ask a farmer: what is the most interesting challenge you tackled this season?
Originally published: January 19, 2016
The Female Farmer Project is fortunate to have a series of great conversations happening on our Facebook page. The information and advice that is being shared is too valuable to let it slide further and further down on the page. This series is hopefully a way to capture and preserve the advice, wisdom and conversation. Thank you to all the farmers that contributed to this conversation!
We asked our community what challenges they experienced this past season. What interesting problems did they tackle? The responses varied from death on the farm to engineering new solutions and a many are dealing with this past year's significant drought. Time and time again I read the refrain that it was a learning experience they won't soon forget.
What is the most interesting challenge you tackled this season?
Tricia Busch Smith Learning how to handle everything by myself half the time! Due to milk price remaining too low my husband had to go back to driving semi truck over the road. So I'm running our dairy farm on the days he's gone. It's been quite a learning experience!
Nancy Lee Here at Swingtail Farm, dealing with underground voles, who can topple an entire long row of beets, is an interesting, though somewhat annoying, challenge. The good news: they do no other damage, as their interest is in the grubs in the soil, NOT the plants themselves. So, they actually are beneficial; you just need to " clean up" after them!
Sara Antwis Owing to drought I had to utilize more of my property than usual for animal food. So I opened up the back 80 acres of logged woodland to the horses to extend their forage access. This gave the front 60 acres a longer growing season so I didn't have to start feeding hay until end of November.
I also learned how to catch sheep & that, like in the children's Bo Peep rhyme you really do just have to wait for them to come home!!!
I also started once more hosting farm volunteers from abroad....backpackers in search of 2 to 4 weeks of farm fun. It has been challenging to hand over some tasks to another person.
I also discovered that some inexperienced male helpers really don't seem to like being taught more effective farm techniques by female farmers. Most frustrating is making sexist guys acknowledge that I am the farmer not my spouse when so many female farmers are assumed to be the "farmer's wife"!! We need more role models!!!
Cassie Goodin The emotional hardships of being a female farmer. I'm in my second year of doing this. Had to pull a giant kid for my first experience of ever having kids born on the farm, butchered 2 turkeys by myself from start to finish, and now I have a Berkshire piglet in the house that had a middle ear infection. Farming is full of highs and lows and I know I tend to take the lows as personal failure. But man when times are high, it's the best feeling in the world and makes it all worth it.
Christian Flickinger Finding and purchasing our farm. It took 2 years to find a property that we could afford and that had what we wanted. Now to START the farm next spring.
Holly Anne Hughes 3 weeks of standing water...Wiped out 1/3 of our spring crop. No Csa shares for those weeks. Brutal at first but redeeming for the business model when members agreed to take double shares later in the season when tomatoes were booming!!
Jennifer Edwards Time management. As a small farm that needs to use its income to grow instead of hiring helping hands, I have struggled with this for several years in a row. Between managing our current livestock, adding new infrastructure, and growing the business model of the farm to include a farm-to-fork food truck, I am heading into a winter with no room for error or rest and it will catapult me into the busiest year of my farming career. I really have to focus on eating and exercising for maintaining energy and health so that I can physically do everything that needs to be done. Happy to say my family is extremely supportive in this endeavor, but the future of my farm rests in my ability to make this happen and I feel like efficiently managing my time is the key to that.
Marie Louka the reality that i can't do all that i want to do alone and that i need to make some hard decisions to focus, scale down and, at the same time, invest up for some helpful machinery.
Dayla Ulrich We had the worst infestation of beet leaf hoppers leading to curly top. Infected our beans, tomatoes and amaranth. There was really not much we could do. We did some neem oil applications to prevent as much continued infection as possible but overall we lost 2/3 of all of our tomatoes and beans. Luckily we had enough time to recover our beans by planting more seeds. From here on out we will never leave our tomatoes uncovered in June, that's when the BLH blow through our area. It's all a learning process and with this being my first year I expected some of these situations. Even with such a sad loss we did wonderful at market and learned some invaluable lessons!
Abra Morawiec Imagining and creating the best design of moveable outdoor structures to efficiently pasture raise my quail, while at the same time ensuring their happiness by allowing for ample space and protection from predators.
Desiree DuBois Brand. New. Farm. Starting a new CSA in a new town on unknown land- April 1 hire date with 5' of snow still on the ground and no greenhouse. Yes!
Liz Clark Customer relations when organizing for animal harvest days.
Denise Revel Weather...but isn't that farming?
Michelle Wordhouse Piglet being born to a bad mother in -10 degree weather during a storm. Scraping frozen, dead piglets from under her body.
Louise Freckelton This year the hardest thing was picking up the bodies 4 dead lambs after a wild dog attack.
Sara Antwis Oh I forgot....bottle feeding my first calf in the living room....feedings every 3 hours & then having to let him go a week later owing to his spinal defect. All that splinting and the broken sleep and smelling like a mother cow 24/7
Gretchen Rieck unusual number of grasshoppers...
Melissa Johnson Breaking ice at -12.
Micha Ide Floods!!! Floods floods floods.
Maureen Finn I don't know that it's interesting, but being temporarily derailed due to a health issue that came out of nowhere. Everything is on hold, and I am barely able to keep up with necessary animal chores. Instead of moving forward with plans/hopes, I've had to sit in a holding pattern while I get a handle on my health. Frustrating on many levels.
Chick'N Heart Farm Anti-farming neighbors, and, as a result, almost every department of the county offices contacting me. I've had to learn a lot about the right to farm laws, as well as local environmental and zoning issues. looking forward to less interesting challenges next year.
Serenidy J. Pries When I started at my farm, there were 4 horses who could not be caught and always had to wear halters. I almost cried the day I took the last one off this fall. It's been a 2+ year process.
Carolynn Bernard-Harwell The drought was the toughest. I had to feed my sheep through most of the summer blowing through my winter feed budget before fall, which set me back tremendously.
Beth Satterwhite Fire and ice. Hottest, longest summer ever dealing with drought, crazy insect and weed pressure, lots of failed germination. And then an unexpected early cold snap that is taking out a fair amount of our winter crops now, right as our winter CSA begins. You can't change the weather but that doesn't make it any less of an emotional roller coaster.
Shauna Ferguson-Farver Commodity prices. It's so frustrating having very little control over the price you'll receive for your crop. It's not necessarily an interesting problem, but it's the biggest one for us. I wonder though, if consumers know that many farmers sell their crop for less than it costs to produce it?
Anne Becker Explaining how the drought affected the size and flavor of produce. It was smaller but flavors were much more powerful.
Rosy Smit Drought/heat all summer, then 4 significant floods in the past couple of months. Mother Nature is throwing it all at us!
Patti Edwardson Time.
Kathryn Miller 8 months ago
Blackbird Farm: challenges on my first year on my tiny farm: one stillborn kid from our first goat kiddings, sticky clay soil in the garden spot requiring "lasagna" type veggie beds in the whole thing, first batch of chickens all with Coryza requiring me to butcher them all and call a "do over", racoons destroying half the garden, cats deciding that all the raised veggie boxes were their own personal pottys, botched disbudding on all 4 new kids, field dressing my first deer, and learning to castrate bucklings. I still count it all a victory in learning the ART of farming!