Last week I had the privilege to share some of our marketing tools, processes and transitions to a group of women attending the National Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Portland. It was fun to discuss social media and talk about what we have done to inform people about our farm and our farming practices while encouraging folks to consider spending a bit more money to buy local quality products for their family. With my fellow agri-preneur and good friend, we co-presented some of the trials and tribulations of marketing our small farms over the decades. Then came the question from one of the attendees, “Do you ever show the bad stuff in your social media and marketing?” I was quick to answer that I like to be very honest in my Blog, but after I said that, I thought about it and the reality is, even when I share the brutal truth in my Blog, it is through carefully cropped photos (that don’t show the barns that need to be cleaned), and typically when Shaun and I are wearing clean barn clothes…is this a true representation of what daily farm life is all about? Not really, but let’s face it, we are trying to sell a product and that is the perception of what our consumers want.
Tonight, as I was recounting last evening to eldest daughter Ashley, she recalled a time that she was house-sitting for a fellow goat dairy friend when a cold snap hit. It was 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The goats were all crabby and not wanting to be milked. It was dark and cold and everything was frozen and despite the fact that she loved taking care of the goats, she recalled thinking to herself, “this is NOT fun!” Well friends, sometimes farming is not fun and this week has been one of those not fun weeks! This Blog post isn’t intended to be an opportunity to complain about how bad we have it, but if we have any would-be farmer readers, perhaps this will give a bit more insight into the ‘bad stuff’ that my friend asked about at the conference last week.
We live in a pretty mild climate. Shaun and I have worked hard to make our farm as user friendly as possible, but when we get a little snap of cold weather, it does cause a bit of kerfuffle in our lives. Hauling warm water to the barns atop snow covered with a thin sheet of ice to un-thaw spigots and water buckets adds an element of difficulty to our already full schedule. My struggle with Raynauds Syndrome inevitably renders my hands and feet worthless about 15 minutes into any adverse conditions; less so if I happen to be fishing ice out of a bucket. The animals are ravenous as they eat to stay warm and they won’t leave the barn making that pile of s**t deeper and deeper with absolutely no way to clean until spring—heck, if we wait much longer to clean, they will be so elevated could reach up and eat from the hayloft. All those social media posts with beautiful sunny pictures? Well, just know, they are carefully cropped so that all the ugly goes away. Farming isn’t all pretty!
Last night Shaun and I skated (literally) into the driveway later than normal with the storm coming in. The east wind was whipping along at about 40 mph and we feared the inevitable; loss of electricity which compounds the elements of difficulty with chores, so we charged upstairs, threw on our chore clothes, bundled up in Carharts, coats, gloves and hats and raced outside to try to beat the disaster. Kid barn is pretty easy; waters done, kids fed, doors latched and kids tucked in for the storm. A dash down to the lower barn with a repeat of the kid barn activities got that barn handled fairly quickly, leaving us with milking chores as the next big push. The first discovery was that the Boer buck had escaped and gotten in with the does—too cold and tired to deal with it, I took a deep breath and quickly resolved that it was fine—we don’t need Nubian babies after all this year! **Sheesh** WHATEVER!!!! It is what it is. My resolve came much more quickly as the lights faded out for a brief minute which snapped me back to reality that I really didn’t have time to be crying in my sauce over the teenage buck being overzealous about his job. Back to the task at hand…which presently was water. We quickly re-filled all of our warm water jugs (as reserves) filled the girls buckets and got the hay down out of the loft. Fast like bunnies, I sterilized milking buckets while Shaun got the parlor set up with grain and got the first group of does set up…just in time to watch the lights dim again. By this time, we are nearly at a run between rooms in the barn, hands freezing and agitated girls with the wind. Barn doors are banging and branches are falling on the roof. In warp speed we prepped the first group of does for milking and both noted how grateful we were that we didn’t have to bottle milk tonight-just needed to put it into the bulk tank for chilling. Just as we were well into up the first group of does (with a good amount of milk in the bulk tank), the lights went out for good! Along with the lights, of course would be the water for washing up and the ability to run the bulk tank for chilling. I finished milking the first string in the dark with a small flashlight (that is usually used for our artificial insemination) held between my teeth while Shaun trudged to the house for lighting elements. Now here comes the really romantic part about this story…are you ready?…yes, you guessed it, the rest of the goats were milked by candle-light. Ahhhh…doesn’t that sound romantic? Who wouldn’t want to do that?
The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but included navigating half way to Fern Prairie for internet service required by the off-farm job crisis, loss of ALL the milk in the bulk tank and romantically extracted milk, downed trees, and no water. We flopped into bed about mid-night, setting our alarms on our cell phones after a gourmet meal of saltines and peanut butter and no ability to brush our teeth and then began a sleepless night of 4 ½ hours as we listened to the wind howl and worried about our 4-legged charges in the barn.
Now, am I sharing this because I want you to feel sorry for us? Absolutely not! We choose our life. We love the farm, but as my friend from the conference pointed out, as with anything in life, there are those things about the farm that are not so fun (at best) and down-right miserably unpleasant (at worst). I share this as brutal honesty about our farm. We don’t always like doing it. We often yell at each other (that was cleverly omitted from the story above) and wonder why we continue. Sometimes we think it would be really nice to just come home from our outside jobs, make a real dinner (one that contains all the food groups), get into jammies and enjoy a movie by the fire, but that is a rare treat in our lives and during the brutal weather times, that is when it is most appealing and least likely as that is the time the animals need us the most. So rather that dwell on the miserably unpleasant times, we get through them and try to focus on all the value that we receive from the farm and maybe that is the reason that we carefully crop the ugly out of our social media and marketing posts. Maybe it isn’t so much that we don’t want others to see it, but perhaps it is because it is the part that WE don’t want to dwell on so if we ‘crop’ the bad stuff out, that leaves us nothing but the good to enjoy.
Whatever the case may be, if you are a wanna-be farmer reading this, we hope this little glimpse into some of the not-so-pleasant gives you some perspective about what you are considering. If you are one of our normal visitors, we hope you can laugh along with us because that is the only way we seem to get through these long winter days and the drudgery of our chores this time of the year!
Wishing you all a wonderful month with few storms and lots of warm fires.
Shaun & Lorrie