2018: The year we quit farming?

We are approaching our fourth lambing season. While my husband is a fourth generation Jersey dairy guy, we live off his parents farm on a small parcel of acreage. Farming has changed drastically in the last five years. In 2013, the milking portion of the farm was retired. Lives were no longer structured around milking times and hay baling. While there continues to be replacement heifers raised, time allowed for new adventures on our ‘small’ farm.

By most definitions, our small sheep flock is considered a hobby. We began five years ago with two ewes, building upon this small foundation year-after-year. Repurposing equipment, tossed out materials and honing our creative mind banks, our ultimate goal is to make a profit. Overall, we’ve come close but a year like this last, it is a challenge to bounce back. A warm winter caused unexpected aborting of lambs, reducing income and increasing cost with the arrival of vet bills. When it was all said and done, the sold lambs and culls didn’t come close to covering costs.

Acknowledging the importance of positive lambing results, I sacrificed nights of sleep and sanity to keep every full-term lamb alive – the average mortality rates can be near 20%.

In the spring, we evaluated our feed efficiency and made improvements to this line item. Using his blood, sweat and elbow grease, my husband dug 50 new post holes by hand. He repurposed materials and invested minimally to create an expansion of the pasture. We invested in a purebred ram, whose genetics hopefully translate into larger lambs.

Last night the sheep were moved into our small barn in anticipation of near record low temps. In the bone chilling, below zero air, I stood watching. My frustrated and hangry husband worked to direct my equally hungry boys to build enough pens to accommodate the sheep. Voices were raised and unpleasantries exchanged as they were determined to finish before supper – and, before the temperatures dropped further.

It was in that -2F moment, I stood with numb toes and asked myself if it’s really worth it. Then, I’m reminded of all the work that goes into dairy farming and the farmers who are barely able to survive.