I don’t feel good today and I am battling through some sinus infection, sore ears and just a general overall feeling of blah. Being sick gets me thinking though about 40-hour per week jobs, calling in sick and being able to lay in bed all day. Something that farmers don’t have the luxury of doing. Who should I call when I don’t feel like braving the elements with a pounding head, ringing ears and snot running out of my nose? I don’t think the calves, cows or chickens are going to care. They want their food!
Living the farm life isn’t for everyone. We farm through broken ribs, flu season, broken toes, dislocated bones and everything in between. I’ve cared for animals in casts and splints. I’ve cared for animals through pounding heads and aching backs. Farmers who deal with livestock are care givers. When you get sick, you still have kids who need caring for or a dog that needs to go for a walk…it’s really not that much different for us. It would be much more convenient if the cattle were in the house so I wouldn’t have so far to go…but it doesn’t work that way.
Being a farmer takes grit. I’m sure you’ve heard that before but it’s true. We have to push ourselves to work through an illness or injury to get the job done. We don’t get sick days, we don’t get days off. It doesn’t matter, 365 days a year you will find me in the barn caring for calves and feeding the animals.
I’ve learned a lot about pushing myself to get the job done since I have been diagnosed with MS. You need to push but not overdue things. Even if a chore takes you ten times long than it normally would, do it anyway. When it gets done, you can sit down with satisfaction knowing that you accomplished the job. Besides, if your dealing with livestock they will find a way to make you smile.
Now, since it’s raining outside and more extreme cold weather is coming…I think I’ll tackle some paperwork and housework! Wish me luck in finalizing my plans for 2014 and getting my entire life better organized!
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.
I post a lot of farm photos over on our Facebook page and lately I have gotten a ton of requests to build a photo book. After doing some digging into some options, I’m now working on building one through MixBook. I’m hoping to have it all set by the end of the month to use as a fundraiser! I will work on a calendar after that like I did for last year. Sometimes, I feel like there is so much to do and so much to get done. I’m slowly working on getting all this stuff figured out and still managing to keep up.
The research is the worst by far because it’s so time-consuming. It’s all worth it in the long run through. Without new knowledge, we never expand our horizons. My horizons keep going and maybe I will never be able to fully attain my goal on what I build for years down the road, I hope that my dreams can inspire another generation. A generation that makes it to my horizons and their own beyond. Maybe it will be family and maybe it will be a random stranger, I don’t know but the possibilities are endless!
It’s still kind of hard for me to grasp that I am a farming photographer. Five years ago, if you had asked me where I would be in the future and what I would be doing neither choice would have been considered. I wish I could pass on half the feelings I get now when it comes to both. I feel so entirely blessed to be able to photograph and share my life in transition. I have photographed so many people along the way, so many different events and through it all I have come out of it all with a true dedication and passion for all things agriculture.
I love that I can photograph my everyday world of cattle and country. I love that I can create artistic images that capture the “feeling” within those moments that inspire me. I am truly blessed with talent through my passions. To those that say it’s all a hobby, I have this to say. It still takes time to care for each animal. I would bet my camera that I spend more time per cow in a week than most farmers do in a year. I may operate something closer to a petting zoo but, for all those kids who are here experiencing a hands on thing with cattle that give them kisses, it means more than a stroll through a barn to watch cattle eat. Maybe it’s all those years I worked in sales and marketing that make me see and do things differently. I honestly don’t know.
Maybe it’s all those years of cruel people who’ve been involved in my life that makes me more compassionate to the animals. And to clarify, I’m not saying the “standard farmer”, whatever that may be, doesn’t care for their animals. I’m saying that I feel. I’m passionate about each cow, calf or bull. I touch them many times a day and not just during a milking chore. I touch them like we humans do when we gentle touch someone’s hand in comfort or their arm when we are talking to them. Being the photographer has made me observe. I’ve observed countless farmers who will scratch a head as they walk by or talking to an animal when they need them to move. I’m just different. It’s difficult to explain.
My herd is my family. I love them all for different reasons. I still have a favorite or two and spoil them with extra attention. I know that some will go on and others will become food for my belly. It doesn’t matter to me, they are still something I get rather passionate about. They provide me a counselor when I need to talk my way through a problem. They are my friends who are always happy to see me (usually because I give attention or have treats). They share affection when I need it the most. The greatest thing about them is that they make me happy. If you’ve ever watched calves playing, you know that warm fuzzy feeling that comes over me when I get around my cattle.
Each one is individual yet part of a whole, kind of like us. Each one with unique personality difference, yet all part of the same community. To me, cattle are inspiring. To them, it doesn’t really matter if it rains or is sunny. As long as they have food to eat and a dry place to lay (unless they are idiots and go lay in a mud puddle), they are happy. Nothing sparks an inner peace like cattle grazing on the top of a knoll with green grass under their feet and nothing but a cloudy sky of blue above. You can imagine it, can’t you? That’s my life. That’s the moments I live for. That’s my bridge to a better me. That’s the bridge that inspires photographs.
I’m working hard to expand those bridges. A bridge of knowledge for the younger generations to hopefully find the same inspiration I have managed to find in farming. That bridge that leads to that moment when all in the world feels right inside your soul. Maybe that bridge can be built on the farm through physical contact with the cattle or maybe through the visions I create through a photography book or calendar. Maybe that bridge will be through a video or seminar. I honestly don’t know what’s going to bridge the gap for the next generation to feel the same passion for the cattle, animals and the land like I do. I was fortunate to have grandparent’s when I was young but so many don’t have that privilege. It’s something I want to share…or as the title says, building a new bridge to.
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.
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?
I’m writing this with so much sadness in my heart. Yesterday, probably one of the hardest afternoons of my life, brought an end that I tried to prepare for but found myself severely lacking.
As many of you know, several years ago we took in a Jersey cow in very sad shape.
I’ve talked about her countless times because she had such a profound affect on my life. I remember the day she stumbled out of a cattle trailer and became part of my life. I remember sitting with her and the two calves that came with her in the pasture with tears in my eyes. A promise was made to her that day. A promise that she had a home here on the farm for the rest of her days, no matter what may come. A promise that she would be cared for and loved. A promise that every day forward would be what she deserved in life, respect. In a matter of hours, she showed such grace and such a motherly devotion to her calves, she was named Belle and nicknamed Ma. She ended up becoming a mother to many and in one summer season came back to her full potential. The photo video below shows that transition.
As the years went by, she inspired so many changes. We developed the whole future of the farm based on her needs and care. You may all think I’m crazy and say she was nothing more than a pet cow but you couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, I was her pet human. She was the epitome of a lady inside that bovine body of hers. She was gentle enough to stand for anyone to milk her. She provided me with something I never thought possible; a calm personality. She taught me that no matter how bad your life may become, God will bring a change that will have a profound impact. She was a blessing to a woman who was lost in the depths of depression. She gave me purpose and showed me what I should be doing with my life. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for her and I know that there will never be another cow that comes into my life that will be like her. She was unique and special. I want to always remember her like the video and photo below.
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.
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!!!
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.