Have you ever reviewed Pareto’s Law? The 80/20 rule? The idea that 20% of the things I do around the farm make 80% of the impact is probably true but I find it offensive anyway. I’m wasting 80% of my time and there’s no way to fix it. In fact, 80% of that 20% is also a waste of time. That means that 4% of my labor on the farm accounts for 96% of the impact. For those of you troubled by percentages I offer the following clip:
For sake of example, let’s say I spend 80% of my farming time raising layers (egg birds), moving netting and houses, hauling water, grinding feed, gathering, washing, sorting and packing eggs and outsmarting the raccoons. Then sell the eggs for 20% of my annual profit. Actually, that’s a pretty accurate example so I’ll push forward. Constrast that with the pigs. I spend about 20% of my farming time with the pigs and make about 80% of the comparitave farm profit. Now, I do more than two things with my time but among layers and pigs, 80/20 seems to hold water.
So what do we do with that thinking? Is it a waste of time for me to keep a layer flock? I don’t know. I would guess that 80% of my sales are egg sales. But 100% of my pig sales are to customers who already buy something else from me…typically eggs. 20% of my revenue gets my foot in the door for the rest. If I sell off (or make soup with) the layer flock I would have a lot of extra time on my hands each day (80% of my farm time). My farm revenue picture would immediately go down a bit but not more than 20% even though I would abandon 80% of my customer base. What percent of future revenue would be negatively impacted?
I don’t know but let’s run with it. Let’s pretend I have cleared house. I got rid of the items that I have currently identified as accounting for 20% of the revenue and 80% of the time. Now what happens? That’s right, We get to drill into that profitable remainder and cut out the fat. What else do I do with my time? Well, I have this job off farm that uses more than 20% of my time but brings in more than 80% of the family revenue. I guess that means the pigs get cut out too so I can focus more of my energy on my job.
Well, that took an unhappy turn. Let’s not take Pareto to it’s logical conclusion. There is joy, purpose and value in inefficiency. Don’t sweat it, egg customers. I won’t abandon you. I do think there is value in evaluating how I spend my time as time is mine to steward as well as family, land and livestock.
Ah, the fire. The warmth. The light. Somehow the food tastes different when cooked on the wood cook stove. There’s a slight crackle. Instead of the normal 57 degrees in the house, we have one room that’s 90. There’s always hot water. You come in from outside and park your tookus next to the stove and you are instantly warmed up. It’s the fulfillment of some romantic dream of hers. Best thing ever.
Well. Sort of.
Sopka Magnum Wood Cook Stove
The crackle, the smell, the warmth all come at a cost. My time. You see, my lovely bride loves the wood cook stove. To her it’s just a matter of splitting some kindling, lighting a fire and keeping it fed. Works well enough. But from my perspective it’s hours with the chainsaw then hauling, splitting, stacking, restacking when it falls over, etc. My days off. My weekends. Every trip out in the woods I’m looking for a standing dead tree or a snag to cut down. What will I do when the woods are clean? Where can I start growing the forest I’ll need over the coming years? Should I burn that log or should I run it through the sawmill? Oh, the stress! Oh, my leg! Oh the guilt! (Anybody get that reference?)
Why are we burning wood when it’s barely getting to freezing at night? I think the word “romantic” is French for “because she wants to”. Why isn’t it romantic to sit under a pile of blankets reading a book? Oh well. The kids are a big help and do most of the stacking and carrying. My oldest helped split this time too.
So. You want to be a farmer. I know you can buy the land but can you work the land?
Let’s paint a picture. Little house…just big enough for the fam but no room for clutter. A cellar for your jars of canned goods. A wood burning cook stove. A milk cow, a couple of pigs, some chickens, a big garden and a couple of fruit trees. Ah, the good life. If you have children, add homeschooling to the mix because you love spending time with your family and you know you can give more personalized attention to the children than they would get anywhere else. Yup. One of you stays at home with the kids and keeps the farm chores under control, the other drives off to the city to actually pay for the farm and get insurance. Those rose colored glasses are already clearing up aren’t they?
Did you know gardens grow weeds? That orchards grow deer? Did you know that livestock die? Worse, did you know they sometimes get sick and don’t die? Can you actually send that steer off to be killed, shoot the pig or kill the chicken? Do you want to sit out all night hoping that ^&*(#! raccoon/mink/possum/skunk/etc. comes back so you can shoot it? Sleeping (well, tossing) in the open air night after night with a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Do your children see roadkill and ask if we should stop to pick it up for the compost pile? Have you ever had a hog bite the sleeve of your Carhartt and pull if off of you (and drag it through the mud) while another hog bites a hole in your new rubber boot and the rest of them put their dirty noses against your work pants and nibble at the seams? Then you’ve got manure on your sock, in your boot, on your pants, all over your jacket. You become immune to the smell that lingers and only the other customers at the shopping center notice it. How many layers do you want to keep on your acreage? DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY EGGS THAT IS?!?!?!? How many eggs do you think you can actually eat and sell? Seriously! What are you going to do with them all? Throw them at the pigs? (…that’s not a bad idea…)
How about compost? Each day you muck out the stall (horse, cow…whatever) into a wheelbarrow. Then you add it to a pile (probably requiring you to fork or shovel it high onto the pile). Then you fork or shovel the pile a couple of times to keep the compost active and hot. Then you fork or shovel it into a wheelbarrow again and head off to the garden for more forkin’ shoveling! All so you can sneak a few minutes here and there of pulling bushels of weeds and handfuls of produce from your garden that never quite manages to look the way it did when you first envisioned it.
And oh! A wood cook stove! How romantic! You see the nice glow in the stove, you see the lovely wife pulling a roast out of the oven with a pie in the warmer. You don’t see the husband off camera with a hole in his boot wearing a smelly jacket (stupid pigs) holding a chainsaw for his entire week of vacation, felling, cutting, splitting and stacking the wood so he can save a few dollars over just buying propane. Oh, you can get the job. No problem. But can you do the job?
Fresh milk! It’s fresh! It’s raw! It’s fun! (for the first two or three milkings). Then it becomes a chore. Another chore. I mean, you got up early this morning, fired up the wood stove, went mud-wrestling with the pigs, let the chickens out (checking for dead birds), moved the chicken tractors, watered the ducks, pulled a couple of weeds in the garden while getting a beet to feed the cow, somehow managed to catch the cow, squeezed the milk out of her for 30 minutes (oh, my aching everything), strained and chilled the milk and somehow 7:00 turned into 9:30 and those small humans you keep in the house haven’t eaten yet. Oh, and there’s laundry to wash, laundry to put away, summer clothes to pack, fall clothes to unpack, lunch to make, phone calls to answer (your husband asking if you are having a nice day), eggs to wash, sort and sell, somehow you have to make time to teach those small humans to read, write and cypher, the goats managed to escape somehow so you have to chase them down. Then that husbandof yours who drives to the city to sit on his rear all daywill be home soon and he had the gall to ask what you did today since there is still a basket of laundry that needs to be folded and you didn’t gather the eggs…you know, because HIS TIME IS TOO VALUABLE TO WASTE GATHERING EGGS OR PUTTING AWAY LAUNDRY! HE CAN GO FEED THE STUPID PIGS TONIGHT! Oh, and you totally forgot to work on the applesauce, to pick and freeze peppers out of the garden, and another day passed without watching that webinar for that new side business you’re thinking of taking up in your free time and if you don’t start making cheese soon you’ll have to buy yet another fridge!
You can get a farm. No problem. But can you do the work? Whew!
I’m not saying you can’t do the job. I’m asking if you can do the job. I know you can get the job. I’m not arguing that with you. Banks will loan the money. Interest rates are attractive. But what are you going to do when you get there? Will you miss your manicure? You won’t miss the weight you are guaranteed to lose. You might miss putting your feet up from time to time.
So that takes us to why. Why do we do it? Why do we quite literally work our rear-ends off day after day? That’s a question for another post. I’ll give you a hint: Before the farm I felt like Joe from the clip above walking around the office in his pointless life.
We have two hare pens. They found a way out of one of them. I couldn’t catch them so I put on my Elmer Fudd voice and went hunting wabbits.
5 fewer rabbits on the grass and 5 more in the freezer. Little stinkers. I’ll have to review the design of hare pen #2 because this is the third day they escaped.
How about a little backstory? My sister is visiting. We woke her up this morning with gunshots at 6:00. She rolled her eyes and went back to bed. Apparently there had been a conversation the night before about the frequency of gunshots in the city vs. out here…
My wife asked a friend (who has 7 children of her own) how she gets it all done. The friend replied, “I don’t”. How great is that?
People ask me all the time how I get it all done around the farm. I don’t.
As I write, it is 10 at night. I stopped in Jerseyville on my way home from work to pick up a few hundred pounds of ingredients we use to grind chicken feed. As soon as I got home I unloaded the van and we all piled in to head to church. Once home, I closed up the layers, checked on the chicks and poults in the brooder, moved a fence to surround the outdoor brooder (first use this season) and ground 500 pounds of feed. I’m eating supper as I write this. There are dishes to wash, laundry to put away, books I have put off and a blog I have neglected.
“Gosh, it must be nice to be so young and energetic. BTW, how old are you?” 35…a bicentennial baby. Not as young as I used to be but stronger than I have ever been. It’s just that everything hurts now…where nothing hurt before. Not always…just sometimes.
And if you think I work hard, you should see my wife! I sit for 12 hours every day either driving or chained to my keyboard. She makes more than 1000 animals happy every morning before breakfast, babysits the cows all day, home schools the kids, cooks excellent meals, gathers the eggs and makes this all possible.
So is the work around here usually, sometimes or never finished? It’s never finished. Our top priority is keeping our family functional. Next, we have a lot of animals to entertain. Somewhere after that come dishes, laundry and hot spots (flat surfaces that seem to attract clutter).
I need to make sure I never walk in the door after my long day of pushing buttons and show my disappointment that the dishes aren’t washed. I need to love, encourage and even sacrifice myself for her. Usually I do a fair job of it. Sometimes I screw up.
It isn’t always like this. It’s not even usually like this. It’s just sometimes like this. We run a seasonal farm. Right now everything has to be done at once. Soon the chickens will be gone and we will begin canning our garden produce. We’ll put up hay through the summer. In the fall we’ll pick some apples, can pie filling, press cider and can applesauce…maybe can some pears too. In the winter we catch up on our reading and cut wood. But throughout the year we make time to swim…like today. We make time to play catch. We make time to go see the Avengers (can’t wait!) We make time to watch Dr. Who. We remember to enjoy our lives, not just our work.
We always have plenty to do. The work is usually there waiting for us. We sometimes get to do nothing. A double-negative is never not funny.