Monday, December 21, 2009

Cold Feet?



"Why farm?" We get that all the time.




We have full time plus jobs, three young children, long commutes, crazy expenses, a house that requires the chopping of wood for heat and a hundred other chores, all sorts of creative, political and social obligations etc, etc and I can't tell you the number of times folks, hearing about our jam-packed lifestyle shake their heads and call us crazy.




We used to laugh it off. Sure, well. Yeah...




But lately, we are wondering if perhaps we ARE a little crazy. Too crazy.




It all started with the hay. We don't have any. Our farm is small, and so, like many other unfortunate farmers we are forced to buy our hay from those with the land and equipment to produce it. $4.75 a smallish bale-- if we take the seats out of the minivan, load it ourselves and drive it home-- untold extra dollars if we have it delivered. This year, due to other obligations-- kids' birthdays, family, etc etc-- it snowed before we got the hay in. Now the driveway down to the barn is an ice slope with little hope of thaw, and we are stuck with 70 bales of hay (about a month's worth) in our garage. And many trips to pick up hay ahead.




In addition, Dan spent precious time he should have devoted to grading finals on fixing the fence Charlie bashed in trying to get a few more ewes "under his belt". And the water hydrant in the barn broke so we have to tote buckets a little farther over the treacherous ice. And it is cold, in the single digits in the mornings.




All just everyday stuff. But it's stuff that might seem more worth the trouble if we could eke a little profit out of the livestock. We can't. Haven't. And won't in the forseeable future.




You see, the jobs and kids and other obligations keep us from focusing on the selling part. We should be out there pushing yarn and pelts and meat and every other scrap of "by" and "value added" product". The selling needs to happen in order for "farm" to be more than the landed equivalent of "boat" (as in: a hole in the ground you pour your money into.) As it stands, the money we pour into the livestock could be our childrens' security or education or maybe just a breather in our constant financial juggle.




Part time farming really is a losing proposition.




I don't mean to sound grouchy. Or whiny. Or even glum. I don't feel any of these things. I am just coming to the realization that maybe... just maybe... I will regret that I haven't had time to teach that felting class with my kids after school or concentrate more fully on the half written novel or just play a few more rounds of "Fundomino" without having to truck on out to take care of the animals. Also, there is all the money to be saved.




On the other hand. Our sheep are family. I would miss the expensive little beasties, and mucking around out there in the cold, too. And watching newborn lambs. And figuring out breeding groups. And all the shearing days and unintentional "sheep rodeos". I would also miss feeling that deeper connection to the seasons and cycles and the inimacy with birth and death, joy and sorrow, that farming sort of is.


It's winter on Maggie's Farm, and I guess you could say, I've got cold feet.
.

17 comments:

m&mchi said...

Thank you for this post. A few years ago, I transitioned to teaching yoga full-time. My favorite quote is "It's a great way to live. It's a tough way to make a living". I wish you all the best in the New Year. Enjoy your choices!

Laura L
Chicago, IL

Christy said...

I so understand! My husband keeps waiting for me to come up with a plan to make money from the farm. I can't seem to convince him it isn't going to happen. I'm happy with our animals and getting fresh product from them and them basically being pets. But I know it is expensive. I'm still trying to figure it out.

My word verification is reach. Maybe that is a message to us both?

Robin said...

In the present social and political climate profitable small scale farming is nearly impossible. Look at it as a lifestyle--a unique set of experiences for you and your kids. There's no need to justify your choices to others. We look at people with huge entertainment systems, quads, boats .. etc and scratch our heads. Why should raising sheep at a loss be a mistake if you enjoy it, when buying an RV is always a loss but accepted?

cassidy said...

I think it can be a viable business. I live on a small farm, too, and both husband and I had full time jobs until the recession ate his. That is really encouraging us to get our acts together. IN the 3 years we have raised sheep, chickens, turkeys, orchard fruit, and anything we can grow in our greenhouse - I have seen our expenses drop each year (we learn better ways to do everything) and I have seen our customer base and our income grow. Yes, we are still losing money from the farm - but we are at a point where that can turn around next year.

Will I have regrets? I hope not. I get to teach my daughter real life lessons from the farm. I get to know I eat healthy, fresh produce and share that with my community. I get to raise sheep! I love them! I don't have boats, ATVs, HDTVs or any of those other things. And I don't miss them either. My life is nothing like most people I know. But I LOVE it. I love the hard work, I love being outside, and the rewards are always worth it. Winter is the hardest time for farming - dragging water across the pasture, taking hay out to the barn, having to go out in the cold to collect eggs before they freeze - but SPRING comes soon - and with spring we have lambs, chicks, little green sprouts in the ground and buds on the trees. You'll remember it's all worth it in spring time!!

Anonymous said...

We are starting a sheep farm this coming September, having already purchased the yet to be born lambs - and this post seems to cradle all our hidden fears and struck me deeply. Whenever I am troubled I look into my Border Collies eyes and find answers, but maybe not always to the question I presented.

woolies said...

It's got to be a huge challenge in the winter. I'd be disheartened too.
hey - do you have an ad for your shop? I'll put it on my blog, maybe bring you some visitors.... email me?

Jeanne said...

This is such an honest post, Perri, and you have an incredible gift with words. I think it is the hardest thing in the world to say- "this is hard" or "this is difficult for me." I admire what you and Dan are working towards. And I appreciate all the dimensions of it- even when it isn't pretty.

I can only imagine the what a truly educational experience living on the farm must be for your kids.

Chai Chai said...

This is a wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing your adventures. Good luck and keep the faith!

P said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for the kind words. It's true that there are many-- many-- great things about the farm and raising kids in close proximity to life, death and seasons. We love the sheep and other animals, the "real" food and wool they provide, the quiet moments out in the barn. But I'm not sure we have a viable farm lifestyle... yet.

I have a lot to think about. And all cold winter to think about it.
Again, I really needed a pep talk, and you guys gave me one.

Thanks so much.

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