The Best Way To Start Hobby Farming? Talk To Your Neighbors

For most folks, economics and knowledge are the limiting  factors. A good place to learn about both is your local Southern States dealer. Often,  we're the first to hear about the tribulations your neighbors experienced—and we  have the experts to share on-the-farm experiences of our own.

Speaking of neighbors; get out and meet them. In rural  areas, neighbors are not just the friendliest folks you'll ever meet, but they  can be your greatest ally. Rural neighbors are quick to help each other out and  are an excellent source of information for what does and does not work.

Considerations For Your Small Farm

Your initial concern is to provide food, water, and shelter  for your animals & livestock. Although the first two items can be imported,  the land is one of the most important as it provides  

  • support for livestock shelters
  • a pasture for managed grazing    
  • the foundation for the animals' sure footing
  • anchors for your farm fencing

One of the first steps when considering your hobby farm is  to make an assessment of the land and existing outbuildings. For instance, what  is suitable for poultry may be  inappropriate for horses.

Choosing The Right Fencing

A small horse farm with fencing & green pastures

If you are going to start off with grazing animals (e.g.,  horses, cattle, and sheep), you will need a perimeter fence. 

You don't want your livestock wandering into the next county  and your neighbor doesn't want your goats eating his garden. While a barbed wire fence may be  appropriate for cattle, it would be extremely dangerous for horses. Affordable  solutions for equine fencing, like Polytape Fencing is  more appropriate. Likewise, what may be respected by a horse could be  demolished by your cattle. Feel free to browse our site or contact us to find out more about  choosing the right fence for your hobby farm.

Testing Your Farm’s Soil

Another important consideration to make about land is soil  quality, texture, and contour. Contact one of  our Agronomists out to review your property and ask them the following  questions or to provide the following service    

  • What effect will livestock have on soil compaction and erosion? 
  • To conduct a soil test. 
  • To conduct a forage test of the pasture. 
  • To assess a stocking rate (the number of animals and livestock species the pasture can nutritionally support). 
  • For assistance in developing a pasture management plan. 
  • Research The Proper Livestock Shelters

A pig peeking out of its pen

Shelter is imperative for all livestock. Although most of  the larger species don't require insulated, heated facilities during the  winter, adequate protection from the elements can be provided with run-in  shelters which have three sides and a roof. However, in the event of health and  reproductive issues, improved facilities could become essential. Many ranchers  have brought a newborn calf into their home for bottle feeding by the  fireplace. You can find out more information in our Livestock How-To section about  choosing the right farm supplies.

Water Management

Ideally, you would prefer a farm with a pond or creek which  will remain viable throughout the year. If not, and the land does not have the  potential for constructing a pond, then stock tanks or another method of automatic  watering system becomes the preferred solution. When the water temperature  consistently drops below 40o F, a stock tank heater is necessary, especially in  freezing environments.

Keep in mind that a herd of horses can easily consume 100  gallons of water per day during the summer. Add household usage to that amount,  the potential for a prolonged power outage or well failure, and you may find  yourself hauling hundreds of gallons water each day. Always be prepared for  emergencies for not just your family, but for your charges as well.  If you have a hobby farm, have a Barn Emergency Plan. 

Feeding Your Livestock

The primary diet of grazing animals is forage. Ideally, your  hobby farm’s pasture would satisfy the majority of their nutritional  requirements, but, often that may be impractical and require purchasing hay or forage. If you presume that your  livestock will consume 2% of their body weight in feed each day, and adjust for  losses, just three horses will require one ton of hay each month.  Calculate how many animals your pasture will  support here.

If suitable storage facilities are not immediately  available, pallets and secured tarps may adequately protect hay bales. Another  option is to provide round bales if you have the means to load them into a round  bale feeder.

Farm Equipment Needs

Eventually, a tractor with implements will be added to your  wish list of farming equipment—no matter how small your hobby farm. A new  tractor with a few implements can easily exceed $50,000. Since requirements,  individual preferences, and usage varies from farm to farm, consider buying  used equipment until you have a firm grasp of what you will require. 

Livestock Health

Maintaining the health of your livestock is a high priority.  Once you've selected a veterinarian, established rapport, and provided  directions to your farm, ask your doctor for a list of what first aid supplies  you should have on hand. Most of these livestock health products are  available online or at your local Southern  States dealer.

Other Considerations When Starting A Small Farm

  • Emergency equipment, such as calf buckets and bottle nipples, if you intend to breed your livestock
  • Tack and handling equipment, especially halters and lead ropes, which are necessary to properly and safely maintain control of your livestock
  • Livestock grooming supplies
  • Trailers; general purpose stock or specialized (e.g. horse and flatbed) trailers
  • Routine health care items such as anthelmintics (dewormers), insecticides, and hoof care equipment
  • A dependable pickup truck—whether it's for hauling hay and feed, carrying farm supplies, mending fences, or rescuing a calf

Starting a hobby farm may seem daunting, but the challenges  are very enjoyable for the entire family and will provide lasting memories, if  you take it one step at a time. Plan your farm for at least five years out, but  don't etch it in stone. Slow down and enjoy each step of the way. A good rule  of thumb for a novice is to never add more than one species of livestock per  year.