Posts Tagged ‘Farm life’

Why Do Small Farmers Fail?

As a small farmer, I have been alarmed at just how many small farms close down. I mean with all the hype and excitement over eating real food, connecting with food, and becoming more aware about what we are eating, you’d think all these new startup farms would be wild successes, but they’re not and I predict this will be a continuing trend.

I was listening to a farm entrepreneur podcast recently and this statistic blew me away, 80% of small farms will fail in 2 years and in five years it becomes 98%! When I heard that I had to rewind it to make sure I heard it right. The reason? Cashflow, plain and simple. The reasons for the cashflow problems vary; a catastrophe strikes that they can’t recover from, their chosen specialty is too narrow of a niche market, they have no marketing/business plan, or family (usually spouse). I think most often it is a combination of these but the one that seems to be a most common denominator is the family/spouse factor. I’ve heard of cases w

here one spouse was willing to give it a go but after moving out to the country, watching the bank account dwindle, and not too distant memories of how life was before keep surfacing.

Several years ago, a fellow named Kevin came out to volunteer and help out on the farm. One day while we were cleaning out the chick brooder, Kevin posed a question that went something like this, “What would you tell someone who wants to farm but his/her spouse isn’t into it?” My reply was, “If you love your wife, don’t start a farm. Nothing will test a relationship like farm life.” I think Kevin only came back one or two times after that. I don’t mean to be a gloomy gus about it, but I have seen marriages and family ties broken because of a failed farm venture.

Here’s a list of farms who in our short existence have either completely ceased operation or downsized to the point that they are no longer operating as a business.

One farm made award winning sheep’s milk cheese closed their creamery and sold all their sheep at the beginning of 2017. Apparently award winning cheese doesn’t mean you’re destined for success, even if you’re in Chattahoochee Hills.

A vegetable farm with a growing CSA lasted about 4 years until severe flooding destroyed their vegetable farm. They had just expanded and built a greenhouse near Rockmart, GA.

Another vegetable farm in Douglasville, GA closed up not long after I had met with them about partnering with us to sell their organic vegetables.

A farm in Ball Ground, GA was a small family farm focused on pastured poultry and pastured pork. They closed down about a year ago and I got the impression that they as a family were just worn out.

Most recently a small farm founded by friends of mine also in Ball Ground, just closed up after three years. They blessed us with an eggmobile complete with chickens.

Finally, one of the most horrendous instances was the family who took over our lease at our previous location. I gave them a good deal of advice that they did not follow and a year later, they had vacated the property, abandoning not only their lease but also goats, pigs, and chickens. Sadly several of these animals starved before they could be rescued.

So how are new farmers supposed to succeed? What does the successful beginning farmer look like. Well, that’s going to be for another post because I need to get busy doing the things necessary to keep East West Farm afloat.

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Intern and Learn at East West Farm

Come Farm With Us.

The Seedorfs

The Seedorfs

We are seeking interns who would like to learn the skills needed to raise ethical food. Our focus is on working with animals and therefore your education will primarily be in animal husbandry, milking cows, milk handling/processing, processing animals for food (namely chickens, rabbits, and pigs), and basic butchery. You will also have the opportunity to learn from our friends who manage the vegetable operation.

We are looking for 4 to 6 people who are:

  • Eager to learn and work.
  • Aren’t afraid to get dirty.
  • Works well with others and animals.
  • Are self starters and intuitive problem solvers.
  • Passionate about real food.
  • Pro family values and comfortable with children and working with our farm members.

You give:

  • Saturday mornings 7:30 -11:30 (may alternate 2 weekday evenings in 2 hour blocks 5:00-7:00 on occasion).
  • Attend at least one chicken processing day which are generally the last Friday of the month in lieu of normal schedule that week (see event calendar).
  • Farm Labor: Feeding animals, fence construction, building coops and pens, shoveling sh….stuff, property/land care.
  • One session of at least 20 weeks starting the first week of July. We will take late comers, and we’re fine if you want to start sooner.

What you get:

  • Hands on education. Learn at our side and gain the confidence that you can farm. Your experience will culminate in managing the farm with the other interns at or near the end of the session.
  • East West Farm T-shirt
  • On occasion food we produce.
  • Work on a piece of land that has been saved from development in Cobb County just west of Marietta, GA.
  • Meet other farmers and like minded people.

Please fill out this form below and include your resume (optional but definitely a bonus). Send via email to eastwestfamilyfarm@gmail.com

East West Farm Intern Application

Heather’s Story – Cow’s Don’t Care if You Cry

 

I don’t know that I’ve read a more poignant and heart wrenching story than Heather’s. Her’s is a perfect example of how farm life carries on regardless of tragedy and I can attest that cows really don’t care if you cry.

Get some tissues handy before you click this link.

Heather’s Story – Cow’s Don’t Care if You Cry.

Once a Day Milking

Back when I was dreaming about farming, we were visiting a local farm where we bought our milk. It was milking time and the cows were filing into the milking parlor, what luck! I asked if we could observe the process and after noting our three young children, we were given a nod and warned to be quiet. The parlor echoed with the pulsating hiss of the pump. In the center was a pit for the worker, it was just deep enough to put the cows udders at chest height while standing. Cows would come in one door, stepping into one of the four stalls just vacated by one of her herd mates. From the pit the farmer could manage the cows by pushing and pulling levers to open and close gates. As each new cow came in, a hefty scoop of grain was deposited into a trough which the cow enthusiastically devoured. The farmer would quickly dip each test with iodine, wipe them off and attach what I now know (and very familiar with) as inflationary. We sat for a while watching in uneducated, uninitiated wonderment and awe from an observation area above the pit opposite from the milking stalls. I asked as many questions I could with being too much of a nuisance (I hoped) and they were answered with the same polite tolerance that I display when asked about farming. “Do they need to get grain?” A: “That’s what brings them in and distracts them for milking.” Q: “Do they kick?” (One cow was throwing a hoof around until the inflationary were attached) A: with a grin “sometimes” Q: “How often do you milk?” A: “Twice a day, every day, 4am and 4pm no matter what.” This final answer was delivered almost as a challenge/boast/complaint. It was that final answer that stuck in my head the most and kept me from considering getting into milking until I couldn’t ignore the demand any longer.

Twice a day (TAD) milking is the most common milking schedule dairy farms adhere to. Some even milk 3x a day to get the maximum production from the cows. But there’s a slowly growing number of farms adopting once a day (OAD) milking. The farmers who chose the OAD schedule cite that while there is a 15-20% decrease in production, this is offset by lower feed cost, reduced stress, and time freed up for other farm duties. I’ve toyed with the idea of adopting this schedule and now after a few days of solo farming/parenting/homeschooling while the wife was out of town cemented my decision to switch.

I am married to one incredibly gracious and supportive wife who did not share my dream of farming. We work together with the kids taking care of the critters with milking time being the hub that the schedule revolves around. But every third day, I get up and put on a uniform and report for a 24 hour shift at a fire station, leaving her to take care of everything. After two days of managing the farm, the kids, & the house I realized that we were switching to OAD milking.

One other factor is our up coming move. While we will have a much nicer barn to work in, the pastures are a walk away and the cows could be any where on 60 acres as opposed to the current 7 we are on. So here we go on yet another learn as you go lesson in farming.

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Metamorphosis

If you follow us closely on Facebook or subscribe to our emails, you’ve heard the news that we are moving. This is due to a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is financial and physical exhaustion. When we first chose this location 3 plus years ago, we believed we could make it work by renting the small house that was also on the property and renting a portion of our pasture to board a couple of horses. As far as growing food goes, our primary focus was going to be on feeding our family and then selling our excess. After putting in 18 hour days for several weeks fixing up the house, replacing all the walls and the complete floor system, we offered up the cottage (as we call it) for rent. After a few potential tenants fell through and then a brief stint with a tenant from the netherworld, I realized that the caliber of person who was willing to live in such a small house might not the type of person I would trust around my family or our animals. Sure there’s plenty of folks who are moving into tiny houses, but they are few and most are wanting one to own, not rent. I also abandoned the prospect of pasture boarding horses as I met with those interested and found it wasn’t going to be compatible with our pasture based farming.

With these developments, we realized that we needed to farm more than homestead. At the time, the common pastured chicken practice was to raise commercial hybrids in chicken tractors, fed on a conventional feed of GMO Soy and Corn. The best thing we could say about the feed was that it was customized to not include antibiotics. The birds grew great and we made a decent profit selling them for $15 each. Then I started to learn. People started asking about the feed ingredients and if we would raise chicken without soy. The only way to do it was to mix our own feed or to feed a Soy-free organic feed. I found a Co-op that ordered bulk feed from North Carolina. When I spoke with the farmer who coordinated the orders, he talked me out of feeding organic saying he no long fed it because it wasn’t profitable. He was almost right. There is a number of folks who WILL pay the price of an organically fed chicken, we just couldn’t find enough of them.

I always wanted milk cows for my family and myself. I knew that if we were going to start providing milk to those who seek it, we would have to be 100% married to the farm. Milking a cow solely for one’s self and family allows for once a day milking and letting the calf take care of the rest.  The only way to get a break or to be able to tend to other family business, if milk is going to be a product offered from the farm, is to have deeply loyal friends who want to farm one day and are willing to take care of the farm and milking duty. Fortunately we have been blessed with such folks as Tiffany and Korey Wood, Sandra Walker, Amanda Conner, Jill Hutchinson, and Mary Jo Beck who have also been die hard regulars for nearly every single chicken day as well as relief milkers. But it’s not just the milking of cows every morning, every evening, rain or shine, sickness or health. It’s learning about nutrition, breeding, training and buying appropriate milk cows. Just the search for a milk cow is arduous and time consuming. They’re not exactly being offered for sale on the Marietta Square.

The more I read on pastured pork, the more I want to raise pigs. I struck up a deal with my mother to keep a boar and sow at her place where piglets would be born and then I would grow them out. This just proved to almost be too much for my mom as these hogs grew to be several hundreds of pounds and while very tame, if they got it in their head to roam, roam they did. Sadly, early one morning, they made it into a neighbor’s yard who shot first and asked no questions whatsoever. We did raised up one litter and this past week we harvested the feeders and I see a much better profit margin than raising chickens or milking cows but we shan’t quit either. We’ll raise fewer chickens and for the time being, we aren’t going to add any more cows to the herd.

So we find ourselves very much at square one due to the loss of investment in breeding stock, a new cow who just had her first calf and has yet to let us have any of her milk, a change in ideals on how chickens should be raised, and then just realizing the fact that family has to be considered first. My amazing and incredible wife never dreamed of a farm with cows, chickens, rabbits, and certainly not pigs. She’s already a mother, teacher, and care giver to three children and she does it all on top of farming single-handedly every third day I am working a 24 hour shift at the fire station. I fear that I’ve asked too much of her.

So the news is we’re moving 30 miles west to family land, we have someone to lease the Cobb County farm for vegetable production and we will still be able to use it as a drop site. Our current farm members who choose to may still pick up just as they have been, or they may choose to pickup at our new location. While the winter is usually a time for slowing down and relaxing before the busyness of spring, we’ve much to do to get everything ready to move.

So there it is. We’re changing. We’re still the same, but we’re a little different. We’ve matured. We’ve undergone a metamorphosis.

 

Metamorphosis

What it takes…

So what does it take to grow the best food possible? What goes into raising a chicken from a day old chick on organic feed on pasture until it is large enough 9 – 10 weeks later to be converted into food?

Well here’s a run down in a very condensed nutshell. First we map out the schedule for the entire year to pick the weekends that we will process the birds. We borrow some of the equipment from another farm so we plan around their schedule. I work every third day at the fire department and so we plan around that schedule. Next we have to take into consideration any holidays such as Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc. which might render farm members unable to pick up their birds. This generally leaves us just a couple of weekends a month to choose from for processing our birds. Also in all this planning, we have to consider the time frame in which we are going to grow out each flock of birds and ensure that we allow for enough time between flocks. Oh, and each batch of chicks must be ordered 4-6 weeks in advance. Then we have to decide just how many chicks to order. We don’t want to order so many that we have a load of birds that don’t sell but, we don’t want to order too few that we don’t have enough to sell when a new member joins.

Next we have to put together our feed order. In order to make organic feed as affordable as possible, we order it by the ton. One ton of chick-starter feed and grower feed costs between $1300 – $1400 which is a substantial investment before we put the first chick in the brooder.

Then we get the call from the post office that our chicks have arrived. Yes, that’s right, the chicks are sent via United States Postal Service. But they don’t deliver them to us, we have to finish up whatever project we’re in the middle of and get to the post office and pick them up.

The chicks are then placed in the brooder where they will live for the next 3 weeks until they are big enough to live on pasture. Every day they are fed and watered at least 2x’s. We also must monitor their temperature to ensure they are warm enough. Once we move them to pasture in the chicken tractors, we no longer just feed and water them twice a day but we are also moving them to a new patch of pasture twice a day. For 6-7 weeks we maintain this routine along with all the other farm chores and family commitments. All of this then cumulates on that fateful day when these birds are converted from living animal to food to nourish bodies. On that day, we rise an extra hour early to complete the other farm chores and choke down a quick breakfast. We set up the processing area, giving all the tables and containers a final scrub down. We make sure the scalder is heating so that we have hot water for loosening the feathers. When the ice is delivered, we hand unload 1500+ lbs of ice for the warm up to all the activity the day has in store. We then take to the pasture to catch the birds and place them in crates or cages for hauling them up to the processing area. Then the real work begins.

In order to make a chicken edible, it must be killed, plucked and eviscerated. Performing this task on 100 – 150 birds takes around 6 hours if we don’t take a lunch and we have 4 or more volunteers who come to donate their time and labor. After the last bird goes on ice, cleanup begins. All equipment that was used; tables, buckets, knives, killing cones, scalder, & plucker must be cleaned of blood, feathers and other parts. Because I am the slaughter-man, I am covered in blood and other excretions and I make for the shower before any members show. Now we are waiting on folks to come during the two hour window we set for them to come get their birds. After the designated time is up, we now have all the same chores that we did once already this morning. After all that we remember we have kids to feed.

And so ends one phase, but there’s another flock of birds on the pasture and in a few short weeks we will convert them into food.

Emotional Roller coaster, High’s and Lows of Farming

Being a skip generation farmer, I find the roller coaster of emotion that comes with it to be exhilarating, exhausting and frustrating. I guess for those who grow up on a farm, there is an ingrained ability to take it in stride without stumbling too much.

It never fails that if something catastrophic happens, I am away at the fire station and Katie is the one who must deal with the situation. I get to come home and try to make sense of what transpired while I was gone. Being gone for 24 hours sometimes puts me 2 or 3 days behind.

To keep from loosing all hope and giving up when we lose a cow, a dog runs away, there’s too much rain, there’s drought, the garden fails, rabbits die, and hawks attack; we have to look for the small miracles that our society has lost sight of. We get to experience the mystery of witnessing  grass and hay convert into milk, seeing new kits in a nesting box, watching a calf come into the world, digging a potato from the earth, gathering eggs, plucking black berries from the brambles, and watching our children grow in an environment that allows them to grow in and explore the fullness of creation. To revel in wonder at what so many are oblivious to and take for granted. Most of all, we have come to understand true thankfulness and gratitude to our Maker for how we are blessed.