Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bad Customer Service, Runaway, Jury Duty

It's one of those evenings here tonight that really only happen this time of year.  It was a glorious warm day of clear skies and the air carried a purpose to it, incensing everyone to get to their gardens, or get out for a walk, or at least mow their lawns.  People made good suppers that they maybe ate outdoors and many are still working away.  The kids are sound asleep after a long day outdoors and I'm not far from it myself.  Mark is still in the field, planting peas and barley, hoping to finish before dark.  I love the feel of the air getting colder by the hour and the sound of the spring peepers slowly coming back to life after a couple frosty nights.  I love watching the robins pull worms out of the freshly mowed lawn and seeing all the motorbikes out and about on the country roads for their first rip of the season.

It's not been a week without incidence around here though, nor will it be, before it's over.  We've got two school tours tomorrow morning, an adult writers group on Friday and then another school tour and a tour of Japanese journalists next week.  Thankfully there's lots of animals to see right now, so that will eat up most of the touring time and we won't have to rely too much on filling time with looking at various seeds and trying to make crop production sound exciting to kids. 
We got our four weaner pigs this week and Gail is a happy mama wannabe, teaching them the ways of the farm.  May-May, Beatrice, Sparkle and Runaway are their names and they're pretty darn cute right now.  They weren't so cute when they got out the first night and we spent far too long looking before giving up and letting them come back on their own.  Runaway, after a lengthy house arrest, escaped again yesterday, but surely, has learned her lesson by now.  She will make particularly tasty bacon I'm sure and will be particularly easy to say goodbye to come fall. 
Our second batch of chicks came yesterday and as I type this I can hear another peeping away in the incubator downstairs.  We really messed up this last batch, but somehow three have managed to hatch anyway.  The incubator (on lend from Mark's sister) has an automatic turner in it and we forgot to take it out until the night before they were due (the eggs are NOT supposed to move for the last three days).  Anyway, lesson learned and next time we'll be sure to pay attention and probably even program it into our various technologies to remind us to be better mother hens.  I was looking particularly forward to these chicks since they were from our red rooster, Big Handsome, and our red hens.  But we'll try again.

We've been having some wet weather, although not as wet at some areas of the Maritimes.  It's been grey and cold and on and off showers, but no real heavy rains to speak of.  Just enough to keep the tractors out of the fields.  So yesterday, when it was our first real, sunny dry day of the last couple weeks, you can imagine how happy Mark was to be puttering around on the lawn mower and building chicken pens, rather than planting.  We've had some real challenges in the last couple years sourcing an inoculant for the peas that is acceptable under organic standards.  Much of the dry, peat products we used to source includes irradiated peat, so is no good to us.  This means we have to find a liquid and it turns out it's a lot trickier to source.  Or at least it's been made out to be much trickier.  We've been dealing with a particularly useless local Co-Op manager who has made life rather difficult, despite Mark having ordered the product back in February and being very clear as to what he needed.  Unfortunately this is not the first bad customer experience we've had with the Co-Op, so I suspect we will be moving our (rather significant) business elsewhere, following a letter to the board and manager.

The kids and I planted most of what will be our garden this year, today.  Given my 'condition' and anticipated desire to be weeding and picking, it is limited to onions, corn and pumpkins.  We might throw some tomato transplants in for salsa after a bit, but the rest will be buckwheat to give it a rest and cover and still lots of bee food.  I'd probably be way less happy about this if I wasn't so excited for my CSA share with Jen and Derek's Farm Fresh Veggies this summer.  For 18 weeks I will be getting a variety of veggies from the best CSA farm on the Island and I'll also be maintaining a separate blog with coinciding recipes (to share soon).  Really excited about this!

If things weren't busy enough Mark received his first ever jury summons, to appear June 10th. Could this be some cosmic joke!?  So we're hoping that the "owner/manager/single employee of a large farm business, father of three under 5 and husband of wife expecting baby #4 within a week" qualifies under the 'extreme hardship' excuse to get out of it.  If all else fails, he'll just act like a wacko at the interview/selection part of the process and hope to be dismissed.  gah!!!  Surely there are enough people on EI in Summerside who can fill the spot without causing 'extreme hardship'!!

Wish me lots of patience tomorrow with the elementary school kids and then the highschool kids.  They're both traveling from an hour away (each in the opposite direction), so should be glad to get here when they do.  Here's hoping! 


Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring 2013 Updates

When people ask if things on the farm are 'getting busy' this time of year, the obvious answer is yes.  Although, I don't know if I feel like there was necessarily a big downtime that we're coming out of.  Winter seemed to slip by pretty quickly and as usual, we're still just now catching up on all the 'little jobs' that we said we were going to tackle over the winter. 
We're in the midst of the biggest one, that we've really left to the 11th hour, but that we're both really excited about.  (Note: A mutual excitement over a project on the farm is a rare thing.  We often support each other's ideas, but rarely do we share a common enthusiasm for the initial design and creation of a thing.)  (Maybe I'm the more excited one in this case which is why I don't recognize that perhaps we're both not quite as 'excited' as I claim...)  Anyway, in either case, we're eager to get things moving on our on-farm chicken processing facility.  We're going above board and getting all the proper check marks to be able to sell publicly, so hopefully you'll be able to get some fresh, Barnyard Organics chicken this year, fed, grown and handled from day one to last day right here on the farm!
It's involved a few meetings with some interesting people, and one really fantastic tour of a beautiful facility in Nova Scotia, but I think we're finally getting somewhere.  As expected, for a while we were hung up on waste water management, but I think maybe things are moving on that front so we can start actually pricing and purchasing a few things.  We'll be cutting it close for processing the first batch of chickens which arrived a couple weeks ago, but we'll see what happens.
I can't wait to keep you up to date on the details of this as it goes forward!

In other news, Rosie calved today.  Her first bull calf.  We decided that given the general usefulness of a jersey bull calf that Duffy would be an appropriate name.  It will also make it easy to ship him whenever that day comes.  Hard to get attached to something that reminds me of such a waste of tax dollars and time, and also reminds me of Dead Shark Eyes himself.

Speaking of attached, our pig, Gail Shea has become quite enamoured with Miss Lucy and the two of them are quite the pair.  Gail got out on day two of her stay and we thought she was a goner, but we think she was just lonely, so put Lucy in charge of making her feel welcome.  And did she ever!  They snuggle up together and snort and grunt and scratch and rub and giggle.  It's quite a sight.  Gail's supposed to be our sow so we can have our own piglets next summer, so we've got three more weaners coming this week or next for eatin', so hopefully that will keep Gail happy (and in her pen).  Besides still being a pig, she's so different from the two we had last summer.  She eats grass faster and more efficiently than any cow or sheep I've seen and isn't interested in table scraps at all.  She has rooted up more of her pen in a week than the other two did all last summer, and they never managed to get out once, even when they were new and small.  Anyway, if she knows anything about surviving, she's displayed it by making herself a special place in the heart of the person most likely able to sway her final destiny.

We've hatched one round of Delaware chicks, with pretty good success. We got 21 from the first hatch and now we're trying a batch of red chicks to see how they do.  When we candled them last night there were a quite a few that showed little to nothing, so we were a bit disappointed, but I think they might have sat too long before we put them in the incubator (Mark insists that they're ok for 6 weeks- I'm doubtful).  Chicken genetics are pretty interesting, so I'm excited to see what we get from these ones. The little brown chicks are just so darn cute!  And some of our Delawares have blue legs, which we've been told is a trait of blue-egg layers (and entirely possible since Roosti is a genetic cocktail (multiple layer pun there eh!?!!) mishmash of things.)

My last four ewes are enjoying the pasture to themselves before they go on to their next forever home at an organic farm near Hunter River, PEI.  I'm sad to see them go, but really surprised at how liberated I feel from not feeling guilt over not being able to check on them as often as I'd like/need to.  I will be doubly glad in a month, when moving pastures weekly will be more than I can handle with four babes in tow.

The tour of the chicken killing facility I mentioned earlier also brought us some new ideas on raising our meat birds and a sweet new design for the chicken tractors we use in the pasture.  (Dammit! I have good pictures and blogger won't let me post them!)  Anyway, they're way taller and brighter and drier and airier (word?).  They are moved by a winch system with tractor or four wheeler or some such vehicle, but the birds will be so much healthier and happier for it, I'm sure of it.  So Mark modified one of our old tractors to be very similar so we can try it out this summer and see.  I'm hoping they'll be more predator proof too, since we had one hen miss lock down/lights out/curfew last week and Reddy Fox gobbled her up pretty quickly, so it's not safe to be feathered and on the ground after dark around these parts.

I'm sure the next few days will bring great pictures of Duffy and likely Gail as well, so I'll be sure to post some when the site lets me. 

Mark is off to the barn with a good dairy farmer friend who is helping to deal with preventing Rosie's impending milk fever.  Her ears were cold when we last checked her, which is a first sign, so rather than waiting for her to go down in the middle of the night, we're hoping some calcium injected under the skin will hold it off.  I, on the other hand, have been battling the worst head cold and intend to get some good rest in my own bed (after a fun but tiring weekend away at a wedding in Sackville).

I realize now that I haven't mentioned any of the things that actually make this farm a farm and a business, but the fields are looking great.  Mark got some nice Acadia wheat in last week and is now doing some final tillage to get everywhere ready for the rest of the seeding.  I predict some good results from his preventative weed control/false seed bedding this year. The barn is full of lovely bags of seeds and the equipment is all ready to roll, so with good weather will come busy tractors and happy farmer.  The feed making business is going well and we're considering a non-GMO line as well as the organic, but we'll see how that goes if demand increases and it makes $$ sense. 

I've still got a month to go before I'm predisposed, so am trying to make the most of it without getting too exhausted (with marginal success). :)

I hope this finds your garden tilled, your hands dirty and your sleeps deep and contented.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Science? Barf.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have always struggled with science and math. Just saying the words 'chemistry' and 'calculus' make me nauseous.  Even if you don't know me, you might make the assumption that my Bachelor of English degree is an indicator of a stronger right brain than left.  (You're right.)
I've realized that it's too easy to surround oneself with their own opinions.  I mean, in this social media world where I can link to anyone, anywhere, I naturally lean towards anti-GMO websites or organic organizations on Twitter.  I want to stay on top of the headlines that interest me and staying within my interests is the best way to do that right?  But recently I've discovered that it's even more interesting to stay on top of headlines that interest me by following those who I disagree with most.  It's irritating and causes me to lose sleep thinking about it, but it's kind of refreshing in a maddening sort of way to hear a GMO debate from the other side and listen to the commentators put down organics.  After months of reading the Tweets and comments, I have noticed a recurring trend.  Firstly, that organic producers and their advocates tend to dismissed as uneducated and always naive.  Secondly, that the reason organic producers are naive is because they 'don't understand the science', or 'don't accept the science'.  Science keeps coming up as the be-all, end-all of everything everyone needs to know about the benefits of GMOs.  As if there is no discussion to be had because clearly, science has laid out the answers and any opposition is simply not worthy of hearing, because it's not based on science.
Here's the trouble:
Science is not infallible.  From beginning to end, it is interpreted, executed, reported and utilized in specific ways to reach specific means.  I could point to the 'science' that promoted DDT or asbestos as life-savers and the next best thing to make life easier and HEALTHIER.  Or I could point to the 'science' that led and continues to lead many parents to not vaccinate their kids based on a still controversial study that linked autism with a specific vaccine. But since we're talking about GMO science, let's stick with that.
Firstly, it's well known and documented that chemical companies are some of the biggest sponsors of several respected universities who invest significant resources into 'scientific studies' regarding all kinds of things.  Even if the science is done perfectly, following pristine methods, the results can be tucked away if not agreeable.
But often the methods aren't pristine.  Take a simple trial on PEI, for example.  Researchers who work at a federal research facility invest their time and our resources into 'organic trials', but plant the trials in land that was potentially treated conventionally as recently as last year.  Even if the trials are treated organic, to the letter, for the year of the trial, it's not an accurate representation of what organic soil is capable of.  If it's a variety trial for example, maybe a variety has been bred for use in a conventional system, planting corn for 5 years in a row (ugh....but entirely possible), or maybe it's an organic variety that when planted in poorly managed soil does poorly because it has been bred for more organic matter, or lots of mycorhizzae or whatever it is that is unique to it's make-up.  That's just one TINY example of how what could possibly be reported as an 'organic variety trial study' could be wrong and terrible from the start.
There is an interesting story of a study done that questioned the benefits of GMOs and in the end was critical.  It was published in scientific circles and then the New York Times caught wind of it and planned to put it their weekend paper.  In these days of suffering newspaper sales, their biggest advertiser, the chemical company responsible for the product questioned in the study, threatened to pull all of their advertising money if it was published.  That weekend paper did not publish the study and instead, had a full page ad for the company in question.
So, even if the science is right, how it's reported or distributed can be often and easily skewed.

The moral of the story is, I'm tired of "science" being shoved in my face as the answer to the world's problems.  It's important, yes. I recognize that.  But it's as fallible as the observations a farmer can make with their eyes on a day to day or year to year basis, and even more susceptible to skewing.

Finally, can we all just stop referencing the now ancient notion that GMOs will lead to farmers using less pesticides?  If science hasn't proven this, the bottom lines and margins of chemical companies prove otherwise.  So for all the other reasons that GMOs are supposedly going to save the world, let's agree to leave that bullshit where it belongs- in the defunct pile.

For those of you who made it this far and have been asking for pictures, here's a few that I finally cleaned off my camera today.
The trio on Easter morning in their Sunday best, full of chocolate and ready to sit quietly in church. bahahah!
Me indoctrinating Lucy with anti-GM alfalfa propaganda on April 9th, the national Day of Action, which happened to coincide with a highschool culinary class tour of the farm.

 This is the beast, otherwise known as Mark's preoccupation for the winter.  A fancy shaker cleaner that does a pretty great job, but will do an even better job when it gets a cyclone that keeps the light chaff in check.
This is a scene from today- May 1st, 2013.  I looked out to the sandbox to find no kids.  Further investigation found them in a much bigger sandbox, a freshly tilled field, Tonka's working at full bore, manure spreader and discs in the background just to help set the tone of 'serious work'.  Oh, and completely naked too of course.

It's way too dry here.  Drier than ever, let alone for spring.  But I admit that today's sun was pretty spectacular.  So I won't complain either way, but if I was a good farmer's wife, I'd say WE NEED RAIN!

Hope this finds you digging in some sort of dirt.