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Going into agriculture


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Hello, this is my first posting although I have been lurking around the boards awhile. I have noticed many members of this board are farmers and ranchers and I was hoping I could get some advice.


I live in Canada, British Columbia. I am young individual that is interested in going into agriculture. I am not inheriting a farm. In fact, I have nothing at all whatsoever to work with. :mellow:


I will be starting university this year and I was wondering if some subjects would be beneficial as well as possible job opportunities that may help with hands on experience. Do farmers hire people to help with livestock? Are there summer jobs? Winter jobs? Part time jobs?).


Also, out of curiosity, how difficult is running a farm these days? Is it still possible to enter the industry? What is the condition of the wool industry? How much of a demand is there for lamb meat? How about Llamas and Ostriches, do they have a profitable niche? I read a lot of brochures and online information but I want to hear it from actual people.


Any information, and advice is greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

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There is the Young Farmers Coalition in WA state. Maybe you have the same thing in BC


Alot of Farmers offer internships. Ask


Farming can support you, although with the growth of slow and local we have hopes.


It is a way of life.




I don't know much about college classes, never been.




Feel free to contact me about our internships.

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As far as school is concerned, you could take a number of approaches. Universities offer classes in animal science and husbandry, horticulture and the like and if you can take a variety of courses, do so. You may think you want to raise livestock and horticulutre doesn't really apply, but when you raise livestock you have to consider that plants/forage you will feed them, and the more education you have in that area, the better (anf vice versa as well: if you're raising plants, you'll need to understand the ultimate end use--livestock or people food--to best plan what to grow and how to market it).


Be aware that most universities that offer agricultural type courses are probably geared toward more intensive production than what you'd find on the typical family farm. This doesn't mean you can't learn a lot in these courses, but some of what you're taught may not be as applicable to a family-type farm.


Price per acre for farmland in this area has risen considerably. Consider looking into finding a place you can lease for the long-term, maybe in exchange for some part of what you produce.


There are calculations you can do (others can tell you about that) that will help you determine numbers you need to be able to break even. I believe Bill Fosher (in the northeast) figured out he'd have to run 200 ewes. The numbers will vary depending on where you are and stocking rates, etc.


Running a small farm can be very time consuming. I'd say I know an equal number of people who are making a sole living off the farm and those who work a day job to support the farm. Farming is essentially full-time 24/7/365. Some of the choices you make will determine how much time and effort on a continuous basis (if you're milking, then you have to be there to milk; if you're grazing rotationally using moveable fencing, then you need to plan for time to move fence on a regular basis; if you're farming in an area without plenty of natural water supplies, then you have to plan on hauling water; and so on).


IMO, the wool market in this country is not great. That said, if you produce wool that handspinners and other craftpeople would like, then you can find a good market. But it requires finding out what such people want, producing that, and then marketing that to them.


Grain prices are going through the roof right now. Everyone I talk to says it's because of corn being pulled out of the feed market and into the ethanol market, thanks to subsidies for ethanol production. Check on the availability, cost, and quality of hay in your area as well.


If you can get internships (and one with T would be a great place to start), you'll be exposed to a number of different approaches and practices, and that experience can help you to refine what your farming goals might be.


I don't have trouble selling lamb, and if you happen to be in an area (especially university towns seem to fit this bill) where people are motivated, willing, and able to buy locally grown meats and vegetables, then you can probably develop a good clientele willing to buy your products (at a price that allows you to actually make a profit). You also will need to decide whether you want to sell directly off the farm (on the hoof) or have the animals processed and then sell packaged frozen meat.


Personally I'd stay away from the real niche markets (ostrich, buffalo, etc.) largely because I think it will take a lot more money up front to get started and also because it may be more difficult to readily market your product.


Oh, and I meant to say that while you're in school, be sure to take any courses that are relevant to starting or running a small business. I think many new farmers (myself included) lack significant business education, and I think it would be invaluable for you if you took some basic business management, marketing, and accounting courses so that you are better prepared to manage the business side of things.


You could also start out really small--the hobby farm on the side, which you support with a regular day job, and as you build up your market to the point where you think you could support yourself, then take the leap to full time farming. I think it is a bit easier to get started if you inherit the family farm (see my comment on land prices), but it is possible to do it without owning your own farm--you just have to be creative and savvy enough to make sure you don't put a whole lot of time and money into building infrastructure without some contractual guarantee that you will have use of the same for some specific period of time.


Also, if you do internships or get to know local farmers and help them, it's possible you'd find a situation where the property owner doesn't want to sell the farm, can no longer farm him/herself, but would like to see the place continue to be farmed. I think those situations are likely your best bet for setting up a long-term lease or similar.


Sorry my answer was sort of all over the place, but hopefully some of this will help or give you food for thought.



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Dear Fellow Farmers,

As a quick rule of thumb, one of twin lambs pays operating expenses; the second pays you. Your weaning percentage determines your year's income.


This quick calculation doesn't include capital expenses::mortgage or land rental and equipment cost (including sheepdogs and guard dogs).


If you have a day job, your farm expenses can reduce your income (though not SS) taxes considerably.


Donald McCaig

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I'm a young farmer in WA state. I do have a day job as well, but my farming ventures do earn me income. I raise grass-fed lamb, pastured poultry, dairy goats, and mixed vegetables, although the goats and row crops are a joint venture with my sister and bro-in-law. I have a degree in biology... Reproductive behavior and ecology to be exact. Only semi-useful to farming.


The best education I got in farming was through two apprenticeships, and then continuing as an employee on one of those farms. Find an old farmer as a mentor- best source of education out there!


I own no land. I lease/trade for/have use of several hundred acres of pasture. It works out okay, but can be frustrating.


There is basically zero market for llamas, and not much for ostrich, at least here. In this economy "fancy" livestock like that isn't very saleable. I've heard of people who were selling alpacas for tens of thousands of dollars who butchered their animals after the economy went bust because no one is buying now.


As much as I love farming, and I'll always do it in some respect, after 10 years of working this hard for so little, I'm thinking of going back to school in the next few years, maybe finally get my vet med degree. Farming is wonderful, rewarding, extraordinarily hard work.

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Dale & Dawn Montgomery, Maple Ck. Saskatchewan, sometimes hire help in the summer for their sheep grazing operation, however they usually hire experienced dog handlers. But you could inquire:



Martha McHardy, Metchosin, BC offers in house apprenticeship in sheepdog training and sheep farming:



John & Lorraine Buchanon, Metchosin, BC sometimes take in help during lambing in the late winter:



Here are some links to agriculture colleges in Canada:





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