Fitness Boot Camp: My Week Of Farming Solo

You may be wondering why I haven’t posted anything this week, and I want to end any speculation that I might be on vacation. As if. I was running the farm solo this week while Mr. fMf was at spring break an offsite conference, and let’s just say that my mettle has definitely been tested.

I’ve always believed that running even a small farm (like ours) alone would be extremely difficult; there are simply tasks that are much more easily done by two people, like moving low tractors in the pasture or attaching shadecloth to a hoop tractor on a windy day. Two people make those tasks possible, whereas one person might just lose his or her mind trying to figure out how to accomplish them.

These girls can get mean if breakfast is late

Before he left for training, we brainstormed the different challenges I might encounter so that we could try to address them in advance. One was to find a way to direct the geese into the coop with just one person to herd them: the naughty birds frequently disperse and go in various directions at lock-up time, but two people can gather and redirect them fairly easily. We decided to try to use a piece of welded wire fencing that could be extended to block a route that the geese would sometimes use to go behind the coop, avoiding the front entrance. It seemed like it would work, so on the first night I attempted to herd the geese in alone, I extended the fencing to block them and found that I was trying to wrestle a very uncooperative, stiff, curled piece of fence into position.

The fencing wasn’t going to win. I forced it into a reasonable semblance of “in place” and it worked to deter the geese from going into that area. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, except that one gander decided that he wasn’t going in, and he escaped from the “chute” set up to guide the geese into the coop. As I chased him around the coop and back to the entry point, geese that had already gone into the coop decided to come back out. No!

Plenty of attitude here

As you might imagine, I was growing ever so slightly frustrated. I grabbed a long PVC pole that we use to direct birds, and tapped it, emphatically, on the top of the wire of the chute to encourage them to move into the coop…and the pole snapped off at the tip. About 6 inches of PVC broke off and created what looked like a spear. I’m not sure if it was the “spear”, the expletives, or the look on my face, but those geese finally all went into the coop and were secured for the night.

After the goose herding experience, I realized that I hadn’t factored in how much longer it would take for one person to do what’s usually the quickest set of chores of the day: nightly lockup. It was getting dark, and I still had food bowls and waterers to collect from various tractors in far-flung locations; the pigs were clamoring for their evening treats; the chickens in the main coop needed to have their pop door locked, coop windows closed, and a final egg check conducted; the last check of the day for eggs in the Bresse tractor and in the barn (goose eggs) still needed to be done; the hose needed to be “walked out” to ensure that all remaining water was pushed out (so that ice wouldn’t form overnight and prevent use of the hose); the faucet needed to be wrapped and protected from the cold; the wild bird feeders out front needed to be collected and stored for the night; and the dog poop was still waiting to be picked up.

It may not be glamorous, but picking up the dog poop daily means that there’s no risk of us or the dogs stepping in it when they go out to do their business. When it’s dark outside, though, it’s nigh impossible to see the stake flags we use to mark where the poop is located in the grass. By the time I got to this chore (one of the last), it really was dark and I didn’t have a flashlight on me. I did the best that I could, but I missed one flag, so had an extra (frozen) pile to pick up the next day.

I won’t go into detail about the chores that go on indoors, like washing chick butts if they’re pasty (fortunately rare), changing brooder flooring, turning/misting/cooling goose eggs, monitoring and adjusting incubator temperature and humidity, washing soiled towels and shelf liner used in brooders, stirring fermented feed twice a day, turning hatching eggs being stored prior to incubation several times a day…the list goes on.

In addition the “standard” chores, there are other ad hoc ones like refreshing nest boxes, filling oyster shell and grit feeders, treating injuries if needed, making emergency repairs or modifications – and many other unanticipated tasks that become a priority. On one very windy day mid-week, I had to do an emergency repair on the shadecloth attached to the Bresse tractor because it was becoming stormy and I wanted to ensure that the birds had shelter from the wind and any rain – ties on the cloth had broken and it was flapping in the wind like a flag. Expect the unexpected on the farm, and usually at inopportune times.

After the first couple of days of doing solo farming, I was tired, sore, and grouchy. I had DOMS from muscle strain (mostly from carrying more 1 gallon pails and 5 gallon buckets full of water more often and farther than normal), especially in my trapezius muscles, which caused a headache. As the days went on, the routine became easier, it went faster, and I became stronger. It was Farm Boot Camp at its finest.

He’s going to have to do a lot more of this to catch up!

Of course, now that I have the routine down and my biceps are rock hard, Mr. fMf is returning from his vacation training. In retrospect, it was a valuable exercise for me to verify that I could do this, if necessary. Because of how time-consuming and labor-intensive farming solo is, I sincerely prefer having at least a little help. Besides, the less time I have to spend on farm chores, the more time I can spend on blogging, fermenting, cooking, cogitating, and other important activities that get put on the back burner.

Even though I ate well during this week, I’m pretty sure (based on how my farm pants fit) that I lost a little weight. Who doesn’t want to do Farm Boot Camp? Lose weight, gain muscle, take care of animals! My fellow farmers who embrace the physically challenging aspects of this lifestyle, I salute you. Stay strong so you can farm as long as you wish.