Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Farm update of sorts

Illoura asked me for an update on the farm and my goals for 2010. She specifically wanted me to talk about whether I had come up with a focus for the farm. She also mentioned wanting to get a farm herself and wondered whether she was romanticizing the farm life. So here goes.

Update for 2010 – we had our first babies born on the farm, 2 female Nigerian dwarf goats. We kept one of them, our sweet Callisto. We sold the sheep; I didn’t enjoy them and didn’t see that they were adding anything to the farm. We greatly increased our number of hens, through the great chicken swap and my friend Sandy. Unfortunately, most of the hens are of unknown age and don’t lay on a regular basis. We will be getting more hens this spring. We also got an angora doe so we can start breeding nigora goats. She will be bred in May when I breed the rest of the goats. We will have October babies this year. I wanted spring babies, but December was a terrible month for me health wise and I couldn’t get things set up to bring a buck here. The garden was a complete failure. I’m still learning on that front.

As for a focus for the farm, I really still haven’t come up with that. I know Mark would like the farm to make money, but I’m just not willing to put that much work into it. I’ve been scaling back for the last year because I was totally overwhelmed with the work load. So, I think the focus is mostly a hobby farm. We’ll raise hens for eggs and we do sell them when they are laying enough. And I’ll raise Nigerian dwarf and Nigora goats to sell. My goal is to make enough off of the animals to pay for their feed. So far, that hasn’t happened but hopefully someday. I think that is honestly all I can handle.

As for romanticizing farm life, most likely you are. I think we all do. I had helped a friend on her farm and thought I understood what it would entail but it is so much more than I thought it would be. When I pictured living on the farm, I pictured beautiful spring days working in the garden or sitting out in the pasture petting the goats. And I do get those days, but they aren’t the majority. What I didn’t picture was taking buckets of warm water outside 4 times a day when it is snowing so the goats have unfrozen water. I didn’t picture going out in the morning and finding the carcass of my favorite hen because the hawk got her. I didn’t picture it raining for a week straight and losing my whole garden to weeds. Or it not raining for a month when it is in the 90s every day and having all my plants die because I can’t keep up with watering 3 times a day. I didn’t picture going out to care for the animals everyday even in the rain or cold or when I’m sick or injured.

And I mostly didn’t picture the obligation. Because we have coyotes and hawks, I have to go out at night and lock the animals up which then means I have to go out every morning to let them all out. Twice a day, every day, no matter what. There is never a break. I can’t be lazy one day and not do it. I can’t be too tired. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to find a farm sitter. I love to travel and the only times I’ve left the farm since moving here has been to visit family. I love my family but that isn’t travel. I haven’t had a vacation since I moved here. I can’t even go for an overnight trip unless Mark is willing to stay here to take care of the animals. I’ve missed a lot of overnight activities with the family because I had to stay here for the animals while Mark and Logan got to go do fun stuff. There are times I feel like I’m a prisoner of the farm.

So my advice is make sure you really know yourself before you take on the farm life. I think it helps to be a homebody if you are going to have a farm. It turns out I have a really restless spirit. I don’t like staying in one place; I get bored doing the same thing every day. I sort of knew this about myself before I moved here, but being here has really brought it home.
I realize this post sounds like I’m unhappy here and really I’m not. I love my animals and I love having land and living in the country. But there are times I think about selling all the animals and taking off traveling for a month, or frankly even a week.

My focus for this year is to find a good farm sitter and figure out a way to not have to lock the animals up every night. If they only needed care once a day, I could go on some of these overnight trips and it would be easier to find someone to come once a day instead of twice a day. I don’t know if I’m going to get a guardian animal or fence one area extra strong and then just lock them in that area when I want to be gone for a night. Most days I don’t mind the twice a day care, I’d just like to have the option to not have to do it every day. I’d love any suggestions or input on what has worked for you.

11 comments:

Rae said...

One of the things I remember from growing up, and that we have prepared for in choosing the location of our new place, is the inability to ever go anywhere if you have animals. When we were kids, neighbor kids would come feed and water if our family wanted to take a vacation. Now those kids have moved away, and I can rarely get my mom away from the ranch with no one left to watch her animals. We chose our current location and dismissed many others because the new place is close to friends who can help us out. Crops, livestock, pets and property are a huge commitment and take a lot more work than people think. The rewards can be many and great, but I agree that the romanticized view of farming doesn't touch on the commitments and work required to earn those peaceful days.

Best of luck on finding a sitter. I'm not sure how old your kids are. If younger, and their friends can't help out, do any of their friends parents have farms? Perhaps you could do a sitting swap with another family. Help them out one weekend when they want to take off, and they could in turn help you. Just a thought.

Carol said...

I raced horses for 20 years..same thing.. must be fed and cared for twice a day along with all the other stuff that goes with it. 5 gal water pails solid ice. Had to heat water at the barn to thaw pails after they were hammered to break up the ice. But....then came a beautiful spring day..and you sit on the jog cart and go for a ride..watch deer on the side hill and it is all worth it. I know you've had that same feeling..perhaps when one of your goats had kids or a warm breeze drifted past as you gathered the fruit of your labors in the garden. But..it would be nice to have a friend or neighbor that knows how to care for critters that you could trade "time out" with.

Gail said...

For the chickens if you have a top on your run, it can deter the bad guys. You can make a creep feeder and a large supply of water but the winter months are the hardest.

Farming is not for the faint of heart but there are so many joys, too. You have discovered them, along with the not so joyful parts.

Reducing your stock in a good idea. A secure paddock for when you want to leave is also excellent.

We, too, had a strange garden year. It seemed not to want to produce until frost time. Next year, you may have a bumper crop.

Only you can choose what you really want. Maybe now is the time to travel and farm later...you already know what you want and how all of it works so the hard part is finished.

If now is not the time to farm, you will know it. The land will still be there when you are ready.

linda m said...

Good luck with finding a reliable farm sitter. Hopefully some of your ideas will work out for you. Maybe someday I will live closer, then I can farm sit for you. I keep hoping that will happen (it is my dream to live closer to you guys).

Gayle said...

I feel your pain. I can't ever find a farm sitter either. Because of that we've spent two years building an overly expensive chicken house complete with a furnace. The yard in covered in netting therefore I can leave them for a day or two. In the summer I can even leave my sheep a day, but it still comes down to the dogs. No one wants to watch 3 dogs and at $20 a day per animal for boarding I just don't go anywhere either.

It is a love-hate relationship. I love the easy, good days, but when it is -40* I wonder what I was thinking having animals! It's a lot of work and definitely not for everyone.

Christy said...

You guys gave me a lot to think about. I do need a plan because feeling like a prisoner is not good! I need to work on getting a secure area set up so the animals only need care once a day, then I think I can find someone to pay to come out here.

Illoura said...

Wow, it does sound like you need a real vacation, like you're simply "burned out". I think that happens to us all, no matter what our obligations are (we have been trapped by house payments).
I wonder if you could incorporate making money from the goats (or chickens) into some product that you HAVE to travel in order to sell- like to fairs, or exhibits, or even to 4-H programs. It would allow you to get away but also to network with other like-minded people and link you to farm sitters too... or perhaps provide you with kids who would like to trade work for fertile eggs at some time, or for school/club credits. What I mean is for every challenge there is a solution - as long as you're wanting to continue farming endeavors.
I don't see a problem with specializing in a few animals, in fact once you've had the break and renewal you need, you might decide to expand how your farm uses those animals. Your Angora hair goats might bring income without much more investment of time- for their marketable hair, right? Perhaps sheering them is something 4-H kids could do in trade for something... so it's not on you.
I have fibromyalgia and arthritis in my spine, as well as 2 badly functioning disks, so I know what it is to have limitations from health issues (and I'm OLDER than you are, all done raising kids). We also don't have money to put a heater out in the future chicken coop! I'm trying very hard to discover ways to farm that will work if I live into my 80's or 90's... and there are some out-of-the-box ideas others have ingeniously come up with, like raised garden beds - up to waist-high level with water spigots for each bed... of course those would freeze and burst but the point is they were thinking outside the box for solutions- if there's a will there's a way, right? Perhaps you just need your 'will' back. Perhaps just one helpful solution to the iced water- like a central waterer with a solar de-icer that takes much of the burden off.
I agree with the thought though, that there is a time for everything, and we definitely go through stages in our lives where something fits and then doesn't, or doesn't then does. So bless you whatever it is you end up doing, and thank you so much for sharing your journey.
I will be on edge waiting for the rest of it to unfold.

Perri said...

Hi Christy!

I know just what you mean about the realities of farm life. We, too, have struggled with farm sitters and twice a day without a break ever care.

We started out with dreams of making some money with the farm, or at least paying for animal feed, but it turned out that the marketing was so time consuming. To work, it had to be such a singular focus. We tried to pare down as well, and now have only 4 sheep (+ 3 that are visiting for the winter) and 30 some chickens. No more pigs or turkeys (for now). But even, so, there are days I dread trekking out in the snow to feed and water... and summer days I worry myself crazy about parasites. It IS tedious, often.

And I am not a homebody either!

As for a farm sitter-- they are out there. At first, we had someone boarding her horse on our land who helped out while we were gone. Then, we had a terrible sitter who overfed the dogs, ran out of food, and started giving them cereal, who watered the sheep by squirting water into their stall with a hose among other crazy things. (It wasn't his fault as much as ours, he thought he knew how to do these things, and took a walk around and we believed him. But now we have a young couple who comes and stays in the house and takes care of things.

I would NOT have animals if I couldn't get away once in a while.

Anyway, good luck with finding an arrangement that works for you. You have a beautiful farm.

Amy said...

wonderful post! Our new little farm is only 1.2 acres and I think we are all glad we didn't go with 5 acres. It is in a residential/rural type area so thank God we don't have the issues with hawks and coyotes. If we had more land and neighbors were further away, I'd be fighting that same thing. Maybe you could bring in your place, so to speak. Fence off 1.5 acres to use as your farm. Keep the animals close to activity and civilization and then likely the hawks and coyotes would stay away. Then you could maybe lease the other 3.5-4 acres to someone for boarding horses or grazing??? That is a way to make a little money off the land.

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Promise Jubilee said...

I do realize this post was a long time ago, but if you're still looking for a solution to only needing to go out once a day to tend the animals, the answer is a puppy. Of course, this solution takes some time because a puppy won't scare away coyotes, but a full-grown dog that is emotionally attached to the goats because it grew up there will. You get a puppy and toss him out there with the livestock, being raised with them means he'll never feel the temptation to eat them. And for the chickens, if they're in a chicken yard you can keep a nice fat cat out there, also raised with them, but with a cat you really can never be too sure they won't eat your chicks, so you have to have a special place for them if you are raising them. They won't eat the full grown chickens though and our tabby cat has scared off the coyotes at LEAST three times... Something to consider!