When the Rombergs lived in Vienna, their neighbors complained they were trying to make a 20-acre farm out of a half-acre lot.

So they moved their three children, rabbits, chickens, dogs and dreams out to Loudoun County where they would have space to grow and thrive.

"It's a very special life out here," said Hank Romberg, an analyst with the Army's office of operations testing and evaluation, who commutes an hour each way to his office in Arlington.

"The idea of living in the country appealed to us, and we wanted our children to have room for cows and pigs and horses and all the things you can't have in the suburbs," he said.

The Rombergs are among hundreds of Northern Virginia families who have a few acres on which they raise products for sale or personal use.

In urbanized Fairfax County, for instance, there are 60 farms--defined as places where $1,000 or more of agricultural products were sold or would have been sold in a year--that are less than 10 acres.

The Rombergs found a dilapidated old farmhouse with a spacious, dusty barn and six acres of land near Round Hill seven years ago. Since moving they say they would never want to live another way.

They raise geese and sheep, which they butcher for their own use, have raised steers and hogs in the past, have an extensive herb and vegetable garden, can and freeze much of their own produce and even spin wool and weave material for some of their clothes.

But their rural life isn't devoid of modern conveniences--they also have a computer, television and central vacuum cleaner.

"We're not masochists," says Romberg, who is in his 40s. "We like to try doing things the way they were done in the old days, but if it doesn't work, we usually drop it."

Carol Romberg, mother of the clan, makes some of their soap and candles, makes rag rugs out of the children's old clothes and says she wants to raise chickens again because the taste of fresh eggs can't be beat.

But what they like most are butchering parties.

"That's our favorite kind of party," says 11-year-old Hal Romberg. "You get up real early in the morning and work 'til midnight, making sausage, scrapple and cutting up the meat."

The Rombergs have slaughtered two to four pigs each year since they moved to Round Hill, and they tried sheep for the first time last year.

Heather, 14, who takes care of the animals, spends lots of time in the barn. But how many hours it actually takes Heather to feed and care for the nine sheep and 17 geese each day is something of a family joke.

"We don't really know," said Erika, Hal's twin sister.

"You know how most teen-agers go up to their room to get away?" Hank Romberg said. "Well, Heather goes out to the barn."

For Erika, the hayloft doubles as a great recreation room. She has engineered an elaborate fort out of hay bales and planks, one that would be the envy of any suburban child limited to sofa pillows and Tinker Toys.

Instead of bicycles, the barn houses a horse, but they don't ride it much.

"I don't have the time," Heather said. "I know I should, but it's lots of trouble."

The horse, named Rabbit, has a reputation as a softie. "He's so sweet that if he were smaller, he would climb into your lap," Hal said.

And then there's the Angora rabbit named Horse, whose purpose in life is to grow Angora hair for Carol to use in her weaving.

"When he is older the hairs will be longer and more lustrous, and they will add a lot of softness when mixed with other fibers," Carol said.

She's the head weaver of the house but gets help from the children who all enjoy the carding (combing the wool so that the strands run in the same direction), spinning and dying of the wool.

The sheep in the barnyard have been recently shorn, and Hal has been earning money picking and carding their wool for his mother.

Carol is working on a sweater for Hank, a sweater made from the wool of their merino ram, Jimmy, and dyed a brown from the black walnuts that grow out in the pasture. She is exploring natural dyes from other things growing on their farm, down to the lichen that sprouted on a stump the kids use to climb onto their horse.

Out in the pasture is a small pond made from a dammed stream, where the children swim in the summer and skate in the winter and where mint grows wild. Under a pear tree sleeps Driver, their border collie who, despite his breeding, is afraid of the sheep.

There's a cost to this kind of lifestyle, however, the Rombergs say. Every day Hank Romberg makes the grueling commute into Washington, and he said it takes him some time each night to make the mental transition from downtown to country life.

Carol, on the other hand, said that when she goes into the city, the traffic makes her panicky.

And Heather, coming into her teen-age years, wonders whether her family is a bit "weird."

They believe they bought one of the last cheap farms in the county and are still working on remodeling the old farmhouse, a task that takes much of Hank Romberg's time. They just refinished and expanded the upstairs and are short on bathrooms.

But they say they live more frugal lives and say the hospitals and schools are just as good as in the suburbs.

Heather said she was behind in her schoolwork when she transferred from Fairfax to the Loudoun County school system. Carol believes that with less competition out in Loudoun her children have more opportunity "to shine."

Although they have only six acres, the Rombergs have built a lifestyle they believe is precious and unusual among Washington-area families.

Hank returns home at night for an evening of woodworking in the barn while Carol twists onion braids together for Christmas presents, and the children take care of the animals, practice their musical instruments, play in the kitchen or work on carding wool.

"Many kids in the suburbs get in trouble because they don't have anything to do," Hank Romberg said. "For these kids, there's so much for them to work on they never know what to do next."

"He's right," said Hal, looking toward a television placed in a lonely corner atop the piano. "We don't have a lot of time for TV."