I don’t think it will surprise anyone that Hubby and I farm just a little differently than most farmers in our area or our state. We farm very differently from the way our parents farmed and still farm. So what do you do when you want to do something differently than “the way it’s always been done”?
1. Make a list, check it twice. – This will vary from situation to situation and even year to year, but outline what resources you have available to you to do what you’d like to do. Do you have acres available? Cows that belong to you? The right equipment? All of these are necessary when “branching out”.
2. Do your research. – I’ve been doing this for thirty years. I’m a first-born child of a farm family, the default hired man. One of the ways we were “paid” as kids is that we didn’t have to buy feed for our animals. If we paid for the animal, then the feed was free. I loved livestock, still do, and wanted all sorts of animals that we did not raise. I recall a particularly earnest plea for a llama. Dad always said the same thing, “How are you going to make money?” If I could prove that I could make money at it, I could usually do it. Which is why I bought a bred sow and not a llama. I’m now married to a man who also needs to see the research before he moves forward on an idea. Most people think I’m joking when I say I only tell my husband 10% of the ideas that are in my head at any given time. I’m not. I can’t tell him until I have my “ducks in a row”, and that makes me vet ideas much more thoroughly and in more detail than a simple, “Hey! What if we did this???”.
3. Start small – You don’t have to go whole hog the first time you start something. (Pot, meet kettle.) I tend to be just a bit enthusiastic and an eternal optimist when it comes to new ideas. But I married my voice of reason. The first year we did pastured pork, I wanted to do 15 pigs. Hubby wanted 4. We did 10. See? Voice of reason, I tell you. Now we’re at about 30 per year and it’s going well.
4. Talk to people – Don’t talk to your neighbors about a new idea. If they think it’s great, it’s not out of the box enough. That’s the advice of Joel Salatin and we’ve taken it to heart. If most of the people you tell about it think you’re crazy…then you’re on to something! Gabe Brown and Paul Brown, father and son farming friends of ours, have a contest every year to see which of them can come up with the craziest idea to try that year on their farm. They are leading edge lunatics doing some amazing work! But their neighbors think they’re nuts.
5. Be honest – When you change things, especially family traditions, feelings can get hurt. Let’s use calving dates as an example. If you want to start a fight in a ranching/cow-calf family, just try and move the calving date. That date has been set in stone for generations and we don’t move it for anything. But if you are making cow-related decisions (or even if you’re not) have conversations about moving the date a few weeks per year. I won’t excite you with all the great things about May and June calving here, but I’ve never known a rancher who has changed their calving date to ever want to go back to blizzards, frozen ears, calves in the bathtub, scours and the like. Tell your farming partners what you want to do and why, the sooner the better. When we were negotiating with my parents to buy their farm, we told them right away, “We won’t be farming like you did.” Dad’s response? “Good!!”
6. Try and try again – Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will change on the family farm. You may need to repeat steps 1 through 4 for a while to find what really works for your farm, operation and management style. Just because it didn’t work once doesn’t mean your theory is not sound. You may just need a different approach. Thomas Edison was asked how he felt about finally getting the light bulb right after failing 10,000 times before. He said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I simply discovered 10,000 ways that will not work.” Farmers are the original scientists! Go forth, experiment…and then report back.
Day 20 Homework: What would you love to try but aren’t sure you can?? Map out steps 1-4.