January 19, 2015

The Beauty of a Routine

In his book, Growing a Farmer, Kurt Timmermeister describes his daily chores as the bookends of his day. I love this analogy and it sticks with me as a comforting way of describing my own life too. Modern culture works so hard at getting out of work, to the point where, really, I think some folks work harder at not working than if they'd just do the job in the first place. Whenever did we decide that work was bad, anyway?

Our routine has evolved, so to speak, over the years. New critters certainly requires change, but we've adapted to our animals and their natures, learning to accommodate them, rather than trying to get them to accommodate us. When Dan is home we work as a team. When he's not, I stagger the chores a bit differently.

The girls, ready and waiting to be fed.

Chores start at the crack of dawn. We don't have electricity in our outbuildings so we try to begin as soon as we can get see outside without a flashlight. We've been up since 4 or 5, taking the time for that first cup of coffee, Bible reading, and for me, writing.

The chicken coop is opened first thing to let the chickens out. We do this mostly to keep our too-many roosters from squabbling inside the coop. The chickens are fed their scratch and then I go get the goat feed ready.

In winter time everyone is more demanding. If the girls aren't hollering for their breakfast I'll take the bucks a load of hay. The gate which separates the pigs from the billy boys is left closed until they've had their fill. If the gate is open, the pigs rush in and push the boys out of the way. However, it's not the hay they're looking to eat, it's the pile of dropped hay in front of the feeder. For some reason they love to burrow under this for an early morning nap. I figure they can have their nap later because the bucks need breakfast first.

This time of year all critters come running when they see me. Not that they
are particularly interested in me, they're just hoping I have something to eat.

Surprise and Lily are taken to be milked in the morning. I let Surprise out first, because she knows to go right to the milking room. I give her a head start before taking Lily on a lead. If I don't, Lily will take off at a gallop to try and beat Surprise to the milking stand. I let her do this a couple of times, but it created a problem after they were milked. Lily expects Surprise to be in the pasture when she gets there. She never figured out that if she gets milked before Surprise, then she goes back to the pasture before Surprise. She then starts hollering and looking frantically for her. So much easier (and quieter) to do Surprise first, so that she's already in the pasture by the time Lily gets there.

Morning milking is a lovely time of day. I can catch the sunrise if it isn't overcast and enjoy the peaceful, early morning sounds. It's one of my favorite times of the day. Lily is on the lead when I take her back to the pasture. If she isn't, she'll take off running just to see if she can steal a few bites from somewhere she's not supposed to be. As I return to the milking room I open the chicken gate into the pasture. If I open it too early, the chickens rush the goats' breakfast and I don't want them to do that. Funny how goats will rarely share their food with another goat, but will allow the chickens to help themselves. This is when I try to remember to open the gate between the bucks and pigs too.

Chickens waiting for their scratch

The others does are fed in the pasture. If Dan is home he's already done that, filled water buckets, and done manure duty. If he's not, I'll do a quick check of water buckets and fill those in need, or if frozen, get hot water into them as quickly as possible. After that, I take the milk into the house to strain and refrigerate.

Mid-morning I go out to make rounds, check water buckets again, and fill the girls' hay feeder.

Early afternoon I do a hay check and, in winter, fill hay feeders if needed. I take a quart of grain to the pigs and sprinkle it over the field they're working on. This is the field in which we plan to plant in corn and cowpeas next summer. Rather than give it to them in a feeding pan I make them work for it. That may sound tough, but the pigs love to root and hunt for food. I also figure they each get a fairer share that way, plus it keeps them busy for a long while, because after that I may go foraging for still-leafy tree branches for the goats to eat. If the pigs are around they rush the branches pushing the goats out of the way. They may eat some of the leaves, but mostly they trample them down, so it's better to occupy the pigs elsewhere.

One thing I'm hoping is that grain hunting will encourage more rooting.

In the late afternoon I get ready for evening feeding. All my critters think this should be at 2 p.m., but I think it should be closer to 4 (later in summer). I chop sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, greens or herbs if available, and any fruit rinds, cores, or other scraps I've saved from our meals. The pigs and chickens also get dairy and meat scraps. The pigs each get their pans topped off with a cup or two of whey, milk, and/or cooking or canning jar water I've saved. The pigs are one reason I plan to always keep a goat or two in milk all winter. Now that the hens are laying again, I beat a couple of eggs into this mixture too.


When Dan's home he tosses the chickens their afternoon scratch while I feed the pigs. They know it's feeding time and have been squealing non-stop to let me know they're hungry (as if I could forget). By this time all the goats are bellyaching hollering to be fed too. The bucks are next, though, because they and the pigs only get pan fed once a day.

Lastly the girls. They don't think it's fair they should have to wait until last, but I remind them they get fed in the morning too. They don't care about that, but I sympathize because I know that being pregnant and making milk is work. I'm milking once a day now, so Lily and Surprise are tied outside of the pasture at their feeders, while Helen, Daphne, and Bunny get theirs in the pasture. While I'm waiting on them I check and fill the chicken feeder, also water buckets are tended to once again.

Daphne & Helen are half-sisters. Even though they try to push the
other away, they eat pretty well from the same pan. When I tried to
feed them separately, they'd both finish off one pan & then the other.

Last rounds are made at dusk after the chickens have gone to roost. The doors to the coop are shut, as are all gates. If it's going to be very cold I'll top off hay feeders, because I know that roughage is how the goats will stay warm. This is another peaceful time of day. All the critters are settling down and I can catch a glimpse of the sunset if it's not too cloudy.

The time between morning and evening chores is filled with projects. We have indoor projects and outdoor projects. We have seasonal projects. For a list of what we hope to accomplish this year, click here. 

Theoretically, that hay feeder design works well and should be able to
accommodate three goats on either side.  I say theoretically because
the Nubians tend to each take a side and chase the Kinders else away.

The beauty of a routine is that once I walk out the door, the rest is set in motion. There's no pondering what to do next, decisions to make along the way, or trying to remember if I forgot anything. I make mental notes of things that will need tending to later, but by the time I'm done, I know the essentials of the day are taken care of.

How about you? Do you have a well-established routine or are you more spontaneous in your approach? Still experimenting? What are your favorite chores? Any tips and advice for the rest of us?


Kate said...

I love to hear about your day! I rush through morning chores before work, then do the afternoon chores more thoroughly with my husband. I like the idea of milking through the winter, but I dry off my goats to breed them - but maybe that's not necessary? I'm interested to hear how you do it!

Leigh said...

Kate, no, it's not necessary to breed does every year. Some say doing it every other year is actually healthier for them because it gives them a break from the stresses of pregnancy and kidding. My goal is to keep six Kinder does and breed four of them each year, milking the other two through. I'll rotate them so they'll kid two out of every three years.

There is a commercial Nubian dairy in our state that breeds only half their does every year, milking the other half through. I've read that not all individuals can do this well. Some cut back on milk production sooner than others. My two Nubians together are only giving me about a quart a day, but that's enough to keep my kefir grains alive and supplement the pigs.

DFW said...

Love your routine Leigh.

Maura said...

I also think of my outside chores are "bookmarks to the day".. Watching the sun rise from the stall door as I feed our "big guys" (horse and donkey) is such a treat, and I always take a few minutes to watch the chickens... they are so funny. I can't imagine what the day would be like without the structure of my outside work...

Karen@ onthebanksofsaltcreek.com said...

I love routine. I'm like a three year old at heart.
Since our move to our farm nearly eight months ago it has been harder to develop a routine. I guess because it is such a big change from city life.
Slowly but surely we are getting there.

Woolly Bits said...

I have routine jobs - esp. with the dogs. I think all animals like a routine in feeding and being looked after! other things I might do more spontaneously, but that's easy when no other creatures depend on me for them! and I think work is seen as a negative thing for all those people, who only do their job as a source of income, not because they actually like doing it!

Harry Flashman said...

There's a certain comfort and stability in routine. If you can hold to your normal routine, then that means no great crisis of the day has erupted.

Unknown said...

I too, love my routine. It brings order to chaos. :)

Dawn said...

I like having a routine, so do the animals, and the dog is very good at reminding me what time it is if I am distracted doing something else, I get a bit of a break from it when hubby comes home and he takes over the morning feeds so I can have a lie in although a lie n is 7am here :-)

Ed said...

Back when I was on the farm, our routines were very much like yours, tending to the animals morning and evenings. It certainly is honest work and I like to think of it as working from the neck down because I do some of my best thinking while doing chores.

Now that I'm off the farm, I do enjoy having mornings and evenings free without having to worry about getting everyone fed. If I need my animal fix, I just head back to the farm to get it now and then.

Mark said...

I'm a person who loves being able to hold to routine, too. I was struck just this morning in my Bible reading about how God's plan for our lives always includes being productive and your comment about "Since when did we decide work was bad?" really resonated with me. Since I still work a "day job" and the garden work is seasonal my routine has several permutations I go through based on the time of year.

Mornings for me are getting ready for work, Bible reading, and feeding of household pets. After a 45 minute commute during which I enjoy listening to various podcasts, I microwave a breakfast prepared the evening before and eat while I catch up on email and such. De gets to sleep in a little and she takes care of the morning chicken chores before she goes to work.

Spring, summer and fall evenings are filled with garden and (when I can't avoid it) lawn chores. The last part of each day is computer and blog work. Winters should be a little easier, but with snow removal and the extra attention vehicles need thrown in it seems not to be.

Projects are primarily done on weekends and vacation days. Meetings for Church, Small Group, and Amateur radio consume Sunday mornings and two or three evenings a week. Family time is liberally sprinkled amongst it all. I'm always busy, always a bit behind, and reveling in the privilege of being the steward of so many good things. I have to say that I love the busy routine and consider myself blessed to have it.

Mama Mess said...

I take great peace and contentment from my daily chore routine. It's very peaceful and settling for me. The few times we've been without animals has been stressful for me, as I consider my daily chores to be "thearapy"!

Leah said...

I love to hear about your daily routine! I used to have a structured routine like that when I was in college as most of my classes were online but now that I went back to work full time I have to squeeze my chores in the morning before I rush off to work and then take my time in the evening. I love greeting the sun every morning for work, it brightens my day and makes me happy, which is a good thing to go into work as.

DebbieB said...

Leigh, what a nice post - I enjoyed "accompanying" you for your daily chores. :)

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

I like routine but could never keep up to all you do at my age! I would like a couple chickens though! Loved the picture of the goat in the wheelbarrow! Nancy

Leigh said...

Deb, thanks!

Maura, I do agree and I love to linger with our critters.

Karen, it took awhile for us too, as well as some trial and error. You'll get there. :)

Bettina, animals almost demand a routine, don't they? And I think you're right about work. It's more enjoyable when it's a life choice than a necessity.

Harry, I like that!

Brittany, I like that too! So true.

Dawn, it is nice to have someone to share the chores with. :) And critters do have a way of demanding we stay on track, LOL

Ed, I have to agree about thinking time. When there is a set routine, it leaves the mind free for other things.

Mark, having to work an away job plus on a homestead can be stressful. It is for Dan at times. Sounds like your days are very full.

the Goodwife, animals are therapy! It's true. They are always honest about their feelings and are pretty easy to please. :)

Debbie, thanks!

Nancy, well, you just do what you gotta do. :)

Sandy Livesay said...


I enjoy my routine, and find it hard to deviate from it :-)

Unknown said...

We only have a 2 kids, a dog, 20 chickens and 2 horses that we board in the winter. I leave for work at 6:15 am usually so my husband throws hay out for the horses and lets them out. He checks on the chickens water, gets the kids ready for school and drops them at daycare and feeds the dog. He then goes to work and is usually home by 9 am (he drives school bus). Feeds the dog again at noon and the evening I go out with him to clean out the horse stalls, give the horses oats/carrots and let them in for the night. Then we give the chickens the household scraps and collect the eggs. Feed the dog...make dinner...homework.

Cat Eye Cottage said...

I love hearing the precise order to your routine ordered by the preferences of the animals themselves, not by your choice of order. My routine is not as strict, but I don't have as many animals to care for. I let the chickens and ducks out of the coop in the morning and check on the rabbits. After that, it's anyone's game.

Kev Alviti said...

Mine is very simple in the winter. In the morning I let the chickens out and feed and water them befoer my wife leaves for work (that way I get to do it on my own!). Then in the evening we shut the chickens in together (me and my two little girls) collecting the eggs. We then go and get the firewood for the evening where they both like to carry some for me! Depending on what I'm cooking for tea I we might go and get some veg out of the garden or shed at the same time.
I doubt I'll be able to keep this happy little routine for long!
your routine sounds much more involved than mine!

Bag End Gardener said...

I guess people who don't keep animals would be surprised at just how much you do every day. Even though it is a great deal of work, your routine is beautiful and I do envy you for it.

I realised a while ago that lack of routine is probably one of the most difficult things for me. I never know from one day to the next whether Management will be working at home or out on business (and therefore whether I'm cooking for one or two), whether LP will be here to help with our outdoor building work, whether if I can go for a decent dog walk or if the weather will be too wet/cold/windy. But it is still a very good life at Bag End and I am thankful for that.

Leigh said...

Sandy, routines are like that, aren't they? I kind of like that because I don't tend to forget things that are part of my routine!

Tanya, sounds like you have good teamwork. That's wonderful for any routine.

Candace, order usually has to do with keeping things quiet. The critters that tend to holler loudest have ended up at the front of the routine, LOL

Kev, I love that you go out with your girls to do the evening chicken chores. :) I'm finding that the more critters we have, the more involved it gets!

Jayne, sounds like you have to be very flexible. Not a bad thing at all!

Dinie said...

I'm still working on establishing my homestead so morning chores change a lot. Right now I have rabbits and chickens. I bought 2 baby ducks this year so that will change my routine a little bit too. I'm still working on fencing for my goats and pigs (that I don't have yet) so I work on that in between chores. Thanks for sharing this, it's insightful and helps me to think about what I might be doing in a few more years!

Leigh said...

Stephanie, thank you for the comment! I love that you have chickens, rabbits, and ducks. We have found that working out a routine that meets both the animals' needs plus is convenient for us helps tremendously.