Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 2014 Farm Tour

Get yer boots and yer helmet, it's time for a farm tour!
Finally made a point of taking the camera with me to chores the other night so you could all see the goings on around Barnyard Organics these days.
 We start in the brooder where Sol is happy that the sides are just the right height for him to have a good vantage point (and easy for the bigger caretakers to step over without too much stumbling around).  Mark's sister, Sarah was kind enough to hatch a few eggs from our layers and we got a few cute and fast little brownies in amongst the fat yellow fuzzballs.  They are getting a bit more attention than their monocolour counterparts, but I think they're going to survive the mauling and 'loving'. 
 Next we head out to the cattle where we feed Rosie and Duffy, who are both nearing a milestone of sorts.  At some point soonish, Duffy is going to be heading to the Happy Hunting Ground in the sky (ie. our freezer) (Mark thinks we should sell tickets on Parliament Hill to an organic meal featuring grilled Duffy).  And Rosie is to be dried off in a week or so to prepare for her next calf, due in August.  We're not looking forward to buying milk and drinking a lot less of it, but this is pretty decent timing for having one less chore (milking) to do.  And then fresh ice cream in August will be pretty great too! Here's to hoping I have enough butter in the freezer!

 Next onto the pigs, who are happily rooting around in last year's pig pasture, but needing some expansion.  They seem to be a lot more interested in grass than last year's pigs, so we're opening their pasture up a bit this week to give them more grazing opportunities.  Nancy is a particularly good forager, although that may be out of necessity since we think Miss Pig Gail Shea is greedy at the feed trough and eats more than her fair share.  Nancy is the least photogenic pig we've ever had and makes snapping a picture nearly impossible.  I refused to indulge Gail's narcissistic tendencies by posting a picture of her on here. Just trust me that she's huge, happy and healthy (well, as healthy as overweight pigs can be anyway).
 Here is one of the roosters-Mr. Johnny Cash if I'm not mistaken(-who looks all black when he's inside).  He nearly always stands on one foot and Thayne enjoys the trick of telling everyone the rooster only has one leg, so he wanted me to get a picture while we were going by.  Both our roosters this year are especially friendly (or at least NOT aggressive) and are gentle enough with the hens that none of them are showing signs of missing feathers or scratches, so they are on the  'keep' list for now.
 Next we head out into the pasture where we've finally gotten the chicken shelters out!  The big one, "the Palace", is for the layer hens and is designed to be more stationary- only moved once a week or so, while we let the hens out of the house during the day. 
The other houses each have about 45 chickens in them and are so far working well again this year.  The kids and I are mostly in charge of moving them twice a day and keeping them in feed and water.  To be honest, I've become a bit redundant, as Lucy can drive the 4-wheeler, Thayne pulls the cable out, Wilson runs the winch and they can all run the water hose and pump.  I guess I'm just the muscles who lifts the feed.
Finally, last stop is the egg washer.  Right now we only wash every other night, because it's only the eggs from our 40ish hens, but once the hens out on the pasture start laying sometime in July, it'll likely be a daily operation.  We're setting up the empty room in the Dead End as the egg washing room where the eggs can have their own fridge, etc.  Keep your eyes peeled for info on the egg CSA to come soon!

Having my first feed of asparagus tonight for supper, which is the sure sign that a new season is here.  After a winter of eating almost exclusively pork and a small bit of chicken, along with mostly root vegetables, quinoa and rice, I am so ready for some fresh chlorophyll and things picked within the last few days.  For all the complaining I did about seasonal eating, this long winter, the anticipation and arrival of these summer flavours is what makes it so good!
Well, I must be off to help finish up some sunny day projects around the farm and house.  Right after I help build a road in the sandbox for the 'manure spreader' to get through to the 'gravel pit tunnel', whatever that important piece of infrastructure is.

I hope this finds you enjoying some summer flavours of your own!


Monday, May 12, 2014


It looks like "condensation" eh?  But this post is not about the temp inside the chicken barn (although it is admittedly not as fresh as we had hoped at this point in the year, when we had anticipated having at least the first batch of chickens out on pasture.  As it stands, they will hopefully get out tomorrow and then we can start moving everyone around and spreading them out as they should be, according to The Plan.  The Plan is bound to fail at some point, as plans often do, but so far it is a carefully orchestrated illustration using Excel and colour coding to figure out which batches go where, when.  And with my CSA full (YAY!) it will be important to stick as close to The Plan as possible to ensure harmony at all stages.  I'll keep you abreast of how The Plan works out as the summer goes along.

But, no, this post is about science. Again.  I know one of my last posts was about my distaste for science and how I have an increasingly hard time trusting it, when it used to maintain a very intentional pillar of integrity.  That post was me struggling with the statements from scientists who dismiss anti-GMO commentary as baseless and stupid and lacking in scientific proof.
This post is me identifying exactly what it is about that that really pisses me off.
And it's condescension.

It was while listening to a scientist on CBC last week discussing vaccines. The scientist was, as they all are, frustrated about the lack of vaccination that is happening these days.  I am not anti-vaccine by any means, but the way with which he presented his case, made me want to be contrary to anything he said.  He spoke with an air of being above the rest of the common people, stupid enough to not know better.  He was so patronizing and all-knowing that the host had a difficult time providing a foundation for a decent discussion. 
I've heard a similar rhetoric in scientists on the pro-fracking side of the debate.  It's as if those who are opposed are just too stupid to know how to think critically and are not even worth considering.  It's so frustrating to not be heard, but even more frustrating to be talked down to and then dismissed.

I went to a really interesting talk last week about Genetic Engineering that was touring the country.  The main speaker was a retired Ag Canada scientist who was a genetic engineer and now spends his time spreading his concerns about GMOs.  Well, actually, he's not necessarily anti-GMO, but anti the pesticides that make them work.  Specifically, glyphosate or Round Up as it's known.  It was a fascinating talk and I learned new things that make me even more concerned than ever before.  Mark asked me on the way home what I thought and besides being energized about my convictions, I was kind of saddened by how brow-beaten the scientist seemed. He wasn't the jerky, over-confident scientist I've gotten used to expecting. He presented his information factually and in a way that we could all understand but lacked the enthusiasm and excitement that a well-styled, PR'd, script-reading, shiny, fresh-faced and convincing young lip-service chemical/seed company rep would bring to an ag conference.

I mean, I think I get it.  The scientists I often hear on the radio or read online have been picked as spokespeople for a reason and have been dealing with stupid questions from journalists and the public and are tired of uninformed people making inaccurate assumptions about something they've dedicated their life to.  It's irritating as a farmer to have non-farmers make negative assumptions about how we handle ________(insert farm-related item here), so I kind of get it.
But, I also recognized that people are concerned for a reason, and if I'm going to convince them of my way, I'd better figure out a way to reach them.  If that means spending time on a blog (hahaha!), then so be it.  If it means having time-consuming tours, so be it.  If it means spending more one-on-one time with my customers, so be it.  If it means not talking to people like they're stupid and a waste of my time, that's a pretty simple way to handle it.

I've removed myself from FB because I was noticing a bit of an addiction happening, but I've kept the farm Twitter feed going.  I follow a lot of pro-GMO profiles because it keeps me informed (and keeps my blood pressure alive) and today they were all touting a graphic from the magazine The Economist, in an article criticizing Vermont for taking a stand on requiring labeling of GE foods.
The title "Odd priorities".  Did it need a title?  Would it be less effective without the title?  It would be less negative and annoying to those of us who find it a very misleading factoid.  Without the condescending title, it would just be another lame graphic showing a very narrow and shortsighted view of the whole picture.  But the title gives it a sense of superiority over the people stupid enough, and maybe evil enough to get worked up over what is clearly a miracle for all those malnourished children.

I won't spend any of this post addressing the actual content of that graphic, although that would be good fodder for a separate post.  I just wanted to let it be known that if the scientific community was truly interested in furthering its agenda, it would be better off losing the annoyed, condescending tone and actually listening to the concerns of it's doubters, addressing the questions and talking TO people, not DOWN to people. 

The best conversation I've ever had with a scientist was at a side table at a drunken wedding dance in which we talked for 45 minutes about the Rotavirus vaccine.  Neither one of us convinced the other one that we were right, but we heard each other, shared each other's concerns, presented our opinions and had a great time. 

Maybe I should just have some drinks when I talk about GMO's, glyphosate and labeling laws.  Or at least have some drinks when I am listening to scientists talk about them. 

May this find you perhaps having one as you read this, enjoying the greening up of the grass as spring slowly, slowly creeps her way into our world for another year.



Monday, May 5, 2014

Farm Update- May 2014

In an attempt to get myself back in the habit of posting at least weekly, this one is just a farm update, rather than a rant on any particular topic.
Firstly, my favorite new farm toy finally arrived the other day and has met all the expectations I had for it.  Out of Ohio, from Gibson Ridge Farm, we bought a 'portable egg washer'.  (Note this is not our video- there are far too many tiny hands involved at our place to ever get a video.)

Currently it sits on top of the double sink in the Dead End, although we're tossing around the idea of setting up it's own sink in the extra storage room of the Dead End that was plumbed for a sink.  Once we have all the new layers in production, it won't be so easy to take over the front room of the packing area.  Anyway, as with all new things, it's fun and it's a fight every night over who gets to do what.  The best work team is Lucy as egg-putter-inner, Mommy taker-outer/inspector, passer-to-Wilson who is the basket man and handles putting the eggs into the basket, to be taken home to get carton-ed up.  Thayne is a keen observer who is not happy unless he is the MIDDLE of the action.  So far, Sol is content to watch from his wagon, but I'm sure that's to be short-lived very soon.
Anyway, our previous washing method was that I would sort through the eggs and pack up the ones that didn't need washing right away, give the dirty ones a short soak and scrub.  Eggs have a protective coating that gets washed off with water, so that's why I've made the effort to not wash any unless we have to.  But with the washer, it's so easy and quick to just put them all through that I can't justify handling them an extra time to decide who needs washing and who doesn't.  Also, the water stream is negligible.  It's more of a drip than anything, but enough to help clean the ones that need it.

Mark is taking advantage of yet another miserable, cold, rain day to work on the moveable pen for the layer hens this summer.  We've tossed around so many ideas for the structure that I'm not even sure what we're going to end up with, but at least he's taking care of the basic frame for now. 
The meat chickens are growing well (as they do) and CSA shares are selling steadily.  I haven't sold quite as many as I hoped to so we're looking at possibly going to a Wednesday Farmer's Market this summer.  It's so hard to tell how much we might sell at a market, so I'm nervous to commit, stop selling shares to ensure we'll have enough, and then not sell enough at the market.  So for now I'm still pushing CSA shares and hoping to get a few more before we have to make a decision about the market.
The big benefit of attending a market this year though, is that it would likely help me increase my shares next year.  

Evidently, given the weather, we don't have anything in the ground yet (nor does anyone else in the country).  Calgary is under snow and in talking to Ontario friends today, they don't have anything planted yet either.  Misery loves company, right?
I guess Mother Nature is showing her might and given what we've all thrown at her over the last couple decades, I'd say she has the right to.  I've recently learned a bit more about hydrolic fracturing and also attended a talk about GE Foods and Round Up so can't blame ol' Mama Nature for being a bit pissed off.

In other farm news, there's not much.  The pigs are outside and the cattle are in their corral, although not out in the pasture yet.  The chicken barn is starting to get a little crowded, since normally we'd hope to be putting some outside soon, but that obviously won't be happening, so we're brainstorming ways of spreading everyone out a bit more while still being able to get water and feed where it needs to go. 
The boys and I build a little sandbox for the birds the other day and it was such a big success we're in the works for another, bigger one.  The hardest part was, and will be, finding nice dry soil to put in it.  ha!

Well, it's good to be back.  I'll be sure to include photos next time and start building a rant for you. :)

May this find you clinging to the sounds of the spring peepers as a sure sign that spring is indeed coming!