Category Archives: Meet the Farmers

Classes

It’s hard to believe but I have started taking classes as part of the 2013-2014 Holistic Management Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program for women in the Northeast. I wish you could all understand that this is an honor for me to be accepted into the program and become part of such a great group of women from all over the world, not just the Northeast.

I wouldn’t have even filled the application if not for a couple ladies encouraging me to do so. I know that many people have different opinions on what is the right way and wrong way to live life, run a farm or business but I have my own ways. Since 2006, I have been forced to continue looking forward and at the bigger picture. The Holistic Management training will help me do all that with new key insights and with better tactics.

Life has been floundering. Two different people involved in farming with two different aspects. One who has been around farming and ran a day to day operation in the past and another who may have grown up on a small dairy but has no clue about grasses, soils, fertilization, etc. I’m the second. One area that I handle is the cattle and small animals around the farm. I work with them to be friendly, halter trained and care for them. Sometimes, I have felt disconnected from tasks that I just don’t understand. My opinion is kicked to the curb because I just don’t know what I need to know to make a viable choice. These classes will not only give me a crash course in some of these steps but will also help us plan better for open communication and planning.

I have been reading and studying Allan Savory’s book titled Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making since January of this year. We have been actively putting these management practices to use since 2012. We just didn’t know it until a copy of the book was borrowed from the library. I think I have been using the same concept of planning and life choices actively since 2009 on a regular basis. Was it done right or with an intention of doing so? Nope, it wasn’t. Could/can it be refined to use and help eliminate planning issues, work issues and more? You bet it can! That’s why I’m taking these classes.

In section One, the topic was how to enhance success, meeting challenges effectively, addressing environmental issues and how all this works together inside your “toolbox” of management. The key is knowing who’s involved, what you are managing (an inventory of what you already have) and then knowing what quality of life you want and what you need to have or do to get there. The key is to PLAN-IMPLEMENT-MONITOR-CONTROL.

Section Two takes you from principles to practice and really starts digging into your Holistic Goal, defining what you manage and testing your decisions. It makes you take a look at who are decision makers and what human assets you have. It makes you look at the “stuff” you already have, including equipment and money.

If you want to test yourself on creating a holistic goal, it’s also important to know how you want people to see you. By people I mean your neighbors, vendors, suppliers, customers, etc. You also need to think about how you want the environment around you to look and how you want your community to be. I will admit, this task was rather daunting for me. I spent time talking with my advisor and one of the key things for me was to develop not one, but two holistic goals…maybe even three now that I think about it. Having the farm and knowing that this is something I am extremely passionate about is one things, but my own personal goals and even my photography have overlapping goals but ultimately, they are very separate and on very different levels.

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Costs of Products

I was part of an interesting conversation today about the prices of Organic Food versus Other Food. I’m going to attempt to break it down so non-producing people can understand.

Each farm does things differently, each step costing a different amount. In a traditional business, we call this production. In farming, the consumer associates that word with assembly lines of animals or parcels of land providing goods at the expense of those who care for it or them.

As a farmer, each thing I do has a cost associated with it. We call this the cost of production. It covers everything from seeds, fertilizers, wages, marketing and feed. It also covers taxes and fuels and every other thing in between. Businesses call this overhead. Small farms are like those boutique shops where everything is done on a smaller scale and products are limited. Larger farms are like chain stores where they get discounts for what we call “purchasing power.”

With these comparisons, just why is Organic more expensive if it doesn’t involve costly fertilizers and spray chemicals? It’s actually rather simple to do the math. For example purposes, I am going to use the terminology of convention and organic with no line drawn in the sand between the two. I am not a supporter of either system for various reasons.

Let’s take a look at things that are the same for both systems:

1. Land taxes – Yes they vary from town to town, county to county and state to state but each acre of land has an associated cost of using that land.

2. Insurance – It doesn’t matter what type of farming you do. Building insurance, farm machinery insurance and auto insurance all have fees associated.

3. Electricity Consumed – Unless a farm is providing its own electricity through wind, solar or capturing methane gases, there is always a cost for fences, lights, milking pumps, water, etc.

Here’s where things start to drastically vary:

1. A Consolidated Feeding Operation (CAFO) will utilize more harvested and stored materials while Organic utilize more pasture based systems.

  • CAFO have high costs associated with planting, maintaining and harvesting materials. Organic has high costs for fencing and electricity to charge the fence.
  • Most farms purchase supplements grains. Let’s say Conventional or GMO corn is selling for $4.25 per bushel provided, Organic Corn for feed is selling for $10.00 per bushel. Most Organic farms do not have the “buying power” discussed about to play the market futures for corn commodities either, which results in slightly lower price structures. On these market based reports, Organic corn for feed costs 242% more.
  • On CAFO operations, the overhead costs of lights are at a lower input rate on a per head basis. If you are comparing at 100 cow dairy to a 1,000 cow dairy the prices to provide lights, heating/cooling, water and other associated costs are normally close to the same cost per month. So if that monthly bill is $200, it’s a $.50 fee per cow on the small dairy and $.20 fee per cow of the larger farm. It works the same with fuel to provide feed.

2. It isn’t that Organic farms don’t use fertilizers, sprays or chemicals. It’s that what can be used is limited. With any other “specialty” market, we expect to pay higher prices for these goods. You can do some research via the internet and discover the differences in pricing structures and what’s allowed for organics according to the USDA.

As you can see, Organic is in my view-point a much costly endeavour due to feed costs alone. Organic farms also deal with different commodity brokers or do much of their own marketing on smaller farms. No answer is ever simple and it’s difficult to express the real differences in costs. Again, this is another reason I suggest you purchase from a farm you can talk too. Boxed goods on the shelf, unfortunately, do not tell us the real story behind the scene.

If there is anyone who would like to sit down and discuss our pricing structures, we always welcome you to come look over the books. Here on our farm, we do not fit into the brackets of conventional or organic. We base our choices on economic, environmental and animal benefits. The system we use isn’t a marketing tool, but instead a sound decision based off those three aspects. I will keep all opinions on both of these productions to myself today. If you want to know more, feel free to comment or send us a message via twitter or Facebook.

Lots of News

So much has been going on that I’m not really sure even where to begin. A year or so again, everything that has been happening was just a dream. A pipe dream of wishes written out on a scrap piece of paper and internet page links stored in favorites full of useful information. Twitter conversations about plants, seasons, materials and lots of questions were happening then too.

I have made so many great friends in the past two to three years of my life. Some of which I haven’t met YET but share the same kindred spirits. This is a group of people who have inspired, encouraged and guided. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that can attest to the power of the internet, in good ways and bad. What I’m discussing today is the power of knowledge, prayer and positive thinking.

As many of you that read this blog know, I’ve had some big transitions in mind for the farm I live on. Earlier this year, I thought those dreams were shattered. I’m not going into gory details but I will tell you that the whole ordeal took it’s emotional, financial and health tolls on me. It wasn’t the worst situation I had ever been through but I will admit that it ranks right up there in the top 5 fearful months of my life.

I opened up to a few of my friends about concerns I had. I talked to advisors about what to do about myself in the role I was holding to in a death grasp. It’s when I truly learned who to REALLY listen too and whose opinions to dismiss. I do have this word of advice….NEVER LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU FROM LIVING THROUGH WITH A DREAM THAT YOU ARE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE YOURSELF WITHOUT IT!

I had an advisor that told me that I wasn’t the one to make difficult decisions about the farm I have managed and that the animals are a business only. He proceeded to inform me that what I did do with the animals here didn’t have much worth in the “big” picture of things either. He never asked me about what type of protocols or plans I had set into place. All he seemed concerned about what my overall dollar value. It was rather insulting to tell you the truth. Okay, I admit that I am a pauper working toward a bigger dream. I struggle to pay my bills. I work hard and go without to work toward a bigger goal. But seriously, is that all I am viewed for? Nothing more than my “worth” on paper or my bank account? Well, to make a long story short, it was determined that my “real worth” was $675 a month. How about them apples?

I struggled for weeks with this new information. I doubted myself and what my long-term goals were. Then it suddenly hit me. I may only be worth $675 a month now but what about next month or even next year or better yet three years down the road? I started thinking about that kid going through college, building up debt, and working part-time at McDonald’s. I am at a stepping stone. The first step into a new life with a new future. Everything for the past three years has led me to here, worth zero when I started and look, I’ve increased my “worth” by what percentage rate? Just imagine how much I can change that worth in the next three years with proper planning, some of my awesome marketing skills, my photography and my networking!

I decided to take a risk and file an application to a Holistic Beginning Women’s Farm Management Program. I GOT ACCEPTED! Classes start in TWO WEEKS! Whoa, I’m doing what? Oh yeah, I’m not letting some or anyone for that matter tell me my SELF WORTH and I’m sure not letting anyone tell me to let go of what really makes me WHO I AM. You know that passion for nature, animals and the environment? You know that dedication and love I have for the cattle? Well, those are all something that God has given me that don’t have a dollar value! Just ask that rescued cow who lived another 5 years under my watchful eye and who know how it felt to be well cared for! Go ahead, look up into the sky and just ask yourself…is that something you could have done with tenderness and compassion when she first came here? Would you have taken the chance to get to know a scrawny cow who looked like she stood on the edge of starvation? In the end, that same cow you would have made into hamburger provided me with beautiful calves, LOTS of milk, butter and cheese but most of all, she provided a vision of what MY future may hold.

So again, I ask you to not let anyone judge you by what they see in paper or in bank accounts! Only you know what passions are held in your heart and soul. For me, it’s farming and photography combined. For you, it may not be. Look to people who are going to POSITIVELY encourage your own personal growth, NOT what society says it should be. Find what you love to do and NEVER let go of that internal drive that ultimately makes YOU happy!

After months of fighting my “worth” internally, I want to report that my “hobby farm” as this kind man put it, is now up to 21 cows, around 75 chickens and a handful of turkeys. I have 110 acres surrounded by beautiful high-tensile five strand fence. I have a full fledge water system for the fields going into the ground in the spring of 2014. I have increased our sales of meat products by 100%. We supplied chicken and beef for our first catering event this year. We have more and more people coming for visits. I am preordered on beef for next year. Demand is blooming for the rose veal. Contracts are in the works for some direct marketing for poultry. Eggs aren’t building up in the refrigerator. AND contracts are in the works to rotational graze additional animals for around $2200 per month until I can build my own herd. To say the least, my next worth has increased double since those fateful words back in June of this year! Just imagine what that worth will do next year as I am raising more chickens, selling more eggs, beef, rose veal, rabbits and pork.

Sometimes we all just need to take a step back and evaluate what our future is really “worth” to ourselves! I can’t even begin to tell you the changes that have happened since I told myself I’m worth more than just a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. My passion has proven enough that maybe just maybe I can inspire another generation with the help and encouragement of someone like me. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on trudging….and getting better at this blogging thing. After all, I want to share all this new and exciting information I am going to learn!

For now, take a look at this picture.

Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!
Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!

I look forward to comments on speculation of what’s going on around the farm! This image holds a bunch of clues…can you figure it out?

Beef Cattle Woes and Wonders

There are some things that I guess I should explain.

I was raised as a small child on a dairy farm. Dairy cattle are what I know the most about. Dairy cattle and Beef cattle are NOT the same thing!
Being raised on a dairy and gathering lots of knowledge over the years does NOT mean that I am an expert either. Somethings I know but there is and always be a ton of stuff I don’t know. There is always new research, new methods, and tweaking to systems. Dairy cattle require different food values than Beef cattle too. High protein, high energy and lots of different nutrients. Don’t get me wrong, Beef cattle still need good food they just require different levels than Dairy cattle.

I have never been around beef cattle until 2011. I don’t know much about them other than they are still cattle. I did a fair amount of research on a couple of different breeds until I found one that I thought was suitable for what I wanted to do. I started my journey into beef way back in 2008. It took 3 years before the breed was found and could be purchased at a reasonable rate. Did I get animals with a pedigree? No, I did not. It has created some issues on it’s own by not having them but they weren’t all that important.

So what’s the breed you ask? Well, Irish Dexter Cattle is what they are. I’ve heard many different takes on how to describe them. Overall and from experience, I will say this. They are a short breed of beef cattle with stout legs and solid feet. The three original cows purchased are 42″, 39″ and 37″ in height. When it comes to frame scores (based on body height at the front shoulder) these ladies don’t even register as a Frame one! They give birth to small calves too. The largest I have seen has been 60 lbs or so. Irish Dexters are efficient grazers that will forage on just about anything, including low protein forages and still have great daily weight gains. Irish Dexters are also a dual purpose cattle too. They can be milked and will give up to around 2-1/2 gallons of milk a day if fed a high protein diet. We do NOT milk them currently.

In the process of learning and building the herd, there are characteristics about them that are not all that wonderful. When you are producing an animal for meat, you want muscle bulk. This is something that the Irish Dexters severely lack in the rear quarters or buttocks region. It’s not that they don’t have muscle, it’s just small. This is something that can be improved through genetics by choosing the right animals to breed them with.

This is the second generation of Irish Dexter on the farm. He is ONE YEAR old in this photo.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn't nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn’t nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.

For a year, I have followed Pharo Cattle Company through their facebook  group. I have learned so much from the likes of Kit Pharo, Chip Hines and many others who discuss grazing, drought, genetics and so much more. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain mentors through this similar like-minded people who have established themselves as herd quitters (I’ll explain this more later). Recently, Kit and I have been holding conversations about what kind of options are available when you are breeding an animal like an Irish Dexter to improve the quality of the next generation. This whole process is all about learning for me and I will take all the advice given by him to heart. He probably doesn’t know it but he is also part of the inspiration behind my goal of 365-grazing. I am thankful to have such a great network of people to build knowledge from and the modern technology that allows me to be able to connect with them.

Now, as many of you already know. I’m a strange bird, doing different things and always experimenting with things outside of the box other farmers have built. This is the real reason I starting following and learning from Kit and others like him. Kit has come up with a name for those of us who don’t follow the “herd” and do what everyone else is doing. As I mentioned before, Herd Quitters, is the name appropriated used. He told me the other day, there is a phrase that fits me to the T.  His Cowboy Logic for me: “If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I don’t want to be average, far from it actually. I want to be different. I want to try new things, not only in life but with the farm.  I want people to visit and say, “WOW! Can you believe that?!?!”  I don’t have everything figured out and probably never will create the perfect situation for everyone but I can keep working to create better for me and for me to be better. I can continue to work to develop animals that are efficient grazers. I can continue to develop and improve the land I work. I can continue to tweak what I do with rotational grazing. I can continue to work harder, develop more and still keep my feet firmly planted.

To end this message, the meaning of being a herd quitter:  “The term “Herd Quitter” refers to people who have enough courage to break away from the status-quo, herd-mentality way of thinking. It is more about thinking for yourself than anything else. Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing – WITHOUT KNOWING WHY – has never been the best way to manage your business. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I think this should also include that is not the best way to manage business or life! And I couldn’t agree more!

Here’s to the Herd Quitters… The crazy ones… The rebels… The troublemakers… The square pegs in a world full of round holes… They see things differently… They have no respect for the status quo… They make things happen… If it weren’t for the Herd Quitters, the earth would still be flat… While some call them crazy, we see genius… Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do… Dare to be different… Dare to be a Herd Quitter!

Fencing Followup

Well, now that I ranted and talked about all the issues I have had with fencing companies. I would like to gladly report that after making some phone calls and venting to people I know who used to be in the business I have come up with a solution to the problems.

A post pounder – √

A post hole digger – √

Suppliers for materials – √

 

And here is the real kicker…it’s going to save nearly $25,000 of funds!

Yes it’s going to take some work…but I can get it done. I can even hire some hands to come help me out. Guys I know that will work for their pay.

NO JOKE!

I will be finalizing the order of materials today…which is a full tractor-trailer load by the way! Delivery should be sometime by Wednesday of next week!

As the old saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way!!!

So there…take that you ego-maniacs!

My Rant!

Do y’all remember back when I did the “13 Questions” blog post and I talked about how differently women get treated within the Ag sector. WELL….let me just explain how different women are treated!

A little background first…I am no stranger to digging deep to get what I want. An example of this is the grant we just received. I have done my homework, spent countless hours researching and networking to learn all I could about rotational grazing. Even went to the extent to build a small area as a “test plot” to try the whole concept out. I was told by our local NRCS and Soil & Water representatives to NOT move forward with permanent fencing until we were completely approved for the grants being filed. Alright, I will admit I am not a patient person and I drove them crazy with phone calls asking for updates, double checking on dates, etc, etc. BUT, low and behold we finally got approved for a $60,000 project that includes new seeding, soil amendments, perimeter fencing and a water system to ensure water supply to the cows.

Problem one: I don’t really know the first thing about high tensile fence. It has been a SEVERE crash course in construction, post holes and rock formations. But in the end and after several serious conversations, I feel equipped to talk to people about what I want. Five strands, three of which will be “hot” or electric strands with two that work as grounds on posts every 50 feet or so; 13 gates, 10 are spring gates while the remaining 3 are tubular steel….Does anyone notice anything too difficult yet? Didn’t think so. Now there are 26 corners and 22 ends. I can even give you a rough estimate of the number of posts. Then there are the extras like tensioners, the gizmo to supply juice called an Energizer, ground rods, crimping sleeves and some other odds and ends. Still don’t see anything too difficult, do you? Nope me either.

Our allotment of funds is equal to around $2.09 per foot. Okay, well that’s a little low so I know I am going to need to put in some line posts myself and that I will need to also string the wire myself…with a little help here and there of course. During my conversations with these various fencing companies, I have been continually asked if I want it done the right way. Seriously? UMMMMM….NOPE I THINK I WANT IT TO FALL DOWN IN A YEAR!

Okay, well what is the worst is that I actually had a contractor tell me he would be willing to come in to do the job for around $2.00 per foot, completely installed. NOW that I have a quote in hand, the price is more like $2.50 a foot. I ask how much for just corner post and end post installation…to which I seriously got this response: “I will pay you $14 an hour for any work you do.” Okay, you are billing me at $30 but you are going to “knock off $14” and if I get hurt too bad because I am the landowner? And I’m using my own equipment (ie: four wheeler and the spinning jenny to unroll the wire)? What’s wrong with this picture? OH MY GOD wait…this is for 4 strand, not 5!!!! Did you listen at all? Apparently not!!!

The issue above is just one of many but it continues over about four different companies. Alright fine. I’ll start calling locally to find out just what equipment is available. One guy, Bub, has a post pounder I can use for FREE. Another guy, Troy, has a post hole digger with a rock bit (we have lots and lots of shale rock) that I can use. SCORE!!!! I have a tractor, truck and four wheeler. I CAN DO THIS! So I sit down with Rich and we come up with a lengthy list of supplies needed. I make a phone call on a price quote for just the supplies (which will total around $15,000 prior to shipping). Yup, they will send me a quote to turn in. Yup, I think you have everything listed you need. Yup, we will email you the quote. SIX HOURS LATER another fence company CALLS ME.

Oh, we are the fence company for this supplier. I’ll bid it all out for you. We understand you are extremely upset over the way other fence companies have been. I’ll get you a quote directly. Give me an hour. THREE HOURS LATER STILL NO QUOTES FOR THE JOB OR THE SUPPLIES.

So let me explain something to all you MEN out there! Listen close because you are really starting to wear on my last nerve and Tractor Supply is about to get my business. Be respectful of the ladies when you talk to them. We are a growing sector within the industry and YOU DO NOT NEED MY PARTNERS APPROVAL FOR JACK SHIT! It is my fence. It is my project and the fence is going where I WANT IT TO GO. I know what I want and I will get. Don’t want to work with me…FINE! I have no issues with that. I will do the whole damn job myself! No big deal. I am sure there are enough people out there I can offer to pay $14 an hour and they would love to have the work. Or maybe I will just be greedy and keep all the money in MY POCKET SINCE IT’S OUR TAXES THAT PROVIDED THE FUNDS ANYWAY!

Seems to me y’all would want to work with someone who is having issues keeping animals inside a fence. I would have been forever grateful to anyone who could have pulled their egotistic male head out of their own ass long enough to actually be respectful.

End of my rant!

Who Inspires You?

I know my answer, right off the top of my head with every beat of my heart. I know I have talked about this before and shared with you but I have to do it again. It’s that important to me.

You would be amazed at how something as simple as a grainy, blurry old scanned photograph can bring up so many emotions and memories. Yesterday, my cousin Corina shared an old photo of my Grandmother Liddington. I think it was probably taken from around the time I was born because her hair is still dark, not grayed like the later years of my youth.

My very special Grandma Liddington. Love you and miss you every day!

There are no singular words to describe her. She was the community cook, rural doctor of sorts, farmer’s wife and so much more. She was a tough women who raised six kids and never, ever took any back lip from anyone but she would give you her last loaf of bread if you needed it. She was the type of person I have always been inspired to be.

I can’t even begin to tell you all the things she did for so many people. And OHHHH the food that lady could make on her wood fired cook stove!

She has been gone from us since the early 1990’s but her memories live and breath every day through those of us left behind. There aren’t many photos of her to share but the imprint she left on us was without a doubt a legacy for years to come. To best sum up her legacy, I will make a list of impressions and words to that I live by handed down through her actions.

Take no lip. You know what’s right, so do it.
Never cook a meal without extra, you never know who may need the extra plate.
Never waste food. It’s valuable and expensive.
Provide for yourself. Don’t rely on others but don’t hesitate to give.
Pass on what you know to your children and grandchildren.
Work hard, expect nothing.
Treat everyone as family. Trust no one, love everyone.
Stand your ground and let know one push you around.
You don’t need a whole lot of nothing to be special, lead with your heart. No one cares about your clothes, car or bank account. It’s the love in your heart that really counts.
No one is going to hold your hand forever and treat you like a child. You need to dry your tears, get off your butt and learn to be better.

Yup, that about sums up my Grandma. Treated everyone as equal. Money and status never mattered. There was always extra food and a place at the table in her house. If you need mending from a cut, scrape or sickness, you saw my Gran.

In closing, I hope that somehow my words get to Heaven because I know that’s where she’s at:
Gran, I still love you with all my heart! Thank you for taking a child with a broken wing under yours and teaching me so much. I never knew just how much you would impact my life as an adult. With every meal, every trip to the barn, every second spent weeding the garden, at nearly every point in my life…you are still here with me. You were a special lady, unique and one of a kind. No one will ever be able to take your place to so many people but thank you for everything, every moment that impacted so many more lives that just mine. I pray that someday when people look back on my life…they can easily say, “yup, that was Martha’s granddaughter!” I will forever keep this place in my heart and I hope that someday, we can sit under the lilac trees in Heaven together. My one request…please don’t make me pick a switch! I promise to live my life from this day and every day so you won’t have to.