Archive for March, 2012

Closing Day

Today was the day — we officially became farmers.  To put it another way, Tammi got her dream house, and I took on a pile of worries:

  1. Leaky roof
  2. Rotted wood siding
  3. Structural concerns
  4. Wood-boring insects
  5. Radon
  6. Old appliances
  7. Poorly running furnace
  8. “Rough interior”
  9. Bricks needing repointing
  10. Oil heat!

There was more to worry about, but this was a good list to start with.

“Are you sure you love this place?” I asked her during the walk-through.

“Absolutely!” she said.

“Like I said before, I don’t see it — but I trust you,” I said, as we parted ways.  I was off to the closing while Tammi began bringing things to the house.  Among the first arrivals were Gertie and the kiddie pool chicks.  They (the leghorns) took up residence in the hearth, of all places.

The closing went smoothly and we transferred a truck and car load of “stuff” to the house.  We plopped an old mattress down in the living room and made our bed for the evening.

“At least the goats seem happy,” I said, referring to Twinx and Nellie – our nubian goats.

“What’s the matter? What are you so worried about?”  asked the wife.

“I just realized I signed an agreement to pay a pile of money for this place over the next 30 years — with all of its problems — and I am laying on the floor of a dirty crooked old falling-down house, sharing my bed chamber with a bunch of chirping chicks!”

The things you do for love…

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I could not imagine us trying to survive on our farm with my company car — a Ford Taurus and Tammi’s Kia Sorento.  Which one could carry sheep or haul a trailer?  How would we haul wood or furniture or….?  It was clear that rural living requires the right tools and vehicles.  Thus, I began my search for a used pick-up.

“Get a Ford F150,” advised my father.

“Get a Ford F150,” advised my friend Gary.

“Built Ford Tough…,” advised the TV commercial, “the new Ford F150…”

My initial inclination was to just find a beater truck — something 10 years old or so — just for times when we needed to carry something.  After searching the web, making some phone calls and test driving a couple such high-mileage vehicles — all with lots of problems, I settled onto another idea:

Let’s trade the Kia and replace that payment with a truck payment!  I had $3500 in the budget for the beater and could use this as down payment money to exit the Kia lease and get into the truck.  I also received a timely email from PSECU enticing me with a 3.9% interest rate for used vehicle loans.

The folks at McCafferty Ford were very fair.  I was able to get into a 2010 Ford F150 with only 10,000 miles on it — and get out of the Kia for only $1,000.  Plus, my monthly payment was very close to the Sorento.

As someone who has NEVER driven a pick-up truck — someone who drove Hondas and BMWs and Nissans and Pontiacs, I was very impressed with this vehicle.  It is big and roomy and comfortable – and has a great ride.  Plus, it has plenty of utility for the farm!  Dare I say, it is my favorite vehicle — ever!

Of course, it quickly became Tammi’s too.  The next day, she was driving to Tractor Supply to pick up more chick feed with Gertie in the back seat, sticking her nose out the window.  Now the dilemma was — how do I get to drive the truck most of the time?

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“No, you may not get a dog — not yet!” I said to Tammi, who was very disappointed. “Let’s wait until we are on the farm, then you can get your puppy.”  I was concerned we’d have a puppy failing miserably at its potty training while we were trying to show our home to prospective buyers or renters — let alone the 25 chicks in the kiddie pool.

Little did I know, like any good wife, Tammi already had the perfect pup picked out — a rescue nonetheless.  She was a mixed collie / great pyrenees — great herding dog potential.  She had already begun the paperwork and was just waiting to pull the trigger.

A few days passed until 3-20.  I was in Boston, on business.  Tammi woke me in my hotel room with a phone call.  We chatted amicably – the usually good mornings and I love you’s.

“Don’t you have anything else to say to me?”  she asked nonchalantly.

“No — just that I love you, dear.  You’re amazing!”  said I, not taking the hint.

A few hours later, I called her again, this time from my desk at our Quincy office.  We had a similar exchange ending with that same question. Again, we ended with pleasantries.

Over the lunch hour, I sat down in the cafeteria with my tray and immediately thought I would call my wife, like any good husband would. This time, the conversation was a wee bit more tense and ended with the same question.

“Don’t you have anything else to say to me?” she demanded.

“Uhhh — obviously I’ve forgotten something,” I said, “but I have no idea what it is — I’ve already told you I love you and miss you and would give anything to be home with you…”

“Try HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” she bellowed.

At that moment my pulse quicken.  Beads of sweat formed on my brow and under my arms.  My cheeks went flush and my jaw dropped.  Someone walking past asked if I was alright.  I nodded slowly.

“What?” I tried to recover. “Isn’t it tomorrow?  Wait — what day is it?”

I was completely stunned.  In less than two years of marriage, I had already forgotten my wife’s birthday!

“Ok — Ok,” I said, thinking quickly, “how about you go pick up that puppy right away…”

The voice on the other end perked up. “Really?” she asked. “OK! You are forgiven!”

When I returned home the next evening, I was greeted by my wife and our new puppy.

“Think of a German-sounding name,” she said, beaming.

“How about Gertie?” I suggested.

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A little card arrived in the mail the other day from the Hoffman Hatchery.  It was meant to warn us of the pending arrival of 25 little yellow fluffy chicks – our new family members – the Ladies Leghorn — Egg Making Machines!  Unfortunately, the card was damaged in the mail, and the portion with the date on it was illegible.

“Does that say the 15th?” asked Tammi, concerned about it being so soon.

“Nah — can’t be — must be the 25th,” I replied confidently, as I often do — even when I haven’t a clue.  (I find this tactic works better in allaying the fears of the fairer sex – and I usually luck out.)

“What if they come before settlement?  Either way, that appears to be the case,”  continued my lovely lady, not taking the bait.  (If I’ve learned anything in two years – I should know better – she’s sharp!  She used to audit projects for Deloitte!)

“Well, they are coming to Camp Hill, you know,”  I said. “They’ll come to the post office — doubt they’ll know what to do!  When do you suppose the Camp Hill post office last handled a box of live chicks?”

“Let’s hope they’re alive!” worried the wife.

Sure enough, on the morning of the 15th, a nervous clerk from the post office called —- “We have your ch-ch-chicks!”

Of course, all of this fell on Tammi while I was away at work.  Boldly and confidently she walked into the post office and claimed her babies.  The clerks were astonished — who the heck is chicken farming in Camp Hill? — they thought.  Tammi carried the box out to the Sorento and promptly called me.

“The chicks arrived!”  she announced “Now, what do I do?”

I suggested we put them in the kiddie pool in the finished basement — we had a nice spot in the workshop / furnace room.  I also reassured her I was headed to Tractor Supply (more on this store later) to acquire a feeder, chick starter and water bottle.  By early evening, we were watching our peeping little yellow chicks skittering across the newspaper in a plastic kiddie pool in the basement of our suburban house — the very house we were trying to sell or rent!

“What if the agent calls and wants to show the place?” asked the wife in a very concerned voice.  I had to ponder that one for awhile…

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Where to buy our sheep?  We knew we needed a small flock to keep the grass down.  The previous owner had raised sheep over the years, and the property is well-suited for it — it is somewhat hilly, lots of grass and there are several rock outcroppings from the limestone escarpment on which the farm is built.

Our good friend Gary was kind enough to take us to the Carlisle Livestock Auction held on Tuesdays.  Tammi and I met Gary after work and the three of us dropped in on this peculiar institution.  I suppose I stood out like a sore thumb, dressed in my “business casual” amid livestock farmers in their typical soiled denim & flannel attire!  We toured the stalls in the back, taking in the delicious odors of stewing straw, manure and ammonia-laden urine while sizing up the goods.  There was everything from guinea pigs to chickens to sheep and goats — lots of pigs — and most especially — beef!

Of course, we were not prepared to purchase this evening, and did not obtain a number.  But, we did observe the commerce carrying out before our eyes and were impressed with the efficient operation.  We also learned what animals typically sell for at the market — laying hens fetched $10 — duly noted!  Our sheep seemed to be worth between $150 and $200.  We realized we would need to arrange for a livestock trailer should we make a purchase — or we would need to buy one, along with a truck to pull it.

While the guinea pigs were up for sale, Tammi whispered to Gary, asking why they sold them here. Gary did not have an answer, as dozens of the little things changed hands.  I happened to casually hear a couple gentlemen to my left discussing the same query.  “Make good jerky…” responded one of them.  So there you have it!  When I told Tammi later, she said “Don’t tell Brandon!” (Her 9-year-old son has a guinea pig named George who is destined for the farm — but not for the breast pocket as a strip of seasoned leathery chew!)

Later in the evening, Tammi happened upon Molly’s Ritner Boarding and Training Kennel on Craig’s List. Molly had livestock in addition to raising dogs.  She happened to have a flock of twenty or so mixed breed sheep — 5 of which were for sale.  Tammi made a trip to the place the next day and cut the deal — 5 healthy grass-grazing machines for $850 cash.  We would take delivery when we are moved in!

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So many questions!  How many chickens should we purchase?  What breed?  Where do you buy them?  What will it cost to feed them?  Should we free range them?

I realized we had a need for a good book or two on chickens.  So, in addition to Raising Chickens for Dummies — a very appropriate title for a suburban couple taking their first crack at chicken farming, we picked up Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.  There was a wealth of information — quite intimidating for newbies!  My God — you have to worry about stuff like “cannibalism” and predators and heat lamps — and you have to make sure you don’t overcrowd the coop!  And then there’s the poop….

Regarding the number of chickens and the breed, we decided this was more about the number of eggs we expected per week, once the hens were mature enough to begin laying. A perusal of Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart helped to summarize the goals and aspirations of this neophyte “Hinkler” (Pennsylvania Dutch for Chicken Farmer).  We wanted maximum egg production as soon as possible!  We also learned about the myth of brown eggs being better than white — not true!  So Leghorns it was — “the ultimate egg machines”  according to Henderson.  I was also intrigued by the note regarding the use of this breed by the Romans in rituals to divine the future.  I supposed if the egg production didn’t work out, we could open up a fortune-telling booth…  “Beware the Ides of March!”

Why Leghorns?  One of my good friends warned me they are a “weak breed” prone to sudden death in the slightest of challenges.  I ignored him and did the math —- 6 eggs per week x 25 chickens = 150 eggs per week = 12 1/2 dozen.  If we eat 2 1/2 dozen ourselves, that leaves 10 to sell — or about $25/week — $100/month in egg money. Over the course of a year, these little leghorn ladies could gross about $1200 — my MBA-training was coming through!  Of course, I had no idea about the operational costs — fixed and variable — of such an operation. But, we were jumping in!

Convinced to buy leghorns, we set about to find a hatchery.  Believe it or not, the little peeps, but a day old, are shipped to their buyers through the US Mail!  Concerned about minimizing the distance and finding a hatchery we could trust, we selected the Hoffman Hatchery in Gratz, PA.  — about 50 miles north of us.  The primary reason was they had a great website — very informative – and they are from Gratz – very close to the Mahantongo Valley – the ancestral home of the Knorrs.  I figured these Hoffman’s were likely distant kin, and could be trusted.  We printed out the order form and sent it in with our check for about $75 (including shipping) for 25 day-old pullets (all hens) — fixed cost — $3/bird delivered.

Side note — we had to give our Camp Hill address since we had not moved yet!  More on this later…

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