The calm before the storm, life on a farm has a rhythm that flows with the seasons. It’s no surprise that summer is the busiest time of the year. Demands for tending fields, crops, gardens, and livestock are at their highest in the summer. Springtime is a transition into that season, and in the fall, those chores begin to wane.
That’s not to say that winter isn’t busy, though. During the shorter, darker, colder days, livestock that overwinter still need tending. There is time to plan and repair machinery, clean out barns and sheds, and inventory equipment and supplies. Of course some of us have other winter employment or year-round jobs that continue like clockwork.
But while summer is the most physically demanding season for a farm family, winter may well be the most taxing on the brain. In winter, the mail carrier begins to deliver new catalogs and flyers from companies selling seed, equipment, and livestock. The long evenings allow us to wade through stacks of magazines and books in search of new information and techniques as well as answers to troubling questions.
A Time for Everything
One of my favorite Bible passages is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. I first began to contemplate its words as a young teenager when I found The Byrds’ rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn” to be a very catchy song. (I just learned from Wikipedia that it was Pete Seeger who actually put the words to music. So thanks to you too, Pete!) I can still sing a rendition of that song, and I still marvel at how they squeezed in all the syllables about refraining from embracing.
Since then I have read the verses in the Bible numerous times, always nodding my head at how relevant they are to many facets of my life. But I think raising animals and plants is the most effective illustration of this concept in my life.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
Using Winter Downtime to Plan for Spring and Summer
Yes, winter is, among other things, a time for planning. Right now at our house we are deep in that planning phase. We have the seed, poultry, and farm supply catalogs out. Our favorite farming books are next to the recliner. Our computers are humming as we search websites, read publications, and watch webinars. We’ve attended a few seminars and workshops sponsored by our local extension office and agricultural center. We are like sponges soaking up information, yet we also have to step away sometimes and clear our heads. And for that, there’s nothing like a walk in the crisp cool air with beautiful vistas to enjoy.
For the past two years we have been developing our garden, orchard, and chicken systems. This year we plan to expand on all of those and add pigs to the mix. We need to consider our animals in the summer heat as well as in the cold. We debate whether to start our beef cattle or wait one more year. Where do we fit in the other infrastructure projects as we continue to develop our acreage? In addition to what projects to work on, there are personal and ethical decisions to make. What are our standards and preferences? Will we focus on heritage livestock breeds and plants, or raise hybrids? How can we avoid GMO (genetically modified organisms) in our seeds and livestock feeds? Given our property and resources, what is the best way for us to raise various livestock species and plants?
Yes, it’s a busy time, but we know it’s kind of the calm before the storm. We won’t be totally ready for it; we never seem to be. But one thing is for certain: We’re up for the challenge. Are you?