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Joel Salatin produced an article that I read a few months ago. To summarize the article, he said that each new homestead craze sees a 6 year cycle: 2 years of honeymoon phase, 2 years for reality to set in, and 2 years for you to burnout, sell out and get out.
I was kind of saddened but could really resonate with that article.
WHY? Because this year was an incredibly tough one for me as far as feelings of burnout.
I am going to tell you why I hit such a severe season, how I chose to adjust rather than quit, and 2 hard rules I set for myself to make sure my farming effort really stands the test of time.
Too much too fast:
Ok, so here is why I hit such an intense season: I over-diversified my farm in too short a period of time.
While I never told you guys about it formally, I expanded the farm with a micro cow-calf operation, a dairy goat herd, and feeder piglets… all within the space of a few months. (To be fair the pigs were my brother’s undertaking, so besides logistics and herding them after a breakout, I was not involved)
Within a year of this expansion, the pigs were digging up the pasture, the goats were really frustrating in terms of contentment and rotational grazing, and we hit a couple of major and minor droughts that caused that micro cow-calf herd to put way more pressure on my pasture than was healthy.
The sheep continued to do great. My revenue with them actually tripled from 2022-2023. This was primarily because I was actively cultivating a market stream for them, where I was not as much with the other animals.
I hit last summer I had something like 150 animals on farm counting and some of them just weren’t earning their keep. The cows cash flowed too slowly to keep up with the supplemental hay that I needed to keep them through the winter, and I don’t really have ideal brushy landscape satisfy the goats, nor the audience to consume goats milk. So I really felt like I was spinning my wheels with no real product to show for it.
I made it through the summer and took a real step back once autumn hit. I chose to adjust rather than quit.
I looked at the cows and said my objectives here are to raise Grassfed Beef. I am going to eliminate the costly, risky cow calf operation and switch back to buying feeder steers.
I looked at the goats and said I will not keep 15 dairy goats, I will keep 3.
I looked at the pigs, which were actually in my frying pan.
And I looked at my sheep and said I am going to keep my 40 ewes with the highest reproductive rates.
WOW. I feel so good with these adjustments. I am back to my original energy and focus, while maintaining a reasonable and manageable level of diversity.
2 hard rules I set for myself to bake sustainability into my farming endeavor:
1: I have to have clarity on what I want out of that animal before I commit to it. I did this with the sheep, but really failed to do it for the cows and goats. IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO SAY: I AM GOING TO RAISE MEAT RABBITS FOR FOOD FREEDOM. YOU NEED TO SAY: I WANT 25 LBS OF MEAT OFF OF MY GROUP OF BACKYARD MEAT RABBITS EVERY YEAR. Knowing what your expectations are gives you a measuring stick for each effort and when you feel burnt out you can step back and say, “OK, am I burnt out because we are just doing a great job of making strides toward this goal, or is this animal dead weight and could I be spending my time better?”. Downsizing if your objectives are not met is good stewardship of your time and energy. Which are both resources with as much value as topsoil.
2: Is something that I actually established way back: I am not allowed to make any significant DE-stocking decisions from June to mid-august. June and July are typically the most intense months for the farm and I find myself saying at least once in June or July that I want to quit. So I make all of my decisions after August 15th when the dust settles and my rational brain returns. I say: “what do I want to do again, and what do I want to do never again?”
So this is it! I want to encourage you guys in the fact that adjusting is not the same as quitting.
We are all in this race for a reason, but sometimes we put weights on ourselves that we weren’t meant to carry. And when we get tired, that doesn’t mean we are disqualified or that we should quit the race, it means we need to evaluate, drop some weight and keep running.