Wednesday, February 18, 2015

To Debunk Some Misconceptions...

We've heard and seen it all on our farm, I swear. But after answering the phone 3 different times this weekend alone, just to let people know we don't raise goats, I had to figure out WHY people think we raise goats, and along those lines, consider some other misconceptions on our farm...

  • Those are nice goats you have...
I understand that most folks think sheep are white and fluffy, and having sang the song "Baa Baa Black Sheep", that there is an occasional black sheep. But sheep can be spotty and stripey and white, brown, black, horned or unhorned. They come in all shapes and sizes. Ours are even more special to us, because they are a "hair" breed, so they shed, and don't have to be shorn. But no, these guys aren't goats. These are sheep. Slightly less clever and troublesome, but still will eat almost anything. These are sheep. We don't raise goats, and never have. That being said, we have no idea why people keep calling us for goat milk and goat meat. We don't have it!

  • Why are your chickens so expensive?
Yeah, we get a lot of folks who want cheap food. Our highly subsidized food system makes us believe that chicken should be $0.65/lb and your Thanksgiving turkey should be $0.95/lb. Yeah, the BIG factory farms get some major subsidies and discounts to get you there. So their chicks cost less, their cheap, medicated garbage feed probably costs pennies to the dollar for the organic, non-GMO feed that I supply. Plus, those birds are in a controlled environment, AKA a giant airplane hangar with concrete floors. My guys are outside. Sure, we lose some to predators, we lose some to stupidity, and we lose some to weather, but we don't lose them to illness and trampling. And ours get to live a happy life.  I could do the math, but it's been done for me here, the cost of raising meat chickens. There also is a great article talking about the WHOLE chicken, and how the price isn't so hard to swallow when you figure in using ALL the bird - not just the breast. Besides, the cheap grocery store chicken not only is raised in deplorable conditions, the heavy use of antibiotics is bad for them, bad for us and bad for the environment.

All that being said, yeah, raising birds isn't easy or free. And at the end of the day, I buy a chick, I buy a bunch of feed, and I provide water. Once I get the chick, I raise it for its whole life. It never leaves my farm. I butcher it here, I package it here, I sell it here. And you know what? I don't ever get paid. If I had to pay my mortgage with my farm, I can't even imagine what my prices would be, and how fast people would run to the hills. But why can't my farm pay for its whole self? Why shouldn't it pay for the land it is on, the electricity it uses, and my time? We're still stuck in the middle here, and the mindset is that my prices are too high? I have to work 2 jobs to make this work, and there are plenty of people that still think that food produced on family farms is too expensive.

  • Farmers are always on the farm
As seen above in the cost breakdown of JUST raising meat birds, we don't get paid for our labor. That includes daily feeding, building of fences and pens, managing water, and the slaughtering process. we barely get paid back from our inputs, the farm certainly doesn't pay the mortgage. I like Joel Salatin, his books helped encourage us to get started. But he had 400 acres handed down to him from his family. OH what I could do with 400 free acres! No, I have a mortgage to pay. Therefore, we work off the farm to pay for that.  There's also no way that selling eggs would ever allow us to remodel our kitchen. So we work off the farm. We keep our prices low that way, and folks still complain. That means, we are busy off the farm and race home at night to take care of the farm. Not only are we not always here, but even when we are, we are busy caring for our family, feeding our critters and working on farm and home improvement projects. That doesn't mean folks aren't welcome here, we love having customers visit. But that does mean if you just stop by, you might not find us.

  • Hens need roosters to lay eggs
This one always cracks me up. Hens don't need roosters to lay eggs. Humans don't need the male of the species to go into menstruation, either. Hens need roosters if they want fertile eggs. Roosters sometimes act as protectors of their flock (try catching a hen and seeing if the roo doesn't come over to check out what's up) though they stand little chance against coyotes, foxes and owls. Too many roosters can actually be a bad thing for the flock, as the girls will get harassed all day long by their amorous advances. The right ratio of roosters to hens allows you to have fertile eggs that you can hatch, which is fun. But just because the egg is fertile doesn't mean you run the risk of cracking and egg and finding something gross inside. If you collect eggs daily and refrigerate them, they won't develop into chicks. My incubator is set at 102 deg F. That's the temp needed to develop. That isn't going to happen with eggs sitting on the counter, or in the fridge. And having a rooster or two on them farm is just nice, they have great personalities, and honestly, I love to hear them crow!

  • Sheep only give birth in the Spring
While some critters have a seasonal estrus, our sheep can go into estrus at any time. And with a 5 month gestation period, they can have 2 lambings per year. Some of our ladies are self regulating, and just don't let the ram have access. Some of them seem more eager to be moms. We take rams away for periods of time to give them all a break from birthing. But, unfortunately, they don't only lamb in the spring. We've had lambs born in the worst winter days, and I swear sheep have a knack for that. We try to encourage spring lambing, as it allows them to grow to butcher weight before winter, so we don't have to feed them hay in the winter time! It's a challenge to manage, as that means the moms are pregnant most of the winter, and they consume a lot more hay when pregnant. Sometimes you just can't win. But this does allow us to have lambs all year round,  meaning we can always stock our freezer with fresh lamb, instead of sending it all to butcher at once!

  • When it rains, turkeys will drown themselves by looking at the sky and filling up with rain water
While I have never seen that happen, I have seen turkeys find very creative ways to die. And it's heartbreaking every time. Chickens are smart enough to roost in their coops every night. Turkeys want to live in the forest. I've had turkeys live all winter spending their nights in an Aspen tree. No leaves for cover, and they didn't die. So they are hearty birds. But still, they will figure ways to drown (don't let them near uncovered stock tanks or ponds), ways to get trapped (make sure your brooders and fencing don't have spaces where they can get a head or foot stuck), or just plain stubbornness (brooding in an open field, and becoming coyote bait). No, I've never seen them drown in a rain storm, but they will stand in the rain until they are completely soaked and shivering, not even thinking to take cover. It's a bad sign when the ducks take cover in their coop, and the turkeys are still standing in the rain!

  • Farming and ranching are our business here, not butchering
 This one is a bit more tricky. We butcher birds. We advertise that we butcher birds. But it's just an offshoot of what we do. We don't do it every day, we don't do it in winter. It really just became a subsidiary of the farm because we have all the gear, we have the knowledge, and we have the ability. It helps us pay for the cost of very expensive butchering equipment. It keeps us in practice. But as I have already stated, we work OFF the farm. Then we come home to take care of our animals and our gardens. That being said, sometimes we need a weekend off the farm! Sometimes we need a weekend when we aren't elbow deep in chicken bits. So we aren't always available to butcher.  I think I went a 9 week stretch last year of butchering every weekend. That was time not spent with my daughter, time not spent doing repair work or projects on the farm. The price we charge barely covers supplies alone, and certainly isn't making me rich. And I get up at 4AM to make it all happen. Butchering is a service we provide to the community, because not many places can do it. But we don't want to make a living out of it.

  • You must farm and ranch because you love it!
Yes. Yes we do.