The people who lived around 500 had no clocks or standard alarms. Before the invention of the light bulb, a person was generally dependent on the sunlight or, if he was wealthy, the candle. It was simpler just to go to bed sometime after sunset and wake up with the sunrise.
Any domesticated animals a family had were kept in the hovel overnight to protect them from predators, as the home was more secure than a barn and keeping them there saved the family the cost of building a separate structure. Of course the defecations in the night were unsanitary and smelled bad, but most hovels had a second story where the humans stayed so there was at least a separation between man and beast. One of the first things a family did in the morning was to let them out to graze for the day.
Eggs were a possibility for breakfast, but were not as practical as gruel or porridge. They could be sold at a market for extra money. A family could hope to purchase more livestock so that they could build their wealth, but more often than not the money would be used to fix or replace something, or for a healer. Any crafts the family might have could also be sold there. Porridge or gruel was much easier to cook and cheaper.
After the family meal, responsibilities were divided up for the day. Smaller children would be watched over by the mother or perhaps a grandparent if one was still alive (the nuclear family of parents and children is an arrangement of the industrial age). The mother also would be responsible for work around the house. She would cook the evening meal, clean the house and dishes, wash and mend the clothes and, time and materials permitting, she would make her own. Because of the difficult conditions of life, clothes were often thick and durable. Being rugged also meant they would last longer.
Older children might be responsible for watching over the family’s chickens, cattle, and pigs. Those able to work the soil would help their father. In the spring this might mean the boys spent their days removing large rocks while the girls planted. In summer they might pick out weeds and kill animals that threatened the crops. Alternatively, children might be asked to scavenge nuts and berries for the family to eat at lunch. If there was a body of water nearby and the family had a legal right to it, the boys might also fish. Whenever possible, the girls spent their time with their mother learning the skills that would one day make them marriable.
The father would plow, often with himself pulling the instrument unless the family was wealthy enough to have a beast of burden such as an ox or a horse. The labor would occupy him for some time. It has been estimated that the average person consumed twenty-four bushels of wheat during the course of the year and the average adult woman had seven children, perhaps meaning a family might have four at any one time. The average yield was eight bushels per acre, meaning that a family would need to be able to produce 6×24=144 bushels, requiring eighteen acres. That is, plus whatever portion his lord took (alternately, a lord might have his tenants take care of his personal plots of land as recompense for the use of his land). Even working from sun up to sun down, it would take weeks to plow so much land. As the church became more entrenched in Britain during the later Middle Ages, they would also make their demands on a family’s time. A certain number of days each month would be devoted to their lands.
The summer would provide the time for any crafts such as woodworking or making tools out of bone. Beekeeping seems to have been a respected craft as honey was a basic component of bragawt, a honey-wine popular among the British. There was also time for hunting; deer, birds, rabbits, squirrels, hedgehogs, and even the occasional wild pig might find its way to an evening meal.
Autumn would bring the harvest and again a great deal of work in collecting all the wheat. This would have been followed shortly by the planting of a winter crop in another eighteen or twenty acres.
Winters were easy in terms of labor, but difficult to survive. Nuts, berries, and wild animals were scarce and starvation was a real possibility. If a family decided to eat its livestock, the long-term consequences could be worse. No more eggs would mean less income, no more milk would mean fewer calories. There was no easy way to live for a peasant.
It was possible to gain social standing, however. Increasing wealth through good decisions and good fortune could lead to the granting of knighthood. In that respect, society was fluid. However, the reality was that the socioeconomic station a person was born into was likely the same one he would die in.