How to have a self-sufficient farm on half a hectare

How to have a self-sufficient farm on half a hectareILLUSTRATION: DORLING KINDERSLEY

Everyone will have a different idea of how to design a self-sufficient farm, and it is unlikely that there will be two half-acre farms following the same plan or entirely agreeing on how to lay out the different spaces. Some people are afraid of certain animals, like cows.

Some people have goats, and they don’t know if they can keep them out of the garden. Others will not want to slaughter the animals and will want to sell the surplus, so that others can do so; others won’t want to sell them because they know the animals will die. Well, other people will slaughter their own animals to provide healthy meat for their families.

About my, I have a hectare of land, well drained, on which I can keep a cow and a goat, a few pigs and maybe a dozen chickens.. The goat can provide me with milk when the cow does not. Maybe he could even have two or more goats. I would like to have a good dairy cow, so that she can provide me with the pigs and the milk.

Most importantly, the soil is fertilized with cow manure (natural and ecological fertilizer), the whole hectare, without having to use a large amount of artificial fertilizersthat you would otherwise have had to use in abundance.


Have a dairy cow.

Cow yes or cow no? The advantages and disadvantages are many and varied in a self-sufficient farm. In favor of having a cow is that there is nothing better for maintaining the health of the family, and of the farm, than having a dairy cow.

If you have extensive experience with pasteurized milk and adulterated dairy products, you realize how important fresh milk is to your family. Pigs and poultry can also get their share of milk, especially whey, which is healthy. If your garden is fertilized with cow manure, it will increase its fertility and you will get a higher yield.

On the other hand, the cow’s food will bring in a few hundred dollars every year. But compared to the benefits you get, the savings you get from not buying dairy, having freshly milked milk, plus the best eggs you can get, chicken and pork, and fertility soil, you will quickly realize that a cow is a good investment.

However, there is a problem against and that you will have to assume: the responsibility to milk the cow. Milking a cow does not take much time, maybe eight minutes, and it is very pleasant to do if it is a docile and calm cow, but it will have to be done. Buying a dairy cow is very important and should not be done if you will be away for long periods of time unless someone else is milking while you are away.

So let’s plan our one acre (0.4 hectare) farm assuming we have a dairy cow.

One acre farm with a cow in the family.

Half of the surface will be used for grass, leaving the other half for crops (disregarding the space occupied by the house and other adjoining buildings). Half the grass could go to permanent pasture and never be plowed unless you plan crop rotations, which could be plowed every four years.

If you do this, it is best done on a quarter and a half acre, so that you plant grass, clover and other forage grasses on one-eighth of your acre of land. Through this crop rotation, freshly sown pasture is obtained every year, approximately two years, some fields three years and others four years, resulting in the most productive land.


At the first sign that the grass is overgrazed, move the cow elsewhere. Grass grows best and yields more if it is allowed to grow long before being grazed again or mowed and left to rest again. In the intensive breeding that we propose for this self-sufficient farm, the way of doing grazing is essential.

Using rope for such a small area can be more effective than using electric fencing. Cows quickly get used to being tethered, and this is in fact the system used on the island of Jersey. I recommend a Jersey cow for a one acre farm, as I am convinced that for this purpose it is the best.

How to make a self-sufficient farm on half a hectare 1ILLUSTRATION: DORLING KINDERSLEY

Your half acre of grass, when grown, should provide your cow with almost all the feed she needs for the summer months. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to use any of that half acre to grow hay, but if the grass is growing faster than the cow can eat, then you could reduce the acreage for haymaking.

In the other half of the plot an orchard is cultivated intensively. It will be divided into four plots, in which crop rotation is strictly carried out.

The crop rotation could be as follows:

  • Lawn (for 4 years).
  • Plot 1: potatoes.
  • Plot 2: legumes (green beans and peas).
  • Plot 4: root vegetables (carrot, beetroot, etc.).
  • Grass again (for four years).

Crop rotation has its advantages. A letter of your farmland will be freshly plowed, with very fertile soil due to the fertility built up from the growth of grass, clover and other weeds that have just been plowed, as well as dung compost from cow.

Because your cow will feed on the hay you buy in the winter, walk and defecate on straw, you will have a huge amount of manure and compost, ideal for fertilizing your land.

Any crop residue can be eaten by cows, pigs, or poultry, and I’d be amazed if after following this crop rotation and grazing plan for a few years, you didn’t find that your acre of land has increased enormously in fertility, producing more food than many commercially operated 10-acre farms.

Crop rotation on a half acre.

Some lament that having half an acre with grass limits garden space to only half an acre. But in reality, half an acre is a lot and can produce more food than if you farmed the whole acre without rotation, otherwise it greatly increases the fertility of the soil. You will get more plants in this plot than if you used the whole acre, without having the cow or picking the grass.

Tips for a self-sustaining farm.

The dairy cow will not be able to be outdoors all year round. It should spend most of the winter indoors, taking advantage of the dry weather to exercise and be outdoors. Cows do not benefit from being outdoors during the winter, and are best indoors, feeding on stored grass.

In summer he can go out night and day, as long as there is enough grass and no overgrazing. You’ll find that your cow doesn’t need hay in the summer, but totally depends on it in the winter, and you’ll want to consider buying at least a ton of it. And if you also want to raise calves and they grow to a certain size, you’ll probably need more.

I kept my cow on a thick layer of straw, which turned into a good layer of compost, and I can add more clean straw every day. I milked my cow for two years, and with the milk I made good butter and good cheese, and it keeps well.

A cow can be kept in a space with a cement floor, with daily straw bedding. Dirty straw should be removed daily, and by carefully piling up the manure you can get enough compost for the whole acre.

Pigs will also need to be confined to a pen for part of the year (straw can also be provided) as on a 1 acre farm the ground will probably not be cool enough to keep them healthy. A movable pen with a movable fence would be preferable, but there could be a permanent pigsty instead.

Pigs don’t have to spend a lot of time outdoors; they can spend part of their time in the eighth part of the space dedicated to pastures, being able to go to the agricultural lands after harvesting the crop. You will only be able to do this if there is enough time before sowing the next crop.

As for food, you will have to buy some wheat, barley and corn. This diet, supplemented with skimmed milk and whey, and some garden products specially intended for fodder crops, will be enough to feed them.

And if a neighbor had a wild boar, he could have about 20 piglets a year, of which two or three could be kept for fattening and fed with ham, bacon and other products. The rest of the piglets could be sold as weaners (8-12 week old piglets), and this would probably give him enough money to pay for the feed he would have to buy for the other animals. If you can’t get boar, you can always buy weaned animals, which I can fatten up for your personal use.

How to make a self-sufficient farm on half a hectare 2ILLUSTRATION: DORLING KINDERSLEY

The poultry could have a permanent home in one of the corners of the garden, or preferably in the mobile pens, as they can be placed in different places to fertilize the soil with their droppings. I wouldn’t recommend a large number of birds, as a dozen hens lay enough eggs to support a small family, with a few for sale or giving away in the summer. You will need to buy grain and in the winter give them extra protein, unless you have enough grain. You can plant sunflower, wheat or other crops especially for them.

If you have a goat instead of a cow, or in addition to the cow, you can graze the same way, however, you would not have as much whey or skim milk to raise the pigs and poultry, and you didn’t accumulate as much manure to fertilize the land, at least as much as the cow could give. But on the other hand, you won’t have to buy as much hay or straw. For a farmer who wants to have a self-sufficient farm, goats are a good option.

Vegetable crops would be the most common (fruits and vegetables), in addition to fodder crops to feed animals. Keep in mind that any crop in the garden is suitable for animals and any excess can be eaten. Compost can also be made from the remains of vegetable crops.

On half the acre, if you grow wheat, maybe you can feed the animals, not quite, but some poultry. Crop rotation is then practiced as described above, but you will need to replace grass and clover with wheat. If you are vegetarian, this can be a good solution. But you won’t be able to fertilize the soil as much as if you had animals.

This article is an excerpt from Self-Reliant Life and How to Live It by the late John Seymour, first published by Dorling Kindersley in Britain in 1976. The book has become a classic.

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