Developing your own Smallholding - A Prepper's Dream
For preppers who dream of setting up a smallholding, there are numerous factors to consider before taking the plunge. From finding the right land to navigating the initial costs and legalities, starting out can be a daunting process. However, with some careful planning and research, you can make your smallholding dream a reality.
Planning Your Smallholding: Location and Land Requirements
Ideally, unless you're intending on living on your smallholding, it should be located close to your home, with good access to roads, and preferably a water source.
When it comes to determining the amount of land you need, it largely depends on your intended use. Generally, a smallholding is defined as anything smaller than 50 acres, including garden-sized plots and larger holdings. If your aim is to become self-sufficient, a family-sized holding of approximately five acres is a good starting point but the minimum holding should be one acre, with suitable soil and water resources. Nevertheless, small plots can be equally productive per hectare as farms over 10 acres, as the land can be used for multiple purposes, rather than focusing on large fields of single crops.
The amount of land needed will depend on factors such as climate, soil quality, intended production levels, and the specific types of crops and animals you want to rear. Here is a rough guide to help you estimate the acreage needed for different activities on a smallholding:
Growing fruit and vegetables:
- For a family of four, allocating about 1 acre for fruit and vegetables should provide sufficient produce, but this can vary depending on the types of fruits and vegetables grown and your specific needs.
- Grains: Allocate around 1-2 acres per person for growing grains like wheat, barley, or oats, depending on your consumption and intended storage.
- Legumes: About 0.25 acres per person is needed to grow legumes like beans, peas, and lentils.
- Fodder: If you have livestock, allocate 0.5-1 acre per animal for growing fodder crops like alfalfa, clover, or hay.
- Chickens: Allocate about 0.01-0.02 acres per chicken for a coop and run, with about 10-20 chickens providing enough eggs for a family of four.
- Ducks and geese: About 0.02 acres per bird is sufficient for their housing and grazing.
- Pigs: Allocate around 0.25 acres per pig, considering a couple of pigs for a family of four.
- Sheep: Allocate 0.5-1 acre per sheep, with 2-4 sheep providing meat and wool for a family of four. Keep in mind that sheep often require additional land for rotational grazing.
- Goats: Allocate 0.5-1 acre per goat. Goats can provide milk, meat, and fibre. Two to four goats should be sufficient for a family of four.
- Cows: Allocate 1-2 acres per cow for grazing. One dairy cow can provide enough milk for a family of four, but you may want to consider additional acreage if you plan to raise beef cattle.
- Woodland: If you plan to have a woodlot for firewood, timber, or habitat, allocate 1-2 acres for this purpose.
- Pasture: Allocate additional acreage for pasture, particularly if you have multiple grazing animals. Rotational grazing can help maintain pasture health.
- Buffer zones: Consider leaving some space between your different activities for hedges, windbreaks, or wildlife habitat.
- Infrastructure: Allocate land for infrastructure such as barns, storage sheds, greenhouses, and living quarters.
Please note that these figures are only rough estimates and can vary depending on factors such as climate, land quality, and management practices. To determine the specific acreage required for your smallholding, you should consult with local experts, farmers, or agricultural extension services to tailor your plans to your unique situation.
It's important to consider the time you'll be committing to your smallholding. Large smallholdings with acres of land can be unwieldy and difficult to manage effectively, particularly if you're working a full-time job. According to a 2008 study from Bard College, smaller plots can be more productive per hectare than larger farms because of the land's multi-purpose usage.
The price of agricultural land in the UK varies depending on the location and quality of the land. According to the latest data from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the average price per acre of farmland in the UK in 2020 was £7,030. Note that the smaller plot sizes tend to be more expensive per acre - single acre plots can often sell for in excess of £20,000.
Smallholding Infrastructure: Buildings, Fences, and Water Supply
The next step is to develop the necessary infrastructure for your smallholding. This includes building structures for livestock, fencing the land to protect your animals and crops, and developing a reliable water supply. You'll also need to consider how to generate electricity and heat on your smallholding. Solar panels and wind turbines are popular options for off-grid energy.
Choosing Livestock for Your Smallholding
Livestock are an essential part of any smallholding, providing food, milk, and wool. When choosing livestock, you should consider the amount of land you have available and the level of care required. Chickens, ducks, and rabbits are ideal for smaller plots of land, while cows, sheep, and goats require more space. You should also consider the breeds that are best suited to your climate and soil.
Raising livestock on your land can be a complex process, including obtaining a County Parish Holding (CPH) number and registering your livestock with the appropriate authorities.
Starting small and working your way up is generally recommended when adding livestock to your smallholding. Chickens are a great place to start, as they are relatively easy to care for and provide an average of one egg per day. Grazing animals such as geese and sheep not only provide food but also take care of the grass on your property.
For further information regarding animal selection for your smallholding, we suggest you visit Establishing your Smallholding: Animal Selection.
Crop Selection: Maximising Self-Sufficiency
Growing your own crops is an excellent way to maximise your self-sufficiency. Consider the crops that are best suited to your soil and climate, and plan your garden accordingly. You should also consider growing a variety of crops to ensure that you have a diverse and nutritious diet. You may also want to consider planting fruit trees, which can provide a source of food for years to come.
Soil type is a crucial factor when planting crops or vegetable beds. There are four broad soil types, each with its own pros and cons. Even if your plot has an unfavourable soil type, you can adjust its composition using fertilisers and manure.
It's worth noting that not all plant varieties grow well on every soil type. Different plant varieties have different preferences in terms of soil quality and composition, so it's worth experimenting with different crops to determine which grows best on your land.
Below is a chart detailing the pros and cons of the four broad soil types:
|Chalk Soil||alkaline based, shallow, stony and free-draining, organic matter decays quickly, diminishes fertility||good drainage, encourages healthy growth||add plenty of organic matter, mulch with manure and garden compost, apply fertiliser|
|Clay Soil||rich in clay particles, sticky in winter, like concrete in summer, extremely fertile, retains moisture||highly fertile, retains moisture||improve drainage, add manure, leaf mould, composted bark or garden compost|
|Loamy Soil||combination of sand, clay and silt, takes the best characteristics from each, most plants thrive in it||perfect for most plants||add organic matter to improve nutrient content|
|Sandy Soil||easy to work with, drains quickly, rain washes away nutrients||easy to work with||add organic matter, moisture-retentive materials, slow-release fertiliser|
Smallholding Equipment and Tools
The cost of the property is just one of many start-up costs to factor into your budget when setting up a smallholding. Other costs include purchasing tools and equipment, materials to build fences, planting beds, and animal housing, as well as potential labour costs. Investing in high-quality equipment and materials is crucial, as they will serve you better in the long run. You'll also need to consider emergency equipment such as first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and backup generators.
Legal and Regulatory Considerations
When developing a smallholding, it's important to understand the legal and regulatory considerations. You'll need to register with the relevant authorities, such as the Rural Payments Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Any livestock will need to be registered in order to obtain a county parish holding (CPH) number. This is so that the government can trace livestock to prevent and control disease. You'll also need to comply with health and safety regulations and animal welfare laws.
Smallholding Challenges & Solutions
Smallholding can be challenging, and it's important to be prepared for any difficulties that may arise. This includes issues such as crop failure, livestock illness, and extreme weather conditions. Developing a contingency plan and building resilience into your smallholding can help to mitigate these challenges.
Smallholding can also be a great way to build community and network with other like-minded people. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 smallholdings in the UK, ranging from hobby farms to commercial enterprises. Consider joining a local smallholding group or attending smallholding events to learn from other smallholders and share knowledge.
The UK government also offers a range of support and subsidies for farmers and smallholders, including the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Countryside Stewardship. In order to meet the eligibility criteria for BPS you'll need at least 5 hectares (approximately 12.5 acres) and to fulfil certain other requirements.
Starting a smallholding can be a challenging process, but with careful planning and diligent work, it can be infinitely rewarding. Alternatively, you can consider purchasing an established smallholding. Regardless of the route you take, a smallholding can provide you with everything you need to thrive as a prepper.