The Beginning Farmer: A Farm Renter's Best Friend

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Nyberg
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When your farm operates on someone else’s property, it’s a different world. At Horse Drawn Farms, we have been lucky to be comfortably encamped here for many years with an excellent landlord. But always, always in the back of our head is the black reality that it will all end one day; we will get the dreaded phone call–“We will not be renewing your lease.” Acreage after acreage along our stretch of road has been developed into condensed housing–hundreds of people living where once stood grassy fields, some cows, an orchard. Right now, these people are our customers, but eventually their presence will push us out. It’s hard to be psychologically prepared for this, but we have at least tried to minimize the complete upheaval it will cause.

In terms of stock-keeping, we made the decision early on to use temporary, portable  fencing as much as possible. Under many real estate laws, permanent fencing with set posts becomes the property of the landowner once it is installed, even if the renter installed it. Although permanent fences would be far more convenient in retaining difficult stock like sheep and goats, we decided the loss of such a tremendous investment in post and wire perimeter fencing would be too great to bear. For the horse fencing, steel stock panels which lock together have been invaluable. The panels will keep in full grown sheep in a pinch, but for our smaller grazing stock, we now run three separate sheep/poultry nets which rotate through the available grass. Each net squares off a decent 1600 feet of grazing and will keep five ewes happy for several days under prime growing conditions. There is nothing like the satisfaction of watching your girls charge into fresh pasture with a relish–it’s the pleasant feeling of Mission Accomplished.

But make no mistake: if moving nets with two people is a pain,  moving them by yourself is…well…awful. Usually the attempt results in some sort of injury, psychological or otherwise.  Passers-by to Horse Drawn Farms may have seen me, face down in the field, struggling, with my right boot, left boot, and right arm up to the elbow entangled in that demonic orange mesh.  (With the left hand, I may be calling any friends that live nearby, or 911.)  Even when well-organized, it’s a time-consuming rigamarole to place a net, peg out the corners, make a sweeping funnel entry (galloping sheep have trouble finding the entrance otherwise), and hook up the fence controller. We do it several times a week for the lambs, the ewes and goats, and the poultry.

Time considerations aside, there’s no debate about an electric net’s efficacy.  One touch, and no sheep goes near it again.  The lambs can graze one net over from their mothers and feel at ease, and the chickens love to spread the sheep pellets around making manure spreading unnecessary.  Since the regular use of electricity, the bears and coyotes have kept a wide margin between themselves and the farm, despite the changing locations of the nets.   Oh sure, it would be easily to just chuck out the stock onto acres of permanently fenced fields.  But then, we wouldn’t have the up-close observation of what the animals are up to, what they’re eating, how they’re doing.  

It’s a trade off that makes life interesting here on Horse Drawn Farms.

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