Friday, January 13, 2012

Bye Bye Bossy

This post is part of Farm House Fridays at The Renegade Farmer. When done be sure and check them out. It's a fantastic site for all farmers, famer want-to-be, farm stalkers, whatever.

Eight months ago we did the unthinkable. We listed our farm for sale, the simple reason being :business was too good and it was killing us.  Read all about the sale here

When our four children left home and decided farm ownership was not their preference, (what can I say? They are very bright children) we had two choices, or so we thought. Hire staff and continue growing our organic dairy, beef and pork farm OR sell the whole thing down to the last ground burger pattie in our farm store, and start all over on a tiny homestead growing just enough for the two of us; living off the grid was what we wanted, a long time dream.

Home on the range, our pastured cows enjoy
the outdoors even at end November

But, with only one serious looker (who never called back so don't know why I referred to her as "serious") it appears that many folks love the IDEA of running their own farm but due to lack of time/money/ initiative they would rather we continue the work part while they continue the purchasing part.

We understand. I like driving our new (used) Ford F-150 but I don't want to start manufacturing them.

So, after some time, we discover...option three; downsizing right here. It may be awhile until the right buyer finds South Pork Ranch and wishes to make it their dream, so while we work to make that connection we begin to say Sayonara to some of the most work intensive/costly parts of the farm. We're not sure if and how it can be done here. The house is big and inefficient, the animals are many, and the debt is high as is sadly common with most farm operations. So how do we downsize to a manageable work load while bringing in enough income for mortgage/feed/land rental etc.? Which should come first. the chicken or the egg?

We say the cow.

Our dairy is the most costly part of our farm. We do not grow our own hay or grain and must purchase it and then pay to have it hauled to us. Certified organic hay, grain and now straw, is not cheap. Keith milks 18 cows and we raise their offspring for replacement cows and beef sales, abput 60 head of cattle all told.  That's a lot of hay.

Our first goal: to reduce the milking herd from 18 to 5 by June. Five cows will give us enough milk to continue our raw milk sales, even allowing for a few new customers, which average about $1500 per month, and provide us with all the milk we need personally. It will also provide us with enough to continue feeding our hogs which are more profitable than our dairy.

A Farmer and his Girls

But here comes the tough part. How to decide which cow goes and when? Should we require each Bossy to reapply for her own job or just rely on the good old background check?  Perhaps a "Cow-Cam" placed strategically in the free stall area of the barn will highlight the worst behaved cows and make our decision to ship them, easier.  A few will be available for sale as family milk cows. Gentle and kind, used to daily human contact they are great backyard cows, but  the majority will go to the locker a few at a time to be made into nutritious organic burger .

With each cow gone there will be less manure to scrape and spread, less hay to feed, less repairs in the barn, less fencing to fix, less cleanup in the milk parlor, less flies in the hot sticky summer.

There will also be less of those kind creatures who helped us build our farm, and teach our children about the benefits of hard work, (we taught them so well they said "No Thanks!") Less to show to customers children who visit, less of the bloodlines we worked hard to expand and improve upon.
Less sweet calves with the big brown eyes.

But all dreams come at a cost, and you can't very well downsize without making changes. We just hope we are making the right ones.

PS. About that snow. Yeah we got a couple inches, lots of wind and a cold night but nothing to cry about. Damn Midwest Alarmists


  1. The media likes to get us all worked up about the snow.
    That was a hard decision you made to cut back your dairy herd. How DO you decide who to keep and who to let go?

  2. Wow...this blog was deep and hard hitting for the small farmer and want-to-be farmer, such as myself, to think about. Everything you wrote about was precise; I love the way you write, it is not vague, but is instead with blunt honesty, and you do not hold back sharing the realities of farming. This is one reason I LOVE reading your blog. It is interesting about having to reduce to five milk cows to sustain your raw milk production and personal needs. As for the Cow-Cam...good LOL over here...How do you pick and choose which cow to exercise your Henry the XVIII power as King of the Farm? I don't envy that position; but I sure do respect it.


  3. Life is a constant evolution. If it were not, it would be quite boring ;) I never thought I would be in the place I am now had you asked me 10 years ago, but I am very glad I am. But it took some really rough stuff before this all happened. I think these decisions are coming to you since it is time. What you will pay with your hard decisions now, will reap you a much simpler life, and that IS what your after. Good luck, I am sure it will all work out.

  4. oh, wow, with 15 cows, most of them are probably pets - tough decisions. Interesting that you find the pigs more profitable. The dairy would be much more profitable here in Ireland.
    You left a lovely comment on my blog post ( before Xmas and while I replied, I wasn't sure if you saw the reply. You had asked about our bloggers book club - we would love to have more members so do get in touch if you would like to join us. Our first book for review the 29th Jan is How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

  5. Those are really hard decisions to make about the cows. If you had 200, it would probably be less personalized. But 15, you probably know their own individual personalities by now.

  6. Most of our local milking herds number about 15-20, but most farmers are now going out of milk. Nor do any of them grow tobacco any more. Before long we will have just two locally grown crops; maize and triticale. Otherwise they will chop and sell wood, sell chestnuts and walnuts, and (if lucky) sell cèpes (mushrooms). What a change in the 40 years that I've lived in France.

  7. It seems that you know the issues intimately and it seems a clear common sense approach to the future. Sometimes there is personal pain and yes there are some difficult decisions to make - particularly where your livestock is concerned, but the moment of pain is worth a lifetime of success/contentedness perhaps?

  8. Sounds like your at peace with the decisions your making

  9. MBJ, Lana the decision is based on "best milkers" Best being they are calm in the barn, they are calm while being milked, they have calves easily, they keep weight on well in winter, they rarely(or never) get mastitis, they produce a good amount of milk. And they have nice eyes.

    Lana, thank you. I so enjoy the depth of your blog as well! It;s easy for me to be blunt sometimes since I will always be the "outsider" in our area. I was raised in Chciago and did not start farming until I married Keith as age 33. I also had 10 years in nursing management that gives me a more realistic viewpoint at times, unless I'm sobbing over one of our Banty Roosters who died in the cold this week..sniff...

    Jane, you said it girlfriend! Who knew I would have to work so damn hard to be SIMPLE? So folks are so lucky to be born simple. Seriously, I so wish we started this years ago but years ago I thought I wanted suits and heels and briefcases...funny how life (and the death of two parents when I was in my early 30's) changes your view of "sucess"

    Lorna, in the US 95% of all pigs are raised in confinement, thousnds in small crapped buildings. Farmers sell to huge companies like Tyson and get about 60-90 cents a pound. All our hogs are raised on pasture, lots of room to run. The meat tastes great and we sell it for $2.50 a pound. We always sell out each time we take a load to the locker. We sell to individual cutomers only, no corporations. And yes I will be in touch about the bookclub. THANKS!

    Farmland investments, they each have a personality and a name. One of our all time favorite cows was named "Puppy" because she followed us like one.

    Cro, that sounds so sad and not unlike here. Most farmers around us grow only corn and soybeans. Very few farms have animals outdoors where you can see them, like ours does.

    Rare, I love your well thought out, well presented ideas and YES, we hope so.