Stories From An Unlikely Farmer

I’m A Failure

But am I really?

I’m often times found brooding in the corner, sulking and ashamed of some silly mistake I made while continuing this farming adventure we’re on.  This year our family farm saw tremendous growth with new animals, new experiences and a magnitude of great outcomes but how come it is as I sit here and reflect I find myself not relishing in the good but flogged and belittled by the smallest failures?

I find myself comparing our little farm to others on larger scales and envying their time and dedication to this lifestyle.  I am jealous that seven days a week they are able to raise to their roosters crowing, gather eggs for lunch and garden in the midday heat.

I’m consumed by the desire to expand and do more and be more here while financial restraints don’t allow it and need both my husband and I to work.

I want, I want, I want…I want a garden that’s lush and plentiful.  I made so many mistakes this year.  I’ve never attested to being a gardener and honestly wouldn’t even consider my thumb even the slightest shade of green but this year it brought me great joy to see our hard work take shape.  We had many firsts this year in the garden: we expanded the raised beds from 6 last year to 15 this year, while successfully growing for the first time swiss chard, zucchini’s and a wide variety of herbs.  But even with all those gardening achievements, why is that when small mistakes like strawberries not gracing our plants because of fluctuating temperatures, or planting kale in too much sun or not hilling potatoes soon enough, do we berate ourselves and downgrade this year’s achievements?  I have spent countless hours toiling over what I did wrong in the garden this year and envying those gardens still growing lushly around us.

I find myself hanging off of every critique and criticism offered by farmers, butchers and everyday know-it-all’s in regards to all aspects of farming.  I defend the choices I’ve made in raising our animals all while secretly worried others were right and I made the wrong decisions having never done this before.

But at some point in time we have to stop.  I’ve had to consciously stop myself from dwelling on the negatives and picking myself up and embracing the failed attempts and learning from them!  So what I didn’t have a hearty kale bounty this year!  Next year I will learn from my mistake and plant our kale in the shade and it will inevitably enjoy that location much better.  So what strawberries never grew – let’s be honest two little plants weren’t going to generate many strawberries anyway lol and hilling potatoes turned out to not be a big deal as we still had plenty of crisp Yukon Golds harvested.

I’m learning to shut out the negative, embrace the positive and allow time for reflection to get better – I want to be better!  After taking the time to think about it, I may sometimes feel as though I have failed as a farmer but it’s not in that moment you are a failure but if you go forward and bury your head in the sand and refuse to try again that you are a true failure.

Don’t be a failure.  Continue to try.  Make mistakes.  Pick yourself up.  Rebound even better.

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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The Truth About Life On A Farm

I’ve been reading a lot of negative comments lately on social media sites in regards to homesteaders raising their own meat for consumption.  These comments have ranged from disbelief over the difficulty of processing your own animals to vile complaints about the farmers ethical judgement.  All of these comments I’ve read in awe and have rarely commented back for lack of words.  

But understanding and respecting life are probably the two most fundamental lessons of farming and easily my biggest learnings so far to date.  In the recent weeks we’ve had unexpected loss with some of our animals and it’s been incredibly difficult.  You begin to replay what could have went wrong and you almost drive yourself crazy looking for a reason why or how this could have happened.  I found myself weeping two nights back over a broiler bird I had named Tiny after finding her passed.  You become attached to these animals and regardless of their ultimate purpose on your farm you become attached while you are late night bottle feeding or monitoring the new chicks every couple of hours and aiding when necessary and nursing them back to health.  You put so much time and energy into your animals that it really is devastating when they move on.

Farming has amplified the respect of life for me.  I no longer take for granted the chicken that’s on my plate and I find comfort in knowing that all of our long hours and hard work have provided an amazing life for the animal.  I understand and appreciate that some people don’t approve of a sustainable lifestyle that’s inclusive of organic meat products but before we attack another over their choices know that it’s never easy to raise an animal for consumption purposes but we provide them with the best life possible and are grateful for their sacrifice for us.

Thanks for reading,

Stories From An Unlikely Farmer 

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Homesteading: The Woman’s Way!

Farming was never in my life’s plan.  I hadn’t put much thought into going down the street to the local grocery store and picking up pork chops or a roasting chicken for dinner.  I was never worried about how the animal was treated or what would be done to the product for packaging.  Now consumers are being bombarded on a daily basis with revealing photo’s or videos of animals being poorly treated, malnourished and provided less than adequate space to survive.  These glimpses into meat manufacturing are appalling to say the least and have really solidified the desire to raise animals.

My family has poured our hearts into raising our animals and this past week we had an unexpected visit that left me rattled.  One morning an older pickup truck pulled into our drive and out came a local farmer.  He began to tour our property and had several condescending comments about how we raise our animals.  He saw our free issue oyster shells, carnation petals in the nesting boxes but the curtains hanging neatly from each nesting box sent him over the edge.  His response was that these touches were the reason why women shouldn’t have livestock but what I should have countered with, is this is exactly why women should and do have livestock!

This farm is more than a hobby for my family and I.  We take great pride in feeding our animals all natural food and offering probiotic instead of antibiotics.  I know that old-time farmers sometimes laugh at our new world farm styles and they feel that items like curtains are not required and they’re exactly  right!  Curtains in no way will help a hen lay an egg but it will encourage our hens to lay where we’d like them to lay and by providing the curtains it will allow them the privacy to do so.  Hey old farmer would you lay an egg in the middle of your yard? ( I think not but put up a curtain or hey what about a bathroom door!).

More and more, people like my husband and I are beginning to farm.  We want to know where our food comes from; how it was raised, what it was fed and in knowing that provide that animal with the best possible life as our thanks for their sacrifice.

To close I would like to say that yes I am a woman and I am very proud to be a farmer who takes pride in raising her animals and will do it my way with their best interest at heart!

Thank-you for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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Crash Course in Raising Pigs

Pig

I have to admit that I really didn’t know a lot about pigs before we began raising these four and what I thought I knew was so very wrong!  I thinks it’s a common misconception that pigs are dirty, messy and aggressive but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Below are the truths I’ve learned about pigs recently:

1.  Pigs are clean! – This may sound silly but pigs are not dirty and are very particular about their washroom, where they choose to eat and sleep!  It’s been astonishing to me that pigs are in fact exceptionally clean (especially compared to sheep!) and will only relieve themselves in one area so it’s ever so important to keep that area clean so the pigs don’t mess elsewhere in their pen.

2.  Plump them up! – I always thought that in order to quickly plump up a pig the key was dairy and lots of it!  I’ve adapted that idea after raising chickens and my learnings from them to have a well balanced diet that includes dairy but isn’t solely dependant on it.  Our pigs are treated to a wide variety of veggies including cucumbers, kale and carrots with tomatoes being a big favourite!

3.   Pigs like to root…A LOT!  But they aren’t rooting just to make a mess, they are trying to stay cool as well.  Unfortunately for our pigs, this year has been warmer then normal and it’s critical to give them a shelter from the elements.  A farm down the road from us had their pigs get sunburn and it’s a horrible sight!  To combat the elements we’ve constructed a lean-to type structure from sheets of OSB and laid straw down for bedding.  (The straw isn’t necessary I’ve seen other farmers just have their pigs sleep on the dirt and that’s fine too but nothing is funnier then watching the pigs with the fresh straw bedding! lol).

4.  Pigs have a sweet tooth! – Our grocery store had some cherry turnovers discounted so I thought I would pick them up for the pigs.  I put the turnovers in the treat bucket and topped it off with a couple dollops of Cool-Whip.  I took a pic and posted it to our Facebook farm page and my husband saw the pic but didn’t read the post and was so excited as he came home from work for turnovers and Cool-Whip, all to be told that they had been fed to the pigs lol needless to say I wasn’t very popular that night!

5.  Pigs are super social!  – These pigs like to play and people have come here and laughed at me when I tell them that I enjoy playing tag with our pigs and they love it!  I’ve been blessed with an extremely knowledgeable farming mentor and he told me to “keep the pigs running and they’ll gain weight!”.

These are just a couple of the things I’ve learned about pigs and I’m honestly so glad I was talked into getting them and couldn’t imagine our little farm without them!  If you have an opportunity to raise pigs you have to do it, they are a ton of fun!

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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Mary Mary Quite Contrary How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m not a gardener nor do I pretend to be but I’m growing to love digging in the dirt!

When we started this farming adventure we knew that to hop on the road to sustainability we would need to grow our own veggies, not only for ourselves but any barnyard friends as well.  

Last year we started small with 6 black livestock troughs.  Being as we are nestled in the very heart of the Rocky Mountains we knew our growing season would be incredibly short and we looked high and low for anything we could find to give us an extra week or two of growing opportunity.  One night as we were cruising around Pinterest we found it!  The pic had amazing galvanized troughs mimicking a raised bed but shopping around we stumbled on these black ones that would not only deter smart little rodents but also absorb the days heat and keep our plants toasty warm overnight.  It was brilliant and worked so well!  Last year we harvest peas, onions, potatoes and parsley by the handfuls which only created the veggie growing monster I’ve become today!  We were so excited and proud of our first grown treats we created a “Fall Harvest Day” that included harvesting our garden’s bounty and a meal (almost) made entirely with ingredients from our farm and harvests that season!  Needless to say it felt pretty gratifying!

This year the garden has almost tripled in size with 9 more troughs being added taking the grand total to 15, 100 gallon troughs bursting with veggie potential!  We’ve just finished planting and this year we’re getting a little adventurous by adding a strawberry tower (to maximize space and growing potential), cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.  All have long growth periods but  hoping to see even a sprig of something and I’d be satisfied!  

Then I think what characterizes a true gardener is if they are able to successfully grow a tomato plant and yield fruit.  SO I took myself up on the challenge by trying my hand at growing a “sweet 100” tomato plant.    I’ve got to be honest my first plant died and when I say plant I actually mean pretty mature, tomatoes already formed plant lol! But I got back on the horse as they say and bought two more and so far, so good they are both still alive and have the tiniest green tomatoes ever!

To say I’m excited for this years “Fall Harvest Day” is an understatement!!!  I’m already searching the web for cute place setting ideas to top of the meal and can’t wait to invite all who have helped this year make this beautiful farm not only our home but a place they enjoy as well! 

Here’s to the wanna be gardeners (!), get out there and plant something and watch it flourish into something that will make you incredibly proud!

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer 

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All Is Quiet…

As I sit here tonight looking out over our farm, there’s not a cloud in the sky, geese honking in the distance, and the deafening sound of silence.  I had several ideas about what to write for this blog but in this moment I’m overpowered with the sense of contentment.

The journey to this point has not been easy.  Our path has been riddled with obstacles, challenges and naysayers and we continue to have odds stacked in our favor.  But as I sit here tonight by myself and think about the tough few days ahead, I am proud of how far we’ve come.  We’ve always proved people wrong.  My husband, my amazing daughter and I, are all the type, that when doubted we rise above and go even further!

These 16 acres are more then just a grassy field.  These 16 acres have united my family, taught us resilience and compassion and provided us with a common farming goal.  As I look out at our property I see endless days of hard work.  We braved the snow to lay flooring in our new chicken coop.  We braved the cold rainy weather to build a pig pen and had several sleepless nights with baby chicks.  The ever-growing list of tasks to do were systematically completed and I’m honestly stunned that we were able to finish everything.  But all the hard work just makes these moments to reflect that much more meaningful.

I believe there are twenty minutes after the day’s chores are done and dinner dishes washed, as the sun sets and the sky is painted in a rainbow of color and the house begins to settle for the night, that I appreciate everything we have!  I love looking out and seeing our animals happy and healthy.  I love my family and I love the life we’ve created.  I’m proud of the hard work we’ve done and how far we’ve come in such a short time.  It’s easy to get lost in the work and the endless list of things to do but I’m learning it’s more important to have these moments to be proud of what we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve come.

Take a minute and reflect, you owe yourself that!

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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Treat Anyone?

When we started this farming adventure with our laying hens, I became passionate about feeding them as naturally as possible and now as our farm begins to grow even larger I become even more steadfast in that philosophy.  I take great pride in providing our farm products to others and their children and take that responsibility very seriously.  Having said that there isn’t a single thing I wouldn’t feed my animals that I wouldn’t feed my own family!

When Thunder, Donkey and Missy came to our little farm I began searching for recipes to incorporate fruits, vegetables and herbs to start them on a preventative and healthier diet.  What I found were recipes that came close to offering what I had intended but decided to make my own and so three “cookie” recipes with a slightly different twist were born.  Enjoy making them but more importantly enjoy knowing what your animals are eating and by feeding them naturally they will be happier and healthier for it!

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Twisted Banana Bread

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup kale (chopped finely)

2 tbsp. coconut oil (great for the coats of your horses/donkeys)

2 ripe bananas (mashed)1/2 cup corn

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter

1/3 cup salted sunflower seeds (in shell)

2 cups of flour

Mix together molasses, kale and coconut oil.  Add bananas, rolled oats, peanut butter and sunflower seeds. Slowly add flour and mix completely.  Mixture should be consistent with cookie dough and as such create balls and place an inch apart.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  Makes 2 dozen.

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Donkey’s Carrot Cake

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup kale

2 tbsp. coconut oil (melted)

2 cups carrots (finely chopped)

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup pumpkin

1 1/2 cups flour

Mix together molasses, kale and coconut oil.  Add carrots, rolled oats, cinnamon and pumpkin. Slowly add flour and mix completely.  Mixture should be consistent with cookie dough and as such create balls and place an inch apart.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  Makes 1 dozen.

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Raspberry Apple Delight

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup kale

2 tbsp. coconut oil (melted)

2 cups Granny Smith apples (chopped finely)

1/2 cup raspberries

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 1/2 cup flour

Mix together molasses, kale and coconut oil.  Add apples, raspberries, and rolled oats. Slowly add flour and mix completely.  Mixture should be consistent with cookie dough and as such create balls and place an inch apart.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Makes 1 dozen.

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Missy’s Story

Up until last week, 3 Cocker Spaniels and 16 laying hens were residents of our little farm and we had larger farming stars in our eyes. Last Saturday Mr.Unlikely drove two hours to attend a livestock auction appropriately named the “odd and unusual sale”.  This sale in the past has seen camels, peacocks and alligator stroll through the auction ring but it’s also seen animals in deplorable conditions as well.  And now Missy’s story…

Missy is a 3 year old Romanov ewe.  She was carried into the auction ring because she was too weak to walk from being starved by her previous owner.  Her opening bid was $10.00 which was immediately met with silence.  The bid went lower until the auctioneer indicated the lowest he would go was $5.00 and “even at $5.00 she’s worth more as dog food!”.  My husband’s beautiful soul would absolutely not see this little girl meet such a fate and immediately raised his paddle and was the winning bid.  Mr.Unlikely brushed off scathing comments from local farmers taunting him for “wasting money” and laughing saying “she would never make it!”.  Even as Mr.Unlikely was carrying the ewe into the trailer she was weak and wheezing with farmers bathing her in negativity and doubting she would make the two hour trip home.  My husband was worried about her and at each frequent stop along the way she continued to hold on.

It felt like an eternity when I finally saw that trailer bumbled down our dirt road and gazed upon the saddest eyes begging me for salvation.  My mom blessed her with the name Missy and even though she broke my heart to look at her in that state, I was instantly in love and stayed with her most of that first night slowly but surely willing her back.  Her nose wouldn’t stop running, she was weak and wouldn’t walk and clearly hadn’t eaten on any regular basis.  I felt helpless knowing nothing about sheep other then what I had read in books.  I made a crucial error that first night (one that I will forever regret) and I fed Missy hay and rolled oats until she was exhausted and wouldn’t eat any more.  I quickly learned that even though you want to feed and feed and feed the poor animal, it is not in their best interest to do so and I believe the subsequent days Missy suffered from bloating and diarrhea because of my poor judgement.

Slowly but surely, Missy’s fighting spirit has prevailed and she’s fought through her sickness and began to gain strength.  I believe in feeding all our animals naturally and have taken my learnings from raising chickens and increased the portions sizes and tried them on Missy as well with resounding success.  She will anxiously await her treat bucket of apple slices, thyme, parsley, dill, rosemary, carrots and any other little surprises I might add.  She’s walking  and grazing in our field and has quite the attitude should you try to move her before she’s ready lol!  She will come and sit beside me as I tell her about my day and listen intently all the while chewing the same blade of grass over and over again.  Missy is slowly gaining weight and although I know it will be a slow journey she is well on the road to recovery.

Sitting here and reflecting on the past week it’s been a crash course with some wrong turns but love and compassion WILL get an animal through.  I won’t begin to preach but if a Missy crosses your path I’m begging you to take the risk and help her because she too will return the favor and feed your soul.

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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Waiting Is The Hardest Part…

Everything is finally starting to come together here at the farm but sometimes there are just scenarios you cannot foresee.  This week was supposed to have brought both turkey and broiler babies to our farm but a call from the hatchery postponed that delivery date for another week.  Today we were eagerly anticipating piglets and lambs and it wasn’t until after a follow-up call to confirm their delivery time that we found out they wouldn’t be delivered today either.  This of course does not work into my week’s plans very well as I had taken the week off to ensure everyone had a safe arrival and were comfortable in their new surroundings.

Everyone knows I am a planner.  I work best when the day’s activities or tasks are structured and all possible outcomes have been thought through and planned for.  I’ve noticed however on a farm there is only so much planning one can do and sometimes you need to just roll with the punches and look for the positives in some of these delays.  Having these delivery dates postponed in our case definitely has its pros and cons.  In some ways its good because it allows us more time to ensure everything is in place for when the animals do come but on the other hand it’s unfortunate because we get so excited and have nothing to show for it.

But the silver lining in our case regardless of new babies is that our days have been spent drawing electric fences, fixing gates, finishing pens, and hanging chicken wire in our new turkey run.  There is always something to be done at the farm and our to-do list always has plenty of items although when life throws you curve balls and delays we are able to knock a couple more items off the ever-growing to-do list.

So I guess the moral of this blog today is to not get bogged down by the planning or anticipation of the new, embrace the unknown and roll with the unexpected.

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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~Quack, Quack, Quack~

Ducks

I wanted to write this post today about our newest additions to the farm…ducks.  We recently got 4 ducklings (2 Magpies and 2 Pekin) and they are simply the cutest little babies I’ve ever seen!  It’s crazy right (?) that I could open the box with these four fresh off the plane and be instantly in love with these darling ducks.  But love it is and let the crash course begin!  Here’s what I’ve already learned about ducks in this short time:

1.  Ducks are messy! – I read this in every article and every book but I thought “oh come on, they are just exaggerating” but nope they weren’t!  Ducks are messy and I don’t think it’s all their fault lol their bills are so big and their webbed feet so unsure, they just can’t help the mess they make!

2.  They drink funny! – When we first got our four situated in their brooder boxes I was bumbling around the house and I heard what I thought was rain drops.  I went to the window to see and to my surprise the weather had not taken a turn for the worse but what was that sound?  It was the ducks drinking.  It was so foreign to me that I recorded it with amazement and shared it with several of my friends.  It is without a doubt the funniest quirk in my opinion about ducks and you need to see it!

3.  They drink A LOT! – I originally had a small one gallon waterer in the brooder box but did take that tip from my readings and switched it out for a two gallon and even at two gallons I’m constantly refilling their water.

4.  They don’t eat a lot! – Unlike their excessive drinking (lol) ducks don’t eat a whole lot.  I’ve only had to refill their feed twice in five days but they do love their “treats” (see point five)

5.  They LOVE dill! – I believe in feeding all of our animals naturally and as organic as possible and often will provide herbs as treats.  I had read that ducks liked dill and bought a small bundle from our local grocer and to say they love it is almost an understatement!  They go crazy for dill which is great because dill provides an additional source of protein so it’s a win win.

6.  Treats + Water = Happy ducks! – I noticed quickly that unlike chicks, ducks do not necessarily like their treats (cilantro, thyme, parsley, dill, etc) sprinkled on the ground but they prefer them in their water.  Strange but true and it works!

7.  They dive so BEWARE! – I love watching our ducklings in their supervised swim time but didn’t anticipate them diving a week after their birth!  They love to dive and as a result when it’s swim time for the ducks, it’s a second shower for me!

8.  Walk the girls – I also didn’t realize how easy it would be to teach ducklings.  I find great joy in going outside on these glorious spring days and walking with the girls.  On our first outing outside I was afraid but quickly noted that they listened to me!  I thought it would be fun to see if they would follow me and to my surprise they did!  And now when I go right they are right at my heals and love every minute of it as do I – it’s an absolute hoot!

It’s been five days of learning about ducks and each moment I love them a little bit more than the last.  My daughter asked me today what I liked more the chicks/hens or the ducks and I couldn’t answer but I’m almost certain I have a special place in my heart for ducks!

Thanks for reading,

The Unlikely Farmer

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