As is the case these days on our busy farm, much happened in the last week: More lambs were born. We got our new vacuum pump up and running (for milking the ladies). The crew pulled all the storage crops out of cooler to cull out the bad ones and assess the good stuff (there’s a lot there, which was wonderful to see!). The first daffodils bloomed in our yard. Casey finished building our second mobile layer hen house. And all the usual harvest, animal chores, etc.
But, perhaps the most notable event occurred just this Sunday: for the first time in a very long time, Casey and I both took the entire day off from farm work. This means that Casey didn’t do any animal chores or work on a random project, and I didn’t sit down to do “just a little bit” of paperwork. We weren’t “tag team” parenting, we were together. All of us. It was glorious.
We realize this is a healthy, desirable and normal scenario. In the past, days off have been somewhat sacred around here. Even in our very first year of farming, we intentionally did not work on Sundays (except to water as necessary during hot spells). A farmer friend of ours once said: “If you can’t get it done in six, you’re not going to get it done in seven.”
Of course, that may be true when all you grow is plants, but animals chores are a seven day a week proposition — they need to be tended 365 days per year (and 366 on leap years!). We knew this going into our diversification. It was, without a doubt, the last remaining item on our “con” list of adding animals. We very much appreciated and cherished our days off, especially once our family grew to include Rusty.
The body and mind do need a break. Years ago, I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I can’t remember much from it now except the anecdote that goes something like this:
A man was sawing through a very large log. An observer noticed that the saw blade was quite dull — thus slowing his work considerably — and so he asked the man whether he should sharpen it? The man’s response: “I am too busy sawing this log to stop and sharpen my saw.”
Right. Gotta keep our “saws sharp,” for every role we fill in life: farmer, bookkeeper, parent, friend.
But, then we got animals. Lots of them. And there was much to learn and build. There were routines and systems to establish. After trying to spread the work amongst various folks on our farm, at some point last year we realized that this hard start-up work really required Casey to be the one working through the daily kinks. Even on days when the work seemed routine, there were observations to be made and systems to tweak. We also were working with a very picky cow, who really needed one persistent person to milk her (whenever someone else was on for milking, milking didn’t happen reliably).
So, for many months, Casey was the only person doing morning animal chores, including milking. In order to fit this into an already busy farm schedule, he would head out at six am, come back to orient the crew at 7:30 am, and then eat a quick breakfast with us before heading back out to move fences and water animals before rejoining the crew on the rest of the day’s work (and then usually working past the normal 4:30 pm end time). All of this was done at a very quick pace, with very few breaks (if you’ve never seen Casey’s ‘fast’ pace, then you really can’t appreciate what this man is capable of — he is a force). When it was still irrigation season, Casey also moved pipes (oh, how happy we were when the fall rains arrived!).
The daily grind of this routine was very hard on Casey and on our family. Casey was not willing to let any bit of it “slip” — the animals needed to be cared for properly. In its most ridiculous form, this meant that Casey even milked while I was in active labor with Dottie. I was in the house, lying on the couch moaning, while he scrambled to get this one chore done (he had intentionally set things up so the rest of the animal chores could get skipped, just in case — good thing!).
Our only consolation during these hard months was knowing that it would not (could not!) last like that forever. We knew it was an unsustainable situation at the time, and so we actively worked toward getting things set up so that new folks could step into responsible roles and help carry the very important burden of animal care. As we continue to expand the role of animals on the farm, this is no longer a quick project. Between milking and moving fences, collecting eggs and watering animals, the animal chores now solidly fill half a work day for one quick moving engaged person.
Fortunately, since last fall, more people have joined Casey in completing these tasks. Right now we have two people who are fully trained and competent with our current animal routines (and, dare I say it, I believe the cows may even like these two folks more than they like Casey!?). As we continue to refine our systems (for efficiency and animal benefit), they have been helpful in problem solving as well. We plan to get two folks similarly trained on irrigation for this year so that is also something that won’t fall almost exclusively on Casey.
Casey’s burden has been significantly lightened with these changes, and he is a much happier farmer and person as a result. We are starting this spring with an entirely different energy on the farm — Casey is laughing and smiling freely, and as a result so is everyone else (it’s hard to have a happy crew when boss is tired and grumpy!). More of his energy and brain power can go to big picture stuff (especially useful at this point in the season, when we are working to get veggies seeded and planted). Also, as a direct result, my burden in the house has been lightened as well. Casey is home in the mornings until 7:30 when the crew shows up, allowing us ample time to get everyone dressed and fed without too much craziness. And, more often than not, he’s done at 4:30 pm with the crew, allowing us time in the evening as well for a relaxed dinner and a few books or some roughhousing before the kids’ early bedtimes.
And, now, a day off. With more in the near future. Casey will be sharing weekend duty too at times (we don’t want our animal folks to get burnt out either!!!!), and we still have plenty of work ahead of us — but the concept of weekends is re-entering our world. I’ve even started making plans for quick trips to the beach (our favorite) and maybe even to the mountains later this summer.
We are slowly, but surely, resharpening our very dull saws (last year was quite the season!). And, we are realizing again (not a new revelation) how important it is to properly rest. We used to tell people about our farm: we work hard, and then we rest hard. And, it used to be true. Last year, that second bit fell off for a while. Alas, all we can do is reorient ourselves back onto a healthy path and move forward in life. I think there are seasons of life when these bumps are inevitable, but it’s good for them to remain just bumps rather than plateaus of challenge.
We are even further inspired to rest as we move forward into our 30s (I turn 32 next Tuesday!) and realize that we can’t take our health for granted anymore. Our recent turn to a Low Carb High Fat diet and the “Primal lifestyle” have helped us feel better than ever and once again affirm that play and rest are not just some sort of nice side benefit of a good life — they are a crucial part of the foundation of health and sanity, essential for rebuilding our bodies and providing us time to really love and enjoy each other.
So, how did we spend our lovely day off? In the morning, we went to town, where I had coffee with a friend and Casey and the kids visited the park. Then we bought a pink dogwood tree, which we brought back and planted in our yard for Dottie (we planted a Big Leaf Maple tree the spring after Rusty was born). The sun was out, and it was glorious in front of our house, so we hung out there the rest of the day. Rusty and I trimmed the plants in my garden, while Casey and Dottie lounged in the grass (she is working so hard on crawling!). Soaking up the sun while being together recharged us in innumerable ways. I hope that you too were able to enjoy the “almost-spring” sunshine!
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
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Meet this week’s vegetables: You may notice that the allotted volume of roots is going up now that we have a better idea of just how many we have left in storage! It’s a root bonanza!
- Salad mix
- Butternut squash
- Celery root