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Top 10 Tips for Starting Your Hobby Farm

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If you're just getting started with your hobby farm, things might seem overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you need to know first? With these guiding principles, you can stay on course.

1. Start small.

If you’re overwhelmed with the care of three or four species of animals that are new to you, plus managing a garden and trying to put up food, you can get burned out quickly. If you start with one or two major projects per year, depending on the amount of time you have to devote to farming, you’ll have a chance to learn as you go with a lower rate of failure, and you’ll feel more relaxed and joyous as you add new species and expand each year.

2. Don’t try to be profitable.

That’s the definition of “hobby” - something that you don’t intend to make money with. If you’re running a true business that you hope to earn you something beyond the food you eat and a few thousand dollars at the farmers market, you’re not a hobby farmer.

3. Don't incur farm debt.

This is the flip side of #2: don't spend more money than you have. Since you're not intending to bring in money with your farm, you don't want to incur debt to pay for expansion. Save up for big equipment purchases and grow slowly and organically (see #1) instead of trying to increase your food garden quickly.

4. Read, research and read some more.

There are many books on hobby farming, including some books like The Joy of Hobby Farming that are overviews, plus you can read species-specific books to get more in-depth knowledge about the critters you plan to have on your farm.

5. Talk to other farmers.

Reading and online research are great tools to gain both basic and in-depth knowledge on many aspects of farming, but talking to other people who have done - and are still doing - what you hope to do, can’t be replicated by reading books. You’ll gain a different and just as important kind of knowledge by beginning to engage in your local farming community. Even if you’re in an urban or suburban area, there are probably other people who share similar goals and plans. Take the time to connect with them.

6. Embrace DIY.

If you can learn to love to fix things yourself, you will save a lot of money on your farm and be able to do more with your limited resources. It can be so satisfying to figure out how to rig a chicken waterer out of a five-gallon bucket instead of paying for one at the feed store - and can really help your budget's bottom line. The less your farm costs you out of pocket, the less you have to work at your day job to pay for farming - so the more time you get to spend farming! It can be a win-win or it can end up feeling like you have to get a second job to pay for your farm. DIY projects when you can will save you some dough.

7. But know when to get expert help, too.

This is really a place where you're going to have to connect to your own personal comforts, strengths and desires. Do-it-yourself options are great when you feel capable and enjoy tackling projects that will take more time and money than you anticipated to finish. When you're simply overwhelmed by them or don't know where to begin, it's not a sign of failure to get help. Sometimes a task is better done by a professional instead of trying to be an expert at everything.

8. Your view of “work” is going to change.

Farming is a commitment. You can't cram for farming like you would study for a test. It's about embracing the rhythms of the farm, of the season. You are going to have to adjust to a whole new relationship with work. Give yourself time for this, and focus on it so that you can transition more smoothly.

9. Modify your expectations.

Have an attitude of experimentation. If goats drive you nuts and you decide they just aren't for you, that's okay. Don't feel like you now have to raise goats for the rest of your life because you're a hobby farmer. Play around - responsibly for the animals of course, but don't tie yourself to a set expectation of what a hobby farmer "should" raise. This is your farm - do whatever you want with it. Grow only cut flowers. Specialize in bees or meat chickens or heritage turkeys or an alternative crop LINK. You don't have to have an ark out there to be a farmer.

10. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Of course, be responsible - you do have your farm animals to think about. Have fun with your farm - that’s why it’s your hobby, right? Because you enjoy it? Everything you do on your hobby farm should ultimately enrich your life, not make it feel burdensome or overwhelming. If you aren’t having fun, take a step back and evaluate what else might be going on.
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