Making the difficult decision to let go

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It was with a tinge of sadness that the latch on the livestock trailer was locked into place. That latch was closing the door on one chapter of our farming lives. Our six remaining Scottish Blackface ewes were headed down the road to their new home in Iowa.

The decision to sell them was a gradual process. After peaking with a flock of a couple-dozen several years ago, we sold our crossbred-Suffolk sheep to focus on the Blackface. But with no money for the wool and little demand for lamb meat, we kept reducing our numbers.

difficult decision, let go, sheep
No longer will there be sheep grazing on the Hardie farm. (Chris Hardie photo)

As much as we enjoyed our sheep — particularly our ewe Daisy who was a bottle lamb blessed during a church service that I wrote about several years ago — there comes a point in farming when we need to make difficult decisions. We need to put aside the emotional connection to the animals to view the decision from a business perspective.

So imagine dairy farmers who have worked the farm all their lives, as earlier generations did, never knowing anything else. Caring for and milking cows is the only life they know.

Their hearts are on the farm but their heads — and their balance sheets — tell them it’s time for a change. Their heads tell them they can’t take much more slamming into that brick wall, day after day. They’re so accustomed to the pain that they’re surprised at the relief when it stops.

But there’s a big difference. We never intended for raising sheep to be a primary source of income. We knew better than that. I would have settled for breaking even. I feel deeply for the farmers going through the great dairy exodus.

For us, it became a matter of priority. With a growing inn, winery and wedding business — and Father Time not working in our favor — it was the logical decision. And we still have a few cows, goats, donkeys, chickens and some rams. Anyone want to buy a great ram? I’ve got a heck of a deal for that lucky buyer.

While logic prevailed, there’s still a small feeling of loss. I’ll miss scratching Daisy under her chin and the sight of frolicking lambs. But I won’t miss lambing season in the bitter cold and other farming frustrations.

Somehow my head feels just a little bit better today.

Garden harvest not plentiful

Speaking of time constraints, the vegetable garden this year is, for the most part, a large weed patch. Sherry did harvest beans. And we have beets, carrots and potatoes to dig. We’ll have a few squash, and some spices and herbs. If the frost holds off we’ll finally have some tomatoes and maybe some corn.

The Hardie garden includes a row of sunflowers. (Chris Hardie photo)

But it wasn’t a lost cause because there are spectacular flowers to enjoy. Sherry has had fresh arrangements of gladiolus and zinnias for several weeks.

The blackberry season was a good one — with Sherry doing all the picking and me enjoying the fruits of her labor. Along with putting berries in the freezer, she made some pies. I recently had a double helping one morning for breakfast. No need for donuts when there is pie.

While the blackberry season is finished, the apples are just beginning. A few of our trees are loaded while others skipped production this year.

Did someone say apple pie?

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at