Agriculture, Farming, Uncategorized

When Things Aren’t Going Quite Right

This is going to be a really honest post and it will probably be a little bit all over the place. There are a couple things that have been weighing on my heart lately and I want to talk about it.

First, I will say that I have an amazing life. My husband supports me and my crazy dreams. I have a perfect son who is turning out to be a smaller, male version of me. Our farm is becoming more successful and I recently graduated with my Master’s degree in Agricultural and Extension Education. I love my life and I thank God for it every day. That being said, not everything is just perfect.

The last 9 months of my life have been a health disaster for me. First I dealt with pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome when I had Kenton. A week later I went back in for an emergency D&C because I had retained a super tiny piece of the placenta and had a 103 degree fever. Then, all fall I worked 50-65 hours a week and was hit with a string of colds, my first ear infection in like 20 years, a sinus infection, and several bouts of gastritis. (Not to mention an ER trip because I was rushing and hit my head pretty hard on a board in the back of my truck). Lately I have just felt blah so I went to see my doctor. When I was there he said “boy, you’ve had kind of a rough year!”Thanks buddy. He then proceeded to have me have my blood drawn several times and an ultrasound of my thyroid done because he thinks I have a chronic condition where my own immune system attacks my thyroid.

The one thing that could probably have prevented (or lessened the effect of) every single one of those things would have been to significantly reduce stress. I should have seen the warning signs from a mile away, but I was too darn stubborn to allow myself to acknowledge that my body was crying out for a reduction in stress. Now here I sit, with a condition that could either resolve in a year or it could last the rest of my life because I put my body through more than it could handle. My case is extreme. Most people do not subject themselves to the level of both external and internal stress that I did from last summer through now, but I hope that I can serve as an example for what NOT to do to yourself.

Something else that has been weighing on me lately is also stress related and has added a little more concern to my life because I spend all day at my real job worrying about farmers. Right now is a really hard time to be a commodity farmer and it makes me very thankful that I have a niche market I work with. Crop prices are really, really low. In many cases farmers can’t cover their cost of production. The dairy industry is in a crisis. We have bred cows to be better milkers and as a result there are less dairy cows than there used to be, but we are producing more milk. Because we are producing more milk, prices keep dropping, farmers are selling out.

Farmers’ whole lives are farming. Day in and day out it is what they love and it is how they have chosen to raise their families. Farming is less of a career and more of a lifestyle. But what does a farmer do when he fails? When for the second year in a row he can’t pay his bills and prices are so low he probably won’t be able to pay them this year either? What does he do when he feels like he is letting down both the generations that came before him and the one he is trying to raise?

Right now farmer suicide rates are climbing. They don’t feel like they have any other course of action so they are ending their lives. I don’t know what we can do to stop it, but it terrifies me every day that I will get the call that I have lost one of my guys because they just couldn’t do it anymore. It is hard for me to understand what a dark place they must be in to think that their lives are worthless, but I am hopeful that the more we talk about it, the more we can bring the problem into the light and help the farmers that are dealing with that kind of burden. Fortunately, mental health crisis hotlines have been set up specifically for this and resources are being dispatched to try to reduce that massive suicide rate.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that your physical and mental health are really important. Whether you think about them daily or not, you should make taking care of yourself a top priority. When you let it fall behind things like a paycheck, school, a baby, 2 jobs, or a farm, your physical and mental health can get away from you before you even realize what has happened. So spend some time taking care of yourself. You have people that love you and need you to be healthy.

Moving forward I hope to be more open for you guys. I want you to know exactly what I’m handling and what is happening on the farm. I haven’t been communicative on here lately and its probably because of the million other things I have had going on. So I promise that I will do better and I promise that I will talk about the farm, family, health, and nutrition in the coming months as I work to find a balance of those things in my life.

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Agriculture, Farming, Uncategorized

Lessons he’ll never learn in school

Last night I was in the greenhouse holding Kenton. It was dark and there was a light rain pattering on the plastic.I started thinking about all of the things that this little man  will learn from growing up on a farm that he will never learn at school. He may only be seven months old, but he has already seen so much.

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Kenton will grow up with animals around all the time. God willing, there will never be a time when there are no animals on this farm. For him normal will be being followed around the pasture by a herd of nosy goats or always having a farm cat nearby. That might be a messy proposition (because animals make messes) but he will learn to respect every one of those creatures from a day old chick all the way up to the largest boss cow. He will know that every creature on this Earth deserves to be treated kindly.

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Kenton will understand compassion. He will watch his dad euthanize a suffering animal. He will hear his mama worry about that rooster she “should have butchered two years ago” when she can’t find him in the barnyard and she knows he was hurt. He will learn to treat wounds and illnesses in his animals. He will learn that it is best to show just a little more kindness than is necessary.

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Kenton will understand hard work. He will see us load chickens early in the morning and pull calves late at night. He will shovel stalls and clean the chicken house. He will fix equipment and build fence. He will throw hay bales in the heat of summer. He will help me market our products so that we can maybe make enough money to carry on the farming tradition.

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Most importantly, Kenton will learn the value of family. He will learn how we can lean on each other in times of joy and in times of crisis. We will work side by side together and grow as a team. He will always know that his mama and dad are there for him to help guide him in whatever his dreams may be.

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I know that whether or not Kenton decides he wants to farm when he grows up, he will take the lessons he has learned on our farm with him. While I hope that he wants to carry on what we have started, I know that I cannot make my dreams for him his own. Given that Jonathan and I have a combined 38 years of classroom education, we know the value of what you learn in a classroom. We also know that there are some things that cannot be taught in a classroom and we feel confident that what Kenton learns from growing up on our little farm will be some of the most valuable lessons he will experience.

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This Post is Marginally On Topic

Every morning when I get to work, I look up and print out a motivational quote for the day. This is probably a terrible use of office resources, but it gives me a good jumping off point for the day and every time I look at it during the day it reminds me to refocus. Also, I’m super cheesy and really like motivational quotes. Because I have been struggling lately with it, I found myself browsing through quotes about self care. This is the one I picked out.

Self Care

Self care is this super cheesy buzzword that has been flying around for a while now. As we established earlier I am super cheesy, so I’m a big fan of this idea. I also suck at it.

This fall has been pure chaos. I have an infant who somehow got a cold that seemed to never end and he didn’t sleep through the night for almost a month because he was waking up coughing. Harvest never seemed to stop, which meant I was working somewhere around 60 hours a week most weeks. I was working through one of my most reading-intensive graduate school classes. I picked up a side gig 8-10 hours a week for some extra money. AND we have a major project going on the farm. I was responding to other people’s requests for my time and making sure I fit their needs into my schedule. No wonder there were days I felt like I was drowning.

With all of the things I did do this fall, there were even more things I didn’t do. I didn’t get to play with my son for more than a few minutes each night. I didn’t get to go to my favorite aerial yoga class. I didn’t get to visit my best friend. I didn’t get to read a book for pleasure. I didn’t get my eyebrows waxed. I didn’t get to spend hardly any time running or at the gym. I didn’t get to go to church very frequently. I didn’t get to take Kenton to the zoo or the science museum. I didn’t get to spend much time taking care of my livestock. I didn’t get to cuddle in bed with my dogs.

All of these things are things that I love and that feed my soul. They relax me and help me reset my brain so that I can work better and more efficiently. When I’m burned out, those things rekindle my fire for life. In short, they contribute to my happiness, balance, and well-being; just like that quote says.

Its really easy to get caught up in what has to be done, and miss out on those self-care things. So what was it that made me realize I was being really bad at taking care of myself? Well, luckily for me, I have some experience pushing myself too far without investing in myself (this is sarcasm). First, I got a cold. A really bad cold. From an infant. I got sick and couldn’t kick it. Then I started breaking out, another one of my body’s best stress responses. Then my gut reacted. I’ve actually made two different emergency room visits for this in my life. Every time I swear I’m going to change my lifestyle, and I do for a while. Basically, my stomach starts to hurt and eventually it feels like someone is stabbing me in the stomach and the pain is so intense that I can’t function. So I go to the ER they do a bunch of scans, tell me its either gastritis or an ulcer, give me some heartburn meds and tell me to watch the spicy food and coffee for a while. Maybe they’ll even send me to a gastroenterologist just to be safe. Luckily this year I caught myself before I hit the ER. I noticed myself headed that direction and decided it was time to stop.

So last Sunday I did a couple things. First, I folded laundry. This sounds silly but it relaxes me and I feel better having it done. Then I dropped the baby off with mom and I went to my yoga class. Then I came home and I laid in bed with the baby and my dog until it was time for me to drive to my best friend’s house and hang out with her until hubby got off work. After that, we ordered a pizza and did farm chores. That night Kenton slept through the night for the first time in a long time. It was great.

I’ll admit, I have regressed a little this week and haven’t made it to the gym and have been nose to the grindstone at work and with school. But now that I have publicly come out as terrible at self care, I HAVE to be committed to be better at it!

I encourage you to be better at it too! In the United States, farmer suicides are on the rise, so even my tough farmer friends need to decide what it is that contributes to their happiness, balance and well-being and chase those things. You cannot pour from an empty glass, so make sure that you are taking the time to refill your glass!

As for me, tonight I will be hitting the treadmill, putting a roast in the oven, and hanging out with my dogs and my baby until hubby gets home!

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A Turkey-licious Adventure

So we have been raising poultry for a while now on our farm. We are pretty good at raising broilers. We know when to switch from starter to grower feed, how to watch for pasty butt, how to help them adjust to fluctuating weather conditions and temperatures, and a myriad of other little details you need to know to raise meat chickens. When I proposed that we give raising turkeys a shot for Thanksgiving, it seemed like an easy decision. Besides, they’re just bigger chickens… right???

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I’m pretty sure I could not have been more wrong. To give you an idea of how successful our first attempt at raising turkeys was, we started out with 18 birds! We finished with THREE. Yeah. That gave me a 16% success rate… Boy did I feel like an idiot.

Before you start thinking to yourself “how did she screw that up that badly!! Can you believe she killed ALL of those birds??? What a moron.” Let me explain exactly what went wrong.

  1. I broke one of my cardinal rules of literally everything. I trusted Google. Not only did I trust Google, but I trusted a discussion board that I had found through Google. The saying that “Google knows everything” is definitely true, but that means that Google knows things that are true and untrue and everything in between. It is up to the user to discern which is true and which isn’t. My first mistake was believing the discussion board I found that turkey poults (young turkeys) could be started using just the same starter grower feed you use for chickens. This is false. Don’t try this. You will lose an absurd amount of poults in a very short amount of time. We switched to a feed with significantly higher protein and all of a sudden our poults stopped dying. Unfortunately, within a three day span we had lost like 12. I was bitter because I had just lost about $60 worth of turkey poults because I didn’t think through something all the way. Avoid this mistake. Don’t trust discussion boards.
  2. I failed to research whether there were any quirks to raising turkeys versus chickens. The answer is there are. First, was the feed difference. That cost me the most. I also didn’t know a ton about turkey behavior, so when they weren’t walking around much as they got older, I just thought it was a product of the turkey putting on weight fast that they didn’t want to stand, which is what chickens do, not a joint infection. Once again, I was wrong. Also, had I read about it at all I would have known that turkeys are notoriously hard to raise.

We had a joint infection come through the flock. This one we didn’t have much control over. Luckily for us, we were able to address the issue quickly and start the remaining sick turkeys with an antibiotic and save their lives. Fortunately, the joint infection hit the herd early enough that the meat withhold was up by the time they went to butcher. We still had to wrestle a turkey every day for a while and give it a shot. Which, btw, is not fun. Also, we lost another 5 turkeys in the 2 days it took us to realize that the first turkey dying wasn’t just a freak thing and come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. This also sucked.img_6258.jpg

Our remaining three turkeys thrived and reached an acceptable weight for butcher by the date we had them scheduled. We sold two to people outside our family and my mom bought the third for our Thanksgiving dinner. This Sunday she cooked it for our family and it was delicious! All of our struggles had at least paid off in that we got a delicious turkey to share with our family! I certainly learned a lot about raising turkeys, but also about using the internet to learn things in general from this experience. Now I can’t wait to start more turkeys for next year!!

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The Part I Hate.

I hate taking my livestock to the butcher. I’m not sure there is any farmer that looks forward to the moment they have their animals that they have worked so hard to raise and spent so much time on loaded up ready to go to the butcher. This week we took our turkeys to the butcher and I was incredibly sad to see them go. Seriously, it always sucks.

BUUUUT…

I also know I am making a sound decision sending my livestock to butcher. Here is why. Many, many thousands of years ago, before we had domesticated animals humans had to hunt all of our food. Over time we have domesticated a large number of animals starting with dogs, then cats domesticated themselves (because we all know that cats don’t do anything on anyone’s terms but their own) and on to livestock and other animals. The one thing that all domesticated animals have in common is that they exist with humans in a mutually beneficial relationship. For dogs, this meant that the dogs and humans would work to protect each other and hunt. For cats this meant that humans would supply them food and shelter and in return they would kill the rodents that spread disease and destroyed food in ancient Egypt. For livestock, this means that we provide them with everything they need in life (food, water, shelter, healthcare, protection from predators, etc…) and in return they help us nourish our bodies. (Fun Fact: Chickens were originally domesticated for fighting!)

It is that simple. We help them and eventually they help us. In science they call this a symbiotic relationship, where both parties need the other to live. I am positive that I gave my animals the best life they could have in the time they are on my farm and I am incredibly thankful for the fact that I am able to nourish my family, myself, and my customers using those animals.turkey

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A Pork Public Service Announcement

My fellow Americans,

We have done a great disservice to the pork industry (and the meat industry in general). You see, farmers listen to consumers, and adapt their production methods accordingly- just as any good company listens to its customers. A number of years ago a study was published regarding the effects of dietary fat (aka fat that you eat in your food) on heart health. This caused the nation to go into a frenzy over eliminating fats from our diet. The demand for “lean meats” became pervasive and farmers began to breed for leaner and leaner animals. As consumers continued to demand lean meat for decades, the animals got even leaner and the National Pork Board launched its “Pork, the other white meat” campaign. The days of a beautifully marbled (the intramuscular fat that gives meat flavor) bright red pork chop from the grocery store were gone and consumers were left to figure out how to make that plain, pale, completely fatless pork chop they wanted so badly taste good. In addition, the true effect of dietary fat on heart health has come into question. The pork industry isn’t the only one this has happened to. The cattle industry is suffering similarly.

It is no wonder that meat sales are decreasing.

My friends, I present to you here a pork chop from a heritage breed hog.

   

This chop looks almost nothing like what you would find in the grocery store, because consumers decades ago decided that this wasn’t what they wanted. Consumers are missing out on the full, rich flavor of a pork chop that looks like this! I think that this is simply unfair! Unfortunately, demand is a very strong pressure and farmers are obligated to respond.

There is good news though! Heritage breeds with stunning marbling do exist! This is a hog that we raised just for ourselves, but we are considering raising some for sale in the next year. If you think that buying a share of pork is something you might be interested in, send us a message or drop us a comment! Your input helps us decide what we will raise!

And who knows? Maybe we can work together to make pork great again!