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By Katie Thear
Moving into a smallholding for the first time can be confusing as well as exhilarating. Once the house is in a reasonable condition and there is a certain amount of disposable income available, what are the next steps?
In fact, there are two plans involved here. The first is to draw up a geographical map of the site, showing all the fields, hedges, buildings and other features, including the use to which they have been put for the last few years.
Work out from where the prevailing winds come, which areas are in sunshine and which are in shade for long periods of time. Try to establish whether there are any frost pockets. All of these factors are important for positioning poultry and animal houses, as well as for growing fruit and vegetables.
The second plan is a business plan for the smallholding that includes a predicted cash flow for at least two years. It involves making a hardheaded and realistic appraisal, not only of what the owner wants to do but what is possible.
There is a great temptation to try and do too much, too soon. With a smallholding this can be rushing out and acquiring a random selection of animals and poultry whose produce may not even cover their keep.
Finance is obviously a key issue and if resources are limited, the activities will also be curtailed. Drawing up a business plan not only helps to clarify a set of ideas and put them into perspective, but also allows those ideas to be taken seriously if a loan is needed.
Most banks have free booklets on how to draw up a business plan. The Farm Business Advice Service is also available locally through Business Links. This provides up to three days of professional advice resulting in an action plan and is available to those with a CPH number and who spend at least 75% of their time on a core farm business.
Land-based and livestock activities require practical skills and it makes sense to acquire some of these before launching into a new enterprise. The welfare of animals and poultry is paramount and there is much to learn about their needs.
There are many short courses available on every aspect of smallholding life, including lambing, hedging, machinery maintenance and livestock husbandry. Agricultural colleges, local farm training groups and many other organisations run courses.
Getting some good reference books on the appropriate topics is also recommended. If funds are limited, it is always possible to get them through the local library. They will obtain a book to order if it is not one that they have.