Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Middle of the Night Farm Anxiety

It's the opposite of counting sheep for sleepy time. I now count sheep in the middle of the night and wonder how I am going to cover the cost of hay because my lambs never sold this fall. A bad economy means folks eat hamburger, not steak, and certainly not lamb. I do the math in a semi-conscious state, and in the dark, when problems are most dire, I don't have a good solution. Luckily, Annie is coming up with some alternative plans of her own in the restless night.

As any insomniac will tell you, there are always other things one can worry about. Will the turkeys blow off their roost since they refuse to come under cover at night? Will the raccoons eat the turkeys for the same reason? Is there enough room for the ram lambs in the orchard loafing shed? When is it time to start pruning the trees and the vines? Will Annie get into vet school? How much longer will our old dog live or will we have to make that decision? Multiple anxieties work better in the dark, and the darker the anxiety the better.

It's not that I am an insomniac. I actually hate to be awake at night thinking about things. I prefer to dream my anxieties into other kinds of stories. Sometimes I even dream of my solutions! For instance, what if we were to buy another freezer and have our lambs processed by a USDA facility? Then I could sell by the cut for a higher price. And, if the lamb didn't sell, we would have food for years!

With Craig's List as a free source for advertising, this idea doesn't seem that nightmarish. We had recently talked about putting our freezer in the barn so our new solar panels could power it. I'm not sure if my guests would be put off looking either into the freezer for lamb to eat or out the large, open, barn window at lambs playing in the loafing shed. Maybe we don't want to go there just yet.

By the morning light, USDA processing seems a better solution than several more tons of $5 hay. $65 per lamb times 20 lambs will cost $1300. If I can then sell the meat for an average of $7 per pound, at 400 pounds, I should net $1500. Add in the cost of a new bench freezer at $400 and I am down to a profit of $1100.

On the other hand, if I decide to sit on the lambs until they gain more weight I will have to bring in hay. Three tons of hay (120 bales) at $5 each will cost $600 - money just going down their little gullets, while the months tick off until the time when they are no longer considered lamb, but mutton.

As a sheep friend cautioned me, "Why are we paying for people to eat our sheep?!" Of course, she not only decided to handle the butchering herself, she also put the price up at $11 per pound wrapped and she gets it! Could have something to do with the fact she is gorgeous, Icelandic,...and so are her sheep. But, hey, all power to her!

I've made a call to the USDA processor up near Portland and also to my friend, Cody, who will haul my lambs. I've also called a local processor to compare pricing. Works out cheaper to haul 100 miles than to have the non-USDA guy come to the farm. Makes no sense. Problem is, I can't get scheduled for another month!

I feel my anxiety amping up and imagine when I awake in the middle of the night to the snoring of the old dog and the farmer, there has to be a solution lurking in the dark, if only I can dream it.

Photo: Lambs in the loafing shed at the end of the barn

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones


Abby Rogers said...

I see that you have England listed as one of your interests! Perhaps you would enjoy my blog:


As often as possible I will post photographs of glorious vistas, charming close-ups, and interesting tidbits of life in Great Britain for the pleasure of Anglophiles everywhere!

Animal escapades said...

Ah, England. Seems quite a distance away from Leaping Lamb Farm these days. I entertain myself by looking at Farm Stay UK and marvel at all the lovely, picturesque farms offered in that country. Will check out your blog. Thanks! Scottie

ERad said...

Could you partner with a CSA to sell your cuts? Some CSAs are now partnering with other farms to offer honey, cheese, meat, etc. to their customers. Maybe CSA customers would like some local, grass-fed lamb?

Animal escapades said...

I actually do sell to a farm that calls my lamb their own. This year the economy hit their sales some so the market wasn't there. Holding lamb over winter does no one any good due to loss of weight. We are revising out breeding schedule to have lambs earlier in the season and will educate a bit more on the Katahdin breed. Thanks for the suggestion!