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who’d be a farmer, eh?

BuenaVistaFarm_0098Photo: Luisa Brimble

It's something Adman says, 'who'd be a farmer, eh?', when stuff goes wrong, or, you know, gets out or dies or doesn't grow or gets eaten or breaks or we hit the wall financially. 

He always says it wryly, as if he's the farm kid and I'm the townie and this farming idea is a permanent forgone conclusion. Like he's in it past his boots, and we might have had a disasterous day but he'd still rather be here than anywhere. 

He said it yesterday morning. After we'd gotten over the initial shock of losing another batch of meat chickens to a fox. 

Not quite the whole batch this time. Two weeks ago it was the whole batch. The whole mature batch. That were due for processing the following week. That we'd paid for up-front (of course), paid for all the feed, all the infrastructure, and now receive zero income for. Which is not what it's about for us anyway, but it does drive us closer to that wall. We have to call Feather and Bone, the lovely sustainably-raised meat providore that we supply in Sydney, and explain that we'll be letting them down. We have to remember to call the abattoir and tell them we won't be coming. We have to compost all the carcasses, because a fox doesn't actually eat a hundred chickens, it just eats a few and kills the rest. 

 

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It's brutal. And I debated whether I should publish this photo. I didn't, initially, after we lost the first batch. People really would rather not hear the really dark side of farming. Mostly it'd be better to know everything's OK, not because people are not interested, but because they are! And because they want it to all be OK.

But then we lost over half the next batch. Same fox, I suspect. Of course we took measures after the first loss. We checked and double checked the fences. We invested in fox lights. We investigated alpacas and determined that when we can afford them, we'll buy a pair. We know people have had great success with Maremma dogs but we already have one dog and hoped she might help keep the fox away – she has up until now. But the fox somehow got over the electric netting fence. 

We won't bait on this farm. Although that's what the Department of Primary Industries is strongly recommending we do. It only takes one person to have a living memory of losing a dog to 1080 poison to make it impossible to bring that poison onto our land. Dad, in this case. Aside from the fact Adam objects to baiting ethically. 

So we went and picked up a humane trap this morning. We'll see what happens. 

We choose to raise our birds in open range paddocks, because this environment is significantly healthier for the birds, but because they are not safely locked in an enormous stinky shed, inhaling toxic poop air and needing antibioitics in their feed to survive, they're potentially vulnerable to predators, however diligent we are. 

Raising poultry on pasture is risky, and the farmer carries that risk. The providore who hitches themselves to that farmer does too: they have customers they'll disappoint as supply fluctuates. Customers share the risk by supporting the pastured poultry farmer and buying product at a premium price, priced that way to reflect the costs in doing things on a smaller scale, the hand raising, the bucket feeding, the water-checking, the fox-lights, scarecrows, fake owls, and late-night head-torch-wearing circuits of the meat chickens, checking the fences in the winds, checking when it gets too hot, checking when the temperature drops, and picking up a hundred small birds and putting them under the hoop house shelters on the first few nights they're in the paddock. 

If you think pasture raised poultry is expensive, you're damn right it is. 

Who'd be a farmer, eh?

He would.

I would.

Chin up, let's go.

xxx

 

 

28 Comments on “who’d be a farmer, eh?

Sue Lee
June 19, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Naawww poor chickens! Crowd fund for alpacas? In exchange for a feed?

I miss my girls when I’m away. I’d be devasted if a fix ever came 🙁

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Fraser
June 20, 2014 at 12:01 am

We haven’t lost a single bird in the elec mesh set up since we’ve had them and a couple of weeks back when we set everything up as best we could to go away for 10 days our farm-sitter got up early to feed the chooks and the fox was into them. Unbelievable! The 2nd day we weren’t there. Oh fantastic Mr Fox. But it has added to our work load. Now we go up of a night and lock them away and get up earlier than we ought to let them out. That’s an extra 30-40 minutes in our day. Every day. Even Sundays. An extra 3.5 hrs a week. Overtime? I’m not complaining, it’s what we do and I enjoy it but if i was to ask for that extra 3.5 hrs in wages as an added cost to a doz eggs so the customer can get good eggs then…..you know it.

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Emma
June 20, 2014 at 5:35 am

Thanks for publishing this. It is important that we don’t just buy ethically produced foods but keep learning about the trials and tribulations that bring it to our table, heartbreaking though it is for all of you. Plod on, chin up, you’re doing a good thing.

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Yvonne
June 20, 2014 at 7:56 am

So sad Fiona. Hope alpacas help.

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Melissa
June 20, 2014 at 7:58 am

Oh I am honestly close to tears for you guys. So disheartening but as you say chin up- there’ll be plenty of customers like me who will pay the higher prices knowing that we’re supporting the amazing, hardworking ethical peeps like you who provide us with SUCH deliciousness! xxx

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Tricia
June 20, 2014 at 8:04 am

Crowd sourcing for Alpacas is a great idea Sue. I’d contribute.

So sorry about the fox Fi and Adam. I hope that trap catches it.

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SB
June 20, 2014 at 8:21 am

Picture was brutal but necessary 🙂 Am so sorry to hear of a repeat incident. Total bummer. Love to you all xo

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Kirsten
June 20, 2014 at 8:58 am

So important to tell these stories. No farming journey contains all good days.

And explaining the story of our food means more people can appreciate why choosing not to raise chickens in a hermetically sealed barn costs more… as it should! xx

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cath
June 20, 2014 at 9:00 am

The only good place for a fox is in a stole around our necks! We lost many, many, many animals to foxes over the years and in the end couldn’t stand the losses any more. From a litter of 12 pigs, to three runts left the next morning, it is heart breaking. Wish I had words of wisdom and could provide a positive solution.

Great pic too – the real side of farming life and meat in ya’ belly!

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Laura Dalrymple
June 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

Beautiful post, beautifully written. This is why we’re so proud to sell your produce. Your kind of business is what our business is built around and it’s a privilege to be in partnership with you, tricky though it may sometimes be. I’m glad you published the photo of the slaughtered chooks because this is the truth and we don’t have enough truth in food production these days. Look at Saskia Beer’s Barossa Black ‘heritage, free range’ Pork and Coles”freshly baked’ bread for a start. Last week I published a piece in our newsletter (‘Looking the animal in the eye’)about visiting a local farm and meeting the pigs that would be dispatched to the abattoir the next day for us to sell as pork. I published a photo of the pigs in the paddock and then another of one of them as a carcass at our factory. Business Insider picked up the article and ran it as an op ed yesterday which was great. But they didn’t publish the second photo… So, even if you don’t have chooks to sell us, you have something possibly far more valuable – the ability to educate us all by sharing these stories. Amen.

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alison@thisbloominglife
June 20, 2014 at 10:51 am

Oh Fiona. Bugger, bugger, bugger! You guys are doing great work and I’m sorry about the setbacks… Take care and that crowd sourcing idea is a great one. Lotsa love, Alison xxx

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Peter C Ross
June 20, 2014 at 10:59 am

I would too

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Demi
June 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

That’s so sad. There are usually free to a good home alpacas and lamas at farms in Wilton and Picton. I can have a look at the noticeboard this weekend and let you know if they’re available if you like.

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Ngo Family Farm
June 20, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Oh, we have been there, too (on a much smaller scale, though). Sorry to hear about so much loss, but yes, glad you are keeping on! xo
-Jaime

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Wendy.B
June 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Oh my goodness.. heartbreaking, heart wrenching and dis-disillusioning. I lost one chicken to a fox and was gutted, so feeling for you in all aspects emotionally, morally, ethically and financially – yea who would be a farmer eh.

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Catriona
June 20, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Oh noooooooooo. So sad to hear this. Also, I know nothing about alpacas as fox deterrents – how does that work?

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ronnie
June 20, 2014 at 8:19 pm

farming is a very hard gig….. how’s this for hard — we bought in a herd of lovely dairy girls – 120 beautiful freisans from interstate — we checked with the government vets if there were any issues we should be aware of (we didn’t want to spread diseases or have the herd exposed to something nasty)

four weeks after they arrived the first animal calved and seemed to have a very bad case of milk fever — we did everything possible…. she died

days later the next animal calved… seemed to have a very bad case of milk fever – we did everything possible… she died

repeat

repeat

repeat

the vet sent off a sample of blood

and then broke the news – our herd had contracted theileria – we became the test case in nsw of what happens when a herd of animals with no resistance meets a vicious an untreatable highly contagious disease. in short. they die.

over the ensuing months we lost more than a quarter of the herd. the productivity of the survivors was permanently compromised. (and then even more died when they contracted the disease for a second time)… there was nothing we could do except bury the dead as they dropped. today less than half of the herd remains.

it will take us more than 15 years to clear the debt… and that’s the best case scenario….

you’re damn right farming is hard.

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Sue Lee
June 20, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I did see a place in the Southern Highlands. Sells alpacas. From $750 to $1200. The lady that runs it is called Fiona too. Coincidence?

I’d love to be a co-parent to an Alpaca 🙂 put me down for a fiddy and I’ll come for a pat one day.

http://www.birrongsurialpacas.com.au/forsale/forsale_females.php

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Maggie
June 20, 2014 at 8:56 pm

What a life, what an inspiration. we are beginning farmers and hearing stories like yours continues to inspire …. hang in there.

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Karen
June 20, 2014 at 11:02 pm

So very sorry to hear about the trials you have been facing. I have been praying for you guys, and will continue to do so.

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Becs :: Think Big Live Simply
June 21, 2014 at 11:23 am

Ah, gosh, that is such a difficult thing to deal with. We have our 20 layers working in our market garden, surrounded by electric netting and 4 fox lights…so far so good, but I am absolutely waiting for it…all it takes is one wiley fox. We live on a large farm where the owners do bait around lambing (like now), and having lost a dog to bait before, it’s not something I’d choose to do if it were up to me either. Please keep telling real stories like these – and keep us updated on what you do to outsmart or be rid of the fox (I’m sure I’ll need to know at some point!)

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Jo
June 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm

I shared your article and my 77 year old Aunt (who had a sheep property with her husband many years ago) said run geese with you chickens to keep away the foxes.

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Louise Freckelton
June 21, 2014 at 6:13 pm

I’m so sorry. It’s heartbreaking. I also know the pain – we lost two brand new twin lambs the other day to a fox. One was eaten almost completely and the other little twin just had it’s tail eaten off – enough to kill. We don’t bait either because we have many raptors. We hire shooters before lambing season and we have guardian alpacas. We do other things too like bring the ewes and lambs into a smaller paddock each night, tie plastic bags as distractors on the fences and scent the area with, ahem, re-cycled beer – you know what I mean. Still we lost a part of twin lambs – also a great financial loss to us not to mention the terrible deaths they had. I’m so sorry!

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Genevieve
June 21, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Oh geez, I’m so sorry to read this… What devastating losses. I know full well the cost of raising pastured meat chickens and those fatties are not cheap. Oh you poor things. We have not had any losses from foxes yet, but we fully expect to. Each morning I wake up and go and let the chickens out of the houses and each morning I half expect to come across some foxy devastation. Though we do have a dog tied to each house over night. And our portable houses are theoretically fox proof (until the fox shows us they aren’t). But we did take the electric mesh fencing down in a grand experiment to see just how free range our pastured chickens could be. It’s the kind of grand experiment that seems inordinately successful, maybe too good to be true when the fox laughs at our tomfooolery and digs into the house without a nary of electric shock but we shall see… Good luck to you!

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Mrs Homespun
June 22, 2014 at 4:46 am

I am so sorry for you and your chooks! We have a tiny flock and have lost a few to a fox lately and foiled two attacks right outside our back door! The are cunning buggers, but hopefully soon we can afford to build a new (foxproof) run for the girls.
Best of luck

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janis
June 22, 2014 at 5:44 am

70 years ago. We shut the hens up at night. Dad shot the fox with it taking the hen out of the hen house. Good luck.

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Just Joyful
June 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

I’m glad you posted this, especially with the photo of the slaughter. I’m one of those people who, until I started reading about your farming experiences, had no idea of the difficulties and costs involved in producing the goodies that you produce.

We live looking across farmland and occasionally see foxes in the paddocks. Having been brought up in country NSW, I do know that the only good fox is a dead fox, so don’t go oohing and aahing when I see said foxes (except if they are road-kill), but I hadn’t thought all the way through to the devastating consequences.

Thank you so much for the education you continue to give me.

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Nolani McColl
June 23, 2014 at 10:15 am

So sorry to read your post. Losing chickens to a predator is terrible. Keep up the good work. I look forward to seeing you soon at the next chicken workshop. I’ve also heard that running a pair of geese helps to keep foxes away and they might become another product to sell.

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