Wednesday, March 31, 2010


That's right, Barnyard Organics has the coast!  All this time we thought Freetown was relatively 'inland', but our new mussel pile has transported it to the seashore!
Seagulls have completely taken over.  The pile is white with birds and the fields are littered with them too.  Although they may be eating some of the 'goodness', they are working for us, unintentionally.  They grab a shell, fly away to eat it, drop it, poop and go back for more.  So the shells are being distributed a bit at a time and we're getting LOTS of free seagull poop all over the place.  The value of them, fertility wise is a bit of a joke, but they sure sound nice with the windows open.

I just close my eyes and I'm suddenly laying on a lounger at a resort in Hawaii or Cuba, or somewhere delicious like that this time of year.

Then, someone needs a diaper change, or a nose wipe, or a snack, or a cuddle, and I'm back in Freetown.  I kind of like it that way.  Thanks seagulls for your coastal song and the moment of getaway!  If anyone is interested in sitting out amongst the birds, fruity drink in hand, we only charge a very reasonable rate, by the hour.  Now THAT's value-added!  :)


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Muscles or Mussels?

 I've been avoiding writing about this topic since it's become somewhat...contentious in our household, but that doesn't make it any less interesting for those of you wanting the details on how we actually farm (versus the details on my personal feelings about various topics).  Pictured above is the big love muscle posing with his mussels.  For the past month or so Mark has been taking the dump truck out to the Island Aqua Farms plant to get loads of 'mussel waste' which is basically the small or damaged mussels that don't make the grade for retail.  Besides mussels there is also other little sea creatures like the occasional crab or wormy sort of thing, tunicates, sea weed, etc.  
Mark has been unloading it beside our aging manure pile about a half kilometer from the farm, back in the field and even through all this warm weather it hasn't been stinking too badly.  There was one day when I questioned whether I should hang the clothes on the line, but all in all, I have to say it hasn't been as awful as you might think rotting sea creatures could be. 
 The plan is to mix it with straw and the manure to create a magical, wonderful mix of nutrition for the soil.  Mark has plans in his head about an addition to our manure spreader to help distribute it better, rather than the clumps that most likely will result from using the manure spreader as per usual.
The reason it has been a bit contentious has nothing to do with the smell, but with the perceived value of such a product.  The round trip ( includes the time Mark sits in the truck while they load the 15 or so large buckets of mussels) takes about 1.5 hours and I continue to present the position that he would never travel that far or long for manure and how much better is this than manure?  On the surface, in my mind, it seems like a bunch of mussel shells have very little short term value, particularly relative to manure, but I am slowly being convinced otherwise.  In speaking to anyone who has used it, it is clear that it provides significant short term value, but also has lasting effects on the soil that manure cannot compare to.  Anyway, I guess we'll see.  Here's hoping our neighbours don't boo us out of Freetown first for the smell one of these breezy warm days.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Attack of the Rats

The other day Mark came home at noon and said, "From now on, my daily success will be measured by how many rats I kill."
Let's just say that in these last few days he has been VERY successful.

This picture is from somewhere else, which I can guarantee because our barn is now the cleanest it has ever been.  Wendell has been tidying and cleaning in every moment between emptying and filling rat traps.  There is certainly no grain laying around like that little rat is enjoying.
Tonight, after writing my last (angst ridden) entry, Mark and I walked over to the barn to shut in the hens.  While we were there he decided to take a 'quick check on the traps'.  Keep in mind this is after a two day total of 14 dead rats.  That's right.  Fourteen.  (Dollar store sardines turned out to be a rats fantasy feast-they cannot resist.)
We walked in, turned on the light and some movement across the barn caught both our eyes.  We stood there, me frozen in fear, Mark awe-struck, while he counted aloud as we watched NINE rats follow one another up a break in the wall into the ceiling.  It started with a HUGE silver one we've dubbed RatZilla II (RatZilla I was snapped up last year in the chicken coop) and after she disappeared up into the hole, each of her EIGHT little (relative term) cronies obediently trundled right up there with her.  What is that statistic? For every rat you can see, there many more?  UGH!
If there was ever anything to make me forget about poor choices in agricultural marketing it's RATS!  I'm exhausted but I'm scared to sleep for the nightmares I know will have now. 

Hope this finds you secure in the state of your basements, outbuildings and barns. :)


Girls Can Be Farmers?

Ugh.  I went to the National Farmers Union annual meeting the other day and there was a booth set up by the PEI Agriculture Sector Council there.  They are responsible for lots of the agricultural publicity and awareness campaigns that happen on the Island.  At their booth they had what looked like a pile of  pens to be given out.  As I walked by however, the executive director handed me one and said, "This is for you. See what it says?"  It was actually a tire pressure checker (better than yet another pen) and it said, "Girls can be farmers too!"
Excuse me?
Is this really a campaign? In 2010? On PEI?  Thank you so much for the condescending permission to do my career of choice.
I wonder how Haley Wickenheiser would feel being handed a hockey puck that says, "Girls can play hockey too!"  Or Chef Michael Smith receiving a spatula that says, "Boys can cook too!"
If this is some kind of awareness campaign for young girls then, a tire pressure checker is not the right medium.  But that's only the tip of the iceburg. I would suggest that many young girls hearing that phrase, would for the first time in their lives wonder, " there a reason I wouldn't be a farmer?"  As in, those barriers don't exist in the minds of young people now.
And if the idea is for the old generation of men (and there's no shortage of old man farmers) who think the woman's place is in the kitchen, it only enforces the idea that women farming is new and that they are amateurs and not to be taken as seriously as any other farmer.
UGH. This has really gotten under my skin.  Its like when we built a rink at our residence back in university and our male don (the adult of the house) came up to my friend and I (the only two girls on the ice) after a game and said soooo condescendingly, "It was so nice to see you two out there today."  Did he say that to any of the boys out there?  Of course not.
There's a reason I have a double minor in Canadian Studies and Women's Studies and sometimes I'm not sure what that reason is.  But when I get handed a tire pressure checker with garbage like that printed on the side, funded with what I can only assume to be my tax dollars, it drives me into a fury.  And yes, for those of you rolling your eyes out there in the world, I realize that the point of this blog is not as a soapbox for my personal vendettas against various institutions, but it happens to work quite nicely for that as well.

Here's hoping you are a board member of the AgSector Council and you realize your mistake before you hand out more poorly made tire pressure checkers to unsuspecting females.


ps. only TWO comments on my mega cute story in pictures?  I'm ticked about that too.  April and Marsha, you're getting a prize of some kind. Thank you for your feedback.   :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Story in Pictures

This morning our new, late lamb wasn't looking his best (or very well at all).  Here's what ensued. 
The ambulance.  Attendant obviously sincerely worried about the health of the patient, Mr. L.Chop. Bottle of mother's milk also on board.

The waiting room.  Nosy neighbour.  Too sick to bother telling them to butt out and mind their own business.

Ugh.  As always, the one patient who's drunk and unruly sits right beside me.

Oh FINALLY! The triage nurse.  (Hmm..looks a lot like that ambulance attendant...)
Checks my vitals.  It's not my throat.  Really.

Checks my....feet?  It's not my feet. Believe me.
"Oh oh.  Things don't look good.  It's your feet.  Prognosis? Fatal foot rot."

HAHA!! Just joking!   Good one eh?
 Ok, Mr. Chop.  Come with me, it won't be long. The doctor should be along anytime. (yeah right)

New waiting room.  Looks like the old one, minus the drunken cat.  Quiet at least.
And warm...maybe I'll have a quick nap.

Hello there Mr...Chop?  I'll be your doctor today.  How are you doing?
 Let me just take a look here.  Sore throat?

No? Not the throat?  Tell me what's going on.
Let me see your eyes. How is your vision? 

Hmm...this ear looks interesting...
Let's try some massage therapy.

I keep coming back to this ear...something isn't right.
Nurse, let's run some tests on this ear.  Stat.

We're going to be transferring you to the Pallitive Care Unit now.

As of the end of this tale, Mr. L. Chop has returned home to be with his family in his final hours.  He is grateful for the quality care he received during his time at Barnyard Organics General Hospital however and will be leaving the balance of his estate to the emergency care unit there.     

Disclaimer: Before you call PETA; I didn't actually leave the care of this ill lamb up to a 11 month old and a two year old, the pictures just turned out that way.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Something in the water...?

There is an unspoken assumption by conventional farmers (and some organic farmers) that organic production will always be less than conventional. In some cases, this is true. In those cases, it is usually a case of the hyper-efficient commodity farmers having a narrow focus that blocks out the long-term and focuses on the here and now profit margins. That has become somewhat of a necessity of competing in the agricultural sector we've created for ourselves. The philosophy of organics however, suggests that we are farming for the long term, on a principle of sustainability. Like the title of this blog references, while conventional producers are often farming crops, organic producers are farming soil.
In any case, that understanding of 'lower production' exists and as I said, in some cases rightfully so. It is not necessarily correct however, as our first year of organic soybean production showed us, with higher than conventional average yields. It also hasn't shown up in my sheep flock, with having 150%-200% lambing rates and no real problems with rate of gain, etc.

Until this year.
And let me make it clear that I don't think it was the organic part of my management that caused the sudden downturn, but there is no way to be sure as my management, after four years of organic, has changed in subtle ways that could have contributed, along with other factors.

I had let out the big beautiful ram we had rented with my 18 ladies and he immediately got busy. Within a couple weeks he had marked every ewe and we were feeling triumphant. I have always kept the rams in with the girls for about 60 days to ensure that two, three or even four full heat cycles have run through the flock and this time we only had him for a few over 30, so right away, we were running a higher risk of missing a couple. But with all the green hind ends (from the ram marker) around I felt pretty good about it.
We hadn't flushed the flock very well, but the ewes were looking good and I wasn't convinced as to the importance of flushing.
I've since heard that North Country Cheviots throw twins less often than many other breeds, but I don't know whether that is attributed to the ram or the ewe. My ewes have always done exceptionally well, so I have hard time blaming them for the shortfall.
The afore-mentioned shortfall is...drumroll....HALF. Half of my flock, that's NINE ewes did not catch. And those that did have lambs, mostly had singles. I have 12 little lambs running around in the barn, and as cute and as healthy as they are, they represent HALF of what could have been, not to mention HALF of what I had last year (with 6 fewer ewes).
I spent a fair bit of time this year being angry at myself for not having better management skills, for not doing...SOMEthing, anything, whatever it is that could have prevented this. How could I let this happen when things had been going so well these past years? I've become that 'lower production organic farmer' statistic that I took such pride in defying before now.
 * Note: I wrote the first part of this entry a few days ago and never got around to posting it until tonight (Mar.11), after which when we went to do chores this morning, lo and behold, there is a pathetic little beast bleating around the barn.  A new lamb.  According to all my lambing charts he's a miracle, but he here is none the less.  So it's one better than half I guess.  All it took was removing all the lambing pens, Mark wrestling the remaining ewes to trim feet and marking them as barren for this season.  That's the universe you can hear laughing at me.

So, like any good farmer, I've decided to turn this downturn into my advantage, and jump into the off-season breeding and hopefully have new lambs ready for the Easter market. Since I never breed my yearlings and I have the nine ewes that didn't catch, this could potentially mean that I would have more sheep breeding in the off-season than the regular season, but maybe that would make for easier marketing of product during the summer months (when PEI's market jumps considerably in population).  Wish me luck; evidently I need it.
Here's a little lamb who has mastered the art of 'stealing'.  Nursing from ewes other than his mother when they are too preoccupied to care.  Survival of the fittest (or not so fit in his particular case-hence the need for stealing.)

So, don't get me wrong after all this.  I am certainly not complaining.  As you can see from the top photo, the lambs are beautiful and growing so well.  I am very happy with what I've got.  Expectations are the problem in this case.  Maybe I shouldn't have marked the ram and played roulette instead, guessing the fertilization game. Too bad you can't candle ewes like eggs to see exactly what is going on in there. I guess they call that ultrasound don't they?  
Maybe another year.

Probably not.

Hope this finds you well and enjoying the warm weather!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meatless in Freetown

It's Tuesday, the day I do groceries (because I get a sweet 10% discount at Sobeys when I have my friend Patty Jo's Holland College student card) and as I was walking through the meat section I realized that there wasn't a single item there that I could eat under my lenten resolution to only eat free-range meat. And ever since a disturbing night-long event with my children over bad fish, I made a life-long resolution to never buy grocery store fish, so I was feeling a bit protein-less. On top of it all, we have been saving all of our eggs for the upcoming ACORN conference and will be able to eat em again on Thursday (at which time I will eat more eggs than I did in Africa-which is at EVERY meal). We are waiting on a side of pork from our friends Roy and Jen Vandermaar (mmmm) and a quarter of beef from my brother and all of our chickens are frozen whole, so on a night when I would probably cook up a veggie-laden omelet, even that is off the menu!
We had tofu only a couple nights ago (made here on PEI) (surprisingly a family favorite), so I don't want to push that again. The fish guy doesn't come to town until tomorrow.
My brother brought over a bunch of beautiful hamburger a few weeks ago and we've been plowing through that in the interim while the rest of our meat waits to arrive, and I'm not sure how healthy it is the eat hamburger everyday. I'm creative with it, but much ground beef is too much?

There are bear sausages in the freezer. Ugh. Not today. I'll hold off on those until...eternity? Actually they're more of bbq/outdoor cooking item I think. Maybe some weekend this summer when I'm not around. So the bear doesn't help me either.
The obvious answer would be lamb, but it's over at the farm freezer and with Wilson still sleeping, we're cutting it close to the 5 o'clock supper to get everyone dressed, over to the barn, pick up meat, bring it back, get undressed, thaw it out, cook it properly...ugh I get a cramp just thinking about it. How do working mothers do this?
HELP! It's 3:30, do you know where your meat is? Or where it's been?

Hope this finds you well-fed and happy.