You may be asking, “Can I start a farm?” Farming and how one can start a farm business, especially with no money down, has changed over the years. In North America, in many cases farms are no longer the simple little family farm, where people make a simple living, allowing the land to provide them with the food they require to live with a little bonus cash on the side from sales for the little extras in life.
I came into this world as a farmer. My parents moved from Holland after WWII and started a new life for themselves in Canada. Coming from a country where every square inch of land could not be spared, then coming to a country like Canada where they were practically giving the rights to use the land away, was a perfect reason for them to move and start farming.
Farming was the ultimate work-from-home business opportunity for their time. Coming from another country with only $50 to their name, farming had the growth and time flexibility they needed to start their business/lifestyle.
I say business/lifestyle because farming does fall into a special category that not too many other companies can claim. It’s the type of business where the whole family gets involved at any age.
This is the reason I state, “I came into this world as a farmer.” We had a dairy farm, so both parents needed to be in the barn to do chores, with older siblings already going to school, my parents had no choice but to bring me to the barn as a baby. They would place my crib/playpen in the barn beside cows and calves. When I was old enough to walk, I would be sweeping the allies, feeding the cows and calves and so on. Until I was old enough to start school, then my parents would only have us help out after school.
Get an Education
My Parents always emphasized the importance of education, even if we decided to keep farming, education would be essential to maintain a viable business. This also holds true for anybody, anywhere and in any life situation. Fortunately, my parents also sent us to a French school, which allowed us to be bilingual. Unfortunately, my parents did not speak French, so we were not able to practice outside of school, and although they did speak English, which they learned from local farmers and construction workers, they mixed it up with some Dutch. So the mastery of either language was not in my favor, but that is a story for another blog.
When your parents are farmers, the kids are farmers as well, until they are old enough to make their life decisions and move on if they wish. In my case I remained a farmer until I was 26, maybe I was a little slower at making my life-altering decisions. I studied and worked part-time off the farm after I turned 18, but something kept pulling me back to the farm until I realized that the life I wanted with my new girlfriend did not consist of the farming lifestyle.
I do look back and wonder what it would be like if I had decided to stay on the farm, but one must not regret the decisions and paths they chose to take. The past cannot be changed, it is no longer in your control, time to take the path ahead.[/hypotext]
Want to Start a Farm Business Today?
The first question would be what type of farming are you considering to start? I ask this question, as some types of farming businesses require you to buy quota through a regulating board, which is the case here in Canada for Dairy and Eggs for example. The quota system is very competitive and expensive. A small dairy farm with maybe 30-40 milking cows can expect to spend a million+ just on the quota required to sell their milk legally. That is if they can get the quota licensing as it goes through a bidding process, similar to the stock market.
Unless you have some major investors or have a nice nest egg of cash to dig into, I suggest NOT to jump into a farming business that requires the purchase of quotas.
I think the best way to start farming is still the same way my parents did it. They had a property, in their case they rented a farm, they worked regular jobs, and when they could afford it, they bought livestock. Over time, they accumulated enough livestock and, (of course, animals do multiply) with the livestock and accumulated inventory of machinery, they were able to finance and purchase a farm.
You can do the same, if you are currently working, whichever type of farm you plan to start, start small. I have seen people have a backyard shed with chickens, rabbits or you can start a garden, start with selling your extra vegetables or fruit.
You will need to check your local county /municipality office about having animals, how many, types that are allowed before starting. You may need to adjust
your type of farming accordingly, or if you are serious about having the farming lifestyle, then you may need to move to an actual farm.
Keep in mind that when you have animals or a crop, they need daily tending. So you will either need to be home every day, or have somebody willing and capable of caring for your animal or crop.
Check out these 3 backyard farming ideas!
This type of agriculture business can be ideal in an area where neighbors may be close as rabbits are silent and do not take too much space. With rabbits, you can raise them for meat and fur, but with these rabbits being so darn cute you may find it hard to serve them up for supper or use their fur for clothing. So think this one through thoroughly, have a family conference before thinking about having rabbits for farming, not as pets.
Things to consider:
- Shelter – Most articles will say having them in cages is the best option. This will allow them to fatten up the fastest, easier to handle and clean. Hanging the cages off the ground will allow for their “poop” to fall through which makes it easier for clean up and keeps their fur clean. If you are in a warm climate or summer, you can make cages that can be moved, then the rabbits can graze on the grass coming through the cage wire, then when you move them to a fresh spot, the “poop” stays there, fertilizes the ground beneath and no cleaning required – cool! In the colder climates, you will want to keep it above freezing between 10-20 degrees Celcius is ideal and ensure proper ventilation.
- Illness – Rabbits are prone to illness just like any other animal. I suggest consulting with your local veterinarian about rabbit disease risk and treatments in your specific region.
- Food – If raising them for meat it is important that they receive the proper nutrients year round. In spring-summer-fall, you have the option to give fresh grass, but be careful in the spring to introduce it to them slowly. Would be best to allow the grass to dry for a day before feeding and slowly add some fresh grasses over a week or so, otherwise, they may have bloating issues. Then you will also need to supplement with grains, which you can get from your local feed stores, in our area, we have TLC or CO-OP stores. To buy the pellet foods from Pet Stores would not be a wise financial move.
- Schedule – You will need to prepare a schedule of when to feed, clean or move their cages. Like most animals, they are creatures that do best when activities are done on a regular routine. This will decrease their stress levels which in turn will give you healthier rabbits.
- Breeding – Hope I don’t need to explain about the birds and the bees here, but when it comes to raising rabbits you should have more females than males. You should also rotate or find other rabbit farmers that have males, to exchange as not to have inbreeding.
- Eating/selling rabbits – it is to be expected if you are raising rabbits for meat and fur, as they multiply and grow you will at some point need to have them butchered or sell them. Check with a local butcher to ensure that they have the ability to kill and butcher the rabbits for you. The other option is to just sell the rabbits privately or through auction/livestock exchange venues.[/hypotext]
Chicken farming can still be done in one’s backyard type setup as they do not take too much space, but things that may bother the neighbors would be the noise and smell they can create. So ideally, you would want to be living in an area where you have a few to a hundred feet in between properties to keep your neighbors happy. You can raise chickens for eggs and meat, and some breeds can provide soft enough feathers for down filling.
Things to consider:
- Shelter – Chickens like to spread their wings and peck around for food, so they ideally require shelters or runs where they can move around freely than have roosts for them to rest or nest. It is important to keep them safe from predators and keep the shelter at an ambient temperature with proper ventilation.
- Food – In warm weather, the chickens can go out and peck away on the ground for seeds and bugs, you will also need to buy feed from your local farm feed store, in my area we have CO-Ops and TLC stores that provide special mixes depending if you are raising your chickens for eggs or meat. If they are indoors, in a shelter you will need to set up feeders, usually, these can be gravity feeders, where you put a generous amount into the top of the feeder and the feed will slowly descend into the feeding dish as the chickens eat. Ideally, you want enough feeders so that every chicken has a place to eat to avoid them pushing or pecking each other for a feeding spot.
- Cleaning – you will need to clean up the chickens “poop”. I suggest daily, more if you have many chickens. This will eliminate the layering of excrement within the shelter, keep the smell down and less risk of spreading disease. Otherwise, the chickens may peck at the excrement left by the other chickens, increasing the risk of disease and can change the taste of the meat, and especially the eggs.
- Illness – All living beings are prone to illness, and chickens are no exception. Although their life cycle is relatively short, and you will likely be butchering them before they catch any chronic illness, there is always the risk of acute illnesses that can spread amongst all your chickens. It is advisable to ensure your feed have the necessary treatments to assist in the eradication of such diseases. The reason you may be raising these chickens yourself is to avoid the exposure to all these treatments, but if you end up with all your chickens dying from a disease, in the end, you will not be any further ahead. It is a matter of balance, you certainly do not need to treat them the same way as the major poultry farms, but a little preventative medicine can be a good idea. I suggest to at least consult your local farm animal veterinarian for further information about types of disease risks in your area.
- Schedule – Like caring for a pet animal, a daily care schedule is required. You will need to consider times to feed, clean, move from outside to indoors and picking up the eggs. Chickens are also creatures of habit and have less stress if they follow a regular daily routine. Plan out who will or can care for them if you need to go away.
- Collecting Eggs, butcher or sale – If you are keeping chickens for the eggs, you will have to collect eggs at least 1 to 2 times per day as long as there is enough daylight per day. The eggs generally have a stronger taste and darker color yoke then those you buy at the supermarkets. These tastes and color can vary depending on their diet as explained above under “Food”. Then you also have the choice to eat the chicken, having to kill hem, pluck or skin them. This can also be a task dedicated to your local butcher, or you may just want to avoid all that and sell them at your local livestock exchange.[/hypotext]
If you have some green space, soil that is, on your property you can start a market gardening business from the ground up – sorry for the pun.
Interesting Fact – Nowadays soil is not even a requirement for hydroponic farming technology. If you take a look at Google Earth, focus on Spain you will see some white covered areas. The white areas are greenhouses, that grow most of the fruit and vegetables hydroponically. Zoom into the white areas in the map below to see for yourself.
My Market Gardening Experience
When I was growing up on my parents dairy farm, we supplemented our income with growing sweet corn and selling on the roadside. I remember the first day my mother went out to sell our sweet corn. We filled the rear box of our half ton truck, drove to a nearby town and parked it on the side of the road. Before she was able to get out of the truck and set up her table she three customers waiting, actually helped her set up her stand. My mother sold all of it in just over 3 hrs, and this continued daily for the season. We used approximately 10 acres and grew 2 different varieties of corn as to expand our season, we were able to sell a half ton truck full daily for 6 weeks every summer. We also tried to grow and sell strawberries, but the time required was much more than growing corn and we were already busy enough with the dairy farm. After 2 years of trying to grow strawberries for a market, we abandoned them and we focused solely on sweet corn.
For the sake of starting small, at low or no cost we will stick with conventional in the ground, backyard type gardening business. This type of business will be seasonal and the amount of fruit or vegetables will vary depending on your space and climate. As you become increasingly comfortable managing a gardening market you may expand on your property, or even take the next step and buy a farm.
Things to consider when starting a market garden
- Market – Check with local restaurants, village markets or grocery stores to see if they are open to purchasing your product, and what is most in need. Most regions also have open markets where you can rent a stand for the day for you to sell your product or if allowed in your area you can sell them on the roadside.
- What to Grow– As with my past experience with sweet corn, I suggest focusing your energy on one or two types of produce. Become the expert on one product for your region, growing your produce organically will open up a niche market where many big market producers are not able to compete. Trying to grow all types of produce and keep track of soil types, watering, drainage and lighting needs will spread you too thin to start. Keep it simple to start one -two types of fruit or vegetables and you will become an expert in no time.
- Plan – Planning will save you work in the end, ensure you have the proper soil mix, hydration, drainage, and level of sunlight required for the type of produce you are growing.
- Seedlings – Prep an area in your home or have a small greenhouse to start your seeds. To start, you want a warm area, no need for Sun at the beginning but as the plants come out you will gradually expose to sunlight.
- Growth – As the plants grow you will need to tend to them, prune, water, fertilize, compost, weed, and transplant. If you plan to be away for an extended period you will need to have someone to take care of your garden while you are away.
- Harvesting – The fun part! Now you get to reap the rewards for all that work, gathering all your fruit and vegetables. If you did your homework from step one you will be able to bring them directly to your customers, otherwise, you will busy running around, looking for customers before your produce goes bad.
- Composting / Prep for next year – Once all the produce harvested it is time to remove all the plants, put them into your composter, and turn/prep your soil for next year. Now that you know what worked or not, it is time to go to your computer and purchase next year’s seeds.
Here is a link to Eden’s Garden website that also has some great tips for gardening from using seaweed as organic material to how to control pests n your garden
Jean-Martin Fortier has some great information in his book
Check out Jean-Martin’s Video
Someday I do plan to return to the farm lifestyle! I do have it on my map of goals, as it offers a life of flexibility, tranquility, and self-sufficiency one cannot get from any other business.
For now, I have started to expand the garden in my backyard to cut down on having to buy our fruit and vegetables. More of a saving than an income, but sometimes it is not how much you make, it’s how much you can save that helps in cushioning the ride on an ongoing bumpy global economy.
In the meantime, I will continue to work full time as a registered nurse and expand my online business.
You can learn more about my wife and me here.
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