Starting A Small Hobby Farm
You're about to buy a house in the country with a few acres and are looking forward to starting a small hobby farm. You've never raised livestock, but it's been your American Dream to enjoy the lifestyle. How do you get started?
It's important to accept the fact that almost every farm undergoes an eternal evolution. It is extremely rare for a new owner to be perfectly content with their new farm and never change a thing. You will never run out of ideas for improving what you have. You may decide to switch from farming pigs to raising meat goats, wood fence to T-posts with electric fencing wire, or one multi-purpose barn to multiple outbuildings for different purposes. This process is just one of the benefits of the rural lifestyle.
The Best Way To Start Hobby Farming? Talk To Your Neighbors
For most folks, economics and knowledge are the limiting factors. A good place to learn about both is your local Southern States dealer. Often, we're the first to hear about the tribulations your neighbors experienced—and we have the experts to share on-the-farm experiences of our own.
Speaking of neighbors; get out and meet them. In rural areas, neighbors are not just the friendliest folks you'll ever meet, but they can be your greatest ally. Rural neighbors are quick to help each other out and are an excellent source of information for what does and does not work.
Considerations For Your Small Farm
Your initial concern is to provide food, water, and shelter for your animals & livestock. Although the first two items can be imported, the land is one of the most important as it provides
- support for livestock shelters
- a pasture for managed grazing
- the foundation for the animals' sure footing
- anchors for your farm fencing
One of the first steps when considering your hobby farm is to make an assessment of the land and existing outbuildings. For instance, what is suitable for poultry may be inappropriate for horses.
Choosing The Right Fencing
If you are going to start off with grazing animals (e.g., horses, cattle, and sheep), you will need a perimeter fence. If you need to, brush up on your knowledge on the basics of farm fencing.
You don't want your livestock wandering into the next county and your neighbor doesn't want your goats eating his garden. While a barbed wire fence may be appropriate for cattle, it would be extremely dangerous for horses. Affordable solutions for equine fencing, like Polytape Fencing is more appropriate. Likewise, what may be respected by a horse could be demolished by your cattle. Feel free to browse our site or contact us to find out more about choosing the right fence for your hobby farm.
Testing Your Farm’s Soil
Another important consideration to make about land is soil quality, texture, and contour. Contact one of our Agronomists out to review your property and ask them the following questions or to provide the following services:
- What effect will livestock have on soil compaction and erosion?
- To conduct a soil test.
- To conduct a forage test of the pasture.
- To assess a stocking rate (the number of animals and livestock species the pasture can nutritionally support).
- For assistance in developing a pasture management plan.
Research The Proper Livestock Shelters
Shelter is imperative for all livestock. Although most of the larger species don't require insulated, heated facilities during the winter, adequate protection from the elements can be provided with run-in shelters which have three sides and a roof. However, in the event of health and reproductive issues, improved facilities could become essential. Many ranchers have brought a newborn calf into their home for bottle feeding by the fireplace. You can find out more information in our Livestock How-To section about choosing the right farm supplies.
Ideally, you would prefer a farm with a pond or creek which will remain viable throughout the year. If not, and the land does not have the potential for constructing a pond, then stock tanks or another method of automatic watering system becomes the preferred solution. When the water temperature consistently drops below 40o F, a stock tank heater is necessary, especially in freezing environments. See our Frequently Asked Pond Management Questions for more information.
Keep in mind that a herd of horses can easily consume 100 gallons of water per day during the summer. Add household usage to that amount, the potential for a prolonged power outage or well failure, and you may find yourself hauling hundreds of gallons water each day. Always be prepared for emergencies for not just your family, but for your charges as well. If you have a hobby farm, have a Barn Emergency Plan.
Feeding Your Livestock
The primary diet of grazing animals is forage. Ideally, your hobby farm’s pasture would satisfy the majority of their nutritional requirements, but, often that may be impractical and require purchasing hay or forage. If you presume that your livestock will consume 2% of their body weight in feed each day, and adjust for losses, just three horses will require one ton of hay each month. Calculate how many animals your pasture will support here.
If suitable storage facilities are not immediately available, pallets and secured tarps may adequately protect hay bales. Another option is to provide round bales if you have the means to load them into a round bale feeder.
Farm Equipment Needs
Eventually, a tractor with implements will be added to your wish list of farming equipment—no matter how small your hobby farm. A new tractor with a few implements can easily exceed $50,000. Since requirements, individual preferences, and usage varies from farm to farm, consider buying used equipment until you have a firm grasp of what you will require. For more information, read our article on Choosing The Best Farm Equipment.
Maintaining the health of your livestock is a high priority. Once you've selected a veterinarian, established rapport, and provided directions to your farm, ask your doctor for a list of what first aid supplies you should have on hand. Most of these livestock health products are available online or at your local Southern States dealer.
Other Considerations When Starting A Small Farm
- Emergency equipment, such as calf buckets and bottle nipples, if you intend to breed your livestock
- Tack and handling equipment, especially halters and lead ropes, which are necessary to properly and safely maintain control of your livestock
- Livestock grooming supplies
- Trailers; general purpose stock or specialized (e.g. horse and flatbed) trailers
- Routine health care items such as anthelmintics (dewormers), insecticides, and hoof care equipment
- A dependable pickup truck—whether it's for hauling hay and feed, carrying farm supplies, mending fences, or rescuing a calf
Starting a hobby farm may seem daunting, but the challenges are very enjoyable for the entire family and will provide lasting memories, if you take it one step at a time. Plan your farm for at least five years out, but don't etch it in stone. Slow down and enjoy each step of the way. A good rule of thumb for a novice is to never add more than one species of livestock per year.
Helpful Farming & Livestock Management Resources:
Farm How-To Articles
Livestock How-To Articles