Buying a farm: how to find your dream ranch

Our cattle ranchOwning a farm can be a wildly rewarding endeavour. Maybe not financially at first, but the rewards are everywhere. There is something comforting about growing and producing your own food. In fact, we just had our fist meat entirely raised and grown on the farm. It was super cool.

Having said that, owning a farm can be challenging and is certainly not for everyone. It can be a lot of work, particularly depending on the condition of the property you buy. If you decide that owning a farm is something that you would like to pursue then one of the most important considerations that you will have is where you will buy your farm and what you should look for when you do.

Before you even start looking, start thinking about what you want to accomplish, what you want to grow or raise, where you intend to sell it, and how much you can actually make. I highly recommend doing a whole lot of research first and putting together a farm marketing plan.

Then get a realtor. One familiar with farms. It’s the best thing you will do.

Regulations and Tax Rebates

Where your farm is located can greatly impact both the taxes you pay as well as the tax rebates that you receive from the government. Many farmers receive some sort of tax rebate or farm subsidies and learning about which programs are available for you in your area of interest is a good place to start. The benefits will be different everywhere so do your homework. Here in B.C., farm status can drastically reduce your property taxes.

Also, make sure the land is properly zone for farm use that is appropriate to your needs. Some regions have ordinances against farm animals and even certain crops. Contact local officials to see if there are any rules that impact your plans and intentions for the farm. No use is buying property to run cattle on if livestock is forbidden. Generally, the further you go from the city, the fewer hassles of this nature you will encounter.

Access to Resources

An area that has good access to resources is important. For one, you will need a market to sell your produce in and a city is often the easiest place to sell, whether it’s through a cooperative, farmers market, or simply direct to consumer. And there are a lot more consumers in the city than the country. So being a reasonable distance from civilization might be something to consider.

Keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to fully support yourself on farm income alone. Access to a community where there are jobs available, either for you or a spouse, including seasonal work during the offseason, to help supplement your farm income should be a consideration. Proximity to small or larger cities will help here.

Resources are also needed for your farm to succeed. In particular water resources are essential to a farm and both quantity and quality of water is essential for your farm’s success. Pretty tough to grow much produce or keep animals quenched without water. As part of the buying process, have the water tested and see ensure a good flow and no hazardous pollutants. Chances are you will be out in the country and on a well so a good, deep, well with a strong flow is important.

And don’t forget about electricity. As you search for your farm, chances are you will come across a number of places that are “off grid”. It’s manageable, but before you just make sure you are up for the challenge. We were not. And frankly running things like heaters to keep livestock water in liquid form at -25 would be a great challenge on a solar power system.

Understanding your product and their prices

Before buying your farm or ranch, consider what you actually want to do. Are you looking to raise animals? Large ones like cows? Smaller ones like pigs? Really small ones like chickens? The size of the property you seek out will depend a lot on what you  want from your farm. It’s also good to explore the cost to getting into your desired product and the prices they sell for. Is it even worthwhile? Here is where a farm marketing plan comes in handy.

Consider the local conditions for the crops you are looking to produce. Not all crops are good for all locations and you should test the local soil to make sure that it has the nutrients necessary for your crops. Typically this means that the soil has sufficient minerals and nutrition and is not overly filled with clay like soil that does not retain moisture well. Consider checking with local agriculture extensions or offices for soil information for your local area before you buy farmland to see if it is suitable for the crops that you want to grow. This is an important consideration for both produce and animals. Remember, if you are looking to raise cattle, you need grass – and lots of it.

Factors that impact the soil you have include:

  • depth and quality of topsoil
  • the drainage of the soil
  • the nutrition and content of the soil (this can be corrected with proper fertilization)
  • the slope and altitude of the soil and farm

The Cost of the Farm

Finally the cost of the farmland is important as well. If the farmland is great but in a cost prohibitive area you will likely need to look for alternative options. Consider your resources available to finance your purchase and then consider the lending and financing that is available to you for your farm purchase. Check with your lender first too – not all lenders will finance farm land. I know, we went through a few trying to find one.

Also, consider if the farm income that you generate, including the farm subsidies and side seasonal income that you earn will be sufficient for you to cover your expenses or not. Cost is an important component to buying a farm and something that warrants significant consideration.

Most likely you will have to find a happy medium. Something that is out of the city, but within a few hours. The farther from large cities, the more affordable the pricing gets – but the fewer local customers you have. Get a few hours out of the city and the price of a farm drops significantly. We are more than a few hours from a major city, but we also bought our farm for less than the cost of a 1 bedroom condo in the city. You have to figure out what is right for you, but chances are half the reason you are even considering farming and ranching is to get out of the city anyhow.

State of the Farm

Finally consider how developed the farm you are buying is and what work will be needed to put your farm in working order. Are their buildings on the farm that can be used? Do they need to be fixed up? What about fences? Shops? Barns? If not, consider the cost of having them built on your farmland before you buy a farm.

That is a high level rundown on how to approach buying a farm and moving to the country. There is more to it than that, but it will be different depending on where you go so you will have to learn that for yourself. Us, we had to learn how to deal with feet upon feet of snow. It’s different, and takes some work, and equipment, but we got there.


  1. Christian Petersen says

    Hey Marc … My Cowboy Phase lasted from about age 2 to 22. I was bombing out of university at the time (1983), and decided to write the owner of the Gang Ranch. Lo and behold he hired me. I worked as an irrigator though, slogging pipes through the mud at the Perry spread east of Cache Creek. That lasted about two weeks, until I realized the whole operation, Biggest Ranch in the World!, was going bankrupt faster than a scalded cat. Most of the half-wit crew quit–so I did too. They did have a remuda of very fine two-three year old QH/Thoroughbreds at the time, and an American wrangler who wore his white shirts done up to the throat. He was good with the horses, and hanging out with him at the corral made the whole shitaree worthwhile. Because I never did get my $4.50/hour for my brief stint as a cowboy. … Must say, the heart of the dream remains alive–and I wish you & Shannon the very best in making yours real. … Christian

    • ontheranch says

      Thanks Christian. We are having fun, learning a lot that most city folk never get the chance to and savouring the journey.

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