How to be a successful smallholder
Maybe you are asking yourself how to be a successful smallholder. Here at Auchenstroan, we have been running a smallholding now for 7 years. While be both knew our way around a vegetable patch, we were complete novices in everything else to do with smallholding. These pages are an attempt to share some of what we have learned. We have also published a book which shares practical information along with true life stories – details of this are at the bottom of the page. It has taken a while, but we feel we are making a success of it. Here are some things to think about.
Why start a smallholding
A survey by farming insurance NFU mutual recently suggested that almost half the population of the UK yearns for the simplicity of life on a smallholding. There are a number of reasons underpinning this including self-sufficiency, a healthier lifestyle and a happy retirement.
These are all excellent reasons but like many goals, are easier to achieve in theory than practice.
Self-sufficiency is a great goal, producing all of your own food at the same time cutting your food bill. In producing your own food you will be eating food richer in taste and texture than can generally be found in a supermarket.
Most smallholdings are in the country so an immediate benefit over city life is cleaner air. You can also look forward to country walks and more time spent outdoors. In fact, there are many benefits to country living.
Planning a smallholding
The most important action of how to be a successful smallholder is to work out what you want to achieve. Begin with the end in mind. Do you want self-sufficiency, a full-time business or do you just want to keep a few animals and/or grow some fruit vegetables? If you don’t know what you want to achieve, how can you measure success?
Taking time to get your goals right will help you choose a smallholding that will work for you. For example, if you want to keep ruminants such as sheep or goats, you will need pasture and, depending on the animal, winter shelter. The amount and type of land you will need will depend on whether you are planning to keep animals and/or grow food.
Your goals will also help you buy the right equipment. It is all to easy to be seduced into buying all sorts of smallholder equipment that never gets used. For example, there’s not much need for a greenhouse or polytunnel if you don’t plan to grow anything.
With your goals in mind, you can then put together a plan that is realistic in terms of time and money.
The general mantra is to start small. You can always expand later.
Running a smallholding
Once you are up and running your smallholding. there will be lots to do. At first, there will most likely be some construction work as you mould your smallholding into what you need. We took two years to get our current smallholding right for sheep. By “right for sheep”, we mean that it has all the facilities needed by pur sheep for all weathers and also makes it as easy as possible for us to look after them. This includes simple things like siting the handling area and lambing shed near the house.
You will need to invest in good all weather clothing. We have multiple pairs of boots for different jobs. We have numerous waterproofs, some with thermal lining for the winter, others thin for the summer. The right clothing can make a big difference when you are working outside.
The main thing is, there is a lot of hard work involved in running a small holding. It keeps you fit, gyms are no longer necessary.
Making money from a smallholding
The bottom line is that it is hard to make a living from a smallholding. Food is sold cheaply in supermarkets and you just can’t compete. Specialist high quality organic produce is available online and in farm shops, it’s not an easy market to break into.
There are ways, most rely on you finding a way to add value. For example, if you keep sheep, the fleeces are almost worthless but you can make products from the wool that fetch reasonable prices.
It’s a difficult balance. There are always bills to pay, insurance, tax, fuel and so on, so you need to earn money. In the UK, you really need to earn quite a lot to pay the bills. So, the balancing act is between working outside the smallholding (job, self employed etc.) and having enough time to do all the work needed to generate an income from the smallholding.
As it says in the book, it’s a delicate balance.
Realities of smallholder life
It is a lot easier once you have your smallholding set up the way you need it. Until that point, there can be a lot of hard work digging, fencing, building, running around and carrying out general maintenance.
It’s a 7 day a week “job”. If you keep animals, they need to be checked daily. Some need fed daily, especially in the winter. Food needs to be sourced, delivered, stored and moved to feeders. Inclement weather can make all that something of a challenge. Having good equipment helps, but good equipment costs money. Our biggest luxury is a compact tractor. It doesn’t get used much, but it is indespensible for moving water bowsers and large hay bales around.
It’s hard to get away and you can easily let a year go by without taking a break.
And it can be expensive, farming equipment is not cheap. Animals get sick and need the vet. Vegetables crops can fail. It can be a challenge.
But the bottom line is that it is worth it.
This Smallholding Life
In our book “This Smallholding life”, Adrian draws from personal experience to take you through the highs and lows of life on a smallholding, and how small or quick decisions can have a major impact on your life. From the depths of losing a cherished animal to the highs of making your first sale, this book takes you on a fascinating journey. A real insight into smallholding life.
It describes many of the challenges you will face – physical, mental and financial. This book offers guidance on what is really involved and what you need to think about when moving into this life. It will inspire you to take the plunge, but with your eyes open.
In this book, Adrian will show you how a bit of planning can go a long way, how the key to this life is finding the right balance for you and how this smallholding life is a life worth living.