Today I was talking to a friend and during our conversation I said “I always imagined I would have horses when I grew up, but never thought I’d have 8 goats and 85 chickens.”
This phrase got me thinking about how we started our little farm and how we got to where we are now. There are some things on this journey that turned out exactly how I thought they would; and others that didn’t go according to plan at all. As a result, if I could do it all again, here are five things I think anyone wanting to start a farm or homestead should ask themselves first.
- Why do you want to do this? I’m sure this seems like an obvious one, but the answer to this question can be HUGE in terms of how it affects you moving forward. When we started our little farm we did it because we wanted to explore raising our own food and how raising happy animals could affect that food. Based on John’s background in Poultry Science, and mine working with livestock, we thought starting with a few chickens and goats would be a fun way to get our feet wet. Your answer to this question may be something completely different, but I think that it’s always something I come back to on the early mornings or sleepless nights when it’s -10 and the outlets short out and all the animals waters are frozen. I tell myself “we started all of this because we wanted to raise happy animals who would give us good food” and that is something I am thankful for with every omelette I eat on a rainy Sunday morning. But sometimes I need reminding of that, you know what I mean?
- Can my financials support the addition of animals and the tools a farm needs? I know it’s a little taboo to talk about money, but anyone that has any type of animal or piece of land knows that these things cost money, and this is something that can’t be ignored. Did you know that with feed, maintenance, shelter, and routine care, owning ONE goat can cost over $700 per year. You may think that’s not a lot, but it adds up quickly. Something I always remind animal owners about is the fact that when you first get all of your animals, they are most likely young and healthy. So they are in the BEST shape they are ever going to be in. I think it’s good to think about whether you would be able afford it if they all were sick or got caught in a fence and did something silly within a short time frame. Long story short, do your research and do the math to the best of your ability. You may be surprised what kind of financial commitment your farm is going to become.
- Am I okay with giving up some travel time as the result of needing to be there to care for my animals? This may seem like a no-brainer because of course having a ton of animals requires more planning to go out of town. However, this is actually one of the things that surprised me as farm owners. We have had no trouble finding people to watch the farm when we want to go on trips, in fact I actually have a list of people who have told me they would love to come stay at the farm while we are gone. (that’s the dream, right?) But something that I didn’t realize would affect me from this standpoint is this: no matter how great of a farm sitter you hire, no one will care for your animals exactly the way you would. This is neither a good or bad thing, it is just something you need to be aware of and be okay with. As a result of the worry it adds to my mind, we don’t leave town as often as we used to because I just worry about the care being given to my animals. Even if it was my best friend in the whole world watching the farm; it’s not the same and it’s something I struggle with every time we leave. On the flip side, I thought having the farm would prevent us from traveling, and that has not been the case at all; so I am very grateful for that surprise!!
- What changes to your lifestyle down the road could affect your time and money commitment to your farm or homestead? (ie. the addition of a child, work responsibilities, other outside commitments you may have) I have heard this story over and over again; someone gets farm animals because it will be fun, that someone then adds to their family, or changes jobs and moves, and then all the farm animals have to be relocated and re-homed. I know this can’t be prevented 100% of the time, because let’s be honest, life happens and unexpected big life shifts can throw us off balance when we least expect it. However, I think it is important to do yourself, your family, and your animals the due diligence of picturing the next 5-10 ￼years of your life and thinking about whether your plans will be able to encompass the financial burden that farm animals can be.
- Is this something I am doing for fun or is it something I hope to be able to turn a profit from eventually? When we first purchased 6 chickens and a couple of goats, we were fully expecting to just have a hobby farm. However, as we began to realize that we had a passion for raising our own food and doing it in a way that we thought others would appreciate, we quickly realized that it would be a dream come true if the farm could be our job full time. We had a long discussion over weeks and months about what being farmers would mean for us and how it would potentially change our lifestyle. Once we came to terms with what that would likely mean for our future financials, traveling, and family; we plunged head first into scaling the farm and have never looked back. I think being realistic with yourself about your goals up front will help you better deal with the challenges and hardships you will undoubtedly face raising animals. Whether it is just a hobby or something that becomes your job and income stream, it will have an impact on you that being upfront with yourself will allow you to better combat.
As any animal lover knows, raising animals of any kind will impact your bottom line and the way you live. Starting our farm has been one of the best choices of our lives, but I would be lying to you if I said we didn’t question ourselves and our intentions at every turn. Give yourself some grace and realize that no one raising animals has ever done the exact right thing every time. Farming is a hobby and a job that is equally as a rewarding as it is challenging.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
(All photos in this post are by Stephannie Camosse Photography )