Winter has definitely set in for the season here. We've had quite a few inches of snow fall since the beginning of the year, and today's temperatures are only in the teens, with a wind chill closer to zero. I know it's cold out when the rabbits prefer to stay in the hutch instead of spending a good part of the day in the outdoor run (which I can see from the warmth of my kitchen counter!) While we do have plenty of animal chores to keep us busy, especially breaking up ice to insure everything has access to water, it is probably the slowest time of the year on the farm. No butchering in sight, months to go until field prep begins, no garden bounty to preserve, and I've already finished putting together the seed orders for our 2011 garden. (I'm already watching my mailbox for them to arrive!)
So, what do we do with all this free time? All the things we've put off until we have time for “winter projects”! I've done some interior painting around the house, and plan on repainting our roadside signs in the next week or two. Dan repaired the back door to the produce shed and did some winterizing by putting up batten strips in the rear, making it more weatherproof for the feed and other things that always end up getting stored there during the months we're not open. But, depending on the weather, not every day can be spent outdoors. I spend a lot of time on the business end of things now, meaning lots of computer time. The start of the new year means I'm starting out new records for everything from feed records to finances, and I'm still mastering the art of spreadsheets. We're also reviewing when to expect babies, and how soon we need to adjust where the moms-to-be are being kept and how they are fed. (We will be expecting our 2011 crop of farm babies to start arriving as early as next month, with lambs, rabbits and piglets coming due!) We will likely begin to hatch chicks in March, so I'm already planning when and how I'll separate the breeding flocks. Also, since I do all the advertising, it's a good time to review any online listings of the farm for accuracy and work on any new pages I'd like to get online on the website before spring. Other yearly business tasks include reviewing our business cards and brochures, seeing if changes need to be made, and deciding if/when to have more printed. It's also the time of year when association memberships are up for renewal, so it's a good time to look critically at the organizations your business partners with, both to determine if it makes good financial sense to be a part of them, but also to make sure the values you hold are the same as what the organization is promoting. There is so much to running a farm; you need to stay on top of all the things a regular business does, like finances and inventory and the like, but also so much more since you're in the business of raising living things. It seems as though I've fallen behind when I'm not actively planning 6 or 12 months down the road. While that may seem like an exaggeration, it takes 18-24 months for a cow to reach butchering weight (plus nearly a year gestation if you're breeding them), or 6-7 months before a chicken will lay a single egg. This all has to be taken into account well before you plan on offering a product, be it spaghetti squash or homemade sausage. So taking a month or more to review what works, what hasn't, and planning what needs to be done, how you intend to do it, and what tools, seeds, materials or livestock you'll need is a necessary part of the process.
It's also time to spend on ourselves. Dan has been excited to make progress in the forge, and I love to help him. It's fascinating to watch, in my opinion! I've also been catching up on some reading and working on research for a presentation I'll be doing in March. I also find winter to be a wonderful time to spend in the kitchen. I love being around a warm stove on a cold winter's day, so I've been pursuing my goal of making a decent loaf of bread, as well as slow simmered soups and other goodies.