We started our farming adventure with 4 dogs and 8 chickens. Nothing there that really required much in the way of machinery. Our chickens started their life here in a 12 x 12 foot dog pen. Let me tell you, one thing we learned quickly was the value of a dog pen! In the last three years we have used dog pens as a quarantine pen for alpacas, a chicken coop for chickens, birthing pens for sheep, and yes occasionally as an actual dog pen. This dog pen was quit sufficient for our 8 little hens. It was where they were raised after we purchased them as pullets in the spring of 2010. We had one dog in the house, and the other three housed outside in 2 other dog pens.
When we got here, the entire property was fenced in a barb wire perimeter fence. The back field had ¾ of an acre of barbed wire fenced around the barn, and there was a catch pen area in the middle of the property where the previous owner loaded his cattle. Other than that, it was raw pasture and woods. No big deal for someone with a few dogs and chickens, but our farm loan was for a sheep farm. Sheep, which we had no experience or knowledge in, and had 6 months to acquire!
So here we sat watching the beautiful snow fall across dormant pasture in January. What we needed was a plan! There was fencing to put up, a small barn to build, sheep to buy, a garden to lay out, trees to plant, and guardian animals to pick out. A daunting line up for a six month time frame of weekends for sure, but there was another problem… we came here with an SUV, a hatchback car, weed eater, and a broken riding mower. No truck, no tractor, and no other machinery. See the problem?
So what exactly do you do when you need to do farm work and have no equipment? Well, the first thing you do is call your family with trucks and trailers.
Between our parents trucks and trailers, we were able to pick up all of our fencing materials. Of coarse, the trailer and both trucks were in Cookeville. Which meant any time we needed to get materials it took 2 ½ hours of driving just to get the means to go get things. Then another 2 ½ hours to take them back. Inconvenient sure, but hey you do what you have to do! This still didn’t solve the problem of how to till and plow a garden. We did have a small tiller, but nothing sufficient to plow the area we were needing. Our garden lay out consisted of ½ acre of crops divided into 4 main gardens and 1 melon patch. Each garden was to be divided by 10 foot walkways, and fruit trees were to be planted along one boundary as well as down one fence row.
Now several years ago before our children were born Andrew’s grandfather Glen passed away. Glen had an old farm tractor, which he kept in excellent condition over the years to tend his own garden. When he passed, the tractor and equipment was given to his only son Robert, Andrew’s uncle. Well Robert has had no real use for the tractor but didn’t want to sell it for sentimental reasons so it‘s been stored for years. While at a family birthday party Andrew talked with Robert and his Dad to see if we could possibly borrow the tractor to plow a garden area. A few weeks later, Andrew’s father Russell comes down the driveway with the tractor and all sorts of attachments! So now we not only had a garden plan, but a tractor to accomplish it with! The tractor is a 1950 T020 Harry Ferguson, that’s right… HARRY Ferguson. Apparently there was a Ferguson before Massey came along!
So by March we were working on the garden and the fencing. We had agreed that the best division of chores was for Andrew to plow, till, and fence and me to garden, plant fruit trees, flower beds, and tend the kids. While this was great in theory we were in for another big surprise. I was getting really sick, and wasn’t able to hardly bend over without felling ill. Yep, you guessed it… I was pregnant! Talk about your timing, we didn’t have time for me to be sick half the day! Luckily the morning sickness passed after a few weeks, and I’ve had few complications since. Our third child, a girl, is due in mid October.
About this same time, we adopted two female donkeys who needed a good home. “Momma” and “Baby” were a mother and daughter pair who had never been separated. They moved in to the fenced area around the barn. Just a few days later, we found some sheep for sale locally. We were wanting to raise katahdins, but this flock was a mix of other hair varieties. It seemed like a good idea to purchase these girls cheaply and “practice” our shepherding skills before our registered stock got here. So these girls moved into the cattle catch pen area. In February, we had also traded two hounds for a young jersey bull (that story deserves a whole blog of it's own!), and then purchased a few more hens to add to our flock. Suddenly our simple to care for dogs and chickens became much more complicated!
Andrew got two of the front acres fenced by April. We had planned on doing the front four, but hadn’t planned on Andrew’s company going through another round of lay-offs. So 2 acres would just have to do for now. Our budget became tight, but on a positive note he now had time to build the barn and help me finish the garden. A friend of ours soon contacted us to see if Andrew would be interested in a deal. He had some stone work that needed done, and an old farm truck he didn’t need so the guys worked out a trade. What a blessing! By this time, borrowing trucks was getting to be a little more expensive then we could afford on a tight budget. With gas over $3.80 a gallon, driving a truck 5 hrs to haul around supplies was starting to hurt!
I still get laughed at by our family when they see “Ol’ Blue.” I’ve always told Andrew that we would never own a vehicle older than us. And I haven’t liked Chevy’s since I was a child and my parents blue chevy truck kept breaking down every time they got it fixed. I’m much more a Ford or Dodge person, heck, even a Toyota person but definitely not a Chevy girl. So what was this farm truck we acquired? A 1980 blue Chevrolet 4x4 with mud tires, a rust hole in the floorboard, and no air. With a matching set of "Albert Gore, Jr for United States Senate" bumper stickers to top it off! The perfect vehicle for any 28 yr. old conservative Republican!
Now, at the time I didn’t much see the humor there. But I have to admit now, Ol’ Blue has been quit useful. As long as you don’t want to get anywhere fast she’s a pretty reliable old girl. And those 5 hours we were spending driving back and forth are much more useful in the field.
Thanks to Ol’ Blue, Andrew’s temporary lay off, and a series of dry weekends, the fence and little barn was finished just a few days before our registered flock of katahdin hair sheep arrived in May. We also managed to stock the big barn full of hay grown right here on our farm that week thanks to some of our new neighbors who cut it for us on the half.
So mission accomplished! We had no idea in January how we were going to get everything done in time. One of the things I’m learning though, is that nothing ever turns out exactly how you think it will. Life is all about surprises, some good and some bad. But even the bad ones can have a silver lining! Andrew’s lay-off was very difficult on our family. However if it had not happened we most likely would not have finished by our deadline. And he would not have had the opportunity to get Ol’ Blue. While Ol’ Blue may not be my idea of a dream truck, she sure has pulled more than her fair share of the work load around here lately! And thanks to our family’s generosity we were able to borrow what we needed until Ol’ Blue came along, and we still have the tractor and equipment here which has been a true blessing!
So much has happened so quickly this past year. Last weekend marked the one year anniversary of our completed loan application to purchase this farm. Just one year, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago! I can’t imagine how many changes this next year will bring.