Disturbance and Rest

One of the crucial principles we hold dear on the farm is the idea of disturbance and rest.   We are always trying to emulate and, in some cases, enhance natural systems to raise healthy animals and improve the land.  Wherever you look, healthy ecosystems have natural forces that encourage periods of rapid and heavy disturbance that are followed by long periods of rest.  However, we are quickly learning that this principle is a good recipe for emotional, business, and all-around health too.

Think about it for just a moment.  The way you grow muscle, study physics, or grow in any way is by enduring and overcoming difficulties and then recuperating.   Disturbance and rest therefore must arise together.  Whether you are talking about someone’s mind, body, or land, just having one of them will lead to a system’s accelerated demise.

So where does that leave us.  Well, yesterday was the first day off that Shae and I have taken since we moved in on July 4, and it was lovely.  However, during the day our bodies and minds went through what could best be described as a decompression or even a cleansing.  It was as though all the aches and emotional clutter we didn’t have time for while we were rushing around had to be brought out so we could begin to repair all the damage we had done.

 The first thing we noticed when we woke up was that even though the most physically demanding work we had done recently was on Sunday, both of us went through the day finding new muscles that were sore.  The simplest actions would have one of us crying out and the melodrama mad it sound at times like a rehearsal for a high school production of Titus Andronicus.   What really fascinated me, though, was that our symptoms diverged after that.  Shae came down with a terrible stomach ache and couldn’t hold down food all day and I went through bouts of feeling angry or overwhelmed by things as silly as a cluttered desk or a missing book.

Ultimately, though, the day off was we really wonderful and we woke up today feeling better than we have in months.  Coincidentally, it has also been in the past few days that we have begun to see beneficial effects of rest on the pasture that we expected as a result of our (and the chickens’) disturbance.

While walking down to do chores today it was really striking to see that the paths that the broiler shelters traveled were looking greener and fuller than the surrounding pasture that the broilers didn’t graze.  For the last few weeks the plants in these paths have only looked shorter, but today the response of the land to our rotational chicken grazing was really obvious and quite healthy.  This picture may not do it justice, but to the human eye the change is clear and getting clearer every day (so expect more pictures!).

Similarly, we are ecstatic to report that our mobile processing floor performed better than expected.  As some of you may recall, Shae had designed our processing floor to be six 6’x6’ decks that allow the water from the work tables to fall through the slats and be recycled into the soil.  This design feature was crucial for us because being able to move the processing facility in between batches lets us use the water as an asset rather than cope with it as a liability.  It’s essentially irrigation versus inundation.   All that said, we went on Sunday to go and move the decks and turn them so the sun could dry and clean where they’ve been, and the grass underneath them was astonishing.  It was teaming with new growth and there were large worms moving just beneath the surface.  It was another reminder that a managed and temporary impact can really be the best thing to encourage health.

While I can’t be sure when our next day off will be, I do know that it will come a lot sooner than this last one did.  I think our culture trains us to think the danger is excess passivity, but from what I’ve seen in the professional and academic world, it’s far simpler to fall into a schedule that overtaxes us and forgets that success really depends on having a balance between the active and passive.  On that note, I’m off to bed!