Friday, March 27, 2009

3 Sheep + 1 Goat = More Chores?

Meet Ricky, Fred and Sammy. After finding an irresistible ad on Craigslist, we have 4 new critter additions to our farm. Zachary and I want to try spinning and knitting, and the sheep are great wool producers. Ricky, the all-white one, is a Border Leicester. Fred, the brown and white one, is a Icelandic/Shetland cross. Sammy, the young black one, is a Southdown/Corriedale/Merino cross. They all are boys that been castrated and are very woolly. Ricky and Fred are 2 years, and Sammy is 6 months old. They came named. Once it warms up and dries out, we'll get them sheared.
Buy three sheep, get free goat! His name is Tippy. Our free-range goat that lives with the heifers and steers and thinks she is a cow, has a fellow goat on the farm again.

Zachary is worried our farm will turn into a petting zoo. Ever since we stopped milking cows almost a month ago, I have been lobbying for more animals. Craigslist is very dangerous when a woman misses her milk cows. At least the sheep are somewhat useful with the wool. I am not sure if I can talk him into Mini Donkeys... :-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Smell in the Shop

We have been spending a lot of time in the wood shop lately. This is our first project build specifically to be sold. It is a bistro set made out of cedar. After we are done sealing the wood, we plan to bring the set up to my parents' lake house, where there is a better chance of selling it, since it is more of a vacationers area. The best thing about this project is the smell. The calves enjoyed it as well, as they got treated with cedar shavings for bedding.
In other news, Zachary may have found a job. We will know for sure in a few days, but it looks promising.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fast Food

While making dinner tonight, I saw a blur shoot across the front yard. I scanned the yard and all the birds had left the feeders and surrounding trees. Usually the yard is full of birds in the feeders and trees in the evening. Then I saw the reason. The blur that has caught the corner of my eye for months, was perched perfectly still on my suet feeding post. My songbirds worst nightmare. I quickly grabbed the camera to take his/her mugshot. Referencing my bird book, it is a draw between the Sharp-shinned Hawk or the Cooper's Hawk. The big difference between these two birds is the shape of the tail, but I never got a good look at the tail. But they share the same appetite for tasty birds at bird feeders. He/She flew away after about five minutes, in pursuit of a naive little bird that happen to fly across the yard...
He/She didn't mind all the Canadian Geese across the road in the field.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coop Progress

Here is the current state of the chicken coop project. This is the back side of the coop with nesting boxes hanging out. The boxes will have an access door for easy egg collection.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Camera Shy

Not now.
Fine, I will look at the camera, but I will not smile.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Good Day

Today was a good day. We are slowly getting used to not having to milk cows twice a day. But we are finding ways to fill the time. Today we started construction on a chicken coop. We are planning on getting a few hens this spring.
The weather was wonderful too, about 45 degrees. Zachary and I went for a bike ride. We are pitifully sore after riding a couple miles, but hope to improve over the summer.
We recently bought a little Jersey heifer calf to add to our flock. She will stand out from our Holsteins. With her and the rest of our steers and heifers, they keep us occupied as well. She is a spunky one.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Good Read

We picked up this book a few weeks ago while browsing the book store. It is loaded with information on mostly everything you need to know about living off the land. You can learn how to make candles, soap, train a dog, weave, sew, raise chickens, gardening, preserving, build a root cellar, make cheese, home repair, etc... Most of these skills have been lost in modern times, where now all you need to know is how to get to the nearest Wal-Mart. No, we are not ready to unplug from the electrical grid and live like Laura Ingalls. We like technology too much. :-) But we do think it is important to learn some of these homesteading skills in case of an emergency and just for our own enjoyment. As anyone who preserves food understands the hectic and time consuming ordeal of canning and freezing, but then can relish in it when you can eat your own bounty in the middle of the winter and not have to buy a bag of frozen beans from who-knows-where at the grocery store. I think you can derive some sort of satisfaction from being just little more self-reliant. Especially in these uncertain economic times, it is just the comfort you need.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A New Chapter

Sometimes things don't always work out as planned. Zachary and I have had this dream of running our own dairy farm for a few years and we've been doing it the past year and a half. We believed we could be a small dairy farm that could survive today's dairy industry, that you don't need to be a giant factory farm to be successful. Unfortunately we are not going to be one of those farms. Zachary and I have decided to exit the dairy business.

It was a difficult decision, but it will be the best for us. If you don't know, the milk market has dropped significantly in the last couple months, since late December. Early speculation was it would crawl back up by summer and be profitable again. Recently, new analysis expect the milk price for dairy farmers not to improve much until 2010, maybe. We thought if we could buckle down for a few months and limp along, we would see daylight again. But with the current outlook, there is no way for us to compete. I know there are things we could have done better in our farm management, but even if everything we did was perfect, we'd most likely be in the same situation. We are only a year and a half into owning our own business and not well established.

By February we knew we were in trouble. Zachary and I poured over our financial information, seeing if we could find a way to make it work. We already cut back all our expenses, and the income stream was shrinking. We knew it wasn't going to work. As if my Dad was reading our minds, he told us to stop pounding our heads and quit milking. If he was still running the place, he told us he would stop milking too. It was a relief hearing that from him. We were really stressing on how to handle this situation and talk to my parents about it. After all we were slowly buying the farm from them and continuing the family tradition of dairy farming on our farm as he did and his Dad did. We felt like screw ups for not making this work.

So after feeling a little better about ourselves, we started making calls and having people come and look at our herd. Since the milk price is down, so is the cow price. Cows are worth about half as much as they were a year ago. It is very sickening to think of the investment lost, but that is with anything nowadays. I recently looked at my 401K retirement plan and it has lost about half it's value in about a year. We had auction guys and cattle jockeys come in to look at our milking herd. We decided to go the auction route and after Tuesday, all of our milking cows will be gone. The guy we went with is going to clean them up and push the feed to them and will have a sale in a few weeks. I don't think it will sink in until it's milking time and there will be no one to milk.

We are in a bittersweet state of mind around here. We are sad our dairy farming dream is gone. We had a lot of hopes for our herd and we seemed to finally getting somewhere with them. We always thought about going to organic grazing once the cows were paid for. We were proud to have our own business and I hoped to be able to leave my full-time off farm job one day and join Zachary on the farm. But we are optimistic about the future. We are planning on keeping our young heifers and steers as a side business. If money allows, we would like to buy calves now and then to raise. Not having a milking herd will allow us not be a tied down to the farm as we were. We still have the young stock, but it is easier to have someone to care for them if we want be away for more than 6 hours. We are looking forward in hopefully getting more time for our hobbies, like gardening, camping, hiking, and paddling. Zachary's time will now be focused on the young stock and farm upkeep. He will probably get a part-time job somewhere to help with the bills and hopefully help get our kitchen project going again.

Other than that, I am not sure what the future holds for us. Once my parents get home from their winter in Florida, we discuss the details and what will lie ahead for all of us. But I do know that agriculture is what Zachary and I enjoy and no matter how things end up, we'll always have it in our lives, no matter what scale and form it is in. This experience was just another chapter in our lives and we are about to begin another.