Sunday, March 25, 2012

Starting to Farm

Greetings from Baker Heritage Farm - It is time we started farming. Actually, we are late, but, as those of you who want to start a backyard or small acreage farm will need to be aware of, your life cannot always be scheduled around the farm - most backyard, small acreage farmers will have off-farm jobs, at least to begin with. Those jobs will take precedence (or there will be no farm, no matter what size).

Start small. The smaller you start, the easier it will be to get started and the more successful you will be. Start with a small vegetable garden or a couple of chickens. We are probably trying to start a little bigger then we should, but time is running short and we hope to accomplish a lot in the next five-years. Hopefully this will be our retirement.

Donald and David started actual farming tasks by doing an initial till of the test garden this past Saturday (March 17th). While they were somewhat successful in learning the tiller, the ground turned out to be a little too wet for the next phase, deep tilling (the first till was surface only, approximately 1", as it is virgin ground, the deep till was going to be 3").

David Tilling

Unfortunately, we got over 3" of rain this past week, and the test garden is in the "flood plain" for our front pond run-off.

It is hard to tell, but our front pond is overflowing.

Donald went out today (Sunday, March 25th) to check to see how wet it is, found out it is too wet. In fact, in driving the tractor around the pasture to check the back pond and other areas, he almost got stuck and ended up with a new rut about 10 feet long and 1 foot deep - at least he did not get stuck.

Actually, farming tasks started some time ago in reality. David has started clearing several areas of the property and designed the plots for the Hen House and Turkey run, as well as started fencing these areas in anticipation of ordering the birds. If you refer back to our first update a few weeks ago, you will note that we have started purchasing supplies. As no actual work could be done this past week, Donald and David spent the weekend discussing and revising plans for the hen house and turkey run. A list of supplies has finally been agreed on and it is hoped that the supplies can be purchased next week and the hen house and turkey shelter can be built. The turkeys need to be ordered by mid-April to be ready for Thanksgiving so the pressure is on.

The pressure is on for getting the test garden planted as well. As explained earlier, sometimes the best laid plans just do not happen. As a result of both time and financial pressure, we will be planting heirloom vegetables, but will not be overly picky about what seed we are using (except to make sure that it has not been genetically altered and has been processed under organically acceptable practices).

We are also delaying the purchase of the goats as the fencing will be rather expensive and we would rather get those areas that are more affordable and will show better results going first.

Once again, welcome to Baker Heritage Farms. We will be back with an update next weekend (if not earlier).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Our Equipment

Initially, our farming operation will be experimental and some of the land we will be working is virgin, covered with rocks, trees, and brush. In addition, as we are experimental, we hope to be diversified with a number of plots that will have different purposes, ranging from crops to livestock to trees and vines. As a result, our equipment needs will be different from those who would normally have small acreage or backyard farms.

We started with an old, used lawn tractor and several years ago graduated to a John Deere L118 lawn tractor. This tractor was our "bush hog" for many years, cutting grass and brush where no tractor belongs, but it has performed magnificently and we hope to get many more years of service out of it (it currently has over 100 hours). This is one tool that, while you may not need one, it sure comes in handy.

Our L118

We currently have over 20 acres, with several acres in pasture where we grow volunteer hay. Initially we had a neighbor who was cutting the hay for their cattle. This saved us money as we did not have to clear the pasture and saved them money as they did not have to buy as much hay. When they moved we realized that we would have to arrange to cut the pasture so that it did not turn back to brush. About 4 years ago we made our biggest farm investment by purchasing a John Deere 5103 tractor, along with a bucket, bush hog, and box blade. Unless you have a large acreage farm, this is most likely a piece of equipment that you would be better off not purchasing. They must be maintained whether you use them or not. Up until recently we have only been using the tractor to cut the pasture once a year and the tractor has less then 75 hours on it; however, it has already been used more in the past several months as we prepare to start actual farm operations.

Our 5103

Recently we made another major purchase. We purchased a Cub Cadet RT65 208cc Dual Direction Tiller. While we plan to till conservatively, we have several acres that will take years to prepare before we can change our tilling practices. While we do not plan to be a no-till operation, we do plan to only till as necessary. Most farms will most likely need the use of a tiller at least occasionally. It will most likely be more financially beneficial to rent a tiller each season, or, if you must have one, watch the garage sales.

Our RT 65 Tiller

We have had a utility trailer for many years and it is now coming in handy on the farm. In the past, we have primarily used the trailer to transport the L118 lawn tractor into town to mow some investment property the family has there, as well as to bring wood and other supplies home when necessary. Now we are using the trailer to transport the tiller to the pasture. Another tool that most small acreage/backyard farms will not need.

Utility Trailer

Barns. Yes, barns come in handy. Unless you are into wood working, or perform your own mechanical work, you only need a small barn, or shed. It is recommended that even the small acreage/backyard farmer have a large shed or small barn. While a garage will work, a shed or small barn not only provides that "farmer" feeling, but also provides a place to safely store farm equipment, supplies, and other items related to farming. We have a larger shed (or small barn if you wish) as well as a large (30 X 40) barn. Both are used for storage of household items as well as farm equipment and supplies.

Small Barn - This is the largest you will most likely need, at least to start.

This is our big barn. Probably not needed unless you have a lot of items to store, enjoy wood working, or perform your own mechanical work.

We also have the usual assortment of shovels, rakes, hoes, clippers, etc. but will need to purchase more (either as replacements or as additional items). We also hope to get a chipper in the next year as we have a lot of wood and can use the chips.

Again, do not go overboard with your equipment purchases. The only way your small acreage or backyard farm will be profitable (or even save money) is if you do not spend money unnecessarily. If we were planning on running a small acreage or backyard farm, we would not have needed many of the items we have (large tractor, large barn, etc.). We have made a decision that we want to be able to provide assistance and support for those interested in small acreage or back yard farming and can do more if we have the equipment that will allow us to expand quickly.

We are ready to start farming. Next - what we are doing to get started.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Who We Are

In the early 1990's Donald and Debbie decided that they wanted to lead a simpler, more traditional lifestyle. Their goals include reducing their dependence on material items, increasing dependence on spiritual wealth, and following traditional American values. Eastern Oklahoma provides the advantages of four seasons, a lush, green environment, low-cost recreation, a slower pace, and friendly people.

Donald and Debbie Baker have been planning on farming for approximately 15 years. Donald's family was involved in farming for several generations until both of his parents attended college, married, and moved away from their family farms. Donald's paternal grandfather continued to run a small dairy farm in upstate New York until the mid-1960's when he retired from both farming and his off-farm occupation and sold the family farm. Donald and Debbie moved to Howe, Oklahoma in 2001. Their daughter Danielle joined them shortly after they moved to Oklahoma, and their son David moved to Oklahoma in 2011. As a result, Baker Heritage Farms was officially "hatched" in 2011.

Baker Heritage Farms is a family operation and Donald's parents and two sisters participate in some farming activities as well. The land was financed by Donald's parents and his younger sister, Dorene, provides accounting and other financial services to the operation. Dorene lives in Southern California near Donald's parents. Brenda, Donald's older sister, currently lives in Oregon and does some vegetable gardening and shares her successes and failure. She has been very successful in the past with growing a number of tomato varieties.

Debbie and Danielle will primarily be responsible for vegetable crops. David's primary responsibility will be for poultry and livestock operations; however, David also serves as Farm Manager as he is on-site full time. Donald will manage logistical issues to ensure that the start up is as successful as possible while working to make the farm a sustainable operation.

Donald is currently enrolled in the Oklahoma Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program. Through a grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture teamed up with the Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Association (OFRA), the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative (MFSI) and the Rural Smallholders Association (RSA), along with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, to train, mentor, and develop resources for beginning farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma. Donald was fortunate enough to be one of the chosen participants for this program and will be discussing what he learns as time progresses.

We look forward to sharing our successes and failures with you.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


To this point, our posts have been background information and not very interesting. As we get closer to starting our farm venture, the posts should become more exciting, as well as informational for those of you that would like to start their own backyard or small acreage farm.

The next couple of posts will include lists of equipment we plan to use in our venture, already owned and/or plan to purchase. We will include estimated costs so that you can budget for your operation as well.

We have already started to purchase materials, with approximately 300 feet of chicken wire for the chicken and turkey runs. This fencing came in 50 foot rolls of 5 foot high fence with 1" openings. We were able to get this fencing at less than $16.00 per roll. We also purchased 300 feet of welded wire fencing for the test garden. This fencing came in 100 foot rolls of 14GA 48" high fence with 2'X4" openings. This fencing costs just under $50.00 per roll. We purchased 60 T-Posts (to start) at less than $4 per post. While we have a fence stretcher, it was designed for single wire fencing and we will be installing a lot of wire fencing so we purchased a different type of stretcher which set us back about $40.00. All in all, we were able to get enough fencing and materials to fence our chicken run, turkey run, and test garden, for under $515.00. As we qualify for the Oklahoma Farm Tax Exemption, no sales tax was charged.

Design for the chicken house and nesting boxes is underway and we hope to be buying those materials in the near future. Our primary issue right now is to keep our expenses as low as possible. We will be discussing more financial and budget issues in the near future so that those following our blog will be able to properly budget for their farm venture.