A Time for Reflection



We’re tired and have miles to go before we sleep. The nice weather won’t quit — but neither will we.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; we fully expected to be up to our knees in snow by now, but the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry. 

For the past four months, we’ve been trekking to and from our little farm twice a day to let the birds out in the morning, do the feeding and watering chores for our animals and then return in the evening to lock them safely into their pens making sure to fill their food and water again. 

A faulty automatic chicken door and my unwillingness to buy versus build one is the reason we’re making at least two trips every day. If we’d just stop long enough to solve the problem, we’d have another problem solved. Too easy, right?

Even though it’s not under ideal circumstances, all of the extra trips help balance farm and home life. Though we live very close to our farm, we don’t live there all the time while my son is in school. Being flexible for his school and sports schedule has been a blessing since I left my full-time city job for my “fuller-time” farm job. Lydia keeps the home fires lit and works most days from our house in town and also does the evening farm chores with me. I am often out the door at eight in the morning, and we’re often not back home until 10 o’clock at night. We love this life so much we really don’t mind our nightly animal checks under the stars.

We keep a running list of problems needing solutions, trying to make time to figure out remedies for these little annoyances. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures are in the 40’s or higher, and there’s been very little precipitation, so we keep working on the macro and ignoring the micro while using the weather to our advantage. That means we’re focusing on feeding and watering chores, chopping firewood and keeping the visible part of the business running.

Our journalism has been and always will be free.

For as little as $5 per month, you can help us continue to deliver stories that shine light on a better world. Contribute Now.

We constantly question and observe our ecological impact and animal husbandry. Are we giving our animals their best lives? Are we adequately moving them to avoid nutrient (manure) overconcentration? Is everything getting its highest and best use?

Soon we’ll be rearranging our storeroom to start seedlings for the garden, and winter will truly set in, and maybe we’ll have time to drill down into the business some more. It’s the ‘micro’ that excites me the most, that specific planning that’s done by running and studying the numbers for each enterprise on our farm (vegetables and cut flowers, egg production, and so on). We’ll be examining our business plan and updating it now that we have a clearer vision of what works, what doesn’t and what needs tweaked. We’re not only looking at finances, we’re allocating space and time for plant seedlings to germinate and grow, as well as how we’re using our buildings and natural resources. 

We constantly question and observe our ecological impact and animal husbandry. Are we giving our animals their best lives? Are we adequately moving them to avoid nutrient (manure) overconcentration? Is everything getting its highest and best use? We want to have short-term, high-impact animal rotations on our land with longer rest periods for maximum soil building which means we’re most efficiently allowing it to recover while the flora and fauna flourishes.

Since the conditions are right due to the warm and dry weather this fall, building projects like our fabulous new mobile chicken coop are wrapping up, and we might finally put new siding and doors on the old hog barn we’re using to overwinter our turkey and duck breeding flocks. We might have time to build the 24 x 30-foot bird pen expansion I’ve been planning since last fall. One of the things I learned early in my Army career was to constantly improve my position. The military meant I should keep digging deeper foxholes and adding to my camouflage, but I think the lesson translates into personal and professional life, too. We always try to keep improving.

We have tree services bringing us mountains of mulch and loads of logs. We’re going to use the wood chips as a cover for two of our eighty by eighty foot gardens to help retain soil moisture, reduce weeds and feed the soil from the top down. It’s a system I have used with great success at my home and two previously rented farms. Wood chips for mulch are magic, although there’s some very real science behind the practice. Quite simply, have you ever been on a forest floor that was hard and compacted? Not only does soil biota thrive with a good carbon source like wood fibers, but also, the soil structures stay intact, and the soil food web thrives. Teaming With Microbes is an excellent book which dives deeply into the subject.

The growing log jam has created new opportunities for firewood sales, so Lydia gave her blessing to the purchase of our very own log splitter. Before that, a local tree service guy spent one of his precious days off helping me cut logs, and he even let me borrow his splitter for a couple of weeks to get started. We have so many good people on our side. Perhaps the tree people just needed more room to dump more debris, but I’m not about to question a gift, and I’ll just be thankful for the help.

Being exhausted is a good thing, in my opinion, if you’re taking the time to examine why you’re tired. If something is wearing you out, you have the opportunity to reflect on why and adjust your methods, time management, and resource allocation. Quite bluntly, “automate the things that suck” is our mantra.

Being exhausted is a good thing, in my opinion, if you’re examining why you’re tired. You can reflect on why and adjust your methods, time management, and resource allocation. Quite bluntly, “automate the things that suck” is our mantra.

We’re big on automatic water systems for our birds, since filling and carrying buckets of water is no fun and tends to aggravate our aging bodies. Getting our automatic chicken doors opening at dawn and closing at sunset will free up some time and save precious and expensive fuel. One of our biggest ‘wins’ was purchasing our Power Scrub Egg Washer to wash four dozen eggs in minutes instead of an hour hand scrubbing each one — a definite advantage since we plan on having up to 30-dozen eggs a day when we reach full production. Saving steps and motion helps preserve our energy for other tasks. For example, carrying buckets of feed is unavoidable; putting our bulk feed in agricultural grain wagons near the point of use eliminates having to walk a hundred yards two heavy buckets at a time.

several cows eating hay
Since we rarely have time to travel, we began a side business performing farm chores so others can get away once in a while. These happy cows belong to a family friend who gives us a reduced rate for beef and often sends us home with a hundred or more pounds of venison every winter. We love their family, who are as quick to help us as we are for them. – Photo by Joe Villines

We know that we’re going to reduce the number of crops we plant next spring, and we’re going to run a U-Pick cut flower and vegetable farm. We only like to deliver once a week, and we do it on Fridays so we can catch up on supply runs for the weekend while we’re on the road. We now realize that weekends are for enjoying the farm together and giving customers tours, occasionally making progress on building projects with help from our friends.

However you celebrate the holidays, I suggest connecting with your friends and family over some great meals with groceries and gifts purchased from local bakeries, farms, and craft fairs. I also recommend taking a look back at the last twelve months; when I do that, I know that the little bump in sales we saw makes the exhaustion I sometimes feel worthwhile. Also, let’s congratulate ourselves: we’ve all made it through another year! We’ll be back to work on New Year’s Day getting seeds potted for success in 2024.

Latest Stories

Joe Villines
Joe Villines
Joe Villines is a father, husband, US Army veteran and co-owner of Halfacre Farms at Armadillo Acres with his partner Lydia in Indianola, IA. He attended college for commercial horticulture to further a lifelong interest in growing food. Villines was a photojournalist and broadcaster in the Army Reserve where he served tours in Bosnia, Iraq, Kuwait and other assignments all over the world. Exposure to world strife and world agriculture informed his resolve to raising animals and crops using holistic methods for sale locally.
Read More

Related Articles


  1. Great article, thank you Joe. You pack alot of wisdom and sage advice into these columns, I always look forward to reading them. This one was especially enjoyable because sharing how you reflect and make decisions gives such a personal insight into what makes you successful. Thank you…


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here