Posted by: J Nyman | June 23, 2008

How to Start a Farm #3: MacGyver’s Got Nothing On Him

This is Part Three of a series called: How to Start a Farm: 6 Things All Would-Be Farmers Should Know Before Getting Knee Deep in Sheep (or any other farm venture). See Part One here and Part Two here.

While doing dishes after dinner, I let my mind wander. It’s the only sensible thing to do with the first solitary moments of the day. For me, it makes work feel like leisure time. It was that thought that made the light bulb go on. My apologies in advance for those who don’t follow my logic.

See, I was having a leisurely moment while doing dishes. At that same moment, John was laying under the haybine fixing and, no doubt, swatting mosquitoes in equal measure. That was more than an hour ago and he’s still fixing and swatting.

The fixing of the haybine is something that should have happened last winter but I’ll save the reality of a stupid-long to-do list for another entry. This entry in The Real Farm Life is about fixing, building, solving, creating and jimmy-rigging. And enjoying it.

I’m not kidding when I say that MacGyver has nothing on him. My husband makes our farm run. Anytime something gets broken – or old – he can fix it. And not just fix. He can resurrect, resuscitate, create and recreate like a surgeon. We wouldn’t be farming if he couldn’t.

If you’ve read the first two entries in this series, you already know that start-up farming and finances are not bosom buddies. If you really want to be scared, check out the price of a new haybine, even a small one. Or calculate how much the local equipment repair shop will charge to maintain an old, worn out machine.

Here’s a haybine advertised for sale. The dealer describes it as ‘a honey’. I can tell you that it would take more than honey and the list price of $2350 plus tax to keep this aging beauty making hay.

Here at J. & C. Nyman Farms, we take great pride in spending very little money on farm equipment that gets the job done. We have a gorgeous fleet of antique and nearly antique machines that cost up to $800 each. That’s right, up to $800. (Anyone who took me up on checking out the price of a new haybine is saying, “Not possible. That guy would have to be a magician.” Farmers are Magicians was the alternative title for this post.)

John takes enjoyment from the task and pride in a job well done when a hunk of rusty, dented metal that is twice his age can be pulled out of a fence bottom and returned to it’s original function through his handiwork. The fact that neighbouring farmers will pull into the field just to watch and wax-nostalgic over our 1953 tractor pulling a 1960-something combine is just icing on the cake. The real payback is that the whole set up actually pays for itself. And it does so on our small farm.

I can actually see that phrase in my mind. It pays for itself. It’s on a marquee complete with flashing bulbs and neon. I’m not joking. That’s how significant it is that a small farm can make equipment pay for itself. The gurus of small family farming in North America will tell you to get cozy with your neighbours and borrow tractor and driver services instead of buying and maintaining your own. It’s definitely a viable option. That brings me to the crux of the thing.

If you’re considering getting into farming, take stock of your mechanical ability and your desire to put it to good and frequent use. Are you a MacGyver? If so, it’s a green light. Start checking out farm auctions and dealerships and assessing how much fixing cheap equipment in your neck of the woods will run you.

If you’re not so inclined, it might be an idea to take stock of how much equipment your desired farm enterprise requires. We have a good friend who runs a small organic and heirloom vegetable farm. They could do what they need with one small tractor and cultivator and a good relationship with the neighbouring farmer.

We, on the other hand, have many mouths to feed. Making hay for any number of animals is not something you can get done as a favour. Even bartering for it would see you giving up your Great Aunt’s silver tea service or your vintage Indian motorcycle. The problem is, older farmers with the time to make your hay wouldn’t know what to do with your valuables once they earned them.

No deal. Either you’re a fixer or a trader. And some things just can’t be traded. And, even if you’re a trader, there are umpteen dozen little gadgets and ‘useful tools’ that you could sink your account at the farm store with. From buying a new chicken waterer instead of slapping a little silicone on a leak to tossing the whole ax when you break the handle instead of saving the head and installing a new handle. There are a million ways you can make your farm sink or swim.

The final word is this: If you’re going to be a farmer, you’re going to have to have a little bit of MacGyver in you.

Do us all a favour, though. Don’t have the hair bit. Have a different bit. Please.

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