Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Farmer Answers - Part Three

Today's Lesson: Piercing a sheep's ear for an eartag.

There are many different kinds of eartags for sheep. The one we are using at the moment is an old-fashioned tag called a Temple tag. It is small and not too visible. Kristin wanted me to use this type of tag so that it wouldn't show too much in her photos.

I use a special tool similar to a whole punch to pierce the sheep's ear.

The tag is fed through the whole in the ear. It doesn't hurt her. This tag will stay with the sheep for her entire life.

Question: I too would like to know about selling the fleece for spinning. Of interest is Wensleydale sheep ( I ordered locks from England because could not find any in US). Meat and fleece may not be compatible goods.
The Farmer Says: We are really concentrating on getting our retail lamb meat business up and going. Perhaps one day we will concentrate more on our wool but at this point we only have so much money to invest in developing our business.

Question: How is it having a wife who is so art oriented when you are so earth oriented? Do you LOVE the way she paints your rooms and your life? Seriously I love her colors!
The Farmer Says: I enjoy the fact that Kristin is art oriented. I enjoy art as well although not with Kristin’s level of passion. I feel that my sunflower field is my art. I tend to do things slow and methodical whereas Kristin thinks nothing of painting a room some wild design at 2:00 in the morning. Sometimes you just have to go along for the ride.

Question: Do you have a lawn that requires mowing?
The Farmer Says: Yes we do. Sometimes we use our sheep to mow the lawn. Other times we mow it. It depends where the sheep are and how fast the grass is growing.

Question: I'd like to know.... does the Farmer has another job off the farm or does he work full time raising sheep?
The Farmer Says: It would be impossible to feed and care for our family on the income from our sheep farm. I am self-employed and sell drilling supplies to excavation contractors. To say the last couple years has been challenging would be putting it mildly. Kristin works hard writing books, designing patterns, and teaching knitting. We are hoping that this year our farm contributes more to the income of our household, whether it through our lamb business or Kristin's knitting and stitching on the farm classes.
Kristin Says: I'll be announcing the new dates of the farm classes next week. As I always say (and truly mean), we all thank you for your support of our farm and my products.

Question: How do you manage things like vacations or medical emergencies that would require leaving the farm?
The Farmer Says: It is very difficult to leave the farm. Mostly, I don’t leave. At Christmas we go to visit Kristin’s family for a few days. I usually drive separately because I can’t be away from the sheep too long. We barely ever go on family vacation. If we do, we have a fellow neighbor farmer look after the sheep and I put them in an large pasture so they have enough food for the number of days we are away. We are lucky to have friends who are farmers too. Luckily my health has been good. We will cross that bridge if it presents itself.

Question: What's the prospect for small farms such as yours? Will they be abandoned in the next twenty years because it's too hard to earn a living doing what you do or because a larger corporate enterprise takes them over?
Also, is all this talk about eating locally, sustainablility, and being "green" just the new fad that will disappear due to higher prices and competition for food? With the planet's population exploding and this country's economy in difficulites, will people be able to afford the luxury of knowing what they're eating and where it came from?
The Farmer Says: Operating a small New England hill farm is definitely not the road to riches. This is definitely not “Farm Journal” country where you are farming several thousand acres of corn and soybeans. Instead it probably leans more towards Wendell Berry.

The idea of eating locally, sustainably and generally being green although definitely part fad has managed to introduce a whole bunch of people to what good food can taste like. I don’t see people abandoning good food just to chase the next world saving venture.

Question: If you could change one thing about the government's agricultural policies, what would that one thing be?
The Farmer Says: I don’t know if I can pinpoint just one thing that is wrong with our government’s ag policy. I guess to answer this question it is important for you to know that my farm is a small New England hill farm. If I was farming in Hays, Kansas or Fresno, California my answer would be a lot different. But from where I’m sitting I have a problem with our national obsession with producing vast amounts of commodities such as corn and soybeans. We tend to treat these commodities as weapons in our quest to export them to every corner of the world. And thanks to our friends at Monsanto, we try our damndest to bulldoze over anybody who has a problem with genetically modified products. To hell with the farmer and even the consumers – the only winner here are the huge multinational corporations.

Question: How do you both have the energy to do everything? Do you have help on the farm? I admire you both so much, and Julia has so much patience to model all the wonderful knitted garments.
The Farmer Says: We wish we had more energy! There is never enough time to get everything done. No, we don’t have any help on the farm. We can’t afford to pay anyone to help us out. Once in a while, I may have a neighbor help me out to finish haying a field when the weather isn’t cooperating but we usually trade favors instead of money. I guess you could call it old-fashioned bartering.

Lamb Count Today 102.

More from the Farmer tomorrow. Thanks to all of you for reading. He is loving the comments!


Elva Undine said...

Wendell Berry is my absolute favorite author, fiction and non-fiction and poetry. I'm so glad you mentioned him; I really do get the Wendell Berry vibe from your adventures.

Deborah said...

It's interesting reading the questions and the Farmer's answers.

I'm loving that little lamb in the last photo! Baaaa!

Leslie said...

I am LOVING these posts! The first thing I read on my blog roll is yours. Thanks to The Farmer for taking the time to answer. I really love the question about Kristin's "passion" -vs- The Farmer's style. It sounds like me and my husband, who so patiently puts up with my passionate nature. I think Kristin and I are really blessed to have you guys in our lives. Not many men would "get" us, so I say "Thanks!"

Diana Troldahl said...

I enjoy all parts of your blog from the down and dirty farming to the glorious designs.

A quick question. Are the classes on the farm handicap accessible?

I'm on motorized wheels.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Oh I am so sorry Diana but our farm is definitely not handicap accessible. We used to struggle so when my dad came to visit when he couldn't walk well - just trying to keep him safe was a problem. Everything is on a hill and the house is on 3 floors.
May I suggest that you sign up for a class of mine either at Stitches East (it is in Hartford next fall) or at Webs. I know that both places are handicap accessible.

marit said...

My dad use to say:"There are two reasons for a farmer to stay a farmer. You are either too stupid or too stubborn to quit." He's been a farmer all his life. And I think he goes into the "stubborn" cathegory...I'm just so glad that there are still farmers trying to make a living out of whatever they have. Too many around here are giving up.
Thanks for answering all these questions, it's really interesting.

shelley said...

I always enjoy the writing and photos on your blog Kristen. You are bookmarked:) Thanks to the both of you for this Q and A; it is really illuminating and interesting. It is inspirational to see people following their passions. And the comments about the importance of small farms, land stewardship, and being connected to the systems that support life resonate strongly for me. You are not alone by any stretch in your beliefs and practices.

Michele in Maine said...

These posts are so fascinating and real. You both are 'walking the walk' and I, for one, find so much inspiration in what you are doing for the planet.

Maureen said...

The farmer posts have been sooooo interesting - I have learned about things I would not have explored on my own. Thank you for posting about farming - I find it almost more interesting than knitting!!! :)

Francie O said...

I too have been thoroughly enjoying the Farmer's Q&A with Kristin's comments too.

I enjoy your posts year round (especially knitting related) but I really love your lambing season photos.


Kathy said...

I am also enjoying. Thank you
ps. just got your book in the mail today. I know what I will be reading this evening!!!!

Donna said...

Got to love that farmer!!! Thanks for taking the time and sharing your passion.

noallatin said...

"If I was farming in Hays, Kansas or Fresno, California my answer would be a lot different."

I was surprised that The Farmer (or anyone else in Western MA for that matter) knows that Hays, KS even exists. I'm originally from PA but I got my Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Fort Hays State in the late 70's/early 80's.

Turtle said...

very interesting! thank mr farmer for us! :) that last photo is adorable!

Barb in Wisconsin said...

Thank you for sharing so much about your lives with us. We all need to be reminded that there are real people working hard to earn a living on farms like yours. Our world has changed dramatically, and more and more of us will be looking for ways to support ourselves outside of the traditional corporate world.

I have only recently discovered Kristin's blog and books and am finding them to be inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Having The Farmer take on these questions is fascinating! Is it too late to ask one? When you sell the lambs for meat is it to local people? Supermarkets? Do you ship?