Small Farm

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*Visit our Farm Speaker Series or Events Calendar for upcoming events and workshops*

What is a small farm? We define a small farm as a non-commercial operation, sometimes called a hobby farm, usually between 5 and 40 acres. Small farm owners typically maintain a career off the farm but enjoy the lifestyle that living on a small acreage farm provides. Small acreage farms in Whatcom County often include beef cows, pigs, horse, mink, poultry, llama, goat, sheep and/or others.

Your goals and ours… The purpose of a farm conservation plan, as defined by Whatcom County’s Critical Areas Ordinance, is to ensure your agricultural practices do not negatively impact critical areas. Through the process of creating and following a farm plan, you assess your farm goals and objectives, while acknowledging the ways that you will actively (rather than passively) manage your animals and your land in a way that is protective of water quality and habitat associated with critical areas on or near your property. You’ll find that what protects our environment also benefits you through better livestock health and through better forage production that can save you money in the long run!

How can we assist you? Whatcom Conservation District staff may be available to assist you with farm management options and help you understand current environmental laws that have been put in place to protect water quality and habitat associated with critical areas. Implementing a farm plan that incorporates "best management practices" will help ensure compliance with environmental laws and will also make your farm a better place to live economically and aesthetically. Whatcom Conservation District is a non-enforcement agency. Based on current funding (we are largely funded through grant monies), we may be able to provide education and technical assistance to help you develop a farm plan. Revisit this site for workshops and tour dates.



What is a Farm Conservation Plan? Small Farm Resources
Farm Management Tips Booklet Composting Guide
Farm Conservation Plan Checklist Upcoming Workshops and Tours
Best Management Factsheets  


What is a Farm Conservation Plan?

Plan MapA farm plan is a document assessing site specific aspects of a property and outlining best management practices identified as necessary to avoid potential negative environmental impacts of agricultural practices. An action plan is part of a farm plan, outlining a series of actions (with timetables for implementation) developed to meet a farmer’s goals and financial capabilities. Many things are considered in a farm plan, including farm acreage available for grazing/hayland, soil types, slope of the land, location of well head and septic system, proximity to streams, wetlands, and/or water bodies (i.e. swales, ditches, ponds, etc.), type and numbers of livestock or crops, and resources such as machinery or buildings.

You don’t have to be a commercial operation to benefit from developing a farm plan! Whatcom Conservation District works with farms of all sizes, from backyard horse or llama owners to dairy and beef operations with larger numbers of livestock.

Whatcom Conservation District is a non-enforcement subdivision of the State of Washington and is supported by grants. The District is charged with the duties of protecting the soil and water of Whatcom County, particularly in relation to farming and animal keeping practices, through technical assistance and education.

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Farm Management Tips booklet

Tips BookletThe Tips booklet introduces Whatcom County farm planning regulations and recommended practices that livestock owners can use to minimize negative environmental impacts of their agricultural activities. This 20 page full color booklet explains the Best Management Practices (BMPs) that can assist you with livestock management practices such as controlling mud, composting manure, pasture management, protecting streams and wetlands and much more!

Come by the Whatcom Conservation District office to pick up a free Farm Management Tips booklet.

You can view a PDF of the booklet (2MB low resolution) or Print Version (formatted for easier printing).

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Farm Conservation Plan Workbook

In Whatcom County, a Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) exists that regulates land use or development within critical areas and their buffers.  Within the CAO, there is a Conservation Program on Agriculture Lands (CPAL) section (WCC 16.16.290) that establishes guidelines to ensure that critical areas are protected from potential negative impacts of agricultural activities.  CPAL guidelines establish that ongoing agriculture activities are permitted within critical areas, and/or their buffers, upon implementation of an approved farm conservation plan in accordance with the CAO. 

The goal of the Standard Farm Conservation Planning process, using the Whatcom County Standard Farm Conservation Plan Workbook is to protect critical areas and their associated buffers from the potential negative impacts of farming related activities through a simplified planning process. Aquifer recharge areas, streams, ditches, lakes, ponds and wetlands are the relevant regulated critical areas for CPAL.

In general, farm planning starts with identifying the resources on a piece of land or management unit, the resource concerns, and solutions to those concerns.  Importantly, the farm planning process continues with implementation of those solutions, as well as the ongoing maintenance and adjustments to your management practices to account for changes in circumstances.

Standard Farm Conservation Plan Workbook (PDF Version)

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Additional Resources

Most of these links open as a PDF, if you do not have Adobe Reader, Click HERE to install.




Other Livestock



 Soils and Nutrient Analysis

  • General soil questions and soil type information available at the WCD office
  • Soil and forage, manure testing- local analysis available at: Analytical Labratories


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Factsheet CollageBest Management Practice Factsheets

We use the term “best management practices” or “BMPs” when referring to various methods for preventing or reducing potential pollution that could result from an agricultural activity. The term originated from rules and regulation in Section 208 of the federal Clean Water Act.

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Small Farm Composting Guide

The guide is written for use by landowners with small ‘hobby’ farms in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, Island, San Juan, Jefferson and Clallam counties and contains information about using composting as an option for managing livestock waste. The guide has information on why composting may be a good alternative for waste management, how to begin composting, and how best to manage your compost pile. The booklet also contains several compost bin designs and information on siting your bin. - Small Farm Composting Guide
Compost Bins