Why Small-Scale Farming Matters: A Journey from Homesteading to Full-Fledged Farming

The Challenges of Farming in Unpredictable Weather

Farming can be a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor, but it is not without its challenges. One major obstacle that many farmers face is dealing with unpredictable weather conditions. Lindsay Graham shares her experience of having to reschedule a visit to her farm due to heavy rain. She explains how rain can ruin feed and the difficulties of driving with feed sacks in wet conditions. Additionally, she recounts a time when she accidentally poured rainwater into the feed while trying to lift the lid of a metal barrel during a downpour. These stories highlight the importance of timing and weather conditions in farming operations.

Matt shares the failure of moldy chicken feed. He said how he had been storing the feed in steel drums with locking rings, but condensation caused the feed to mold. This experience taught him the importance of proper storage and the consequences of moisture in feed. Matt also mentions the importance of regularly inspecting feed storage containers to prevent such issues.

The Importance of Numbers and Spreadsheets in Farming

One aspect of farming that is often overlooked is the importance of numbers and spreadsheets. Lindsay mentions how her husband, Dustin, who has a degree in finance, handles the financial aspects of their farming operation. They track their expenses and profits using spreadsheets, and they have learned valuable lessons about scaling their operations based on numbers and data.

She emphasizes the need to understand the financial implications of farming decisions. She shares how they initially started with 25 meat birds and gradually increased their numbers based on calculations and cost analysis. They realized that scaling up their operations allowed for price breaks and better profit margins. This demonstrates the importance of strategic planning and understanding the financial aspects of farming.

The Realities of Homesteading and Scaling Up to a Full-Fledged Farm

Lindsay started her farming journey with the intention of homesteading and having some land to do as they pleased. However, as time went on, their operations grew, and they transitioned from homesteading to running a full-fledged farm. She explains that they started with a few pigs and sheep, and as they gained experience and confidence, their numbers grew.

The decision to scale up their operations was driven by a desire to make a difference. Lindsay mentions that there are not enough small-scale farmers like them to create a significant impact in the industry. They see their farming practices as a way to provide high-quality, sustainable food options to their local community. They have also explored wholesale accounts with stores, despite some industry recommendations against it, to reach a larger customer base.

Lindsay acknowledges that scaling up their operations comes with challenges, such as the need for more land and increased labor. However, they have always been focused on numbers and profitability, ensuring that their decisions are driven by data and calculations. They have learned lessons along the way, such as the importance of crossbreeding pigs to improve genetic strength and avoid health issues.

The Challenges of Educating Consumers and Finding Customers

One of the ongoing challenges she faces is the need to educate consumers and find customers who are willing to support local farming practices. Lindsay mentions that there is still a significant amount of education needed in the homesteading and small farming community. Many people are not aware of the true costs and challenges associated with small-scale farming, and there is a misconception that it can be a cost-saving endeavor.

Lindsay also acknowledges that there are financial limitations for some consumers who want to support local farming but cannot afford the higher prices. However, she believes in the importance of knowing other farmers and supporting local sources of food. Lindsay also emphasizes the need to understand the limitations of self-sufficiency and the benefits of knowing other people and sources for food.

To reach a wider customer base, the farmer has explored various marketing strategies, such as offering wholesale accounts, delivering products, and creating bundle packages. She recognizes that the competition is not other local farmers, but rather convenience stores and supermarkets that offer mass-produced, lower-quality food options. Despite the challenges, Lindsay remains motivated to find ways to make their products more accessible and affordable for a broader range of consumers.

Sustainable Farming Practices and Animal Welfare

Lindsay discusses the sustainable farming practices they employ on their farm, such as rotational grazing and using movable chicken tractors. These practices help regenerate the land, reduce parasite issues, and ensure the animals have access to fresh pasture. They also utilize the byproducts of their farm, such as composting vegetable scraps and using them to feed their pigs. This approach aligns with permaculture principles, where different elements of the farm work together to create a harmonious and sustainable system.

She also addresses the use of different animal breeds on their farm. They initially started with purebred Berkshire pigs but encountered health issues. They eventually switched to heritage crossbreeds, which proved to be a more successful choice. Lindsay explains that crossbreeding helps eliminate genetic weaknesses and results in healthier and faster-growing animals.

When it comes to meat birds, Lindsay acknowledges the market demand for white meat and the preference for the Cornish cross breed. She highlights the challenges of catering to customer expectations while maintaining the profitability of their farming operation. Lindsay is always conscious of the need to balance customer preferences with sustainable farming practices.

The Importance of Working with a Processor

Lindsay discusses the challenges of finding a reliable processor for their farm products. Due to her location in northeastern Oklahoma, they have limited options for processing chickens. The closest processor is in Arkansas, six hours away. This distance creates logistical challenges, as they have to transport the live birds and ensure they stay fresh during the journey.

She emphasizes the importance of having a processor who can meet their specific needs, such as providing cuts of meat rather than only whole birds. While they initially processed their own chickens on a smaller scale, the demand for cuts from their customers made it impractical to continue self-processing. They now rely on a USDA-certified processor to meet their customer’s expectations and comply with regulations for selling their products.

The Future of Small-Scale Farming

Despite the challenges and difficulties, Lindsay remains committed to small-scale farming and making a difference in the food industry. She acknowledges the need for more small-scale farmers and the importance of supporting local sources of food. She believes that educating consumers and finding innovative ways to make their products more accessible and affordable will contribute to the growth of small-scale farming.

Small-scale farming is not an easy endeavor, but it offers numerous benefits, including sustainable practices, high-quality products, and a closer connection to the food we consume. The journey from homesteading to full-fledged farming requires dedication, hard work, and a deep understanding of the financial aspects involved. By sharing their experiences and lessons learned, small-scale farmers play a vital role in creating a more sustainable and diverse food system.