Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Romantic Ideas on farming. . .

It is interesting when I talk to folks who grew up and farmed from necessity during the 20's, 30's and 40's. . .Especially those from rural areas where life was particularly hard, but that is not to say that farm life
during those times or even now is ever easy.

You know, when I have talked to these people,
 they often discourage endeavors into raising animals for your own milk, 
meat and into growing your own produce. 
The discussions are filled with warnings and woe.

I begs me to wonder at length what do we, those dabbling in farming, not know?

A lot, would be my first guess.

Is it that we, because we have so many options for fulfillment in our lives
and never have wholly depend on farming to sustain us,
look at a life of it as a pastime, a novelty or as entertainment?

Do we, those of us who fall into the category homesteader or small farmer
 just have too much time on our hands?

Those advising us remember a time where
it was the only way to survive and see no fun or living in scraping by, that is for sure.

They seem to have few fond memories of winters on a farm, milking in bitter cold or butchering
for meat. My experience has shown them to view people like us
as more than just a bit addle brained.

During such a time where large animal vets, medications, feeds and sanitation were not understood, available or even in existence. . would any of us have really wished a life of farming on ourselves?

I suppose the men and women who lived and farmed during the early twentieth century cannot get past the
hard life it was then and could hardly wish that existence on anyone.

I know there were a few times that life in rural Appalachia in the 20's was brought up with my father, who died in 2009, and not one of those times did he miss shaking his head and explaining how very hard life was, how he could not imagine how they even made it on their little homestead in Lincoln County, WV.

Only just tonight, when I brought up our Jersey cow, Stella, my grandmother, asked why I would ever want to try to milk a cow considering how difficult it was in the winter, how hard it was to keep clean, how difficult it would be keep the cow healthy in milk and proclaimed how glad she was to have been stuck with that chore rarely as a young girl in a family of 14.

Sometimes I wonder what we should even call this adventure or misadventure here. Hobby farm carries a connotation of little work and all play. That is certainly not what happens here. Small Farming brings to mind the growth of most of our food, and that is not us, yet. Homesteading makes me think of the lives of my father and grandmother, and I know we aren't there and will probably never be. . .What is this mess, then?

We live some romanticized notion of the life of a homesteader where we have a well insulated home, heating and cooling, internet, restaurants, grocery stores, large animal vets that come out during all weather and all hours, trucks, paved roads and chains of feed stores.

I really think our animals would have no idea how to survive the lives their forefathers did. Lord knows,
we do not have it in us.

The moral I hear so often is something like this:

"Why tie yourself to a farm and be unable to have a real life",
but here I sit thinking of how to untie myself to life so I can really farm, or
at least farm as much as a most modern people are able. 

What is a real life, anyway?

Does it just boil down to the grass always being greener?

We want to farm because we are denied the chance in society, 
and so few can succeed with it. It has become something mythical, almost, hasn't it?

They, those early farmers, wanted freedom from being tied to toil on the farm
because it was all they thought they could ever aspire to, possibly?

Are we and those like us just totally mad, as my grandmother suspects?

As I sit here on the internet, enjoying facebook. . .
knowing I enjoy eating out, trips to Target,
gasoline powered vehicles, and I wonder would I be able to 
enjoy the late evening milking in the cold,
the feeding, watering in the snow, the 
expense and labor in the mud
if I did not have those other
parts of life to dabble in?

Are those of us who have a foot in both worlds
even fit to be calls farmers, homesteaders or even hobby farmers?

But when I've spent hours in the middle of winter in a drafty,
unheated barn with temperatures in the teens trying to help a doe give birth only to lose
her and the goat kids, when I've wrestled to train
a doe to milk for days on end to finally be rewarded with
her standing still through most of milking and then kicking it over, when I've hatched
200 plus chicks inside during the spring, when I've wrestled a cow
by myself into a horse trailer for AI, when I've been dragged through
knee deep mud to see even our goat bucks have trimmed hooves. . .
Surely there is at least a bit of farmer in me and a bit of madness, too, 
when I love it so. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Changes on the farm

This is a warning to others who will come after me. . . .

Everything that is beautiful is NOT for your farm. 

What is a farm without a lovely Jersey cow?

Of all the creatures one might bring to mind
when they think of a farm, the Jersey
is a timeless and classic figure. She is
simply beautiful and was once a staple on small farms.

She still can be, but you MUST know
if you and your farm can sustain such a
dairy animal before jumping in feet first.

In a state like West Virginia, you're sadly
very limited with what you can do with your
milk. Herdshares are illegal, though it beats me
how the FDA and our government thinks to tell us
that we cannot share a cow and her milk, but with some Jerseys
giving 6-8 gallons a day, this is something to consider.

With the costs of alfalfa in this area, our small 23
acres being composed of mostly hillside and trees,
our limited time budget with 3 boys and 
a large dairy goat herd. . .and limited
budget to afford the amount of added grain to our
already huge grain budget. . .

I could see no way around acknowledging
that I'd jumped in too soon without
enough consideration to the "sensible." 

So here I am. . . 

With a beautiful Jersey cow, Stella, we have raised
for 2 years. A cow I truly love but
have come to realize needs more
land, a deeper pocketbook and
more time for milking than I'm apt to have in the coming

I decided that we would have to sell her.
I had hopes for just the right home.
A home where I could see how she
is doing and know that if they could not
keep her one day, we'd have an option to
purchase her back. A home that
I knew understood dairy cows, had the ability
to milk her routinely and wasn't buying her on a whim.

I was lucky enough to find such a home and an offer 
to trade my Beautiful Stella for a breeding for my Dexter heifer to
a Reg. Dexter bull and a Miniature heifer,
another Dexter, and her name is Angeline.

What is the difference in the Jersey and Dexter and how
does it impact you if you're considering a dairy animal?

As my blog in the Homesteading for Dingbats Series
Part 1 explained, Dexters can be largely
grass based in milk, forage well on things many
other breeds will not eat, give 1-2 gallons a day,
can be left to raise her calf without producing more milk
than the calf can consume and are a dual purpose
beef/dairy breed. They have a lower impact on the land
and you can support 2-3 per well cared for acre if you 
use rotations grazing during growing season, it is said.

This works for us. 

However, there is still a place for the higher production animals,
like Stella. Jerseys are eye candy, docile and give, if they are the only
dairy animal for a family, enough for a medium-large sized family of 5-8.
If you make cheese, yogurt and butter (which Jersey butter is unarguable the best),
a Jersey can and DOES satisfy so many areas of your family's dietary needs.

But you must realize what you're committing yourself to. 

I did not, and I admit this.

I have worried for the last year about having 
Stella in milk, finding the time to milk her with the dairy goats. . . .
The costs of grain and finding alfalfa hay. . .
Milk fever. . . 
training her to milk without a stand or
milking machine. . .
Handling that much milk. . . 

I know she has found a farming placement that
will be able to give her the type of farm she really needs,
and that is priceless to me!

But I will miss my first cow. . .
who thinks she is a dog. . .
a great deal. . .

I always learn things the hard way.



Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? The hay appeareth, and the tender grass sheweth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens

- Proverbs 27:23-27

"I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman's cares."

- George Washington