6/2012

a barn

I have always wanted a picturesque little barn, you know the kind. Red wooden boards make up the body of it, white trim around the edges, where a fuzzy horse nickers at you as you wander down the straw filled lane to his stall. Back in my hobby farming days, I had a metal sided version built at my old place, but at 10 by 20 it wasn’t big enough for a horse. That was ok, I was beginning my farming career and usually a horse is not something you need for this career. Instead it housed my growing herd of goats, and they don’t pleasantly nicker. They yell and push and knock stuff down as they bully each other and all try to cram out the door as soon as you open it.

Time for a re-do. We’re building a barn. It is NOT the typical cutie farmstead barn. Although I think it is very, very cute. I have to admit I absolutely love the color and sheen of galvanized metal. It is modern looking, and this structure has been specifically designed for our ducks. Today I realized it actually is not their barn. It is going to be their bedroom. A big bedroom. We’re building a 20 by 48 duck bedroom.

A bedroom instead of a barn because the ducks won’t be in there most of the time, especially in the spring/summer/fall when they can be out grazing on pasture. It’s where they’ll come in for the night, and it’s gonna be a solid, safe night place for them. We learned the hard way that ducks need extreme night protection. Rural Wisconsin is just swimming with little carnivorous mammals of all sorts which need to eat, and they’d love to feast on our ducks. So we’re building this “duck bedroom” to the highest researched safety standards. Solid metal walls, non-rusting mesh flashing extending around the perimeter up into the walls, which will be covered with lots of gravel to prevent the predators from burying inside.

We’ve been working on this project, as well as tending everybody, gardening, weeding and packing up our duck eggs and CSA shares for deliveries each week. It is quite the full, exhausting and wonderful life. Summer temps are here, so we finally upgraded the homemade walk-in cooler into a really real refrigerated cooler with the investment in a Cool-Bot. This little tiny expensive device hooks on to an air conditioner and makes it run to the temp you set. We have it going at 40 degrees. Just curious how our electric bill will look next month…. solar might be a good idea to invest in to run this system.

farmer stalking

I was 28 when my mom died. Shortly after, I knew I had to grab my chance at life as quick as I could and do what I wanted to do, before my life ended. She had just turned 50. You really never can predict your ending, but I am sure as shit gonna make sure I enjoy and make the most of all my days, pursue all my dreams, revel in my attempts to succeed, and laugh at my failures.

I decided I would be a full-fledged farmer by 30. I did not grow up farming. I’d been practicing for a few years, homesteading they call it. But I wanted out of my day job and into the big time. How do you start? I stalked farmers.

There are a number of very patient farmers who induldged me, some of which have now become close and awesome friends. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to stalk them. I don’t mean the creepy kind of stalking, I wasn’t taking photos, tapping phone lines, sitting in a car with binoculars….but I visited them, researched their websites, visited their farms, talked with them and asked as many questions as I could. I gleaned encouragement from them, and without that interface I wouldn’t be where I am today. That and my wonderful husband who jumped headfirst into our new beginning together. Now contemplating my past and my present, I have some advice for the farmer stalkers of the world.

Farmers like beer. I guess most do anyhow. Offer to bring over beer and new doors will open. And farmers are usually pretty broke and or frugal, so good beer is an added plus. I wish I had had the balls to think of this back in the day. Farmers wait 8 months of the year for the 4 most precious growing months – May, June, July and August. September is harvesting and preserving time. These are not the best times to ask for a visit during the daytime. You may feel all footloose and fancyfree-like, it being summer and all, but farmers are in the thick of their most essential months to make a living. If you ask to come, offer to come after chores and bring that beer. Expect an exhausted farmer who may become rather lubricated and chatty after your beer offering, but promptly ready to crash at 8pm or earlier.

Don’t think of a farm as a vacation day trip, unless they are having an open house. You can offer to come and help, but don’t be offended if they say no. For us, our work is precious and geared towards the two farmers who live here. If we have someone come out to help, we have to worry about everything that is geared towards how we work, and then have to babysit to make sure nothing is done wrong. So we don’t get much done. Successful and well-run farms may be a different story. We’re still learning about everything.

There’s one instance when we said no to a visit. A woman wanted to come and visit us in the winter to see how we raise ducks. She said flat out she wanted to do what we were doing. We were like, uh huh…I don’t think we will give you a tour in the depths of winter and show you exactly how and why we do things here to raise our ducks, so you can copy us. She was very casual, like we knew her, and then became rather demanding. This is NOT the way to approach a farmer. While I was experimenting with duck-raising, I knew there was a farm raising ducks for eggs sort of near by. But no way would I ask to visit them! I wanted to figure it out on my own, in my scenario, with my own beliefs intact. Plus I would have felt like I was spying, and I wouldn’t want someone coming to my farm to spy and copy what I had figured out so far.

I know sharing what we know and have learned is essential for small scale farming to move forward. But I dislike copy-cats, especially with a niche product. I do want to give back, as the farmers I “stalked” gave me great insight into their lives and ways of doing things. Not a one of them is doing what we are now doing. Our farm is kind of crazy, super diversified and a highly desired model. When we figure it all out, we’ll write books about it, meanwhile we blog and website post and facebook all our adventures. That’s sharing the experience of starting this up. Once we are total pros, we can try to be mentors.

 

 

 

 

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