Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One Way to Meet The Neighbours...

Since I moved here to Freetown, I've been thinking about ways to meet the neighbours, since I find that compared to West Branch and Rexton, people here are far less nosy and interested in everyone else than I like/am used to. I'm not sure if it's a Bernard family thing, or a general Freetown thing, but overall, I'm really quite dissapointed at how few of my neighbours I know, in the nearly three years I've been here. Since that is primarily my own fault, for the past two years I've done some canvassing for the Cancer Society in April and thus, gotten to know the neighbours on our road, or most of them at least, but that's probably about the extent of my efforts. I mean I want to get to know everyone, not develope a reputation for the village gossip/noser. But, this past Friday night I discovered an entirely new way to meet the neighbours.
At about 10:30, Mark was visiting with a buddy of his up the road and I was watching TV when the phone rang.
"Hi, Sally? Have you lost a lamb?"
"Er.....I don't.....think....so....???"
"Well, um, this is Francis Heffel, down here on the Drummond Road, and we were just driving home from Summerside and came upon this little white thing on the road, in the intersection down at the bottom of your road, and figured it must be yours."
The conversation continued with me in a state of shock, asking dumb questions like, "uhh...what's it's number?" and "is it all white?"
Thankfully, Chris, the husband, keeps sheep and threw the lamb in with his while they called me. Apparently it was starving and tried to drink from some other ewe, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it, but at least it was with other sheep.

Finally I sputtered out that I would be down shortly to pick it up and got directions to thier place. Then I called Mark to ask if he could come home while I went to pick up a lamb that the Heffel's had picked up on the road. I was in a rush, so gave few details and he was thoroughly confused, jokingly telling his buddies that 'Sally's is making up stories just so I'll come home.'

Anyway, found their house, found the lamb quiet and contented in the arms of thier teenage daughter and brought it back to the barn where it blatted for its mother until it ate its fill.

The mystery of how the three-week old lamb escaped and ended up a mile from the barn, eluding traffic and coyotes, remains (with no shortage of adamant theories from anyone and everyone who hears the tale). Personally I suspect the dog played some role in teasing and chasing the lamb far enough away from the barn that it became disoriented and lost the scent and sound of the barn, only to end up on the road at 10:30pm. Anyway, the details remain a mystery and a good story, and now after chores are complete we always make sure we count 18 little lambs bouncing around the barn before we shut the doors for the night.
That's one more set of neighbours that I now know however, having been in thier kitchen at 11 pm to pick up one of my 'lost sheep', and discuss the strangeness of life. If only Little Bo Peep had such good neighbours she wouldn't have had to wait for her sheep to come home wagging thier tails behind them, someone would have called her instead.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


My little shepherdess in training

So I was right, the last lambs arrived on the first day of spring, so life can resume its course here at Barnyard Organics, whatever that may be. The last ewe had a big beautiful ewe lamb (backwards again) mid morning on Friday and went about the usual cleaning, caring, etc. Mark checked her at lunch and she was still doing the mother thing, no sign of another one on the way, so I chalked it up to a big single and was content to be done.
A few hours later I went out to see them and here was a pathetic little wet lamb at her feet, while the first one had escaped the pen and was wandering around the next pen. The mother was so distressed at not having the first one with her that I guess she neglected the second one and hadn't even licked it off. Plus, the long length of time between the first and second indicates maybe some difficulties in the labour? I don't know, either way, here was this sad little thing shivering away in hay.
Long story short, after a couple trips to the house, and a couple ups and downs, Larry the lamb just didn't have the energy to make it. Lucy certainly enjoyed the novelty of having a sheep in the house though and was as 'helpful' as could be, loving showing the 'baby' off to anyone who stopped by to visit.
All in all, this was another really successful lambing season and I have been really blessed in the lack of difficulties and/or challenges I've had to deal with these first two years. 150% lambing rate is down from last year's 200%, but I'm not complaining as I had 6 first time mothers this year who all did very well. From 12 ewes I have 18 big healthy lambs, the older of who are beginning to eat their creep feed pretty consistently and spend just as much time eating out of the feed alley as anywhere else.
So, onto the next season of the farm, which is the preparation for seeding season. Mark and I are both looking at seed catalogues right now, albeit his are a bit more important than my few garden seeds I'll order. Also figuring out our plan for chickens this year. We want to raise 300, which is 100 more than last year and Mark thinks we should do them in three separate batches, but I'm concerned about the early summer weather and late summer/fall weather which could potentially affect the first and last batch. So, we're still under discussion and agree that we have alterations to make to our existing infrastructure, but have to make those decisions soon. For now, I enjoy nights of uninhibited sleep (uninhibited by lambing worries at least)...


sleeping in the sun

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tis the Season

The first day of spring is on Friday and I'm hoping by then I can say that my lambing season is over. After today, there's only one left to go and I think today perhaps put her in the mood. :)

Today was kind of exciting in that it was Barnyard Organics' first ever assisted lambing. When I say exciting I mean a bit stressful, but evidently successful, so...exciting. It has been almost two weeks since our last lambs, so we had gotten a little bored of all the checking and wondering about these last two ewes, but today when Mark got back from a four wheeler drive with Lucy to say there was a sheep in labour we fell back into routine.
I got geared up in my increasingly smelly sheep barn clothes and headed over to find a beautiful big ewe lamb and content mother calmly licking off her new charge. While I prepped her lambing pen another water bag emerged so I decided I might as well wait for the twin to arrive since it's usually pretty soon after the first.
Not so.
"normal position"

backwards (not that abnormal, but not my usual normal)

For the next hour I kept contemplating heading back home and just letting the ewe have at it, but as time wore on, I started wondering why things weren't progressing. I was looking at two feet, which is usually a good sign, but suddenly realized I was looking at the bottoms of the feet, instead of the tops, and no nose coming along with the feet.

So after a call to Mark to check the good old sheep book on lambing positions he came over to the barn, put on his best veterinarian face and pulled out a little lamb while I held the ewe. Another big lamb, who after a wheeze, a blat and a lick-off was up and having a drink.

I'm sure to old shepherds this sort of thing is not a big deal, but had anyone else been in the barn with us after we stepped back to watch the ewe lick off this little wet creature, they would have seen two of the proudest farmers to ever hit Freetown.

So all is well as I sign off tonight with the hopes of finishing up this season very soon. It was finally warm enough to open the big front doors of the barn today to let in a big pile of sunshine, but of course the ewe decided to labour shortly after and we didn't want the new lambs getting cold, so it's shut back up for now. Looking forward to being able to open the doors full time very soon.

A very happy shepherd,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sumptin to think about...

Some "Barnyard Organics" pasture-raised chickens, certified organic, by Canadian standards.

If there is an 'access to outdoors' and sufficient square footage these could be organic chickens from anywhere. Do we care?

At the recent Certified Organic Producers Coop (COPC- of which Mark is president) annual general meeting, one of the members who represents the co-op on the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) gave a brief overview of some of the work they've been doing. Something he mentioned really caught my attention and I have been considering it ever since.
While the fundamentals of organic production would suggest that we should be producing food for the local market first and foremost, that is certainly not a necessity and in many cases, there is a more lucrative market elsewhere in the world. One farmer here in the Island has been dealing with a distributor in Japan for years now and has a very good relationship there and has actually opened up new markets for many other organic farmers in the region producing fruit and berries specifically for the Japanese market. He claims that he would not take away from potential Canadian markets and always looks there first, but we all know that one must go where the money is, no matter where that might be.
SO, if there are Canadian farms who would like to provide product for a specific, international market, should they be required to meet more than the standards for that country. For example, if I found a great market for organic lamb in...Spain or Afghanistan or wherever, do I need to meet the Canadian organic standards, or the Spanish or Afghani standards? I will have to meet the Spanish or Afghani standards for sure, so do I need to ensure I pass Canadian standards as well.
My initial reaction is yes, I should be required to meet the standards for both the country I'm producing for as well as the country in which I'm producing, but after some thought...why? Without the Canadian certification I wouldn't be able to sell the product here, organically anyway, so I'm taking that risk. And, as long as it meets Spanish standards, no matter how different from here, the customer in Spain will only expect the Spanish standard.
Or is that true? Most of the organic product available in our typical grocery stores is from the US and do we all just assume that they have the same standards as here? Or do we care? If it came from China but still said certified organic would we be any less leary of it?
Is it ridiculous to imagine world-wide standards? With such a difference in climates, livestock, crops, infrastructure it's pretty unreasonable at this point, but how else can we have true food security unless we grow it ourselves? I guess it all comes back to consumer education, but it's an interesting topic. To me, at least.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unrelated to the Farm

Just returned from the Summerside pool with Lucy for our weekly dip. We don't necessarily get in every single week, but we try. Due to lambing, it's been a little while, so she had a blast, remembering all the fun stuff we usually do. The above picture is the only one I could find of the actual pool and it's really only of the large, lap pool, although you can see the 'leisure/kid pool' in the back ground (where the big blue mushroomy thing and the big green slide is). No cameras are allowed in the pool area so I couldn't capture it, but I have to say that taking Lucy to the pool is definately a highlight for me. She loves it so much and has such a good time, it's hard to not get all caught up in the fun.
This morning there was a 'Aquafit' class going on (which is really a pool full of older ladies doing areobics together) and the teacher was up on the pool deck, leading the class to some pretty upbeat music, which only added to Lucy's fun. She'd get up on the kid pool deck and do the moves, dancing along with the older ladies.
A few other kids showed up after we were there for a while and I have a comment to make. I don't know who all my readership entails at this point, so I could offend someone, but I feel like life jackets are not as great as everyone may make them out to be and are sorely overused. I'm yet to see a kid at the pool under the age of about 5 or 6 without being strapped into a friggin life jacket. Firstly they can't swim like a regular person swims because their body doesn't have regular buoyancy. Secondly, they either have a false sense of security, or more often, are petrified because their parents are petrified and have forced them to wear this bulky, buoyant vest with straps everywhere you can imagine. I don't get it and I'm sure there are mothers out there writing blogs about the neglectful mother at the summerside pool who doesn't put her 16 month old into a life jacket and just lets her go under, fall, swallow water, sputter, cough and come up laughing the whole time.
Anyway, just a comment I wanted to make, along with my account of how much Lucy loves the water and I'm happy to say is not one bit nervous or scared (although some moms tell me is not a good thing).
Lambing has come to a stand still with the last two ewes just waiting me out. Surely they can't wait until April 18th (which is when I'm due), but at this rate, I wouldn't put it past them. I'm beginning to wonder if one is pregnant or just fat. I've had my camera out to the barn trying to capture the cuteness of the 15 little lambs running and jumping, so I'll hopefully post those sometime soon.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just a few shots of the ice that's covering most of the island these days. It's the most beautiful thing, with the sun shining through it. Looks like a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia in the wintery world, all sparkles and shine. Thankfully the lack of wind, has meant we've kept our power, which makes it that much easier to appreciate the beauty of it.

My tough little azalea bush, paralyzed for now.

10 down, 2 to go!!

A shot of last year's lambs enjoying the warm spring sunshine,
of which this year's lambs are yet to experience.

As of last night, after another set of twins, there are only two ewes left to lamb and Mark and I couldn't be more pumped. While we've cut down the night-time checks (from two to one), it still seems to take a lot out of a person to get up, get bundled, walk or drive over to the barn to make sure all is well, which it almost always is. For the first little while Mark was 'letting' me do all the night time checking, but then I think maybe other people's comments/criticisms got the best of him and now he insists on doing it himself. And at first, I actually wanted to do them myself, since I figured if there was something wrong, I'd have to get up anyway. Plus, being my control freak-self, I liked having the reassurance that I'd looked myself, so that if something happened after I left, I'd have no one to blame but myself.
Anyway, I have to say, that not having to get up twice in the night, by myself, has been a real treat and I really appreciate that Mark has stepped up to take that responsibility over when I need him to. I'm sure it's just my big pregnant self feeling extra tired these days, but Lucy seems to have found new energy reserves that the gov't might be interested in. She's non-stop, full tilt all the time, and while I'm so lucky to be able to be at home with her right now and we get to play and read pretty much anytime she wants, this baby is going to put a serious cramp in her style. I guess they call that, 'adjustment'?

Back to the sheep however, things have gone really well. We lost one beautiful ram lamb to something or other. My wise mom says to tell yourself that it was dead when it was born, but when I found the ewe licking off her other twin, it looked like maybe he had been laid on in the process of her having her second one. Not overly common in a large barn, with a ewe who has had two previous lambings, but not unheard of. Anyway, I can live with losing only one out of 15 so far! While I was a bit concerned about having so many singles at first, the twins have really kicked it into gear with these last batch of ewes. I think I've had 5 sets now, and all well except that one! I learned my lesson on the importance of lambing pens however.

Lambing pens, or jugs, as a lot of my books call them, are small pens (ours are 4x6) built inside the barn where we put the ewes and lamb(s) after they are born, to spend a couple days, "bonding". Dorsets, my breed of sheep, are really maternal so I'm never too concerned with how long they spend in the pens, but some books suggest up to two or three weeks! Since I only had three pens set up, I was pretty much just cycling them out of the pens as I needed new ones, so some of the first ewes only spent a day or two in the pens, and seemed fine with it. They still knew their lambs in the big barn and the lambs had no trouble finding thier moms, so all was well. Then I started having twins and more first-time lambers, but they were all lambing within a few hours of each other and I had to cycle them out of the pens faster than I probably should have. I released one new mom with her twins after a day and a half and later that day noticed that she only paid attention to one twin. The other one was always over in a corner, shivering away, looking pathetic. So I got Mark to fashion me a fancy new pen out of a pallet and some plywood and put her back in. Right away she took her other twin back and got it back up to strength and it looks great, but I guess it was just too much, too fast. It's been about four days now and I think we're going to start taking down a couple of the pens soon (to give the rest of them more room in the barn), and I think she's more than ready to face the bigger world with two in tow.

I think having been a first time mom myself, not all that long ago, gave me a new perspective on some of the first timer problems with the sheep (that sounds a little hocky, but it's true!). One newbie had a big beautiful single and wouldn't let it drink. They just kept circling around the pen, with the lamb trying to get to the udder and the ewe doing everything to keep her from getting there. After checking her for mastitis or other problems I decided she was just nervous or unsure what to do, so after holding her a couple times and letting the lamb get a good drink, she figured it out and is now one of the best moms out there. Having had breastfeeding problems myself, I know it doesn't always come as naturally as we're told it's supposed to, so I'm glad she was able to figure it out!!

Well, since I'm pretty sure that I'm the only one interested in these lambing details I'll cut this off now. Otherwise, I could probably go on and on about it, like a new mother unable to talk about anything else.
The ACORN conference was ok. I was pretty dissapointed in the two sessions that I had gone for, but Mark said that overall it was a really good conference. (He also came home completely exhausted on the verge of liver failure, so I'm pretty sure he may have been talking about the extracurricular aspect of the conference.hahah) The conference is here on PEI next year and I've been asked to be on the planning committee, which might be a good opportunity, so am tossing that around.
Attended a chef/farmer trade show sort of thing called Culinary Connections on Tuesday which I'll tell you more about later. I even got an interview on the radio, which for now, can be heard here; http://www.cbc.ca/islandmorning/ about half way down the page called, "Growing local". It'll probably be moved to 'archives' later. Wheehoo.