Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that my husband and I used to live on a farm – twice. The first time was in the early days. As two young people who had both grown up in large urban areas, we found ourselves unexpectedly living in a small town, and then found ourselves needing our first house in order to shelter our first child. My husband, unmoved by the modest homes we had been shown in town, asked the agent if there were any farms for sale. And the rest, as they say, was history, at least for the next 9 years.
We moved in to our rural enclave 3 days before our first child was born. Talk about not knowing anything about rural life or farming; when asked before we moved in if we would be willing to sell our hay to a neighbouring farmer, we didn’t know “where” the hay was. The first few years we kept our experimenting to gardening, although we did switch from a manageable plot near the house to a quarter-acre garden plot “down the back.”
Two years after moving in, things changed. We learned that we could acquire 2 young highland cattle – actually own them and have them on our property every day! That was the beginning of ramping up our farming experiences. We brought home a young highland heifer and a bull calf; it was hard to know who was more frightened of the other, us of them or them of us. This led in quick order to fencing a larger space for them than the one we had started with, since Jeremy and Jenny ate all the grass in our initial “pasture” in a week. By now we knew what hay was, and we had to do the haying ourselves to feed our growing herd. The following spring, we had a significant population increase in the first week of May: Jenny had her first calf, we acquired two piglets and 25 baby chicks to raise for meat, and at the end of the week, we had our second son. A memorable week indeed.
Our animal menagerie eventually grew to include: 16 head of cattle, including some very cool mixed breeds due to creative AI; 4 pigs, who started as piglets acquired each spring and ended up as hugely satisfying collections of pork chops, bacon, and ham; 50 baby chicks each spring, 25 of which ended up in our freezer and the other 25 designated for friends and neighbours; bees that kept us in years’ worth of honey; and, a horse and – eventually – her colt, the training for which was definitely out of our league. No dogs, 2 perfect cats. We were the first people to move into the area from “the outside” and were undoubtedly the only people there who had books about animal husbandry! We had a lot to learn and, boy, did we learn a lot.
The overriding take-away was one of overwhelming appreciation for the risks taken by family farmers. When we speak about the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial endeavours, there can’t be any enterprise with more risks than farming. These are some of the lessons we learned:
- You can get really late frosts in the spring, after you’ve planted everything, especially if there’s a clear night during the full moon in spring. We once had one on June 16.
- You can get an early frost in late summer, when you would otherwise have another 4-6 weeks of growing season, especially if there’s a clear night during the full moon in late summer. We once had one on August 16 – the same year as #1.
- You can get too much rain before you plant, so you can’t get on the land to get the crop in.
- You can get too much rain after you’ve planted, so the seeds rot – or young potatoes, or whatever you have lovingly tended.
- You can get no rain, which is very bad as well. Things don’t grow well then!
- Weeding, picking, and freezing a year’s worth of vegetables takes a lot of time.
- If you have a really good season and harvest a bumper crop, chances are that everyone else had a bumper crop as well, so prices will be lower. Good for consumers, not for farmers.
- You need to get water to your animals out in the barn, even if the water pipe is frozen and the snow banks are high.
- More water sloshes out of a bucket when you carry it from the house to the barn than stays in the bucket.
- Cows drink LOTS of water. Horses drink – and eat – even more.
- All farm animals (except dogs and cats) LOVE fresh fruit and vegetable scraps; garden clean-up time is one of their favourite times of year.
- Cows are curious animals, at least when a porcupine walks through their pasture. OUCH, a face full of quills on a cow is a bad scene!
- Chickens are really mean to each other. The expression “the pecking order” is used for good reason.
- Doing this as a hobby is a learning experience; doing this on a large scale as a full-time vocation would be another thing all together. Worth further posts.
- You sure eat well when you have your own fresh food!
Other Robby posts on farming:
- Lessons from raising chickens
- Lessons from raising cows
- Lessons from raising horses
- Lessons from raising pigs