Episode 24: Kerri Ward on Hobby Farming

business Jul 13, 2021
Kerri Ward Knows Hobby Farming

Kerri Ward is a homeschool mom who shares how she and her family have integrated hobby farming, and how you can, too!

Connect with Kerri on FacebookInstagram, or her website  

Kerri favorite gadget is her meat masher and her "T" square!  

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This is a transcript of the This Mom Knows Podcast - Episode - 24

Jennifer Uren
Kerri Ward joins us today. She is a teacher by trade. But she has been home for the last 10 years raising her four kids and homeschooling. Her family's interest in farming was piqued after spending time with extended family who farmed themselves. And then they got involved with 4-H. So then they decided let's just start our own farm. So welcome, Kerri.

Kerri Ward
Thank you.

Jennifer Uren
So tell us a little bit more about yourself maybe where you grew up, maybe a little bit your family, how old your kids are, and things you enjoy doing off the farm outside of that life.

Kerri Ward
Sure. I'm originally from Wadsworth and Waukegan. That's where I spent my elementary school and high school years and post High School. And so mostly, you know, suburban city living is what I was used to. My husband and I now we live in Wadsworth, but we started out in Waukegan. He's a fireman for the city and, and we started out there. We have four kids age 10 through 17, three girls and a boy. And yeah, so that keeps us busy. Besides the farm, we keep busy, we love to travel, that's always been something that we've done either to see family or to see just friends and the National Parks and anywhere. We love to go. And then the kids are all involved in sports. And so traveling to youth sports is just a weekly daily event. It's just nonstop. So

Jennifer Uren
So it is a full life. And if you're listening and you're not from the Chicago area, this town she mentioned are in Illinois. So let's talk about the farm that you live on. Let's talk specifically about hobby farming. So when did you guys start your farm?

Kerri Ward
That we started in 2016. So almost exactly five years ago, we started the journey started probably about four or five years before that. And with just kind of being interested in saying, "Hey, this is something kind of interests us." And my husband and I just delving into it more and learning from others.

Jennifer Uren
So in the in the intro, you said that it was you spending time on a family, on a farm of a family member, but what was it about that that really kind of you went? This could be cool.

Kerri Ward
Yeah. Well, I've always loved animals. And so being surrounded by animals was never is never a bad thing. From from my point of view, and then my oldest daughter at the time, she wanted a guinea pig. And so, you know, we said, "Hey, you got to research it, you can't just go to the store and pick one up the day that you say, 'Oh, I want a guinea pig.'" And so while researching, we went to the fair. And we met this teenage girl that was in 4-Hand she was showing her rabbits. And we said, "well, this is neat, you know, rabbits I can be that much more care than a guinea pig. And you're gonna you could show it you know, we could get involved in 4-H you could show it. They're a little more friendly and cuddly." And so so that kind of started it after having different experiences with my husband, Scott's uncle raises bees and other of his uncle's raises cattle and his cousin does farming like a CSA where you you know you buy in and then she you know, sells off...

Jennifer Uren
Share-in

Kerri Ward
...different shares. Yeah. Um, so we so we'd gotten all these experiences and just being outside it being something that the family could enjoy together. The kids loved all those experiences, whether it was helping uncle Gunny and Aunt Joan, you know, harvest their their honey, or helping his cousin, you know, collect the chickens for the CSA, any of that was just it was just nice. It just felt nice to do it as a family.

Jennifer Uren
Hmm, that's really neat. And so the family obviously lives close enough that you can you can go do that with them, these other people.

Kerri Ward
They're actually in upstate New York. Oh, yeah. But we go out there once or twice a year. So...

Jennifer Uren
yeah, that's great. Great, cool. So, so let's talk about the Hobby Farm. What makes a farm a hobby farm and how is that different from homesteading and, you know, do you feel this pressure to to earn income from it?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, a hobby farm is more designated as it's going to be a smaller farm, you know, you're not having hundreds and hundreds of acres, but it's smaller. And really, you're just looking to get some joy out of it, maybe fill your freezer and that's it. Homesteading would be more, again, smaller, not hundreds and hundreds of acres, but you're looking to sustain your lifestyle off of that farm, you're getting 100% of your meat and vegetables. Everything that you need. It's a self sustaining on that on that homestead would be the idea of that. We - my husband works and you know, he's a he's a lieutenant in the Waukegan Fire Department - and so that's our main source of income. And this was something that we were able to enhance our children's education and get us outside and enjoy something together as a family.

Jennifer Uren
So Hobby Farm, there's no pressure really, you can kind of make it what you want it to be. It's more about the experiences that kind of what I'm hearing?

Kerri Ward
Absolutely, yeah.

Jennifer Uren
Okay.So when you guys move to your property, did you have a vision for where you kind of wanted it to go? Or did you just kind of go well, now we've got the space, let's just start with one thing and see what happens?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, when we were looking for places we didn't, we knew we didn't want to go too far. We didn't want to go away from our church. We didn't want to go away from my husband's work. And, and the property we found just had a house. That that's it. It had a house, no outbuildings, no barn, no anything. And so we were really starting from scratch. So the vision kind of changed as as we went, we had chickens already. We had already purchased our chickens for the year that we had them. They were a little chicks in a brooder we were trying to sell our other house. And we were trying to hide the chicken and the brooders in the garage while people came in, looked at our house. And you know, because we're talking like 40 chickens. So so we knew that that was that was step one. Day one, you know, it was just like, okay, and the kids actually didn't even have a bedroom yet, because we hadn't we needed to drywall their bedroom and put flooring in and everything. So the kids didn't even have a bedroom yet. But we built the chicken coop because we had all these chickens that needed a place to go. So we knew that was step one. We wanted the barn for goats. But we didn't know what that would look like yet. So much is available online right now. And we could have never done this 20, 30, 40 years ago without the internet. Right now you can go and there's people blogging on on hobby farming, there's people, you know, all of this, all of this data and just rich material, and groups that are willing to help you and you say, "Oh my goodness, how do I do this? I'm in this trouble." And we rely on that a lot. And we utilize that a lot. And those are mentors that can be from across the world that are right at your fingertips. And so we use that a lot. And we were looking to figure out what we were going to keep our goats in. We had goats on another property and we knew we needed some shelter for them. And they kind of grew, we ended up going like, okay, we'll build a little barn. They don't need that much space. And everyone's like, well, you always need more than you think. And so that got bigger and and then it was well, you know, just different mentors coming in and saying, "Hey, you know, if you sell the property eventually, I think about what another person might want that barn for if they want it for horses, it has to be 12 feet deep. You know, if they want it for hayloft, it has to be the entry has to be at least 12 feet high." So then we kind of eventually it took about a year to build the barn and get the goats on the property and a second chicken coop for turkeys. Yeah.

Jennifer Uren
So if you were to if you were to go look at property again and do it over would you prefer to buy something that already had established outbuildings? Or do you like the fact, was it nice that you were able to kind of custom design it for what you wanted?

Kerri Ward
It was nice to kind of custom design it it was nice to have it in the location where we wanted it. And the entrances and exits how we wanted it. And I think though I mean either way if we had found a property with out buildings that would have been great too. I just - yeah - either way you're going to be putting in time and energy. It's not...yeah.

Jennifer Uren
Got it. So you have the chickens you had goats elsewhere. You've mentioned you added turkeys - were the turkeys the next new animal you added or was there something else before them?

Kerri Ward
Yeah turkeys actually were with the with the baby chickens so we had those

Jennifer Uren
yeah already okay

Kerri Ward
The chickens and the baby turkeys we had you know just little, little pullets little babies, so yeah, we had those right away.

Jennifer Uren
Okay, so what animals have you added? What do you have now or what have you had?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, so right now we have chickens and goats. We've had the turkeys we've had ducks and pigs and we might be doing lamb this year, we might be doing some sheep. And we have bees bees as Yeah, we have bees. So yeah, so that's kind of where we are. And we started off really big. We just, yeah, let's do it, do it, do it, do it. And you kind of learn like, Okay, wait, a step by step, everything takes time. Everything takes a learning curve. And so yeah, that's

Jennifer Uren
Okay

Kerri Ward
It's been a, it's been a learning curve.

Jennifer Uren
So Is that why you don't have some of these animals anymore? You said let's pare back and do these really well, before we jump back into more? Or why don't you have turkeys? And?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, um, well, the pigs we will have we will have pigs come next month. So we can't we raise those for meat. So we just keep them for Yeah, short term. The turkeys we don't have right now or one. We had we've had them for meat before. And we've had them for pet and show. And they've just the meat ones obviously have passed away. And our pet ones that we had from the very beginning have now passed away. Oh, yeah. So and a couple years ago, we went really big. had a huge goat breeding season. And that took all of our energy. We had 18 bottle fed baby goat kids. And it Yes, it's that's a lot of bottles, folks. That's a lot of bottles.

Jennifer Uren
Yes. Oh my goodness, I don't even want to think about it.

Kerri Ward
Ducks are ducks that we just decided to scale back. My husband loves duck eggs. And that's what we're raising them for. But the amount of energy to take care of ducks is high. It's I would say it's probably what is the highest of all the animals we've had. And just because there's so messy, they're so dirty and wet. So you have to clean them often. We rotate their pastures we rotate pasture so they don't destroy the land. And you know, we got we got eggs and we enjoyed that. But we weren't really able to sell any of the eggs to too often. And so it just became something that we chose to put aside for a little while and focus on other animals.

Jennifer Uren
Well that makes sense. So is your farm only animals or do you also garden?

Kerri Ward
Um, it's mostly animals but we do some gardening. We started with an orchard so hopefully we'll be producing that soon as it takes several years to plant a new tree and and start produce off of that. So we have we have a mini orchard and then my husband's done a garden but actually with COVID and I only like to garden on a raised beds. I don't like all the weeds and everything else associated with in ground gardening. So we built three raised beds during COVID and we had wonderful tomatoes and zucchini and that was and some snap peas and I can't remember what else we had a lot of tomatoes. We had a lot of tomatoes and then in the ground we did pumpkins and potatoes. And those were great for just not the raised bed just in ground we had like 50 pumpkins

Jennifer Uren
oh wow that's fun.

Kerri Ward
I just great I mean we use the we use the manure from the goats we clean out that we make our garden and the pumpkins really like it.

Jennifer Uren
Wonderful. And that makes for easy decorating it in the fall and yeah, good pie. So so you're raising meat primarily for consumption then and so do you process The chickens yourself, do you? I'm assuming you outsource the pig for processing. But how much of it do you do yourself?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, um, yeah, my husband does any of the poultry. So ducks, chickens, turkeys. He, he does it all. And we learned that through his cousin who has the CSA, and we were out there helping her and, and she's amazing at it. And we just yeah, learned it. And, you know, again, you get some mentors, we had some people come over a couple times that helped him out and, and then he was just doing it on his own and does a really good job. So he does all of those. And the pigs we have we take to Lake Geneva Country Meats.

Jennifer Uren
Okay, yes. And those, I have an appreciation for the the processing the poultry, because the kids and I had an opportunity to be involved in a co op, where we raised chickens and pigs and let me tell you, it is it's work. And I told someone recently, I was never so happy after that to pay 79 cents a pound for chicken. It's a lot of work. Oh, yeah. Now, you mentioned that, you know, one of the reasons you wanted the hobby farm was to enhance your kid's education and you homeschool them. So how do you kind of integrate their schooling into this? You know, I kind of envision some really cool, you know, on, you know, hands on learning opportunities with animals, especially, but how do you integrate your whole day so that they're, they're doing their chores? They're doing their school, but it's, it's life?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, they have to, you know, they have their own chores, and what they're responsible for. And so they start their day, making sure the animals are taken care of. And, you know, we don't get up at 6am, we get up at, you know, like 730 and take care of the animals and, and then in the evenings again, but sometimes throughout the day, there, there's things besides those regular food water that they need to be taken care of. So they might have to go out and trim the nails, they might have to go out and you know, clean, obviously, we have to clean out the barns and the coops and, and sometimes that just that's that's our day. That's what that is. And so yeah, there's so many things that that they've learned through this experience. And even, you know, even neutering you know, neutering the goat or neutering, or tattooing, or breeding, my daughter did a lot of work looking at genetics and finding animals that would breed well together in order to bring up her show stock to make really great animals that you know kind of abide by the rules of show for those show animals kind of how you see the Kennel Club, the AKC club on for dogs, there's, there's shows for goats, and so they need to be those top quality and, you know, look, right, look right, in all the ways that that breed is supposed to look right. And they, you know, milked, they can, they can easily out milk a goat, you know, past me, that's, they're way better at it than I am. So you know, that there's so many different things and even giving shots and health care for the animals. So there, there definitely is the biology aspect, and the aspect of how do you how do you care for animals? How do you care for animals that you're going to eat? How do you care for animals that you're going to sell? And then there's a business aspect of it. So my older daughter created our website, she's in charge of all of our selling of animals, and she will talk to people and she's very knowledgeable and you know, adults will just call and then they'll say like, wow, you know, your, your daughter did a great job letting us know and giving us all this information and even teaching us stuff. So yeah, there's there's a lot, a lot of learning that goes on when you, when you get into farming.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah. Well, that's really cool. Well, you you mentioned the showing, is that something you do through 4H and you want to tell me what 4H is and you know how you guys got started in it?

Kerri Ward
Yeah. 4-H is a national, even International, I think maybe organization, and it has its roots in agriculture. But it's the whole premise of it is to get kids to be leaders, and to get kids learning about just a vast array of subjects. So now whether you're city kid, whether you're a country kid, you can be involved in 4-H and not have animals not have a garden not have anything. You can do robotics, my son's done rocketry, my girls have done photography. There's you know web design. There's of course, all the visual arts, you know, painting and whatever. The kids all did, taking, taking old furniture and rehabbing it, they did that last year to show a fair. So there's so many different opportunities. And it's a great place to start. It's a great place to go and learn. And they just really build kids up to want to be leaders and to take responsibility for things. And I've loved just the group that they that a group of kids that my kids have gotten involved with there have just been really great. Great kids, great leaders great. Yeah, just kind of kids who love to learn about different different, different things. So But yeah,

Jennifer Uren
I love that. I love that idea of helping them learn to take responsibility, you know, for the whole thing. So when they rehab furniture, were they just refinishing it, or were they kind of repurposing it and giving it a new, taking something and making something new out of it?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, it depended. My son did an old actual doll bed, you know, and he, you know, just sanded it down and painted it, he actually made the new cushions and stuff for that. Another daughter took a chair and made it into an outdoor planter, so took the seat out and made that a planter. And another took like a piano in old piano bench and made that just a bench for her room. So yeah, you can do anything though.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah, that's really neat. Now you

Kerri Ward
...you can do fashion stuff in there, too.

Jennifer Uren
Okay. Oh, that's, that's fun. So really, I mean, like you said, anybody anywhere. It's not just a farm organization, which is what I think of when I hear 4H. So. Yeah, you mentioned you mentioned that your family enjoys traveling, and you've mentioned that the animals take a lot of time. So how do you combine those two things?

Kerri Ward
Yeah. Um, well, the ducks used to take care of everyone when we were gone. But now that we don't have the ducks. No, we, um, you know, we've just built up those support systems around us. And so we've had different families come in our mentor or goat mentor to begin with she she would come and now we have a family who we've been close to that just lives a mile down the road, and they have some animals. And so we just trade off and on. So it's like, "Hey, I'm gonna be gone. These You know, this weekend, can you watch our animals?" and, and we just swap. So that's been, that's been a blessing because it's, it's hard. If you don't have someone? A) you need a physical body to do it. Right. But B) you need somebody who knows a little bit about the caretaking of a specific animal. So that you know, yeah, and isn't scared, you know, isn't scared to walk in a pen of 18 you know, large goats, then, you know, with them all coming up to you because they all want love and yeah,

Jennifer Uren
That's right. So I would not be your girl for the job. I'm just saying.

Kerri Ward
Yeah.

Jennifer Uren
Well, and I know that you, you enjoy sharing the farm with other people and sharing the animals and and one year -and we still talk about it. You brought your animals to our backyard for our son's birthday party, which was the only year that absolutely every person I invited to the party said "yes". So it was a real draw. But what are some other ways that you use your farm and invite people in? And I'm going to assume in regular times not COVID times?

Kerri Ward
Yeah. Um, yeah, I mean, we have brought our animals out, you know, to our church for Easter celebrations. We have brought them to other schools like Woodlands has had a exploration day I believe where they bring different people and so there's other people other things going on in and then in the classrooms, and the kids just kind of travel around and they come out to the outdoor area and we have the you know, the animals there where we teach them about farming and the animals and there's been a couple of schools we've done that with. Yeah, sometimes you know, every once in a while, it's not our we're not advertising for it or anything, but every ince in a while we've done a birthday party or, or had people over just to visit. We homeschool, so we're associated with a few co-ops, and oh, which are groups of homeschooling families. And so we've brought animals there and we've also had those families come to the farm and come. We've had a, like a teen mom group come out and be able to enjoy the farm with their with their kids. And so it's really God's just blessed us with different, you know, different families and different opportunities to use the farm.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah, and you've done some farm camps in the summer, too.

Kerri Ward
We have we do occasionally. Yeah, yeah, of course. COVID.

Jennifer Uren
That's right. That's right. So yeah,

Kerri Ward
yeah.

Jennifer Uren
Well, I think that's really cool. So knowing what you know now, if a mom listening is thinking, you know, I'd kinda like to do this, what would you tell her about getting started? So like, what comes first buying land or trying out an animal?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, I definitely think the research. Surround yourself with as many mentors as you can. And remember that those don't have to be someone that you can, you know, physically reach out and touch and can physically come to your house, it's good to have a few of those. But there's so many Facebook groups, so many blogs so much on YouTube. My husband would make dinner and he'd have the YouTube going on, you know, just soaking it in and getting those experiences. We did 4-H for, I think we ran it three or four years before we we had our own farm, I think we did goats three or four years before we had our own farm. So you know, that was an experience where we were able to go to someone else's house and, and get that opportunity. And then I would say, um, if you're doing it for your, if you're doing it for your kids, be aware that kids go through stages, right? So your kid that's like, "Yes, I want a chicken" or "Yes, I want a goat", you know, might not be that kid in two years, and you're still gonna have those animals in that farm. So, you know, the parents have to have buy in and realize it's a lot of work. And it's long term. And, you know, we have my eldest daughter is, you know, she wants to go pre-vet, she loves showing, she's the youth rep for the American Dairy Goat Association. And she shows animals, she'll go to the national show, and regional shows. So that's showing through 4-H and through these outside organizations. Um, you know, my and my other kids have different levels of interest in it. Kind of ebbed and flowed, so you just kind of really have to be prepared and think long term.

Jennifer Uren
Okay, so what I heard you say was, it's good to try out animals in some way. Make sure it's not just your kid's dream, and be ready to do it long term.

Kerri Ward
Yeah.

Jennifer Uren
Okay. Well, good. Well, this has been really interesting. I, you know, I'm a city girl. So this is not stuff that you know, I'm, I'm well acquainted with, but, but our time is coming to a close. And one thing that I like to ask every guest is, it's a little more lighthearted. It's, uh, what is your favorite gadget?

Kerri Ward
Oh, okay. My favorite gadgets, I guess if my kids were to say, would be the Pampered Chef ground beef masher. Okay, have you seen that it like get like smashes up the ground beef. I love that thing. I think there's knockoffs of it now, but I love that thing.

Jennifer Uren
Yeah - I have it.

Kerri Ward
Yeah, you have it? Yeah. Yeah. And the second thing would be that my kids would definitely say cuz I'm kind of a freak about it sometimes is a T square, which is is a basically wood that goes this way and this way, and makes a T. And so when you're doing poster boards, at, you know, science, fair projects, any of that stuff, you know, you can put it on there, and you can make a straight line. And my dad was a graphic artist and so I grew up with one. And yeah, and so I just I'm like, why would you do anything without it?

Jennifer Uren
Right. You know, now that you mention that, I'm thinking, do you know how many things would have been so much easier to do? If I'd had something like that? Yeah. Well, that's great. Well, Kerri, how can people connect with you find your website or do you have an Instagram account?

Kerri Ward
Yeah, my my daughter runs all that. And she has we have a website at www.JameksFarm.com. Yeah.

Jennifer Uren
Excellent. And that is all of your initials right and your family. Yeah. I love that. So Wonderful. Well, thanks so much for being here and thanks for sharing about your hub farm.

Kerri Ward
Thank you for the invite. It's been fun.

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