Confessions of a City Farmer

By Jana Brunet

Like many people, my husband and I had a dream of owning a beautiful property with many trees and pastures for miles. We had visions of laying on a hammock and basking in the sun and enjoying many lazy, relaxing days.

In 2017, we were able to make that dream come true. We bought a 15-acre property in Yellow Point that was in total disrepair. 

We thought, “Great, the property is fenced and cross fenced. It will keep everything in!” 

Wrong.

The house was something out of a  Hoarders TV show and the grass, weeds and shrubs were so high that you had to literally walk with a machete to get through. The house required renovations of absolutely everything. The first year was brutal. The basement flooded a few times, the ancient concrete septic tank backed up into the basement and the rats were literally chewing their way through the walls. After many months of attempting to evict the resident rats living in the house and the barn, we invested in cats. That worked better than anything else we had tried. 

Just when we felt like we were getting ahead, we received the hefty property tax bill in the mail. Although our property is in the Agricultural Land Commission area, it is not in the Agricultural Land Reserve and is taxed as fifteen residential acres. 

We decided that we should farm this property and how hard could it be? We mowed and tilled and put in drainage; built coops and pens and repaired fences. We planted trees and tilled a garden area. We started out with three Nigerian Dwarf goats and sixty-five chickens. We love the goats. The chickens came to their final destination when our dog named Shady, who moved to the “farm” with us, got into the pen and annihilated all the chickens except the rooster, all within five minutes. We were devastated, as we had hatched many of the chickens and even named a few. 

Shady then killed a couple of our goats and so we had to make a difficult decision of what to do with the dog. Most farmers suggested we kill her, but as animal lovers, we were determined to find a new home for her on a large acreage with no farm animals nearby. Shortly afterwards, we bought a bunch more chickens and a few more goats. The goats got into the bottom pasture and broke through our fenced fruit trees and garden and quickly ate everything, including the actual trees. 

My husband and I are both rather impulsive when it comes to acquiring animals, so we thought what the heck, let’s get some pigs. How hard could it be? We raised three. We spent many days apologizing to the neighbors for our visiting pigs and goats, as our fences were still not good.

With broken hearts and tears, we took the pigs in for processing, as we had to get our farm status. We decided we should get some pigs to breed and sell piglets, that way we don’t have to kill anything. So, we put a small deposit on them, and we headed down island with our 6’ X 4’ plywood trailer with an open top to pick up two pigs. We had three in that trailer before, so we knew we were good. We got to the property and saw two of the biggest pigs we had ever seen. They were easily 700 pounds each. The lady laughed at our trailer and asked what we were planning with that? We took one pig at a time home. A two-hour drive each way. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Did you know that pigs can jump? I didn’t. The open top on our trailer might be a problem. Oh well, we would hope for the best. 

We headed home with the trailer shaking and bouncing and as Murphy’s Law would have it, we hit every possible red light, which would make her jump and kick more. My husband and I made a pact. If she got out on the highway and the news crew showed up, we didn’t know anything about any pigs and we would just continue driving as they rampaged the highway. Luckily, we made it home unscathed. 

After we got them home, we were told one was pregnant. Great, let’s do this! She farrowed (we have learned so much farm lingo) on the property and all went well, until we needed to have them castrated. We got in touch with a fellow farmer that was looking for help castrating her pigs, so we saw an opportunity to learn, and we did. Never again! It was gross and traumatizing for the pigs and me. From now on, we would hire someone for these types of things.

However, we needed to take the piglets from their very large, protective mom. But how? We spoke with many other farmers about how to do this. They suggested we get her drunk. Really? Okay. I sent my husband to the beer store, where he bought a 24-pack of Bud Light. “Why would you buy light beer?” I asked. It was on sale of course. So, we went ahead with getting her drunk, but it wasn’t working, so we added a cherry pie with lots of vodka. Now, we had an angry, drunk 700-pound pig that was charging at us when we would go into the pen. Did I mention that we built a shelter that we thought would keep her in while we lured the babies out? She had that thing flipped upside down in seconds. 

Feeling defeated, we called our local farm vet Doug, and asked about a tranquilizing gun. He laughed and said, “It’s not like in the cartoons when you just shoot the gun at the animal, and it falls. You have to get right up to it and insert a needle with a long tube”.

We asked Doug what we could do next, and he said, “I don’t know, but whatever you decide, let me know so I can come and watch and film it.”

I should mention that we met Doug when we had a sick goat that we were willing to do anything to save and cost was not an issue as we are animal lovers. Doug nicknamed us “city farmers.” I didn’t understand until about a year later, when we had made no money and were largely financially in the farming hole. 

Next, on the spur of the moment, we decided to get some cows. We had two small pastures and figured that would be lots. We got a bull and two pregnant heifers. Again, we didn’t really think it through. Our fences were not great, we didn’t have hay fields and we had no experience with cows, or any other farm animals for that matter. We built our own milking stand, and I had to learn how to milk a cow. I am so grateful for YouTube. It was so exciting to drink milk that we had a hand in producing and to experience cows calving in the fields. We would grab our coffee and sit around watching till the cows came home.

The bull did not like males. We learned this one the hard way, as he would kick up the dirt and charge at my husband. I was the only one that was able to go into the pasture. Not quite what I signed up for. We had to load up water onto a trailer and drag hay bales down to the field. It was a lot of work. We, or I guess, I, now had two calves and what to do now? The heifers and the bull were quite tame, and I could brush them easily enough and feed them treats. Oh, and those big, beautiful brown eyes! We loved the cows and all of the babies. But the calves were easily spooked, and the bull calf needed to be castrated. They were not easy to catch, and we didn’t know how to do that either. As city farmers, we decided to move them on to their new home at the next farm with real farmers, as we weren’t going to be able to bring ourselves to kill and eat them and we would be feeding cows for the rest of our lives. Getting them into a trailer with no cattle chute, is a whole other hilarious story for another time. 

In four short years, we have farmed chickens, goats, sheep, cows, and pigs and learned how to process our own broiler chickens. All education came from trial and error and of course, YouTube. Farming is a lifestyle that we have come to love and appreciate. We are still city farmers and farming will probably bankrupt us, but we would never trade this life back for the city. And maybe one day, we will have time to laze around and bask in the sun, but for now, I have hooves that need trimming.

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