Question for Capriox and others

How big a farm could three people maintain? What kind of animals and crops could they support using fantasy-setting technology? How many buildings and what kind might they have?

I'd like to be believable if not entirely realistic.

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

It depends a lot on two things: their tech/science base (what kind of fantasy setting - ancient, medieval, renaissance, contemporary, or...?), and the natural resources available to them (climate, land, water, etc.).

Um, this could get long from me, so I'll come back when I have more time tonight to give it a proper think through.

Zandu Ink's picture

Embodiment

It's a blend of medieval and contemporary. Think ToMU: horse and buggy, trains, magically powered modern conveniences. As far as climate, Midwest grain belt comes to mind.

Hobo's picture

A farm for three people would be a lot like subsistence farming. I'll start with animals, then vegetables, then on to buildings.

Animals:
Chickens. They are good for eggs and meat. One male, about 5-10 females.

One or two dairy cows. Milk is useful for almost all recipes and of course to make butter and cheeses.

One sow. The farmers can "rent" a stud for piglets. The sow would provide piglets up to a certain age, then she is processed for meat while one of the female piglets is kept for the next breeder. All the other piglets can be sold off or grown to size to process for meat to be used for trading or stored.

One bull for cow breeding, and for plowing.

Two pairs of goats. They would provide milk and meat.

All refuse from animals equals good fertilizer.

Vegetables:
About one 1 acre for a plot. The plot would be broken up into sections for different vegetables. Good examples: Cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, wheat, squash, melons, radishes, onions, green beans and peas can all be grown in enough amounts to feed only three people on 1/2 an acre if the soil is decent. Have a 1 acre plot so 1/2 an acre is left fallow so they can switch every several years to keep the soil in good health.

Buildings:
One house for living in, or 3 small cabins with a central area for cooking and meeting.

One barn for keeping the animals and tools.

One chicken hutch.

One cellar for vegetable storage.

Optional: Water tank used to collect rain water to irrigate with.

All of this is basic farm needs, and is assuming that this is with low tech. Even higher tech farming you would only need to add a garage for keeping a tractor. I lived for several years on my grandfather's farm. We had no animals, but our neighbors did, so this is all from practical experience. The reason the vegetable plot is so large is a lot of the vegetables are canned for winter living, so you do grow more than what is needed right away. It also takes into account unhealthy plants.

Zandu Ink's picture

Embodiment

And something this size would support three people and turn a profit at market? Or would it just be for survival, if moderate living?

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Two things I'd argue with here.

First, the bulls. You soooooo do not plow with a bull. You plow with oxen, which are males that are castrated young (another term for them is steers) - better yet, if you can afford it, you plow with a horse or two. The only thing a bull is good for is breeding cows and turning into pot roast. Also, small-scale farmers like that generally "rent"/borrow bulls the same way you mentioned with the boar (male) pigs.

Second, a half acre isn't enough to grow enough wheat or corn for 3 people for a whole year unless the whole half acre or acre is dedicated to just that crop. Actually, it really depends on how well your wheat or corn yields. The varieties we've had in the US in the last 75 years yield so much more per acre than has ever been gotten in historical times. I don't know exactly how many bushels of corn or wheat 3 people require in a year, but I do know that for potatoes grow in the eastern U. S. circa in the modern day (but without any equipment beyond a small tractor, a simple planter, and a simple two-row digger), it takes a whole acre to feed a family (~5 people) for a year - and potatoes have one of the highest calories/acre yields of all the common crops. A half acre to an acre is probably plenty of room to get all the veggies and fruit extras people could preserve to eat in a year if it has good soil, but that isn't gonna generate the sheer carb calories the people need to stay alive.

I would describe the above example as the kind of small-scale farming as appropriate for 1800s-1920 era technology/society/science-base of the United States in temperate climates with good soil (roughly: more organic matter than rock) and moderate levels of rainfall - think California valleys, the Great Lakes plains, or the Eastern seaboard. Having all the livestock and crops listed above in a "good year" (weather for crops/health & reproduction for livestock) raised by farmers who were competent would provide some vegetables and protein products for sale beyond the 3 people's needs, but like I said above about the grains, that isn't gonna be enough to give them all the loaves or tortillas they would need for the year.

ETA: punctuation

Hobo's picture

I didn't know that about the bulls. I'm more familiar with horses and pigs.

As for the grains, we never grew them. I should have researched a little more on the grains before posting that. We normally stuck with the veggies and did lots and lots of canning. We also had an acre for an orchard with plums, pears, peaches and one persimmon tree. Oh, and we had blackberries lining all the fences.

So to make modifications on my post, make it more like 4 to 5 acres. With one acre dedicated to grains/starch of choice, another for orchard and one to lay fallow.

Definitely do what Capriox says for the bulls. I should have figured that bulls would be similar to horses and pigs on the studding out part, and forgot that their temperament would probably be bad for plowing >.

NorthwoodsMan's picture

Embodiment

ooo... Sounds like someone may be challenging Capriox for the title of Supreme Minister of All Livestock...

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

In the course of this morning alone I have gotten my clothes dirty with: dirt, hay, straw, manure, calf's blood, colostrum, and amniotic fluid.

I'm not too worried.

NorthwoodsMan's picture

Embodiment

I've been sitting at a desk. I'm jealous...

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Easy delivery?

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Yes, for both cows Smile Mind you, one of those calves was pretty darn big (especially for a heifer calf!), but then again, so is her dam.

Hobo's picture

Oh no. I haven't done any real farm work in over a decade. Out of practice, and would need lots of research before I was to go back into it. Though the idea has been puttering around in my head. The only thing is, can I get really good fast internet out in the country? Then, of course, I married a city boy. His idea of live stock is seeing it placed fully cooked on the table in front of him. Hehe, mental image of him trying to clean out a hen house...He'd never eat chicken again!

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Depends on the part of the country, but yes, if you aren't too far from a major metropolitian area, you can get good internet. Not like on some college campuses, but decent.

City boys can be taught Of course, I taught my fella how to help me feed the animals; he might be a little less thrilled if I asked him to help muck out.

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Okay, the natural resources for the Midwest grain belt...
-Decent soil: not the more organically rich, but good enough, and not too rocky. Better have good plowing technology to bust through the native grass sod, though.
-Moderate to slightly low rainfall: enough to grow most your typical U.S. grains & native/hardy vegetables (think beans, squash & carrots - not semitropical species like tomatoes and peppers) in a good weather year, but you're gonna need to irrigate sometimes, somehow. Maybe some native fruit like berry brambles or just one hand-watered fruit tree on the farm, but certainly not big orchards of water-drinking apples & pears
-Moderate to slightly cool temperatures: again, adequate to your typical U.S. grains & hardy vegetables in a good weather year.

Basically, the crops that are or are not already grown in quantities in Iowa and Nebraska are there because that's what Mother Nature dictates will do well.

As for sci/tech base... okay, every time I try to write this, it gets way too long too fast. So the shorty and dirty of it:

Medieval: 3 farmers are probably going to farming just a few acres and it's going to be mostly the calorie starch crop (wheat or corn) with a few vegetable and livestock extras. They'll probably have some extra to sell, as long as its a good year (no weather or other disasters), but small volumes of just the one or two products that they happen to be better at producing than their neighbors, who are all raising pretty much the same blend of one starch crop plus veggie/protein extras. Oh, and in reality, they're probably farming communally with their neighbors, especially if the area is at all dry and would require a community-maintained irrigation project to water the fields. They might have their own plots of land, but the big chores like haying and threshing are easier to do with a whole village tackling it.

Modern: 3 farmers with access to modern farming equipment, science, and inputs can farm thousands of acres of crops and/or thousands of head of livestock. They're much more likely to be specialists, focusing on just a couple crops and/or livestock species, and then buying whatever they don't raise themselves with the cash they get from selling that huge surplus.

I'm not sure where on the scale your story's blend fits. I read ToMU as basically modern day with a couple quirks thrown in, so that didn't help me a lot, sorry.

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

I forgot about the buildings, whoops.

Medieval: one all-purpose barn besides the house, especially if there's livestock involved. Something like the grain storehouse was probably community, government, and/or church (temple?) property. Extras like the dried veggies or smoked meats to for the winter would be stored in a shallow root cellar or the attics/rafters.

Modern: an equipment/tractor shed (which may or may not include a machine shop area), a separate barn for livestock if there are any, and a couple big silos for that grain. Add more of those as needed, but those are the basic types.

Zandu Ink's picture

Embodiment

With the exception of self-powered vehicles, the farm in my head has all the modern amenities like irrigation and such.

Thank you, and Hobo both, for all the info. I will (hopefully) put it to good use.

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