Our farm is currently not too terribly taxing when it comes to the amount of labor we have to invest to keep it running on a daily basis. During winter we don’t have any meat chickens out on pasture because there is no real active pasture for them to forage and the Cornish cross we raise wouldn’t do well in the extreme cold temperatures we can get here in Northeastern Kansas. Our egg layers went through their molt in the fall which slowed down their egg production (they have to put most of their energy into growing new feathers) and that was followed by the short daylight hours of Winter, which also decreases egg production. The hens are housed in a large “hoop coop” with access to a sacrificial part of the pasture, but when snow is on the ground, they tend to not want to go outside much. We take them scraps of fruits and veggies to add more interesting variety to their diets and force them to forage around a bit more on the ground. When Spring hits they will be running around chasing down bugs and munching on clover. Our ladies are just starting to really ramp up production and from now through the Fall we should be up to our ears in eggs.
As you’ll recall, we kept back a trio of heritage turkeys to breed. We currently have them in a really big, covered run in hopes that we can keep them alive and manage to get some fertilized eggs to incubate this year. They will go back out on pasture this Spring and Summer, but we didn’t think it would be feasible to move around our electric net fencing with frozen soil and didn’t want to spend frigid evenings getting them down from the trees when (not if) they chose to fly over the fence and roost anywhere but in their mobile coop. The turkeys have a handful of Muscovies in the run with them to keep them company, but if I’m being honest, the two groups are not particularly fond of each other.
Our two big old LGDs are still living down adjacent to the chickens and turkeys and we have not had a single predator attack since we got them. Recently, however, we found a chicken that had flown over the fence, dead inside the dog area. The dogs had clearly gotten it, but they didn’t tear it apart like when the stray dog attack happened. We’re not sure if the dogs intended to kill it or were trying to get it back where it belonged, but nonetheless, it died it in the process. Bo, our boy Pyrenees, had a rooster the other day, too, but it survived. Because of course the excess rooster lived and the hen died.
Anyway, our chores currently just consist of breaking ice out of the waterers, making sure everyone has feed, and opening/closing the coop every day. Oh, and cuddling the puppies as much as humanly possible. Can we still call them puppies when they’re almost 16 months old and bigger than our 100-pound, senior-citizen, house-dogs? So, the chore-load doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. We may spend an hour or so a day making sure everything is as it should be, but it’s every single day. And it’s cold. And it’s wet. And it’s icy. So, even though it’s really not that bad, we can’t just take a day off. When it’s below freezing we have to make sure everyone has access to fresh water a few times a day no matter how tired or cold we are. It may not seem like much, but not getting an occasional break (from anything in life) can be pretty taxing.
So, where am I going with this long-winded banter? We got a break! We just got back from a weeklong trip to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. We were fortunate enough to join some of our best friends at their time-share on the beach. It was really wonderful to not have to be anywhere at a certain time or do anything that we didn’t feel like doing. The sun and the ocean really rejuvenated us. And we couldn’t have done it without the help of my parents. They came out and took care of all of our chores in some nasty conditions so we didn’t have to worry about anything while we were gone. We’re fortunate to live in the same town as our parents and have really wonderful, helpful neighbors I know I could have called on if my parents weren’t willing or able to help. Ok, they’re always willing, but it’s nice to have multiple people to be able to rely on. I know Shannon’s dad would have gladly helped us, too, if we had asked.
While we were on vacation I was thinking a lot about how nice it was to have a little break and how we could work on implementing vacations into our farming schedule. Our last true vacation was November 2016 and I don’t want to wait that long again to have a mental reset. I must admit, this did make me a little worried about how to manage our absence from the farm as we continue to grow the size of our operations and add new enterprises to the farm. I think I’ve talked a bit about this before, but it reinforced the need to really think strategically about the efficiencies we need to have in place on the farm. We need to be cognizant of the fact that we may not always be the ones doing the tasks on our farm and design systems and processes that can be easily relayed to and completed by others. So, while we got a break from the farm, it also allowed time to reflect on the farm and how things like this need to be incorporated moving forward. I don’t know if I would have really focused on this if we weren’t off the farm. We may not get another break from the farm until next Winter, but in the meantime at least our mint plants will provide the necessary bounty to sip porch-mojitos while we look out across an ocean of pasture grass.