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From One Novice Farmer to Another: Questions to Answer Before Beginning Farming

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By Bradley Rankin | Apr 25, 2021

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Bradley Rankin

Bush hogging a field with the dog guarding
Photo by Bradley Rankin

Have you been thinking lately about taking the plunge and buying or leasing a small farm? If the answer is yes, then I would like to share with you my experiences since 2018 for finding, purchasing, and developing our 48-acre Kentucky farm. Learn from the mistakes and triumphs my wife and I have experienced along our journey together.

I had practically no experience, knowledge or needed equipment before diving in. If this sounds like you, I believe I can save you both time and money along the way. I have made good decisions and bad, and I have been both very lucky and somewhat unlucky at times. But I can tell you, at least for me, there has been nothing more rewarding than taking care of this patch of land and the animals it supports.

There are some questions I have for you to ponder in your spare time. Right off the bat, I will tell you that the most common mistake we made was being in too much of a hurry. So, take your time, — and while you do, these are the questions I would ask you if we were talking over a cup of coffee.

Do you really want to take on the added responsibility of taking care of a farm?

Are you ready with your chainsaw to take care of trees that have fallen on your roads or trails? There will be many that do so, and they don’t always fall at an opportune time. The work never ends, but it is the work that I enjoy most. However, there is a lot more of it than you will ever realize until you get into it.

Do you have the physical strength and endurance to take on such as task?

Are you as young as you used to be? If you have never had this thought, you are good to go on this one. A lot depends on the terrain and many other factors, but managing a farm is physically demanding — just ask any kid that grew up on one. I would think most adults would wish they were at least 10 years younger when they begin farming, regardless of their age.

Do you have the mental space and work schedule to take care of all that will need to be done?

Let’s say you have a busy job that requires your full attention.  At the same time, you have a certain window of time to get a food plot planted and a few days of rain is predicted soon. This is the perfect — and perhaps your only — time to plant. You will have to do your final calculations on what you will need, drive to your farm, perhaps stop for supplies, and make sure you and your equipment are ready for the task.

But that job of yours just keeps getting in the way! The folks that make their living farming may be planting after the sun goes down into the middle of the night. Could you do the same thing and do your job effectively the next day? It is a balancing act you will not be able to avoid. Farms take up a lot of space perhaps in more ways than one.

Do you have the equipment and tools you will need?

On this one, I did have some basic tools. But a tractor? I could recognize one if I saw one, but that was about it. I wish I had spent a couple of days with someone with experience ahead of time. Don’t assume a brief review by whomever delivers your tractor will be enough. There is a lot to it.

I needed an ATV, which is a must in my opinion. Side-by-side or a four-wheeler is a choice to make that will depend on your needs — the former worked well for me. You will need a lot of equipment, mostly gas-fueled, and you will have to learn all of their quirks and how to get the dang things to start. You will spend time and money on maintenance. You will have to have space to store your machinery and extras, such as tractor implements.

Do you know anything about planting or how to solve soil-erosion issues?

You have no interest in row crops you say? You have no creeks on your land? Well, either way, you will learn about soil erosion and water issues, I can guarantee that. It would be better to gain some knowledge ahead of time.

Do you have support from your family?

You will need it, plain and simple. If your spouse has no interest or will resist your time away, it is not going to be easy. If your children are into organized sports, it will be difficult to juggle. But for me, the fact that my wife and I are building this dream together is really the best part of it.

What is the main purpose of your farm?

Answering this question will determine a lot of how you approach it. Even though it has multiple purposes, for us, attracting and supporting wildlife has evolved into our number one priority and enjoyment. But whatever the purpose, get experience with it the best you can. If you dream of raising chickens, learn about chickens in addition to thinking about all of the above.

Fawn-Grazing-In-Woodlot

A fawn on the farm
Photo by Bradley Rankin

To quote Rod Stewart, our coffee’s cold and we are getting told to get back to work. I am not trying to discourage you from pursuing your dream of farm life. I only want you to be more prepared for it than I was. I hope this has been helpful enough to you that you will join me next month when I will go into more detail on your search for that perfect farm that I truly hope you find.

Bradley Rankin farms several of the 48 acres at Bobcat Ridge Habitat Farm in rural Kentucky, where he and his wife also manage a woodlot to attract wildlife. When he is not tending woodlands and pasture, Bradley enjoys raised-bed gardening, rock collecting, tree identification, and astronomy. Read all of his GRIT posts here.

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