This is the third part of a series on starting a farm without debt.  To read the first article, go here.  For the second, go here.  

 

Starting a farm used to be an American dream held by so many.  In recent times, however, it’s a fading dream.  The one thing that remains constant is the passion of those who dearly long to one day own their own land, crops, and animals.

Unfortunately, one of the changing factors is the price it takes to start a farm. The homestead days of being able to acquire and settle your own for little or no cost are gone.  These days everything comes with a hefty price, and countless regulations which often also come with large (and possibly numerous) price tags.

Those who want to start a family farm are frightened with the price of it all. There’s no “cheap” way to do it, I’m not going to lie to you.  But there are a few strategies to use heading in for those who don’t want to have debt the rest of their lives, and then hand that debt over to their children.

One such strategy?  Start with your animals–don’t get the land or the equipment right away.  All three together cost an arm and a leg, and your pocketbook may never recover.  Starting with just one and making it work for you while you save up for the next one may make things go slower, but in the end you’ll have gotten there debt free.

Starting A Farm:  Start With Animals First

Making A Profit From Your Animals

It may seem counter intuitive to acquire animals when you don’t have land to put them on yet, but I promise there are a couple of ways to do this.  If you are willing to go slow, starting your farm could be as easy as acquiring an animal, or a few. How?

  • Sell byproducts
    • Raw milk, eggs, dropped feathers, wool
  • Make specialty products
    • My favorite soap is a goat milk soap–not cheap.
    • Perhaps you will make specialty cheeses?
  • Breeding
    • Lesa Wilke talks specifically about breeding Nigerian Dwarf Goats in Nigerian Dwarf Goats 101 (See my review here).
    • Will you raise a rare or special breed?  Perhaps sell fertilized turkey or chicken eggs?

How To Take Care Of Your Animals Without Acreage

They’ve got to go somewhere, right?  Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Rent pasture
    • If you know of pasture for rent (preferably with water on it), see if you can work out a deal before purchasing your cows, horses, sheep, goats, etc.
    • This can be done by word of mouth, or taking out an ad in your local ag section.
    • Be sure to do your research and understand how much room your animals will need.  Then ask some local farmers how much land they think animals will need.  Most of us family farmers believe you need a bit more land to keep your animals happy than what the statistics state.
    • Pasture can be paid for either monetarily, or by barter.  One gentleman who runs his cattle on our land during the winter pays a small rental fee and supplements the rest by replacing one mile of fence each year.  If you have labor skills, you can offer those to keep your rental fees down.
    • You will likely find pasture without water access–or water access restricted by seasons.  Make sure if you get into land without water that you have a plan to get water to your animals every day.  And have a plan B too.
  • Start with animals that fit your current space
    • Some animals like rabbits and chickens don’t take up that much space. You may already have the backyard space to keep these animals happy and safe.
    • Check out your local laws and zoning regulations to make sure you’re allowed to have your critters so close.
  • Join in with a group of other starting farmers.
    • Do you want cows, chickens, horses, pigs, and a whole list of other animals?  It’s quite possible that at least one other person locally shares your dream.  What if that person only owns land but can’t afford animals? The two of you (or more) could work out quite a deal.
    • Contracts and clear understandings should be made as to who owns what, and where each individual’s responsibilities lie.
    • Make sure you are subscribed in the upper right-hand corner and watch for a future article about co-op animal sharing.

You Will Still Have To Pay Out For Some Things

Once you own your own car, you still have to pay insurance, put fuel in the tank, and pay for maintenance.  Owning farm animals are no different.  There will still be some finances you will have to be responsible for once you are an owner.

  • Possible land rent
    • For animals requiring large acreage.  (Discussed above.)
  • Fencing
    • Whenever we rent land/pasture, we are still required to keep the fences up.  This is simply part of being responsible for our animals.
    • Whenever we have rented out our land/pasture to others, we always make sure they understand they are responsible for the upkeep, including the fencing that they need to keep their animals in.
  • Insurance on your animals
    • Natural disasters happen.  Crude people happen upon cattle and shoot them in the middle of the night “for fun.”  Predators are a given in most areas.
    • Just like you keep insurance on family members you love, make sure you have insurance on your animals so you have it when you need it.
    • Vet bills happen.
  • Feed
    • If you are renting pasture during the spring and summer (and perhaps fall), then your animals probably have what they need.  What happens in the winter though?  If you live in an area with heavy snow fall like we do, you’ll need enough feed to keep your herd healthy.
    • Always plan to have enough food for a long winter–no matter what the forecast says.  It’s better to have some left over than it is to run out.

Possible Downfalls

Owning animals, responsibly taking care of them, and even making all the right decisions may not be enough to make a profit on your animals every year.  There will always be other things that will come up and thwart your plans.

  • Getting started and finding your market.  Will you sell your goat milk, farm fresh eggs, fresh organic meat?  It may very well be the perfect plan for you, but your first year may be difficult in terms of finding your market.  Just because you buy a cow doesn’t mean anyone will know you are selling raw milk–and in some areas, people may not have the appreciation for your product like you do.
  • Fencing will need to be replaced (discussed earlier).  Even the best of fences will break down and need replaced.  Repairing and replacing fence takes time and oftentimes money.
  • Fire and other acts of nature are an unfortunate and sometimes unavoidable part of farming.  If you’re able to have insurance, you should, and always have a plan to evacuate your animals in case of a natural or man-made disaster.
  • Market dips:  crop and livestock prices cycle.  There is nothing you can do if the market dips.  Diversity in other areas will be your back-up plan here.

Tips When You’re Picking Out Your Animals

Do your homework.  Never take an animal just because it’s free or cheap. Investigate as to why it’s the price it is.

Pick an animal you like and want to take care of every day.  Never pick an animal just because it’s the most profitable.  If you don’t like your animals, you aren’t going to want to take care of them.

Know your local laws.  Some laws prevent certain animals from living in certain areas.

Know the cost of insurance.  Even if you can afford the purchase price and room & board, insurance could break the bank.

Know what land you have available, and how much land your animal needs.  I’ll take a minute to repeat myself here; it is my personal opinion that animals generally need more room than “research” says they do.

How do you start a farm without debt? Here's a plan to begin with animals. Where to put them, how to feed them, and many other considerations you'll need to think about if you don't own acreage.

Are you thinking of starting off with animals, or have you already?  I’d love to hear your plan or progress in the comments below.

Are you a female looking for help getting a farm started?  Or possibly loans or grants?  I highly recommend Soil Sisters:  A Toolkit For Women Farmers (See my review here).