Day in the Life of a Farmer: Feet on the Ground, Heart in the Work
By Lydia Jones.
There is such a wonderful romance and nostalgia around farming in our culture, connecting to the deeply agricultural roots of nearly all of our ancestors. So, as we tap back in to this agrocentric way of life here is a glimpse inside for the rest of you: a look at how our time and efforts are dispersed through the "average" days of an "average" summer week... at this point in our budding farming career.
Emlyn gets up at 5:30 to stretch and meditate, hoping to start his day and week off right. He listens to motivational speakers as he does oil pulling and joint mobility. Meanwhile, I try to make peace with the toddler by nursing her in bed after a series of midnight wakings. On the good days, I can get the chores done before Emlyn has to go to work, so we alternate this task regularly. Most days Emlyn goes to work and I do morning chores sometime after 7:30 with Jemimah in tow.
Step one: Begin filling the 60 gallon water tank on the back of the ATV. While this is filling (takes about 15 minutes), attend to the wee bitty chicks, conveniently (and intentionally) placed near the hydrant. They require adequate ventilation, their heatlamp unplugged, fresh water, more feed and a few moments of affection. When Jemma is along, she assists by liberally spreading chicken feed over most of her extensive wake.
Step two, completed to the best extent while still working on step one: Fill two 5-gallon buckets with water and carry them 20-40 yards out to the adult meat chickens in the pasture without bruising your shins and dumping 1-2 gallons in your boots. I tend to leave Jemma with the baby chicks while I do this, since they make a mutually happy pair- even if some chicken feed gets wasted. First step is to reel in the low electric wire around the chicken pens without getting shocked (you probably forgot to turn off the fence), and move the pens to fresh pasture. Fill their water buckets, top off their feed troughs and reset their fenceline. Emlyn always sprinkles some words of affirmation somewhere in here too- "Hola bonitas! You're looking lovely this morning!" Head back to the barn just in time to turn off the hose before the tank overflows! High-speed Emlyn can manage this, but I always have to go turn off the hose halfway through and come back to the chickens later, in step five. ;)
Step three: drive the ATV out to the cattle and fill their water trough, reserving a couple gallons for the hens. Check out the herd, say hello and check the graze level in their paddock.
Step four: hitch up the "Eggmobile" and pull it to fresh pasture. Open the coop and fill the water and feed for the hens. Stay out of the flight zone when you open the door! If you have a little time, lead the hens around and show them the buffet: kick up old cow patties so they can scratch and peck at the bugs, knock down some tall plant stocks so they can access the seeds, that kind of thing. Morning field trip.
Step five: fill second and third tanks of water for the cattle and deliver them. They are thirsty in the mornings! While the tanks fill, finish up any loose ends with the chickens, carry feed to the pens, clean up the barn, prepare equipment for chicken processing, check inventory on the freezers, weed or water the garden, harvest tomatoes or work on any number of projects.
If Emlyn does chores, I pack his lunch for work and he heads off at 6:30. If I do them with Jemma after 7:30, we sometimes don't finish until 11!
This is the drawn out span of the day juggling the needs of mother, toddler, animals, homestead and business. It's nice to do the housework and business work inside during the heat of the day, but there is usually an early afternoon animal check: refilling water troughs and making sure everyone has feed and shade.
Jemma's precious and unpredictable nap time gives opportunity to monitor emails, write updates and newsletters, chip away at spreadsheets and accounting and reach out to hosts to coordinate deliveries. Or- sometimes- sit on the floor slightly bewildered and eat bananas with peanut butter while I try to decide where to start.
If we are on top of it, supper and chores are ready before Emlyn gets home at 7:30 or 8. Not too surprisingly, this is rare. I am often beneath it, and evening chores are up to Emlyn after a long day at work while I tango around Jemma in the kitchen. Sometimes he takes her out to the field with him for a little father-daughter-cattle bonding time.
Really the main difference between morning and evening chores is typically that we move the sheep and cattle instead of the chickens in the evening. They often rest in the shade during the heat of the day and begin grazing again around 5 or 6 pm; they are easily lured into fresh pasture, especially in the evenings.
Moving fencing can be a fairly time consuming project, requiring a lot of walking back and forth and wielding some awkward gear: dozens of long, pointed plastic fence posts and bulky reels of electric wire. First you step the posts into the ground around the perimeter of the new paddock, then you retrace your steps two or three times to string the electric wire between each posts. The sheep have lost respect for the fence here and there over the past year, so instead of one electric line we usually run two or three which can take a bit more time... but on the flip side, that's less time we have to spend herding sheep out of the woods every day!
An almost equally time consuming task is taking down the previous paddock fencing once the livestock have been moved.
We check on all the meat birds again in the evening, and gather eggs from the eggmobile. If, by chance, all this is completed before sunset we come in to make or eat supper before going back out to close up the hens for the night, but pretty often at least one of us is still out past sunset and closes the chickens up before coming in for a (very) late supper. A big improvement in our quality of life would be to have a more reliable and relaxing evening routine. Moving the cattle can take so long that there is little time for anything else with the pressure to finish before sunset. That's one of the hidden boons of shorter days though- fencing by headlamp isn't worth the hassle, so we will have to come in for supper before too long!
Of course all the daily tasks of morning, afternoon and evening chores still apply on the weekend, but this is also the time to catch up on the un-done and the shoulda-done and the needs-re-done tasks that pile up so quickly. Harvest and split firewood, cleaning out the chicken coop, repairing fences, untangling lines, mowing, weeding, preserving, fixing the truck, changing the oil, farm meetings and brainstorming. Our ability and our commitment to rest flux with the demands of the seasons, and in the summer it is particularly hard to take a Sabbath with so many pressing tasks in our mind and our reality. Each "day off" means more work later, but we are becoming more and more intent on creating a healthier pattern here. There are a lot of reasons farming is a hard life, but we should do everything to improve it that we can and stick up for and prioritize our needs for rest, quality time together, and meaningful relationships in our community. All of these things quickly fall by the wayside in the flurry of responsibility and self-inflicted pressure. So, if you see us looking haggard feel free to offer a hug, a high five, a cookie, or a chiding reminder to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others!