Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
Hello! I'm a 43 year old gal and my husband and I live on five acres. Probably 2 is tillable, more of it is possible pasture. We have three daughters, who have variable interest in farming topics. Here is my dilemma.
I'm interested in making about 30-40,000 a year from things we do/grow on this land. I'd like to replace my nursing job one day in the future, and that is the amount of money I'd need to make to do so. My particular love is fiber and sheep. Now, currently, we have no barn and we have no fence for keeping sheep, so those would be initial expenditures. I'm doing my research about those things. I'm also considering getting a type of sheep is that not a lot of people have in this area of the country, so that would make me one of the few breeders of this kind of sheep, and also one of the few suppliers of fiber from them (I have heard others are interested, so I doubt I'll be the ONLY one where I am, but I'll be in on it when there aren't too many).
I also love herbs, I'm a handspinner and have considered adding a small building to teach that and other kinds of pioneer crafts. I'm thinking of all the ways I could do the things I love and be able to make it work on our small farm. We may be adding more acreage in the future, another 12 acres that lies behind us, but that is not certain for the moment, and depends a lot on what our future plans are.
Here's another issue: my husband is a network engineer, drives to the city each day, and really doesn't have much of an interest in helping me with all of this at all. He probably would, in a pinch, but wouldn't want any regular chores where he had to fool with farming stuff. He has a nice tractor, and would help me till things, or move things, but it's not his thing. And that's okay, you know? I mean, not everyone wants these things. But I do. I've tried to fit into the city nursing scene, and all it got me was miserable. I like being back home in a small town, and I'd LOVE for me to be able to make a comparable living from this little farm, doing things I love.
I'm interested in creating spinnable fiber from my flock and taking it to shows for sale, selling the sheep, raising herbs of various types and creating things with them, teaching crafts, and other ideas. Sometimes I wonder if wanting all of this and knowing it's going to be me and sometimes help from my kids is asking too much. Maybe it's too much work for just me? My husband might like to help once in awhile with things, but he's not going to be going out there and setting a schedule for himself to get things done, planning, setting goals, etc, like I would.
Right now I am doing private duty nursing, but that won't last forever, so I'm making plans for how to transition into these dreams. I've talked to my husband, and he's willing to help me put in a good woven wire fence. As for the building, that will take some time. I'm thinking it will take every bit of 2 years before I can have the fencing and the building to be ready for the animals. Hubby feels that's a realistic goal. My kids say they are willing to help out. I have a 20 year old daughter who might be around sometimes and says she's okay with helping, a 14 year old who will probably help SOME, and a 10 year old who says she's excited about it, but she has never done farm work! HAHA! I grew up on a farm with my grandpa, and I loved the work, but it was hard!
So what do you think? Is it possible to make that sort of money doing what I'm talking about? To be honest, that number is just an ultimate goal. If I made as little as 24,000 a year it would be doable for my family because of my husband's income (and I am figuring that half of it would go to taxes and supplies). Can someone give me some more ideas, let me know if I'm asking too much of myself, smack some sense into me (LOL)?
Hi Cara, that's a lot of money to make off a relatively small amount of land. If you were hoping to raise sheep, sheep are land hungry - unless you're into bringing in much of their feed (pricey). I don't know anything about your locality or what you'd consider your potential market for your products - fibre and herbs. Being nearish to a large city (with affluent folks aspiring to live either the farm dream or pay for the experience through someone else, via expensive crafty items etc.) but you'd need to determine your market potential. It might also take a while, and a fair bit of money, to build up a high quality herd. On the herb front, there's fine dining restaurants in such places - who might be willing to pay for your lovely herbs, as well as Jo Public to buy them. I know of someone (also a nurse) who started a herb and spice business on a small acreage and has done very well - but not without an injection of cash (severance I think) to act as leverage in securing bank funding to do things on a big enough scale to make money. Not only do they grow but they ship in and re-package/re-brand as their own certain spices etc. (adding value). I guess the general advice would be: start small and transition slowly out of your job. Maybe find someone locally with sheep, get some wool, process it - adding value, and test that market! Or is there a way to work with existing producers locally to add value, reduce risk? Many people always need to maintain off-farm income. You'll also need to sort out what sort of help you will realistically get from your family - kids have a way of changing their priorities..! I bet there's extension and small business support available - definitely recommend getting some professional help to work through a plan and some numbers. Good luck.
With a few exceptions, I could have written your post myself! My girls are 20, 18, and 14 and I while I am not making that much money as a caregiver for the elderly part-time, I am facing the need to increase my income due to some career changes my husband is about to make. I am looking at making this homesteading thing work or finding a "career" soon. I have lots of ideas that I am just beginning to really mold into practical solutions. I would love to write some of these things down and share them with you and hear from you about the details of some of your ideas. Most of the people I know think I am being to idealistic or just plain crazy, but I am excited about trying to make this work. I will try to write down some ideas I am looking at and make it concise (instead of the constant wheel of thought running round in my head) and get back with you. In answer to your last question, no I don't think you are asking too much of yourself at all and it makes perfect sense to me to do something you love instead of trying to mold yourself into something else. I will try to write back in the next few days.
Heather-I had heard that one acre was okay for about 5 ewes, so I thought we'd be okay starting out with two acres with maybe that many at first. I live in southeastern Indiana, and we're 50 minutes outside of Cincinnati, which would count as a more affluent area that might buy herbs and items. The more I think about it, the more I think I'll probably have to work short term assignments in home health nursing to keep a more steady income. But that wouldn't be so bad as long as I could keep most of my time for my sheep and fiber and herbs!
Susan-I'll be glad to share ideas with you about this. It is exciting, isn't it??? I think some of my ideas tend towards the idealistic at times, but that's why I bounce them off of others (including my killjoy husband, heheheeh) so that I can make the ideas more doable. So shoot your thoughts this way. I don't know if my profile as my email, but if you feel like sending me a message that way it's wildirishrose4uATgmail.com (but the AT isn't AT, it's the AT sign, I did that to prevent spammers from picking it up so easily). However, others could probably benefit from our ramblings, and we can benefit from their answers!!
I didn't mean to put you off at all, was just rhyming through considerations as someone on the 'outside'. You're right on stocking density, certainly about 4 ewes to an acre is common, or more - depending on quality of the grazing, type of sheep etc. etc. You'd have to factor bringing in hay, especially in winter but possibly at other times. It comes down to how you manage them and on a small acreage it's important for worm control (and to get those decent fleeces you'd be after) to rotate them onto fresh ground often. So you'd want to divide up your land to allow you to move the animals very regularly which would give the mini pastures in turn a chance to recover. If you're thinking of a certain niche sheep breed I think you should join that breed society and get to know what these animals need to be the best they can be, as it sounds like you'd want to trade on that. If would be interesting to know what breed you're thinking of? Some breeds, for fine threads, have different needs than say breeds that you might use for felting.
I'm with Susan in terms of encouragement - at some point in life you come to realise that spending hours in meaningless work is just not good enough. But the reality is that this often means adjusting (down) the family income and/or trading off some things (like part time off farm work) for others (time for what you love). Good luck with sorting it all out.
You have some great ideas. My suggestion (and believe me, I could use a dose of my own advise) is to take baby-steps. Pick one area to work on first and see what you can make out of it. For instance, get a good herb garden going. You could sell herbs by the bunch, attach a recipe/index card with some twine and list some uses (i.e. dried sage: Rub briskly in your hands to form a powder. Goes great with pork and poultry.) You could include a tried and true recipe for good measure, if you want (i.e. Sage and Sausage Dressing for poultry). Rosemary and Lavender are both perennials, so there would be no need to replant. Lavender can be dried and your tag could list various uses. Or, you could make crafts out of the lavender you grow and dry yourself (i.e. Sachets or Pillows that can be scrunched for air freshener).
As for the sheep, I would work on that a little at a time. Pick your pasture area, get some fence posts and fencing, build a shelter, decide if you want one perimeter fence and portable crossfencing or permanent crossfencing to divide your pasture for rotational grazing, etc.
Sorry, hon, I get carried away sometimes. LOL. I'm actually in a similar situation. My husband works long hours right now, I've been mentally planning for sheep, turkeys, and chickens for years, I have four kids aged 5-11 (the oldest boy wishes we'd hook up the x-box and the oldest girl apparently doesn't like to sweat), and we've finally made the move. Now, I'm trying to get all of my planning to pan out. I've just got to pace myself and take my own advice about baby steps.
But, I think what I'm trying to get at is to start on something on a smaller scale to get your feet wet. Try not to overdo it. Keep it manageable for you while you're still working outside of the home. If you can get your kids to help you, that's great. But try not to overload yourself right away. You can always add to it each season or each year until you get to where you want to be.
Best wishes to you,
Oh, no, I wasn't put off. Heather, you made some good points for me to keep in mind. I have to keep this "real", otherwise it will get too big for me to handle and nothing will work the way I hope! The breed of sheep I am planning on is Coopworth. I'm in contact with some breeders in West Virginia, because there are no breeders nearer to Indiana. However, I did read that one lady south of me is thinking of bringing some in, and she already has a sheep farm, so she'll be able to do it before I'll be ready. In which case, it would be nice to be able to purchase Coopworths from her, and NOT have to travel to West Virginia! I've been spinning some roving from the very sheep bloodline that I'd be looking at buying, and it's a nice wool for outerwear, with a few fleeces-the owners have told me-being soft enough for next-to-skin items. It's great, because the people who I'd be purchasing from are a wealth of information concerning raising Coopworths, and I need that kind of help!
My husband came home suggesting hoop houses for the sheep rather than the expense of a barn. I'm afraid I wasn't too receptive to the idea, and that was mean of me because I shouldn't dampen down his ideas like that. I looked up some pictures and saw what he was talking about, and I guess it COULD work. I guess I just had a traditional barn built up in my mind. I don't want to do things half way and end up with sheep that we can't properly take care of. I want to do things right from the beginning, ya know, and I tend to get a little critical if I think my hubby wants to just slap things together and call it good. I know I want to have a very good perimeter fence, with temporary fencing that can be easily moved on the inside to place the sheep on different pastures. RIght now, I can see we have 4 sections that we could break up and rotate the sheep on, each section being about about an acre in size. The extra grazing can be done on some land that is in behind us that we don't currently own, but hope to in the future. The owner is my grandpa, and he doesn't mind if we graze the sheep back there, so that works out nicely! This lower field is also where we could take a substantial amount of hay for winter. I wonder, if we had sheep graze it first in the springtime, and then rotated them to the other pastures for later in the year, could we get the first pasture to grow big enough for taking hay off of it that same year? Not sure on that one...
Anyway, I think we have plenty of good pasture, with possibly a few improvements to be added to give them optimal nutrition. The water source would be our well, but we run into problems with it going dry at times when we have weeks of no rain, so that problem would increase with livestock also drinking from it. I'd have to think about that situation. A dry well means a run to the local springs to get water, which is a pain for my husband to deal with. Drilling a second well is out of the question due to expense at this time.
I think putting up the fencing, and getting some chickens going along with the herbs might be the best places to start. I didn't expect sheep to come into the picture for another couple of years, anyway. I'm trying to take things slowly!!!
Deanna, I love your herbie ideas! I have a raised bed I'm working on now, and an offer of free herb starts from a friend. Doesn't get better than that! You're right. I have to be careful not to get in too deeply at first. I will have to work as a nurse, probably in home care, but I am also looking at school nursing. The hours of that would be wonderful!!!
I am originally from Northern Ohio and our families (4), during the WW2 years, had 3 farms totaling 325 acres. We had 52 dairy cows about, 50 ewes and lots of lambs, 3 flocks of chickens, and a dozen brood sows. We used horses and tractors, but the tractors did not grow their own food or reproduce. Products which were sold, included, Maple Syrup, Wool, sheep, hogs, eggs by the 30 dozen cases, milk, wheat and some oats.
We also owned a retail Feed Mill which was how we sold much of the produced items. We had a few experiments such as growing potatoes which were not repeated after the first year.
I have since longed to return to farm life, but I see far too many that have lost family farms trying to compete with the corporate world of greed.
Now for the good parts. You have a better climate than Northern Ohio.
First of all PREDATOR control is very important for sheep, chickens, and other small critters.
The fact that your husband commutes to the city can make him your best helper. Just passing the word to fellow employees may bring all the customers you need for your salable products.
Free range eggs from heavy breeds are premium priced.
Easter is a time for newly hatched chicks to bring $3 or more and are sold through Feed stores and pet stores or even Craig's list.
Certain varieties of mushrooms bring large rewards for the amount of space involved. I am thinking of the ones grown on logs, etc.
Chickens and rabbits can produce the food for earthworms who can be sold or their castings can be used for gardening, or sold.
Sheep's wool comes in many varieties and perhaps you could try Barbados Sheep as they command a premium for breeding and the wool pulls off without shearing. A Llama herd may also be quite profitable as they bring high prices for guard animals for sheep.
Herbs are another space saving crop.
You have to focus on things that you can use, as well as sell to others who seek organic products. Even Sunflower seeds can be grown and harvested by hand.
The key to success today is not to put all of your eggs or hopes in one basket.
Some research for specialty items for the restaurant trade can give you more ideas. Some can even be container grown inside during Winter.
I wish you lots of success as you find your dream life.
You might also want to consider that there is money to be made in lamb meat. Even tiny sheep (like Shetlands) produce some lovely meat (albeit in smaller quantities) -- but there can be restaurant niche markets for specialty cuts. Many shepherds also sell the tanned hides/pelts for a few extra dollars after butchering. If you look at a dual breed, you can do both wool products and meat products. Finn sheep produce litters which would multiply your flock very fast. Many things to consider. I have a small spinner's flock of Shetlands on a 1/2 acre (small sheep don't eat that much). I make sure I rotate them through their tiny pastures often and we mow if the grass gets ahead of them in the spring. For these three, we put in 15 square bales of good orchard grass hay every year for the winter (late Nov - March here), and usually have about 5 left over at the end. Also consider sending the fleeces out for processing if nothing else, fiber prep is VERY time consuming and not at all cost effective. There can be markets for handspinning if you are really dedicated and fast about it. But you can also have your wool made into yarn at some mills. Your herb idea is good. You should consider adding chickens (for eggs at first and meat birds second) as they can run in the pasture with the sheep. If you get one of the more primitive breeds of sheep, they will also help you clear overgrown areas. Mine eat brambles, honey suckle, kudzu, maple trees, other trash trees (they gird the tree by eating the bark off of them all winter), and all sorts of strange things like yellow dock and mustard. They got out once and ate my lavender and sage bushes to the ground in a matter of hours. Our farmer neighbor was delighted to let us use electric fense and let them chow down on a 1/4 acre corner of his property that had become overgrown and in two years he was able to plow it again without bringing in heavy equipment to clear it. And that was just three sheep. I was glad for the extra grazing space for them for a couple of years. It gave my pasture time to really grow in well. I overseed every year with a mixed pasture seed. They do the fertilizing for me.
Instead of figuring how much money you need to make to replace your income figure out what you can produce yourself. Would a big garden, and raising your own meat, and baking your own bread replace some of your income now? While you are building your sheep or herbs also work on reducing how much cash you need for other things. Does your family have two cars? Do you really need a big barn and permanent fence? (No) Are you servicing debt? Are there things you are paying others to do that you can do yourself? Start chipping away at both ends of the equation...and good luck!
Your husbands idea of hoop shelters for sheep, should not be cast aside. Adult sheep are quite Winter hardy and I would think that your Winters are much milder than North Eastern Ohio. We kept our flock in a 3 sided shed attached to the barn. The fourth side was enclosed by wooden panels about 4 feet high which could be removed as needed for access. Plenty of straw will give them warm beds and they will huddle together if it is very cold. They are sheared in early Spring and have all Summer and Fall to grow their winter coats.
The cold Winter can be a bad time for early lambing, but the quick solution is giving a small shelter which can have a heat lamp for mom and lambs.
Sheep are an excellent way to get your kids involved in farm life. You can buy a bum (term for one its mother can not raise) lamb for each to bottle feed and raise. It then becomes theirs to keep and shear, raise offspring or sell. The competition between children who make different decisions to raise or sell, will give them some lessons in managing money that are invaluable.
Keep in mind that your primary job is raising children and your lifestyle can make that a lifelong benefit for them.
Each of our 3 boys raised bum lambs that we bought from farmers. The first year we raised one ewe lamb and sold it back to the farmer when Winter came. The next year we bought 3 and sold them when we moved out of state.
That year we also got 3 rabbits which had free range of the backyard including hay bales stacked in a shed. That is the most trouble free way to raise them as they do it their way. They were named Bugs, Cadbury and Ralph.
I am now 77 and live in the city with 2 chickens roaming our back yard giving us 10 eggs a week.
I would long to be at your stage in life with children I could give those life experiences which will be theirs to cherish for a lifetime.
Our 11 grandchildren will not have those experience as their parents are locked into city life.
I admitted my mistake to my husband in being too hasty to shoot down the idea of hoop houses. To my surprise, he was so delighted to be contributing to the "big picture", that he said he would gladly help me build it if I could find some plans someplace. He said he isn't very good at seeing how something should be built without a guide ( I often have the same problem). Does anyone know of plans for a hoop barn for 5 ewes and a ram? And it would need to be expandable, because I'd have more later, but I figured to make the building longer as we grew into it. I saw the kits on Farmtek, but I really don't want to have to pay 6,000-10,000 dollars for it. I understood a hoop house would be more economical than a pole barn!