Sunday, January 18, 2015

Investing in Permanent Infrastructure

I suspect that if a statistician moved into our house to figure out what stirs conversation about the farm between Mark and I, they would find that many times it starts with a discussion regarding a capital purchase.  Mark will present his idea (which by now he has learned to carefully craft before bringing it forward in order to have a much better chance of early positive reception) and I will respond accordingly (which by now I've learned to do very carefully so as not to 'crush dreams' and instead, encourage spirited conversation) and then the discussion will grow from there, spreading to cover anything and everything and often topics that we've been wanting to discuss, but haven't made the time for, or thought of in the quieter moments.
Lately we've been talking a lot about our livestock rotation plans and fitting all the pieces together this coming summer.  With the sows both farrowing, we'll have more pigs than ever and they're past due needing to be moved to a new section, but we've never done a real temporary, or frequently-moved set up for them before, which we'll have to if we want to move them out onto a more established, nice pasture that we want to not tear up too badly.  And the cow needs to move to a new pasture before we get a parasite problem happening there.  And finally, the chickens need to shift around a bit, and perhaps separate the hens and meat birds.  Anyway, many options and much to discuss so that's been on the table quite a bit lately, but doesn't mean we're not talking about those other 'investments' and purchases as well.

Without talking in length about it, sometime in the last couple years, we mutually agreed that while all the wonderful infrastructure in the world would certainly make things easier and many times more efficient, there a couple pieces of infrastructure on the farm that although may be aging, don't need to depreciate so quickly and actually make more difference to the day-to-day operations and overall goals of the farm; it's us.  Mark and I came out of the gate from school, charging ahead at full steam, confident in our knowledge and curious about where it would take us.  With every conference, webinar, magazine and book that we read, it's clear that our own knowledge base, experience and relevant research will be what keeps us competitive.
But we've felt over the last years that we were starting to farm ourselves into a rut.  We had figured out how to do a few things really well and had sort of stopped innovating in a big way.  We are constantly changing small things to make our lives easier, but weren't breaking ground with new ideas, crops, rotations, livestock, value-adding, etc. and immediately recognized this as a problem, given agriculture today and our need to be diverse and 'innovative'.

So Mark enrolled in the Atlantic Agriculture Leadership Program and has been doing courses and traveling over the last couple years.  And then this past fall he went to Ohio to take in the Acres USA conference.  I've been doing lots of bedside table farming, enjoying lots of books and cultivating lots of ideas, but not necessarily breaking any new ground.

We made a leap and an 'investment'.  In me.  I'm going to a Polyface Farms Intensive 2-day Seminar down at the farm in Swoope, Virginia.  In July.

If you haven't heard me talk about Joel Salatin, you haven't spent much time with me, as I've been reading him, watching him and listening to him for years now and implementing parts of his practices in what we do.  I've read most of his books, including Pastured Poultry, Holy Cows & Hog Heaven, Family Friendly Farming, Folks This Ain't Normal, and more.  He's not without controversy, but I think the best minds probably aren't.  He writes like he talks and he speaks with an eloquent passion that makes even his detractors sit up and listen.

Here's an overview of what I've signed up for:
"Two out of every three years, Polyface offers this two-day, six meal (it’s worth coming just for the meals) intensive seminar limited to 30 people in order to maintain intimacy. If you ever wanted to go behind the scenes with the Salatin family, this is your opportunity. We actually process chickens, process rabbits, go up the mountain to see pigs, discuss water systems and road building.

We go to one of the rental farms to talk about mob stocking and land lease options. A silviculture session accentuates good forestry management. We mill a log into lumber on the farm’s bandsaw mill, and talk about adding value to woodlots.

The first evening Joel presents a Relationship Marketing session until dark, highlighting the current techniques the farm and its collaborators use. This is a hands-on, in-the-field learning experience in which the how-to is smothered in Southern hospitality"

 It's not cheap and even though we used AirMiles to book the flights, I recognize the significant investment this is for our business and I am thrilled for the opportunity.  As I said to Mark when I was carefully presenting my idea (haha!) I feel like I could spend a few months in a classroom taking a course, but would still get more out of two days of hands on learning from a farm and farmers whose model I want to emulate, or at least implement many parts of. 

It may not be everyone's dream to travel to Virginia in July to kill chickens, but I am losing sleep I'm so excited (ok,there's so much more than that, but it makes it sound extra funny when I say it that way.).  Am already planning our own chicken killing chicken CSA break around it and canNOT wait. 

So that's my big news. You can relax now Mom.  :)

With this excitement fueling my farming train, I anticipate that my brain will be more awake and will have more to say and will hopefully fuel my blogging train.  

(For those with no background on this you can check out a little information about the farm here :  or just google Joel Salatin and watch one of hundreds of youtube videos of him and the farm.) 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The (Bitter)Sweet Spot...

...between Christmas and getting back into routine again...

Have you heard about our Egg CSA?  It runs much the same as our chicken CSA, except instead of a chicken, you get 2 dozen eggs every two weeks, or more if you've asked for them. 

We currently have the pick up at the Summerside Presbyterian Church (the one beside Three Oaks) parking lot on Thursdays from 4:30-5:30 and the first one for this round is next week (the 22nd) so you're not too late to sign up.  Email Mark at infoATbarnyardorganicsDOTca for more info or to sign up.  This round runs from next week until the end of April.

And since our last CSA ended at Christmas and we skipped a couple Farmers Markets in favour of over-eating and merrying, we've got what you might call a PLETHORA of eggs right now.  I am headed to the Charlottetown Farmer's Market this week and boy am I ready to bargain!  You want 5 dozen!? Sure! Let's see what kind of deal we can do for you!  We'll start with a simple 3 for the price of 2 to get things going.  More eggs than that, lets play a game of "how good of a deal can I give you for a volume purchase!?" 

I have some very exciting news about myself, related to the farm, but I'll share that in another post, to come shortly.
Off to brush up on my current affairs as Mark and I off to defend a title in trivia with my derby team tonight.  #thankgoodnessforCBCorIdbedoomed

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In the Deep Freeze!

And I don't mean our freezers, since those are mostly empty, save for our own chickens, some apple cider and some of Lucy's left-over pet food. 

Speaking of which, prepare for a whole new line of products in 2015 from Lucy's Offal Good Business.  With the recent arrival of a borrowed dehydrator, big things are in motion for some value-added pet treats. :)

I've been wanting to get back at regular blogging for a while now and tonight on a twitter feed I follow called #agchat it was all about 'agvocacy' and how people keep up with trending topics, dealing with negative publicity, etc. and one of the suggestions was just to schedule a regular time each week or month or whatever to 'get it done'.  I often have a ton of ideas in my head that I think, "as soon as I get a minute I'm going to blog that!" but then the moment passes and nothing gets done.  I've been tossing around the idea lately of a new blog with a different focus, but still agriculture-related, and we'll see if that comes to fruition but for now we'll stick with this one and brief update of life on the farm at this moment.

Well, at this moment it's a blustery, icy minus 30 outside, but a toasty 22 inside with our new outdoor furnace chugging away.  Still working out some plumbing kinks, but for the most part, we're no longer fossil fuel dependent (for heat at least- although admittedly, this isn't the winter to be bragging about that with the price of oil dropping. haha).

The sows, Gail and Nancy are cozy in their barn.  We shut the door yesterday to keep the wind out and because they haven't ventured out on their own for days.  And the pigs we're fattening for ourselves, Jillian Jiggs and Bud are out in the straw shelter on the pasture.  I keep worrying they'll be cold but each time I crawl in or make Mark crawl in, it is cozy and dry in there and except for a drink of water now and then, they hardly leave it either, so the pigs have pretty much settled in for the winter, hibernation style.

The cow, Rosie and her calf, Daisy, are in their barn and are happily chewing their cud, no doubt dreaming of tender grass and spring pastures and maybe like myself, wondering if it's true that winter does make us appreciate summer temps that much more than people/cows who live in them all year round. 

The hens and roosters are likely settled into their self-designated, pre-determined spots on their roosts, clucking quietly as undoubtedly, an odd little mouse sneaks in for a snack of chicken feed in the night.  Most of the summer and all winter, we've only had one rooster in with the hens and he wasn't fairing very well. He was great all summer, but I think the girls had less to distract themselves with on the pasture and the winter confines gave them too much time to notice that he was a lone wolf.  I think there were just too many girls for one man and he was looking dejected, spent most of his time cowering on the roosts and huddled in the corners.  His tail feathers seemed shorter and he almost seemed to be trying to disguise himself in the flock.  So when we had the opportunity to get another rooster, I jumped at it, thinking that it might help the balance.  And did it ever!  We now have a gorgeous white, young Chanteclair (sp?) rooster who attracts the ladies like white on rice and it has brought Johnny Cash (our original rooster) right around.  Today he was strutting and crowing and shining and back to his glorious self.  And the pen is huge, so each man has lots of territory for himself and his respective harem, so there's (thus-far) no fights.  It seems as if, for now at least, that balance has been restored. 
We recently toured a farm that sprouts our grain to feed to their livestock and I am excited that we are going to be giving it a go for the chickens.  I think they will go crazy for it and maybe it will help restore a little of that sunshiny golden colour to the yolks that we all miss! 
I will post pictures of that set up once we get going. (First, some furnace kinks to work out.)

Other than that, the grain is all tucked into its bins and tanks and bags and totes and the kids are asleep in their beds and I'm on my way.

If you didn't receive any of the Summerside Egg CSA information for the January-April session, please email us: infoATbarnyardorganicsDOTca for more details.

Looking forward to writing more in 2015.  (More interesting than this one and with more pictures.)