I’m going to ignore that I haven’t made a blog post in some time, so I am going to just dive right in.
I have always been the type that if I want to do something, I just do it. It has finally caught up to me that I can’t do everything, and it’s been heavy on my mind and heart. When I bought my farm, I wanted a new fence, so I put up a fence. I wanted sheep, so I got sheep. I wanted chickens, so I got chickens. I have always managed to make it work. The only reason it has worked is because of my city job. I’m thankful for it because it has allowed me to succeed in making my dream a reality, but it also takes away much of my time and energy that I could use toward the farm. My dad constantly tells me that I need to work towards growing a career. The career I want is to farm sheep, but the career I need is being a chemical engineer.
Lately I have been listening to the Thriving Farmer podcast. It is probably the best podcast I should be listening to right now because Michael has said numerous times that beginners try to do everything, but nothing is successful since all their time is divided between all the projects. Listening to this podcast has also been super inspiring as I want to become successful and grow my farm. I just need to pick a few things I want to specialize in and focus on them. It’s so tough though! Here’s my list of goals:
-Herd shares with my milk goats
-Run a mini mill to process wool
-Raise and show Dominique chickens and heritage turkeys
-Breed and show Shetland sheep
-Raise and process meat chickens for wholesale
-Obtain Animal Welfare Approved certification for all animals
-Obtain Non-GMO status
-Obtain Re-generative status
-Obtain Grassfed status
-Sell organic feed in retail stores
-Sell at farmer’s markets
-Run the Grain Exchange with New Country Organics and local Ohio organic farmers
-Run a CSA program for the community
-Produce and sell natural made soap
-Grow a giant garden and can excess produce
-Manage a blog.
There are several things on my list. I would love to do all these things, but I don’t have the time, energy or finances. I need to pick from my list of things to do. I should just focus on the farm’s name sake Fleece & Feather, so sheep and chickens.
I focus too much on what I can do, I’m a dreamer and goal setter. I should focus on what I can do, and to me the sky is truly the limit. Farmer Chris also has his goals and they are lofty just like mine. He has gotten his hands on some decently priced farm equipment including a corn planter, pull-behind combine, hay baler, and some other things that I can’t remember. He just brought the corn planter home yesterday. I didn’t tell him, but I loved it the moment I saw it. The farm is full of opportunities. We’ve been talking for a while about buying more land (this is a long-term goal, several years down the road). There is a small four-acre lot that backs right up to our property. Currently it is rented out for commercial corn to a large farming business. I’m sure four acres is nothing to them, when they have hundreds if not thousands of acres that they farm. The word is out to both the property owner and the farmers that rent it. Chris really wants to plant organic corn, but I think it would be neat to plant a giant pumpkin patch. Everyone has commercial (cheap) corn out here and no one wants to pay the extra for the chemical free corn. I don’t really know of any “pick your own” pumpkin patches that are right in our community though. Lots of places have pumpkins already picked and set out, but I haven’t seen many that are pick your own right in town. I think that would be a lot of fun. And if it flops, the animals can eat the excess pumpkins or we can use it for compost. We do have to consider that we can’t call anything “organic” from that property as it would have to sit chemical-free for three years. We also have no idea what the soil is like, and only a soil test will be able to tell us.
Also along the lines of the farming equipment is that Farmer Chris wants to grow hay on his grandparents property out in Cambridge. Again, we don’t know the condition of the soil and this property is nearly two hours from our farm. I’m not sure there is enough time during the year for any of this. One of us needs to quit our job, and as much I want to, I can’t. I need the farm to sustain itself financially first.
My new year resolutions for 2020 were to focus on the garden and chickens. I did successfully manage to do that. We had a pretty excellent garden (seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds), although there were still a bunch of weeds. We grew potatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, carrots, onions, celery, leeks and beets pretty well. We had planted cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, corn, brussels sprouts, kale, peas, and beans, though they didn’t do too well. I think I planted the corn, beans, and peas way too early. Cabbage, lettuce, brussels sprouts, and kale struggled with the numerous pests that would eat the leaves. The peppers never managed to grow, and the tomatoes would rot before they were ready to pick. This winter I will investigate reasons for the tomatoes, and I think I may try the peppers and tomatoes in the green house next year. I’m assuming it would help control the pests.
We’ve also got berry bushes planted in the garden as well which I am super excited for! I tend to focus more on vegetables rather than fruit. We now have strawberries (I think there are nearly 100 plants in the ground), blueberries, raspberries, and black berries. The funny thing is that all the berry bushes were eaten by the goats, but they came back great! What we thought was the demise of our berries may actually have been for their benefit! It is so interesting how things work out like that. Maybe we will get runners from the plants that we can sell to the community… there I go again thinking of more plans.
With the goal being chickens, I managed to hatch, raise and sell numerous chicks which was exciting. We also found three additional coops to add to the property, though at the moment half of them sit empty. We had Grey Rangers and Cornish Cross meat chickens that we processed. We sold quite a few and even donated 10 for the local church’s Chicken & Noodle Dinner. It was a huge hit and we will likely continue to do it for years to come! I did want to show the dominiques this year had started focusing on breeding groups rather than breeding willy-nilly. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 this year, we were unable to attend any and many of our pullets and cockerels went missing (due to predation). Many people heavily involved in the chicken community have said that you won’t get anywhere without keeping the flock safe. Some have suggested keeping the birds penned up or in a netted run, but I can’t do that when I have always been a firm supporter of pasture raised chickens. The large turkeys and loud guineas have been excellent deterrents of predators, though we do have a few flying ones that aren’t seeming to get the hint. Fencing in all but one acres of the property has also been a help with the walking predators such as foxes, raccoons, and possums. Hopefully our predation problem will improve, and we won’t need to worry nearly as much about their safety.
Overall, I can say that I did meet my goals for 2020… and then some. I switched my miscellaneous flock of sheep to North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association registered Shetlands. I really wanted to start with just a few, but I kept meeting so many people in the Shetland community that had such lovely sheep that I couldn’t say no. I have nine Shetland sheep now and I am so excited for what the future has in store for them! I also can’t wait to shear them in the Spring and spin up their lovely fleeces! I’ve set goals with this new flock as well, which are to produce a registered horned ewe flock with fine fleeces so they will be registerable through the Fine Fleece Shetland Sheep Association! As always, I research everything I am interested in. I have tracked down several rams which carry the horned ewe gene and plan to source descendants of them for next year’s breeding. I really can’t wait! With this new flock came the new goal of breeding which I have always been very hesitant about. I thought long and hard about this and realize that the farm needs to start making money. We don’t need to be profitable, but it would be nice to have some return on our efforts so that maybe we can buy more land or build a new barn. We had a bit of a big hiccup in our plans right at the starting gate. I suppose I should be thankful this happened early rather than later down the road. Our little ram lamb ended up having one descended testicle. It’s highly likely he didn’t get the job done, and I truly hope he didn’t get the job done because any offspring are likely to carry that trait which can be passed on. Since I have been leery about breeding, I wanted to make sure that any breeding I ever do was for the right reasons and conducted responsibly. Shetland sheep are part of the Livestock Conservancy list. They are improving tremendously; however I don’t want to intentionally/accidentally add bad blood to the breed, or be labeled as an irresponsible breeder. From the start, I research all the pedigrees of the sheep I was added, made sure they weren’t closely related, and had every one tested for a biosecurity screening which involves testing for Johne’s Disease (wasting), Ovine Progressive Pneumonia Virus, and Caseous Lymphadenitis. Everyone came back clean, and I am so thankful for that! I plan to make sure I source tested sheep or maintain a closed flock in the future to keep my flock healthy.
Another addition to the farm were milk goats. Of course a blunder to that is that our first two are positive for Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE). It’s not completely the end of the world, as a large portion of the goat population have CAE. We do need to eradicate this disease. Although 80% of goats which are infected with CAE will never present symptoms, it is a rampant disease that needs to be stopped. CAE reduces the lifespan of dairy goats by causing extreme arthritis, mastitis, and encephalitis. There is currently no vaccine, but hopefully there will be one soon. The goats are all tested negative for everything else including Q-fever, Brucellosis and Tuberculosis, all which are diseases that can be passed to humans. CAE does not affect humans in any way, though I have heard suggestions that CAE positive goat milk is therapeutic towards human rheumatoid arthritis. We decided that to make the best of this situation, we would have a buck onsite and process the offspring for meat. I do not feel comfortable selling our small herd to another person who may breed and sell offspring with CAE, thus promoting the spread of the disease. We will continue with having milk goats for our personal share of fresh goat milk and would like in the new year to provide herd shares of our milk goats to the community. Ohio has strict raw milk laws regarding selling the milk, though there is a way to get your hands on raw milk by purchasing a share of the herd. This entitles the person to a share of the animal, thus a share of the milk. With two lactating does this Spring we will have more than enough milk for ourselves and would love to offer herd shares to those interested in having fresh milk daily. Not only will this prevent waste, but it will help fund our small farm and help us grow. We have held membership with Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund which will help mentor us in the legality of herd shares involving raw milk. We have our paperwork set up, we just need the community to get this thing started!
I have been looking into grants for small farms and have come across even more goals for the farm. There are three grant opportunities offered every couple of months through Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT). These grants allow small farms to financially afford becoming Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), maintaining their AWA certification or expand and improve their farm. After finding out about the AWA certification, I needed to learn more about it and figure out how to become certified! Certification is through A Greener World (AGW)which helps farmers to operate ethically and sustainably while promoting their programs which meet their welfare standards. I worked pretty hard to fix the farm to make it meet the standards for AWA certification. Actually, I really didn’t have to make many changes, and apparently I already manage the farm similar to what the AWA standards require. I was able to get the sheep and layer hens certified, and products from them can now be sold under the AWA label. Holding this label means that we meet the strict qualifications and guidelines to providing our animals with the best life possible, promoting ethical treatment of animals, and allowing them to exist and fulfill their natural instincts. We do need to make small changes to our meat bird operation, mainly the breed that we raise. AGW recognizes that Cornish cross chickens (what you would find at the grocery store) are essentially mutants, bred to grow extremely fast and not live long. Of course you can see the ethical concerns of this, which is why they recommend raising heritage cross meat birds such as rangers. Having raised both, I do prefer raising the rangers over the Cornish crosses, though you can’t beat the flavor of Cornish cross chickens. Our application is already in for certification with turkeys and meat poultry for next year!
There are also several other certifications which can be obtained, and one I have already applied for is the Non-GMO certification. Unfortunately, the price for the audit is steep, set at $495. The audit for AWA certification was only $95. I would love to state that I raise my animals organically and GMO-free, but this will have to wait. We have been approved for audit though, we just need to find the money to schedule the audit!
There is one more certification that I would love to obtain which is the Grassfed certification. If our Shetland sheep operation expands, I would love to become certified Grassfed and produce grassfed lamb for the community. This coming year, we really need to focus on our pasture health. We did plant grass seed and clover this year in one pasture and it did marvelously. In the spring we will seed more pastures and continue with our pasture rotation program… now that we are finally installing permanent fencing rather than running electric wiring which was so rudely torn down. I really would like Farmer Chris to focus on pasture management. This would involve soil testing and identifying any nutrients which need to be added or diluted for better grass production and performance. This coming Spring, it would be not only beneficial, but interesting, to implement some cold-tolerant crops like kale, spinach, or beets into the pastures. I recently learned about UK farmers planting several acres of beets to sustain their flocks during the winter months, as grass is scarce and dormant. I feel as those I dominate the projects of the farm and I think that Farmer Chris would benefit with having pasture management his farm project. Before even purchasing the property, I read up on pasture rotation and land management. I remember reading the quote “We aren’t livestock farmers; we are grass farmers”. It’s true though. How can we efficiently and effectively raise livestock with out nutritional pasture and lots of it? As I continue this farming journey, I will be basing several of my plans off UK farming and shepherding production methods. Shepherding in the UK is so common, and has been conducted for centuries, they seem to have everything figured out, so why not follow their operational plans?
On to the new year then. Always something to learn, do, grow, and enjoy!