren’t they just the neatest animals? And they eat squash bugs to boot!!

      We too raise all our milk, meat, eggs, fats, veggies on about 2 cleared acres. It is not realistic to raise a milk cow & calf on 1 acre as Mr. Seymour says without buying in hay. But his book is marvelous to read. I believe he also states that you’ve never had beef until you’ve eaten one that’s at least 4 years old. Most cows, even local, grass based, are going to be 2 years old max when you eat them.

  14. we are running a small permaculture farm on just over an acre. no cows, Shetland sheep instead. they are much lower maintenance, and three adults and two lambs can rotational graze all summer (if only it would rain and bring our pasture back to life). we also have 50 or so laying hens and 75 pastured broiler chickens.

  15. Journey11– I am wary of horse manure as most people worm their horses every month so i’m afraid of the chemicals (vermicide) in their manure. Do you know anything about this?

    • Hi Terry, that is a good question you ask. There are several types of dewormers and not all are effective against the same parasites, so chemically speaking, they may vary to some degree in how long it takes for them to break down or whether they would affect certain insects or earthworms. Also, most livestock owners will be deworming their animals either on rotation or an as needed basis for the health of their animals as internal parasites are always a concern. The concentration of dewormer in the manure will depend on how recently the dewormer was given. Most do not stay in the system for long.

      For several years I have been building up my soil using manure from several sources–my own horse (kept on my dad’s farm) that I rotationally deworm every two months. I also bring in manure from my friend’s goats, which are dewormed monthly. I have hauled in most of my manure from the livestock market though, as it is the most readily available source.

      As my soil tilth has increased, I have found drastically improved quantities of earthworms in my garden. They prefer this rich soil much better than the notoriously heavy red clay my area is known for.

      Any dewormers that have not had time to break down can be best avoided by not spreading the fresh manure over your plot. I heap mine up in giant piles out of the way and allow it several months to over a year to break down before I apply it to my garden and raised beds. A good way to tell that it is thoroughly composted and no longer hot is that you will notice the presence of earthworms, red wrigglers, beetles and the like once it is fully composted and ready to use.

      Using composted manure from non-organic livestock also does not compromise the status of a certified organic farm either. I would think that vermiculture operations would be most affected and would want to test for any residual toxicity before applying such manure to their worm beds. For the average gardener though, the composted manure is quite safe.

      • hey, journey11 — I’ve been hauling goat manure from up the road and tossing on the garden bed, tho I won’t plant this patch for another few months yet. Do you think this is a good idea or not?

        • I should tell you I live in vegetation zone 10b – the subtropics. the compost heaps here finish in 1-2 months. especially now. planting season starts in october

        • oh, i also bury the kitchen scraps in this soil

          • Goat manure is good stuff and the nitrogen in it isn’t as “hot” as most other manures. You can use it fresh as long as you don’t overdo it or heap it on the plant, just apply as a side-dressing or with mulch. If it is the chemicals in the dewormers you are worried about, they would still take some time to break down. But for what you describe, you should be fine to plant by fall. I don’t want to come across as a manure expert or anything…I am just a gardener who has always preferred using “black gold” over 10-10-10. ;)

          • cool, thanks.

      • You could also look at worming naturally – diatomaceous earth.

  16. well done all,
    reconsider dwarf trees, espalier or allow larger normal old varieties to intergrow into lovely shady laneways. always a boon in summer. still waiting for a tractor to plough my 2 acres, and seasons passing fast:-( goats tend to ringbark trees always plant then use wire protectors.sheep and goats can be tied to trees on country roads to eat verges, or offer free mowing, they eat -your land gets a break, win win. I have a big horse, 4 black lambs to come soon and 100 10 day old chicken s in my spare room cos its too cold outside. chaos:-) be real careful if looking at mini pigs for excavations..they usually arent very mini.:-)

  17. Just passing through, but I must say–well done! And also, kudos to all those who added such constructive comments. I don’t have an acre, but I do have a 40’x50′ garden packed with healthy vegetables and flowers. Not only do we get the benefit of growing great food, but also enjoy a daily walk through the maze of vines and fresh blooms and the dose of serenity they provide in an often chaotic world.

  18. Loved reading this information. Will be bookmarking for the future! Love the idea of having a mini farm and what a great way to get back to your roots and back to nature!

  19. this post is a great introduction to planning your own sustainable lifestyle…which is exactly what we are hoping to do…thanks for sharing all your ideas!

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  21. That’s nicked from John Seymour’s book.

  22. I need to move out where I can do this, my HOA would frown just a little.

  23. If you still have to rely on outside sources to feed that cow, then this is NOT the way to farm that land!!! The whole point is to be self sufficient surely! The 7 tier system provides for more fruit/veg than this conventional layout & requires NO extra nutrients. The current way shown here just wont work the land as well as the 7 tier system.

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  25. I relly appreciate that god will answer my dream using you people. I am a pastor I had started piggery project in Zimbabwe rural. But I sold them due to scasity of shortage of money to build proper pig styles, stockfeeds, medication and other. I have almost 5years. Here in SouthAfrica struggling to fulfil my dream but nothing have materialized.Now my family have missed me. For 5years and I sacreficed to stay here until my dream is anwered soon by people like you. My plan is to start these projects at my rural home with wish to serve my family , surrounding areas as well as serving the unemployed in the area to work in pig styles and poultry shelters..Your promt kind of interest and consideration willl be profoundly and greatly. Appreciated. For any further information I wll be. Gratefull if. You contact me. Thank you. Yours faithful. Never Gorekore. BANK A/C. No. 060074604. Dundee SOUTH. AFRICA

  26. I would love to buy just one acre just for this, however, I find that most real estate is sold in multiple acre lots, which I can’t really afford, or is located in the middle of the desert where farming is impractical. Does anyone know of where I can buy just one acre of land at a reasonable price?

  27. Trixie, we bought 1.38 acres with a well, electric, septic and an older mobile home, semi wooded about 35 minutes outside of Louisville, KY for 24k with 5 k down, monthly pymts of $375.00 interest free. It’ll be paid off in 3.5 years. We found it on Craigslist. I looked at all kinds of for sale by owner websites. There are places out there, you just have to be diligent, patient and determined. Hope this helps.

    • Allison, what a great deal! Do you mind if I ask, what kind of contract did you enter into to secure this? Not a mortgage, correct? Would this be considered a ‘rent to own’ arrangement, and did it have to be put together by a lawyer? I just want to learn as much as I can about non conventional land-buying methods. :)

  28. Charlie Ehrhardt

    Good job.
    I have 10 acres and all of it is tillable. I want to start a self- sufficient homestead.I like reading all the ideas and things that everybody writes about.I have a 25ft by 100ft garden now but I have a full time job and a campground with 88 camping sites on it, so you can imagine how busy I am.I plan on retiring in 3years and taking about 3 acres to do some tiny farming so I want to get started on preparation.Any ideas?I live in zone 6 near Cincinnati Oh.
    Happy farming.
    Chucke31

  29. Thank you for the info. I am thinking on a more. Natural life for my family. I currently live in redidentisl area in loudoun county VA, looking to buy land. Starting to research options and edicate myself. Hoping to make it happen. Bring family together and live better life.

  30. That is all totally copied from john seymour’s complete guide to self sufficiency!!

  31. Pingback: Diane & Caroline of Dromonig – Community, Leaving The Matrix, Skills, Self Sufficiency | EV Radio

  32. Diane Denizen

    I am very glad that this article has given the more awake people something to think about.

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  34. Hi, I am really pleased to this blog. I am living in Kane county Illinois and looking for 1-10 acres of tilable land to reach my freedom.Help in this regard will be appreciated.Thanks

  35. I thought I’d share my one acre wonderland with ya’ll. We have 1.25 acres that in addition to food production holds our home (which I think is pretty big), a medium sized shed/barn, and a small guest house.
    I do aquaponics, so I don’t till the ground or fuss with fertilizer to grow all of our non-root veg (roots are possible, it’s just not worth the hassle to me); our root vegetables and perennials (like asparagus and berry bushes) are grown in various containers and we use potato towers to maximize production of that particular starch. We also have a mini orchard that grows 11 varieties of fruits through aggressive pruning and training the branches.
    I produce freshwater shrimp, tilapia, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and we’re getting our bees and cow this spring (Jersey). I use a hydroponic based fodder system to supplement the pasture and to provide fresh greens in the winter.
    We compost all of the waste products and use what we need and sell the rest (market compost mixes with 5+ sources as being good for ‘Mel’s Mix’ sq ft gardening and it sells like hotcakes). I compost my mix for 2 years so as to not worry about anything the animal ingested being passed on. I’ve read that with a two year composting pet and even human manure can be considered safe for use (I’ve no intention of actually using human poo, just things I’ve come across during my research).

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  38. I hate to sound negative, but having grown up on a small farm you need more than one acre for a cow. Especially if you have a home and garden on that acre also. You are then having to buy the feed for your cow instead of growing your hay, which doesn’t make good economic sense.

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