When starting a farm, it is important to follow some good principles for layout. The organization of roads, buildings, plots and other major infrastructure and field layout can be a major opportunity or constraint for the property owner for years to come. One mistake in layout can result in repeated impediments to easy management every single year!
Here are some principles for property layout for small farms
Understand the Levels of Permanence on Your Property
Some aspects of your property are more easily changed, removed or modified than others.
For instance, you cannot change where the municipal road is or the direction of the prevailing winds. On the other hand, you can more easily change the current vegetation of a field or shift the composition of the soil.
Understand How to Work with Permanent Features, Channel & Direct Environmental Flows
You cannot change the road location. But you could modify your driveway to access your property at the best point for your farm layout.
You cannot change the prevailing winds. But you can put in a wind break.
Strive to understand ways to channel the energy moving through the farm, and work with existing infrastructure.
Understand That Permanent Features Need More Consideration at the Planning Stage
If you want to shift the balance of your sandy soil and increase organic matter, you don’t need a lot of forethought before deciding to amend the soil with organic matter. On the other hand, raising a new building requires much more consideration to avoid placing in in the wrong location.
A poorly placed building can dictate so much about your farm over the years.
Layout Along Common Lines
When you start to design the layout for new roads, lanes, buildings, plots and such, you need to work with the lines that already exist in your property: fence lines, municipal roads, edges of buildings, current laneways, etc.
Build out from these features to make your property easily manageable for tasks such as future mowing, plowing and fencing.
Consider Natural Lines
You also need to work with the natural lines of the land. Consider your hillside slopes, wetlands and drylands, edges of woodlands and fields, old gravel pits and areas with rockier soil types.
When we map and understand the environment of our property, we can plan our farm layout to avoid issues with snow accumulation on roads, woodlot encroachment into a garden and broken tractor implements from stones.
Read more: Grow more with less through farm efficiency.
Make Sure to Make Themes for Your Property
Before you lay out major laneways, plots and buildings, look at the current common and environmental lines, and consider your intended use of different existing fields and areas. Give themes to these areas by employing a circle map technique.
First, print an aerial view of your property. Make a larger, overlapping circle across the entire area (maybe 6 to 9 circles). Then create smaller, themed circles to help focus your intent.
One area can serve primarily as the “farm center” where buildings will be located. Another circled area would probably work best as a back hay field, while an area circled for its good soil should serve as the garden.
Connect These Themes by Design for Flow & Movement
Consider how these different areas connect via roads and lanes, and the movement of energy throughout the property. Make sure they link up in sensible ways for what actually moves between the zones.
If produce from a garden is brought up to the barn area, processed and stored in a cold cellar, then picked up by a truck to go to market, it makes sense to build new infrastructure with this flow in mind.
Don’t place your cold storage between the garden and the wash station. Rather, place the wash station as the first stop from the garden, then lay out roads to flow into the cold cellar and out easily to market.
Consider the Scale of Your Equipment & Prioritize Access
When laying out and constructing roads, buildings and fields, always take into account the scale of your equipment. Your roads should be wide enough to easily pass with your tractor when carrying heavy loads or pulling laden wagons. And you should plan buildings to easily house this same equipment.
With smaller-scale operations using primarily two-wheel tractors, you won’t really need large laneways and infrastructure.
However, consider building larger for a one-time future need, not your daily use. Might you someday need a neighbor’s tractors to get in and plow up 3 acres for you? Do you want access with a pickup truck (or potentially even a crane) to drop some prefabricated concrete arches for a root cellar. (This happened to me!)
Sometimes we are surprised at the scale of laneways we need in the future. So hedge your bets and make accessibility a key part of design. And make this flexible for equipment larger than what you actually use and own.
Straight or Gently Curved
When it comes to layout of roads and field and plots, I prefer to keep them straight or gently curved depending on the slope and the current layout of fields and roads.
Straight and square and rectangular plots are much easier to work with. However, with sloped land there’s some benefit to working on contour. So, in this case, I opt for a gently curving row or garden bed, rather than upfront contour planting.
These are a few, but not all, of the the principles I use for farm property layout.