Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Starting Over

A few weeks ago I was asked by the National Young Farmers' Coalition for permission to be featured on their blog. I was delighted at the idea, and gave them full permission. At that time, Mattie was heavily pregnant and looking great. I was full to the brim with plans for how I wanted 2013 to play out, and was excited for everything. Two weeks after the NYFC asked me that question, Mattie became gravely ill, and then died 7 days later. The blog post on NYFC was posted today, (click highlighted words to read it) and the irony of my words are cruel. How things have changed since I wrote that...

 Life totally threw me for a loop.

When I lost Mattie, I lost more than a cow. I lost my business. I lost my income source. I lost all monetary security. I should have been emailing herdshare members this week, getting everyone back on track for the year's schedule. I should have been sterilizing jars, storing milk in the fridge, milking my cow, feeding a calf... Instead I can only shake my head at my own words I wrote to be publicly displayed on the blog of a large organization. My cow is gone. My plans are gone. I feel like I went from "farmer" down to "hobbyist" in a span of one week. Feel like what was once obtainable and possible, is now suddenly beyond my grasp, and I can only wistfully look at it from afar. I cannot afford to buy another cow, and don't want to buy another one just yet. But at the same time, I now have to face the fact that this farm needs to take a completely different direction if I cannot immediately continue with the dairy business. I had everything revolving around the dairy. Mattie literally made everything run. Her milk went to herdshare members, it fattened my meat animals, it fertilized my pastures, it made my cheese, it would have fed my bull calves that were to be raised for draft work.

Now that she's gone, I have to do something different. Something completely different. I feel like someone just pulled a rug out from under me. I'm left stunned, and wondering what on earth just happened. I have no idea what I will do this year; I'm sure something will come eventually, but for the moment I'm sort of wandering willy nilly in my mind... "What do I do now?" I have some ideas floating around in my head, but for now I'm still brainstorming.

What would you do, if you were me? Any advice for a farmer who has to start over?


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Caitlyn!
I just got a question. Is that cow in your article Peaches? Because she is absolutely gorgeous!! When will she be milking?

I'm not a proper 'farmer' yet. Just still slipping around as a first year hobbyist. Though I do have an idea for you, (who is still a farmer though she has one less cow). Why don't you write your book? Put everything in it! How you do your rotational grazing on just one acre?!?!That just blows my mind. What you would do differently, advice, ideas, and stories.
I'd buy your book.
Maybe, if it does well, you could have enough money for another cow...
That's my idea.
Tasha

Anonymous said...

I thought you were working at another farm to make money? I seem to remember you posting something a while back about vegetables or something...

nancy said...

I'd do some research and get another cow up and running. Maybe take out a small loan? Hang in there...

OneOldGoat said...

I agree with the first post - I personally would pay to read a book about rotational grazing on 1 acre of land. Even if you offered an ebook of maybe short stories of your experiences to help in the interim as you get back on your feet. What you've spent the past several years learning the hard way is information that I think many people would pay to read. Beth

OneOldGoat said...

Another thought is, have you heard of kickstarter? (kickstarter.com) It is a funding platform for unique starter businesses. I know of two businesses who were granted money....it is more involved than what I'm making it sound but I wanted to let you know that I do know that people have made a successful start with the help.

Beth

Goat Song said...

Tasha, the cow in the article is Mattie! :) In the summer time she would shed out to a light caramel color with red brindling on her face. In the winter time she would turn brown with a jet black face.
I'm hoping to breed Peaches this July though, so that she calves next April!

Anonymous, believe it or not, I quit my job at the vegetable farm... I felt bad about doing it, so I never publicly made that announcement. But I quit at the end of January. Gas prices were making it prohibitive for me to keep going. :-/

Nancy, I do want another cow! But at the same time it hurts so incredibly bad to think about getting another one! Part of me feels like it's too soon to think about it, since Mattie just died. And part of me is afraid to try again... What if the same thing happens again? What if I lose another cow? What if, what if, what if...? Sigh. I'm still battling a lot of fear.

Beth, the idea of an e-book has me intrigued! I hadn't thought of that! I did go over my book proposal today, and worked on it some... Like the fear about getting another cow, I'm scared to actually send in the proposal and see what happens! Shame on me, I know. I should quit being ridiculous and just do it... I think what I need is another head (meaning, another human... Hehe.) to help me sort through everything I've got and want in this book, and someone to basically just keep prodding me along. :P An e-book might be a good way to ease into the whole "author thing" though. ;)I will have to give that some thought. I'll start rotating the animals hopefully by the 3rd week of March, so I could start collecting images and notes from that then...

I've heard of Kickstarter! But to be honest, it never occurred to me to think about using it for myself... But would people really donate money so a girl could buy a cow, and other things she needed to have a successful farm? It's an interesting thought, to be sure... One that may be worth mulling over some more. Thanks for the ideas!

Anonymous said...

I know it's not a dairy operation, but here is a Kickstarter that is trying to get a CSA started on their quarter acre!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/748439419/urban-farm-presents-cinderblock-gardens-csa?ref=home_location

Jocelyn said...

Kickstarter might be a good idea.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and find a new direction. Farming is a brutal occupation, in that we lose everything with a death or a drought. That's what you signed up for, though. Time to figure it all out and keep going.

And I would suggest two cows. Always have a backup. And yes--I learned that the hard way, too.

Lindsay Hermanson said...

I would love to read your books, I want to learn rotational grazing. I want goats and a cow and I have 2 (soon to be 3, come foaling time) horses and my mare hates cows so a workable plan that keeps all livestock happy fed and safe is a must for me. I remember reading some of your story about Heidi a couple years ago and was hooked. I wanted to keep reading, I loved it.

Suzzanne Myers said...

I love that you are so honest and open on your blog. It's one of the reasons I started and kept reading - so many small farm bloggers just seem to dreamily pursue their days in fields of green bliss and I prefer a healthy dose of reality. (Although my goals simply extend to feeding myself and my family sustainably.) I know losing Mattie has been hard for you. I know you don't want another one because that wound is still fresh, but try to think of it as purely a business option. You want to stay in business and make money so you can continue to stay in buisness and be a beacon for sustainable, natural food in your area. Another cow can really, really help with that, and maybe somewhere along the way she will become a dear friend to you. Or maybe she won't, but your business will survive and perhaps grow. Or you could choose to simply not offer cow dairy this year and just focus on goat dairy. How about eggs? Turkeys (which can be lucrative)? More chickens and pigs? Stay steady with the things you are already doing well and stay visible to your customers, even if you can't offer their regular product. You can do this.

Also, I think the book would be a great idea. I would buy it because I need to know it. My entire life has been changed by natural food and sustainable living and your experiences are teaching me. And if you need an editor/reader, I'm happy to help. I don't comment much but I read every post, and while I know this is the internet and you don't know who anyone really is - I'm a real person :) If you check out my website, you'll find my expertise lies in that area. Send me an email if you'd like some help!

edenhills said...

I know what I'm going to say isn't what you want to hear, but it isn't realistic to try farming as your only source of income on one acre. It's hard to make a living on a farm no matter the size, but you can't do it when you are talking livestock and such a small amount of land.

It really isn't sustainable. I know you've talked about buying hay, and if you buy hay rather than grow your own that's a huge cost. One acre limits you to one cow, and like it was said, you will lose cows and then you're in this position. Even if you get another cow, there is no guarantee she won't get sick.

My heart truly goes out to you because I would give anything to quit my day job so I could only farm, but even with 75 acres, I can't do that until the farm is paid off. Then it is the crops that will provide a stable income rather than the livestock. They are more the tax write off.

Anonymous said...

I will echo Edenhills on your stocking rate conundrum...there is a good article by Allan Nation in the most recent Stockman Grassfarmer which goes into great detail about combining goats and cattle on the same property. The ratio was one cow to one goat basically to keep everyone healthy in climates where there is wet morning pastures.

You did the best you could with your cow, and if she is the same cow I am thinking about, her former owners (after the dairy) experienced some health problems with her as well in the few years they had her.

Shirrelle J said...

Don't give up :)
that is the hardest thing to say sometimes.... I hate to say this but I have grown up on a farm & what you have had happen....happens, sometimes you are lucky it might be 1 in 20 that you lose...but it happens and often through no fault of your own...
I have seen it many times.... give yourself some time to heal from it. :) and keep going...

crowdedacre said...

'Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again.
- WEHickson
Do not sell yourself short by thinking you no longer qualify as a farmer. I don't know of a single farmer that hasn't lost an animal to tragedy...and in my opinion, you must be willing to endure it in this line of work. Chin up.