Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Farm Mamas: Stop trying harder




Note: I refer to 'farm mamas' throughout because that's what I call myself, privately, but this could apply to most farming women I think.

This one is for the farm mamas.  You know who you are. You're busting it everyday on the farm, kids in tow or home after school.  You've got plants in soil, animals waiting to get on pasture or emails to answer.  You've got meal plans on your mind and plans to do a spring craft with the kids that will never happen.  You'd like to wear your 'town jeans' someday but it's been a while, you're not sure where they are. You do a quick sweep with the broom once every few days and hope that will keep the Black Plague at bay which is surely festering in the bathroom you haven't cleaned in a month. You follow a bunch of beautiful farms on Instagram with their weedless rows and lush greens, two weeks ahead of yours.  You 'like' the "Women Who Farm" page on Facebook with all those daily photos of rosy cheeked, denim-clad, happy women with their hands in soil, making a difference in the world, maybe even a baby on their back.  Maybe you follow Barnyard Organics page on Facebook and those lovely filtered light photos with the clever hashtags.  Everyone has it so together.

Except you.

Spring comes upon you gently enough, but suddenly switches into high gear so quickly that it doesn't take long before you're way behind and the balls in the air are falling to the ground all around you and turns out they're not balls, but eggs and now they've cracked and not only have you broken them, but you have to clean them up.

I lost it tonight. I had one of those heaving, sucking, snotty, ugly full out bawls tonight.  So hard and so deep that my sinuses filled up and I had to breathe through my mouth.  And in the midst of it all I thought, "Gawd I hope no one thinks this doesn't happen to me."  I post pretty pictures on Instagram and cutesy posts on Facebook and I hate that it probably gives the perception that all is well all the time.  That I live some enchanted life with four, dancing, perfect children and hens that peck peacefully at my passing by as I sing hymns and toss glitter feed into the air.



So this is for you.  To know that a good heaving cry is not only good, it's necessary this time of year.  That feeling like dropping all the balls is also going to happen.  That the weather will be cold and miserable and seeds will rot in the ground. That maybe too many chicks are going to die and you're going to feel responsible for decades of shitty breeding totally out of your control.   That water will overflow and flood something important.  That something crucial will not arrive in the mail in time.  That the plumber won't show up and won't tell you when they will be able to get to you.  That your eldest has turned into a teenager overnight.  That your youngest needs you the most when you most need to be alone.  That you feel like a disappointment when your partner ends up doing what are usually your jobs around the house because you've forgotten for two weeks, even though they'd never think twice about it.   That you cook hotdogs for two nights in a row after 2 years of not eating one.  That you can't even muster a peanut butter sandwich and instead open a bag of chips for lunch.   That the thing you put away perfectly last winter is now a tangled/wrecked/ruined mess.  That your email goes down for three days while receiving registrations.  That the weedy flower bed out front feels like a taunt from generations passed, a metaphor for you domestic failure. That your computer shits the bed and you have to figure out a new one while responding to questions like, "I'm going on vacation on August 4th, my son will be picking up my share, can you not put onions in?"  That you forgot to pick up feminine protection and now it's day 2 and things are not pretty and you don't have time to get to town and have to ask your in-laws when they go for a coffee run.  That maybe things are actually going well and you feel guilty because your farmer friend is having a helluva week.  That homeschooling for the week' means "go back to the pond and check those frogs eggs and don't worry about coming back anytime soon." Or more likely homeschooling means, "carry this hammer while we walk to the fence perimeter." That the library books from a month ago are still strewn around the house.  That you forgot to tell your partner about the important phone message two weeks ago and now its gone on too long to tell him you knew.  That you are going on an average of 5 hours of sleep/night.  That you feel guilty for feeling so stressed when your partner has even bigger things going on. That your face is breaking out like a teenager.  That your body is sore and your son just asked, "Mommy, why is there purple under your eyes?"

So I don't have a helpful list called "A Farm Mama's Tips on How to Survive the Spring" and I don't think there really could ever be such a thing. (Although if there was it would surely include an Instant Pot because that thing really has been a saviour).
But I have this:
Stop trying harder.  When you hear that voice say, "You're just not trying hard enough", swing around and punch it right in the mouth.
I recently realized that I'm going to have to give up roller derby this year due to scheduling conflicts.  In accepting the reality I talked to a few team members about it and the very well meaning response I received from all of them, was, "You deserve derby!  You work too hard, it's your ME time! You can make it work, I'm sure of it!" While I don't disagree, what I really needed to hear was,

"It's ok to let it go.  You don't have to do it all.  (Insert a ball you have in the air that's stressing you) will be there when you're ready to juggle it again, if you want to.  Right now, embrace not doing it.  Make the liberty of letting go be your self-care.  Just lay back, shut your eyes, breathe deep and let.it.go."    

So that's what I give you tonight.  Take care of you.  And when you're having a jealous moment over someone else's Instagram know that I've posted beautiful photos and generated clever hashtags while crying over something totally unrelated because I think social media is my 'job' and heaven forbid I let that slide just because I'm sad/frustrated/overtired.  (Did I just ruin our social media? haha).


Love to you Mamas.  This season too shall pass and there will come days when we can prepare a big healthy meal and our kids will be clean , we will not feel guilt about neglecting the kids and our partners will relax and our house will be clean feel like a welcoming place and we'll get longer, deeper sleep (amen to that part!).







Wednesday, April 12, 2017

🎡Let's do the Mash! The Chicken Mash! 🎢 πŸ“πŸ₯



The thing about farming is that we are constantly learning, ever-ready to adapt to new systems, varieties, climate, even changing soil microbiology.  It’s fascinating and keeps life interesting but means that we can’t rest on ‘how it’s always been done’.  So when it comes to questions regarding our products, we take extra time to sit back and consider as many angles as we can.  Feed is no exception and when we were considering Pellets Vs. Mash, it was a long back and forth of consideration.  Since it’s a question we’re sometimes asked by customers, here’s some of what we considered (but, as I said, we’re always learning, so nothing is ever static). 

It was firstly a matter of reducing the amount of processing that the grain goes through from seed to feed.  It makes sense to us that the animals get a product that is as close to what it really is as possible.  Michael Pollan, the well-known food author, is oft-quoted as saying, “Eat real food” and we don’t think that has to apply only to people.  Our feed has no fillers or weird stuff and every ingredient is in there for nutritive value, so we wanted to keep it as little processed as possible while still making it accessible to the animals consuming it.  We wanted to avoid any unnecessary heating of the grains and pelletizing would almost certainly contribute to that as well.

Another factor we considered was the growth of the birds, particularly the meat birds.  We’ve read that the pellets result in faster growth and bird ready to market a few days earlier but along with that comes health problems like ascites.  The increased demand on the body of the bird to grow quickly becomes too much and they suffer from, and eventually succumb to symptoms related to respiratory problems.  While the conventional broiler breeds (meat kings) are already a bit pre-disposed to these health challenges, we wanted to make sure that we did not contribute to them, and in fact reduced them if possible.  Using a mash with a more consistent particle size meant a slightly slower growing but healthier bird.  Organic production is certainly directly in line with this thinking, but so too are the desires of any smaller scale chicken farmer.  A healthier bird is the priority when it’s going to be your food!


The last factor we considered played directly into our values statement as a farm:
“Barnyard Organics is a diversified, family-friendly farm with a priority on organic integrity from seed to feed and keeping products fair and accessible to the regional community.“

We have worked really hard at prioritizing the ‘fair and accessible’ part of the statement because we want more organic livestock in the Maritimes and want to play a role in making feed a fair price.  Pelletizing would add an extra step and thus, more cost to our final product and we didn’t see the benefit outweighing the added cost. 

We have several customers who choose to ferment the feed, prior to feeding it.  Our own experience has taught us that the height of the feeders plays an important role and that our hens make optimal use of the feed when it is kept up at least as high as their backs, closer to eye level. 


I love farming for lots of reasons and constant learning and adapting is just one of them.   Who knows what we’ll learn tomorrow!   

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SpBeak the Truth about #henlife

This is the age of 'post-truth', or so we're told.  Whatever that means, it seems clear that we all need to work a little harder to be informed citizens of the world.  Here's my contribution for your real information quota today:
Beak trimming in laying hens is industry standard.  That basically means that when the chicks are hatched they are bustled off to a laser that nips the tip off their beak.  Sounds somewhat innocuous, right?  "Probably doesn't hurt that much" you tell yourself.  Maybe.  Science is a bit inconclusive on that point, so let's give industry the benefit of the doubt here and pretend it doesn't hurt the day olds to have their beaks trimmed by laser.

"Why do they do it?" might be your next question.  "Must be for good reason".  Yes, it's so that the birds don't hurt each other.  Because birds that are bored and miserable will hurt each other.  And birds that are given 500 - 700 cm2 each (approx the size of a piece of paper) in a cage with 5-8 other birds are bored and miserable.

If you've ever had the joy of watching a chicken dust bath or chase a bug through the grass, you will appreciate the incredible natural instincts they have and the beauty of an animal able to express that.  500 cm2 doesn't even allow the bird to stretch her wings.  

I hope that any conventional egg farmer reading this will recognize my appreciation for what they do because the demand for their product is much greater than the demand for mine.  They are able to produce eggs at a much much lower cost than me.  They can do it much more efficiently and keep the shelves at the grocery store groaning with stacks of cheap eggs.

My appreciation stops at the customers who are able to justify celebrating a great sale on conventional eggs while simultaneously crying fowl at that sad video that came out about the dog being forced into churning water on the set of an upcoming blockbuster film.  Or while spending thousands of dollars on their pet.

I don't care if you buy my eggs, but for the love of all that is sane, stop and think about why your cheap food is so cheap and if an animal is an animal is an animal or if you care how the creature who supplies your daily sustenance must suffer to do so.  (If at this point you're having a dialogue in your head about how the hens don't know any different, and are 'only chickens' and you 'can't afford those organic eggs', I hope you don't mind coming back as a conventional laying hen in your next life.  Take heart, it will be short lived.) (This is also the part where I become acutely aware that I'm treading in 'white, middle-class privilege' territory, but is a risk I'm willing to take for the benefit of the point at hand.)

This message is brought to you by a frustrated young farmer who realized that her latest batch of hens has had their beaks trimmed because it is standard operating procedure and NOT debeaking is the EXCEPTION.  Evidently, foraging on pasture, preening and eating a diverse diet are not factors that need considering in a cage.  This farmer's renewed desire to get (fully beaked) hens into the hands of everyone who can have them is fuelled by good intentions, a love of farming and eggnog made from organic eggs and raw milk.