Piglets 7 weeks

To make up for all the long wordy posts lately, here are a couple of pictures of the piglets.

Meet Primrose (the “nice” one) and Parsley (the dominant one).

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Expressing their “pigness”, as Joel Salatin would say…

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“…are you lookin’ at me?”

The Newman Farm

It’s spring, the list of things to do around the farm is beyond huge, school has about a thousand events happening (seems like it, anyway), and hubby’s business has been running at a level that means that any togetherness or family time has to be booked days in advance, in pen, or it won’t happen.

And then along came today. We had the opportunity to play hooky from our own church, and visited that of some friends. This small act of non-conformity was surprisingly energizing, though maybe the country twang rendition of an old childhood hymn helped. When an appointment hubby had booked for 1pm was cancelled, we rolled with it.

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apparently this person eats their fish first…

Fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper, finger lickin’ greasy and delicious (Fish on Fifth if you’re local – great stuff), was eaten on a huge log down on the rocky shore that is part of a newer park quite close to our home called Newman Farm Park, after the pioneering family who owned the 17 or so acres from up the hill all the way down to the shore. I find this farm quite interesting.  It’s only a few acres larger than our farm (we have 14+ acres).  I find the idea of a farm that runs down to the shore pretty idyllic – I have to admit, the Newman’s bit of shore is pretty rocky, but I’d take it.  Beautiful view, gentle stretch of water, lots of fish and seafood to supplement the diet.  A couple of the Newmans were keen rowers and they did some boat building as well, hence the boathouses. Fish and Chips 019 small Fish and Chips 020 small From the time they bought the land, till 1996, the family practiced mixed subsistence farming.  That’s a century of farming.  One of the reasons the farm is considered historically significant is because the family never acquired electricity or plumbing, and lived much as they had always done, right up till the last Newman living there died, in 2000.  I realize that to all of you down East dwellers, this is not exactly ancient history, but the West coast was settled long after the rest of the continent.  The first white people to settle in my area took up land in 1862.  So the Newman place IS old by our standards.

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The boathouses have had some repair work since 2007.

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view from the boathouses. That’s James Island in the background, with Sidney Spit off to the left.

Fish and Chips 011 small Fish and Chips 007 small When we’d finished exploring rock pools and watching tiny crabs scramble through the rocks, we started to head home, but made a detour after we’d crossed the highway, to go visit the Newman house.  It’s down a quiet dead end lane, surrounded by fields.  The peacefulness of the place was disrupted only by the singing of a nearby starling.  We contemplated what it might have been like during the family’s heyday, according to the park’s webpage:

True to the pioneering spirit, the Newman family was self-reliant. They grew their own fruits and vegetables, ground their own cereal and raised prize-winning jersey cattle. Fresh cream and butter they produced provided extra income for the family. George, along with younger brothers, John and Henry, spent most of their lives on the family homestead, which was actively farmed up until 1996.

In addition to the original cabin and farmhouse, other structures on-site include a creamery, garage, chicken coop, barn, outhouse, a second cabin, milking barn, four sheds and two boathouses on the east portion of the property. (from the park webpage, linked above).

As we left, our older daughter said, “wouldn’t it be great to live somewhere like that?”  Old house full of character, fields all around, wild rose scenting the air, glimpse of the sea just a few acres away…

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the Newman beachfront is just out of sight down the hill to the right of the bushy trees in the centre background.

“We DO live somewhere like that” I said, and it’s true – well, we don’t have glimpses of the sea, but we do have beautiful hills around us, and the sea is just a few minutes drive down the road.  Our farm is only a few acres smaller, our buildings include house, barn, old dairy, outhouse, chicken coop, equipment shed and old chicken house.  We even have starlings nesting in the century old apple trees in our orchard.  We have pigs rooting around behind the barn, we have chickens fussing in the tall grass near my neighbour’s fence.  Seeds in the veg garden are germinating so fast you can almost see it happening right now.  The Newman farm must have been like that once – people coming and going, animals creating noise and work all over the place, someone needing to hoe between the potatoes, someone hanging laundry…on a warm, mild day like this, the farm wouldn’t have been a restful place at 2 in the afternoon, it would have been full of activity.

I know what she meant though, and that’s true too. After our morning and afternoon of escaping our normal routine, we turned into our driveway, all our minds clicking towards we’d be doing next.  Back to cell phones and email, chores, homework, supper prep.  Back into our regular lives.

Growing Young Farmers

Ever have one of those phases where something not really in your consciousness suddenly pops up repeatedly?  Like when you buy a new car, and suddenly everyone seems to be driving the same model?   It’s been one of those times for me.

I had a leaning on the tailgate of the truck kind of conversation with a farmer friend a couple of weeks ago. About our farms, our friends, our families. Same old. Except that day he was not his usual optimistic self. He is a full time farmer, has been since he was 15, when his Dad died.  He loves what he does, but that day he expressed worry about whether he could keep it all going. He touched on the fact that all three of his kids are in college, planning futures that will not depend on farming as their livelihood, even though they all love the farm and are more than happy to help out as needed.   He also has a bevy of young lads who work for him throughout the summer season, loyal followers all, some of whom work for him sporadically through the winter as well.  He sees as few do around here, the need to inculcate the possibilities of future farming in the minds and hearts of young people, to show them that it can be done, in a huge variety of ways and scale.   He has a gift with young people, a kind of natural leadership that makes them keen to keep working for him.  He empowers, trains, builds confidence, builds skills, and generally grows these teenagers into responsible adults.  Will they be farmers, any of them?  He hopes so, so do I, but it’s hard to know.

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That was a couple of weeks ago.  Last week, our eldest daughter began discussing with us the possibility of starting a farm enterprise or two of her own, using the resources our farm can provide to save her some costs.  Now, I’m the antithesis of my tailgate friend.  I’m a micromanager, naggy kind of supervisor.  Ask any of my Navy subordinates – I have a t-shirt one class of trainees made for me that says “Mother Wren” across it.  Wren is an acronym from the Royal Navy short for Women’s Royal Naval Service, and it was at that time part of my rank designation, Master Wren (my male counterparts who were Master Seamen), and thus the shirt slogan was an allusion to my tendencies to mother hen them too much.

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I’ve done all right as a mother; my characteristics fall into the “typical” category for the role. But as a mentor of a young adult?  I’m not most people’s first pick.  So I did what I’ve learned to do best as a mother of teenagers. I breathed calmly and thought before I spoke (this takes practice).  I remembered Salatin’s advice in Family Friendly Farming.  And I said, “Sure, absolutely, how can we help?”  More or less.  I’m a work in progress.  She has a lot of ideas, but the most immediate are that she wants to start a layer flock of her own to sell eggs, and she wants to raise veggies to sell at our roadside stand (which is currently a seasonal egg stand, but we’re talking future tense here).   From us she needs space for winter housing for her flock of 20 birds, and permission to run a chicken tractor on the field during the warmer seasons.  We’ve offered a third of our veggie garden space plus a little more in an unused flower bed for the veggies she wants to grow to sell.  It’s not a bad plan.  I don’t know if it will last, but she’s full of passion about it.  My job is not to throw any cold water or criticism or to say that she’s not doing it my way (the right way, obviously), but instead to be like my friend above.   Will this exercise grow a farmer?  I have no idea.

Skipper's Canyon near Queenstown, NZ

Skipper’s Canyon near Queenstown, NZ

Recently, our youngest daughter went to an awards ceremony at Government House.  She and two friends had been involved in a local initiative called Vital Youth through the school, wherein their team was given the responsibility of finding a local charity deserving of a $2500 donation.  They had a list of criteria the organization had to meet, and quite a bit of legwork in narrowing down to their best choice.  It’s an interesting concept, and I invite you to check out this link to learn more.  However, the point I want to make is that these three girls, after several weeks of work determined that a group called Growing Young Farmers was their favourite choice.  How cool is that?  Not one of these three girls is likely to be a farmer- two intend to pursue careers in the medical field, while one is a musician.  But at 15 and 16 years old, they recognize the work this awesome organization is doing and it’s importance for the future.

And then finally, I was catching up on emails after a nasty bout in bed with stomach flu and noticed that a blog I follow written by a young farmer in PEI, who has not been writing for the last six months or more had suddenly posted.  This is Barnyard Organics (For Love of the Soil in my sidebar), in the western part of PEI.  They are a young couple with 4 kids under the age of 8, one a newborn.  They are certified organic, grow grain, raise chickens, both layers and broilers, hogs and lamb, have recently built an on-farm, inspected poultry processing facility and do all this on a farm originally owned by Mark’s Dad, who still helps out a lot.  Sally, the blogger, is as passionate as they come in the Maritimes (which is pretty passionate), articulate and willing to speak her mind about what she believes in, all of which makes her a popular speaker at local farming and/or organic conferernces.  This particular post is one of her best, an excerpt of a speech she recently gave.  Here’s the link for you to read it yourself, which I urge you to do, because her topic is the Family Farm, and she focuses of course on growing young farmers.

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clearing blackberries from future farmer’s future chicken house

In the week since I began drafting this post (this is clearly why my recent posts are so long, I’m writing them over several days :)), things have moved quickly.  My eldest is now officially on payroll, and has the sunburn and tired muscles to prove it and has taught the piglets to fist bump (they use their snouts).  My friend from the tailgate session is up to his ears in making hay, thanks to the 5 day run of sunny, warm weather.  He’s in full gear, running morning till night, making hay while the sun shines.  He’s got no time to think beyond the next weather forecast, let alone ponder the fate of future farmers.  But they’re out there with him, driving tractors, stacking bales, getting sunburned and building muscles.

All you can do is plant the seeds, nurture them as best you can and practice a lot of faith.




After what has felt like an endless week, the piglets are here.

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Work has been busy with an extra shift and extra hours, which really put a cramp in my pig preparation plans, but we made it work. And I mean we. W from Warlin Farms really handled the fencing and the bulk of the blackberry clearance for me, in addition to tilling my vegetable garden – a bonus. He also picked up the load of straw I purchased down the road, since I don’t have a truck. My older daughter and I had done some repair work on the stall door where the pigs will be living for a couple of weeks before they head out to pasture, and she also took care of preparing the bedding (straw).

There have been a few glitches getting ready for the little piggies.  The biggest turned out to be starter feed, which isn’t supplied by ANY of the feed stores in my area.  I ended up having to make a trip up-Island to Duncan to get 7 of the 19 bags they had left at the feed mill that supplies about half the feed dealers on the Island. I did that on Friday morning, managing the one hour trip each way (by ferry, fortunately – I could sip my coffee and admire the view while quietly stressing about too much to do instead of driving a twisty, steep highway full of aggressive drivers whilst simultaneously stressing about too much to do), the actual purchase and pick up, unloading the feed at home, and getting to work for noon, which I managed with seconds to spare.

Doing a last once over our preparations, when I got home from work after six that night, we realized our feed bowls were much too big for 5 week old piglets, and probably the water bucket as well.  Since I was supposed to pick up the piglets at 10 am in the morning, we decided to whip into the feed store on our way over there and buy a couple of smaller feed bowls – we’d use one for water.

I had to be at work at 10 this morning, which was also the time I had to pick up the pigs.  I have practically no vacation time left (I splurged it all on the NZ/Aus trip), and hubby and younger daughter were in Vancouver where she was competing in the provincial level of the Concours, so had arranged with my supervisor and my co-worker today that I would be arriving late to work this morning, making use of some time owing I had accrued.  Both were fine with this.  I really felt like I had things covered.

Then the farmer called at 730 am.  There had been a mudslide in Golden, closing the highway for a couple of hours, her husband and his friend were stuck the other side with the pigs, and would be later than planned, since there was no way they’d make the first ferry.  New pick up time was 1pm.  So much for my best laid plans.

I phoned my co-worker and we arranged that I’d start at 10, and use my lunch break with whatever extra time (in lieu) that I needed to get the pigs home and settled.  I went to the feed store on my way to work to get the smaller feed bowls and bucket, and headed to work.  And from there, the day flowed like it had been planned that way all along.

I dashed home at 1pm to change into jeans and a sweatshirt over my nice blouse, elder daughter joined me with the dog crate, and off we went.  There were a couple of other people there picking up pigs also, and we had to wait a little, but it was fun chatting and comparing notes.  Our two little gilts were loaded into the dog crate very quickly.  Back home, we backed up to the barn, unloaded the crate and carried it to the pig stall, prepped the water and feed bowls and then opened the door.

There was startled silence for a minute, and then a few cautious grunts.  It took a few more minutes before the smaller, feistier piglet ventured out.  Where one goes, the other will follow.  Within another minute or two, they’d found the food.  And then the water. They explored a little.  And ate.  And then peed in the food bowl.  Sigh.

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I think it’s called multi-tasking, standing in the food and the water simultaneously.   If only nutrients were absorbed through the feet!

I had to go back to work.  Farm layers off, good clothes back on, grabbed an apple and an energy bar and off I went.  Elder daughter and her friend kept an eye on the piglets all afternoon, and by the time I got home after 6pm, the piglets were quite calm and happy, no longer anxious and best of all, had established their “bathroom” corner – which was NOT the feed bowl.  When I checked on them a couple of minutes ago (1030pm), they were flaked out in the straw, not huddled, but close – snouts just touching.