It’s been quite a month, quite a summer actually. You will notice none of these pictures show progress or completion on the various house painting projects that are STILL on the go (third summer, sigh). We weren’t idle however. The girls made raspberry jelly at the end of July, the younger girl picked 50 lbs of plums most of which she sold, and she picked a few more pounds for me to make plum sauce and chutney.
The older girl has picked up a job at the deli in the grocery store in the village, but at the beginning of August was still valiantly trying to do farm stuff, work and have a social life. Now that she is getting ready for university in a few weeks, farming has definitely taken a back seat. Her new plan for her little layer flock (no pictures, but they’re beautiful little pullets – Columbian Rocks and Red Rock Crosses)is to raise them to point of lay and sell them on the local equivalent to Craigslist.
The younger girl has been busy too. She’s whittling away at her end of the painting job, she’s almost finished her online math course (Math 11 Pre-calc), and in addition to picking plums, our neighbour (age 86) broke his ankle (fell of a ladder while pounding in a T post for his bean trellis) and asked if he could hire her for the rest of the summer to walk their dog, and do housework and odd jobs. Plus she’s doing the usual amount of chores here. She’s managed to get some time with friends despite all – an evening at the fireworks at Butchart Gardens, and a few Wednesday evenings at the music in the park in the village.
Due to poor planning, just about the time the little layer chicks turned 3 weeks old, the 150 broiler chicks arrived. The brooder got pretty busy. About then, the weather switched on a few degrees warmer, and our problem quickly became keeping the chicks from getting TOO hot. This week, we got the broilers out on the field which is much better. The layer chicks are still stuck inside because their new home is still occupied by the old layer flock (well, 20 of them, hubby and I processed 25 of them a few weeks ago).
The pigs are thriving. Big pig is around 200 lbs, little pig slightly less. We had a fun morning the other day moving the fence together, the pigs and I, so they could have fresh pasture. Let me just say that this is not a good job to share with pigs. They are just way too helpful. However, they have new pasture – with shade, which delights them, and they have been hard at work building a new wallow. This pair of pigs are expert wallow builders. Their wallows have walls, with an edge above ground level. And room for two to wallow comfortably. I’ll have to do a post another time to show you.
From worrying about being able to sell my extra side of pork when a customer who’d ordered a side in January backed out in May (“I thought I ordered a lamb from you”, she said), I now have the much nicer situation of having a waiting list of 3. Wow. And to think my husband was worried that I’d priced the pork too high. The fact is good pork takes time and money to produce.
Around the time the little layer chicks began flying out of their side of the brooder, and the heat was at it’s most intense for the broiler chicks, was about the time the pigs started dumping their water bucket at various points in the day. This was also about the time that hubby and I went on our three day jaunt to celebrate our 25th anniversary. It was a nutso time to leave the farm in the hands of the not exactly idle teenagers. I wrote a 2 page oporder, which I don’t believe they touched. I had back up plans to back up plans for fans and hoses etc for pigs and broiler chicks. I forgot to buy in favourite teen food before I left, but hubby pointed out (on the ferry where I was bemoaning this) that one of them worked in a grocery store for pete’s sake, they won’t starve). The girls managed marvellously, and nature was kind and provided a spectacular thunder storm the first night we were away followed by rain and fog for the next two days.
Hubby and I went to the Olympic Peninsula, staying in Port Townsend for two nights. We spent our first morning up on Hurricane Ridge, which we had last visited 26 years before, the week after we were engaged. Port Townsend was delightful, especially for sailors. Our bed and breakfast (Commanders Beach House) was amazing. I would happily have sat on the porch all day doing nothing, but…there were all these organic producers of veg, fruit and meat, wine, cheese, and cider. So we spent a full day exploring around the Chimacum and Sequim area, nibbling and sipping contentedly. Our favourite stop was Finnriver Cider Farm, where we tasted cider and wandered for a couple of hours. We drove home via Whidbey Island, where I had last been with the Navy about 30 years ago (and didn’t get to go ashore). What a beautiful spot, even in the fog.
The garden got away on me, but tomatoes are flowing into the kitchen, we’re still pulling some carrots, and the potatoes need to be dug. Lettuce has only just started to bolt, and the runner beans are producing like crazy. Some of them might qualify for longest bean at the fair in a week and a half.
Two nights ago, hubby and I were dawdling our way through the evening round of chores, enjoying the cool air and the sunset (this amounts to a date for us :)), when our friend Bryce phoned to see if we wanted to see the combine at work. He was harvesting a field just up the road from us – maybe 3 acres total, of malt barley, destined for Phillips Brewery. Those of you in the Mid-West might think this is not very exciting, but grain growing has been absent from the Island for much of the last 80 years, and Bryce is one of the few people with a combine in our area. We each got to ride around the field with Bryce, learning how the process works, seeing how complex the machine is to run. Very cool. And it put my summer in perspective, because Bryce told us that between hay, wheat, lentils and barley, he and his gang have been harvesting for 80 days straight. In between, making runs to the mill on the mainland to get wheat milled for the local bakery. My days suddenly don’t seem as impossible as I thought.
The Fall Fair is next weekend, Labour Day weekend, and always marks the end of summer round here, as the kids go back to school the next day. It rushed up on me, and I didn’t even realize how close it was till I saw the tents starting to go up the other day.
According to the string method, the largest of my two pigs is currently weighing around 158 lbs. The other pig is slightly smaller, and I didn’t measure her*, but I’m guessing she’s maybe 140 or so. Of course the string method has a little give or take with it, and I only had one piece of string in my pocket (from a feed sack) when I thought of doing this, so I tied a knot for each measurement, which is more or less where the actual measurement point was (you know how a knot never tightens exactly where you want, right?). So with two layers of give and take to this measurement, that 158 is pretty approximate. Still and all, it beats loading the pigs up on someone’s trailer and heading up to the fairgrounds to use the 4-H scale, and then loading up again to come home. It is just way too hot to be chasing pigs around.
*Actually, I finally did measure her, a week later (today in fact), and little pig measured up at around 136 lbs.
I’m trying out the new butcher in our local village this year- Carnivore Meats and More - for our cut and wrap. He already does custom work for hunters, and he’s getting pork and beef from a farm up-Island that he’s cut and wrapping for his shop, but doing custom cut and wrap for a small producer like me with my own customers is new for him. We’re both pretty excited about it, and hoping it works out. Every time he and I have discussed our arrangements, he’s asked how big the pigs are and I’m always pretty vague …”well, you know, they’re only 3 months – maybe 100 lbs? I dunno”, and I’ve told him how big last year’s pigs got. And every time I make a mental note to measure the pigs so I have a better answer. Mental notes aren’t working too well for me these days.
Since my production model hasn’t really changed much (I’m managing pasture slightly better than last year, but that’s the only difference), and they’re getting processed a couple weeks earlier than last year’s pigs were done, I’m expecting them to come in at around 250 lbs. Last year’s pigs were in the region of 285 lbs. Of course, there’s some give and take at work here too – I used the string method last year as well, thinking the slaughter guy would give me an accurate weight measurement when he invoiced me, since he was going to be doing the cut and wrap as well. But it didn’t work out that way. He did the slaughter, and sent the carcasses to a different butcher, who gave me the hanging weight on the 4 sides after they’d received them. Since I don’t really know which two sides went together, I just added the pairs based on how closely they matched, and came out with one pig at 204 and one at 220. If we say that the innards that didn’t come with the carcasses amounted to 50 lbs (give or take), then that puts my string guess right in the ball park – give or take a few pounds.
All of which is to say, these pigs seem to be pretty much on target for growth. They look pretty happy ’bout that, don’t they?
We got the call from Canada Post around 0715, in the middle of feeding pigs and letting out hens, so headed out right away. We got the chicks home by about 0745. By 0815, they were all in the brooder, checking out their new surroundings and figuring out food and water. We always dip their beaks in water when we’re transferring them from the shipping box to the brooder, and it’s also the last time I count them for quite a while. You’re not supposed to count your chickens before they hatch, but let me tell you, they’re pretty hard to count once they’re running around.
We received a total of 78 chicks; our eldest daughter wanted to start her own laying flock, so she ordered 25 random assortment (the hatchery chooses pullets from five different breeds – it’s probably a way to make use of odd numbers left over after large orders), and I ordered 50 Rhode Island Reds. This hatchery usually includes a few extra in case of mortalities, and so that makes our 78. Guessing from the colour of the chicks, my daughter thinks she got about 12 Red Rock Cross (the black chicks) and about 15 Columbian Rock (the big white chicks). There are at least 2 we’re not sure about – one is a milk chocolate colour and one is kind of multi coloured. I guess the chance of at least one rooster should be considered as well.
Looking at these little balls of fluff scooting around, it’s hard to believe they’ll be egg laying pullets in 5 months. Christmas. That’ll be interesting, seeing how they come into lay during the short daylight hours of winter, when hens usually lay very few eggs. That’s something I didn’t really consider when I was ordering them, so we’ll just be back on the learning curve again. Like we’re every really NOT on it.
As true a saying as ever there was…
These pictures show three tractors at work. The youngest guy is working the rake, and Hay Guy and another man are driving the balers. The middle of the big field shows the hay all spread out, the young guy is piling it into windrows with the rake and the balers are following him about one circuit behind each other.
I can see they started much earlier this afternoon, since the far field is already baled. In total we’re looking at about 12 acres of hay here. This was taken around 7pm, shortly after I got home from work, they were finished about an hour later. I’m guessing they’ll haul it off the field tomorrow.
This seemed like the right beer to have with dinner this evening.
I’ve been prepping the brooder for the layer chicks due to arrive this week. All my helpers have abandoned me temporarily because the building made them feel like Ron Weasley:
Frankly, I feel this to be a slight exaggeration…it’s quite bright in there thanks to a few windows, and I had the door open while I was sweeping out cobwebs, but I will admit that I wore long sleeves and jeans instead of my usual cut offs, because really, the number of spiders was ridiculous and the size of about half of them was disturbing. While Vancouver Island doesn’t have much in the way of dangerous reptiles or insects, we do have black widow spiders and a couple of other not very good for you sorts. At one point in the job the sweat trickling down my back made me think the spiders were in my shirt…after an irrational panicky few seconds outside dancing around like a mad thing, I regained my sanity and went and cooled off with a drink of water before heading in to do battle once again.
Not that it was as filthy as all that, actually – I store the pig feed in there, and empty feed sacks waiting for recycling, and I’d already cleaned it out after the broilers vacated last fall. It’s just…well, the amount of dust and cobweb and spiders WAS rather much considering the place was practically empty. Anyway, it’s lovely now, rat proof screen on the window, which is slid open to get some fresh air in there, all the feed bags are gone, and most of the spiders. (not all, a good many scuttled under the moulding around the edge of the floor – this building was the original creamery for the farm but my Dad turned it into a summer bedroom when my Mum was ill so she could be close to her garden. So it has some fancy touches not usually found in dairies or brooders.
It should have been quite simple to set up this space, since I use it as a brooder every year, but I never do things the easy way if there’s a more complicated way to do it. And there is. I’ve got the broiler chicks coming in three weeks. They also need brooder space, and more of it (there are more of them, and they grow faster). The layers won’t be ready to go out on the field at that point, so we’re having to prep a second brooder area in there. It gets better. I only have 2 field pens. I will need both for the broilers by mid August, which is about when the layers can go out too – except that I won’t have a field pen for them. They can’t go to the hen house where they’ll be living once they are laying, because the old layers are still there. The old layers are not supposed to be there, they’re supposed to be in the freezer already, but helper availability and other circumstances have prevailed and the dratted birds are still around. Moreover, the hen house is in serious need of repair (there is a hole in the roof, a hole in the door, and the plumbing has a split, to name a few issues). I really can’t move the new birds in until I’ve repaired part of one wall, the door and the roof. And replace the nest boxes. It’s going to take a miracle or two to get all that done before mid August given the other priorities hanging over me.
I still need to sell one side of pork if I’m going to make any money on the current pair of pigs. I also have to find someone to slaughter them, which is proving tricky. The pigs are supposed to be in their new pasture as we speak, and they are not. So close, but not quite. I need to find time to change their existing electric fence to join the one in the new pasture and I need to do that when the pigs are not helping me, ie when I can lock them in the barn. They are bored right now (nothing left to dig, or chew or tear apart). Bored pigs are trouble waiting to happen, so I have GOT to get onto this job in the next day or two.
Despite what this may sound like, pigs and chickens are not in fact my top priority this summer.
Painting is the number one priority this summer. It began three summers ago and was supposed to be done then. And we’re still at it. And I am determined that we will be DONE with it by the end of this season. It’s going pretty slowly – that helper availability thing again, and the weather – too hot, too wet – never just right. Wasp nests in the eaves. Having to clear brambles enough to get a ladder into one area. And we’re just talking one side of the house. Plus a porch. Actually, we are not talking about the porch if you don’t mind. There were issues with the paint, and I’m not over it. Suffice it to say that it is almost finished and at this rate might be the only thing on the painting list to be finished. Should we by some extraordinary chance get through with the west side of the house as well, then there is the barn to be painted, which has been a priority for more than 3 years. That should be fun. Wasps live IN the walls. Some of the walls want to fall apart and have to be repaired as we go. There are more brambles. And other stuff to do when we’re not struggling with ladders and scrapers and wasps – like pigs and chickens.
Dauntless is not how I’m feeling right now. No, I feel a bit like Ron, actually. Surrounded and overwhelmed and completely regretting what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m trying not to think how much worse it got for Ron – that was near the beginning of the second book out of seven. I take comfort from the fact that he came through it all and emerged battle scarred but successful. I just hope it doesn’t take me seven volumes worth of effort to get there.
Fooling around on the interwebs tonight, I came across a recent video of Joel Salatin that I hadn’t seen before, on a topic he’s really just begun to expound on in the last year or so. Maybe that’s not quite accurate – much of the content of the video is well known to anyone who has read Salatin’s books or seen other video clips, or even heard him at a conference. But putting some of the information together under this one topic heading made a difference in the way I looked at it.
Some points(there were many, these are just a few) that hit me during his talk:
- all the expertise needed to run a farm cannot fit on one torso. A farmer needs to be a mechanic, a salesman, a carpenter, a bookkeeper, etc, as well as being able to handle animals and grow crops. Everyone has skills lacking out of the total package, and needs to surround themselves with people who can help in those areas.
- bundle chores. He pointed out that a farmer needs to make sure there is time in the work day for making progress. If the whole day is eaten up doing chores, the farm will never get ahead. So get efficient with chores, find ways to cut time spent on routine, mundane, repetitive jobs. Don’t allow chores to take more than 4 hours of the day.
- Time and Motion studies. This is old Salatin stuff. 60 seconds to move a broiler pen. 30 seconds to gut a chicken. He’s got plenty of examples. He challenges all of us to know this stuff for ourselves. How long does it take to put eggs away (I think this means once they’re collected, so basically to clean them, box them and store them)? How long does it take to feed, water and move the broilers? etc. We need to know these things so we know how to improve. This obviously ties in with bundling chores.
- Scale. He spent quite a bit of time talking about the egg mobiles, another well known example from Polyface. He describes the evolution of the eggmobile from 40 chickens to 800 chickens and the amount of energy, effort, time, fuel, etc that it take to do both, and why scale can make a huge difference for the farmer. This comes up again in the Q & A near the end, and the answer is worth listening for.
- Margins. There are a lot of middle men in farming. Processing, marketing, distributing, etc. That’s where a lot of the money goes in commodity farming. The more of that part of the industry that a farmer can keep for himself, the better. A small farmer needs to wear more hats. I find this particular point a little at odds with the first thing he talked about – which was leveraging expertise around you, but that might be because both are probably my weak points. He went on to elaborate that margins are also about value adding, finding ways to make every possible part of an enterprise contribute to the bottom line. Even chicken necks and backs.
So with that little summary, I want to credit the Practical Farmers of Iowa, who put on the conference at which this speech was recorded, and who have some great resources for all kinds of farmers. I first learned about them from Ethan Book of The Beginning Farmer, who is an enthusiastic member.
Here’s the video: