Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hot Items

Admittedly, after what seems like weeks of not posting, this post is probably not what most of you want to read, since it's basically just an advertisement for our chicken and lamb that is available within days.  BUT for those of you looking for DELICIOUS meat, read on!!!

Our chickens are raised on lush pasture from four weeks of age onward.  They also get a menu of our own certified organic grains, but I think this year's chickens are eating more grass and pasture critters than ever before.  The reaction we have had to these birds from our customers has been unbelievable.  In fact, it has been so good that we are willing to guarantee that these are the best chickens you've ever eaten.  They are have lots of white meat, but have a distinct chicken flavour that is lost by birds raised indoors on feed only.  The most common comment we hear is, "It tastes like chicken USED to taste like!  You can actually really TASTE chicken!" 
I continue to come back to my strong belief that a happy, healthy bird makes for a much healthier end product and if you could see our chickens on pasture, you would have no doubts that they are happy and healthy.

We are holding our price at $3.50/lb which is laughable to our organic colleagues in other areas of the Maritimes, but because we grow and mix our own grain and have the pasture, we are able to offer a quality product to more people at a more reasonable price.  I dare you to go to a Farmer's Market anywhere else and find certified organic, pasture raised chicken for less.  Our first batch will be ready Thursday afternoon and I suggest you call or email to place an order, but you can always just stop by the farm as well.
Our next two batches will be ready in September and October, respectively.

My lambs are looking amazing this year and I am so excited to be able to offer them earlier than ever. From this first batch I have three whole ones left, or 6 sides, however they sell.   They are also out on pasture, but are getting a little treat of grain each day to keep them happy (and round).  The sides should probably weigh out at about 20-25lbs and the price is sticking at $7/lb.  I usually do custom cut and wrap to your preferences, but if you're worried about what to get, I can help you decide.  I have also worked in the past with a meat cutter who can make sausages with the cuts you aren't sure about.  Mark LOVES lamb sausage and recommends it to everyone who ever buys a side or whole.  It costs a little bit more, but is well worth it to most people.

On the crop side, it has been and continues to be an outstanding growing year. I am still overwhelmed when I look out on our wheat fields at how perfect they look.  Let's pray that this carries through to harvest.

Hope this finds you reveling in the quickly-fleeting summer,


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cream of the Crops!

Since I spent so much of last entry proclaiming that we're a grain farm first, it seemed only fitting that I should include some pictures of what we actually make money at (most of the time anyway). 
Things are pretty smug around here right now.  This has been a fantastic growing season thus far and the crops are looking amazing.  As you can see from these freshly cultivated beans, the growth is green and lush, and the weeds are few and far between; just like we like it.  That's the fruit of Mark's well planned and diligent, long-term management labour.
  Here's a couple shots of our wheat fields, which are really outstanding right now. I like to say they're like conventional only better, because we don't have any lodging.  Lodging often occurs this time of year with heavy rains or strong winds and is basically large sections of the grain breaking and falling over.  Research has shown (and common sense says) that too much fertilizer can cause the plants to grow too tall too fast and the stems cannot support the heavy head of grain.  Now that I've put it in black and white, you can be sure that the rain forecasted for tonight will flatten entire fields by morning.  haha.  That's the fruit of Sally's home made smugness at work.

I tried to get a shot of the patterns in this wheat field, but I think I need a plane rather than a large mini-van.  On the edge of this field of AC Helena variety wheat, we have a strip of Acadia, a rare, heritage variety grown for flour.  Speerville Mills, in NB works with organic wheat and is always interested in heritage varieties.  They had about 20kg of Acadia in their freezer and we thought it would be an interesting opportunity to grow it out.  So far it looks good, we'll see what the rest of the season brings.
Another colour of wheat is a strip beside the Acadia called Red Fife, which is growing in popularity, but is also a heritage variety for flour.  Speerville really loves working with Red Fife and we thought we have had a couple years of experience with growing wheat, we could try it out.  The thing with heritage varieties and Red Fife in particular is that it takes a few growing seasons for it to adapt perfectly to our climate, soil, etc.  It's so amazing that certain, old varieties have the ability to adapt like that, where new varieties have been bred to do the exact opposite and be exactly the same in every field no matter what the conditions.  Consistency has it's place, don't get me wrong, but there is something more to be said for staying power. 

In other field crop news, we're done hay!!! The loft is full, the back sheep barn is full and we've got 36 round bales for back up.  Rosie is an unknown element in predicting our needs this year, but that's more than we've ever had before. So when it comes to rain forecasts now we can sit back and say, "Let 'er come!"

Anyway, in other news, my garden is getting ahead of me, both in terms of harvest and in weeds.  I had a few bare sections that I intended to see out with oats or buckwheat, but as usual didn't get around to.  Those are now producing a beautiful crop of lamb's quarters and red root pigweed.  It's hard to get motivated to weed those sections as there is nothing in the undergrowth to save, but I know I will regret it if I don't get rid of them soon, before they set seed.
We had a great supper of Three Pillar Farms pork, todays home made bread and FRESH green beans from the garden. Last night we had our first potatoes and I don't know what it is, but it doesn't matter how many store bought new potatoes I have, there is NOTHING like those first new potatoes from your own garden.  Biting through that thin skin, while the butter melts down your fork and down your wrist and the whole thing just melts in your mouth.  New potatoes are my absolute favorite food.  Even more than chocolate.  Because I can have chocolate any old time of the year. At least some things are still sacred.  We can buy asparagus in February and strawberries at Christmas, but the new THAT is a treat.

Once again, I'm off to hit the sack as they say.  So much to fill these beautiful July days.

Hope this finds you happily exhausted and sun kissed as well.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Crop Circles...Failure.

We are a grain farm first.  Before there were sheep or chickens or babies or me, there was grain.  Despite the arrival of those aforementioned things, and despite the preference to focus on livestock in this blog, this is a grain farm first.  So each year as my flock expands, I worry about losing valuable crop land in favor of pasture, but recognize the importance of having enough pasture to do sufficient rotations, organically.  And while the sheep are not necessarily a money-losing venture, they are not necessarily a HUGE money generator and they require a lot of work.
I often find myself pondering the existence of my flock because despite my love of sheep and despite the importance of having livestock on a farm, they do take up a lot of space, time and resources that could otherwise be dedicated to what we actually do; GRAIN.  The thing that keeps me coming back is that I loved growing up with sheep and I want to give my kids that same opportunity.  I also think that it is infinitely important that kids understand the concept of life and death from a very young age, and there's no better way than to see a lamb being born and the odd one die.  Puts the small things into perspective pretty quickly and is something I feel like a lot of kids are missing out on.

ANYway, the point of this entry is to talk about my attempt at working the sheep into our crop land, rather than removing crop land into pasture.  Half of the ladies are out with the ram right now and the lambs are separated, on a feeding schedule to encourage the last bit of growth (although Mark weighed them today and already many are at or past market weight! That's a record for us!)  So I just had half of my old ewes to contend with and I didn't want to risk the ram breeding them (however unlikely since they just lambed in Feb.) and wanted them separated.
The plan was to put our old dilapidated cattle trailer out in the field, run some electranet and let the sheep graze the hay land that had first cut silage taken off of it (or whatever field was looking best.)  I thought that it would be great to capitalize on all the acreage we have post harvest, and the acres of legumes we plant for our 5 year rotation.
Great in theory.
Three major problems ( from my perspective) 'cropped' up right away.
1) mosquitos.  This sounds trivial, but one of the first nights we went back to shut them in the trailer for the night, when I reached into the trailer to shut off the fencer, I thought I was reaching through a curtain of some kind, but when I looked it was just mosquitos.  They sounded like a 737 coming in for landing.  It was the craziest thing I've ever seen.  And shutting 12 sheep into a trailer with that many mosquitos seems like the ultimate torture to me.
2) bedding.  We didn't anticipate as much manure in the trailer as there is. They're only in there overnight, but wowzers...they require fresh straw almost daily, which is just more man hours ticked off on their value.
3) and this is the biggest problem of all; sheep eat a lot.  We had anticipated moving the trailer every few days, but it turns out that 12 sheep can eat a LOT of clover in a very short amount of time.  In half a day in fact.  So much so that if you don't move the fence halfway through the day, they will get out when you try to move it that night.  Then you have loose sheep, manure AND mosquitos to deal with.  Oh, and a tangled fence.  And it's dark.  And did I mention mosquitos?
So needless to say, after about a week of it, we've agreed that it isn't working like we hoped and we're onto new ideas.  Perhaps Rosie needs some company in her lush pasture?  At this point what we have to show for our 'big idea' is an un-road worthy cattle trailer and a bunch of  sheep-created crop circles in our field and some dirty looking ewes who are eager to explore their horizons once the grass runs out.  We're open to suggestions.
In other news, our third batch of chickens has arrived and the second batch (above) is almost ready to go out into the pasture.  The first batch is looking great and our first ship date is August 4th.  So at least some of the livestock are going as planned.  Whew.

Speaking of the arrival of third batches, we have some exciting personal news to share, which is that we're growing the work crew here at Barnyard Organics by another wee one come mid-January.  Can't wait!

Whew, bed calls.  Having a full time off-farm job makes for late nights on the full-time on-farm job.

 Hope this finds you celebrating the arrival of sun (and heat), but enjoying the days of rain as well.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Early Summer Days

TA DA!  Our first harvest from the garden!   I managed to scavenge together enough leaf lettuce, spinach and baby beet greens to make a salad, while Lucy pulled a few radishes and a green onion for me.  Made for a pretty delicious little treat.  Too bad, it's gotten so warm that all the spinach has bolted and the greens have come to a bit of a stop. I think I remember now that my plan was to plant some lettuce every week at the beginning, but I can see now, that I forgot that plan.  Too bad. :( It was good while it lasted!!! haha  Also those are my first peonies in the foreground.  I planted a peony root when I moved here and finally, this year I had some big beautiful blooms.  One of my favorite flowers for sure.
I got these little Carhartt overalls in the mail from a friend when I was pregnant with Lucy and at the time, they seemed so huge, but they're making their way through the second kid at this point and it seems like not very long ago I remember unwrapping them!
Everyday I think Wilson looks more and more like his Dad.  Here's the two of them carting around on the 4-wheeler, on their way to go feed the pastured chickens.
Here's the crew arriving at the chicken tractors, ready to move, feed and water the happy little birds.
When we chat with our conventional farmer friends about the chickens, I get the impression that they think having chickens out on pasture is more of a marketing ploy than anything legitimate to do with the quality of life for the birds.  When we tell them how much they love to eat the clover and the grass they say, "oh yeah...", in a sort of polite 'yeah right' kind of way.  It's hard to show in a picture, but these chickens have just been moved and you can really hear and see them picking the grass as fast as they can.  They go for the clover first and then pick away at the rest.  It's really amazing to see what kind of diet chickens would have, given the opportunity.
Mark likes numbers and records.  That's part of why he's such a good organic farmer.  He's attached these tags to each of the chicken tractors now indicating what date they went out, the tractor number, how many birds, etc. etc.  We keep track of deaths or illnesses on our computer, but he took it a step further with these fancy tags  this year.
  Although we've got the chicken tractors down to a bit of a science at this point, they do still have their faults.  One of them is accessibility of the waterers.  If the float isn't set right, then the water runs over and they run out of water.  To get to it, Mark has to crawl in, work in a very confined space and hope that the chickens don't leave too slick of a poopy trail for him to get back out.  It doesn't seem to matter if he crawls in RIGHT after we move them, they manage to poop exactly in the spots he crawls within seconds. This is a shot of the two helpers, assisting the big chicken in the pen.  How much he appreciates me and my photo taking in moments like this, he keeps to himself.  :)
Here's our latest addition; well temporary addition.  I've borrowed Duncan the North Country Cheviot Ram from my mom to breed the ewes who didn't catch last season. He is friendly and big and the kids LOVE him.

Rosie continues to flourish and is doing well.  Here's Wilson, foreman of the operation, checking her out.

Another new addition, we recently picked up this old cattle trailer to act as our new barn.  We need more pasture and have been considering a way to put the sheep out on some of our cropped fields later in the season, but keep them safe from coyotes.  The plan is to put temporary fencing out from this trailer and move it every few days to new ground, but be able to shut the sheep in at night.  We'll see. I'm nervous about coyotes during the day and am considering a llama.  Again, we'll see.

If Lucy takes you on a tour of the farm, I can guarantee it will go like this:
1.Go see the 'beebee chicks'.  Pet one and scare the rest to pieces while you corner them.
2.Go see the "big FAT chickies". These are the ones in the pasture and apparently this is how they are distinguished from the hens and the new 'beebee' chicks. Emphasize and repeat the word 'fat' until spit flies out your mouth.
3.Since they're in the pasture, it's inevitable that you will also see the sheep.  No big deal at this point.
4.DUNCAN!!!! Let him lick your fingers and giggle a lot.
5. Rosie! Get UP and come see us!!  Scratch her ears and say yuck when her wet nose gets on your arm.
6. Walk by the dump truck and stick your head up inside near the front driver's side tire. Avoid the poop on the tire, the mud on the surrounding parts of the truck,  and ignore the smell of rotten seafood and you will notice a nest tucked into the corner.  Inside you will find...  
...four bright blue robin's eggs!!  We have no idea when the robin decided to build the nest, but she must have been fast, because with the mussel shells, Mark was taking the truck for drives at least once a week for the past months.  He noticed the nest about a month ago and it's sat there as snug as can be for a number of rough trips ever since.  Clearly, that bird knew what she was the sense of a secure nest.  Not so much in the "great place to raise kids" sense.

Thanks for coming along on that little tour!  Things continue to truck along nicely here at the farm.  Mark has begun to cultivate the soybeans- the slowest and most painstaking job on the farm by far.  Watching the weather forecast carefully, it seemed all clear to cut hay this week, but alas, this morning the forecast did a 360 and is now calling for shower tonight and potentially more over the next few days.  So it's tedded (sp?) out and we're hoping for the best.  It's almost a guarantee around here that if we cut hay, it will rain in the next couple of days.  Like when all the cows are laying down in the fields at once, or when the lawn is covered with dew-laden spider webs in the morning.  It's just a given, a sign.  So if you're wondering, you can rest assured that over the next couple of weeks, we will be getting showers every three days or so.  Not a lot. Just enough to put a damper on quality hay making.

Hope this finds you celebrating a patriotic Canada Day and doing a sun dance to keep the rain away...for a few days at least!