Sunday, June 20, 2010

When it rains, it pours

I grew up in a big old farm house which has managed to withstand the upbringing of my eight siblings and a generation (or two) of others before me.  By the time I came along I had my pick of bedrooms and of course I chose the smallest one.  It's at the front of the house, so gets the best breeze, and Mark will confirm (with frustration) that I do indeed love a good breeze on my face when I sleep, year round.
Anyway, since there was only me and my parents, we had a few extra bedrooms and from time to time, there were some interesting visitors who filled one or two of them.  My mom has been heavily involved with the mission side of the Presbyterian church so we often had missionaries who were travelling around telling about their missions, staying for a day or two. Or we hosted youth from time to time, who were travelling around through the church or school exchanges.  Then, annually, we hosted the shearer.
I never realized, until I had my own house, that an over-night house guest is not as easy as my mother made it look.  I guess to her, at that point, it was just another body in the house, after putting up with 8 'jeezers' at once, no big deal.  Anyway, he would land in, from PEI, spend two or three days, using our house as the hub to finish shearing the sheep in the area, then off he'd go again.
I vaguely remember before there was a 'shearer' and Dad would 'go at it' and then be in fine form for days after, while his back recovered.  He LOVES to quote Stompin' Toms song about the tobacco picking, except he fills in shearing sheep, "my back still aches when I hear that word."  Anyway, since I've never had to do it, I think I've always taken the shearing of the sheep for granted.
And then every year, the hot weather comes and my heavy laden ladies are laid out in the breeziest shade they can find, panting for all they are worth and the guilt strikes me that I haven't called the shearer yet.  At this point, I'm sort of 'on his list', and I don't really need to call, but I always get nervous that he'll forget or pass me over.
So when I started my annual track-down calling, I was shocked to get him on my second try.  That's never happened before!  And his chatty way he said that his shearing partner, Pauline (who did my sheep the last two years) had just arrived from out west and they were heading up 'our way' this week.  Whew! But when it comes to Val, I've learned that 'next week' can pretty quickly turn to two weeks, or next month, pretty quickly.  So when he wouldn't nail down a day, I was relieved to hear I was on the list, but hoping the hot days would hold off a bit longer, for the sake of my girls.
Then the rain came.

It's hard to show rain in pictures, but you can see how little we can see across the road because it's pouring so hard.  The rain is bouncing off the driveway and the puddles are foaming.
We knew it was coming.  Mark talked about it all last week. "Sunday's going to rain."  We even briefly talked about shutting the sheep in.  I said, "if it's just showers, it'll be fine.  The sheep come in out of showers anyway.  The barn is too small for them all with their fleeces on. What am I going to do, jam them all in there for days until the rain stops?  Didn't you say Monday is supposed to rain too? Who KNOWS when the shearer will ACTUally show up!?"
Sunday came, and it showered a bit throughout the day.  I decidedly put it out of my head.  Then supper came, and it began to pour.  It was relentless and pounding.  I began to mumble to myself about the sheep and Mark gave me sideways glance as if to say, "I think I brought this up before..."
Suddenly, in a fit of anxiety I begged Mark to go over and shut them in.  I exclained, "I just keep having this vision of the shearer showing up, taking a look at damp wool and saying, 'I'll be back around this way in Septemeber' You've GOT to shut them in for me! Pleasee!!"
 And because I married the kind of man who does this sort of thing, he quietly got up and went over at the height of the pounding rain, thunder and lightning, and put a gate up at the door so that the sheep would stay dry (or not get any wetter at least).  Just look at those eyes, don't they just say, "Love you sweetie" or maybe it's "I love sheep."  :)

Anyway, as I write this, the rain continues to pour and Mark is speculating what his new Fathers-Day-Rain-Gauge will say in the morning.  The soil certainly needed it, although the intensity will no doubt leave some places (with more hills and less organic matter than ours) a bit washed out.  Yes, that's a bit smug on my part. Just for that, there will probably be a big rill running through one of our freshly seeded soybean fields come tomorrow.  Karma.

Hope this finds you dry and celebrating fatherhood!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

A June Day on the Farm in Pictures.

The perfect June weather-not too hot not too cold. Just right for a snack by the pool in the sun!

There is nothing less glamorous than keeping livestock during a 2 week rainy period.  Everything becomes a slick of green slime and areas that were previously safe for walking now require hip waders.  Not to mention to odour of wet wool and the humidity in the air of a barn full of panting, dripping creatures, hiding from the coyote howls.  Actually we haven't heard any coyotes lately (knock on wood), but we know they are living in our woods, so I'm not taking any precautions and am still bringing in my girls every night.  They are out in the large pasture now so back to the old barn and it's not big enough to hold them all.  If it's not raining too hard, some of them will sleep outside in the 'corral' which is really just a fenced off area outside the barn to hold the extras.  During these last weeks of rain, the corral became a treacherous stink hole of mud and manure, but as you can see below is looking MUCH better these days!

Mark had our local heavy equipment guys (the Waugh's) in to scrape and level up a new pad for his latest, large grain tank and while they were there, he got them to slip into the sheep corral and scrape out the yuck and fill it back in with some fresh 'shale'. It looks like gravel to me, but I'm told it's called 'shale'.  Must be a PEI thing.  Either way, I'm not complaining, it's much better than it was. There had been some grass growing in it and from an organic shepherdess's perspective was a prime habitat for worms, so the grass had to go.  That may seem contradictory at first, but I promise there is genuine logic to it.  

In other, sunnier news, the weather has been beautiful these last couple days and as the saying goes, "Ya gotta make hay when the sun shines." or plant clover, or finger weed or harrow in our case....
Wendell has been living in his tractor lately, getting the last of the ground ready for seeding and Mark has been finger weeding up a dust storm (yes despite two week of rain, there is dust in lots of areas).  You can see in the picture above the sheep, then red ground and then a field that looks like it's been mowed by a big golf course professional mower.  It's actually just been freshly fingerweeded and if you could see the detail better you would be able to see what an amazing job it does.  There are very clearly lines of grain showing up where it was a mat of green before.  I suggested that doing the fingerweeding when it's damp might help the weeds pull out easier, to which I was told it wouldn't make any difference.  I know from experience that weeds pull out much easier after a rain than after drought, but who am I to argue with the 'expert'.  Pffffttt.
We had the vet out and he confirmed that Rosie is indeed with calf and he estimated her to be due in the fall (September), so that is exciting news from here.  A bit on the bad timing side of things, since at that time, Mark's priorities will lie somewhere besides learning to hand milk a Jersey cow and it will be left to me I'm sure, but such is the life of a patient and loving farmers wife.  PFfffffttt again!
The hens are enjoying the sun over the rain as well. Here they are in their custom made dustbath.  If you've never seen a chicken have a dust bath, it's one of the funniest things.  They pretty much lay right over on their side, lay out their wings and kick up dust with one leg until there's just a cloud of it all over them.  Sometimes you can't see anything but a chicken leg kicking up a storm.  Usually there's three of them bathing at the same time and it's a dusty chaos.

This is a field ready for planting after Wendell's harrowing today.  If you look hard you can see our trouble weed specific to this field, right above Lucy's head.  For some reason the upper corner (and spreading) is always FULL of field mint.  Back when I was writing about the new sheep barn and when we laid out the straw it smelled like mint-well this field is why.  It's a tough weed and spreads like crazy, but can be brought to a manageable level, again this year, we hope!  That is to say, we hope the crop we plant can out perform and compete with the mint that will inevitably try to take over. 
Lucy getting her toes sniffed.
Wilson blinking at the sun, sporting his favorite shirt.  Nothing with a motor can go by without this boy craning his neck and hopping and waving while making vroom noises. 

Hope this finds you with your hands in some dirt and a smile on your face!


Monday, June 7, 2010

Spring crop update 2010

Hi all

I continue to get hassled by Sally for not posting more on here and letting people know what is happening in the fields.  Well first off if you don't know we have had a lot of rain lately.  I was joking with a neighbour the other day that I don't have a rain gauge because I don't spray chemicals.  It is quite common that chemical companies will advertise their products on rain guages, hats or other items that farmers sometimes need and give them to farmers for buying their products.   A couple years back our rain gauge broke and has never been replaced.  So we don't have an actual amount of rain that fell, just a lot.

So far we have just shy of 100 acres of Wheat in the ground, it was planted on the 18th of May.  80 acres of barley and 20 acres of barley and field peas.   Also we have 20 acres of oats planted.  This year we are going to try and underseed the oats to clover and rye grass.  Our hope is to spread the clover and rye grass on at the time when we fingerweed the last time.   We have always worried about seeding the cereal crop and forage at the same time because the forage could grow so well that the cereal crop is consumed by it, causing harvesting difficulties.

Just before the rain hit I started sowing one field to clover and rye grass.  We sow fall rye with this in the spring and it acts as a nurse crop the first year and then comes out in head the second year but is cut off for silage. 

We have still about 50 acres of clover and rye grass to put in and 100 acres soybeans.  We are growing 4 different varieties of beans this year.  Our favorites are  OAC Prudence they are a shorter season bean and we have had good yields with them.  We are trying out two new varieties Laurent and Pheniox which are both short season varieties and we are hoping they will preform well and may become our new favorite.  In addition we are also going to be planting Black Soybeans.  These are a specialty bean that taste a lot better than regular soybeans.  We are going to also harvest some of these beans for Edamame this season.  You might remember us raving over Edamame last season in one of the posts.   We are trying to come up with a way we could blanch and freeze them so that we could extend the length of time we can sell them.

We may put in some sunflowers as well but are still working out all of the logistics on the potential market.

I passed by a field this morning and notice that the barley is starting to come out in the third leaf.  The third leaf stage of a cereal plant is the stage when the plant is able to withstand the fingerweeder.   So when the Sun comes out and the crops start to jump in growth we are going to be ready to try and clean as many weeds as possible.  The trick is that it requires nice sunny weather, showers are a benefit for the weeds.

Hope this finds you dry and Happy

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June is Dairy Month

Mark laughed outloud when he read the headline in one of our local agricultural papers that said, "June is dairy month."  "What have YOU done for dairy month?" he asked with a sarcastic laugh, "Because we got a COW!"  What a proud dairyman he is all of a sudden!
Mark picked her up on Friday morning and she's been settling in ever since.  A friendly beast, she's not a big fan of our farm dog, Rinnie, but is otherwise very calm and loves attention.
She came with the name Buttercup, which I thought was a suitable jersey cow name, but Mark's eyes said that he wasn't about to go about calling 'Buttercup'.  So we went with Daisy (another wild flower and very acceptable milk cow name I thought), until we remembered that our good friends, the Vandermaars, cow is named Daisy, Mark's sister's horses name is Daisy and I kept saying "Rosie" whenever I called her.  Mark wanted to go with Charlie (don't ask me), but I think we've stuck with "Rosie" now, although Lucy repeatedly informs me that "Rosie lives in West Branches!" (My parent's dog is called Rosie as well).

So you can see we're serious farmers when we spent more time deciding on a name than worrying about the condition of the cow!!! haha.

She actually looks ok for a Jersey, but we'd like to give her condition a little bump in the right direction. The farm where she's been is entirely grass fed and according to them she 'should be bred' to an angus, although they have no time line on that.  SO, we have a cow, who could use a bit of grain as far as I'm concerned, may or may not be pregnant and is fairly friendly, but gave me an overly friendly nudge with her poll last night which has left a pretty purple bruise on my ample thigh this morning.  I have forgotten how much bigger cows are than sheep and will have to take more care with the kids around her until we know her better.
My books all repeat the importance of testing for TB and brucellosis which, because I've never heard any talk of between dairy farmers before, I chalked up to the age of the books and the fact that those sort of things are probably taken care of as a standard procedure now.  After reading a bit more however, it seems that brucellosis can cause abortions, which has happened with Rosie before, so we're contemplating having the vet come out, do a test for that and a preg check.  At least that way, we'll know whether we're going to have milk anytime soon or whether we need to look at breeding her.  Figuring out when she's in heat will be a whole new session of reading!!! haha.

Ah well, off to the feed store to get a proper cattle salt block and then to the market to get my Pleasant Pork pepperoni so we can have pizza this week!    Mark is doing a Habitat for Humanity build with the church this morning so we might stop by and check out men at work since we'll be in town.  

Hope this finds you enjoying the brief moments of sun we've been getting between rain drops!!


PS. Dearest brothers: 
Bruce-no need for the Quik just yet, she's dry, but I'm sure it'll be a must have at the table as I remember.  :)  
Mark- no need for a calf just yet either, she's dry, but we're certainly make use of the one she has whenever that happens!!  ps. thanks for the support, I'm pretty sure the rest of our families think we're ridiculous. :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The sheep are still knee deep in clover and living it up (if not a wee bit daggy on the rear...).  They are not so keen on the grasses that are beginning to get a bit coarse, so we've been supplementing a bit of hay until we move them onto the more permanent pasture of a better mix of grass and legumes.  
Here's a couple wee ones who snuck through the fence in search of...greener pastures?  Obviously those little hooves don't make very good ground rods, despite the little drench of rain we've been getting lately. Finally, here are the new additions.  It's spring, and like the rest of us, they could use a new do for the new season and whaddaya know!?  They're getting one.  These are 'hair sheep' who don't need sheared because they shed their coat.  Hence the mangy look they're sporting this week.  But it's shedding quickly, so I'm guessing they'll be back to their sleek selves and ready for bikini season very shortly. 
I still can't quite get used to the look of them, after years of facing purebred polled dorsets everyday, but I am slowly beginning to enjoy each of them for their own character (which is hard to do with a flock full of lookalikes in the dorsets-except for a few of my faves of course).  They are still skittish, but once we put them in with the rest of the flock this week I'm counting on them relaxing a bit.  I may still part with a couple of them because Barnyard Organics is finally getting its cow!!  That's right. Any day now we will get ourselves down to eastern PEI and pick up Daisy or Buttercup or Bessie or Rosie or whatever we decide to call our new Jersey.  We were down to meet her last weekend and she's friendly and apparently used to being milked by hand.  The current owners are not sure of her pregnancy status, so I guess that is our risk, but she has been with calf before, so we know she's capable of it.  Anyway, the trade hasn't been finalized, but I think sheep are the bargaining tool, so we'll see.  I will have an easier time parting with a couple of the new arrivals rather than any of my old girls, but in this short time I've already got my favorite hair sheep as well, so we'll see what happens. 
Oh hippies trading silly livestock.  My dad has been explicit in his warnings about our getting a cow and although Mark's dad hasn't been as outspoken, his face sometimes gives away his thoughts.  Anyway, it's just another experiment on the farm of life around here, so if it doesn't work out maybe I'll trade a jersey for more sheep...who knows!?  I ordered three books about milk cows and have been plowing through them in record time to prepare. So we'll see if the theory that farmers can't be made by reading books is legit. I hope for the sake of agriculture that it's not, since that is probably the fastest growing sector of young farmers in the country.

Wish us luck and next time I post I hope to have pictures of the new lady on the farm, doe eyes and all!