People sometimes wonder how farmers spend the winter. It seems like it would be the “slow” time of year filled with cozy afternoons around the woodstove complimented by cocoa and a good book. Alas, I wish that there were more time for this kind of leisurely midwinter activity.
The reality is, a farmer’s winter can be just as busy as summer. As small business owners we’re our own bookkeepers, marketing agents, purchasing negotiators and sales team. I spend long hours in front of the computer being threatened by momentous stacks of paperwork. We inventory our equipment and supplies, making alarmingly long lists of things that will need repairing or replacing in the coming year. We update our brochures and web listings and start recruiting members for the CSA. We evaluate our crop rotations, plan our gardens and make rigorously scheduled To-Do Lists for the moment the snow disappears. Because we moved in late in the season and didn’t have a supply cut and stacked, there’s also the nearly daily need to cut and split cord wood for our constantly hungry woodstove. (Luckily for us, there’s plenty of beautifully seasoned standing dead-wood on the property!)
Animal chores are more time consuming in the winter as well. Instead of the livestock going to the food (read: walking over to a nice clump of grass and nibbling) we have to take the food to the animals. Twice a day we lug around heavy bales of hay, rain, snow or shine. There’s ice to chip and snow to shovel. Sheep in particular have poor depth perception, so it is important to clear away the deep snow to create a path for them to walk.
February is looming and we’re starting baby watch. We run an opportunistic sheep flock, meaning the ram remains with the ewes all year long. Breeding season starts in August, so we could start lambing as early as January. Some of our poor ewes look like barrels with four little sticks for legs. One of the Trust’s cows is also pregnant – we’re unsure of her due date, but we are expecting a calf any time over the next few weeks.
I have made an effort to read at least a few pages while having lunch each day of Catherine Friend’s book, “Sheepish.” Thus far, an excellent read (and not just because I love sheep!) But alas, I have a stack of catalogs, newsletters and other publications that I want to peruse that is just getting taller and taller.
It’s hard to believe that in 3 weeks or so we’ll be getting out the taps and start sugaring. Orders for seeds will need to be placed without delay to make sure we get all the varieties we want to plant this season. Onion and leek seeds will need to be started unbelievably soon as well!
Needless to say, I’ve kept myself pretty busy! Hope you are all enjoying your winters, however you spend them!