I’ve moved!

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Well, I did five and a half months ago. 

June 27th, my sister-in-law and I drove up our driveway in two separate cars. One with two great danes inside, pulling a trailer, and a smaller one packed to the hilt with boxes and bags. My husband had undergone hip surgery just a few weeks prior to the move, so he was left at home to catch a flight later in the month. We left Calgary just two days after the most devastating flood on record for that city. Zoo animals had been discovered in their pens with water up to their shoulders, and had to be moved to the city jail, on the bottom floor of the courthouse. I can’t even imagine how they got them there. Trucked, I assume, but every time I think about it, my mind pictures giraffe and hippopotamus together on a leash walking into the heart of the city to their new digs. 

The city was devastated. Roads closed. People lost their homes. Some, who lived along the river, lost half their property as well. So tragic. Thankfully we lived up on a hill in the south of the city and our home was intact. We had loaded all of our belongings into a shipping container, that was to be picked up in a few days and trucked across the country to the farm, where it would sit until our house was built. We packed up the two cars, and said goodbye to my husband, and drove for six days. 

Now here, relieved, tired and happy, we set up the trailer – a 35 foot travel trailer that would be my home for the next five months. 

Hubby came out for 4 weeks, and worked non stop, sometimes with his crutches and sometimes from a ladder without them, and amazed us all with his tireless work and good humour.  Image

Almost immediately, I started picking up our animals. We started with Turkeys, Guineas and Chickens, and installed them in barn pens. One turkey hen got a cut on her back during transit and had to be separated from the others for a few days. Turkeys are very flock oriented so this was likely way harder on her psychologically than it would have been to keep her with her friends, but it was imperative for her survival. Turkeys will stand on the backs of weaker, sicker, smaller birds until they are dead, so I couldn’t risk leaving her in there overnight. She was separated out, with her wound cleaned with warm water and treated with a little tea tree oil ointment and kept with her own food and water for a few days. We kept her small pen close enough to the other birds so that she could hear them. I thought this would make her feel less lonely but I don’t really know if it helped or hurt, since every time they called, she got anxious and fidgety.  

 

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The guineas are amazing birds. Louder than I expected them to be, they sound the alarm when anything out of the ordinary happens. And when you are a flock of guineas and you move to a new farm before you are 8 weeks old, everything is out of the ordinary. Five and a half months later, moving in or out of the barn to free range around the farm is event enough to start them off, and this happens daily. Twice. There hasn’t been much physical change in the guineas since they first came here, except that they are bigger. The turkeys, however, changed drastically! They went from extra tall looking chicks, to huge beasts that regularly tried to swallow the others head. Four out of our seven turkeys turned out to be male, and the fights were endless. After 20 weeks, and not quite the weight gain we had anticipated, it was no kindness to keep these turkeys around any longer. They each looked like prize-fighters every morning.  These were Eastern Wild Turkeys, and while domestic turkeys are fairly docile and even friendly if raised from chicks, these maintained their flighty suspicion of people, whether they brought food or not. It became increasingly harder to go into their night-time pen to check water or food. All that had to be done prior to letting them in at dusk. The toms were becoming mean and increasingly aggressive. It was time. 

My husband had left to go back to Calgary, as he still had commitments at work, and would come to join me at the beginning of December. This meant I was alone at the farm to handle all these chores.

I checked around for a local processor. I had always planned to take care of processing myself. After months and months of getting up at dawn to bring clean water and organic feed, checking several times during the day to make sure they hadn’t knocked over the water, or run out of food, rounding them up nightly to make sure they were safe from predators, it seemed wrong to trust someone else to end their lives quickly and without pain. I had helped a friend with her chickens just a few weeks before, so I knew I could do it, but our equipment hadn’t arrived yet, and neither our barn or myself were prepared to do this task alone. I found one who could take the birds the very next morning, so I put a clean large pen in the back of the truck, took food away from the birds and gave them plenty of clean water, then set my alarm for 5am so I could get the birds into the truck quickly while they were still kinda sleepy. If you turn turkeys upside down while they are still sleeping, they tend to stay sleeping. This was the theory, anyway, but after you have grabbed the first two, the rest wake up and figure out something is amiss. It gets harder to catch them, and they seem to get heavier. I tried to grab the heaviest birds first and leave the lighter ones for last, but after 3 or 4, you just grab what you can and get it done.  They calmed down in the pen and were almost back to sleep when I got in and drove the 25 minutes down to the processor. I slid their pen out of the back of the truck, and left them there with a guy named Brian who promised to have them clean and ready for me by 4 o’clock. The facility was clean and organized. He commented on how good my turkeys looked. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but then he took me inside their bay to another pen where there were turkeys waiting. The turkeys I saw, looked battered and dirty, like they had been living on top of each other for months. They likely had. Our turkeys and clean feathers, beautiful proud stances, nice looking feet. I understood. Ours were healthy majestic birds. I felt happy that our turkeys had lead healthy lives. They free ranged for bugs, grass, clover and got plenty of sunshine and exercise. 

I picked them up at 4 o’clock. Clean, chilled and in shrink wrapped bags with the weight stamped on the label, for $13 per bird. 

Critters – good and bad – and vice versa

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Long absence from writing, it seems. 

Odd that I set up this blog to record the happenings at the farm, to go through the steps methodically and with care. Well, we all know how that kind of plan turns out, huh? 

It seems that when ever I get to doing, the recording of the doing gets lost. I must vow to do better if I am ever going to be able to look back to see where I was. 

The trip to the farm this year was both less than expected and more. On one hand, the weather was beautiful all the way there. 7 days on the road and each of them spectacularly warm, clear and heavenly. Once we arrived, the weather was warm, clear and heavenly, also.

Our drive up to the farm from the main road had the last of the spring lupins covering the ditches, and finally, after years of looking for it, Queen Anne’s Lace bloomed everywhere! Black Eyed Susan’s, Wild Echinacea, Wild Strawberry, Chamomile, all over the meadow…. and the Lavender I planted last year is three times the size it was. All buildings looked intact and untouched. The paths from last year, grown over. My make-shift clothes line, still hung where I left it, paler but strong enough to hold. 

On the other hand, the trip had its challenges. We were driving in two trucks, pulling two trailers. One carrying two Seadoo’s (for exploring the St. John river – yeah!) and the other carrying furniture, a painted mexican sink bought at a flea market to add to a cabin yet to be built, bicycles, boxes and suitcases. 

The first truck’s engine blew about 400km out, and with 3600km yet to go. I had to turn back, drop the trailer I was carrying and head back to pick up poor stranded hubby, two great danes and the other trailer. Then wait the better part of a week until we figured out what to do. Repair the broken truck or start fresh with another? Okay, another. 

Once at the farm, although all looked okay, we quickly discovered mice. Lots of them. Everywhere. They had cleverly migrated an entire 10lb bag of birdseed through a hole in the bottom of the bag and off the shelf where it had been placed, down two shelves, up under and through a hole in the underside of the 35ft travel trailer where we live when at the farm. That hole lead into the cupboard under the bathroom sink and they had stockpiled all that birdseed. There the babies were born. I’m guessing hundreds of babies.

New nests were started throughout the trailer – in the master mattress, under the oven, directly under the kitchen sink, and in a side cupboard. It looked like several sites were tested and abandoned as well, atop the bunk in the back of the trailer, each kitchen drawer, the tub. 

That first night was spent at a hotel. The next morning the work began. Everything had to be pulled out of the trailer, washed, disinfected and put back. We bought a washing machine to hook up in the barn, the mattress was replaced, all bedding, towels and wash cloths were laundered in very hot water. Days were spent cleaning and organizing. The smell of the damage was unending. 

Back to the good, though, we had babies. Not the mice! Heaven’s NO!  Baby chicks!

We have had a longstanding relationship with our builder, who started out as the builder of our workshop, became a friend and the builder of our barn, and now a dear friend of our family, and his family will come to visit while we are there. His young wife, Christy brings brownies, or cinnamon buns when she comes, and I always offer tea or cookies for her kids. Christy has been trying her hand at raising chickens for her family (they have 4 children) and has had a bit of bad luck this year when some kind of animal got them. She came home one day to find all her chickens dead, and her rooster pulled to bits as what ever it was tried to drag him out from under the edge of the coop. I’m guessing it was a weasel or a fisher that got them as a fox will take one chicken and leave, usually. Weasels and fishers tend to kill for sport. 

Christy replaced 6 of her chickens with some from the feed store but was left with whatever had not yet been picked up with an order.  She had one leghorn, a few red stars, and another few hybrid chickens bred for meat. All were okay, and healthy but not really meant for free range foraging, as that instinct had been bred out of them, and not likely to sit on eggs to hatch them – another instinct bred out of them. So she was looking for a breed that would go broody and hatch out a few eggs so she’d have babies next spring. We discussed a few breeds that might work for her. 

Later that day I was thinking that the likelihood of Christy being able to find a specific breed was not high. Christy and her family are Mennonite and don’t have access to internet, so unless one of her brethren raises that specific breed, she’s out of luck. 

I got on to http://www.kijiji.com and started looking. I found a man not far from us, in Hartland (home of the worlds longest covered bridge) and called him to see if I could stop by that afternoon. His chicks were beautiful, bright eyed, buff orpingtons, a heritage breed that forages well, lays well, and occasionally go broody to hatch eggs. They were about 6 weeks old, and at that stage, it’s almost impossible for an unskilled person to tell the difference between girl and boy chickens. They can be sexed by checking the shape of their vent (again, to a skilled eye) but it’s not as simple as one is female and one is male. There are 15 vent shapes and I have no clue which belong to which sex. As they get older – say about 3 months old – you can usually tell the sex by the shape of the feathers. Males have longer pointer feathers, while females have shorter rounded ones.

These were good looking chickens, though, and I took 9 of them (expecting that roughly half would be roosters), with the intent of handing them over to Christy after a week or so of quarantine so I would not inadvertently infect her flock. I set them up in our coop, with lots of dry timothy grass on the floor (about 5″ of it) and a few branches for them to use for a perch and they were snug in no time. Each morning I soaked their feed in warm milk and brought them fresh clover and greens from the yard. These were happy, happy chicks and Christy was thrilled! Maybe next year, when we are back at the farm, Christy’s chickens will have hatched their own babies, and I’ll get my chickens from her. 

I loved having them there for those two weeks, though. At night, I would take a flashlight and go peak at them sleeping. They would be all huddled together in a pile on the floor, peeping quietly in their sleep, like little chick snoring. It was adorable. During the day I opened the door wide and allowed the small fan to gently circulate the air above them. They would chase each other, stop, lower their heads as if about to charge, then fly up at each other with their claws reaching for each others. I know they were play fighting but it always just looked like a chicken “high five” to me. 

Those chickens should start laying their own eggs sometime in November.

 

Silly Robin. Silly me.

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This morning, I have been doing some research online from my wonderful cozy easy-chair, looking into courses offered by our local agriculture college. “Shepherding 101″ , “Introduction to Sheep Nutrition”  and “Lambing Fundamentals 101″. I am so excited!! Only one bit of pause came when the description of “Lambing fundamentals 101″ said that they use live and sometimes dead lambs for demonstrations. Ick. But science is science, and I’m game anyway. Where do I start? Sign me up. 

Meanwhile, as my warm, cozy easy chair sits facing my big picture window, looking out into the front yard and before that, my porch, I notice a robin hopping along the railing of the porch. Back and forth he goes and I find this little guy, or girl (I must say, I don’t know if it is the male or the female robin who makes the nest) has picked out a spot on the railing for his/her nest. Now, I’m not saying this is a terrible idea, but as I write this there are roughly 8 children under the age of 12 playing in the front yard just beyond the schubert tree. They haven’t noticed this little bird, yet, and it seems the robin has not yet noticed all of these kids.

I may have mentioned before that I have two great danes, one of whom steps up onto the love-seat directly in front of the window and watches what’s happening in the neighbourhood. I won’t say which one, but she’s the bad one. 

This little robin has not yet noticed the dog, either 

Then there is the front door, about 1 metre away from the new little nest. Not that any of us would go near it. I have taught all my kids that nests are to be respected and never to go near and most especially never touch a nest. But that door, opening and closing, sometimes with a slam (we do have kids living here) could startle young birds out of their wits if not their feathers. 

So, I admit that what I did next was pretty much of out of the realm of practical. I cut paper towel into long thin strips and left it on the little table directly in front of the railing where this silly little robin was building a nest. Image

It, of course, wasn’t long before I noticed some of these little strips showing up in the nest. I guess if you are a lazy robin and don’t want to find a precarious fork in a tree branch, want to see the neighbourhood without having to be so high – maybe even a little afraid of having your nest to high in the tree, and have found a flat, sturdy spot, out of rain and wind and cats, paper towel cut specifically for your needs could seem like a great idea. And maybe it will be. It seems I am every bit as silly as this robin. 

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Rain, rain, go away, come again after about three weeks.

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Garden Elf, reminding us to not take life too seriously.

This is my garden Elf. He was given to me by my mother about 6 years ago. He makes me smile when ever I see him. As I get ready to head to the farm, I know this little guy will help me from getting that overwhelmed kind of crazy that usually envelopes me at this time of year. I had better take him with me, too.
The countdown has started! In a little under three weeks the voyage begins. So, as usual, there is much to do. This year we will take two vehicles, packed to the rafters, and two trailers. I believe I get the easy end of things as I will be taking my son and the trailer with two seadoo’s on it, and my sweetie will take the one full of everything else…. and two great danes. But what we pack in the cars and trailers isn’t really what makes the trip difficult, it’s the weather.

Shredded tarp

Barn underwater


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Last year in particular was a very long drive. Over three thousand miles through Canada and the United States during some of the worst rain, hail, and flooding in memory. Roads were closed or about to be closed. Detours all over the place. Tarps ripped to shreds and the trailer carrying water like a giant bucket. And worse…houses and farms lost. Crops washed away.
What do those poor people do when the livestock has to be moved to temporary housing, or worse, drowned. Their crops are wasted and will have to be replanted if and when the land dries out and if there is time for it to grow then. Buildings completely under water or damaged beyond repair. How do they cope? My heart was sick for these poor people.
On we drove for 9 days, it rained and rained. In places the highway was the only land for a quarter mile or more on either side of it. I have never felt such unease, knowing that if the water got just a little higher, the highway would be washed away and there would be no where to retreat. Helpless. It was a feeling that stuck with me, too. It wasn’t a feeling that would inspire one to action as there was no action that would have made a difference. There was panic, and then there was a form of serenity, because there was nothing that anyone could do. It was unlike anything I have felt before.
The feeling at the farm, when it rains is different. I am grateful the farm is located halfway up a large hill in the Appalachian mountain range. When the rain falls there, it is welcome, needed moisture and it is restful and serene but you don’t have to go through chaos to get there…unless you are driving.

The barn in the rain

Marshmallows

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I never used to like marshmallows. They seemed unnatural to me. I didn’t trust the white powdery substance that covers their weird cylindrical shape, and they taste funny. Okay, maybe not ‘funny’, just like sugar.
I get that roasted marshmallows are popular. I get that they are an absolute necessity if you are making s’mores, and I’m not bad-mouthing them without an ingenious solution to what I perceive as the problem.

Marshmallows bought from the store are, in variations, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Dextrose, Modified Corn Starch, Water, Gelatin, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (Whipping Aid), Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color (Blue 1), and sometimes other trace ingredients, flavourings etc. But, in order to make them, you really only need 4 ingredients. Two more if you want to make them fancy. Gelatin, sugar, corn syrup & vanilla. That’s the basics, but you can cover them in toasted coconut and flavour them with pure almond extract, or keep the vanilla and dust them with a wonderful dark cocoa, yum! Or flavour them with Sambucca and float them in your hot chocolate! Or peppermint, and roll them in crushed candy canes!! Okay, so now, you guessed it, I love ‘em!

Cocoa dusted marshmallows before they are cut.

Recipe below:

Marshmallows
Prepare your pan approx. (8 x 8 for a nice thickness of marshmallow) by dusting with icing sugar, or cocoa, or toasted cocoanut, or your desired covering for your marshmallow. It will need to be thick enough that the marshmallow mixture won’t soak through and stick to the pan, or you will have trouble getting it out of the pan once set. Set aside.

4 envelopes unflavoured gelatin dissolved in 3/4 cup cold water in a large bowl, or the bowl of your mixer.
3 cups sugar and 1+1/4 cup light corn syrup placed in a saucepan and brought to a boil for 5 to 10 minutes until it reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer or forms a ball when dripped into cold water.
With hand mixer or table mixer going at low speed, whisk small amounts at a time of the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture gradually turning the speed up higher and whipping once all syrup is added. Mixture will become very thick. Add 2 tsp vanilla (or other flavouring) and keep whipping until mixture cools and becomes difficult to stir. Mixture will be glossy. Scrape all of mixture into your prepared pan with a spatula and quickly dust the top with whatever coating you have on the bottom of your pan. Set aside to dry for at least 3 hours. Remove from pan and cut into squares. Dip cut sides into your coating and set on a plate to dry for another hour or so. Enjoy!
Tip: Martha Stewart doesn’t coat hers in anything – so she brushes the pan with oil, lines it with parchment up the sides, and brushes that with oil, too, to avoid a sticky mess. So, if you want to do as Martha does… do as Martha does! Her recipe is a little different than mine, but I bet it will still work.

COOKIES!

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K – so – this blog is supposed to be about “home made” life, and I haven’t posted hardly anything about ‘home’ making stuff because once I get into it, I forget to take pictures and/or just get SO lost in the creative juices I drown. 

But today, I blogged a bit this morning, and then decided to make cookies so the blog was still in the front of my mind. I need to get better at this before I hit the farm next month! So. I took pictures. And I made cookies. Yay me!


This recipe has been in my family for ages. The great thing about this cookie, aside from the fact that it is likely the most delicious chocolate chip cookie you have ever tasted, is that it makes 10 dozen cookies. And, if you don’t want to make 10 dozen cookies, just put the remaining cookie dough in the fridge or freezer until you DO want to make 10 dozen cookies.
My mother used to make all of them all at once, and freeze the cookies in bread bags. I remember my dad would eat them frozen with his coffee.
I have adapted it a little, just to use as many organic ingredients as possible, but I gotta say, it is almost impossible to get organic coconut where I live, so sometimes I don’t use it.
Not hard to understand why the recipe is called “Lotsa Cookies”

2 Cups butter or Margerine
2 Cups sugar
2 Cups brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 Cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, peanuts)
2 Cups coconut (unsweetened is best)
2 Cups oatmeal
2 Cups bran flakes (any brand)
2 Cups crispy rice cereal (any brand)
12 oz chocolate chips (who are we kidding? I usually double this)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
4 Cups flour (I use all purpose organic)

If you have a large mix-master, it helps, but otherwise just wash your hands really well and get in there mashing and squeezing it all until it is mixed together.
Bake at 350 degrees for roughly 10 minutes (depending on how large you make them) They should be slightly browned around the edges. Enjoy!!