Diary of the Winter Stockpile: Day 72

November 1 we were grazing the cows in our yard. I had successfully delayed mowing to the point that the yard functioned as a stockpiled pasture. November 12 the cows were grazing their way around the barnyard. We cut several cuttings of hay in the barn yard each year and the grasses had recovered sufficiently that I thought they should be eaten by cattle rather than smashed by a tractor. By Nov. 16th we felt the alfalfa was ready to graze (or nearly so) so we walked the cows to the alfalfa field.

GrazingStockpile5We started the cows on the fescue and clovers that had regrown since the last hay cutting then, over the course of several days, moved them into the alfalfa field. The first week or so of grazing was not pure alfalfa…it had grasses mixed in. Bloat is a real concern and rapidly changing forages can be problematic so this was when we started feeding a bale of hay each morning. Giving them dry matter early in the day, then moving the cows around noon (after the frost had dried) eased everybody’s worries.

So around Nov. 20 we fed the first bale of hay. The idea is to feed 30 days worth of hay over the course of five months. That way the cows are still eating fresh green forage (which they seem to enjoy) but with a little bit of supplement to make sure they are getting just what they need while also spreading their own manure across the farm. This was inspired by my conversation with David Hall. Early on we were asking 11 cows to share one 60 pound square bale. When the snow got heavy we would split out two bales. The balance of their daily dietary needs was provided by the stockpiled forages. Anyway, enough theory. Let’s look at some more pictures.

GrazingStockpile3The remaining stockpile is looking pretty brown. Fortunately, when the severe cold weather hit last week, the grasses were insulated by a layer of snow. It may not look like much but the cows really seem to appreciate it.

GrazingStockpile4The wilted turnip greens, the turnips themselves, the fescue and other grasses along with a few fallen leaves and the cows are doing quite well. Each day we give them a little more ground (you just get a feel for how much to give them by looking at standing forage, previous day’s utilization and gut fill) and we use that ground as a clean plate for feeding them the day’s hay. I try to feed hay on high ground if I can. If they look hungry we give a bale of grass hay in the afternoon and I try to do better estimating the next day’s pasture. Each night the cows find some reasonably clean sheets and go to bed, often under a tree.

GrazingStockpile2As the pasture freezes and thaws the cows can really cause soil disturbance…disruption…they can really make mud pies. So we try to move the mineral feeder and the water trough regularly, spreading that impact over a greater area. I’m not against mud pies. They will recover before summer. I’m against cows slipping on ice around the water trough. For the most part, though, the pasture is staying in very good condition. We had an inch of rain on Friday on top of 8-10″ of melting snow. The pasture is no worse for the wear.

As always, this is more “how-we” than “how-to” but managing grazing through the winter has, to this point, been a positive experience for us. It really is no big deal to build a little fence and haul a bale out to them each morning. Far, FAR better than the chores required for the short period of time they were in the barn.

Trading Away Wealth and Prosperity

Dad and I read The Last of the Mohicans some years ago. I have kept this quote close at hand ever since. Chingachgook is talking about the history of his people:

My tribe is the grandfather of nations, but I am an unmixed man. The blood of chiefs is in my veins, where it must stay forever. The Dutch landed, and gave my people the fire-water; they drank until the heavens and the earth seemed to meet, and they foolishly thought they had found the Great Spirit. Then they parted with their land. Foot by foot, they were driven back from the shores, until I, that am a chief and a Sagamore, have never seen the sun shine but through the trees, and have never visited the graves of my fathers.

I kept that quote hanging at my desk for several years and think of it often. I live 100 yards from the graves of my mother’s fathers. In what ways am I trading away my children’s heritage?


In an effort to write a short, concise post (for once) I apparently muddled my meaning. Chingachgook is, to my understanding, lamenting choices made by previous generations. I am a previous generation. The decisions I make today will affect my great, great grandchildren. Now I realize I can be excessively introspective but I think it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the choices I am making. Will today’s decisions truly achieve the desired result? Even if they don’t, have I succeeded in raising children who are resilient enough to overcome whatever comes their way or am I raising a generation of victims?

My final question was wrong because it leads the reader to believe I am actively trading away my children’s future. I am not…or I don’t believe I am anyway. The right question was, are the decisions I am making today leading to my vision of a preferred future or am I simply gratifying present desires? I think it is worth taking a moment to consider and question my motivations.

How we Start a Fire on the First Try

Every morning I light the fire. It is my job…somehow. I have searched high and low for ways to succeed on the first match and I would like to share one thing that seems to work well. Stick bundles. This goes in the firebox above a wad of newspaper and below the split kindling.

Every fallen limb in our yard is regularly gathered up by the kids (mostly maple) and dragged into the house where they cut it to about 10″ lengths, bundle it with others into a 2″ log.

Bundle1I like these better than pine cones for lighting the fire. Not only does a bundle light quickly, it also burns hot and leaves a nice pile of charcoals behind to encourage the remaining wood to burn. And it gives the kids something productive to do with a few minutes of their morning while utilizing more of the wood our farm generates…not to mention the endless sisal twine.

Bundle2So an hour’s worth of work by the kids and we get a week’s worth of easy-to-light fires. I appreciate their contribution both in collecting twigs from the yard and in making the bundles. They appreciate standing behind the warm wood stove on a cold morning. Everybody wins.

Please let me know if you have any other tips to help me light the fire on the first match.

In and Out of the Moo Cow Hotel

When the bad weather hit Saturday afternoon we moved the cows to the barn. We have been grazing stockpile but with wind chills near -40 F we thought it would be best to have them out of the wind and in a convenient place. Convenient for us…not necessary for them. Really, the cows would have been fine standing together on the leeward side of a hill sheltered by a tree. It really was an issue of convenience for us.

Each morning I would clear the manure from a stretch by the fence and put out bales there. I don’t have a feeder in this lot…something I’ll have to address going forward. I would split the bales in a couple of different locations. Each morning and each evening I would offer a square bale of alfalfa and a square bale of grass. While the cows were busy grazing I would put two or three bales of straw down for fresh bedding after cleaning up big, obvious messes.


Then I would pull the hose out of the barn loft and refill the water trough, breaking out the ice along the way.


I have mixed feelings about this entire setup. First, since I don’t have feed bunks I didn’t feel that the cows had a clean plate to eat from each day. It reached a point where there was so much frozen urine and manure I just had to do my best…and my best was barely enough. When the cows are on pasture they get a little more ground each day. That new ground is like a totally clean plate and is a great place to feed them each morning. Then they can graze their day away.

Second, I just don’t think the cows were happy. They just sort of moped about. Like they were a little stir crazy…or had as much cabin fever as the kids did. This was more completely expressed Thursday morning when we led the cows back to pasture. They ate their hay then went running, kicking and bucking through the pasture. They seemed to enjoy stretching their legs for the first time in 5 days.


The cows are not out of their fence. The previous day’s fence posts were frozen in place and could not be removed. The cows bent them all. Stinkers.

So I’m glad, for my own sake, that I have the option to shut up the cows in the barn lot. But I can see that it’s maybe not the best for the cows. Next year I’ll have the entire feedlot for my own use complete with feed bunks. I’ll design my pasture usage to preserve and stockpile the pasture near the feedlot so I can, if needed, allow the cows access to shelter and feed in a bunk but still give them access to the larger pasture area. They will be able to go where they like while still allowing me to feed with relative ease. I’ll just have to make sure I don’t get lazy and feed them in the bunk all winter as I want their nutrients on pasture, not in the feed lot.

Lowest Cost Production

Production, not consumption, makes our world a better place for all. Some of this looks like a chicken and egg discussion but it really is not. Irwin Schiff illustrated this well years ago and I encourage you to read what he wrote (link). In his story the inhabitants of the island caught and ate fish every day but it took them all day to do it. That’s expensive fish…costing them a day’s wages. Then one guy got a bright idea. He made a net (production) so people could work fewer hours to catch their fish (consumption) and could, ultimately, go on to do better things with their time like run for office or open banks (lol). Consumption is an ongoing deal and happens naturally. Efficient production requires risk, effort, imagination and capital.

I am working to insert myself into the cattle business. Just typing that causes me to laugh at my own pretentiousness but that’s what I am doing. I am working to produce cattle efficiently. This requires capital, it involves risk and varying (but never insignificant) amounts of effort. And it requires imagination. Before I move on I want to re-emphasize the word “efficient”. Profit is not a bad thing. Profit is not the measure of greed. Profit is the measure of efficiency. You and I can both produce beef. That’s fine. But I can sell mine below what yours costs because I’m more efficient. But what neither you nor I can do is determine the price. I may be able to sell a few head at $9/pound but none at $900/pound so I have no control, really, over price. I can’t force a customer to buy my beef instead of your beef. I also can’t force my customers to buy beef instead of chicken. I only have total control over production costs. My profit is the difference between the selling price (which I have little control over) and the production costs (which I have absolute control over). If I am going to succeed in the cattle business (remember that 5,000 cow thing?) I am going to have to find ways to profit from cattle production. I mean, I would much rather do nuthin’ for nuthin’ as work for nuthin’. And keeping cattle is work (though, fun work…but is it enough fun to waste the most productive years of my life with?).

But what other costs are involved in cattle ownership? I mean, look. If I have a nice herd of 20 cows and I go out to buy a $4,000 bull that I’ll keep for 3 years I have increased the cost of each calf by $66…not counting the feed that monster will eat or the repair bills he will cause. But we have only just started. Forget the bull. Let’s look around my zip code and see what else I’ll need to keep cattle (if you want to do the math check equipment costs on Tractor House). Apparently I’ll need a couple of loader tractors with front-wheel assist, a newer 4WD 3/4 ton truck, a livestock trailer, a silage wagon, some way to cut silage, a silage pit or a silo, silage blower and silo unloader (God help us!), a hay baler, a mower-conditioner, a hay rake, a trailer to haul hay bales on, ring feeders, feed bunks, head gates, an extra 4WD truck, cell phones, shotguns, rifles, 7-wire fencing, tillage equipment to tear up the fescue, a drill to plant better pasture, a wiper bar for thistle, some sort of sprayer and a big tractor to pull the tiller and drill. In our part of the country we call ourselves farmers and not ranchers and that job title comes with an immense mountain of additional iron supplementation I won’t go into here because it doesn’t effect the price of the cow…it effects the price of the corn…which effects the price of the cow. Because cows just have to have corn…otherwise they don’t get so big and fat. And we need big, fat cows whatever the cost! But all of that equipment will share shed space in the new sheds we have to build for our cow accessory collection. You should note that the whole collection must be painted one color cause that’s better than the other color and gets us more free hats and jackets and the like. And I can’t neglect the new car for my wife and she needs streaks of lighter color in her hair so her friends will say her hair looks cute as they have a $4, four hundred calorie chocolate coffee on their way to the weight watchers meeting. And my kids are going to want to play baseball and soccer and every boy should be in scouts, right? And we’ve been wanting to go to Disney.

So now what does that calf cost? Let’s see…feeder cattle are at $1.68…times 500 pounds…so I get a near all-time high $840 for each calf I sell. Minus transportation costs. Minus auction percentage. Minus, minus, minus. Shoot, just the bull accounts for 7% of the sale price of the calf crop. And each heifer has to have 4 calves to cover the costs of her own development and the average cow doesn’t last that long. How do I make any money at this with all that other nonsense going on?

Today’s post is strongly insprired by Kit Pharo’s Winter 2014 newsletter I received in email this morning (you can, and should, subscribe for free here.) In the lead article he shares his fears that we are pricing our product out of the market. More and more consumers are eating chicken over beef. Why? Because chicken is cheaper. That statement should just about make your head explode. Is it more efficient to plant, fertilize and spray herbicide on corn and beans, harvest those crops, screen them, haul them to town, dry them in a bin, grind them into feed, haul that feed back to the farm where you feed chickens in long houses with high rates of death so we can manually pack the birds into crates, haul them to a processing plant, hang them on a shackle, dress the bird out on a conveyor, part the bird up and sell the tenders at the deli than it is to do basically the same process with cattle?

Read the last 5 words again. Think back to piano lessons. Remember the bass clef? Name the spaces. All. Cows. Eat. Grass. Today not all cows eat grass. We are feeding them like they are hogs or chickens. And that’s why beef is so expensive. We have selected for tall, heavy cows. Cows that can’t maintain body condition on grass alone. Cows that need a little boost of grain to put on enough fat that they cycle on pastures that are simultaneously over- and under-rested because of non-stop grazing and animal selectivity.

We need to re-examine our procedures. Why are we doing what we are doing? We need to take it to bare-bones again to become more efficient producers. North America is a grass-growing paradise! We could be profitable raising cattle at half of current prices! But we would have to sell our tractors for that to happen. And that would hurt consumption. Lower prices lowers GDP (we can’t have that!)…but it feeds more people. We are so strongly oriented toward pure dollars we have lost sight of what we’re here to do. We are not here to use as much fuel as possible while poisoning the soils. We are here to feed the soil and feed the people. And cattle do that much more efficiently than do chickens. But you look weird walking your pasture instead of riding on a 4-wheeler. You look lazy sipping tea while your neighbors put up hay. They might think your baler is broken. And you certainly can’t call yourself a farmer if you don’t own a tractor!

So what do we really need to raise cattle? Sunshine. Rain. Salt. Fencing is really, really nice. Comes to it, we don’t need a big house or a woman with artificial hair coloring to produce beef. We could just live in a tent with our animals. Happens all around the world. Maybe add in some cast-iron cookware. Read Ben K. Green’s books to remember where we came from as a cattle-producing nation. But the house is nice. We enjoy our cast-iron even indoors. It’s handy to have a tractor. It sure would be nice to have a new 3/4 ton 4WD truck in the driveway and the kids want a pony. This is not to say that I believe farmers should take a vow of poverty. I am, however, suggesting that we farmers are impoverishing ourselves by pursuing consumption, rather than working toward efficient production. (That idea goes far beyond just farmers.) Supporting all of this extra consumption forces me to ask more for my product…or seek income elsewhere. Income elsewhere is probably easier. Well, not probably.

It’s hard work to keep a herd of animals healthy whatever the weather throws at us. I knew that before I started. I’m not here to ask for your sympathy. I’m here to say we have an obligation to attempt to lower our production costs, not simply to make more product available for consumption at lower prices, but also because we, as cattlemen, are uniquely suited to healing our soils, increasing fertility, diversity and water capacity. If you haven’t, I encourage you to check out the book Cows Save the Planet. Compare, in your mind, all of the fuel that goes into producing a pound of chicken to the lack of fuel involved in growing grass. Why is chicken cheaper? Any number of reasons…everything from government subsidies to unsustainable energy costs. But when you get down to it, it is largely because we are asking cows to be something they are not and to eat junk they don’t need so we can sit pretty in a new pickup truck.

Keeping it Clean

We had some friends for dinner last Thursday. At least one of their sons works seasonally for a local berry farm. He shared a conversation he overheard from some of their customers. Here is the main idea:

We came here because the place we normally pick ran out of strawberries. We will not return to that other place. This place is so much cleaner. So much nicer.

Those few sentences teach me a lot. We focus on producing a quality product but not on creating an atmosphere of beauty. It may not always be pretty but we get it done. And we do a good job.

But I have to admit, we could have less junk laying around. I suspect that turns some people off. At the same time, people roll in and marvel at our garden. So we are doing well in some areas but I know we can do better. Our shop is full of all kinds of who knows what. At least we could hide that. As I have said before, much of the iron in the pastures can be hauled away. A little paint here or there…

But that isn’t limited to the yard. It’s also the house. If it matters what customers see when they pull in the driveway, it must also matter what friends see when they walk in the door. I have shared before how hard we work to de-clutter our house. Somehow any flat surface gets covered in papers needing filing or artwork from our children. It just piles up. Books out of place, stray socks, stuffed animals, knitting, legos…you get the idea. Beyond that, there are clothes we no longer wear, shoes we have outgrown, furniture we have worn out or broken, books we will no longer read. You with me here?

Previously we were purging our home every 6 months but Julie has really stepped up our efforts to purge our home of clutter in the coming year, working on a weekly basis. This is one of her 2014 goals. Ranging from ridding ourselves of surplus Christmas decorations to activities. If this interests you, keep up with us on her blog or on Facebook and participate with us this year. You can also count on me to detail every little thing that we do on the farm…including working to make it pretty.

Handful of Acorns

Winter Phosphorus Needs

We put out the Free Choice Enterprises mineral feeder in mid-December. I’m amazed how much phosphorus the cows are eating. I filled three holes with phosphorus and they have eaten 2/3 of it. These pictures were taken on January 1.

The cows have nearly finished the phosphorus in this slot:
Phosphorus1Below you can see (from left) kelp, redmond salt and phosphorus. I would have to find my way across Hoth to see what is in the last slot on the right. Sorry. The cows don’t seem to want the kelp. The salt has seen very little action and wasn’t full to begin with. The phosphorus on this end is about 50%.


On the other side I have another slot dedicated to phosphorus. On the left is unknown. Again, I’ll have to wander into the frozen tundra to see it now. Next is iodine then phosphorus. To the right is sulphur.

Phosphorus3Keep in mind that every slot was full to the top when we started out. A fair amount of iodine, a little trace mineral, a little sulphur. But the cows have basically emptied two phosphorus slots. My understanding is that this is because phosphorus is hard to come by in stored forages. Once we green up again in the spring we should see much less of a need for phosphorus. But I didn’t anticipate this level of need. Basically, 10 cows are going through a bag of phosphorus ($28) every week. Wow! So…back to the budget we go.

The other surprise for me here was that the cows turned their back on kelp. They have absolutely consumed kelp all year up till now. My Fertrell dealer suggested they were using the kelp heavily in the spring to meet their magnesium needs and he suggested I put out some epsom salts. Next year I don’t think I’ll have to guess what they need. I’ll just watch the mineral box and see what goes down.

From Broke to…Less Broke

12 years ago our little K car died in Jerseyville leaving us stranded in the dark and cold. I don’t know what we were doing out on a cold January evening. I can’t begin to imagine what we thought we needed. I do know that I had a job, we had a mortgage and we had an infant son and an old maroon K-car that my great aunt had either sold or given us. 

Money was tight and we didn’t have any cash on us. If money was so tight, why were we out? I don’t know. Maybe we just had to get diapers or something. But it was clear that money was tight – extremely tight – because Julie went to Arby’s to get warm after the car died and couldn’t afford to buy anything. Maybe those were the days before fast food restaurants took debit cards. Anyway, she attempted to nurse the baby in some privacy in a booth and couldn’t even pony up to buy a glass of water and her milk never let down without a drink of water.

I had a job that payed the salaried equivalent of $1o/hour. I made more with that company when I traveled for them and I guess we got used to spending the travel pay because when we had our first son and I came off the road everything got tough for us. I had to find a new job.

The car was seriously broken. Dad came to get us, a friend helped me haul the car home the next day and I began tearing down the engine in the garage…I think the head was warped.

That was a cold winter. Cold days and nights taking my car apart, hoping I could put it back together. Knuckles sore from holding cold metal in my hands. Soon I had the parts back, the engine together. Something else broke and got fixed. It happened a couple more times before I began a new job in St. Louis on Feb. 26 of 2001. I got myself a 50% pay increase!

For the next 7 months I drove that jalopy back and forth to St. Louis to a very challenging job with very challenging hours. I had to be in the office at 6AM, the beginning of the contracted support window for clients in London. That meant I had to leave home at 4:30. Shortly after starting my new job they put me in the on-call rotation complete with two different 25 pound laptops and a big, heavy book of contact information. There were many nights of being on call. Lengthy calls with phone techs in Southern California hospitals. “Was the machine a Nightshade or a Portland? Windows NT or OS2? Is CP running? Telnet into the attached device. Type in ‘A01RC2’ and press Enter.” Over and over. Night after night. Up again, home again, phone is ringing again. The primitive cell phone they gave me only worked in one room of our house…in one position, furthest South on the couch. I can’t say the work was entirely unpleasant but it was certainly demanding. I went without sleep but I learned a tremendous amount in a short time.

Toward the end of month 6 my 4-cylinder car decided it wanted to be a 3-cylinder car. I’m really not much of a mechanic. I just did what had to be done to make it last as long as I could. We reached a point where I just couldn’t fix it anymore. Shortly after 9-11 we bought a new car with a warranty! A Warranty! That was a financial mistake but we sold the car at 235,000 miles and I only rotated the tires and changed the oil. The Ford mechanics did the rest.

I excelled at my job. I was a total hack when they hired me but I learned quickly. My dad sometimes asks how I learned to do what I know how to do with computers. I guess there are two answers. First, I was hungry. Second, I was thrown into the fire.

So now we are at the point in the post where you ask the question, “What does this have to do with farming?

Everything. Stay with me.

11 years ago I had the beginnings of a family, a $35,000 mortgage, $14,000 in school loans and a $15,000 car loan at 0% . I know because it’s all in my diary. Yes, I tell my diary about my money problems. 29% of my after-tax income went to the car payment and associated car expenses ($300 gas, $308 payment, $86 insurance, $24 maintenance). We regularly bought hamburger helper and Eggo waffles and cereal…foods we can’t imagine eating today both for health and budget reasons. Magazine subscriptions, clothes, toys for the kids…I don’t even know what all we bought. Little things that by themselves were not harmful but together? Remember that big raise I got when I changed jobs? We spent it. All of it. The next raise too. No matter how much money I made we managed to spend it all. We went from below the poverty line to relative comfort but totally strapped for cash.

All of those debts and more are behind us because of that diary. We snowballed our way through them one at a time, paying one off to accelerate payment on the next. The house was the worst at 8.5% but because of the loan amount it had to wait till last. The car was at 0%, four school loans averaged $80/month and 4%. We picked one of those to target first, lowered our car insurance to $75 and went on the attack with our food budget. Really, we found and plugged so many financial leaks life suddenly got easier. Why hadn’t we been paying attention to where our money was going?

Skipping the details, we quickly got far enough ahead we bought a second house (mistake), moved there (bigger mistake) and sold the starter home (relief). After a few years of remodeling the new home it was time to move again. Then we moved again. Now we are at the farm.

Every few years we have to re-learn the lesson we first learned 12 years ago. It is easy to spend all of our money. For instance, our first winter here, we were used to having the house at 74 degrees. Natural gas was super cheap in the suburbs but propane here is expensive and the house is drafty. So we licked our wounds and turned the thermostat down to 57. Everybody put on a sweater, we put a space heater in a small room and we did all right. Once we got the wood stove we were back to normal. But that first winter was an expensive lesson. Based on recent writings it should be obvious that I’m in the middle of a financial lesson again now. But the other thing I take from this is that it’s really not that hard to fill in the holes I dig myself into…as long as I can work. But how much longer will I work? One of these days I’m going to be 80. How will I have time to cherish my grandchildren if I’m still a database janitor at age 80?

If you intend to hold on to your farm for any length of time at all you can’t keep falling into the spending trap. Like any other crop, you have to make your money grow and protect it until harvest. But even then you aren’t done. Once that newly harvested money is in your hand there are any number of ways the world seeks to take it from you. Just a little here…a little there…like mice stealing grain. Enough mice and you’ve got a real problem. Imagine inflation acting like mold, decaying your crop over time. How do you protect against that? We have to be diligent. Banks aren’t paying to hold money today. CDs aren’t worth buying. Land and cattle are near nominal all-time highs. How do we grow money in this environment?

These are the problems we have to solve. This is where we have to apply our time. Plug the holes in your budget and you might be surprised how quickly you can buy that dream farm. Forget to plug holes and you might be surprised how quickly you will lose it.

I have to add, too, that, like the job change listed above, when you finally get your land you will face a steep learning curve. You can do it. It will be tough but you can do it. Being both hungry and in the fire will do wonders for your work ethic. Just keep focused on minimizing expenses. Financial stress ruins relationships. Keep your expenses few and you’ll have an easier time focusing on your goals…especially your relationship goals.

Both Grasshopper and Ant

Oh, Aesop. You make it all so simple. The ant is the ant and the grasshopper is the grasshopper. But I am a little of each. More of one than the other on certain days.

The Bible makes the same point in a more personally applicable way:

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

Work hard and put a little away for uncertain times. I get it. I totally do. But in spite of what my children think, I am not a machine.

I remember thinking my dad was a machine. He was so big. So fast! So strong! Dad would work long hours and changing shifts at the mine then come home to play catch or work on a remodeling project. He took leading roles in plays, took college classes and was active in our church. He would pick up the new issue of Compute’s Gazette to work with my sister on the coding project listed in the back of the magazine or read up on tips for how to use Lotus 1-2-3 more effectively on on Commodore 64 (a machine he is still proud to own). He could do anything.

Does your computer need a cassette recorder!?!?!? LOL

But it turns out my dad is not a machine. He is active, giving and loving but he’s no match for me in a foot race. Turns out he’s mortal. But he’s still more of an ant than I am. Something he inadvertently pointed out to me Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning. New year’s day. A day off work. Julie and I stayed out late with friends and all of our children coming home around 1:00, four hours after my bedtime. Needless to say we slept in. That’s all grasshopper stuff.

I got up and got started. A snowstorm (well, what we call a snowstorm) was coming through in the next 12 hours and the livestock were not prepared for it. I moved the cows, filled their water, fed them a bale of hay and made plans for additional chores throughout the day before heading back home for breakfast.

But breakfast wasn’t ready. So I sat down to sneak in a few minutes of Super Mario 3D World with the kids…well, with the kids watching. An hour later I was still on the couch. That’s totally grasshopper territory.

Dad came by around that time and asked me what I was hoping to get done before the snow. Well, I need to get the greenhouse closed up, bed the pigs and cut firewood out of the limbs laying in a pile by the back door. The horses need their stalls cleaned. The cows will need another bale of hay (full cows are warm cows) and there is a guy coming to pick up a pig this afternoon. We need to butcher a couple of rabbits, clean their cages and haul rabbit manure to the greenhouse. Several pine trees have fallen over at the pond and need to be cut up. If we somehow manage to do all of that the bathroom needs a coat of primer and there is all kinds of housework to do. Time for this sluggard to start pretending to be an ant.


I came in for a bite to eat around 2:00 then went back to it. The wind had picked up, the air had gotten colder but I still had work to do. Still no skin on the greenhouse but there is a handsome pile of wood in the house and the wood supply outside grew too. As the day wore on I had fewer and fewer helpers around me. I knew the work had to be completed. This was not optional. The kids went inside thinking I was a machine.

But we have already established that I am not. In fact, I think if my dad hadn’t come by to prod me I would have spent many more hours playing video games on the couch Wednesday.

I know what needs to be done but I’m comfortable. Maybe too comfortable. The more effective I am at being an ant the more I want to be a grasshopper. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the work. I had a ball Wednesday. But the couch is comfy. And the fence was working before. Surely it’s still working today…if not, that’s not so big a deal…right?

Too many days like that and the wood pile disappears. The pigs get stressed. The cows lose weight. Our savings get depleted. The cupboards go bare.

On the other hand, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

I have to both get my work done and take some time off. This is really coming into focus for us this week as Sunday we butchered a 400# hog, Tuesday we stayed out late with friends, Wednesday we did everything listed above, Thursday we had other friends for dinner, Friday we had family dinner plans and Saturday we finally finished the greenhouse, moved the cows and combined the pullets into the layer flock. As I finish this post on Sunday morning I am tired. Tired both from the ant stuff and from the grasshopper stuff.

I have to keep it in balance. My kids need to see that I am not a machine. I am human. I am dedicated to my family. Sometimes that dedication takes me away to restock the cupboards. Sometimes that dedication is expressed in playing board games. A little dose of ant. A little dose of grasshopper.

If we include Julie in the equation the average slides strongly toward ant. She’s a machine.

Battening the Hatches

We are in for a few days of cold, snow and wind. The forecast is suggesting double-digit negative low temperatures for Sunday and Monday. Monday’s high won’t even reach zero and winds are expected from 20-30 mph. Finally, depending on when you check the forecast they are suggesting anywhere from 1-12 inches of snow. You may think that sounds mild. I think it sounds like I need to get ready.


Forecast by wunderground.com

Cows are no big deal. I’ll just walk them up to the barn and lock them in the lot Saturday evening. They should be warm and out of the wind in the open bay of the barn. Chores will be much easier with them there. We’ll just toss down a few bales of straw for bedding and ride this thing out. I’ll have to get the skin on my new greenhouse Saturday morning so I can move the chickens in there. Not sure why I waited so long to build that greenhouse. Lazy I guess. I’ll also have to build roost space in the greenhouse and mount the nest boxes within. We’ll put the rabbits and ducks in the other greenhouse. I don’t think the ducks care either way but management will be easier with them there. The remaining pigs should be fine in their deep bedding.

That leaves the house. I need to bring in oak I can split easily, hedge that will burn hot, some larger hackberry logs that will burn for a long time and I need to make some stick bundles to help start the fire easily. Beyond that? I’ll make sure the Burkey is full and we have some broth on the wood stove. Maybe Julie can bake a loaf or two of bread…a rare treat! The kids and I have a few board games we need to spend some time with. Agricola has proven difficult.

Hopefully this will just last a couple of days and we’ll be back to our normal winter schedule. Looks like 30s and more snow and ice all next week. That will really test the cow’s ability to dig through deep snow to find grass. But who knows how the forecast will change in the next 7 days.

Wild times. Doing our best to deal with what comes our way. Hope you are prepared.