Before you buy

Lifestyle or life sentence?

The saying that owning a lifestyle block is actually a life sentence might sound harsh, but it contains elements of truth. It pays to do a reality check before you start bringing your dreams of a rural idyll to life.

  • If you have livestock, you must be prepared to go out in all weathers to look after them. This means checking them daily, possibly feeding out hay, moving them to new paddocks, and checking water supplies. At times you’ll also need to drench or administer other remedies, and potentially deal with issues such as hoof care and dagging, depending on which animals you own.
  • Often, managing land requires a lot of infrastructure. If you have pasture and animals, you’ll need fences, access to stock yards, sheds for storing machinery and feed, shade and shelter for animals, and water reticulation. You may need to create tracks to make it easier to move animals and equipment around the property. Other likely jobs are maintaining fences, applying fertiliser and controlling weeds and pests.
  • Do you have the time and ability to do all these things yourself? If not, can you afford to pay contractors?
  • Often city-dwellers forget that the countryside can be smelly. Sometimes local farmers spread effluent (cow poo that has built up in the ponds next to the dairy shed) on their paddocks. A crop of silage might not smell as sweet as it should. When seasonal weed spraying is happening, the smell of herbicide can be quite strong.
  • Rural life can also be noisy. During weaning time, when cows and calves are separated, each group will bawl for the next couple of days (and probably nights). Farm vehicles can run at odd times: late at night after finishing haymaking, very early in the morning when bringing cows in to milk, or if farmers are just starting work early to make the most of the weather conditions.

Do your homework

When buying land, as with most other things, you get what you pay for. Generally, the cheaper the property, the more you may have to do to it (and spend on it), or the more restrictions you may encounter. It pays to be realistic about what you can achieve on a property.

There are several things to check out before signing on the dotted line.

Secure water source

Finding a reliable water source is vital, especially with the likelihood of droughts and floods increasing due to climate change.

  • If there isn’t a natural water supply on the property, how will you ensure you can capture and store enough to supply your household needs, and those of your livestock, garden, orchard or crops? Depending on where the property is located, you may not be able to have a bore or you may need a consent. To find out, check rule C.8.5.3 of our proposed regional plan.
  • Do you have the finances to buy tanks and pumps, pay contractors, or pay for potential resource consents to create a dam or bore?
  • If you think you may get access to water on a neighbouring property, make sure it is legally recorded as an easement on the title.
  • In rural areas, your property may be located far away from the local fire brigade. Having water for firefighting purposes is highly recommended.

Soil type

Is the soil appropriate for growing the type of crops you’re thinking of? Many of Northland’s soils are prone to erosion, and often very wet in winter and rock-hard in summer. These things can be managed, but you need to know what your soils are capable of and how you should treat them. Check out the soils on the property using our maps and soil factsheets

Covenants or easements

What covenants or easements are there for this property? Do they fit with your plans or would they be difficult to work with?

Animal capacity

How many animals you might be able to have on your property depends on soil type, orientation (i.e. north or south facing), rainfall and other factors. However, a very rough guide of ‘stocking rates’ is:

Livestock class Steep or difficult country with rough pasture Easy and or flat country with good quality pasture
Sheep - 1 adult ewe producing 1 lamb per year 8 - 12 per ha 13 - 18 per ha
Young cattle - post weaning and up to 18 months 2 - 3 per ha 3 - 5 per ha
Adult cattle - including calving cows 1 - 3 per ha 2 - 5 per ha

Horses are more difficult to manage and potentially need at least twice as much space and pasture as cattle, but again this depends on the horse and the factors noted above.

Many lifestyle blocks are overstocked. This means soil in the paddocks is compacted, weedy and cannot produce good-quality pasture. Managing pasture on a small property can be difficult, as there are times when you’ll have too much (spring and autumn) and other times when you’ll have too little (dry summers and winter). However, in general it is better to be understocked than overstocked.

Buying in hay and other supplementary feed can be expensive, but you must keep your animals well fed and healthy, even if the grass isn’t growing. Consider working with neighbours to run stock across several blocks and maximise grazing capacity.

Shade trees and baleage stored ready for feeding out when grass supply is short.

Shade trees and baleage stored ready for feeding out when grass supply is short.