I'm getting my masters degree in Family Farming from U of Moss here in Tully. Today I want to talk a little bit about the hours and hours of learning and discussion, budgeting and planning that goes on behind the scenes.
Boy, I really love to learn new things and even so, sometimes I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hydrant. The internet is both a blessing and a curse for knowledge seekers like me.
One of my greatest blogging goals has always been to be very real. I constantly evaluate how closely my internet presence resembles my reality. Recently I've noticed that my funny quips about happening to get a new animal every time the Professor is out of town, might be entertaining but they are not reality.
Rebecca wrote a comment on my last post asking for more of the background details. My response to her was so long I felt like it needed a post all it's own.
You know me pretty well. I came pretty close to dying two years ago and while I was recovering we moved to an 11 acre horse farm with my eight children. When my son asked for a cow for his birthday I laughed. My soul said, "Life is short!! Get a cow!" My mind began learning, asking, talking, planning, praying, and waiting to see what felt right for our family. Cows just came to us.
(Our friend is a cow vet and he talked to a friend who gave Drew two dairy steers. This was a beautiful gift for our family and one of the best decisions we have ever made.)
My husband, The Business Sustainability Professor, was and is all about raising our own food. His biggest concern is usually the financial feasibility of a new animal and the added work load.
In general, he ALWAYS starts with a no. I start with a maybe. He is won over by thoughts of a good meal or financial profit. I get gooey holding cute baby animals and I melt when I see that twinkle in the eyes of my children. I love to see them being independent and taking responsibility for parts of our little farm. I love the little people that this life is growing.
We are not raising animals. We're raising children. Honestly, I chose this life because I can't think of any other childhood I would like to create for my children. I wouldn't trade these life experiences for anything in the world.
We feel ridiculously blessed.
Although Todd worries more before getting a new animal, I am the one whose heart holds each new animal. I feel them, I pray for them, I orchestrate their care, and I love them. That isn't to say that I do the most work for them, either. I don't. My kids do 90% of the farm work. Todd does the big hay moving, building, tractoring. I do the babies, nursing, and planning.
I think Todd would agree that I love the animals and he loves having them. He says he's grateful for them but he doesn't love them. I think we have a great partnership.
Here are my tips for starting a family farm...
1. Make friends with everyone, especially people who have what you want.
My talent in life is learning from others. I could never do what we do without a community. I ask questions constantly. Local people teach me local wisdom and our little farm is built step by step by a community. My little smarty friend, Bryn, researches everything! She tells me the best chickens, the best hatcheries, what to do when our chicken is sick. Kelly from Tully hardware invited me to her cute barn to see the coop her husband built. Anna from the library food co-op was on speed dial when our first cows wouldn't drink from bottles. And, my nurse anesthesis friend actually castrated our bulls for us after Sunday dinner. Haha. Everything we know we've learned from other people. It takes a village.
2. Start slowly, but don't be afraid to start.
I'm just not someone who worries. I am brave. If we feel good about trying something new, we do it. I have eight kids, I have already surrendered my life and so what's one more donkey? We have done well getting one new animal at a time and building our farm slowly. I love the months of planning and research that my kids do before we agree to a new adventure. It's fun having so many possibilities.
3. Let them live!!
The best thing I have done as a mother and as a farmer is to give my children space to live! I really let my kids care for their animals-- even when they let the chickens run out of water.
I let Drew take care of STEERS! He did it. If he had a question, he asked me and I'd ask around. He told me when one was sick, he told me when we needed more food. I'm actually the wise farming assistant. My kids are the farmers.
Animals are tough!! Tough as in hardy. If you are a fairly intelligent, hard working, kind person, you can raise animals. Really, animals are living creatures who know how to survive. Life and death are both natural. It's not that hard to care for living things. Being a farmer is like being a mother. You learn as you go and you trust your gut.
We lost a few chickens because our dog chased them and carried them around in his mouth. I love my chickens, so I was sad. But, it was just part of life. I have spent hours thinking about how to train Rocco not to chase chickens.
Here is an example of our life...
Jakob wanted a dog.
He did hours and hours of research (I picked out books for him from the library, we watched youtube, we scoured the internet, etc.)
We went to every pound in the area, talked to everyone.
Jakob didn't want a golden retriever or a lab.
He wanted a med sized dog.
I wanted a good farm dog that wouldn't eat chickens.
Todd wasn't thrilled about a dog that lived inside.
I convinced him that it is inhumane to keep a dog outside in upstate NY.
After months of deliberation, a pound called me to tell me they were getting a big shipment of puppies.
We brought a smarty friend to help us choose.
Jakob picked a puppy.
We teased that this was a spur of the moment decision, but it wasn't.
We felt good about this puppy and we got him.
He has been a lot of work.
He chases our chickens.
He tracks mud into my house and he jumps fences.
But, we love that dog so much.
He's good and he's ours.
For better or for worse.
We live on 11 acres so that we can have problems like him.
I don't ask myself if we made a good choice (although I still think we made the best choice).
I ask myself how we can help Rocco get along with the chickens.
We just got the BEST remote control shock collar that has saved our life and really helped us train our puppy.
Our puppy has helped us train our children.
Our life is better because our little ones have a puppy to chase.
He will die someday and we will be sad, but we will have lived today with great love and great memories!
I should add that the dog is BY FAR the hardest animal we've adopted so far.
Boy, this was long and philosophical and had nothing to do with Rebecca's comments. This was the background-- how we roll. Tomorrow I'll talk more about chickens and tractors.