This blog will not be adding more posts but will remain open for you to access the information that will remain here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lessons on the Farm for the Novice Farmer

By Danelle at Mytotalpv

There are things I thought I'd learn and things I never thought of in a million years.

I thought I'd learn more about astronomy and yet the moments I've had to stare up at the sparkling night sky, while overwhelmingly beautiful, have been fleeting. I could wish for more time, but if I did it would be for more time inside snuggling with the babies. Their childhood is way more fleeting than billion year old stars.

I can tell you what that smell is and from which animal it came. Some people can sniff the bouquet of wine, I can tell you which manure came from what animal based simply on smell.

I was quite proud of my garden last year until it just withered and died. I know where I went wrong and it was almost exactly when I was marveling at how I never had to water. I should have. I should have mulched better too. I did get a fair amount of dry beans and pumpkins though.

Pigs are interesting animals. More affectionate than I anticipated. Quite a bit like 4 year olds. They have an insatiable appetite, are ornery as all get out, and escape at inopportune times. They will find every breech and run gleefully to the pond or the road. They respond poorly to threats and ignore frantic pleas. They love fruit. They love milk. They really should have a bath after every meal and when they get muddy somehow manage to ruin my clothes too. All of that exactly describes Lil'Bug's summer. The only difference is that the pigs will be bacon in three weeks and she'll still be 4.

I love our small town. I love the people here, the town square, the parks, the weather, the kindness and curiosity, and the ice cream. It all fits us so very well. So many of the people we have met are just like us, recent transplants who are thriving in the fresh air. Thriving we are.

There were times, weeks at a time where I was just having impossibly bad days. Nothing that would make me give up on farm life, but still difficult. Many involving poop of various degrees. Last summer has taught me that we are in exactly the right place, but also that I really want to, perhaps, need to, focus on the trees and bees dream and not try so hard so fast to expand into all possible farming ventures. A CSA is not likely in my future. A berry and fruit and pumpkin stand perhaps sooner than our full out farm/orchard operation will be ready.

Worms. Worms are gross. Not the earthworms some people keep for kitchen compost or fishing worms.....no I mean gut worms, tape worms, round worms- worms in poop. No animal of mine has ever had worms.

Then we moved to a farm. The pigs had worms, three kinds. We took care of that and all was well. I never thought twice about the domestic animals though. I read that chickens can get worms, but I figured we deal with that in the Spring.

Then one of the dogs pooped in the house and was sick. As I was cleaning it up I noticed the noodles, um, worms. Great. The vet was surprised that I was surprised by this. It is apparently something all the farm folks know, farm dogs and cats need to be wormed 1-2 times every year. So on my great big list of things people should know who are considering farm or rural life: worms, get to know all about worms. Ew.


Poop. Farm life is all about poop. You or I can romanticize it plenty and talk about bacon and apples and honey and fresh milk- but really my life right now is about 80% poop. Cleaning out the chicken coup- poop. Pig poop. Cow pies. Identifying predator poop outside the chicken pen. Septic problems/ maintenance, worms in poop, watershed concerns, manure for garden fertilization, horse apples, diapers (ok, that's just because Blueberry is potty training but not yet there and not just because we live on a farm), ect. It just seems like I am constantly scraping poo off my boot. Like I am just surrounded by a bog of poop. I have even learned to tell the subtle difference in the scent of each critters poo- so I KNOW what I have stepped in or which way the wind is coming from. Not all the smells out here are woodsy pine or fresh cut hay. Alas.


I thought pig poop was the most foul smelling substance on the face of the earth. Bog of eternal stench material, as it is called when one slips in and gets thoroughly slimed with it. But no. The most foul smelling thing ever is dog vomit, after he's eaten a belly full of pig poop. Worse yet, in my kitchen the night before my sister's wedding just as my lovely aunt is unloading her bags from her rental car, bringing them in through the kitchen to the adjacent guest room. Not just poor pup, poor everyone. I thought dog skunked was bad. Seriously.

Oh yeah, skunks. There are a couple seasons where the skunks are worse than usual, where you are more likely to encounter them with your vehicle for example. However, don't think that skunks only magically appear in April and September and hide the rest of the year. No no, they are always out there waiting to spray which ever animal you have decided can live in your home and sometimes they steal eggs and bees too or just generally muck up the normally heavenly smell of fresh farm air.

Add to the list of critters you'll have to deal with as a threat to your own livestock and/or kids and family: coyotes, opossums, raccoons, snakes, rats, owls, weasels, muskrats, foxes, skunks, neighbor dogs, feral cats, deer, bob cats, reckless hunters, mink, hawks, moles, loose cattle/bulls, mice, spiders, ticks, lions, tigers, and bears oh my. Oh and poachers/tresspassers/reckless drivers. Just saying. It is not all fantasy land safe to let the kids run around outside, there are different things to worry about, but things to worry about none the less.

Utilities are ruthless. Not that I have ever been late, but there is no grace period. If you are late with a payment, and they are up front about this, your utilities get shut off. In the city, you have a month of grace and can work something out if something comes up. Not out here. That applies to water, electricity, Internet, and propane. I have to read my own water meter which is 1/2 a mile away from my house and then calculate my own payment from a confusing chart. Also, utilities are more expensive by unit here, though we use less than we did in the city so they are lower payments for us compared to what we are still paying in Des Moines for the house that won't sell.

Gas is more expensive than in the city. In Des Moines, Iowa right now gas per gallon is about $2.56 but in the nearest town to us it is $2.76.

Trash. Burn it or haul it. Disposable diapers and the like do not burn. It is a good thing we use cloth. You know what though, much of what we throw in the garbage doesn't burn either so we have to haul it and the dump is 45 minutes away. $10 per truckload though.

Tires. We have had more flat tires here than in the city and tires made for gravel and dirt roads are more expensive. Tractor tires go flat too. A lot.

4 wheel drive. Required. Often. Sometimes it is not enough.

I am sure there is more. I know that as we were getting ready to move out here I asked people to share these kinds of tidbits with me and none of these things except the flat tire issue came up. None of these would have deterred me though. I would have just liked to know.

10 comments:

Hathor's Bath said...

I couldn't help both laughing and yet, sighing and nodding a lot during this post. I grew up in the country and have lived there off and on. People often talk about idyllic and romantisize it, but man, how I knew spring had really arrived was when I could smell the manure spreaders in the fields.

Dana said...

Hilarious! I loved this post. I live in West Des Moines and my husband and I want to buy a farm 20 miles or so outside the city. Your post was a real eye-opener about what to expect. I had no idea about the utilities!

The Younger Rachael said...

I might be reading into what you wrote. There seems to be strong negative emotions behind all those words? I'm guessing its the somewhat normal process of adjustment, which is a roller coaster ride to say the least. Big changes --> fun times, new stuff --> gets old --> deal with frustration and anger --> gets better, as life gets more normal --> gosh, is this all I do? --> and so it continues up and down, each up and down getting less extreme.

Anyhoo -- might have just made a jump of logic that doesn't exist.

Sense of Home said...

I grew up on a farm and what you wrote rings true and gave me a good laugh at the same time.

You know, after a while you actually kind of like the smell of a farm (except maybe the pigs) - smells like home.

Laura @ Getting There said...

Thank you for this post. It was not only funny, but it reminded me that life in the country is not necessarily like the idyllic pictures you see on Christmas cards. I've been feeling frustrated lately that it seems we'll be stuck in the city a few more years, and it's good for me to remember that moving to the country isn't some kind of recipe for constant fun and happiness. Not that, as you said about yourself, any of this information would actually deter me. :)

Paula said...

The next time I am lamenting the fact that I'll only ever be able to farm a quarter acre suburban plot, I'll try to remember this post and be glad that all I'm dealing with is a stubbornly pesky raccoon and some slugs...

Mrs. Santos said...

You have no idea how encouraging this post is. We are brand new to farming. We planted a ton of strawberries and they all died. We know what we did wrong, but the disappointment is so big...knowing that things are not perfect and that other farmers struggle takes away a lot of the sting. Thanks for sharing.

Mama Podkayne said...

@TYR, not negative, just honest. Many of these things I wish someone would have thought to tell me ahead of time, or if they did....that I would have bothered to pay attention. It is always an adventure out here!

It is our dream and we are living it, building it slowly, and learning as we go.

Mama Podkayne said...

@Dana- 20 miles isn't far enough IMO. The commute goes faster than you'd think because of highways and 20 miles will be swallowed by housing sooner than you'd expect. We purposely searched SOUTH and ended up a bit farther out than planned, but SO VERY WORTH IT. My DH drives an hour to DM every day and an hour home. We are 56 miles from downtown.

One other thing I found helpful was to pick a county and work with a local agent who specializes in farms. They KNOW who is about to sell and what the property is like. For us, the community itself was the deal breaker. Amish as neighbors are an awesome bonus.

Heather said...

Loved this post. Although it only made me want to move out of the city more. Maybe dealing with poop all day is truly better than dealing with cement (and all the things cities are full of)?
I find refuge in my small garden. Worked it today and so appreciated the solitary moments in the sun, with my fingers in the dirt.