Monday, July 30, 2007

Unexpected Bounty

The animals were without hay for 1 day. They didn't go hungry. I made sure of that. I turned the horses out into the big pasture, which I had been saving until then. After generations of neglect, the field is in desperate need of fertilizing and reseeding, so the forage won't last long. But it will last a little while.

The sheep I turned out into the back pasture where our young horses had been. The sheep, hardy little foragers that they are, are happy to eat a lot of the weeds and bushes that the horses avoid, so even though the horses had grazed down everything they could eat, the sheep can still get some nourishment there.
We have a deal in the works that could possibly bring in 2-3 months worth of hay for us, but it's taking longer than expected to finalize.

But then our neighbor, Bob, stopped by to see me. His alfalfa field was ready to be hayed. Did we want any?

"Maybe," I said, cringing at having to make the confession. "But I don't think we have any money to pay you right now."

"You've got credit," Bob said easily. "I know where you live."

So now the horses graze on the skimpy pasture during the day, and have alfalfa to supplement it morning and night. Even the sheep share a bale every evening. It's not a free ride--at $7.00 a bale, alfalfa is not cheap. But it's nutritious for the animals and it's bought us a little more time for some of our other possibilities to come through.
I am grateful for farm neighbors, who know what it's like to be broke, and don't judge you for it!

Friday, July 27, 2007

No Hay, No Money... No Hope?

This was the worst it has ever been. In our dimly lit, dusty hay storage building, Ken counted the few remaining bales again and asked me, "Are we taking them all?"

A sick knot of worry clutched my stomach. Twenty-three bales of hay to feed 15 horses and a flock of nearly 50 sheep. It would last two days, at best. Where were we going to get the money to buy more?

Many of the horses are for sale--our first foal crop, now nearing weaning age, is spectacular, everybody says so--but so far we've had no serious buyers.
The sheep have sold well. A good portion of my lamb sales list is already spoken for, but the flock is still fairly small. Even at the relatively high prices commanded by our purebred Icelandic lambs, the flock can't generate enough income to pay for the 4,000 bales of hay we'll need to see us through the coming year if none of the horses sell.
Where have we gone wrong? Three years ago, when we bought this pre-Civil War fixer-upper farm and started planning this venture, I knew farming was hard. But I'm no stranger to either poverty or hard work. They didn't scare me. I was so excited to finally be living my dream of owning a farm, I was bursting with optimism. We'd do great. We'd make it work, no matter what.

Now it's like the farm is a leaky ship. We're bailing as fast as we can, but the debts keep pouring in faster and faster. Two years of widespread drought have made hay prices skyrocket, which in turn has driven horse sales into a deep slump.

Last spring, when we tried to save money by purchasing some less expensive hay, four mares colicked and we ran up over $10,000 in vet bills saving their lives.

Of the three mares that we purchased pregnant, thinking that the sales of their foals could generate some income until we got our own breeding program underway, one turned out not to be pregnant, and another miscarried a set of twins. So instead of the expected 3 foals our first year, we only got one--plus another hefty vet bill for the mare who miscarried.

After we'd spent all of our immediate renovation budget fencing the pastures and making desperately needed repairs to the house's kitchen and bathroom, our furnace developed a crack and upon further inspection, the house's whole prehistoric heating system ended up having to be replaced.

As did all those enormous windows, which, according to the realtor were original to the house. It sounded good at the time--so historic and quaint--until winter came and we discovered we were paying $800 a month to heat all the great outdoors (but not the living room), because those huge windows were so rotten and leaky.

Our 14-year-old Nissan Sentra--which Ken had owned since before he met me--died, and we had to buy a replacement vehicle: a used Subaru Outback with enough room in back to haul a week's supply of horse grain or four live sheep.

Ken has a great job, but his income all goes to paying our mortgages, utilities, and other bills, and to put food on the table. It's my responsibility to make this farm pay--or at least break even. I knew it was going to be hard, but until that moment, standing there in the rapidly emptying hay building, I hadn't been afraid that I would fail.

"Are we going to take them all?" Ken asked again.

I hoisted one of the few remaining bales and stacked it with the others in the back of the pickup truck. "We have to," I said. "The animals have to eat."


This farm, this life, is still my dream-come-true. I'll make it work somehow, even if it means resorting to measures I never dreamed I'd have to take.

Going public with my problems in a blog is very hard for me, because I'm a fairly private person. I don't talk a lot, and I don't normally assume that people want to hear about my troubles.

But I've decided to use this time of financial struggle as an opportunity for personal growth. I've decided to open up to the possibility of unknown opportunities and unexpected bounty from the universe. I think that to be worthy of such bounty requires an act of courage and a willingness to change. So this blog is mine.

To learn more about our sheep and horses, please visit our farm websites: and

I've also started a new website,, just to document our adventures as we try to keep this farm afloat. I'll be adding lots more content as time goes on. There'll be photos, video clips, maybe even some entertaining audience-participation stuff eventually. When new lambs are born or a young horse is saddled for the first time, it'll be almost like you're here on the farm with us.

If our story inspires, entertains, or touches you at all, please share it with your friends. We can use all the well-wishers we can get!

Thanks for listening!