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Friday, May 12, 2017

The evolution of a hobby farm

The face of a farm is ever-changing. When I first moved onto the farm, the pasture was dotted with fluffy white sheep as far as the eye could see. The Farmer started with a dozen or so sheep in 1998 when he built the farmhouse to accompany his newly purchased 200 acres and barn. Every year he sold the male lambs after weaning and let the females stay to keep the ram busy and build up the herd. Before long, he had a herd of 200 sheep. The farm was quite well suited to sheep farming, but it didn’t start out that way.
A long while ago, The Fisher Farm was a mink farm. Then it was a piggery for years. The feeders and pens were built low to the ground to accommodate the pigs, so the Farmer didn’t have to renovate much to host his sheep. Cattle are another story. We added two Hereford cows to our menagerie in 2008, and slowly started building that herd so we could move out of sheep farming. Sheep are hard on your back. You are in a constant bent-over state, trimming their hooves, shearing them, administering their monthly shots and pulling them out of whatever mess they have managed to entangle themselves in. I also found sheep farming extremely hard on my heart. With lambing season happening at the tail end of winter, a freezing cold barn often meant a high lamb mortality rate. Sheep are also adept at contracting all varieties of disease, named in the most obvious of ways: Stiff Leg Disease; Hard Bag; Foot Rot; Sore Mouth; Bent Leg; Frothy Bloat; and even Fuzzy Lamb Syndrome. Sheep farming was never a very good money maker for us. We did it because we enjoyed it, and as the Farmer says, it kept him busy.
Cattle farming was, for the most part, a much simpler venture. The cows often give birth without any human intervention or help. We have had at least one problem calf each year that requires bottle feeding or other assistance at the start. But other than the first week or so where we have to keep Mom and Babe inside the pen (which used to house sheep and is constantly getting destroyed by cows), cattle farming has been pretty easy.
The cattle test our fences for us every year. If there is a weak section of fence, they will find it. Then we get a call from a neighbour about cows in the road, or in their backyard. That’s how the Farmer knows it is time to reinforce the electric wiring.
Cattle farming has been fairly profitable for us over the past few years, but last year’s drought was a real lesson in what can happen when your meadows don’t replenish themselves. We had to dip into our winter hay storage to feed our herd during the summer. This was expensive. When we factored in how much we were getting for each calf sent to market, we realized they weren’t exactly paying their room and board. It may be time for another step in the evolution of the Fisher Farm.
“I think I’m slowing down a bit,” said the Farmer as we sipped our drinks during the first afternoon patio-sit of the season. “I hate to think of not being the Farmer anymore though…” and by that I knew he was referring to his farming-as-a-hobby to keep him from getting bored in his semi-retirement. How a real estate agent who is building a log cabin and maintaining his own property has time to get bored is beyond me. But I know farming is important to him as it keeps him healthy. With animals depending on you making a trip to the barn each morning and night, you are getting out of the house in all kinds of weather. I really think this is why he is never sick – because he spends so much time out of doors. Then there is the shoveling of their manure and pitching their hay. You save money on a gym membership.
We can rent out the rest of our pasture fields for cash crops, but it would be nice to find something else to occupy the barns, and keep the Farmer busy. I’m thinking about all that woodworking equipment he has in the shed. I know several people who would really appreciate some handmade wood furniture, including yours truly.


email: dianafisher1@gmail.com

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