It’s the time of year where brisk mornings and warm days have changed to cold mornings and, well, also cold days. The kids get excited every time the weather forecast mentions snow, and I feel a tiny bit of panic. No matter how long the fall season goes on, I never seem to get to all the projects to prepare for winter. Could be that I’m a person who needs a deadline on a project or it will continue in perpetuity toward the unachievable goal of perfection.
On our farm, we don’t grow any row crops or own a combine. So, when the forages are done growing, we’re done with fieldwork for the year. Not entirely true, as there’s usually a big pile of compost to haul and a hay field or two to plow down to get ready for reseeding next year, but close enough. You’d think that would give me time to clean all the equipment for storage and get everything crammed into the sheds long before flurries threaten to fall. You’d be wrong.
The part that screws up having everything put away long before November is that I always seem to need to do just one more little repair on the equipment that fits best if it goes in first, so everything else has to wait for that to be put away. There is a very specific way everything has to get parked in the sheds to fit it all in, like a large, expensive game of Tetris played with tractors and the skid loader. The cost of not flipping a piece in time or picking the wrong spot is usually some time spent with a mallet or jack, bending a guard or part back into shape. I usually employ one or more of the kids to stand there and watch as I back things in, so they can shout and wave after it’s too late and I’ve backed up an inch too far.
Fall is also the time we do major construction projects. It’s nice to not have to work on building projects in between hay crops, as sometimes there are no “between” days for a month or two. It’s also nice to have a bit of motivation to keep the project moving along, in the form of fearing that if we don’t get it done quickly the ground will probably freeze and a foot of snow will fall. This year we waited a bit too long to pour a new feeding area for the milk cows by the free-stall barn, but there should be time to put up a nice new hoop house for the layers. The old chicken barns are starting to resemble Swiss cheese thanks to the rats that love the all-you-can-eat chicken feed buffet and refreshment bar. I’m looking forward to moving the chickens to some much-easier-to-clean housing, and I’m especially excited to permanently evict the rats.
My parents’ house and our woodshop are heated by an outdoor wood boiler. Fall is the time we cut firewood. There is no lack of trees along the field edges needing to be cut down due to wind damage or just plain growing the wrong direction. Cutting wood is a job I definitely prefer to do when it’s chilly out. First, it’s hard, sweaty work, and second, it’s a lot easier when there aren’t leaves on the trees. It takes quite a few cords of wood to keep everyone warm all winter so we better get started.
Hopefully you all are ready for winter to show up and are kicking back waiting for the snow, humming Christmas songs while the chilly wind blows between chores. If not, know you’re in good company. Let’s all hope the snow holds off just a little longer because there’s always a bit more that needs to get done. Until next time, keep living the dream and go find those Carhartt overalls because you’re going to need them sooner than you think.
    Tim Zweber farms with his wife Emily, their three children and his parents Jon and Lisa by Elko, Minnesota.