Blog & Updates

Ten years in the trenches

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, though the story has been going on. It’s also been ten years since I took on running this farm as my primary occupation, an event that deserves at least some remark. To … Continue reading

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, though the story has been going on. It’s also been ten years since I took on running this farm as my primary occupation, an event that deserves at least some remark.

To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand right now. As with most things, my views on farming have evolved with experience and are less likely than ever to fit in with most people’s preconceived notions about an undertaking they know, at best, by proxy.

At its simplest, I still believe passionately in what we are trying to do, but I am less convinced than ever that it can actually be done, mostly because a decade has taught me that our expectations as a society no longer match with what it takes to engage in small-scale agriculture.

Nearly every practitioner of that kind of agriculture I know, including my wife and myself, have had to seek out other forms of employment to cover the financial gaps farming won’t pay. This isn’t just a function of wanting more than we can afford either. Subtracting the cost of operating the farm itself, we literally live below the federal poverty rate, which fact is buttressed only by the fact we grow some portion of our own food.

I don’t say this as a troll for sympathy. Rather, it’s an observation of sheer fact. Despite the fact that every person living needs a farmer to survive, farming itself is a financially losing proposition in America in 2018. Already less that one percent of us do it. Already the average age of a farmer is 58. Already the average farming couple works 2.5 jobs.

I know this all sounds terrible, but I believe somebody has to tell the truth. What sits on your plate any given day has a cost you’re not paying. Those of us stubborn enough to keep doing it pay the difference because we believe in what we do, but sooner or later, passion alone won’t pay the bills. And then what?

In the meantime, we’ll keep trying until the mountain gets too tall to climb and land prices get to the point where the only logical thing to do is sell. The funny part is we’ll probably just buy a smaller place and try again. It’s in our blood that way.

DLH

Homemade hay feeders

I’m not really sure what most people use Pinterest for, but I discovered that it’s a pretty good source of ideas for farm projects. Just Google whatever it is I need to find, and chances are good that several of the top 10 results are Pinterest pins.
So I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when searching for sheep hay feeders and that happened.
I had a few needs for the hay feeders I wanted – they had to be shorter than my sheep (all of whom are around 24″ at the shoulders) to keep hay from settling in the neck and back wool. Sheep are amazingly messy eaters and will get hay all over themselves and their neighbors. As a spinner, the cleaner I can keep the wool, the less work I have to do to prepare it for spinning, after it’s been sheared. The feeders also needed to be portable. Bonus if I didn’t have to buy anything (or very little – it’s a solid rule of building that you *must* make at least one trip to the hardware/home store for something).
To the googles, and then to the pins! I found two that seemed to fit the bill, saved the pictures to my phone, and off to the barn and workshop for the carnage construction portion of the show.
It definitely took more time to assemble the parts than it did to make 4 feeders – 2 blue barrels, some 4x4s for the legs, some 1x6s for the support frame, a whole lotta deck screws, a few siding screws to screw the barrel to the wood, and the tools appropriate for the assembly. And as most projects, the first one took twice as long to make as the rest as I figured out the bits I couldn’t see from the Pinterest pictures.
Like any recipe, I modified to fit the materials I had, and the end product I had in mind.
And here it is:
They have been in use since fall 2017 and are holding up nicely, even when one of the sheep decide that there isn’t enough space to stand on the ground and decides that standing *on* the bale is a better decision.
I drilled a few drainage holes just in case, but since these are all under cover, they haven’t been necessary. Unfortunately, they don’t quite hold a full bale each, but I split a bale between 2 feeders and it works fine. Just need to take hay out to them more often, or I can pack 3 bales in the 4 feeders.
And the only thing I needed to buy was more deck screws. I’ll call that a win 😃

Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that … Continue reading

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that … Continue reading

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that … Continue reading

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Lamb watch 2017

Ruby and Lily

Gestation in sheep is between 142-152 days, with the average being 147 days. Pretty boy Sven was introduced to his lady friends Lily and Ruby on 27 September 2016, which would make this coming Saturday the earliest they could lamb. Assuming a whole lot of things, that is!

In expectation of the blessed events, I set up a “maternity pen” for the two ladies next to their current pasture area. This is for everyone’s safety, especially the lambs, because our two livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) have not experienced lambing before. With the excitement of lambing, I want the LGDs to have a good experience and learn that the lambs belong to the mama sheep, not to them. Hence the separate, but right-next-door pen. Everyone can see and smell, but not interfere.

Now there is a non-zero chance that one or both of them aren’t even pregnant. Both ewes have lambed before, and Sven is a daddy, so that’s something in my favor. I’m quite pleased to not have to go through “first lambing” with them!

So now we wait, I hope not too long, but as with all things farm-y, it is what it is.

 

Nekkid chicken nuggets

Due to some health issues, it has become necessary for us to eliminate just about all bread from our regular eating, which means some adjustments in food preparation.

I had just gotten my chicken nugget recipe to where I liked it (mostly), and breading was definitely a part of that. Now to revamp it to not have breading, which wasn’t going to work with shredding the chicken in the food processor.

Internet to the rescue! I started with this recipe, leaving out the wheat flour. After forming a few nuggets, that wasn’t going to work – the mixture was just too dry. Let’s toss in a few eggs and see if that works as a binder (it does every other time). It does work – huzzah!

The secret was using the meat grinder attachment on the Kitchenaid. That ground the chicken into small enough pieces (not quite a paste, but more like the ham in ham salad) that the egg would hold everything together.

And now we have nekkid nuggets – no breading, no problem.

More sheep needed

This has been a challenging year, animal-wise. The weather was cool and wet, then hot and dry, then wet again, which puts stress on the grass and the animals. Unfortunately, we’ve lost several due to that stress, including 2 of the Corriedale sheep (one being the ram). As much as I love the Corries, they just aren’t turning out to be the right breed for our farm, for various reasons. One of the other breeds I had looked at were Shetland sheep, a smaller and hardier breed from the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

Did some searching to find breeders in my area, and was surprised to find at least 4 within a reasonable driving distance. Made an appointment at the closest one, and now have a new fiber friend and 3 Shetland sheep!

One of the reasons I was wanting to have Corriedales is that they come in colors – the most common one around here is the cream, but there are also shades of brown and black. I discovered that the Shetlands come in those colors as well – white, and 10 registered shades of brown and black. Plus the lambs can be any of those colors and not necessarily the colors of the parents. The rams are typically horned, but they are curved horns – the pointy end is not toward the human! The ewes are usually polled (no horns).

I’m keeping the 2 Corriedales (Vicky and Sydney), and have found that Shetland/Corriedale crosses are not a bad thing, wool-wise. Hopefully next spring we will have some examples to show!

lily
Lily
ruby
Ruby
sven
Sven

 

 

When does it slow down?

I was asked a very interesting question yesterday – which is the slowest season on the farm? It took me a few seconds to think about it, and the answer is, there really isn’t a “slow” season, at least on our farm. Because we raise animals, every season is focused on their care and well-being.

Right now (fall), we are making sure things are ready for winter – hay in the barn, waterers ready to go, moving manure out of buildings, as well as putting up the garden items and machinery. Beef sides will be ready for processing in December, so there is the paperwork side of things to maintain.

Winter – keep the animals fed and watered, watch for new calves, work on outdoor projects as weather allows, mostly focus on indoor projects (indoor veg growing, household maintenance, etc), check the beehives every week or so and add food patties as needed. I’m hoping to experiment with dyeing my hand-spun yarn, and will spend more time in the pottery studio.

Spring – watch the ground to see when the grass starts growing and we can stop feeding hay, plan and plant the garden,  shear the sheep, plant the new hay field, make the list of things that need fixed/maintained this year, order meat chickens.

Summer – watch the weather and watch the grass grow, mow and bale hay, get the hay into the barn for winter, work on all those projects (they never end – finish one, find two more that need done), tend the garden, harvest honey as needed, process the meat chickens, mow  the few areas that need it (mostly clearing paths – the sheep and goats do the majority of the mowing around here!)

This is by no means a complete list – some things happen every season, like moving the sheep and goats around the farm for them to eat the grass and brush, or putting up/repairing fences (now that is a never-ending job…), checking the beehives, tending the animals, etc. Add in the daily household tasks (cooking, dishes, laundry, sweeping, etc.), and the hours fill up quickly.

Is it easy? No. Do we always *want* to go out in the heat/cold/rain/snow and do the job? No. I’m pretty sure just about everything on a farm is heavy or difficult, but it’s always interesting, and it always is engaging (physically, mentally, or both!).

I don’t know who originally said it, but the quote “Build a life you don’t need a vacation from” fits. I don’t think I could enjoy a “vacation” away from the farm – I’d be thinking about how everything is going. Did the old cow die, do the sheep have enough grass, on and on.

There you have it – there is no “slow” season on our farm, and every season focuses around caring for the grass, so we can care for the animals.123