March 2012 “Becoming a Real Farm”
We call ourselves a small farm. Indeed, we are small, and indeed we are a farm…a real farm, where we raise French Alpine dairy goats. But we didn’t start out as a real farm. For several years we were really a toy farm…you know, growing some hay and giving most of it away to the person who cut it. That brought in an income of a few hundred dollars. Then we expanded our organic garden to include blackberries for sale. That added about another eighty dollars to the farm till. To be real, however, we had to make $1,000 a year. That’s what the county tax department told us when we looked into using our agricultural status to lower our property taxes by a few thousand dollars.
You’d think it would be easy to make $1,000 in a whole year. We thought so, anyway. Produce? Hay? Eggs? Chickens? Hmmm…chickens. A lot of farms were selling eggs, including our next door neighbors, but hardly anyone was selling fresh local chickens, so I signed up for a workshop at the Organic Growers School to learn what might be involved. About the same time we started finding feather-clumps and dead chicken parts in the garden. On one occasion, we caught the culprit–another neighbor’s dog—trotting through the tomato patch with his prey hanging from his jowls. On more than one occasion, our neighbor went out to his chicken house and found 30-40 of his hens dead or mutilated.
So we were already starting to chicken out (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) when I took the workshop, which was very worthwhile. By the time I had seen the play-by-play photo demonstration of how to “process” a chicken, I was entirely disabused of any notions about getting into the fresh local poultry market.
I was thinking about putting in another row of blackberries, a few rows of raspberries, and a row or two of blueberries when my husband Chuck told me that Phil, our neighbor with the chickens, wanted to go together with us on the purchase of four calves. Phil would neuter them, and keep them for a few months, and then they would come to graze in our pasture, which was much larger than his.We would own two apiece. It sounded like a wonderful arrangement. You don’t even have to have a barn for cattle. After a year or so, Phil would load them up in his trailer and return with a nice big check.
It didn’t exactly work out according to the plan. My next post will tell the story of our short-lived career as cattle farmers.