Some days it seems like we spend way too much money trying to do this whole farm thing. Actually, most days it seems like that. Well, I suppose we're in good company with every other farmer ... like the old joke goes: When the farmer won the lottery, and was asked what he'd do now, he shrugged and said "Keep on farmin' till the money runs out!"
The latest acquisition/investment is a little two-horse trailer. While we do have a little landscape trailer that has been modified with raised sides and a gate at the back, and it does indeed work for hauling up to 5-6 sheep at a time, it isn't very sturdy, and has shown signs that it is unlikely to survive sheep hauling for more than another couple of years without need for repair. It's going to be reallocated to trash and lumber hauling, which is what it was meant for in the first place.
The Reluctant Farmer is the King of Kijiji Shopping - and he has been watching for a good deal on a trailer for some time now. This one came up recently, and was newer than most he'd seen in our price range ... and was cheaper as well! With some logistical headaches, he managed to pick it up this weekend, and it'll do exactly what we need.
See, with a cow/calf pair in addition to the sheep, we have to think about getting the calf to butcher next fall, and although we could probably prevail upon someone we know who has a trailer, that's not a favour I really want to call in every year. If the cow ever needs the vet, being able to take her there would be cheaper than having the vet come here. Also, when taking sheep to the butcher or the auction, there are some real advantages to being able to take more than just 5 at a go. And then there's Cherub, who always tries to jump out of the little sheep trailer and has to be tied when she's in there for fear of losing her overboard!
Last but not least, The Reluctant Farmer has been working on a plan to take the sheep on school visits. He and Dinosaur Boy's teachers are working out the details, but the trailer would be a really nice feature for this project: the kids can come outside and go into the trailer to visit the sheep, rather than taking the sheep into the school. This reminds me of something I saw when I was very little ... Elsie the Borden Cow was at the local grocery store, outside in her trailer in the parking lot. I vividly remember going into the trailer and seeing this lovely placid cow sitting there chewing her cud ... and I couldn't have been more than five at the time. The little girl I was then would never have guessed that she'd grow up into someone with a real cow of her own!
Deciding where to spend and where to save is always a tough call ... we very much want to get the debts under control and that means not spending on things that can wait, but then again, we are trying to build up our very little farm into something that at least supplements our income somewhat, or something that has the capacity to be expanded so that it could supplement our income, and to do that means getting the infrastructure in place.
It's a hard decision. We know that our jobs are fragile - if the economy goes south, the kind of work we do could evaporate, leaving one or both of us with limited options for standard employment. We love working on the farm, and so we are trying to ensure that if the time ever comes that we want to make this an actual revenue builder, we have the necessary infrastructure to allow us to expand without needing huge infusions of startup cash.
What we are aiming for is that things as they are become easier to manage, and that if we want to expand in the future, we have what we need for a bit more livestock. In the short term, if things are easier to manage, we are freed up to do our paid jobs, because the 'farm stuff' takes less time. Sure we have to fix fences in the spring, but when the cross-fencing is in place and the gates are all where they need to be, moving sheep from one pasture to another is a matter of a few minutes for one person, rather than two or three of us chasing sheep around a huge pasture trying to get them where we want them. As for expansion, if we leased some nearby land we could carry a few more animals without needing more significant infrastructure than what we already have. The heritage breeds that we prefer don't need big barns or huge grain bins or anything like that, but they do need what we already have (or are working on) - fencing, feeders, water troughs, and a barn with room for a few at a time, rather than everyone all at once.
We'll see where it all leads - maybe we'll never be more than 'hobby farmers' who have a few sheep, some chickens, and a dairy cow. Then again, maybe we'll find our way into the local grass-fed meat market, be supplying local handspinners with premium wool and enjoying the food we grow in our own garden.
It's nice to have a dream, anyway. And who knows? If the little girl who was so awed by Elsie the Borden Cow could grow up to have a dairy cow of her very own ... maybe some day this woman with the little acreage will find that she's grown up and become a real farmer, too.