Slowdown Farmstead
Slowdown Farmstead
a day in the life

a day in the life

almost-autumn edition

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m sitting in our screened-in porch all alone in the world of the calling barred owl, “Who-cooks-for-you?” “Well, I do, thank you very much. And who, pray tell cooks for you, my fine feathered friend?”

It’s going to be another jam-packed day as all days at this time of year are. This is harvest season for us. I told that to a vegetable farmer friend the other day and he later said, “I thought, pffft… one family garden isn’t much, but then I remembered you harvest all your own animals.” That’s right, we do, and that’s a great deal of time and effort to build into all of the other projects that need to be completed before the snow flies. 

I’ve done a winter edition of ‘a day in the life’. I thought now would be a good time to do another. The “now” being in that time between summer and autumn where the myriad of tasks grows. Because we harvest all of our own food, there has to be time set aside as the demands of nature unfold. That requires a great deal of coordination between my husband and I. Take today, for instance, there are three sheep to harvest while I’m making my way through a winter’s worth of carrots that must come out of the ground and 150 pounds of fruit that has to be processed. I also have many, many foraged plants for food and medicine that have to be tended to in one way or another.

So, without further ado, here’s today:

0415: Wake up. Put tallow on stove to render. Meditate. Drink herbal infusion while writing (red light glasses on/screen filter on/lap filter on/house lit by oil lamps or candles).

0530: Empty dishwasher and load with first batch of canning jars to sterilise. Get ingredients set out for first canning recipe of the day. Make two tinctures with medicinal mushrooms I foraged yesterday afternoon.

0600: Take soap out of mould and slice. Lay on drying racks. Get dressed. Feed dogs. Go for walk or other form of cardio outside.

0700: Breakfast

0730: Farm chores. Farm chores at this time of year are extensive. We have some ducks that snuck in another batch of ducklings that we were too late to stop. We started the year with 12 ducks and we’re ending it with well over 50. They’re hard to count! That makes for tight living conditions at night when we put them into their duck house. Everyone is happy to get out in the morning. Except the geese. If they’re ever happy, I don’t know about it. 

The rabbits, too, are reaching max capacity. It takes me over 20 minutes to forage all of their feed. They need two bushels full of packed fodder including everything from branches with leaves to garden weeds and plants to whatever is growing in the fields that the cows and sheep don’t like, but the rabbits love. A current favourite is Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot. 

Chickens are the easiest of any farm animal. Open the door and feed them. The end. This morning they’re getting the spent fatty bits of the tallow I rendered two days ago. They’re most appreciative.

Our turkeys live with our chickens so it’s the same for them. Everyone free ranges throughout the day and gets locked up at night.

Feed the barn cats and commend them on any offerings they’ve left for us. A barn cat must always be appreciated. 

Because our cattle are in two herds, we have to move electric fence around for two herds and water two herds and get the minerals/salt out to two herds. The dairy and the beef are separate in the summer to manage our pastures effectively.

Earlier in the summer, we would milk first thing in the morning, but with our cows further along in their lactation, we are able to just get milk when we need it now. That’s another great reason to keep the calf with its mother. If we want some milk, we just separate them in the evening and we have milk in the morning. We are, however, not needing any milk on this fine day so there is no milking to be done.

Lean roast getting wrapped in caul fat (the fat surrounding the guts of animals) for a long braise.
Into the oven with herbs/spices apples and pears. Succulent and delicious by the time supper rolls around.

0900: Chores over and the work of summer that sustains us over winter commences. I’m starting with my peaches. I’ve already done my chutneys and sauces with the early summer peaches. These peaches are all for canning in a simple honey syrup. Word on the street is that my son-in-law loved the peaches I brought them on our last visit so it looks like I’m going to have to do a case just for them.

While I’m canning, Troy is setting up to harvest three sheep. Usually I do that with him, but ripening fruit waits for no-one. He brings me in the knives and I have to pause kitchen tasks to sharpen them. The sharpening is my job. He goes about preparing the water, bowls, and cooler. I washed out the walk in cooler and turned it on yesterday. This is where we hang our meat. It will run straight through until winter now.

I spend the rest of the morning canning fruit while also congruently starting our lunch around 11:15 or so. At some point I remember to get outside and get my calendula off the solar dehydrator, bring it in, and cover it with organic olive oil to hang out in a sunny window for a few weeks.

12:00:  Eat lunch outside together, soaking up as many rays as possible. Demanding beef cows interrupt with their moos until I finally relent and fill a basket of apples for them. They eat contentedly while we finish our meal, serenading us with their crunching.

12:30:  Head out to field to gather the organs from the sheep Troy has killed. I put the heads into a cooler. I will deal with them tomorrow. The livers/kidneys/caul/tracheas/spleen/pancreas all go into a separate cooler. I will wrap them all tomorrow as well.

Two mutton and a nine month old lamb. Lamb and goats are very easy to butcher and a great place to start on a small farm/homestead.

1300: Unload my second round of jars from the dishwasher and start washing and preparing for more peaches. Start my recipe for plum chutney which can cook down for the many hours it takes while I’m making my way through peaches. Troy is done with the three sheep. I can hear him milling wood for the root cellar shelves. It’s a project that has to be fit in around more imminent tasks (just like everything at this time of year) and it’s taking longer than hoped. He’s stacking the milled wood on the old hay wagon. I’m watching that pile grow with a little trepidation. I definitely need those shelves done, but it’s my job to pine tar all of that wood and there’s an awful lot of wood. Another job to fit into the cracks of many others.

1400: Weight lifting and sun bathing. All else is on hold. We sun bathe together. It’s important for us to gather all of that vitamin D now in our climate - tummies and bums and legs need sun! It’s a nice time to talk and maybe even take a nap if it comes.

1500:  Start supper, check on chutney, keep plugging along with fruit.

1700:  Eat supper outside on picnic table. Cows find us and start bellowing again. Troy tells me to ignore them. I just can’t do it. Gather apples and feed. I’m well trained.

1745:  Usually this is our end of day wind down time. But the days need to stretch at this time of year. So, I continue on with fruit. Chutney is ready to be canned. Continue slicing and processing peaches. 

1900: Troy’s doing evening chores. Those entail locking up animals in their houses so any wild critters looking for a midnight snack leave empty handed. I’m cleaning up the kitchen, taking stock and deciding where and what I will tackle tomorrow. Get outside for walk with my love and the pups while the sunsets.

2015: A nice bath, a good book, chatting with my man. He usually joins me tub side and we chat for a time while I soak my bones. He doesn’t like baths. He thinks it’s “stewing in your own dirty water”. Funny guy.

2045:  Reading in bed for five minutes before I’m out. 

I’d say this is a typical day this time of year. If it’s a day when we harvest a steer, the meals and other timings are similar but instead of canning I’m skinning or gutting. If it’s a day when I’m cleaning out the freezers all day (an upcoming task), I’m still following that basic template and just plugging in different things at times I would be canning.

We always aim to be done our work day by supper, but at this time of year that’s not possible so we modify things to add a few hours onto our day after supper without burning ourselves out. We’ve done that burning out bit and we aren’t going to do that again. At our first farm, we would commonly be working until 11:00pm with headlamps on. No thanks. Nothing is worth that hit on your health and wellbeing. 

Leah - as fine a cow as you ever did see. She’s a professional in every way.

On a farm there is always calamities and surprises. When you work with so much life, there is sure to be unplanned events. You never know what’s going to find you when you go outside. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I’ll vouch for that and so would the victims of our talented barn cat hunters. Maybe those failures and hiccups happen so often now that we just don’t react as we once did. Or maybe we just have the competence and experience to know whatever it is, we’ll fix it. I’m not sure which one it is, but things just don’t get us as riled up as they once did. If nothing else, farming removes the illusion of our own control. We can do what we can do and from there, we can only solve the myriad problems that arise.

Tomorrow I will skin those sheep heads, butcher the organs and wrap them up, get my carrots out of the ground and more of my apples off of the tree to ferment/dehydrate/freeze dry/pickle. Every time I feel like it’s all a bit too much, I remind myself of the pleasures of winter. In the meantime, we are sure to build in those little bits of pleasure into every day. I hear a naked cold plunge is in order for tomorrow morning’s sunrise with my love. I’m all in. 

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Slowdown Farmstead
Slowdown Farmstead
Cultivating authenticity in a synthetic world. Ruminations on ancestral food, healthy living, family, connection to the natural world, life, death and this radical little thing called "sovereignty".