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Smallholders Handbook Part 4

Here is our forth instalment about joining the Good Life and living off the land with a sustainable smallholding.

At BigBarn we would love to promote thousands of profitable smallholdings on our UK Food Map, reconnecting people with where their food comes from and helping build inclusive, sustainable, communities around food.

To help here is the forth of 12 extracts from Lorraine Turnbull’s book The Sustainable Smallholders’ Handbook


For many, the sole reason for seeking a life in the country with a patch of land to call their own is that they want to keep livestock. They may have had a lifelong hankering for chickens or donkeys or they may feel that the traditional country way of life necessarily implies keeping a couple of pigs.

friendly porkers

It’s harder to make money from animals than it is from fruit and vegetables and there are smallholdings that keep no livestock at all. But they’re probably a minority, and if you’ve always wanted a couple of chickens scratching around or a couple of ducks on the pond then have them. Money isn’t the be all and end all, and life is for living. Don’t go to your grave regretting the hens you always dreamed of: get them.

But there are caveats. One is that keeping any sort of livestock from poultry to bullocks on any more than a domestic scale involves a lot of regulation, long hours, and no holidays. Another is that as live animals, unlike rows of brassica or fruit trees, have minds of their own which might not always chime with yours.

If your only experience with livestock has been owning dogs or cats, you may understandably feel a little nervous at the prospect of coercing a reluctant ram, especially if you are small of stature, elderly, or physically challenged in any way. In fact even the most hale and strapping of novices will find that moving, shearing, birthing and otherwise handling larger animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and alpacas is somewhat daunting, and I would strongly suggest volunteering to work on a farm first.

This will give you a good idea of what animals are like to work with; and agreeing with the rest of your family whether the end product will justify all the effort will save any tears and misunderstandings along the way.

For if you are going to keep livestock for meat, then everyone needs to understand that after five or six months lambs have to be taken for slaughter. By that time, fortunately, they’ve grown out of the cute little baa-lamb stage and become big, slightly smelly sheep.

CPH or farm holding number

If you intend to keep cattle (including buffalo), deer, sheep, goats, pigs or more than 50 fowl you will need a County Parish Holding or farm holding number, a nine-figure code mainly used to identify and trace livestock from its point of origin to whoever you sell it on to. You can apply or check if your holding already has a number at payments-agency (in Scotland, find your local Rural Payments & Services office at

Tempted? You can read more over the next few months or buy Lorraine Turnbull’s book The Sustainable Smallholders’ Handbook available here

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