Planning for our own farm(ette) one day - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 07-15-2020, 08:26 PM Thread Starter
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Planning for our own farm(ette) one day

Spending some time in the country got me and hubby out of the city and into vacation rentals on farms. Long story short, we have started scheming of having one of our own little farm one day. The good thing is that both of us are riders, are passionate about animals and seem to enjoy staying in the country, but don't have any practical experience running a farm before. I've worked with horses as a teenager, so I wouldn't exactly say that I'm new to country lifestyle, but let's just say it was a neighbor's barn so maintenance was not exactly my issue.

For now let's just assume that any acreage up to, say 50, we can afford within an hour commute from our jobs (the closer the bigger the constraints) and we are looking to house initially 2-3 horses, and possibly if we have help up to 7 and a handful other animals (e.g. 5-8 chicken for eggs and 2-3 goats). I was wondering how others have managed the farm life work for you while keeping a full time job (which pays the bills) in the long term. For someone just trying to get the hang of it all, the list of considerations seem pretty overwhelming particularly given the circumstances.

First, there are the practical constraints. We are both finance professionals in what you'd consider a major but not first tier location (not NYC/SF). Albeit we don't work the most demanding jobs in industry, we still have to travel a handful times a year each and work solid, but not crazy hours. Additionally, we don't have kids right now but plan to work on it in the next couple of years ( 3-4 if we are blessed and can handle as many). How have people managed to make kids/job/farm equation work from a practical standpoint? Commuting (how long gets too long)? Is it better to just drop the hassle for now and resort to 'burbs + boarding a horse model until the kids get to teens or can we pursue our own farm sooner? Is it realistic to believe that we can find reliable help? Do you keep them full time or part time / on-site or off-site?

Secondly, buying a farm is a huge commitment and ideally we'd like to ease into it over time and have a smooth transition as opposed to just buying 50 acres and a big house upfront all the while spending our lifetime savings without knowing for sure that's the lifestyle we want and that property is exactly how we want it. Has anyone managed to rent before? Where do we look for rentals of this kind? Is it easy to resell this type of property or do they tend to be less liquid? How else did you manage to prototype this lifestyle and understand what matters most without going all in?

Sorry - very many questions, but I'm genuinely curious to hear about people's experiences and any advice of "if I knew before I bought that farm.." kind.
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post #2 of 17 Old 07-16-2020, 08:44 PM
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My wife and I both grew up on farms so had an idea what we were getting into. When we bought our first farm we both worked full time. I had a small hay enterprise and raised pigs and had laying hens as well as a small produce garden. We also restored the old stone house and cleaned up the neglected property. Luckily I had a good farmer neighbor and a friend who could take care of things if we wanted to go away for a few days. When my parents retired we moved to the family farm and for eight years I worked full time and farmed on the side. The last 4 years I've farmed full time. We now have beef cattle, hogs, hens, goats, and of course horses. It's the animals which are restrictive as you'll have to find someone really competent to care for them if you want to go away. I haven't been away over night for probably 3-4 years which is the way I like it. For us the farm is our hobby and how we like to spend our leisure time. There is always something that needs to be done. If you like to travel or have other time consuming hobbies a livestock farm may not be for you. In reality I spend probably 10 times more time caring for our horses than I do riding them but I enjoy the time I spend caring for our horses and the other farm animals.



All that said I think it's a great life and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. It's also a great place to raise kids. I'd also recommend that you do it while you're young so you have the energy to get everything done and can slow down in your later years. I was talking with someone a few days ago and he was asking about my "retirement" which is when I left my off farm job to farm full time. I commented that I don't know how I found time to do both and blamed it on my dad who is no longer able to help on the farm. He pointed out that I too am older now and can't work as long or as hard as I once did and anything I do just takes longer. That comment hurt.



I think we spent nearly two years looking at small farm properties that we could afford before we found our diamond in the rough. In my area there are a limited number of farm properties available and while there are fewer buyers looking for farms I think there is always a strong demand. As far as commute time the longest I've done is 40 minutes which was plenty for me. My job was flexible so I could go in early and leave early to avoid the rush hour traffic. With covid 19 and advances in teleworking commuting may not be so much of an issue in the future. I'm happiest now that I step out my back door and am at work.
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post #3 of 17 Old 07-17-2020, 07:37 AM
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We just have a couple of horses on 13 acres, so not a farm. But the lifestyle is one that isn't for everyone. As @RMH points out, you will not likely be able to ever go anywhere together, as a family or a couple. It's just too much hassle. Finding help is nearly impossible. People offer, but then other things come up, they're busy, they underestimate the amount of work. When my son was diagnosed with cancer and I had to travel with him to get his treatments out of town, a friend came to the barn to help out. She texted me that she had worked for hours and cleaned up 3 muck buckets full of manure. That's one day's worth. She thought she was cleaning out at least a week's worth of manure.

People also don't know what to do if something goes wrong/aren't comfortable interacting with large animals. You really want someone with experience. I had a well-meaning neighbor give my horses a whole extra bale of hay overnight because she thought I wasn't feeding them enough. Teenagers are no better - they forget the hose in the watering trough, get busy with their friends, forget to lock a stall door... they mean well, but require supervision. The only people who can really do it reliably are people who have farms and they're already busy with their own. At least that's my experience. If I have to go away, it takes me a full day to organize all the feedings for the horses, write them down, fill the large water trough, etc., then it takes me another day when I get back to clean everything up. It just isn't worth the effort.

So if you're ok with working 25 hours a day (yes, 25 - because there will always be things to be done around the property, care for an injured animal, mending fences, cleaning manure...), ok with the fact that you may not have another vacation as a couple or family, then maybe the farm life is for you. Eating at restaurants, going to the movies, going to gatherings with friends eventually become too tiresome because you have to be up at 6 am with the animals and anyway, you're ready for bed by 9 o'clock. You'll try initially, but after a while it just becomes too much efffort. People won't understand why you'd rather spend time at the barn than socialize. You'll realize you smell like manure and don't care anymore.

I work from home most of the time, so I don't mind, but at 50, I'm already thinking about how we're going to keep horses into our old age. Because despite everything I just wrote, I fully intend to have horses until I can no longer walk. It's a matter of having the right tools (a real farm tractor is a must - not one of those little compact ones, a real on, as are a number of implements for pasture management and manure disposal) and the right set-up. So if you do this, think about layout. I have my horses in stalls that open to the paddock, and that paddock opens onto two different pastures, depending on which gate I open. This allows them to come in and out depending on weather so if a storm hits, they can get inside. No leading them from the barn to the pasture - I ring a cow bell and they come runing. Heated water buckets are in the barn to waste less electricity than outside, and they come in to drink when they want. This also encourages movement. Build GOOD fences from the start! None of this one string hanging knee-high and people saying their horses will respect it (next thing you know there's a herd of animals on the highway). Invest in good fencing at the outset so you have peace of mind. I'm not a fan of converting old barns, but some people make it work. I built my own barn exactly the way I wanted it, with secure wiring and a solid foundation as well as high ceilings and excellent ventilation. It was worth every dime.

Good luck!
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post #4 of 17 Old 07-21-2020, 03:45 PM
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I find my horses less work than some of the other animals. I feed round bales in rings. If I fill the water up, they can go two days. So I can leave overnight without worry. I agree to plan early for long term items. Put up good long term fence and maintain it. I have solar gates in the most used places. I can mount the tractor, get hay, feed and put the tractor up without getting off the tractor. As you get older, getting up and down is not as much fun. Plan for today and tomorrow.
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post #5 of 17 Old 07-21-2020, 04:12 PM
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We have 7 horses on about 10 acres along with 20ish chickens, 6 dogs, and 3 inside (usually) cats. I'm a CPA and work 60+ hours from January-April and 40 or less the rest of the year and my husband is a mechanic who works for his dad which is full time but a little flexible.

It's a lot of work and can sometimes be overwhelming but it is definitely worth it!

I agree with @mred that I think the horses are actually the easiest. To be honest we're maybe not the 5 star horse parents but we live in farm country and I can't say that anyone else is any better. We feed round bales in the winter and have enough pasture the rest of the year to keep everyone fat and happy (we actually put a round bale out when we were having a dry spell and it has lasted at least a month, they only make it 6 days in the winter). The only poop I scoop is in the barn/shed which is 20 minutes- an hour of work a day depending on if I skip a day. We drag the pastures weekly (when we alternate) with a 4 wheeler to take care of the rest and it fertilizes the grass. In the winter (MN) we take the tractor out and scrape the pasture usually weekly (if it's 40 below all week might go two weeks because it's too frozen to move). We have 3 (2 in winter) 100+ gallon stock tanks that we keep filled and only have to top off every 3-4 days depending on heat (more in winter since the tank heaters cause the water to evaporate more quickly). We have an older barn (4 box stalls and 2 tie stalls) and a slightly newer barn (3 stalls). The smaller barn is used by the chickens (1 stall) and the feed room (1 stall) with an empty stall in between. The lower barn we treat more like a run in shed and just leave open for the horses to go in or out as they choose for shelter. I hope to someday build an indoor arena in place of the barn but I will only put enough stalls to keep an injured horse or two for emergency. I can count on one hand the times I've kept ours inside (40 below zero week was one of them but we left them all out in the aisle so they could be closer together for warmth). I pull horses out and tie them to hitching rails to feed if necessary or we put out feed pans for all at once. Our house is old but we don't spend much time inside anyway!

We do manage to leave (non COVID years) almost every other weekend for endurance rides. We lock the cats in a room with litter, filled feeder, and water. We bring half of the dogs with us and leave the others in the house with a dog door open to a kennel. We're lucky DH's parents live nearby and usually stop over to let them out and feed them once a day, they also check on the horses to make sure water is full and everyone is present and accounted for (in one piece!). We also have a great neighbor who would do the same if necessary and we would do the same for them. We've taken a few longer weekends with the same setup and it always works well.

Having a tractor and 4 wheeler have been the biggest help. We went the first year without the tractor and had to feed hay in meals through the winter which was a lot of work and never kept them full long enough. Now, it takes us 20 minutes on the weekend to put a Hay Chix net on the round bale and put it out in the feeder. Same with scraping the paddock and dragging the pastures which all used to be done with wheelbarrows and manure forks. We have an older Farmall tractor which works great and is large enough to haul our 1500+ round bales.
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post #6 of 17 Old 07-21-2020, 04:52 PM
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I grew up on a farmette - and way less than 50 acres! We have 8 acres. 4 horses, 4 steers and dogs and cats. When I grew up we had chickens, ducks, geese and pigs as well. I have a horse that can't be on pasture 24/7 so we manage our pastures with a sacrifice lot and feed hay year round. We bale our own hay off of a leased field so hay is usually not too big of an issue. We have raised 5 kids here and are glad we did. That being said 2 were step children that did not live her full time, 1 was my nieces that eventually moved in with her Dad and 2 are our own kids that still live here. It is a community effort to keep everything going. As others have said a tractor and 4 wheeler are must haves. We have a trailer to haul our steers in for processing and a horse trailer. This lifestyle is a lot of work and little immediate reward. My family has been on very very few vacations because a reliable animal sitter is expensive.

Living like this has taught our kids about loss and care. We have lost calves that the kids had put a lot of time and effort into - they had to learn that the steers we raise are here for a short time and understand where their food comes from. My son doesn't care for the horses but he will mow pastures and bale hay. My daughter is an avid rider like me.

One thing I would say is do not underestimate the cost of living like this. Horses are expensive, animals are expensive.
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post #7 of 17 Old 07-24-2020, 10:48 AM
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My answer has changed drastically since the COVID pandemic. 6 months ago I would have only had negatives to say about owning my little 6.25 acres farmette while we both worked FT jobs in the city, but now that we both work from home, I'm in heaven.

Our property is 35 & 40 miles from each of our jobs - depending on traffic/accidents, that could be a 1-2 hour commute each way. So you're working 40+ hours, spending 20-40 hours in the car, and coming home to another full time job of feeding animals, scrubbing buckets, picking up poop, mowing, weed eating fencelines, repairing all the things the animals break, doctoring inevitable animal injuries, and praying you can find some time to sleep before doing it again tomorrow. We have one human child who is allowed one sport per season, because that's all the time we could carve out and still be semi-available if he needs help with homework. Due to all this time suck and constant, pure exhaustion, I rode my 2 horses a total of 21 & 24 times each of the last full years. For over 5 years we'd held more resentment towards our farmette than joy, but couldn't sell because we couldn't recoup our money.

As we approach our 6 year anniversary here, we are actually home (because of the pandemic) and finally able to enjoy our beautiful property. We are able to maintain it to our standards. We have the time and money (since we're not spending $600/month on commute gas) to tackle projects we'd been putting off, like changing fencelines, replacing old gates, and repainting infrastructure. I added a beautiful vegetable garden and been working on landscaping. I have time to ride every day. We have time to spend together as a family and time to actually rest. Now, instead of dreading coming home after my work days, I'm dreading returning to "normal" when the pandemic eases up.

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post #8 of 17 Old 07-24-2020, 11:50 AM
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If you don't have country skills you have a high mountain to climb. Truly high.

My advice is:

1. Start small. As small as you can. Say, rent a cottage on a farm and help them do chores. Don't invest in anything you can't back out of easily.
2. If you buy, buy something already built. Buy a decent house, pasture that is already cleared and hopefully fenced, a usable stable already in place. That is, do not try to start from scratch physically, since you'll already be way behind the curve compared to someone who has lived and worked on a farm.

Short horse lover
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post #9 of 17 Old 08-02-2020, 10:38 AM
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If you get around to buying a farm, even a smaller one, say 10 acres, hubby is going to have to tool up. (That may really appeal to him).

You need to enjoy physical labor. There are custom-hire farm services that will do any kind of work you need, but it's cheaper (and IMHO more rewarding) to do it yourself.

Don't do it unless you're fully committed. A modest horse farm--again let's say 10-20 acres--you need a tractor. And a tractor is only as good as its various implements. You'll need a barn. Especially if the weather gets cold where you are. Tool shed. Not enough bandwidth for me to go into everything, but you get the picture.

You're obviously doing your research by starting here, and that's a good thing.

I've been in this racket a long time.
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post #10 of 17 Old 08-02-2020, 01:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Avna View Post
If you don't have country skills you have a high mountain to climb. Truly high.

My advice is:

1. Start small. As small as you can. Say, rent a cottage on a farm and help them do chores. Don't invest in anything you can't back out of easily.
2. If you buy, buy something already built. Buy a decent house, pasture that is already cleared and hopefully fenced, a usable stable already in place. That is, do not try to start from scratch physically, since you'll already be way behind the curve compared to someone who has lived and worked on a farm.
I’d say this ^^^^ and @Rancher6 ’s “don’t do it unless you’re fully committed are “it” in a nutshell.

I was raised on a small dairy farm and had my first job at age FOUR - in 1951 - carefully gathering, washing, grading, candling eggs for dad to sell on town.

Dad stopped farming when I was 11 because we weren’t big enough to turn a good enough profit to have enough money saved for the years crops didn’t come in like they should. He leased the farm and went to work in the city as a Master Journeyman Machinist.

Doesn’t matter which type of livestock you have - they ALL take 36 hours/day of your time and a lot of money to afford all of them with reasonable “get by” care.

If you don’t have a boat load of good common sense, if you’re not Drill Master Sergeant organized and are not capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, if you’re. Or willing to make all of your vacations Staycations, it’s not the life for you.

It can be the most glorious of lives today and tomorrow everything can come crashing down, be it from weather events, livestock illness. You have to be prepared to pick yourself up and keep going.

My heart never left my farm roots. I have always had horses and have always found a way to pay for them.

I am now retired and live on 25 acres DH & I built. All that was here was perimeter fencing. DH was a city slicker and wanted to live quietly. I said “ok pal, leave everything thing to me” and darned if he didn’t, lollol.

We are 72 & 73 and still do 90% of the work around here because nobody wants to get dirt under their fingernails these days, so that’s another thing— finding good help that won’t steal from you or worse, can be next to impossible.

The kids that help us put up hay and do some fence maintenance have full time jobs and only come to help for a few extra dollars and because they like us, lol.

DH already has 8 hours on the second bush hogging of the season. He just left to go start the other six acres which is a rough six acres. Nothing is flat so cutting takes time and caution.

We can’t cut everything in one fell swoop like we used to. What he doesn’t get today, I will have to finish this week - after I rest from brushing the horses for turn out, cleaning their stalls, and dumping the manure.

To reiterate, I am 73, DH is 72. And to reiterate what @Rancher6 said, don’t do it, unless you’re fully committed.

****
@Rancher6 . I recognize that seat you’re sitting on - mine was attached to the manure spreader dad converted from horse driven to tractor driven. He would tell me sitting on that seat in a breeze would be good “for what ails me”, lollol
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