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Rest and Guilt - take the time off

Lily is our first doe to kid, and she is due in 45 days. What am I doing today to get that dairy finished this weekend? Absolutely nothing. We are going away for the weekend to celebrate our 5th anniversary (it was August 30 - but who can leave the farm as summer is winding down?) I am on a roller coaster of guilt vs. knowing we need the rest and time together.

To be a farmer is to be self-motivated. We work before the 9-5, after the 9-5, and every weekend. Chores must be done twice a day, and can vary from 1 hour/day in the winter to 3-4 hours/day in high summer, when the animal population has ballooned and the days are long.

Last year was the first year that we set down a plan, month-by-month. We wrote everything on the calendar - animal delivery dates, processing dates, drop-dead deadlines for infrastructure builds, open houses, etc. It was both scary and freeing all at once, to see everything in one calendar and what we hoped to get done in 365 days.

When we built our annual plan last year, we also implemented a 'Sundays off' rule. We sleep in, do our AM chores, eat a nice breakfast with the kids, go to church or not, depending on the week, and then take the rest of the day off. We spend the day relaxing - inside or outside, at home or with friends, with our family or snuggled in our beds, watching TV, reading, or playing cards. What happens doesn't really matter, as long as it is not work on this farm.

We felt that it was important to not shove the farm down our childrens' throats 7 days a week. After all - they were not born into a farming life - they were 7, 11 and 11 when we got started. They lived a pretty normal suburban life before the farm - one plays baseball, another is into fencing, and the third is into theatre and art. Sundays off gives us time to encourage those dreams. Sure, the kids are happy to do chores, help on processing days, and weekly infrastructure work on Saturdays. They are happy and proud to be in a farming family, and I would almost guarantee that they wouldn't be so happy about if if they didn't get a break.

In terms of Dennis & I, when we implemented Sundays off, even though we probably get a little less done each year, our perception of the stress and exhaustion of farm life went way down. Things have not slowed down ONE BIT, but we feel like they have. Dedicating the time each week to slow down and recharge has made the difference in our perception, and therefore our life.

This was our fifth year of intensive farming + working full-time, and things were not as new and overwhelming as they once were. Maintaining and increasing animal production each year with multiple operations is no longer stressful and exhausting.

That said, we still have A LOT that needs to be done around this farm. The expanding dairy is in the middle of construction on a new barn, and has been for 12 months now with a deadline looming in 3 months. The boundary fencing project that we started last March is only about halfway complete, and the horses' 'dry lot' is a hot embarrassing mess. We need gravel in the driveway, to finish the storage room in the back of the farm store, to insulate the garage, and the list goes on and on and on.

Perhaps not working as hard on Sundays is a no-brainer for you. After all, weekends are important, and almost all faiths require a day of rest each week. That said, it's hard not to work on your 'side gig' when you see it out of your window all weekend. Perhaps, as I often feel, you feel guilty that you only really 'worked' to improve your farm on Saturday, and continuing into Sunday would push the progress just a little more.

And certainly, we break the Sunday rule at least once a month. In November, we had our Open House on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving was our town's Christmas celebration where we were vendors. On those weekends, we do try to have at least half a day on Saturday off to compensate and prevent feeling burnout.

All of that said, at the end of the day, if you were asked what was most important to you, you would probably say 'time with my family' and 'enjoying the land' etc. This farm is a living, breathing community with so very many inhabitants. There will ALWAYS be a never-ending to-do list.

What is on fire? Work on that Saturday, but schedule the time off to rest. Take the time to prevent burning out. Take the time with your family. You'll come back to your work with better ideas, better motivation, and an invigorated mind and body. That's what I'm counting on feeling after our weekend away.

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