Ever heard of a farmers journal? If you're running a farm, there are times when it's hard to keep track of everything. Get things sorted with a little journaling.
Keeping a Farmers Journal
By Kathy Bernier
“Um, I'm not sure. Let me look it up in the farm journal.”
In the eight and a half years since my husband and I bought our place and took up homesteading, that sentence has been heard in our house more times than we have swatted at mosquitoes.
Okay, maybe not quite that many. But it has been incredibly valuable. We have so much going on at our place that we could not possibly remember it all. By writing it down, we have the information we need to help us avoid repeating mistakes, compare current results to those in the past, schedule our activities in a timely manner, and even enjoy anecdotal trivia.
By consulting my farm journal, I can determine how much firewood we had used by this time last year and what date we started tapping trees.
I can look in the journal to determine which summer we built that row of skinny raised beds next to the goat pen, and consult a hand-drawn chart to see how early we got the peas planted last spring.
I keep track of when day-old chicks were acquired and when the pullets started laying eggs.
I record when my goats were bred and tell the whole chronicle of how the kids were born in the wee hours of the morning five months later.
I keep track of livestock vaccinations, maintaining forest trails, snowfall, hurricanes, and building new fences. Wildlife track sightings, passing or sales of beloved animals, and veterinary visits all get recorded. I make notes of costs as well, of everything from feed to infrastructure to renting a chipper.
Your journal should be highly personal, customized just for your specific needs. Therefore, you won't want to copy my ideas exactly, but here are a few tips just to get you off the ground.
5 Tips For Keeping A Farmers Journal
1. Choose a format
There are a few ready-made options on the market, if that's your style. A simple hardcover diary-style with a few blank lines for every day might work for you, or you may prefer a collection of digital worksheets to help you keep track of everything from seed inventory to egg production to garden summaries.
Both of these ideas are perfect for someone, but neither of them quite fill the bill for me. One is not quite enough, and the other is a little too intense. I use just a plain old notebook. I like the composition style and stock up on way more than I need at back-to-school sales every year. I also have a handful of green canvas-covered government notebooks left over from my military days.
Use whatever you like. Keep it as simple and user-friendly as possible, and remember that you are going to end up with more than one of them as time passes.
2. Decide how you want to make your entries.
The great new is, you don't have to commit to any single style. You can change it over time, or mix and match as you go. My entries are primarily narratives—some in full sentences, some in cryptic note-style.
M. continued work on goat creep. Nearly done. Look fabulous. Did goat hooves, 1st time in 3 wks. I hauled 2 full trailer loads of split wood, stacked in attached back woodshed. Also 1 load of last year's wood moved out of old shed.
Saw my first lady's slipper of the season on 5/29, on the Sugarplum Loop in the mossy are near the big pine.
Sometimes the entries are in all caps, with asterisks all around them, and circled, for ease of locating the information at a later date.
*GOAT!* GAVE 1ST CD/T SHOT TO ALL 6 KIDS.*
*ALSO GAVE IVOMEC DRENCH.*
Sometimes the entries are peppered with emotion.
Still have not had time to assemble new raised beds. Lawn needs moving AGAIN! UGH! 🙁
DEER FLIES UNGODLY BAD THIS YEAR. AUGH!
Chickens finally resumed laying! Hoooraaay!!
But my entries are not always narrative. Sometimes I create charts for specific purposes. They can be haphazard or tidy, and record everything from daily kid goat weights and egg totals to vegetables planted and harvested.
One year I taped the months of a spare wall calendar into the pages of my journal for keeping track of garden planting.
It is not unusual for me to tuck extra papers into my journal books too—seed lists, or garden layouts, or animal growth charts, or even receipts or feed package directions. They stay in place pretty well, but you may need to consider clips, rubber bands, or even staples if yours keep falling out.
Sometimes I draw little pictures. This one shows the arrangement of different cultivars of highbush blueberries and fruit trees.
3. Try one way, and if it doesn't work, try something else.
Or toggle back and forth with a few different ways. You won't be submitting your journal for a prize at the county fair, so don't worry if it's a little sloppy or changes format midstream.
Once you get started on your own farm journal using these ideas for a jumping-off point, you very well might come up with additional ideas that work well for you.
4. Lastly, just do it.
No stressing, no waiting for the first of the year or the start of the season. Just sit down and write. Start today. Like any habit that you have ever acquired, it will take some practice. Develop a time that is best for you to do your journaling, and be pro-active about sticking with it. I find that I don't write as often during the off season. Where I live, daily entries would often look like this:
Snowed. Shoveled back deck. Snowed some more. Shoveled again.
In August, on the other hand, so much goes on in a day at my homestead that I sometimes can't even remember what happened that morning by the time I wash up the supper dishes.
If you take away just one single sentence of advice from this article, please let it be this:
5. DO NOT GIVE UP.
In the years since I took up homesteading and subsequent record-keeping, I have slid off track with my record-keeping more times than I can remember. I skip a day, then two, then a week slips by, and—woops! Where did that whole month go? It might be tempting to just throw in the journaling towel when that happens, but don't let yourself do that. In the big picture of your homesteading history, a handful of missed weeks hardly matters. If you do forget something important, you can always add it in later, even out of sequence. It matters that it gets in there in a way that you can use, and it doesn't have to be pretty.
July 10th—just realized I forgot to write down when we finished the fence on the north end. I think it was in mid-June.
You will treasure the record someday. Consulting my records has helped me calculate how many bales of hay got me through last winter so I know how much to buy this year. It helps me forecast firewood usage and buy accordingly, too.
Sometimes my farm journal aids in reassuring me that things are going as they should be. If it seems like this year's pullets should be laying already, previous years' records might show that the young birds this year are right on track.
In lieu of trying to remember everything, or even end up having to do research all over again, I love the option of just looking up my records and doing it the same way I did last time. Attention needs to paid to timing when doing such things as altering male livestock or treating animals with specific minerals or amending garden soil—and if I know last year's timing was successful, I can just look it up and repeat it.
As with any record-keeping activities, nostalgia is always a factor. The poignant moments when you look back to find information about your first-year vegetables and stumble upon an entry about burying your beloved cat when she succumbed to cancer, or the hilarity of revisiting the amateur attempt to move cattle from one pen to another, will provide for riveting reading in from of the wood stove on a snowy evening.
Whatever you choose for a book, or for a format, or for a reason for doing it, I hope you keep a farm journal. Even if you start keeping it when you have just a few window box planters full of lettuce and a pair of backyard hens, it will be worth doing. Just do it, and don't give up. I promise that someday you hear yourself say, “Gee, I don't know—I'd better go look it up in the farm journal.”
This may not be a farm journal but this is how 30 days of journaling feels like. Watch this video from BuzzFeedVideo:
Do you think you'll start keeping a farm journal? Let us know below in the comments!