Thursday, December 02, 2010

First Day of December

Today was Wednesday, which means it was one of my busier days of the week because I have both town jobs in full force on Wednesdays and I don't make it back to the farm until very late ... which means late night chores. I will say that there is a little something I enjoy about the crisp air of a dark December night even if it makes chores a little more interesting. Tonight included the basics of taking care of the animals and checking up on them. Since I'm not around very much during the daylight I do try to take the four-wheeler out each not and get a good idea of how everyone is faring. Tonight that meant waking the sheep up ;)

Speaking of the sheep, there was a question about what my thoughts are now that they have been on the farm for a while. While I wish I had a better answer I think I have to be honest and just say I'm not quite sure yet. They came onto the farm late in the growing season for my mostly warm season grasses so I didn't get to graze them very long and see how they would fit into the rotation. Also, there are about 10 of them that don't mind disregarding my interior (portable or semi-permanent) fences. They never really caused a problem getting out, but I can see where some electric netting may come in handy next year. On the plus side they are fun to watch and I love the flocking instincts of the Katahadins! I'm hoping their addition will also be a plus in marketing and adding diversity to the products.

As I mentioned on Twitter today (check out my Twitter feed) I was listening to the Nature's Harmony Farm podcast again today ... specifically the one about "The Death of a Farm" (I blogged about it awhile ago). This is the second or third time I've listened to this interview and I believe it is both discouraging and encouraging at the same time. It is always hard to hear about someone having to quit almost exactly what you're trying to start, but I think you can also learn and grow from those experiences as well. I'm hoping to grow and not be discouraged!

Don't forget ... You too can support Crooked Gap Farm no matter where you are in the country (or world) by ordering a Crooked Gap Farm t-shirt. There are two options available and I hear they make great Christmas gifts ;) Just drop me an e-mail if you would like to place an order.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ethan, I enjoy your blog and I hadn't read it for a while, so I was surprised to see my farm mentioned here.
I know a lot of folks would like to put in their two cents about why we failed, but I'm still not sure we failed at anything.
We discussed in August of this year that we were not really happy in our situation. We decided to make a change. We don't own a farm, so it wasn't like we had to give up the old family spread.
We have already sold 90-95% of our stock and equipment. Most of what we owned I bought on craigslist at bargain prices, so we have been able to make money on some things and at least not lose much on other things.
Did I mention that we started this farm with no money and no assets? Zero!
After 6 years of farming we are going on travel around North America for 2 years. All of our bills are paid, we have more money saved than ever and I'm about to face two years with no real commitments. I am happier and more hopeful about my families' situation than I have ever been.
Also, I would like to mention that While raising a couple hundred pigs, we also had 2 flocks of 2,500 hens in a rotational grazing set up. We were producing 325 dozen eggs a day.
My farm has spawned tons of copy cats in my area and probably the nation.
I guess I'll probably be lamenting my failure while I'm traveling these next two years, but I'll get over it!
We'll let you know when we get in your area of the country Ethan. We'd love to meet you and your family. -Jim Dunlop

Ethan Book said...

Wow, it always amazes me when famous farmers comment on the blog ... and yes I consider you a famous farmer. I don't think that I listen to that podcast and think failure ... rather I think, "wow that could happen to anyone!" I think it was encouraging though because you guys have been so open and honest about your farm all the way through and I can tell that you are excited about the future and that you really aren't leaving farming! Also You have the ability to share what does and doesn't work.

Not going to lie though ... Traveling the country working on farms ... I'm jealous! Thanks for sharing your story!

Yeoman said...

When the "death of a farm" podcast was first mentioned, I went and downloaded the episode and listened to it. I wasn't subscribing to the podcast at the time. I listened to it while driving back from out of town work. Frankly, I had some trepidation about listening to it, as I thought it might be depressing.

Seeing it mentioned here again today, I decided I'd come in and make my post, only to find that the farmers themselves had posted. Thinking descretion the better part of valor, I thought I'd forgo it. But, I'm going to charge ahead anyway. I hope the farmers don't think my comment insulting, as I certainly don't want it to be.

When I listened to the podcast, I wasn't surprised the farm failed. Listening to its origin, and the like, what struck me is that the geography of the start up was very poor, given the state where it was located, and that resources were next to non existent for the start up. It seemed unrealistic to me, and I'll give the farmers credit that they were able to do it so long. Sorry, but having tried to be a start up so long myself, I just would not have expected that approach to work.

Now, here's where I fear that I'll be unintentionally insulting. One thing that struck me was the extent of relief that was expressed, and is expressed here again, about being done with the commitment. I get that, but I fear it may be misconstrued. Farming is hard work, but let's not fool ourselves that its hardest work. I've worked at a lot of jobs over the years, and frankly compared to most, farmers have it easy. It's about the only job left in the US where people get to work with their families.

Make no mistake about it, most modern jobs entail ignoring your family. The era of 9 to 5 and vacations, and the like, is dead in this country. The grass is always greener, as they say, but what I'll be curious about is the reflection these folks have after their life stabilizes.

I certainly wish them the best.

David N said...

I also have listened to all of the podcasts, and this one in particular twice.

I am glad that the farmer and his family were able to move on into a lifestyle that suites their family better, and they should be doing what fulfills them and makes them happy/successful.

I know that for one thing, land out west is extremely expensive, for example I was talking to a co-worker at my desk job and we were discussing land prices. He was saying land is getting so expensive out here in TN. Since I am a native Californian/Nevadan until two years ago when we moved to TN, I had to differ. I showed him a plot of land about 100 acres of pasture/trees in Nevada and one here in TN. The Nevada property was over 3 million dollars. Compared to a very nice pastureland here in TN for about $150,000 (no joke!). So I could see right off the bat how you would have a great disadvantage to pasture based farming out west just because of the ridiculously inflated land prices (renting/leasing/owning). Also, I wonder if they could have diversified their farm even further if that would have helped.

I think I have to agree with Yeoman that it was sad to hear that they were more excited about quitting than continuing. Granted I only know as much about the story as what I hear on the podcast and what Mr. Dunlop commented here.

Having grown up around mostly Alfalfa farms that were all industrial and the only farm jobs available were driving a swather 16 hours a day for a couple of weeks during hay season, I am excited to venture further into livestock farming.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I want to be a farmer, but I am sure that most of the population of this United States does not, and if folks try it out and don't enjoy it, I congratulate them on chasing after their dreams, and I know better than anyone that dreams and desires can change.

In closing, the podcast was very informative and caused my wife and I to think a lot about our direction with homesteading and eventually farming.

Thanks to the Dunlaps for their openness, honesty, and experience!!

Yeoman said...

One of the real problems with land prices in the West, which we here must contend with, is that it's often priced at playground prices for the rich.

For whatever reason, particularly in the Rocky Mountain West and South West, there's a population of people who don't know a cow from a cat, but who fancy themselves "ranchers". They'll buy agricultural property at greatly inflated prices just so they can claim to be a rancher, even if they only visit the ranch once per year.

This is becoming a huge problem for real agriculturalist. Emiliano Zapata, during the Mexican Revolution, declared that the land belonged to those who worked it. It really should, for equitable reasons, as well as practical ones.

Rich said...

Yeoman, after a previous comment of yours about the cost of land in WY, I started digging through the local property tax records and actually went to a land auction a few miles away to get a better idea of local land prices (less than an hour away from Oklahoma City).

After all that, I was flabbergasted that a quarter section of land (160 acres) was selling for about $1350-$1550 an acre. It appears that the prices have went up at about a 10%/year rate for the last 5 years or so.
And, from what I can tell, most of it is being bought by "investors" (for lack of a better term).

Most of the pasture on this land would probably rent for about $12-15/acre/year. The cropland might cash rent for about $25-30/acre/year. That equals about a 1% rate of return on the purchase price.

Almost all of the fences on these farms needs to be replaced, most are covered in cedars, and most would be able to carry between 16 and 30 cow/calf pairs.

I still can't figure out how this land is selling for this much. Even if the buyer was counting on a 5-10% appreciation in price/year, how would the next buyer raise enough cattle to pay for the farm?

I did happen to talk to one nitwit at the auction that almost had the high bid. He thought the farm was "neglected" because the grass was too high and hadn't been mowed all summer, and he also wanted to get rid of all the knee-deep volunteer crabgrass growing in the wheat field (it's ugly and it's a weed you know). When I told him that our cows loved crabgrass, he acted like he didn't understand what I was talking about.

I'm not sure what can be derived from that rambling reply, but if I had the choice, I would much rather pay over $1 million for a ranch in WY rather than pay almost $1 million for a section in OK.

Yeoman said...

Of course, I guess none of it matters if you don't have the $1M.

Right now, given the land prices, our family operation is definitely family. We'd like to expand, but it takes all of us to do it, as to buy pastures we'll all have to go in together.

Steve Romero said...

Rich -

You're dead on regarding your comment on land-grabbing investors. This really is no news-flash, but arable land is the next hedge.


Rich said...

Steve - I don't think much farmland in my area is being bought by governments and/or corporations like is detailed on

Personally, I think that most of the price increases are due to uninformed buyers/investors that are assuming that past increases in prices will always translate into future increases in price.

Just because they aren't making any more land doesn't mean that land will always go up in value.

Yeoman said...

Here's the thread I was looking for a moment ago.

Here the threat isn't the government at all. The government is frankly one of the few real allies agriculturalist have here. Unfortunately, we don't tend to see it that way, but it's true. In recent years we've actually seen the state buy an entire ranch close to a city, and then lease it back to a young ranch family that would never have gotten a start otherwise. That's all that kept that land from being 20 acre weedettes.

The threat here is in two forms. One is the threat posed by new residents who see "all that land" and figure that if they buy 10 or 20 acres of it, they've bought a ranch. They haven't. They're just converting grazing ground into weeds. People, in my view, shouldn't be allowed to balkanize ag ground that way. If they aren't going to be real ranchers, they should buy a house in town.

The second threat is from the very wealthy, who buy ranches to say they are ranchers. They don't run them, they just want to own them. Frequently they're from elsewhere, and only see their ranches once or twice a year.

While radical, if I had my way there'd be a no net loss of undeveloped land policy in this country, and in order to own it, you'd have to be making a living from it.

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