Keeping livestock in a large country garden, or paddock, for food and profit is really nothing like it was in ‘The Good Life’ on TV where you will recall that the whole focus of the programme was based on the fact that even in totally unsuitable circumstances Tom and Barbara had a go at smallholding, albeit in a very naïve and amateur manner. We all know that away from the liberty of fiction, due to a deluge of government regulations, it is not that easy these days when keeping farm livestock.
However, it is possible to feed yourself from livestock in your garden, so long as you have the right set up for the right numbers of animals. Better still concentrate on a specialist market place that is too hands-on or labour intensive for the larger farming conglomerates, there is always a place for rare or unusual products.
The secret of success, in this particular field, is to study all the alternatives very thoroughly and then either find a niche in the market or fill a need in your own neighbourhood for such products as organic pork, honey or goats cheese.
Before you start out on any sort of livestock enterprise make an honest appraisal of your available time, energy, financial backing and personal circumstances. For example there is no point in running an apiary if you are allergic to bee stings or, raising Christmas turkeys if you can’t face killing them when they are ready for the oven!
Breeding livestock for slaughter is certainly not for everyone – you need a very down-to-earth approach to this game, which leaves very little room for sentiment. Don’t even consider this as an option if you give all your animals a name, worry about them when they are outside in the cold and can’t watch ‘Lassie Come Home’ or ‘Black Beauty’ without a box of tissues handy!
You will, without doubt, be far happier keeping commercial livestock for their milk, fleece or quality offspring which you then sell on to another secure, long-term home that you feel completely happy about.
The latter opens up a lot of opportunity to breed much sought after livestock such as llamas, angora goats and rare breed sheep, cattle, pigs, poultry, rabbits or even ferrets most of which are bought by responsible enthusiasts who will usually take good care of their new acquisitions.
Once you set out to acquire any sort of stock, be it furred or feathered, it is important to be clear about your priorities.
You will need to decide whether you want to earn an actual full time income from a legitimate business venture or whether you prefer to simply supplement what you already earn by smallholding on a small scale, depending on the amount of land available to you.
The old adage ‘whatever you save you are also earning’ is never more true than when you are providing your family with free, or low cost food, especially as the food you put on your table will be far better quality, and more nutritious, than anything purchased from the local supermarket. This applies now, more than ever, as the price of food is constantly rising – out of control!
A word of caution though; if you do intend to take the self-sufficiently route, go cautiously and start slowly at first. Harsh experience can be embittering when learnt too quickly – and the rank amateur will always fall at a few hurdles to start with. Never spend so much setting up that you can’t pay any emergency vet’s bills.
Don’t buy farm livestock in the market, they are often old, sick or give poor yields. Buy from reputable breeders and try to take an experienced stockman with you, before you part with any hard earned cash.
Put a proper price on your time, people often overlook their own value when setting out costings. Allow yourself at the very least the basic agricultural wage to live on – anything less than this is a precarious existence that is doomed before you start.
Finally if you do intend to sell produce or stock to make a living be aware that your starting point should be ruthless market research – ALWAYS do your homework beforehand. For instance it would be completely pointless setting up an edible snail farm if none of the local restaurants were interested or offering hand-made candles from your own beeswax if the market is already flooded.