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With 2014 a thing of the past, our family has never been so happy to see a new year. Almost every single person in the immediate family and many of the extended family have dealt with a surgery, accident, financial disaster or something else bad this past year. We celebrated the new year with more enthusiasm than ever before and with better food too. We had a rib dinner with lamb, pork and beef ribs all raised here at the ranch. The new year is going to HAVE to be better with that kind of welcome.
So what awaits you and your farming endeavors in the new year?
- Start! Many of you readers have told me that you don’t farm, but reading this column makes you want to. Well, just pick something and start. What are you interested in? Chickens are cheap and fairly easy to care for. A pig is the easiest, in my opinion, but a bit more of an investment. Rather go the plant route? Start a garden. Even if it’s just a basil plant on your kitchen counter, it’s something!
- What are you buying from the store? Farming guru, Joel Salatin, says you should only raise what you’re willing to eat and I think this is a really good philosophy. If you’re buying some food from the store, find a home recipe for it and see how many of the ingredients you can grow yourself to make that product. Your own hen will give you the foundation of mayonnaise. Tomatoes in the garden will provide you with just about everything you need for ketchup. Plus, you get all that without the nasty chemicals the modern food system is pumping into us everyday.
- What can you improve on? If you’re already farming, what can you do better? Do you think you could milk your goat more consistently? Can you build a more secure pen or fix that leaky chicken coop roof?
- What can you do cheaper? Successful farming is all about keeping your costs low. Where can you save expenses? Maybe you could purchase feed bulk, cull some of your older animals or be a bit more responsible about your equipment. For instance, this past week I moved some piglets out of a pen and put a hog into it without taking out their heat lamp. Of course within a day the whole thing was smashed. A pointless expense.
- How can you make your animals or plants happier? A farmer is slave to his land and animals. Hopefully a happy slave, but the farmer’s needs come second. You may be able to build a better shelter, maybe put in a small pasture or plant a tree for shade. Desert land could always use protection from the wind with a cover crop, hedge or tree line. You could offer to muck (clean) your neighbor’s animal pens for some plant friendly manure if you don’t own your own livestock. I guarantee they’ll say yes.
- How can you make yourself and your family happier? You may be slave to your land, but you still have to be happy, and so does your family if you want them to continue to support your farming endeavors. Farming is much better when the whole family is involved. It’s easier and more enjoyable. Is there something you or the family need that would make things better? I often build pens without gates because the gates are the costliest part. This makes getting in and out of pens a major hassle and an accident waiting to happen. Something simple can make a world of a difference. Personally, I have found that quacking ducks are very irritating and this year will be switching to only raising Muscovies which don’t quack. I will be much happier!
- What can you learn? Farming is about constant learning. Ironically, farmers have the reputation of being uneducated and people are often surprised to hear that in my farming family there are two PhD’s and numerous master’s degrees. Farming is a smart person’s job and has always attracted and produced intelligent people (think George Washington and Thomas Jefferson). This is because farming requires vast amounts of knowledge as well as creative thinking and problem solving. What areas do you need to study up on? Do you own a type of livestock and have you read any books on them? Are you up on diseases of your animals or plants? Have you ever studied desert farming or how to build soil? Pick a subject and dedicate 2015 to learning something new.
- Do something out of your comfort zone. Don’t get in a rut with farming. It’s easy to do. Farming is about constant learning, improvement and experimenting. Do something new. Raise a new plant variety or try a new method of growing. Raise an animal for meat. Try a new recipe with whatever you’re growing.
- Share your knowledge with somebody else. More than anything else, farmers need to share their knowledge. While the farming occupation is growing for the first time in a century, it is still less than 1% of our population (as opposed to 90% in 1862). The government is increasingly restricting food freedom, the ability to raise and purchase food. The only fight against this is knowledge. Learn and share with others. Help to create new farmers and help us keep the right to raise, purchase and eat what we want. This should be part of everyone’s 2015 resolution.