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By by David Hills

This article is based on Starting with a Smallholding by David Hills and is basically an extract styled for the web.

Things To Do Before You Get A Smallholding

Preparations for Smallholding

Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary. (Y. Torajiro. 1882)

Wherever you choose to live, and whatever the final activities on the smallholding, it is essential to clarify your ideas on what you want to do and how you will be able to make it pay.

Where does the money come from?

Many people have found that selling an expensive urban property has enabled them to buy a cheaper property in the countryside. If this is the case, all well and good, but in recent years the relative difference between town and country properties has decreased. A smallholding is unlikely to pay for itself, unless a specialised activity to supply a niche market is undertaken. In most cases, a separate income is required. What this will be obviously depends on the individual.

If you need to borrow money from the bank, finance or mortgage company, the lender will want reassurance that you will be in a position to keep up with the payments. Whether you need to borrow or not, it is useful to make a business plan and work out your cash flow for the first two years. This will sound daunting if you have not done it before, but it is not really difficult. Your bank has free literature on the subject. The great benefit is the demand it makes to clarify your ideas, to cost them and to be realistic.

Where do the skills come from?

Smallholding life is all about practical tasks, many of which will be unfamiliar at the beginning. Equip yourself for this particular journey by learning practical skills before you buy. The following will pay dividends:

  • Building construction and maintenance
  • Basic plumbing and electrics.
  • Machinery and vehicle maintenance and repairs.
  • Poultry and livestock husbandry.
  • Lambing skills
  • Pasture maintenance

There are dozens of other skills that can be learned, like beekeeping, woodland and textile crafts, cheese-making, growing organic crops and so on, according to how you plan to use your smallholding. Gaining these skills and experience beforehand will give you invaluable knowledge and confidence later, and will save you making costly mistakes.

Smallholding Courses

Skills that are applicable in town and country can be undertaken at evening courses. Short courses that teach country skills are more specialised and are available at agricultural colleges, farms, smallholdings and local farm training groups, as well as other country organisations.

Country courses are usually advertised in smallholding magazines, particularly around July/August for those beginning in the autumn. They may be residential for a week or two, or just last a weekend.

It is a good idea to undertake as many courses as you can before taking on the smallholding, for there will be less time available after you have taken the plunge. One bonus of courses is the knowledge and confidence that comes from meeting others.

Where does further help and information come from?

Once installed, the smallholder will need practical help with running the smallholding, and will look to more comprehensive books. The best and most up to date is The Smallholder’s Manualby Katie Thear, published by Crowood Press, which is really excellent. Other suggestions are listed at the end of individual chapters or in the Reference section. Information can also be gained by reading magazines such as Country Smallholding and The Smallholder. Then, there are organisations such as the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), as well as local smallholding organisations. The library usually has a list of local organisations. They are also usually listed in smallholding magazines such as those referred to above. For more information see the Reference section.

Animal welfare codes

All livestock and poultry must be kept according to the welfare codes that are specified for them. Free copies are available from DEFRA. There are also regulations that apply in some cases. These are referred to in the Reference section.

Is a smallholding for you?

It is important to define your own aims and aspirations, for every situation is different. It is also vital to consult all the family members, otherwise it may be a case of one person rushing off in a direction that others may be reluctant to follow.

Make a list of your plans and requirements, then put it away. About a week later read through what you have written. After a short space of time such as this, it is surprising how it is possible to be much more objective. It is almost like reading what someone else has written. Does it still make sense? If it does, good luck!

Copyright © David Hills 2004


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