We seem to be at the beginning of a sailor chapter in the life of Sailor’s Small Farm.  Long long ago, before we had any children (a period commonly referred to by my husband as PK – pre-kids), we belonged to an organization called the CFSA (Canadian Forces Sailing Association).  Through this “club” we had access to a 32 ft sailboat called Wings, which we were able to charter very cheaply (I believe it was something like $30/night, albeit back in the early ’90s).  With Wings we explored up and down the local coast around Vancouver in short bursts.  In summer months, we were sometimes able to borrow my Dad’s little sailboat – a 22 ft O’Day, and we’d go off for a week or more at a time, exploring slightly further afield, up and down the East side of Vancouver Island.  It was a glorious time period in our lives.  Adventures abounded, friendships were forged (friends often came too), experiences earned.

Raising children and establishing my husband’s business took priority for a number of years (along with my preoccupation with the farm).  With farming no longer happening, his business no longer in the rocky days of start up (24 yrs!), and children grown into adults with busy lives of their own, we found ourselves waxing nostalgic about those “good old days”.  We both acquired our Pleasure Craft Operator Licenses several years ago (we must have been dreaming even then) and this year, hubby took an evening course to refresh his navigation skills.  And then we took a deep breath, and plunked a hefty chunk of money down on chartering a lovely Grand Banks 36 motor cruiser.  We will be heading out for two weeks in July to explore the coast again, have some adventures, etc etc.

This week we were able to book that same boat for 32 hours, the first 10 of which we spent with an instructor we hired through the charter company to brush up our rusty skills.  First of all, this is a motor cruiser, and we did all our boating in sailboats – where engines are definitely not a big part of how to operate the boat. This vessel has an enormous John Deere engine (made my farmer heart happy).  The instructor spent three hours going over the engine with us, learning checks and troubleshooting and after a late lunch we spent 5 hours out in the local waters practicing man overboard (a large fender named Fred was thrown ruthlessly overboard several times), anchoring, mooring to a buoy, coming alongside with the wind and against the wind, reversing to a jetty and also a buoy.  We got back to her home berth in the gloaming absolutely exhausted, but confident that we still had what it takes to survive in a boat.  We slept very soundly that night.

The next morning we woke refreshed and energized and went out on our own to practice without our instructor – far more relaxing in some ways  (since we’ve anchored, we might as well have another cuppa before we practice anchoring somewhere else)  and a litte more stressful in others (did he say flip this switch first and then turn that on, or the other way round?).

It is a little daunting at this age and stage of life to be learning (or relearning) new tricks, but this old sea dog felt thoroughly invigorated after our little jaunt at sea.  A tad exhausted as well, truth be told.  The effort to do all that learning in a short period of time was probably the main reason for that.  I suspect the two week cruise will be far more relaxing.   Can’t wait.



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.


Winter days = Book days

The short days/long nights combo has finally arrived, allowing me to accumulate a stack of books without too much guilt. I look forward each evening to my post-prandial cup of tea, and the luxury of dipping into my pile, perhaps scanning and flipping, perhaps choosing one to settle in with and forget my surroundings.

I don’t read a lot of fiction during the spring and summer. I don’t dare. If I start one that suits me, I can’t put it down. No will power at all. Everything stops while I devour the chapters. I’m not a speedy reader, either, so we’re talking a couple of days, not a couple of hours.

So the winter then, is when I really dig into reading with gusto.  I’m pretty eclectic, but with a definite bias to farming/homesteading type books, some foodie stuff, light happy ending old fashioned fiction, and a fair amount of children’s literature.  I like a classic whodunnit, and will happily re-read favourites.

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Here then, is the pile I had going last week.

The Awakening of Miss Prim – this was recommended to me by a colleague, and I thought it would fit the bill for bedtime reading.  Indeed it ticked all the boxes:  light, wholesome, happy ending (ish), and slightly boring (so it can lull me).  It turns out to be one of those books that is philosophy dressed up as a novel.  I suspect the author has set herself up for a sequel, but I won’t be following Miss Prim into the next chapter of her life.  It did however, work admirably as a bedside book, and sent me off to sleep very quickly.

L.M. Montgomery – this is a short biography of the famous author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, by a well known Canadian writer.  I haven’t started it properly yet, but have dipped into it enough to know that I will enjoy the writing.  I am something of a LMM fanatic, owning all of her books, including her 5 volumes of journals which were edited and published posthumously.  I have read 2 other biographies, and look forward to this one.  If you’ve never heard of her, see if your library has Anne of Green Gables, her first book. It’s usually in the children’s section, though the author did not intend it as a children’s book.  Give it a go, and trust me, it’s better than the Wikipedia blurb implies.

A Flannel Shirt and Liberty – This one had to wait till I was finished Restoration Agriculture, so I’ve only just started it.  The subtitle is:  “British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West 1880-1914”, which pretty much describes the book.  It is a collection of articles and excerpts written by these women about their experiences and opportunities, edited by a history professor at the University of Alberta.  My maternal great grandmothers were just such women, which is why I picked up the book.  Though I have some family anecdotes and pictures, it is hard to imagine how they felt about their changes in circumstance, and this book is helping – most of the excerpts are from journals and letters from women who came out to the West and wrote home.  Well educated, genteel, accustomed to maids and cooks and washerwomen, and with few other skills besides embroidery, watercolour and music, these women were in a difficult place in England at the time – gold rushes world wide and emigration to the colonies meant that there were a million more women in Great Britain than men in that time period, and since “gentlewomen” were raised solely to be suitable wives, and most definitely not to work at menial tasks and jobs, many of them were likely to become spinsters living off the beneficence of male relatives or worse, become destitute.  Societies sprang up to chaperone these women to the colonies, where they might find opportunities of their own.  Both my great grandmothers came out with a sibling to stay with relatives on the Prairies, and it is clear that the idea was that they were to do their best to find someone to marry.  Which they obviously did, since here I am…The book is fascinating and my current mealtime reading.

Restoration Agriculture – Fabulous book.  I had seen a couple of YouTube videos of the author, Mark Shepard, speaking about what he calls “broad acre permaculture”, so I was somewhat prepared for the material in the book.  Mark writes very much as he speaks.  He’s forthright, down to earth, slightly impatient with people who worry about the grey areas – he’s all about doing.  Since his whole notion of restoration agriculture involves planting a LOT of trees, he’s got a point – they take a long time to grow, and the sooner they’re planted, the better.  It is not, on the other hand, a recipe book for how to create a permaculture farm – he describes all the elements, he describes what he’s done, and then he wants you to go out and get started planting, get trained, get educated from the resources in your area.  Agroforestry, silvopasturing, permaculture – they’re all part of what he calls restoration agriculture.  If you don’t have time to read, go listen to him on one of the podcasts he’s done for Permaculture Voices, or one of the many YouTube videos he’s featured in.

How Not to Be Wrong – subtitled “The power of mathematical thinking”.  I got this one for my younger teen, and ended up dipping into it myself.  It’s really about how all that math we learned in school that we think we’ve never used, is really all around us.  How using it intentionally can be powerful.  I read a couple of the anecdotes and the foreword.    I always read forewords and prefaces.  Probably why it takes me so long to get through a book.  That said, I haven’t done much more in this book, because it disappeared upstairs.  Which was the plan.  As long as I get it back before the due date…

How To Grow Perennial Vegetables – I got it after I started Restoration agriculture, because I was wondering what besides rhubarb, asparagus, nuts and grapes would be perennial that normal ordinary folk eat – and it turns out, quite a few things.  The book also includes a bunch of things I’ve never heard of, but in the main is full of actual possibilities.  I also realized once I’d read the foreword, that I knew who Martin Crawford is – he IS the agroforestry guy in the UK, and has written more than just the book in my stack.  His forest garden is quite well known in permaculture circles.  This was not so much a reading book as a browsing book and it went back and forth with me to work for a few days till I’d got through it.  I will probably get it out again after Christmas.

The Third Plate – this is also my third attempt at this book, and a failed one at that.  Dan Barber is probably known to many – he’s a famous American chef in the New York area, who has embraced the locavore trend and sustainable agriculture.  He also has numerous articles in papers and magazines, and you can find him on YouTube as well.  The reason I keep trying with this book is because he wrote an article just before the book came out in which he described a recent epiphany he’d experienced wherein he’d suddenly realized that sustainability was more than just eating the whole animal (a popular sustainability mantra), but also included the food and energy that goes into the creature and the farm it comes from.  I was interested in that thought and wanted to learn more about his perspective on it, but it turns out that The Third Plate is not really about that at all, or if it is, then he’s gone in a direction I’m not ready to absorb just at the moment, interesting though it is on the dust jacket.  The book reads as though he’s trying to channel Michael Pollan in style and format and it just doesn’t feel right in this voice.  I’m trying hard to get past this evidence of my superficial nature, but I think this one is going to get put aside till after Christmas as well.

Easy Upgrades Kitchens – this came home on a whim after a late night conversation with hubby about our future plans.  I love looking at pictures of beautiful kitchens.  I am never going to have a kitchen like any of them – I’m too messy, the word easy in the title is relative, and while I am not happy with many many aspects of my existing kitchen, I also don’t really know what I do want.  The book has given me one or two ideas though, which was kind of what I was hoping it would do.  The problem is that I’m inclined to want a recipe book solution – I want to be able to point to a picture and say “that’s what I want”.  But most of the kitchens in the book would occupy most of the first floor of my house, and “bumping” out a wall, as the featured homeowners seem to do as part of their “easy” upgrades isn’t an option.   Still, they are lovely…maybe my house would qualify for a This Old House makeover…

Delia’s Happy Christmas – now THIS is a recipe book.  I have avoided Delia (Smith) for years – when I first heard of her through her TV show, her cooking style seemed fussy and apparently used every cooking pot in the kitchen.  That was years ago, and perhaps my cooking has improved or something, because this book didn’t look intimidating at all, quite the contrary in fact (though her idea of casual holiday meals to pull together between Christmas and New Year’s involving oysters, pheasant and venison are just a tad out of my league).  In fact, it is from this book that my 16 yr old daughter pulled her recipe for hors d’oeuvres for a fundraiser she was involved in – puff pastry tarts, half with goat cheese, red onion and thyme, the other with pancetta, a slice of olive and a sage leaf.  They were delicious.  And amazing.  And simple!  She made them again for us to eat for supper one night (a whole dinner of puff pastry is delicious but not terribly good for the digestion, as it turns out, still totally worth it).  There are other easy and delicious recipes that also don’t use pheasant or oysters or every pot in the house, and her writing style is very easy to read.  A lovely book.


Thankful Thursday

I realize I’m posting this on Tuesday, but the pictures were taken last Thursday,  with great thankfulness.  You see, I feel a little humble posting this, when the rest of the continent is in the grip of deep cold, ice and snow, wind, and double digit negative temperatures.   I have to say that even by a West Coaster’s standards, this was a pretty nice day for January.  These pictures were taken on our walk last Thursday to a place called McKenzie Bight.

Versatile Blogger Award

A while or so back, two kind blogging friends nominated me for the Versatile Blogger award – independently, bless them, which felt like the honour it is.  The deal with awards like this is that you’re supposed to pass on the favour – it’s a way of giving others an “attaboy/girl”, and at the same time highlighting some blogs that you enjoy that others might not yet have found.

The thing is, I’m not in a super bloggy sort of mood these days, and so the rules of the award made it seem too daunting to bother with.  So I didn’t.  But now I’ve decided that in the interest of tying up loose ends before the end of the year, I should really share some blogs/sites that I find interesting.  Nothing like leaving it to the last minute.  At least one of my regular readers is already in 2014, thanks to being in Japan!

So, the two bloggers who nominated me, and whose blogs are delightful, well written and diverse in subject matter, are: Dark Creek Farm and Wuppenif.  Go check them out.  And thank you so much, ladies; your creativity and energy inspire me.

I haven’t gone back to the nomination posts to see what I’m supposed to do next, but it’s probably something like tell you 7 interesting things you might not already know about me.  I don’t feel terribly interesting these days, but here’s a few:

– I work in a library.  I love my job.  And you should know that public libraries are not “shush” zones anymore.  They are noisy, bright, chattery places, a place to connect with your community, and yes, a place to borrow books, movies, music and downloadables.

– I grew up speaking with an English accent even though I was born and raised in Canada.  For all of my childhood and early adulthood, I was “bilingual” in that I used “English” with my family, and “Canadian” with everyone else.  My brother, six years younger, just spoke Canadian, though he says my name in English even now.  I don’t speak “English” anymore, as our grandparents and parents are all gone now.

– I became horse mad at the young age of 5 (I lived in a city at the time).  I started riding lessons when I was 8 (almost the minute we moved to the farm), got a pony for Christmas (tied under the apple tree outside, in the snow – yes, it was an amazing Christmas) when I was 9, fell off said pony a week later and spent a few days recovering from concussion in hospital, and a month off school convalescing.  Didn’t get back on that pony till June, but rode her and two subsequent ponies/horses daily from then till university.  And have barely ridden since.

– I went to boarding school at age 15. There were good and bad things about those 3 years, but  suffice to say, I would not consider private school for our own daughters, even if we could have afforded it.

-I have a BA in Anthropology.  I have never had occasion to use it, except on my resume.  And I suppose you could say the study of mankind was handy in surviving a very male dominated work environment in the Navy.  Kidding.

– I threw up in Paradise.  Really.  Digby scallops disagreed with me, and Paradise is a tiny hamlet just up the road from Digby, Nova Scotia.  I upchucked behind the church.  I think I was 20.

– I asked for the Cat Stevens version of “Morning Has Broken” to be played at our wedding.  Still my all time favourite.  Maybe I’ll ask for it to be played at my funeral.  I can still play it on the piano (more or less), having first learned it in when I was a teenager. A long time ago.

The other half of this award is to share some interesting blogs with you.  These are mostly not on my blogroll, and different from the list of blogs I shared last year for another award.  I don’t visit all of these regularly, but when the mood strikes.  These span food, farming, permaculture, TEOWAWKI, child raising and more.  I like them for different reasons – sometimes the writing style, sometimes the photography, sometimes the subject matter.  In no particular order then:

Ben Hewitt
Contrary Farmer
Owd Fred (Countryman)
Deliberate Agrarian
Le Petit Canard Farm
Surviving the Suburbs
Casaubon’s Book
Essex Farm
Sugar Mountain Farm
Taranaki Farm

All the best for 2014 to everyone.

Fall Fungi

It seems to be a peak moment in the fungi world, perhaps due to our mild, damp, cool weather just now. Every morning, when I’m out with the dog around sunrise, I am astounded at the variety of mushrooms, toadstools, and other organisms of that ilk that I encounter. I never remember to take my camera with me that early, but fortunately, I was out on the field the other day to put the pasture pens to one side and get them ready for winter, and almost stepped on yet another mushroom I’d never seen. I went back to get my camera and spent a happy hour delaying the work of the afternoon while I traipsed all over the 14 acres looking for elusive mushrooms that seem ubiquitous at dawn, but bashful in mid-afternoon. I don’t know the names or types of any of them, but here’s what I found:

The one picture with no fungi evident is just to show how different the grass is where the broilers were on the field, just a month ago.

Goodbye summer….tonight’s forecast from the government weather website:

Winds will ease this evening however even stronger winds are forecast for Sunday evening when gusts could approach 100 km/h.

This is a warning that potentially damaging winds are expected or occurring in these regions. Monitor weather conditions..listen for updated statements.

A strong early season cold front crossed the South Coast late this afternoon accompanied by heavy rain and strong winds. In its wake heavy showers and gusty winds will gradually ease this evening.

A second storm is expected to impact the South Coast Sunday evening. The associated low pressure centre is forecast to make landfall along Central Vancouver Island in the evening. While there remains some uncertainty in the precise track, storms with this trajectory have resulted in significant wind damage in the past.

The current forecast indicates that strong southeast winds of 60 to 80 km/h ahead of the low will shift to very strong westerlies with gusts approaching 100 km/h in its wake.

We’ve already had 5 mm of rain (about 2″) today…the farmer’s market next to my work was a sad, sodden sight – about 3 customers, and very few vendors.  On the plus side, one of the vendors was a young trio selling chanterelle mushrooms, a rare delicacy only around this time of year (and in this kind of weather) – I bought a couple of pounds, and we sautéed half in butter tonight for supper with bread and salad.  Oh my…

The pigs are not crazy about rain, it turns out.  They go out to do their necessary business, but otherwise spend rainy days snoozing in their straw.  I think they’re like small kids, though – not getting out for exercise makes them a bit cranky.  Good thing there are windfall apples galore in this kind of weather – definitely cheers them up.  The hens seemed to be divided into two – the wet group and the dry group – which equates to the adventurous, find ways through the fence group, and the meek, stay out of trouble group.   All were on the roosts early tonight.  The field across the road is full of seagulls, a sure sign that wind is coming – they come inshore before storms.  I’m not sure a wide open 50 acre field is the best place to hunker down in a windstorm, but it probably beats the raging surf down at the shore.

I’ve propped pallets against all the barn doors, shut the chicken house windows, put buckets away, brought in the wind chimes and generally battened down all the hatches.  We will just have to cross our fingers about the barn roof.  When I was about 10, we had winds like this from the north (in the spring though) and my playhouse, made out of 8 sheets of 4 x 8 1/2″ plywood, was blown head over heels from one side of the yard to the other.   It stayed intact, except for a gaping hole in one corner – and subsequently became an ersatz tool shed for a few years, complete with gingham curtains at the windows.

This is the weather to be thankful I’m no longer in the Navy, where battening down hatches is a whole nother thing, and instead can be grateful that this is the weather for a good book or two, a purring cat and a hot mug of tea.  If only the purring cat was dry…

Wind warnings

Catching up

We’re in that place in the seasons where we’re feeling like it’s a bit of a race to keep up with everything. Since I posted about the farm just over a month ago, we’ve covered a lot of ground, and can’t really say the end ribbon is in sight yet.

First off, my computer succumbed to a virus, so no pictures for a while till I get it back from the fix it guys. In the meantime, I’m limited to the computers at work.

We got 150 broiler chicks at the end of July, and now have portable, modular wooden sides for the brooder set up in that house – a huge improvement over the cardboard I’d been using for the last 3 years. 150 chicks is double what we raised last year and involved a learning curve in brooding yet again. We specifically chose to raise two batches at once (I consider 70 to be a batch, as that is what fits in the field pens), thinking that with the warm steady weather we typically get in August, brooding would be easy, and their first week on the field would occur before the rain usually starts around the end of the month.

Well, we guessed pretty well with the weather, and certainly keeping them warm wasn’t an issue. However, double the number of chicks in the same amount of brooder space required a LOT more carbon material (wood chips in my case), and it was a constant battle to keep this in sufficient ratio to keep them dry and things smelling OK. Also, we barely had enough chick feeders, and by the second week found ourselves having to replenish these every couple of hours. The whole family was trained to go check chicks every time they came or went anywhere. In that first two weeks, we had planned to build the second field shelter that we had bought all the wood and sheet metal for, but off farm work and family stuff got in the way, and by the middle of the third week, we still just had a pile of lumber and a stack of sheet metal. So to relieve the pressure in the brooder, we put half the flock out in the one shelter we already had, leaving about 75 in the brooder, which definitely helped on the number of visits we needed to make through the day, but meant that we were now tending chicks in two places on the farm, as well as doing other chores, as well as trying to tackle the new field shelter.

We got the second field shelter finished last week, and the rest of the birds have been out on the field for about 5 days. There are still 4 in the brooder – a runt that is about 1/4 the size of the rest of the flock, one that I injured moving a pen, and 2 other small birds that I originally kept back to keep the runt company. They’re all growing quite well without the pressure from the rest of the flock, and will probably join the field birds when the rain stops this weekend.

Building the field shelter was something else – you’d think that living in the Pacific Northwest, where we are forests as far as the eye can see, that getting quality lumber relatively inexpensively would be a no brainer. Not so. My options were to get good quality, very expensive wood that was meant for indoor, finishing work, or to go out in the yard and get what the trade apparently calls SPF – for Spruce/Pine/Fir – except that it’s not pine, and not fir. Don’t ask me why they don’t just call it spruce. Whatever it is, it’s crap wood. Warped, twisted, full of knots, and splits when you gouge it with a fingernail (well, almost). We asked for exterior grade fir. Can’t be had – it’s all exported. Two days of working after work got the shelter built, but the truth is, it’s unlikely to last as long as the one we built three years ago – the wood is just so bad. We paint our shelters, by the way – we get so much wet weather here, that paint is a way of holding them together a bit longer.

One of the reasons for doing 150 at once was to economize on the processing day. Running up-island with a rented vehicle costs about $150 round trip (includes the rental and the gas). Last year we made the trip twice, different months, with 75 birds or so each time. It made sense to put them all in one load if we could, and this had the added bonus of giving us the volume price break at the processor as well – instead of $4.10/bird, we will only be paying $3.85/bird. We have also had to invest in more poultry crates for this to work, which were not cheap (about $60/each), but they should last us decades, and we considered them an investment. The birds go to the processor September 17th, and then the chore roster will seem pretty empty.

Lessons learned in the brooder were many. If I’m going to brood that many again, I need to have a much deeper layer of carbon down before the chicks arrived (my initial layer was only about 2 inches)…they were producing so much moisture the existing layer couldn’t absorb it and it was probably pooling at the impermeable (lino flooring) layer. I also need a source of much smaller shavings than what my feed store can provide – the big shavings just don’t do the job. I now have enough chick feeders, unlike when we started. The plywood walls worked well. Brooding in early August worked well. Double the number of chicks means double the quantity of feed (I was frequently caught short, and rushing into the feed store 2 minutes before they closed to grab another 4 bags…). I would say that 150 is my maximum brooding capacity for the configuration we have right now.

It might seem from this that broilers are the only thing happening here, but in fact the pigs are growing steadily, and providing challenges themselves. While we were cutting the metal roofing for the field shelter, the high pitched noise of the saw drove the pigs berserk, and they rampaged around their paddock, taking out a whole chunk of electric fence in the process. Fortunately, this was not their first fence fiasco, and there is enough permanent fence up to keep them contained, so we didn’t have to chase them down. Unlike the first time they got out a few weeks ago, when we got back from dinner out, to see the pigs greeting us on the driveway (about 30 feet from their paddock). This was my own fault, as it turned out they’d performed a trick I’d watched them do more than once – simply pulled out a few of the portable fence posts that hold the electric wire (they grab the foot thing at the bottom of the post with their mouth and wiggle it back and forth till the post is loose enough to pull out), and stepped out. Four hours later, at midnight, we stood back and admired the new permanent fence (well semi-permanent – 7 ft metal T posts hammered in 2 ft with hog wire) that cost us nothing much worse than a lot of time and a mashed finger (not mine). In daylight the next morning, it was clear the line we’d chosen wasn’t exactly straight, but it does keep pigs in, and it survived the rampage last week.

The 4-H lady we bought the piglets from had told us to just borrow the scales from the fairgrounds (across the road from us) when we wanted to weigh them, but this requires a truck, which we don’t have, so I did the string measurement method a month ago, and learned that the pigs at that point (Aug 3) were about 155 lbs each, give or take. They are getting processed in early October, so they’re about on track. The string method of weighing sounds like something out of Lilliput, but according to Walter Jefferies of Sugar Mountain Farm,  my “go to” guy for all things pig, it’s pretty accurate.

The pigs enjoyed the dropped plums a month ago, and though I fretted about the pits (which aren’t good for them), they seemed to mostly spit them out, so I relaxed.  Now we’re into dropped pears and apples, and there is a lot of hopeful pacing by the fence when I go by with a 5 gallon bucket (in case it has good things in it).  We’re having a really bad year for wasps, so this ability between the pigs and the chickens to keep getting rid of all the drops is really helpful.

We had family from Ontario visit the second week of August, which was fun and made a nice change of pace, since with so many critters on the farm, getting away for camping or the beach really hasn’t been possible. We got to do a couple of touristy things, eat out, and chat up a storm, about things not related to pigs or chickens. Just before they came, younger daughter and I did a volunteer stint up the fairgrounds weeding and sprucing up the beds in front of the main buildings, along with a cadre of other volunteers – a mix of farmers, gardeners and retirees, we enjoyed a bunwich supper afterwards which was full of interesting local gossip.

The laying birds (about 55 or so) have been a ruddy pain in the neck.  Before the broilers came, I was working on mending some of their fences, but I had to drop that task when the chicks in the brooder took over my life.   The reason I was mending fence is because the layers live in a permanent house with four large runs through which I rotate them, with access to a fifth from three of them (consider it my stockpile paddock).  This is not an ideal set up, but I’m a bit stuck with it in the short term, not least because it has power and water hooked up, making me reluctant to give it up (no other barn or outbuilding has this).  Our long term plan is to transition this flock to two eggmobile type structures, only small, so that I can move them myself – with electronet around them, so that I can pasture these birds out on the hayfields.  This would be better for the birds, easier on my fencing abilities, and improve the fields – BUT – when we are going to get the construction on those shelters done, I have no idea, and we will also continue to need somewhere for them to live in the winter (the fields are far too wet Dec-early Apr).  Hence the permanent chicken house continuing.  Anyway, to get back to the topic, the fences between the runs are full of holes, and the chickens have learned that if they push hard enough they can create a hole almost at will.   So instead of resting three runs and using a fourth, the hens are basically free ranging over all 4, as well as the lawn, the garden and occasionally my neighbour’s garden.  A lot of time is wasted chasing them back from places they shouldn’t be, and a lot of eggs are lost to nests deep in blackberry thickets.   Moreover, when things got busy with broilers, I got behind on chicken house maintenance and the nest boxes ran low on hay.  Eggs broke, which led to egg eating, which is bad.  Because now the birds have developed a taste for the eggs, and despite getting back to better nest box maintenance, the damage is done, and broken eggs are a constant find.  This has led to collecting eggs 3 or 4 times daily, using up more time no one really has. I would do this flock in in 2 seconds if I could realistically get a new flock up and laying before Christmas, but I refuse to buy point of lays around here as they come from the commercial side of things, always debeaked, always ISA Browns, often in poor condition, and I’ve missed the hatchery deadline for layer chicks. So, we’re just going to have to make the best of things, and make do with this flock for now.

One of the escapee hens turned out to be broody, as we discovered this week, when she appeared out of a blackberry bush with 2 wee chicks.  The odds of this happening were incredibly low – first off, the rooster is my lame “Rusty” – who, let’s face it, is no longer quite as assertive as he used to be, and is also the lone rooster with 55 hens.  Also, these hens are hybrids, bred for laying (Red Sussex), so though we’ve had a few go broody, I wouldn’t have expected a lot of dedication to seeing the job through.  It’s rained every day since those two chicks hatched, and she was down to 1 within 24 hours.  Since then, I’ve managed to pen her and her chick, mainly to keep them safe from the many predators around just now (the cat, eagles, ravens), and also dry.  I don’t quite know what I’m going to do with one lone chick, which given the sort of odds with egg hatching, is most likely a rooster – in the long term, he’ll either replace Rusty or get eaten, but meantime housing him once the hen is done being a mama is a question mark. One of the kids suggested we get serious about letting all the broodies set and see what we can get in replacement birds that way, but assuming this worked, we’d be dealing with chicks till Christmas – and I think I’d lose my sanity.

The World Youth Climbing Championships took place the 15th-19th August, and both eldest daughter and I were volunteers, she as a judge for the lead/difficulty climbing, myself in registration and as a backup timer for speed.  It was an amazing experience to be part of something international like this – 35 countries participating – almost 500 athletes.  It was the first time this event has been held in North America, so there were large Canadian and American teams (47 from the US!), as well as the usual strong representation from Japan, Russia and France, where sport climbing is better established.  For me, registration really brought home what it entails for a family to support an international caliber athlete – I registered 2 youth who were each the sole representatives of their countries (Slovakia and Serbia).  Each had a parent as their coach, and were familiar with the European competition circuit but had not travelled off their continent before.  With none of the sponsorship or government subsidy that youth from larger countries got, these families paid for the competition, spent months getting visas from Canadian embassies beset with rotating strikes and work to rule situations, and paid for flights and hotels.  Just so their child could have a 4 day opportunity to compete at this event.  Neither of the two athletes I’m referring to here had podium finishes, but the youth from Slovakia managed to get into the semi-finals for lead climbing, and I felt almost as proud as his own parents must have felt.   There’s a lot of footage and photographs on the web for the event, but here’s a highlight clip:

And that’s the kind of month August was. With school for the younger daughter beginning in less than a week, and the midway being set up across the road at the Fairgrounds as we speak, summer is starting to feel over. I have buckets of pears to can, buckets of blackberries to make into jelly, and in the background, as one of the committee fondly dubbed “The Feasties”, I am starting to gear up for the community harvest feast taking place in less than a month. When we sit down to enjoy all that turkey and fixings, I will know we’re heading into fall.

Daily Bread

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I love watching the pigs and chickens eating – their styles are so different. Right now both groups are getting bread with their morning scraps.  The pigs sort and prioritize, though they are not the types to save dessert for the end, exactly. Although things are a bit frantic before breakfast actually gets in front of them (do NOT stand in the way of a pig and it’s bowl – they do not consider themselves responsible for any damage inflicted on their way to the food), once the food is in front of them, and they have established boundaries on personal eating space, they settle down to eat very industriously, because the first one finished is entitled by pig etiquette to go round and help any slower eaters finish their breakfasts.   The chickens on the other hand operate on the basis that there will never be enough scraps for everyone, also that every hen with a scrap obviously has something better.  Therefore hens are compelled to go for whatever is in front of them, and then drop it when they see another hen with something, to give chase.

This morning, I had torn up the chickens bread into small pieces and thrown it into the run before I let the hens out. It’s a bit like watching kids at one of those town sponsored easter egg hunts, where they drop the ribbon and the kids dash to grab all the eggs they’ve spotted while waiting – cutthroat. The chickens pour out of their house, and grab the first chunk of bread they see. And then they have to run for it, because of course, 55 other hens are likely to give chase. The problem then becomes what to do next. Put it down so she can peck at it to eat it? Surely another hen will come along and swipe it.  Finding a good hiding spot is paramount. The hens scatter everywhere, heading for bushes and brambles, tall clumps of grass, anything to hide them for a few seconds of frantic eating. Since they’re all doing the same thing, they aren’t very successful. Many run around for several minutes with their piece of bread gripped firmly in their beaks, unable to enjoy it, unable to eat it. Just owning it.

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The pigs and the hens both spend their days foraging for wild, natural food – bugs, grubs, roots, leaves, etc.  Both are fed commercial feed by us; the hens have free access to theirs, while the pigs get fed twice a day, commercial feed morning and night, scraps with the breakfast meal.  Despite their reputation for greed, well understood when you witness the rush for the bowl – once that initial moment of panic is over, meals are fairly peaceful.  The eating pace is brisk but steady.  Neither pig seems to see the need to go and hide a special treat or eat it out of sight of the other. With normal veggie and fruit scraps, the chickens behaviour is less desperate – it’s not uncommon to see two chickens working on one apple core, for example.

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Interestingly, in their daily foraging, both species operate somewhat similarly.  They root or scratch or explore in more or less companionship.  The pecking order in both species seems to kick in with regard to particularly good morsels, but other than that, the day is fairly calm as the creatures work together, or wander separately, relax with a dust or mud bath, or go and snooze in the shade.  There might be the odd spat over personal space occasionally, and the pigs in particular have moments of playfulness, but generally speaking, peacefulness prevails.

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So what’s with the bread?  Is it because it comes to them rarely?  Does it actually taste better to chickens?  Is just that it’s a change from same old same old?  French white (today’s offering) certainly isn’t better nutritionally than what they forage for (greens, insects, etc), their pellet feed, veggie peelings (normal scraps offering) or even chicken scratch, which is usually a  mix of corn, oats and barley.  If their main food group on a daily basis was a French loaf or two, they’d be very unhealthy and unhappy chickens.

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It struck me this morning, watching a frantic hen dashing around futilely with her piece of bread, that people are far too much like this.  Convinced that the Joneses have it better.  Dropping what we already have to grab for what we think is better.  Or perhaps worse, hoarding what we have, unable to feel secure enough to let go, and at the same time, unable to enjoy what we worked hard to get.  Were we perhaps designed to spend our days foraging in companionship, rather than competing for scraps of bread?

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Bread falling from the sky?  When they first began their exile in the desert, the Israelites were pretty happy to have manna drop into their laps every morning.  But after forty years of it, long enough for the generation who had done the escaping to the desert had died, and the generation who grew up knowing nothing else but exile to predominate, disgruntlement and dissatisfaction set in.  They even believed that their parents probably had a better life back in slavery in Egypt, building pyramids.

Maybe I’m stretching a tad too far here, mixing bible with barnyard.  But tell me you’ve never felt like a chicken with a scrap of bread – no time to put it down to enjoy it, worried it will get taken from you, convinced that everyone around you has something better.  Tell me that you’ve never been like the Israelites with their manna,  developing a sense of entitlement to your daily blessings, so that you have come to take for granted what is good in your life.  I know I spend a great too deal too much of my life worrying about bread and not nearly enough of my day enjoying the plenty in my life.