New Life

It’s been a while.

Our busy season has begun.  Pigs came 2 weeks ago, broiler chicks came today, layer chicks come next month.

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Youngest daughter, back from her building project in Nepal (the picture was taken during the Holi festival in Bandipur), is graduating from high school at the end of this month, and all those years of school activities, volunteering, meetings, etc will be done.  Her?  Yes, she’s pretty pumped about being finished with school, despite being academically inclined.  New involvements will no doubt arise, but I’m not going to borrow trouble just yet.  And yes, we have the dress (gorgeous), the shoes, the hair appointment, the tickets for the ceremony, the dinner/dance and the dry aftergrad…if we’ve forgotten something, don’t burst my bubble now, I don’t have time.

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Eldest daughter turned 21 in April, and we somehow got a family garden tea into her crazy schedule to celebrate.  Halfway through her teaching degree, she has a job this summer preparing and leading 6 summer camps at our church with a small team of other interns.  Her favourite appears to be the Hero Camp in August, complete with jungle climbing, lazer mazes, a visit from superheroes and more.  I’m frankly envious.  In the middle of all that, she is heading down to the Dominican Republic as part of a team going to work on a construction project in a small village.  In July, in tropical heat.  Not envious of that.

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The pigs were born April 10th, so they are exactly 2 months old today.  In the pictures they may look big to you, but they’re still below my knees – and probably weigh around 50 lb or 20 kg each. While officially they are named B, L, and T, they have become collectively known as the Trio of Trouble.  They go everywhere together and are curious beyond caution.

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The broiler chicks, 156 of them, arrived by Canada Post this morning, having left Edmonton, AB two days ago after they hatched.  The local sorting station called me around 0730 and they were under the heat lamps by 820, thirsty and hungry and ready to explore their new world.

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I went out to do a couple of errands after the chicks were settled and returned two hours later to discover the heat lamps had thrown the breaker and they were without heat😦.  There is a freezer that’s operating in there right now, which I’d forgotten about, and can’t unplug immediately, so the chicks are down to 2 heat lamps and my afternoon project will be transferring the contents of the freezer to one of our other freezers so I can unplug the one in the brooder building.

And that’s what’s up around here.  No veg garden this year, something had to give and I decided that would the thing.  Hay Guy came and chisel plowed it for me a while back, but I’ve since decided not to get it tilled – I am already stretched to capacity and don’t need the guilt of that garden going to thistles again this year.  I’m surrounded by some fabulous veggie farmers here, and can buy more, better veg and fruit from any of them.  Totally not letting the no garden thing bug me – not at all.

 

Cuba 2016

I’ve tried to write this post about seven times, and each time it just got longer and longer.

My husband and I had just over a week in Cuba at the end of January.  We didn’t stay in the resort area, Varadero.  We didn’t take the girls either.  Someone has to look after the chickens:).  We were with a small tour of 15 people, with G Adventures.  Havana.  Santa Clara.  Trinidad.  Cienfuegos.  Havana.  Except for our first and last night, we stayed in “casa particulares” or bed and breakfasts everywhere.  We had one day going by catamaran out to Cayo Blanco off Trinidad for beach time and snorkelling over the coral.  We had 2 hours on a public beach near Cienfuegos.  Otherwise, we were exploring towns, visiting monuments, or at one point hiking a short trail to “El Nicho”, a beautiful waterfall in a national park.

I wanted to tell you about all the things the pictures don’t show – the fields, the livestock, the fencing, all the horses and oxen used for transportation and load carrying.  The people selling stuff along the highways, or hitching rides.  The sounds – all day, all night. The music, the cheerfulness, the endurance. How wonky the supply and demand in grocery stores is,  how much Che is honoured, how much more Jose Marti is revered.  You see?  I’m starting to do it again.  If pictures are worth a thousand words, may these suffice to stand in for the several thousand I’ve written and erased.

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Happy New Year

It’s been a while.

When did I last post, anyway?  Definitely sometime before Christmas…

So I’ll go back a little, to November when we had some really good blows – up to 100km/hr.  We’re inland from the water by a few km, so it could have been worse.  We never lost power either, for which I was grateful, with a freezer full of chicken and three pigs outside being contained with electric fence.

I was surprised to see the heron on the dairy roof in mid November, in all my years (decades) here, I’ve seen one on the farm maybe once.  This heron preceded the storms by just a few days.  The hawk is a regular unfortunately – I see him almost daily, and maybe I shouldn’t say unfortunately, since he does do his bit with rabbits and mice, but he also hangs around the chickens way too much.  Late November was the first time I was able to have the camera ready to hand when he showed up.

Big Leaf Maples are native to these parts, and they’re beautiful graceful trees in their prime.  Sadly, as they age they tend to rot inside, and eventually shed branches.  We have a few of these on our property, the largest, at least 100 years old, in our front yard.  It has provided sheltelr, shade, climbing and grace to the front of our house for the better part of a century, but sadly had been succumbing to the rot in the last few years, causing us some concern for the roof of our house quite close by.  In the last storm, one of the biggest branches let go, on the side away from the house fortunately, and so it was time for our friend Mike (he who prunes my apple trees and takes payment in chicken) to come and do his thing.  It was over in half a day, and though I don’t have a picture of the result, the tree has had the equivalent to a buzzcut, just the main trunk and a few short stubs of branches sticking up and out – the theory being that it will work something like pollarding, as the big leaf maple is very prone to forming a new tree from suckers/shoots.  I hope so, because right now it looks pretty stark.

One nice thing that came out of all that cutting was the big pile of logs that was left behind.  I didn’t have time, equipment or energy to deal with it, but an acquaintance from church who does his daily early morning walk past our house stopped one morning when I was out there and commented on the wood.  I explained and he offered to come and cut it all into firewood for me. I offered him half the wood in payment and we had a deal.  A few days later, this guy showed up with an axe and a pair of gloves.  One swing for every piece, he just drove that axe through each log as though it was butter.  He’s easily in his late 60’s and wasn’t even puffed when he was done 20 minutes later.   Turns out he’s been cutting wood since he was 8.

Christmas rushed upon us.  Anyone who remembers my frustration with Christmas lights last year will be glad to know that when I turned them on this year I got about 10 seconds of light from them before they quit – well, all but 6 of them.  I know when to give up, and this was the time.  I now have two strings – one 150 m of regular sized lights, one 50 m of small lights, both LED. And they BOTH WORK.   It was a lot of ladder work to replace the 10 old strings with the two new ones, but totally worth it.

The older daughter was house sitting in the nearby village over the holiday, but came over first thing Christmas morning, complete with the dog she was looking after and spent the day with us.  Sula was a delight – we’ve not had a dog around for more than a year, and it didn’t take her anytime at all to show us how much we were no longer dog proofed.  Our poor cat was outraged and didn’t show up again till midnight.  Dinner on Boxing Day was at our place, with a free range turkey from my buddy Bryce, and was followed by a rousing game of Scattergories, a very successful Christmas gift.

A day or so after Christmas, we got the last mileage out of our annual passes to Butchart Gardens by going down to see the Christmas light display.  This is much the same every year, and we try not to miss it.  The gardens with not much growing this time of year are an extravaganza of light and creativity, with all the 12 days of Christmas featuring throughout.

New Year’s Day we went for our annual stroll at nearby Island View Beach, on an absolutely fabulously bright, beautiful first day of 2016, and I of course did not take the camera.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  I’ve posted pictures of Island View in past years, if you’re super keen to go looking for them.

A family birthday always winds up our Christmas/New Year’s season, and we celebrated with a visit to the Royal BC Museum a favourite haunt, where we thoroughly enjoyed the Nature Photography of the Year exhibit from the Natural History Museum.   Chocolate cake rounded off the day nicely.

Not a lot of farming stuff in that long litany…because there’s not much happening.  The pigs are gone, the hens are being grudging about eggs, there is a lot of mud around, and it’s always dark before I get home from work these days.  Outside work has been sporadic on weekends thanks to the weather and the festivities.  Oh, there was a cougar.  I never saw it, but the older daughter was just coming back to the house from shutting in the hens when her flashlight caught a pair of eyes.  She assumed deer and scanned to double check – not a deer.  A dog maybe? Nope,  definitely a cougar.  It loped off at a leisurely pace and that was the last we saw of it, so hopefully it was just travelling through.

Resolutions?  I don’t usually make any, but goal setting – well – I’m working on it.  Something about balance, I think.  Between family, farm, work.  Do I grow the farming business?  Maintain the status quo?  Drop the pigs or broilers?  Hire someone part time whether for cash, barter or whatever? What is it I want out of farming?  What’s the plan for the farm 5 years down the road, 10 years?  Meanwhile, what about family plans?  Work, university, school, health, recreation, togetherness.  Our home – paint, maintenance, cleaning, decluttering, redecorating.  The garden? Travel?  And so on.

So here you go, the few photos I took in November/December:

Broiler Lessons Learned – Last lesson !

I cannot do this alone.

This probably should have been listed as lesson#1.   I would have had serious issues with animals running out of water this summer were it not for the fact that the younger daughter was at home most of the time and was therefore able to check all the waters around mid afternoon.  That one thing alone turned out to be a weak point in the whole set up.

I actually went into the summer knowing it would be an issue, but just didn’t create a contingency plan to deal with it.  Last year, when I was still working at the local library branch down in the village, it was a 3  minute drive home – plenty of time on my lunch break to nip home, throw jeans on, add water to all the pens, and whip back to work with time to spare to swallow a sandwich.  Now that it’s 15 minutes one way, it’s still possible, technically, but not super practical.  Yet this was the thought in my head at the start – if no one was home, that’s what I would do.   And when I did have to put it in practice a few times, I quickly realized how unrealistic the plan was.  15 minutes each way, plus 20 minutes doing all the waters, plus 5 minutes to find a parking space again when I got back to work – it was a tight race.  If I ran across an issue while I was doing the waters what was I supposed to do?  Ignore it and get back to work on time?  Call work and say I had an issue to deal with?  My supervisor is incredibly supportive of my farming activity and has said more than once that I can do just that, but I don’t want to abuse the privilege.    Planning to handle it on my own was not a good plan.

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Younger daughter now has a job herself that will likely involve way more hours during the summer months.  She’s not an option I can rely on next time.  So what should I do?  What is the real issue?  Do I need a person to be there at midday to do the waters?  Could I set up the waters so that they don’t run out?  My other daughter has suggested having two waters per pen, at least during the day, a practical suggestion that should be simple to implement.  It might mean reducing the number of birds per pen a bit because of the space, but I believe it would be worth it.

It’s not just the water.  During brooding, the chicks need checking several times daily.  When it’s butchering day, catching the birds goes a lot faster with two people, and I’m not strong enough to lift a poultry crate with 8 birds by myself, so someone has to be up at 4 in the morning to help me catch and load 20 crates worth of birds and unload them a couple of hours later at the processor. On customer pick up day, with fresh chicken and the need to keep it chilled, there is only about a 2 hour window between pick up at the processor and having the chicken in my customers cooler or fridge.  Some customers come direct to the farm to pick up, and about half meet me in town to pick up, which means one person stays at the farm and one person goes into town.   Astute readers know that I don’t own a truck, so transporting the birds to the processor has meant either renting or borrowing one – borrowing is cheaper (1 chicken or a small ham) but means that I’m depending on someone for yet another aspect of this enterprise.  I’d love to get a truck, but the reasons why I haven’t done that yet are numerous, so I’ll spare you.

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Even more important than the physical requirement for an extra set of hands and muscles, however, is the benefit of companionship.  Someone to talk over the issues, brainstorm for solutions, commiserate over the bad stuff that sometimes happens.  Someone to crack terrible chicken jokes with, who will enter into plans for improvement and sees things from a different angle, but can still see mine as well.  This of course applies not just to broilers, but to life – although maybe not the part about chicken jokes.

So I’m not completely sure about long term prospects for the broiler enterprise.  My plans to expand this enterprise are all well and good, but without a second person available at least at certain points, it will not work.  Whether I tap into my local community and neighbours for that, or rely on family, or hire someone, that second person is essential.  Part of this depends on scale – like any small business.  I could affort to hire someone for an hour/day if I was producing enough to pay for them.  To produce that much I need to hire someone.   Part of the reason for working my way through my lessons learned in such detail (sorry, but thanks for sticking with me!), is to determine whether I’ve mastered enough of the basics to be able to take a big enough step up in scale to hire someone to help.  The answer at this point is – I think so.  Do I want to do that?  Still thinking about it.  What would you do?

p.s. Sorry for all the recycled pictures from previous posts for this series – I simply didn’t take very many pictures this summer, and didn’t want to post such long screels without decorating them in some way:)

Broiler Lessons Learned-#4

Bedding in the brooder.

Again, I think this is one of those lessons I’ve been trying to master for more than a few years, and this year was the first time I feel like it went as it should.  I try to practice deep bedding, but whether it’s my brooder set up, or the wood shavings I use (about all that’s available here, at least through the feed stores), or my management techniques, I am usually in a desperate and losing battle to keep the bedding in the brooder from feeling soggy.  These little birds excrete a LOT of moisture and it takes a lot of wood shavings to absorb it all.  Others around the world are using different beddings, and some sound like they work much better.  I’d really like to source a finer grade of wood shavings, as I believe it might absorb better, but I’m not sure how to go about that, so it may not happen soon.  Ideas, anyone?

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In the past I’ve tried removing half and replacing (a lot of work and it panicked the birds) it with new shavings.  I’ve tried adding shavings daily and stirring them in.  I’ve tried adding shavings twice a day.  This year, I was adding bedding in the mornings, quite a bit of it each time, over the whole floor space –  a few centimetres deep.  Didn’t stir it, just let it sit on top.  I also made sure the place was always ventilated (even at night), thinking that perhaps the moisture was building up overnight because the shed is insulated.  And I think that may have done the trick, because for the first time since I’ve been using that building, the bedding got damp, but not soggy, I didn’t get any respiratory issues with the birds (a problem in the past),  Having that window open 24/7 (it’s away from the brooder, so no draft, and it has mesh, no rats) did rely on the hot dry weather of August, so this is another point in favour of starting chicks end of July.

Another factor of course was that this was the shortest time I’ve ever kept the broilers in the brooder – 12 days for most of them (I kept a few inside for a couple more days), and I know in the past the weather has compelled me to keep them inside the brooder for a week or so longer.  They start getting big after week two, and their size has a big impact on my ability to keep up with the bedding.

Key take aways on brooding.  Be religious about adding a good thick layer of fresh bedding at least daily.  Try and source a more absorbent non-dusty bedding material.  Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation.  Get the birds outside as soon as possible.

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As a sort of postcript to all this, I let a broody hen from the layers set a batch of eggs this summer – 9 of the 12 hatched, and she raised all 9 successfully.  Her own body temperature was all the heat they got, and even when the ground got damp from rain, the chicks always thrived – her own body heat and the thick pad of hay they had for a nest seem to have sufficed.  She had them venturing out of the brooder within a week, and by the end of week three, they were going through tall grass, and under brambles, scrambling over and under and around to keep up with her.  Watching those chicks while I was providing all my careful TLC to the broilers across the yard in their brooder, I am aware as never before of just how fragile we have bred them to be.