Making the Best Use of My Time

There is just a lot of work to do. So much that I can’t get it all done. I have projects that remain unstarted – let alone unfinished – for months. What is the most important thing I have to do each day?

Well, I rather like being married. A marriage doesn’t really work out like advertised in the brochure. It takes a lot of work. A lot of work. Beyond that I have these kid…things. I may be utterly content to get up at 4:30, do a little housework, eat a little breakfast then spend the next 12 hours running a chainsaw but those guys?…well, they are not. They need me to …like…talk…and stuff. Worse, to listen! I don’t mind talking too much but I’m not a good listener. That should be evident in the fact that I write a blog I don’t read. This is particularly embarrassing when a reader wants to discuss something I don’t remember writing. But there are other things the kids need too. They need a little freedom to make messes and I don’t deal with messes well. They want to pull out all of the Legos and cover all of the tables in the house with their creations, leaving plastic containers and lids on the floor as well as the odd lego here and there for me to step on. I like Legos. I like my children. But sometimes, on some days, the combination does not work.

I make a real effort to keep up on artwork, dreams, and goals of my children. I work to find out where they are strong and where they are struggling. We sit together. We work on multiplication over breakfast. The younger ones want to hold hands as we walk places. We play with Legos or play video games together. We read the same books and watch the same videos and do the same things. Sometimes they just want to be nearby, jumping on the hay I am stacking. That’s cool.

My kids need time and attention.

But so do my livestock. And so does the barn. And the roof is leaking over the bathroom. And the garden is growing a nice crop of weeds. And something is wrong with the computer. And X called…something is wrong with their computer. And we have a hay forecast. And that mountain of manure won’t spread itself. And I need to get to town to pick up another ton of feed. And that friend in Florida called and needs me to fly down and work for a couple of days. And…

So after spending time with my family what is the best use of my time?

Well, the farm does not generate enough income at this point to support itself. I have gross receipts of roughly $6,000 worth of hogs, $4,000 worth of eggs and $7,000 worth of chicken…so even before taking out feed and equipment costs we can’t make the payment. The world runs on Net, not on Gross. The farm has to grow.

But the farm can’t grow if I’m not home to do the work. But I have to go to work to pay for the farm. And I can’t simply “Go” to work, I have to work at it. And with what I do, I have to keep studying it outside of work hours because I work in tech and technology always changes. SO I listen to tech podcasts in the car, read tech blogs and books and even teach my specific skill set when I get the chance (If you ever want to learn something, teach it).

The farm, as it stands today, won’t pay for itself. I have to have a job. My job requires me to study. But my family needs me to be a dad. And somebody has to pack the eggs.

So we are finding ways to streamline processes and increase efficiency so we can grow the farm anyway. We have tried some things and found they are better left to others who are more skilled…or just have more time. For example, I really don’t have time to use my sawmill. I should probably do the little sawing I need to do and sell it. I don’t really have time to bale hay. Right now I use vacation time to bale hay but maybe I should buy in hay or have it custom baled on the shares and use my vacation days to go to the zoo. I can just keep on going. It’s probably not a good use of my time to butcher chickens. Deer hunting is a total waste of time (especially since I never bother to fill my tags). I should find a job that will allow me to telecommute. If we keep going down this course I’ll decide I should sell the farm and buy a house within a mile of work so I can ride my bike. But what’s the fun in that?

Let’s stop talking about elimination. Let’s focus on getting better. How fast can we milk the cows? What are the bottlenecks we run into? Are these problems due to management? Can they be streamlined? Is my travel path between chores efficient? Dairy to pigs to layers to pullets to beef cows. How long do we spend bringing the dairy cows back to the barn? How long does it take to prep for milking? Is milking a one-person job or a two-person job? Should one of us do this while the other is putting breakfast together? What is the minimum number of times we can start the truck in a day?

When thinking about the efficiency problem I noticed how long it was taking me to move the old layer flock from one place to the next. The layers are surrounded by 4 lengths of electric netting in a square shape. I have three extra lengths that I use to build the next square. Then I take down the divider between the two squares, move the birds, move the feeder, move the drinker(s), move the shell, put the divider back up and let the birds out of the house. Well. That sucks. Just moving the three new lengths of fence takes 20 or more minutes and a lot of walking. Why am I fencing the birds? The new layer house is pretty strong. I’m going to put the whole flock in the freezer October 1. The replacement flock will start laying any day now. We are seeing no predator pressure in part because we are moving the birds so frequently. Why do I need fence? Because I hate hunting easter eggs every day. But without fence I just back the truck up to the house, load the feeder, oyster shell and drinker on the truck and head on down the road. As a bonus, we could drive right up to the feeder now instead of carrying sacks of feed across the fence. The birds range further, the farmers have more time. In spite of the advantages we are concerned about security and, again, hate hunting for eggs.

Beyond that, I just pretend to be busy, Julie IS busy. Schoolteacher, referee, caregiver, friend, farmer, business person (with several businesses going), housekeeper, cook, student …all that and a few hobbies on the side including photography. She has had to forget about sewing. Not only do I have to be efficient about getting chores done, I have to do as many of the chores as I can so she can have time to just be Julie. Specifically, I have to do all the chores that she is not strong enough to do like move chicken tractors and carry feed…chores that have injured her in the past. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts and the fact that we grow all this great food, our freezers and pantry are fully stocked and the garden is productive, there are still days, I’m sorry to say, when she calls to say she can’t make dinner and needs me to pick something up. So I get up early to wash dishes and do laundry. I work with the kids to help them find the fun in washing dishes and to teach them to work efficiently themselves. We try to cook too much at one meal so we have leftovers at the next meal (hard to do with 4 growing children).

Whatever we do, however well we do it, whatever time we save it all falls apart anyway. We seek additional efficiency here or there to free up a few minutes then we find something else to do with that time…forcing us to seek additional efficiency. On and on it goes. “Honey, let’s get sheep!” She ignored me.

Life is demanding. We have to build and maintain our relationships. We have to keep up on housework. We have to build our various businesses. We have to maintain what we have built. I have to continue working off-farm. And we have to do all of it efficiently. I cherish the opportunity to sleep or read in the carpool. Some things just have to be cut out. But some things we just have to work through to find that new point of efficiency. We no longer raise broilers in the summer. We try not to milk cows past November (ice is not our friend in the dairy). We take time between batches of pigs. We schedule our year to allow time to catch our breath. To give our relationships a checkup. To make sure we are still united in vision and willing to make adjustments where needed.

If we are going to do anything as a married couple we have to prevent that busyness from destroying our marriage. A little at a time things just seem to sneak in. We work proactively to keep finding little places we can do better so our marriage is not disrupted but it is a difficult process.

It is an ongoing process.

Like everything else.

This week I am spending quite a bit of time on this topic…both to publish a backlog of unpublished posts and because I’m really struggling right now. It is not as simple as saying I enjoy work so I work and that’s that. There are 5 people living in my house and 2 people living next door that I love and want to share my life with. Dad doesn’t always want to shovel horse manure or climb on my roof in a rainstorm. I can always count on mom to help me make strawberry jam or salsa but who is she really? There are people in my life, not just co-laborers. That’s where we are going this week. Hope you come along.

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4 thoughts on “Making the Best Use of My Time

  1. Brother, thank you for this post. Don’t know if you’ve noticed a trend lately? But the pity party and absolutely envy filled and economically ignorant ranks from most “sustainable farm people” are driving me crazy. I always like you “light and the end of the tunnel” outlook. I am where I am because of the choices that I have made. The life you have chosen is not the easy one. But it will pay endless dividends.

  2. I’m struggling with similar issues, so really appreciate that you’ve shared your thinking on this stuff.

    We just got back from a short jaunt for our 25th anniversary, having left the chicks, chickens and pigs in the TLC of our two teens. I was in melt down mode before we left, the effort of getting the girls familiar with my morning and evening chore routines was so difficult. It wasn’t them – they were attentive, and eager to help, open to correction etc. It was me, as I realized how complicated I’ve made my chores, quite needlessly. So much bucket carrying, so much walking back and forth to the tap, etc. Because the routines build over a season, I hadn’t realized how badly things didn’t mesh until I was showing someone else how it all worked. Talk about a wake up call.

    WRT your old layers…I think you’re right about the fence. What about leaving them shut in longer so more of them lay before you let them out? I guess it depends on whether they have water in there or not, and whether this is something that Julie would have to do, since you’re probably gone for work by then.

    And I love Julie’s pictures. Thanks for the link to her Instagram.

    • Yesterday went badly for Julie. She didn’t even milk until 8:00. The youngest had been sick the night before (don’t eat fast food!) so we were late getting up. The dairy cows knocked over their fence and went for a stroll of their own in the pasture so we had to round them up. The shorthorns broke their float valve. Julie didn’t realize the fence was disconnected but the white heifer did. Twice. On and on. Sometimes there are just bad days. Never quit on a bad day.

      This morning we got up on time and the routine was more normal. She did some study, writing and reflection and made coffee while I sorted the dirty laundry. As soon as it was light I moved the shorthorns to fresh grass. Then we went to the yellow house together, found the jerseys where they were supposed to be, opened up and fed the chickens, I did the milking today (unusual) and we were back home at 6:45.

      She’ll gather eggs at 11 then again when we tuck the birds in at dark, filling the water when she is out there. (We run hoses to each group of animals, no bucket carrying!) She’ll walk past the cows a couple of times. She’ll separate the calves from the dairy cows around 2. That’s about as minimal as we can get and it allows her to have the time she needs to run our home, our home school and her business. Well, almost anyway.

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