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Setting up a farm...


JaderBug
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Anyone have some good websites/books/resources for tips and suggestions for how to set up a livestock-based farm/operation? Multi-species set-ups? Like suggestions on gating, pens, pen set-up and arrangement, etc...?

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I've "set up" three small farms. Best I can say is get there don't do anything or make it temp. till you live there the rainy season. It's amazing how water changes things. This place has been one of the hardest. We do live on a steep hill with our pasture on the top of hill and house at the bottom. My dream would be sell the house at the bottom and build at the top. Water has been an on going battle.

Good luck and...see ya soon!

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And when fencing put in as many gates as you think you'll need and then add more. My philosophy is that you can never have too many gates (within reason). I also like gates that will swing both ways and I don't like gates that close in a corner or along a continuous fenceline (i.e., at right angles to a continuous fencline when the latch part, rather than the hinges, is at the fence, because it's very difficult to sort stock at such gates).

 

In addition to prevailing winds, also consider how well shelters will provide shade (if there are few trees or other shade sources).

 

J.

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All the above is very good advice. I would add: What is on the other side of the fence? If you put your bull next to the neighbor's cows, what will happen? Do the neighbor's kids have show horses who will freak out if you suddenly turn sheep out next to them?

 

Yes; it is your land, but you don't want to destroy relations with the people around you right off the bat. Good luck!

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All good advice, I'll add just a few things:

 

1) Try to consider ALL your chores and activities when you're planning your infrastructure. Specifically loading, unloading, handling for health care, weighing animals if you'll be sending them to market, etc. Too many small farms lack sufficient infrastructure to handle their animals beyond the day-to-day feeding and housing and both the animals and farmers suffer for it -- it's stressful, dangerous and (if nothing else, in labor hours) expensive.

 

2) If you can, either start small and then expand later or see if you can volunteer some time on a local small farm. You will learn your preferences and the ins and outs of certain gate, chute, pen, feed, etc. setups by working them and it will help you set yours up in the best possible way for you and your farm.

 

3) Do it "right" the first time. Scrimping rarely actually saves money in the long run, and usually it's terribly inefficient even in the short term.

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Double like the prevailing winds suggestion--and have a clear alternative for the few times when the winds shift. This winter was tough as we frequently had winds shift in such a way that they blew (and blew snow) directly into the sheep shelter (which is well positioned for prevailing winds). So, we needed an alternative place to put them when the winds were going to shift.

 

Have multiple points of entry to key places. We have three main ways into our primary pasture and two of them became unusable this winter. Plan carefully for keeping water unfrozen in the winter. The plan I'd had in mind turned out to be incompatible with my partner's plan ;)

 

In thinking about shelter, remember that any permanent shelter area will become an area that needs to be cleaned frequently.

 

Another suggestion I'd make is make sure you have a large gate anywhere you think you might need to get a tractor and put the money in for the sturdiest fencing you can afford. Kristen's suggestion to know the place through all seasons before you make permanent infrastructure decisions is great advice.

 

This is probably obvious, but I wish we'd done a bit more in this area so I mention it anyway. Think about parasite control as you plan your pastures, have a soil analysis of the pasture and amend it before you put the animals on it. I find Joel Salatin a bit precious (though his book "You Can Farm" has some nice suggestions and tips); however, his approach that he is ultimately a grass farmer is a pretty useful orientation, IMO.

 

Some of these were things others suggested to us and some we learned the hard way. How exciting to be at the planning stage!

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Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm probably counting my chickens before they hatch and getting way too excited but we're looking at a place right now with two acres with a house and a couple buildings and no pasture, no fencing- going to be a deal breaker if we can't acquire a couple more acres (hoping it's not a problem with the landowner). It's a blank slate, so I can really do anything I want with it fencing/pen-wise, which really excites me. Trying to remember all the different farms I've been to and think about what fencing/pen qualities I like and don't like, definitely a lot of fun to think about.

 

So here's a couple more questions...

 

First, if we were to acquire the place with the extra acres (which are currently planted in crop ground) this year, what would be the timeline for seeding the pasture (do you do it when the crops are out this fall? or wait til spring?) and at what point would it be usable?

Second, what different aspects/elements should be considered? I'd like to host some AHBA trials (actually I'd love to host USBCHA but there's no way I can acquire enough land for that, at least not for a very very long time) so I've looked into some of those requirements. What other elements should I plan on putting in- round pen? Chute/alley/race? Other things I'm not thinking of?

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For local help with crops and stuff, how about an extension agent? They are quite helpful.

Fencing I agree with above, nothing too permanent until you can try it on for size if possible.

Also, and this is just my gut talking, reading your headline, it gave me a bit of a start. Basic planning, no doubt, 100% needed. However, I think you should also plan on taking things one step at a time. Let certain pieces slide into the places others leave open.

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Jaderbug,

Here are my suggestion.

Put in good perimeter fencing and then use portable electric fencing till you have been on property for at least a year.

If you buy portable panels you can rearrange pens alleys chutes until you have the configuration that works for you.it has already been mentioned put in a lot of gates.

From experience it took me three years before I came up with the plans of what works on my ranch. It had field fencing topped with 2 strands of barbed wire along whole perimeter. Also a sorting field and two sorting pens. Since I produce hay plus graze cattle and sheep I spent a lot of time drawing out different layout for fencing. By drawing them out I could actually look for issues with the flow from one feld to another and how you want your gates situated.

As to planting pasture really matters where you are located and what your growing season is.

Good luck and enjoy the planning.

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How fun and exciting! Wish you the best of luck.

 

Make sure your exterior fencing is solid and strong enough that not only can no one get out, but no one can get in; or at least they have to really make the effort to get in. Animals go through fencing, it just happens, but you will feel more at ease if you at least know that they can't get off your property. For that reason, I like having all my entrances onto the property go into a barnyard type area that has a separate gate into the driveway and road. This way if we have vehicles, etc going into the pastures as long as the barn yard is closed no one can really get away.

 

If possible plan water and electricity to every pasture area or along a fence division so two pastures can share one set up. Put in anti-freezing water handles and make sure the lines are buried below the freeze line.

 

Plan your barn building either bigger than you are thinking you will need or design it in such a way that you can easily add to it at a later date.

 

If possible have hot water in the barn. I would like to have a little kitchen set up out there for medical cases and injuries.

 

Depending on what types of animals you are going to have a composting area and system can be very important. A good compost area takes work, but is worth it in what you can produce for your soil. But you do want to plan ahead for the run off of the compost not to be near water ways and with the temp not to be close to buildings.

 

I would also contact your local extension office and talk with them about the piece of property you are looking at, what your plans are and see if they have any advice or resources. Sometimes there's even grant money.

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A third suggestion for the extension agent. They should have the knowledge and resources to help you plan a successful pasture. They can also talk to you about stocking rates in your area and what you can do to improve your pasture. Your flock will be limited by the amount of space you will have, so planning to optimize that space will be crucial.

 

J.

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  • 1 month later...

Make your gates plenty wide! And driveways with plenty of room on both sides. Our own equipment has gotten larger over the past 30 years! In addition, we have also had a need to have lime spread (have to get the lime truck and spreader in), fescue combined (combines are wide!) weeds sprayed (co op sprayer is wide), not to mention disc and planter if you plan to do any row cropping or even to totally replant a pasture, will you be having your place hayed? most of the more modern rakes are harder to navigate through a small gate than an older side delivery rake. A tractor that can handle large round bales needs more gate room and turnaround space than if you are feeding squares with a small tractor or utv.

 

Gate and driveway placement! Will all the equipment/trucks that will be on your place in the future make it under that tree or electric line that you have running to your barn?

 

For a few sheep, things can be fairly small and simple but it amazes me the types of equipment we have had on our place!

 

As you get older, it is nice to have things set up for ease of use. We finally have gates that we don't have to pick up to open, they actually hang and swing :) The utv can be backed through the barn gate all the way to the feed bin for unloading. Alleys and chutes make things much easier.

 

Consider your dogs! Are you going to have any cattle? We just built a catch/working pen and one requirement was that there was enough space at the bottom of the fencing for a dog to get under. I would hate to loose a good dog to a mean cow just because he couldn't get away!

 

Portable is great at first, and remember even the permanent is changeable if it doesn't work for you in the future!

 

Good luck and have fun!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've "set up" three small farms. Best I can say is get there don't do anything or make it temp. till you live there the rainy season. It's amazing how water changes things. This place has been one of the hardest. We do live on a steep hill with our pasture on the top of hill and house at the bottom. My dream would be sell the house at the bottom and build at the top. Water has been an on going battle.

Good luck and...see ya soon!

Good advice. Although I live in an arid climate, last years rainy season was three months long. We're constantly changing things around.

 

A lot of what you do depends on what species you plan to get. I think ideally for me, I'd like to have a central barn location with pens that split out from it in quadrants. That way all animals could come in to the same place at night, same central feed and water area, and easier to lock them up (predator proofing).

 

I can't tell you how many times we've rearranged over and over.

 

I can say this, don't skimp or cheap out on fencing. You'll live to regret it. Horse fence the perimeter at the very least. Welded wire just about last a month.

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