Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jan of SlowMoneyFarm

Welcome Jan, from SlowMoneyFarms. She raises rare breed rabbits and poultry, and advocates for having choices available to everyone regarding food products.

SlowMoneyFarm is a different kind of place. It's different in food choice options, and it's different in the animals we keep.

Doing videos, social media, working towards promoting not just what
we do but agriculture as a whole is part of the day. 
With a goal of having a customized opportunity featuring heirloom and heritage plants and animals used to feed people, it's more than a chance to taste what food used to be like. While it takes all sizes and types of farms to provide food choices, much like different grapes produce different wines, different breeds may have slightly different characteristics, and tastes. We wanted to work on a cash basis, without a bank loan, and have been told it's impossible.

I grew up on a farm in Illinois with Charolais beef cattle. 4-H and FFA were long time activities. After high school I attended Black Hawk East Community College, graduating in 1981 with a degree in Equine Science. I worked with horses for many years, as well as on farms. With step-grandparents raising Brown Swiss cows, I still have a fondness for that breed...maybe someday!

I've raised rabbits for over 12 years, so I was comfortable with them, and had several years raising small scale poultry. Both fit into the space we had available, starting with a 25x20 covered pen that initially housed chickens and ducks, with a net over the top to keep area owls as well as roaming dogs deterred. A few rabbit cages were tucked under the high end of the mobile home. 

Dominiques - one of the most popular breeds in 1902,
now considered rare.
Over time, we've added an 8x12 hoop house with 10x12 pens on both sides, a 12x14 hoop with a covered 6x12 area on one side for chickens, and a wing on the other side that's about 15x12' In this "big hoop and wing" we have rabbit cages, with misters that cool the air for fans to keep the rabbits cool in hot weather. Semi portable shelters are also used, and more pens are being built.

It's still growing. Literally, in size, and in volume. The rabbit cages have misters running in the aisles and fans to keep rabbits cool in hot weather - up to 20 degrees cooler even in extreme weather.

We started with a determination to grow into this, building and growing a market as well as starting where we are with what we have. In the beginning that wasn't much. Without a bank loan, everything has been small scale. We started with uncooperative ground that is on a slope, rocky in back, clay in front. Moskvich tomatoes, rosemary, several types of mint, peppers and other items cover the raised beds and other areas up front.

We raise Giant Chinchilla rabbits for show and as a crossbred sire for meat. Connor has earned his own rabbits, purebred Silver Fox and Champagne D'Argents. I also have added a few Satins and Californians to crossbreed for a growing meat business.

We have raised and have flocks to start hatching of Rhode Island Red, Dominique, Buckeye and black Australorp chickens. We also have red and white, buff and dark Cornish, Delawares, Rhode Island whites, and an assortment of birds we don't have roosters for - yet! We also have Midget White turkeys and Muscovy ducks.

Some of the Muscovy ducks.
Food choices drive us. These breeds we use were developed for small situations. The Giant Chinchilla, which is one of the largest breeds, was developed nearly 100 years ago and called the million dollar rabbit. They were developed for fur and meat, and with a characteristic of making use of hay rather than just the higher cost pellets. We don't know what the future holds, so maintaining these rare breeds may seem foolish to some, but their characteristics may be of use in an uncertain agricultural climate.

The Delaware chicken, for example, used to be crossed on New Hampshire hens for broilers. The Midget White was developed for those families who didn't need a 25 pound turkey for Thanksgiving. Many were developed by and for outdoor operations, and those operations are being sought as a food choice by a growing number of people.

We're still working towards an increased acreage operation in Kentucky, a particular area selected for the proximity to Nashville, Tennessee and Louisville. With working towards that, we need to grow not only our flocks and herds but a demand. Let people know we're here, make connections, communicate with people about food choices.

Two years ago my best friend passed away, and her son came to visit during the summer. In the spring of 2011 Connor moved here, with a discipline and typical pre-teen issues. He has cleaned pens, hauled water, dressed out rabbits and chickens, hauled manure, helped build raised beds, weeded, harvested and a host of other tasks that need done. 

A typical day starts with Connor doing critter check and watering while I check emails, see if there's any social media fires to tend to and check the day's schedule. There really isn't a "you do this job I do that one" for the most part with a few exceptions. I do the feeding as Connor's still working on the formation of proper executive decisions! I check to make sure he's properly filled the waters, as it's ultimately my responsibility to insure all the animals have water. He's a teen who did not grow up on the farm and too easily thinks "I'll come back to that" so direction to follow through raises not only the critters but his abilities. Paul is also a big part of things, holding an outside job setting mobile homes to keep the bills paid.

Generally Paul and Connor handle the building of things, the deciphering my sketches in a "make this work!" plea and many of the meals. Yes, we're not traditional - Paul's had chef training, and Connor has learned to not only raise rabbit and chicken but cook it too. Pretty good for a kid that two years ago was tapped at eggs or Ramen noodles!

The only breed of chickens developed by a woman,
Buckeyes have a long history.
I handle the social media tasks, promotion, marketing, selection of expansions, feeding, extra projects to make funds available for expansions or new things...pretty much directing the ship. When we need feed, or need a new bloodline I scout out the sources and make it happen, usually on a budget!

I wish we had the funds to get 20-40-50 acres, and believe it will happen. We have our current place almost paid off and recently purchased 10 acres in Arizona on contract that will be Connor's "savings account". He misses Arizona, and his mom of course, it's a reminder of her. As with many things, opportunity doesn't always come along at the ideal time, but we make it work! Having room for larger stock is definitely a goal!

I love working with the critters, and on Twitter as @SlowMoneyFarm often introduce myself as "head critter gitter" here, making the decisions who to sell, who to breed, who to dress out, what we need to do to get to that next step. When things crowd in, some time with the rabbits fixes everything, even if just in time to stop and appreciate what we have, rather than looking at what we don't.

Last year when the tornadoes came through Alabama, they hit just north and just south of us with devastating consequences. We'd just recently put up the first hoop and moved our young pullets into it. All came through fine. When the tornado hit, we were without power. We had just stocked up the weekend before so had groceries in the freezer as well as fridge and pantry.

I moved the cast iron pan to an outdoor grill, and although it was a much bigger production to get meals prepared, we started using the thawed food then moved to the frozen, which was thawing. We had, of course, eggs still coming. Several days without power gave a new appreciation. We lost some chicks due to the outage, but not nearly what many lost. The next day our birds got up ate and carried on. When the power came back on and we saw the news it was an eye opener. It tested survival, and cemented the decision to move forward.

Midget white turkeys.
We can only have food choices if we work together. Right now we depend on larger farms for our hay, for the feed for our animals. We have, equally, sold hens to those who just wanted a couple birds for producing their own eggs. We won't compete on volume, but offer choices. We have no illusion that rabbit is going to replace beef or pork in American consumption! But without all three farms there is less choice.

I wish more people understood that truly, we are in this together. We're not, really, competitors. The person wanting a 16 ounce Angus steak isn't going to be interested in rabbit enchiladas! The family that is watching pennies needs those less expensive but still safe eggs. But we still offer choices, and are every bit as serious...we just have different goals perhaps.

A big challenge is there isn't a lot of things *for* rabbits. It *is* a niche market. There aren't many vets who are familiar with them. We have to work with other breeders as to what works and what doesn't for illnesses, management, everything. I borrow many ideas from my fellow farmers - the misters for the rabbits, for example. I'm looking at and working towards a type of TMR ration for the rabbits using chopped hay that is easier to handle, with the pellets and supplements mixed in. I'm not content to just cruise along - but strive to make things better. 

Last year at the American Rabbit Breeders Association Convention, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, we entered the Giant Chinchillas in their first real competition since buying the first buck a few years earlier. We bred and showed two top ten does, and two top 5 bucks at the national level. Connor also had a few top 5 placings in the youth division.

Rabbits are unique, too, in that they provide fiber (angora), meat, fur and valued medical use as well as pets. The rare breeds, both poultry and rabbits, are a challenge to find stock. It seems oxymoronic to say we need to eat them to save them, but food choices allow them a job. It allows a reason for people - like us - to keep them besides purely a push for production and fast turnaround of other more modern breeds and operations. In the end - food and farm choices working together is good for everyone. 

Young rabbits, like other species, are ofter allowed a creep feeder to
allow them to access feed without the doe getting too fat.
People can find us easily on our website, Twitter and Facebook as SlowMoneyFarm. We have a farm blog at and more recently started one from the food side, for those more interested in chicken recipes than chicken breeds. It's hoped this will bring in more people who will make choices, whatever the choice is, which then allows all of us a market to fill the choices. 

Choices are good...for all of us.

Thanks Jan for the great feature. Be sure to check out her blog and social media to follow along with her business. 

If you would like to be a featured farmer or know someone who should be, leave a comment below - or check out our contact page. To learn more about the Faces of Agriculture Project click here.