Sunday, December 16, 2012

For the Love of Life

I've been eager to get on here and write about the latest W5 episode regarding factory farming, in particular in the pork industry in Canada and some of the hidden camera footage taken in a hog barn in Manitoba.  I've been reading several responses from people within the pork industry and every one of them has been less-than-satisfactory as far as I'm concerned, but one in particular caught my eye.  It was the response from a large-scale hog producer who basically said that although the footage was perhaps taken from a less-than-perfect farm, the procedures (castration without anethesia, farrowing crates, etc) are all pretty standard fare in the industry as a whole.  His bottom line however was that although he appreciates human treatment of animals, what really drives him is his 'desire to feed the world'.  And it's because of that desire to feed people that he produces pork like he does. Basically he put the responsibility on the consumer who continues to demand cheap food. 
It was curious to me that what I interpreted was that he would rather raise them a different, perhaps better way, but given the pressures of economic reality and consumer demand, he is forced to confine sows to crates for life and raise weaners on slated floors in a crowded, closed buildings, feeding cheap GMOs and lots of antibiotics to keep them 'healthy'/growing.  So who's responsible for it?  The consumer?  The farmer?  I just thought it was an interesting pass of the buck.  

But refreshing to see that he didn't deny the legitimacy of the piece, although slightly sensationalized. Too bad the show likely won't make any difference to 99% of pork buyers. 

I've been in the midst of lambing, although that gives the impression that it's a thrill of action in the barn, lambs left and right.  In reality, it's just me checking ewes late at night and early morning in anticipation of action and one arriving every week and half or so.  The first one arrived on December 2nd and there have been three lamb since.  Yawn.
Last night was perhaps the most eventful lambing to date, for me personally.  The ewe had been acting strange all day, but not showing any distress or physical signs of much of anything.  By late last night I decided it was time to investigate, to discover a lamb turned completely backwards and legs tucked right up front.  Hearing echoes in my head from all my British friends claiming that pregnant women should never handle unborn/dead lambs (due to abortive diseases that can pass between ewe and woman), I gave one good try at figuring out the mess inside, but was unable to make heads or tails of it (ha! I think I just discovered the origin of that phrase!)
Anyway, thankfully my fearless husband, who grew up without livestock and has bravely jumped headfirst into animal husbandry was able to get in far enough (shoulder deep), with enough strength to get the huge lamb pulled out.  Both it and it's twin that followed were dead, due mostly to our having not intervened earlier I think. 

But it was while I was having the emotional struggle of pulling this lamb I knew would be too big and assumed would be dead that I thought of the horrific shooting in Connecticut on Friday.  While I watched the mother eagerly, hopefully licking off this new lamb who was not responding nor ever would, I thought about all the people in world who never get to feel the heartache of bringing a life or lost life into the world.  Who never get to see something open its eyes to the world for the first time, or feel the deep, empty, gut wrenching hole of loss and sense of despair when it doesn't.  So many discussions of gun control, mental health assistance, security, religion, etc. and I don't think that there is any one solution to be had or sense to be made of these dark tragedies, but I can't help but wonder if we all had to go through the agony, anxiety, triumph and joy of raising a life besides our own, from a young age, if we would not all have a better grasp of life and death and the sometimes tenuous line between the two.   There is something very particular about the poignancy of assisted birthing or more harshly, the necessity of a death to relieve suffering, that cannot be found in any other part of the human experience.  Farmers often outwardly shake off the disappointment and sadness of an unexpected livestock loss, but I don't know if any of them could honestly deny the internal battle it wages on a heart.

The schools at home did a thing a few years ago and maybe they still do, called, "Roots of Empathy" where a local mom would bring in her new baby throughout it's first few months of life and the class would take a sort of ownership over him or her and monitor the growth and development and participate in things like bathing, feeding, etc.  This connection to human life is likely something most of us take for granted as a part of being in a family or having friends with kids, etc. but it really is a beautiful example of what I'm talking about, except on the human scale.

In some ways the second part of this post is directly related to the first, in which I think to achieve peace in our hearts (and elsewhere), we need to learn and show the respect we desire to the other living things around us.  Sounds pretty basic when put like that, but it felt complex last night in the cold barn as I sat and watched the ewe deliver the second dead lamb, giving it a lick before returning to the first in what I can only assume was a revival attempt, realizing the futility of helping the second.

Then, following church today, in which our minister reminded us of the scripture in John that affirms that the darkness will never overcome the light, I went to the barn to find a brand new set of bouncing, contented lamb twins, mother calmly taking stock of her two achievements and bleating quietly, gently to keep them nearby.  The circle of life continues and the darkness truly never will overcome the light.

Prayers, tears and thoughts be with the families who now know all too well the heartache of ones taken far too soon.




Sunday, December 9, 2012

Life after OYF

Our week with OYF was everything everybody told us it would be.  We met an amazing group of people and I got some insight into what makes the program the success and privilege it is.  I realized that although there were seven couples under the spotlight of the judges for the week, there were 200+ alumni there to re-unite, chat, laugh, tour and learn with each other, from BC and back.  During the banquet, the emcee listed each year and got the alumni from each year to stand up and be recognized.  It was amazing and inspiring to see the lasting friendships that have developed from spending one week together 20 years ago.  Mark and I also enjoyed getting out of our so-called comfort zone and participating outside of organics.  While OYF is very clearly dominated by BigAgriculture and BigAgribusiness, there isn't any operation that has nothing to offer in terms of experience and sheer interest to another.  For example, just in our 'class' (what OYF calls each year of participants) we had dairy farmers, custom grain operators (30,000+acres!),a fruit winery, grain and oilseed farmers, beef farmers and retailers, sheep farmers and us.  So diverse and in many cases, all of us knew little about what each other was doing, but all got along like a house on fire.  Truly.  And the alumni said, 'it won't matter who wins in the end' and as a participant in the process you don't really believe that until the names are called and then you realize that you're just so happy that so-and-so won for being the awesome farmers they are that you forgot to wish it was you.  I had a hunch about both couples that won and honestly, would have been happy with any result (especially since there isn't really a prize anyway...hahahah).  One of the nicest parts was that after they announced the winners, they got all the honourees to come up on the stage and all the alumni did a receiving line to 'welcome us to the OYF family'.  It was long, but was really such a very nice gesture.
Anyway, we are astounded at how many people never miss a National event (because it's all on your own dime after the first year), and we'd certainly love to go to them all, but we'll see how time and budgets allow.  Next year's is in Saskatchewan, and Vance and Sue, the Sask reps in our class were so fun and hilarious we'd love to get out there, so who knows.  The next year it's in Quebec and it was clear that the Quebecers, as a group, were the most fun.  They were the rowdiest and loudest the whole week so I don't want to miss that one!  :)  I need to brush up on my french first though.  The guy, Martin, from our Quebec couple couldn't speak English so I thought I'd try my hand at my bilingualism, but it really is one of those things you need to use or lose (and I haven't been using it).  I wonder if there are any groups here for people like me who just want to use it once in a while without making a fool of myself.  Martin wasn't much good with Chiac (ie. Acadian frenglish) either, so we didn't get far.

In other news, my ewes were kind and waited until I got home.  Within a hour I had one big lamb.  Then they went on hiatus for a while.  A couple can hardly waddle for udders and bellies, but they're still holding out.  Mark is gone for a couple days on meetings (yes, more...but then he's done for a bit) so I predict I'll have at least one that needs assistance while he's gone.  Lucy is amazingly versatile in moments of necessity however, so she will hopefully come in handy if need be.

I think mostly due to the exhaustion from the pace of OYF, Mark and I both came down with a terrible cold which the kids also have.  Anyway, it means lots of coughing, snotting, whining and moaning and not a lot of sleep.  On top of it Lucy and Wilson had the stomach flu one day, so it's been anything but the relaxing week I'd be anticipating.  But this time of year I'm not sure 'relaxing' is part of a child's vocabulary so I've been doing my very best to enjoy every bit of it (with marginal success I think).

While Mark is gone, I'm desperately trying to think of what to get him for Christmas.  Why are men so difficult?  I asked some of the mothers at church this morning and they all said that they just buy stuff for the house (like new curtains or kitchen stuff).  I kind of liken that to Mark buying me a new garage door opener or something.  I would get use out of it, but not sure I want it under the tree... Anyway, first world problems, right?  :)

Well, Rennie has been barking at coyotes for hours now and spent his daylight hours rolling and eating the fresh manure spread in the field across the road so there is no way I'm bringing him in.  He only listens to Mark, so it doesn't matter how many times I tell him to shut it.  So on that note, I'm off to bed early, hoping to compensate for anticipated broken sleep, by an early bed time.  

This is a shot from our Christmas card picture trial, Take One. Marginal success.  But it was fun.

Hope this finds you warm and cozy with the scent of fresh winter greens somewhere nearby (except spruce, I don't like spruce).


Monday, November 26, 2012

December here yet? :)

Well, it feels like it's been a long time coming, but it's here and tomorrow we pack up to head all the way down to Charlottetown for the National Outstanding Young Farmers event and although I have mixed feelings right now, I know it'll be an amazing time.  I say mixed feelings right now because I've got at least three ewes in the barn looking very 'baggy' and heavy and tired, and because we've never been away from the kids (or the farm) as long as we will be this week.  I spent a long time snuggling everyone to bed tonight, knowing it would be a while before I could do that again.  But we've got them spread amongst some people who really love them while we're gone, so I doubt they'll even notice our absence much.  
The ACORN Conference this past weekend was really great as usual and it turned out be really fun to have kids with us in the hotel.  A lot more work of course, but fun to have them there enjoying it all.  There is a GREAT childcare service and they had a fun time with that which left us time to get to some interesting workshops.  Although as I said to Mark I almost feel like the networking and chatting outside of the workshops is nearly as, if not more, valuable.  It is always so nice to come away feeling invigorated and positive about what we're doing when there are times we wonder.  Thanks ACORN for putting on a great and huge event!

Big thanks to both of our parents and Mark's sister, Martha, this week as they tackle the challenge of the three wee ones.  Extra thanks to Wendell for so willingly stepping into being a shepherd and keeping a general eye on things while we're gone.  And to awesome neighbours who will milk Rosie for us for most of the week.  And to my Dad who will take over milking when he gets here (despite his less than enthusiastic love of Jerseys).  And to Mom who will relieve my lambing worries once she arrives.  And to Patty Jo who will check in on the 'girls' for me during the week before Mom gets here.  

I'm sure that by Sunday all of the above will be questioning the wisdom of our latest announcement: Bernard number 4 will be arriving June 2013.  
But it's too late now!  :) 

Here's to successful lambings, with no problems.  Or better yet, no lambings until next week!!!!

I hope this finds you looking forward to a December filled with traditions, eggnog, music, relaxation and family.  I know I am.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why False Organic Claims Matter

If the product is raised on pasture, locally, by farmers I know, fed feed from a local mill and sold at my farmer's market, what difference does it make if the organic claim is legitimate or not?

A lot.

There are a few key factors involved in this somewhat loaded question and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this particular entry is inspired by some serious (and repeated) false organic claims made by La Ferme Springbrook, based very near to where I grew up.  The Times & Transcript (Moncton, NB daily newspaper) recently featured a piece on the farm, with pictures of their chickens including a claim of certified organic status and even a statement from Paul, the owner, suggesting that he was organic before organic was even a 'thing'. 
I've never been to the farm, and when I looked them up online, I was struck by how similar many of their pictures look to ours.  They've got meat birds out on pasture in movable pens similar to ours, and layer hens running around in the grass.  They've got lambs with long tails and some very pretty landscape shots.  It looks like a great little farm, trying to do all the right things.
It has come to my attention before, that at their stand at Dieppe Farmers Market, there are visible organic claims and nothing to substantiate it.  So when I was at a meeting this summer and happened to be sitting across from Paul, I took the opportunity to ask him about his organic claims.  He gave me a quick well-heeled explanation of how they do things 'naturally' and that it really is organic, but they don't have the certificate. 
"So where do you source your grain and feed?"
"Miramichi Feeds.  It's a good mill."
"And would contain a fair bit of soybean and corn I suspect, right?"
"So those would be GMO, right Paul?"
"Well, I don't know about that."
"Ok, well, let me confirm for you, that unless it's organic feed, which I know Miramichi Feeds don't make, that it is with certainty, GMO feed."
stutter, briefly, " It is good, local feed, I have bought from them for years and years. I've never had a problem."
I am still unsure as to whether he really didn't understand the concept of GMO's or whether he was dodging a reality here, but either way, I feel the need to clear up just exactly why this deception doesn't just hurt the organic community, it hurts agriculture and in particular the buy local movement.

1)the cost of grain is without a doubt, the #1 prohibitive reason for people considering livestock, organic or not.  Organic grain continues to be considerably more expensive than conventional and those who make the effort, pay the big bucks and suffer the challenges of supply, sourcing and paperwork have earned the extra level of credibility.  They have taken the extra step in ensuring that the nutrition they are providing for their livestock is confidently, GMO-FREE!  Be it for ethical reasons, scientific reasons, marketing reasons or personal reasons, they have chosen to bear the burden of the extra cost and likely hope to recoup some of that cost by marketing their product as legitimately, truthfully, certified organic. 

2)Consumers want to do what's best for them and their families.  If they are making the effort to come to the farmer's market they are already a step ahead, a demographic concerned about the sources of their food and wanting to support a good, local product.  They WANT to believe that friendly looking face behind the counter and to take that trust for granted, by deliberately telling mis-truths hurts every other farmer out there.  I don't have a problem with local, not-organic food.  If you can trust your farmer and you are happy with the product you're buying, at the price you're paying, then please enjoy and consider those producers each time you cook whatever it is you've purchased.  I WANT people to have their own farmer, just like they lay claim to a doctor or a hairdresser.  I WANT there to be a trust between those who grow our food and those who eat it.  But I'm struggling with creating a trust over a product whose label doesn't live up to reality.

3)Not everyone who learns the truth will care.  Many won't.  But some will.  And those who will, will understandably have a difficult time trusting another farmer again.  Be they organic or not.  And not just the farmer, but logo, the standard, the label, ruining it not just for another organic farmer at that market, but for organic food across the country.  CFIA is supposed to be the body responsible for investigating false claims, but with spotty (read:none in most cases) provincial regulations and fewer and fewer resources, it's simply not something that gets done as often as we'd all like.  So it comes down to organic inspectors (who only inspect organic farms) and the individual consumer. It simply isn't a fair way to treat people who are your bread and butter.

There is growing interest over "GMO-free feeds and products", which is to say they are not organic, so don't necessarily hold the other standards of animal welfare, environmental impact, etc. etc., but THAT is a fair claim in my eyes. Once again, the farmer is making the extra effort and paying the extra money to source a product outside of the conventional, GMO system and although they may not be certified, it doesn't matter, because THEY'RE NOT CLAIMING TO BE.

If Paul's ignorance about the significance of GMO's is truly based on just that; ignorance, then I guess it is up to his customers to demand a change.  As far as I am concerned, in this day of national organic standards and a public who is generally aware of what that means, it is absolutely, undoubtedly unacceptable to be feeding a prohibited substance as part of the daily diet of livestock and unabashedly use the certified organic claim. 

In one way, I hate being the bearer of news like this, because if even one of Paul's happy customers read this and actually care, then I've just been the carrier of the confusion and mistrust.  I just laid the trail of evidence which leads to someone potentially turning their back on local agriculture at all, and returning to the anonymous grocery store shelves.  Or maybe I've just cleared up some questions and caused someone to think, "Hmmm...well, I guess next time I'll ask for an up to date organic certificate, or ask that farmer about what she feeds her animals and won't take a vague, pretty sounding explanation in response."
Probably not, but if there's even a small chance, then it was worthwhile potentially alienating someone with this entry.  This thing wouldn't be much fun for anyone if I couldn't be honest, would it?

I am getting really excited about the ACORN conference coming up.  If you're at all interested in anything organic, you should really check out the program, which is jam-packed with awesomeness.  Although it is guaranteed to be a busy time for Mark and I, I always look forward to that feeling I come away with of assuredness in what we're doing and confidence that this is the right track.  And soooo many ideas.   And for the first time we're bringing the kids to much of it and I'm kind of excited for their first hotel experience (it helps that it has a pool).

I had a bit of trouble today for the first time, with pregnancy toxemia in a ewe, who I don't think is going to make it, despite a very pricey visit from the vet on a holiday Remembrance Day.  It has given me pause and is probably the unfortunate wake up I needed to re-prioritize a few things.  Lambing is due to start in the next week or two and will likely hold off until Mark and I have been trucked down to Ch'town for our week-long National Outstanding Young Farmers event.  I have been losing sleep over this single fact for a few nights now, but at this point there is very little I can do, so I'll just cross my fingers and hope they all go overdue and wait until December.

I hope this finds you anticipating a long, snowy winter, full of cozy warm drinks and perhaps pretty seed magazines to browse.  Ah, sounds like heaven right now.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Winter Clean Up

It's the time of year when things start to wrap up and we begin to look at the upcoming season of meetings and try to make life easier for those who might be doing chores while we're gone.  Today we shipped Toot and Puddle off and a couple lambs.  It surprised me how sentimental I got about those crazy pigs and Lucy had a particularly hard time, despite having talked about it for a while now.  Just last week we were talking about how much better the bacon will be as we filled the wheelbarrow with windfall apples from the orchard.  I guess it sort of really hits home when you're going through the stress of loading them after such a stress-free summer of mud and treats.  It makes me yearn for a time when butchering your own livestock was not a lost skill or considered a time-eating, money-waster and something we all did without thinking about it. 

 We've also been trying to decide what to do with a couple other 'extras' we have around the farm these days.  There's Rhubarb, who needs to go.  Somewhere.  She's still got her horns, which is a real hassle for a lot of people but were a good lesson for us to not put it off next time.  She should grow up to be a great milker, but she's a bit away from that yet.  She's sure come a long way from this picture though! haha.
Finally, we've got Duncan to attend to.  He's our old ram who needs to go.  Again, somewhere.  Likely to Truro sale, but we've got to find someone heading to the sale on a Thursday and send him along as it's hard to justify a trip across for one old looking ram.  He just had one great last season with the ewes, but he looks to be in less-than-ideal condition and I'm certain he's blind. He also loses his cud often (likely a contributing factor to his condition), but he's been a friendly favorite, and effective ram, so I hate to just do him in (or get Mark to do him in).

The roosters have been doing their own winter clean up by fighting to a bloody mess for flock supremacy.  The two main dudes seem to have agreed upon having their own respective harems and trot around with their ladies behind them, staying away from the other group.  Bev, Roosti is holding his own after his first rough day, and I think he's one of the head coop bosses now, so you can rest easy. :)

Ah, the joys of owning livestock.
In more renewing news, the lambs are due to start coming any day and there are a few ewes looking  :)

I am feeling overwhelmed with a few things outside of the farm these days, so am REALLY looking forward to December, which is thus far, promising to be a slow, low-key time of family, fun and traditions.  I have already turned down one request for my musical assistance, so that's a nice first I'm proud of.  We'll see how long I can hold out.

I've got something to say about the current trend in agriculture to deal with the symptom and not the problem, but not today.  Perhaps in December.  haha. 

I was sent this quotation the other day and I think it is really truly beautiful.  Here's hoping you think the same:
 "May the coyotes be struck blind at you chicken pens, may your earth worms be well fed, may your cows be well bred, may your house be a home, and may your children rise up and call you blessed." Joel Salatin

That Joel Salatin is a clever dude.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


Well, we had our first encounter with a mink at the farm.  And it has what is possibly the best ending that could be. (Well, not for the mink, but...)
Anyway, we were gone to NB for Thanksgiving and left poor Wendell in charge of the chickens. I had just moved the sheep, so they had fresh pasture.  And the cow and calf were together on their pasture so no one needed to do anything with them.  The pigs had grain and the meat birds were all in the freezer, so all that was left was to let out the layers and shut them in at night.  We were gone for two nights.
We have two pens of chickens right now, since our last batch of layers was too young and getting beat up by the older girls, so they've got the executive suite with Roosti (who we figured would kill our other roosters, or at least get aggresive, if we put them together).  Anyway, until they get a little bigger, they're not let out yet.
Apparently at noon on Sunday Wendell went into the coop to get the eggs and checked on the young ones' feed, to discover a bunch of beat up hens and a bloody rooster.  He initially assumed that Roosti must have gotten aggressive with the hens and had beat them up, so he took Roosti out and put him in his own little cage for the time being.
Later on, Mark's sister and brother-in-law were down visiting and Wendell mentioned it to them.  They said that there's no way the rooster would have turned on the hens suddenly, so Wendell took Jamie out to prove it.  As they approached the chicken house door, who was standing there to greet them but little Billy Mink, apparently unafraid.  After a tussel involving a 2x4 and a couple shovels Mr. Mink was no more and Roosti returned to his pen, heralded as the saviour of the four remaining, terrified hens.
me and a survivor.
On a somewhat unrelated note, our garbage collector left a hand-written note that he does not accept chicken carcasses in the compost bin.
No word on mink carasses.

buckwheat being swathed.
We are waiting on dry weather to finish up harvest this year.  There is buckwheat laying in swaths waiting to be picked up and soybeans standing the field waiting to dry up.  Other than that our lives have been somewhat taken over by the upcoming season of meetings and conferences.  We are speaking at a couple different workshops at the ACORN Conference (in Ch'town this year) and are working on our stuff for the Outstanding Young Farmers event following that.  I'm also organizing the roller derby awards gala this year and the open house which will hopefully inspire our next round of fresh meaters.  I've also taken on the tall order of trying to instill some sense of direction to the nursery at church, but it's proving trickier than I imagined, with a tiny space and a wide variety of ages.  Anyway, a nice on-going challenge.

My part-time job is nearly finished up for the season as well, which will mean more time at home and less running around. I say part-time, but it was really only two mornings a week, yet it's amazing how two little mornings away from the house can lead to such chaos for the whole week.  My food purchasing, preparing and enjoying went downhill pretty solidly and I think we all noticed it.  I don't think I realized how many meals I make that require longer cooking or prep times. Besides chicken, I can hardly remember the last roast I've cooked.  And 'tis definitely the season for warm roasts and stews with these chilly days!
And speaking of roast chicken- we're sold out!  It was a great year of learning new skills and testing the market in some new ways, but overall, another good one.  We're really excited for next year!  This is a picture of the freezer we use when we do our urban drop-offs.  Cute eh? :)
I realize I haven't posted any pictures in quite a while, so here's a brief picture catch-up of a few highlights from the last part of our summer shenanigans.
We finally made it to Panmure Island one Sunday (down off the southeastern corner of PEI) and it was beautiful!  Here we are enjoying lunch at the lighthouse with the beautiful draft horses in the background (who did not like raisins much to the Thayne`s chagrin). (And yes, as a livestock producer I see the danger of strange kids feeding strange foods to strange animals.  But I was actually curious too.)

Hard to believe this was one month ago!

 On one our trips `home`to NB, our last stop before heading back was a visit with Uncle Grant and Aunt Diane, who were kind enough to load up everyone with some sugary ice cream cones.  You can see they were a big hit and a much approved `bed lunch`choice.  :)

 This is what I call a real merry maid.

 This is probably one of the nicest shots I have of the three of them.  Of course it had to be in the barn, on the chicken wagon, water tank behind.  But I think their smiles trump the background anyway.
And of course it wouldn`t be summer without my trip to the Expo Kent for the sheep show.  Here is a picture of Mom receiving the trophy for her get-of-sire class, with her handsome assistants, Dad and grandson, Isaac.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Happy Organic Week!

It is becoming a too common trend for me to start these blogs with some elaborate excuse for my lengthy absence, but I'm giving that up in favour of actual content that you care about, or maybe you don't, but at least you don't have to put up with my guilt.
Just in case you didn't know, this past week was Organic Week in Canada!  We celebrated a few different ways:

First, we rented land RIGHT in the heart of potato country, surrounded by Cavendish Farms.  This isn't the first time we've been asked  by land owners who want their fields farmed organically, but it's the first time it's been close enough to consider and although it needs a little tender lovin' care, will be a great, reasonable expansion of what we're currently doing.  The landowner is very keen as well and was open to our ideas.  Mark has it cut down and ready for turn over very soon.

Second, we attended the PEI Certified Organic Producers CoOp annual Harvest Meal.  It was good. Well, they ran out of our chicken, and chocolate cake before we got any, and it didn't say it was our chicken anywhere, and the photo slideshow showed only non-organic livestock in a barn, but it was good.  The entertainment was Patrick Ledwell, a local comedian who was hilarious!  My face hurt, I laughed so much.  So funny.

Third, we killed the last of our chickens.  Thanks (in HUGE part) to a family of very resourceful kids up the road, we have refined our processing line to a point where we feel pretty confident that next year we won't have to take any to the abbatoir.  We also got in a shipment of the shrink wrap bags in time for the latest killing and what a difference!  They look like store-bought little treasures, only better because they're pasture-raised and organic-fed! haha!

Fourth, I made some friggin amazing pumpkin pies with pumpkin from Jen and Derek's Farm (where, conveniently I work two mornings a week).  This actually has nothing to do with organic week, but I feel the need to brag about the best pies I've ever made.  It's the first time I used a proper 'pie pumpkin', rather than an ol' jack-o-lantern and I can't believe the difference. There was no water to drain off and it roasted up like a dream!  Combined with some super fresh, rich raw whipped cream, and I'm in heaven.

Lastly, our new batch of chickens celebrated organic week by kicking it in gear and started laying, which is good, since last year's ladies seem to be taking a bit of a vacation.  So for all you egg customers who have been frustrated with our hit and miss egg availability this summer, COME BACK!  They're small right now, but in the next couple months, will be ramping up into insanity.

In other news, Mark is lined up at the start line ready to tackle our first-ever crop of buckwheat that is laid out ready for pick up, as well as the beans which apparently just need "a couple nice days".  Finally the weeds have started to die in my own garden so it's that wonderful time of year when the fruits of my (planting only) labour is revealed! haha.  I lost my tomatoes pretty early on to blight, so I am excited to see my big squash yield, as if that somehow makes up for a lack of tomatoes.  I think next year I'll stick to a couple bean plants, some corn, a row of potatoes and a lot of carrots, squash and peppers.  Working for Jen this summer caused a real downturn in my enthusiasm for my own comparatively pathetic garden compared to the organized Eden she maintains.  Thankfully, a bonus to working there is unlimited veggies as well, so I've been able to fuel my newfound love of kale all season!  That's right! Kale! Whodathunkit!?

The growing season might be winding down, but that just means that meeting season is winding up.  Mark and I are busy trying to meet the various deadlines that come with the national Outstanding Young Farmers event in November.  It's probably for the best that there are deadlines requiring us to work on it now, otherwise, we'd just keep pushing it aside in favour of other speaking engagements that will be here first.  Namely, the ACORN Conference is here on PEI in November as well, and is taking full advantage of our 'knowledge' (and time) ha!!

On top of that, our roller derby bouting season might be over, but tis the season for training Fresh Meat and planning awards galas, so there's a bit of that going on as well.

Abby, I will do my best to post some photos for you this week. (Miss you, but LOVIN' that blog!)  Maybe I'll see if Lucy wants to contribute to the blog with her own entry.  I'm sure she has some interesting perspectives for what goes on around here.  Or at least, a good ol' knock knock joke, which never grow old, if you're to believe the frequency of them around here.

Hope this finds you sleeping with the windows open and heavy quilts.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Studying studies

It had been a while since the media folks had any reason to stir up the organic vs. conventional 'issue' so I figured it was only a matter of time and they never let me down!  Yesterday, a study out of Stanford University (which must make it super awesome right?) came out, actually in favour of organics, but the media managed to swing it quite nicely the other way with some rather exaggerated headlines that grabbed the requisite attention of both sides.  The 'meta-study' (which is just a study of other studies (I'll take chicken gutting over studying other studies anyday!)) was first picked up by the New York Times so if you want to search it, that's one of the first sources of the article.

Of course, you knew I'd have a response.  And I have a variety of responses, but my biggest beef with the whole thing is the word 'healthier', which is what is emphasized because the study looked specifically at the nutrient content and deemed it to not be superior in organic food.  So that's the headline that was grabbed. "Organics is not healthier than conventionally grown food." 

This is my response:

If there were ever terms more subjective than “healthier” and “better”, I’m yet to run into them.  I will not question the merit of the recent meta-study out of Stanford to look at the nutritional benefits of organic food.  I will question the funding for all of the studies that they studied, since they didn’t actually look at organic food themselves and more accurately compiled the results of over 200 other studies.  How many of those studies were funded by multi-national chemical companies and how many fairly evaluated ones supporting organics could not receive funding to publish due to the content?   

But let’s assume for a minute that the world is a naive and beautiful utopia where money doesn’t influence any of our information or how we receive it.  Let’s assume that all of the studies that the researchers studied, were fair, objective and correct.

As a consumer of (nearly exclusively) organic foods, health is the only reason I buy it.  My physical health is better because my food choices are reflected in how I treat myself and my family and given that I have prioritized my spending on organics, I am more likely to be active and encourage activity with my partner and children.  My mental health is better when I know the steak I’m eating has lived on pasture, rather than a feedlot, or that my chicken has actually seen the light of day.  My emotional health is better when I don’t have to wonder how the pesticides in my celery will affect my children.  My reproductive health is better when I don’t have to wonder if the GMO’s in my breakfast cereal will affect me, like they are affecting herds of dairy cattle fed high-GMO diets.  The health of my environment is better when I know my organic farmer is using a longer and more varied crop rotation, letting the soil organisms do their work and building a soil that is better able to withstand drought or flood.   The health of my rivers is better when the fish aren’t washing up on shore as a result of a rainfall, full of freshly sprayed chemicals or fertilizer.   The health of my economy is better when I am buying meat from my local organic farmer who grows their own (non-GMO) grain and spends my money in our community, not exporting it to monopolies who could care less about our region. 

So, is organic healthier? You decide.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I was recently reminded of a post I wrote around this time last year about agricultural fairs (those endangered but important events!) and when I re-read it, decided I'd post it again. Quite a cheater move really, but it's still relevant and it made me quite excited to go home this week to 'my fair'. 
Enjoy, second-time 'round.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What I Did On my Summer Vacation

ha!  Vacation is a funny funny word.
I've got a mouth full of canker sores which I haven't had since highschool and Dr. Google tells me the cause is stress and exhaustion.  The weather this summer has been perfect for a vacation but I can't say I'm  going to be sad to see the trees turn colour and a chilly wind roll in.  That's one of the things I love about living in the Maritimes and a temperate climate- the seasons are just the right length.

Anyway, overall it HAS been a fantastic summer thus far and it's not over.  I just finally made a spare minute to throw some pictures on here for one of my very favorite nieces who happens to be on a bit of an adventure in Korea and sent specific instructions to update this.

I've been busy with a pile of things, but I will admit that my blog time has probably been eaten up by my rekindled love of fiction. I've always loved reading and I've always had a book on the go, but I decided this summer to catch up on many of the page-turning bestsellers I had skipped over the past few years.  It has been to the detriment of my 'spare time' and has caused me to spend many an evening neglecting more important duties (like chatting with my husband, catching up on farm bookkeeping, etc. to his great annoyance on both accounts), with my face in a book.  It has been rather fun to get lost in a great book again.  It's made me consider the purchase of a Kobo as well so I am looking for feedback from anyone who owns one.

I have been also preparing for a few speaking engagements this summer which are always fun.  My next one is at ACORN's Beginning Farmer Symposium at Mount Allison, August 20th.  I am looking forward to that one more than most.  I actually have a topic and it should be interesting-I'm speaking on organic livestock.  (I will leave out the part where I am considering getting out of sheep due to my hate of marketing/selling.)
Finally, my brain at the moment is totally preoccupied with preparing our church's Vacation Bible School. I feel like it is that thing that looms over a summer and life can only begin after it is over and 'out of the way'.  I am actually looking forward to it and have a GREAT bunch of kid registered, so I know it'll be a ball, but I will be glad when I can empty out that drawer in my brain.

So here's a few pictures from the last few weeks.
 It's possible I posted this one before, since it was so long ago (and I'm too lazy right now to check), but it's from the Sheep Classic in Truro and it's of my Dad showing one of thier entries (a handsome North Country Cheviot).  The kids thoroughly enjoyed their first (and surely not last!!) livestock auction.

 Dug up an old SlipNSlide from the 80s.  Super fun!
 This is a great shot of me and my siblings and parents.  Not a bad looking bunch I'd say!

This one cracks me up because I think she looks like one of those french canadian characters that used to be on 22 Minutes.  That toque is hilarious to me.

Anyway, in farm related news-it's been a pretty good season, if not too dry.  The hay crop was dissapointing and we're prayin on a good second cut, although it's pretty well stopped growing at this point.  Not sure what the plan is there.  Sell sheep quick?  The straw, on the other hand is great!  Mark (along with the other Mark) got the winter wheat cut last weekend and finished it up yesterday, with the straw all baled up today.  It was a great crop and one of the cleanest fields we've had in years.  Fall-seeded crops are an organic farmers dream (at least relatively speaking-although our spring wheat looks good too).

The soybeans are looking the healthiest they've ever done (dark dark green and lush), but are a bit weedier than we'd hoped.  We finally got the new cultivator (if not too late for this year), so next year we've got HIGH hopes for weed control.

I'm increasingly stunned at GMO's and am at a bit of a loss to explain why the dairy industry isn't more concerned about GMO alfalfa.  Given the evidence showing increased problems in reproduction of dairy herds fed high-GMO diets and the fact that alfalfa makes up a pretty hefty part of many dairy cows seems a no-brainer to me for someone to be setting off alarm bells.  Why do we want a GMO alfalfa anyway?!  Are people spraying alfalfa for something I'm not aware of?  The last I heard, diversity in forage-based diets is actually a good thing, but let's just keep pouring Round Up into our soil and see how long we can survive.  I want to come back as an earwig because I think those damn things will survive any apocolypse.  yuck.

It almost rained here tonight and I felt like a plant standing in the yard, guiding Mark in the tractor with the wagon full of straw into the barn.  The few drops were a teaser and I could almost feel my skin and the earth opening up, waiting, hoping, panting for more. 

Hope this finds you eating tomatoes from the garden that are so good they make you vow to never bother buying tomatoes in the winter again.



Monday, July 16, 2012

A Red Rockin' Good Time!

photo: Kevin Molyneaux  RRnRD's blockers-Mosie O'Pummel and Magic Pony keeping the Riptide jammer at bay.

Sometimes I say that this entry has little to do with farming and then it ends up coming back to the farm in the end, but this time, I really mean it.  This entry has NOTHING to do with farming, family or even politics.  This is still a farm blog and I promise not to veer often, but I feel so strongly about this that I can't just leave it all in my head. That said, much of it will likely not make sense to many outside of the league.

I have never been a team player.  I always hated 'group projects' and I don't share well.  I like being in control of things and I fancy myself more of a leader than a follower.  The only team sport I ever played was rugby, and my teammates could attest that I was really in it for the social aspect, rather than the teamwork and sport of it. 
I am a changed woman.

This past weekend I left Freetown with a van load of ladies headed to Moncton for a two day roller derby training camp and tournament called the Muddy River Jamboree, organized by Moncton's league, the Muddy River Rollers.  Admittedly I was pretty anxious going in.  I was firstly feeling a lot of self-induced guilt about being away for two nights, from the farm and from the fam. and I was worried that I would be derbied-out before it was over. 
While I WAS glad to see that big bridge on Sunday night, I had such an amazing experience that I am still overwhelmed with how much more I love this sport.

One of my favorite moments of the whole weekend was actually completely unexpected, when I was putting in my time as an NSO (non-skating official) (players were required to be NSO's for other teams' games, since many are needed to run a bout).  I was standing there, clipboard in hand in the centre of the track, keeping a record of penalties (who got 'em, minor/major, what for, which jam, etc.) and it was the first time that I got to appreciate the game from an 'observer-only' perspective. I didn't have time to watch the game and evaluate the play/players and consider strategy, etc. and my focus was on the referees and other NSO's.  It occured to me just how collaborative a sport this truly is.  The refs were skating around, doing their absolute best to keep the game fair and safe and communicated so effectively and respectively to everyone involved.  The NSO's were focused and serious, doing their very best to do their task as well as they possibly could.  There were moments of confusion and questions, but in the end, everyone worked it out together and a resolution was reached through communication and thoughtful sharing of information. 

I am not a touchy feel person and I often get frustrated when time is eaten up discussing HOW we're going to discuss something.  I often roll my eyes at how serious a group of adults can get when it comes down to the details of something.  But it seems the word 'collaborative' is often applied to roller derby and I have to say that this weekend, that word really rang true for me.
It is a group of women who put aside all of their alpha-tendancies and embrace their own abilities to be a rough and tumble female as part of a larger group of the same.  Whether it is within sight of your everyday self, or whether your alter ego is truly very alter to who you usually are, roller derby is a venue of creative, active collaboration and positive-energy-for-a-single-purpose personified.  It is a labour of love for everyone involved.  Truly.  I am so influenced by things that were said and done this weekend that there is a chunk of my heart, wrapped up in sparkly tights, smelling to high heaven, sitting in my derby bag, revelling in the high of being a part of it all and it will be there LONG after the helmet stickers wear off and the skates are hung up.

On a more personal note, I re-injured my shoulder in our first game, but our team won the other three games and I have some serious notes of admiration for my teammates.  I honestly feel strongly that every single one of them brought their VERY top game to the track and played their absolute best. I feel especially strongly about Annie Biotix, who I think finally has the confidence that she deserved to have all along.  It was as if she burst out of a firework and saw herself for just how awesome she truly is and met that potential head-on.  DiSciple always brings her A-game and is one of the strongest (yes, I'm using that language) players we have, but needs to start feeding her puppy better so that she can see herself as amazing as the rest of us see her.  It was especially pleasing to me to have Elle Liberator running lines on the bench, being that calming, levelled energy in the frenzied moments of a game.  An eye for keeping it fair and balanced, but also effective is a talent not many are blessed with. Viv the Shiv knows her stuff and it is no surprise to me that she saw that in TARDIS Queen as well.  I could watch Bonnie N' Collide block jammers forever.  She's a killer jammer, but there is something about the focus and determination of her blocking that really catches my admiration.  The Most Unexpected Effer Award goes to Hell'N' Hurtley who is the most consistent tiny tank on the track.   CommandOH earned the respect of the top coaches in North America and every bit of that is hard-earned and well deserved.   My personal MVP award went to Mosie O'Pummel who completely blew my mind EVERY game with her unfailing ability to hold a jammer back, lead a strong-willed line and keep an eye on the entire track and penalty box.  She is my aspiration and a true derby mentor. (It didn't hurt that she scored her sister wives the executive suite to boot....:) I had a brief, tearful moment of self-pity in the middle of the last game, when I realized that I had only played the one game and desperately wanted on the track to play, so my last acknowledgement goes to Foxxy Velocity who is one of the most competitive people I know and who, despite having injured herself in training and was forced to sit out of the games, remained that unwavering pillar of support and positive energy in every game.  She had a hug and well-wish for every single player, every game, and never once brought her dissapointment or frustration to the team.  Here's to healing vibes and amazing physio skills.

The love-in is nearly over, but I had to share my appreciation for a sport that incorporates every body shape, athletic ability, attitude and brings together women from EVERY background, who would never have otherwise met, let alone, shared food, or a bed or deodorant or tears or laughter.  Here's to a sport of social, emotional and physical collaboration.

Thanks to my family for being so encouraging of my derby obsession and for being so willing to let Vandana Shove'her spirit Sally away to the magic world of oval tracks and booty shorts.  And thanks to Red Rock N Roller Derby for making this lowly farm girl feel welcome enough to lace up to start with.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Wet Hen!

Since moving to PEI, from the backwoods of NB, I have developed a theory about lawn care.  It seems to me that there is some genetic, historical tie to the land and when men (yes, I'm being gender-specific with this one) have moved generations away from agriculture, their silent DNA still tells them to take care of land and produce something.  So they throw themselves wholeheartedly into the only land they have; their massive lawn.  Now that I've come up with this theory I have noticed little things that confirm it for me; like how 97% of the time, PEI men mow their lawns with their shirts off, no matter what the weather-it's like they're channelling their inner caveman, strutting their (out of shape) manly-ness through their perfect lawns.  Barf.
Family who come to PEI always comment on how tidy everyone's property is. The roads are tidy, the ditches are mowed (by the people who live near them!), lawns are immaculate and many people have a critical eye for those infrequent unkempt properties.  It's true. Compared to the 'wildwood' of West Branch, and most parts of NB, this province is a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to lawn care. 
So back to my theory- the desire to cultivate something from the soil and end up devoting too much time and money to a frigging lawn.  I am going to get some backs up with this one, but I'm officially cranky after this morning when, on my way to town with the kids, I drove by a farm house and got a big cloud of very very smelly pesticide in my window since the owner was out front with what seemed like a malfunctioning lawn sprayer, spraying what looked to me like an already over-manicured lawn. 
Seriously, most agricultural chemicals are a mystery to me that I am too ignorant to comment on, but cosmetic pesticides are just STUPID.  Plain and simple.  Stupid.
Did I mention it was raining while he was spraying, and they're calling for a thunder shower later today?  Did I mention that there was a massive fish kill in a PEI river this week?  Did I mention that COSMETIC PESTICIDES ARE STUPID!!

I married into a family who cares very much for their property and takes great strides to keep it looking its best at all times and I've really developed a sincere admiration for that.  That is not to say that where I grew up was all wild and crazy, but those who have been to both places might note some general differences.  My admiration doesn't mean that it's been contagious.  I much prefer the more unkept look of what nature would do if left to her own devices.  I actually got annoyed at Mark last night who cut all that tall sweet clover that grows on the side of the roads time of year with his bush cutter on his way home from the field, because I love the smell of it when I go for a run and I like how it closes in the back roads.  He just shakes his head at me.

So the point of this rant is that I'm annoyed at the stupidity of people who put themselves, their neighbours and the ecosystem at risk by spraying poisons, and unnecessary fertilizers (which contribute to the nitrates in my water!) for a %$^&***#$&^% LAWN!  Get over yourself and if you're just bored, I'm sure they could use your help picking up dead fish from the banks of the Trout River.



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Teeter Totter Day

I first called this entry RollerCoaster Day, but that's far too dramatic for the kind of day it was.  It was actually more up than down, but to make it fun, I am going to write this entry in the form of a game I learned a couple years ago called "Fortunately/Unfortunately".  Usually played by a group of people taking turns creating a fictional and ridiculous storyline, this version is less dramatic and more truthful.
Fortunately our summer student, Dylan, started work today.  He is a good kid with just the right balance of cautious and curious.  He and Wendell will be a great duo.
Unfortunately Mark's Mom is still not feeling her best after a small health scare with her heart that does not seem to be improving with time and rest.
Fortunately, the hay we cut yesterday is drying wonderfully and we didn't get the thunderstorms called for last night/this morning.
Unfortunately, it is very very dry again and we need some rain.
Fortunately it is calling for rain this week and hopefully we will have the hay up tomorrow so 'let 'er come!' as they say.
Unfortunately the hay crop is very thin and we will have to make second cut at some point, or source it elsewhere.  We will know better after tomorrow.
Fortunately, our chickens are doing well and the first batch is ready for market.  The fox lights that we invested in seem to doing the trick.  Knock on wood as you read that. 
Unfortunately we do not have a secure time/date booked with the abbattoir for the next week or so.
Fortunately we won't need to worry about booking times and dates much longer as we are planning an on-farm chicken processing line very soon!!!
Unfortunately the health dept. keeps trying to send the provincial 'guidelines' to our house phone rather than the fax line, so we have yet to read those.
Fortunately they're only 'guidelines'! hahahah!  just joking. (kind of). :)
Unfortunately, Mark is still waiting on his new cultivator.  It is coming from Holland and was apparently in Montreal last Monday, but is yet to arrive. It is already about three months late and Mark has had to cultivate (and is currently, as I write this cultivating) the beans with the old one, in which he must go 2 mph in a tractor whose air conditioning went last week. 
Fortunately, the beans are looking great and we're already one cultivation ahead of where we were last year!
Unfortunately, our barley crop is a sad story.  One of Mark's tasks this morning was to call the Crop Insurance agent and have a look at our barley fields which are a very pretty, but nauseating shade of yellow, from a sea of mustard plants. 
Fortunately, we've never had a mustard problem before.
Unfortunately, the manure that we were so excited to be sourcing from the hog farmer was FULL of mustard.  Apparently, our dream of coming full circle and getting the manure from the animals who ate our feed and bedded on our straw was about a year out of balance and we received bed pack from a mustard-heavy crop of straw. 
Fortunately, the crop insurance guy was accommodating and was able to figure out some compensation if we destroy it now.
Unfortunately, it was certified seed and not just common stuff, so is a bit of a hit to the books, but
fortunately we will be taking care of the mustard now and not fighting it for years to come.
Unfortunately, it means losing the barley and more importantly, the field peas.
Fortunately, it means planting buckwheat and having buckwheat seed for future green manure crops since our fertility sources are a bit in flux at this point.
Unfortunately, the wonderful organic manure was not exactly the dream we thought it was.
Fortunately, the crop insurance guy was very complimentary about our other fields and commended Mark on his management skills.
Unfortunately I am daily bothered by our federal government and the absolutely insane things they do, including but not limited to always putting supply management on the negotiating table and slowly killing the environment in favour of dirty oil.
Fortunately, silly Bev Oda stepped down today which is just one less Harper minion in the House.  yay!

So it was a bit of an up and downer, but overall, not terrible.  Could have been worse for sure.  Duncan seems to be recovered and will be hitting the pasture this week.  That means I have to separate the lambs left and two old ladies I do not want to get bred as we will be shipping/killing them soon.  I have worked out the details of that yet, but hopefully Duncan will get busy right away and it won't have to be for long.  After his scare last week, I'm sure he's eager to put some mileage under his belt before something else happens. 

The kids have been exhausted since last week and only today did we manage to get a nap in.  By the sounds of it though, the nap may have ruined bedtime, so I'd best to wrangle 'em.

Hope this finds you enjoying summer however you like best.


Monday, June 25, 2012

My Handsome Shearer

Firstly, I have noticed that lately, some spamming has been going on in my blog with links that lead to ads, so I will do my best to not include hyperlinks anymore to save you the curiosity of wondering whether it's legit or not.  For those less-technologically savvy, it just means, don't click on anything within the blog, it's not a virus, but an annoying advertisement.  It is just yet one more reason I'm considering switching over to a different host.

Secondly, farm life is, as you might expect, busy and great.  Now that we've gotten a touch of rain, things can begin growing again and we can stop talking about how dry it is for a few days at least.

In the quiet times between waiting for things to grow and getting ready for harvest, Mark tackled the job of shearing my sheep.  He really does love me. :)
Anyway, he did a wonderful job and I'm so glad to have it done.  Doesn't it look like the ewe is actually smiling a little bit in that picture?
It was nearly completely without incident until tonight when after a long days work, on the hottest day thus far, Mark decided to shear our ram, Duncan, as a last minute job before supper.  I received a call at 4:45 asking if I had ever stitched up a cut before.  I assumed it was the ram, and when I got to the farm, first aid kit in hand, I was right.  It took a loooong time, clumps of cobwebs, bundles of cotton swabs and bandages, and finally handfuls of flour, but we managed to get the bleeding stopped and Duncan was happily eating away when we said goodnight to everyone.  It was in a rather...precarious area, so he may not be hitting the pasture for his annual romp as soon as I had hoped, but God willing, he WILL play with the ewes at some point this summer.

We've all been hard at work (well, mostly Mark) in our winter wheat field cutting the heads off of some fall rye that crept into the seed box last autumn.  I think it's just about all gone, but was a real chore that will pay off big time, come harvest.  The field looks fantastic besides that is the wheat is looking like some of the best we've grown.
The spring wheat is all coming along nicely as well, as is the barley.  We seem to have what looks like could become a bit of a mustard problem in a few places, but we'll have to see what comes of that.  The soybeans are all up and growing and we're waiting on a new cultivator that should arrive any time now.

I've got so many topics I want to tackle in the blog these days, but time continues to creep away from me and it gets neglected, like the cobwebs in my house and the weeds in my garden. ha!  Anyway, sometime soon I will tell you the tale of glyphosate. 

Hope this finds you tired and dirty and looking forward to another day of summer tomorrow.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Movie

I was lucky enough to spend yesterday with MY Dad and Mom in Truro at the All Canada Sheep Classic 2012 where I bought a new ewe to add to the flock.  She's a beauty from Ont. which I thought looked shorter than the rest of the Ontario giants, but now I'm worried when I get her home that everything will just seem relative and she'll still stand out above the crowd.  Anyway, she'll be a welcome addition either way.  I was proud of the sheep that my parents had at the event and inspired by all of the animals there to continue breeding quality livestock and raising good food. 
It was a real D.I.Y. Father's Day around here and I've been talking about doing a video of the farm for a while now, so I finally got it put together and posted on YouTube as a surprise for Mark today.
Check it out and enjoy!  (There's a music, although it starts out quiet).

Now get out and enjoy the beautiful day!


Friday, June 8, 2012

Farm Update Early June 2012

Well, I have a to-do list ranging from Sunday School, to derby, to accounting, to home, to miscellaneous that stretches past my knees, but what better time to do a blog update!  Too bad 'procrastinating' is not one of the items on the list.

I just wanted to do a quick update on farm life.  We had significant improvements in our ongoing hatching experiement this time around.  Round two had 14 chicks hatch out!  They took over 48 hours from the first one to the last one which I thought was strange, but they are all doing well.  I was ready to turn the incubator off and dump 'er all out, but just didn't get around to it.  When I got home from derby last night there were three little fuzz balls in there!  They have varying markings and one little guy has brown stripes down his head and back.   We've been checking out a few videos on how to sex a chick, but I am not at all confident in my abilities, so we'll probably just end up going with the tried and true method of having them grow up and figure it out then. haha

The sheep seem to have found their groove on the pasture.  I was pretty devastated to discover one of my youngest lambs seemed to have suffocated or choked to death under my watch.  My mom actually noticed it first, having laboured breathing and panting, during one Sunday visit.  I kept an eye on it and both Mark and I checked it out carefully over the next couple days.  I thought I could feel something lodged in it's throat, but then when I felt a healthy one, for reference sake, it seemed the same.  I kept a close eye on it and it was still breathing funny, but had stopped panting, so I thought was maybe getting better (naive and lazy of me in retrospect).  One night was shutting everyone in, the ewes were particularly stubborn about going to the barn, which is when I found the poor thing laid out in the pathway.  Once again, felt so angry at myself and frustrated and dissapointed that I had not been more proactive on this.  I think these lamb losses are a real lesson for me in that I cannot expect to do all the things I'm doing and still be able to dedicate sufficient time to my farm projects, like the sheep. I need to prioritize, and observing my flock (and subsequently dealing with potential problems) needs to climb a little higher on that list.

On the plus side of the sheep, I shipped my first four lambs and they were so beautiful and conform that I was very happy with them.  I am going to pick up and deliver them today, so that is one more job to cross off the list.

The pigs are growing like crazy.

The crop is all in and Mark is busy finger-weeding the soybeans today. They are out of the ground and looking good.Our winter wheat field is growing really nicely, although there are a number of winter-kill spots that will haunt Mark throughout the growing season. 
We had a long cold week, so today's sunshine is more than welcome!

I have more laundry to do, kids to play with, cheese to make, butter to wash, supper to figure out, garden to weed, Sunday School closing to organize and on and on and on, so I'd best shut down this computer and get at it.

Hope this finds you enjoying all the smells of various blooming plants and trees this time of year!  Our linden is blooming right now and I think it might be the nicest smell of all!


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Morning chores

So apparently Blogger (the host of this site) must be having a tiff with Facebook as well as any browser that is not Google Chrome since it has been especially difficult to post pictures and longer posts lately and it has now become 'spam' according to Facebook and I cannot link a post to our fan page.  Anyway, for those reasons I am considering switching to a new site, but I will give lots of notice.  Until then, here are just some recent pics from morning chores, without narration, as that gets too complicated given Blogger's newfound refusal to get along.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

This week

Well, since I last wrote, we've got the sheep moved onto a much nicer patch of ground and they are working away at shearing it off until I move them again this week to the next paddock.  The pigs are finally out and exploring, rooting and digging to beat the band and wagging those curly little tails as they literally frolick in the sun.  The first batch of chicks will be heading out into the big wide open world of the pasture this week, although now it's sounding like a stint of much needed rain later this week, so we might hold off until that passes (although, if we had done that last summer, we would never had chickens on pasture at all!).  Either way, they're ready to go and we just invested in a new security system that promises to keep predators at bay.  So we'll see if it really works.  It won't take long to tell with the foxes barking around here lately.  I predict a couple restless nights ahead.  If all goes well, we'll have fresh chicken available July 10th!  If you'd like to get in on that order, it's easiest to send us a message via email or facebook, including how many you'd like, what size and a phone number.  If there is enough interest, we'll do a drop off in Charlottetown and Summerside.  If not, you are always welcome to come to the farm.  The first batch always goes fast, so book now to get in on some organic, GMO-free(!), pasture raised chicken!
Our second batch of chicks arrive early this week, so the brooder will be filled with yellow fuzz and tiny chirping again. 
I have three derby practices this week (!!) in preparation for our first bout coming right up.  Mark is hoping to be planting soybeans for extended hours so there will be some creative time management going on around here for a couple days, but we'll all manage I'm sure.
We're also being featured on the local CBC radio morning show tomorrow morning, so that is always fun. 
One of my other jobs this week is to be drawing up a job description to advertise for a student this summer.  It will be really great to have the extra hands around and we're hopeful we'll find someone really excited about organics and willing to learn.

I have to cut this short so that I can get my bulk order into my Speerville buying group here on PEI before order deadline tonight.  I have been too long without the organic, stone-milled flour I so love for bread making and very soon there'll be a white storm a brewing in my kitchen again! 

Speaking of storms, I've got a post about glyphosate a brewing in my head. Doesn't THAT sound fascinating!?  I promise to make it good.


Friday, May 25, 2012


Ya know that annoying kid on the team who is always bragging and is a pretty good player, but that is eclipsed by their overbearing atttitude?  And you walk away wishing that they would be 'knocked down a peg or two'?
Our morning CBC radio show host came by yesterday to do a little farm tour and interview piece about our operation and it was one of those perfect days on the farm.  It looked like a postcard.  The sun was shining, the crops were growing without too many weeds yet, Mark was planting, Wendell was harrowing, the kids were running through the dandelions and the animals were all our lazing around in the lush pastures.  And as Matt (the CBC host) was asking questions and commenting during the tour, I had this niggling feeling about how 'too good to be true' it all is.  I made sure that we talked about the struggles of farming, like earlier this week when we realized the sheep's pasture was a bit of a failure, but overall, the farm came off looking pretty good and I think it probably sounded a bit smug, because I was probably feeling a bit smug and telling myself it was just contentment.

Anyway, over the last 24 hours, we've been knocked down a peg or two.  Last night we learned that we will not be getting the organic manure from the hog producer we sell our grain to, as we had previously assumed.  It was mostly just a miscommunication, but an unfortunate one which means we need to re-think that part of our fertility plan.  We're also looking at other new markets for the fall and expanding the way we've been thinking, which is always an interesting challenge.
So while, pondering all of that this morning while moving my sheep fence in the pasture, I came upon what is one of my worst scenarios.  One of my yearling ewes had gotten herself wrapped up in the poly wire that we separate the paddocks with and I found her dead, in amongst the tall grass.  The feeling that sits in ones belly for the day, following that kind of discovery is not a fun one.  It's one of dread, regret, sadness, but mostly guilt.  I have stopped imagining the kind of struggle she put up and how she might have suffered, had a good bawl and have moved on, but the guilt doesn't move on quite so easily. 
It was only a few weeks ago that Mark and I were doing one of our presentations and I was going on about the mutual relationship between a farmer and their livestock and how each is providing for the other and that it is a unique connection that can only come with caring for an animal that you helped birth, raised and will slaughter.  When something like this happens, it feels like one side of the relationship didn't hold up their end, and it is terrible to know it was you.
 Now if my Mom was here, she would likely suggest that I pull up my bootstraps, get off the computer, get outside, do something and accept that the lamb probably would have died doing something else anyway.  And I knew as soon as I saw the body that it was the spooky lamb I had who I had meant to ship because she was always jumpy and was going to be a pain to lamb because she never seemed to gain any trust of me and would run over a kid to get away from everybody.  Tomorrow that fact might make me feel better.
Today, she's still one of my flock and I feel like crap. 

So I've got the girls in the front part of the pasture now, which is short and varied species and they're pigging out.  They'll probably all have the shits tonight, but they'll be content with warm, full bellies, ready to do it all again tomorrow. 
We'll be hooking up the bush cutter today and getting the rest of the pasture cut down as low as we can in the hopes that the orchard grass gets set back and the legumes have a better chance at competing.  Not to mention, that with shorter grass, I'll actually be able to see what is going on in the pasture and not just a few heads poking up above it. 

We also realized that our first batch of chicks are ready to hit the pasture next week so we've been 'hardening them off' by turning off their heat lamps and opening windows in the brooder house.  So feeding, moving and watering those guys will be a whole new element of chores to add on in a few days.  It makes me enjoy the 'easy' chores we have now, that much more.

I'm off to pull up my bootstraps, get outside and do something with myself.  Here's hoping you're doing the same.  Getting outside I mean.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Out to Pasture

Almost everytime we host a farm tour, at some point along the tour, someone will say, "This is so impressive. You guys just seem to have everything figured out and it all works so well together."  Mark and I always say thanks, but wish that those same people could be here on a morning like this morning, when we have NOTHING together and we're feeling like foolish rookies making big mistakes. 
You may recall that last summer my sheep were out on brand new pasture, they got really (too?) fat and did wonderfully all season.  We had new fencing and life was great.
This summer, after two weeks of grazing their first paddock, the sheep were blatting and complaining and spending more time eating the alleyway than the paddock.  They should have been moved last week to the next paddock but there was so much grass left that I forced them to stay in #1 and eat more.  I knew that by today I would have to move them on, whether they had eaten more or not.  A more careful look at the pasture revealed that our 'sheep pasture mix' we planted three years ago failed to encourage a healthy population of clover and alfalfa and instead became a thick stand of almost exclusive orchard grass-which evidently, sheep do NOT enjoy. 
It is coming out in head and is only getting coarser by the day.  It's probably the ideal time to make first cut hay, but that's not going to happen, so I think we've decided to cut it down and hope for a more balanced second cut hay.  We're also guessing that we may need to re-seed that pasture to prevent this problem again. 
So as we were kneeling down in the grass, trying to identify the culprit using old notes from NSAC, we were feeling less than 'so impressive'.  I was feeling like a bit of a failure.
It doesn't help that since my lambs were all born at Christmas and are now weaned, they won't follow the rest of the flock outside.  They seem terrified of the outdoors.  I figured that left without hay, they would have no choice but to go, but today I decided they were going to need a push to get out there, rather than lay in the barn and live off their fat stores.  So Mark, Lucy, Wilson and I all managed to (finally) get the reluctant lambs outside, only to get them up to the paddock and them refuse to walk into the grass.  After 10 minutes to prodding and waiting and pushing and encouraging and even throwing them into it, they hightailed it back to the barn at top speed.  It was like they couldn't even smell the grass and had no sense of what nature intended.  Grazing is supposed to be a sheep's #1 skill and I have a barn full of idiots.  Due to my management?.
I am feeling like a failed shepherd this morning.  This whole livestock thing continues to be brought into question.  Don't even mention what we're doing about security for the chickens this summer. 

At least Mark is looking like he will have a productive day in the fields.  It is barley planting time and Wendell is harrowing.  The wheat is coming up really nicely and the weather is so beautiful, you can almost watch it grow. 

Such is the life of a farmer on this glorious Victoria Day.