I have a suspicious theory that there are stages to hobby farming that every new hobby farmer goes through. I write this, since our farm is changing and developing as we learn all about the upkeep and personalities of our animals. Learning what we like, are able to raise, and are able to keep safely, is something we are learning over time. However, the hobby farm does have limits, so in the infamous lyrical genius of the Spice Girls, I’ve realized it comes down to “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want!”. Let me explain.
At the beginning, when a hobby farmer buys their first farm, they want it all. Or at least I did, and didn’t know it yet. You get a little punch drunk, or farm drunk, with the possibilities. You finally have the S-P-A-C-E, which we never had in suburbia, to do what you want with. It’s exhilarating. We started with chickens (the gateway farm animal), which then proceeded to ducks, then quail, then pigs, then turkeys, then sheep… and somewhere in there we also got guinea fowl. Which is all fine, except they do all have separate needs and wants, different housing, feed… you get the idea. This is an “Acquiring Stage”, where you are collecting animals, either though purchase, trade or adoption. This stage can last for a while, whether it be a few months or a few years, but somewhere in there, you’ll plateau.
In our case, the plateau hit with the realization that predation in our area is serious (coyotes, cougars and bears.. oh my!) and that we don’t have the funds to build the required shelter to keep them safe (specifically the pigs), nor would be want to. We want our animals to be outside, enjoying the fresh air, grass and dirt, and locking them inside a barn all day wouldn’t make them happy, and in turn, wouldn’t make us happy. This, I think, would be appropriately called the “Reckoning Stage”. I suspect that the “Reckoning Stage” might be entered for a wide variety of reasons: lack of finances, lack of time or flat-out-worry and stress about how much your neighbourhood bear likes bacon.
Which brings me to the Spice Girl’s lyrics. It’s a hard look at your farming situation, determining what you want, what you really, really want… and sticking with that. Other animals, although fun to have, sometimes take up too much time, or are too much stress and worry, making your hobby suddenly not-so-fun. Laying in bed at night, and jumping over every sound, worrying about your pigs is not the recipe for a good night’s sleep. Since we have hit the reckoning stage, we are now we are in the “Paring Down Stage” stage, recognizing what animals we overly worry about, and finding safe homes. We lucky sold our rare (in Canada!) American Guinea Hog breeding pigs and Babydoll sheep quickly, since the hungry bear in the woods was keeping me awake at night.
Of course, you wouldn’t know what you wanted unless you tried it. Your personality and work habits also factor in, and although I know lots of people that have lived on farms and “hate” chickens, I think they’re wonderful. There’s a wide variety to choose from, and once trained, they put themselves in at night, and our automatic light controlled doors close them in and secure them for the evening. Easy, predator proof, stress and worry free… and I love watching them forage. Nothing quite like watching them run across the front grass. Our Muscovy ducks are also entertaining, and watching them have group meetings is comical. All that head bobbing and loud whispering, I can only imagine what they get so worked up about!
So now we are down to chickens, Muscovy ducks, quail and a few Ridley Bronze Turkeys, where everyone is locked down completely at night, and they forage all day… and the farm seems a heck of a lot more peaceful… and this farmer’s stress alleviated. So if your farm is a little too busy, a little too much, a little too stressful for whatever reason, do yourself a favour, and use the Spice Girl wisdom.. and put all your focus on what you really, really want!