Farms,  Homesteading

How to Fail at Farming Post #4

I hope you’re enjoying this series! In case you’ve missed the other posts, here are the links to read them:

  1. A New Blog Series: How to Fail at Farming (Or, Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Succeed at Farming)
  2. How to Fail at Farming Post #2, Buy a Farm without Considering Your Own Personality and Passions
  3. How to Fail at Farming Post #3, Buy a Farm without Considering Your Kids’ Activities

Please trust me on this one, guys. I know how easy it is to become excited at the thought of owning your very own land. I know all of the ways that you can convince yourself that RIGHT NOW is the perfect time to buy a farm. Here are some of the reasons that I came up with in my own mind right before we bought our farm:

  1. The market is good for selling our house RIGHT NOW, and our home value might drop tomorrow!
  2. The farm that we want is bank owned and a good deal RIGHT NOW, and tomorrow there might not be another deal like this.
  3. Our kids are getting “older” (8, 7, 6, 2) and are going to be used to living a neighborhood if we don’t move to a farm RIGHT NOW!
  4. Our kids are getting “older” and I want their childhood memories to be ON A FARM, so we have to move RIGHT NOW!
  5. I don’t like our city’s public water supply (in that particular city it was coming from a river which another town’s sewage was being dumped into…Oh yes…SO healthy…!). We need to move RIGHT NOW to be able to live on well water!

Can you see yourself thinking up reasons to move onto a farm today, tomorrow, or quite possibly next Tuesday?

Here’s the thing: when you move onto a farm, and you own it, the burden is real. The burden of debt is real (assuming you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to place down on a property, debt-free). The burden of ownership and maintenance is real. The burden of having to make this farming life work or else is real. Imagine what the “or else” might be with me for a minute. Or else…you’ll go hungry? Lose your farm and all of the equity you poured into it? People will say “I told you so”? What is the “or else” for you?

When we bought our farm, we knew nothing.

I really mean nothing. My husband grew up on a very small piece of land where his family ran a small grocery store with homemade donuts and ice cream. They had 1 cow, and at one time, a goose his dad wrote off as the “alarm system” for the store. My husband didn’t learn how to butcher animals, or tend to a garden, or how to manage a bunch of baby chicks on that small piece of property. He was not prepared to be a farmer.

I grew up in a neighborhood with a swimming pool filling most of our backyard, watching Little House on the Prairie nearly every day after school. As entertaining as Little House was, it did not prepare me, at all, to farm like Ma and Pa Ingalls did. The only pets I had as a kid were a couple of cats (over time), a bird, a mixed breed dog named Buddy who pushed me into our swimming pool one time, and a tiny Pomeranian named Taz. None of those animals required a brooder, heat lamps or electric fencing. I grew a couple of tomato plants with my mom one summer in high school, and that was the extent of my entire gardening experience. I was not prepared to be a farmer.

The problems with learning how to farm after buying a farm:

When you finally buy your farm, you will want to dive in and do it all! You’ve dreamed of raising chickens, and ducks, and geese, right? Ok! Search Craigslist, or the hatchery websites, and buy your birds! But….Do you know what to do with them? Do you have any idea?

And when it comes time to cut the hay, because the field is tall and you can’t even find your kids in the giant grass…or the baby cow that escaped…do you know what equipment you will need, how much it costs, and how to approach the job? Do you know the right time to cut the hay, and how many times people cut hay in your area?  Do you know how to store hay?

Have you ever built a fence? What about electric fencing? Do you know how to build multiple types of fencing, in case one type does not work for your animals? You might need to build a new fence quickly in order to contain livestock, and you won’t have time to study how to build each type in the moment.

What will you do when your baby calf chooses not to nurse and keeps escaping your fencing? Do you know how to encourage it to drink its’ mother’s milk? And if it won’t, do you know what you will feed it, where you will get it, and how you will go about it?

Do you know anything about your local invasive weeds and what to do about them? We had blackberries and tansy weeds all over our farm. Tansy can kill livestock and an over-abundance of blackberry bushes are a waste of good farm land. We didn’t have a clue how to get rid of Tansy or acres of blackberries.

When it comes to butchering your livestock, do you know how to do it? Do you know what equipment you will need? Do you know other people who will do it if you cannot? And, do you know the right time to butcher the animals? How will you find out how much a pig weighs, or if your pastured poultry is large enough to butcher?

These are just a few examples. Trust me, there are oh-so-many more I could share with you!!! When I say that the learning curve was steep on our farm, I am not joking. We moved onto the farm, dove in to farming, and had to learn every single bit of it as we went along. It was tough. And expensive.

If you don’t know how to do things correctly or in the right timing, ultimately, it will cost you more money. It will also make you feel like a failure, as we did many times.

My Advice for Wanna-Be Farmers:

Learn, learn, learn!!! Get to know your local farmers and help them. Farmers need help! Most farmers will welcome someone wanting to come help them. Ask if you can come on butchering day and learn the tricks. Ask questions. Weed their garden. Feed their pigs, House/Farm sit for them while they take a break away from the farm. Feed their chickens and learn to milk their cows.

Take any agricultural classes you can take at your local colleges. Attend farming clubs. Near our home there is a monthly club for people who raise bees. Attend these kinds of clubs and get to know the people who are already doing what you want to do. Learn how to trim an orchard, how to extract honey from a bee hive, how to clean a chicken coop, etc. Absorb as much as you can before you invest any money into farming on your own.

You might be saying, as I did, back then: but I don’t have time to go help other farmers right now. If you are saying that, you probably do not have time to be a farmer, and you should not buy a farm. If the lifestyle of farming is important to you, make time. Drop your extra activities, find a different job that takes up less of your time, and go help a farmer.

After you have spent quite a bit of time helping other farmers (at least a year or two), before you buy a farm: consider renting a farmI know that renting is not as appealing as buying, but please trust me. I’ll touch on this more as this series continues.



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