December 2013- writing brain

scatterbrain monday

All over the place we go, as it always is when winter really sets in. I had a nice day selling our farm goodies this past weekend, meeting great folks at the Lake Country Land School. We’re starting to plan for a house because we really need to have something big to dream about. Planning out how and where and when we’ll be brooding, housing and pasturing birds next year. Finishing Christmas presents. Researching how to take grapevine cuttings and apple branches for grafting. Drawing out plans for the Food Forest installation next year. Finalizing seeding plans so we can get our seed order submitted. Trying to buy a delivery van, but the guy couldn’t find the title. Setting up the butcher date for our 3 big beautiful pigs. Getting ready for 2014 piglets. Thinking about the logistics of a Whole Farm CSA. Staying up way too late watching 6 Feet Under. Fielding an inquiry about a Goose episode of Around the Farm Table….

I’ve been up and down emotionally. Not feeling confident about writing, not sure of myself. I am sure of my experiences, just not in sharing them, or thinking they are worthy of a book. Gotta get my mojo back and wait for my hormones to simmer down.

inspiration

I’d like to thank Mary, who sent me a very encouraging message last night. i told her I’d be getting back in the saddle today. So I did it- I sent in my first book “query letter.” I am so nervous! It can take weeks for a publisher to respond, so I will be focusing my nervous energy on my manuscript. Who knows what will happen unless you go for it?!

the warm up

The snow had a lovely soft feeling this morning when I went out to do chores. Only in the Midwest can 25 degrees feel so dreamy! We have endured through some of most suddenly extreme temperatures these past 3 weeks. Andrew’s been mostly out of commission due to a torn ligament in his shoulder, so I’ve had to take care of all the chores, since lifting 50 lb buckets or bags of feed is not what one does to heal a shoulder injury. After turkey harvesting the weekend before Thanksgiving, he couldn’t even move his left arm. We suspect this injury originally started when he spent hours drilling in screws from awkward positions while he finished up building the duck barn addition. Add in 50 turkeys harvested in one day, and his shoulder was toast. He’s healing well with a couple weeks rest and a few appointments with our Chiropractor friend in Stillwater, and is now back to helping with chores. I am so grateful for his getting better!

This warm up is so needed. The trees and roofs are loaded with heavy ice and snow, and the animals have been hunkered down in their bedding. Our dogs made giant nests in the hoophouse, and the piggies have their giant hay cave under their shelter.The lady ducks have not wanted to go outside very much until this morning, and it was a joy to watch them run out in the sun today, sliding on their bellies like penguins. The cold snap completely stopped their egg laying though, so we’re down to the last couple of fresh eggs and then we move into using the ones I whipped up with salt and froze during the summer egg laying peak. They make pretty good scrambled eggs.

Now that it’s “warmed up” a bit, the littlest ducks are out in their side of the barn full time. The cold snap was an extremely nerve wracking period of trying to keep them enclosed and warm when it was down to -18 over night. Wet and cold is a lethal combination, and since ducks are just extremely wet birds, we barely were able to achieve our goal of having a dry and warm place for the youngsters to sleep. Many call ducks messy, but it’s not their intent. All they want to do is bathe, and they can’t help it that their poops are so wet. We had some duckling casualties and it was heartbreaking that though we tried our best, we couldn’t help each and every one make it through that very harsh weather.

We’re not worrying about them constantly anymore now though. They are 1/2 way to adult size, with their big girl feathers in place and a brooder area still set up for them to into when they want to warm up. When we first let them out into the barn, they didn’t understand going back to the brooder side, but after a couple times of herding them back in, they became little pros.

bleaaa-uuug

What other way to write out the sound I feel after returning from a trip to check out some feeder piglets for sale?

She didn’t sound so bad as we messaged on FB about her piglets for sale, her farm was pretty close by and she hadn’t chopped off their tails, which can be a good sign of someone who raises pigs well. We pulled down her road and had a feeling of “oh no” nostalgia- we’d been down this exact road before in the spring, on a wild goose chase for an incubator off of craigslist, which we never found the location of. Luckily we found this lady’s farm right away, and she greeted us warmly and then I proceeded to tell her about the incubator. I don’t know why, but I tend to blab about all kinds of unrelated things when I meet strangers. I’d like to think its endearing, but I suspect it is annoying.

She took us to the barn, apologizing that she hadn’t had time to clean it up, explaining she works 4 jobs and is a single mom on top of running her farm. A messy stench greeted us as we entered the derelict dairy barn. It wasn’t too gross, just the chaos of generations of farming before her time never being cleaned up or cleared out. Then we entered the pig side of the barn. Everything was bright, but it was disgusting. She told us a water line in the barn had busted in the deep freeze and it was much wetter in there than usual. We went over to a roomy pen which held 10 young pigs, surrounded by the echoing deep heavy grunts of sows in their farrowing stalls. The 10 forty pounder young ones we came to see were active and alert, but there is nothing sadder than seeing pigs on concrete. Even if they have space to run around on it, the cold and wet concrete floor just makes the whole situation seem worse. Why not keep a deep bedding pack for them to be cozy on and root around in? These 10 black and white piglets were flightly, but not fearful, and soon came over to investigate us. It was obvious she was kind to them, not harsh. She said- “you asked about curly tails, and mine have theirs, but they aren’t curly because they need to be wormed. I couldn’t worm them yet because the Hmong customers that come to buy young pigs for roasting can’t have chemicals in the meat.” OK, so your piglets are infested with worms. Noted. When an animal has parasites, it cannot grow very well, because the parasites are drawing their energy from the body of the pig. Some parasites live in the organs, some in the muscles. As she said, they poop them out and eat them back in. Disgusting. I appreciated her honesty, but wondered why on earth she would be risking the growth and development of her young stock so that some of them could become meat while still so young.

She showed us another pen, a fairly roomy farrowing stall, full of another 10 smaller piglets. They were smaller and very pretty- palomino with white belly bands, some white with spots, a couple black with white belly bands. She said they’d just been weaned off their mom, who’d they’d sucked dry. In the next dark stall was their mom. OMG. This was the point when I knew we could not buy her piglets. This poor beast of a mom pig was absolute skin and bones. Yes all babies take a lot out of their mother, always, but THIS much? Knowing there were parasite problems in her barn, and knowing this lady farmer is struggling to make ends meet- well it was obvious her mom pigs weren’t well enough fed. After giving so much, they deserve at least a good amount of feed to balance out the demands of their body while feeding up so many little ones. I’d say it was disgraceful to have mom pigs in this kind of shape.

We went outside to take a look at the boar, the father of all these pigs. Holy god was he amazing, straight out of the Never Ending Story- the biggest and widest pig head I have ever seen. He was very friendly, but as I stroked his giant bristly head, I observed that he was a bit oddly proportioned, and pretty skinny. I know you need to keep breeding stock on the lean side, but it just felt like many of her pigs were far too skinny.

As we left, we were unsure of what to do. Those poor piggies. But when you are raising animals for meat, you want them to be off to a good start. I know it’s hard to take really good care of animals in the coldest months of the year, and this woman was very kind and you could tell she didn’t physically abuse her animals, she cared for them the best she could. Finding feeder piglets is always hard for us, because we want to support the kind of farm we operate. Finding piglets from this kind of idealistic operation is nearly impossible.We know getting into breeding our own piglets would be too financially stressful right now. We need to become a well-oiled farm machine before we add more elements to our operation. We played around with some numbers as we drove home, but in the end, it wouldn’t make sense to try to keep adult pigs for breeding our own piglets, even though it would be awesome. Adult pigs need a lot of feed just to maintain, let alone thrive at their jobs. It’s definitely a possibility for a farm venture down the road because we love pigs so very much, and we can see there is a hole there in the really healthy feeder piglet market. But it would require quite a bit of investment and energy and time to set up well and we don’t have much of any of that right now.

The man we bought our last 3 piglets from has a handful for sale right now, and I’m waiting to hear back from him via text. He is a TALKER, and when I’d called him previously I knew was in for at least an hour long conversation. The only other drawback to buying from him is he charges a pretty penny for his piglets, and he is about 3 hours away. Totally worth it, now we know.

Our three gorgeous and ginormous pigs, who came to us in May weighing just 25 lbs each, have their date scheduled with our local on-farm butcher. First week of January. I went and played with them after we came back home. They are joyous and happy pigs, fat and glorious. I am so glad we have been able to give them such an extremely good and healthy life.

books

I’m gonna lay it out and be vulnerable here for a minute- I need your advice. I’m deep in the midst of a couple non-fiction writing projects this winter, waiting to hear back from my first query letter, meanwhile keeping my nose to the grindstone to have chapters to submit next. This focus of my energy on writing is exhilarating, I’ve always wanted to start this, and now I finally am! Some days I drink too much coffee and begin lamenting that I really know nothing, what am I doing trying to write a book? Some nights I cannot sleep and keep writing like a fountain, hammering it down on the keyboard.

One of my projects is called Farm Dreams, it’s my attempt to help new and aspiring farmers learn from my/our mistakes, as well as inspire, inform and encourage. What would you like to have in such a book? Literal business plan ideas with my honest commentary? Anecdotal farm stories? Interviews with small scale farmers who are pursuing their farm dream? Do you think a book focusing on the entrepreneurial side of small scale farming (not homesteading, not hobby farming) is needed? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Another question I have is a bit of chicken or the egg- should I work on this project first, or should I focus on the story of how I became a farmer? I hesitate to call that a memoir, even though that’s sort of how it’s shaping out. My question is- which book would people be more interested in reading, and which should come first: 1) my opinions and advice or 2) my story

1)   Introduction

My name is Khaiti French. My husband Andrew and I own a 39 acre farm in Western Wisconsin, called “Living the Dream” Farm. Neither of us grew up on farms. We are in our 6th year of running a Community Supported Agriculture Share Program from our farm. We tend our organic gardens, we raise pastured ducks for eggs, and pastured meat from our chickens, geese and turkeys, as well as a few pigs, and I keep a goat who supplies milk for soapmaking. We are working on establishing permaculture based Food Forest installations that will be producing perennial food crops for both human and animal in the future. Soon we’ll be incorporating a few cattle into our farm. We make a modest living, enough to not have off-farm jobs, and we eat almost entirely from our farm.The hardest learning curve was transitioning from homesteader mentality to becoming successful entrepreneurs. Learning to farm from scratch has a very steep learning curve, and I’d like to share my experiences with you in order to help propel you forward into making your own Farm Dream come true.

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2 thoughts on “December 2013- writing brain

  1. Since I’m reading this a few weeks after you posted it, and months after you wrote it, I’m guessing I’m going to catch up with whatever you decided soon enough. For what it’s worth, however, I’ve loved some aspects of the chapters you were writing. I think your personal story will need to be a fundamental aspect of your book, the anecdotes, examples etc. I also think something with actual business plans, figures etc would be a nice addition to the genre – Forrest Pritchard’s book could have been that kind of book and wasn’t – it was a frustrating read in that respect. Wannabe farmers want to know the details. The pretty pictures and the success stories abound on the web and in print. The hard stuff, the grime, the relentlessness of it all, the hardscrabble of managing the bills with the inconsistent income. The long hours. I guess it could be a depressing read, except that the story you’ve been telling here has all that but is also so very uplifting and inspiring – your energy and joie de vivre shine through.

    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!! I just appreciate all your feedback and connection, it is so special for me as I work on this project. Definitely feeling I’ll be gleaning out stories from this to turn into a book, instead of trying to cram it all in. I do feel sharing all this and documenting it is like recording my feast to harvest from when I get to that point!

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