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The Art of Looking Ahead

For me, a vital part of running a family, home and farm is looking ahead: anticipating what is coming down the line and being prepared for it. My goal is to minimise last minute panic, because when you’re on a farm, I’ve found that there are so many things that can happen (and do happen) that you simply have no control over. A homestead is no different.

Ewe and Lambs: Lambing season is a particularly busy time of year and it pays to prepare for it in advance.

Many years ago when we started farming, my mother-in-law pulled me aside to tell me that my days of ‘planning’ were over. ‘The animals do their own thing and you have to follow along behind,’ she told me. I’m sure I inwardly rolled my eyes but humoured her. I had no experience of farming and absolutely no clue of what she was talking about!

When we took over the farm, the first major series of projects that we had to undertake was fencing. The land had been leased out and boundaries had not been maintained to the standards required for keeping sheep. This meant that until we could fence, field by field, we used a lot of electric fence wire to keep sheep where they were supposed to be and there was a lot of patching done to keep them in.

This sounds fine except that sheep are experts at escaping. It seemed like every other day I was getting a call about sheep on the road or traipsing through somebody else’s land. It caused a lot of stress.

The other part of this problem was that if I had plans and if the sheep escaped, the plans went out the window and the sheep took priority. I remember one morning getting a phone call about sheep being out: I was standing in the middle of the supermarket about a fifteen minute drive from home. I had to abandon my grocery shopping mission and leg it home to sort out the errant sheep! I was mortified!

Tips for Keeping on Top of It All When Living on a Busy Homestead

  • Make a List Lists are my key tool. I love them! Make a list and check it off as you go. Lists may be long term, short term or specific task oriented.

  • Try to use Small Blocks of Time Using smaller blocks of time means that you are not giving a whole day over to a single job. For example, instead of saying: “On Wednesday I am going to clean the whole house from top to bottom,” you could instead try saying “On Wednesday morning I will tackle the bathrooms/sitting room/ hot press.” If you break the larger jobs down in to smaller parts, you are more likely to get the time to succeed in accomplishing them. Despite your day being derailed, you may still be able to salvage the hour or so to mark that item off your to-do list and if the day goes according to plan, you might even be able to achieve extra!

  • Meal Planning A big part of running a home is feeding the family: not just the cooking of the evening meal, but also the shopping and ensuring that the pantry staples (think breakfast items, milk, fruit etc.) are in supply for other meals and snacks too. If you plan out the meals for the week ahead, it means that you can ensure you have the items that you need on hand ahead of time, instead of having to race to a local convenience store at the last minute.

  • Anticipating Needs Some needs we can anticipate – like if a carton of juice is half full, it will need to be replenished soon – but others, like illness or injury cannot. Because we live in a more rural setting, I find that where possible, I try to deal with the majority of these eventualities myself. I keep first aid kits (two at home, one in each car, one on the farm and one in the tractor!) and over the counter medicines so that I can tackle fevers, upset stomachs, allergies and the like myself. I’m not wonder-woman though: I also keep the phone numbers handy for my local doctor and the emergency medical service.

  • Seasonal Requirements As the seasons change, the cycle of the year will bring other challenges with it. These requirements also need to be anticipated. Examples of this are: being ready for lambing season, stocking up on fuel for the winter, having torches and candles ready in case of a power cut and being ready for a heavy fall of snow in the winter – it rarely happens, but I keep extra bread and milk in the freezer just in case!

  • Maintaining a Good Rolling Stock Non-food items, like paper towel, detergents, shampoos and other non-perishables, can easily be stored if you have the space. Without stockpiling like a crazy person, I try to always have spare so that I can replenish stock, and then when I buy, the new item goes into storage as a spare, ready for use. In terms of food items, I have my pantry well stocked, but it’s not just people food we need. We need feed for the dogs, chickens, cat etc. as well. I buy the largest packages I can and try to keep multiple on hand. For example, we have four large dogs: one 15kg bag lasts about 6 days, so if I didn’t by a few bags at a time, I’d be going to the pet shop (a twenty minute drive away) weekly, and I surely don’t have time for that!

  • Don’t Over Stretch Yourself Be aware of what you are capable of achieving in a day. If you know that a particular job will take you two hours, do not block one hour off to get it done. You will either not get the job finished, or else you will get the job finished but the extra time will be taken from some other chore on your list. Sometimes, it’s better to have fewer items on the list and get them done.

  • Ask for Help It is simply not possible to achieve every job we need to do on our own. For example, (back to the sheep again, sorry!) we have a couple of fields that require us to cross a main road with the sheep. If I am moving the sheep to those fields, I need four helpers: that’s four people plus me. It is simply not possible for me to move them on my own without risking a road traffic accident. Learn to ask for help if you need it. Maybe you find it embarrassing to approach someone, but if you can be brave and do the hard thing, you’ll find that you are actually giving them the opportunity to ask you for help if they need it at a later date. A difficult skill to learn but worth it and it helps to build communities and relationships too.

  • Keep a Diary I’m not talking about a journal, though you are more than welcome to do that too! A diary is a great tool for keeping track of appointments, project due dates, finances, special events like birthdays and a myriad of other things that we deal with in our day to day lives. It is also helpful for scheduling other seasonal jobs that need to be done, like getting the chimneys swept and windows cleaned, harvest time or preparation for lambing time. Another great bonus if you keep a diary every year, you can look back at how things went previous years and use them as a reminder!

  • Make ‘Down-Time’ Part of the Schedule When you are doing all this planning, make sure you factor some time in for leisure and relaxation. Add some fun activities into the schedule or outings you can have as a family together. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. Just having some time when everyone can unwind is truly rewarding.

There are so many things that we can do to help us tackle a busy lifestyle: these are just some tips that I have come up with as I look at how I do things. You better believe I don’t always get it right, but I do find that keeping an eye to what is coming down the line really helps.

Do you have any tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear them!


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