Farm: Raising Sheep and Chickens on a Vermont Farm
Linda Kaiman photographed for Vermont Farm
Women by Peter Miller, click on image to view the book.
A Backyard Farm is
whatever you want to make it. We keep our Icelandic sheep and chickens
on a small hill farm in Vermont. But you can keep sheep, chickens,
or even a dairy cow, on a surprisingly small backyard farm. A "farm"
is anywhere agriculture is, and if you're keeping sheep, or chickens,
or even a small market garden, in your backyard or small property...
you're a farm too. Call it a hobby farm, call it your passion...
call it your someday dream... Welcome to the world of the small
hobby farm... and our guide to Raising Sheep or Chickens!
Farming is fun! Infinitely
more entertaining than a round of golf or an afternoon spent watching
the ball game. Would it be as much fun if we were depending on our
chickens to pay the mortgage? Probably not. But as a hobby, chickens,
sheep, and I daresay the odd pig, are wildly entertaining. Wool
and Feathers and
the Vermont sheep farm The Farm at Morrison Corner are dedicated
to introducing Hobby Farming, which is sometimes called a Backyard
Farm or a Small Farm depending on the size of the place, to the
curious, and supporting those who support us.
There is significant industry
built up around the Backyard Farmer. From the local feed
store that offers blended feeds in 50 pound bags for your sheep,
and will rent out a post hole digger to small farmers, to the breeding
farm that will put together a starter flock specifically designed
to meet your requirements and goals. Call it what you will, but
small, backyard, or hobby farmers are big business. Mills maintain
a healthy productivity processing micro-batches of fleece into wool
yarn for small flock shepherds. Hatcheries do a big business sending
out little batches of chicks to populate backyard coops.
Not only have small, part-time,
farms helped to boost American agriculture but we're also
the group most likely to save rare breeds of livestock from extinction
by providing a market for these animals. A farm in business to produce
milk is not going to maintain a herd of Dexter cattle. It isn't
profitable. But a hobby farm can maintain Dexters, a unique multi-purpose
breed which is becoming extinct through lack of interest. Hobby
farmers are the ones who buy the rare and exotic breeds of chickens
in the Murray McMurray catalog. We're the ones who keep flocks of
rare Jacob sheep. Not only are we a significant market for traditional
farms, we're also a source of genetic diversity for agriculture
around the world.
In short... you can have a
lot of fun, and do good at the same time. Nor is backyard
farming all that expensive. Sheep do not require a vast barn unless
you plan on having a lot of them. But you'll start out small, and
a simple 10x12 foot shed will probably do you just fine. Chickens
are happy, even in a Vermont winter, under a truck cap, if you're
really on a budget.
The secret to happy hobby
farming is to expect that your inputs (costs) will probably exceed
those of a real farm. At least, on paper. After all, you're
buying your hay from a "real farm." He has his stacked
up in the haymow, and it was "free." It wasn't really
free though was it? He has land he's paying a mortgage (or rent)
on. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of haying equipment.
Even an investment in bailing twine. All of which you don't have.
Hobby farms pay more because we buy in smaller batches. But we don't
have the overhead. Which means we can have fun with our farms, while
supporting the farm down the road with the big machinery.
All you need is a little confidence,
a little fencing, and a little space, to get started. We
wrote the guide A
Flock of Your Own: Raising Chickens in Your Backyard
for folks who wanted to capture what we have in their own backyards.
Many people were shocked to discover they could keep chickens in
virtually no space at all, collect fresh eggs, enjoy lovely fertilizer
and little bug eating machines... for a commitment of only 15 minutes
Now we're introducing
A Flock of Your Own II: Sheep in the Backyard. With
links to established farms who will put together a flock for you...
and ship them to you too. This guide isn't the last word on raising
sheep, but it is a good place to get started. Or to at least dream
of your own "someday farm."
to visit? We're in Mansfield, VT outside of Stowe.