I'm too darn young to be feeling this old. But this year has smacked me in the face a lot. Larry has injured his back again, so we feel older than we look.
I've been thinking back to what we first thought we would do with this farm. We actually brought along a bucket and a towel on the day we bought this place, back in 2007. So that we could throw in the towel, kick the bucket and buy the farm all at the same time. Well, we thought it was funny.
Our very first chickens! We have upgraded our brooders since then.
So many dreams when we first started out. I had never raised livestock before. I had dreams of a big garden and a huge army of dogs. Larry had a dream of growing all our own food here on the farm. We never really did suss out how to grow enough wheat to bake all our own bread, but at least I started baking bread from scratch. I started doing a lot of things - like canning food, and actually, learning to cook in general! I can thank this farm for that.
I really did try growing a garden!
But from the start, once we settled on sheep (remember that time we thought we would raise bison? I'll give you a moment to stop laughing...)
OK, better? Me too!
So we started with chickens, and sheep. We eventually added turkeys and ducks. My original plan was to grow the farm for 5 years to the size where I could stop working and run the farm full time. It has been years that I have felt we could make an order of magnitude shift in our profitability if I could work the farm full time. I'd have more time to keep up with weeding the garden. I'd be home when weather turned to make sure things were staked down or the animals got to cover in time. I'd catch mistakes earlier, like open gates or spilled feed or a water hose having been left on.
Velma really wanted to see the babies in the barn!
For many reasons, it's never happened. Our salaries in tech jobs are hard to replace with farming. My career is much more stable than Larry's, and he's had periods of unemployment that we would have lost the farm if I was working only the farm. So the day jobs have stayed.
Years ago, I did a little math to see what amount of product we would have to sell for the farm to make a mortgage payment. In sheep alone, I would have to sell 11 lambs a month. That means 11 would need to be born each month, too. Which means, based on their current rate of twins to singles, I'd need 43 ewes on the farm, and that would be if they gave birth twice a year, which is really pushing it. And not very kind to them. So something like 50-60 ewes would make more sense. I only have 6 acres! Yikes, that would start to look like a feedlot. No thanks.
We built an awesome greenhouse, and now it houses turkeys in the fall.
So, the dream of making a living off the farm really is gone. And any good business has an exit strategy. I don't have mine in place right now. But we have hit an inflection point. We are no longer growing the farm. Yeah, I am expanding my sheep flock. Sales are good, we can't keep up with demand. We have eliminated a few things - like guineas. UGH, they were a pain.
We are slowing down on eggs - we used to collect 140 eggs a DAY! We are about half that now, and it's just fine. We have slowed down on raising meat birds, too. We are certainly contracting instead of expanding. Which is OK. We love our animals and love what we do. It needs to remain a labor of love, or it just isn't worth it. I guess I need to figure out if I do have an exit strategy... unless it's "Here, Shannon, all of this is yours!"
Do you think she'll mind running this place?