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By January 14, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

Viable Self-Sufficiency Checklist

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self sufficiency checklist

Dot Tyne, co-author of our forthcoming book, Viable Self-Sufficiency and contributor writing the very popular Smallholder’s Diary every month in HF,  goes through the Viable self-sufficiency checklist used on their own smallholding every couple of years to make sure they stay focused and every bit of their business is pulling it’s weight. So without further a do here is our Self Sufficiency Checklist.

See also:

How Much Land do you Need?

The Self-Sufficient Garden

Keeping Sheep Part 1

Keeping Sheep Part 2

Keeping Sheep Part 3

 

Our Self Sufficiency Checklist

 

Self-sufficiency is a goal that many aspire to, but to achieve it in a way that is financially sustainable is a constant challenge. There is no right or wrong way of going about it – every smallholding is different, as are the individuals who live and work on them – but there are things you can do that may make success more likely.

In order to make self-sufficiency a reality over a prolonged period it’s important to take a step back from time to time, perhaps every couple of years or so, and make a careful assessment of the different aspects of production on the holding. Look at the balance between inputs and outputs, and if you feel the result is not satisfactory, consider the changes you could make to improve the way you do things. Nothing is set in stone – for each particular aspect of your self-sufficiency ask yourself whether it is successful; if it is a good use of resources; do you have the time to do it justice; do you enjoy doing it; and is it economically viable?

VEGETABLE GROWING

To see our quick crib sheet click here.

Were the crops you grew well utilised?

If the answer to this is no, then you need to think about why things you grew went to waste. Key points to think about would be:

  • Only grow things that you know everyone will eat.
  • Try not to grow more than you need.
  • Look at ways of preserving gluts of various crops – consider freezing, drying, making into chutney, etc.
  • Get a pig to eat anything that you can’t . They will munch up bolted lettuces, split cabbages, surplus beans and so on.
  • Try to be more organised about harvesting your crops if wastage was due to things being past their best before you found time to do anything with them.
Did you manage to grow a good range of crops for year-round harvesting?

If you found you needed to buy in vegetables at certain times of the year because you didn’t have anything ready to harvest, then:

  • Look carefully at your cropping plan. Try to see where the gaps in the calendar are, and look through the seed catalogues to find something that will help to fill them.
  • Try to reduce the ‘hungry gap’ by planting some autumn-sown varieties of beans, peas and brassicas, which will mature considerably earlier than the traditional spring-sown types.
  • Consider extending the growing season by utilising a conservatory or investing in a greenhouse or polytunnel, allowing your crops to get an earlier start (and hence an earlier harvest).
Were the crops you grew strong and healthy?

If the answer to this is no:

  • It could be due to poor nutrition in the soil. The earth in your veg patch is the biggest asset your garden has and you need to look after it, feeding the ground so that it can provide sufficient nourishment for your growing plants. If you have got livestock on your holding, regular applications of farmyard manure (FYM) will do your plots the world of good. It will feed your plants long term, is very good at aiding water retention and also at improving drainage. Liquid feeds made using comfrey or stinging nettle tea can be used to give heavy feeders a boost, rather than reaching for the chemical fertiliser.
  • Keep a close look out for pests and diseases, which can seriously impact on yields and vegetable quality. Choosing varieties that have natural resistance will give you a head start.
  • Make sure that you are providing sufficient water during dry spells for thirsty crops. Utilise rainwater whenever possible by collecting from the roofs of your house and outbuildings.

FRUIT

To see our quick crib sheet click here.

Did your fruit bushes and trees perform as well as you expected?

If not:

  • It could be due to a lack of nutrients in the soil. It is all too easy to get caught up in getting the veg patch sorted out and then forget about the fruit garden. Most fruit trees and bushes will appreciate an annual dressing of FYM, and they are also rather partial to a bit of bonemeal, which is rich in potash. If you have a wood-only fire, the ashes from this will do just as well, and be more cost-effective too.
  • Assess all the plants for signs of disease on a fairly regular basis. Anything found to be diseased should either be treated or grubbed out and burnt before it spreads to other, currently healthy plants.
  • In the case of soft fruit, they might just be getting old. Fruit bushes usually have a limited productive lifespan. It varies between species. Strawberries have the shortest productive life of only three seasons, but luckily they are very simple to propagate, so replacing them regularly is not too much of a chore.
growing Strawberries

Strawberries have a short productive life of only three seasons, but luckily they are very simple to propagate.

  • Be patient. Top fruit will often get better as it ages, assuming that trees are well looked after. Although you will get some fruit from quite young trees, it may take five or six years before you start getting really good crops.
Where you able to use all your fruit?

If not:

  • Make better use of your freezer. Soft and stone fruit respond very well to freezing, so if you can’t use everything you have harvested in a day, pop it in the freezer. Apples for cooking can be puréed before freezing.
  • Apples and pears of certain varieties will keep quite well in a dry store, but need to be checked over regularly. Remove any that are starting to go bad.
  • Try to be more imaginative about how to use the crop before it rots. The usual jam, chutney and wine spring to mind, as do cider and perry.
  • Share it with your neighbours, sell it from the farm gate, or, if all else fails, give it to the pigs. They won’t mind if it is past its best!

POULTRY

To see our quick crib sheet click here.

Did the hens provide you with a regular supply of eggs throughout the year?

If not:

  • Make sure that the hens you have are selected for a long laying season – you’re most likely to find this trait in one of the many commercial hybrids that are widely available.
  • Provide lighting in the hen-house. This can help to extend the period of lay by fooling the birds’ reproductive system into thinking that the days are still long and balmy.
  • Get hold of a few ‘point of lay’ pullets in August each year. These youngsters should start laying before the autumn sets in, and they will often produce eggs right through their first winter.
  • Your birds might be past their best. Replacing hens on a regular basis can make a big difference. You can put the old hens in a casserole. There won’t be much meat on them, but they will have a good flavour.
  • Try keeping ducks instead. Egg-laying strains should lay right through the year – a good Khaki Campbell should lay the same 300 eggs a year claimed by the hybrid hen breeders, but without the need for extra lighting.
Was it cost-effective to fatten poultry for the table?

If not:

  • Don’t bother fattening home-hatched surplus cockerels unless you are specifically keeping a table breed. You will have to pour a huge amount of food into them to get any meat on them at all.
  • Try buying in day-old meat hybrid chicks such as Ross Cobbs. They are not expensive to purchase and are widely available. They will grow like nothing else on earth if they have access to feed on an ad lib basis, and can be ready for the table in as little as 8–10 weeks (although keeping them for a few weeks longer will give you really big birds suitable for feeding a large and hungry family!).

Chicks

  • Deal with the killing, plucking and dressing of the whole batch as soon as they are ready. It is not economical to keep feeding them beyond the point at which they are ready for killing. The amount of feed they have to eat to add 1lb of weight will increase as they get older, making your meat more expensive.

SHEEP

To see our quick crib sheet click here.

Were your sheep productive enough to cover their costs and satisfy your requirements?

If not:

  • Are you sure that you have got the right breed to meet your aims? Don’t be afraid to sell the flock and replace it with something more suited to you and your need.
  • Was there sufficient grazing for them? If not, think about going for a more prolific breed so you can have the same number of lambs, but keep fewer ewes, reducing the pressure on your grazing. Or look at how you can improve your grassland, perhaps by reseeding or using more FYM on the land. Avoid overstocking at all costs.
  • Look at the way you market your surplus lambs. This is the cash producing side of things which is necessary to pay some of the bills. Would you be better to lamb earlier in the year in order to have lambs to sell sooner, while the prices are higher? Carefully consider whether you might be able to exploit niche markets if you keep a rare or unusual breed of sheep.
  • Check that there are no underlying health issues that resulted in reduced returns from your flock.
  • Learn to do the routine shepherding and annual tasks yourself.
Sheep

Learn to do the routine shepherding yourself.

PIGS

To see our quick crib sheet click here.

Do you know how much it is costing you to produce your pork?

If not:

  • Keep better records! Note down everything that you spend on rearing your porkers to killing weight. Include in this the initial cost of the weaners and, at the other end of the process, the costs associated with slaughter and butchery. Set this against the quantity of meat you get. If the cost per kilo is higher than shop-bought meat, then you are definitely going wrong somewhere.
Do you need to cut the costs of your pig keeping enterprise to make it more viable?

If yes:

  • Make use of alternative feedstuffs to reduce reliance on bought-in pig feed. Utilise wastage from the garden as much as you can (but remember that you can’t feed kitchen scraps).
  • Use surplus milk from your house cow or goats to supplement the pigs’ diet. You can get a long way towards fattening a pig by feeding milk and rolled barley (which is relatively cheap).
  • Make sure that the pigs are warm enough and have a snug place to lie up. In winter, pigs use up a lot of their food just keeping warm, instead of using it to grow and get fat.
  • Consider buying in a couple more weaners than are needed for your own consumption. These extras can be reared alongside your own, and then sold by the half pig to friends and family. The income from selling these should cover a good proportion of the costs of rearing the whole batch, so your pork will be considerably better value.

pigs

  • Don’t be tempted to keep more than you know you can eat and sell.
  • Send them to the abattoir as soon as they are ready. They keep eating (and costing you) every day you delay in sending them off.

CATTLE AND DAIRY

To see our quick crib sheet click here.

Did you produce enough milk to satisfy your requirements?

If not:

  • Consider changing from goats to cows, or, for either species, increase the number of milking animals and stagger the birthing dates to ensure continuity of supply. A change of breed, management or grazing system could also result in increased output.
Are you making efficient use of surplus milk, over and above what’s required for domestic consumption?

If not:

  • Milk makes good stock feed. Piglets will do pretty well on a diet supplemented by home-produced milk, and it will reduce the feed costs associated with rearing them. Therefore, you could make good use of the surplus by buying in extra weaners.
  • Buy in extra calves to rear on the bucket. A calf will need a gallon of milk a day until it is about ten weeks old, so make sure that your surplus is fairly constant before committing yourself. Calf rearing is a particularly good way of increasing the financial output from your cow – with careful management you might rear as many as seven calves on the milk from one cow, and still have enough for the house. The proceeds from the subsequent sale of these should pay for their keep, cover the cost of producing the milk in the first place and hopefully leave a bit over as well. In effect your milk for the house will have been free.
  • Look at other ways you can utilise the milk for home consumption. Think beyond liquid milk to cream, butter, ice cream, yoghurt and cheese. If you can make better use of the milk in these ways you will also save on your domestic grocery bill.
Did your store cattle sell as well as you expected?

If not:

  • Were they in good enough condition when you sent them to market? If you see them every day and have nothing to compare them to, it can be very hard to assess whether or not they are actually in good nick.
  • Are your cattle the right sort to sell well in a market? Some of the less commercial breeds and crosses will attract very little interest in a standard market. You might need to think more carefully about the type of cattle you keep.
  • Try to keep (and sell) bunches of cattle that make a well-matched group – i.e. the same breed, colour, sex and age.

cows

  • If there is one beast in the group that doesn’t match, is smaller, or a poor doer, this might be the one to single out for home consumption. Keep it another six months after selling the rest of the batch, on good grass and a bit of cake, and it will improve no end.

PLANNING

Do you have clear aims and objectives for your holding?

If not:

  • Try to come up with a plan that covers all the things you are trying to do on your holding. Include all the growing and livestock, but also look at building maintenance, fencing, grazing management and so o.
  • Be realistic about the amount of time you have to spend working on your holding. Time is a finite resource and there is never going to be any more of it. If you work off the holding five days a week, then you are unlikely to be able to do as much with your land and animals as someone who is at home most of the time.
  • Use a wall planner to note down when keys tasks have to be carried out and then stick to it.

STILL STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS MEET?

  • Economise. Reduce the frequency of shopping trips. If you run out, learn to live without.
  • Learn some basic skills such as welding, shearing, butchery and accountancy to cut down on contractors’ charges.
  • Look for grant funding to improve the energy efficiency of your home and the infrastructure of your smallholding.
  • Explore alternative fuel and energy possibilities.
  • Don’t be shy about claiming support payments – the system was designed to assist folk on low incomes.
  • Remember that you may also be entitled to agricultural and environmental scheme payments.
  • Work more closely with other smallholders – reduce the number of enterprises on your smallholding, enabling you to specialise in what you do best, then swap produce with your neighbours.
  • Use barter as a method of exchange wherever possible.
  • Harvest ‘food for free’ from the hedgerows whenever the opportunity arises, and don’t turn your nose up at roadkill – rabbits, pheasants, hares and even deer may find their way into your freezer by this method.
  • Share transport with others for regular trips such as the school run.
  • Purchase all your clothing in charity shops.
  • Involve your children in all smallholding activities from a very young age – as they grow up you’ll find you have a ready trained workforce in residence!
  • Make use of schemes that may provide you with labour in return for keep and experience (WWOOFers, for example).
  • Look for alternative income streams that are flexible enough to allow you to work from home in the evenings, after the day’s work on the holding is done.
  • Abandon all hope of ever having a holiday again!

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