Haystack Farm

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The Fine Art of Farm Planning

We are approaching our third year of farming. When we first began we knew the learning curve would be steep but we were optimistic that by year three we would have a few systems in place that would make the spring start up a little more smooth. Oh how wrong we were. It turns out the longer you farm, the more you realize how little you know and how much you have to learn. Coming into year three and the lesson for this year is shaping up to be the fine art of farm planning.  Each year we have sat down once the freezers are full (both ours and yours) and examined what worked and what needs changing. Turns out that Haystack Farm production method is in for a major overhaul when it comes to the nitty gritty. That's fine. The major challenge is proving to be planning for the future more so than the upcoming season.

Every farm needs to have a centre piece. A product that is profitable and sustainable around which you can add and build your other products and practices.  In year one we thought that would be poultry, more specifically chicken.   Year two we considered pork, and now in year three we are thinking the Haystack centrepiece will likely be lamb and goat. We started with chicken because others had successfully built it as their mainstay. Given the regulatory environment in Alberta, one that refuses to let consumers make responsible choices when it comes to where their food comes from and how it is processed, chicken has limited profitability on a small scale like ours. Processing is over $5/bird and that does not include the diesel to get the birds to the processor.  Not to say there is no money in pastured poultry, we just won't be taking vacations to Hawaii anytime soon. There are so many variables in farming though the success of others might be a good place to get ideas, what works for one does not necessarily work for all.

If we decide to build our farm around sheep and goats, then the question becomes where do products like pork and poultry fit in?  Profit margins for both are limited by processing and input costs. Yet I feel it very important people have access to healthy, sustainable chicken and pork.  Every additional species takes infrastructure and infrastructure costs money.

To complicate matters we are now trying to determine what the best use of our field acreage is. We have approximately 15 acres in the front we have been using for pasture (8 of it being under-utilized) and another 50 acres in the back rented out to a local grain farmer.  Ideally we would be able to use those 65 acres to produce our own hay and grain. Seems simple enough. However both grain and hay require equipment unless we're going to do it the old fashioned way.  Hand sowing and harvesting would be fantastically satisfying I'm sure but it is an impossibility with Paul working full-time off the farm right now.  Equipment sharing would be a great solution for us though we are surrounded by very large farmers who have no need nor interest. These large farms have pretty much all available farm land tied up and unavailable for small farmers to enter the area.

So far all I feel I've learned about farm planning at this point is trial and error is expensive and everything cost more money than you have. Stay tuned to for more adventures in farm planning......

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