Crescendo e decrescendo

I knew it was coming, the busy part of my farming season. I remembered the rhythm of it from last year, and knew what to expect, but it still hit hard, I think because of the heat we had this summer.

We started quietly enough, just the layers we have had for more than a year. In May, the two piglets arrived, and chores increased slightly. Things were still pretty easy though – the piglets were small and easily contained for a month, eating enthusiastically, but nothing like what they would consume in just a few months. In early July, the 75  new layer chicks arrived and we were tending the brooder as well as the pigs and layers. We butchered a few layers over the course of a couple of weeks, in preparation for giving the hen house and runs a rest before the new flock was to occupy it in the fall (that would be now) fully intending to get the rest of them a couple of weeks later, which never happened. By now, the pigs had been out on pasture for a bit, and daily fence checks were required. They were eating a lot more, growing fast.

At the end of July, just as the really hot part of the summer hit us, 150 broiler chicks arrived and we were hopping. We had 225 chicks in the brooder, in different pens, and it was a nightmare trying to keep the temperature right in there, keep on top of bedding, etc. Chores were now four or five times a day. We left for our anniversary jaunt to Pt Townsend for a couple of days, and the girls were exhausted managing everything on their own in the heat. Once we were back, the broilers went out on pasture and I thought things would settle down, but the heat meant the birds were drinking far more than they usually do out there, necessitating 3 visits daily to keep the 5 gallon water jugs topped up.

The fortissimo moment…One of the pigs had an allergic reaction in early September, causing a lot of anxiety and a vet visit, though by the time the vet saw her, the pig was her normal happy, assertive self. “Something she ate”, the vet suggested. Probably. The broilers went to the processor in late September, and the pullets immediately left the brooder (yes, they were still in there – and not happy about it) and took over the field pens. Things got calmer, even though I was still moving pens daily. The pullets handle the heat better, and in addition, the nights were cooler. The pigs got loaded up last Saturday night, and left Sunday morning for the abattoir – I was too sick to go, and felt very forlorn as hubby and Bryce departed up the driveway, one of the pigs gazing at me in puzzlement through the lattice on the back of the trailer. To suit my mood, the rain began that day and continued for about 4 days.

And suddenly, Autumn has arrived. A new season. I feel hope and optimism again, after months of feeling like I was just barely holding things together, rushing from water jug to bucket to hose, keeping gardens and animals hydrated. I’ve cooked two good meals in the past week after a season where I barely cooked a single meal – using the kitchen mainly to preserve fruit or throw my stuff down as I grabbed a cup of coffee. The pace is so different. My focus is on cleaning up and putting away, trying to think how I will want things in the spring. There’s paperwork sitting waiting for another rainy spell.  As I putter away at my quiet, mundane cleaning up tasks, I’m pondering next year – should I scale up?  Should I scale down?  What went well this year, what needs to change?  I’ve been reflecting all summer that my body had a tougher time physically than in years past – it’s only been the last month where I haven’t been falling into bed aching from head to toe.  Now that I finally feel physically adjusted, the need for all those adapted muscles has ceased, and it has occurred to me that maybe I should get into a strength training class or something so that I maintain some minimum level of strength for next season.

It’s not over precisely – those darn old layers are still hale and hearty, escaping all over the place and grudgingly producing 5 or so eggs a day (18 birds). I don’t have much longer before the serious wet weather begins, and I must have the pullets off the field by then. Garlic needs to go in the ground, and I’m still dithering about exactly where that spot is going to be this year. I picked my last bucket of tomatoes today so that I can dehydrate them, which will be an evenings work tomorrow night.  I have a few rows of potatoes left to dig up.   The pigs bedding needs to go out on the field, and I want Hay Guy to come and harrow the pig pasture a couple of times to level it a bit, so that I can throw some seed on it, and he can harrow it again. There’s some fence mending as well. And if the weather holds, I need to try and finish the eaves on the west side of the house. So it’s not over. But it has slowed down, and feels more peaceful. I’m ready for a bit of pianissimo.

16 thoughts on “Crescendo e decrescendo

  1. You definitely deserve a spell of slow and dignified largo! The thing I found with our slow season is that, although I had visions of ticking jobs off the list left, right and centre, we’re still entering our crazy, busy time with a multitude of half finished, concept-only, cobbled together tasks. How did that happen? And we are on such a small scale compared to you! I am in total awe.

    You mentioned the eaves – we really need to repaint the house this year (after replacing past-their-use by- date weatherboards) … yuk! I loathe sanding, painting, maintenance work but feel another year of telling people the rot in the cladding makes it easier for the house to roll with the quakes is pushing it a little.

    We’ve just moved our clocks forward and, on your recommendation, ordered a couple of Joel Salatin books from the library to leaf through during the longer evenings. Maybe this will ensure we enter next spring more prepared.

    Sending happy thoughts from this disorganised Homestead and imagining you putting your feet up for a bit…after the tomatoes, that is 🙂

    • That is of course, exactly what will happen, because I’ve been on this part of the ride before – I will start something, the weather will change, I’ll let it go for a few months and then forget about it until I need it in about 3 days, and then have to scramble to make it hold together for another season. Barn roof, barn door, chicken house walls, roof and door, all come to mind.

      I don’t know why painting is called painting – it’s mostly prepping, with a little bit of painting at the end. I actually wouldn’t mind it so much if it wasn’t up 5 metres of ladder.

      Enjoy Salatin. I too have just begun building up my supply of evening reading (and watching) – in fact, I have a DVD with Salatin in it waiting for me as we speak.

      Sell, Sell, Sell. We’re all chanting here.

  2. Fall snuck up on us as well and the recent rains had me all worked up, but I just checked the forecast and it looks like we might actually be able to tie off a few of those loose ends (not all) after all. I too am looking forward to a slower pace, (if only to catch my breath for the next push). A pot of something simmering on the stove, bread baking in the oven. I love fall.
    Any good recipes for those stewing hens?

  3. I make stock from them, picking what meat I can off the bones, and using it in the soup/stew. Salatin recommends roasting them, then doing that – but mine are skinless (we skin rather than pluck- low tech), so roasting wouldn’t work.

    • Ah yes – the roasting beforehand would most certainly enhance the flavor of the stock. And how interesting that you skin them. I’d never heard of that.
      I was just wondering if hens would work for things like coq au vin or is that only good for old roosters? If so, I wonder why.

      • Depends how much meat the recipe needs, probably…there’s not much on an old layer, that’s for sure. The “tough” aspect of old rooster is about the same if you ask me.

  4. Still plenty to do…just not so immediate. I’m really glad to see the chore list change by season. Unfortunately my day job has no cyclicality. The race and rest flip is part of what I love most on the farm.

    We are preparing to cycle out layer flocks. My timing is a little off. I should butcher birds the first of October but the new flock is just beginning to lay. It’s hard to transition customers from XL and Jumbo eggs to pullet eggs. But it’s harder to sell customers no eggs at all and that’s what those old birdies are about to do. We sold a few of the older birds. Maybe we should sell the rest.

    While I dither we are butchering the roosters that shipped with our pullets…you know, the ones that we paid pullet prices for… Young roosters…not much meat but pretty yummy.

    • I agree about the egg selling. Better little eggs than no eggs. I definitely messed up the turnover from old to new flock this year, customers keep asking me, when? when? and it’s going to be the end of November :(. Selling the oldsters has been unsuccessful. Fortunately, once I butcher them, my elderly neighbour takes them for his dog food.

      • We eat a lot of soup.

        I had (have) RIR birds from Central Hatchery. They are big, big birds. I bet some of those hens weigh 10 pounds. They were fair layers and have proven easy to sell. The little 4 pound hybrids though…they almost aren’t worth messing with. If I remember correctly, Andy Lee says he just culls and composts them.

      • 10 pounds????For RIR?? That is a much bigger strain than the ones I get here. I will be lucky if they’re 6 lbs. They’re a bigger hen than the hybrid, but not by a huge amount. Interesting you should mention about Andy Lee – I had a call last night from a farmer friend who was trying to find anyone who wanted any of his layers (hybrids) before he killed them all and composted them – 150 birds. Seems like a waste, but I know from experience that especially if you don’t have the set up to do it, processing 150 skinny scrawny birds is a lot of work. I had to say no to his birds, since I have 18 2 yr olds still cavorting in my veg garden, but I was tempted for a second…

  5. There are always loose ends. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other. Some times we need to just leave some of those ends loose and call it good!

  6. You are so very right. I have a tendency to beat myself up over stuff left undone (and there’s plenty) but I’m trying harder this year to focus on what IS getting done, and there’s plenty of that too. And yes, I’m calling it a pretty good year, all in all. Or I will once I’ve got my layers sorted out!

  7. Bill says:

    Well said. I’m with you. Ready for things to go slowly for a while. It’s 6:30 in the morning as I type this and it’s still too dark to do much outside. Not too long ago I’d already have been out there for an hour. We had two big tasks left for the year–harvesting the sweet potatoes and planting the onions and garlic. I’m hoping to get started on the sweet potatoes today. Soon I may just decide to start sleeping in a bit. Soon enough we’ll be dreaming of spring.

    • Ha..just read this today (sorry I missed it earlier) but it’s quite funny reading it after you post today, since you are still waiting on those sweet potatoes. I’ve got similar things going on – the pressure is off in some ways, but still on in others – those layers are finally gone, but now I’m under the gun trying to get their house repaired so I can put the pullets in by the end of next week…and there’s still the garlic…

  8. df says:

    The fact that you’re thinking about what to do next year and how best to be ready for it, puts you well ahead in my book. Even if you were to scale down, you’d have considered the whys and wherefores, and if maintain the status quo or you scale up, you’ll stand a better chance of being ready for it. Strength training is a good idea as we age; I’ve been so fed up with getting out of shape over the winter that I recently started a strength building exercise regimen for myself that I can quickly do indoors no matter the weather. It still doesn’t come naturally (I prefer to get my exercise outside, doing things), but I do miss it if I go too long between sessions.

    It sounds like what you have left (at least on the priority list, I know it’s not an ‘everything’ list) is do-able and hopefully you really can sit back and appreciate everything you accomplished this year. I can’t even imagine the running around with the chickens and pigs that you managed – it’s very impressive to my ears!

  9. Well, I guess it’s a case of pick your poison…I chose pigs and chickens over many other things I could occupy myself with. My kids are pretty self sufficient, and quite helpful in terms of chores and cooking etc, so that I tend to allow myself to get into this cycle of doing everything EXCEPT house stuff. I love being outside, and will put off virtually everything indoors (except fooling around on the computer!) while the weather is conducive to outdoor work. My former boss at the last branch I worked in had an app on her phone for strength training work outs that she could do in 15-20 min three days a week – it sounds like it’s the same exercises, just the app tells you each day what combo, what order and how many and you just do them. I probably could use something like that – if I had a phone or an iPod which I don’t. :). I also suspect that I need a class so that I’m accountable to someone else or I may not follow through very consistently.

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