Fall and winter on the farm are pretty mellow compared to spring and summer. And I’d imagine just about any farmer will tell you the same thing.
We have pigs again! I bought 7 weaner pigs from a small farm in Hotchkiss. This family had 3 daughters, 2 are of 4-H age- so they are used to pampering their hogs as they would their competition pigs. I bought them at 2 months old and coming to our farm was the first time they have been outdoors; ever! They were a very nice family, but we didn’t see eye to eye on pig raising. These pigs were pampered and spoiled, not confined. They even had heat and air conditioning! But still, they were on a concrete floor with about 6″ of wood shavings; not much opportunity for a pig to be a pig. A few more will arrive in December.
I am officially out of the sheep business, and that is OK with me. I liked having them around, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have enough pasture for both sheep and cattle. It’s surprising how much sheep eat. Roughly 6 full grown ewes = 1 full grown cow with regards to weight, or Animal Units (1 animal unit = 1000 lbs). When planning feed like hay or pasture, we think in terms of AU’s. The idea is ten 100 lb animals will eat the same amount of forage as one 1000 lb animal. But I don’t think it’s true, at least not with sheep. It’s surprising how much they eat. We sold 3 lambs and we kept a ewe for ourselves (technically mutton). Of all the animals we raise, I think this will be my favorite with regards to flavor; chicken, pork, and beef is very mild flavored compared to lamb or mutton.
At this point, let’s just call it end of November, we have about 65 hens, 6 cattle, and 7 pigs. In a month we’ll be up to 9-10 pigs total and we’ll hang with those numbers until more birds start showing up next year.
Laying hen/chick wise, I’m going to do things a little different next year. I am going to get chicks as early as possible. I might make a special trip to Junction just for chicks? I’d like them to start laying in early June. This will give me lots of eggs through the farmers market season. One thing I’ve learned selling at a farmers market is variety is key! Eggs, chickens, beef, and pork all on the same day leads to very good sales. Having just 1 item can still be OK but no nearly as high in sales. Makes sense, but some of us need a 2×4 across the head until we get it. Brooding chicks in the dead of winter will not be easy. They’ll spend the first few weeks in our house (cringe (very dusty)), then move them to a brooder barn for a few weeks before going out with the rest of the hens. I don’t know, it sounds like a good idea right now…
Winter is also a time for business planning and reflection. Things have to change. But how? We’ll see, there is joy in the journey. I took a Holistic Whole Farm and Ranch Business Planning class a few years ago. Highly recommended and it really changed how I run our farm. This class is like a business class for farmers with a little bit of hippy thrown in. Anyway, each fall I do financial planning for the coming year. It starts out sounding great on paper, the trick is to manage things well enough when things get busy so you can utilize the solar energy to the fullest and not wear yourself out.
For me most of my income comes from brewery consulting. My joy comes from farming. I need to balance those two. Ask yourself, which would you pick? Oh, I’d pick the joy- but I’d be broke within a year! As much as I hate to say it, cash is king and cash is good. Farming will never equal brewery consulting for income; I make more in 2 weeks of consulting than I do in a year of farming- and it’s a lot less work. But it’s staring at a computer all day. Still, long term where should I focus my efforts? Right. Change is constant…