A 5 acre farm plan for the small landholder

What should be in your 5 acre farm plan?

More and more people are leaving the cities and buying small rural properties.

How do you make best use of a small holding? Can you actually make a living on 5 acres?

Here's a 5 acre farm plan to help them (and maybe YOU) manage a micro-farm to create a sustainable, profitable business.

 To start, let's set some basic assumptions in place:

Assumption 1. The farm will be 'natural': We will use organic and sustainable methods to the degree feasible. If you live where you work, you don't want to introduce toxic substances into the environment.

Assumption 2. Integrated production of livestock and vegetable crops: Livestock animals are beneficial on a small farm, provided you raise them properly. This means raising them outdoors and not in confinement. And the livestock will add another valuable income stream to your micro-farm.

Assumption 3. This is a business, not a hobby: No business starts up without some idea of where customers will come from, or how much revenue is needed, or who will do the work needed on your 5 acre farm.

This means we need to think about planning, marketing, and management as well as production. Your first step should be to build your Success Plan for your business

OK, with these basic assumptions in place, let's look at the plan.

Looking south from our main garden, a key part of our farm plan. We also rotate small livestock through this area

The 5 acre farm plan

Here are the pieces of your 5 acre farm:

  • Two garden plots comprise about half the space available for your CSA market garden (see graphic below)
  • One-and-a quarter-acre cover cropping area
  • One-and-a quarter-acre for raising meat chickens, turkeys and pigs
  • 4000 square feet  in hoop houses for starting transplants and growing early crops. The hoop houses will reside at the north end of the property, to avoid shading crops and also to help provide a windbreak from northerly winds.
  • 20 beehives to help with garden pollination and to produce a cash crop of honey. The bee yard can be on the perimeter of the garden.
  • Assorted fruit trees on the west perimeter of the property.

Equipment needed for your 5 acre farm

Here's a list of the minimum basic equipment needed to efficiently manage your mini-farm:

  • Diesel tractor and loader in the 40-45 hp range
  • Spader with power harrow
  • Bed shaper and drip tape/plastic layer
  • Transplanter
  • Rotary Mower (Bush Hog)
  • Rear-time tiller (Troy-Bilt or BCS), 8-11 hp range

Bed shaper can also lay plastic mulch - We contract this work out to neighbour
Roto-tiller also cultivates between rows
  • Pickup truck
  • Walk-in cooler or refrigerated room
We built this room insulated to r40. A 10,000 BTU A/C and electronic thermostat can maintain temperature 38-40F
  • Plant starting light room or small heated greenhouse
  • Electric mesh fencing and charger
  • Feeders, waterers, and portable housing for pigs and chickens
  • Honey processing equipment - cap knife, extractor, filters etc
This is the first greenhouse we built, we use it for transplants in the spring.
Electric mesh fencing and row cover help to protect our garden
Electric mesh keeps the chickens safe too
Portable shelters and electric mesh make it easy to raise pigs on pasture
Our new hoop coop works well for turkeys too
You can see the irrigation hoses and row cover in this pic
This is our movable hoop house on rails
Movable hoop house planted out and with trays ready for transplant
We built a veggie processing shed off the end our our small barn, located between the two main gardens

Putting it all together

5 acre farm plan on the square ;-)

Here's how it all goes together:

  • You grow your market garden on two sections of your farm.
  • The garden area rotates with the animal grazing plot and the cover crop area.
  • The animal grazing area can be planted to forage crops to help with feed costs.
  • The cover crop should be some deep-rooted, nitrogen fixing crop like alfalfa or tillage radish
  • The electric mesh fencing protects your animals and your garden from predators
  • Your large greenhouse will start crops several weeks earlier than the outside garden, and can hold flats of transplants from the small heated greenhouse until they are ready to be planted out.

Revenue from your 5 acre farm

Let's assume you are following the Community Supported Agriculture model for your small farm. Here's a quick breakdown of the revenue possible from the above plan.

CAUTION: this is an example only, actual income will depend on your market, your model, and your skill as a grower. Expenses will probably go up as you add enterprises as well.

  • Sales of 100 CSA full shares @ $900/share = $90,000
  • Sales of 500 meat chickens = $9,000
  • Sales of 12 pastured piggies = $7,000
  • Sales of 1,000 lbs of honey = $5,000
  • Sales from your greenhouse and  mini-orchard = $4,000

Total sales = $115,000

This is not the limit; you could add bedding plants for the spring, or a fall planting of garlic, or value-added products for the winter to the mix.

You could have laying hens in an 'egg-mobile' in the summer, and house them in the greenhouse in the winter. You could raise bunnies on pasture in movable rabbit pens, like Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm.

Lots of possibilities, limited only by your ability to manage.

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A good farm plan does more than just aid decision-making and priority-setting. It should also inspire and motivate the farmer to pursue the goals that are important to her.

Farm risk management is important even to the small commercial grower. This article examines the types of risks that small farmers may be exposed to, and identify some risk avoidance and risk mitigation strategies to avoid serious harm to the farm.


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