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Acres for a hobby farm

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How many acres are "enough" for a hobby farm IYO? (e.g. I'm defining "hobby" as an operation that doesn't need to earn its keep via some kind of meat/wool/egg/vegetable type production). Just for the sake of argument , let's say roughly this kind of hobby: 15-20 sheep, a llama or donkey, a 1/2 acre vegetable garden, a small chicken coop/yard, 1500 sq. foot house, barn/sheep shelter. One important feature of the hobby (naturally) is using the border collies.

 

For those of you with small/hobby farms, are you happy with the acreage you have and does it suit your needs and desires?

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Robin,

I would aim for something close to 10 acres at the minimum. You could probably get by with five, but it would be pretty cramped. I think it's always better to have more than enough space than the other way around. For myself, I'd love to have at least 25 acres, but am making do here with maybe half of a 16-acre property. You need to find out about stocking rates in the area too, because that would have a bearing on what sort of space you need for 20 sheep and a llama/donkey.

 

J.

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Hi Robin:

 

I imagine that your necessary acreage might be related to the type of sheep you are getting, but I could be wrong. I think that some sheep require more grazing area: for example, a dairy producer like an East Fresian might require more room. I know that you said the sheep would be single purpose, but the above idea may still be relevant.

 

Of course, I am NOT a farmer (hope to be soon!), but I have been doing a bit of research on the same topic, myself. I'm sure that someone else, like Bill F., would know more about the acreage/sheep equation than I.

 

Karrin

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The stocking rate (sheep/acreage) question is regional. Stocking rates in Bill F's area wouldn't necessarily apply to Robin's area. The local Ag Extension Office would be the best resource for local stocking rates. Generally, sheep can be stocked at around 5/acre, but if your acreage is in the desert then obviously you'd stock fewer and if you have plush grazing year round, you could probably stock more intensely. Likewise, if you plan to feed part of the year or year round, then you can get away with higher stocking rates (though a tradeoff might be increased problems with parasitism). Wool breeds in general seem to require more feed input (as forage or feed) than hair breeds IME.

 

As Charlie noted, it makes sense to get as much land as possible (i.e., as you can afford). You may not use it all right away, but it will be easier to already own it should you wish to expand your farm later.

 

J.

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Thanks folks. For how my mind works--I can easily talk myself completely out of seeing a hobby farm as feasible by thinking in terms of "more, always more"--initially, I'd thought 12-15 acres seemed about right; then, someone told us we'd regret it if we had less than 20. Then I had several someones tell me, we'd quickly outgrow 20 acres and shouldn't think of less than 30-40. I haven't yet heard that 40 acres is a waste of time, but I suppose I wouldn't be all that surprised if I did at some point. :rolleyes:

 

That was one of the motivations for posting--I'm trying to get a broad sense of how many acres are workable for folks who have small farms (if not, perhaps, exactly "enough") in order to see if even thinking about this is actually within the bounds of other constraints we have (like being able to feasibly commute to the jobs that would have to support such a hypothetical venture). If folks find that they are truly miserable and can't do what they want to with some low number of acres OR if the Borg :D feels that it's not even worth buying less than 30 acres in order to do work with dogs , that's what I'd be interested in hearing about.

 

Julie, it sounds like you're reasonably content with what you have (8 acres? Does that include the house?) even though you'd like more. Is that right?

 

We're not really set on a specific number of sheep and would wait to stock the acreage until we knew how many sheep we could support on what we had.

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Robin,

To be honest, if this were my place, I'd have the whole 16.5 acres perimeter fenced and useable by my sheep. But it's not my place, so I make do with what pastures I have. It does force me to keep my sheep numbers down though. Essentially the front half of the property includes the house, a fenced pasture of maybe six acres, a barn with three small paddocks behind it, and an unfenced area on the other side of the house. My rough guess is that the total is 8 or so acres. The back half of the property contains garden plots but nothing else. It's wasted space. But I do most of my dog work in the main pasture. We can't do superlong outruns, but it's got varied terrain and different draws and obstacles and so is certainly good enough for most work (I just go elsewhere if I want to stretch out the outruns).

 

Denise Wall has something like 10 acres and I think that includes her house. She keeps greater numbers of sheep because she supplements the grazing with feed. Although she does take her dogs other places, most of the training you saw in the videos she posted was on her own property.

 

Obviously if you need to be within commuting distance of work in the city, you'll probably have to go with a smaller acreage for affordability. I think 5 acres would be too small, but I think you could do well with 8-10 acres, especially if you laid it all out carefully (efficiently).

 

This Borg Queen thinks more land is way better, but she also has a pragmatic side that says "You go with what you can afford and work within those parameters."

 

J.

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This Borg Queen thinks more land is way better, but she also has a pragmatic side that says "You go with what you can afford and work within those parameters."

 

J.

 

That must be why you got to be the Queen--whimsy coupled with pragmaticism.....

 

Thanks for the detailed reply--very helpful to have a sense of how your space is laid out.

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I have 6 acres, while not the most ideal and certainly becoming not enough space it was what I could afford. But I also bought my house/land with the understanding that a family owned all the land around me but couldn't sell until an older uncle died, I am first on the list as soon as he dies to buy another 8 acre piece of property as well as probably a 2 acre tract from a differnt family member. I have horses and sheep, I rotate between them in the pastures because one of the horses chases sheep. It works but its not my ideal :rolleyes:

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We just sold a 6 acre place that due to the terrain had two working fields of about 2 and 3.5 acres (1/2 acre yard); our longest outrun was about 110 yards. On this property we raised and trained several dogs and moved up through the classes to Open. We had to travel to work on longer outruns and our sheep were dog broke very quickly (too little land to keep fresh sheep). For training, it's not just the acreage but how it lays; 6 acres divided in two due to line of sight is less useful than 6 flat acres; however, 6 acres would only support so many sheep no matter how it lays.

 

We had reached the point where we and our dogs were limited by our 6 acre place and we really wanted more land. However, the realities are I was not willing to leave my current job and I was at the outer limits of an acceptable commute. Had the real estate market not crashed, we not had good equity on our 6 acre place, and a well priced fixer-upper not come on the market we would not have moved.

 

For training dogs you'll probably want line of sight of 150 yards or more for training outruns. This can be found on 6-10 acres if the land lays right (6 acres = 29,040 sq yds or about 170x170yds). Also, more land will cost more to maintain (or at least to set-up).

 

Mark

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My place total is 11.5 acres. Probably about 2 acres are wooded and fenced off for a future home site. I lose a little because one border of my place is a big creek and i had to fence inside that. So, i probably have 8-9 usable acres with 2 ponds and 40 sheep. It's pretty ideal for me as it lays well and you can see most of it from end to end. I've found that to be a big thing to consider - a bowl-shaped place or flat place is a lot more usable and "bigger" than the same amount of property with the high point in the middle. I'd like bigger just because it would be nice for training the dogs on, but realistically, i'd have a hard time maintaining much more than i have without getting into bigger farm equipment, etc. And unless you can get really big acreages, you're going to have to go places to get your dogs on new field anyway.

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Think bigger, but we've already had this talk. 20 sheep is a good start, but you will quickly wear out that number with the dogs you have now; even more quickly if you invite "friends" over to train with. Buy as much land as you can afford. Good market for it.

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We have about 55 acres of up-and-down farm. It is perimeter fenced and probably about 35-40 of it is grazeable. If I don't keep enough sheep, the grass takes over and smothers us except in the very driest summers. In winter, a good dog that runs out blind can run out well over 600 yards (we have joked about an invitational trial for this), and there are several places where you can run out a few hundred yards any time of year. We have enough sheep that they don't get nasty and over-dogged, and this makes a big difference in the way my dogs work. So it is a lot of fun.

 

It is also a lot of work. It's definitely possible to have enough hobby farm that the tail is wagging the dog and you have more work than you might want. So keep that in mind. From what I've seen and experienced, once you have more than about 40 breeding ewes, it often feels more like work than like a hobby, and your expenses go up accordingly. I'd also echo those who have written that the layout of your place will be at least as pertinent as the size; a well laid out 15 or 20 acres might seem pretty nice.

 

Keep in mind some really big expenses that might be looming your way, especially if you have a bigger place: sheep may be fine in a shed, but if you have hay for the winter, you will need to store it. The tractor cost us a big bucket of money, but we couldn't do without it for storing round bales, mowing, and plowing the freaking driveway. (If you have a lot of sheep, square bales are too expensive to use except in the jugs, but if you have round ones, you must have a tractor and the will to use it.) Don't even start with me on the cost of worming since the levamisole dried up. If you have a lot sheep, then inevitably more of them will get sick or injured than if you have only a few, and dealing with this stuff stops being fun rather faster than you would expect. Only the first 50 lambs of any season are fun; the rest are work. And the cost of fencing is such that I cannot bear to discuss it without a drink in hand. The bigger the place, the more of this stuff you need. What folks write about how you don't need a lot of stuff to farm sheep is absolutely true, but some of the stuff that you DO need is quite expensive.

 

I am going to go out and treat a lamb in the barn with flystrike now. I'm trying to paste the green Vomiting Emoticon here, but I can't get it to work. DARGH.

 

edited to add: Oh. there it is up on top. It belongs with the flystrike bit.

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I have 134 acres of land - of that, there is about 30-35 acres of hayfields where the house and outbuildings are located. None of it has fencing - yet. That's in the long range plan. I don't own any sheep yet, but I'm looking only at a spinner flock of 12 or so Shetlands. The balance of my land is forest, bog, and Canadian Shield rock. I'm happy to have all the land that I do have but I think the hayfield acreage would be fine for a hobby farm. :rolleyes:

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CR makes some very good points. I am hoping that my work load will reduce once I am finished putting up cross fencing and handling equipment, etc. This first season has been quite the learning experience.

 

Between the cost of the tractor, fencing, sheep equipement, and pasture creation, we have spent about $50M above the cost of the house and land. And I still need a livestock trailer, and would love a pair of the Premier clippers for $350.

 

And in SE Michigan, the cost for a herding lesson is still $20 - Unbelievable!

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And in SE Michigan, the cost for a herding lesson is still $20 - Unbelievable!

 

Depends on who's giving the lesson....some folks in SE Michigan charge more (I've paid anywhere from $25-$40 for a half-hour lesson). But I agree, $20 is kind of amazing given all it costs to have and maintain a school flock.

 

Thanks for all the comments--this was exactly the conversation I was looking for to help think through the next steps.

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Agree with all that CR has said and more. While I have about 170 acres, not all of it is fields. I was lucky and got all the paperwork in for the USDA Equip 2009 programs and now will be fencing off 4 more fields. We have to drop water lines to these fields though as only one has water access. I am putting in the frost free auto waters but still have to dig the trenches and drop the lines as well as bull doze the fence lines for the new fields. I am only running 30 head right now with about 60 more on the way in a month or so. I have a barn here (that was pure luck as it came with the place) and a place to store hay. The problem I am running into is someone to cut the hay, bumper year last year and no one needs any. I won't need all that will be cut and I am not forking out the $$ for one of those monster balers...Oh, the goats that are here right now are doing a jam up job of clearing everything from ground level to 5 foot high! All the fields we work in are tricky for us at first, I only have 1 field that is "flat" the rest are up and down with a few ups in the middle as well. The front field can get you about a 400 yard OR now while the back ones you can get close to 700. As for mowing..just when you think you are done you realize that you are simply starting over where you began as it's grown up again....I need more sheep! And don't forget the LGD's! IOW, I love it here and I no longer get lost when out walking!

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I am on 20 (or just slightly under--house is not on this acreage, but very close by). I have found that while I would LOVE more (more land, more cows, more dogs), this works for me, *for now.* I can keep enough sheep so that they basically pay for themselves (selling lambs to pay for hay the months I can't graze), plus I keep a handful of calves for working dogs (and one old-style quarter horse who has a butt the size of Cleveland). I have an arena, and various smaller pens for working in. The biggest outrun I can get is just about 300, maybe a tad more. Dogs trained on this field have never had a problem with much bigger outruns when they had to do them at a trial. So for me, this would be the minimum size--I can train dogs here who will do well anywhere else (and I don't haul sheep out to bigger fields to work, although everyone else around here does).

A

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Be sure to check your local ordinances. Around here, to have 1, count it 1 sheep, you have to have a minimum of 10 acres. If you want a horse you have to have 2 acres.

 

My 12 acres is split into about a 7 acre field and a 5 acre field.

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The comments about useable layout are interesting to me. Being a transplanted east coaster, I've noticed some major differences in both sheep and fields in the areas I've lived in, which are the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast and Northern California/Pacific Northwest. The fields out here, in Oregon and Northern California, are both WAY larger on average and much more hilly (and I mean huge hills, not little bumps) than they were back home. To me it seems like having some hills would be awfully useful, because hills can be very challenging for dogs who are not familiar with them, but a dog who is used to working on hills should be able to navigate a flat field. (That said, how many "flat" fields are really flat?)

 

I am hoping that a farmette is in my future. Realistically I know I am not going to want to manage a massive spread, as I don't want it to get so big and complicated that it is no fun anymore and that it is impossible to ever travel anywhere. I was thinking 15-20 sheep max with the odd goat or two or three, some chickens and maybe a horse to plug around on, nothing fancy. The sheep would either be something boutiquey that would serve a niche market, or replaced regularly, not planning on doing a lot of breeding. Some space to grow organic veggies. I know if we did it out here it would be much more feasible than on the east coast. The land is practically free compared to anywhere else I've lived, and it rains so much that the county next door bills itself as the "Grass Seed Capital of the World" (which explains why my allergies are so terrible here). Really, you should all move out to the Willamette Valley, and we can all get together and work our dogs.

 

Anyway, this is all in the VERY preliminary planning stages and is subject to change depending on the trajectory of my life over the next few years.

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Really, you should all move out to the Willamette Valley, and we can all get together and work our dogs.

 

Are any vet hospitals in the area hiring?

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Dunno, but there are certainly a crapload of vet clinics out here, especially considering that no one lives here.

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Dunno, but there are certainly a crapload of vet clinics out here, especially considering that no one lives here.

 

There are openings posted! Off to send out some applications...

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To me it seems like having some hills would be awfully useful, because hills can be very challenging for dogs who are not familiar with them, but a dog who is used to working on hills should be able to navigate a flat field. (That said, how many "flat" fields are really flat?)

You'd be surprised how a flat field can throw a dog (and handler) who's not used to working on them. Flatness affects depth perception and can actually make the stock harder to see. And yes, there are truly flat fields out there. When I started working dogs in Elizabeth City, NC, fields were nothing but flat (with drainage ditches cut every so often to provide a means for water runoff). One thing I disliked about the eastern part of NC was the near-complete flatness....

 

J.

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