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.

 

What’s Happening?

A bedtime favourite in this family used to be a wonderful series of children’s picture books by Helen Lester, revolving around a character called Tacky the Penguin, usually dressed in an Hawaiian shirt, who always greets his prim friends (Goodly, Neatly, Perfect, et al) with a rollicking “What’s Happening?”

You might be wondering the same thing….it’s been at least two months since I posted anything here on the blog. Stuff has been happening, but somehow nothing that seemed picture worthy or at least worth going back to the house to fetch the camera for. So the pictures you’ll be seeing in this post are not necessarily exciting or even representative of the whole season, just the times that the camera was around.

We had a relentlessly hot summer up here in the usually mild Pacific Northwest. That sounds a bit whiny, and maybe it is, considering the kind of heat so many places experience as “normal”. For us, 36 C is not normal, at least not for more than a day, and certainly not for days in a row. We’re used to dry summers, just not all that heat.  I’m not a hot climate person, I’ve decided.  Too bad for me if this turns out to be the new normal, which I fear might be true, as they’re predicting another warm winter and hot summer.   I felt like I didn’t get a lot done in the summer, beyond working myself into a really negative thought spiral as my energy was zapped by working at my day job and trying to pack everything else into the 30-32 C average days around that.  All my efforts to get ahead during the spring foundered when I began full time hours and it was all I could do to keep up with just the day to day stuff.  There was even a point in June when I wondered if I should just chuck it all in and convince the family that town life was the way to go.

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But somehow, despite the heat and my negative headspace, and due in large part to the willing help of the rest of the family and especially our younger daughter, all the things that usually happen in the summer on this small farm – happened.  Chicks, piglets, broiler chickens, garden, family time – even a mini-vacation.

Most Saturday mornings from June through to mid-October (Thanksgiving), my husband and I were able to get up to the fairgrounds across the road for the farmers market – we’d buy greens and fruit for the week, sometimes some pasture raised beef or some honey or chutney.   We’d finish up with a coffee and a scone, listening to the folk music and chatting to neighbours.  It’s the first time since 2006 that I haven’t been working most Saturdays, so it was a real treat to go back to being a “regular”.  A civilized break from the chaotic scramble that was our lives this summer.

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The three Large Black pigs (and large is a more accurate description now), which arrived at the beginning of July as very small Large Black piglets,  are heading to the processor at the end of November.  The 145 broilers came at the beginning of August, 141 went out onto the field exactly 13 days later (the youngest I’ve ever put birds out) and at the end of September, 139 went to the processor and subsequently into people’s freezers.  One of the broody hens from the layer flock was allowed to set a dozen eggs, and she successfully raised 9 chicks – 5 of whom were roosters of course.  All 9 are currently in the layer flock – the roosters destined for the freezer any minute, I swear.  The pullets are laying regularly now, as I get 4 small eggs in with all the jumbo eggs from the old hens.  The veg garden started well, and I had big plans which most definitely “gang aft aglay”, but we did get a huge crop of tomatoes, which nearly all got dried or made into tomato sauce for the freezer. We grew basil successfully for the first time in years, and between what we grew and what I bought from the farmer I always buy basil from, we made enough pesto for the freezer for the whole year. The pears did well this year – I canned some and dried some, and we managed to pick 100 lbs of apples on the rainiest day in late September to send to the guy with a juicing operation, so now we have  24 litres of the most excellent unfiltered apple juice in our freezer, ready for hot apple cider in the winter, or as a yummy adjunct to breakfast on the run.

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Younger daughter created and maintained a small flower bed, which is still holding it’s own at the end of October.  She also handled the afternoon water check and supper chores throughout the entire summer, for broilers and pigs, including three days in August, when she had sole responsibility for pigs, hens and broilers – 200+lives – while my husband and I went up to the north end of the Island to cool off in the rain and spot grizzly bears and orca whales – a trip which was extremely hard to rationalize at the time, but in retrospect was vitally necessary to allow us to reconnect after a summer of seldom seeing each other thanks to impossible schedules, and which restored my equilibrium and allowed the family to have the less cranky version of myself back again.

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We had our usual Labour Day weekend barbeque, with 55 guests and tons of food – rain was forecast but held off till late that night.  It was our chance to socialize with people we’ve known for years, but seldom get to touch base with over the summer and wonderful to see that almost half our numbers were teenagers or young adults – every time I suggest that maybe this tradition has had it’s day (preparing for 55 guests is not difficult exactly, but it is work), there is an outcry, and this year I really did very little beyond getting the invites out – the rest of the family pulled all the details together.  One of the bitter-sweet aspects of the barbeque, and the Fair which happens the same weekend, is that school starts up again right afterwards.  The younger daughter has just begun her grad year – her final year of high school, while the older daughter has begun her second year of university – the first year of her three year degree programme in Elementary Education.

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The broilers went to the processor at the end of September, and suddenly the days started to seem possible again, as chore time suddenly got reduced to 15-20 minutes at each end of the day, as opposed to the extra thirty minutes every morning, moving cages, hauling feed down the field, etc. and an extra 15 every evening.   I suddenly went from just managing to get chores work and dinner fitted into the day, to a place where I could fit chores, work and dinner in and still have time and energy for other things – which was a good thing, because the timing with the tomato crop was impeccable.  Between tomatoes and pears, freezing, canning and drying became the order of the day.

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Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago saw us eating the first of our broilers, roasting freshly dug potatoes, making our first pumpkin pie of the season and entertaining hubby’s sister and brother-in-law who have just retired here from Ontario, swelling the numbers of our local extended family dramatically, which for years has consisted only of myself and my brother and our families.  The girls are enjoying being doted on by their aunt and uncle, and have enjoyed several weekend outings to local parks for hiking, nearly always followed by sumptuous teas that obviate the need for supper.

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Halloween looms, and the weather has been cooler now for a month or so.  My list of things that need doing is still relentlessly long, but my optimism is back and I’m willing to give it another kick, like Charlie when Lucy holds the ball ready.  Maybe this time…  Unlike Charlie though, I’m aware that I need a better plan – flying by the seat of my pants wasn’t the best way to get through the summer for me, nor the rest of my family,  so as I spend time catching up on repairs and fence moves and the like, I’m starting to mull over my farming goals and how they relate to our family goals and ambitions.  Stay tuned.

 

Farmyard Bling

I joked to a friend the other day that I have joined the world of Big Ag, because I have had to join the Pig Trace programme, which includes getting government approved ear tags with unique numbers so that the pigs can be tracked every time I report that I’ve moved them.

It’s no joke of course.  Traceability is something the Canadian Pork Producers associations have been working on for some time.  Disease is part of the business of raising livestock, whether for meat or for products like eggs and milk.  It happens, even on state of the art, super hygienic, bio secure meg farms (maybe more so there, but that’s another topic).  Last year, the Pork Producers and the government finally made it mandatory for ALL pigs to be tagged when when going to slaughter.  The rules are more complicated than that, in that breeding stock movements have to be reported too, but the main concern seems to be that they want to be able to trace where pigs came from when they’ve been slaughtered.

My pigs last year were almost turned away at the slaughter house because they weren’t tagged – it was a month after the deadline for the tagging programme to begin, and I’d somehow got the impression that I’d be exempt because my pigs were born before the cutoff (wrong).  However, they did the job, and I found out later that the government was fairly lenient in the first year of the programme while producers were getting into gear with the new requirements.

However, this year, I knew I’d have to knuckle down and tag the pigs.  The Pig Trace website is a wonderfully succinct little resource, and after perusing it, I duly got myself an account with Pig Trace and ordered three tags (the tags were $1 each, the postage was $12 – hubby said I should have ordered 100 to make the postage worthwhile, but it would take me 30 years to use up that quantity).

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look carefully – small yellow tags, just visible

Tagging pigs is fun.  I mean fun like roller coaster fun.  There’s the lead up as you prepare your gear, make your plan and get your pigs in a happy place (this involved food of course).  That’s the first uphill slope of the coaster.  Then you make your move, go in, grab the ear, place the applicator and tag – the downhill of the coaster, and squeeze – HARD.  The pig’s head whips up, startled, and that’s the curve after the slope.  the applicator tool releases if the two parts of the tag connected properly through the ear, and the pigs ear just slips away from you.  If it went well, the ride feels pretty good.  If it doesn’t quite go according to plan, well then – the ride gets exciting.  One of the pigs jerked her head just as I squeezed, the applicator slipped out of my hand while still in the pigs ear, and – we’re off.  Pig with set of pliers (the applicator is like pliers) hanging from her ear, banging around, the other two pigs flying around sharing her panic.  Through the electric fence twice – through the wallow, round the shelter, back again.  We finally cornered her, and I was able to finish the squeeze so the ear tag was done, and get the applicator off.  Poor little piggy.  Then I had to do the third pig (the barrow) – whose trust level after all that was not great.  I considered leaving him till later when they were calm again, but fortunately, everyone settled back to their dinners almost immediately, so I went in and tagged him without drama.

But let me tell you – the Pig Trace website gives you no indication of all the fun that ear tagging involves – except for maybe a hint when they mention that tagging a mature pig isn’t a lot of fun.  You need to go to the link here so that you can see just how simple they say the procedure is.  And while you’re there, check out the graphic which portrays where to put the tag in the ear.  It’s a cartoon pig for Pete’s sake, with little x marks for the ear tags.  So cute!  I guess the reality is that the Big Ag farmers all know how to tag pigs already and don’t need a picture.  That’s fine, but if they’re requiring backyard producers (which is essentially what I am) to comply, then a little guidance in the form of a video, or even a photo of a pig with the tag in the correct place would be helpful.

Fortunately there’s YouTube and Google.  Now that I’ve done my pigs, I know why there are zero videos of pigs being done.  It would make the job look a little too exciting.  Actually there is one video – and it does look a little exciting – but I had discounted it because the guy freely admitted it was his first effort at tagging, and it was moreover a different tagging applicator than the one needed for my tags.  A couple of British sites mentioned that food was a good idea while tagging pigs, and a NZ site mentioned that a second person would be helpful, which I’d figured out from the various videos, since not one of them had someone tagging alone, except the cows in crushes.

In retrospect, restraining the pigs might have been a smarter idea, as it would have given me more control and less chance something like that chase with the pig with the applicator banging around her face while she ran. On the other hand, cornered pigs are not happy pigs – they know full well there’s nothing good in it for them, and trying to catch the ear and hold it still might have been the challenge. So, in the end, I’ll probably do it over the feed bowls again next year, but maybe feed in a smaller space, rather than the open paddock, so that I limit the escape routes.  On the upside, I feel better about the tagging process than before I started.  The pigs really only reacted to the tag application for a brief moment (except for pig #2), and were back in their feed bowls within a second or two after I’d tagged them.  They seem oblivious to the tags now. It really does seem much like when my daughters got their ears pierced.

I kept an eye on the pig that got tagged second for a day or two.  I think her ear was a little tender (what a surprise) because she wouldn’t let me touch it, but there’s no seeping or swelling, so I think she’s OK, and this morning I was able to lift her ear to check the underside before she pulled away from me.   I found out after the fact that infection is quite common with tagging, and that there’s yet another gadget you can buy that lets you remove the tag to treat infection if need be.  They certainly don’t mention that on the Pig Trace website either.

Further research also elicited the little gem that I should have figured out for myself – ti’s smart to write down the tag numbers somewhere before you tag the pigs, or right when you do it, because they get muddy pretty fast and therefore illegible.  Now that my pigs have been wearing their earrings for a couple of days, I can see why.  Or rather I can’t see – the numbers have been covered in mud.

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blue ring, right leg – these birds are 11 weeks old and need to join the main flock

The young chickens got some jewellery this weekend too – and seem to be keeping theirs much cleaner than the pigs.  A partial solution to my flawed plan to keep track of the different generations of chickens in my layer flock involves coloured leg rings.  I was a little daunted by ringing the main flock (50 birds) so we decided to ring the young birds – only 9.  Younger daughter and I whipped through that task just after dusk when the birds were sleepy and were done in 5 minutes.  No website, no video, no infection risks, no adrenaline surge (at least for us, maybe for the birds).

So, anklets and earrings – the youngsters are growing up.

Summer growth

Piglets, chicks, flowers – all growing like crazy.  I may not be saying much on the blog, but there is stuff happening here.

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An hour after they arrived, 6 July. Abut 6 weeks old.

The piglets arrived two weeks ago, they’re around 8 weeks now. Their mama is a Large Black, called Olivia and the boar is a Berkshire.  They are sturdy, energetic little things, growing fast.  They also move as a unit, like a well trained platoon. It’s easy to think of them as the Three Musketeers, except that being pigs, they’re all over the concept of “all for one” and not at all interested in the more altruistic ideal of “one for all”.

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3 Musketeers, aged 8 weeks.

While they respect electric fence to a point, it apparently has to be an electric fence worthy of their respect, and ours was not up to snuff when they came.  To be fair they came a week earlier than expected, and we had to really scramble to get the fence set up in time, but I was aware that there wasn’t much of a charge on the line, and vowed to troubleshoot it at the earliest opportunity.  I was not prepared for their robustness or their confidence.  The pigs we’ve had the previous two years were far more timid in their early days.  I think this trio has the advantage that they were born on a farm very near here, and they are siblings, so that they have always done everything together, and have moreover been doing that in a wooded acreage with a pond at one end, where, as I learned later, they also considered the electric fence to be more of a guideline than an actual rule.

So long story longer, they got out on Friday, five days after we got them.  I was at work when I got the call:  “The pigs got out”.  Fortunately this isn’t our first experience with pigs, and even more fortunately, pigs are highly food motivated.  Turns out their bid for freedom was more to do with the fact that one of the kids had opened the gate to come in with dinner, and the pigs simply pushed through in their eagerness to ambush her.  We have a wire across the gate entrance to discourage this kind of behaviour, so that we humans can deliver dinner without becoming part of it, and the piglets, being quite small, and the fence not giving much charge, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that this particular scenario would happen.  In normal circumstances, I’d have been home in an hour, and able to roll up my sleeves and start troubleshooting the fence but that night I was meant to be in town after work to meet hubby to sign some papers with him (new car).  I whipped home from work, sussed the situation with the pigs, and decided I’d go to town to sign the papers quickly then come home again (quick is relative – that would have been about 90 minutes minimum), rather than staying in town to have dinner with hubby as originally planned.  While we were in our meeting, the girls texted to say “pigs are safe in fort knocks, stay for dinner”. They’re French Immersion kids, hence the creative English spelling, but the gist of it was clear from the picture they attached.  The pigs were indeed contained in a version of Fort Knox – with boards at pig height all the way around their paddock, so that they couldn’t push through the hog wire fence that is behind the electric most of the way around. We had dinner.

That weekend, we did some troubleshooting and ended up sinking a second grounding rod (earthing rod for those in the Antipodes), bought a new extension cord, and ultimately have also recently purchased a new energizer – I gasped slightly at the price, but it’s a Sta-fix, which have to be special ordered here, as we don’t have a dealer.  The feed store had ordered it for someone who changed their mind, and it was just sitting there the day I went in to get a new one.  It seems like it was meant to be for me, and though it’s more powerful than I really need right now, there are plans to take electric fence out to the fields for chickens and sheep, and this charger is good enough for that.  Sta-fix is a brand out of NZ, who are the world leaders in electric fence.   According to the instructions that come with it, it will keep in pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, bulls and kangaroos. Can’t wait to get the kangaroos.

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Mama Hen and family, 3 days old

Mama Hen hatched nine chicks from a clutch of 12 eggs a month ago, and she’s still got all nine, so we’re very impressed.  We’re not quite sure if it’s 4 pullets and 5 roosters, or 3 and 6, but we’ll find out eventually.  The eggs were from different hens, hence the different colours of chicks.  At this point we’re working on integrating Mama and the brood with the rest of the flock – the roosters are proving pretty contemptuous of the chicks and pretty vicious towards Mama, so I’m trying to do it gradually.  Mama herself however is keen to get back into the hen house, so I hope things smooth out soon.

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Mama hen and family, 6 weeks old

On the topic of chicks, we have 140 broiler chicks coming in a few weeks, and hopefully one good thing about this sweltering heat wave we’re in will be that brooding them will be a snap, though I’ll need it to cool off a couple of weeks later when they go out on pasture.

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The flower bed is the work of our younger daughter, who has also been my right hand while I’ve been at work managing water for all the critters in the heat, and feeding pigs on the evenings that I work.  The trellis has been there for years, legacy from an old clematis that never did well on it, and has been gone for eons.  She built and filled the bed,raised all the flowers from seed and transplanted them – et, voila!  My grandmother and my father’s sister both had that sort of knack – making it look so easy, and having things come up so lushly.  That’s sweet peas in the far back, zinnias, cosmos and nasturtiums, with some calendula she rescued from the veg garden in the box to one side.  She’s got her sights set on developing a perennial bed next year.  My veg garden also looks quite lush right now, but not from my efforts – it’s mostly weeds.  There are veggies in there and we’ve done quite well with some things – quite a lot of basil for a couple of batches of pesto for example.

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Annual family pesto assembly line, we made 7 batches in the end.

Tomatoes and potatoes, cukes and pumpkins also look pretty good.  But my good intentions to do succession planting came to nothing and unless I get cracking right now to get some more seeds in, I won’t have much of a fall garden.  But it’s so darn hot out these days, that I just wilt out there, so about the only garden job I really get done on a regular basis involves standing in the garden at dusk with the hose, thinking about nothing in particular while I soak everything, including weeds, and if it’s been really hot, even myself.

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cooling off

Crescendo e decrescendo

I knew it was coming, the busy part of my farming season. I remembered the rhythm of it from last year, and knew what to expect, but it still hit hard, I think because of the heat we had this summer.

We started quietly enough, just the layers we have had for more than a year. In May, the two piglets arrived, and chores increased slightly. Things were still pretty easy though – the piglets were small and easily contained for a month, eating enthusiastically, but nothing like what they would consume in just a few months. In early July, the 75  new layer chicks arrived and we were tending the brooder as well as the pigs and layers. We butchered a few layers over the course of a couple of weeks, in preparation for giving the hen house and runs a rest before the new flock was to occupy it in the fall (that would be now) fully intending to get the rest of them a couple of weeks later, which never happened. By now, the pigs had been out on pasture for a bit, and daily fence checks were required. They were eating a lot more, growing fast.

At the end of July, just as the really hot part of the summer hit us, 150 broiler chicks arrived and we were hopping. We had 225 chicks in the brooder, in different pens, and it was a nightmare trying to keep the temperature right in there, keep on top of bedding, etc. Chores were now four or five times a day. We left for our anniversary jaunt to Pt Townsend for a couple of days, and the girls were exhausted managing everything on their own in the heat. Once we were back, the broilers went out on pasture and I thought things would settle down, but the heat meant the birds were drinking far more than they usually do out there, necessitating 3 visits daily to keep the 5 gallon water jugs topped up.

The fortissimo moment…One of the pigs had an allergic reaction in early September, causing a lot of anxiety and a vet visit, though by the time the vet saw her, the pig was her normal happy, assertive self. “Something she ate”, the vet suggested. Probably. The broilers went to the processor in late September, and the pullets immediately left the brooder (yes, they were still in there – and not happy about it) and took over the field pens. Things got calmer, even though I was still moving pens daily. The pullets handle the heat better, and in addition, the nights were cooler. The pigs got loaded up last Saturday night, and left Sunday morning for the abattoir – I was too sick to go, and felt very forlorn as hubby and Bryce departed up the driveway, one of the pigs gazing at me in puzzlement through the lattice on the back of the trailer. To suit my mood, the rain began that day and continued for about 4 days.

And suddenly, Autumn has arrived. A new season. I feel hope and optimism again, after months of feeling like I was just barely holding things together, rushing from water jug to bucket to hose, keeping gardens and animals hydrated. I’ve cooked two good meals in the past week after a season where I barely cooked a single meal – using the kitchen mainly to preserve fruit or throw my stuff down as I grabbed a cup of coffee. The pace is so different. My focus is on cleaning up and putting away, trying to think how I will want things in the spring. There’s paperwork sitting waiting for another rainy spell.  As I putter away at my quiet, mundane cleaning up tasks, I’m pondering next year – should I scale up?  Should I scale down?  What went well this year, what needs to change?  I’ve been reflecting all summer that my body had a tougher time physically than in years past – it’s only been the last month where I haven’t been falling into bed aching from head to toe.  Now that I finally feel physically adjusted, the need for all those adapted muscles has ceased, and it has occurred to me that maybe I should get into a strength training class or something so that I maintain some minimum level of strength for next season.

It’s not over precisely – those darn old layers are still hale and hearty, escaping all over the place and grudgingly producing 5 or so eggs a day (18 birds). I don’t have much longer before the serious wet weather begins, and I must have the pullets off the field by then. Garlic needs to go in the ground, and I’m still dithering about exactly where that spot is going to be this year. I picked my last bucket of tomatoes today so that I can dehydrate them, which will be an evenings work tomorrow night.  I have a few rows of potatoes left to dig up.   The pigs bedding needs to go out on the field, and I want Hay Guy to come and harrow the pig pasture a couple of times to level it a bit, so that I can throw some seed on it, and he can harrow it again. There’s some fence mending as well. And if the weather holds, I need to try and finish the eaves on the west side of the house. So it’s not over. But it has slowed down, and feels more peaceful. I’m ready for a bit of pianissimo.

Where did August go?

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.

Give or take a little

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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?

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