Six months ago I was enthusiastically reporting the beginning of our poultry season. And now we’re at the end of the poultry season. Turn, turn, turn.
This Thursday, well before daylight, Rachel and I loaded the year’s final batch of turkeys onto a trailer for their trip to the butcher. Each fall, as we latch that trailer door one last time, it feels like we’ve reached a significant moment. Something has been seen through to the end. And now we’re ready for a change. Pasture raised poultry farming is necessarily a seasonal activity, and we find that our lives flow with a remarkable proportionality to the seasonal change in day length.
Care for chickens involves us intensely. The newly hatched birds require constant attention. As they grow and begin to move across the pastures, we’re out with them several times per day topping up their feeders, checking and refilling their waterers, and making sure that all of them are doing well. We’re carrying feed, filling hoppers, and jockeying water tanks around. On hot afternoons we make extra visits to flush the water hoses connected to their drinkers so that their water doesn’t become too warm. When storms threaten, we adjust the flaps on their shelters to protect them from chilly drafts. At every point in their lives, we must to be there to anticipate their next need.
When groups of chickens are ready for butchering, the job of loading all the birds requires a large group effort. All hands from our farm, along with a few strong-backed young men from the neighborhood, don headlamps and go out to the pasture shelter after dark while the chickens are sleeping. We load chickens into transport crates and stack them on a trailer to bring them to the butcher. Somehow this work always seems to fall on steamy hot nights or on rainy nights. Obviously, they can’t all be bad weather events, but in my imaginings the only options are that we’re either sweating or soaking while loading crate after heavy crate onto the trailer.
Our pasture raised turkeys require a similar daily routine. Given their larger bodies, we necessarily adapt our system to their particular needs. But each day we’re doing all the same sorts of work with them too, just at turkey scale, so everything is bigger and the pasture moves cover more ground.
Slow this Down
Winter on the farm is quieter. We’ve come to appreciate the change of pace. There’s more lingering after meals, more time with the family in the evening. I wouldn’t pretend that one particular way of living is ideal, but in living with this seasonal duality, I find that I can enjoy both modes in their appropriate time.
From now until things green up again in the spring, our livestock chores only require a couple hours each day. We still have the herd of cattle to care for. Here in late October they still are rotationally grazing green grass, so we’re moving them to fresh pasture daily. But soon enough we’ll reach the end of the grass and we’ll switch their feed to baled grass saved from this summer. And of course we have our livestock guardian dogs to care for through the winter. During their off-season we station them with a small flock of geriatric laying hens. The dogs seem to require a task, so that group of cranky old hens keeps them sharp.
Of course, our winter days aren’t characterized by indolence. We have our weekly orders to pack. There’s firewood to cut in the woods, trees to prune in the orchard, snow to shovel, and plenty of repair projects left over from all that went undone during the rush of summer. It’s also the time when we do most of our planning: forecasting the next season, developing budgets and doing all the tedious but critical work that underpins the operation of our farm.
Right now I’m actually eager to do all these off-season tasks. I know that by February I’ll be turning my sights toward springtime, itching to bust of my winter routine. But today the seasonal switch is still fresh and I only see the opportunity it presents without feeling the limitation. I am glad to participate in this way of life, glad to cycle back and forth through these periods of change and renewal. Turn, turn, turn.