fire and ice

Well. I don’t even know where to begin or end.

We had a fire a couple days ago. It was in our hoophouse, between the hours of midnight and 6. I woke up to do chores and found that our two 8′ x 8′ brooder boxes, one of which we had just constructed two days ago with my dad, were completely gone. Nothing but smoldering ash. All of our ducklings were dead, they were charcoal. And the hoophouse plastic was melted in the middle, rendering the hoophouse more or less unusuable. My brain could not comprehend what I was seeing. I ran into the house and yelled at my wife “They’re all dead!’ Not the words you want to hear in the morning.

We ran around pouring bucket after bucket of water on the smoldering pile of ash and melted plastic and metal. I saw a burnt electrical cord and unplugged it. There were a couple moments when I felt a sob rush up into my throat. I don’t sob, I don’t blubber. But this was a bit too much for me to handle, even with my typical stoic attitude.

The charred area was now soaked. On the west side of the hoophouse we had our 40 new geese behind a hog panel. Amazingly, they were all fine and seemed to have taken the raging bonfire inside the hoophouse in stride. They had a small plywood feeder that had somehow been consumed by flame and had disappeared into ash. On the east side of the hoophouse we have a few rabbits and ducks in little plywood cubicles. They were also fine, except for the melted tarps and charred walls.

I told my wife I would do the chores. Like a zombie I filled buckets of water and fed the animals. We spent the rest of the day wandering around in a daze exclaiming “Holy shit.” every few moments. Then we took a walk with the dogs and tried to clear our heads. Ironically, it was a gorgeous sunny day.

All in all we lost around $3,000 worth of supplies, not too mention uncountable lost future revenue. But of course the harder thing for us to deal with is that we feel so badly for our ducklings, feel like we were the worst care-takers. After raising so many similar sized groups of chickens, ducks, and turkeys from babies to adults with all kinds of various brooder set ups we felt that we were finally getting a really good grip on how to set them up and manage them well. And in fact, our two brooders were set up almost perfectly, very secure, warm, and with plenty of room for all our little gals. It just takes one small spark and all your planning and building and hoping and caretaking can go up in smoke. And now, sadly, we know this viscerally.

But there are always silver linings. Yes, we have been set back, but it helped us to decide to take a breather  and reevaluate our next steps, and how to go about doing everything on the farm with safety planning at the forefront of our brains. Setbacks like this are no good for any business. It is important to not put all of our eggs in one basket, not only for the ecological health of our farm, but for the economic resilience of our business.

We are so glad that the fire didn’t spread any farther then it did. Yes we will have to replace the plastic, clean up the area, rebuild the brooders, and replace the ducklings, but these things are all doable. Any more death and destruction would have knocked our breath out. So we are grateful rather then bitter. We are also so grateful for the support we’ve felt from our friends, family, and customers. As caretakers of our small farm and food providers for them, we are part of their lives. That is a heartening thought for a farmer who spends a lot time in his head.

As much as I am sick of the ice, it stopped the fire from consuming our farm.


keypoint meeting

My mind is swarming with thoughts about the upcoming season.

There are so many different parts of a farm business – how to integrate them into a cohesive whole is the goal.

One thing unique about a farm business is that it is biologically based. Soil, climate, weather, seed stock; these all form the base of what you can accomplish in a given growing season.  Working with these elements is complicated enough, but we also have to sell our products at the end of the day. That’s what frustrates me some days, we get so wrapped up in the HOW sometimes we don’t know the WHY. But that’s why we have our farm meetings.

Each morning we sit down and make a list of goals for the day. We talk over  the shorter goals for the week and longer goals for the season. Occasionally we talk about the goals for the year, or the goals for future years. We give ourselves milestones to reach and we work toward them each and every day. Small, large, medium, huge, long-term, short term, feelings, thoughts – we address all of these almost every day. Without these meetings we would be lost in a sea of confusion. It’s true, when we go without  our farm meetings, we totally lose focus and the day usually ends up as a bust in some way.

So I encourage you to start and religiously hold farm meetings every morning. Connection is the key.

number hell

I think that a lot of beginning farmers think two ways about the business aspect of farming: either it is a totally confusing number hell for them, or they are way too confident and they think they can sell everything they grow without a single worry. I don’t think either of these approaches will get you anywhere. I think, as usual, the middle ground is where we find some sanity.

Yes it is good to be confident in your numbers, but you have to have something, sales for instance, that backs up your confidence. Yes it is bad to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of numbers flying all around you, but instead of giving up you should have a healthy respect for the chaos of life and business, and try to makes some small sense of it all, in order to get a grasp on what you need to do next.

There are so many aspects of business that it is hard to talk about one aspect without starting to talk about another. In farming, this is all complicated by the biological aspect of what we are trying to accomplish. On our diverse farmstead this is all further complicated by the fact that we farm animals and plants. The only way to get a grip is to become myopic, taking in one thing at a time. It’s like when you try to clean house, you can’t just look at it all because you will get overwhelmed. You just start on one small task and go from there.

I admit, I enjoy cleaning when I am in the mood. I love accomplishing things, getting things done. But sometimes I am too exhausted to give a damn. Sometimes I get totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of lives that are under our care, or the huge list of tasks to be done in the week. But then it’s time to get the nose to the grindstone. Get focused and you will get somewhere, no matter what happens.

Numbers can be overwhelming, but they are just simple representations of reality. Wrapping your head around the numbers will let you know if you are going down the right road or not, at the very least.