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They don’t make pitchforks like they used to.

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We sold 3,000 pounds of sows this morning. It sounds like a lot, but sows are heavy; it was only eight pigs. This is the second wave of sales; we shipped four others a couple of weeks ago. We’ll ship several more soon. By the middle of April I expect our herd will be just half — or less — the size it was at the beginning of the year.

While I’ve talked about the mycotoxin contamination of our feed on the PMF Show I haven’t yet written about it here. Mycotoxins are produced by mold in feed corn; the one our vet suspects has been in our feed unbeknownst to us interferes with the pigs’ normal hormone function and, in sows specifically, can cause pseudopregnancy and poor or even no lactation. In our case, it has caused all of the above. Many of our sows have presented as pregnant, but have ultimately come up empty at farrowing time when their bellies mysteriously vanish and their teats shrink without a piglet to be seen. At the same time, those who have managed to carry a litter of pigs to term have struggled to produce enough milk, and baby pigs don’t do well on milk replacer; we saved some, but the majority didn’t make it. Since pigs are how we make money, and baby pigs in the spring make up a significant portion of our yearly income, liquidating the herd will — hopefully — allow us to pay the bills on what remains.

And I won’t lie, it has been a bitter pill to swallow. Building this farm has felt like a long slow climb, and when we rounded what we thought was a peak this January we found it was only a plateau and that there is a lot of climb left in front of us. I am, at once, dealing with it very well, and not well at all.

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One of the ewes is developing a bit of an udder. I don’t know what it is about lambs, but I have always had a soft spot for them. I’m eagerly awaiting their arrival, but also won’t be disappointed if they make an entrance when it’s nice and warm outside.

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Remember the children’s book I had published? The one about where food comes from? My publisher, in partnership with Cabot Creamery, has agreed to help fight hunger and extreme poverty with the book by donating 15% of every sale to ONE. The whole campaign is exciting, because it brings together so much of what has felt like random, moving parts in my life and work over the past few years.

If you haven’t already picked up a copy, now would be awesome. If you have a copy, but haven’t told your friends about the book now is also a perfect time to do that, too. You can buy the book directly on Little Pickle Press’ website and they’ll throw in free shipping, too. Use code BCorps4ONE at checkout.

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It is almost 60 degrees here today, and will be again tomorrow, too. Mud season is upon us and I’m desperately hoping it doesn’t last all year like it did last year. There’s a lot of unfinished business on this property that we need to wrap up and it would be nice to be able to drive equipment around; it would be even nicer to not spend two hours every night trying to eradicate mud from the house after The Pig Dog comes inside.

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Have I mentioned that I have just transitioned back to being on the farm full-time this week? I’d been doing communications work for a local ag company for almost a year and a half and this is my first week back here. It feels good, and hopefully it will result in more blog posts. I’ve confirmed what I had already suspected, being in an office all day, every day is not for me.

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That, I suppose more than does it for this week. Back soon. Hopefully with something less miscellaneous.

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6 Resolutions for Growing a Small Farm

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I’m a little reluctant to call these resolutions. I’m not drawn to the idea of resolutions; public declarations of an intention to do this thing or not do that one. I’ve come to see life and its relative success or failure as a moving target. That said, I’m a sucker for goals and intentions. I like the new year as a set point for reassessment and goal setting. I like to think somewhere between an on-high pronouncement of hard resolutions and a quiet intention to work towards a few little things is this list. Six not-so-little things I’ll be concentrating on in 2015. [click to continue…]

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State of the Farm : 2015 Farmprint Course

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farmprintvertpicsEvery year about this time I begin to take stock of how our farm is functioning. Some years it’s inspiring, other years it’s frustrating, most years it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, it’s become a sort of cornerstone of how we do things and something I’ve come to look forward to and appreciate. The advice to write and follow a farm business plan is ubiquitous, but less so is the advice to regularly review, re-assess and revise that plan. Yet, it’s the latter of those two that has actually helped us grow our farm. Any business — especially a small business — is a constantly transforming entity, but I think that’s even more so for farm businesses. We’re subject to market conditions, weather conditions, and consumer psychology perhaps to a greater extent than business people in any other industry.

When we’re in the trenches my thought process rarely makes a conscious stop at the business plan, but because it has never been more than about twelve months since I revised it, it’s always in the background. I probably wouldn’t have recognized it in the earliest years, but I can now say for sure that it has been the conscious effort to adapt to continual market changes that has allowed us to make good decisions at the right times; it’s the little subconscious stops my brain makes when I’m trying to decide what to do that has saved our butts more often than not.

Which isn’t to say it’s always perfect… farming is still farming, but I shudder to think about decisions I might have made if this yearly tradition weren’t in place.

Which is all simply to say that this year, I’ve decided to open that process up as a course.

As I was penciling in time to make this happen for us this year I realized that this is something the industry could use. So I developed the steps I take into a curriculum, designed printables and forms, adapted my thought process to lessons and I’m inviting you to join me on the journey to The State of The Farm Address 2015. When we’re done, you’ll have your own state of the farm address. If you already have a farm business plan you’ll have revised it to better reflect where you are now and where you’re headed next; if you don’t have one you’ll have written one which is a great step in the right direction itself.

I’m calling the course “Farmprint,” because every business needs a blueprint — even farm businesses. Assuming it goes well, I think we’ll make it an annual event, but we don’t have to get ahead of ourselves. For now, you can go here to enroll.

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Monday Miscellany: Christmas Stores & Old Dogs

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We spent Sunday in Frankenmuth, Michigan. “Little Bavaria” is known for being home to famous chicken dinners and the largest Christmas store in the world. It’s one of those small town tourist experiences that is little known outside of its own state, but something of a legend within. I remember going to Frankenmuth as a kid and being awestruck. Everything feels bigger when you’re small and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland is big even as an adult. For years now we’ve meant to take our own kids up there, to make the trip a yearly family tradition, but it seems like something always gets in the way. December is incredibly busy, but if there’s anything I’ve come to realize this year it’s that there will never be time unless we make it. So that we did. [click to continue…]

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Name that Ewe

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A few years ago we bought a dog to work livestock. This year we bought livestock for the dog. The irony here is not lost on me.

As The Pig Dog has grown, it’s become clear that we got very lucky: he’s the perfect dog for us. Though I tend to be of the mind that, when you’re raising a dog from a puppy, it’s probably going to become the dog you’d want anyway, I hear this is not always — or even frequently — the case with working Collies. Some might be cut out for cattle, others sheep, few might even be able to work both. And pigs? Pigs aren’t even a normal part of the equation so few people have really pinned down the capacity of any given subset of the Collie population to work the beasts. Yet we’ve found ourselves with a dog who has been able to help, in one capacity or another, with all of the above. [click to continue…]

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