So You Want to Start a Farm…

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
article image

So you want to start a farm, or homestead, or hobby farm, or whichever you prefer to call it. What first? Where should you start? We are halfway through our 4th year of farming, and while we do not claim to be experts, far from it, we have learned a lot on what we would have done differently, what worked and what didn’t work.

Growing a homestead or farm takes a lot of time, effort, patience and money. Once you get going and settled into farm life you can expect rewards you can’t even imagine! How does this sound: serving a nice dinner of grilled pork chops and roasted root vegetables, or maybe a rotisserie chicken and a fresh green salad…and everything {minus the salt and pepper} came straight from your farm. Or a cold glass of fresh goat milk or maybe witnessing the first baby goats being born on your farm, or a chick hatching underneath its mama. Downright amazing, right? Depending on your goals, that could be your reality.

As romantic as this sounds, this life is not for everyone. Do not chose this life lightly- animals will depend on you, it can be overwhelming at times and it’s very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of homestead life. But if you’re not afraid to get dirty and put in the work, you wont regret it. Here’s some of what we have learned and I hope it helps you too.

This life will demand a lot of time. Are you a single person, or do you have a partner who is home most of the time? Your employment situation will dictate a lot of what you can do. If everyone works full time, do you really want to spend your evenings and weekends shoveling poop? Maybe you do, I don’t know. But that’s a good place to start asking yourself what you want. In our situation, my husband works full time {typically about a 72 hour work week as a firefighter} while I am a stay-at-home-mom. This allows me to be home the majority of the time to feed, milk and look after animals. Would this work for us if I was back at my full time corporate job? Probably not.

Falling down the rabbit hole of farming is real. In our house we put time limits on things. Such as “I’m going to work in the garden for 2 hours, then I have to move onto something else” or “I’ll do what I can in the barn until 11am, then I have to go finish the laundry.” There will always be something to do, find balance and don’t get burned out.

Patience is a virtue. I understand: you want all the pigs, all the goats, all the chickens, RIGHT NOW. Not going to happen. One thing we very often tell people when they ask us is: “go slow, do not try to do it all right away.” They almost never listen and then they come back, stressed out saying “you were right!” It’s hard, I know- but going slow allows you to have the right set up, less stress and more enjoyment. As cute as they are- don’t buy chicks at the feed store unless you have housing for them, and don’t bring home pigs unless you have a ‘water tight’ fence {joke! but really you always need good fencing}.

When building an animal shelter, do it right the first time. If you get excited and bring home a new animal and then you remember you need shelter for it, if you just slap one together, it’s going to fail on you at the worst time. Like a massive rainstorm, or maybe the animals are just behaving like animals and tear it to shreds. Prior to adopting any livestock, do your research and find out what their housing and space needs are. How big should the shelter be, how big should their outside space be? And are you building for just a couple of animals, or do you want the ability to add to your herd or flock without having to build a new shelter? Give your animals a good life and build them something nice.

Do you want a garden? If you’re new to it, start small here too. Maybe an herb garden? Or easy to grow vegetables like kale or peas. When you begin to plan you garden think about your growing zone and decide what the garden purpose will be: do you want to grow a large amount to can and preserve it for the winter? Are you going to sell at farmers markets? Or do you want a small year round garden that your family can eat seasonally from? Do you want to grow cool heirlooms that you can’t find at the grocery store and might have smaller yields, or do you want crops that yield massive amounts? All of these variables will point you in the direction of how big to go and what to grow.

Expect to fail. Not fail in an overall sense, but you will fail at times. We all do. You might have a sick pig that you have to put down, or maybe all of your bean seeds sprouted but the birds or the slugs got to them and now you have to give up on them for the year or hope you still have time to plant again. These are the moments where you learn the most- they are not all negative. As long as you have more successes than failures, you are winning.

Learn basic medical skills. Can you call a vet to come out every time an animal has a medical issue? Sure you can, but it’s going to cost you a fortune. I’m not saying don’t call for big things or emergencies- absolutely do that. What I mean is learn the signs of easy fixes such as dehydration and how to handle it, learn how to give injections, learn how to clean and dress a wound, learn how to trim hooves, learn how to assist in births. You’re now a farmer with a minor in veterinary medicine.

Now that you have created this amazing life that you don’t need a vacation from, know that you will still need a vacation from time to time. Not to escape the farm necessarily, but it’s a big world out there. Find a good farm sitter you trust, maybe even strike a deal with a neighbor to trade chores when the other is out of town. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to make new memories and have new experiences in a new place, all because you are knee deep in poop.

Speaking of poop, I hope you are OK with scooping it. Because there will be a lot of it! Poop in the coop, donkey poop, goat poop, pig poop…it all makes for a healthy garden but its likely you’ll never be short of it.
So do we regret starting a farm? No. It’s the best change we’ve ever made. Good luck future farmers!

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.