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  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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May 2 2012 4 02 /05 /May /2012 16:36




Mamy of us dream of going back to a simpler way of life, dropping out of the rat race and having our own small farm. It's a lifelong dream for many, and some manage to achieve it. However, to stand a chance of succeeding [if you have not limitless money] you need to plan and be thoroughly aware of what you are doing.


Firstly you have to decide whether to buy or rent land. Then you need to decide whether you can afford to buy land that you can live on. If a house is part of the purchase, fine, but if you want to place a caravan on land you will run into difficulties with the planning authorities. It can be done, but a lawyer is an asset here. You will also need to decide how much land you need and how much you can handle. Anything more than five acres is likely to take up almost all of your time, if it is to be intensively cultivated.


The economics matter. OK, we would all like to escape from the rat race but you cannot live without due consideration of economic reality. The smallholding can produce food, but will it produce enough of the money that you will need for taxes and the purchase of goods that you cannot make yourself? The financial pressures on smallholders can be great. The most successful smallholders are ones who do not try to rely on the income from their farm, but have a portfolio of income sources. Any business of your own that you can ideally run from home is what is needed. A friend of mine is just buying quite nice small holding in the Pennines, but it comes with a  large house and so he is wise enough to maintain his lucrative business as an IT consultant alongside it.  Remember, the quintessential smallholders, Scottish crofters, often have a job alongside the croft to sustain themselves.


Selling some products is fine, but you must realize that smallholdings cannot produce in the bulk  required by many business purchasers and only occasionally stock local shops, which purchase from wholesalers. The exceptions are farmers' markets and farm shops, which might take some of your products. Farm gate sales are useful, but they mainly attract passing traffic and a few locals.


You must decide what stock to carry. A friend of my father retired to his native North Wales and took a smallholding, and in the initial flush of enthusiasm had something of everything: cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, turkey, geese and vegetables. Over the years he began to real;ize that he could not handle such a wide stock, especially as he was growing older, and began to rationalize downwards. The larger animals are always difficult on a small farm, as they need skill in handling,  feed during winter when the grass is not rich, and veterinary treatment when ill, which is expensive. It is better not to carry too wide a variety of stock.


Understand the difference between self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The ideal of self-sufficiency, as popularized in the comedy, the Good Life, was doing everything yourself. Fine if you can do it, but humans do not like to live that way. we belong to social and economic networks and use the skills of others. We all have to accept that there are tasks at which we are not good enough. I can handle woodwork, but I am not a plumber and am unwilling to handle electricity beyond simply changing plugs and bulbs, and gas, which are dangerous enough for me to bring in a specialist. A mistake with gas can mean an explosion. Self-reliance is trying to as much as you can by your own skills, but knowing when to call on others.


It is important to take courses in smallholding, gardening, animal care and possibly business to prepare yourself for your venture. Agricultuere is  skilled task that has to be learned, and there are plenty of important things to be learned. Lifelong learning is the ideal, and it is not a luxury


It is important to give due importance  to your age and physical capacity. You want a smallholding that can take you through your life, but there will come a time when you are not as strong as you used to be. Will you have a family to assist you, or will you have to hire labour, or merely scale down or give up?


A smallholding is a dream. but life dreams have to be anchored in reality, and without a heavy dose of realism a small holding will not be likely to succeed.

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Published by frankbeswick - in Agriculture
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