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What to look for in a new smallholding?

We recently moved from one acre to ten. The plan was to take all we had learnt on our soggy, misty, tiny Bodmin Moor smallholding and re-create all the best bits on a bigger, dryer, more productive plot somewhere else. A seriously exciting prospect.

So, what should you look for in a new smallholding? Well, whether upsizing, downsizing or starting from nothing, the first place to start is with yourselves. Running a smallholding must be both enjoyable and do-able, so a very healthy dose of realism is needed as the search begins: to start with, you need to ask yourself WHY do you want to manage a smallholding or (as in our case) upsize when others your age are heading towards retirement? Just exactly what will you be able to give, both physically and mentally?

One of our dreams was a couple of Dexter cows, a seismic change from the sheep, goats and alpacas that we were used to. Would we be able to cope with their size, all that winter mucking out and what of TB testing? Could we deal with the worry? Of course it is really hard to know what you can cope with until you are actually doing the task in hand but it is important to continually assess both your physical and mental well-being.

Running a smallholding will demand skills you never knew you had and provide you with fabulous rewards: the tastiest home grown produce, the chance to breed your own ‘perfect’ stock, the opportunity to ‘work the land’ as you want to! But you will also deal with death, machinery that breaks down, mud, vet bills, crop failures – to name but a few.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”One of our dreams was a couple of Dexter cows, a seismic change from the sheep, goats and alpacas that we were used to.”[/perfectpullquote]

So, assuming you feel both ridiculously energetic and psychologically sound, what next? We had an absurdly optimistic list for our new smallholding but on the basis that you won’t even know about half the potential issues until you move, aiming high is good. The following list outlines in brief SOME of what we wanted, what we ended up with and how, so far, it is all working out –

Smallholding Checklist

ONE Amount of land: We wanted at least five to six acres because moving for less seemed daft and we wanted to add those cows – we bought ten because an extra four was available. Those four then became our winter paddock which meant that not all the animals needed housing which meant less work for us and a better winter for them.

TWO Type of land: We wanted flat (don’t we all?) but well drained, south facing, lush pasture, good fencing. We ended up with flat-ish, wet-ish (we do live in the South West) and great grass. A bit of a slope is always good for drainage – and lambs do love a good run on a hill! We have spent money on fencing but only because we wanted to plant hedging and split a field in two. As a smallholder, you will ALWAYS need money for fencing.

THREE Outbuildings: We had a great barn at our last place where we could house ALL our stock over the winter. Ideally, we would have liked that in our new smallholding too. We do have a lovely barn here but only half of it is suitable for livestock due to poor ventilation. Our solution was to build several field shelters. Two are near the barn so even in the winter, they can be used without things getting too muddy. Any outbuilding is almost better than none – even if you have the money and skills to build some, planning issues can make it a very protracted affair and depending on the time of year you move, you do need to be set up for winter stock keeping.

FOUR Access: We slightly failed on this one. In the ‘dry’ vehicles can access our land in two places and so get to anywhere in our smallholding in order to deliver stuff, collect/drop off animals, work on the land (spraying, fencing etc). In the ‘wet’ this does not work quite so well: for example, we have to have our hay and straw delivered to our drive and then wheelbarrow it down through our garden. It’s that or wreck the entire length of one of our fields by driving a muddy track down it to our barn. Sorting this one is a work-in-progress.

Find out more in the next issue of Farmland. Follow our adventures of life at Relaxed Smallholding by visiting www.releaxed.ltd.uk

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Jack Smellie

Jack Smellie and David Chidgey run a ten-acre smallholding in North Devon. The duo run Smallholding Courses and Family Learning Sessions at their site near Chulmleigh and will be bringing monthly smallholding advice, tips and a diary of life at Relaxed.

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