Our farm is only 3 acres and is located on a mountain side. This really limits our space and what we can do with our land as far as livestock and gardening are concerned. Many people have mini-farms that have similar limits on them. It is a very different way to farm than those farms that have large barns and many outbuildings surrounded by fields and pastures. And so, to make the most of what we have, the smaller farms need to make choices that increase their efficiency.
When livestock housing and living space is limited it is important to choose breeds that serve more than one purpose. Chickens can provide you with meat or eggs – OR – meat AND eggs. Sheep can provide wool, milk, or meat – OR – two out of three – OR – all three. See what I am saying? Granted, by choosing multi-purpose breeds you are not getting the best at one thing, such as birds that produce the most meat possible in the shortest time. Instead you are getting ones that do pretty well at both. But “pretty well” at more than one purpose is more efficient and productive when you are limited on space and can’t have the best of both.
When building housing for a small farm it is most efficient if you build housing that can be used to house different species at different times. The same housing that you put young chicks in at one point of the year could hold a bum lamb at another time, a barn cat with her kittens at another time, and weanling rabbits at another time – if you build the housing properly.
For example, we have a spot in the barn called the “Mama Hen Pen.” It is called that because, for the most part, it is where we let our broody hens set their eggs and raise their chicks. But it has also been used to house calves, sheep, goats, a recuperating cat, meat cockerels, a rooster with his breeding hens, and dogs. It could also potentially house turkeys, a dog with pups, cat with kittens, a pony, ducks, etc. The only things we wouldn’t use this pen to house is very large animals, because it is only 9×11 ft. Or animals that can easily dig out, like rabbits, because the entire floor is not wired to keep them in.
From the outside, the door into this pen is a regular sliding stall door. Behind that door we previously have had a wired insert with a small chicken-sized door. This insert makes this pen use-able for anything small that needs to stay in and needs to be protected from barn cats (like chicks). And the door and removable ramp make it easy for chickens to come and go from this pen into the barnyard when we want them to.
We purposely made it so that with the removal of some screws this entire wall of wire will easily lift out of the doorway. Then it could be stored so that the stall could be used for larger animals like calves, sheep, etc. And then those type of animals can easily go in and out of the barn through the sliding door.
On the inside of the barn you can see that this pen is like a regular stall, with 2/3 walls for air flow. That is great for housing larger livestock. And the stall door is big enough to bring sheep, goats, calves, and smaller horses and cows through. But in addition to that we secured chicken wire all along the open areas. That way we can keep small livestock inside the pen without them escaping and without the risk of barn cats attacking them (in the case of baby chicks).
Previously, inside the stall we had nest boxes, roosts, a heat lamp, and hanging feeders/waterers for the chickens. But all of those are easily removable for when we wanted to house other livestock inside. You can also see that the back wall of the stall (to the right in the photo) is made of chicken wire with some wood slats along the bottom. This wall is shared with a pen we call our “growing out pen” (another multi-use pen). This makes it easy for us to house chickens separate but able to see each other so we can easily integrate our flock together once they have spent some time seeing each other through the wire. It also works well for separating baby sheep or goats from their mothers at night before morning milking.
As you can see, with a little bit of extra planning and work, you can make your housing much more efficient and able to be used in multiple ways with multiple species.
Farm Dogs for Small Acreage
I’ve seen it happen over and over again. People with small farms really want that amazing herding breed or LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) breed that they saw at some big farm or online looking like such a happy working dog. Then they get said dog and the dog is miserable on their tiny farm with no space to move around and use the amazing skills that have been bred into them for centuries. I’ve seen a huge LGD stuck in a one-acre pen with goats, miserable and barking incessantly. I’ve seen a herding dog torment the livestock on a small farm by chasing them constantly because he is bored and wants to really do the work he is bred to do. The dog is miserable, the owner is miserable, and the livestock is miserable. The pretty picture they saw online is not what they are seeing in their barnyard.
Before anyone attacks me on this issue I will say that it is not ALWAYS the case. Some owners are able to keep a herding breed or LGD happy on small acreage. They find ways to keep them busy and exercise their brains and bodies. And also, some individuals in the herding dog breeds and LGD breeds have personalities that make it so they can handle the small space and live very happy productive lives.
But for the most part, these dogs are bred to work all day and cover a lot of ground and they will not be satisfied with a small farm environment.
So do a lot of research before purchasing a farm dog. Keep in mind what your space is like, what the daily routine is like, and what job exactly the dog will be doing. Look at what the history of the breed is and what they have been selectively bred to do. And talk to the breeders about what they are specifically selecting for in their dogs. Then choose accordingly. There are several good options out there for working farm dogs on the small farm.
Gardening on the Small Farm
One way to get more out of a smaller garden space is to grow as much vertically as you can. When growing green beans you can get the bush variety or the vine variety. Build some good sturdy trellises and get the vining variety so it can grow upwards, taking up less of your ground space. Same with tomatoes. Grow as much vertically as you can.
Another way to increase efficiency in the garden is to increase planting space and decrease walkway space by using a square-foot gardening layout instead of a row layout. We built 4-foot wide gardening sections with 18-24 inch walkways between them. We can easily reach the two feet across to the middle of the planting area from any side to plant, weed, and harvest. When you have minimal space, don’t waste it on walkways.
Lastly, use every extra space you have to grow edible food. Nicely done, edible plants can make very nice outdoor decorating and landscaping. Use containers on your deck or by your front door as decorations. Use planters that hang on your deck railing or hanging baskets, and let grape vines grow up lattice on your patio.
Be creative and think outside of the basic row garden as the only place you can grow food. Try to find every nook and cranny you can put edible plants around your home and farm.
Small farms can be extremely productive once you find some ways to make efficient use of the space you have. I hope these tips and tricks that have worked so well for us can help you get the most from your small acreage farm!