With events, farm tours and members dropping by the farm for recreation or a share pick-up, we have many daily visitors. We get asked many questions about the farm, the animals and farm life. Some questions are very specific and others are more open-ended but the question we hear the most is “What is it like?” I always struggle with this one. However, one day last week, it occurred to me that this particular day would probably provide the best idea of what it is we do here, answering the question that interests people the most and may even impress a few of you!
It was Thursday, June 27th.
3:30 AM: My son, Spencer, heads out to load 540 chickens into crates for the ride to Grimuade Farms [a USDA poultry processing facility we now use for the chickens we want to cut up into parts]. Chickens need to be loaded before day break so you can pick them up easily without having to chase after them. At 8 AM they would start their trip to processing.
5:30 AM: Day break. George, our Ranch Manager, starts a routine we call "opening." This involves getting all the animals out to pasture to forage while also leaving their fertilizer on the grass. We fill their feed and check all watering devices to make sure every animal has what it needs.
6:30 AM: Tara leaves for the post office to get the next batch of turkeys that we are raising for the upcoming holiday season.
7:30 AM: Orlando, our neighbor and friend, comes to load 6 cows and take them to Rancho for slaughter. This seems like it would be a complicated process but it's as simple as dropping alfalfa in the trailer to encourage them up in. Once Orlando is done dropping the cows, he comes back to take the chickens.
8:00 AM: Nick and Anthony, two of our ranch hands, head up to the hoop house [vacated earlier in the morning] to clean out the bedding and prepare it for the next 600 birds, currently in the brooder (our heated structure where young chicks start their life on the farm).
9:30 AM: Zac, another one of our ranch hands, begins collecting our 2 week old chickens from the brooder to move them to our [now clean] hoop houses. Hoop houses are low-cost, mobile structures we incorporated into our practice. These mobile structures give our chickens a consistent place to roost while providing shelter and protection from predators. It also gives us the ability to move them as needed so we may provide new grass for the chickens to feed and deposit upon.
Now beginning to feather, the chicks enjoy the space to run around since they were beginning to feel a bit cramped in the brooder.
10:30 AM: Zac and Nick come back from the pasture to filp the bedding in the brooder and add some additional shavings. We do this to get the composting cycle back up and prep for the 700 new baby chicks we will be getting the next day at 6 AM.
1:00 PM: Everyone except George is off the clock until our nightly feeding begins. At 93 degrees the boys will enjoy being done with work before it gets too hot.
4:00 PM: Dale starts our evening feeding, which is much like "opening." He'll check all the water feeders and top off the food.
4:30 PM: Spencer lays out the new cow paddock and moves the cows. This process grants our cows new pasture to graze every 24 hours and requires us to disassemble an old paddock and assemble a new paddock with electric fencing. The new paddock is created next to the old one with one shared side. Once assembled, the shared side is lifted and our happy cows rush to graze the new, rich grass.
9:30 PM: Dale closes the day by getting all the chickens into their houses and closing the doors to protect them from predators.
So, what’s it like, you ask?
Well, I’m definitely grateful to have our field team because I couldn’t possibly handle this all myself. That would be a nightmare.
Also, lets be very clear, while I’m sure there are tougher days, this wasn’t an average day! Most days are busy but not that busy! Although, busy is good because it means we're getting done what needs to get done, tough days exist too. Tough days are when we can’t seem to get the chores we need accomplished and the day quickly creeps into night.
When things go as planned and things get done, farming is like any other job, hobby or pastime. It's when things don’t go as planned, even if we still manage to get our chores done, it takes much more than is expected and we find ourselves burning through the midnight oil.
Farming is relentless!