I have been thinking about this since I saw Vicki write the original article a couple of months ago. Burnout is a real fact of life for anyone who farms, let alone those who direct market products that they raised and or processed on their farm. Let me tell you about last year and what we did to keep some semblance of sanity. The year started with us still bottling our own milk and selling 60-80% of our milk off the farm. We discontinued distribution due to the increasing competition from other “local” labels and because we were going to have our first baby. Ironically, we found that our on farm sales of complimentary products and then our milk products increased and after 3 months were more than the sales of our products on the distribution route.
I was due to have a baby in April. David caught pneumonia 3 times that winter. After getting the cows ready for milking in my 8th month, I injured my pelvic bone (moving a gate) and was confined to the house until the baby was due. Customers complained when, with David still with pneumonia, we had to bottle our low fat products a day late and could only do a portion of the Whole and Creamline products. We wrote a note for the farm stand explaining what was going on. I do not think many of them read it.
Meat sales, especially of our cull cows and veal calves, helped improve the overall offering of products and got us a better price for our cull animals. With our farm stand being on the honor system, higher priced items such as meat, meant that thefts of product cut into profits a bit more. That winter I began to sell “shares” of meat. We figured that a once a month pick-up of product would be better than having people at our place at all hours looking for products. Product pick-up began 2 weeks after I had Claire. In between the time that I had Claire and the first pick-up, I had to arrange for livestock transport, processing and then take our refrigerated truck 1 ½ hours away and pick up the meat. (Oh yes, and plastic bottles for processing and the cream and pints of flavored milk as we had to stop processing something at that time).
Anyone who tells you that you can strap on the baby and go, is either a lot tougher than I was or full of compost!
We got married in June. We were aiming for the justice of the peace deal between chores, but our mothers got involved and I just gave up any real planning and let them have it out between themselves. I only put my foot down when it meant spending money on nonsense or on inviting the entire state and some. When it rained that day, we were glad because we were able to see other farmer friends who would have been trying to catch up on other farm chores due to the late spring.
Did I mention that we were late with first cutting of hay due to the weather?
The summer went along about the same as usual… people letting heifers and dry cows out of their pasture; customers not reading signs, letters or any form printed matter; learning more foul language when moving haying equipment across town to the rented piece - where the owner planted pine trees or nut trees so that you cannot get equipment through; needing to replace the gas steam furnace in its 6th year of life; and then there was our house…
See our house was down a donkey path behind our barns. Customers, for the most part, had no clue where we lived. When you direct market products, it has an advantage. With meat shares, they found us. They came late, early, or not at all. They drove up to see the dogs, to get a special cut of meat for a dinner party they decided to throw, to see the turkeys grow up, they were in the neighborhood… No amount of writing in newsletter, signs, telling them…nothing would make all 100% of my customers show up on their appointed day.
I did have customers I liked. I miss some of them a lot. Notice the past tense?
We sold the farm in MA and moved the cows to NY! There you have it. Our stress release was a total change in location. We sold our processing plant, farm, in town property and moved to NY. Cows, a few sheep, some dogs, et al. Started fresh – with no mortgage this time.
We are milking cows on the commodity market again. Wrong timing with $10 milk, but we have a small herd and no mortgage now, so we will survive. I work at SUNY Morrisville in the dairy processing plant. We miss the cash flow that a farm stand gave us. We want Claire to get a little older and we definitely want to process something again. What? I do not know yet.
After 6 months of snow (the locals tell me this isn’t normal), we can say that we made the right decision. We are calmer, have time to see our daughter grow up and have something that we can see a future with. Now if only we can figure out where we are going to put that new farm stand…