Today’s blog is not written by me, but by an amazing female farmer and floral designer Brit McCoy! This very special guest and I met on Instagram after following similar hashtags. We connected and I soon realized how many things we have in common, and how passionate we both are about agriculture.
Brit started her farm from scratch in 2015 in southern Wisconsin. Armed with a passion for the industry and a strong love for livestock she set out to be a farmer, something she had no background in.
Brit was raised in the country, with farmers for neighbors, but did not grow up on a farm herself. Her grandfathers both farmed and their children left the industry to pursue other passions. Farming is in her blood but it wasn’t until after college and getting a degree in an unrelated field, that she found herself longing for that girlhood dream of being a farmer “just like grandpa.”
Advice from One FarmHer to Another on Starting and Growing Your Farm
It wasn’t that long ago that I decided to pursue my girlhood dream of becoming a farmer. I was not armed with experience, I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I really didn’t know anything about raising livestock except for what I’d read in books.
I had no idea where to begin and after looking back there are so many things I’d change, but there is one thing I wouldn’t, and that was putting my fear aside of not being a ‘farm girl’ and going for it.
My hope is that whether you are a farm girl looking to make it on your own farm, or someone like me with an unrelated degree but a whole lot of passion, you will find pieces of information through my story to help you on your journey to being a FarmHer.
When I started my farm in 2015 I was recently married, a recent college grad and working my first job in landscape design. While my husband and I had a dream of farm ownership we had fresh student loans and the income of new college grads. I’m going to tell you right now I’m not a patient person. I saw an opportunity to start and I didn’t want to wait until we had a farm of our own. I was fortunate that my parents had some land that I knew would make good pastures for our dream grass-fed operation.
Armed with a proposal I presented my ideas to both my parents and my husband Matt and I was granted the chance to start my grass-fed operation on rented land. In spring 2015, we started clearing overgrown fence lines, putting up new barbed wire and seeding that tillable land into pastures.
I was so anxious to bring our first cattle home.
I’m going to tell you a story for all you girls like myself, who didn’t grow up on a farm and will probably also learn some things the hard way. May 2015 seemed like we’d been working on fences for years (it was five months). I scoured Craigslist looking for my first steer. I found him, convinced Matt that it was a good buy, and set out to pick up this animal. The fences were not done mind you… but I was sure they would be by the end of the weekend.
So, here I am, bringing home ONE steer, I was giddy as could be. You farm girls out there are probably laughing… ONE steer, oh my goodness bad idea. It was. That steer was ready and anxious to get some friends. So at 7 a.m. the following morning I get a call from my father. The steer had broken through my gate latch (another lesson), went straight through four strands of barbed wire and was about to make me look like the biggest fool to all our farming neighbors.
Two whole weeks later, Grandpa was sitting in a tree on a hunt for that steer. Grandpa had the last word and we were gutting that 600 lb. animal in the field at 10 p.m. by the light of the tractor. I have never felt more defeated or embarrassed in my life.
Why am I telling you this story? First, don’t make the mistake of purchasing one animal. Livestock are herd/flocking animals and they like their company. Secondly, I’m telling you this because there are going to be reasons to give up, to let yourself think that you aren’t cut out for it. You are going to take financial hits and you may have to prove to yourself and the neighbors that you can do this, but you CAN.
Fast forward three years. We’ve grown from that first steer to a group of nine and have also added eight sheep. Do I run a big farm? Absolutely not, but I still have dreams of running a farm that will give me a sustainable income. We purchased OUR farm August 3, 2017.
I’ve learned A LOT about this life and I keep falling deeper in love with it.
So as I sit here and write I’m wondering what is going to be helpful for you gals looking to start farming when you start with nothing. I’m not going to claim to be an expert, I’m still learning but the first three years I’ve learned SO much and I’d like to share it with you. Here is my best advice and suggestions for your new journey:
Get to know the FarmHer’s around you. There are LOTS of wonderful women in agriculture around, connect with them even if they are in the same stage as you because you can learn together. You are each other’s most valuable resource. Visit the farms of FarmHer’s who’ve been at it a while. Learn why they made certain decisions. They will teach you more valuable stuff than you can ever find anywhere online. Trust me.
Invest in educational opportunities. There are so many conferences, magazines, online resources, YouTube, USDA offices, NRCS field days, etc. that will help you learn about this industry. Use these resources and opportunities, several of them are free!
In the beginning, pay cash. Farming is dang expensive but I seriously believe in this. Yes, even if you’ve done your ‘market research’ (which I sucked at), taking loans to buy livestock, equipment etc. is just going to stress you out and may cause your farm to tank if you sit on 50 percent of your meat for six months. My market research may as well have been nonexistent. I sat on beef for awhile but I wasn’t needing to make monthly payments on anything so the dream didn’t die because I didn’t know my market. This leads me into another point…
Just because people say they are going to buy meat from you doesn’t mean they are. This one was a huge lesson for me. My ‘market’ research consisted of asking family and friends if they were interested. Let me tell you EVERYONE is interested, but only a handful (maybe) will actually buy.
Invest in a website. Only a handful of my buyers are family and friends. Everyone else has found me online. It’s where the consumers are, so be there. Once you have a website invest in linking your website to places such as Local Harvest, Reap Food Group (if you’re in Wisconsin), Agrilicious etc. Get your farm listed where the consumers are looking.
Talk with other FarmHer’s to find out what insurance, licensing etc. you need to carry. There is a license for everything and I had no idea about them until way later than my county health advisor would’ve liked. Each county is different so talk with someone else local.
Craigslist and auctions are GREAT places to buy used farm items, equipment and livestock. Again, you are still testing the waters and haven’t made a dime off your investments yet so used equipment will help keep things affordable.
Never feel inferior. It seems every time I go to pick up farm equipment or cattle it comes with some surprise for old farmer men. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE old farmers, but they can be a bit offensive when a woman shows up to load their trailer with cattle to take home.
If you don’t know ASK. I always wanted to sound smart as if I could con myself and others into thinking I actually knew what I was doing. Or, my introverted self wanted to find all the farming answers online… right. Do yourself a favor and just ask. My goodness, you can learn a lot in a short amount of time, sometimes minutes, just by talking to someone.
Lastly, because if you’re still with me you deserve this…. There are grant funds for women farmers. They actually exist and it took me FOREVER to find out where the heck they were. Get together with your local USDA department and ask about EQIP funding. They have programs for grazers, beekeepers and veggie farmers. Hit this one up, you won’t regret at least applying for some help with establishing your pastures and your fences. You don’t have to own land for this funding either, you just have to get your landowner to sign off.
I love meeting women who are diving into the world of raising livestock and I’d love to meet you. Don’t be shy, I’d love to answer your questions or refer you to someone who can. Remember, I’m the girl that didn’t have a clue and is now running a profitable and growing farm. You can too.
Let’s all be sure to give Brit tons of much-deserved love! You can find her website at www.homesteadwisconsin.com, on Facebook www.facebook.com/homesteadwisconsin and of course on Instagram at www.instagram.com/brit.homestead. I’m still drooling over her beautiful floral designs, giving heart eyes to the photos of her adorable beef cattle and sheep and loving how she helps people design your outdoor spaces with lovely plants. She is incredible, and I’m so happy to share her words with you!
Please leave Brit or I a comment about her thoughts on farming as a female!