Posts tagged small farm

Farming is hard

When I first tell friends that I have a small farm, I often hear the response, “Sounds neat, but hey, isn’t that hard? Like, a lot of work?”

My response isn’t typically what they expect. I tell them, “Yeah, farming and caring for these critters is a lot of work, but that is the fun part! The parts of farming that aren’t easy often have to do with the unpleasant things that don’t often come to mind until you’ve lived ’em.”

We’ve been doing this for about three years, and we’ve experienced great joy — The first time you have lambs born on the farm, and the first time that one of those lambs becomes your best friend. The times when you have 50 peeping little chicks making the most ridiculous racket in a box in your garage. The times that you can invite friends over to enjoy your space, comforts, and good eats.

Then there are the times that don’t come to mind but will be experienced, ready or not. These are the times that are hard — The time when a dog gets in to your chicken coop and kills every single last one before you go out to find the dog gone, and the carnage left behind. The time that a sheep gets injured by some freak accident and you have to spend hours and late nights calling vets and wondering if it will live. The times when an animal gets randomly sick and needs daily antibiotic shots for weeks to get better. The days filled with great joy as new life is born, and then the sadness of seeing such fragile new life perish. There are the times many pet owners know — when you lose your old friend. When you have a whole pasture full of friends, you have that many more to lose. Then there are the times of great unpleasantness, like having to save your sheep in distress from an attacking dog in your pasture, knowing that you are likely shooting someone else’s beloved pet out of horrible necessity.

All farmers experience such things, and the smaller and more sustainably you farm, the closer you are to each animal and their daily care. So, next time you eat that locally grown meat or enjoy the beauty and wondrousness of a small family farm, realize that the farmers who so lovingly share that experience with you have a deep well of experience — both joy and pain — that go unseen with each moment.

Farming and animal husbandry are worthwhile and wondrous undertakings, yet the difficult times will come with surety. Weathering them takes far more energy than cleaning out the barn or hauling some feed out to a flock of eager faces.

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Spring sheep shearing 2010

Our saga began on Friday night as we picked up a friend’s pickup truck complete with a rack/cage in the bed perfectly suited for sheep transportation. It had been raining all week, so we had kept our sheep in the barn for several days to stay dry. My dad arrived at the farm just in time to help me load my three Jacob ewes in the truck. We backed the truck into my barn to keep the ladies dry overnight.

8am rolled around very quickly, and we gingerly drove the sheep over to Hillside Jacobs in Sparta, Michigan where we were going to shear my sheep, Gary’s sheep (Hillside), and one of Gary’s brother’s flock of Columbia sheep.

Setup was relatively simple. The professional shearer needed a 6′ x 6′ footprint, and myself and a few other guys worked to keep the sheep flowing around him. On one side, one of Gary’s brothers helped get the unshorn sheep from the paddock. The shearer took about 4 minutes per sheep, and when done, I grabbed the freshly shorn sheep, brought it over to get a quick vaccination shot (tetanus and a few others), and then returned her to the paddock.

Click here to see a video of my ewe Cecelia getting sheared

Once the fleece was off the sheep, it was carried over to a skirting table where two ladies (Gary’s wife and sister) worked hard to remove the bad or soiled wool and categorize the wool quality. The wool was bagged in individually marked bags so that hand-spinners could know what sheep their wool came from. Wool from the stomach area as well as the rear is usually discarded. Jacob wool is highly prized by hand-spinners for its natural two-tone color and generally good quality.

The shearer worked from around 9am until nearly 5pm without an extended break. Many spectators joined the fun over the course of the day. The Columbia sheep, over 200 pounds, were certainly a huge task when compared to the Jacobs or Shetlands that Gary and I had. It was a busy day, but filled with great learning experiences.

A late lunch was had by those remaining, and we drove our newly naked ladies home to their warm barn.

Lambs are soon to be on the way!

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