Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Critics say...

I wrote a day or two ago about a sheep of mine, a ewe, that I had to treat.  I wrote about how  I consulted with a more-experienced sheep farmer, and a veterinarian and a local vet clinic, and following their advice, treated the ewe successfully.  But then I get this comment: 
Anonymous said...

While I commend you for you efforts you must have a LOT of cash to burn through. Seems like every other day one of your animals is getting sick from something that could've been prevented, or you're making a costly mistake that could've been avoided.

I hope this is not the case, but at this rate I hope those pockets are deep for I don't see this farm sustaining itself anytime soon. You ought to do through research prior to embarking on your miscalculated endeavors.

Wishing you the best.

Not satisfied with this, this person posted this comment the next day:

Anonymous said...

Oh what happened? My last comment hurt your feelings, as I see you never posted it. I'm sorry if it did, it's just that more often then not when reading your blog can't help but say to myself "what is this guy doing?"



First -- even if the comments don't agree with me I post them, with a couple of exceptions:  No personal attacks, and keep on the topic at hand.  I'm open to the discussion of ideas and practices and hints and suggestions at any time.  I'm also open to questions about my rationale for doing something.  So if you see me talk about something that doesn't make sense, by all means, ask that question. 

Second -- if you're sincerely interested in helping (me, or any other farmer) and you've got some experience, I'd love to hear it.  Let's look at another comment in that same post, written by Michelle from Collie farm wrote to that very same posting-- helpful, contains a reference to a source she's found helpful, along with some symptoms to look for -- smell of the animals breath, etc.  

With respect to the farm -- or any business venture -- if you can't afford to take some losses along the way you probably won't succeed.  It doesn't matter if it's farming or software or whatever -- business involves making mistakes.  It's not a question of whether you make a mistake, it's often a question of how fast and appropriately you respond to the mistake. 

If you've ever used a compass, you'll find that you'll walk a ways, consult your compass, correct your bearing, and keep walking.  Checking your compass bearing more frequently means that your error is smaller, and you get to your destination quicker.   Expecting there to be no learning curve, or mistakes made, during the course of any endeavor is foolhardy. 

So I'm open to suggestions, Friend.  With respect to the sheep, or any other aspect of my farm, please do suggest what I might do better.  Share with me (and the other readers) your experience and insight.  Tell me a trick or technique that makes your life easier. 

Part of the reason that I talk about my mistakes is that is actually what I like reading about in other peoples blogs.  There's too many blogs that are fairy tales, or who talk about practices that they don't actually do themselves.   I'd prefer something more grounded in reality -- and I'm hoping that what I write here is useful to people who are thinking about doing something similar.

So jump in.  I don't bite.


Tim said...


Transparency has a cost, doesn't it. Just look at this post we wrote about parasites in our ram flock last year and the 26 comments we got, mainly by people who "knew better". The people who comment farm a different way, and it's valuable to have their experience. But they don't necessarily know what our values are and what we're trying to do.

We don't have a lot of money to burn, which is WHY we endure losses in the short-term. We lost at least 40 baby piglets our first year as we force the mothers to farrow outdoors with ZERO help from us. Now losses are much lower and continue declining. In the long run, we're trying to develop sheep, pigs, cows, etc., that can make it with what the land provides and with no help (or hindrance) from us. That means no antibiotics, no minerals unless they're denied access to natural minerals, no farrowing help, etc.

It's your farm. Keep doing what you believe is right, and you'll get there.


Fred said...

It seems kind of funny to me that one of the 'fairy tale' blog's authors signs their comments with the same phrase as the comment critisizing you farm and predicting its failure.

It is either an awful big coincidence, a supporter of the 'fariy tale' blog, or the author of the blog.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bruce,

I was not putting you down for trying to farm and making a living at it. Was merely pointing out that thank god for the deep pockets that have kept you afloat. A bit of research on your part would have prevented a LOT of the problems you face.

Best of luck... oh by the way - bring up sugar mountain farm yet again... just makes you sound bitter. (((hug)))


Bruce King said...

Tim: I agree. There's a lot of divergent views out there, and quite a few people who are convinced that their view is the "right" or "correct" view. One of the nice things about local food, and small farms, is that it gives folks a choice about how their food is produced. Having a variety of different philosophies out there makes that choice more meaningful. I've appreciated your blog for that reason.

Fred: I don't spend too much time wondering about who's making the comment. In this case it's an opportunity to ask for what I am interested in -- constructive comments, helpful advice, or honest questions about what I'm doing or my rationale behind any practice I have. I love all of that.

Friend: You've said I haven't done my research. Please do tell me what in particular I've missed, and suggest to me a way I could have avoided that. This came up about the sheep posting -- so tell me where you would have looked, and what you find when you look there. I'm open to hearing it.

Bruce King said...

Sugar mountain is a blog that I've used to illustrate my point, but they are far from the only blog that talks about how they'd like to farm, but when it comes down to brass tacks doesn't actually do it that way. I could find something similar on most of the popular farm blogs.

If you're writing fiction just be clear about that. If you're going to talk about a farm in any sort of honest way, in my view, it's got to include the ups and the downs both. This isn't a disney film.

Anonymous said...


Just starting in the farming world. I am the CFO of a midsize company, so not a lot of time during the day but really enjoy it. I appreciate your writing and revealing the things you go through. I am not a hobby farmer. I enjoy it but if I can't do it profitably I will not do it.


Funder said...

I think Friend just lacks reading comprehension. You called a vet, which was presumably free, and a couple other people, then instead of a $300 farm call, you bought a gallon of propylene glycol.

Hope the ewe is still improving, and a half-ton of feed to hopefully prevent the problem in other sheep seems like money well spent to me.

Anonymous said...

I am a huge reader and always buy a bunch of books on whatever I'm doing so that I have references on hand. But for sheep, I've found that most books aren't very thorough, they kind of gloss over all the stuff that can go wrong. I think because they assume the reader will be more of a hobby farmer who will just pay a vet for anything more than trivial. Things change so much once you move from the hobby space to the business space, and you have more animals and more cost constraints.

Paula's book is the only one I've found that gives more hard-core veterinary advice, and two veteran sheep farmers have pointed me to that one. A lot of this stuff is hard to memorize, I feel like I have to constantly return to the book to refresh on a particular subject when I'm facing it anew.

My understanding is that ketosis is fairly common, because you are always walking a fine line between feeding them enough and not over-feeding. Over-fat ewes are in danger of as many things as underweight ones. So it's not like you can just park a truckload of grain out there and figure your problems are solved! :-D You could spend a lot more money and still have ewes die of prolapse and huge, stuck lambs!

There are so many variables, one person can't really tell another person what's "right"- it'll be different between breeds, individual herds and animals, feeds, etc. I think you just have to spend some years finding what works for you, your site, the breeds you've chosen, and what your goals are.

There are bound to be learning experiences along the way! I think the blogosphere is a great place for sharing them, for the benefit of others who run across your post, and (hopefully) helpful comments in it, just when they need it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bruce:

"I've ordered 1,000lbs of grain, and will be putting the whole flock on 2lbs a day in addition to hay and forage for the rest of their pregnancy."

That was the comment that stood out the most to me... how do you not know if your animals are receiving enough nutrition or not, particularly if you are breeding them.

My comment was based on the perception I'd gotten from reading your posts fairly reguarly. Don't think that I am completely off either - about the comment that you've thrown a LOT of money into this place and some of those mistakes could've been easily avoided.

If you would like I can comment as we go along. Don't see why you took such great offense to my comment when I'm sure you can see where it was coming from.



Oh btw, no this isn't the fairy tale blogger from SugarMtn farm. Although that is the ONLY "fairy tale" blog you have EVER referenced Bruce.

Across The Creek Farm said...


Apparently your pockets are deep enough that you open up hundreds of 7 layer dip containers to save some bucks, or rearrange your schedule to pick up short notice loads of salmon, pumpkin pies, etc.
Apparently your pockets are so deep that you spend your time studying to build your own corral and fencing vs hiring someone else, or to attend public or farm auctions to get great deals on gates, land, etc. We won't go into using dairy cow male calves for meat to save money.

We lost A LOT of chickens our first year, fewer our second year. I know my land and the critters on it now though, and when people need cheap solutions to expensive poultry problems, they come to me. When I have questions, I go to guys like you and Nature's Harmony. People who pioneer don't always cut straight paths.

The only thing worse than an armchair general is an armchair farmer.

Bruce King said...

Barry, you're in the same space I am. While I enjoy the husbandry, I'll do it in a way that it pays for itself. I've got no interest in subsidizing animals for other folks. My goal is to 'walk the walk' - the farm has to make a profit and pay a wage (to me, initially, but my goal is to hire help at some point, so to others as well. Job creation is good. )

Funder: You got exactly what I meant to say. Option A) visit from the vet -- too expensive at $300. can't do it with an animal that costs $150 to replace. Option B) figure out the best course of treatment that does make economic sense -- $18 for the glycol fit the bill. And it worked. Excellent outcome, and fits into my "walk the walk" ethos.

Michelle: I've ordered a copy of the book; thank you for the reference. Since there's three different farmers raising this breed of sheep pretty close by I'm figuring that they'll do ok once I work out what they need. As a product to sell I do like the idea of sheep, and I'm hoping that I can make a go of them.

Friend: That's a good question -- why do I think that graining the sheep will do anything good? First, 1k pounds of feed is $140 right now; about the replacement price of a single ewe. I believe that this particular ewes problem was caused by lack of nutrition, but you're right, I don't know that for sure. I'm guessing, since I was able to get her back on her feet by giving her a bump in calories. I'm increasing the calories for the entire flock as a preventative measure by adding some feed to the grass and hay they're already getting.

I chose this particular kind of feed because it's what the farmer I purchased my sheep from uses, and the amount that I'm proposing to feed is what he feeds of this mix. I'll feed the sheep for the last month of their pregnancy and the first few weeks of their nursing and then evaluate from there.

To my eye the sheep look ok. Good coverage of the backbone, wool looks good, no outward signs of distress... The first clue I had that there was a problem was that a sheep went down. Once I knew there was a problem I took immediate action (within the 'walk the walk' parameters I'e discussed above) and will take preventative action as well. Is there anything else you think i should have done?

Spence: Glad you noticed I'm a cheap bastard, and yes, I do work very hard to cut every cost I can. I'm beginning to hate plastic food packaging and plastic bags.

I spend money where I must, but my overall goal is really to make a profit. I could pay for all the costs out of pocket but I will not because I want to prove the concept: Make money with a small farm, enough to pay for the land and wages.

Anonymous said...


You missed the point. Really does seem like you just read what you want to, or lack the ability to comprehend. My point, as clearly stated earlier, was that how could you have NOT known that PREGNANT ewes would need extra nutrition. Took a downed ewe for you to figure this out?


Lee said...

Wow, so much bitterness and so little help from your anonymous "friend". Let's see, chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, greenhouses .. I don't know why you aren't out scouring the web for sheep advice?

I'm going to guess that the ancient sheepherders of northern England weren't feeding a a grain ration during lambing season. So much animal advice today starts with grain. I personally appreciate someone who's willing to experiment. I'll be following your heritage breed chicken experiment with interest.

Bruce King said...

Friend, how many sheep have you raised?

damae said...

Exactly, how many sheep has friend raised?
Friends sweet sarcasm reminds me of fingernails on a blackboard, but then I do appreciate the additional info it induces. However, I find that no matter how much I read, it is the practical lessons that really teach the concept. It seems mr friend has no anecdotes or personal experience to share, just ongoing critism so pshht.

Anonymous said...


Enough to know that pregnant ewes need supplemental feed.


Unknown said...

You never mentioned the name of the book that Michelle suggested. Can you share please so those of us who are interested could also know.

Bruce King said...

The book that michelle reccomended and quoted from was mentioned in the "treating a ewe who collapsed" post. I'll quote her:

"...It sounds like you did the right thing and that it worked! Yay! I have this page bookmarked in my sheep bible (Paula Simmons Raising Sheep the Modern Way)- page 152"