August 17, 2010

Tough Decisions on the Farm

When I was a child I dreamed of living on a farm. I do not know exactly when I decided I wanted to live in the country, I know it was even before my sister and I started taking horseback riding lessons and that was at age 8. It quite possibly was one of my very first wants in life...right after a pet giraffe. I never did get that pet giraffe as a child but as an adult I did eventually get the life in the country I have always dreamed of and have had the pleasure of living it for the last 13 years.

I think the thing I love the most about having acreage of my own is the possibilities are almost endless. All those wonderful possibilities also come with lots of decisions to be made though. Most important of these is what type of farm is this going to be? My husband and I made the decision quite a long time ago that ours was going to be a working farm. We will never get rich from it and I don't see us both ever being able to not have to work off the farm but we will gain self-sufficiency and make a small profit each year from it. That is our goal, and one that demands many decisions on the farm come from a business perspective. This is not always easy and I do my best to try and balance what I think is right for the individual animal with what is in the best interest of the entire herd and farm as a whole.

A couple years ago I was shopping for a new Boer buck for our goat herd. My husband and I went to quite a few different farms and talked to several different goat breeders. One lady we talked too has had success buying and raising meat goats and selling them direct to ethnic buyers. She has done the leg work and is no doubt a farmer with a very good business head on her shoulders. I have a great deal of respect for her and could no doubt learn a few things from her about making a farm profitable. While we were there she pointed out an old doe and told us with pride that she had kidded 14 times with at least twins and usually triplets or quads each time. She then told us that goat was going on the next truck to be jerky, mostly do to her age no doubt along with some udder problems she had developed recently.

This could just be the difference between someone who was raised on a farm (as she obviously was) and someone like me who spent my childhood with pet dogs and cats but a doe like that would earn a permanent retirement on my farm. I do have a few older does like Trouble and Hope that have certainly done right by me and this farm and they will live out the rest of their lives here. Still, we simply can not keep them all or this would quickly turn into a goat sanctuary and retirement home, not a farm with any possible hope of being self sustaining.

On the other side of that coin I know a couple people that have some beautiful goats but they hardly ever sell any female goats from their fairly large herds, most are kept from birth to death. I am not talking about a few pets but large herds. These people are clearly attached to their animals, as they give them every thing they have. While I certainly respect this and consider it noble, these herds just keep growing larger each year causing considerable financial strain for their owners. This has the potential to affect the entire herd negatively.

I try my best to find a balance between these two extremes. One with respect for the individual animal, but not over the health and well-being of the herd as a whole and not over our goals of being a self-sustaining farm. I don't want to make each decision with cold and callous profit margins in mind but I also do not want to let my sensitive heart lead our farm into bankruptcy either. If you are going to raise meat goats, many are going to go for meat... there is a reason it is in the name and not all dairy bucklings can (or even should be) sold as herd sires either.

Only the best few bucklings each year are left intact on our farm, all others are wethered. I also know we can't keep every doe born on the place no matter how cute they are. I will send a female goat that doesn't meet our standards to the sale barn just the same as a buckling. That is not to say I also won't go out of my way to place a particularly special and sweet natured animal that is healthy but not as productive on our farm in a good pet home over making a few bucks at the sale barn with them. I still have to be able to sleep at night.

We reduced the goat herd this year and I had to look at individual animals and decide who was going to stay and who was going to go. These are the type of decisions while certainly not easy are necessary on the farm. I sold most of our good four year old 50% Boer does in our herd. These were a good deal for someone else, productive does that are at their prime, while I kept their younger, higher percentage Boer yearling daughters. That was not the easiest thing to do, as all of those does had been on our farm since birth but maintaining a herd size our pastures can easily support is essential not only from an economic and goal achieving stand-point but also for over-all herd improvement and health.

So what are the difficult decisions you face on your farm or homestead and how do you make them?


IsobelleGoLightly said...

My lady says she completely understands the difficulty in having a working farm. Thank goodness for us (phew) that she only has us five goats, three horses, dogs, birds and chickens as pets. We are here at the farm for life. Because of this she says that there won't be any babies born here because she knows she'd keep them all!

~Tonia said...

I have a lot of the same decisions as you all do.. I do have certain goats that are here for life. Some that if needed I would find other homes for. I had to come to a decision on how many does, wethers and bucks this place could hold with out over crowding. I sold some before we moved and kept two girls this year. However after having a mostly buck year. I had several that were nice boys and would have made excellent crossbred bucks for a commercial herd but there were so many boys online I posted them for sale once or twice then just banded everyone. I dont have the room to keep them separate all the time.
But things are still a little to crowded especially with winter getting closer. So I am hopefully working out a deal with a friend where they will take all 6 wethers to clear off property and will be rotating them to eat brush in exchange for 2 to butcher for their meat. So we will see.. Otherwise some may have to go for slaughter at about 9 months instead of a year.
All of my animals are suppose to have a purpose but I agree if I have a doe that has kidded 14 times successfully then heck yeah that girl can live out her life as the farm mascot if nothing else!
Farm life does have some tough decisions if you are going to make some sort of profit anyway.. If mine gives us good food and a little cash now and then that is what I am aiming for..

polly's path said...

oh, am I glad you posted this. I can't tell you how many times over the last 12 months we have had that discussion about our farm. We fall in the category of people who grew up with animals as beloved pets, and we have treated our goats the same way.
We have, however, reached the point where we are trying to decide on what is our goal for the farm. Since we started, it has been self-sufficiency. We too can't afford to quit our day jobs-I always say that it's our day jobs that support our farming addiction. I just got another tax bill, and looking at my farm journal with a purely financial eye, we have not made a cent where the goats are concerned, actually we have had huge expenses. Our gardens have provided for our table and enough to share with friends, but the goat side of things is...unfocused. What are we doing? Who are we keeping? Who should we sell? Do we sell? We want to keep them all...we can't keep them all. Which baby do we sell...we can't sell any of our babies...I am so lost.
Again, I am glad you posted this. Any word of advice will be greatly appreciated.

Flartus said...

That right there is one of the biggest reasons that the only food-related animals I'd plan to have on any acreage would be chickens. I could stand to send young roosters off to slaughter, but not anything with hooves or big brown eyes!

I think you're doing the right thing for yourself, trying to strike that balance between business and consideration for your animals. I suppose the first time you have to choose which ones to sell off must be the hardest.

Brenda said...

I'm having to make the same kind of difficult decisions with my dairy goats. I was hoping to expand my barn this summer to be able to house more does for milking next season ... and I kept too many of the doelings born this spring. Since the barn didn't get expanded this summer, I'm having to make the very difficult decision as to the does to sell. I know how many I can house without overcrowding ... but since most of them have been born and hand raised here on the farm ... it is SO hard to sell them to new homes. Sometimes, I tell myself that maybe I can make it work, but I know I have to sell several. Augh! I know I shouldn't fall in love with them, but it happens. It's easier to sell them when they're bottle babies and haven't stolen my heart. :D

farmlady said...

This is the hard reality of true farm life. Most of us have "hobby" farms and we deal with our animals like pets.
Unless you have been raised on a working farm this reality is a hard thing to come to terms with.
I can tell you are torn over what to do, but I'm sure that you will reach a decision you can live with.

Jennifer said...

Isobelle, your lady is a very special person and you are very lucky to have found such a nice forever home. I was lucky enough to find such a nice pet home for one of our dairy goats I could no longer milk (bad combination of wrist problems and a not easy to milk udder).

Tonia, I hope you can work out that deal with renting your goats out to clear brush. We would like to do the same thing. We have a friend whose 80 acre property is over grown with sericea lespedeza. It would be such a great benefit to us both, his land cleared by the goats (saving him spraying costs of $11 an acre) and free food/space for our goats for the summer. The problem is fencing! Portable fencing to be able to move them is so expensive!

Polly, my husband is probably a better person to ask advice about this than I am. I often struggle with selling goats that I know should be sold but I get attached. The best advice I can give is to look at the herd as a whole and then write out a business plan. Decide what your goals are and what your ideal goat/herd will be. Then write down what you don't want your herd to be. (fence jumpers, hoof problems, etc) and cull those goats. The MOST expensive part of raising goats is their feed, and it costs the same to feed productive goats as non-productive ones. That is what I tell myself to get through these decisions anyway!

Flartus - It makes it easier if I do not name the bucklings at all. I have even started waiting 6 months or more to name the does. It is just harder to sell them once I give them a name. You could still keep a couple dairy goats for milk. A good dairy goat should be able to be milked well over a year before having to be bred back. It is not so hard to find homes for just a few kids every couple years and you would still have milk if food for your table is your primary goal.

Brenda, I feel your barn pains, I really got my hopes up not long ago we were going to get a large barn built. Extra bills came up and it didn't get done. Still hoping it will get done next year though!

Jennifer said...

Farmlady, deciding who to sell each year is always the most difficult decision for me! We have been doing this for 8 years or better now and it still is. We consider our farm a working farm because we expect the animals to pay for themselves and produce a small profit, but I also know most true working farms do not keep any "retirees" but we will have a few of those on our farm.

Pricilla said...

It is hard when you came to animal farming later in life. I know I will not be able to put my Pricilla in the freezer. She has gone to pasture and will be a pet 'til she dies. The others I have made the decision - and it was not easy but we only have so much land and resources - to take them to the butcher. Some kids we have been able to place in good homes, others not. I would rather see them humanely put down at the butchers. And our butcher is a good one than sent to a place where they will not be cared for properly. And around here there are a LOT of places where that would happen.

I was a city girl but am learning the art of farming. Hard decisions and all.

Nekkid Chicken said...

I just found your blog. I enjoyed this post.


goatpod2 said...

We have decided to not sell anymore goats here on our farm though & we took down our websites, etc.


Teresa said...

It is one of the hardest things to ever decide. My herd has increased to 22 does. The biggest expense for me was the hay to feed through winter. With buying another 68 acres with crop land to go with pasture and hay, it really helps me move towards being self-suffient. However, I still need to build more shelter, which our weather prevented. All of my girls will retire (and I was planning a post on this soon). I can't retire stinky boys but I try to find them good homes. I don't wether my boys and even at the sale barn, I try to group them to give everyone the best chances to find their own forever farm. I sell lower prices to know they've gone to a good home. I'm probably not a good one to ask though because I have a 13 year old steer.

Terry said...

Loaded question! In 25 years of goating we have had as few as 2 (the first year) and as many as 85. Now we maintain a herd of roughly 19 including 2 bucks. We also have two breeds Nubians (our first like so many) and LaManchas.

My wonderful vet. always said"goat people are large animal people with small animal mentality." And he is correct.

It is very difficult to not let your heart before your head with these lovely critters. Very personal able are they.

The best answer I have found to the situation is to bred less. Then you don't and can't keep as many!

o.k. cowards way out

Kelly said...

Good post! We are only a year and a half into our farming venture that started as just raising healthy animals to provide healthy eggs and milk for us. It seems like making a little money is do-able, but not sure I want to get into the certifications that would be needed to sell raw milk and milk products.
I appreciate reading your perspective. I thought I might have trouble eating an animal I knew, but that hasn't been an issue. We currently have 4 does and 2 doelings and a buck. Feed isn't a problem in summer when they have grass and leaves, but it might be this winter. My plan was to stagger their pregnancies and have 3 goats in milk at a time, while 1 is dry for 3 months. They might not adhere to my plan, but I thought this way I wouldn't put as much stress on the individual. If it doesn't work out, we'll drown in milk and I'll have to decide who to sell. My best producer is also aggressive with the other does and it makes me upset to see her ramming the other girls. Once I see production from the 2 that still have doelings that decision will be easier.

Melissa aka Equidae said...

passed by from SITS. I always deamt of a farm but highly unlikely to livei n one on our little island. Still if I were on a farm I know that it would have been a joy to do all these decisions no matter how tough

Miss. Crafty said...

I can't imagine running a farm and making those decisions. I think if I ever do any farming, it will have to be plants. I have no problem sending a batch of carrots off to be part of someone's dinner, I don't think I could do that with an animal. I'm glad for people who can, though I couldn't look at their little faces and do it, I don't think I could make it as a vegetarian either. :)

ga.farmwoman said...

I know exactly what you mean! Earlier this year we sold all the grown male goats and it just about did me in to let White Ears go. I had raised him from a bottle.
Now we have 6 bucks from the spring births that are needing to go.(my husband reminds me constantly)

We have Betsy who we had for a nurse cow, for the new calves we bought. She is dry now and just a huge pet. (she really doesn't eat much)well, not a whole lot.

We have 5 goats I can't imagine parting with but not so attached to the rest.(about 13)
Yes, I should be a rescue farm or something that is more in line with my real feelings for animals.
That is not mentioning the chickens.
Yes, hard decisions is right.


Leslie @ Farm Fresh Fun said...

Just found you and truly appreciate the post. We love our pets - goats, chickens, dogs, cat and horses like family. We have butchered our own meat and prefer that to buying factory farmed meat. It's so hard for folks to face the "what becomes of..." question. As a horse breeder I've had a real change of heart and have (for myself) bred hardly at all recently. I'm deeply saddened that too many "animal lovers" refuse to look down the line and accept responsibility for their animal's usefulness and well being. Due to the economy, we will soon be lovingly euthanizing several older horses rather than sending them on to an uncertain future. It can cost about $450 here to dispose of your horse. THAT's a cost few new horse owners ever contemplate. Real life with animals is tough AND life enriching. Thanks for fostering this conversation!

The Menagerie Momma said...

I'm glad you made the tough decision to rehome Dym, we thoroughly enjoy her and she's spoiled rotten. She brings joy to us each and every day and the kids and I just love her. Thanks again! Love reading your blog!

Jennifer said...

Thank you Mandy, I am so glad you and your family are happy with her.