Thursday, September 09, 2010

What Can I Say?

Things will always change. Sometimes they will change because you want them to and sometimes they will change even if you don't want them to. In the end the consistent reality is that things will change. Lately my life and the life of this farm have been changing and because of this my drive and passion for writing (and in some senses the farm itself) has waned a bit. Now though I'm beginning to feel that the writing aspect of the farm needs to and can begin to make a reappearance again. Since the beginning of my blogging experience the writing has a done a lot to help fuel my passion and creativity on the farm and that is something that I would like to recapture a little. So ... we will see what happens next.

A good place to start though is to catch up a little with the on farm activities and life changes ::
  • Throughout the summer Crooked Gap Farm was represented at the Living History Farms Farmer's Market. Although the market didn't quite have the numbers I would have hoped for it did provide a great place to learn about selling and working with customers at a farmer's market. I was able to meet a lot of great new customers and learn what does and doesn't work when you are running a frozen meat stand outside. I'm not sure what is in store for the farm next year when it comes to farmer's market, but I think it's safe to say that I will have some sort of presence at a market in Des Moines ... at least part time.
  • Rotationally grazing the Dexter cattle has been wonderful and having the chickens follow behind has been really cool to watch. I still have a lot to learn about rotational grazing and because of some of the life changes I'm not able to do it exactly as I'd like to, but the results so far have been great. The herd (small herd) is being moved at least once per day and I can already tell a slight improvement in the pasture as the grass grows back. The overabundance of rain though this summer did hurt things a little and make it difficult on the ground that I seeded in the spring, but all in all I'd call it a success.
  • I'm loving the pigs. When I started out a few years ago I pictured the Dexter cattle as the centerpiece of the farm, but now after living it out for a couple years I really love the idea of having the pigs be the focal point of Crooked Gap Farm. I like working with the pigs and am really excited about the possibilities that are out there for pasture/wood lot pork. Right now there are three sows and a boar and I think there is room for some slow growth as the demand grows (and it is growing faster than I can keep up with).
  • Changes are happening. Recently I began working only part-time (20 hours) at the church that I have been working at for the past six plus years. This was a huge change in my life and it required some big changes on the farm and more. The biggest thing is that I now have a 2nd "town" job working on the NAPA side of the local farm store in town. So now I'm working 20 hours at the church and roughly 40 hours a week at NAPA. I'm still fleshing out how all this can work with the farm as well, but I'm confident we can survive the changes.
Those are just some quick hits from the farm lately. Of course a lot more has happened in my absence from the blog and I'm sure more will come out as I continue to get back into the writing swing of things. But, there are also some farm ideas and thoughts that I'm looking forward to fleshing out in thought and words ... and hopefully if anyone is still out there reading ... in interaction with you!

Thanks for your patience if you wander across this post ;)


Marie (a.k.a. Gardenfreshtomatoes) said...

So glad to have you back, Ethan. I love seeing the farm through your eyes, and the enthusiasm you and your family have for your land. Post when you can - I'm sure I'm not the only reader you have left...

Steve Romero said...

I'm shortly going to be managing a farm and a 40-hour/wk town job. I'd eventually like to transition out of the town job into the farm job full time. How have you found working 60 hours/wk affecting your ability to farm, and do you see yourself being able to pull back from that in the near future? Can you tell us a little bit more about how demand is increasing for your pastured pork? Thanks.

Rich said...

"...also some farm ideas and thoughts that I'm looking forward to fleshing out in thought and words..."

I have always thought that that is the best part of your blog, sharing your ideas and stimulating my thought processes.

Often I would be on a tractor or checking the cattle and thinking about something like what do I need to do to get some pigs? Or, what would it take to make that fence sheep-proof? Or, how could I split this pasture into smaller paddocks? Without your blog, I probably wouldn't have been thinking about most of those ideas.

Last winter, I was feeding hay when it was 9 degrees, everything was covered in ice, and it was snowing and I wondered just how was Ethan able to handle months of weather like this in Iowa (after a few weeks, I had my fill of snow).

I'm looking forward to your new ideas and thoughts.

David N said...

Glad to see you are back writing. For a guy like me who is a couple of years behind you in farming it is great to see what you are doing, and how you go about doing it on the farm. It's not often these day when you hear about a man standing up and doing what he has to to take care of his family so cudos! I have experienced the two job life working two jobs and being gone from home 18 hours a day (I did that for about 10 months), I know its tough, but well worth it to provide for your family and future farming dreams. Hope they give you a great discount at NAPA!

Emily said...

I am so glad to see you posting again. I am quite impressed that you are able while also working, farming and raising a family!!
I am fairly new to your blog but I Love it! I am reading my way through the archives. You are such a resource! Thank you.

Yeoman said...

Really glad to see you back! I'd almost given up on the blog reappearing, which was a sad thing to contemplate.

I checked this today as I've spent the past weekend in what's becoming for me an increasingly rare phenomenon, getting to work my cattle. I'm basically practicing law now over 60 hours a week, and have never been busier.

That doesn't equate with wealth, I'd note. Just busy and not getting out much.

I'm hoping that somebody will figure out how start ups like several of us here can just work our ag business full time and not be bothered with town jobs. I fear that you'll find the town jobs so demanding that they'll just take over. Mine has. At some point, you can't really do the farm job any more as a result, or at least that's what I'm finding. And people quit thinking of you as a farmer too, which at least in my case is distressing.

A neighbor of ours is going to put up his place for sale. It's way beyond my means. I sure wish I could figure out how to swing it.

Steve Romero said...

Yoeman - the more I analyze it the more I'm faced with the fact that in order to truly have a profitable working farm I need to be out there full-time. This takes an incredible leap of faith or a huge amount of capital or both. In my case its going to take a lot of faith to step out there and just do it. If it were just me it'd be a no brainer - I'd leave today and bust my hump to get the farm going. But I've got other's to think about, and to be quite honest, if it weren't for them I don't think farming would be all that satisfying.

Rich said...

Yeoman, when you say:

"...A neighbor of ours is going to put up his place for sale. It's way beyond my means. I sure wish I could figure out how to swing it..."

Does that mean you haven't talked to your neighbor about why, how, or when he is planning to sell his place?

I don't have any experience with this type of situation, but depending on why he selling, there could be many different possibilities for both you and him.

I don't know about the feasibility or legal issues surrounding the subject, but you could lease the ranch (or a portion of it) so that he could retain ownership while getting an income from the property (wouldn't there be tax advantages for both of you?).

Some sort of partnership between the two of you, he owns the land, you own the cattle, etc. (again tax advantages, he doesn't completely lose the family ranch)

Since it is a neighboring ranch, you could buy part of the ranch, letting him "scale back" his ranching (if he just needs some cash flow from the sale, etc.)

He might even give you a "deal" on the ranch if he knows that you will manage it in the same way he does, instead of seeing it cut up into something like ranchettes.

Find out why he is selling his land, explain what your long-term ranching goals are, and see if you can both benefit from some sort of agreement. What do you have to lose?

Of course, as I type this, I realize that it is advice that is much, much easier to suggest than it is to actually do. But, it also might not be as hard to accomplish as first thought. The best I can do is wish you good luck.

Rich said...

Yeoman, how much do ranches typically sell for in WY, the actual sale price, not the pie-in-the-sky asking prices?

Yeoman said...

Rich, right now prices for working ranches (not some hobby outfit that a person couldn't make a living on) are all north of $1M. So, starting out at $1M for marginal places, and running up to about $7M for a really nice good place (but still working, not a Jackson Hole pretend cowboy outfit).

A good sized pasture could be had for $350,000 to $500,000, but that's what it would be, and you couldn't run all year long on it.

Shame is that when my father died we could have gotten into a place for $800,000 or lower that actually was working ranch sized. That seemed like a huge amount them, but it sure doesn't now.

Yeoman said...

On your other questions, this fellow inherited a place out of state he's moving to, and needs the money to fix it up (and then sell it). He'll be looking to sell in the Fall, and apparently wants to sell everything. He's going to bust it up, however, into good sized chunks as he figures that'd be easier to sell.

Yeoman said...

Steve, you said:

"In my case its going to take a lot of faith to step out there and just do it. If it were just me it'd be a no brainer - I'd leave today and bust my hump to get the farm going. But I've got other's to think about, and to be quite honest, if it weren't for them I don't think farming would be all that satisfying."

I know what you mean.

At this point, if it were just me I'd probably just walk out and go to work as a hand on a ranch. It's a job guarantying poverty, but I'd be outdoors everyday.

Because of my family (and I know what you mean regarding including them) I can't do that. That means I'd have to buy a place. Affording it is the trick.

Problem with that is that ranchland has become a toy for the super wealthy, and it makes it really tough to get into it. They'll buy a place up, hire somebody at low wages to manage it, and consider themselves "ranchers" if they come out once a year.

David N said...

Just Curious Yeoman, Have you though about relocating (I am saying this without actually knowing where you live ;) )? I used to live in Nevada, its about the same price wise (in the millions) for any decent land and its just too dry to do any sort of small acreage grass farming. We moved down south to Memphis TN two years ago, and the land down here is super cheap (i.e. Some pasture/wooded lots are going for around one thousand dollars/acre.) Granted its not as beautiful as the west, and I don't have much family connection down here, but the land is decent and there is plenty of grass! I realize that its not much of my business, but to ease that financial burden, have you considered relocation?

Rich said...


It is hard to believe that I would ever actually say it, but on paper $1.5M for a working ranch and summer pasture that would support about 400 pairs doesn't seem like an unreasonable amount of money.

My rough estimates gave me a figure of about $87,000/yr for the loan payment, which would work out to about $200-250 per live calf (even though you wouldn't typically apply the entire land cost to the calf).

If I take that $ 200-250 per live calf number, I find out that a quarter section in my area should cost about $100,000 (not an entirely accurate number since it is probably easier and cheaper to winter cows in OK compared to WY).

My educated guess is that $100,000 for a quarter is on the extreme low side, and to buy enough land in OK to support 300-400 pairs would take about 3 sections, and it would cost much more than $1.5M (and wouldn't have the mountains or the antelope, mule deer, elk, etc.) But, I would probably be able to bale all the hay needed for winter from those three sections. And, if I was to spend that much money on a ranch, WY would be more attractive than OK (assuming I wouldn't go broke in WY).

Of course, it is easier to grow into a farm covering 3 sections in OK compared to trying to buy a working ranch in WY. I'm not sure where I would start if I had to buy or lease that much land when I was just starting out.

Getting through winter must be your major expense (almost as much as land cost?), how much does it take to over-winter a cow in WY?

How many calves would it have taken to equal $800,000 in the past compared to $1.5M today?

Yeoman said...


Thanks. The reason I posted here was to get some fresh views other than my own, and you've really provided some.

I'll get back on your questions later when I have some time (working late in my office job right now), but you know, maybe that number isn't as big as I fear. Farm Credit doesn't seem to think so, and maybe I shouldn't either.

Heck, if I just broke even it'd beat the heck out of drafting pleadings at 8:00 at night.

Steve Romero said...

Yeoman - perhaps you can start small, and build up. You can really do a lot with 10 to 20 acres you just need to think micro-farm, and in that case it would mean only a few cows, or none at all. Perhaps you could have a fine-tuned artisan sheep, swine, goat, or poultry operation and market your product to higher end clientele. I don't know, I'm just talking here. Some debt is unavoidable, but I think it can be oppressive if it is too much in addition to all the other work to do on a new or working farm. I'm in the very fortunate and blessed position to have inherited my small homestead in SE Texas. My perspective and motivations might be very different if I were faced with having to purchase. Thanks for being open.

Rich said...

Not trying to speak for Yeoman, but since he is in WY he faces the somewhat unique situation in which the only type of farm/ranch that is for sale and is also viable is of a certain size.

Ranches need to be larger in acreage for a variety of reasons, such as cattle need to be sold in numbers large enough to fill cattle trucks (~50,000 lbs. of calves or yearlings at a time), there needs to be a "acreage buffer" so that the ranch can be destocked in case of drought (but still have a sufficiently large enough calf crop from the remaining cows), there has to be enough water spread around the ranch to insure against drought, etc.

I don't think it is an impossible task to start a ranch on that scale, but it has a different set of risks and problems to overcome compared to other types of beginning farms. Of course, it also has a unique set of rewards.

Personally, I think it is both an enviable and a frightening situation to face.

Teresa said...

I'm teaching full time and trying to get my farm self-sufficient. It's not easy doing both things full time, but it can be done. If the farm is truly what you want to do, stick with it. I'm tentatively on a four year plan to be able to work only on the farm.

I will certainly agree all the rain has made it difficult to do anything this summer. Good luck!

Yeoman said...

Steve you noted: "You can really do a lot with 10 to 20 acres you just need to think micro-farm, and in that case it would mean only a few cows, or none at all."

Ten to 20 acres here only served to help bust up a producing unit. On that sort of acreage, you could raise, perhaps, a cow. But you couldn't have any sort of economic unit. You'd actually be part of the group of folks that help destroy agriculture here as, here, the minimum anyone would need to be serious about agriculture would be at least two sections, and even then you'd be a part timer. More realistically you need at least 15,000 acres, and 20,000 would be better. Rich is quite right.

I was looking for another entry when I stumbled on this old one, so I'll just add my additional thought here. There was an entry somewhere about the threat the government poses in buying up land. Not here. Here the threat is the newcomer who buys 10 to 40 acres. They're destroying agriculture. The government, in buying conservation easements, is a major help in keeping agriculture alive here.

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