Category Archives: farm animals

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

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Italia!

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I am starting to settle in after our trip, and it’s about time, too. It has taken me nearly two weeks to get back into the groove of being at home. I still have to put away my suitcases, although they are completely unpacked. I still have to finish up that laundry, and get back into the housework swing, but I can’t say I’m “itchin'” to do that. So far, I have just allowed my dogs to sit on my lap and follow me around and walk in the park with them to THEIR heart’s content. I have cuddled my boy and read to him at night and help him with a school project and cuddle some more. This is the part that makes me think going away is a great thing. I don’t think I have had this many hugs EVER – boy or canine!

I did so love Italy, though. The countryside, where we stayed, was breathtaking. I couldn’t capture the scope and depth of the hills in my photographs but, bless me, I just kept trying. I think I have over 300 photos just of the hills in Abruzzo!

San Giorgio Hills, Abruzzo

It is frowned upon to have a monoculture on farms in Italy. Preservation of the soil, of the local plant life and of history is paramount. Most farms are small, with under 100 acres, and plant olive trees, fruit trees, vineyards, and have animals, like ducks, geese, chickens, goats, sheep and maybe even a few cows. Every part of the farm benefits other parts of the farm. It’s no wonder I felt at home there!

I did wash and trim some lovely strawberries for one of our meals there. They are such beautiful berries, with their stems still on, and a few leaves, they are smaller than the ones we normally get in Canada, and redder, and shinier, and oh, so tastier! And once I had trimmed them for the table, there were all these lovely strawberry hulls and leaves and stems that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away – especially with all those beautiful orpington chickens living next door. So I took them over to the chickens, and asked the farmer if I could give this snack to his chickens. He understood not one word of my question and looked at me rather absurdly, until I gestured with a few, pretending to throw them over the fence and his face lit up. “Ci! Ci!” he said. Although this farmer had embarrassingly caught me photographing his chickens on a regular basis, and usually at around 6 or 7am, and tried to teach me how to say “chicken” or “duck” in italian, I was so mortified that he caught me with my camera like some city slicker and the only thing missing was my 5″ heels. I don’t remember how to say “chicken” or “duck” in italian. But, his chickens loved me from that moment on, and I continued to bring them treats.

He had sheep, too. About a dozen of them, and they, more than the rooster, announced the morning for us each day at feeding time. There was one morning when I heard a goat, and I leapt out of bed, looked out the window to see the farmer’s wife leading a doe to be milked. She circled their stone barn to get the milk pail and I jumped into my clothes and ran down the stairs and out into the yard with my camera just in time to see her circling the barn again, doe in tow, to milk on the other side of her barn, on the other side of the fence, and out of sight of me. I must have looked really hopeful at first and then terribly dismayed because when I came back to the house, my honey was laughing and consoling at the same time.

Across the road

Farm name chosen !

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Bouncing about with farm names for the last few years now, and it turns out we have one that works. CLOVER HILL HERITAGE FARM specializing in heirloom varieties and heritage breeds.
I like the feel of that. So when we have our goat herd or our sheep flock they will be registered to our farms name when born. A baby goat born at our farm will be named, for instance, Clover Hill Adam (if we are having our “A” year) or Clover Hill Zola (once we’ve been doing it for 26 generations). Some farms do it this way to easily keep track of the year a goat was born. I don’t know if there is another reason for it – there may very well be – but I suppose I will find out soon enough.
Our huge field (about 30 acres) along side our driveway heading up to where the house will be is covered in timothy grass and red clover. In early June, when all is in flower, the scent is intoxicating. And although that field won’t always be in clover, we will have it planted somewhere because our own clover, timothy and other grasses will be baled for winter feed for years to come, I’m sure.

Back at it…

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Back at it…

It’s been a long while since I posted anything. But today, spring is definitely in the air! I am energized! The sun is shining, I have music rockin’, and I’m supposed to be cleaning out a closet, so of course – now is the perfect time to write.

Looks like this summer we will be breaking ground on the house. I am so excited about this particular part of the development for several reasons, not the least of which is progress. We bought the property 5 years ago thinking that in 3 or 4 years we would be able to move. So, 5 years later and looking at a few more years before the transition, could look like somewhat of a disappointment. But it’s not. This dream has evolved drastically in the last 5 years. We have started down a few paths, planning the farm, that made sense until we really did our research. Now, I am confident that when we arrive and dive into the market garden and filling the barn with small animals, the choices we have made are the right ones for us. It is easy to see why some new farmers can get so overwhelmed. I was, and I wasn’t a farmer yet.

Every summer at the farm starts early in the morning clearing, checking, mapping, repairing, building, moving, planting, and ends late, exhausted. This summer we have barn stalls and fences to build as well as starting work on the house. I am reluctant to plan any more than that given that last summer we felt obliterated by the end of it. I would love to have some time to have my sweetie hang out in his hammock and strum the banjo for a while. Oh, Lord, love that sound!

More decisions have been made about livestock. We have determined which breeds of animals will start on our small farm, and all for specific reasons.
Orpington chickens are the breed of choice because they are a heritage breed that still knows how to forage for food, set chicks, and be around people without being terribly flighty or aggressive. They are considered a dual purpose breed since they produce a respectable meat bird and lay eggs on a fairly regular basis. With the proper lighting in the coop, they may lay all winter. But, honestly, I like them because they are really, really pretty!
You can have a look at a really nice one here http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/chicken-breeds-eggs.html

I have located a farm that will sell me hatching eggs of some of the nicest quality birds I have seen. That sounds like fun, huh?

Also located breeders for alpine goats in New Brunswick and nubian goats in Quebec, so shouldn’t have to go far for some quality herd sires and does. Alpines and Nubians are both dairy breeds of goats, and produce enough milk to make cheese and soap. They are playful and sweet and I can’t wait to have goats!

I have been in touch with a few sheep breeders and one in particular that works with icelandic sheep. I have been following this breed of sheep because of what I have read in ‘slow food’ circles and there seem to be a bunch of foodies that prefer icelandic sheep. Their meat is beautifully marbled without being fatty, mild in flavour, and the sheep are small enough to be handled for shearing without too much difficulty. Their fibre is lovely for spinning, too.

I hadn’t initially thought about having pigs, however I do love bacon! The more I learn about pigs, the more I want to learn about them. It seems that the difficulty in raising pigs comes from confinement issues that wouldn’t arise at our farm. We have a lovely sloping spot with ancient apple trees flanking the edge of the forest as it opens to a small meadow. Perfect for pigs to find shelter under the trees, and wallow in the little valley created by the convergence of two hills. There is a spring pond there until August most years. So, we are torn between Tamworth pigs, which are easily attained in the area, and Guinea hogs, which aren’t. I would prefer Guinea hogs since they don’t get as large as the Tamworth and would be much easier to handle for a first time pig farmer. Maybe I’ll turn up a breeder in the area. Keep your fingers crossed – grass fed pork is delish!

After a few years of cheese making and soap making and getting used to the farm schedule, I hope to have time enough to add a cow or two. I am thinking about scottish highland cows because they are extremely hearty and can exist on low quality pasture (not that ours will be low quality, but it may take a few years of pasture management to improve the soil quality) They are smaller in stature and have wonderful furry faces!

Add to these a few geese, ducks, turkeys and maybe a draft horse, and our small barn will be full. In a few years, we’ll have our schedules down, the market garden in full swing and sippin’ sangria on the porch at sunset.(that is, after we lock up the chickens so they don’t get eaten by foxes, called in the sheep and goats, milked the goats and cows, added bedding to their stalls, fed everyone and closed all the gates – ya,…. then, sangria on the porch… while snoring.)

Your brother’s a rooster

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free rangin'

The latest reading I’ve been doing is about keeping chickens and a breeding program that will ensure genetic diversity. For the small farm flock, this can be a real challenge. You can’t just let your hens lay fertilized eggs, hatch them out and carry on for years that way. If you think about it, after the first year hens are having babies that are also their brothers and sisters. The old Royals know from experience that this can lead to some unpleasant traits.  So, then, how do you make sure that your birds have sound genetic background and continue to improve the flock you have year after year?

Well, there are several acceptable ways to go about this. One way is to make sure that you always have a rooster from outside the farm. Borrow a different one for each new hatching season. Trade roosters with neighbouring farms, if you know your neighbours flock and trust their breeding techniques, or buy a new one from a hatchery every season which will help with the strength of genetic diversity as hatcheries tend to be very careful in this area.

I read one way was to divide your flock into two groups. One group never breeds within their own group. Breed only one group per season. Roosters from group one breed with hens from group two, then the next season roosters from group two breed with hens from group one. This will still result in some inbreeding but it is apparently considered an acceptable amount. I would imagine that years down the road it becomes a non issue and if you had received your starter chicks from a hatchery, the chances of any of them being related to each other from the get-go is relatively small.

Another method is to divide your flock into three groups which will diversify even further. Roosters from group one breed the first season with hens from group two and from then on group one only breeds with group two. Roosters from group two breed with hens from group three – from then on, as well. Roosters from group three only breed with hens from group one. This method eliminates the need to find unrelated roosters, so if you live in a remote location or would like to try your hand at improving your own flock without outside influences, this might be the method for you. I see this method as the most practical for our farm simply because we will be trying to be self sustainable. The less we have to go off the farm for anything, the more efficient our operation will be.

There are other methods of breeding poultry that I haven’t covered here. For in depth information you can check out the websites listed below or contact your government agricultural representative for advice.

http://www.world-agriculture.com/poultry/poultry-breeding.php

http://www.raising-chickens.org/chicken-breeding-methods.html

Travelling with…..

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The date is closing in and I have much to do. My sweetie has finished the trailer walls just in time for several days of rain. We will have to wait for a dry day or two before we start loading.

I have made list upon list of things to take. 1. The 3 gallon antique butter churn with a crank on the side and a spigot to drain buttermilk (will likely be a while before I make that much butter but it was available at a great price and I will use it before market days!) 2. The hammock and banjo for my sweetie to finally relax after so many months of days too long, missing supper, and working weekends. 3. A bed and dresser for the little guesthouse. 4.The bedding, 5. window panels, 6. rug, 7. wash-basin and 8. water pitcher & chamber pot. Yup, that’s right, chamber pot!

Then there is all the equipment acquired in the last few months for jobs at the farm. The chipper for twigs up to 8″ diameter (if you can believe it) and the log splitter!

Yup, that trailer is going to be holding some pretty valuable stuff. Not monetarily, though I suspect it would be expensive to replace, but in “necessary to the goal” and “make my life sooooo much easier” categories, invaluable.

I am sad to report that my travel companion – G – is not able to join me this trip. On the up side, she has landed a wonderful job that she loves and is gaining fantastic experience while making pretty decent coin!  So as sad as I am to not have her with me this summer, I am thrilled for her and look forward to perhaps having the pleasure of her company next year instead.

On that note… meet my new travel companion… Ella

Three feet at the shoulder, she is not fully grown yet. She thinks she is a lap dog.

Ella is our great dane. Surprisingly sweet and gentle unless you show no fear and wrestle with her. Then she will lay you flat with one stroke of her paw. She allows little kids to pull on her tongue and count her teeth, ever so slowly, while she keeps her jaws apart and her mouth dries up, she waits….. till they are done….. which sometimes takes a very… very… long time.  She is a darling dog and a very good traveller. I shall be lucky to have her for company.

Like minded people….

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early morning long shadows

I have had so much feed back lately about all our plans for the farm. Some are shocked that we plan to do all this work at this stage of our lives.  I hear surprise at the initial idea which quickly moves to a level of understanding and then acceptance, then awe.  I am amazed that with all the “wow” ‘s and “that’s fantastic”‘s that there aren’t more people at least contemplating these same things.

The world is in jeopardy, we know this. Our future, our health, our well being are all hanging in the balance. If we don’t figure out how to survive, we won’t.  The only answer, for me, is to find peace in the knowledge I am doing all I can to ensure the survival of my species.  Good healthy food. Clean water. Sustainable agriculture. Happy animals. Use, re-use, recycle, clean up our mess, and make the earth better.

For the last two years I have been doing research about how to do this. How to enrich the soil and prevent erosion to produce the healthiest plants possible. How to rotate crops which will eliminate the use of pesticides by not allowing the little critters that would eat our crops to take up camp in the first place. How to plant heritage varieties that are native to our area because they will be heartier, resistant to diseases, and have the where-with-all to compete successfully with native weeds for an abundant crop of healthy veggies at harvest time.  How to choose the best breeds of animals for our location – ones that can endure our cold winters without frost bite or other cold related ailments and can withstand our summer heat and humidity.  How to shelter those animals appropriately so they are neither exposed for too long or housed for too long. (there are a number of respiratory illnesses that sheep and goats can get if they are left in the barn. Pigs need shelter from the sun but very simple housing) How to ensure these animals are well nourished, allowed plenty of sunshine and pasture, and groomed necessarily to keep them happy and stress free. How to process these animals quickly, painlessly, and cleanly for the highest quality meat.  How to process these animals other products, like fleece, milk and eggs into yarn, cheese and omelettes or new babies!

So, where are all the like minded people?

My daughter’s friend joined us for dinner the other night. She is an Anthropology student and will be heading to Cuba in the next little while to learn about sustainable agriculture. Cuba has been making it on their own for some years now and is leading the world in producing most of what they need on their own soil.  She will be gaining first rate knowledge about how to help this country with it’s own agriculture, the dangers of genetically modified seeds, crops, and animals, and to keep our environment healthy.

She has funding available to her through the provincial government, but in order to access this funding, she will need to find a farmer who could benefit from her knowledge to promise her a job when she returns. This is proving difficult because a guarantee of a job is harder to swallow for some people in this economy.

I know, there are plenty of students who do not have access to funding for their chosen field and do fine with student loans and/or parental support. I just think that when it is something that will do our society a world of good, we should support it.  So, on that note, if there is an Alberta Farmer out there who would like to benefit from the knowledge of sustainable agriculture and the ways of Cuba, make yourself known and I will put you in touch with a terrifically-fired-up-student who would be thrilled to help out! I want to be clear that nothing beyond the promise of a job will be required of you for this to help her.  You won’t be asked for sponsorship or any other financial obligation. Just moral support and a mutually beneficial situation!