Category Archives: miscellaneous

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. 

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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.

 

The thing about sweet peas…

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When I was a little girl, we lived in a rented house with a laundry stand in the back yard. Mom planted strawberries at the base of that stand and turned a broken terra cotta pot upside down in the middle of the patch of strawberries to encourage a toad to come to our garden. I used to climb the 5 or so steps up to the laundry stand and peek over the railing to see if I could spot that toad with a lovely home in the middle of a patch of strawberries. It was lost on me that we likely didn’t have a toad at the time the pot was over turned. We may not have had a toad for weeks afterward, but I was encouraged, every bit as much as our eventual toad was encouraged to be in that garden.
I don’t remember now, if I ever did find that toad for sure, but in my mind, he had a family and brought fat juicy slugs to his wife every evening at dinner time.

I learned from my mom how to be in a garden. How to plan for what will come, and how to be ready for what comes that wasn’t planned. It wasn’t until I was much older that I figured out how well that translates into life.

Mom taught me about sweet peas, too. She knew, like her mother before her, and likely her mothers mother, that planting sweet peas on Good Friday ensures a bumper crop of the tallest, most aromatic, multi-flowered stems. Even if it required the use of a pick-ax to break the frozen ground. Every year my mothers sweet peas were prolific, glorious clouds of perfection. Every year she would take bouquets to friends as hostess gifts, neighbors as friendly gestures, and family whenever she could. Every room would have a small vessel of sweet peas to brighten it, all summer long.
And although this little pearl of wisdom wasn’t really about how you should live your life, it was about living it beautifully, and with grace. And that’s the thing about sweet peas.

I miss my tractor…..

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1951 Ferguson Tractor - the pre-curser to the Massey Ferguson. Man oh Man, I love this tractor!

How is it possible that this born and bred city girl misses her tractor?
I have only used it maybe a dozen times, constant learning curve, all the while my stupidly long legs – the right one specifically – having to bend in weird angles to get the extra stiff clutch to move. Yes, it is a bit of a pain to drive – but WOW! is it beautiful!

It’s home is in New Brunswick, and until the move, I am in Alberta, biding my time, researching all that can be researched about farm animals and growing things. The weather here has been beautiful. The ground is thawing and the buds are on the trees. In New Brunswick it has been about 10 degrees warmer with rain and things turning green. If I were there, I’d have started seeds in the as-yet-to-be-built greenhouse, ordered saplings for planting along the road, and started on barnyard fencing. My beautiful tractor would have started the season with a tune-up and a drive around the fields.

Now, I know that “beautiful” isn’t what farming is based on. I also know that you can produce perfectly respectable, wholesome, natural, GMO free, additive free, hormone free, organic food with an ugly tractor…. or no tractor. But the fortunate opportunity to be able to choose a beautiful tractor to help with the occasional tilling or plowing or pulling before we have found a willing draft horse, presented itself two years ago. I didn’t know the first thing about tractors, but as usual, my gut served me well. I bought it, and the lovely farmer who restored it delivered it to our farm the following evening. Parked it right in the field so I could practice a while before it got dark. He even put some gas in it for me.

This Ferguson has been lovingly restored. It runs beautifully and has been cared-for well. Last summer, we used it to till up the market garden. It was to be 100’x100′ but after 3 hours and some (make that a lot) extremely large rocks were hit by the tiller, and didn’t even budge but had huge gashes in the sides of them along one side of the garden – I decided to be happy with 100′ x 50′ for the first few years. Then I will expand in another direction to save my tiller.

So, as mentioned the tilling took three hours. The rock pulling took three days. I told my son he could make a nickel for every rock he pulled out of there that was bigger than his outstretched hand. It was a hot few days and he worked and worked until I owed him $30.00! I figured, after that, what rocks were in there, could stay in there.

I really think I may be growing rocks. Hope there’s a market for them.


This tractor may help with putting a fence around this market garden. It has a three point hitch and power take-off. I hear there is a power auger that can hook up and dig post holes. It will help with delivering manure from the far side of the barn to the compost heap, then from seasoned compost heap to the garden bins where it will be stored until used. It may even help haul some of the harvest from the pumpkin patch. It may be used for hay rides in the summer, tours of the farm, to bring bales to animals or haul water to the pigs in the lower pasture. It will save my back and help me complete work a whole lot faster.

So although it is a beautiful tractor, it’s not just another pretty face.

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.)

Long winter….

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Usually through the winter I try to fill my time with things that keep my mind occupied and creativity flowing. I had a few projects this winter that came upon me on a whim and turned out not too bad.
I made dolls for the first time and had a blast with those. They needed hair and dresses and jewelry, of course and I had fun imagining them in their adoptive homes with my nieces.

I made pies, bread stix, ice cream, gifts, gained a few pounds, and made it through another winter as easily as if I had indoor plumbing, electricity, and close proximity to the grocery store(which I do). Yup, gotta admire those who accomplish more than that without it!