Weeding is the perfect mental activity for farm planning. As I nimbly separate curly dock and bedstraw from acorn squash mounds and tomato plant rows, I sort through a matrix of ideas we've identified that could support our goal of becoming self-sustaining. Our focus thus far has been to being to build farm 'systems' that support each other. In order to grow vegetables for consuming, canning and storage, we need organic fertilizer, so we built a rudimentary compost pile. With little time to build boxes and purchase barrels, we simply heap it, turn it and cook it under a black tarp. We quickly found out that we couldn't produce enough from our family's waste stream, so we recruited the efforts of a local Inn who now send us buckets of 'vegan' food scraps. By autumn, we will have enough to cover the garden, but we still need animal manure for additional nitrogen. This year, we will take the dump truck and tractor up to our neighbor's farm and load up on cow manure (they have Highland cattle that are poop machines). But next spring, our plan is to add animals to our equation so we can strengthen our farm team.
You can imagine the thought process underlying our hundreds of animal choices. At baseline, the animals we raise need to fulfill the 3 F's: food, fertilizer and fabric. They need to be rugged enough to survive Vermont winters in an un-insulated barn and must draw a higher than average price 'at the market' for the products they produce. Our current research is focused on Icelandic sheep. Although they are more expensive and produce less milk than other types of sheep, there is a high demand for their wool (used in felting), their offspring can be sold at a good price either for livestock or meat, and the quality of their milk will produce a very unique cheese. Plus, they will mow our field! I've found a few farms in Vermont that raise Icelandics…. and they deliver. We will start with a ram and two ewes. Icelandic ewes have a strong tendency towards twins so our flock should grow quickly.