I have this idea of offering chore tours to people who want to see a bit of what life is like on a somewhat self-sufficient homestead. I went on several farm tours before we moved here and learned a lot from observation. I drove our helpful guides crazy with questions and always got more than my money’s worth from the experience.
Still, I kept wishing for a sneak peak behind the polished presentations. I wanted to be an unobtrusive voyeur, watching the farmer’s connections with their animals, the efficiency of their movements, their responses to subliminal clues, and the clever ways they find to cope with both the ordinary and the difficult.
It’s a bit different watching a farmer go about their work than, say, a painter at an easel or a potter at a wheel. Chores take you all over a property in a short period of time. There’s a ritualistic sequence of events that unfolds quickly and without fanfare. Things come up along the way and choices are made about how to react or mental notes are made to address things later. Order is critical or things get missed and mistakes get made. And yet there’s chaos too. Goat labor starts two days early, the wind ripped off part of the fence and the chickens are out, a dip in the pond to save a turkey is necessary…
My morning starts with a check of the weather – both by opening the door and going outside and checking the forecast online. Then it’s time for tea. I wake up about an hour before daylight so I can have tea and wake up before its time to work. My animals know if I’m half asleep and will take advantage. Caffeine is necessary to make sure I am on my game.
Our mature chickens are first in the line-up because they lay more eggs if they are outside from daylight to dusk. Since day length varies during the year, so does my schedule. Right now, I start at 7:05 am. In summer, it will be closer to 5:00 am. I bring a bucket of fresh water, take away yesterday’s water, check their food dispenser and reload if necessary. I also say a special hello to the few hens who really like a morning cuddle.
After that it’s off to the bucks/billies (male goats). Bucks live to mate does/nannies (female goats). So, if you go into their pen smelling like a doe, you are likely to set off their natural instincts. It’s better to see the boys before the girls to save yourself some hassle. Bucks get a bucket of fresh water and a few scoops of goat feed. They’ll also need water deliveries a few more times during the day .
I had self-watering system set-up on our buck shelter to save myself some work. Unfortunately bucks are really picky about their water. If a piece of straw is floating in it, they won’t drink it. Since they kick up straw during regular head-butting bouts, it sticks in their beards, and comes off in the water when they drink, thereby making the water undrinkable. Bucks also drink a lot of water, particularly when does are in heat. This is because they pee on their beards and faces to make themselves attractive to the girls. (How romantic…) They can pee a hundred times a day. Literally. And since the boys are always having battles to entertain themselves, they also dump their water frequently. So refills throughout the day are necessary to maintain their urinary tract health.
Then it’s on the does. By now, they know I am out and about and are thoroughly offended that I haven’t been to see them yet. When I open the gate, they crowd around, demanding love, and for those in heat, sniffing for the scent of bucks on me. Another benefit of seeing the boys before the girls is that I can tell right away which does are in heat. They get very excited by the smell of boys and wiggle their tails and rub all over me. If they need to be bred, I’ll make a mental note to take them to a buck later in the day.
After my eight girls and our one whether (castrated male), have had sufficient neck rubs (a crowd pleaser) and hind quarter massages, then I mix up their feed. Milkers get alfalfa added to their goat pellets for extra nutrients. I take a few milkers into the milk room, give them food and milk them one by one. I let those girls out and bring in a couple more until they are all done. Right now I only have five in milk, so it goes pretty quick. Morning milk is heaviest because I milk at around 5:30 at night, so they’v gone almost 14 hours without milking. They are hungry and eager for relief, so they stand still and milk like champions. But if a milker is in heat, her teats are more sensitive, so I need to take more care in my handling. They are also a bit moody when in heat so they require more coaxing to get good behavior.
When the milkers are done, I feed everyone, make another round of pets and then go get them fresh water. The goat girls are a mob. They always fight to be near me, so I learned early on to take their water later while they were occupied eating so they didn’t bump it and dump it trying to get to me. After that, I take the milk to the house, strain it into mason jars, and put it in the fridge.
It’s not quite time to take care of the rest of our animals yet, so I make my dad breakfast and coffee and get him his vitamins. I usually empty the dishwasher and do a few other household chores, like make cheese if we have enough extra milk, until 8:30 am. Then I head back out to the greenhouse to open the door for our little ducks and chickens and give them water. If it’s still too cold to leave it open, I close them back up and make a note to open it when its a bit warmer. Then I go around to the other side of the greenhouse and water everything. If it’s warm enough I also open the windows to give the plants fresh air. I pull any weeds and throw those to the little guys on the other side of the greenhouse.
Last, I head down to the duck house by our pond. Ducks always lay eggs in the morning. Right now, they are done laying by around 8:30, so I open their door and let them out after that. They race to the pond and bathe and play. I usually watch for a few minutes before heading back to the house to make breakfast for Matt and me. By about 9:30 am, I am back outside to start work on whatever project is up for the day. Or, if the weather sucks, I am planning projects or doing research.
I like having purpose in the morning. Having animals relying on me gets me out of bed and going early. And with an early start each day, I can get a lot of stuff done before dinner. Every day is full, unless I choose to be lazy. I haven’t been bored in three years, which is pretty incredible since I spent the better part of my day doing boring things when I worked in an office. This life suits me. Even though I didn’t get to shadow a real farmer to figure out how to do this, I’ve developed my own rhythms and ways of doing things that works for me.
I am sure others will too. But if you happen to me out out my way and want a “live action” chore tour, please send me a message.