Sunday, November 21, 2010

Milking tips welcome!

So the learning continues here at Barnyard Organics where our latest and largest challenge is Rosie's preference during milking.  I think we're slowly breaking the habit with some good jabs talking to's.  We've also refined things a bit with a sturdy floor for milking, versus the bedpack and found that even though we're sharing the milk with Mark's sister, we simply can't use it all fast enough, so are trying letting the calf out with her most of the time.  We milk her out twice a day and still have lots, so until there seems to be a problem, I think this will work best for everyone.  
This is another case of Mark doing something that is usually not done, or even frowned upon by most farmers and me playing the role of doubting Thomas, giving all the reasons it shouldn't work.  Why don't more one-cow milkers leave the calf with the cow? Why don't any of the hippie family cow books that I have, discuss that as a real option?  Is it because more people use more milk than we do?  Is it bad for the cow? I'm watching diligently for signs of mastitis, but it seems to reason that as long as we are milking her out dry twice a day, it should be fine, right?

Anyway, I guess we'll see.  Here's a rather bug-eye picture of Miss Poppy who is much cuter in person.  She's got a very 'beefy' build to her, but a cute little face.  We're not sure of her future yet, but for now she makes for good giggles as she bounds around the barn. 
Not much else new here.  Got a nice dose of snow last night and Lucy and I have been having some delicious white mitt-fulls for snacks (although not enough for a full bowl yet).  Cracking the layer of ice on the water troughs has been added to the chore list, but other than that, life is trucking along quite nicely.  
I had a nice, quick visit to my home in NB and came back with a dish of maple butter, which along with the Jersey cream and a guilty conscience that left with the warm weather, has been making for a rounder me.  

Since I've been a bit lacking on the rants lately, I'll just leave you with this.
I see where fast-food giant, Wendy's, is advertising "Natural Fries" because they have sea salt, rather than regular salt.  I think this is a perfect example of just how fluent and useless the word "natural" is when it comes to our food.  There are no standards, no requisites, NOTHING that makes something natural other than the label.  So, when you're looking at a product that says it's natural, remember that it could mean that the farmer just doesn't want to certify organic for some reason, or it could mean that they're using sea salt rather than table salt, could mean nothing at all. If you really want to be sure, go with a standard that has a set of strict rules, is enforced and monitored; like organic certification.  Just sayin'.    

Here are my sous-chefs at work, testing the durability of my kitchen drawers.
Hope this finds you cuddled up cozy enjoying the first true signs of winter!


Monday, November 15, 2010

A New Frontier

I don't know whether it's because my expectations were exceedingly low or whether it's because Mark seems to have a natural skill for milking a cow, but the whole milking thing has been going much better than anticipated, on my end at least.

This morning marks the 5th milking and most of what we've heard suggests that within a day or two the milk will take the turn from thick, sticky, yellow colostrum to drinkable, creamy Jersey milk. 

I'm blaming my large belly on my lack of natural aptitude for milking, but I think I just need to suck it up and spend some more time trying, because mostly it's just my hands that tire out.  We also haven't found the right size bucket or box for either one of us, so in these early days of  time consuming milkings, it's not the most comfortable situation.  Also, we have a nice stainless steel bucket, but it's too slippery to hold between our knees, so it ends up just sitting on the straw beneath the cow, which isn't ideal by any means. She doesn't move much, but some movement is inevitable and having the bucket in prime stepping range is tricky business. 

The other challenge has been our previously friendly cow Rosie turning into a child-hating demon.  We don't let the kids in the barn with her, but she will charge the door and gate if they are on the other side and paw at the straw like a bull in a movie.  She seems to be threatened by Lucy even more than our dog.  And Lucy has actually been really good about being calm and quiet around the barn for now.  So, just another little challenge with wee ones around.

NOTE: Was interrupted at this point while writing this for a phone call from a man unloading grain over at the farm to tell me that Mark broke his hand and needs a drive to the hospital.  Thankfully, the x-rays showed no breaks, just severe bruising.  It was from a crank that raises and lowers the augers that snapped back around, caught Mark's hand and stopped when it hit his elbow.  He got a stitch or two on his elbow since the crank hit hard enough to break the skin through 3 layers of heavy clothing, but there was ZERO wait at the hospital and things went smoothly.  So as per expected, Mark is out and about on the farm, with a wrapped hand and bandaged elbow and full of painkillers, waiting for the frost to finally dry off so he can get the last 20 acres of soybeans off the field.  We'll see how THAT goes.

Anyway, sadly enough, my first thought when I got that phone call was, "OH NO! I'm going to have to milk that cow all by myself!!!!"  Hahaha.  You can see that the sympathy runs pretty deep around here.

In other news, while I was waiting at the pharmacy to pick up Mark's prescription, I got a chance to (finally) pick up a copy of the latest Saltscapes magazine (a beautiful glossy paged magazine featuring unique and interesting articles about the Atlantic Provinces) and had a few minutes to browse through a great feature on organic and no-spray farming by Jodi DeLong. Jodi had contacted us a few months ago about the article and a photographer had come by to take some pictures a few weeks ago, so we were looking forward to seeing it and as with everytime we're in some kind of publication, you can never really prepare yourself with how it will look in the final version.  There are three photos of the farm, including one of us near the grain tanks, Mark holding some grain and a hen, posing coquettishly.  The article includes a profile of two other young organic and/or no-spray farms as well as an overview of new/young farmers and opportunities in the Maritimes.  I recommend you pick it up, if for no other reason that check out the pics of Barnyard Organics of course!!  And to tell me that I DO look pregnant, not just fat.  hahahahahaha!!

Well, I'd best be off to do some hand strengthening exercises in preparation for tonight's milking.  We'll see if the next milking update blog post is nearly as optimistic as this one started out!  Bah. :)

Hope this finds you healthy and able-bodied.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Poppy Arrives!

As predicted by our dairy-expert friend, Rosie gave birth to a big heifer calf this morning.  We figured it was close enough to Remembrance Day to call her Poppy (that will also help in the future when we can't remember how old she is).
So that's the news from Freetown this morning!  Now comes the many adventures of learning how to milk a cow, what to do with the calf, etc.  I feel a learning curve (and new forearm muscles) coming up!!!!

I hope your day is as beautiful as our weather is here!  Blue skies, sun shine and the crispness that only November can offer.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quick Farm Updates

 As per the original plans, we tried out the big round bale in the 'new' sheep barn yesterday.  And I will have to admit that it worked pretty well.  So far, anyway.  Mark did the rolling, after the tractor tipped it in the doorway, but it rolled a lot easier than I thought- especially for having a square side after a few months outside.  If you haven't guessed, we moved the girls in, out of the rain.  We probably could have gotten a little bit more out of the pasture, but this rain just isn't giving up and I could see visions of footrot and moisture-loving parasites breeding in the bazillions with every raindrop.  So, we moved them into a pretty cozy, dry and breezy barn where they can laze around and eat to their hearts content.  About half of them are due to lamb in a month or so, so I wanted to start giving them a little bit of grain to get their condition up after a long summer on pasture.  I also like to give some probiotic at this stage, and it's easiest to give with the grain, so we'll be starting that up soon too.  Ah yes, back to winter chores.
 Speaking of winter chores, if there is one thing I can say about Mark, it is that he does not 'arse around' when it comes to getting things done.  I hadn't even mentioned trimming sheep feet, and in fact had suggested that it probably wasn't a big priority right now, but when the kids and I went over the barn this afternoon, there he was in the tell tale postion; bent over, red-faced, cursing and struggling with ewes who refuse to take a good pedicure like a lady. You can see Wilson playing the role of apprentice, preparing for the day he can take over this favorite chore of a shepherd (or a shepherdess' husband in this case!). 
 In other news, our new hens have FINALLY started to lay!!  We got them about a month later than other years and it feels like eternity since they first stepped onto the farm back in June to last week when we rejoiced over the first tiny egg.  Since we have 28 of the new girls and still have 20 of the oldies, we didn't want to put them all together in the oldies pen.  The oldies are sooo bossy and territorial that they don't let the young'uns eat or roost or anything, and numbers this year just didn't leave us enough room to put them all together.  So Mark (again, not wasting any time!) put together a pretty cozy sorority house for the young ones. 
 I'm not sure what the establishment of such a lush coop means for the future of all the old girls (since we of them when the new ones start laying, but everyone is still laying pretty well, and with the extra house...who knows!  It could make for a LOT of eggs around, but I'll worry about that great kind of problem when it happens.
I had to include this picture that I found while going through some photos and it stopped me in my tracks.  I always say how much Wilson looks like his Dad, but this pic really proves it.  There is no denying the genes in this pool!

Hope this finds you high and dry!


A Not- So Fine Line

I stated a while ago that I was going to branch out and do some reviews of the various food/agriculture events that we go, but then after the Roving Feast, fell a bit flat on that promise.  Not from lack of thought or neglect however.  I have been purposely contemplating how to write my review of "Nigwek: Festival for an Organic PEI" and the "Organic Harvest Festival" because some good friends of ours (and readers of this blog) played key organizational roles in both and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I (as usual?) have some complaints.  Well, just one complaint really.

 Both of the events were geared for the general public, not the farmers.  And I can appreciate that both are trying to ease the public into the idea that organic can be an everyday commitment, not a rare treat.  Nigwek had a small mix of farm vendors, but was really about the speakers and the music and promoting the idea that an organic PEI is something that we can actually strive for.  Admittedly, Nigwek never claimed to showcase the organic farmers, so I guess I can't fault them for that.
Overall, I suppose that it was a pretty big success by most benchmarks.  It was a very windy, but very sunny Sunday afternoon and there were thousands of people who passed through Victoria Row, browsing through the vendors, listening to the music and taking it all in.  As promised, there was a diverse and good mix of music for all tastes, good speakers and it was essentially, a street party for the masses, aimed at promoting organics.
We had some problems with our plans to cook our edamame on site, due to some Coleman stove issues (and the wind) and the organizers were quick to step up and find an alternative.  We had the kids with us for the day, which always adds an extra element of chaos, and my nerves may have been a bit stretched to start with, but overall, we sold out and got a lot of names added to our list of interested customers from Charlottetown (something we had been hoping for).  Looking back, although by the end of the day I remember being exhausted and saying I wouldn't do it again, maybe like child birth, time heals all wounds (and bad memories).
photo by Amanda Jackson
Onto the Organic Harvest Festival, which I promoted heavily on here and on our farm Facebook site, and the true issue of contention for me, on this grey wet morning.  I was going to just avoid commenting or reviewing this event all together, because overall it really was a raging success, but after reading the latest ACORN newsletter in which there was a thank you to (nearly) everyone involved, I've taken up my usual stance on the soapbox, with a purpose.
This festival is exactly what the Certified Organic Producers Coop needed to do.  It was a beautiful day; the activities for the kids were perfect; the chefs and their food was amazing; the venue was perfect; the music was just right; the organization was outstanding, for the most part; and I think it's safe to say that everyone had a really good time.  The food was all from PEI and nearly entirely organic, which is an organizational feat in itself.  But where did that food come from?

Had I not been one of the farmers who provided some of that food (lamb and eggs), I would not have known.  I realize that in organizing a big event like this, particularly for the first time, that some things are going to fall through the cracks, but I'm disappointed that once again, it was the farmers who got left behind.  The run up to the event promised farmer profiles and admittedly I didn't manage to cover the entire grounds of the event (between trying to eat and chasing toddlers with candy apple weapons through straw piles) and the profiles may have been inside the building on-site, so I will blame myself for not seeing them.  However, there were signs beside each menu item explaining what food item was what, with no mention of where that food came from.  It seems like an oversight to have not simply added, "made with beef from ABCD farms" or something to that effect, below each dish, when printing those sheets. (Note, I don't even know whose beef it was and I think there's only two organic beef farmers to choose from on the island)

So let me repeat that overall, it was a great event and I hope to see a repeat of it in the future.  I wasn't going to mention it at all until, as I said, the ACORN newsletter came out with a review of the event, and once again, there was no mention of the farmers.  The thank you included the musicians and the chefs, who undoubtedly deserve the thanks, but yet again, no mention of the people who raised and grew the food that everyone so enjoyed.  It's a small thing for me to give a discount and drive my lamb to Brackley and despite what it seems like on here, it's not something I expect an individual thank you for, but a simple recognition of the farmers in general, who dedicate their lives to producing this food that we are trying so hard to promote, might go a long way to some.

As a side-note, I would estimate that 75% of the people I try to sell lamb to say, "I've never tried it, I don't think I'd like it".  At the Festival, Chef Emily, from The Dunes in Brackley did an amazing lamb kofta with our organic lamb and I like to think I might have been able to capitalize on a sale or two if the eaters had known where they could get some lamb of their own.  But that's just my personal problem.
I love this picture (taken by Amanda Jackson) of some friends of ours because you can see what a threat those amazing candy apples were to all the parents.  Lucy and Wilson's became little straw balls on sticks, but they weren't letting them go. 

So overall, I'm glad I live on PEI where these events get a lot of support and attention, and I'm soooo grateful that there are people out there willing to invest so much time and effort into promoting organic agriculture.  (I know I shouldn't complain if I'm not willing to step up myself)  I wouldn't change anything about the Harvest Festival except to throw in a bit about the farmers (and I feel pretty sure that it was just one thing that had to be let go as time got close and details gained perspective)- and I'm sure that will be a priority another year. So, thank you Roy and Amanda, please don't think me ungrateful, but it wouldn't be me, if I didn't say my piece!


Thursday, November 4, 2010


Sort of like when I went to Africa and realized too late that I'm simply not a worldly, traveling kind of girl, being officially unemployed this week has really proven to me just how much I value being home.  I am an entirely new person and I notice a big difference in the kids as well (probably due mostly to the lack of stress vibes being sent out around the house, by me).  Give me a hot oven and diapers over an office and deadlines anyday.

It's 7:30 pm and if I look out the front window, I can see the twinkle of the combine lights as Mark scurries to finish up as much of the soybean harvest as he can before the predicted week of heavy rain hits.  Frustratingly enough, I don't think he'll be able to finish what's left tonight and there will still be probably 10-20 acres left for yet another day.  While this isn't really late for soybeans, it sure feels like the harvest has been drug out this year.  It's early to tell yet, but I think the soybean crop is looking fairly good, especially relative to our grain yields for this year.  They certainly are coming off clean, which is a nice testament to Mark's weed management skills.

My family likes to give me the gears about my so-called 'rants' on this blog, but I would like to take a moment to point out that in the latest ACORN newsletter (which is circulated to all the ACORN members in the Maritimes, my entry on GMO's (inspired by the super(?!) salmon) is featured on the front page as a 'guest editorial'.  So there...hmph.  :)

And speaking of rants, I've got a couple saved up that I'm just waiting for a quiet nap time to write about.  Stay tuned for that.

In farm news, everything (except the ram) is still out on pasture, but the grass is starting to get a bit thin (especially with frost like we had this morning), so the barns have all been cleaned out and re-bedded, ready for move-in day.  Rosie has been nice enough to wait until harvest is done to calve, so she's still on the watch list.   The last of the lambs have been shipped and are in the freezer.  Island Taylor Meats cut and wrapped this time and although their price is more, they do such a nice job (plus they can make sausage for us).  Each cut is labeled and the sides have a great mix of cuts to suit anyone.  I still have a few sides left, so if you're interested, let me know. 

I had a request for a Halloween shot of the other spook from this house, so here ya go sis.  Buzz buzz.  How long do Halloween treats last anyway!??!!  We only went to 4 houses!  It doesn't help that we only had three spooks here this year, so there's a plethora of left-over treats to tempt the tastebuds...ugh.  It doesn't help that I get weighed every two weeks now!  Yikes. 

Anyway, I hope this finds you recovering from a sugar and chocolate induced coma, starting to feel the pull of hibernation in the air.