Smallholding for beginners part 2: Can I make money from a smallholding?
PUBLISHED: 19:00 26 January 2021
In part 2 of her series on smallholding for complete beginners, Debbie Kingsley answers the question: can I make money from my smallholding?
Can a smallholding make money? This is a regular topic whenever I find myself in a group of potential smallholders. Of course, you need to define what you mean by making money. Do you hope to earn enough to cover the costs of some or all of your smallholding activities, or are you hoping the profits will pay off the mortgage, cover luxury holidays, deliver a fancy meal out each week and a season ticket for your favourite football club? I’m not saying the latter is an impossible dream, but I’ve never yet met anyone who has created what you’d call a truly lucrative career out of smallholding. And, if you are making money from your smallholding, you won’t have time for all those other activities anyway (which may or may not be of some cheer!).
The canny smallholder takes careful note of all their expenditure and will know exactly how much it costs to rear, say, a weaner to pork weight. They can then work out what they need to charge for the resulting meat to cover their outgoings, check what similar outlets are charging, and arrive at a price that should easily result in both costs being covered and free meat in the freezer for home use.
The same canny smallholder will also appreciate that being reliant on market prices to sell their surplus livestock is unlikely to give them the best return, particularly if they have focused on rare breeds, which dealers see as less desirable. Learning how to sell direct to the customer, who appreciates the superior taste and importance of rare breeds, means that you are in more control of the prices you charge, and you cut out the middleman and their percentage.
Making a living from a smallholding is rare, and most smallholders have other income streams – a pension, part-time jobs, freelancing, released capital from downsizing from the city to the country, to name a few – but it’s perfectly possible for the smallholding to wash its face, if that’s what you want or need, rather than it being a drain on other resources.
But the big question to ask is why you want to be a smallholder. If the answer is to live in a less complicated way, spending more time outdoors and in tune with the seasons, then making money from your activities may be an irrelevance. If the effort of selling your surplus is unappealing, recognise that and don’t produce a surplus that confounds you. Record and analyse costs so if every lamb you sell is making a loss of a tenner, then you’ll know increasing your flock only multiplies the loss.
If your smallholding needs to contribute to the household income pot, there are many brilliant role models out there, selling everything from soaps made from milk, sheepskins, hand-knitted socks, hats and throws, quality meat, every possible kind of livestock from emus to alpacas, and a raft of smallholder services from bookkeeping to fencing. Do your homework and see what’s in fashion – Boer goats are being sold at a premium price at the moment, as are Valais Blacknose sheep, and Mangalitza pigs. But you have to invest in superior breeding stock at a hefty outlay in order to reap the benefits in due course, and not everyone is an entrepreneur.
Smallholding can give you a very rich life, but it is unlikely to make you wealthy in purely financial terms.