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:

  • January-March: Relax. It's too cold outside. On warm days, try to get some fencing done. Maybe build another moveable livestock pen. Start seedlings inside, or maybe in a hot house I could build. Keep hay out for the livestock. Order baby chicks. Plant cold tolerant vegetables at end of March.
  • April: Cows and goats start calving and kidding. The sun is shining. Start planting the garden. Baby chicks arrive.
  • May: Keep planting in garden to spread out harvest time. All livestock born by end of month. Start harvesting strawberries and put chickens outside in moveable pens. Purchase hay for winter.
  • June: Finish planting garden. Start harvesting blueberries and finish harvesting strawberries (except ever bearing strawberries). Sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers should be coming in soon.
  • July: Keep harvesting garden. May need to irrigate some. If meat chickens were ordered in spring, now is a good time to clean out a spot in the freezer. Can tomatoes. Make pickles. Harvest watermelons. Try to stay inside whenever possible.
  • August: Man is it hot. Stay inside. Drink lemonade. Check on livestock. Keep irrigating if necessary. If laying hens were ordered, eggs should be arriving. Goat kids should all be weaned by next month.
  • September: Vegetables start producing again. Plant fall garden. Harvest pumpkins. Eggs should be larger and more.
  • October: Calves should be at or near weaning age. Carry a goat (or goats) to meat processor along with calf born last spring. Pick all tomatoes before frost. Can or make fried green tomatoes out of them.
  • November: Start feeding hay (May have started sooner). Harvest fall vegetable garden. Move chickens inside barn, coop, or hoophouse. Consider new projects needed for the upcoming year.
  • December: Relax. See friends. Feed hay. Ease into next year's projects. Read a book.

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.

nebraska dave
11/3/2010 6:51:41 PM

@Brandon, you’re a like way more organized than me. I’m more of a “what is the next right thing to do” kind of a guy. I guess that I would consider myself some what organized as I do plan projects but I never have a plan for the entire year. There are some days when I wake up I wonder what I will do for the day and then the phone rings with a request from friends, neighbors, or relatives to fix, haul, or help with some task. Each day has a life of its own and never is there a boring time. It is a good thing when things slow down to a pace where I can just do nothing for a day or two. Some times it’s just nice to sit on the poor man’s patio, sip a nice cup of coffee, and watch the day pass by. I’ve learned there’s a time to be busy and a time to rest. I suppose that a little more organization and planning in my life would make things a bit easier, but being retired there’s always tomorrow. Right? Have a great organized day.