First Winter Down

We have been operating our hobby farm in full force for a whole year now and MAN have we learned a lot. Honestly, it is my wife who is out there every day doing the daily chores, which she admittedly enjoys.

We now have a skillset that might be valuable someday, and it might not. We learned that in our situation live barn cats are better than poison or traps. There was a mice problem in our barn last year. We got two cats from the feral cat humane society here. Yes, I know it sounds silly to actually pay $25 ea. for cats but we wanted them for a couple of reasons. We wanted them to kill. Domesticated cats do kill, but don’t have as good survival instincts as our “little tigers” as I like to call them. We have seen evidence of nary a mouse all winter – last year we couldn’t reset the traps fast enough. Now that it is warmer the rodents will head outside for food and we won’t have to deal with that problem for a little while.

Our garden was a disaster last year due to neglect, but this year we are going to throw a little more energy at it. Even neglecting the thing we had a bumper crop of squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and jalopenos – I pickled the jalopenos myself and enjoyed them for a long time.

We raised five beef cattle through the winter. Our hay was analyzed by our local co-op and we are told that it is very good. More importantly, several farmers looked at our hay and said “hey, that is good hay!” which to me is a better indicator than most tests that are done. Our horses (three of them) did well over the winter too. Our first steer goes in for slaughter in just four weeks and it will be interesting to taste this beef. It is purely raised on pasture grass and hay. We are prepared for a different taste. We are told by many that this beef is in high demand and that we could get up to $5 per pound for ground beef. One butcher has approached us to sell our beef in his display case under the grass fed banner. We have Scottish Highland cattle. It is interesting to see how fast they have grown looking back at last years photos.

Our land supported all of the animals all winter. We worked out a deal with a local farmer who helped us harvest our hayfield. Stacking one thousand small square bales is a long day any way you slice it. But you only have to do it once, and that set us up for the whole winter, with plenty to spare. We may have to sell some before this years crop comes in. We usually keep the second cut – as we get three cuts of one thousand bales each. For your information that is only on approximately 13 acres of hayfield.

Our chickens laid all winter, surprisingly. We were told by many that they would stop laying as the days got shorter, but we kept on getting eggs. Now that the days are getting longer, we are getting a LOT of eggs. They are good, and it looks like we will have extras to give away and sell.

Our farm is right outside of Madison, and this summer we are building a house out there and moving. We have nothing against our current neighborhood, but I guess this is where we are supposed to be.

Being a glass half empty type of guy, I think that these skills would be of use during an apocalypse of some sort – at least we could certainly last longer than most people with our supply of beef and eggs and vegetables. On the other hand, it has been a pleasant distraction for us, and we have learned a lot about how much work it is even to keep just a small farm in ship shape. I simply have no idea how people did this before the internal combustion engine. Well, I do know, but my god we don’t really want to ever go back there, I hope.

Cross posted at LITGM.

8 thoughts on “First Winter Down”

  1. You are obviously enjoying your rural idyll, so I hate to for reality to intrude. But this is an economics blog, after all. Being “right outside of Madison”, what do you suppose the costs of hanging on to your beef and eggs and vegetables would be in the event of an “apocalypse of some sort”? Unless the skill set you have developed includes marksmanship and staying awake 24 hours a day, your farm would be a liability, not an asset.

  2. Yes I would have to defend it, and yes I am pretty good with a .223. The master plan would be to get a bunch of friends and family together to defend/share it but I don’t like to think about it too much.

  3. Dan, I already liked you from what I have read so far. Now I absolutely admire you. Your choices of crops and stock show more than a little careful thought. Part of what I was going to say was related to Dan from Elsewhere’s comment, but perhaps more supportive. I am glad that you are prepared to defend, and have allies. Hopefully, you and your wife are fitting into the local community; both for mutual aid, and mutual defense. To that end, I would also hope that you are far enough outside Madison so that the concept of “choke points” can and will be applicable.

    I assume that part of your situation includes a secure source of human-potable water. I would recommend that in addition to pickling and canning that you explore additional means of food preservation such as salting, dehydration [you can make a home dehydrator better than commercial models fairly cheaply], and root cellaring. And that you look into heirloom seeds for your garden. Hybrids yield more, but the seeds from the crops are not fertile for the next season. Finally, I would add that you might want to consider one or two beehives. Bees are fun to keep, take relatively little work, improve your crop yields, and honey is an excellent trade good and usable for making potable refreshment.

    Are you sure y’all aren’t a transplanted Coloradan. You seem to have your head on straight. *smile*

    Subotai Bahadur

  4. Dan,
    We too have outdoor cats in Cross Plains. One is seventeen and three are sixteen and a new one showed up last February who is much younger. One of the sixteen-year-old cats spent nine years inside the city limits of Madison and was declawed, but he has spent the last seven years back at our place after he was returned to his mother and siblings by friends who could no longer keep him.
    We got the cats for the control of mice and which in turn eliminated a lot of the snakes. We have no chipmunks, but the cats aren’t good with voles. Sometimes they kill the little pointy-nosed varmints and leave them as presents, but they often just don’t kill them. The voles we have are black or very dark gray, but they must taste bad because the cats seem to have a real aversion to eating them.

  5. Mad – you should consider the feral cats from the feral cat humane society after your declawed cats are gone. They destroy any and all rodents including voles and we even witnessed one of our cats go after a hawk – which we didn’t like since the hawks are also outstanding rodent control and we love watching them soar above our property. I have heard of farmers shooting hawks because they take cats but I am having a hard time believing that.

    The feral cats are just fierce, insane hunters. We have found several of the voles gutted carcasses on the premises all during the winter. And the feral cats have come around to letting us pet them – we supplement them with a bit of crappy wet costco canned food every day to keep them from wandering too far and they have stayed and bonded a bit because of it.

    SB – thank you for the kind comment. I am not a Coloradan, rather a city boy from Rockford, IL and my wife is from Chicago so this has been one BIG learning experience from us. But we are not afraid of making mistakes (plenty of those) and asking questions.

    The farmers and other around our property have been great. They laugh at us a lot since we are such small time but that is OK with us. They are always helpful and give us great advice. We have made a lot of friends and there is no doubt that if there was a big problem we would all bond together and make things work. Everyone has lots of guns for pests such as coyotes and it is in fact comforting every once in a while to hear the ringing out of a shotgun or 30.06 on occasion. The thing I acutally fear the most is a dirty nuke hitting Chicago and the hordes heading out but I think we are too far for those folks to make a dent in our area.

    As far as potable water, we are on a well and will eventually have a backup generator for the well pump. Potable water to me is the most important thing in a disaster type of situation from what I have been reading. We will be canning and pickling on insane levels this year. No bees in the near future though, although I would like to try it someday.

    The Scottish Highlands have been great – no problems whatsoever in winter, very easy calving (calfing?) and virtually no maintenance besides throwing hay at them in the winter and a very non aggressive type. Yes, lower yield, but we will trade the low maintenance in exchange for that any day.

  6. Dan – I’ll second Subotai Bahadur’s comment. I’m always charmed by your stories about the hobby farm. One of the things I like about this blog is the way the commenters and other bloggers explain how, exactly, a particular thing is done (in your case, the hobby farm).

    – Madh8

  7. I’m the queen of not-proofreading comments and I have to say, that particular error is interesting. Me and my too-fast typing fingers….

    – Madhu


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