Monday, January 6, 2020

The new farm

I purchased my first farmland in 2006; 12 acres on the flood plain of a local river, with about 4 usable acres, the rest was very wet ground.  I purchased that land because it was cheap; roughly $6k/acre, which i considered cheap at the time.  The area was going through a housing boom at the time, and good farmland was selling for $30k/acre to folks who wanted to build houses on it. 

That patch of ground was a good starting point for me; I learned a lot about dealing with wet ground, getting tractors stuck and unstuck, local regulations and I got a good introduction to the local regulatory agencies, one by one :) 

When i started to farm I spent a few years working through all of the things I could raise and sell; meat chickens, roosters, eggs, sheep, goats, beef and dairy cattle, but each of those has its own expertise, and to do a good job I felt that I had to narrow my focus; so the sheep, goats and chickens got dropped, along with most of the milking stock, but I kept the pigs and beef cattle; but the cattle really needed more land to do a proper job, so i started looking for a new farm location in 2011. 

My second farm was an upgrade; I purchased it in 2013.  70 acres, a bankrupt dairy farm.  As part of the purchase I got 52,000 square feet of barn space, which for me was a luxury.  Barns are for the farmer, not so much for the animal.  Much nicer working under a roof and having endless barn space to husband animals.  I also got a complete milking parlor and a manure lagnoon/flush barn setup, and I spent a couple of years looking at it and thinking about it. 

   I'm interested in dairy, and cheesemaking, and spent a few years raising dairy cows and milking them, and that's all documented in this blog, but the economics of it just didn't pan out.  I couldn't run enough cows on my land to make it work out, and pigs were pretty consistently profitable the whole time.     that is to say that I could pencil out a $50 profit per cow, but to make a living at it I would have to own a lot of cows.  Even though I had the most expensive parts - barns and milking parlors basically free - I couldn't see how to make a profit being a dairy.  Low milk prices for the next 5 years basically reinforced this opinion, and I eventually dropped the idea. 

I've worked out how to get about 2/3rds of my animal feed for free - mostly pre-consumer produce - and that keeps my pig costs low, and I live near a big city, which provides consumers who are willing to buy pork from a pastured producer for a very good price, and between those two points, along with weaned pig sales, there's a pretty good business. 

I ran across a fellow who wanted to buy my farm for a fair price, and we're working through the process of moving my operation from the "old" farm to the "new" farm, which has been a little like taking a step back.  The "new" farm has limited barn space, and limited facilities in general, and the house is about half the size of the "old" farm house.   

So from the building perspective, this is a major downsize - but that's not a bad thing.  I really didn't use most of the old house; and I have come to  understand why farm houses are small, and it's not just economics.  I work in the great outdoors every day, and given the choice between 1000 square feet of house and owning another acre or 10... well, I chose the acres. 

The new farm is 450 acres; 75 acres of that is river-bottom cropland, 375 acres is commercial forest land, in various stages of regrowth after logging.  The next timber harvest is 40 acres, in about 5 years.  With timber there are somethings that I apparently have to do - who would have thought? - but by and large the forest does what forests do.

As I sit here, on January 6th, 2020, my weather station says that I've gotten 3.2 inches of rain in the last 24 hours, and the forecast is for another couple of inches.   Even though I'm only a few miles up the valley from the old farm this new one gets substantially more rain, and the farmers on this land have been trying to control that water for a century.    The ground soaks it up; most of the flats are a foot or so of topsoil over sand and gravel that is 50 to 200 feet deep; there are temporary puddles for a few hours after the rain stops, but it all gets absorbed by the ground pretty quickly. 

Prior farmers have installed drain tiles all over the property.  Red clay pipes, concrete pipes, wooden wire-wrapped pipes, and ditches.  Some of them work, some don't, and I think that digging up and then repairing or destroying the drainage system will be a major part of my chores for the next year or so while I figure it out.     Mysterious water flows are usually broken or rotten pipes channeling water from somewhere to somewhere else. 

One of the first mysteries that I need to solve is the water system for the house.  The water tests excellent - no problems with the quality at all.  But it's gravity fed, and no one I've talked to seems to know where it comes from, other than "up that hill behind the house" - and since water supply is pretty important, I'd like to take a look at it and see if it needs any work pretty soon. 


1 comment:

Susan from the Pacific Northwest said...

Thanks for the update. I always enjoy your posts.