Farm Under Construction

Aug
23


When I started this farm, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do here. Sometimes people ask me about planning a farm. I’m the wrong person to ask. I tend to be impulsive, operating on whims. Feelings. Cuteness and fluffiness. That doesn’t make a very good farm plan, but it’s not a bad one, either.


Farming is hard work. And forget about the money! (What money?) You’d better love it. As someone with little to no farm experience prior to owning a farm, it was difficult to know what I would love at the beginning. I always thought sheep were so dreamy. I love how they dot a pasture. Not that our sheep were good dotters. They were clumpers, I tell you, CLUMPERS. However, just because I’m reducing our flock to two pet sheep, that doesn’t mean I don’t still find sheep dreamy. I do! And that’s where they belong–in my dreams. A flock of sheep isn’t for me. Sheep are wonderful farm animals for many people, but not for me. I love sheep enough that I don’t want to be completely without them, thus Annabelle and Minnie Belle as pet sheep. But I don’t love them enough to keep a flock.

I’m not sure how I could have learned that without actually having a flock of sheep for a couple of years, at times as many as ten in the flock. Sheep can be elegant and hilarious, cute and scary, mysterious and down to earth. Sheep were not a mistake–they were an awesome experience.

The first animals on the farm (aside from dogs and cats, I’m referring to “barn” animals here) were the chickens. I discovered right away, and have continued to discover, that I adore my chickens. I’ve also discovered that I can’t keep my chickens out of anywhere and everywhere, so I’m allowing some natural attrition to reduce my flock of chickens as time goes by, and resisting the urge to buy MORE chickens (unless they are meat roos that aren’t going to stick around). I don’t actually ever know at any given time how many chickens I have. Not counting the meat roos, I probably have somewhere between two and three dozen chickens right now. I think something around 15 or so chickens is probably a better number, but over time that will happen and a day will even come eventually where I get to have the fun of starting a new batch of chicks. (That won’t be for awhile. My chickens are pretty hardy! Attrition doesn’t work too fast here.) I just think a smaller number of chickens would feel a little more manageable and involve a little less poop on the porch, but I’m not in a hurry about it.

I don’t have any more ducks, and I just have the one goose now. I don’t intend to get more ducks or geese. Or guineas. (The guineas are gone. Don’t get me started on how much I didn’t like the guineas.) It’s chickens all the way for me. That was a lesson that took a while to sink into my hard head.

I started out thinking I would have a herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats. I added a herd of Fainters. Eventually, I got some sense and created the combined herd with my Fainter buck, Fainter girls, and Nigerian Dwarf girls to breed pure Fainters and Fainter crosses. So much more manageable on this farm. Just another lesson under my belt. What has remained strong for me is my love of my goats, but I’m also determined to keep a small herd. I have five does. I might, or might not, eventually add another doe if a girl is born that is so gorgeous, I can’t let her go. There is room for that possibility, but I wouldn’t want to keep more than six does here, I don’t think, so I’ll be pretty picky about keeping one.

I never in a million years seriously thought I’d have a milk cow, but I love my Beulah Petunia. Glory Bee is a bit of a brat, but she’s worth it. A cow is a big learning curve in a lot of ways, but my love for keeping my dairy cows only grows stronger. Meanwhile, I’m still in that learning curve with cows. I posted about BP and the pickle a while back, but shortly after that post, BP started bellowing! WHAT?! Was she in heat? Was her cycle off? Am I too stupid to be a farmer? So right now, I’m back to “not sure” if she’s pregnant. And thinking probably NOT! (Haven’t decided yet what I’m doing about this problem.)

With two sheep, two donkeys, two cows, and some more fencing, there is plenty of pasture on this farm to feed the animals in the summers. Sheep are such mowers that our sheep numbers were killing our farm, leaving nothing for anybody else. The goats, in the reduced/combined herd in the goat yard, will have plenty of grass there next summer, too.

Meanwhile, we’re still collecting pallets for a pallet barn. We’ve started buying hay in round bales. The “downstairs project” will open up a whole array of new opportunities for me to work on the farm. Babies keep popping out in the goat yard, and I’ve finally figured out how to get them sold. I have a milking machine for my cow. I make cheese well enough to teach other people. The list of things we buy from the store is shorter and shorter. I couldn’t list all the things I’ve learned in the past three years if I tried.

And I don’t know how long the list is of the things I don’t know.

I’m only on my second pair of chore boots.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on August 23, 2011  

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Comments

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  1. 8-23
    6:02
    am

    Suzanne I think you have learned well. I have always heard that sheep destroy grasslands as they eat the roots of the grass too…so that means you would be out of pasture in no time with several. They are beautiful but maybe not for there. I learned with chickens and you have learned with it all! :shimmy: I admire your go for it
    attitude! Thanks for taking us along on the ride! :happyflower:

  2. 8-23
    6:13
    am

    :woof: Thanks for sharing today I enjoyed. Loved this post. Learning experience is what I am doing too..
    Hugs Granny Trace

    http://www.grannytracescrapsandsquares.com

  3. 8-23
    7:18
    am

    We started with sheep. I loved the sheep. I didn’t love how they got past the fences and terrorized the neighborhood. Now we have chickens and ducks. If we ever get fences again, I want a milk cow and a beef.

    Some day.

  4. 8-23
    7:21
    am

    I think what you did was smart.Without any experience with farm animals you had to try almost everything once to find out what would fit you and your farm.Now you know and can concentrate on that.

  5. 8-23
    9:05
    am

    Wow, that post sounds a lot like what I want to do. As soon as I get some grassland, of course. Wooded acerage doesn’t seem to cut it with grazing animals. :)

  6. 8-23
    9:42
    am

    The longer we do it, the more we learn. Sounds like life. lol I find it exciting and love the learning. I can understand liking sheep and how they dot. I love to catch sight of the sheep on farms we pass on the way to town. We’re not sure what we will do once dh is home for good. If we do sheep, it’ll be hair sheep for the meat. I have a feeling though, that we’ll just add beef cows, oh, and more chickens! We love those fluffy butts!

  7. 8-23
    9:58
    am

    Just living in the country takes some getting used to; not counting adding animals.

    I remember being shocked when the stores were over a couple of blocks away. Then you learn to make lists!

    I think you have it about figured out. I probably would be a little meaner about too many pet farm animals….they eat too. Around here it pretty much needs to pay its way or I am not interested (don’t count the cats and dog!, please).

    I will be interested in seeing how things progress from here. You have done fantastic so far.

    As BP, if she keeps showing signs of heat, have a vet check her in a couple of months. If you still want a milk cow, but sure to get GB bred at 15 months! Then the fun can really begin.

  8. 8-23
    10:12
    am

    I think every new farmer/land owner goes through those lessons. And I’m with Glenda, if you eat you gotta pay your way. Which might mean just adding “chrome” to my pastures, but just barely. Always fun to hear/read about other women’s thought processes on farming and homesteading.

  9. 8-23
    10:21
    am

    see, this is one of the things I love about you. you take stock. of where you began, where you’ve been, and where you want to go. that’s only one of the numerous things that’s made reading this blog through the years so much fun. you aren’t afraid to try something and if you determine that it isn’t working, or the plan needs to be tweeked a bit, well then you have at it with gusto and determination and love. have a beautiful day Suzanne. :hug:

  10. 8-23
    11:12
    am

    I’m glad for you and know the mistakes come at a great price for you as they have for the rest of us. I think some of us are learning through you at some point on our farms.
    We have been talking about sheep so we can have some other meat, but I hadn’t thought about the grazing they do. I don’t want to lose the grass by the roots.
    Sometimes it is hard to be strong. Glenda mentioned about being a little meaner about farm pets. My cats were kittens when they put all their efforts together and killed a weasel outside the chicken house. They viserated the thing a left it for mom to find. They are killing rats and mice every day, but horrors of it all their mother came up missing 3 days ago and I miss her like it was my daughter. I will keep feeding the cats and dog who kills anything not domestic she can find. Most of the money I spend at the market is cat food, for the pleasure I get from them and the rodents they kill I will pay the $11.00 every once in a while for them to eat.

    Thank you Suzanne for the hard work you do on this post, I know you are busy and doing the job of 2 or 3 people all the time. We have beef and diary cattle and raise calves and pigs for sale, chickens for eggs and meat and turkeys, ducks so we can have the food we need and feed the customers and people in need. We are blessed and try to always pass it on to others as you do. Thank you again for this Blog.

  11. 8-23
    11:27
    am

    Farming done properly isn’t just a hobby. For some its a livelihood. I’m happy to see that you have come to that realization. I was beginning to wonder when and if you would figure it out!!! If an animal doesn’t produce, and there is no use for it, its just taking up space that a “successful” animal could be using. We raised sheep,(5,000) and when the flock was moved, the cattle and horses had nothing left to graze upon.Most usually cows won’t even want to be on the same field where sheep have been. We sold the lambs and sold the wool, but never ate the meat. ICK! Our animals all had a purpose and when that purpose was gone so were the animals. Your cow may be at an age where she is not going to be fertile anymore. Breed the calf as soon as she is about 15 months old.Then ask yourself, do I really need an old worn out milk cow< or can I sustain what I want to produce with a new fresh cow and her calf… Hay and feed and vets are very expensive for animals that have no purpose. The donkeys???? Do you use them for pack animals or are they just pets?

  12. 8-23
    11:28
    am

    Its funny how different things work for different people. I love sheep, but don’t think a dairy cow would work for me. :moo: . Have you tried turkeys yet? Try them…really they’re like fethered puppies, and if they don’t work out thanksgiving is always around the corner.

  13. 8-23
    11:33
    am

    We have the two donkeys, mostly as pets, but we will sell the babies, so they have some value and they don’t eat as much as sheep nor are they as hard on a pasture. As for BP, I’ve been worried as to whether she will breed again since she had three heat exposures, and one time I left her there for 25 days, and I saw her mounted by the bull all three heat exposures. I’ve already started tracking Glory Bee’s heats.

  14. 8-23
    12:26
    pm

    Suzanne, don’t forget the value the donkeys have as guard animals. I don’t know if you have coyotes in WV but we do in CA. Haven’t seen or heard one since we got the mammoth jack and mini jennet. If anything comes into our pastures after dark, it better watch out. Even during the day they are always guarding.

    Care to share your secret to selling the goats? I have four fainting does I plan to breed as soon as they are old enough. The oldest are only about 8 months now and I too am working to get them registered. It’s a lot of paperwork and getting the fainting photos is a whole ‘nuther subject.

    Also, I miss the dotted background. :?

    Mary

  15. 8-23
    12:32
    pm

    nursemary–Craigslist! Also, sell ’em early, young (sell ’em before they can go yet). The older they are, the harder they are to sell.

    Re the dotted background, it was causing pageloading problems, unfortunately, so it had to go.

  16. 8-23
    2:56
    pm

    Thankful the dots are gone, the page loading is now smooooothly elegant.
    Too bad about the sheep, but if they nibble their way to China, then your pasture is truly spent. I’m not sure you could have drawn a grand plan and made the decisions of this summer up front and nixed the sheep from the beginning…beside if you did, where would Annabelle and maxi-minnibelle be?
    I’m always amazed at how other people think they know how you should live, what you should do with this or that in your life, and what you should spend your time and money on and where you should find your pleasure…It seems as though we often think we could live another’s life so much better than they can!
    It does seem that this farm reassessment has come at a natural time in your life as well…two young men have left your home and are/will be making their way in the world. Certainly a realignment there, HMMM? Best to you Ms McMinn. You’re a great example of the little engine that could and did.

  17. 8-23
    4:48
    pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I think everything is working out for the best for you and your farm….live and learn. Oh, I know you said don’t get you started, but I want to know why you didn’t like the guineas…too noisy? Were they mean? :bugeyed:

  18. 8-23
    11:34
    pm

    Some years ago, I wanted to farm. So I moved to the country, bought a book on raising chickens and one on raising rabbits. I bought chickens and rabbits, made cages for the rabbits and fixed myself a box with a lamp for the chicks.
    It was a learning experience. I then traded a moped for a goat. So I bought a goat book.

    I loved my little farm. Then the land was sold, so I had to move. The goat had to go, but the rest I kept. Then I was able to buy my own land. I kept that until my divorce.

    Since then, I’ve lived in the tiny town where I’ve raised my kids. Never had the money for a farm, no matter how small it was and I’ve missed that terribly.

    Best thing about going and doing is you’re having an adventure while you’re learning something about the universe and yourself.

    Personally, I think you’ve done a GREAT job. I’m all for getting a wild hair and just jumping right in and not worrying about having someone hold my hand. You’ve done the same thing. And as we’ve needed it, we’ve found mentors who’ve helped us along our journey.

    It’s all good! Love your change of plans and they make sense to me. Like Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus use to tell the kids “get out, explore, get messy.” Or something to that effect.

  19. 8-24
    7:55
    am

    I love this post, but then again, I love everything about this site. I’m about to embark on my own farming (?) adventure, starting with a huge garden and chickens and goats, phased in over the next year. I’ve learned SO much from reading all these posts, and the forum. You all are so experienced, and you make it seem easy, although I know it is not. Actually, knowing it is not easy is the best lesson of all. Thanks to everyone for sharing, and keep the wisdom coming!

  20. 8-25
    8:33
    am

    “I couldn’t list the things I’ve learned over the last three years if I tried” Nor could I (from you) – thanks for sharing and teaching, Suzanne.

  21. 8-25
    10:24
    am

    Second pair, eh? Then I’d say you’re doing quite well and you must be getting a good brand cause boots only last one year around here. ;)

    I LOVE sheep! :sheepjump: So sad to see yours go. If I lived near you, I’d buy em all! :( :sheep: :sheep: :sheep:

    Blessings,
    Mary :cowsleep:

  22. 8-25
    6:13
    pm

    I understand picking and choosing, and it’s helpful learning from someone else’s experiences in that department! We have 26 acres, but most of it’s wooded and steep. It’s basically land we can hunt on or enjoy on horseback, and our grazing space is limited. This means that I’ve had to make some decisions about what comes onto the property and what stays. In our case, we raise only what we need because there’s no room for surplus. We get 2 or 3 lambs every spring from the neighbors and butcher them in the fall; we have around a dozen layers at any given time; we did a batch of meat chickens this summer; and we’re thinking we’ll raise a single pig next year. The horse and the pony are our “luxury” animals. If I had the space, I would bring home a breeding pair of sheep, guineas, turkeys, Highland cattle, a goat or two, you name it! Plus I’d have an absolutely huge garden with 80 different heirloom varieties of this, that, and the other. All of this requires space, money, and time to take care of it–and there are limits on all of those. Thanks for sharing your decision-making process.

  23. 8-26
    6:35
    am

    I so enjoyed reading your “methodology” in establishing your working farm. I also came to farming with no experience. I have now a good appreciation for what animals work with my land and my temperament. I have sheep for fibre and they are Shetlands and Icelandics and a perfect match for my alders, wild roses, etc. as they browse! As for goats…I have less patience for them as they are my escape artists. I do love the goat milk so persist with just a few that are inclined to stay in their space. I did pigs, loved them, but decided not to spend more money building the appropriate building and fencing to maintain them. They actually paid their way but if the start up money isn’t there…well! I have working dogs and pet dogs (shhh…they all are pets but I have to keep that secret!). The farm life is for me! And I do so love your blog with your honest and humourous recounting of your life on your farm.

  24. 8-26
    10:19
    am

    I applaude you, Suzanne, for the knowledge you’ve gained about yourself and what you can take on. It’s obvious from your earlier posts about all the abandoned cats you’ve taken in that the lessons haven’t been easy.

    So many of us imagine we’ll have a farm and all the fluffy, happy animals without realizing we’ll have feed bills, vet bills, and amimal poop to wade through. Obviously some of these decisions are hard and the change in mindset from “pet chickens” to raising chickens for food is a really big growth.

    Keep your options open and keep reassessing what you can and want to accomplish with your farm and your life. Second baby off to school and only one human chick growing too quickly. It’s a lot to get your mind around. No more huge quantities of food for ravenous boys. It’s hard to scale back on a day to day basis. I know I still have a tendency to make giant batches of things and have to stick them in the freezer or eat leftovers for a week. Thank goodness my “garbage cans” stop by home enough to clear out my freezer now and then.

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