The second question I’m asked about having a farm after “Where do you find the time?” is “How’d you learn to do X?” Generally, X is often about something related to livestock care, but I also occasionally get questions about gardening or other aspects of farm life.
I learn about things the way I assume most Internet-savvy people learn these days. I search online, read books, watch Youtube and participate in online communities related to my interests. Though that means I spent a lot more time in Facebook groups these days than I ever thought I would.
Most of the time I start with a search. This could be anything from ‘types of dairy goats’ to ‘tomato plants with yellow dust’. Most of the time there is some help already available in the form of an article or a forum post. Though of course there are plenty of times where there is not just one answer, some of the answers involve methods I don’t want to use or I can’t find a solution through my search. Though this has been much rarer than some of the technical searches I’ve done over the years.
Sometimes my searches lead to books on a topic or I’m interested in something and look for related books. For example, Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest has been my main reference when planning when and how to grow vegetables. I could certainly get the same knowledge from searches but I find it more effective to have the information in a physical book where the information is divided into months. Each month, sometimes more than once I month I look to see what is coming up next month or what I should be working on this month.
The topics of the books I tend to read for this sort of knowledge are in various interconnected categories from permaculture to integrated pasture management to livestock care to an analysis of problems in the US food system to cookbooks. I am someone who likes to deep dive into topics. I’ve been reading about food systems and cooking for a long time, but it has more meaning these days because I feel more in control. Living in an apartment before I could try to make good purchasing decisions, living on a farm I can grow the food myself or source it more easily from someone I know.
Previous to farming I was not a fan of learning from videos. Unless it was something very visual I generally though I could get the information faster by reading. With farming, this has changed greatly. Partially because I find it more visual but also because in the videos you can take in additional information about how people do things. Perhaps the video is about brooding chickens, but you can see other aspects of how the person has their barn set-up for example.
My favorite Youtube channel of late is Justin Rhodes because of his family’s Great American Farm Tour. Justin and his family have spent the majority of the past year crisscrossing the United States visiting all kinds of different farms. From a family growing 2,000 pounds of a year in their suburban yard to Joel Salatin’s large operation. For those reading this who aren’t farm nerds, Joel Salatin is one of the originals doing the type of pasture raising of animals to which I aspire. Often through watching Justin Rhodes’ channel it leads me down other paths to the channels of the farms his family is visiting.
Facebook really is connecting much of the world. At least the world I’m from which I’m trying to find out information. I belong to a variety of groups related to goats, cows and livestock guardian dogs. I believe I am able to absorb different approaches and potential issues simply by reading the types of questions that are asked. I don’t make it a point to read every post and there are some groups that are the more hostile side of the Internet. I tend to leave those and go elsewhere.
Beyond all these methods, sometimes I just ask the neighbors. If I have a question specific to my own farm or where to get the best chicken feed in the area they are often a better source. Many of the businesses I might get supplies from aren’t online or are very difficult to find through search.
I probably haven’t revealed some amazing method I have for learning things in this post. It is a similar approach that I would take to learn anything. Though if I was trying to learn something in the open source world I would probably exchange Facebook Groups for mailing lists and books for documentation for the most part.