Thursday, December 23, 2010

Girly Man

I'll admit I'm kind of girly. I like girly movies and girly music. Former students have picked up on this fact and have poked fun extensively.

This probably originates from the fact that I was the only boy growing up and have five younger sisters. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Dirty Dancing, Adventures in Babysitting, Grease etc. As you can tell from my teaching blog my music tastes run the gamet but usually settle on folky/girly tunes. I can't help it. I have been surrounded by girls my whole life.

I'm not sure how I ended up married to a girl that has four brothers. My wife is just as tough as her brothers. She could beat the two younger ones in an arm wrestle until they were dang near in college. The first time I actually remember noticing my wife was when I saw her in a fight at the local gas station with two other girls. It's really kind of funny hanging out at my wifes family dinners while they are talking guns, trucks, fights they've been in. My boy told me the other day that when we move to Canada we should get one of mom's brothers to show us how to hunt. He didn't even ask if I knew how to hunt. ha.

Why the self deprecating admission? I've spent the past couple of nights browsing the internet for blogs similiar to what I'd like The Simple Farm blog to be like and it seems like 99% of the bloggers are women. The terrible thing is I like reading all the girly posts and comments. I wish I didn't and I hope that none of my male friends read this post as I'm sure I'll never hear the end of it.

Anyways, I've added a few blogs that I like at the bottom of the home page and they are listed here as well.

http://thepioneerwoman.com/
http://coalcreekfarm.com/ - tell me you don't like this lady dancing in her kitchen in front of her kids.

If anyone has any other blogs I should check out please send me the link.

Even if they happen to be a little girly.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Freedom from stuff

I was talking to a friend today about how free I feel because I don't own a house. My friend is toying with the idea of selling his house and buying a boat. From the boat he could travel the seas while working from a laptop. How cool would that be?

It has been a surprising feeling to actually like renting. I've been a landlord for the past 5 years and have owned several houses over the course of 6 years and I've become accustomed to owning what I live in. We are renting now for a few months and it's actually quite pleasant.

This past weekend the water heaters conked out and guess who fixed it? Not me. Ha. I tried to help but what could I really do on a place I don't own. The landlord came in and replaced a couple of elements in the water heaters and I didn't have to do a thing. Ha again.

This feeling reminds me of a really good summary called the Story of stuff. It makes me want to throw all my boxes out that have been stored for the last month. Chances are I'll haul the boxes around for another year or so and then end up disposing of the items anyway.

Here's my goal. Go through all of our stuff and get rid of at least one third of it. I figure we have about 100 boxes. That means 33 boxes of stuff is getting dumped on someone in the next 2 months.

Let me know if you need any stuff to add to your stuff.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WE'RE DEBT FREE

So its official. WE'RE DEBT FREE. Our house closed at the end of November and we just made the final payment on our land in Canada. We may not have a house or any farming equipment but we are heading North. We actually will not leave until early spring but we have a lot of planning and deciding to do before then.

Since our house closed we have been moving around calling upon the good graces of many friends. We've slept on numerous floors and have our our possessions farmed out to a few empty garages. Thanks Rick and Cami, Bill and Kim, John and Amber, Lee and Amber, and all the other folks who's helped along the way.

Our poor kids don't even know this is not normal. I think they are enjoying the adventure of sleeping at a new friends house every night.

We are now in a place that we will rent for a few months while I finish up at the college etc. We are OK mom and dad. (Our phone hasn't worked for the last week and my parents lost touch of us as we moved from one place to the next. I'm pretty sure my mom is about to come and take our kids away from us until we get settled. ha.)

I think it's about time we going skiing and get a Christmas tree. We've got a lot to celebrate.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Subdivision Process

Before I forget about the headache it was to subdivide land I wanted to write down what I did. These are the steps we went through to subdivide our 140 acres of rural agriculture land into two seperate pieces:
  1. Find the subdividing authority in your area. For me it was the Oldman River Reginal Services Commission (ORRSC). I found the subdivison process documented fairly well. If I was going through this process again I'd definitely stay on top of things better and push a little more to get things done.
  2. Fill out the subdivision application. The application was pretty simple and it was only a $600 fee. I had to have my Brother-in-law sign docs. He just so happened to be in New Brunswick for a few months so that took a while to accomplish.
  3. Engage a surveyer. After application was submitted we got word the process was underway. We got a bunch of documents telling us what we needed to do but it all boiled down to getting a surveyer involved.
  4. Stay on top of the surveyor. We used Brown, Okamura and Associates. The cost associated was around $2,200 in all. Thomas Penner was my main point of contact. He was pretty responsive. I still felt like I was pushing the process on. I followed up quite often and was in charge of contacting all the people involved in signing off on the subdivision including:
    1. MD of Cardston - Janet Beck. Needed to get development agreement signed off on . This included making sure each piece of land had proper access with the road including an approach. We didn't sign a development agreement yet but will need to do so before building a house on the property.
    2. United Irrigation District (UID)- The land we subdivided had irrigation rights associated with it. We worked with Fred Rice and Craig Smith from the UID. They were really helpful and knowledgeable. We needed to get an access point of delivery (APOD) put into one of the pieces of land. We paid the UID ahead so they would sign off on the subdivision condition. They couldn't put the APOD in until the water was turned off for the summer and I didn't want to wait that long to get the sign off. I just got word that the APOD is being ordered and installed very shortly.
    3. Fortis - We needed an easement associated with an electrical line running through the property. The electrical line services the house to the south and the easement allows Fortis to access our land to maintain the line. We contemplated moving the line out to the road but that was going to cost $16,000 so decided just to go with the easement. In the process we found out Fortis will install a transformer on the electrical line for free. Off of this tranformer we can access electricity for our farm house and out buildings. I guess they calculate out how much they are going to make off of us and if the investment works out they will cover the cost.
  5. Did I mention Stay on top of the surveyor. We needed to get the survey posts done twice as there were no markings after the first surveyance. I also called quite often to see what the hold ups were and pushed the people that hadn't submitted the proper approval/documents.
  6. Send in finalization fees to Survery who then sends into subdivision authority- This was $150 per additional piece of land so only $150 in our case.
  7. Surveyor sends documents and fees from all the above over to Subdivision authority. ORRSC in our case.
  8. ORRSC send documents to Land and Titles to register the seperate pieces of land.
Now that I wrote it all down I don't know why it took as long as it did. Seven simple steps. What's the big deal?

Thanks to all the parties involved to get this done.

Subdivision finalized

Big news today. After a 9 month process land and titles sent confirmation that our subdivision is now complete on the land. Along with that we had the final condition removed on our sales offer. Looks like we are heading North real soon.

So as of Novemeber 30th we can yell out a big "WERE DEBT FREE!!!!". Dave Ramsey would be proud of us. Been a long two year process including selling 3 houses, paying off land, and in the near future building a small house debt free.

After the house sells we are going to rent a place here in Montana for the next couple of months to get past the last part of the year. I teach at a local college here so have to finish up the semester. It will also give us a few months to plan our big move and allow us to dig a well and get electricity on the land etc.

Pretty excited. Anyone else out there happy for us?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Small House

Have you even walked into a house and had the thought "This is a cavernous waste of space"? Over the past month I took my family down south to visit a bunch of friends. Any new development along our way seemed to hold a gazillion (my kids numeric value for lots) mansions. Like 3000 square feet seems small now a days. Even in older developments any new houses built within the past 10 years were gigantic.

We have passed around the thought of building a smaller home on the land but I'm more determined than ever to go small. This is probably for a few reasons:
  1. I don't want to be in debt. The smaller the home the more likely we'll be able to kiss the banks goodbye
  2. I don't think we'll have the time it takes to maintain a mansion. At least I won't have the energy to clean 4 bathrooms. And we are probably too poor (and practical to hire a maid). (Side story-we have some really good friends that have a maid and the husband is always complaining that he has to clean up more now because they have to get ready for the maid to come. It would be too embarrasing to have the maid see what slobs they are so they clean up before she comes. Go figure.)
  3. I want my kids to grow up in a modest home. I think it adds character to not live in a mansion
  4. The smaller the house the less it costs for utilities, maintenance, etc.
  5. I can have a much nicer home if it's smaller. I like well built, hand crafted places. It's like going to chuck-a-rama versus Ruth's Chris. I'd way rather have nice versus bulk.
So what is a small home? We've looked at Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. That's really small. I like the idea of making really nice looking homes (and Jay does a really good job of that) but 89 square feet seems drastic.

We have been doodling out floor plans and have kind of settled on around a 600 square foot base. We'll probably add a sloped second floor for bedrooms and an unfinished basement. So not too small. 1200 sq. ft. of living area and another 600 sq. ft. for the kids to beat each other up in.

We are hoping to do a lot of it ourselves which will be rather interesting as I have no handyman skills at all. Thus another reason to make it small. I'd rather mess up a small amount rather than a gazillion.

Summers activities

We are moving closer to being full time on the land. In the past few months we have sold off a couple of rental places to get further out of debt and we have put our house up for sale in Montana. Our current plans are to sell our house and then build a small house on the land probably in this location looking out across the coulee.
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We have almost completed the subdividing process which has taken about 6 months. It's been an interesting process but the hardest part is changing my thinking from I own lots of land to I really own half that much. One hundred acres is still completely sufficient for us but looking out over the whole piece isn't quite the same. I think my brother in law feels the same way. He's even mentioned looking for another piece all to himself.
This past summer it has rained a lot. Like Noah's ark type rain. We didn't irrigate once and still had a bumper crop of hay. Too bad everyone else had tons of hay as well. Last year we got about twice as much for a ton as we did this year. We've had plenty of grass to last the whole summer for the 30 plus cattle we've had on the place. We are currently renting out to a local farmer to pasture some of his cattle as you see below.
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With everything put together we'll almost end up about pay for the subdividing process.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stuck in the muck

I live 3 hours from our land but I've made the short trip the past 3 weekends in a row. It's a short 3 hours as the drive through the mountains, partially though Glacier National Park, is a very scenic tour.

This past weekend we went with some friends to play around in the Great White North. I wanted to show Barnabas (names have been changed to protect the innocent) our land as I've been bragging how many white tail deer take residence in our riverbottom and Barnabas is an avid hunter.

I use the term hunter kind of loosely. He's actually a civil engineer by day, outdoorsman by weekend. I guess my opinion of his hunting abilities is kind of skewed as in the last 4 years that I've know him, I haven't heard of any successful shots although many great tales of the big one that got away have been discussed. I digress.

We had about 2 hours in the morning to kill (pun intended) and I was itching to take him over to the happy hunting grounds. I was going to borrow my father-in-laws truck but after saying "who wants to come" our two man show ended up being 5 kids and 3 adults. Barnabas's wife "Betty" thought she'd tag along to make sure we behaved ourselves. As you will see, her being there didn't produce the desired effect.

So no worries, Barnabas has a 4 wheel drive Yukon that is really an off road monster truck in disguise. "Hop in and lets tour this town."

A few things to mention before I get too far into this tale:
  1. It had rained and snowed all last week (8 inches of water) and it was pretty muddy on the land.
  2. The pretended monster truck is a good all round vehicle that won't get stuck in the snow on paved roads in the middle of Kalispell
  3. The tires on the aforementioned monster truck would probably be good for burning up Daytona, not a mud pit
  4. When you put 2 guys together in a vehicle around mud only dirty things can happen
I offer to drive down to our place so we don't get lost on the metropolis freeways. I am hoping we see a few deer so I don't look too silly. We pull up to the spot where we will most likely build a house and peek just over the hill. Up pop 9 whitetail deer and away they bound. We see a few more below in the valley hopping around so I feel relieved and justified in all my audacious acclamations.
Down we head into river bottom country. My brother-in-law (Maddox from here on out) has some tree forts (ha, hunting perches) around the place so I take the crew toward one of them. I stop up short as there is a fine mud bog in the way. I say to Barnabas "I'm not driving through that". He calls me a wuss then takes over driving duties. I could have probably made it but I wasn't going to drive someone else's nice city ride through a mud bog. He shifts down into 4-low and breezes through without too much trouble. That was the easy way in.
Coming back is a different story. The way out is a little uphill and he hit the wrong side of a water hole. I could feel the tires digging in. I laugh at him and have him stop so I can see the damage. It's not that bad. He goes forward and back a few times and as he breaks loose the whole front bumper comes peeling off in the mud. I exaggerate. It's only most of the front right bumper along with the fog light. I'm pretty glad at this point I'm not the cause of temporal damage. He gets out and unclips the light then takes another run at it and peels out through the muck.
Great. Glad we didn't get stuck. We have to be somewhere in an hour. Betty is being pretty supportive and even laughs a bit. My daughter is in the back saying "I shouldn't have come" over and over. It's her third birthday today and I think she is wishing she's home with mom playing with her new toys.
I take them around the south side of the place along the fence line. I'm thinking I need to show them the river and there is a Maddox made trail around that side of the land. We head down the trail and come to a backwash/gully of sorts and stop. I figure we are at an end to our adventures as there is no way we are going through the water, up the bank, without some heavenly intervention.
I suggest we park and walk the rest of the way. Barnabas is meditating. I say, "I wouldn't do it. I know you're tempted but I wouldn't do it."
He did it. Well, attempted to do it. Through the water, partially up the bank then.....into the drink. We were stuck. I could tell right away. The back and forth method of getting out is only digging us deeper and deeper in trouble. I get out and Betty joins me. Her one comment through this all is "Well, if you're going to do it you might as well do it right." Bless her good spirit.
I'm pushing, digging with tree branches, praying at this point. My daughter is now yelling "I shouldn't have come." All the kids are begging to get out of the vehicle to join in the fun. Barnabas is rocking and gritting his teeth. I get out the cell phone that costs $4 a min in Canada and attempt to reach my wife. I'm ready to run over to the north part of the land to get the tractor but out of the quite, serene morning, I hear a truck rumbling down the trail.
Saved. We left two fences open and Maddox was tearing around to see who let his horses out. In my defense, I thought we'd only be a few minutes and the horses were munching on grass contentedly in the middle of the pasture. It turns out sometimes being lazy is a good thing.
Maddox looks us up and down and almost cracks a grin. "Looks like you took the old trail. The new trail is a little less steep."
Out comes the tow rope and after a few jerks we are unstuck. The damage on the back end of the Yukon only resulted in the hitch assembly to be hanging loose. Betty asks Barnabas to stop so we can take pictures of the cavernous hole he tried to attack but he high tails it out so we don't have photographic proof.
Up the hills and out the gate with 20 Minutes before we have to be to town 30 minutes away.
Moral of the story:
  1. Don't drive anyone else's rig through the mud
  2. Having a responsible adult (wife) along brings no guarantees of proper behavior

Friday, April 23, 2010

Burrs, stickers and prickly things, Oh my

Our place is overrun with burrs, stickers, prickly things, etc. Here are a few samples of what we have to deal with.

Innocent looking weed that grows up into a million burrs

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Like this

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Another variety of sticker

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Traditional Cockleburr

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As you can see on the top of the cows head, cockle burrs galore that get carried to the far reaches of the place

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Pretty blue plant according to my little girl. You may not be able to tell but that is a gazillion burrs waiting to populate

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As you can see these burrs are often dispersed especially around watering holes or any area animals, humans, or the wind can deposit these pesky plants.

We have been told that cutting down does not work because of the great root systems these rascals have. We are not going to spray chemicals which is by far the most recommended approach to weed control.

What to do?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Basic farming activities

Most farmers derive income from either producing and selling products or renting out land or services to other farmers. For the past two years we have fallen more in the renting out side of the equation.

We have had 3rd parties buy alfalfa on the stump and have rented out pasture land for other farmers. Selling on the stump has advantages including the following:

  • No equipment is needed as the 3rd party cuts, bales, and hauls off bales decreasing costs needed to run operation
  • Depending on the contract the seller can minimize risk as the buyer will deal with weather timing issues
  • We have found a buyer will likely come back for future cuttings thus limiting the need to advertise and find a buyer
  • The 3rd party does all the work other than irrigating

Selling on the stump will bring you anywhere between $65 and $120 per short ton (2000 lbs) depending on the quality of hay, the location and which cutting the hay is (1st, 2nd, or 3rd). The second and 3rd cut will give you a better quality hay and will sell for a higher rate but you usually get around 1/3 less hay. Last year we got $85 for the first cut $100 on the stump for our second cut.

We did not go for a 3rd cut. After seeking advice from other farmers (we have a crusty old farming uncle with lots of experience) we’ve heard if you go for a 3rd cut in our locale it dramatically reduces the 1st cut in the following year. The hay doesn’t have enough time to recover that late in the year.

We have thought of a few ways to potentially make more money off of our hay selling.

  1. Invest in some equipment and sell end product
  2. Produce small square bales instead of large square or round bales
  3. Use Fertilizer

All 3 options seem challenging at the moment. We don’t really want to spend too much money on equipment in the short term. Small bales come with a bunch of labor with us not being close enough yet to manage or do ourselves. And we are not too high on using fertilizer. We haven’t figured it out exactly yet but we are very concerned with commercial chemicals and want to keep things natural and organic. I guess you could call us environmentalists, hippies, tree huggers, etc.

Renting out pasture land is pretty straight forward. You get around $20 to $40 per pair of cattle, usually the cow and the calf, per month. The renter takes care of watering, moving pastures, fixing fence when needed, etc. We had about 30 pairs on our place last year and moved the cattle around fairly often which enabled us to use about 60 to 80 acres for about 4 or 5 months.

As the above indicates we have not invested that much time in our farming activities over the past year. Thus performing basic farming activities which is less time intensive than other activities.

Any other activities we could be doing that is less labor intensive?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Can you make land pay for itself?

I have some good friends that operate an efficient, diversified, and functioning family farm in Northern Montana. They do all their activities on about 6 acres of land. We're talking cows, pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, an acre worth of garden etc. Since we are still urbanites for the time being we like to get our eggs and dairy needs from them. On one of our previous visits I asked the farmer (I definitely consider them farmers) about their adjacent land. He responded "I'd love to buy it but they are asking a lot for it". I'm sure if they had the money they would expand in a heart beat but here lies the conundrum in being a farmer. Unless you:

  • Have parents that are rich
  • Inherited land
  • Are willing to mortgage the farm
  • Sell body parts other than the animals you are raising
  • Spent many years saving
  • Have a job other than being a farmer
  • Or are big enough economies of scale come into play

It's really hard to make the land pay for itself.

Let's do some simple math. Say you were able to come up with $100,000 to buy a piece of land. I don't care how many acres that buys for the time being. How much money would you have to earn to make that investment worth it?

Assuming you wanted to be paid back your money in 10 years you would have to net $10,000 a year after tax and expenses. This doesn't even take into consideration the time value of money.

Skip the next part if you are not an engineer, math wiz, or numbers person.

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For you finance majors, assume you want to keep up with inflation at 3%. You want to be paid back in 10 years and have invested $100,000. You would need to net $11,723 in cash per year for the next 10 years. Not to hard right? Well assume you only get to keep 50 cents of all you earn as the other 50 cents goes to expense (interest payments, taxes, gas, utilities, irrigation, feed, labor, etc.) Your gross revenue would have to be just under $24,000. That is probably doable. Yippee, you get to keep up with inflation. You might as well put your money in a GIC or money market account.

(I really got depressed after crunching more numbers. For example, say you wanted an 8% return and only got to keep 30 cents of every dollar. You would then have to gross nearly $50,000 a year to have a positive net present value on $100,000 worth of land.)

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So can you net after all costs and taxes $10,000 a year on $100,000 of land?

I’ll leave that as an open ended question. Here is what we’ve done in the last two years on our farm. We have net roughly $3,500 per $100,000 worth of land not including mortgage. I actually think that is quite good as all we did was sell 40 acres of alfalfa on the stump and rent out pasture land for 40 head of cattle.

So a couple of recommendations to try to get the most out of your land:

  • Consider investing as little as you can - ($100,000 is a lot of money, you wouldn’t need that much of a return on $20,000 worth of land). My wife said it best with “Don’t buy the garden of Eden, build it.”
  • Specialize your outputs – Alfalfa isn’t going to make enough in proportion to the cost of a small piece of land
  • Don’t invest in big or costly equipment – The smaller the investment the easier it is to have a reasonable payback

So how in the world are we going to go from basically loosing money to actually getting a return? I am convinced it will need to come from specialty products such as free range eggs, hormone free super duper good beef, honey, jam, organic vegetables, and maybe a few body parts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My story

I am not a farmer. Neither are my wife or 3 children. However we are in the process of selling our home and hopefully making the move near a small village in Alberta Canada where we have purchased a 50% share of 140 acres of farmland and 100 acres of river bottom land (there about's depending on river flow.) There we expect to eventually build a house and start a simple farm.

Crazy? Maybe

I’d like to think we are more adventuresome than totally off our rockers but more than a few of our friends and acquaintances beg to differ.

We have actually owned this land for the past couple of years and have done some basic farming (future blog to indicate what I consider basic farming) as well as can be expected from 3 hours away. It has taken us some time to work out some details to make this move possible. We are not there yet but are feeling closer to our next big step.

So why would you want to read my ramblings? I would guess you are reading this as you have a similar desire to increase your knowledge and capability in the general following areas:

  1. Sustainable Farming
  2. Real Food
  3. Simple life
  4. Renewable Resources
  5. Animal Husbandry
  6. Toxin Free Living
  7. Self Reliance

(Ah man, my bullet points are flowers. I’ll have to figure out how to change that)

I have learned several things over the past couple of years regarding the above and expect to learn tons more as this whole process unfolds.

Hopefully along the way I can entertain, unite, and/or inspire other non farmers, farmer wannabe’s, and current farmers on the above. I am convinced in the future more and more people will want to do what we are attempting to do but have no idea of how to do it.

Who knows, maybe one day I will actually become a real farmer.