Priorities for Setting up a Lifestyle Block

If you’re thinking of acquiring a lifestyle block, getting some livestock, keeping chooks and growing your own food, congratulations. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and I hope it turns out to be that way for you too. But be warned: it’s a heck of a challenge.

There’s a reason why some people refer to their lifestyle blocks as “life sentence” blocks. Unless you’re really careful, these properties can turn into the financial equivalent of black holes. And, because there’s usually a primary income from somewhere else, it can be easy to just keep pouring in the dollars with no financial return.

You might be happy with that. You might decide that the positives outweigh the financial negatives. However, there are other, equally important factors to consider. Even if you’re willing to part with money, you might not have enough time and/or energy to maintain your block. So it’s worth trying to be economical in every respect.

We were lucky; our property was already set up with the basics. But we still managed to make every mistake in the book and over the last three years, it’s cost us a lot of unnecessary stress. It pays to get your priorities straight, right from the start.

1. Take a long-term view

It’s one thing to fall in love with a place; it’s another to live there all the time. You might crave isolation but it comes at a cost — literally. Trips to town will chew through your fuel and diesel kilometres. Vet visits and any major goods delivery will be expensive. And if you can’t get by without a broadband internet connection, make sure it’s possible on your block before you move there. Satellite internet is slow and pricey.

2. Have a plan

This is something else you should do before moving onto your block.  Even if you don’t follow it to the letter, your plan will force you to think hard about what you want to do with your land and what that in turn will require. It’s a lot easier to change things on paper than after you’ve set it all up.

3. Complete projects in order

Let’s say you’re going to get a couple of cows and a few sheep. Here’s the order in which I’d do it: firstly, get the soil tested and begin applying any necessary amendments.  Secondly, sort out fencing and water supply.

Thirdly, put infrastructure in place (livestock yards, shelters, etc). Fourthly, acquire stock. Lastly, work up and re-sow the worst, most unproductive paddock. Renew one paddock a year until you’re happy with the pasture quality.

4. Wait a year before breeding your stock

The first stock unit we bought was a bull. He’s a fairly calm, well-behaved bull but if, like us, you have no prior experience with livestock, I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did.

Start with some girls. Observe their behaviour, get used to handling them and let them grow accustomed to you. All animals – even chooks – recognise and respond to the people who feed them.

When you feel confident, then bring in the boys and subject yourself to the emotional roller-coaster of lambing and calving.

5. Manage risk

Consider natural risks – fire, flood, earthquakes – and do what you can to minimise and/or mitigate them.

In some rural areas, you may need extra fire insurance to cover damage to neighbouring properties (even if the fire didn’t originate on your block but travelled through it). And you should ensure you are set up with a fire kit for your water tanks so that any stored water can be easily accessed in case of fire.

You should also consider how to deal with unforeseen weather events – droughts, early/late frosts, unseasonal hail storms, etc.

The best local information source about these is your farming neighbours. Chances are, they’ve been in the district a long time and can give you some idea about worst-case scenarios.