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perfect amount of acreage for a hobby farm

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  • perfect amount of acreage for a hobby farm

    Hello everyone,

    Prior to the pandemic SO and I were starting to shop for property. Needless to say that has come to a screeching halt while we wait to see what the market is going to do. We are both fortunate to be in fairly stable, essential careers so that is a definite advantage.

    At any rate, I'd like to hear from you on what you think the perfect size is for a hobby farm. We have had showings at places that ranged from 3.2 acres with a cute, cute, cute 4 stall barn - all they way to 20 acres with multiple outbuildings and acres of pasture to mow. Our dream would be to have plenty of room for our large dogs to stretch their legs, perhaps some goats, chickens and now ducks (after reading the thread here about ducks). I don't think I'd bring my horse home but of course it would be nice to have that as an option. Boarding other horses is not likely in my future because I know exactly how much work and stress and liability it is for very little money, if any. If I had a larger parcel I don't picture leasing it out for crops since it seems the return on that is fairly low. For the sake of this discussion consider that the land would be for my purposes, not for leasing out.

    So, if you have a small-ish property, have you ever wished for more land? If you have a larger space, does it ever get the best of you and you wished you had less? Tell me a bit about your place size-wise along with the pros and cons. When we looked at the 3.2 acres it seemed pretty "cozy" and yet I don't want to be a slave to such a large property that I regret having so much space that I never have any time to actually enjoy it. Is there a certain amount of land where you essentially need to upgrade to a very large tractor instead of a general hobby farm tractor? Other than the crazy costs of fencing, any other pros/cons to smaller parcels vs larger? I do think part of the enjoyment of having land is tending to the mowing, property maintenance, etc. I am not afraid of dedicating my weekends to fresh air and projects but I do work full time, too.

    For reference, I am in the Midwest, where grass grows well and winters are pretty harsh. I do realize that usable land varies a lot in different geographical areas. Thanks for any stories or advice you are willing to share.

  • #2
    I am in the Midwest too.
    My farmette was originally offered at 10ac, but I offered to buy 5 & offer was accepted.

    In hindsight, if I'd taken the 10, I would still have used only the 5 my house & barn w/attached indoor sit on now.
    The remaining acreage would be leased to a neighbor who makes hay.
    As it stands, he now cuts & bales about 2ac in an L-shaped parcel surrounding my pastures.
    I get a civilized looking property, he gets the hay < about 100-150 small squares.
    I also get my hay from him at bargain basement prices.
    My pastures are small - ~2ac & 1/2ac - so I feed hay year-round to my 3 (horse, pony, mini) - but a LOT less hay when grass is in.
    Pastures are never anything you'd call lush, but provide decent grazing. Mini has not needed a muzzle.

    I am here by myself & up until a year ago mowed both lawns & pastures with a riding mower.
    That meant some sort of major repair to said mower every year, as it was not meant to handle pasture.
    After 15yrs, last year I hired a landscaper to mow the lawn every other week.
    Hay neighbor bushhogs my pastures in return for letting him store loaded haywagons in my indoor over Winter.
    He arranges wagons so I am still able to ride in there.

    To answer your question, I could be happy on 3ac.
    I would still have the same footprint for house, barn & arena, but remaining acreage would be perimeter-fenced, maximizing pasture & minimizing landscape mowing.

    If I can ask, where is that 3.2ac farm?
    Probably out of my price range, but sounds perfect for me.
    OTOH, IL taxes are high & my current area has gentrified (while remaining rural-ish near me) so the only thing I miss about city living is the ability to walk to stores.
    Then again, as my aging knees make walking problematic....
    Riding does not bother them {knock wood}
    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


    • #3
      I know this is obvious, but all acreage is not created equal. Five acres of fence lines and pastures to be mowed and maintained is a lot more work than 20 unimproved acres.

      If you don’t have intentions of housing horses, I would look for something with minimal fence line.

      I feel your pain with the market. We’ve been shopping for ages; now is the time of year where it is usually coming to life. COVID has it dead, dead, dead.
      Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


      • #4
        We have 25 acres of useable land. The bulk of it is in pasture, fenced and cross-fenced. We maintain all of it. I had five horses, three have been laid to rest, the other two are now mid-20’s and will be my last.

        We are early 70’s, so it’s a lot of work but I was raised in a dairy farm, the work here is minimal to me, albeit I’ve slowed down a lot from ten years ago.

        We run our XL and XXL dogs every day on this 25 acres — well — they run and check fences, we sit on the 4-wheelers and watch them

        If I were younger, I would be ecstatic to have 50-100 acres because that’s who I am.

        You have to figure out “who you are” in terms of being a good steward of the land. And FWIW, nothing under ten acres is considered a “farmette, hobby farm, or ranch” where I come from.


        • #5
          We have 16 acres that is fully fenced and cross fenced. I have 2 horses at home but no other farm animals. That will likely change (a couple cows) this year. I live in Rocky Mountains in Western Canada.

          Our property has a mix of terrain. We have a few acres of grass pasture (which wasn’t well cared for by previous owner) and a few acres of woods. Horses keep grass well managed in summer and I just mow the spots they don’t like. I have very little mowing to do and fortunately no fence line mowing. We bought almost a year ago and unfortunately, previous owners did not take the greatest care of pasture or lawn. So we’re putting in a lot of work right now to remedy that but once everything is working well, we won’t have that much maintenance work.

          We are buying a tractor this summer for our 1 year anniversary. Because we have horses at home and I feed very large round bales, we need a big tractor. Salesman said tractor will be overkill for 95% of what we do with it but to lift those bales, you need to have a certain size. I refuse to buy a tractor unless it will lift the bales. If you won’t be doing a lot of heavy lifting, you can get by with a garden tractor or even a good side by side. We borrow side by side from my work on occasion and can get a lot done in a weekend with it.

          I’m guessing you are still riding your boarded horse. One thing to really consider is time management between barn and home. Assuming you ride in evening, you likely won’t have a ton of time to do yard work in evening by the time you get home and see spouse. Which just leaves weekends. You will want or need to get away on occasion so look for a property that doesn’t require being a slave to it!


          • #6
            We have 5 acres with a home, barn, and small chicken coop/run. about 4 acres of that is the barn, dry lot, and two pastures. I keep two horses at home in my 3 stall barn but my competition jumper mare is still boarded. Our property is enough for what we need but I do wish it was set up a little differently. We’re in an HOA neighborhood that favors a pretty front lawn so the house is set halfway back on the property. I wish it was closer to the street so I could add an arena or even an attached indoor. I’d love to bring my mare home but I need reliable footing to ride on at least half the year. All in all- life is pretty wonderful. I will say, when I jump on for a trail on my semi-retired gelding I always smile at how fast I went from the front door to horse back!

            PS- we’re Midwest also so all 5 acres are useable and we do all maintenance ourselves.


            • #7
              I have nine useable acres, no trees. I actually bought a hay field It is a long rectangle, with the short sides top (road) and bottom. I have my house and barn at the top approx 100' off the road, two paddocks that are approx an acre each, also long rectangles, and a third of an acre off the barn. I admit that all my plans and improvements are the top half, and the bottom 3-4 acres is cut for hay (a free-free deal, I don't want the hay but I don't have to mow it either, and he can keep/sell the hay). My five year plan is to fence the bottom as fall grazing because that's when everything is dying already, but... it means I'll have to mow and run water down there, so it's not super duper high on my list.

              I attached a picture of my place. The only things missing from the picture is my 40x40 garden behind the house that is currently there and the 16x52 pole barn for the horse trailer, tractor, lawn mower, etc. I also marked the planned this year ~80x70 chicken paddock system going in south of the garden and the 70x150 arena where the round pen is now. I also plan on extending the garden toward the road eventually, and possibly even more chickens over where the septic mound is because I abhor a waste.

              So yes I definitely could have less land, in fact I was looking for 4-5 acres but this one checked all my boxes and then some. So for your plan, honestly, five acres or less would be fine. More land does mean more work unless you farm some of it out.
              COTH's official mini-donk enabler

              "I am all for reaching out, but in some situations it needs to be done with a rolled up news paper." Alagirl


              • #8
                I have just under 7 acres at my place, almost all of it in cleared, established pasture with traditional four board fencing.

                That is pretty much the perfect size for what I wanted; it provides ample turnout for my three horses (including room to easily rotate paddocks to keep the grass nice, which was a priority for me.) I also have a decent size (100 x150') arena, a six stall barn, and an equipment barn for all the various mowers and other equipment as well as hay and bedding storage. I would guess we probably use about a half acre or so for the house, pool and "lawn and garden" area.

                For us, this size farmette gives us plenty of space and privacy without feeling isolated. We are on a street of small to medium sized horse farms, which is a nice extra benefit I didn't fully appreciate til after we moved in. Just having "horsey" neighbors is helpful when someone's pony gets loose, makes it easy to find service providers since that vet or farrier or whatever is probably already coming to do your neighbor's herd, etc makes things so much easier.

                I did not want to be a slave to my property and we aren't. We can mow everything, if needed, over a weekend (and this time of year, it's needed, LOL) using garden tractor/riding mower type equipment. I don't have a full fledged tractor, and haven't needed one. We can pull our spreader and our drag with one of the garden tractors without a problem. I don't feed round bales so no need to move anything that large around. I see one of my neighbors using a finish mower on his big tractor and frankly I don't envy him. He has a hard time maneuvering near the fence lines with that thing and breaks a lot of boards. I can zip along in my riding mower and barely need an edger or weed wacker.

                For us, this is the perfect size place because we are able to keep it nicely maintained without it being overwhelming. We do spend a lot of time on weekends puttering around - this past weekend we put in some fruit tress - but if we go away for a vacation, it's not a disaster nor do we have to hire a ton of help to keep things looking nice.
                We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                • #9
                  I've had 4 acres (southcentral PA), 14 acres (northeast IN), 5 acres (southwest PA) and now 8 acres (upstate SC). If the only animals you'll have on the property are goats, chickens, ducks and your dogs, and you'll be doing your own property maintenance, I suggest sticking with 4 acres or less to keep from using up your outdoor time doing chores. Mowing and weed-eating are the big time-suckers (and body beater-uppers), but you'll also gain a new appreciation for picking up sticks and branches, cutting back hedges, fixing fencing, picking up and disposing of poop, scrubbing water tubs, feeding, doing health checks on your flocks, liming/fertilizing/weed prevention for your pasture areas, working in your inevitable flower or vegetable beds, and generally maintaining the adorable place that first caught your eye when you still thought all you'd be doing was sipping a cocktail from a hammock under the big trees.

                  Pro-tip... Since you live in the Land of Winter: really look carefully at where the snow is going to be, and think about how you will manage plowing, de-icing, mud-control, etc. A long, curvy driveway is romantic until you can't find it in the dark under a series of drifts.
                  Patience pays.


                  • #10
                    If you're not planning on having horses there, you have more options. You would only need a few acres to have dogs, goats, chickens and ducks comfortably.

                    I have 6 less than ideal acres, and feel that 10 would be the perfect size for me. My pasture has some steep hills and part is forested, so my pasture quality is pretty poor, having two horses and two ponies on it. I would love to have more pasture space to rotate them on, and better quality pasture for more grazing and less hay needed. I don't feel like 10 acres would be any harder to maintain than 6.


                    • #11
                      I had 10 in the Midwest and it was fabulous--for horses. We had about six acres of fenced pasture with beautiful grass.

                      Without horses, that's A HELL of a lot to mow. Unless you reeeeeaaaaallly love sitting on a mower (and hey, some people do!) you don't want ten acres. You probably don't even want five.

                      A couple will be just fine for the animals you're talking about. If you're looking for that "out in the country" feel, prioritize a place that's surrounded by farmland, instead of a place that's in a neighborhood of 2-3 acre properties. Good chance that you'll be a lot happier with as few neighbors as possible


                      • #12
                        We have 3 acres with two minis and an ancient retired pony on it. Recently, with covid-19, I have a arab lesson horse hanging around here while their barn is shut down for lessons (trainer leases stalls and barn is totally shutdown, so it helps her... and I have a precious horse to hack around until this settles and I can begin shopping again).

                        With all that said, the minis and pony feels great on this amount of land. The addition of a horse feels more cramped and has me thinking of rotating turnout instead of just letting them stay out and come in as they please. With that means stall cleaning, more hay, and more time (which I have now!). I’m lucky that all mine are EASY keepers.


                        • #13
                          I had 11 acres and thought that was perfect. 5 acres of pasture 2 for the house and the rest left natural for riding and wildlife... Then I went crazy and bought 144 acres in Ohio of fantastic riding property (all foot hills, creeks, and mix of pasture) and I can’t imagine having any less!

                          the 10 acres were fine until the midlife crisis though.


                          • #14
                            5 acres would be plenty.
                            we're on 4 useable, fenced acres with 4 ponies, 20 breeding sheep & lambs. Had ducks, chickens and rabbits. Those three take up an acre, if that. Ponies were on a track, so took up almost no land. Rest is for the sheep to rotate through.
                            we bought 26 acres, with only about 18-20acres fenced and useable. It's used for winter grazing and pony track was moved out there. More paddocks will go up over there, too, as I have 30+ breeding sheep now.
                            NOTE my sheep are a miniature breed. Larger sheep/goats will need more land or less animals for the amount of land.

                            It is all hilly and I hate that. Not gently rolling, not enough flat areas, steep hills, deep ruts, swampy areas. So,make sure you know the type of topography you want.

                            The 4 acres I mow with a tiny riding mower. Easy and fast, couple hours and done.
                            The 20 acres I'm still trying to find people to pay to make hay off of it...ugh. If it was all flat, I would buy a fancier riding mower and just keep it cut myself. That's another thing to think about. Don't get more than you can care for, don't assume you will find someone to do the work for you.

                            Keeping a horse at home is cheap and easy, unless you have a problem horse or a high maintenance horse. I couldn't imagine wasting thousands a month on boarding when I can do it at home.


                            • #15
                              I'm thinking 5 is a nice amount. In much of the country you can keep a horse or two on that without it being hard. You have to plan, of course, but that is slightly different. You don't have to be a slave to that. Bigger than that, and you start to need to be one of a few things: into wildlife management (I wish more were), wealthy, completely careless, or dedicated to working the land.
                              Most of my 70 plus acres is left to do its own thing, which in CT is grow trees. Right now, we are cutting a fair number of the trees down. But that is a 20 year rotation at the minimum. Somebody else can do it next time (I won't be too old, but my partner will be and he runs the chainsaw and skidder!).
                              The 18 acres that are actively managed take our weekends and vacation time. I wouldn't have it any other way, and it is a unique property that historically and plant wise deserves it, but that isn't for everyone. Too big a property can destroy marriages, it did for my parents.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Mango20 View Post
                                If you're not planning on having horses there, you have more options. You would only need a few acres to have dogs, goats, chickens and ducks comfortably.

                                I have 6 less than ideal acres, and feel that 10 would be the perfect size for me. My pasture has some steep hills and part is forested, so my pasture quality is pretty poor, having two horses and two ponies on it. I would love to have more pasture space to rotate them on, and better quality pasture for more grazing and less hay needed. I don't feel like 10 acres would be any harder to maintain than 6.
                                I agree. I started with a "homestead" parcel of 7; about 4 of which is the barn and pastures. Then obtained the property behind us which was for sale, and more precautionary than necessary or desirable, so I have 20 now.

                                If you weren't going to have horses, I would say 5 is a good number. 20 is a lot unless you aren't going to maintain some of it - which is what I do. I have a big open field that I mow at max once a year; instead I mow paths to walk my dogs along.

                                If you do have horses, 5 is pretty small....I'd want something like 7-8 minimum because it's nice to have a place for some of the farm "ugly" things - like manure piles, a place to store equipment/implements if you don' have an indoor space large enough; tractor, etc.


                                • #17
                                  We've got 5 acres in Northern Virginia with 2 horses on it. Most of it is useable, but on small acreage, sometimes you have to be creative and spaces have to be multi-use. My land is divided into about 2.5 acres of pasture with very good grass, plus about another 1.5 acres with my 3-stall barn, bluestone paddocks, and a separate sacrifice field for winter. I also have a small arena, and of course, my house.

                                  In an ideal world, I would have another acre or two. My arena with footing is not big enough for jumping, so I have jumps set up in a flat area of the pasture. The horses graze around them and don't really mess with them (except for the silk flowers in the flower boxes), but I'd love to have a big jump arena with all-weather footing. Luckily my trainer is only 12 miles away, so we trailer there for weekly jumping lesson.


                                  • #18
                                    I love my privacy and visual space. My ideal farm size isn't going to involve much in the way of neighbors or grass that the horses can't eat AKA I hate mowing. So my answer is 30+ wooded acres


                                    • #19
                                      ALL real estate purchases are unique. Be it a townhouse with s shared "common area" measured in square feet or a ranch with the acreage measured in sections they are ALL unique. That being the case there really can't be a "school" answer in a number. It has to be an answer given in terms of solutions to the buyer's problems.

                                      Almost anywhere east of the Mississippi 5 acres, plus or minus, will do for a horse and some other animals and can be handled by one family. The farther west you go the lower is the land's "proclivity quotient" and you'll need more to do the same job as you would in the East.

                                      So, don't look for a number and then try to fit in it. Rather, note your needs and then look for a number that will work for those needs AND fit your budget. This may call for compromises but better to do that before you buy than afterwards.

                                      To get some good ideas on needs get Cherry Hill's excellent book Housekeeping on Small Acreage. It's not expensive and available on Amazon. It is well worth the money.

                                      Good luck in your program.

                                      Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo


                                      • #20
                                        I have 40. Wish I had 400. Or 4000.
                                        I strive to live in a place to never need a dog leash, and that cats can be in or out as they choose, and to never have to 'go somewhere' to ride bc it's all right here.
                                        * -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.