Friday, May 25, 2012

Tail End of the Week: Get Your Friday Farm Fix #11

Welcome to the Friday Farm Fix, a new series on Farmgirl Fare where I share a random sampling of what's been happening around the farm during the past week. Just joining us? You'll find all the Friday Farm Fix posts here.

5-25-12 Friday Farm Fix #11 (1)
Heading up the driveway.

This past week was hot, dry, and disappointing. On Tuesday we sold half of our sheep at a monthly sheep and goat auction, including 27 of this year's 34 lambs and our four-year-old Katahdin ram, Edward (we still have two rams left). It's not something we've done very often.

For the past two years we've sold most of our lambs in late summer to the friend of a friend who kept them on his farm for a few months and then butchered them himself for an out of state, ethnic niche market he has.

For many years we've been trying to build up a business selling our whole, naturally raised, grass fed, custom butchered lambs directly to customers (for less than the cost of inferior, supermarket lamb), but there is simply no local market for it.

We tried delivering lamb to city buyers 200 miles away, but that didn't work out. And shipping frozen packages of lamb to customers across the country is impractical and cost prohibitive (and goes against the whole local thing).

Last fall, an opportunity came up that looked like it could become a local ethnic niche market for us, and I agreed to specifically breed several purebred Katahdin lambs—which we don't like to do because they're so much smaller than our Katahdin/Suffolk crosses—for someone who was to pick them up here on the farm at the end of this month. She backed out of the deal last week.

Many people have told us that our lamb is the best they've ever tasted.

Livestock prices vary—that's just the nature of the business—and, around here at least, sheep and goat prices usually fluctuate a lot more than cattle prices do. For the past few months, lamb and sheep prices have been high, but our lambs weren't big enough to sell yet.

Unfortunately lamb prices dropped about 40% between last month's sale and this month's. After paying the hauling and commission fees, what we ended up with doesn't even cover the cost of feeding the flock and their two big guard dogs (Daisy and Marta) for the past year, let alone all the other expenses involved.

Not very good for a year's worth of hard work.

We decided a few months ago that we would try selling our lambs early this year, mostly in an effort to cut down on our summer workload—and hoping the prices would stay high. At the time, we were getting some rain and were hopeful the grazing pastures and hayfield would soon be lush. Instead they're sparse and burning up from heat and drought.

Right now we're usually putting up hundreds of bales of spring hay; this year we aren't putting up any. All we can do is hope for rain and summer grass.

Today when Joe hauled water out to the donkeys (Yes! After nearly four weeks, my hunky farmguy is back outside on limited duty!) he called me on the two-way radio (we love these and carry them constantly) as he was driving through Donkeyland checking on the field.

"How does it look?" I asked.

"Not too bad—for July."

So even though the auction prices were heartbreaking, it's a good thing we went ahead and reduced the flock because there isn't a whole lot to eat out there.

As I walked back through the front field on Tuesday after opening the gate for the guy who was hauling off half of our flock, feeling tired and sore, anxious and hopeful and a little sad, I looked down and saw a big beautiful heart rock, embedded right there in the driveway.

This is my 17th year raising sheep. We didn't lose a single lamb this year.

We've been doing a lot of talking these past few days. Plotting and planning, dreaming and scheming. Prioritizing. As Joe often says, "We'll figure something out; we always do."

21 more farm photos below . . .


Fast farm food: tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, salsa, homegrown lettuce and green onions, easy homemade low fat buttermilk ranch dressing.

For more about what's going in and out of the garden right now, check out Monday's garden update on In My Kitchen Garden: Picking Basil, Planting Peppers, Loving Lettuce, and More.




















Have a great weekend!

Want a bigger farm fix?

© FarmgirlFare.com, the beagle heavy (not heavy beagle) foodie farm blog where Bert wasn't really thinking about eating that chick, he was actually licking off the chicken food he'd just stolen, but the image just cracked me up.

31 comments:

  1. If only you could turn those photos of Bert into a revenue stream. He is adorable, as are the rest of the critters on your farm. I wish you guys the best...and more rain...as the rest of 2012 unfolds.

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  2. So glad to hear HFJ is back up and getting around. I'll bet you miss all those sheepies. We missed reading about your animals and escapades.

    And, oh yeah, it'll all work out. We're pulling for ya...

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  3. Oh Susan, You have become such a lovely part of my life and of my days over these many years. I am terribly sorry for all the difficulties of this past year and pray for lush rain and comfortable backs for you and yours. Thank you for sharing your life and all your solutions to so many of my questions. Be well.

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  4. Suck. Some back luck all around, seems like. Fingers crossed you get some breaks in the near future (and not breaks as in legs or something, because I think you've probably both had more than enough of the physical incapacitation).

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  5. Awww, so sorry to hear this. Hope you get some rain, some hay and a lot more heart rocks. Glad to hear Joe is once again back on his feet, a little good news there.

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  6. I love reading your blog so much. I aspire to having a small farm someday myself (not sure my husband is on board with that idea!). I grew up visiting my grandparents' farm in Iowa as a child, and it sticks with you. The smell of bacon takes me back to my grandma's kitchen. The taste of well-done duck from her flock (brood?). The adrenaline rush reaching under a hen to see if there are eggs there, and wondering how the hen is going to respond.

    One thing I always see in your blog is that you love your work. You don't candy-coat it -- it's tough work, painful work (both physically and mentally - well, and financially). But you love it. And while I know that doesn't help pay the bills, I can assure you that millions of people across this country and throughout the world are slogging it out in jobs they hate, seeking comfort in love, junk food, drinking, etc. Many have enough money thanks to the job, but I truly believe you CANNOT buy happiness.

    As you mention, shipping a product goes against the eating local movement. However, I can see that you're a great cook. I'm sure you know about Etsy, and it makes it very easy to connect with buyers of your unique product - be in bread, something canned, whatever. Your garden seems to be prolific, even in the drought. Perhaps the financial answer lies in the kitchen, not in the barnyard! Anyway, just throwing that out there.

    Stay away from snakes!

    XOXO

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  7. Hi Susan.....a friend of mine recently told me about your blog and I also collect heart rocks and feel a kinship with you......we live out in the middle of nowhere too and are self-employed furniture makers/artists.......it has been a challenge the last year to sell anything. You have a good start with a marketing platform with your great blog it seems so coming up with stuff you can ship like a organic rosemary dry cured lamb proscuitto....see http://lpoli.50webs.com/index_files/Prosciutto-lamb.pdf looks like a great recipe. Another idea is agricultural tourism...we had did that on a previous property and it was a big success..... make the "shack "cute but rustic" which it sounds like it already is .....fix them a farm meal or build a pizza oven outside and give them instructions and get paid.........people will love it. That worked really well for us even though we are privacy freaks, we set ground rules and our guests could'nt have been happier. Good luck and I know you guys will come up with a creative solution.

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  8. After drowning in rain through March and April (nearly 15 inches all told... in the middle of Missouri!), we have been dry as a bone since. I feel your pain. It definitely feels like the middle of summer, which makes me not look forward to what is to come.

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  9. Susan, I've been reading your blog for about eight months or so now and have enjoyed as much as I've had time to read. I found you by accident while looking for a recipe for lemon scones. It was a nice accident!

    I'm sorry to hear things are not going very well. It's the life of a farmer/stock raiser, believe me, I know. But remember, *this too shall pass* - seems like it always does, just that sometimes the timing is crappy.

    I don't have a blog (well, I do, but I never do anything with it) but I do have a forum (health stuff, political banter, recipes, gardening and homecare tips, etc.) if you're ever interested in just venting (go to the last topic heading called Buzzard Board)it's my venting area ;-> It's a great place to do that! Stop over just for a visit, even if nothing to vent is on your agenda. http://healthtalk.6.forumer.com/index.php

    I know you're a busy gal, so just whenever you can.

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  10. Susan,

    I've been reading your blog for years now (4 or 5?) and I find you so inspiring. My life recently fell apart and I'm seriously considering moving out to farm with some friends. I know it's hard and sometimes disappointing, but I'm looking forward to it.

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  11. I know it doesn't make it any easier but I can't count the number of times we've said, "We'll figure something out, we always do."

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  12. Gee, I don't know what to say. Have been reading your blog for years, enjoying all your posts...especially the posts about donkeys.

    These are tough times for sure. That was just awful about the person pulling out who encouraged you to raise specific sheep.

    You have lots of people who care about you and Joe and the farm. Finding the heart rock is a beautiful and positive omen. Wishing you rain...and happy solutions.

    xx

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  13. Susan, I have been reading your blog for 5 or 6 years and think that your life is both exceptional and difficult. Life on a farm has many ups and downs. I think Joe is right, somehow you will figure it out. Have faith and be brave.

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  14. Predicting the livestock market is about like predicting the stock market... Sorry it didn't work out very well this year. All that work for not much money must be very discouraging. I hope that things pick up for ya'll and that you get some much needed rain for the pastures.
    That picture of Bert licking his chops while looking at the chicken is a crack up! I love the picture of the chickens all lined up on the fence and the turtle too and I always enjoy seeing the donkeys!
    Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier this week! :)

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  15. Susan,
    I'm sorry to hear about the deal falling through, among all the other less than desirable things you and Joe are rolling through right now. I've been reading your blog for the last few years, living vicariously through the thick and thin, the wet and DRY of your farming. I hope you are able to feel the support streaming to you from all your readers :)
    Not to mention those heart rocks that appear so beautifully at your feet!
    Pulling for you up here in suburban OH,
    Karin

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  16. Susan, I love reading your blog and seeing the photos and am so grateful you share them as you do. It's been a rough start to spring and summer so it can only get better from here, right? Sending you prayers and good chi. Hang in there! xxoo

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  17. You know, that last photo could be the cover shot of your first book......

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    1. I'll second that.
      I would love it if you wrote a book - passing on some of your tips for all the want-to-live-a-farm-life-people like myself. Fill it with recipes too, and you'll have your first customer right here.

      I hope things will work out better for you and Joe.

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  18. our line to each other at these moments is " It"ll all be good in the end" I'd hate to tell you how many times we've said that in the last 5 years.Hang in there, and let's all pray for rain together.

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  19. Susan,

    I am so sorry you have hit a rough patch. Wishing you, Joe and all the critters health, wealth and good luck.

    Winnie

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  20. I heart 'heart' rocks. When I come across one that I've tucked away in my yard, it always makes me smile. Your discovery of the Heart Rock on this day is a nice symbol of your Labor of Love. I wish I could mail you some of these PNW downpours we have had all week. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day(s) to share your experiences. And rain or shine, I enjoy reading about your adventures.

    Shannon

    p.s. If I didn't already know about Bert's good street-cred on the farm (via your blog), I might be a little worried about that pic of him looking at that hen while licking his chops. It is a funny picture - he is so court-jester-esque =)

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  21. Susan,

    I am sorry to hear about the dry weather and the difficult decisions you have had to make. I do enjoy reading your blog. My husband and I (along with our three little boys, two dogs (great pyr and german shep) and one tabby cat moved to just over 13 acres in rural Chester County, PA last summer. It was quite a change from the .33 acres in suburbia. I must say it has been the best change ever. We are getting our chicken coop finished and our girls will be here next week. I have managed to plan and grow my first garden at 14,000 square feet and pray we sell most of it at our roadside stand. We have put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention $$) and you just don't know what the balance sheet will show at the end of it all. One thing I do know is our quality of life has tripled in value. Your hunky farm guy is right, it will all work out. I just adore the heart stone, if that isn't a sign, I don't know what is.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    Ellie

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  22. Love all the photos, but especially the misty morning one!

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  23. Hi Everybody,
    Thanks so much for all of your kind words and supportive comments. I can't tell you how much we appreciate them - and it's great to hear from so many longtime readers. (It's hard to believe I've been blogging for 7 years!)

    My apologies for not replying individually to each of your comments. Thanks again. :)

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  24. Thought this may be of interest to you since you are living it. Can't help but wonder what effect this will have on the nation's food supply.

    http://www.npr.org/2012/05/28/153883351/flash-drought-threatens-to-destroy-mo-crops?ft=1&f=1053

    Winnie

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  25. I have always wanted to buy your farm raised lamb. Wouldn't it be fun to put together a buying club? If I could find a string of people from MO to NC who wanted to buy lamb and each person drives it 50 miles closer to the next, we could all benefit (and save on shipping).

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  26. Wishing all the best to you during this challenging time. Since I live a very different life from yours, renting a house on the Olympic Peninsula with a "no pets" policy, your blog and photos, especially those donkeys, are always a treat to me. Take care!

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  27. I hope you had your lamb buyer put down a biiiiiiiiiiiiiig deposit because that is truly disappointing.

    *sigh*

    Despite the rain situation, the farm is looking so verdant and lively! Turtle included! I suspect he's making a break for the strawberries?

    Little bastards.

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  28. So sorry for all of the disappointments. I am able to see you again after downloading foxfire. I really missed seeing everything and everyone.

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  29. FG, this is such a beautiful post. I'm so sorry to hear how rough things have been; it must be heartbreaking to have to sell so many of your dear, sweet, silly sheep. Here's wishing & praying that the meeting was a hit.

    (((HUGS))) to you, FarmGuy, & all your critters.

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  30. Do you do Farmer's Markets? Perhaps baking bread and goodies along with selling lamb and produce? And, I wholeheartedly endorse the book idea! Cookbook, memoir, photos, doesn't matter. We all love you :)Hope things are better for you now.

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