Discover more from EXIT Newsletter
#10: Why You're Not Homesteading
It is the official opinion of EXIT that we probably shouldn’t all run off into the woods and start Instagrammable cottagecore family farms — mostly because it’s not that remunerative, and it’s a lot of work, and people don’t want to do it.
Still, it’s worth exploring wild ideas seriously. So I read this thread, and it got me thinking.
Keeping 35 laying hens is not a crazy amount of work — you want to build them a decent coop, muck out the straw once a week and provide them with feed and water to supplement their forage, but otherwise you just let them out in the morning, close up the coop at night (they go home on their own), and gather the eggs.
But, that’s 20 dozen eggs a week, so maintaining orders and deliveries for roughly 20 customers every week is a pretty robust little side hustle. If you’re charging the organic farmer’s market premium of $5 a dozen, you’re looking at a maximum gross of $5,200 a year (no breakage, no giveaways, no chickens who won’t lay, etc.)
Still, it’s fun for the kids, you get to know your community, and you don’t need to be a brilliant or obsessive manager to pull it off. A good hobby business. Of all the ideas in that thread, this one seems the most scalable.
I know a lot less about growing a market garden, but the folks who successfully farm at that scale are skilled project managers, they’re doing it full time, making five-figure capital investments, and paying full-time farmhands. Educating 12M American households to operate that with that level of efficiency, even if you handed them the land and hardware, seems quixotic. (Then again, if they adopted the Fortiers’ 1.5-acre model, it would only take 4M such farms.)
A beginner can maybe keep ten pigs on one acre, but it’s more work than chickens:
They need more durable shelter
They need a strong fence around their paddock
You’ll have to import several tons of feed, at least in the winter months
The pasture will get pretty unpleasant if you don’t actively manage it
They’re much bigger & smarter, & can get destructive if neglected
If you’re getting $4/lb for the meat, and 175 lb of meat per pig, that’s $7,000 in gross revenue - minus $2,500 in feed, and probably another $1,000 or so in miscellaneous expenses. If you build all the fencing and shelter yourself, you can probably break even in the first year.
This probably takes four acres to pull off as a low-effort hobbyist. We’ve got a single pregnant dairy cow on four acres of pasture. Every month we buy about $50 worth of grain, and we spend about $200 on hay in the winter - but I’m told that’s a really good deal — cattle in colder/drier parts of the country will need a lot more pasture, and a lot more hay, and the hay is much more expensive.
Stringing up an electric fence and building her a windbreak under our deck probably cost us $700 - cattle tend to be less curious and exploratory than pigs, so the startup costs are fairly low. If you already have the land and a secure place to store your feed, the biggest cost is just buying the cow (we spent $1,000).
Like chickens, though, the big problem with cows is the sheer quantity of production.
A single Jersey cow can produce four gallons of milk a day, one of which she will give to her calf — which means this two-cow household would need to extract, store, and sell 42 gallons of milk every week.
That means buying a decent-sized fridge, spending a lot of time making butter and cheese, and finding a lot of steady customers. Which is tricky, since most US jurisdictions ban the sale of raw milk. (In some places, you can get around this with “milk shares”, but check your local ordinances, this is not legal advice, etc. etc.)
But if a person were to find a solution to that problem, and charged $5 a gallon (typical for raw milk), they could potentially gross $11,000 from two dairy cows. Not bad! Lot of work though.
Basically, none of this is workable for a typical American household, and that’s fine.
As far as I can tell, the point William Wheelwright is making here is that it’s not that hard. You can imagine a world where a lot more people are doing this, and where agricultural policy makes it easier, rather than harder, to do it.
It’s always going to be for the kind of family that can afford 1-5 acres of reasonably productive agricultural land, who can put up at least ten hours a week on top of their day job, and who are smart enough to earn significantly more than farming pays.
That’s never going to be 50 million American households — but the remote-work revolution is freeing up a huge amount of liberty-minded suburban brainpower to move to locations that were once unattainably far from the office.
So yeah, we’re not going to smash industrial agriculture with these farms — especially vegetable and grain farming — but if you live on a little bit of land anyway, you might be overestimating the difficulty of raising some animals. It’s not for everybody, and it’s definitely not a full-time first-world lifestyle job — but as a side bet, it’s not bad.
EXIT is not about making homesteading or disaster prep your personality.
But if you’re interested in raising a little food, digging a well, installing some solar panels, or homeschooling your kids, we’ve got domain experts who can help. Our Trades & Homesteading group meets biweekly to discuss projects, share advice, and take accountability for progress. Learn more at exitgroup.us.