So it seems that Muddy Boots Farm is on the move! Although it is rather reluctantly, I know in the long run it will mean that I can move on to bigger, better and more permanent horizons. Renting my smallholding and grazing in my hometown for the past 18 months has been a huge learning curve and a great experience for me. I will walk away having learnt a huge amount about farming and running my own business. I wrote a post about what I had learnt when my first year was over and 5 months on I am certain that I can add a fair few additional points to the list.
The plan for me moving forward is to relocate, my lease ends in June, then live down in Kent while we try to sell my partner’s property. Once that house has sold we will then move to our own farm up in the Peak District and fingers crossed we will run our own businesses from there, Muddy Boots included. There are a lot of stars that have to align to make it all possible but two years ago I only had a dream of Muddy Boots and look at me now, everything is possible with the right amount of drive and resilience. It could take six months, it may take six years. Who knows, but that is part of the adventure, right?
With regards to the smallholding, I have certainly learnt the reasoning behind the mantra ‘quantity over quality’ and having had to downsize my flocks and herds for the move this Summer, I know I will never let the animal numbers get too much for me again. It is important for me to have a farm that produces delicious meat and eggs but it will only ever be on a small scale to ensure the animals are having as happy life as possible and because I want to be able to keep a tight control of the finances.
Another change I will be making, is to give myself a few months a year off. I will try during the winter months, probably January and February, to reduce stock numbers to as low as possible. This is vital for the ground to rest, as well as for me to have some rest and ensure I get the mental and physical break from the hardship of farming. Farming really is a 365 days a year, 24 hours a day job and it soon takes it toll, especially when you have another job on the side to consider. Obviously the farm will never completely stop but it would be a good time for friends to come and have a ‘fun, hands-on farm stay’ (that is what I will sell it to them as!) while I enjoy a quick holiday. The rest will give us time to also spend a few weeks carrying out farm maintenance and those annoying jobs that seem to take forever, rather than always having to prioritise the animals and their needs above everything else.
With regards to livestock, I now know my favourites, as well as the animals that I can live without! The pigs for me are always such a hassle, they are destructive, smelly, boisterous and great at getting out. But honestly I really could not live without my juicy pork chops and home-made crackling (it is the stuff dreams are made of!). My aim is to buy in two weaners a year, only have them on the farm during the dry months (who knows when they are supposed to be?!) and keep them purely for the family freezer.
Poultry-wise, I am definitely, definitely not going to keep ducks again. Ever. They are messy and noisy and I never seemed to get any eggs! I love my chickens and fresh eggs every day are a God send. I will stay away from cockerels, not that I ever planned to have any in the first place, just because they can be aggressive and you end up with a tonne of unwanted offspring (my last chicken hatched 12 chickens, 6 were male!). I may try to keep turkeys seasonally again but I would be in no rush to have them back, not that there was anything wrong with the birds themselves, they were very placid, but their meat isn’t my favourite and I found them hard to sell. I think people are shying away from turkey at Christmas and the market is saturated with competition at that time anyway, so business wise it doesn’t make sense.
Then there are the sheep. For me, life is not worth living without sheep. Though after the complete disaster of this lambing season, I think I am going to avoid breeding my own lambs, at least for next year. My best success was with my cade lamb so I am hoping to bring on some sock lambs next year from a local farmer, hopefully they will come to me in the Spring and be on the table by Christmas. This then coincides nicely with my plan to have a few months off, until the next lambing season comes around. Costs will be reduced as purchase prices are low and I do not have to worry about shearing because they will be 9 months old when they go to slaughter and I do not need to worry about the outlay for lambing equipment. Lambs are easy for me to handle and I will be able to complete all husbandry tasks on my own, which is another important consideration for me.
So that is livestock, location and lifestyle sorted. Now let’s talk money. I have worked for a self-catering accommodation company for the past five years, who also run a gym/spa, cafe, disc/foot golf course, an arable farm and soon a hotel. My work here has given me great experience in all sides of the business, including accounting, customer service, marketing, staff management and more! It has also allowed me to see what works financially and what businesses thrive in a rural location. Hands down the self-catering accommodation here has the highest turn over and profit and is the least amount of work. Although there is a huge outlay initially to build the properties, or convert the buildings, staff/running costs are lower than the other businesses I have helped develop. I also enjoy the tourism industry the most, to help someone see your little corner of Britain and to have an enjoyable stay away from home really is a great thing. So the plan for the future farm would be to run accommodation of some sort to help things tick along. There will of course be the return of the educational sessions, that I currently run at Muddy Boots Farm, as an additional income and I hope to broaden my audience and offer sessions for older students as well as adults hoping to set up their own smallholdings!
It is all very pie in the sky at the moment but sometimes when it feels that you are taking a huge step backwards in life it is good to focus on where you are heading in the long run. So watch this space and I promise to keep you all updated!