Few experiences intimidate a new farmer more than walking into an agricultural supply store in search of equipment. Unless your farm is backed by a wealthy benefactor, you’ll probably exit sweaty and dejected, realizing that 1) you need more stuff than you thought you did and 2) you can barely afford any of it.
I know. I’ve been there. But also realize a couple of truths about the farm supply store before attempting another go at it. The first is that the economics of the farm supply store mirror other facets of American commerce in that you don’t actually need much of what’s on those shelves—sure, a certain product might make a chore easier, but if you don’t have it, you’re still up to the task. The second truth is that a lot of that stuff is cheaply made, and you can do better for less on an online classifieds site such as craigslist.
Before I go further, please know that craigslist and outlets like it can’t earn anyone’s wholehearted endorsement—there are too many people involved to predict what any single experience will be, so don’t be mad at me if your transaction doesn’t go as planned (or if you’ve had one that went poorly). But generally speaking, a farm can benefit from judicious use of the site, as ours has.
It’s a good idea to take the time to list the things you need, the things you want and the things that would enable you to do something new. For the things you need, you can create something called an applet at the website IFTTT.com to monitor your local craigslist and send you alerts when certain items are listed. I’m personally more inclined to check casually for the other items on the list—farm budgets don’t usually have too much of a slush fund, and the “wants” are best left for deals that are too good to pass up.
The classified site has a section dedicated to farm and garden supplies, and I start there when looking for anything. Browsing this section on my local site, I see a wide range of items, including tractor attachments, hand-built feeders and even a World War II horse gas mask. If you see something you need, compare the price to what you saw at the farm supply store—if there are meaningful savings and the item appears to be in good shape, it might be worth investigating. Unless you’re a skilled and knowledgeable mechanic, however, think twice before rushing to buy a tractor or lawn mower—older parts can be difficult and expensive to replace, and without a warranty, you take a big chance on what you take home.
If you’re new to the farm and garden section, you might be surprised by the amount of livestock for sale on there, but you’ll soon find yourself fawning over spring lambs and aching to raise show chickens. We purchased our Dexter cows from a kindly hobby farming couple a few hours down the road, and we carried them home in an old trailer we picked up the week prior for an amazing price from a guy who’d decided to stop keeping horses. For a while we bought piglets from a breeder we found on craigslist specializing in Berkshires; when we decided we were ready to farrow our own piglets, we found a purebred breeding pair down the road. Just make sure not to get in over your head just because you can—we wanted those spring lambs, too, but soon realized we’d be feeding the coyotes if we got them.
Finally, look at the free stuff section—you won’t always find what you need now, but if you have a trailer and a free day, you can stockpile things you might need later. Wood, for example, is amply available, and you can sometimes score a free building or fencing if you’re willing to disassemble and haul it away. There’s always a chance of a one-off score if you look at the right time—my wife and I once answered a “curb alert” notice for a free pickup truck cap.
While craigslist is hardly a well-kept secret, the boon it can be to the budget of struggling farmers is worth pointing out. So next time you’re at the farm supply store and pining for equipment priced beyond your reach, take a minute to search craigslist—you never know what you might find.