We've had some losses with the death of Flower the sheep and Ollie the goat, but also a great deal of gain. Sophie and Faye both had twins, we purchased a few more goats, a couple more pigs, some ducks, turkeys, guineafowl, rabbits and one cow - oh yeah and my mother bought my daughter a mini horse.... We also have A LOT more chickens! We are probably close to 200 chickens at this point. Our bantams started laying early this summer and have already hatched out more. Our first batch of cross breed meat birds are going to slaughter in early September - we are just taking them to the Amish because no one had expressed any intrest in buying any.
We also had to take Toony to slaughter due to her injured leg getting worse. She lived a good life and made excellent bacon. I'm not impressed with the place we brought her to for butcher. Next time we were planning on using a different place anyways, so we can sell some of the meat.
Niles is out in the pasture with the girls and is hopefully doing his duty. I've noticed that his leg seems to be giving him some trouble as well. Hopefully he improves. If not one of his sons may have to take up his position and Niles and the mother of our replacment boar will be sent to auction.
Our gardens are doing horribly. They didn't get planted until late due to a late spring and it taking quite awhile to get the soil ready for planting. The weeds are the only thing really flourishing at this point. The soil need to be heavily limed this fall and fertilized with some manure. Hopefully next year the gardens will do better.
That's my update, now for some words of wisdom or "10 things I wish someone had told me when I first started farming".
I've had a few people contact me lately asking for advice on starting to farm. I really don't have much advice to give as I'm still working on setting up our business and getting out tax exempt status. But there are a few things I would have liked someone to tell me when I was first starting out.
- Contact your local extension office. Here in NY it's Cornell, but I think most states have something similar. They are a wealth of knowledge and love to help out those just getting started.
- Also contact your local small business development office. They normally offer free services and will help you write up a business plan - which is something you will need if you want to get a loan.
- Be flexible, but focused. Find your market, but also have other option in the wings. Can you make a living selling eggs alone? Maybe, but you will probably do better if you also sell chicks or meat. Find out what is popular in your area. Is their a large immigrant population? You might do real well selling goat meat - goats a real popular meat in many parts of the world, but not so much here in the states. Many immigrants looking to make traditional dishes will buy your goat or goat meat for top dollar.
- Don't set your heart on anything specific until your look into it more. You want to make cheese? Well there is quite the process to go through to sell dairy products. Canned goods? Pickled eggs? Well now you need access to a certified kitchen and an approved recipe. If you really want to do something go for it, but be aware of the hoops you need to jump through first. If you don't want to deal with all the regulations but still want to do something with dairy, look into making non-edibles like soaps and lotions. Still want to sell canned good? All you need to sell jams, jellies and marmalades at Farmer's Markets in NY state is a certified water test.
- Don't do more than the land can handle. With produce you are pretty flexible. Using intensive permaculture methods you can grow a lot of food on a small portion of land sustainably, but if you get into livestock you need some acreage. So if you only have two acres and you don't have a neighbor who lets you use his land like we do maybe focus on produce and small livestock and keep away from raising a large herd of beef cows.
- If you keep larger livestock don't be afraid to call the vet. Modern medicine is your friends. If you are against the overuse of antibiotics in commercial livestock operations, it doesn't mean you can't give some to your animal if they are actually sick. We've had to medicate our calf we bought from auction when he came down with scours and the pigs all got a does of ivermectin when we noticed they had hog lice (I still have no idea how a closed herd of pigs got lice, but they did). Your goal should be to raise your animals as naturally as possible, and to only interfere when absolutely necessary - but don't let an animal suffer or die just because you don't like using modern medicine. Apple cider vinegar can't fix everything, even if it has the "mother" inside.
- Don't listen to everything you read on the internet, especially forums. I'm convinced half the people on some of them don't actually own or have never owned livestock or grown a tomato. Find real farmers in your local area to talk to, go to farmers markets, get out there! That doesn't mean you can't make some great connections over the internet, just be cautious.
- When speaking to farmers realize that everyone has their own opinion and their own way of doing things. Listen, learn, and find out what works for you. You don't want to castrate your piglets? Then don't. But still be respectful to the farmer that does. You are not likely to change anyone's opinion by talking - especially a farmer's opinion.
- Have fun! Be passionate! Don't let the hard times (and if you are farming there will be hard time) get you down. Animals will die, crops will fail, but never let that discourage you from doing what you love. As our vet said after we had to put Ollie down, "If you have livestock, you have deadstock".
- Don't expect to make a profit right off. If you are into produce you might manage to make something in your first year, but with livestock it's going to take a few. Keep your day job and start out slow. It's going to take awhile to build up a customer base and get your name out there.
I hope some future farmer out there find this helpful and as always if you want to chat contact me! I'm always willing to talk farm.