Don’t get stuck in a rut

It would be quite easy to literally get stuck in a rut in our pasture right now, since we’ve had such a wet spring. I’m a person who has definitely gotten my truck, tractor, etc. stuck (I need an et cetera because I’ve had this happen a few times).

I completely understand where the negative connotations of that phrase come from. As a farmer who raises livestock, however, I understand the importance of a routine. The animals come to expect certain things at certain times.

The same is true of me; chores are a daily routine, and the routine nature of chores comes with specific benefits.

Because the animals fall into the routine of chores, they become easier to work with during chores. For instance, we feed the turkeys and chickens twice a day.

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I can tell if they ate all of their feed before I even get to their paddock: they will be clustered in the closest corner of the fence, waiting on us to bring their dinner. Their excitement to see us and to get dinner also makes it easier to collect eggs from the hens and to move their coop to a new, clean area in the pasture — we know they’re going to be busy for a few minutes and so they won’t be under foot.

Even the sheep who eat only the grasses and plants in the pasture understand feeding time. When it’s time to move the sheep to fresh grass, we build a new fence right next to their old paddock and then open them into the new area. As soon as we pick up a fence, they know that we’re not just looking at them or bringing water. They start grazing intently while we build the new fence — they don’t want to leave anything good behind. And then they group together at the opening and wait to be let in — no herding or encouragement required, easy as can be.

The expectations of routine also let us look for problems. Since we know how the animals usually act, we notice when things are unusual. We can see if there is a pig that isn’t joining the group to eat. We can check to make sure that the sheep are all moving together, that moms and lambs know where each other are in the pasture. Maybe a fence is sagging. Maybe we don’t see as many animals as we should — we always count noses.

The routine is good for me as a farmer, too. I can multi-task, finishing chores while I plan my next steps for the day. On the other hand, I also enjoy the break from thinking through decisions, as the dance is already choreographed and I’m just enjoying the movement (except for those times where something is awry).

I enjoy when the turkeys come running to greet us. I like that the laying hens follow me around their paddock. I know that this behavior is a product of their feeding routine, but it’s still fun to interact in this way — it feels like they like me.

Chores never need be added to the to-do list because I’m trained to expect them, but I won’t get stuck in a rut because I know our fields are way too wet to drive in right now.

Nate Brownlee operates Nightfall Farm near Crothersville. Send comments to [email protected].