Monday, May 18, 2009

Take it From Me: Lessons Learned 2

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of patience when you are beginning a farm (or living your life), today I wanted to share another lesson that has become very evident to me. The thing about being a beginning farmer, like myself, is that there are a lot of things I don't know. I have tried to fill the void in my farming brain by reading as much as possible and seeking out all the information that I can find. But, let me just tell you ... there is no replacement for the joy and increase of knowledge that can be found by seeking out other farmers and picking their brains.

Here in Iowa I have the benefit of an organization like The Practical Farmers of Iowa that has helped me connect with and meet other farmers that have similar goals and practices that we desire to have for our farm. I have been able to ask questions, observe their farms, and generally pick up as much knowledge as I can.

But, there is also the huge benefit of living in an agricultural state that has farmers all over the place. At our church there are many farming families (mostly farmers that also have town jobs) and they are a wealth of knowledge. I may not want to duplicate their some farming practices on our place because we have different farming goals with our direct marketing, but that doesn't mean that I can't learn TONS from them. Many of these farmers have done the same things we are working on doing now (some have just moved up to "bigger and better things") and their knowledge is priceless.

So, my lesson learned ... seek out and connect with other farmers. Gather that knowledge, ask them questions, and apply what you learn because often times what you can learn is gleaned for years and years of experience!


Yeoman said...

To add a bit, let me note that agriculture is extremely local. So, to an extent, I think you have to learn from those who are in your area.

In an area like Iowa, you'd have something like 150 years of farming experience built up, with many who have strong agricultural roots knowing what will and will not work. Likewise, around here, there's something on the order of 140 years of cattle growing experience. I've found over time that people who move in, even if they have cattle experience, will often break their teeth on it here by trying to apply the lessons of some other place.

So, not only can you learn a lot from your neighbors, but you may have to. While all past practices are not the best, many of them are.

Anonymous said...

It might be a good thing to talk to the elderly men and women who were on the farms back in depression era and before to gain some of the knowledge you need.

Anonymous said...

We are three years into our farm in very rural Maine. Our land has been farmed since the very late 18th - early 19th century. Over the last forty years the previous owner (summer folk) let pine and spruce take over. We are not only in the process of clearing land all over again - but seeding, etc. It has been a very frustrating and time consuming to say the least. Our lesson learned - tell everyone you know who has cleared land to at least "brushhog" yearly. Don't let it go.

That said - we raise Icelandic sheep, Highland/Dexter Cattle, heritage poultry and heirloom vegetables. Your animals will teach and always watch them for a time daily so you know if they are happy and healthy. Don't RUSH!!! I would have loved to purchase more sheep than we did but wanted to be able to "Know" my flock before it grew. Our flock has tripled in size within three years - we are now two years from our goal. Because we have taken things slow we have become successful at our husbandry and have not lost any of our animals to parasites or predators - this fall we will be holding our first shepherding classes for first time sheep owners.

Set realistic goals and stick with them. Realize that things may crop up to set you behind from time to time. Don't overdo as you may get burned out.

The first thing any livestock farmer needs is a good solid barn or housing before stock is purchased. This does not mean a "run in shed" There is a reason that "barn raisings" were so important to our ancestors in the past. I will not sell any of our sheep to new owners until they can assure me that they have quality shelter in the winter - period.

Hope this helps!!!

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