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Old 02-12-2010, 12:46 PM
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Originally Posted by MissingAll4Seasons View Post
In my research I found the following estimates for sustainable, self-sufficient land use:
1 acre per person to feed (fruits/grains/veggie), water, shelter and process waste
2 acres per person if you want to raise your own meat (*small* livestock, maybe a couple of goats or a feeder hog)
5 acres per person if you want to heat entirely by your own wood lot and want to have some market gardening
10 acres on top of that if you want to market some livestock larger than rabbits and chickens.

Best thing is, you can start at the bottom (1 acre) and work your way up! Sure it might be nice to start off with a big chunk all at once... but that can get very overwhelming and you might get ahead of yourself if you're not careful!
Much depends upon your local climate, soils, water, growing seasons, marketability of your products, costs of means of production/seedstock/livestock, water, farm/ranch energy costs ....

I get a laugh out of folks who don't understand that breeding livestock in the quantities it takes to make a living doesn't come for free. Nor does the grazing land and hay/feed that it takes when your pastures are out of season or exhausted.

There's a big difference between adequate production to supplement your own diet, maybe having some trade goods, and actually deriving a livable income from your efforts.

For example, we raise Angora goats, and worked our way up through to some of the finest show winning fiber producing livestock. They didn't come for free, the kids don't come for free, and they require supplemental feeding most of the year ... from our home grown hay fields. Out of these goats, we get a minimal production of ounces of clean carded fiber, much of which my wife spins into yarns which have consistently been blue ribbon or best of show quality yarns. They sell for $7-10 per ounce in a skein. This venture, at it's peak of 50 goats (with 3 super quality rams) ... didn't come anywhere close to paying for the cost of acquiring or breeding/raising the goats. It's not even a hobby ... it's a flat-out looser. We can buy comparable quality fiber or yarn for far less money that we can raise and produce it ourselves. I'm not even thinking about the $1,000 spinning wheels it takes, or the drum carder or the rest of the peripheral gear to be in production. Oh, don't forget that you've got to show your animals and your fiber and yarn to be able to sell it ... which involves travel and shows and farmer's markets and fairs ... which doesn't come for free, either. If your livestock isn't shown and show winning, it's unlikely to bring any real money when you try to sell your breeding livestock, either. First you buy a truck, then a trailer to haul livestock to the shows, then you've got travel expenses and time invested in this. It all adds up to a net loss unless you're a big producer selling at top dollar. Otherwise, it's just costly entertainment.

Given the numbers you've worked up ... I wouldn't quit my day job anytime soon. They simply will not work in much of the USA to achieve any reasonable standard of living from a small farm/ranch operation.
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Old 02-12-2010, 04:05 PM
Location: Interior AK
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Sunsprit - I agree, those land estimates are just for self-sufficiency and a little profit on the side (maybe, if you're lucky). Even just getting enough production to meet your own needs can take an exorbitant amount of capital depending on what you're doing and where.

Take our chickens for example. We live just below the Arctic Circle, no livestock survives outside full-time in the winter, nothing grows in the winter, growing season is short, forage is hard to come by. So, just to have 4-6 hens (the minimum for daily eggs for 2 people), you need to purchase materials and build a coop and some fencing. Chickens will forage pretty well in the summer if you let them "free range", but we have big predators and lots of little ones and a lot of aerial ones, so you need lots of fencing, even on top... well, best just to make some chicken tractors as well then. So you need to purchase those supplies some machine to help you drag the chicken tractors around. But first you need to clear and seed the pastures, and mow them, and you need some sort of grain field for winter feed, so clear and seed that as well, and harvest it. (or spend lots of money buying and transporting commercial feed). And even if you're supplementing your chickens with vegetable scraps, you still need to have your veggie garden built up, planted and harvested. And then you need to make sure they have water, and that the water doesn't freeze up or get filthy. And all that before you actually have to buy your first stock... which will get sick (vet bills) while you're learning what you're supposed to do and won't immediately start laying until they get settled. And if you don't have a rooster, you won't have any juicy fryers in the spring, or any replacement hens when your's give up in 2 years. And you still won't get many/eggs in the winter, even if you do keep a light burning.

Not saying that it's super-expensive or un-doable, especially on a subsistence-scale, but there are always hidden costs and other factors that come up and surprise you. Other than self-sufficiency and helping out your neighbors a little bit, I don't think our economy is set up for most small farmers to make it very long (unless you have primo niche market)... so you better love what you're doing and not really need to make much/any profit. But thinking about it that way, if your small farm produces almost all you need (food, water, shelter, heat) then you don't necessarily need to make a lot of money to afford to live... as long as you stay within your means and save up what you can for those rainy days when you need to buy supplementary feed or take a critter to the vet, or buy new seeds, or repair the tractor
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Old 02-23-2010, 07:56 AM
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What is land /acre selling for in Aurora,Tx.
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Old 02-23-2010, 10:00 AM
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Default Try County Extension Agent

For specific information about the area you're looking at try contacting the County Extension Agent through the Dept. of Agriculture. They are a great source of info on what and how to grow, specific to that area. As well as average fertilizer types and amounts, average yields etc. Also there would be info about national and state DoA programs that provide loans to first time farmers etc.

Another often overlooked source for info is the cooporative extension agencies that are usually attached to the local universities.

BTW, my uncle farms in the NW portion of Arkansas. Land is kind of poor, (hilly, rocky) so he mostly grazes cows and sells the calves, but there are a LOT of other types of operations around there. He's in kind of the same situation as you though. He has a small secure income and uses the farm as supplemental income and recreation.
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Old 02-23-2010, 10:47 AM
Location: Lake Oswego, Aspen, and...finally...'Palazzo Oligarcho' in Great Neck!
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Northern Arkansas was heaven, until a certain family of former gun-runners moved a bunch of illegal aliens into the area, to staff their various ag-related industries. It's still very, very nice, though.

The only way a small farmer can survive is to grow organic produce, to sell to restaurants, and to members of the ever-dwindling upper-middle-class. Luckily, there's a farmer's market in Fayetteville, as well as a number of progressive restaurants interested in superior produce. However, I don't know about supply relative to demand.

When we lived in Mississippi, we'd occasionally weekend in Fayetteville, mainly to stock up on the incredible produce at the Farmer's market on the Old Square (three colors of Raspberries, all picked that morning!). So nice to get out of the South for a day or two, without having to endure the ordeal in today's airports! Only nine hours drive from Jackson, and you're in the Midwest! Except on football weekends, when the frats and suzies from the Delta show up, it's just the most wonderful town!

There's a fantastic Organic co-op in Fayetteville, too (Ozark Natural Foods). You might start by calling them, to find out what your options are, and whether the market is already oversaturated.

If Fayetteville is oversupplied, there's supposedly a huge Orthodox Jewish scene in Hot Springs. I know someone in Washington State who had planned to grow poultry for that niche market. Again, you'd need to find out if there is demand...

Before we escaped Mississippi, we were 'subscribers' to an Organic farmer's produce (we paid in advance, and in that way helped finance his crop). I believe that two small operations supplied the entire demand for that wretched metroplex (there was some sort of Swedish/Argentinian commune, also, who grew incredible leafy greens). What I'm saying is that small farming is dependent upon a supply of affluent, Professional-class buyers, who want rare produce, and are willing to pay for it. The obese masses are only interested in the dollar-a-dozen eggs, and dollar-a-pound meats, and sugary cereals with tacky cartoon characters on the boxes.

You can grow an awful lot on a small amount of land. Labor is the greatest expense for a farmer, and will be your limiting factor...that, and water. Most small farmers, today, have regular jobs (or their spouses do) for regular income. Farming is hard work, and you can expect to work from can't-see to can't-see, six days a week.

Mississippi State University has excellent programs to mentor small farmers. You might want to contact them, to see what sort of information they have to disseminate. Don't rule out PERMACULTURE. That's the way I'd go, if I had to farm. Strawberries, Raspberries, Asparagus... things you don't have to til the soil annually to grow.
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Old 02-23-2010, 05:25 PM
Location: Interior AK
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In sites with lower quality soil, another option to save resources is raised bed gardening instead of field rows. With RBG, you can improve drainage, irrigate and supplement the soil only in the areas you're intending to grow rather than an entire field. You can target near exact perfect soil conditions for the specific crop you're growing in that bed in any given season with a little planning, and there is less chance of run-off related tainting issues in the local watershed.

Nearly every fruit and vegetable crop can be grown in raised bed, the only things that might still require a field planting are things like cereal grains if you need a large yield and broadcast seed. Tilling, weeding and cultivating are also reduced with RBG, especially if you mulch and intercrop. It's also pretty easy to erect portable enclosures and season extenders if all your beds are relatively the same size. And harvesting is a breeze in comparison.

Several larger beds, say 4' x 25', can yeild just as much as (if not more) than typical field rows. It takes a little investment to get them built up, but after that it's fairly easy to keep them going... did I mention minimal tilling, weeding and cultivating?!
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Old 02-23-2010, 06:24 PM
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besides learning to do everything else. lear how to fence for different type of animals, and then learn hot to use them to do work for you.

An expamle is get fenced for goats, which can be eatten, milked etc, cheese, and the like to kill saplings, and trees where you want a field. Don't make the area too large either. Then where the trees are barked and dead, or soon will be, re-do the fence for hogs, which will dig the dirt, and stir in the dung from the goats, which enriches the soil.

In fencing learn to use a fence board if you use any trees, as the trees grow the board will push out away from the tree, and leave the tree better with no metals for fire wood. A chain saw just hates metals. Trees are not the best fence posts, because the wind moves them a lot, but they can be fast and handy never the less.

Letting animals do the work for you, takes longer, but it will work to be nice land in about 4 years time.

Compost anything you can beg or steal. Stealing bags full of dead leaves isn't hard and most folks like it.

Learn to look and see... If there is a flint outcrop it + money as sales to flint knappers. Let them pay buy the pound, and let them do the work. If there is tulip poplar tap it for syrups, same goes for hickory, don't forget the nuts ... I am not sure what trees you could have.. But you might have these or perhaps others like black walnut, which is a valuable tree. Do not burn up valuable trees, get them made into lumber. For every tree you take plant 3.

Make everything there be a re-newable resource, and make it all pay. If you have prickley pear cactus, make use of it.
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Old 02-23-2010, 06:37 PM
Location: Interior AK
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Excellent point M_M -- if you have a chunk of land that is mostly trees or scrub, mobstocking it with goats and hogs is an excellent way to turn it into pasture or field with almost no work on your part (other than fencing). It's also a way to get some livestock before you have all the pasture and other crops to feed them, since both these critters LOVE browse and forage, and don't need high quality grazing grasses and legumes. Now, if you have cold winters, you're going to have to think about supplementary feed or plan to slaughter most/all the animals for meat before the weather gets too bad for them all to forage on their own.
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Old 02-23-2010, 06:47 PM
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I agree I would grain year round for any live stock but save on hay for goats a bit, still haying for winter. I spent a part of one winter in Ar, but can't say if that was a normal winter or not for Ar.

Being in NH is closer in winter to Ak, summer here is longer than AK, and out skeeters are bigger than in AK, but that's not such a good thing

If I thought for a second AK had sugar maples to tap I'ld move there, never to be seen my silly man kind again, except to market sugar.
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Old 02-23-2010, 07:00 PM
Location: Interior AK
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Well, we have birches for sap... but not a lot of them But, man, do sugar beets grow GREAT up here!

We might have to baby along tomatoes and corn since our soil is too cold, but you can have all the potatoes, cabbage, lettuce and broccoli your little heart could ever desire :-D

Which makes another excellent point... you can't grow everything everywhere. If you love or are really interested in a particular crop or animal endeavor, you'd best find out what climate works best and go find land there, else you're in for a world of frustration or expense. It's called "Zone Denial"!

No way could I have a big cow dairy up here, for instance, because they are just too darned big to keep fed (within budget!) in confinement for 3-4 months when it's really just too cold for them to be out on the field digging through several feet of snow for graze. I can get almost as much milk from goats, they're smaller, and not as difficult to feed in the winter. But someone in another climate might not have enough shrubs and browse to make a goat happy, but plenty of warm days and crappy grass to make a cow happy.

And whatever breed of animal you get, make sure it's one that's adapted to your climate. Do NOT buy African descended goats and chickens if you live in the cold, get European/Alpine descended ones. Same goes for hot climates, don't get a cold hardy/adapted animal and expect it not to die in the sweltering summer heat.
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