How much land?

One of them questions that most frequently finds it’s way in to my inbox is “how much land do I need to raise sheep?” Unfortunately, it’s not one I can answer easily because there are just t0o many variables involved. How many sheep? What breed? Will you be purchasing older ewes and raising them just for fiber or is your heart set on breeding? If you plan to breed, what’s the maximum number of animals you’re willing to settle for? Will you stop breeding when you reach it?

How good is the pasture you’ll be raising them on? Will you supplement the pasture with grain rations? Sheep need access to a constant supply of hay to keep their rumens moving, but are you willing to supply it at levels that will also take care of some of their nutritional needs?

As much as I wish I did, I don’t have time to spend with each of the people I receive questions from, going through this list of questions and helping them track down the answers. I wish I did, because nothing makes me as happy as helping new create a new shepherd. But that would be a full-time job and I already have several of those!

But I’ve got great news. There is someone who can help you and it is his or her full-time job- your county cooperative extension agent. The Cooperative Extension System is a nation-wide education network. “These offices are staffed by one or more experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes.”

My county cooperative extension office is run by John Thompson and he has helped Juniper Moon Farm more times than I can count. He is positively evangelical about small farms, setting up workshops on bee keeping, chicken processing, foresting, and a dozen more that I’ve forgotten.

I consider John a member of my team, and when I’m having a new problem I’ve never seen before, he is the first person I call.

Not all cooperative extension offices are as helpful as mine, but they exist as a resource for you. It’s their reason for being. We need to use them, because that’s what they are there for. Even if your farm is just a small kitchen garden, your cooperative extension office is there to serve.

I did want to share this interesting infographic with you, created by One Block Off the Grid, that breaks down how much land you need to start a backyard homestead. I think it’s interesting that sheep don’t figure into their plan at all. Apparently living off the grid involves a fair amount of nakedness.

The corn pictured in the graphic are actually not accounted for ┬áin the final land estimates, so I’m not entirely sure why it’s there at all. I don’t think corn should be included in backyard farming at all, as growing corn is terribly hard on the soil, leaving it thin and depleted.

Overall though I think this is a great jumping-off point for anyone looking to lead a more sustainable, self-sufficient life.


  1. Thanks for sharing that awesome resource! I clicked through to the Massachusetts one to poke around and finally ID’ed the little jerks that destroyed my broccoli last year. Cabbage loopers, you are on watch.

  2. Cool resource. Your extension agent brings to mind Hank Kimble! :)

  3. You have a GREAT extension agent! He is working hard on setting up a small ruminant coop. You are correct in your statement “Not all cooperative extension offices are as helpful as mine.” That said, we asked John if we can adopt him to be ours! :)

  4. Susie,
    This picture looks like a bit of a pipe dream. The crop acreage is odd, and what isn’t thrown into the mix, is the possibility of a bad year, with respect to crops.
    I defy anyone to raise 3 pigs in a 10 by 20 foot area??? , and two goats in a 10 by 10 area???!!! It’s just not possible, at least not if you care about the well-being of the animals. I think the animals would languish in such small confines.
    I have 10 acres of pasture for my 14 donkeys and there’s no way I could raise them successfully without free choice hay – which I have to purchase and store in a 50 X 16 barn.

    My veggie garden last year was 1200 square feet. I failed miserably to provide enough fresh vegetables and was continually AMAZED at how successful the JMF gardens were. Caroline and Zach have green thumbs for sure.
    (I need to stop working 14 hours a day (with commute) at my “full-time” job and find something that allows me to spend more time getting dirt under my fingernails.) we’ll see. I doubt that will be able to quit the rat race.

    As for the chickens, my 22-member flock is wildly successful in approximately 250 square feet. I don’t know how you could put 13 chickens in a 65 sq ft area and still have them live happily. They would end up roosting on top of one another!!
    I tried to let my chickens roam freely over the property, but the resident fox population was too enthusiastic about that style of chicken-keeping. The chickens now range freely within their secure compound, and are safe against predation from foxes and hawks. I am constantly AMAZED at how productive they are!!! I give them scratch grains and just about all of our leftovers and breads that have gone too long, and they return more than a dozen eggs each and every day, which I sell at work to subsidize their feed bill. I really like them, they are totally pick-up-able and will let you you pet them and stroke them until they fall asleep in your arms.

    I would like to get a couple of steers to raise up and then have butchered, but I have not been successful in convincing my bride to agree to this venture…….. yet.
    There are more than a few sheep farmers in my county, both commercial and otherwise, and the majority of them are raised for meat production. I won’t try to muscle in on their action – I just couldn’t handle any additional chores.

    All the best,

  5. Very interesting. Makes me appreciate the local farmers’ market much more. :-)

  6. What excellent timing, Susie! I know I don’t have enough land for sheep – I live in the city of Philadelphia, on 0.1 acre – but I can totally have bees and chickens, right? I don’t learn from books nearly as well as I learn from people, so I signed up for a beekeeping class with the Bucks County Extension office. It’s four Thursday evenings, starting this week. PSU Extension offices are awesome, and yes, county extension offices are a valuable resource we have, and most of us don’t know it. Thanks for the plug!

  7. Have to agree with Mike that the picture isn’t terribly realistic. Where I live (Central Oregon) there is no guaranteed frost free period, so growing any fruits or vegetables can be challenging at the very least. I’ve raised pigs a few times, and use a moveable pen that measures 16 feet on each side, but 3 of anything isn’t the best idea. Two will team up and pick on the third almost every time. I do think the estimate for space is ok for the chickens; that’s 5 square feet per bird which should be plenty. And my 10 birds provide more eggs than my family can eat (and we eat lots of eggs!). Also, unless you enjoy noisy goats, Nubians are probably not the breed for most folks! I’ve got a couple of friends that raise them and we can barely carry on a conversation outside over the noise. Alpines, Sanaans or LaManchas are all much quieter.

    Still, it is nice for them to encourage people to become more self sufficient

    • Susan

      January 14, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      I agree with most of what you wrote here! I though 13 chicks for 4 people was insane for four people. Also about the Nubians- I’m an Alpine fan myself.

  8. Jennifer Elliott

    January 15, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for sharing this info. Another great guide for this information is The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals edited by Gail Damerow (which does include sheep). This book is published by Storey Publishing

    It would be great if you could pass this on to your readers, as it is filled with land area requirement scenarios from one-tenth of an acre up to half an acre.

  9. I would agree that the pictograph scenario isn’t entirely realistic, but what a great way to start thinking about what is realistic and what you really want out of your farm-home. I notice that the text about the dairy goats asks us to “keep in mind that goats…require grazing land.” But it seems like that land may not be included in their calculation, which I find misleading.

    I think it’s important to question the premise that you’ll want to grow just about everything you need yourself. Why would you grow wheat? Could you even cost-effectively harvest and process just half an acre of wheat? It’s likely there’s already a farm in your area growing wheat, and a mill processing it into flour. Sell some of your extra eggs or herbs or your dairy goat kids, and buy flour from them!

    The model they present is instructive, but few of us are really interested in an isolated, totally self-sustained situation. Many of us will always have at least some paying work to supplement what we can grow and raise. I’d prefer to specialize in a few things that work well for me, and sell/trade/pay for the rest. That supports more local farmers and businesses too!

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