9 things to think about before taking on a smallholding

Whether you've always harboured a secret fantasy of owning pigs or you're a frustrated farmer with dreams of owning a thriving smallholding, check out our top tips before you take the plunge...

1. Try before you buy
Looking after livestock on a daily basis can mean a big change in lifestyle. Before committing, make sure it’s a change you’re happy to make by volunteering at an established smallholding for a few days. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) offers a list of organic gardens, farms, and smallholdings all offering food, accommodation and invaluable experience in exchange for practical help on their land.

2. Be inspired by others
Browse the Internet and you’ll find all kinds of inspiring stories about the lives of other smallholders. Blogs such as Otter Farm and The Smallest Smallholding feature regular posts, sharing both the triumphs and trials of living the “Good Life”.

3.
Go back to school

There’s a huge range of part-time and short courses available across the UK, ideal for novice smallholders looking to broaden their knowledge. From lambing to cider-making, there’s lots of niche areas to explore, but newcomers are best off starting with the basics – sheep shearing for beginners anyone?

4. Work out what you’re hoping to achieve
Ask yourself exactly what you’re looking to get out of your smallholding in the long term. Is reaping what you sow and playing host to a couple of pigs enough for you? Or do you plan to turn it into a full-time business, perhaps selling your wares or starting a veg-box scheme?
The former is very manageable but the latter requires serious forward planning, so make sure you’re prepared.

5.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time it’s going to take

There’s no doubt about it, owning a smallholding is hard work! Consider how much time you can dedicate to maintaining it. Be realistic! For example, those with full-time jobs will be limited to evenings and weekends – your boss won’t thank you for falling asleep on the job having been awake at the crack of dawn pulling up potatoes!

6. Start small
It’s easy to get carried away with visions of a sprawling farm, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small and expand as and when you become attuned to the lifestyle. Fun, rewarding and relatively low maintenance, chickens are a good place to start if you’ve never owned livestock before.

7.
Do your research

Thinking of moving to accommodate your smallholding dream? You might want to consider what type of land and environment you’re looking for first – it can have a big impact on the kind of crops you grow and which animals you keep. For example, did you know that pigs feel most at home in woodland or that sheep are suited to higher ground?

8.
Prepare for paperwork

There’s a surprising amount of red tape involved when it comes to owning farm animals. Before keeping pigs, sheep, cattle or goats, you need to register with DEFRA and get a County Parish Holding Number
(contact The Rural Payments Agency for more details). It may seem overwhelming at first, but there’s plenty of help available online. The Smallholder Series is a fantastic website that guides you through the entire process step by step.

9. It may be hard work, but you’ll never feel better
While it may be hard work, owning a smallholding can be hugely rewarding. It’s less of a job and more a way of life. Time outdoors, fresh country air and living off the land will have you feeling healthier and happier in no time, both physically and mentally, too.

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