Farmer Mistakes: Shock to the System - Modern Farmer

Farmer Mistakes: Shock to the System

Jay Vogler was a produce farmer for many years in Charlotte, VT. In 1993, he added a small herd of sheep to his farm, despite having “no idea what he was doing.” Vogler made many mistakes before he eventually sold off the herd. This is one of them: There was a big push in Vermont […]

Jay Vogler was a produce farmer for many years in Charlotte, VT. In 1993, he added a small herd of sheep to his farm, despite having “no idea what he was doing.” Vogler made many mistakes before he eventually sold off the herd. This is one of them:

There was a big push in Vermont during the ’90s to raise your own lambs and sheep. I knew a guy who had 8 or 900 sheep and I thought, “Hey, this seems like a really good idea!” It wasn’t. I went into the sheep business not knowing anything, as I’m guessing a lot of people do.

At the peak, we probably had 100 ewes. We lost a lot of money on those sheep. People would buy feeder lambs from us and never pay. We tried selling the wool but this breed didn’t make particularly high-quality wool. And the winters were pretty rough right around then. We lost a lot of sheep to the cold.

One year we were deep into mud season, after a good month of cold, wet snow. I was doing everything by myself, which is exhausting, and also pretty frantic. You end up forgetting to do things. So I was carrying some buckets out to the field and I was sure I had turned off the electric fence. But I had gone through a different entrance, kind of lost my bearings.

When I hit that fence, the electricity pulsed up through my arms and hit my chest like a baseball bat.

When I was a kid those fences were battery-operated; they’d give you a little zap. Me and my buddies would grab onto them for fun, try to trick tourists into doing it. Nowadays we’re talking like 8000 or 9000 volts. When I hit that fence, the electricity pulsed up through my arms and hit my chest like a baseball bat. I had to sit down.

I used to wear these fireman boots at the time. They were great because you could slip into them real easy. You could also slip right out of them.

So when I went to stand up, kind of disoriented, I stepped right out of my boots. We’ve got an extremely heavy clay soil here, no rocks to break it up. My foot sunk straight down six or eight inches into the mud, and I went flat on my face. I remember just laying there in the ice and mud, thinking, “This is the lowest I’ve gotten.”

I’ll tell you: I don’t think people understand how much work goes into raising animals. They think, “How hard is it? You give ’em food and water and you’re good, right?” They really don’t get how much work it takes.

And it’s expensive! I thought grain prices were high back when I had sheep. Now it’s just crazy. I’d think real hard about whether you’re ready to take that on.

Vogler eventually left farming, to start a wood-fired pizza shop. He’s proud to say his farm debt is completely paid off.

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