New Year’s Resolutions

When it comes to winter, I always tell people that there is two phases: novelty winter and drudgery winter.

Novelty winter lasts until a little after New Years. Snow is still “new” and hasn’t become a nuisance yet, and any spells of intense cold are softened by the excitement and anticipation of the holidays and end-of-year events. Most folks have time off from work, and kids relish in their winter breaks.

Then drudgery winter sets in. I reckon it lasts from the endpoint of novelty winter until sometime in March when we first get fooled into thinking that spring has arrived.

Drudgery winter doesn’t have the high-profile holidays, and the snow and ice have caused nearly everyone to take a nasty spill on their driveway. The bitter cold has become like that Sonny and Cher song on Bill Murray’s alarm-radio in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. The novelty is gone and the vitamin D is in short supply.

But there is still plenty of value in this phase of winter, and it is expressed in different ways by different people.

Many Minnesotans have winter hobbies. Skiing, snowshoeing, ice-fishing, etc. But since my vocation has me outside with the animals on a daily basis, the last thing on my mind is heading back outside after a day of work.

And so drudgery winter for me is about getting caught up on paperwork (and taxes) and, this year, identifying and removing as many hurdles from the coming year as possible.

The New Year’s Resolution mantra on our farm this year is “Setting ourselves up for success”.

Morgan and I are aiming to identify the many impediments that take place on a daily basis, and then try and apply solutions to ease the bottlenecks and, as a result, improve on-farm workflow.

And since a small farm is not just a business, but an entire lifestyle, our improvement goals range from projects inside house to the hinterlands of the rear pasture. From rearranging the kitchen to make cooking a more fun and easy experience to properly organizing mechanic’s tools to avoid the pitfalls of “where did I last put that?” during a tractor repair.

But the biggest of these process improvements that we are tackling during this second phase of winter is renovating our order-packing and egg-washing facility. Having the packing table conveniently located between the walk-in freezer and the boxes and bags, and having the egg washing machine positioned in a way that makes labeling and stacking egg cartons easier. These types of small improvements will lead to tremendous time-savings in 2023, and that accumulated surplus time can then be devoted to other on-farm improvements or even some r&r.

Beyond the specific time-savings directly related to these renovations and reorganizations, improved workflows have a multiplier effect. A more efficient afternoon packing orders will lead to spare time that can be used to increase the efficiency of other on-farm tasks, such as improving the our livestock corrals. If that can be achieved, working with animals becomes easier and more efficient, and more surplus time becomes available, which can be reinvested in other improvements, and so on. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop of improvements, one just has to get the process kick-started.

So that’s what I mean by “setting ourselves up for success.” Drudgery winter is a great time to reflect on what you do during the year and strategically set your sights on making the hardest tasks easier and the fun tasks even funner (or more frequent). The best time to make an improvement is now!

Thanks for taking the time to read, and here’s hoping you make the best of this phase of winter and that the furry futurist from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania doesn’t see his shadow on February 2nd.


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