Monday, December 31, 2012

A real farm?

A farm,

A hobby farm,

A homestead,

A farmette,

A farmstead. . .

How do we define a farm?

What do you need for one?
How much land?
Do you need to process livestock to be a farm?
Do you have to sell vegetables?
If vegetables are needed, how about fruit?
How about livestock, do we have to have those?
What about just bees? 

One thing we know, in any of the above situations, tremendous work needs done and it revolves around a desire to connect with the beginning and basics of life, I suspect.

I hear the term "real farm" in circles when someone wants to overlook the very small farmer who may only have a home garden and a few hens where they sell tomatoes and eggs now and again.

 The statement is used to try to make very small farmers know they aren't taken seriously by the big guys.

By definition, a farm is,"An area of land and its buildings used for growing crops and rearing animals, typically under the control of one owner or manager." 

The area we live in here has little large scale farm land, and the bit that exists isn't available to most people for purchase at any price. West Virginia isn't, in term of geography, a large farm friendly area for the most part. This might be why we were historically not a highly settled area. The land isn't conducive to extremely successful larger farming endeavors.

It is hard to farm in a grand scale here on hillsides. 

I reckon I prefer the term Small-scale agriculture verses large-scale. Agriculture is the science, art, or occupation concerned with cultivating land, raising crops, and feeding, breeding, and raising livestock; farming or the production of crops, livestock, or poultry. No numbers, no acres defined - this is where many of us are who consider ourselves "Homesteaders: "small or large.

No matter how big you are, someone is bigger. No matter how much you do, someone is doing more, doing it better. Keep this in mind. Try to grow as your needs and situation and allow and do better, as you can, when you can.

If you're working your 1/2 acre raising herbs, chickens and rabbits - you ARE taking an active part in agriculture. That is work. If you're using your 5 acres for goats, if you have only bees, if you have only tomatoes and eggs.

"Give a man to fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."

If you are more involved in the production of quality livestock for those who are also working on this lifestyle to purchase instead of supplying the final product to a consumer, this is valuable, as well.

Give a family a pound of beef, they will eat for a day, but give them a cow, they will learn to milk, make butter, cheese, yogurt, manage land and eventually have beef for ever if they do it all properly.

That is where my care is, for the people going back to the land. .. having the right tools for it, giving them a good start. I'm not as interested in supplying the consumer as empowering and selling to the homesteader. I want to help people work toward self sufficiency.

Maybe you have pigs, bees, goats, a garden, sheep or cows a bit of it all. . .and know these efforts will never be your sole source of income, but you look for ways to manage it. because it matters deeply to you.

Many very small farms must find a niche to fit in. They find fantastic, creative ways to connect with buyers, friends and fellow farmers by using local meet and greet events, facebook, twitter, websites and social media in all forms. These folks often go out of their way to bring the farm to you, per say.

They show you the life, the trials, the good and bad times, the weather, the animals, the process in all forms – they little farmers usually work to bring the life to you, to compel you in some way to take an interest in agriculture, in your food, in your farmers.

I find the truly small farms work really hard to be connected and relevant in the real world, your world.

We have done so much to bring "farming" to our communities: urban and suburban and rural, in a way large scale farming never could have, really.

We bring folks in to make agriculture approachable, personal and warm, I think.

And By the Grace of God, we are Farmers in all senses of the word, folks – but I think most of you here already believed this.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The highs and lows

Farming is a hard, beautiful, amazing and sad thing. One of the things that makes it so wonderful are the kind and helpful people you meet along the way.

 I've been fortunate to meet some great folks, some farming/homesteading on a broader scale, some smaller or about the same. . .and so many that have been helpful, kind and folks who have given me a real sense of the community that many must have 
been privy to many years ago in small towns full of people living a similar lifestyle.  There are people I greatly appreciate for what they do, how they do it and how helpful they have been to me over and over. . . then there are those who have been helpful or great for information and just an overall learning experience between the each other like Wild Pilgrim Farmstead - even though we don't know them in person. I've been so delighted with most of my buyers - most have become friends, and watching these people strike off into farming or growing in their new breed of livestock. . . has been one of the most rewarding things. . . Those are the farmers and homesteaders/farmstead folks I appreciate so much! 

However, sadly, in the small farming community, at least in this area, there is more maliciousness, pettiness, jealously and mean spirited behavior than I've ever seen in any other area in my life. Cruel, backbiting thoughtlessness. . .and also a level of childishness not rivaled, that I know of, in any other walk of life I've seen - not even rescue, which is shocking, if you know how bad that can be. 

I have always been willing to pass on more business and sales than I could ever count to all others farmers that are ethical in practice, whether they are friends of mine or not, and I've always taken truly good advice and applied it and appreciated it. I want good small farmers to succeed!! Sadly, you do not find this in all farming fellows and ladies or with all homesteader types. People will malign how much you offer, how much land you have, pretend the quality of your livestock, produce or sales items are really not better than their own (when that fact is - there are levels of quality in everything - period - and beyond that, there are differences in what is desirable to folks - no point in being dishonest to make your own sales offerings better than they are - just be honest). Some fellows want us to say every goat, chicken, duck, sheep, turkey and cow is the same - breed, the manner in which they are raised, temperament, breeding/pedigree and disease testing, knowledge of the farmer on what they raise, the history behind them - well, they want to believe it means nothing, that it is of no importance - well, I'm telling you - that is a lie. Plain and Simple. It matters. 

Some get angry if they see one farmer having success, breaking even or - God Forbid - making a small profit - How sad is this? It isn't something to be proud of when you can't make something work and keep you from working always at a loss. That mentality certainly hasn't helped this nation. Why in the world would we continue to work so hard at something for nothing - the lifestyle is worth a lot, but who is so rich they can do it for free forever? Sure, people can live in a delusional world where they believe we can do everything for free (and please do not tell me about working for free, I know about that in volunteer work, but I can't volunteer by land and animals away, I'm sorry) and at a loss for years - it CANNOT be sustained, and frankly, you're doing something very wrong if that is what is happening. I'm telling you if you do it right, if you take the utmost care with animals' husbandry and select quality, healthy animals and set up your farm right and grow what is correct for your region, with a care to heirloom foods, and market it right - YOU WILL not have to operate forever at a loss. You will not be rich, but you will at least make back your momentary investment eventually and not leave you always discouraged. People - if you're looking to homestead or farm, consider before you buy from a farmer selling at a loss and operating in the red year after year - what on earth could they offer you in terms of insight or quality? There isn't a huge amount of money to be made on a little piece of land - but even if you're mainly doing it for your family, there will be an abundance of something now and again, and you should be able to sell it and make something.

It is so sad to see any success hated by others over and over. I speak from personal experience. Those who know me, know I am kind and helpful to the point of silliness. . .but I want to see people do well, have learned many things the hard way, and I know of what I speak - no one must listen and every bit will not apply to all farmer folks, but some will. . . and I am so tired of the childish, petty and mean-spirited nature of too many out there "farmin" and "homesteading" - This shouldn't be a competition.

Do what you do, do it well, have goals, offer quality in all you do, DO it right - Your quality of livestock, baked goods, meats, produce and otherwise SHOULD speak in it own 'unique' way and you SHOULD be able to appreciate others doing things in a kind, ethical way.

Advice and helpful tips, even if you think they do not apply to you, have been hard- learned by the giver, usually, as a general rule, by those giving it in an effort to help, and hatefulness, in response to those efforts, hardly makes one look good. Okay - off the soap box. :)

Is Bottle raising Livestock un-Kind?

Is Bottle Raising Some Livestock the Best Choice?

The following is what I've found to be true on our farm. It has also proven true for most farms/farmers I know well.

Folks can figure out what is best for their animals in the course of time.

We pull and bottle-feed dairy goats here most of the time. We have also found bottle raising dairy cattle is far and away the better choice.

I usually only buy bottle raised goats and cattle. I've made a few exceptions. I've usually regretted it, but not always. 

I want to be sure to give our buyers this same courtesy I hope for, as well.

While dam raised kids/calves can occasionally be friendly, I've rarely found most aren't friendly enough in their new homes to make the buyers feel comfortable and make the animal low stress in this transition when compared to bottle raised kids / calves.

Most are not friendly, but some folks work hard enough to create exceptions.

Dam raised kids are not as likely, even when friendly, to accept all people the way bottle kids do. They still look to their mothers for nutrition where the bottle kids look to and count on human caretakers.

Dam raised babies may be friendly on your farm because they are used to you, but when they leave, they often do not have any reason to bond to the new folks, and I hear via calls and emails how upset buyers over these types of offspring are. Often, they find, even when they were friendly at the seller's place, the new animals are wild at their place. 

So, when these dam raised kids or calves go to a new buyer and prove very wild, this quickly discourages new owners on their dairy venture . . . to not mention the fear the goat or calf endures. They get passed on and on, eventually many of these animals go onto a stockyard or dying of poor care somewhere down the line.

Bottle kids / calves  think anyone with the bottle holds the key to life, and they love everyone (now and again, they love too much). They do not care who you are, if you have that bottle, you are mama. Now, someone will chime in with a story about a wild bottle kid (usually if this happens, it was lamb-bar raised kid, and that isn't the same), but again, there are always exceptions.

I've met a handful of truly friendly dam raised goat kids and have never met a truly friendly dam raised calf. It is rare you encounter a wild bottle raised calf or goat.

I like to increase my odds for what is favorable in my animals. Ease of handling is worth a lot to me. The value has proven to be very high in buyers.

People assign too many human emotions to animals, and so I assure you when I pull goat kids away minutes after birth, my does could CARE EVEN LESS than less.

The kids think I'm mom from the very beginning and are thrilled to be inside in a tub in my kitchen in warm bedding with no fighting to eat.  They all get the same amount each feeding.

I guess we could compare it to bottle feeding newborn kids if you're an adoptive parent or opt to not breastfeed. It is fine. All that matters is excellent care and a full belly to the babies. 

Sometimes, folks note a lower parasite and cocci exposure when raising kids apart from the adult herd, too.

I find the kids from a birth will grow evenly when pulled because they do not need to fight other kids to eat. I'll take this spot to mention that I DO NOT feed any replacers. I feed whole goat's or cow's MILK from my herd or from the store. Both will work. 

They have a more gentle mama in me than their natural one would be, and they keep a life long ease of handling for worming, kidding help, milking, vaccines, taking blood, trimming hooves and there is little need to catch them, as they follow you wherever you go. 

Kids or heifers can go to educated buyers you chose at a young age, so they grow up with their future milking owners and give the same ease of handling for those people. This is just one step toward setting a dairy animal up for lifetime farm homes and the buyer for success. 

I've found dam raising can cause does and cows pain in terms of raw, bleeding teats and constant nursing kids. I get these messages and calls often when folks are milking. 

Animals have bleeding, raw teats and there is a fight to be milked because the kids / calves are making the udder and teats hurt. I have known does and cows to have hardened udders from scar tissue where offspring has butted them over and over, as well. Watch and observe how very rough kids/calves are. They are rough. I've seen many goats run away from their kids when I dam raised years back - NEVER does this happen with hand milking. The does 
run to the stand. It is very gentle process. Goats and cows enjoy it - they eat grain and have routine they thrive on twice a day - udders and teats are never bruised or bleeding. 

Folks talk about nature, but they do not consider dairy goats and cows to not exist in nature. The huge udders and big teats and tremendous production are things people developed, so it is no shock the care revolves about human involvement and work.

When kids nurse 
constantly, the orifice never closes. This leaves the udder open to infections / mastitis. That is something folks rarely consider. It has been proven in those who monitor bacteria counts in dairies, though. Raw milk small dairies, too. Dam raising does have higher rates of mastitis, too.  If kids are on nursing, they can transfer an infection in one side to the other. It is a mess. It can spread through the herd if kids try to nurse other does, as well. 

If you let cows and does bond with the kids/calves, to a degree, they mourn a bit when offspring are removed, but if one uses common sense or has any experience, they know that even if the offspring is 6 months old and sold or when the cow is bred or when the calf/kid is sold, the cow and calf  / doe and kid will mourn then, too. I've found it is worse the longer they have the kids or calves.  If you pull them right away, there is very little stress.

Nothing cruel about it, as many 5 year old children cry their first day of school or day care or staying over with family, then they decide it is wonderful and move on. Animals do, too.

Also, speaking of calves, they will nurse (not as often in goats) even after the dam is rebred and after you've kept them apart, and using weaning rings and so forth becomes a real mess. 

Lastly, remember, Buck kids will breed their dams before they are old enough to be weaned, and then the doe is bred back too early by her own buckling. Nature is pesky like that. You have to wean the buck kids by about 8 weeks to be 100% safe, and that is TOO young for the kids to be off milk and grow properly. So if you don't bottle raise, you're in a really bad spot. 

Buck kids will breed their female litter mates too young, as well. Bottle raising lets the kids stay on milk as long as needed without worry because the kids are raisedi away from the 
adults, and the buck kids can be moved away from doe kids when it is time.

At the end of the day. . .my guess is you will find, if you dam raise, it is because people work less initially, but overall, having done it and bottle raised, I do not prefer it. 

It is more initial work on the farmer to bottle raise, but the return has proven worth the work.

Nature is interesting, you know? It can be better and it can be worse.

I remind folks that dairy animals are a man-bred creation: selective. Don't agree? Try hanging out naked in a blizzard. . .you'll appreciate your unnatural clothing and a fire or shelter pretty quick.

You can try all things on your own and see what works for you and the animals in your care. . .there are modified systems experienced folks come up with that can work well.

I started with dam raising and saw it wasn't what I wanted for the animals or my own farm for the most part.

Folks can figure out what is best for their animals in the course of time.

We pull and bottle-feed dairy goats here 90% of the time. For time purposes, we've mostly dam raised calves and ended up with wild calves.

"Currently, the USA doesn't grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed its people."

Watch this through - if that ending touching touch you to your very soul - something is wrong: 

"Why don't we worry about growing a safe supply here and provide our farmers an opportunity to grow that food?" - Dr. Allen Straw says choking 
on tears.

"I like it. Wouldn't trade it for anything else" says the farmer featured. . .

In 2007, 8 million acres in the USA was used for vegetables and fruit to 214 million of soy, corn, wheat and such -

Currently, the USA doesn't grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed its people.



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