So, although not everyone wants to have a go at being a smallholder; some of you may feel this is the life for you. Again, not everyone will be a naïve as we seem to have been, but… some of you may be. So, we thought it might be useful to collate our main lessons learned here, just in case you wanted to give this a go.
Each lesson is discussed in more detail in the various blogs, so have a search and you will find out what we did wrong each time… this will either, inform, entertain, or make you roll your eyes…
[Lesson#1: Setting up a small holding, costs money]
Note: You either buy the house, or the land, or the house with the land. You pay the fee’s, you move your things in and then you (usually) will have a lot to do to get it off the ground. Be patient, or be prepared.
[Lesson#2: Talk to neighbours, make friends and more importantly make contacts in your local area]
Note: Smallholdings are likely to be in semi-rural or remote locations so you will not necessarily have a neighbour in earshot, or someone to ask… anything… about. It pays to make an effort to wander across fields and down lanes to approach your nearest neighbours.
[Lesson#3: Do not try to keep animals until you have somewhere suitable to put them]
Note: Excitement can really drive the pace of the smallholding. Ever bought a table or settee before you actually completed on the house? No. Me either. Honestly. It is however the same principal. Where are you going to put the cute ducklings that you just had to buy at the market…
[Lesson#4: You can’t do it all at once]
Note: This is linked to #1. You don’t necessarily have the time, money or energy to do everything. Yes the ideal smallholdings has plant beds full of vegetables, chickens laying eggs, birds singing in your tree’s, jams on the shelf, cheeses in the larder… etc. but you have to build this from day one, where you are likely to just have, long grass.
[Lesson#5: Chickens want to be out with the sun and in with the dusk]
Note: This is the wake up call of smallholding. You only get to relax when the animals don’t need anything else.
[Lesson#6: Chickens fly]
Note: This really shouldn’t need explanation, but hey, it caught us out. Clips wings unless you have very high fences, or consider free-range to also include your neighbours land.
[Lesson#7: Animals need looking after]
Note: This is not just a reference to fresh food, water, bedding, ground in their enclosure etc. this is the lesson you learn when you get your first puppy. Oh god, they just want to be entertained all the time! Yes. This is what you signed up for. It is so much fun so don’t see it as chore.
[Lesson#8: Do not put bees in a hive, in the boot, if you’re not all wearing bee suits]
Note: Surely enough said.
[Lesson#9: Think ahead before starting honey extraction]
Note: Make sure you have the equipment, make sure you have the time, make sure you have jars sterilised, space on shelves etc.
[Lesson#10: Plan when you intend to keep your animals, considering seasons and dispatch]
Note: Pigs in the winter? make a lot of mess. Pigs in the summer? make less mess. Turkeys for Christmas? how big do you want them to be? Breeding? when do you want to be up in the night? Every animal, every season, every reason, matters. So plan ahead and you shouldn’t get caught out.
[Lesson#11: Sex matters]
Note: This is linked to the Turkey post but it applies to all. Ducks lay eggs, drakes don’t. Nanny goats produce milk, billy goats don’t. If you get a chance to plan what sex animals you get, you need to think what you want them for; eggs, milk, meat, breeding etc.
[Lesson#12: Don’t pick it, if you’re not 100% sure of what it is]
Note: Every mushroom we have looked at could be the worlds tastiest, or the worlds deadliest. A few berries we have found look so juicy, but were also, very poisonous. We have books, guides, images, Google etc. but we stick to this rule like glue.
[Lesson#13: Check when it is the best time to forage]
Note: Some berries are best picked after frost, some are best picked before. Some plants flower (elderflower) and then produce berries (elderberry) so think about what you want more from it before you pick and what flavours/products you are after.
[Lesson#14: Turkeys have sharp…everything]
Note: We learned this the hard way. If they are used to sleeping outside but you are worried about foxes you need to find a solution or prepare for battle every evening. This isn’t nice for the turkeys. Or you.
[Lesson#15: Do not try and ‘process’ too many turkeys in one go]
Note: Process in general. Every turkey has to be dispatched, drained, plucked, prepared and stored. Processing six in one go may seem like a good idea at the beginning… you will change your mind by the end. Every pig has to be sliced, butchered, stored and various bits additionally processed for sausages etc. Processing four in one go may seem like a good idea to take them to the abattoir in one go. Unless you have a professional team, kitchen and storage facilities, it’s not.
[Lesson#16: Your meat is not pumped full of water like many commercial meats]
Note: It looks different, is fresher and is quicker to cook. All good things, just be prepared for it.
[Lesson#17: Understand your land]
Note: Is it dry, wet, sloping, high/low pH, what do you want to use it for? is it secure for animals? what types of rodents do you have? the list goes on and will keep going on until you have been doing this for 10 years and have finally (maybe), seen it all.
[Lesson#18: Plan your animal residences]
Note: how many paddocks do you have or need? are you resting fields in between animals? do they contain any vegetation poisonous or unsuitable for your animals? can you get in and out easily? can you get them (fully grown or injured) in and out easily? where is there shelter and food going to be? is there shade and fresh water?
[Lesson#19: Expect to get it wrong sometimes]
Note: It will. It’s OK. You are giving it your best shot, you care about what you are doing and a mistake will be learned from.
[Lesson#20 Every incubator is different and every breed needs slightly different conditions]
Note: Even with the instructions ours was a nightmare so take advice from whoever you are buying from and read up on it.
[Lesson#21: A trial run is OK]
Note: This applies to lots of things and basically describes our entire first year here.
[Lesson#22: The more you do, the more you care]
Note: When you embark on a journey like this, your perception of the circle of life will change. You are likely to re-evaluate the way you have previously done things and sooner or later you will change. It’s a great thing, embrace it.
[Lesson#23: Prepare for beach adventures]
Note: Whether it is cockle picking, sunbathing, snorkelling, crabbing etc. etc. the beach will be handy, beautiful and safe at particular times of the day depending on what you need. It is best to prepare for this a day or so in advance so you aren’t left bickering in the car on the way…. anyone been there? No me either. Honestly.
There will be more…