We have been asked several times to explain how it could have possibly taken us four years to have found a suitable farm to purchase in middle Tennessee! We’re fussy! LOL!!
I think the first thing to remember is that selecting a farm that is going to pay for itself AND produce one’s living is a whole different ball game than selecting land on which to conduct your hobby. In order of preference we were looking for a combination of: capability, fertility, proximity and price.
Land Capability – I think anyone who has been to middle Tennessee would agree that the hills and hollows serve to make it a beautiful, pastoral place all year round. However those same hills and hollers make it nearly impossible to conduct any sort of large scale commodity type agribusiness. The terrain cannot be overcome. Tennessee is something of a progression of landscapes. West Tennessee is flat and has excellent agricultural soils, while Middle Tennessee has rolling hills, and East Tennessee has mountains. With the exception of Middle Tennessee's gently rolling fertile bottoms, our soils are not naturally particularly productive. Soil capability here is severely limited by either slope, drainage, depth, stoniness or general infertility. Fully 80 % of the land in middle Tennessee would quantify under severe soil capability restrictions. And fully half of the remainder….the flat, fertile bottoms…..are also in the flood plain. Not an ideal situation for grazing horses or cows.
The highest value agricultural usage for most of our brittle soils here is either perennial pasture or perennial timber with the latter being the right thing to do on steep slopes or in rocky glades. We wanted high capability to open up our options. Land that is suitable for growing a variety of crops AND pasture is a whole bunch more valuable and useful to us than steep, rocky hillsides.
Natural Fertility – Fertility determines productivity, with the difference in productivity between poor and excellent soils often exceeding 300 percent. The adage in agriculture is that good soil (well treated) is worth the money. On our current farm (Soil Capability Index range 4-6), our soil will allow a stocking density of about 1 horse per 3 acres. If we were to exceed this level we’d instantly pay for it with massive amounts of soil erosion and much reduced pasture growth. The farm we bought (Soil Capability Index range 1- 2) should allow 1 horse per 1.5 acres thus halving the cost of land and land development. This was a very limiting factor in our search. We were determined to have good, productive soil that was not in a flood plain, and there just isn't an abundance of this type of land available in middle Tennessee, and even less that is for sale at any given time.
Proximity – Obviously, we need reasonable access to equine infrastructure which ruled out large chunks of the state entirely. This infrastructure includes feed dealers and manufacturers, equipment dealers, fence dealers, and most importantly, VETERINARY SERVICES. We have an excellent veterinary clinic that we work with in Tennessee Equine Hospital. They are continually expanding their resource through both technology and through expansion of staff. They have eight equine veterinarians on staff which means someone is available 24/7/365. Many areas of middle Tennessee simply did not have the veterinary resources that we felt comfortable with. Of course there were large animal vets, but they did not have the manpower or facilities that we felt we needed. Our new location is smack in the middle of Tennessee Equine's service area. Additionally, our owners live all over North America and they fly in to see their horses. To accommodate them, we need to be relatively proximate to an international airport. Our new farm is about an hour from large airports at either Nashville or Huntsville, Alabama.
Land Prices – Because of our location in the Sunbelt, our relatively mild climate and our diversified economy, this area’s population and industrial base is growing rapidly. What little flat, deep soil we have here is under severe pressure for housing or industrial development, even many miles away from Nashville. There is a reason that most horse operations AREN’T pasture based and that reason is LAND PRICE. It’s cheaper (yes, really) to buy a little bit of land and build big barns (which allow stocking FAR beyond the land’s fertility and capability) than it is to buy land and stock it according to it’s capability. Perhaps not coincidentally and on an entirely different note, this is exactly the same reason that “factory” farmers build CAFO’s. CAFO stands for concentrated animal feeding operation. One of our California residents came from a barn that had over 400 horses on 25 acres. Every part of the facility was either parking area, barns, or arenas, no turnout at all.
Thus, for those of you who are wondering why it could possibly take over four years for us to find the right acreage these are some of the parameters that drove our search. In the end we really didn't compromise on any of them, except on land price. We ended up spending more per acre than the wanted, but short of moving to Lexington, KY we were unable to find a way around the price factor. In the end we are extremely happy with the farm we purchased, and we hope we will still feel that way after we have built out the property and are actually living there!
Lily and MyLight were prancing around on a windy day this weekend while Buffy and Missy watched.
Jo, 1/2 of the World's Cutest Fainting Goats team
Leo and Dustin
Trigger and Thomas
Lily, MyLight, Harmony and Cuff Links