So you've decided to start a small farm, but you're not sure what animals to raise, or what to plant. How do you decide?
What appeals to you?
The most likely candidates for farm animals are the ones that you're drawn to naturally. If goats seem odd or strange, maybe they're not for you. Perhaps you have fond memories of petting cows on your grandparents' farm or have a fondness for pigs.
If your goal is to start a business with your farm, think carefully about markets for your product, and do some research to see if there is demand for it. If your goal is self-sufficiency, you'll want to consider what kind of food you and your family like to eat. Don't raise pigs if you never eat pork!
Be Cautious About the Unusual
Often, people are drawn to unusual or exotic animals. Their thought process is often that something that isn't "what everybody else is doing" will be marketable. This isn't always a logical conclusion. While specialty crops can be a great way to generate income, sometimes this can backfire. Be sure there's a market for your unusual animal, herb, vegetable or fruit before investing a lot of money in it.
Make a List
Make a list of your potential animals and crops. Leave room for notes, and make sure to list the reasons why you are considering this particular animal or crop. Use this list to gather tidbits of information as you get further into the research process.
Read About It
Go to the library or your local independent bookstore and look at everything you can find about the animals and crops on your list. Use the Internet to search for basic information on raising each animal. At this point, you might start narrowing down your list as you find out more details. Whenever you lose focus, look back at your goals for your farm and ask yourself: does this animal or crop further my goals?
Talk to Farmers
You've pondered it, read about it, and thought some more about it. Sometimes you just have to experience things to figure out your path, and nowhere is this more true than farming.
Find some local farmers who are raising the animals or crops you're considering. Ask them about their successes and their challenges. Go pet the animals, see the housing and fencing that the farmer has chosen, experience the animals in three dimensions.