Thursday, December 16, 2010

time to slow down

It's winter, and running a farm takes more out of you. The morning chores are slower, require more layers and effort. The night rounds are tricky, slipping on ice and carrying buckets through deep snow. So to make things a little simpler, I have stopped some of the things that pull me away from this fine work and require more of my time. I'm offering these as examples for some of you in the same situation.

1. No more classes or lessons.
Riding lessons are on hold, herding lessons are on hold, workshops, classes, and anything else extracurricular are on hold till the sun comes back. It's just too much to come home on a 12 degree weeknight, rush through chores, rush to the barn, and then come home around 8 panting with still more work to do. Same for weekend herding. Now is the time to read, study, write, and stoke fires. I am in a semi-hibernation.

2. Less Shopping.
I stopped carrying a debit card or credit card with me. I carry a few bucks in case I need gas or something, and the impulse to order online is fading as well. In an effort to start truly saving for the life I want: which is to say a full time farmer and writer, I need to learn to be frugal. Which my natural tendencies lean towards anyway. I buy used, I cook at home, I don't travel, I don't have cable. I do buy a lot of books, but in a way, I consider that okay. As a writer I want people buying/borrowing/reading books.

3. Learning to entertain myself

...with my own means. A fiddle, a novel I bought but never got around to reading, another day with the Lord of the RIngs on DVD instead of renting a new flick: all of this saves on energy and time that would go into buying, renting, or doing things outside the home. While the point is to stay put, not to save money, I have learned that in my own life leaving the farm is a way to ensure I'll lose money. But staying put is a way to ensure I'll either create, fix, or tend something. I am getting to the point in my life where those three things are all that seems to matter anymore.

4. Back to (Home) School.
I've learned that farming this way, which is to say mid-life with a full-time job) means I can't stop the train and become an apprentice. But I can dedicate my time to a chapter a night of a farming book. I can take notes, get videos from the NEBCA library, sort through back issues of Countryside, Small Farmers Journal, SHEEP!, and countryside to learn this life in the academic sense. With lambs just a few months away (the earliest drop date is March 19th) it can't hurt to re-read Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep (my bible), Living with Sheep, and the Modern Shepherd. I can watch some videos and read some of the stuff for free from the NEBCA library (Like Aled Owen's Time Well Spent) and start learning more about the partnership that is me and Gibson here at CAF. I don't expect him to be truly trained until he is 2 or three years old (long learning curve on new shepherds) but that doesn't mean I can't study up. And, in no way do I mean to diminish the value of classes or extension workshops (I will take one to learn shearing this spring), but there is nothing just as valuable a book, highlighter, and spiral bound notebook and pen can't teach you if you're willing to become your own teacher.

So what do you do to cut back and slow down in winter. Is it a time of study and reading for you as well? Or is it a time of planning, seed catalogs, and phone calls?

P.S. I emailed my editor about the idea of making this blog into a book. They are considering it. But if you want to urge them forward, send a note to Storey and let them know what you want to read from me!


Blogger Katie said...

I'm not a farmer and neither are my humans, but we all enjoy reading your blog. I love that you have a Border Collie and really have fun reading about your plans. You are so smart to hunker down for the winter months. Just like any mammal, you need to conserve your energy for springtime. For us furries it means months of thicker fur, more eating to stay warm, and lots of fun time close to our owners looking for ways to stay warm. My human momma lets me cuddle on her lap every day, she calls it "momma time" and keeps telling me that I think I'm a chiauwa or something like that.

December 16, 2010 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Staci said...

It has definitely been a tad cold this week and our routine changes as well. The care for the chickens is a little different in the winter although the cold doesn't seem to bother them too much. They are quite offended, however, when snow actually has the audacity to blow into their outdoor run. Not sure what Mother Nature is thinking. Reminders of keeping it simple and frugal are always good to think about a few times a year. I find myself thinking more about that this time of year as well. I also enjoy reflecting on any changes I'd like to make within myself - how I've handled certain situations, responded to people, etc.
I think your blog would be a GREAT book! Especially if it incorporated your beautiful photos you take of your farm and animals.

December 16, 2010 at 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna, I think winter is really the natural time of drawing inward...some of your observations remind me of the wonderful book, Winter: A Spiritual Geography, which I highly recommend, especially the essay by Donald Hall about living on his ancestral New Hampshire farm. It takes courage to do what you're doing, I think, given the conformity of our culture and the emphasis on meaningless speed. I chose a similar life some time ago and it feels very good. As you note, it is doable and can be a source of great happiness.

December 16, 2010 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger daisy g said...

Slowing down is what winter is made for. You are wise to rein in and use your energy for nesting, learning and just enjoying. Time for doing will come in spring. Stay toasty, Jenna!

December 16, 2010 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

We actually get more infrastructure projects done over the winter because our winters are mild (as opposed to our heat-stroke summers). We do, however, tend to cut back on extra time-fillers due to the shorter days. One thing my husband and I do as a ritual each New Year's Eve (or day) is come up with a list of goals for the upcoming year - things we want to accomplish on our farm. At the same time, we look at last year's list and talk about what got done, what didn't and what changed. We're always pleasantly surprised to find that we finish most of the list. This is also the time for finishing things - I like to put tasks to bed that have been dragging for awhile so I can start the new year with a mostly clean slate.

Jenna - I have a doe due to kid on March 14th, and another on the 21st. I don't know how lambing differs from kidding, but I'm happy to talk you off the ledge if you need it! You'll do just fine, though. Know this - you WILL get birthing goob all over your coat, your shirt, your pants, and anything else within a 10 foot radius. ;-)

December 16, 2010 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Oh and I agree - winter is a great time for research!

December 16, 2010 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Maery Rose said...

Last winter I was still living on 10 acres with my horses and dog. Not on the scale of what you're doing but it was quite the struggle just getting the frozen barn doors to slide open, keep the barn pump from freezing, and so on. Things are just harder in the winter and more things seem to break. Now that I'm citified, I have a lot less work to do but I also use this time for more reading and writing and get out skiing and riding my horse every chance I get.

December 16, 2010 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger Adam Lazar said...

Now that it's cold out, there isn't as much "pressure" to spend time outside and take advantage of the short summer months. Just staying at home and doing housekeeping with my daughter is what slows us down. Laundry, making beds, baking, shoveling the walk. What else do we need? There's not enough daylight for anything else anyway! (well, besides planning the spring garden).

December 16, 2010 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Tarheelbilly said...

Winter is my time to reflect, refine, and research. I do spend quality time with seed catalogs, pining over beautifully photographed pictures of vegetables, but I spend more time reflecting over the garden, planning for next season, and reading blogs and books about chickens, goats, bees, and cattle. It's also my time to catch up on knitting and sewing, hobbies that I pretty much neglect during the spring and summer months when I prefer getting dirty outdoors to sitting still.

There is nothing wrong with slowing down. Some of us have chosen to eschew popular culture's obsession with "more" and "faster." Slowing down and enjoying the short days strikes me as an authentic extension of living a full cycle of the homestead life. Enjoy winter's crawl. Pick up those knitting needles and fall in love with your yarn! :-)

December 16, 2010 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Seed catalogs and research here. More reading, sending out query letters, practicing spinning with that awesome drop spindle and knitting up some goodies...
Love the book idea- who would I direct my comments to @ Storey to encourage them to pick it up?

December 16, 2010 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
My perspective is different on livestock care in the winter. I find it MUCH easier. My horse is not rotated to different paddocks for grazing, the chickens stay inside the barn instead of going out into tractors and being moved everyday and the guineas pen/tractor stays next to their coop instead of being moved about. The horse has a heated water bucket and I rotate poultry water containers from next to the wood stove to the barn. Granted, my barn is attached to my house-so perhaps that is the difference. Less snow to travel through and a shorter distance to carry water!

December 16, 2010 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Been looking through the seed catalogs and trying to plan for next year. Reading about frost dates and what grows in Oklahoma where I am moving.

Like you I am reading everything about farming (ranching). Currently reading "Salad Bar Beef" by Joel Salatin. Trying to grasp how to put his methods to work.

I bake and cook for myself and try to use stuff from the garden. I still have root crops and some collards so those help round out the menu. Going to try to grow most everything I can: chickens, turkeys, rabbits... of course a steer, maybe a pig... have to see how you do with yours.

Winter is a time to plan.

SF bay area
California (for now)

December 16, 2010 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Moose Nugget said...

With today being a chilly 50 BELOW ZERO, I am glad we found new homes for our livestock before winter kicked in. (Having morning sickness that made the chicken coop and animal housing downright torturous spurred that on!)
Besides children and home fires, the only things left to tend are the cat and goldfish, and the husband.
Winter is a HUGE slow down in interior Alaska!
And I don't go out when it's colder than -20, which is pretty much from November to February.
No cable. No Internet either. (The iPhone picks up the 3G network where we are, which is nice but limits those Internet shopping sprees or all day surfing.)

Knit. Lots.
Board games
DVDs from home, library, and netflix. This is when I catch up on all the tv I never watch, though I don't even know what shows exist anymore!
trying new recipes

also, every year I challenge myself to learn a new home skill. This year, it's going to be dusting off the sewing machine I bought, um, 10 years ago, and actually learning to use it to do more than hem curtains.

About February, I start getting the garden bug. We can't ey anything in the ground before June 1, so I start mapping out the garden, making the wish list, researching where I'll order or buy starts, and draw elaborate pictures of the property with all the improvements I want to make in the coming spring/summer. Educating myself on HOW to grow stuff in Alaska is a big and daunting task. With a max of 100 days growing season, and the challenge of 24 hours of daylight and frost threat at any point in summer, you have to know your stuff! I spend most of Feb, March, and April reading up on the references. I spend a lot of May (when all the neighbors come out of hibernation) talking to folks from the farmers market or neighbors I've noticed with thriving gardens for tips on what to grow and how.

December 16, 2010 at 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a somewhat similar winter plan in the works (in addition to some dissertation work). I need to cut back, both in terms of time and money, so plans are in place to do less, spend less, and spend a lot more time focusing on my bigger priorities and planning for the future. There's food I want to start making, a container garden to plan, a guitar to improve on, and piles of books to read and learn from. Really, I think there's a lot of value in being a homebody, and there's no shortage of things that I want to get to doing now that winter's here and there's even more of an inclination to be a homebody than usual.

December 16, 2010 at 11:42 PM  
Blogger KathyB. said...

I am slowly gearing myself and my life down to being able to be a homebody during the late fall and winter months. My sheep would most definitely profit from this, as would my your blog.

December 17, 2010 at 4:11 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

I think you have left out any socialization that you may have, and are becoming a hermit. There HAS to be a balance Jenna. Go to readings at bookstores, heck, just go to book stores. Have some coffee at a cafe.

You are not the only person who has a full time job and a small land holding. Get out there and enjoy your life.

Also, not having a credit or debit card with you when you break down is foolish. You never know when it's below zero and you're coming home, and your car/truck breaks down, and you need a tow.

Lots of us have full time jobs and run livestock, and the happy ones find a happy medium between hard work on the farm and a little bit of pleasure (this as told to me by my grandfather who was a carpenter and had a HUGE farm to run).

December 17, 2010 at 6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope your blog gets turned into a book, but keeping your blog free. It would be good to have a great physical motivational/help manual like Made From Scratch, but different in a way! I would buy it, most definitely!


December 17, 2010 at 7:09 AM  
Blogger sash said...

In my New England winter I find myself getting a lot of gardening and island vacation-type magazines from the library - anything to see more GREEN. My dog tends to speed up in winter, however and it just makes me laugh.

December 17, 2010 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Kelpie, I do many things besides the four things I wrote down. Including social events, (three this weekend) with me going to a party, a market, and folks coming to the farm. These are simply things I am working on weekend afternoons or evenings after work.

December 17, 2010 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Jenna you very often write what I am thinking.
Is it ok with you if I link from my BLOG to your Mother Earh article on Barnheart?If not contact me of course I will give you credit. Thanks

December 17, 2010 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you on slowing down, and semi hibernating this winter. Planning for spring fencing projects, reading everything I can on kidding, as I bred my angora goat does this year, washing and dyeing fleece, spinning all of that. And netflix for movies. Oh, I wanted to mention to you also, so you can get books, at little to no cost. try it, you'll like it :)

December 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

winter is for the projects i simply won't do when its a beautiful spring/summer/fall day when this 9-5er is desperate to enjoy the great outdoors with my 4 dogs, friends, and running shoes.

the majority of my knitting, reading, scrapbooking, organizing, deeep cleaning etc. go on the backburner except during these cold windy winter months.

after working on farm on the weekends to supplement my income for a year which included sheep, horses, mules, a flock of chickens, and geese...i only have 4chickens and 4 dogs and feel like i'm living in the lap of luxury.

i still make time and budget money for "priorities" such as dog training, whiskey, spending time with friends and will amazon some books and DVDs for entertainment etc.

what does your trainer think about stopping gibsons and your herding lessons?

i totally agree with the other poster, i can't imagine not carrying both my credit and debit card with me when i'm on the road. similar to my cell phone/health insurance card, i wouldn't leave home without them. so many situations can go from a simple inconvenience to a serious waste of time/energy/effort w/o funds to get ones self out of a sticky situation.

December 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I sent an E-mail to Pam Art @ Storey Publishing. I found her name on their website. She says she invites feedback and to use

When writing your note, remember that Storey needs to feel there is commercial value to this. They need to hear we will buy the book and that we think others will also.

December 17, 2010 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

oh, also wanted to note...good for you! one must take care of themselves in order to take care of others (friends, family, pets, livestock included). hopefully you'll actually be able to slow down a bit...but i have my doubts ;)

December 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Sitting in front of my woodstove with my spinning wheel and a big pile of roving. Knitting with my Cold Antler CSA yarn! Baking bread, learning to make cheese, and finaly turning all those August tomatoes in the freezer into spaghetti sauce. And reading books!

December 17, 2010 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Angie said...

About hibernation - I'm a PhD student so I don't get to relax until the semester is over (today's the last day of finals). Until then its put-your-head-down-and-barrel-through. Usually once the semester is over my husband and I pack up the car and drive and drive and drive to see our folks. My folks are only a 4 hour drive away but his are 16 hours away.

This year is going to be different. We have an 8 month old so I'm taking a real honest-to-goodness break for the first time in 5 years. And we're not spending the holidays in a car - we're staying put. And I'm ecstatic.

About the book - I'm torn. I would love to read a book written like your blog. The story of how and why you came to farm with highs and lows and all. BUT I've had several blogs I love turn into books and then the blog goes downhill. Either the blogger spends all their time on the book so no blog posts are written, the blog turns into nothing more than an advertisement for the book, or they save all their best material for the book. You're already writing books and have managed to avoid the first two pitfalls but if the blog becomes a book...

I guess I would love a book but I don't want to give up the blog.

December 17, 2010 at 11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the things I liked least about living in California was that there was no "down season" of winter when I could rest without guilt. There was always 70° weather, always sun, always a beach. Just like I need nighttime for sleep, I need winter for emotional rest. I'm just that kinda gal.

December 17, 2010 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Your posts are inspiring! I love reading about your life, ours is similar, but you are a lot uumm..youger:)Thank you and I pray you are able to live your dream more completely on the farm. That is one thing Hubby and I keep trying to instill in our 5 children, find something you love, and then find a way to make a living from it!

December 17, 2010 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Kate Robertson said...

You have some excellent ideas here. Hunkering down for winter sounds like a plan. I spent the afternoon with a friend this week and we just worked on knitting projects and watched an old Christmas movie. It was so pleasant to be doing very little. I think I need to come up with some ideas just like you did. Thanks for the ideas.

December 17, 2010 at 5:11 PM  
Blogger panthercreekcottage said...

Jenna, the head hillbilly and I live in a tiny cottage in the woods. And it really does feel like hibernating as our bed is tucked up under the eaves in our tiny upstairs. A down comforter and long underwear keep Mr and Mrs. Nutkin snug along with plenty of reading material.

December 17, 2010 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger jugtownjane said...

The other day, my three-year-old said something like "I know you hate winter." I checked myself, and replied, "no, honey, I don't, but winter makes most things HARDER." I fear I've warped the boy.

December 17, 2010 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Ivanhoe said...

I appreciate being able to let my work schedule follow along somewhat with the seasons. I'm a teacher (not in public school -- I'm more of a consultant for musical theatre and language classes) and enjoy having classes and rehearsals slowly drift away into nothing come early December, then start up again in January. This is the time I take to visit lots with friends, even those who live in the same town as me -- many of them are really busy in November as university students.
I live a good bit farther north than you do, so our days in the winter are even shorter, but on the west coast of Canada it's just very wet and mild. I actually try to go for evening walks even more because I like being out under a slumbering sky.

December 17, 2010 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

Thank you so much for your list! Those are all things that I've contemplated doing or am just starting to do again. Back when I was a kid and had no money, I was amazingly resourceful and totally happy. I can easily do that again!

December 18, 2010 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Susan Moorhead said...

I like the idea of a change of pace for winter - especially as I have been slogging through pre-Christmas here with a big cold that should have tea and tissues instead of running around and overworking.
I imagine it's easier to get in touch with the rhythm of the seasons in a pastorial setting than city or suburbia...

December 19, 2010 at 10:40 PM  
Blogger Laureli said...

I love winter for it's solitude and that's about it- I only like snow when it's in a picture on the wall!
I'm still a farmgirl wannabe, so I'm using downtime to drool over little farms... I also have to keep reading your blog, LOL.

December 23, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Danica said...

reading more is DEFINITELY on my slow-down-for-winter list. especially cause it's 4 degrees most days, which means it's perfect to be inside next to a cozy fire (or candle) cuddled up with a book and a pup. :)

December 29, 2010 at 1:25 PM  

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