Ever wondered why farmers are up at the crack of dawn and in bed by sunset? It’s because they acquire the sleeping patterns of their farm animals! And it is not by choice, but by necessity. This was a lesson I quickly learnt when I moved to the farm. Prior to this, I always just thought people woke up early at the farm because it was the thing to do. Then I learnt the hard way – like I usually do these days.
So, what do we do all day from dawn to dusk you ask? Well, let me start at dusk. The typical work day ends at 6pm. That’s when someone brings in the cattle, locks up the chickens and starts dinner. It is also the time to re-group, assess how the day went, and plan for the next day. It’s the time to feed the dogs, lock up and generally get ready for bed. Once the chickens go to bed, you know it’s time to go to bed too. This is simply because when they are up, everything else is up and baying for food and attention.
The other day, the usual routine was in place, and off to bed we all went. At around 11 p.m., the dogs started barking incessantly and howling. When the dogs bark on a farm, you get out and check what’s up. So, I grabbed my flashlight and went outside. My farm manager and I met at the cattle kraal which is where all the racket was happening. Turns out the cows had broken out of their kraal and decided to make a midnight snack out of my lawn. The dogs were having none of it hence the insane racket. What is it with animals on this farm and their constant need to escape?
This is how, at 11.30 p.m., on some random night, my farm manager and I were out corralling the cows. This time we made sure there was no hope of escape. Back to bed we went. The first crow of the rooster is usually at 3 a.m. If you are a Christian, you know the story of this crowing rooster and the betrayal of Jesus. The rooster will then crow every hour on the hour after this. By 5.30 a.m., everyone is up and about. Clean the compound, feed the chickens, collect the eggs, make sure nothing died or got sick in the night. Chickens tend to get ill at night and their diseases are usually highly contagious. The earlier you isolate any sick birds the better. Someone starts on breakfast at this time and the farm gates are opened. This is also the best time to scout for pests and spray the pesky ones, like the white flies. Better catch them while they sleep. If its planting season, someone needs to go out with Leo (my late Spotty’s dumb as a rock efficient hunter) to ensure the squirrels don’t have a field day with the planted seeds. By the time this is all done, the sun is up.
Farm work starts at 8 a.m. I say that as if what was done earlier was not farm work. Anywho, by 8 a.m., the farm hands are on the farm executing what was planned the previous day. At the moment, there is land preparation to ensure the drip lines are properly installed. We still use oxen for tilling the land. I have found this to be efficient, effective and less harmful to the land. It is also brutal hard work, but who said it’d be easy? It has also meant that I had to purchase enough bulls to do the ploughing with. Previously, I’d borrow my neighbor’s bulls. I purchased a couple of bulls and a female. The rest have been born on the land. We now have five bulls and two cows.
Morning break is at ten, and lunch is at 1 to 2 p.m. We reserve the less taxing tasks for the afternoon. Weeding, general farm cleaning and transplanting are done in the afternoon. By 5pm, the farm hands tend to leave the farm for the homestead, then the next phase of work starts. Storing farm implements and generally locking up. This is also the time to switch on the drip watering system, which is done by block. Each block has roughly 8 beds that are 40 feet each. This is another piece of tedious work. Someone has to scout the drip lines and ensure there is no blockage on the line. It’s also the time to scout for pests again and make sure there is nothing dodgy going on.
By six in the evening, the cycle has repeated itself. The cows and goats are brought home, and the chickens are locked up and eggs collected. All this time, there is constant checking to ensure nothing got sick, injured or lost. I remember one time we locked all the farm gates and were ready to bed down, only to realize our Billy goat had gone home with the neighbors’ goats. Apparently, my neighbor has some really pretty she-goats!
Once again, we are in bed by 8pm.
There are no weekends or public holidays on a farm. The animals don’t take a break from eating and the crops need care constantly. The pests don’t take a break either, so how can you?
I have learnt a few things from this experience. The concept of time is very different on a farm. You do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Whenever that is! I transplanted spinach one Christmas day because that was what was needed. I have learnt to give my dogs injections because they are always being attacked by bot fly larvae. Nasty piece of business that! I have learnt to swallow my fear of grown chicken and catch them to check their health – because that’s what’s needed. And yet somehow, I enjoy it!