Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Farm Livin'

Click any photo for larger.

We bought a hobby farm a little over a year ago. It has been nothing but interesting.

As a side note, we bought this place from former NFL pro bowler Al Toon. He is a local legend here in Madison as this is where he played his college ball. He also has several successful business here in the area. We met Al on the farm and he showed us around and gave us a few tips on the property such as where the power switches were and other things. I can't say enough good about him - a very nice guy.

When Al bought the property about a half decade ago he was faced with an immense amount of cleanup work to do and did a lot of it. The property was much better off when he left it to us, but there was still a mammoth amount of work to do to make it our own.

The logic behind buying this place had a couple of angles. For one, we bought it just as the real estate market bottomed out so we got the place for a very good price. Al was moving on to other projects and decided that although he liked to dink around at the farm he had bigger fish to fry. We had thought about a lake cottage of some sort, but it just wasn't for us and we found the prices to be completely off the charts ridiculous for even the crappiest dump on the lake. Not to mention the insane taxes you pay up here for lakefront property. And we aren't water people that much anyway.

So we started the search for farmland and something of the appropriate size and price range. This parcel sort of fell into place.

All last year (and I do mean ALL of last year) was dedicated to rehabbing the barn and it looks spectacular. On top of this we gave a lot of love to some of the other structures at the property. Al did a good job of cleaning up the place, but there was still an immense amount of garbage everywhere. There still is. We have a large dumpster coming out to haul a lot of it away next week. Why the original farmer saved all that sh1t is beyond me.

We have cleared brush, put up fencing, and hired out a lot of things we simply couldn't do such as taking care of the electrical and structural challenges that faced us. None of this is cheap, but we are far ahead of where we would have been if we had purchased some lake front dump that would be a teardown. And much, much more happy. With a teeny tiny tax bill since we are zoned ag.

Last summer we had bonfires, fireworks, and other parties out there and we will have more this year.

On top of that, the paddocks are now ready to accept a couple of horses. We already owned a pony that we got for free and may get one or two more. What is really nice is that we have a decent amount of hayfield - wonderful, top notch alfalfa hay that is worth something. A local farmer harvests it and we have an agreement where he keeps a bunch for his beef cattle and we keep a bunch for our cattle and horses. Did I say cattle?

Last Sunday we took delivery of four Scottish Highland cattle.

This is Annabelle. She is 6 years old and is preggos. We will have a calf from her within the month. This cow is very tame. You can go right up to her and pet or brush her. She likes it. You do have to mind the rack though - if she gets bit by a fly or has an itch, you don't want to be in the way.
From left to right we have Emma, Ed and Earl.
Emma will breed for us within a year or two. Ed and Earl are beef. Ed is a bit of a pr1ck right now as he is making runs at the other little ones to try to establish himself on top of their pecking order. Annabelle is having none of that, of course.

Emma is already very friendly and will be with us for the rest of her natural life. I figure it is a reward of sorts to keep the females after they are done breeding rather than putting them down right away. Later this summer, when Annabelle is ready, we will either "rent a bull" or have a vet artificially inseminate. Time will tell.

Annabelle doesn't seem to care either way.
Emma just doesn't know right now.
We also are now proud owners of two chickens.

This is all very rewarding to turn a dump into a functioning farm. It has been fascinating to watch the tranformation of my wife from cocktail dress and heel wearing city girl into farm wife. The fresh air and responsibility are good for the kids too. This is all good for me as well. Nothing gets my mind off of everything like a good afternoon of spreading wood chips or clearing brush.

The wildlife out there is wonderful. We have red tailed hawks and great herons, and many other beautiful birds. I could watch them all day. Also deer, pheasant, coyote, fox, and all the other critters you would expect to see on a farm.

One other unexpected thing I have found is that everyone that we ask help from almost without exception is very helpful. We have made a lot of contacts within the farming community and they always answer your questions, give advice and want to help you out.

We have also made the neighbors very happy by keeping the barn up and sprucing up the joint. They are all starting to come over and introduce themselves now that we have the cattle out there to ask what they are, and almost every one thanks us for cleaning up the mess. That is pretty rewarding. Of course it also helps their property values, but most of the people are long time residents so I don't think that is behind most of the compliments.

The cattle have created a minor stir on our little farm road. Cars slam on their brakes and constantly ask us what they are. People have guessed everything from yaks to buffalo (?) to wildebeasts to pretty much every large animal with hoofs. Or is it hooves? Meh, more learnin' to do I reckon.


Peggasus said...

I can see buffalo, there is a buffalo ranch in my town in the East Central (Illinois, yo), and they have shaggy hair like that. Is the beef better from that breed? And the females have horns? That's unusual, at least with the 70 or so Black Angus that inhabit the pasture behind my house. Congrats on the farm!

Mark said...

This will be very good for your kids. Be sure to make them do some back-breaking labor from time-to-time. I sure appreciate my desk job after growing up throwing square bales, chasing cattle and raising tobacco on my parent's farm. Also let them explore and get into trouble out there. My kids favorite place in the world is their Grandma and Grandpa's farm.

Nice cows, by the way. I wonder how they taste.

Dan from Madison said...

Peggasus - Yes, the females have horns. Hm, I don't know about the buffalo/bison, they really don't look much like one to me.

As for the beef, I honestly don't know if it is better or not. They will be grass fed so it will certainly be leaner, but I fear different tasting than the typical stockyard beef you would get at Ruth Chris or some other steakhouse.

We decided on this breed because they eat anything, including weeds and other trash, are very hearty for the winter months and calve very easily.

Also they aren't as menacing as a lot of other breeds since they aren't as large although I think that Ed will be a big guy when he fills out.

Dan from Madison said...

Mark - I wonder how they taste too, we will find out next year.

As for the kids doing backbreaking labor, that is certainly in the cards and they will learn a lot in the process.

Although from what I have heard harvesting tobacco is one of the very worst jobs ever.

Mark said...

It is common for people to say that to raise tobacco you need a strong back and a weak mind. But I'm grateful my parents helped me raise a couple acres for 2 years to help pay for college.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Nothing wrong with lean meat if you know how to prepare it properly. Good luck with the farm!

Dan from Madison said...

Gerry - the meat will definitely be interesting. I am sure that it will taste different than what I am used to with feed lot grain fed cattle, but different isn't necessarily bad. I will definitely have to change the way I cook some things, that is for sure.

Gerry from Valpo said...

If you need recipes you know who to ask. Looks like you're in for a very good time with a worthwhile investment and hobby. Congrats to you!

Carl from Chicago said...

Nice cows. I didn't know they had horns, either.

My relatives in Montana were ranchers.

One had a motto on the wall that said "If I won a million dollars I'd just keep on ranching until it was all gone"

Jonathan said...

Very cool.