e68. Woolly Wisdom with Benton and Christy Line

In this episode, Benton and Christy Line discuss their farming journey at Guided Rock Farms in Western Nebraska. The duo share their unique approach to soil health and livestock management, focusing on minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining a diverse crop rotation, and using livestock for weed control and fertilization. Their farming operation is not limited to crop farming; they also raise Navajo Churro sheep, an ancient breed prized for its wool. They share the intricacies of their sheep and wool operation, from shearing to processing and selling wool. Despite facing challenges like capital and time constraints, the Lines remain committed to their farming goals, which include organic and regenerative farming practices. The Lines’ story offers an inspiring look into the world of beginning farmers, providing valuable insights into sustainable farming and the unique challenges and triumphs they face.

Books/Resources Mentioned:

The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs by Joel Salatin (Amazon) (Bookshop)

Social media:
Facebook: Guided Rock Farms
Instagram: @guided_rock_farms
Website: https://guidedrockfarms.com/


These transcriptions are automatically generated. Please excuse any errors in the text.

0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode 68.

0:00:04 – Christy Line
Advice to spouses find something that brings you joy and excitement, that you can take ownership with, because otherwise it’s just a chore.

0:00:14 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer and their operation. I’m your host, Cal Hardidge. On today’s show we have Bent and Christie Line. They’re grazing sheep, getting started with cattle, doing some crops and Western Nebraska. I think it’s a great story. They’re just getting started on.

Before we get to Bent and Christie, 10 seconds about my farm Heats. Here, However, we did get a little bit of rain, which was really nice. It is breeding season. Bulls are out with the cows. I am not pulling the bulls out early because I take and the cows who don’t have in my kevin window. They get sold as bred cows. So I’ll keep the bulls out with the herd until I need them somewhere else, which I share bulls with my dad, so he’s got a fall kevin herd so they will stay out there till November Because my main goal is for me, a bred cow brings more money than an open cow.

For the podcast tidbit this week. If you’re listening to this well, if you hear my voice, you are listening to this we are almost to 95,000. In fact, by the end of the day, we’ll be at 95,000 downloads for the lifetime of the podcast, which is just crazy to me. Never once did I think this podcast would reach that many downloads and mom, thank you for downloading it 94,000 times. Actually, it’s a pretty amazing benchmark to me because I really didn’t know how this would go. So I really thank you for listening. I thank you for sharing and joining me on this journey as we would learn about other farmers and what they’re doing. Thank you, Enough of that, let’s talk to Benton and Christie. Benton, we want to welcome you to the Grazing Grass podcast. We’re excited you’re here today.

0:02:18 – Benton Line
Thank you, cal. Thanks for having me and my wife who’s going to step in later. I listened to your most recent episode earlier today and saw that you actually quoted my initial correspondence to you. Thanks for the show that you do and I mean I like a lot of the guests that you’ve had, but in particular I like that you have some beginning farmers on there. Our journey has not been easy. There’s been a lot of tough times and it’s just kind of encouraging to hear other people and who have made it to some degree or another and the challenges they’ve gone through and, I guess, the fact that they’ve made it to some level. So that’s great, benton.

0:02:58 – Cal Hardage
I really appreciate the email and your words you put in there about that, because one of the main reasons of the podcast is to know we’re not in this by ourselves and we’ve got other people, and there’s multiple ways to do this. If we can encourage other people, wherever they are on the journey, to take the next step, I count that as a win. So, benton, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation?

0:03:23 – Benton Line
Went to college in Colorado, colorado State, studied geology and have a degree in German too, but don’t use that much and currently work as a geologist. Most of my adult life was in Colorado and then just recently moved back to Nebraska. This is the second version of our farm here, the farm itself. We farm what is about 223 acres and then have a little over 500 acres of pasture, so a couple hundred acres that are accessible to us through a family friend and kind of allow us to grow. So we’re a graded livestock and farming operation. Our big money maker. Our sheep, napa Ho Churro, is the breed we focus on. We also have a few cows, chickens and, like a large Salatan style egg mobile.

You know, focus on regenerative type practices and so one of the regenerative or one of the facets, I guess, of soil health is biodiversity. So we have a diverse crop rotation and we’ll try to grow about anything we can with limited equipment. That’s our big limitation because you know we’re first generation, I should have started with that. So getting into this from scratch and equipment is expensive. So we’ve got a tractor and a drill. It’s a relief for planting. So we’ll grow whatever we can plant with a drill. A lot of times our crops will even have companions playing with them when we do the cover cropping thing, and so that adds to the biodiversity and we try to.

Another facet of soil health that we are working on is minimizing soil disturbance. We’re also trying to be organic, and in cropping systems if you’re organic you typically rely heavily on tillage. And then you know a lot of the region guys who are no-till advocates. They rely to some degree on herbicides, and so you kind of have to pick and choose between the two evils. There’s no perfect cropping system. So I reasoned you know in nature there’s some natural analogues to tillage ireturbation where people get pigs, you know they might be a natural example.

So we have gone down the tillage route. We do it very minimally. We think we figured out a system where we just till once every other year and it’s with a thing called a sweet plow, so it doesn’t even invert the soil. All it does is it cuts under the soil, it lifts it up, heaves it, sets it back down, and so then you’re, you know, turning it over and frying your microbes, and all the organic matter is staying in place. I think that the downfalls of it are you can develop a plow pan and you’re still cutting up your micro-isle network. And then the livestock integration. You know we are always grazing our livestock across our fields to fertilize, and we use them heavily for weed control too. They’re part of the weed control management system.

0:06:11 – Cal Hardage
Very interesting, benton. Now one thing before we get into a little bit more of what you’re doing on your farm. You mentioned your first generation. What attracted you to our culture?

0:06:23 – Benton Line
Okay, my first job. I was an exploration geologist up in Alaska and working out of a really remote camp was not something pre-established. It was constructed dirt runway just for us geologists to be out there exploring and then from that base camp we would fly further every day in a helicopter and I’d get dropped off and collect rock samples and do mapping and it was pretty neat. But while doing that job it occurred to me how desperate our situation was in terms of resource extraction. I just started to become aware of the links that we’re going to extract minerals and made me become more conscientious of how I live and my daily consumption and the sort of products I buy and use Somewhere around the same time I read Dominovores Dilemma. That book paints a picture of industrial agriculture. You have a nice alternative story with highlighting Joel, salagin and Polyface Farms.

My mom we grew up in rural Colorado. My mom was a teacher at entry school. My grandparents farmed in Nebraska so I had that farm to go back to around holidays and summer. That book had a big influence. I started to draw connections between industrial agriculture and resource consumption.

In between geology jobs I worked for my uncle on his farm so that gave me real world. Hands on experience in farming. That helped me draw more connections, see how things can be done a little differently. He’s a no-till advocate, relies on herbicides and some other inputs. Through working with my uncle, I realized that I liked farming. Just that experience. Every day I’m challenged, it’s scientific and it’s fulfilling. It’s producing food, I think is more fulfilling than looking for minerals resources, as exciting as that job was.

Somewhere in there I was reading a lot of Wendell Berry, but he’s really critical of Christians and their lack of attention to environmental issues and health issues. So that resonated with me and I boiled up inside of me and I realized, well, if I’m going to be a good Christian and love my neighbor as myself, and taking into account all the things I learned in school and the experiences I had at understanding environmental issues and how what I do affects people downwind and downstream of me, I thought, well, I guess I’m going to be a farmer, probably in 2011. Then it took a long time before we actually started farming, but that was, I guess, the brainchild of it. It became sort of a missional thing for me.

0:09:08 – Cal Hardage
Hey, guts got you started on this journey. Our pathways to get to where we are now is always so interesting for everyone. We each have our own journey. Now, you said that was about 2011. What did you do to start working towards your farm?

0:09:26 – Benton Line
I think at the time, national Young Farmer Coalition was trying to connect people the older generation, where people are phasing out farms and looking for younger generations to come in. I didn’t have a lot of experience I’m a practical farm experience but I did end up working a couple other farms in between geology jobs. I got some more experience and then lived frugally and saved money. In 2017, my oldest brother he was pretty involved in this dream too. I started talking a lot about it together. He and I bought our first farm down in South Central Colorado together. That was 128 acres, mostly irrigated pasture. No cropping can come down there, and even once we bought that property initially I was still traveling a lot for work and it was really just a hobby farm where I had a few chicken cats and a nice, nice old neighbor lady would come down and take care of my chickens and cats. I was out working and I traveled to California a lot. I met Christie and we got married and that was 2019.

0:10:31 – Cal Hardage
Marrying Christie is what really helped us to get going and that’s when we first got cheap and things kind of grew from there One thing you mentioned there that you said from 2011 or about that time you’re thinking farm means something I want to do, and it wasn’t until 2017. You got started because you were patient, you saved up money, you did that grind just to get you to that point. You worked on some farms and between jobs and stuff to get there and I know a lot of times, even on our podcast, we’re like just get started, wherever you are. But there’s a lot to be said. There’s a lot of times in all of our lives that it doesn’t look from the outside. We’re making much progress, but we’re doing the grind and we’re getting there. So sometimes we have to be careful of just jumping in too deep and just working and getting there. So when we’re ready or when the time comes, we’re ready. So I really respect that grind because I know I get distractible and it takes a lot to maintain that focus and work through it.

0:11:41 – Benton Line
It’s hard when you have all these books and podcasts and things where you read about Joel Salatin and Gabe Brown and this, that and the next person and how they’re doing it.

0:11:50 – Cal Hardage
You want to do that and you want it to happen now, but they didn’t get there overnight and it’s kind of like we’ve all heard what we see on social media is the highlight reel and not what’s happening every day. These people you read about and you hear about they’ve been doing this for a long time without their name being known, and then they hit the point that now so many of us know who they are. So you mentioned you got married in 2019, and that’s when you all decided on sheep. Did your wife have a history with sheep or what brought you to sheep?

0:12:29 – Benton Line
My wife also does not come from a harming background. She’s, I think, two generations removed from the farm. But the main reason we came to sheep was just because of the environment we were in. All the farms I worked on were cattle, so I always thought I was going to work with cattle. That’s what I wanted to do. But I’m also pretty conscientious of the environment that I’m in and I recognized where we were in South Central Colorado it was low enough rainfall that it qualified as desert.

We got into Navajo Churro by accident too, just a work connection. Someone knew a gal who was selling some Navajo Churro and so we loved them and we learned don’t want to step on Christie’s toes because you’ll probably talk more about them, but they were. That’s a breed that was developed in that part of the country, you know northern New Mexico, southern Colorado, southern Utah, the Navajo Nation area and when we moved to Nebraska, where we were at is still considered semi-red, you know harsh, cold winters, hot summers so still thought they were pretty reasonably well suited for this climate and we kept with them. So we really like them.

0:13:34 – Cal Hardage
So let’s talk a little bit about Western Nebraska, where you are. What kind of precipitation are we looking at?

0:13:42 – Benton Line
The NRCS map says something like 14 to 17, or 14 to 18th.

0:13:47 – Cal Hardage
How are you all doing this year, O’Nrain this year?

0:13:49 – Benton Line
has been great. The first two summers we were up here were really dry. I think a lot of the northern plains had a pretty brutal winter, but all that snow was great and we had a wet spring and it’s creating a weirdly late wheat harvest for people. I think maybe record late in some cases.

0:14:06 – Cal Hardage
I think the Oklahoma wheat harvest was a little bit delayed too. I’m not involved in that so I’m not 100% sure, but I watched Sun Up Oklahoma Ag Show and I think it was delayed for a while. Of course we’ve got it wrapped up now. It’s all going north, so about 16 inches of precipitation a year for you there in Western Nebraska. When is your first frost of the year and last frost First?

0:14:34 – Benton Line
frost is early October. Last frost I want to say is early May.

0:14:39 – Cal Hardage
Oh, okay, so you’re about a month ahead of me or behind me, depending on which way you look at that, because we’re looking at the first of November or somewhere in there for our first frost, first week in April for the last frost. Of course, that varies so much it’s really hard to pinpoint.

0:14:58 – Benton Line
You know that average we never hit the last few years it seems like summer goes later into the fall, like we’ve been having warm falls, or I should say winter has been longer, kind of stepping on spring’s toes a little bit. Just an observation that I’ve had for a few years.

0:15:15 – Cal Hardage
That seems pretty accurate here now In my area we try to enjoy both days of autumn, so whenever those occur it just goes it’s hot, and then we get a couple of nice days and then for some reason it’s cold. So you know, I would love for that transition to take a little bit longer. Here, In addition to your farming, you’ve got some grazing acres. What kind of forage are you working with there? The broam?

0:15:44 – Benton Line
grasses would be like smooth broam, downy broam, which is your cheat grass. That’s a weedy plant. Hell yeah, japanese broam and blue gram and hairy gram, buffalo grass, really short grasses, the wheat grasses, like Western wheat grasses and the Indian wheat grasses. Forbs would be things like wild sunflowers, woolly verbata, silver leaf, scurffy is that a legume? Sweet clover, would we have?

0:16:09 – Cal Hardage
quite a bit of and do you have any irrigation? We don’t.

0:16:13 – Benton Line
But we’re, or is it, dry crops too, all dry land.

0:16:17 – Cal Hardage
So what does that do for your crops? And this is really out of my element because I’ve never farmed I do drill in a few cool season stuff.

0:16:28 – Benton Line
For me personally, it just means that I don’t try to grow things like corn and soybeans that need more water. I mentioned earlier we’ve got the equipment limitation, but another limitation is markets. You know, trying to like buckwheat is a great thing to grow here, but something I can just take to town. It’s something we’re working on, but just making connections with the alternative markets to grow more drought-resistant crops.

0:16:50 – Cal Hardage
Which that makes sense. Yes, do you mind sharing what you’re growing?

0:16:53 – Benton Line
this year Got a barley field oats, spring peas, wheat field it’s winter wheat and a sunflower field. All those crops, like I mentioned earlier, we have planted with companions. We have one field actually that is a rest year, I’ll call it where I drill oats, rye, pea, lentils, flax, just letting it grow out. Right now the sheep and cattle are out on it, grazing it and fertilizing sunflower field I really like to talk about. It’s a fun field, so planted with a drill, which is unconventional Usually they’re done with a planter and 30 inch rows or so and we have a bunch of companion plants, carefully select species that are not going to compete with the sun flowers, and they’re going to form kind of an understory. Or your lower canopy. Harvest time will harvest the sunflowers off top and everything else will remain under there and then we’ll put livestock in to graze it.

0:17:46 – Cal Hardage
Oh, interesting. And how tall do those sunflowers grow? Probably four or five feet, I’m just curious. I’ve not seen a sunflower field that I know of. You see on Facebook and stuff really giant ones and you can get a lot of different species for the home garden.

0:18:04 – Benton Line
So I was just curious there, the dust, they produce really builds up in the vine and it’s pretty flammable, so it’s a great crop to have in your rotation. That really deep tap root pulls phosphorus back to the surface and cycles fast and can do get a broad leaf in your rotation.

0:18:20 – Cal Hardage
When you combine those, are they cut pretty low or are you cutting them pretty high to just get that head off of them?

0:18:28 – Benton Line
I have one header for everything and it’s just a platform header. You know, that’s like the header with the paddles, and so I just I lift that the paddles up really high and I’ll cut it just under the heads, and rotation speed down really low and it matched my travel speed to it so that it kind of plops them on there.

0:18:45 – Cal Hardage
Oh, very good. And what kind of companions did you plant with it Mug beans, cow peas spring peas, winter peas, buckwheat. There’s a kale, or it’s called a forage collard and a plant is to graze that after you harvest the sunflowers.

0:19:03 – Benton Line
That’s right, particularly in the winter. So help you to reduce for hay costs.

0:19:08 – Cal Hardage
So let’s just let’s talk about your livestock just a little bit. How are you managing them? And you have the I don’t want to say unique, but one thing we haven’t talked about a lot on this podcast is farming in conjunction with livestock. So you’ve got your fields, you want to leave clear so you’re able to farm them in a year or two. So that introduces some different requirements for you.

0:19:35 – Benton Line
Yeah, the sheep they are primarily on crop fields. We use them a lot to graze our weeds. You know lots of Russia, russian thistle and they’re great for that. We only have one pasture. That’s 26 acres that currently can contain our sheep. The rest of the time they’re out, they’re out on the cropland. We use a ton of polywire, contain them and move on. The place where we do the best with our rotations is just around the farmstead and it’s about 15 acres and we’re able to set up lots of small paddocks and move them through our yard and the old corral system. We’ll loop into that and each of the old pins was a paddock. The winter grazing is primarily done on the crop fields too.

0:20:15 – Cal Hardage
Now you mentioned polywire on your crop fields. Are you using one strand, two strands?

0:20:23 – Benton Line
I would say that we’ve learned rotation to actually help a lot with containing your sheep. The more you move them and keep them on good forage, the better they stay in. Right now, the field we’re actually one of the west side of it is just two wires, so we’re containing it with two wires A lot of times. We’ll use up to four more often now that we’ve kind of learned to keep them in and you know, just keeping it hot is really important too.

0:20:49 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, I had wondered if you needed more wire or more strands. The Navajo sheep are a little bit more of a land race in my mind, and when I think about land races they’re usually a little bit more athletic and less respectful about fences. And I say that and then I have to immediately say tell myself, I’m wrong, because I have correntae cows and I move them all around with a single wire. Granted, I did sell the jumpers. Anyone who decided the single strand was not enough. They got a all expense paid trip and now I have no problem at all with them.

0:21:33 – Benton Line
We’re just getting to a size where we just under 90 with our sheep, so we haven’t been too selective yet. It’s kind of like a coin toss with some of these decisions because we have this one you my wife names all of the use. This one is Rosemary. She’s probably our most docile you. She’ll actually come up and let you pet her, and a lot of them were more flighty and she produces a really nice fleece and we get a lot of value out of our fleeces. So that’s part of the equation for us as the fleece quality, oh yeah. However, she’s the one who probably, if anyone’s instigate going through a fence, it’s gonna be her. So it’s like, well, good fleece, or deal with a sheep getting out Rarely.

0:22:16 – Cal Hardage
Are those decisions just clear cut? So yeah, it’s a compromise With your sheep. When are you lambing them? And I know fleece are a big mark or a big part of your flock, but how are you marketing lambs as well?

0:22:34 – Benton Line
I’m happy to announce that we finally are at a place where we can control our rams separately from our us for a large portion of the year. So historically it was whenever finally got it down to spring lamb. So this year they came in May, june and then, yeah, for marketing lamb meat, so far it’s all been word of mouth. This year we have a pretty significant lamb crop. You know gonna need to explore some other means for marketing. We need to figure out how to get them sold.

0:23:05 – Cal Hardage
When you market your lambs. What age were or have you marked them in the past?

0:23:11 – Benton Line
We generally shoot around 10 months as kind of the average age that we do, where we get a decent size lamb.

0:23:19 – Cal Hardage
It’ll be interesting to see how it goes going forward for you and you’ll have to report back to us how it goes and especially with a larger number you’re having to market Now, in addition to your sheep, you have a few cattle and you have chickens. So for your cattle, what’s your plans?

0:23:36 – Benton Line
there, another instance where we’re playing the patient game. We just have four of them are my brothers actually they’re the four hours, so we have eight on the property right now, kind of a hodgepodge of breeds. Scottish Highland are the direction we want to go with the herd eventually, looking at our climate, I think they’re pretty suitable for our climate. I would not try to raise them if I lived, you know, in Eastern Oklahoma probably.

0:24:01 – Cal Hardage
It’s almost too hot and muggy for me. I think they’re pretty a look at. I have no desire to raise them. My wife keeps telling me we need to buy a couple because they’re cute. Are you running your cattle and sheep together in that elusive flurred In?

0:24:15 – Benton Line
the wintertime mostly. Yes, they’re all together makes winter feeding logistics easier. Hell yeah, and right now the cows are kind of split up. So we do have some of the cows with our main flock but some are out on another pasture. Like I said, we have quite a bit of pasture acres but we can only utilize 26 of it with our yeats, with our yews. So to utilize all the rest of that pasture, we have cows out on there right now and we lease some of that out to other people.

0:24:42 – Cal Hardage
Which makes sense. You mentioned your rotations are not quite where you want them to be. I can talk more confidently about my cattle rotations than I can. My sheep, my sheep basically on the main farm. We’ve got three 80s on the main farm and each 80 basically will hold sheep. So we basically have three pastures of rotation that we kind of haphazardly do with the sheep and we just kind of move them to wherever we need them. But they don’t really do a very good job of respecting my bobwire fences dividing my other paddocks. And then, you know, I don’t get to use them on lease land, which I would love to do, but I do have a few on lease land using electric netting and I just find that’s a lot of work. I know a lot of people use it to great results, but it may be more work than I want to do. So in addition to your cattle, you also have layers. Yeah, we do.

0:25:45 – Benton Line
We have a little over 100. And at this point I don’t know if I have too much to say about it. We’re just getting into them, but this is the first time where we have a larger flock. We’re planning on selling a lot of eggs. They’re just about to start laying here. By the end of the month We’ll start having eggs. Hopefully we can get people lined up to buy them all.

0:26:09 – Cal Hardage
Ben, what’s been some challenges that maybe you didn’t anticipate on getting your farm started and going to where it is now.

0:26:17 – Benton Line
Both capital and time are our biggest challenges. We’ve been able to figure it out so far. And then, you know, operating costs are more than I budgeted for and so it always just yeah, it kind of caught me off guard how much it costs to buy seed and fuel and tractor parts. And then time, you know, because of the capital challenge, we both work, kristina, I both work, so that leads to a time challenge and we have two wonderful young girls who are under three, and so they’re not, you know, they’re not old enough where they’re very independent at all. They require a lot of time, which is good time, but yeah, so just wrestling between. And then, you know, as we grow and we’re starting to have a lot of good product to sell, the next big challenge for us is marketing those challenges of capital and time.

0:27:05 – Cal Hardage
It’s amazing how universal those are but how very real they are, because it may be a problem everyone has, but it’s a, it’s a real issue. The next issue is marketing, which I’ve said on the podcast before. That’s not my forte at all. There is a podcast I like to listen to and I can’t think of the lady’s name because I haven’t listened lately, but it’s about marketing and it’s a really good podcast. Whenever I’m in that mind, I’ll have to look it up and I’ll put it in the notes as well as let you know it as well. That’d be great.

0:27:37 – Benton Line
Any help is good. I do like to read Alan Nation’s books. They seem really helpful. We’ve got some good marketing books, and Joel Salaton, I think, has a lot of wisdom when it comes to marketing.

0:27:48 – Cal Hardage
He’s done wonders on marketing, greg Judy’s does wonders on marketing. What’s your main tactic? To be honest, because I don’t want to blame it on anything I was going to say because I work off the farm and stuff we have really not got into selling direct to the consumer right now it’s somewhere I’m wanting to go. But with my beef cattle I wanted to change breeds up a little bit because I did not have breeds that I thought would finish well on grass and I would like to grass finish. So that’s what I’m looking at. But I’m about a year off from that.

For the sheep, we just sell them through a ring. Right now I do sell a handful directly off the farm from word of mouth. That’s been a debate for me because the additional work selling that one lamb I have not priced it high enough. It’s worth it to me than just selling them all through the ring right now. Yeah, so I just haul a load up and you know to go with that a little bit. I’ve got the full time off the farm job, so when I get home and I’m doing my chores and stuff, the last thing I want is someone showing up to talk an hour to pick up a lamb and so that’s a little bit of a mindset issue for me and I say pick up a lamb I’m selling. The lambs I’ve sold are to some ethnic groups that want live lambs. That’s just kind of where where I am right now we mostly do.

0:29:18 – Benton Line
you know holes in halves where people will buy a share and they they get it. We have a butcher just three miles down the road in town, but they’re not USDA certified centers. But then there’s another one that is USDA. We have to adjust the price to account for fuel costs and travel out there and butchering, the processing at a USDA certified facility is much higher than the one here in town. So all those prices are reflected in the individual cuts and we have. We have some harvest hosts that come by Farmsteads just open to campers to come in camp, and typically the agreement is that they just buy a product from you and otherwise they can stay for free. But anyway, so we have these, this one family, we’re interested in the grand lamb, and then they told us well, we can’t afford that. And it’s hard to hear because we don’t want to sell something that they can’t afford. But at the same time it’s like, well, if I go much lower, then we’re going to lose money on it. So we want to set ourselves up for failure.

0:30:21 – Cal Hardage
Right, but but you have to for you to be sustainable. To be honest, that’s the area I struggle with. Like I said, we haven’t sold much off the farm. And I say we that’s me. My dad sells a few head off the farm and I say off the farm, we deliver to the processor and he sells a half or a whole. And now dad has a little bit different breeds than I do, so we’re doing some green finishing with whatever he sells.

But that price we talk about that price quite a bit because that price has got to be high enough to account for. Well, it’s got to account for the additional laborer and the one off stuff that you’ve got to do. It takes it, takes time to load up that cap and haul it in there, and then just there’s all these factors sometimes that we forget about in figuring that we’ve got to add in, and that’s one reason so much of our stuff is just wholesale through the auction ring. It makes it easy for me. I feel a lot of demands for my time Not anymore than anyone else, everybody’s always busy, but it just works better for us.

At this point I would like to move to a more customer centric model and I’d love to get more customers out here on the farm See what we’re doing and do some things. We’re just not quite there, in my opinion, right now. Ben, those are some of your challenges going through, and you’ve also mentioned some of your goals earlier, in that you’re with your cropping and trying to be organic and be regenerative. What are some other goals you have?

0:32:03 – Benton Line
Just generally speaking, I would say growth we’re still in a growing phase and streamlining thing. There’s a lot of things we probably do kind of the hard way, just set up to do it quick and smoothly, and there’s some things that we’re figuring out. An example of that I’ll share really quickly is our chicken water. We use those metal canisters that are like the double wall canister, that where water seeps into the little trough. The reason for that was we already had those like platform heaters for winter to keep them frost free. It just seemed like a more cost effective way to just use those. But we have to take time to fill them occasionally.

I have a tank mounted inside the chicken coop, so there’s a kind of a reservoir there and so we have to go in the middle of the day and fill them up, so it just creates like a midday chore that eats into our schedule. Initially I thought, well, I don’t want to do anything too fancy because we’re going to have to change it for the winter setup anyway. But now I’m going back and thinking well, if I invest some time in setting up some nipples where it’s just constant feed, we’re losing a lot of water from the wind or setting it on uneven ground. It’s going to save us that midday chore and we’re going to be more streamlined. That’s an example of those sort of things. And then the fencing infrastructure is continual development so that we can do more rotations and set up more cross fences and just have better pasture. And I would really like to get to the point where we can have a higher heat and so hopefully we’re generating enough revenue soon that we can do that.

0:33:39 – Cal Hardage
Actually I laugh because I’m moving that electrode netting today, before we recorded this, and I’m thinking why don’t I pay my nephew to come up here and move this fence for me? We do multiple things and then we learn how to do them better and we get better, and I’m excited to watch your journey and see where you go from here. But, ben, it is time we transition to the overgrazing section, and for that we’re not talking to you, we’re going to talk to your wife, christie, that’s right. Well, christie, we want to welcome you to the podcast, a little bit different, where we’re just having you hop on and do the overgrazing section.

0:34:17 – Christy Line
Yes, thank you for having me. I kind of take over the sheep enterprise so I have a little more detail I can provide than Benton. So Wonderful.

0:34:27 – Cal Hardage
So please remind us what breed of sheep you’re using, and let’s go from there.

0:34:31 – Christy Line
Navajo Cherro sheep and those are the oldest, one of the oldest breeds in America and we just happened to get three of them when we lived in Southwest Colorado. We kind of rescued them and we learned more about them and it was a good fit for our climate and for kind of our goals. So we continued to expand on that breed. They’re part of the livestock conservatory. There’s 30 breeds of sheep that are in that category. So it’s been cool to kind of learn more about their history and the Navajo nation. They consider sheep as their life and sustaining their life and so we’re trying to honor that breed.

0:35:14 – Cal Hardage
Now they’re a little bit different than most of the sheep we talk about on the podcast, because typically we end up talking about hair sheep.

0:35:23 – Christy Line
Yes, so their wool is prized more towards hand spinners and like fiber art, because it’s a dual coated and it’s very long. We share them twice a year and I mean we could go into another tangent about us learning how to shear.

0:35:40 – Cal Hardage
But Ben did mention a little bit about the, the shearing process, and you all have made great gains and being a little bit faster than the original time you did.

0:35:51 – Christy Line
So we have self taught how to raise these sheep, so through the shearing and doing some of the processing ourselves, learning how to skirt it and wash it, and then I started posting our raw wool on Etsy and that’s kind of where we found our artists and some of our spinners and it’s kind of taken off from there. So once we kind of built our customer base, we decided to just do direct to consumer, because Etsy was taking almost 50% of our sales. Once I was able to find a few artists to use it and more word of mouth, we were able to just sell through like Instagram and our website, which has been nice. But yeah, there’s some fiber artists out there who who are really interested in knowing where their wool comes from and finding a ethical source, a local source and something that they connect with. So I do a lot of also photography and run our social media so I’m able to post every day, every morning, going out with the sheep when all the lambs are born. So through that I think the artists can connect with a certain sheep and then they they know, like this is this sheep’s wool and we’re bringing it back to life and in a circle. So we’ve had fiber artists show different wool projects at Expose in New York and in Florida. There’s some pretty.

If you can kind of look outside the box of just selling your wool to to manufacturer, you know the commodity market I think there’s opportunity to to make some money off of it.

I’ve learned how to make these living rugs by felting and I think that makes actually probably most of our money with our wool of these rugs. But so along with that, if if there are people who do have wool sheep and they’re looking for ways to use their wool I don’t know if you’ve heard of a fiber shed, but they have different regional fiber sheds all over the US. So we joined the mountains and plains fiber shed and they’re a huge advocate for regenerative farming so they have various programs that farmers and producers can join to help transition to regenerative agriculture. They talk a lot about the carbon to carbon cycle and how sheep are like the number one, I guess, ruminant or animal. That totally goes full circle with their wool and with everything. So it’s kind of cool to to work with them and they also provide there’s a directory that producer, consumer, that people can look up. So so that’s been, that’s been a good resource for us.

0:38:36 – Cal Hardage
Oh, that’s that sounds like a wonderful resource. I want to jump back just a little bit to the process you do with wool. Benton talked a little bit about the shearing process. He didn’t really get into much detail there, just the amount of time and the learning process there. So what are you doing to the wool after you share it?

0:38:57 – Christy Line
So after we share it, we lay each fleece out and you do an initial it’s called skirting which you take out all the dirty parts and the underbelly and pick out vegetable matter which you know we graze outside your year round, so we don’t have a ton of hay and stuff in it but you pick out what you can.

And so then, once you have your your quality raw wool, then you go through a washing process. We use an organic scour and takes like a couple of 20 minutes, soaked in a rinse, to get it clean, and then we built a big drying rack to put it on. And then, after you wash and dry it, you go through a carding machine which pulls out all the fibers and lines them all up in one direction, so then it can be pulled apart into getting ready to spin or do whatever else you want to do with it, so that the process of making it into yarn, rugs and things like that are slightly different. But we have started, now that we have more than a handful of sheep, we have taken a lot of our yarn to a local mill to get into the roving and yarn and that kind of thing.

0:40:08 – Cal Hardage
So and you mentioned Malago, about some of these wool artists that they can connect with the sheep, because I see them on your Instagram and stuff. Is the wool separated by you or are you mixing that based upon color? I obviously don’t know very much about it.

0:40:30 – Christy Line
Yeah, so the Navajo Truro sheep they’re a multicolor breed where they have a lot of different colors within the same breed. So there’s some that are white, some multicolored, some gray, some brown red. So there’s a lot of different colors so we keep them separate. So when we process we’ll put all the whites together and then a lot of times I’ll actually have them processed per sheep so that when the yarn comes out, when you label it like this is rosemary, and then you have a picture of the sheep with the specific yarn.

0:41:03 – Cal Hardage
So Very interesting on that, and you mentioned you make some rugs too.

0:41:08 – Christy Line
Yeah, so they look exactly like sheepskin, except they’re you know, that’s what we call them living rugs, because sheep did not have to go through its life cycle in order for you to get the rugs. So I just use more of our wool on the backside of a fleece after it’s sheared, and it’s a whole process to wet, felt it all together, but they look like sheepskin rugs.

0:41:33 – Cal Hardage
So oh, very nice. That’s something new I didn’t know about.

0:41:38 – Christy Line
I don’t know how specific this is towards our sheep breed in general, but I kind of wanted to touch base just a tiny bit on not growing up on a farm, not having any agriculture background, just I feel like moving out to this farm, I initially felt very disconnected from what we were doing and I felt like I did not have a purpose.

And it was kind of a hard year for us because I feel like I felt like we were chasing his dream and I was not a part of it. So I guess advice advice to spouses, whether that’s a man or a woman in this situation is finding something that brings you joy and excitement within the farm realm. If you can just find something you know, the sheep did it for me on the lambs and the wool. I think it just sparked something in me and I kind of went with it. But it could be any small thing that brings you joy that you can kind of be a part of it. Because I think that was the turning point for me for kind of going along with. This is like actually finding something that you know has a little bit of purpose and overall I mean we have a bigger purpose of, just, you know making this world a little better place in our corner, and you know raising our kid to, I guess, enjoy this lifestyle. I think it’s important to have joy in what you’re doing, because otherwise it’s just a chore.

0:43:07 – Cal Hardage
Very important thing you bring up there about and we struggle with that. I say my wife and I discuss this because the farm is my dream and she’s kind of it makes you happy. So here we are and at times she’s like do we have to? So I think that’s so important to find how I hate to use the word how you fit in, but find your passion.

0:43:35 – Christy Line
Yeah, passion I’m trying to think of another name, but yeah, something that you can kind of take ownership with, or I think it just helps with becoming more teammates than just an accessory. I’m glad I found that, because I was definitely struggling with finding my piece in this, so that’s been good.

0:43:53 – Cal Hardage
Very good. So, christy, before we wrap up and I know it’s really quick for your section on here you added that piece in which is so relevant that gets overlooked. Do you have anything else to add to the challenges or future goals with your farm?

0:44:10 – Christy Line
So I think there’s going to be a point where so our goal is to get up to 200-flop. There’s going to be a point where we’re probably going to have to be more creative in how we’re selling our wool and using our wool. There’s so much you can do with it, so I think, trying to find other ways, whether it’s, I know, wool has been used as fertilizer, turning into mulcher, animal bedding and things like that, I think. And then I’m sure Benton touched on just marketing, like our lamb meat and other products. Because we live in such a rural community, just finding our ways to actually sell all of our products right now, I think, is a challenge, but we’re getting there.

0:44:58 – Cal Hardage
You know to say that cliche that everyone says if it’s easy, everyone would do it.

0:45:04 – Christy Line
Yeah, got to start somewhere, you do.

0:45:08 – Cal Hardage
And I mentioned to Benton, there’s a podcast I’ll have to share with you all about marketing. That I think is really good. I can’t think of the name right now because I haven’t listened to it lately. I can’t go and spurts with my podcast listening. I’ll focus on this podcast for a while and then I move to another one. So I’ll find that and I’ll make sure I have it in the show notes as well as let you all know.

0:45:28 – Christy Line
Okay, that sounds good.

0:45:31 – Cal Hardage
Well, Christy, we’re so glad you could join us on here today.

0:45:33 – Christy Line
Well, thank you. Thank you for letting me talk a tiny bit. I know I mean I could go into big, I could go into detail on things, but I think, just getting the gist of it, that you can find ways to make your role valuable I think if you take the effort towards finding ways to sell it.

0:45:52 – Cal Hardage
I think that’s excellent. It’s time, in our podcast, for our famous four questions same four questions that we ask all of our guests, and for famous four, we welcome Benton back. What is your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?

0:46:07 – Benton Line
For me the motivation behind the farm is a big deal, and for that I point people to Wendell Berry essays. There’s a ton of books that are compilations of his essays and you can kind of cherry pick through them and read the ones that are of interest to you. Along those lines I noticed one of those recently recommended by another guest, joel Salatin’s Pickness of the Pig. I think if you have a strong motivation behind your farm journey that is bigger than you yourself, helps you keep going.

0:46:42 – Cal Hardage
Oh, yes, very true.

0:46:44 – Benton Line
Anyway, yeah, a lot of good podcasts out there, Yours included Gabe Brown’s Group, Understanding Ag. It took me a long time before I ever discovered Gabe Brown. I threw Omnivores to Limit. I was pointed to Joel Salatin and Wendell Berry and Alan Savery, Jim Garrish, Greg Judy, Anyway, eventually Gabe Brown I was pointed to and I took a liking to him, I think because of the environment and the type of ag I grew up around and how my group performs, just the scale that he operates at and his incorporation of the grain production Joel Salatin did, or does, the ag mobiles and the pastured pork.

Anyway, he’s got this consulting group called Understanding Ag On their website. They have a bunch of webinars. And now I’m connecting to another person In that group. There’s a guy, Dr Alan Williams. I really like his material. Every talk I listen to Dr Alan Williams, I learn a lot. And then on the cropping side there’s a guy named Rick Clark out in Indiana who does farm green podcasts Not too much about livestock in there, but he does run some cows on his cropland. He’s another guy who’s trying to be a regenerative no-till, or he’s almost no-till. He just really genuinely cares about people and the regenerative ag movement.

0:48:07 – Cal Hardage
Very good, Excellent recommendations. And where I’m on the livestock side, I’m not familiar with the farm green podcast, but I’m gonna have to catch me an episode or two of it, yeah. So second question what tool could you not live without on your farm?

0:48:23 – Benton Line
A sappy answer for this one. It’s my family, Christy. She does so much with the sheep and the marketing and the wool. My mom is around almost all the time and she helps out a lot with the kids. She even does she helps with chores. She even does a lot of tractor work. My oldest brother he comes up probably once a month for almost a week at a time. He’s a huge help engineering mind helps come up with a lot of novel solutions. He does a lot of tractor work too. This spring, in fact, he did almost all of our planning. My dad comes up about once a month and you know, with it being an old farmstead there’s been a lot of fixer upper projects that he’s helped with. My little brother helped a lot, especially when we moved up here. Just, he manages what I consider a mega farm with all the big fancy stuff. I have another middle brother I shouldn’t leave out the equation. He’s a great brother too. He has a family that makes it less conducive to him traveling up here to visit us. Oh, yeah, yeah. Anyways, family has been huge and I explain all that they do.

It probably sounds like I don’t do much and that’s about right. I think a person can do it by themselves and I think a person can utilize any type of community. Family comes in different shapes and forms. The family I have is what I have and I’m thankful for their help. Then for a more practical tool Polywire. I know everyone says that, oh yeah, I mean we use so much and where we don’t have that much infrastructure, it’s kind of a permanent fixture here. Even though it’s not designed to be permanent, it helps us to do what we do?

0:49:59 – Cal Hardage
Both of those are excellent answers. I mean, family is so important and, like you mentioned there, your family may be different than my family, but family is so beneficial, whether it’s your spouse, your extended family, siblings, if it’s friends, whoever’s your community, whoever’s there for you, it’s really beneficial. On the subject of Polywire, I had an unfortunate incident yesterday with Polywire. I needed to cross this Polywire and I’d purchased some cows yesterday and I was taking them over to introduce them to one of my herds. I had to cross this Polywire with the trailer so I staked it down. Well, actually I don’t want to jump ahead. I got out, I had a couple of Polywires meeting right there so I hadn’t hooked one, so it was going to be cold running out to where I was taking the cows. The other wire was hot and I was going to stretch it across the road and just put a couple of step in posts to hold it down so I could drive over it. And so I got the one wire out of the way and then I had another strand coming off and I unhooked it, so it was cold and I moved it back. And then I go over to move the hot wire and my simple mind forgot it was hot and I grabbed a hold of that thing and it’s not just inadvertently touching it and getting shocked, I gripped it in my hand because I was moving it. Oh man, now I have to say I’m really happy with my energizer. But I may have said something I shouldn’t have said right then, but it was all. Do not like getting shocked.

What brand you guys are very using, that is a Cyclops, brute Solar. I have moved to the main Energizers I have on Leastland are Cyclops and they’re solar. In their little solar box they sell. I am so happy with it. I’ve used other brands. I’ve used a look. I’ve got some safe Stafix is sitting in the house and speed right and I’ve got some smaller Gallagher’s. But those Cyclops I Should be sponsored by Cyclops as much as I’m talking about them now. They, they have just works so good and I don’t find some of the issues I was having with my solar chargers before was they just Couldn’t handle the electro netting and all the polywire I was putting on them. These guys, well, these guys don’t even seem to notice it. It’s just. I’m just really impressed. I’ve heard quite a few people recommend Cyclops.

0:52:43 – Benton Line
Next time I get a charger Maybe I’ll try one of those out.

0:52:47 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, I’ve been tremendously impressed. Now I say that for a moment. Yesterday I was unimpressed, but now I’m back to being impressed. Moving on to our third question, what would you tell someone just getting started?

0:53:02 – Benton Line
I would said my piece on this already and that was about being yeah, about being patient. So, yeah, I guess that you know with it’s easy to look at the Joel Salatons and Gabe Browns all the farm celebrities, if you will and want to. You know, have a positive, meaningful impact like and have an operation like theirs. It’s a process. So, just you know, stay focused, charge ahead, do your best. And one other, I would Employ, or more, people to try out wool breed sheeps. I hear a lot of people Mention how they’ll they’ll do Hair breeds because they don’t want to deal with the shearing can totally empathize. I I didn’t want to either.

When we got started, I was really, you know, pretty opposed to the idea of sharing. Well, the first sheep we share were in 2020, so that’s when COVID started and we were signed up to go to a shearing school in northern Colorado and it was canceled. So then we had to figure out how to do it on a road With YouTube videos, and YouTube videos are great for a lot of things. They use it for Mechanicking stuff all the time. For sharing sheep, you really have to have someone who knows what they’re doing, show you how to Hold the sheep in the correct place and place your feet in the right way and anyway. So our first sheep sharing was pretty painful, you know it took over two hours to share a first sheep and now we’re down to. We’re still not that fast, but we’ve since been able to go to school, my oldest brother and I when I say we, that’s another thing that helps with a lot of sharing Comes to help share. But anyway, now we’re down to like 10 minutes of sheep. Still a lot of room for improvement, but significantly better.

And it and it’s hard, it’s hard work. It’s like you know, we’re both former endurance athletes and we count it as some of the most challenging physical activity that we’ve done. You know, in regenerative circles we talk a lot about community development and creating jobs, and wool creates a whole other Industry. You know it’s a whole. It’s a missed opportunity in a lot of places and you know, don’t, don’t play the commodity game with it. When you get into wool, you know you create jobs for shears. Then there’s all the the middle men’s steps of processing it. You know the textile side and you know making it into a fabric and the United States that’s something we’re lacking severely as the whole textile Whole industry and it’s a great fabric, great material. As someone who used to wear a lot of wear, a lot of tech material for running and cycling and whatever else, and wool will last much, much longer without going rank on you than tech material and I just I would encourage you and people to try wool out.

0:55:34 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, very good, excellent advice there and A wonderful tip about the wool breeds I’ve mentioned on the podcast. Everything fascinates me, so wool fascinates me and and being able to To do some of that I just know I don’t have time for it, but I do think it’s really interesting. Glad to To see it work for you. And our last question been where can others find out more about you? We have a website.

0:56:02 – Benton Line
It’s Pretty far along, still work in progress. It’s guided rock farms dot com, and christie has a really nice instagram page. She has a pretty decent following something like 18,000 followers and we have a facebook page too. Not super active on it, but I guess. I guess it’s kind of tied to the instagram deal.

0:56:23 – Cal Hardage
We will put links to all those in our show notes and bent. We appreciate you coming on. We appreciate christie coming on and sharing with us today. Thanks so much for having us call. It has been Fondre and we’ll continue to share our story. You’re listening to the grazing grass podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer in their operation. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and want to keep the conversation going, visit our community at community dot grazing grass dot com. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the grazing grass podcast on facebook, twitter, instagram and youtube For past and future episodes. We also welcome guests to share about their own grass farming journey. So if you’re interested, felt the form on grazing grass dot com under the Be our guest link Link. Until next time, keep on grazing grass.

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