Building a smallholding

I’m becoming increasingly impatient about this smallholding lark. We have the property, why don’t we have the immediate self-sufficient homestead? The answer, of course, is that this is a significantly larger project than either of us thought. We’ve lived here for over six months now and we’re not even close to having it running as we’d like. In the time we’ve been here, we’ve managed to:

  • Create a new chicken house and enclosure after our first flock got eaten by foxes
  • Have a new baby
  • Plant an orchard
  • Start to create a kitchen garden
  • Created irrigation for the orchard and kitchen garden
  • Fenced the whole property
  • Start a woodland garden
  • Start a formal back garden
  • Created a new front garden with parking area
  • Learn to use the ride-on lawnmower
IMG_7353
The kitchen garden as it is, irrigation in, raised beds yet to appear

It’s taken months to get this far but for some reason I feel impatient to go further. We haven’t yet got any large livestock nor have we planted anything in our kitchen garden because it doesn’t exist yet. We have the most amazing team working with us and they’re making huge strides but I think I’m just impatient to get going with the rest of the growing. Major tasks still to complete this year include:

  • Fencing the orchard trees to protect them from sheep
  • Obtaining said sheep
  • Hatching our first meat birds
  • Creating a pig enclosure and sourcing some porky inhabitants
  • Getting cracking on the kitchen garden and sowing veggies for winter
  • Start an asparagus bed and rhubarb bed
  • Obtaining planning permission (we can but hope!) for our polytunnel so that next year we can get growing properly
  • Starting compost bins

The thing is, I know that we’ve accomplished a lot, and that list above doesn’t include all of the things we’ve done to the house and garden that aren’t strictly about smallholding. I suppose I just thought that we’d be River Cottage ready this year and I’m slowing coming to realise that this lifestyle change is far too big to happen all at once. And actually, that’s OK. I’m just eager to get it all up and running! I suppose not many people buy a property and start a smallholding from scratch and so we need to get used to the idea that it’s going to take a while to be anywhere near self sufficient.

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We farm a three acre smallholding in Hampshire, England, having fled London in pursuit of the good life for our little family. We mess about with an assorted menagerie and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat and fruit and vegetables whilst enjoying our plot and an outdoors lifestyle with our son. I am the luckiest person that I know.

12 thoughts on “Building a smallholding

  1. Honestly, having done bits and pieces of this myself I think you might be going TOO fast! It’s easy to dive in and become overwhelmed, especially if you’re not used to it. Planting out even several hundred square feet of space by hand can take weeks and be taxing, and feeding a family usually takes an acre or more. Processing a single chicken can take an hour or more if you are doing it by hand and haven’t got a lot of experience. Plus with a new baby? It just sounds like you already have PLENTY to tackle in your first full year… You might want to take care to not add on so much that you get burnt out!

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    1. Hah I couldn’t agree more. We have a habit of doing everything at full speed! We are trying to slow down now and work on the smallholding structure at the moment. I’m interested in your time estimate for the chickens as that’s an area where we’re really nic=vices. We planned to invite a foraging chap we know who has lots of experience to come and instruct us in it – but it sounds like we shouldn’t be looking to do 15 birds in a day then?

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      1. Across 3 people you can probably do 15 birds in a day. But it will be most of what you do that day, especially if you have never processed an animal before. The processing part is not particularly laborious, mostly it’s the plucking without a plucker. If you skin them it will be much swifter.
        You might want to take a few hours and watch some videos on how to process a chicken on Youtube and just give a single bird a try on your own to get a feel for it before you decide to do a big processing day. There’s a lot of factors that play into a good time on processing; chicken temperament, chicken age, chicken breed, chicken size, equipment available, equipment operating well, weather, knowing how to sharpen a knife, how/how much you sterilize, where you do the work, etc.

        Videos like these helped me out a lot when I was learning to process chickens (I didn’t have a mentor) and they are really good videos about how to process humanely and they should give you a feel for what it looks like, bearing in mind that these are professionals who are very skilled and fast at it. You can time yourself (setup time, then time from catching the chicken to putting it in the fridge) and then you will have a better idea of how long it will take you, personally, to process a chicken. Then you can plan more appropriately.

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      2. Oh my goodness, thank you SO much for taking the time to put this together for me! This is actually very useful, it’s something that I’m at once dreading and looking forward to and that even though we take care that we only eat humanely killed meat, I suspect will result in us eating even less meat than we do now (we’re avid carnivores on the weekend but pretty much vegetarian during the working week). We wanted someone to come over and help us because we’re worried about hurting the hens. Does that sound insane when we’re going to eat them? What I mean is that I worry I’ll bottle it and having someone there to steady us the first time will help. But your point about processing time is very well taken. My husband is experienced at cleaning game he’s shot, but I’m a total novice so I think you’re right, we’ll kill and clean rather than slaughtering all of them and ending up with a pile of corpses. Thank you again – I really love the homesteading community online!

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      3. No, doing it humanely with as little pain as possible is WHY most of us raise our own food. There’s a motto among many small farms and homesteads regarding livestock; ‘Many good days, one bad moment’. Having experienced people around will help a lot, but ultimately it’s about being safe and calm and absolutely determined to follow through. You’ll do fine. ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck!

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      4. I really like that, it appeals to me. I think rearing your own meat brings home the fact that an animal has died so you can eat it doesn’t it? So at least they’ll have as perfect a life as we can manage before slaughter day. This new way of life is such a paradigm shift!

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  2. Oh, I have to agree with QuarterAcreHome – you probably are doing too much! Remember that all the fruit trees require pruning and the more fruit and vege crops you grow, the more time has to be spent harvesting and preserving them. And not when you want to, when it’s ready. You can be swamped just harvesting and preserving sometimes, let alone dealing with family, animals and everything else.

    I went through the same feelings though. You just want everything set and functional. The thing is, you will probably never have everything sorted. There will always be more projects. It’s a continual process. Teach yourself to enjoy the process: the spark of ideas, the satisfaction of learning a skill, the challenge of executing a project, the wonder of looking back at photos and seeing how far you’ve come. If you don’t calm down (sometimes) and enjoy the process, you will never be satisfied. It takes some of us a while to learn that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    As for processing chickens, I’d advise starting with just one each if you’re doing it together. We tried to start with four and that was a nightmare with a baby to look after haha! You can do more another day. Just start slow. ๐Ÿ™‚ To start with it took me 2 hours to fully process one chicken by myself, from killing to clearing everything away.

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    1. I do think you’re both right – at the moment I swing from feeling enormously excited to overwhelmed, such that my lovely sister actually demanded that I promise her not to buy any more livestock this year but rather to settle in. Do you ever feel like there are just too few hours in the day? I mean it in a good sense of course! We are hampered in our planting this year by the fact that the kitchen garden isn’t ready, and although I found it irritating, I think it’s a good thing in disguise. One newborn, a toddler, two cats, a dog and seven hens keep me more than busy enough, not o mention the husband and green bit of our land! I do love the project, and I agree that I need to settle into the idea that we’ll work on it for a considerable time before we have it remotely done and then we’ll have the pleasure of fiddling with it every year. I think having a tiny garden in London for so long had gotten me into a mindset where I assume it can just be done and set up and then ready forevermore! What did you do with the baby when you were processing? I tend to drag the children outside when I’m gardening, the toddler digs about with me and plants things (seeds, leaves, my gloves…) and the baby snoozes in the pram, but I’m not sure we’ll have them there when we’re killing chickens. On the other hand, one of the main reasons to have our own meat grown on our land is to ensure that they learn where it comes from. One to ponder still I think!

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      1. Yeah, I often feel that there are too few hours in a day, or rather that I just can’t fit all the things that I want to into one day! But then if I could, I would be too worn out, so it’s just as well. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        That’s probably a good decision with the livestock. It’s one thing when they’re doing well, but when they get sick or need shearing or moving or extra feed or processing or they break a fence, etc. it can be very full-on. All the little things add up. On top of the big things…

        When I processed chickens when The Little Fulla was a baby, I would do it during his afternoon nap. Evenings were too tricky until he settled down. The Husband refused to do any processing after the first time, but has recently agreed to help out sometimes. So far, we haven’t specifically raised chickens for meat, I’ve just been doing the excess cockerels and sick or problem hens (aside from those with bumblefoot or anything else potentially contagious). So I still usually do only one or two at a time. I would like to get more into meat chickens though. If a certain person will help. The Little Fulla is not far off 3 years old now but we haven’t yet explained to him about killing our chickens. I do it in the evening or some other time when he’s not around. But we will have to enlighten him at some point. It IS tricky knowing when and how to do it!

        FYI, here is a good video of how to butcher and process a chicken by Weed’em & Reap. As you do more, you figure out how to do it a little faster, but this video is a great starting point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_lAkPyvSnA&t=473s

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      2. I think you’re right about processing birds at night. I actually think my son would be OK with it (he accepts a lot of natural circle of life stuff quite well) but on the off chance he wouldn’t I might leave it until he’s a bit older. My husband is quite confident about processing the hens as he processes game that he shoots so I’m hoping that our meat bird venture will be a success! I do think we’ll eat a lot less meat once we’re providing all of our own. I know what you mean about being too tired if you COULD fit everything in, it’s probably for the best that we’re limited! I always have a hundred things on my “to do” list that are pending, but I do rather thrive on it. Even thought we’re slowing down our smallholding adventure, it still feels like breakneck speed… Thank you again for sharing the online resources, I’m so thrilled to have met kind, nice people to share this journey with, even if only through a screen!

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      3. It’s great that your husband has a headstart on bird processing. That will be a huge help! If your son has seen game birds being processed or even just being carried around dead he would have some understanding of what needs to be done. I think the best we can do is talk to them about it a lot first and then maybe we can gauge how they’ll handle it as time goes on. ๐Ÿ™‚

        You are most welcome! It is nice to share the homesteading/country life/smallholding journey with like-minded people. It is such a learning curve but so exciting and fascinating. And we only have a small piece of land here! Thank goodness we don’t have any more land at the moment or I would be in trouble. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I thrive on a big task list too, but I’ve learnt that my strengths can turn into a weakness. There is a balance to be found between getting things done, getting enough rest and spending enough time with family and friends. You’ve gotta take time to smell the roses, for they may be gone tomorrow.

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