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.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Growing Evil

So while I have been sleeping apparently, soy, along with it's evil brother corn, have been declared the bane of existence.  Everywhere I go lately it seems as if someone is touting a corn and soy-free (insert food product here).
I was directed to a blog earlier today of a farm in the US which was marketing its laying hens as gluten-free, corn-free, soy-free and (wait for it) grain-free.  Grain-free chickens.  Further down I read that the chickens are free range, so eat the usual grass, insects, etc. as well as kelp meal and SEEDS ("NOT Grains" it clarified in brackets). I am curious as to what exactly the difference is and which
'seeds' they might be feeding these hens.  I am also curious how grains were deemed not fit for hens, but somehow the raw milk from their cows is natural chicken fodder.  Hmm...I am mentally picturing Rosie standing still while one of the hens go in for a drink. 
So here's the thing.  I don't really care what anyone feeds their chickens.  It's really up to the customer to care and to make their own decisions (and if you want 'grain-free' eggs be prepared to fork out $12/doz- yes you read that right).  If you care about what the hens are eating that lay your eggs, good for you.  But please be informed.  Even if you see corn and soy-free everywhere you turn lately, ask someone why that is and what it really means.  (and then let me know.)
Because I'm having a hard time finding an answer to that question.  I know of four farms off the top of my head who avoid corn and soy in any ration in anything they feed to ANY animals.  I understand (and have written on here before) about the problems with cattle eating corn and let's presume for the sake of argument that sheep would fall under that same category, being ruminants as well.  And let's throw soy under the bus as well, since it's known that ruminants are meant to graze, not gorge on grains.
But let's go to the non-ruminants, like pigs and chickens.  Since when did it become dangerous to feed pigs corn and soy?  And chickens?  I understand the questions about pumping animals full of high energy, high protein feed to get them to market as soon as possible, but that is a METHOD not the fault of the grain itself.  Fed in a balanced ration and healthy manner, is it any worse than any other grain? 
I know, I know, it's about GMO's right?   Right.  GMO's=evil.  Most corn and soy =GMO.  So, corn and soy=evil.
But these corn and soy free farms don't seem to care about the GMO part- they are simply dead against those two grains no matter what. 
I don't know if it's because they don't trust the system to bring them a guaranteed GMO-free product? This is a fairly valid concern, given the prevalence of GMO's in the corn and soy system, but there ARE safeguards in place.  For example, we test EVERY load of beans that comes to the farm with a litmus test which varifies the round up ready gene in soybeans.  And we've been so fortunate to have dealt with such careful farmers that we only once had to reject a load due to contamination (and we've dealt with a lot of beans over these last few years). 

The final straw that was the reason for this post is that I keep hearing comments regarding the horrible things that growing soy does to the soil.  Soy is a legume, which means it sequesters it's own nitrogen, which means it needs little to no fertlizer.  That's a pretty big deal and a pretty sweet magic trick on the growing things scale, I'd say.  Soy also leafs out pretty quickly, and fills in gaps between the plants, thus shading out weeds and requiring less weed control than many other grain crops.  It can be grown in rows which makes cultivation possible.  Two negatives are that it doesn't leave much residue and that it's usually harvested too late to fall plant anything behind it.  But I'd say the positives are pretty strong on this one.   

This entry wasn't intended to be a rant, I am sincerely hoping for answers from someone who knows why soy and corn are on the naughty list, besides the obvious. Is it a marketing thing at this point? This kind of post is exactly what makes the lines in agriculture so hard to draw and cause frustration for those trying to make a point with their operation and it comes down to semantics.  And now there is a consumer out there, who thought they were saving the world by buying a soy- free egg and now wonder what the heck to think?!  This crazy food world of ours is just that- crazy.  Sometimes I think that we are our own worst enemies, constantly adding to the fears and worries of eaters, causing everyone to give up trying and just eat cheap and easy.   
Don't give up!!!  Just do your best, trust your farmer and meet your food while it's still growing.


upon re-read, this post came out much more defensive than intended.  I'm sounding a bit like the beef producers of the USA after Oprah declared she'd never eat another burger. And maybe, I'm not all that different anyway.  :S 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Charmed Life

Some girls dream of being princesses or glamourous celebrities, but after today, I feel certain that I've got my dreams come true (with the exception of course of the harsh realities of our ignorant and blissfully stupid government-see: their response to the UN Envoy of Food's report about Canada, for just 1 example---ugh).
But back to my farm princess life...
We got two weaner pigs today and they've already added a whole new element of excitement and novelty.  There's a name contest on and the winner gets a package of sausages.  They'll be GMO-free from here on out and I dare you to find GMO-free pork.  It's a rare commodity for sure.  So excited.
I sat on a conference call tonight as secretary for ACORN and was once again happy to be involved in such a relevant and important organization and to be able to share the table with such forward thinking and optimistic farmers from a variety of backgrounds.
I put new eggs in the incubator tonight, while the mixer churned butter in the kitchen.  Those two actions, hatching eggs and making butter feel like a little food revolution to me and I'm so blessed to be able to have such a deep rooted connection to our food.  The butter was nearly neon yellow this time, with Rosie being out on pasture all the time now and had that spring smell to it, which I used to turn my nose up at as 'green milk', but now understand to be the 'terroir' of a time and place that only REAL food imparts.
Rosie has some sort of rash that began on her udder and has moved to her legs.  There are many theories floating around, but the most popular seems to be some sort of mite from the latest straw we put in her bedpack last week.  We are stumped as to the mites' origins as it is our straw from our storage, but there is definitly inflamation of some kind.  One suggestion was to slather on Vaseline to 'smother the mites' while others recommended sprinkling Diatomacheous Earth. I've done both and I think maybe it has stopped spreading.  A Jersey farmer was here today who claimed that Jerseys are the very worst animal for reacting to various plants or food.  She has only been out on the pasture for a short while so that is a good possibility as well (although again, same pasture as ever...).  Here's hoping it's cured up.  It made for a bit of work as we did clean out her newly cleaned barn to replace the straw and then realized we had bedded the pig barn with the same stuff, so re-bedded that before Mark went to get them today.  Due diligence.
I had also intended to get a batch of wine racked off for the summer, but that will have to wait until tomorrow morning.  Along with opening up a bigger brooding area for the rapidly growing chicks, putting straw down on the sheep pasture walkway (to discourage grazing there...will it work?), catching up on farm accounting and using up that roundsteak that is sitting in the fridge waiting to be made into stew.  I wonder what the afternoon will bring.  Probably most of the items on that list since it's daydreaming to think that will all go as smoothly as planned.  And then I've got derby practice tomorrow evening, so a great finish to a busy day.

And speaking of daydreaming, I'm past ready to do some night dreaming.  I'm off to try to get the green butter smell off my hands and compose an imaginary letter to all little girls about the life of a REAL princess, a Farm princess and how much more fun that is than the alternative.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lessons of the day

Lessons of this wet May day:
1. Kids can never have too many rubber boots.  It is inevitable that they will get punctured or left out in the rain or submerged or filled which will result in many wet socks, wet pants, cold feet and whiny kids.  Thank goodness for dry hand-me-downs from older cousins that can quickly replace the wet boots and quell the whines for a little while longer.  Now if they only came with an elastic top so a wee one couldn't get them off.

2. Visits to farmers always take longer than expected.

3. Baby chicks go from fuzzy and cute to feathers and ugly almost overnight.  Their feed consumption grows with them.


Monday, May 7, 2012


Well, I'm sure I've lost some readers by now, who have given up on my inconsistent posting, but for anyone who has made it this far, thanks for sticking around!  I skipped derby tonight so that Mark could take advantage of the beautiful evening and get some more crop in the ground so have magically also found some time for the blog as well!  Funny what a free night will hand you eh!? (It's also the night that the coach is picking the teams so I probably just forfeited my spot on the travel team, but that may be for the best anyway- farmer first.)
So in exchange for your continued readership I offer you a brief farm tour of the goings on today, which is fairly representative of life these days in general.  I retract that actually.  Today was an extra exciting day on the farm as we put the very first seeds of 2012 into the ground.  Wendell has been spreading compost like a mad man and we were excited to get the first wheat in the ground this morning.  Mark started with the Acadia, which Wendell so lovingly cleaned and sorted (by HAND) over the winter (because it was full of oats) and we had enough seed for 3.5 acres, which has come a long way from the paper bag we were handed a couple years ago. (Wendell though couldn't help but comment that despite his best efforts he was disappointed to see 'the odd oat in the box' (on the seeder).  I told him that that is what we hire students for- roguing. ha!

Anyway, so as Mark says, "we're farming again" and he's currently up working away at getting the last of the wheat in.  Tomorrow is forecasted to be nice as well so will likely continue tomorrow.  I'm sure that he is glad to have the field immediately behind our house done as it is too easy for kids to hitchhike a tractor ride, or be at the ready to 'help' with refills.

So that was todays excitement for a little while, but after that wore thin and Mark switched over from time consuming bags to the big refiller, we moved onto our usual browsing around the farm yard.
First stop is the new baby chicks who are still holding onto their novelty, and I'll admit, they are pretty darn cute at this stage.  I don't think I've maintained an update of our hatching experiment, but it was a bit of a mixed failure/success.  Success in that we DID end up hatching chicks, failure in that we only got 4 from 15 fertile eggs (and I'm not totally convinced that one of them didn't get schmooshed when I put him in with the big group of chicks).  It did give us a bit of an itch to keep trying and perfect our skills a bit better.  I think it had to do with humidity in the final days since they were fully formed and just didn't pip and I can't think of anything else it might be.  Anyway, thankfully we didn't rely on our hatching ability to supply us with laying chicks this year, so along with the 125 meat chicks, we have 12 CoOp red layer chicks in the mix too (and now our four tiny little hybrids too).  

This is a picture of the chick starter that Mark made and is so proud of.  The particle size is pretty much exactly like what you buy at the store and the mineral premix from BioAg contains what looks like a lot of Bio-Lac, which is a probiotic, so we're really happy with the finished product.  

The next stop is the BioAg storage area, just to have a look at how much inventory might be accruing and if there's anything new that has come in that I don't recognize.  

 Then we stop to see the sheep.  The two late blooming ewes and their tiny lambs are doing great, and my market lambs are slowly, but surely getting to weight.  They're not exactly consistently sized, but the top group are looking really good and I'm hopeful that the move to the pasture will give them the last little boost to get them gone.  We are out of square bales for this year and are into the rounds, so the pressure it on to get them onto the pasture, which is looking pretty lush, but there a couple of small steps that need to be completed before we can let them out.  Firstly we haven't done any maintenance or anything yet this year so it will need to be tightened up, etc.  Secondly, I'd like to get rid of the grass in the alleyway that takes the sheep from the barn to their paddocks within the pasture, since it is likely a great source of parasites, with them travelling it every day, stopping to munch along the way.  We're taking suggestions on the best way to do this without using chemicals or creating a mudpit.  
After we check out the sheep, we move onto what used to be Rosie's barn to admire our work from Saturday when we prepared our pig pen with lots and lots of straw, all strewn about and fluffed up bigger than the downiest comforter. Our two pigs should arrive any day now and we aren't exactly ready, but we figure that we'll figure it out as we go along.  

 Of course, like the good dairy farmers that we are, we had to make a stop to see our dairy herd and admire their conformation.  Actually, this picture paints Rhubarb to be a bit of a fatty, but she's got some nice 'dairy character' as they say.  Rosie has finally shed her winter coat so I don't come home looking like a wooly mammoth after milking her every morning.  We are having a little trouble with Rhubarb biting Rosie's teats and making little cuts and sore spots.  We kept them separated for a few days last week, to allow Rosie to heal, but weaning the calf sort of defeats our purpose of having her (we remembered after twice a day full milkings), so we're trying them together again to see if it keeps happening.

So that's life today.

I'm off to count my blessings and get some sleep.  If you need a little smile in your day, check out this link to my roller derby profile (or in my dad's case, if you need a little embarassment in your day).  :)
There's been a fair bit in the news lately about organic versus conventional agriculture and feeding the world and sometime I hope to get time to add my two cents on here.  Stick with me and I'll do my best to update more frequently!  (I do mini updates on our Facebook page-search Barnyard Organics).

Honour thy mother! This weekend in particular!