Mini-Farming on 1 Acre

Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason December 28, 2017 09:03

Mini-Farming on 1 Acre

A lot of people love the idea of being self-sufficient in produce, but just don’t see it as an achievable goal. After all, how many of us really have access to enough land to even come close to self-sufficiency?

Well, you might be surprised. Just one acre of land is enough to make you pretty much self-sufficient, if you’re smart about how you farm it, and an acre isn’t actually all that large. Technically an acre is the area of a rectangle one chain by one furlong, but almost nobody knows what these measures are anymore. In everyday units, an acre is a square about 70 yards on a side – roughly two-thirds the size of a football field. If your property covers an acre, you can run it as a smallholding that will supply most of your food needs.

You do need to be smart about it, of course. An acre isn’t a lot of land, so conventional farming techniques aren’t going to work for you. But, if you set about it the right way, you’ll be able to produce a surprising amount of food.

Planning

On a one-acre farm it’s not enough to just mark out some fields and start growing stuff. You need to make sure you’re getting the best use from each part of your land. Before you even pick up a shovel, work out exactly what you’re going to do.

Start with a map of your land, and mark any areas that can’t be farmed. That includes buildings, obviously, but also rivers, ponds and boggy patches. Next, take a walk round and examine the soil in each part of the plot. If there are different soil types, mark on the map where they’re found.

Consider the local climate, because that’s going to affect what you grow. Semi-arid conditions or long, cold winters rule out some crops and make others more practical. Check how long your growing seasons will be; use local climate data from the National Weather Service if you’ve recently moved into the area.

Once you have a detailed map of the plot you can start working out where things are going to go. As well as actual crops there are a few items you’ll need to plan for:

  • You’ll need sheds to store equipment and supplies. Look for locations that have easy access to where the shed’s contents will be used, and to the transport network. If you get ten tons of fertilizer delivered you don’t want to be carrying sacks by hand because the truck can’t get to your storage shed. You also don’t want to take up prime fertile land for infrastructure, so try to put it on less useful land.
  • Using greenhouses can extend growing seasons and even let you grow crops that wouldn’t usually survive in your local climate. They don’t have to be expensive, either – clear plastic sheeting over a lightweight frame is often all you need. What matters is that it lets sunlight in, but doesn’t let heated air rise away. Greenhouses can also raise humidity if you have a dry climate. Things to grow in them include tomatoes, soft fruits and even flowers – selling cut flowers is a great way to generate some income from your farm.
  • Even if you’re a vegetarian, livestock is an important part of a small farm. Manure is free fertilizer, and if you get the right livestock it will eat a lot of the waste produced on your plot. If you’re not a vegetarian, you can be producing your own eggs, meat and dairy products. With one acre of land available, you need to find ways to raise livestock without taking up land that could be used for crops.

Now that you’ve planned the basics, let’s look at everything in a bit more detail.

Setting up infrastructure

You don’t need a lot of infrastructure to run a one-acre farm, but you will need some. Mainly, you need storage for supplies, equipment and some kinds of produce. That basically means having a barn. If your property already has a barn, you’re in luck; if not you’ll need to build one.

A barn only needs to be big enough that you can store things in an organized way. Bins for feed and fertilizer, some more for root vegetables you’ve harvested, and enough space that you can store any machinery and have space to work on it. You can farm an acre without any machinery, but a compact tractor and some attachments will make life a lot easier – and you’ll need them if you expand your plot in the future.

If possible, locate the barn near your house on a hard standing. That makes it easy for deliveries.

Related: How To Make a Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two Hours

Greenhouses

Depending on your local soil and climate, greenhouses can be very useful – or even essential. The temperature and humidity inside will be higher, which opens up new options. A kerosene heater will extend growing seasons even more, without costing much in fuel.

You have two options for greenhouses. They can be built directly over ground-planted crops to give them extra protection, or you can grow small, high-value plants in boxes or pots. That lets you grow produce on land that isn’t suitable for planting.

If you don’t get a lot of high winds, a lightweight greenhouse is easy and cheap to build. A light framework of wooden or aluminum, covered with plastic sheet, will do fine. A greenhouse like this can also be dismantled and stored through the winter, or moved to different locations as you rotate crops.

Crops

You have four main options for your one-acre farm:

  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Root vegetables – carrots, turnips, rutabaga and beets
  • Salad vegetables – lettuce and cabbage
  • Legumes – peas and beans

Generally you’ll want to grow more than one crop in each category, to add some variety, but don’t go too far – more crops means less efficiency, and if your farm is split into dozens of tiny plots, each with a different crop in it, you’ll find your time being eaten up very quickly. Aim for three of each. That means you’ll have twelve plots, each with a different crop.

Related: Top 10 Foods to Grow for Survival

To achieve this you need to divide your available land into fifteen plots, so you can practice crop rotation. If you try to grow the same crop on a plot year after year you’ll quickly notice yields starting to fall, and you’re more likely to lose crops to parasites or disease. To avoid this, use each plot for a different crop every year, so you don’t strip all the nutrients out of the soil – and, every fifth year, leave the plot fallow; give it a year off. That, combined with growing peas or beans one of the other years, will preserve the soil. Fallow plots can be planted with grass or a grazing crop, like clover.

Livestock

With only an acre to farm on, you don’t want to take up space with grazing animals. It is possible to keep a cow, but then you’ll need to use some land for growing winter fodder as well. It’s easier to stick with some simpler livestock options:

  • Chickens, ducks and geese are all easy to keep, don’t need much feed, and are very productive. They’ll keep you supplied with both eggs and meat, giving you an economical source of protein. Don’t build expensive poultry houses: keep your birds in movable chickenwire enclosures, and put them on your fallow plots. A 15×20-foot enclosure with a built-in nesting box will hold a dozen chickens, and can be easily moved every few days by a couple of people. The birds will forage for insects, worms and seeds to supplement their feed. Fit a hatch so you can access the nesting box from outside the enclosure and collect eggs.
  • Goats are another useful animal. Their milk can be used to make cheese, they’re a good, fast-growing source of meat, and they’ll eat just about anything. Fence off your fallow plots and you can let goats graze on them. If your plots are around 50 feet square, you can two goats in there. Move them to a new plot every few days.
  • A couple of pigs will eat most of your kitchen waste as well as discarded greens from root crops. If you have an oak tree on your property, pen them under it in autumn and they’ll happily eat the acorns. Pigs just need a dry place to sleep and shelter from the sun; they can get sunburned. A low plywood hut with some straw bedding will be fine.

With your fallow plots and some feed, you can easily keep three dozen birds, half a dozen goats and a pair of pigs. That will give you about 300 pounds of pork, 100 pounds of goat and all the goat’s milk and eggs you can use. It also means that you might not be growing crops on the fallow plots, but they’re still producing food for you – that’s the sort of efficiency you’re looking for on a one-acre farm.

With some creativity, you can come up with ways to get food even from parts of your land that seem totally useless. If there’s a boggy patch, see if it’s suitable for growing cranberries. Got a pond? You might be able to raise catfish in it. Wall gardens can produce a surprising amount of lettuce and other small vegetables by using the vertical dimension efficiently. An acre isn’t a lot of land, but with some imagination and work you’ll be amazed how much food you can get from it.

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Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason December 28, 2017 09:03
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35 Comments

  1. Tom December 29, 15:14

    Acre of land measures 210 feet by 210 feet

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  2. B December 29, 15:23

    Excuse me. Grew up on farm. Your estimates on number of livestock you can raise on an acre do not take into account how much extra forage/feed you will need to provide once initial pasturage is munched down. Also goats are fairly picky browsers, not grazers. If raising for milk, you need good quality hay, not just whatever weeds are growing.
    Pigs require secure fencing and are oftrn not allowed by county/city ordinance.

    Have you ever tried to move a chicken pen the size suggested in the article? Common sizes for movable chicken tractors are 4-8′ wide, 6-10′ long. Those still require 2 people, but are far easier to manuver.

    Reply to this comment
    • Jack December 29, 16:18

      Thank you! Common sense if you grew up on or around Farm Communities. Your Right!

      Reply to this comment
    • NSGardener December 29, 20:43

      Agreed, people without experience with livestock/poultry often tend to overlook the quality of feed that is essential if you really want healthy productive stock. That takes more than worms and occasional insects. And stock can be easily overfed by not managing nutritional intake. Also gardening is more than planting rows of seeds. It’s important to understand your growing conditions and practice successive crop planting. That facilitates harvests of usable quantities and eliminates waste. Land management by moving chicken tractors, goats, etc. requires that you have ample pasture because you’ll soon deplete the growth and even risk over grazing. this all is a little more than what most people estimate which is why so many homesteaders abandon their dreams 2-3 years into their venture.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Doug December 29, 17:26

    Thank you for this informative article; I appreciate the obvious effort you have made to write it! You state that “Just one acre of land is enough to make you pretty much self-sufficient, if you’re smart about how you farm it”. Is that “pretty much self-sufficient” for one person? For two persons? Or five, or some other number?

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  4. Doug December 29, 17:28

    You state that “With your fallow plots and some feed, you can easily keep three dozen birds, half a dozen goats and a pair of pigs. That will give you about 300 pounds of pork, 100 pounds of goat and all the goat’s milk and eggs you can use.” Is that about 300 pounds of pork and 100 pounds of goat per year? Or, some other time period? [Thank you again for the effort you have made to write this article!]

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    • Tnandy December 29, 19:26

      We raise 2 pigs/yr from 30-40lb piglets to ~275-300lb each at slaughter. That takes 6-7 months. Yield from the 2 is about 250lbs of actual usable meat off the bone. Ours run on a pasture lot about 50 x120, that I sow yearly with clover, and they wear it out. No way could you raise the rest of the feed they will need on an 1ac and have anything else going on ON that acre.

      The bulk of their feed comes bagged from the farm store, starting with an 18% blend and a 25lb bag of milk replacer (find this gets them off to a great start). Then switch to a 16% grower ration, and finish with a 14%.

      This year, for example, it took 2 bags 18%, one bag milk replacer, 22 bags of 16%, and 12 bags of 14% finisher. That’s a total of 36 bags, or 1800lbs of feed + the milk.

      That produced 675lbs of live weight hog (they got bigger than normal, I was busy with other stuff). That will keep the two of us in pork, sausage, bacon, lard for a year easy.

      Never raised goats. no nothing about them.

      12-15 chickens will keep 2-3 people in plenty of eggs unless you eat them every day. You’d need to cull them after a year of laying and have replacements ready to go….that takes 5-6 months from hatch to laying decent.
      Chickens are probably the best livestock for a small place…between the scraps/bugs/weeds they will eat, the eggs and the fertilizer produced, chickens are hard to beat.

      Reply to this comment
      • spike December 30, 23:35

        Some goals to work towards. In commercial hog raising pigs are weaned off milk at 10-15 lbs(3 weeks or less) and would reach 275-300 lbs at 6 month of age from birth. 30-40 lb pig definitely doesn’t need milk replacer and a 18% protein feed is adequate working down to the finishing ration of 14% is correct. De-Worming hogs on ground or concrete is critically important. Total feed consumption should be about 2.5-2.7 lbs of feed for each pound of pork produced, thus 30 to 300 lbs is 270 lbs of gain x 2 hogs = 540 lbs pork produced x 2.7 feed/gain ratio = 1458 lbs of feed. Your close and if you haven’t been worming your hogs this should be easily obtained. A large dirt lot will result in a lot of energy run off with exercise.resulting in meat that won’t taste any better than one with less exercise. Your choice to raise the hogs “humanely” or economically. I always preferred to eat the tender confinement hogs myself.

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        • Tnandy December 31, 14:16

          Spike,

          Yeah, I worm with Safeguard in some of the feed early on, then a dose of Ivomec pour on at about 4 months.

          1800lbs feed/675lbs of live weight = 2.66lbs conversion, so I’m right in that range you said. Having kept good records over the years, I know feed conversion drops off significantly after they hit the 250-270 range…which is why I assume that is normal market size… but as I said, this year I had other things going on and had to keep feeding them.

          Lot of folks I know raise their hogs in a small pen, but I like to give my critters a good life right up until they feed me. Seeing them root around that larger lot, eat the clover, etc, I think gives me a better meat, but that’s just me I guess.

          I’d agree, they don’t need the milk, but when I first get them, they are so shy they don’t even want to come out of their house…but after a few days of milk/w feed at feeding time, we become great buddies…..ahahaaaa
          Again…it’s more me than them. I just believe that not all animal husbandry is about the bottom dollar.

          Reply to this comment
          • NSGardener December 31, 14:34

            Tnandy – we are stewards of the land and animals. Good animal husbandry does involve pasture. Feedlots – commercial approach right along with antibiotics. You’ll find range/pasture fed animals have better marbling and better flavor. Even though my chickens are confined I try to provide an environment characteristic of what free range offers. Takes a little extra effort on my part, but we are all better for it.

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            • Tnandy December 31, 17:43

              Yeah, that’s my feeling as well. I just have to believe that pasture, fresh air and sunshine make a difference in the meat. I know our beef, pork, chicken all taste a whole lot better than anything store bought.

              Reply to this comment
              • NSGardener December 31, 19:46

                I’ve relocated to TN and downsized. But if raising pig, goat/lamb, beef and even if using chicken tractors – it’s critical that graze areas are rotated before animals eat out the roots and lay your pasture barren. That means if you’re grazing anything on pasture, you need a fair amount of it. Downsizing to 3/4 acre (includes septic leech field that consumes 1/3 of my entire back yard!) My usable growing area is reduced to about 1/3 acre. So in that space: 10×20 shed with adjoining 8×7 coop w/10×20 run is about all I can squeeze. Breeding/laying flock is Maran, Bresse, Cream Legbar (3 roosters/18 hens). I manage for eggs and table – these French breeds are white skinned, muscled and fine tasting – slaughtering all cockerels and pullets that don’t meet standard. I practice deep bedding in the coop and run and each fall remove and spread across all growing areas ready for the next season. I’ve designed a kitchen garden potager style 18×20 in front of chickens w/raised beds configured around a 4×4 in the middle w/3′ walk ways – with multiple beds circling the center square – 174 sq ft growing area. I plant (5) table grapes dble cordon along my chain link boundary fence at alternating posts behind shed/chickens down the back slope of yard I’ve planted 3 gooseberry bushes, 9 blueberry bushes and 3 blackberry bushes and red/gold raspberry patch. Next to that area up to the leech field I have terraced the slope and grow potatoes. My entire garden area is permaculture/garden of Eden style – even the raised beds. That entire area faces south and captures morning to afternoon sun. The opposing side of my yard I have planted 15 fruit trees backyard orchard style. Several areas have perennials. I harvest rain into 3-275 gal totes and 2-55 gal barrels. Every roof is guttered and rain collected. So I have a productive 1/3 acre about the size of an avg suburban back yard and will harvest enough for me, processing, freezing and still a few cartons to the farmers market each week. And, practicing permaculture, much of the back breaking work is eliminated. I could live off my 1/3 acre. So it can be done.

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  5. mbl December 29, 20:08

    Watercress grows well in boggy patches, too. I put some in when I first moved here, and the deer ate it all to nothing. About the time I realized I should fence it, I went out to see the small square I had planted that was growing nicely completely bare.

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    • TheSouthernNationalist December 29, 22:03

      Stinging nettles like those damp places too and they grow really easy.

      Reply to this comment
      • IvyMike December 30, 02:22

        Stinging nettle is always the food of last resort, a staple of the concentration camps in WW2, the last living green thing in Stalingrad, the final nutrition in a genocide. Boiling the whole plant dissolves the stinging hairs and neutralizes the irritant. Horse nettle, however, is pretty toxic.

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  6. TheSouthernNationalist December 29, 22:01

    I have an acre of land that I’m growing food on, but with a septic tank, leech field and well, I have to be careful what and where I plant.
    I really want some pecan trees, hickory trees and such but I just don’t have the space for them.

    Reply to this comment
    • Homesteader December 30, 02:24

      We’re in the same boat, but we have only a half acre, and with the house, septic and leech field, we’ve lost a little over half of that area. One thing we’ve learned is that you have to get really creative sometimes to make things fit on a little plot of land. We found some space in the front yard for three apple trees and some blueberry bushes. We’ve added some large containers to the front of the house and have rosemary, peppermint and parsley growing there. This spring, we’re going to move the prickly pear cactus bed so it will get more sun. The fruit is really good and rich in Vitamin C and the pads can be cut into thin strips and cooked like green beans. There’s a dying juniper that will be replaced by a fig bush. In the backyard, what isn’t taken up by the leech field is our garden. Everywhere we can put a plant, we have put something there or it will be soon.

      Reply to this comment
      • don February 22, 20:38

        build yourself raised beds and grow in containers. You can grow on top of the leech field without digging into it .You cannot over do it though ,leech fields operate on evaporation.

        Reply to this comment
        • Homesteader February 22, 23:10

          I’ve always been told that anything growing on top of the leech field stands a huge chance of being infected with e coli and other nasties. Plus our septic tank guy said that putting anything like that over the leech field can cause it to fail, bringing on a whole host of problems we do not want. We do have raised beds on about 1/3 of the property. After nearly 10 years of using them, we have found that the soil is almost a foot deep. When we started the beds, the soil was only a few inches deep before hitting red clay. After seeing that, I sure wouldn’t want to put a bed over a leech field.

          Reply to this comment
  7. CarmenO December 30, 00:20

    You can grow a lot more in one acre. I have a 1/3 of an acre in the middle of town and grow many types of fruits, including blueberries, raspberries (4 different colors), strawberries, grapes, both sweet and sour cherries, chock cherries, hazelnuts, wild plums, apples (dwarf trees). Plus I have two pear trees which flowered last year for the first time. The vegetable that were mentioned, plus tomatoes, other that are also part of the cabbage family, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic and herbs. I sell at a farmer’s market the extras. Our city will not even allow three hens, otherwise I would have some.

    Reply to this comment
    • CCTer December 30, 00:27

      Sounds like you have a nice place. I wish I had room to plant, but my huge oak tree shades most of my yard. Would your community allow you to have Quail (as pets, wink, wink). If so, they are amazing.

      Reply to this comment
      • CarmenO December 30, 10:17

        Guess what CCTer, so do I but in my case it’s a entire row of 100 year old oaks and a pine. That’s how our town used to mark property lines. I had to work around it. And they are in the south side. I plant things that do well with less sun in that side. My yard is also a wildlife habitat, so if they were abundant in this area I could. I did put a medium size metal watering trough in the hope of being able to sneak some ducks next year and pretend they are wild. I’ve been baking bread for my next door neighbor and he told me I could use his vegetable garden since he is not going to use it anymore. Yes!

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  8. IvyMike December 30, 02:12

    Over the years I’ve learned I’m not near as smart as I think I am, and also that I’m not near as good at gardening as I thought I was. Luckily for me and thee the two most nutritious foods you can grow are also among the easiest, the potato and the sweet potato, and sweet potato in particular can be grown under all the hard stuff like tomatoes and corn. Take good advice like in the above article, grab a shovel, and start learning while you grow.

    Reply to this comment
    • CarmenO December 30, 10:22

      That is true. I planted sweet potatoes this year and got some nice one and I live in Minnesota. I’m sure that in warmer areas you can get a much better production, but I’m still happy. I also grow regular potatoes but the ones you can’t buy in the store, and if they sell some they are super expensive.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Mic Roland December 30, 13:13

    Chickens are a great addition to a small “farm”. I’ve been raising dual-purpose birds for years — mostly for the eggs, but then harvest the older hens (and excess roosters) each Fall.

    I would suggest a smaller flock for the 1 acre farm. 6 to 8 would be manageable. As someone else pointed out, a 15 x 20′ enclosure won’t be easy to move, but even if you do, a flock of a dozen chickens will turn that 15×20 ground into bare dirt in a week. They’ll eat most all of the greens and tear up whatever else there might be.

    There aren’t that many “bugs and worms” in a 15 x 20 plot. Not enough to keep a dozen birds fed. In your planning, you’ll need to set aside alternate 15×20 areas that you’ll be moving the enclosure to. The ravaged plots will need a lot of time to heal.

    On a small farm, you might have to go with more static enclosures. Use the floor as a sort of compost bin, since they’ll be pooping in it anyhow. A deep litter of high-carbon bits, like shredded leaves, becomes “dirt” in pretty short order. Bring the greens to the birds. They eat most kitchen scraps. We toss in weeds we pull too. What they don’t eat, they shred.

    We shovel out the old litter once or twice a year and add it to the compost pile. Even though it’s mostly “dirt” by that point, we want the last of the chicken poops to break down. From that pile, we get a fresh layer of new nutrients for the gardens.

    A small flock has its place on the small farm, but don’t over estimate the produce. From 8 or so birds, you’ll get a half-dozen eggs a day — in the late spring and summer. In the fall and winter, you might get an egg a day.

    If you stagger the ages of your birds, you can cull out a third of them each year when they get past their productive laying years (3). That means your flock will be (let’s say you have 9), Three 1st-year young birds, Three 2-yr old birds and three 3-yr old birds. The three 3-yr-olds will get culled in the fall. Three hens is not a lot of meat, btw. This is usually supplemented by un-needed roosters from the Spring hatch.

    The 3rd year culls will be replaced by three young pullets you’ve been raising from hatchlings in the spring. They won’t start laying until winter.

    Keep cycling the ages of your flock, and egg & meat production is more steady, just not gang-busters.

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  10. Tnandy December 31, 18:04

    Greenhouses are a great way to go if you live outside tropical areas. We’re in the mountains of NE TN, and a 20×36 greenhouse allows us about 9 months of growing season. We’ve tried heating to get 12 months, but basically found light is more of an issue than heat…..stuff just sits there w/o growing Jan-Feb.

    I built ours with an insulated 8″ cinder block foundation that forms the back wall of the interior raised bed. Inside bed wall are 4″ cinder block. Beds are 28″ tall and 30″ front to back, U shape around the inside of the house.

    Bed that runs down the center is 60″ wide with about a 4′ concreted floor aisle on each side. Having those beds are wonderful…no bending ! Took a LOT of dirt in the beds initially…..used small tractor with front end bucket to fill about 3/4, then we did a custom mix of peat moss, vermiculite, sand, clay soil to finish the rest. Soil is renewed from the compost pile from time to time.

    Built 4′ vertical walls on top the outside block walls, then did homemade laminated arches out of white oak strip 1/2″ x3″ cut on my sawmill for the top. Covered with couple layers of greenhouse film, use inflator fan to keep them apart.

    We grow an incredible amount of food in that little house. Right now, end of growing season, we still have broccoli, cabbage and couple lettuce varieties doing fine. Do have to use frost blankets on them this week, lows dipping into single digits at night.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Wannabe January 1, 04:00

    I keep a dozen chickens in fenced in area until about three in the afternoon when I know they are done laying for the day. Let them loose to scratch around until night fall and they roost back into the pen all by themselves. Give them scratch grains mixed with laying crumbles and give them scraps as much as possible. Works really well, they are healthy and happy. Yields six to eight eggs a day. Fresh water every day and worm medicine one a month. No need to move pen with this system. Chickens are not as dumb as we think and seem to be creatures of habit and easy to predict their pattern of living. They even get used to their handlers and become down right friendly, even the rooster.has been funny to watch. I live on less than one acre by the way, and have a garden plot in front yard. Not sure how this will work out with chickens free ranging for couple hours in summer. Will have to cross that bridge very soon.

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  12. Lucy January 7, 03:31

    Does anybody who lives in a city raise rabbits? The problems a couple of city friends have had with chickens have been because of the noise — especially with the roosters, real attention getters, not in a desirable way!

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa March 12, 18:20

      Rabbits are a really nice addition. 2-3 does and an buck is how I started. Mine were in an unused area of the house as we have brutal heat in AZ. My first kindling was stupendous. 20 babies in 3 days. L gave me 11, and A gave me 9. Good moms are the main thing. They adore dandelions, which helps the milk production. They are quiet, the neighbors don’t know they are there. Yes, you can put them outside under a tree, not visible from the road. They also eat a lot of weeds. I use ACV (2 tbls per gal) to keep their gut in order and the smell down. Oh yes, did I say the end poo is perfect for the vegetable garden.

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