One of the things I find hard (besides making time for me) is balancing and prioritizing the farm chores. There are the things that have to happen every day (feeding, milking, cleaning stalls) and the things that have to happen at a certain time each month or each year (trimming hooves or planting potatoes), and then the things that pop up and must be done quickly (repairs mostly, but also things like flooded barns, stuck trucks, flat tires), and then the things you wish you could get done (more raised beds, re-painting the peeling barn doors, a new chicken tractor, etc).
I haven't written anything since January, because as I said before...."the mail never stops."
The seasons dictate the rhythms here on the farm and generally February is beginning to hint of Spring. We always plant potatoes and onions on Valentine's Day and many of our future crops had been sown in the greenhouse in January this year. The temps in February can swing wildly. Now that I farm a little more seriously I pay even more attention to the weather. This February did the wild swings and we found ourselves under sleet and snow TWICE that month. I had put my little greenhouse to work and had all kinds of things optimistically planted in little plantable cow-pots.
One wild swing took the temps in the greenhouse up close to 100 degrees and the cabbage and broccoli roasted in the seed, never to germinate. The next wild swing took the temps down and I quickly realized that even though the radiant heat of the sun could raise the day time temps to about 20 degrees over the outside temp, at night the greenhouse and outside temps matched. Predicted lows in the 20s, sent me scrambling for a space heater and I began the frantic checking and re-checking of forecasts and thermometers that would run me ragged all the way into March.
In March, we began to eagerly await the arrival of kids. We bred our favorite girl Fanny, a veteran, but the other two Nubians we bred were first timers and we had no idea how they would handle both the kidding or the mothering. Eagerly, turned to anxiously as we watched for signs of imminent kidding. After a few long nights of checking on girls and over a month of sticking very close to home, watching vulvas, udders, and general behavior we had seven kids on the ground. Everyone proved to be excellent mothers and good milkers. What a relief! At this point you always have a moment when you think, "well now, that's done and I can get some rest", but this just marks the next round of work....wethering, disbudding, vaccinations, finding homes, etc.
This year March was a time of transition for us too...we were changing our protocols for milking, breeding, and browsing. At that point I, with my girls, had been milking each morning for a full year. It was time to dry up Vaca and Gypsy and begin milking Fanny, Ms. Scarlett, and Ms. Melly. We were shifting our breeding schedule to an every other year breeding, with a full year of milking for the un-bred does. We have come to the realization that a. we don't need 4-5 goat's worth of milk and b. we think the girls work very hard and should have time off.
Only problem with this plan....I don't get a break. I milk year round...I have help a couple of days a week this year and occasionally I ask for a day off and JC does the work, but I think it is safe to say I milked about 300 days last year...the coldest milking was 19 degrees and those two mornings were the worst, but I do it whether I've gotten a good night's sleep, whether I have a backache, whether I'm sick. I do it and sometimes I grumble because I get tired, bone weary, cry-over-spilt-milk exhausted, but I still have to do it and it is relentless....remember "the mail never stops."
When there was nothing to browse on in early Spring, I hauled cedar brush from the back fence. Daily, I hauled it...not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Even though I was weary and most of those days were cold too. I hauled cedar from the very back of the property to the front and when the goats saw me coming they ran to meet me. Seriously, how could I deny them that treat? But it was just more work and I tacked it on to the morning chores, what's another half hour right? That's how it works on the farm one seasonal chores goes away and another one takes its place. I hauled that cedar because I knew it was the right thing to do for my girls...and most of my work comes from a belief that I have to do the best job I can. Farming well in my mind means I can't slack off.
So, I very rarely ever slack off and most of my plans require a lot of work. My new browsing plan calls for creating temporary paddocks using electric fencing to move the girls rotationally through the front pastures and the back woods. I spent weeks clearing the brush from the perimeter fences so we could pull goat/sheep wire and then run a single hot wire to power the electric. When I hit a spot requiring the chainsaw, I'd twist JC's arm and he'd come help awhile. Once the whole thing was cleared we pulled the goat/sheep wire and then set up the electric. We finished it up in April, just in the nick of time as I wanted to girls on to fresh pasture ASAP....and then it started to rain in May. And it rained and it rained and it rained, and the dry creek bed, you know, the one that is always dry; the one where I ran my new electric fencing....yep, it started running and my fence was under water. I turned it off and spent a few days just keeping the crap off it in hopes that the water would run off fast and we'd be back in business, but after three weeks I retrieved the whole fence, stored it in the barn...the water was not only still running, but rising. The tank was over-flowing and the run-off kept the creek moving too.
That was two weeks ago and it is down some, but still running...no way I can put my fence back in there yet and in the meantime the other summer chores are calling to be done. All that rain made a lot of mud which meant we couldn't mow, now we can, but it is tall and full of mosquitoes. The rain also meant lots of weeds and for the first time I've got weeds taking over the raised beds which normally require minimal weeding. We have hooves to trim and copper boluses to give, hay to haul and feed to pick up and unload. The summer cycle is a little more mellow and we goof around a bit and we always take time to enjoy what we are doing...not to worry.
I hope no one thinks I'm complaining, because really I wouldn't have it any other way. For once I feel like I'm doing a job that makes the world a better place...a job that speaks to my soul and who I really am. I can't imagine a whole day without my goats, without a cold glass of milk the origins of which are visible out the windows...the land, the goats, the people...all connected.
It really is relentless work and it wears you down and some days I'm like Miss Belle is the sun....plumb struck down by the exhaustion, but even so I rest of bit, pick myself up, dust off, and do it all over again.
Kristin Kimball in her memoir The Dirty Life says it best: "A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can't, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die" (150).
(Y'all need to read this book. Excellent.)
Now with all this said: dogs need walking, the chicken tractor needs a shade cloth on the top, and that mowing isn't going to do itself....