Grit Blogs > Out-standing in my Field

Farm Labor: Reducing and Reorganizing Your Workload

A photo of Brandon MitchellWhen I was in college, one of my Ag Economics classes required a farm simulation. Paired up with a friend of mine, we were given our book with all types of farming opportunities, the costs, profit margins, and everything else that goes into it.Sounds easy enough. Pick a farming practice that's both profitable and one we like and put everything into that basket. The problem is each team had certain limitations: money, land regulations, and of course labor.

While most full-time farmers think it's hard to manage time, it's even harder for someone who works full-time in town, dealing with supervisors, sitting in my Dilbert cubicle (as my teacher, the late Dr. Greer used to say), carrying kids to babysitters, band practice, sports, fixing supper (that's dinner for the more sophisticated), and still have the energy to do farm work. One way I've streamlined my labor is to do a little bit of everything.

No. I’m not crazy, but before you start looking up the number to the local looney bin, I did not say, do a lot of everything. The biggest problem most of us have is dealing with a big harvest. Even a five acre farm gets to be too big when you have a bumper crop of tomatoes coming in at the same time. You have to harvest them, can/freeze/dry them, and then package them for storage. It's easier if you have tomatoes that come in at different times, but there's still no variety in your work, and you'll get sick just looking at a tomato after a while.

By doing a little bit of everything, you eliminate both problems. Now don't get me wrong, when I say everything, I don't have llamas, peacocks, quail, zucchini, broccoli, and every thing else that found it's way onto the ark, but I have a few strawberry plants that come in before the blueberries off of six plants, which come in before my sweet corn. Later I get watermelons, followed by pumpkins, followed by some fall veggies.

I do the same for the livestock. I don't like calving in winter, so I push that back to April and May. If I'm out watching the cows, might as well have the goats kidding during the same time frame. There's really no more labor, and I'm only bound to my pastures for a shortened length of time.

You see, what I’m really trying to say is I only want to work so much per day. I only have so much time anyway, and I have other things to do. If farming is no longer fun, I can think of other things to do. The best way to keep it fun is to prepare ahead. Look at all the things you like to do and find out when it is most labor intensive. Then plan everything to work with each other, not against.

On my own farm, my year may look like this:

Now this isn't exactly what I'll be doing during the upcoming year, but it's pretty close. Notice how each month differs (at least slightly) from the preceding and succeeding months. Also, you'll notice I do more work with longer days, and I do less work when it's extremely hot or cold.