This has been a rough winter, and the winter blues have been finally hitting us in the past week. Something about 3 feet of snow, plumbing in the house freezing, and subzero temperatures that just won’t quit is bringing out the hopeless feelings. Besides all the bad stuff that comes with cabin fever and our animals’ comfort and productivity, honestly, we’ve been struggling over how to make this farm bring in income.
I’ve been writing a book on my wordpress blog detailing my farm dream beginnings, and our beginnings here on our farm. I recently hit a wall in recounting my story- because I am dreading reviewing all the failures and huge mistakes we made in 2011 through 2013. The biggest failure, and I can see it clearly now (and this is the stuff we’ve been talking about in our winter doldrums) is perpetuating the “small scale myth.” It was a HUGE mistake because we believed in it. We felt we could raise small amounts of good food for people and make a living. We did raise a lot of food, but we did not raise enough of it.
The trouble with choosing small scale farming as your dream occupation is that it is not a lucrative, or even a minimum wage, business plan. Food has a limit in how much people will pay, and the number of people who will pay a fair price for really good food is limited as well.This is where we’ve been stuck. WE HAVE TO GROW. Otherwise, we will not be able to afford to continue being farmers. We cannot stay “small scale” unless we want to get day jobs to pay for our farm expenses, and then, what is the point?
Scaling up is scary. Risk is scary. Spending every last penny you have on a hope is scary. But we HAVE to do it. There is no choice.
My husband and I watch this show on Hulu called Shark Tank, and it’s fueled the entrepreneur side of our farming dream. It’s taught us how to measure risk on good ideas. It’s taught us that food businesses have to be at a bigger level of production because food products are so much more expensive to produce than a cheap gadget made overseas.
So as we gear up and figure out how to maximize our farm in 2014, I want to assure you that the small scale ethics we have will not go away. I believe that we can have a small scale mentality even as we scale up. Raising lots of good food with integrity and the utmost care for the animals and land IS possible. We’re going for it.
I’ve been fooled again. Spring IS coming, but in it’s own time. We had a 50 degree day last week and I was elated. The ducks started laying eggs, as well as the geese. All my sprouting planties were moved out of our house, to the hoophouse into our mini greenhouse set up, where we could cover them over night. I seeded another 20 flats out there, following the next installment of seeding onions, herbs, leeks,and mustard, as per the seeding calendar I labored over this winter.
Then the weather flipped. My little kale and chard plants looked dead after a night below freezing, even though we had a heater running in their mini greenhouse. Grrrr. Thankfully they revived, but now I see a -5 evening in the forecast for this weekend, which is making me really frustrated.
If we started our CSA deliveries in June, like most sensible CSA farmers, these super early plantings wouldn’t be so essential. But we will persevere. I think I became tainted for early springs being the norm in 2009 and 2010, when I was able to start in the garden in late March. Yes, even 2011 we had an early spring.
I’ve been doing a lot of writing during this never ending winter, and it feels SO good. My “blogging a book” project hit a wall, and I’m trying to get back into the swing of it again, since we still have several feet of snow. But I have a pretty good excuse for not working on that project, aside from the never-ending winter. I’ve been writing articles! I had my goose article published by ACRES USA magazine in their newest issue, and have developed a nice working relationship with the editor. I keep pitching ideas, and she says go for it. So I do, and with editing friends helping me, I just had my 3rd article accepted! It’s very, very exciting. I hope to keep building my “author platform” by getting my name and my ideas out there, and to keep pushing myself to get better ( I should say more eloquent) in my writing. Meanwhile, these articles provide us with a little bit of money, which is validating and just awesome.
A couple of mornings ago, I brought oats and water to the geese and my pregnant goat, May. I knew she was getting close to kidding time on the calendar, and I’d noticed a change in her udder the week before. Normally when I’d bring the grain, May would charge out of the shed to have her fill before the geese did (she’s always been a greedy jerk of a goat, which is why she is the last standing goat here.) But this particular morning, she didn’t rush out. I called to her “Meemers, whatcha doing?” and she responded with a strange voice, a sound I now know quite well; “Baaarrrrghhhh bawwwwwwww.” I climbed the fence to see her inside the shed, pawing at the hay and circling around, with a tiny bit of birth-goo at the opening of her vulva. This can mean imminent kidding, or not. I have seen it all with goats. Her udder was big, but not super engorged, so I figured she was close to go time, but it could be a few days out. As Andrew and I had our farm meeting, I told him she was looking and acting ripe, and babies would be coming soon.
Later, at the start of afternoon chores, I went out to feed and water the geese and check on May. She was definitely in labor, pacing around and then would stop when a contraction started. May’s back arched and she pushed and yelled. I saw the bubble of the amniotic sac beginning to emerge, and sitting with her, I tried to keep track of how often her contractions were coming. I had to finish chores, as Andrew was gone picking up the last supplies for our new homemade walk-in cooler.
After I fed and watered the ducks and pigs, I went into the house to grab a couple towels, and cussing to not find any iodine for a navel dip, I grabbed the hydrogen peroxide. I traversed the awkward snow path to the goat shed, and found that May had what appeared to be hooves emerging, and then I saw a tongue, which is exactly what you want to see for a normal delivery. Her baby was poised to slide out into the world in perfect form. Inside the protruding, fluid filled sack, I saw the baby’s tongue moving, so I knew the kids was ready and was alive. Wheew! I sat down in the hay with May, as she paced around, pushed and then came to nuzzle me between her contractions, which were happening every 30 seconds or so. Perfect timing. I watched and cooed, trying to support her as best I could, and gave scratches to her neck as she exercised her vocal chords in ways goats normally don’t.
Then, all of a sudden, the baby’s head came out. May waddled awkwardly towards the opening of the shed, where there was no clean bedding laid down. I followed her with a towel in my arms, and as she squatted and strained, the front half of the goatling popped out. I wanted to collect the baby before she landed harshly on the frozen surface of the shed’s floor, but didn’t want to pull and interfere with May’s normal delivery. May squatted and pushed hard, and as she did, I gripped the front legs of the kid and pulled gently, and out she tumbled into my towel-filled arms. May turned immediately and started talking to and licking off her new baby. I brought both of them over to the deep part of the shed where it was more cozy.
After all these years, I’m used to goats having twins or more, and I tried to evaluate whether May had more babies coming. She looked a bit big still, but she’s always been a hunky goat with a compact torso. She didn’t seem to be in any kind of continual labor as she cleaned off her buckskin colored baby, but I hadn’t witnessed the placenta coming out yet either. Many of the goat kiddings I’ve experienced involve me arriving after everything is said and done, including the placenta delivery. Since I’d been with May since her kid was born, I wasn’t really sure at what point the placenta should come out. Was it instantly? Or a while later? I had to leave the goat shed to go see if Andrew had returned yet, to grab hot molasses water and kelp for May, and a beer for me. When I returned, May was frantically chomping down something which is gross to envision, describe, and experience. At a very fast pace, she was chewing down a lumpy, bloody, viscera cord-like thing. Blurgh! So that was that.
Her daughter was getting up on her tiny legs almost right away. Such tenacity! But, she wasn’t immediately interested in nursing, which made me super nervous. I’d help her over near her momma’s udder, and she’d turn her head away like, what? It was chilly, and it was getting close to evening. She needed to get some warm colostrum in her. Over and over, I brought her to the teats, tried to lure her into suckling, but she was just not interested. This is fairly common, as the kids can just be so fatigued from being born, they need to get their bearings and their strength up before they get hungry. Soon though, she was nuzzling under May’s chin, and then I saw her administer the little “bump” that the babies do to the udder, so I knew she was hungry. We all regrouped and the sweet little baby took her first glug of warm colostrum into her tummy, and then fell down. That’s a common thing too, and sort of aggravating, after what feels like forever, they finally find the tip of the teat and get it in their mouth, take a few slurps and immediately fall down. Come on baby! Stay in place, right there! Drink it down! But I have to remember the newborn thing. Human babies don’t get up within minutes of birth, let alone finding their way to the mommy buffet.
Because May had a single, I’ll keep her baby through weaning age, and then I’ll sell the young doeling to a new home. I do not need more goats- just one. The baby, christened “Molly” by our farm’s facebook friends, is only drinking abut 1/3rd of the milk May produces. Twice a day I’ve been going out with a quart jar to collect the surplus. May is a very prolific and patient milker, so as long as her baby is with her, she stands still in place while I kneel in the hay and milk into the jar. I collected nearly a gallon of milk in 2 days, and made my first 2014 goatmilk soaps today! Coffee Cedar and then a Citrus Paprika. They are technically “colostrum soaps” I suppose. I noticed quite a difference in the tracing process- it happened very rapidly, which may have also had something to do with making soap in a snowbank, who knows.