by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
My husband Zach and I recently took a weekend trip down to Ohio to visit the Lehman’s store which is nestled in heart of the largest Amish settlement in the United States. I’m sure many of you are familiar with Lehman’s merchandise and catalog, but if you ever get the chance to visit the actual store, I totally recommend it. It is AMAZING! Their selection of quality products tailor to the homesteader who is looking to live a simpler life. They also have a great selection of poultry supply products including feeders, waterers and small, portable chicken tractors.
While we were gone on our two day trip, we left my mom in charge of caring for the farm. I left without worry as I knew that the animals were in capable hands. But to help her out, we set up extra feeders and waterers for the chickens, ducks and turkeys, cleaned the chicken and goat pens, and sanitized enough milking jars to last her the weekend. We also set out a flock block as a treat while we were gone.
As an added aid, I wrote out a “check list” or a “chore To-do list” for my mom to reference. I wrote out in detail all the animals and plants that would need to be fed and watered and what time we usually carry out these chores. It was the first time I’ve ever really seen a “day in the life” of our farm written out visually. When it was all typed and printed, it spanned 4 pages, with the chicken, duck and turkey routine taking up a page and a half!
But the great thing is that by writing this routine out in detail, I could look at the different tasks, break them down, think about a convenient order and change things accordingly. The list was originally meant for my mom, but I started to wonder why I hadn’t done something like this for myself sooner. When we got home, I looked over the list and added the things that Zach and I do when we are home.
The time it takes to care for our many breeds and varieties of poultry, goats, bees and garden crops can be a full time job here at Iron Oak Farm, so it’s important to be organized. Something as simple as taking care of the goats before the chickens helps solve the dilemma of having to carry the collected eggs around with me through the rest of the chores. I also don’t have chickens trying to get up on the stanchion while I milk. Seeing patterns like this on paper help me to stream line the care we give the animals so that chores are less frustrating, more harmoniously carried out and as a result, the animals are happier and so are we.
The Importance of Labels
This list also helped me to realize the importance of the old proverb “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” I didn’t want to have my mom digging through un-organized shelves to find a supply if she needed something while we were gone. So I went through the barn and cleaned up some things that were out of order. I took a pack of labels and a sharpy out to the barn and labeled the shelves and the corresponding item that belongs in that place on the shelf. That way everyday items are easy to find, and easy to put back. At a quick glance, I can see if we are out of an item and add it to the shopping list. I also checked expiration dates on medicines and placed some smaller supplies like syringes in containers and marked them with a label.
I also grouped some items that are commonly used together and placed them near the area where these chores are carried out. For example, I have a basket on our enclosed porch with all my milking supplies; wipes, teat dip, Dixie cups and strip cup. It’s convenient to grab when I go out to milk our Alpine goat Esther, and it has everything I need in one easy to carry tote.
Chicken “kits” are also a great idea. I keep the chicken’s vitamins, electrolytes, Diatomaceous Earth, calcium, grit and apple cider vinegar in a galvanized can near the feed. When I open the lid, I have all the things to keep our flock healthy at my finger tips.
I also have an egg washing station in the house with soap, a dedicated sponge, egg wash, cartons, paper towels and vinegar.
Which bring me to another tip: Buying in bulk. The vinegar we use to clean eggs, is cheaper to buy in bulk. But it’s annoying to carry the large bottle to all the different places we use vinegar. So I take smaller recycled bottles, label them and fill them with the bulk supply. I can then place the smaller containers in all the areas we use that product.
Another “must have” kit is a first aid tote including things like anti- biotic ointment, gauze and medical tape for emergencies. For more about putting together a great poultry first aid kit read Meredith Chilson’s post A First Aid Kit.
Using Technology to Stay Organized
We now have a Farm File on our computer with folders and documents including Daily Chores like, letting the chickens out in the morning, and closing them up for the evening, quick clean ups, feeding, water, egg collecting, egg washing, and freshening up the egg boxes. Weekly Chores which include cleaning the coop and egg boxes, laying fresh straw, administering supplements and vitamins, buying food, bedding and supplies, and washing out food and water dishes. And Monthly Chores like dusting for mites, wiping down the coop walls, and washing the windows. There are also yearly things like the goats CDT shots, or their seasonal stool analysis for parasites. I also like to take a day in the fall every year to secure the chicken coop before winter. We do things like check the walls for holes, repairing drafty areas with calk and sealing the windows with shrink plastic. A date like this can be documented as a reminder. These files can be printed out, put into a binder and kept with the “animal care” books. I can always reference this list to check something, or if there was a sudden emergency and we would have to leave, I could ask a friend or relative to check the farm for us, and the instruction would be available and ready.
A tentative calendar would also be a great way to keep things organized. At the end of the year be sure to transfer important dates from the year before. Or if you’re an e-mail sort of person there are many free calendar websites that you can sign up for. I found the Keep and Share calendar site where you can enter events into the system and a reminder is sent to you weekly, daily or yearly, as you choose.
The Farm File also has a list of the breeds of animals that we have. Their names (if they are named), dates of birth or the farm that they were bought from and lineage. Each year we hatch out chicks, and we are adding turkeys and goats to the list of breeding animals. I’ve often found myself questioning who was born when. It’s also good to keep a list of vaccines, worming regimes, when an animal was impregnated, sicknesses and ailments. Many times problems come from poor habits. When we have a visual printout of those habits, sometimes routines can be changed to prevent rather than treat.
It might be a bit of my anal retentive side coming out, but our farm is growing larger every day. New additions require new routines and extra time. When I have animals that depend on me, I need to feel confident and prepared. Seeing our farm through the eyes of an outsider, in this case my mom, helped me to re-adjust some of our processes and re-think the way we do things.
How do you stay organized with your chicken chores? I’d love to hear any tips! Share it with the Community on the Community Chicken’s Facebook Page, or leave a comment below!