Home on the Range #001: Finding a Place of Your Own
Welcome to our reoccurring series of “Home on the Range.” Here, we would like to share all of our experiences for those who may be homesteading, living off the land, hunting, farming, ranching, and truly investing in nature and the great outdoors. The ability to provide for yourself and your family can be tremendously rewarding and simultaneously difficult at times. So, in “Home on the Range” we want to share our different exploits so you can learn and hopefully we can receive your feedback along the way as well.
A bit of background: for years, I have been looking for a place to start a small-scale agricultural operation. I previously had some land that I hunted, fished, and did wildlife habitat rehab on. Unfortunately, it was no good for farming or ranching year round. The growing season at such a high altitude (over 7000 feet) was too short, and the winter (which in the mountains can be 8 months) access from my house was too long of a drive. Other ranchers in the area all had winter pasture in lower elevations, something I did not have. I would have had to fight an uphill battle trying to make a go of it in such a harsh place. Instead, when I was ready to start the ag operation, I looked for greener pastures.
This put me in the same boat as many others out there looking to make a go of it themselves with a self sustaining ag operation. I don’t have the advantage of growing up doing this. I do, however, have the huge advantage of having an excellent mentor with more than a half century of experience in farming, ranching, and transforming solar energy into food under his belt. That, combined with a healthy dose of ag classes, gave me the motivation and ability, and a little bit of base knowledge to go forward with realizing my dream. Note: This brief article is in no way the “only way” or “best way” to find a place to farm, rather it is the direction I decided to go, and it has worked well for me so far.
Find a Direction
Before starting my search, I knew exactly what my goals were. That gave me a clear direction to go in and criteria to look for. My goals were to raise bison for personal consumption as well as small scale sales, and to have space to grow at least enough produce for my own family. Everyone will have their own goals and criteria to look for. These are just what works for my vision. My criteria were:
- Water rights and infrastructure: I needed decent priority rights and was looking for a place with a decent system in place. I’ve rehabbed a system that was neglected for 30 years before, and had no desire to do it again.
- Structures, or rather lack thereof: I didn’t want to pay a premium for a fancy house or for a run down cabin about to fall apart. Price per acre goes way down when there’s not pre-existing structures you’re paying for. The same can be said for ag facilities.
- Good year round access: Of course there’s a caché to super remote locations, but getting to and from there can get old if the roads are bad.
- Soil quality/carrying capacity: Make sure the land can sustain your maximum targeted number of livestock and/or grow what you want/need.
- Good neighbors: Neighbors, even if they have thousands of acres, can be a tremendous resource or a tremendous pain in the rear. I was looking for trustworthy, helpful neighbors, who I wouldn’t mind working together with on fencing, firefighting, road maintenance, escaped livestock, etc.
Pool Your Resources
Be sure to draw on your own circle of human resources to aid you with establishing your goals and criteria, and assessing potential properties. Lessons in agriculture are often hard learned, and someone with experience can spot a potential problem or advantage that you might not see if you are just starting out. If you have a specific area of agriculture that you would like to focus on, there are many good organizations out there that can provide you with a wealth of information as well as a network of knowledgable individuals to call upon for advice. In my own example, the National Bison Association is a tremendous resource for networking and knowledge for the aspiring bison rancher.
I live in a “mountain state”, and good, arable land is at somewhat of a premium. I looked at a lot of places, and discouragements abounded. Stubborn tenants, wonky water rights, complicated easements, historical graveyards, pumps held together with baling twine, derelict gas stations, you name it. Thankfully, last year a very good opportunity came up with no structure, just an excellent overhead irrigation system already in place on a viable alfalfa operation.
The water rights are decent, the roads good, the soil excellent, and the neighbors have a good reputation. After doing detailed assessments of the water and soil, I was convinced that this was a place where I could make a good attempt at reaching my goals.
As I embark upon or complete each project on the ranch, I will try and relate my experiences to you, the readers. Hopefully a few of you can take away something from my experiences, successes and failures, and use it towards realizing your own goals and dreams.