Unfortunately, I have neglected my duties in keeping up with this blog. Having a newborn is busy, and I did get caught up on that and left my blogging to fall to the wayside. This last year has been a tough time for us, as we have tried to decide what we could do to make our small farm more profitable. Should we focus more on custom hay? More or less cows? Should we keep the sheep? What are we going to do with our chickens?
We started this year with few conclusions to the questions above, but have slowly worked this year to do away with certain areas and start new projects. As we are wrapping this year up, we feel like we are finally in a place to update and move forward.
Last year, we were heavily focused on two new projects: hatching and raising chickens and raising a sheep herd. For many reasons, these two projects were not right for us. In regards to the sheep, we were unprepared for the different needs they had to cattle. While we did feel like we had done adequate research, it seemed like there was always something new going on with them. We had several get sick, and a neighboring dog who killed several of our babies. After a few months, we decided it was best to sell what sheep we still had and take a step back to clear our heads. As for the chickens, we got a little (a lot!) carried away. We are the type of family that goes in head first and again while we did do a lot of research, and felt prepared for this step, we were very unprepared for the amount of chicks we would end up with no outlet for them. After hatching our last batch of chicks we ultimately realized we did not have the outlet for the chicks at that time and decided to cut our losses. We sold our incubators and the last of our chicks, keeping only a few free rangers for our egg supply.
We sold our sheep very early in the year, and spent the summer only dealing with our cattle. B took a full time job in the spring, so our summer has remained busy with both of us working full time jobs and keeping up with the cattle we have. Mid summer we made the decision to let our leased cows go back to their owner. We have about 20 head of cattle, and were leasing another 20 head of cattle at that time. The lease cows are no longer on the farm. Instead, we have now turned around and leased our own cattle to another farmer in the area.
A cattle lease is pretty straight forward: one person owns, one leases the cattle. For ours, we provide the land and we are responsible for the vet bills on our animals. The other farmer is responsible for feeding the cows through winter, taking care of fences, helping them calve and providing a bull for breeding. When it comes time to sell calves, we will split that check 50/50 with the other farmer. It generally works out for both parties as the lessee is not financially responsible for the animals, and we both benefit from the profits.
The thing that has been in the back of our heads all summer though, is what can we do to potentially be more profitable? As it stood at the beginning of the year, we were losing money on the farm, as the expenses from last year were not completely covered by the money we made from custom hay and selling calves, and that does not include wages. We weren’t even making enough money to cover the fuel, netwrap, vehicle maintenance, vet bills, and the long list of expenses that goes along with running a farm. By the end of hay season, we had decided that making custom hay is not something we wanted to pursue as well. It is a very time consuming task, and it is something we hate doing. Therefore we decided we did not wish to continue with that.
All of this brought us full circle to a small project we looked at last fall/winter. Last fall, B had looked into growing mushrooms as a hobby. There are many different varieties of mushrooms, and we have at this time successfully grown two types: pink and blue oysters. We had purchased a shipping container in the spring, and we are now in the grueling process of turning it into a MushRoom. The grow room will be at the back of the container, and we will have lab at the front to prepare our mushroom spores and liquid cultures for growth. It has been a long process for us, as we are both working full time now with a toddler. Slowly but surely we are making progress in this venture. We are really looking forward to sharing more of this journey with everyone, and we do have some ideas up our sleeves.
While I am sad to see so many changes in the farm over such a short period of time, it has been good to see changes. Change promotes growth. We couldn’t grow with the way we were doing things. We have goals in mind for our farm, and if there is not growth on the farm we are stagnant. This does not mean that we wont one day have sheep or chickens again. However, we will take a hard look at why we failed before. We will take time to improve our methods and learn from our failures. We appreciate everyone who has followed our journey so far, and who has been supportive or offered advice. We could not have done it without everyone’s support.
Until next time,