Beginning Farmer: Changing Expectations, Learning New Things

When we first bought the farm and knew that farm animals were in our future, I knew we would be constantly learning.  Neither David nor I had any real background in how to raise farm animals - to that point everything had been learned on Instagram and podcasts.  What I didn't realize is how exhausting it can be to have a great plan, try something new, learn all you can about it, then something happens and the plan is gone.  Now you need a new plan, equally need to prepare for it, plan for it, and then that one might not work either. 

A Chicken Example

Before I get to a more recent story, let me explain this overwhelm with a different example.  David and I had already raised meatbird chickens when we lived on a 1/2 house in a neighborhood.  We knew what was expected and how to do it.  We felt pretty confident in our first 20 meatbirds we raised the first winter at the farm.  We built an awesome brooder, leveled out the floor with concrete, made a swingable door, and spent many hours on ensuring we built it right.  I'm talking over 20 hours on it.  

Our meatbirds arrived and we realized the brooder was too big.  It was drafty and cold and we couldn't regulate the temperature for the chickens.  We put them in a box, then metal trough, then finally the brooder.  We figured that the brooder would be a better size on our next batch when we did 200 chickens.  

Those 20 meatbirds eventually moved outside to a chicken coop that we had picked up and trailered to our property.  It had a run and was set up specifically for meatbirds.  The snow came and we wanted to move them back inside.  We couldn't get the meatbirds out of the run.  We could go in there and they would run to the coop visa versa.  Quickly realizing that with 20 birds this was annoying, we didn't want to do it with 200.  So we scrapped that coop.  

The next set of 200 meatbirds did go smoother.  We still had to put hay bales in the brooder ot shrink the space and David built a chicken tractor so we could move the birds around the pasture.  Because we raised the chickens in the brooder we couldn't figure out how to get them into the chicken tractor.  We tried walking them, using a broom to gently push, tried carrying them one by one.  Finally we grabbed the turkey processing crates, put 30 in them and carried groups to the tractor.  

We left the chickens inside the tractor for about a week so they could learn where their new "home" base was.  Then we opened the door to let them out.  Except none left.  Not a single one.  Finally a few got brave and tried to get down - but then at night they couldn't figure out they needed to get back in.  So every night we had to come out and chase the last 20 chickens into the trailer so they wouldn't get eaten.  

And then more meat birds came and the entire training process had to happen again.  David and I realized that we could not do another summer of that.  So together we decided that we would move the egg layers into the tractor so we only have to train them one time and try something else for the meatbirds. 

So for this one animal alone we ended up with no plan after trying three different ones.  We have a brooder that doesn't work for us, a chicken coop that was burnt/scrapped, and a chicken tractor that doesn't hold meatbirds anymore.  Sometimes being a new farmer is simply exhausting.  

A More Recent Example

Before we bought Penny, the jersey milk cow, it was so we could have her be the nanny cow for bottle babies.  Once we got her, I thought about milking her for our own personal use and even did some research into how to do that.  It was a lot of work to train her on a halter so I never did.  But she is so well tempered I didn't think it would be a problem (and to spoil the story a little, she really isn't the problem). 

When Penny had her calf it was two days before vacation and the baby was early.  We did not have bottle calves lined up and no time to look for some as we were packing for the trip.  I hand milked her a few times to provide her some relief, but it just took too long and wasn't clean enough for us to drink. 

While on vacation I bought a milk machine to help her out.  Pivoting my thinking, I figured I could sell the excess raw milk.  I thought about buying empty milk bottles but decided to wait.  We got home and the milk machine was delayed a day.  It finally came in and I went to hook it up and it was broken.  So now I have no milk machine, Penny is settling into only producing enough milk for herself, and I have no more plan.  

I think this year will be a wash for us in having milk and I've got to figure out a better plan/system for next time.  Maybe even getting a working milk machine BEFORE she gives birth. 

In Conclusion...

I never want to seem like I'm complaining in this beginning farmer series.  I just want to help give insight into what life is like for someone who's never done this before, in the hopes that if you ever want to own a farm, you can learn from our mistakes.  Hopefully I provided some insight and if you have any questions about something you want to try, email me!