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It's Time

When I got my MBA over 20 years ago (WHAT?), I remember being struck in my entrepreneurship class by a statement my professor made - that every good business plan had an exit strategy. My young engineer brain couldn't make sense of why you would start a business with a plan to end it. But it's true. Your exit strategy might be going IPO, or selling the business for a profit, or knowing the signs it was time to close.

We aren't closing yet, don't panic. But there will be a time. And it's getting close.

I've never been able to turn my entrepreneurship brain OFF of the idea of expansion. The original plan for the farm was for it to replace my salary so I could do it full time. There would certainly be a shift in profitability if I was around all the time to visit with customers, manage the animals, manage irrigation, weeding, lambing, etc. If I had time to butcher poultry whenever the weather best suited. But Larry's job instability, coupled with my ever increasing earning power made quitting my day job just never feel right. Not only was my job keeping the roof over our heads, providing the family with health care AND contributing to a retirement fund - keeping it meant that we could weather the storms of Larry losing his job without losing the farm. Ironic, I know.

This was us when we first started the farm!

Without a full time operator, we were able to add help on the farm in the form of mechanization. I purchased poultry feeders that lasted weeks instead of days, rigged up water systems that did the same AND could be fully heated for winter. We purchased the BIG tractor for moving large hay bales, when moving small ones became too hard on our backs. It also could dig big holes for when we needed to replace a hydrant (HAPPY NEW YEAR) or bury a beloved dog. We bought the little tractor to mow the pastures, aerate the pasture, and till the gardens and greenhouse. It also can pull the manure spreader better than our old truck can.

This is our Trim Chute - which helps us give vaccinations and do hoof trimming with the sheep - 100% less bending over. 50% less wrestling.

We've tried to make the farm easier as our bodies age insufferably. Shannon is now old enough to be a big help, but the day is on the horizon that she will be gone. In just over a year, she'll get her driver's license, and 2 years later she will graduate. I've been holding on to the farm mostly for her. Her 4H and FFA projects are good for her. They will provide scholarship opportunities, as well as great experience for vet school. She does want to become a veterinarian, and this allows her to be around animals, care for them, sometimes identify illness and injury and even treat it. She's learned hard lessons about life and loss on this farm, and where her food comes from. It's been a great foundation for her.

But it has also tied us down. It makes it hard to travel. It hasn't always been profitable. Last year was a hard one. And it's physically demanding. And there are always things that can go wrong, like spending New Year's Day with a broken water hydrant AND a broken tractor.

So I am changing my mindset from one of growth to one of simplicity. Some activities on the farm can be an easy switch to turn off - I don't have to buy meat chicks to raise, I don't have to buy steers or piglets. As for our heritage birds - I don't have to fire up the incubator and hatch more. The hardest thing to slow down is my flock of sheep. I ADORE every one of them. So it's not a switch I can just turn off, but I can choose to keep back fewer or none year to year and let the flock get smaller.

Maybe this year the incubator is just for turkeys... and not chicks...

We won't quit altogether, but we are going to move back to something more like a homestead. Providing food for us, and maybe others when there is an overage. So instead of 400 chickens in a year, we might just do 50. We don't have it all ironed out, and honestly, I already ordered 400 meat chickens and 200 turkeys for 2024, so clearly I am not listening to myself. But things will become less and less. One of the easier switches is to sell lamb, pork and beef by the half/whole animal and not stock retail cuts. It takes workload off me, it reduces profitability, but it does allow the product to be gone. It would reduce the need for me to go to Farmer's Markets. There are steps we can take to slow things down as Shannon goes through high school, while we think about how much time and energy we still have for the farm. And how much our bodies can still handle. We can't wrangle sheep like we used to. Vaccine day gets harder and harder each year.

I have always loved my sheepies, and I know they don't listen when I tell them anything.

With all that said, this year looks to be another potential growth year. Yeah, I told you I don't listen to myself.

We did sign up for the Farmer's Market in Berthoud. If they hadn't moved it back to Saturdays, I absolutely would not have done it again. But this might be my last summer. I am hoping folks will buy more half/whole lambs. Beef seems easy to sell that way, so we might not see retail beef again. I'll likely raise less pork this year. The beef and turkeys sell themselves, so they are easy to keep raising. Once Shannon leaves for college, the quails will likely be done. The ducks are going to likely reduce in numbers, and we'll be working to keep only the best of the best of our ewes. It's not easy, but we have to be honest that the farm can't continue in perpetuity. Maybe it's time to teach the next generation of farmers on how to take over, and to make space for that to happen.

Someone once told me a statistic, that farms like ours - small homestead style farms where at least one person still has a day job - tend to last 7 years. This is year 16 for us! I've never been one to quit anything, but this is a look at "retiring" the farm, while we are still ahead of the game.

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