Side Hustle to Dream Job

Whereas Mike Rowe encourages people to explore the trades as a permanent position or a jumping point to starting your own business, Joel Salatin regards that a backup job is necessary to transition into farming full time. Both are right, of course. If you have the interest and natural ability to be an electrician or other, you can make a lot of money! However, if your dream is to be a farmer or, for that matter, any startup self employed career, a good supply of cash on hand and steady income before starting makes the idea a dream rather than a nightmare.

Consider Joel’s latest musing on the subject – food for thought.

NEW FARMER BACK UP

The Lunatic Farmer

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NEW FARMER BACK UP

            My post last week about whether or not farm aspirants should attend college stimulated some extremely thoughtful and heartfelt responses; thank you all for chiming in.  I was going to leave the discussion there but one young fellow asked if trade school would be beneficial to have a skill as a back up plan to the farm.

             I always loved Gene Logsdon’s books and writings and am disappointed I never met him personally.  His Contrary Farmer is iconic in sustainable ag writings.  About the only thing that stuck in my craw about him, though, was his adamant position that a small farm was not economically viable on its own.  He declared that you really needed an off-farm income to support the farm.  His writing filled that bill.

             I don’t disagree with Gene lightly, but when this question came out of the comments, I couldn’t help but think of Gene’s position.  While I do NOT agree that an off-farm income is necessary for success, I DO agree that it’s wise and can smooth some rough edges. 

             Almost no entrepreneurial venture starts pure.  Either it taps into an existing nest egg or it transitions using income from other sources to finance it until it scales to stand-alone viability.  I’ve always told folks who want to go from zero to full-time farming to have at least one year of living expenses before making the leap.  Scratch starting takes time to get things up and running.

             That nest egg would include being able to buy a property launch pad for cash.  Teresa and I were blessed with second-generation mortgage-free land, but didn’t jump until we had 1 year of living expenses in the bank.  I fully expected to go back to off farm income when that ran out; it never did.  But, during those first few years, I picked up some side jobs:  built a fence for a friend, helped another friend plant trees in the spring. 

             Teresa and I lived on $300 a month in the farmhouse attic, so these little side jobs of $1,000-$2,000 a year were huge in keeping us afloat as we struggled to get our production and sales income high enough to cover all our living expenses.  Fortunately, firewood sales were good at the time and I sold enough of that in the winter to keep gas in the car and utilities paid.

             Although I had not been to trade school, I had acquired skills just growing up on the farm:  building fence, planting trees, running a chain saw.  I’d say these were equivalent to saleable skills you might acquire at vocational school learning a trade like plumbing, electrical, small engine repair, welding, construction.

             While I wouldn’t say my bottom line disagreement with Gene Logsdon has changed, I would agree that at least starting out, a fall back option with a marketable trade is certainly wise, even if you never have to use it.  Chances are, if you have a marketable skill, opportunities will knock on your door to enable you to leverage that skill.  If you can synergize your willingness to help with some mastery, it makes your worth go way up.

             So yes, if you want to farm I would encourage knowing a trade, whether you do an apprenticeship or go to a vocational school.  In what I call the triumvirate of practical income strategies–building, growing, repairing–possessing a skill that complements growing (farming) offers another leg to your income stool.

             I appreciated the probing question and this chance to examine a bit more of the college/farm nuance.  It’s certainly not black and white.  Income redundancy never hurt anyone.  One more reminder:  achievability is easier the lower your living expenses .  Eliminating the mortgage, driving a $5,000 car, living in a camper, becoming a master of personal doctoring–these are all ingredients in the secret sauce of farming launch success.

             What are your favorite farm-complementary vocational skills?JOEL SALATIN

MARCH 3, 2021

Comments (10)

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Kevin Pennell 9 hours ago · 4 Likes  

Finally, something I can comment on.
I am a small farmer in Mississippi. I raise sheep and pastured poultry.
Before I pursued my farming dream, I was an electrician. I completed a five-year apprenticeship, and worked as a Journeyman for a few years before farming; and though it may seem like an unrelated trade, the skills, know-how, and work ethic I picked up during my apprenticeship was INVALUABLE in my farming venture.
Besides having practical knowledge of electrical theory, installation practices, and building codes, I also learned to calculate concrete, read blueprints and manufacturers schematics (which came in handy when I read Polyface Designs), and how to plan a project through. I learned the value of having a plan, and working hard to see it accomplished. I toughened my hands up. I learned that electrical tape makes a good bandage. Always lift with your legs. Do it right the first time. Have a positive attitude.
Watching the change in my attitude and work ethic during my apprenticeship really gave me a huge confidence boost. It was the greatest period of personal growth in my life, and I didn’t start until I was 22.
Also great to know that if farming doesn’t work, I have something to fall back on.
My apologies if this is hard to read, my written English skills need some work.

WILL 3 hours ago · 0 Likes  

It reads just fine. I’m a pipefitter making the transition soon. I agree 100 percent the skills you learn will never be wasted. Just the problem solving you are required to have being in the trades has helped me exponentially when it comes to thinking outside of the box with small scale farming.

Alex Sanderson 9 hours ago · 2 Likes  

A trade for income is valuable, yes. Any trade on a farm is absolutely invaluable. Whether it keeps purchase or repair costs down or helps with invention and innovation.

George 9 hours ago · 1 Like  

Tinkering still makes a lot of sense.

Sam 3 minutes ago · 0 Likes  

Thank you for answering my question and for the good advice. Also thanks to the people in the comments for sharing their stories. I do a lot of odd jobs already, cutting grass, landscape work, tilling gardens, etc. It might not be skilled work, but I’m building a reputation as someone who works hard. It seems like if your willing to work hard, jobs find you rather than you finding the jobs.

I thought about selling firewood, but it probably would not be worth it without a dump truck and front end loader. There’s so much good wood where I live that goes to waste.

I’ll think more about an apprenticeship or trade, and see where I am at the end of this season. What I would really like is a dependable winter job, during my off season.
Thank you again so much for the advice!

Permaculture Pimp Daddy 38 minutes ago · 0 Likes  

I’ve been an IBEW journeyman electrician for the last 24 years. While every tradesperson I know was out buying new trucks and houses my wife and I were saving, learning and doing. We were following your example.

I retired from the trade two years ago and now spend every single day joyfully working my farm.

Teresa Seed 4 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Just to say, Kevin Pennell, your English skills are well-nigh impeccable, you might have been self-deluding on that score!

Bonnie 7 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Absolutely agree that an apprenticeship of some sort would be an excellent “Plan B”, in the event that your farming endeavor hits an unexpected roadblock.
Another similar idea is to gain skills needed by a farmer, by using Paul Wheaton’s skill-building program (www.permies.com). This link shows the details:

https://permies.com/wiki/156601/Podcast

Plumby’s grandkid 7 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Not sure it complies as a trade school vocation – but my cousin married into a Northern Illinois big farm family. They are big farmers but are also known in their county for being the go to people for professional tax preparation. Their son even went from school to working for the IRS – before returning to the farm when the dad had health issues (and grain price reached 8 dollar corn) That always seemed to me to be a particularly smart play.

BJ 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Your advice to know a marketable trade is spot-on, and I don’t think it is at all in conflict with your disagreement with Logsdon about needing an outside income to support the farm. Having a back-up plan (along with the ability to implement it) is wise in just about any endeavor, whether it’s your life’s work or anything else. Not that one would pursue the trade to support the thing he or she really wants to do, but simply as a fall-back or temporary solution if and when it’s necessary. In a perfect world, we would all be able to simply pursue our passions and not worry about anything else. But in the real world, and especially in uncertain economic times, a backup plan not only is wise, it seems almost essential, even if the new farmer takes your wise advice and starts with at least a year’s worth of “nest egg” funds. The back-up skill will provide peace of mind, if nothing else, and I believe that having peace of mind will help facilitate the success of the farm.

NEXTAGRICULTURE COLLEGE:  TO GO OR NOT

© 2018. JOEL SALATIN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Cato’s PASTURE & lIVESTOCK

Pastures:

Manure the pasture in early spring in the dark of the moon, when the west wind begins to blow. When you close your pastures (to the stock) clean them and root out all the weeds.

(this is what i’m doing with my total grazing scheme – it is very much easier to snip out those little tree sprouts once the grass around them is fully grazed down. Treat the stump with a bit of Tordon RTU and slowly one can regain clean and productive grass pastures.)

Feeding Livestock:

  1. as long as available, feed green leaves of elm, poplar, oak, and fig to cattle and sheep
  2. Store leaves (before withered) to feed sheep (maybe ensilage?)
  3. Store up dry fodder for winter
  4. Build feed racks in such manner to avoid wastage
  5. Feed a measure of soaked grains or grape husks (preserved in jars) each night along with 25 lbs of hay. Offer higher quality and quantity to those steers which are being prepared to work fields.
  6. Nothing is more profitable than to take good care of your cattle.
  7. Keep flocks and herds well supplied with litter to keep their feet clean. Watch for scab which comes from hunger and exposure to rain.
  8. Anoint oxen feed with liquid pepper before driving them on high road
  9. Health stock depend on sweet and fresh water in the summer
  10. Prevent scab in sheep with an equal measure of well strained amurca (dregs of olive oil), water steeped in lupine, and lees (leftover yeast) of good wine. After shearing, anoint the flock with the mixture and allow them to sweat profusely 2-3 days, then dip them in the sea (or a mixture of salt water). Doing this they will suffer no scab. (this amurca, lupine water, and wine was also recommended as a moth proofing, relish for cattle, fertilizer, and for use as weevil kill on the threshing floor)
  11. Ox being sick – give him 1 raw egg and make him swallow. Next day make him drink from a wooden bowl a measure of wine in which has been scraped the head of an onion. Bothe ox and his attendant should do these things fasting and standing upright.
  12. There are additional crazy cures for dislocated bones, serpent bites, and such that i’ll just skip.

The END!

Check out the little book and a myriad of other Forgotten Books.

Cato’s Land and Soil Management

More on Cato’s Farm Management from Forgotten Books. Remember, these are thoughts and teachings from the Cato the Elder circa 160 bc. He was not a good or kind person and purportedly treated his wife as poorly and with little difference than his slaves.

Later on, better management skills were implemented which can alleviate or even eliminate that eventual souring of the land. Sadly, those skills have been left in the dustbin of history and we now ‘farm the govt’ regardless that it is poor practice for leaving the land in good shape for subsequent generations. Very sad, but here we are.

Of Draining (the land)

Drain wet land with trough shaped ditches dug three feet wide at the surface and one foot at the bottom and four feet deep. Blind these ditches with rock. If you have no rock then fill them with green willow poles braced crosswise. If you have no poles, fill then with faggots. Then dig lateral trenches three feet deep and four feet wide in such way that the water will flow from the trenches into the ditches.

In winter surface water should be drained off the fields. Keep hillsides clear so water will run off and during rainy season, have the hands with picks and shovels, clear out the drains so water will flow off the land and into roads so crops are protected.

Of Preparing the Seed Bed

What is the first principle of good agriculture? To plow well. What is the second? To plow again; and the third is to manure. When you plow corn land, plow well and in good weather, let you turn a cloddy furrow. The other things of good agriculture are to sow good seed plentifully, to thin the young sprouts, and to hill up the roots with earth.

  1. Never plow rotten land nor drive flocks or carts across it. If care is not taken about this, the land so abused will be barren for three years.

Of Manure:

Plan to have a big compost heap and take the best of care of the manure. When it is hauled out see that is well rotted and spread. Autumn is the time to do this.

Fold your sheep on the land which you are about to seed and there feed them leaves.

Of Soil Improvement:

The things which are harmful to corn land are to plow the ground when it is rotten and to plant chick peas which are harvested with the straw and are salt. Barley, fenugreek, and pulse all exhaust corn land, as well as all other things which are harvested with the straw. Do not plant nut trees in the corn land. On the other hand, lupines, field beans, and vetch manure corn land.

Book A FarmStay!!

12 Stones Farm Guest House

As promised, more information is coming your way about my amazing friends and their outreach to better the lives of others.

First up, are my friends, Eric & Hope Bright, who owned and operated a profitable dairy on their farm with lovely Jersey cows grazing and gracing the green hills of north Missouri.

Enjoy following along families, children, duck, chicken, and cow adventures on Instagram or Facebook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alas, once their children, who were homeschooled like ours, flew the coop, they moved to warmer clime in south Missouri, just a 30 minute easy drive to Branson. We miss them being our neighbors. 😦

12 Stones Farm Guest House is a unique farm stay with children enjoying bottle feeding dairy calves, rounding up the ducks into their pen each evening, feeding the chickens, collecting eggs (then fixing those fresh eggs for your own brekkie!), milking gentle Jersey cows (and enjoying the milk!), playing with the cats, watching the dog guard the fowl from aerial predators (he takes his job seriously!), helping with the garden if you like, or launching a kayak in the Swan Creek just outside your cabin door.

If active farm stay is not your cup of tea, enjoy the peace and tranquility of a rural setting as you relax into your private hot tub just off the master bedroom with sounds of a tom turkey gobbling occasionally and the splash and gurgle of nearby Swan Creek. Then you might be off to take in the sights and sounds of the ever popular shows and attractions in Branson, MO. Each evening, build an outdoor fire, roast marshmallows and enjoy brilliantly starlit skies.

Enjoy eggs and milk fresh from the farm during your stay and extend the memories and enjoyment by purchasing extras at the 12 Stones Mercantile located on the farm.

As the weather warms, availability may become an issue as families and couples seek to get away from the city and breathe fresh air and relish peacefulness. Start your enquiry at 12 Stones Farm Guest House (sleeps 5) on AirBnB, VRBO, Flipkey, through Eric and Hope’s website, or just give them a ring!. You won’t meet nicer hosts! Also, if you need a really private getaway, take a look at their 2 person cabin on the same property but just a bit away. Available through AirBnB. Eric and Hope have 5.0 star reviews and are Superhosts!

The master bedroom accommodates a queen size bed and a twin size bed.
French doors adorned with quilted window dressings lead to your private outdoor hot tub!
Forgive my terrible photo, but i include it anyway to give you an idea of the spaciousness of the open areas of the 5 person cabin. Behind the DeKalb sign is the loft with 2 twin beds for low ceiling sleeping. Cabins are fitted with all the comforts of home. Quick snapshot in between packing water to Eric who was laying tile in the fabulously upgraded yet still retaining its rustic feel shower and bathroom. Yup, i was helping!

Don’t even hesitate to book this 2 person cabin on the same property and enjoy the same amenities as the 5 person cabin. This trip was the first time i have seen it finished (it was in the infant stages when i visited before) and, as expected, Eric, with his amazing carpentry skills, and Hope with her eye to artistry and detail, have created another oasis.

Cato – Duties of the Hands

Customary Allowances for food

For the hands, four pecks of meal for winter, four and one-half pecks for summer

For the overseer, housekeeper, wagoner, shepherd – three pecks each

For the slaves, four pounds of bread for winter, but when vine cultivating begins, increase to five pounds until figs are ripe, the return to four pounds.

Wine allowances:

Each hand receives a yearly supply of eight quadrantals (or Amphora), but add in the proportion of work they do. Ten quadrantals is not too much

Olives and salt allowances:

Save the wind fall olives as much as possible for relishes for the hands. When olives are all eaten, give them fish pickles and vinegar. One peck of salt per year is enough for each hand.

Clothing allowances:

Allow each hand a smock and a cloak every other year. As often as you give out a smock or cloak to any one take up the old one, so that caps can be made out of it. A pair of heavy wooden shoes should be allowed every other year.

As per Cato’s Farm Management book published by Forgotten Books.

Forage Samples

Before i took off on my driving trip to warmer weather in Continued Wanderings, and before super cold weather set in, i collected forages from standing forage (winter stockpile) for grazing to see what it’s value for animal nutrition would be. Since i raise beef cows, it is not so critical to have high quality all the time like a dairy cow needs, but since starting this new (to me) #total grazing scheme, i wanted to train my eye, so to speak, as to what the numbers look like in comparison to what the actual forage looks like.

There were three applications i wanted to measure;

1) Stockpiled forage which had been allowed to grow to full maturity since last being grazed very short in late May. This test will give me a good indication of what forage quality will be going forward with the total grazing plan i’ve implemented since fall, in which, forage is allowed to grow to full maturity before being grazed in winter.

2) new growth stockpile or that which had been grazed in August and had a little time to regrow (likely highest quality but lowest quantity). Once again, north Missouri was very short on late summer rains so very little forage could be stockpiled under the traditional MiG grazing plan, so many producers bought hay in preparation for a long winter of feeding – as you read in a previous posting here, i decided to sell stock to avoid hay feeding.

3) This sample will be a compilation of waterways, buffer zones, and other areas not worked up to raise organic soybeans. This one is from the Bowyer Farm and is 4 1/2 year old ungrazed or mowed old growth primarily toxic endophyte fescue.

As expected, all forages samples are marginal at best as far as feed value and crude protein which necessitates the feeding of some sort of protein supplement to help the cows’ guts break down the highly lignified grasses to grind out the nutrition in the forages. Even though i knew this going in, i felt it was worth the time and expense for my own education to have these images in my mind and numbers on paper to match up.

Education, sampling, researching, learning, observation are critical in any endeavor worth doing – ranching/farming is no different.

Scissors and a yellow plastic bucket are the complicated tools necessary to collect forage samples. These samples contained a lot of dry matter, so to collect a pound of forage, made for a lot of volume! This is the paddock # 8 sampling – the one not grazed since May 25, 2020 and collected on December 27, 2020
Once I brought home the sample, i cut it into smaller pieces to make it easier to handle and dry more quickly. Using a protein tub to hold the sample kept messiness to a minimum.
Once cut into pieces, i could stuff it all into a 2 gallon Ziploc bag – it was really full – and weighed it up to be certain i had at least the required 1 lb sample for testing. Then i stuck all samples in the deep freeze because i wanted to wait to send it after the holidays – it still took 14 days from north Missouri to Ithaca, NY while paying for 3 day priority. Not happy.

Click on the link above to open the forage samples information from Dairy One Forage Testing Lab.

Paddock 8 – last grazed 12 May 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Paddock 24 – last grazed 11 Sep 20, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Bowyer Farm – last managed Nov 2016, forage sample taken 27 Dec 20

Faith, Family, Farm

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