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By Katie Thear
Buying a Smallholding is in 3 parts, this is part one covering the essential requirements and the location.
This article is based on The Smallholder's Manual by Katie Thear, published by Crowood and is basically an extract styled for the web. Katie & David ran their smallholding at Broad Leys for 13 years along with publishing magazines and writing. Our logo is based on the main house at Broad Leys.
The first essential is to concentrate on having an adequate income. Where this comes from will vary: it need not necessarily be from a full-time job. Many people now living in rural areas are finding that a part-time job, in conjunction with their smallholding activities, produces a comfortable and satisfying lifestyle.
The job may be working for someone else or operating a small home business. A business can operate from a smallholding, without necessarily having anything to do with agriculture.
The second priority is to ensure that the house itself is adequate. Repairs, renovations and extensions to provide comfortable accommodation take precedence over a gardening programme or the acquisition of animals.
Outbuildings and fences are third in order of priority, and only when these have been repaired and appropriately adapted, is it prudent to think about keeping livestock.
Is the location suitable for everyone? While a country upbringing is generally good for children, it may also be a lonely one if the house is in an isolated area. How far is the nearest town, and what is the public transportation like? In some villages the public transport may be non-existent, and the availability of shops, schools and services may also leave a lot to be desired.
Where local sales of farm produce are envisaged, easy access to ready markets is essential if a lot of time is not to be spent delivering the produce.
Cultural and linguistic factors should also be borne in mind. Some areas of Wales, for example, are completely Welsh speaking and may not welcome incomers who make no attempt to learn the language or respect the culture.
It is also appropriate to mention the myth of ‘town versus country’, where the inhabitants of each group are supposedly incapable of understanding each other. The fable of the town and the country mouse portrays the characters as being out of their depth and unable to cope when taken out of their usual environments; thus the country frightens the town mouse, while the country mouse cannot wait to get back home from the town.
It has always seemed to me that the intelligent mouse is the one who experiences and respects the town and the country, and therefore benefits from both worlds. There is nothing about the practices of town or country that cannot be absorbed quite quickly by those willing to adapt.
It is always a good idea to go and see a property on a cold, wet, dismal day. Sunshine and cottage garden flowers can all too often disguise the realities of a north-facing site at the mercy of the prevailing winds, or the major structural defects of a building.
Climate and land topography play important roles in its suitability for crops and livestock. Prevailing winds can have a major effect on certain crops or young animals. Hill farms often have rough grazing and are suitable only for mountain sheep. Steep slopes can be inaccessible or dangerous for tractors. North-facing slopes can be a problem because of their exposed nature and lack of sun, while waterlogged land should be avoided.
It is also worth checking on the shape and size of fields to establish their accessibility and workability. A good map will help to establish geographical features, as well as the existence of any public footpaths or rights of way.
A friend of mine had a footpath that ran past his kitchen window. An otherwise delightful old man from the village would frequently stop there and pee in the hedge, but my friend never had the heart to protest, although he did hint that the compost heap might benefit!
It is easy to establish what the pattern of weather has been in a particular area. The meteorological office and civil airports keep records and will provide the information on request. It is appropriate to remember, however, that global warming is bringing in quite rapid meteorological changes, and these may have a bearing on future plans.