How I fell in love with farming and farmers,

I started my little farm 3 years ago now, with an admitted lack of knowledge in farming. I’d been around lots of animals, even lived on a beef farm, but I knew my own farm was going to be a fantastic adventure. And was it ever.

Between the endless late nights checking in the barn for new life, the tender care rendered towards the ill or infirmed, and the learning curve even steeper then I had ever anticipated; I feel completely head-over heels for this work.

I enter the food production system with my own ideals of how animals should be raised, and a number of which I still hold; but what I found was a deeper respect for the people who give their entire lives over to farming, and the endless toil that comes with it.

Now don’t get me wrong, the work in amazing. To be outdoors in the fresh air and on soil you can stick your hand into and call your own, there isn’t anything like it in the world.  It’s not something I would give up for anything, to be able to raise my children with an intimate knowledge of where their food comes from and with such an integral connection to this community.

I have learned the sorrows of losing a favourite animal, the joys of seeing new life, the pride of putting well-received food on to tables, and the frustrations of dealing in bureaucracy.

What I never expected was to have forged indelible friendships with my “coworkers” across the country and beyond. Hardworking, humble, open, giving and welcoming; the pastoral vision of the farm may no longer be a reality, but it lives on in the hearts of those who grow our food. From the smallest farms, to the largest commercial animal operations, no one does this for the pay-cheque; they do it because it’s in their blood.

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Jump Start on Spring Chores

2C is absolutely insane in Ottawa (we’re zone 5b) it should be -20c, or less with the wind chill. So I took full advantage of the warm weather on Monday since hubs was home to watch the kids (holiday).

 Why my muscles hate me today!

The deep litter worked quite well, in some areas more the others. There was a lot of build up under the water buckets, but that’s also were the litter was the most decomposed. I think for next year I’ll water the litter and see if that helps it along. I’m also trying to think of a way to add some worms to the litter (since we can’t have any come up through the dirt, it’s a concrete floor) but the chickens will just eat them all.

 The goats are “helping” again. 

We got all these wood-chips from hydro when they trimmed back all the trees around us. Be careful what you wish for because we ended up with 3 giant piles! The ones of the farthest left and right are great, very nice chips. The pile in the middle has a lot of greenery in it, so it’s composting and steaming quite a bit.

It was the middle pile I used for the chicken coop, mostly because I needed to break that pile up before the wood chars.

The goats are quite happy to help clear out the pile, judging by my “goat pruned” trees around here, they really love a little evergreen in their diet.

This is the first time I’ve walked into the chicken coop and thought it smelled really good! The chips are mostly cedar so it’s quite nice in there. The chickens seem very happy with their new bedding, and I really quite like it as a flooring too. Maybe not quite as warm as the straw that was down before, but we’ll see. It’s already composting well too so it’s warm just from that.

Happy Chickens
And because that wasn’t enough work

I also removed the 1-2′ of deep litter from the pig pen. That was a lot of work. Lots & lots of very wet and composting straw and old hay. Plus I started just before their dinner time I was navigating very heavy fork-fulls around annoyed goats.

I used the mostly chip pile to fill up their pen with just a few inches of bedding. Pigs are so clean I can easily scoop out the back 4″ of their pen every now and then over the summer to keep the whole pen clean. Then I threw some hay into the sty for them to make a new bed for themselves. They seem to eat quite a bit of the hay as well as sleeping under it, so I really think it’s a good thing to keep giving them and they only take a few flakes a week.

Regular maintenance

What an impressed chicken
looks like
All better

I try to throw a little hand-full into the nest boxes at least once a week, but eventually the poop builds up and I have to clean them out completely.

You can get your chickens to stop sleeping in the nest-boxes by cutting off access to them over night. I’d rather clean them out every now and again then get up at 5am for a few weeks to open their nests back up before they wake up.

That’s why they are pooping in the nest boxes, because they are sleeping in them.

So when I start getting overly dirty eggs in the house it’s time for a big clean out. It’s gross, and messy but the girls always appreciate the effort.

I just scoop what in the nest boxes out onto the coop floor, then the next day I’ll make sure to throw a little feed on top, so the girls mix it in to the rest of the bedding very quickly.

Love it when a plan comes together!!

Up in the rafters is really where
turkeys want to be

Friday during the snow storm the turkeys went out on a little walk, and decided it was so slippery they didn’t want to go back to the coop; and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Now that the turkeys have moved into the barn I’ve got a whole little “bachelor pad” area to keep Jr. Roo in. Then I just add in the hens I want to breed & voila!

Moved right on in!

We’ll have to find a spot for Uggo, he’s still not big enough to make a meal out of (and maybe at this point he never will be); but he’s almost old enough to breed so I want him away from the ladies.

Ever seen a Rooster smile before?
He’s pretty happy!!

The turkey are happier way up high in the barn rafters anyway; it’s closer to where they would naturally roost in trees. Of course they decide this after I finally figure out the perfect system for keeping their water running.

The chief-in-resident is not quite as pleased
but he’s still got his huge harem, so not much to
complain about!

Junior Roo is very happy with the changes. I’ve given him the for marran ladies (he is a cuckoo marran himself), the BPR and the 3 black stars. In a couple weeks when they’ve flushed out all of Big Nasty’s sperm we should have some eggs I’d really like to hatch.

Course it will still be mid-winter, so that may have to wait a while longer.
Ladies weren’t too pleased with the catch
and release, but they seem to like their new digs okay.

Chickens, Litter & the Cold

Although it’s been incredibly mild again this week & the chickens have actually been spotted outside the coop!

Since the weather turned and the snow started to fall the chickens haven’t wanted out. I leave their door open half way so they can go out & play in the snow. We’ve had no takers (not a track in the snow!).

So, since we’ve gone for the deep litter method, to keep the chickens from getting ‘bored’ at dinner time I fill up their feeders with layer food but then throw some cracked corn around.

This does a few things, one is that it makes sure the little guys get dinner too (they’re doing very well in the coop!). It also helps prevent squabbles over dinner because everyone can space themselves out and either eat at the feeder or off the floor.

Lastly it gives all the chickens something to do for the day. They pick off the top layer of feed but then they’ll start scratching around through the litter looking for the last little bits. This also turns our lovely deep litter compost regularly.

The turning helps keep the bacteria aerated as it breaks down the litter so the chicken coop doesn’t smell (the turkey front does, but the back doesn’t). As well as preventing the litter from getting really packed down in high-traffic areas (which will also make it easier to clean in the spring).

Bachelor Pad

The turkeys go out for a bit every day, and run around and make funny tracks in the snow, then come back in. They don’t peck and scratch at the litter like the chickens do so I’ve found the deep litter isn’t working as well for them. Uggo (the cross billed chick) and JR-Roo are living with them, and just the two of them isn’t enough to turn up that space properly. So I’m at a bit of loss of what to do with them.

Water, Water, Everywhere

And all of it frozen solid!

After spending $40 each on heated water buckets I wasn’t overly pleased at the goats pulling the cords out of the wall so their buckets would freeze anyway!! (Plus major fire hazard). Luckily I bagged myself an electrician, all fixed.

Surv always runs over to
be the first to have a nice long
clean drink

The only problem with the cord running under the board is when the goats poo in their water, as they do every freaking day!! I have to pour their bucket into another bucket to take it outside, but it’s a minor inconvenience for having running water for them.

The chicken water was less simple. The waterer itself cost us about $70, funny thing is we can also buy a heated base for it for another… $70. The layer birds do not make enough money for us right now for those kinds of investments.

(In fact I have about 8 full cartons of eggs in my fridge right now I can’t sell because our front steps are not evenly spaced/way to slippery; so unless I want to go stand out beside the road & flag cars down, I’ve got to wait until spring/new steps.)

So using the extra small water bucket we purchased, I rigged this up.

Okay, it looks ridiculous, but works quite well. I had to raise the bucket up so the cord would reach, then create a ramp so the chicks could get to the water, then there are bricks IN the bucket. Hopefully if a chick does fall in, they can get back out. They’ll probably freeze to death from being soaked, but at least they won’t drown. (Let’s just hope they don’t fall in!!)

Speaking of things that are fixed, weeks of nagging finally paid off and the back doors of the “goat section* ” are finally extended to fill in the area they were heightened.

*I’ve given up and we’re no longer calling it the horse section since the horses are never in it & the goats always are.

Business Cards

So I had designed some very simple, but nice enough looking cards on the computer using LibraOffice. Then ran out and bought some card stock from walmart, not expensive either. So we were going to be able to produce our own business cards for a few cents plus my labour. Then I learned something about my laser printer… this model has a problem, you can’t print on card stock, the ink rubs off. Which is especially bad with business cards, since they go in your pocket or wallets, outs were blank in a few weeks.

So some friends suggested we try Vista Print, and I’m so glad we did! I’d rather have gone with a local print shop, but the prices were not reasonable for our tiny business; and the big box store prices were just insane. I mostly like vista print because I was able to upload our logo with no problem.

We got 250 business cards, glossy, colour, with a map on the back for under $40 including shipping. I’ve got about half a dozen that aren’t any good out of the bunch (wrong shade/off-cut) but for the price I’m not complaining. These cards look more professional then the ones I made, and I feel like a real business handing them out to people.

Vista Print also does tons of amazing stamps, stickers, shirts, really inexpensively (The car decals were really tempting!). It was pretty difficult just to order the business cards and not get anything else, but I wanted to see how it looked in print first.

We’re going to look into having some cloth grocery bags made to go with our beef quarters, but I haven’t been able to find a company that can do them at a reasonable price. Maybe I’ll just buy an ink-jet and go with iron ons, we’ll see (and suggestions more then welcome!!).

Ah! Winter…

The best way to convince goats to come in the barn… lock them out!

We had a bit of freezing rain all day so the horses are in the barn warming up, it’s also supposed to rain again in the next few hours then clear overnight. So they’ll stay in until about 10pm then they can go back out.

I let the ducks out, but the chickens stayed in the coop all day & I can’t believe how much warmer it is in there! Because we only have people & not “chicken” doors, the doors stay open most of the day & the chickens go outside & running around. Looks like I’ve got really good reason to keep them in on really cold days (when they don’t really want out anyway). It’s nice our coop is so big they can still run around when locked in.

The de-icer that got left here by former owners works great! This thing was frozen so solid this morning I had to get a rock, about 2 hours later & it’s clear! Beautiful, saves me from having to buy one.

This hose on the other hand… is not coming out until Spring. It was really muddy and warm one day (and one of the cows must have stepped on the hose, it’s DOWN there!) and then froze solid the next day. I’ve tried buckets & buckets of boiling water, but it is stuck.

The Joys of Winter…
At least all the mud is gone!

Got another talking-too

Every time I think we’re doing okay we get a visit (or in this case a quick call) from our favourite farmer, and the both of us get a butt-kicking over something!

And every time we do I’m appreciative of the advice, feel like we’re learning and thankful to have someone that’ll kick our butts before we do something really stupid! After all, the man has been farming his entire life, we’ve been doing it for 4 months.

Those things are darn heavy!

This time it was the hay bales, we turned all ours up so the animals wouldn’t be able to push them around very easily. WRONG! Turning them over on their side means the rain will run off them instead of soaking into them. Which I wish I had learned before the last week of rain! I spent about 2 hours trying to push them over, and got 6 or 7 on their sides, the others are soaked.

One of the things I probably should have asked before we bought the cows, were things along the lines of “what are they?” “what are they bred too?” “how old are they?” etc. … We didn’t do any of those things! But we trust the Farmer quite a bit, and knew he was going to pick out some nice ones for us (he was our landlord for 3 years). Plus the Wiggins stock is pretty well known for being great cows.

Gertie (LimoXSH) & Steak

So I learned Burger & Steak are pure shorthorn, which is great. What is even more exciting is that Hilda & Gertie are bred back pure shorthorn for next year! Which means if Hilda gives us a cow-calf we’re definitely keeping it! Also the Farmer has a shorthorn bull for next year too so we’re going to organize a little visit for Hilda & Gertie (and Hilda & Gertie Jrs) back to the farm next spring. Give our pastures a little rest (which is great because I was worried about no-inner fences & keeping the cows off the grass early when it’s wet), and get them preggers again for another year.

Hilda & Burger
(shorthorn)

Burger is going in quite soon, Nov 7th or 8th with some of the Farmer’s cows. Which means we’re weaning them next week, probably on the 6th. That means I’ve got to get my butt moving to get some hay out into the sacrifice paddock, and I’d like to start feeding the little guys some treats in there. Then we’ll lock Burger & Steak in that little paddock and Hilda & Gertie out. At least that is the plan.

Luckily the Farmer also as an RFID tag for Burger for us, which is great because we didn’t know a thing about that until 2 weeks ago when he told us…

Sometimes we’re so lost & clueless it’s funny even to us. Everyone’s gotta start learning somewhere, right?