SFA’s New Farmer Training Program Was Key to Kick Start Our Farm
By Tiffany Tripp • SFA Board of Directors
When my partner Andy and I started SFA’s Deep Roots Farm Skills 101 in April 2015, we had 20 laying hens and 40 chicks housed in an old milking parlor. We also had three piglets on order to raise over the summer. We had no prior experience raising chickens or pigs and very little knowledge of fencing options beyond metal hog panels for pigs and old-fashioned barb wire fences for cattle.
At Farm Skills 101 we not only learned about different electric and portable fencing options, but we had hands-on experience of installing a permanent electric perimeter fence. This experience was invaluable for our farm. Today we raise pigs on pasture using two strands of polywire fencing charged by a solar energizer. We also use electric netting to protect our chickens and goats from predators.
As we had already started to raise chickens, we knew that it was important to know how to process our own chickens on the farm. Fortunately, homestead chicken processing was part of the Farm Skills curriculum. While not necessarily a pleasant experience, it is a good skill to have when laying hens or roosters need to be culled. Understanding how to butcher our own poultry has provided us some independence from having to depend 100 percent on the limited processing facilities for poultry, most of which only process chickens during a designated time of year.
After attending Farm Skills 101, we had a clearer idea of the type of farming that we wanted to do. We wanted to raise our animals on pasture with daily access to the outdoors and create a multi-species grazing system that will eventually incorporate the pasture and woodlands on our farm. The instructors of Farm Skills 101 provided us with practical knowledge of proper animal husbandry for selecting and raising healthy animals that thrive on pasture; fencing options to protect animals from predators and also to maintain animals in specified paddocks to adequately work and fertilize the land; and multi-species grazing systems in which different species work in sequence to work the land. For example, goats eat grass and other plants; pigs root up the soil; and chickens scratch the earth and eat insects. This was a very different farming method from the one that I experienced growing up on a conventional dairy farm.
What many people don’t know is that SFA’s Farm Skills 101 had such an influence on us that our farm name, GRAISE Farm, was created during this experience and derived from the lessons learned and that we now strive to achieve on our small, diverse farm. GRAISE stands for Grassfed, Raised humanely, Animals In a Sustainable Environment. Thank you, SFA, for providing this practical farming program that helped us kick start our farm!