It’s been quite some time since I sat down to write a new blog post. I had a few written back in the winter of 2019 outlining what we had been doing on the farm and what our plans for the future were, but for some reason we never published them to the site. When I sat down to read them last night, I was kind of glad we hadn’t posted those. While there was some good information in them about what we had been doing with our chickens, pigs, turkeys, and farmer’s market; the future plans I had envisioned were way off course. I’m not even sure where to start here, but I’m going to try to get you up to speed on what we’ve been up to the last year and half or so, what we’re doing now, and where we see things headed in the future.
We left you hanging back in March of 2019, shortly after we had taken a glorious vacation to Mexico with some friends. Thinking about getting on a plane with friends now and flying to a beach sounds surreal given the circumstances of the past year, but man it sounds great. Anyway, back in the summer of 2019 we decided to try our hand at selling at the Lawrence Farmer’s Market. We didn’t have any product available early in the season, so we decided to start at the market on the 1st of June with pasture-raised, organic fed chicken and eggs. The response was great given our limited product assortment and we ended up meeting some wonderful people at the market. We ended up getting our first 7 pigs in April of 2019 (we were supposed to have 6, but the farmer we got them from accidentally loaded 7 and we didn’t realize until we got them home! Don’t worry, we paid for number 7 :)). Our February-born pigs were ready to be processed in September and we were incredibly excited to try out our very own pork. We decided to keep two gilts back to breed because our piglet provider didn’t end up having fall piglets for us like he thought he would and we decided we didn’t like relying on others for our pig availability. We sold several half hogs and then took the rest to the market where we quickly sold through most of what we had available. We ended up processing the other two gilts in January of 2020 just to have some more pork. Honestly, we should have just processed them in September with the others and focused on getting the breeding stock we really wanted. While the pork we got off them was good, it wasn’t as good as the stuff we processed earlier since those gilts had gotten pretty large.
So in total in 2019 we ended up raising 7 pigs, a couple hundred meat chickens, and 50 turkeys. It was a pretty good start and we definitely got comfortable with the pigs quickly. Unfortunately, the wheels kind of fell off in 2020. We had planned to grow our operation a bit for 2020 and made plans for more meat chickens, pigs, and turkeys. Everything was going fine when we ordered our meat chickens, but then they never showed up when they were supposed to be here. The hatchery kept pushing back our delivery to the point we had to cancel our processing dates with our processor because they weren’t going to be grown out in time. We ended up canceling our chicken order and just eating the leftover whole chickens we had in our freezer and didn’t sell any chicken beyond February of 2020.
Our pig situation went in a similar direction. Our pig supplier ended up getting out of farming and the other farm we had talked to about getting piglets ended up not having any to sell us because their business was booming with the Covid rush. We ended up deciding to just eat the pork we had in the freezer for ourselves and focus on getting through the pandemic while we refocused the direction we wanted our farm to take.
When a lot of small farms were able to ramp up production, we pretty much shut things down. Although our hatchery and pig breeder couldn’t get us what we needed, we could have found other resources. However, at that time we were also making the decision to not send our kids back to school. So as we tried to figure out homeschooling on the fly and with my other business firing up for the season, we just didn’t have a lot of bandwidth to put into the farm. It was disappointing for us and I know many of our customers were bummed when we finally ran out of product.
It wasn’t all bad, though. As we’ve taken some time away from farm production it has given us time to think about the direction we want to take things here. We either have to shift heavily to just homesteading or really ramp up and have a steady stream of product available for customers. This middle ground isn’t going to work. We still haven’t exactly made that decision yet because we don’t want to rush into it without being fully committed and having a plan. That said, we have decided our focus for 2021 needs to be on infrastructure. For too long we (I) have tried to operate by the seat of my pants with just-in-time coops, fences, etc. and on a shoestring budget. The beauty of homesteading is that you can do that. That doesn’t fly in business. And honestly, it’s not really flying for homesteading anymore either. After years of doing everything the hard (and cheap) way, we’ve reached the point where it’s getting old. Now, please strap into your DeLorean and come back to the future with me.
Where we’re going we don’t need roads. But, we do need infrastructure! We have decided that no matter what we do with the farm in the future, we’re going to continue raising our own food at a minimum. To make doing that enjoyable again, we need to work smarter, not harder. We’ve got a number of improvements to make and I plan to document them along the way (on the blog and hopefully with some youtube videos as well). We need new mobile coops for meat and egg chickens. I’ve got a plan for that and I think our new coops are going to fit the bill as good sturdy, but easily moveable structures. We’ve had good luck with the hoop coops I’ve made in the past, but they’re a bit heavier than I’d like. And our most recent egg mobile was great until the overbuilt structure destroyed the 6 wheels and tires bolted to it. We also need permanent fencing. We’ve been using portable electric net fence for several years now and if you’ve ever moved that around you’ve probably said a few curse words. It’s not so bad out in the pasture, but the process of clearing the underbrush in the woods to run the pig fence is quite a pain. We’ve also had pigs and chickens get caught in it and it’s just something I’d rather not deal with anymore. Our pastures are still unfenced as well and I’d like to get some perimeter fencing up so that we can start utilizing them to run some cattle or other ruminants the keep the grass down in front of the chickens.
We also need a barn and a shop and a….ok, I won’t keep going. Our other focus this year is on our personal garden. We’ve been tilling up a patch down in our field that used to be old crop ground, but it’s pretty poor clay-heavy soil with a lot of weed seeds and mediocre access to water. We’ve had a lot of hits and misses down there, but again, it’s more work than we should be putting in for the reward we’re getting out. This year we’ve sketched up a plan for a series of raised beds up by our house. We wanted something aesthetically pleasing, so we designed it to come off the patio of our walkout basement with a stone walkway down the middle flanked by garden beds that leads to a sitting area for our fire pit. Oh, and did I mention each bed will have a waterline to it? We’re about to order the materials to get started on that and we’ll keep you updated on that progress as we go. We’ve got quite a few seeds started inside and look forward to having a more manageable garden this year.
So, anyway, there you have it. I couldn’t possibly fit everything into this post, but hopefully now you’ve got an idea of what’s been going on with us. Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth with the blog. This is something I plan to devote a lot more energy to this year. Cheers to a year of great homesteading successes!