Last weekend I attended the TOFGA annual conference and I LOVED it. It was super intense and it’s taken me a week to process what I learned.
One of the biggest questions I wanted to answer going into the conference was the question of what animals to start with on the farm. Through the workshops and sessions and talking with farmers and farm tours, I ruled out broiler chickens right off. Goats slipped down in my estimation when I heard how hard they are to keep contained. Horses are a money sink. Cows are great, but kind of a big investment and a steep learning curve for someone who’s never kept livestock. Laying hens are good if you don’t mind some loss to predation and if you have a market for the eggs. Sheep can be a great animal for a beginning rancher, and there’s a good market for lambs both in the commodity market (selling animals at auction) and retail (selling them for food). I still need to do research on the economics of raising sheep, and, you know, learn about how to care for them, but I think the first profit-oriented enterprise at Fields of Green will be sheep.
I also got plenty of validation that our goal of creating a life our children will enjoy is a worthy goal. One session I attended was taught by a man who did traditional ranching for most of his life. When his kids were grown, they got out of the ranching life as fast as possible. And this man, in his middle age years, rethought all he knew about his entire lifestyle and changed entirely. He started taking good care of his land, fertilizing it naturally, letting native grasses grow, and using high stock density grazing to replenish the depleted soil. I listened closely to what he had to say; a man who can make such a drastic change after being set in his ways for so long has got to have an excellent reason to do so.
I learned I really need to be able to figure out what is growing in our fields in order to properly address how to increase our land’s fertility. Even though the fields have been unmanaged for years, they’re not in really terrible shape. The worst thing about our land is the condition of the soil. I have not dug up one earthworm on our property, and water doesn’t absorb into the soil the way it should. It was depressing to see photos of simply gorgeous soils after the farmers had worked to increase their soil’s fertility. But it was encouraging to realize they’d only been working on their soil for 3-5 years. Hopefully someday we will have good After photos too 🙂