How Much Space Does a Homestead Need for Livestock?

April 30, 2018


I think many of us (myself included!) dreamed of owning a farm or homestead for awhile before it actually became a reality. There are lots of considerations when buying any type of property, but when you're planning on becoming a homesteader or hobby farmer, the type of livestock - and how many of each - you plan to raise should be one of the major considerations.

Many municipalities set regulations on the maximum number of animals, and often what type, residents are allowed to keep. Sometimes it's based on the size of the property, sometimes there are blanket laws for the entire town. Just because you are allowed a certain number of animals, be sure that you really have enough land for them to live a happy, healthy life. Checking your municipality regulations is your first step.

When we lived in Virginia, we had six acres and were allowed by law two large or six small animals per acre and we raised chickens ducks and grazed two horses. I admit at times we went over that limit (chicken math at work!), but never felt that any of our animals were cramped or lacking for space. Here in Maine we have 125 acres - much of it wooded - and anything goes. 

I am still trying to convince my husband that we need geese, goats and miniature donkeys, but that's a whole 'nother set of trials and tribulations that I think every couple goes through as they are deciding what to raise on their property!


Just because you are allowed a certain number of animals, be sure it makes sense for the particular property you own or are interested in purchasing. While "homesteading" on a quarter acre sounds lovely, in reality it's less than idyllic. When livestock are kept on small plots of land and the animals aren't rotated, there's more chance of parasites getting into the soil and causing health issues; additionally, grass and other vegetation gets obliterated and doesn't have time to regrow, requiring a larger purchase of baled forage. Plus, animals that are kept in spaces that aren't adequate are more prone to pecking, bullying and aggression issues.

Buying is, of course, preferred to renting when you choose to homestead because building coops and lean-to's, raised beds and other farming structures is expensive and time-consuming and you don't want to be at the whim of a landlord who can change the rules, change his mind, or not renew your lease at the drop of a hat. In many parts of the country, there are beautiful old farmsteads that just need a bit of a face-lift and some TLC to bring them back to their former glory, so start looking around...it may take some time, but the perfect property is out there for you.

So How Much Space Does a Homestead Need?

I recently read that the typical homestead is comprised of about 3-5 acres. That is generally enough for a small assortment of livestock, the land to graze them, plus room for outbuildings and gardens. Obviously the more space the better, but it's not a perfect world and we don't all own hundreds and hundreds of acres for all the animals we want to raise, so how much space do the various types of livestock need?  

Here's a handy guide I compiled with the help of a few friends to help you plan just how large the homestead of your dreams needs to be. Remember these guidelines represent the minimum you would want for each type of livestock for optimal health and production, but as always, the more space the better. And remember also that most animals are herd or flock-oriented, so keeping just one duck or one goat generally isn't recommended for the animal's well-being and happiness.

For those who aren't quite ready to make the move to the country, I've included some fun Instagram feeds for you to follow so you can live vicariously through them and enjoy their adorable animal photos in the meantime!


So let's start off with some of the smallest of livestock, and those I am most familiar with:

Chickens

The rule of thumb for chickens is that they each need 3-4 square feet of coop floor space and then a minimum of ten square feet in an enclosed run. If you plan on letting your chickens free range and won't have an actual run for them, you'll still want to make sure that they have enough room to roam, searching for bugs and weeds to eat. A small flock of chickens can do a lot of damage to lawns and landscaping, so keep that in mind as well.

Follow me and my chickens on Instagram!

Recommended Reading: Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens Naturally by Lisa Steele (St. Lynn's Press, 2013)

Ducks

The space requirements for ducks is about the same as for chickens, but you really want to be sure you have the floor space. Larger breeds like Jumbo Pekin or Saxony would do well closer to 4-5 square feet of floor space, since they sleep on the floor. As far as run space, they should do fine with a minimum of ten square feet per duck. While they would enjoy a small pond, a kiddie pool will suffice for them to splash around in, so be sure to add room for that in as well.

Follow me and my ducks on Instagram!

Recommended Reading: Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Ducks Naturally by Lisa Steele (St. Lynn's Press, 2015)

-photo credit: Kirsten Lie-Nielsen/Hostile Valley Living-

Geese

Geese, being much larger than ducks, need more space. Kirsten Lie-Nielsen, owner of Hostile Valley Farm here in Maine, recommends about ten square feet of indoor shelter per goose (although you could manage with a bit less if they are going to get plenty of outside time). For geese that will be penned up, plan on about 20 square feet per goose, although geese do prefer to free range and are less vulnerable to predators than chickens and ducks due to their size.

Follow Kirsten and her geese on Instagram!

Recommended Reading:  The Modern Homesteader's Guide to Keeping Geese by Kirsten Lie-Nielson (New Society Publishers, 2017)

-photo credit: Jason Harris/Harris Turkey Farm-

Turkeys

Turkeys need about the same space as chickens - 4 square feet per adult bird in an enclosed structure - according to Jason Harris, owner of Harris Turkey Farm here in Maine. Out in the pasture, each turkey gets 50 square feet.

Follow Jason and his turkeys on Instagram!

Recommended Reading: Tips for Raising Your Own Turkeys by Jason Harris

Guinea Fowl

Guinea fowl are generally allowed to free range during the day (gobbling up loads of ticks hopefully!) and then prefer to sleep up in trees at night, although they will be safer in a secure enclosure with 2-3 square feet of space per bird.  Guinea fowl will roam your yard, pasture, fields and even woods, so no matter the type of land you have, likely guinea fowl would enjoy it, although you need to be sure that you are ready for the squawking. Guineas are not quiet birds!

Quail

And last but not least, if you're thinking about raising quail, the smallest of the "livestock" birds, you'll only need about 1 square feet per quail in their house and 2 square feet per bird in the pen. And remember, if they aren't kept in an enclosed/covered pen, they'll fly away on you! Quail eggs are quite the delicacy, small as they may be, and quail and also be raised for meat.

Recommended Reading: Quail Raising Tips by Lisa Munniksma for Hobby Farm magazine

That's it for the birds, now on to some other livestock and farm animals, starting with some of the smaller types.
-photo credit: Beth Miller: Parris House Wool Works-
Bees

Lots of homesteaders want to keep bees, and while the hives themselves don't take up much space, a honeybee colony needs about an acre of nectar sources (flowering trees, shrubs, herbs, weeds and flowers) to thrive. While bees will travel up to five miles to find food, it's better to plan on providing them what they need right on your property.  Even if you decide not to keep honey bees, remember that there are lots of native bees and other pollinators that are beneficial and will help pollinate your crops, so planting lots of flowers and other nectar sources as well as providing a water source is always a good idea.

Follow Beth and her bees on Instagram!

Recommended Reading: The Beekeeper's Handbook by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile (Comstock Publishing, 2011)


Rabbits

Rabbits are another small animal that lots of homesteaders consider. Unlike some of the other types of livestock like chickens, ducks, bees, or goats, unless you raise bunnies for fiber or to breed or show, there isn't a product (like eggs, honey or milk) that they produce without having to butcher them, so keep that in mind if you aren't interesting in keeping meat animals. There are lots of breeds of rabbits and their size can vary greatly, but according to the Michigan State University Extension Service, you should allow anywhere from about 1.5 square feet per rabbit for those animals under five pounds to five square per rabbit for those breeds that weigh more than ten pounds in your hutch.

Recommended Reading: Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett (Storey Publishing, 2018)



Goats

Goats also vary in size by breed, but generally according to Sarah Mastrobattisto, owner of Cool Breeze Farm in Connecticut, who raises Boer goats, you will want to allow for 10-25 square feet of stall space per adult standard size goat and then allow for an acre of pasture for 2-8 goats depending on their size and the quality of your ground. One thing to consider is that goats can share pasture with cattle since they will eat the weeds that the cows tend to leave. Rule of thumb according to the University of Illinois Extension Service is to figure on adding one or two goats for each cow.

Follow Kirsten's goats on Instagram too!

Recommended Reading: Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat and More by Deborah Neimann (New Society Publishers, 2013)


Sheep

Raising fiber animals is popular among homesteaders, especially those who knit. You will need to figure on one acre of pasture land for each three adult sheep you plan on raising and your shelter should allow for 15 square feet for each ewe and her lambs.

Recommended Reading: How to Raise Sheep by Philip Hasheider (Voyageur Press, 2014)


Pigs

Andy Blackmore owns Blackmore Farm in Vermont where he raises pigs and told me that he allows for 6-8 square feet per adult pig for those being raised indoors and recommends 20-50 square feet per pig if they are outdoors.

Recommended Reading: Pigs: Keeping a Small-Scale Herd for Pleasure and Profit by Arie Mcfarlen for Hobby Farms (2008)


Cows

Cows can be raised for both beef and dairy. Melissa Norris, author of  Hand Made: The Modern Woman's Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living (Harvest House Publishers, 2017) raises a herd of cattle on her homestead in the North Cascade Mountains and suggests one acre per cow at a minimum and closer to two if you hope to grass feed them as much as possible.

Follow the cows of Arethusa Farm on Instagram!

Recommended Reading: Milk Cow Kitchen: Cowgirl Romance, Backyard Cow Keeping, Farmstyle Meals and Cheese Recipes by Mary Jane Butters (Gibbs Smith, 2014)


Donkeys

Donkeys make great guard animals for your smaller animals - chickens, ducks, goats, etc. - gladly taking on coyotes or neighbors' dogs that might venture to close to your homestead. You'll need roughly 1/2 acre per donkey of pasture, and it's best if they can be rotated between pastures. A stall or stable that's approximately 35 square feet will be required as well for each donkey.

Recommended Reading: The Book of Donkeys: A Guide to Selecting, Caring and Training by Donna Campbell Smith (Lyons Press, 2016)


Alpacas/Llamas

Llamas can make wonderful flock guardians, although need to be guarded themselves against coyotes, dogs, bobcats and your larger predators. Both llamas and alpacas can also be raised for their fiber. Alpaca yarn makes the softest, warmest mittens and scarves! Alpacas should be provided about 50 square feet of shelter per animal (a three-sided lean-to is usually adequate), and an acre of pasture land for every 5-10 animals, realizing that the higher the density, the more you will have to supplement their diet with hay. If you have exceptionally good pasture or can rotate pastures, then you can likely graze 15-20 alpacas per acre. Llamas are roughly twice the size of alpacas, so will need more space. No more than four llamas per acre is recommended.

Recommended Reading: Llamas and Alpacas: Keeping a Small-Scale Camelid Herd by Sue Weaver (Hobby Farm Books, 2009)



Horses

Horses aren't really used around the homestead much anymore as they used to be. Decades ago, horses would help till the gardens, pull carts and buggies and even haul cut logs, but tractors take care of all that nowadays. Even still, there's not much more peaceful than watching a pasture of horses graze, and for those who love riding, horses are still a fun part of any homestead. 

Horses need at least 1-1/2 to 2 acres of good pasture per horse if you plan on them being outside grazing for the most part; if you are going to provide hay then you'll need 4,500 square feet of turnout space per horse for exercise. Each horse will also likely need a stall in a barn. Stall sizes can range from 10x10 to 12x12, depending on the size of the horses.

Recommended Reading: Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage: Designing and Managing Your Equine Facilities by Cherry Hill (Storey Publishing, 2005)


I hope this handy guide has been helpful if you're currently in the process of looking for a small farm or homestead. Once you've decided what kinds of animals you want to raise, and how many of each, start adding up the land requirements and barn or coop space needed to help you figure out what you'll need to be looking for when you start looking at farm properties.

Watch this short video where I talk more about homestead space.



If you are interested in raising a variety of livestock, I recommend reading Barnyard Kids: A Family Guide for Raising Animals by Dina Rudick (Quarry Books, 2015). It gives a really nice basic overview of what is required to raise chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, cows, horses and rabbits and might also help with your planning.

For more information on setting up your ideal homestead, this article on Designing your Homestead has some great tips. 


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