How I fell in love with farming and farmers,

I started my little farm 3 years ago now, with an admitted lack of knowledge in farming. I’d been around lots of animals, even lived on a beef farm, but I knew my own farm was going to be a fantastic adventure. And was it ever.

Between the endless late nights checking in the barn for new life, the tender care rendered towards the ill or infirmed, and the learning curve even steeper then I had ever anticipated; I feel completely head-over heels for this work.

I enter the food production system with my own ideals of how animals should be raised, and a number of which I still hold; but what I found was a deeper respect for the people who give their entire lives over to farming, and the endless toil that comes with it.

Now don’t get me wrong, the work in amazing. To be outdoors in the fresh air and on soil you can stick your hand into and call your own, there isn’t anything like it in the world.  It’s not something I would give up for anything, to be able to raise my children with an intimate knowledge of where their food comes from and with such an integral connection to this community.

I have learned the sorrows of losing a favourite animal, the joys of seeing new life, the pride of putting well-received food on to tables, and the frustrations of dealing in bureaucracy.

What I never expected was to have forged indelible friendships with my “coworkers” across the country and beyond. Hardworking, humble, open, giving and welcoming; the pastoral vision of the farm may no longer be a reality, but it lives on in the hearts of those who grow our food. From the smallest farms, to the largest commercial animal operations, no one does this for the pay-cheque; they do it because it’s in their blood.

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Where are we going? What are we bringing with us? Thoughts on breeds for the small farm.

There is on inalienable truth about our current population, we are heading to the city. Regardless of your beliefs about climate change, or peak oil, or even your environmental leaning, you can not deny that as a population, people are moving from rural to urban environments. So how does this effect what you should be breeding?

Animal hobbyism (and by this I mean keeping & breeding specific breeds of animals for hobby raising) is on a downward spiral. As beautiful as some breeds of chickens or exotic some breeds of goat, people aren’t going to keep them in their yard in city. Some people do try, but they are in the vast minority, and probably the same people who will eventually move to the country to live out a more suitable lifestyle.

When choosing a bred to bring into your small farm, you need to look are you practical needs for the animal, the climate and conditions (especially space requirements) you want to keep them in, as well as the usefulness of the animal in the future.

I speak specifically of the “pet” and “fancy” breeds of animals. You can not eat poofy hair or feathers, and no one wants an expensive crap-machine in their backyard. Before throwing your heart in soul into a breed, you need to ask yourself, honestly, is this breed going to be around in 100 years? Should it?

If all small farms followed the lead of industrial agriculture we’d be in a whole heap more trouble then we are now. I especially don’t want to dissuade people from keeping rare ‘heritage’ breeds, I think it is very important to maintain the genetic diversity of these breeds. Most of those breeds were bred for practical purposes and are especially suited to small farms. It is the breeds have either come into being for a colour or look, or drifted away from any actual purpose towards a pretty form, which will not stand the test of time.

If you want to practice animal hobbyism, that’s your own perogitory, but keep in mind the future of your craft, and that one day, possibly quite soon, you may find there is no one left interested in purchasing your fancy stock. What small farmers want is the old-style dual-purpose heritage animals that existed for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, one those still have function bred into them.

Animals should be bred for practicality, health, and thriftiness before colour or body form (not related to conformation); and if you want your breed, your hard-work to live on into the future, that is the direction you must go. If you’ve bred something that needs to be artificially inseminated, raised or incubated, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Industrial agriculture cares for nothing but feed conversion, health for the purposes of production and productivity of the animal, you do not breed for these same ideals when breeding for small stock.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a crazy coloured cow that is also a great meat or milk producer, but it must have been bred for purpose and the colour is an afterthought.

Big, Small, Hobby?

So what kind of farmer are you? Are you a hobby farmer? Or a small-scale farmer? What’s the difference?

Hobby Farmer
Means you don’t make a profit. You’re probably not sinking too much money into the farm (or hopefully you’re not!), you may be selling a few animals, but mostly you keep what you like to have around. You may or may not have a balance sheet but if you do it’s most likely in the red. You’re growing things for fun & your family.

If you keep a pair of chickens in your urban backyard or have some patio potatoes, you’re a hobby farmer.

Small Scale
Made a profit last year? Welcome to small-scale farming! Whether you focus on one animal or have lots, small scale farmers care about a bottom line. You may not be living off the farm, but you should be making something even if it only covers hydro. If you’re trying to make a profit, but loosing your shirt, it still counts.

You may have show animals or not, be more of a breeder then a farmer, or not; but if you’ve got livestock you’re a small-scale farmer.

Medium Scale
Quit your day job? You’re a medium scale farmer! You should no only be clearing income, but should be able to keep yourself employed above the poverty line ($25k a year in Canada). You may have lots of money invested in your business, but the size of your land does not dictate where you sit. So you can be a medium scale farmer on 5 acres of land, or 200 acres.

Large Scale
Living more then a little comfortably off the farm? Supplying grocery chains? More then one farm? Hundreds of head? You’re a large scale farmer. And maybe that’s just me sitting here on my little tiny farm, but I’d say if you’re clearing more then 100k a year. This is the big times.

And large scale farming does not equate to “Big Ag”.

Big Ag
Control inputs for more then a hundred thousand food producers?
Create so much waste that the back end of your production can be called a natural disaster?
Been featured, legitimately, on some animal rights group’s propaganda with your normal practices?

We don’t like you.