Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts On: January on the Farm

Most of us city folk have no idea what a farmer's daily life is like in the winter, so the most recent e-mail newsletter from Chrissie Zaerpoor at Kookoolan Farms provided a peek over the fence that was worth sharing.

Summer's long days are famous for encouraging farmers to work 15-hour days; and winter's long nights certainly encourage us to be inside resting. But a farmer's work is never done—the work just changes shape throughout the seasons. January weather often presents its own unscheduled challenges, such as snow, lots of rain, hard freezes, power failures, broken pipes, visits from coyotes, and this year a broken tractor and a husband recovering from a surgery. We need extra time in our schedule just to deal with the unexpected!

But beyond that, we design January to be a quiet, introspective month on the farm. Our actual farming activities are backed off to the bare minimum: milking the cows twice a day, feeding the chickens, and picking up eggs. (Even picking up eggs is lighter work in the winter: Due to the seasonal nature of egg-laying by outdoor-raised hens, the quantity of eggs has a minimum that coincides with the winter solstice. In the summer we pick up three buckets of eggs a day; at its minimum, we pick up a half-bucket of eggs a day!)

Like any small business, we have all the end-of-quarter and end-of-year accounting and tax preparations to attend to. We analyze all the many enterprises on our farm for viability, profitability, our enjoyment of them, and how each one fits within the integrated whole. We design the year's schedule of classes, farmer's market dates, butchering dates,and from that derive the dates for starting chicks. We choose this year's breeds for our laying hens. We order chicks for all the various kinds of chickens we raise (standard meat breed, heirloom meat breeds, and a combination of production and heirloom breeds for egg layers) and coordinate the dates for receiving all of these chicks (from multiple hatcheries!) so as not to over-book our chick brooders. We browse through the seed catalogs, selecting vegetable species and varieties for long season, and great taste; choosing old favorites and new varieties that sound wonderful. We schedule our CSA harvest dates, decide how many CSA vegetable subscriptions to take, and from that we calculate backwards a complicated calendar of field preparation, indoor seed starting, transplant dates, total vegetables needed, harvest yield, and from that the quantity of seeds we need to order. We inventory all of our equipment and supplies and decide what we need to order. We update the website and decide in what publications to advertise.

On the very last weekend of the month, our regular activities start up again, with our first cheese making class on Saturday, January 30 [see calendar at left], and with indoor starting of the first seeds for summer (onions). So yes–there's still lots of work!


The LaVya Initiative said...

What a great insight. Thanks so much for sharing this. I FINALLY located a source for fresh eggs, only two miles from my house! My husband just got elected to the city council of our tiny town, and we are hoping to get an ordinace passed to allow people to keep chickens and one to implement a small farmer's market from our community garden. The more in touch we are with our food sources, the better our world will be, and the more we appreciate it, I think.


Kathleen Bauer said...

Here is a link for the regulations here in Portland, with other good links for urban chicken keeping. Good luck!