Farming the Gap: Planting Seeds

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting our beloved processor in person. I have known Ethan of Homestead Farm and Packing‘s work of the past year with every meal that contains our home grown pork that we have taken to him. He was gracious enough to show us his operation from start to finish.  During our time at the plant (which extended into lunch), we were able to discuss our shared passion for humane animal treatment.  As we have written several times before, we hold the care for our animals at the upmost importance and to know our processor upholds those same values, is comforting.  Our conversation wildly opened my mind to a different perspective of the meat processing experience that I did not even consider.  It also refueled my passion to continuously learn more about this business. There is a reason we take our animals to Homestead Farm and Packing and it was only reinforced with our visit.  I tell you this in order to tell you an account of another conversation that occurred that very morning.

The morning of our visit happened be the morning after one of our daughter’s friends stayed the night. Knowing we were going to the plant and wanting share my excitement in it being my first time to take a tour of it with my kids and their friends, we asked our daughter’s friend if she would like to go. We thought it would be a cool experience for her to see what all is involved with farming, just like bottle feeding the baby goats, we have many responsibilities.  We strive to include our children in as much of the business as we can, so they see the care, value and hard work we put into our business.  Upon asking my daughter’s friend’s if she would like to go, her immediate answer to was “Absolutely not, that is murder!”  We tried to carefully navigate the conversation with this young mind to open her perspective about the experience and where the meat that she eats, through the course of a day, comes from.  It doesn’t just come from a grocery store, someone, somewhere raised that pig, cow or chicken that she would consume at her dinner table as she initial thought.  After that statement, of course, we did not make her go with us.  We provided other arrangements for her and our daughter to have fun while we were gone.  But that opens up an even bigger concern that many Americans share this same reaction about livestock animals and raising them for meat to consume.  They think the meat that is bought at the grocery stores is just that, grocery store bought meat!  The bacon that is on the breakfast table comes from the grocery store.  This is the EXACT cliché we are trying to change.  YES, raising livestock comes with the cost of taking an animals life.  NO, taking the life our livestock is not taken lightly.  YES, we strive to give them the most valuable life possible while they are in our care.  Would you rather know that the animal was taken care of on pastures, treated with genuine respect through its entire life and even in their death or just block the idea a living animal was behind the meat and it comes strictly from a shelved cooler?  I can understand not wanting to put a sweet little piggy face and curly tail in the same image as my pork chop but it is a reality, a reality that should be appreciated and not shielded behind a grocery store cooler.

In our day and age, it is so easy to push the responsibility or burden to someone else. It is our duty to the younger generation to bridge the gap from our farm to their table and take the time to explain these concepts to this young and malleable minds.  They will be our future leaders of this country.  If we don’t start to change their perspective now on where food comes from, farmers will be extinct in 20 years.  The average age of a farmer is 58.2, according to the USDA NASS, 2012 Census of Agriculture, and only 5.16% are young farmers age 25-34 years old. So if you do the math, actually put the pen to paper, we will not have enough USA produced yield to support its population in 20 years.

Needless to say, we did not change her mind in that conversation but we did our job and planted the idea to think about where her food comes from. Today… we have upheld our duty as farmers, we planted the seed of changing the culture for the youth in our country, one mind at a time.  And my farmer(ish) soul was enriched!  So I challenge you, know your farmer – not just your grocery store’s cooler.  Form a relationship with them, know where your food comes from, appreciate your meal because I know how hard a farmer worked to provide you with that product!

-Katie Buchanan

Farming the Gap with Mr. Charles and Mrs. Joyce Adams

On this journey to bridge the gap from our millennial generation to that of the farming one, we have meet some really incredible people.  Ones that will forever hold a piece in our family and farm operation.  The first highlight, if you will, that we would like to share with you is that of Mr. Charles and Mrs. Joyce Adams, goat and cattle farmers of McClain, Mississippi.  We met this lovely couple in February of this year through a mutual farmer in the community that set up for us to tour to three farms within the surrounding area.  On the journey to find the perfect buck for our 2018 breeding season, Mr. Charles acted as our tour guide and was willing to spend the whole day with us.

We started the morning at Mr. Charles’ farm viewing his buck prospects.  And might I say what prospects they were.  Never have I seen such majestic animals in person as those that were at this farm.  Of course, you see in goat magazines, Google searches and hear legends of the first New Zealand bucks to make their way to the Unites States as being this huge, muscular “once in a lifetime” animals but viewing Mr. Charles’ bucks, was one of those moments of wonder.  These bucks live off the forage, in their pasture and are feed only periodically in a working shoot in order to check on them or load them up for this reason or that.  We tried to keep an open mind about the other bucks we would see throughout the rest of day but I must be honest, I already made my decision on which buck we would be taking home before ever leaving that pasture.  Next, Mr. Charles showed us his beautiful doelings from the previous year’s crop, their breed does and his current herd sire.  All the while, chatting as we moved pasture to pasture about our operation, their operation, and openly giving advice to us that only comes from many years of blood, sweat and tears dedicated to farming.

As we visited the other two farms, we received the same, very kind, treatment and overload of information.  (We hope to be featuring some of these farms in later blog additions.)  Keep in mind, the farms we visited were of those that have been in the business for many years.  Their operations were very fluid and were expanded upon over time. #farmgoals is what comes to mind.  As we finished our tour and drove back to Mr. Charles’ house, we were invited to come inside their lovely home to meet Mrs. Joyce.

The moment we walked into their home, I was transported back to my childhood, as if I were walking into my very own grandparents’ house.  Both of my grandparents died before I was 14, so I was immediately taken back by nostalgia and overwhelmed with the feeling that I was talking to my very own grandparents.  Nick and I sat down in their den with them and started chatting like we had known each other for what seems like forever.  We had the same interests, beliefs, even our humor was similar.  We talked farming and told them our story of this first generation farmer passion and all the hurdles we have had to jump through to get to where we are.  They openly shared their experience and helpful advice.  I believe we could have stayed there all day and probably would have if it wasn’t for having to pick up our children from school.

As we hugged them goodbye and promised to chat soon, Nick and I knew we had really met some lifelong friends.  We quickly agreed we would call Mr. Charles and Mrs. Joyce the next morning to confirm we wanted to purchase one of their bucks named Buckie.  Buckie met all of our requirements – good genetics, parasite resistant, well built, hearty, etc.  You name it, Buckie has it!

The next morning, before we could place that very phone call to Mr. Charles and Mrs. Joyce, we received a phone call from them that would bring us very close to our knees.  They offered to loan us Buckie for our 2018 breeding program; not knowing that we were planning to call them the very same day to purchase Buckie.  If you know our family, you know we are not ones that are given much, we work, HARD, for everything we have.  Handouts just don’t exist in our world.  And here we have these amazing people offering to help us, we were and still are completely humbled and forever in their debt.

So Buckie is currently at Jolly Roger Ranch to be this year’s herd sire and we can’t wait to share with you the results this kidding season will bring.  A special thanks to Mr. Charles and Mrs. Joyce for everything!  It is hard to put into words what your kindness means to our farm and our family.

Katie Buchanan

The Learning Curve

With any new adventure, there is always a learning curve.  I’d like to think our family is pretty adaptive, we catch on quickly to new endeavors set before us.  However, farming as taught us a few things we hadn’t bargained for such as soil chemistry, fecal samples, ear tagging and tea tree oil concoctions for goat mastitis.  Yes, you heard that correctly – massaging a goat milk bag with tea tree oil and expressing the curdled milk in 28 degree weather so we won’t lose the mamma goat or her babies in the dark with a headlamp.  Needless to say, we have learned so much in the past four years of having our farm and we know we have so much more to ascertain.  In order to share what we have learned with you, it is only appropriate to share an overview of our journey and how we got here.
Where it Began…
In August of 2014, Nick brought home five chickens and two pigs.  The initial scope of this agriculture project was for personal use only; receiving eggs and processing our own pork were on the itinerary.  Immediately the kids were enchanted with these foreign creatures now taking up real estate in our back yard. Then there was me, someone that never had a pet more than a few weeks growing up (except a guinea pig that lived roughly two years and I emphasize the roughly part) and kills any plant left in her care, including bamboo.  I was assured there wouldn’t be any responsibility assigned to me for taking care of them probably to the animals’ benefit.  The chicken coop and pig pen were only the beginning.
Fast forward two years to 2016, where the farm grew from a backyard hobby to a fenced five acres, 12 free range chickens, a handful of goats and an official LLC was born.  We struggled with a name for the farm, in a world where everyone was using their last names as the farm title.  Since our family has never followed the “norm”  why would we do so in this situation.  The four year old, two-legged child (Lucas) produced a very unique name that stuck.  At that moment, Jolly Roger Ranch was born. 
Slowly over that year, we expanded our herd by picking up goats and pigs from the local auction and dabbling with raising our own chicks.  Unbeknownst to us, this is where the major learning curve to our first generation farmer-selves kicked in since we were starting to build a legitimate customer base, we knew we had to step up our game.  Countless hours of research were spent while the kids slept to figure out what the hell we had gotten ourselves into.   So we decided to step up our goat quality by moving to the Kiko breed as the core of our herd.  They are known for the meaty heartiness, parasite resistance and overall quality in the goat world.  Heartiness was definitely a trait this plant-killer, “non-outdoorsy” girl needed.  Since the demand of the farm started to increase, I increased my involvement by helping with baby goats or other small tasks that I knew wouldn’t harm the well-being of the animals, to hopefully evade the same outcome of that poor bamboo plant.
2017 was a very notable year for our farm, we expanded to 20 acres and were taking every opportunity to expand the quantity and quality of goats we had but was also our hardest year.  The weather of 2017 was very hot and wet which created the perfect environment for parasites.  We buried more animals than we could count and not for the lack of trying to kept them alive.  We started to attend local seminars focusing on small ruminants (goats and sheep) to try to understand where the errors were in our operation.  Through those seminars, we hit a turning point for our farm, we started a very strict protocol for all incoming livestock to the farm with quarantine pens, implemented a feed regimen, deworming practice and mineral supplement schedule.  We found our culprit was these worms that attached to the goats stomach and then drained their blood supply and were going to do everything within our capability to rectify the problems we were encountering.  We also started reaching out others in our community to learn from them as well and found they were having the same issue.  By the end of the year, we started to see an improvement in our animals and anticipated we were on the upswing.
Where we’re going…
We intend for 2018 will be our best year yet.   We have plans for expanding our goat herd to double its size, attending more educational opportunities to broaden our knowledge, and farm the gap with our surrounding community now that we have an outlet to share our journey with all of you!
Katie Buchanan

Farming the Gap…

Welcome to our blog! I first want to start out by saying THANK YOU! Thank you to our loyal customers that have helped us grow this passion into a business and a way of life for our family. Thank you to the skeptics that kept us going in order to prove you wrong. Our hopes for this outlet is shine the light on a dying breed of people that are essential to the evolution of society. Without farmers and the necessities they produce, society would shrivel. So the focus of our blog is to tell our story as first generation farmers – the good, the bad and the ugly will all be laid on the table with hopefully, a twist of humor.

So to begin, Jolly Roger Ranch started as a hobby four years ago with a belief that we could provide for our family from the land that we owned and of course, trying to master the art of perfect bacon. We started with five chickens and two pigs (we will share the full background story in a later post). As the years rolled by, we turned the hobby into a business against the advice of many that surrounded our family in a professional or personal way. I have to admit, I was one of those very people. My husband, Nick Buchanan, passionately believes the “living off the land” ideology and it took some time for me to see the vision. However, I slowly bought into the farm life style and consider myself as the operational support to the “Ideas Man” that encompasses Nick. He comes up with the idea, we both conduct research and come back to the table with what we discovered to see if it is the correct step forward for our farm. Some ideas are quickly thrown out and some take time to be fully vetted but either way, we try to make that decision as a family and with the best interest for our farm at the root.

During the course of our research, we found there are many different beliefs and/or ways to treat a problems we were encountering. There is little solid evidence or literature involving some of the problems we have face on a daily basis some due to the lack of knowledge we have and others may be because the information just doesn’t exist. We spent countless hours researching goat illnesses, fencing strategies, chicken egg incubation processes, to name a few. We would take a few bits of information from this site, mix it with personal stories from this forum and some common sense to decide how to best move forward. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it was a complete fail. Then a thought stemmed from all of this knowledge exploration, what do we do with all of this information? If we are having this same problem with finding the information, surely there are others that are experiencing this too? If we build a network of people that have done this before, maybe we could lessen the learning curve of this thing they call farming. We quickly found this was not an easy venture, it took numerous conversations and sticking out our hands to shake that of another farmer to get our foot in the door but it certainly paid off.   The fall of last year, we started to attend weekend seminars in our area where we were able to start making those connections.   Over the last few months, we have cultivated those connections into lifetime friendships. It was through this process that the light bulb went off, we need to share this! So it is our intention to do just that, to bridge the gap from the older farming generation to our “Millennial” generation. It is amazing to hear folks talk from the younger age group that are so out of touch with how their food is produced, where it comes from and the work that goes into getting it on to their table. There is a huge campaign for organic and non-GMO foods that most consumers get lost in the labels and creative advertising of that the food industry and don’t understand what they all mean. So it is our mission to Farm the Gap. What do I mean this? A pun of bridging the gap between generations, we hope to be the translator of the older farming generation to our generation of consumers. By “Farming the Gap”, we hope to bring you to the front door of producers in our community, county and state and shine light one how the food you consume gets to your table.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, we will bring you individual stories of each of these farms we visit plus background of our farm with highlights of our special projects and products. Please look around our website, our contact information is listed in the sidebar and feel free to reach out to us!

Until next time,

Katie Buchanan