Saturday, December 31, 2011

A fresh new year

I have always felt an urge to greet the new year with a clean home, and a clean barnyard. The first is quite simple to achieve, I was up at 5AM, bucket in hand, scrubbing away the remnants of 2011.

The second is harder to accomplish.  We have spent the last week cleaning out the sheep barn, mucking out the donkey stalls, ensuring that fresh straw greets the cows. Today we are cleaning out the chicken coops. I just completed the first one, and I am pleased to report that the chickens are currently nestled in their fresh pine shavings.

We will do a dump run later today, and a decluttering of house and outbuildings. Now is the time to give things away! It's amazing what you collect over the course of a year. An extra whiteboard, an old Formica table, burlap sacks.... it's nice to gift others with the objects that you no longer need. With each freecycle your space is a little bit cleaner and your heart is a little bit happier.

I usually create three piles. One to keep and put away where it belongs, one for freecycle or goodwill, and one to sell.  In the beginning, there is chaos but as you sort and declutter things begin to fall into place and before long order is restored.

I wish you and yours a very happy New Year, and hope that you life in 2012 is heart happy!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A warm hug on a cold day

I adore soup. On a cold and blustery night there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of homemade soup and a loaf of crusty bread with butter.  As you sit cozied up with a bowl, the warmth creeping into your tummy, it feels like a warm hug from the inside out.

Better Farming magazine this month ran a wonderful story about the Ontario Christian Gleaners,  last year volunteers working for Ontario Christian Gleaners produced 2.2. million servings of soup from waste food that would otherwise have ended up in the dump or been plowed under.  Volunteers spend hours chopping produce by hand and it is then dehydrated to be shipped to orphanages around the world.  What an amazing way to take what would end up in landfill and turn it into food!
Soup is a full meal, and for hundred of years we have created soup recipes from all sorts of interesting foods. Cabbage soup, cold soups, there are some very unusual soups out there! 

Last night, I made one of my favorites. It's simple and can be made in less than 30 minutes. It pairs nicely with a hearty bread. We ate ours with a fresh loaf of pumpernickel.

Red Lentil Soup

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2.5 cups of red lentils
  • 1 tetra pack of chicken soup broth (make your own if you have time, but this is a good standby!)

Boil the cauliflower. While that's boiling, cook the lentils. (3 cups of water to 1 cup of lentils. Usually they take 15-20 minutes to cook, check your package) 

Add one large can of crushed tomatoes to the cooked lentils. Drain the cauliflower and add the soft cauliflower to the lentils and tomatoes. Add the chicken broth.  Add 2 teaspoons of dried garlic, and about 3 tablespoons of Vegeta seasoning. (This is awesome stuff!)  Salt and pepper.  Now use either your blender to puree in batches or use a handstick blender to puree it all together.

If it's too thick add a little water.

Serve with grated sharp cheddar cheese on top.

From me to you....a warm hug.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

As you stand in the barn in the very early morning hours, it's quite easy to imagine why Joseph and Mary chose a stable so many years ago.  There is something comforting about the soft rustling of the animals, and the smells of the barn all mixed together.

Without much effort you can envision Mary with the newborn Jesus sitting in the hay. The sheep would have been curious as they often are. Wondering what this new thing was, can you eat it? What does it smell like? If anything I am sure Joseph would have to shoo away the nosy ones.

People often ask us why we chose this lifestyle. "why on earth would you give up your lovely house in the city to move to the middle of nowhere and have to do so much work?"

It's hard to explain. But standing in the barn on a cold snowy December morning, it's quite simple to feel.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A little bit country

I have begun to change the look of things around here. Not simply with Christmas decorations, but I suppose I am starting to make the transition from city to country.

When we moved in a year and a half ago, I just plunked all of our furniture and decorations into the farmhouse.  Sure, in some cases it didn't quite fit right, but I had far too many other things to worry about. (Like where on earth we were going to put 80 chickens!)

Now that the winter months are creeping in, I am looking about and thinking of ways in which we can make changes to our decor. 

The bathroom renovation absolutely must happen this winter. In speaking to Wilson next door, I told him the tub was leaking.  "really?" he said, "I put that tub in back in '58. It's leaking already?"  I agreed with dear Wilson, and asked if he warrantied his work. No such luck. 

The vanity has been found (an old sideboard), the sink selected (a nice hand hammered copper sink) and I am now searching for the flooring. I have my eye on a river rock floor, something like this
Sadly I have yet to find a Canadian distributor, and I really do not like the idea of having to create each stone by hand.

I know that other major renovations will have to wait a few years, but I can begin with our furniture and our accessories. I spotted these lovely cushions on Kijiji, handmade out of old bean sacks. They inspired the new bedding, and the rustic tin artwork above the bed.  I have convinced my dear sweet fireman that he should make us a new bed frame out of old barn boards. 

If I could just convince him to make me the matching night tables and dresser that would be perfect. Baby steps!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree!

The smell of fresh pine has a way of transporting you back to a moment of childhood.  I stood in the centre of the tree farm breathing deeply. We were on a quest.

To find the perfect Christmas tree is no easy feat. It can't be too tall, or too short. Too fat, or too skinny. It has to have the right amount of branches, and the right overall look. It must of course have a branch right at the top for the angel to perch on.

Sadly, there was no snow this week - it felt a bit odd to be traipsing around the tree lot in the mud. Not exactly festive.

We walked for about a half hour, pondering our possibilities, but we still hadn't found our tree. It was getting late, and we decided to walk back to the entrance and have a look at the pre-cut trees.  And then we saw it. Right by the entrance. Our tree.

My dear sweet fireman began to saw away, and within moments he had it hoisted on his back.

It is amazing how they always seem so small until you cut them down!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Let's start with the front door...

I decided it was time for a little bit of holiday decorating, with Christmas only weeks away I need to get myself into a festive frame of mind.  We are going tree hunting on Saturday, but in the meantime I could at least drag out some of our decorations and get a move on.

I decided to begin with the front door. It's a small area and relatively simply to decorate!  I began by finding the wreath, which thankfully last year I put away in a box labelled "wreath".  Very helpful.

Then I began to walk about the yard looking for items to put into the planter. It's amazing what you can find only steps from the door! The colours, textures and amazing differences in greenery were quite lovely.  In minutes, I had an interesting array of plants to add to my Christmas display.

A wee wooden sled finished the look.

Now, to begin the holiday baking....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ruth's Lemony Wisdom

Our neighbours are well into their 80s, and we have adopted them as a part of our "farm family".  We keep an eye on them, and when they are feeling poorly we drop in a lot under the guise of wanting to drop off eggs, but really wanting only to ensure they don't need any help.  

I am forever being advised by her, and sometimes I wonder if she is really the one caring for me.  On my last visit, after she chided me for not taking better care of my "froggy voice" - I tried to explain it was allergies but she was having none of that - she soon had me sipping on vinegar and honey.  It stung, but it actually did help my throat.

Recently she shared with me simple recipe for lemon squares, they are so lovely and lemony that I simply had to share. All of my Christmas tins will have Ruth's lemon squares this year.  
Ruth's Lemon Squares

What you need:
2 good sized lemons.
1 can of condensed milk.
1 box of graham crackers, and make sure they are square. 
Icing sugar

What you do:
Take an 8x8 pan. Put it to one side.
Now grate the rind off the lemons. Divide it into two dishes. Juice the lemons but put aside about two tablespoons in a separate dish.(that's for the icing later)
In a small bowl mix the condensed milk, the juice of the two lemons and the lemon rind of one lemon.  Whisk it well until it is smooth.
Place one layer of graham crackers in the pan. Put a layer of the lemon/condensed milk mixture on top. Continue layering - 2 more times. End with a fourth layer of graham crackers.
Now in a new bowl mix butter icing (butter and icing sugar) with the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. It should be a fairly thick icing mixture about the consistency of thick honey.
Top the graham crackers with the icing mixture. Then crumble a graham cracker on top for decoration and the remainder of the lemon rind.
Cover with wrap and refrigerate over night.
Cut into squares.

If you like lemon, you will love these squares! I am also thinking you could make them with coffee, and it would turn out a bit like tiramisu.

They will go well with my tea tonight, after all - I can't place them in my Christmas tins without trying one!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Sometimes it's good as a girl to disconnect and find the time to join with your lady friends for tea.  It's become more difficult since I moved to the farm to connect as many of my lady friends live in the city. However, we make the effort every few months to have a tea party.

It's amazing really how somehow, over the mini-sandwiches and the earl grey, you find the answers to issues that have been digging at you like a stone in your shoe.

The warmth, the support and the endless giggles leave you feeling on top of the world, and capable of handling anything. I suppose it's different for the men - I know the boys nights in our garage seem to consist mainly of beer, cards and not a lot of conversation. But I suppose in the end they do the same thing - they connect.

Over the years children have been added to the mix, and this has added a delightful element. To see our children connecting with one another is truly precious.  

This month, we were celebrating Movember - and my very talented friend took some whimsical photos of us with moustache props. It added a silly side to our tea and bought a smile to our faces.

I am quite certain that if faced with the issues of the world, a group of women could find solutions over a cup of tea.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Being in the barn...

It's really just four old plywood walls, and a dirt floor. In our dreams we had envisioned a majestic old bank barn - but our reality is a pole barn in various stages of disrepair.  Still, I often find myself hanging out within it's four walls.

Take tonight for instance. The sheep were fed, and their heads were happily in the grain toughs scarfing down every last morsel. The donkeys had their heads stuffed into the hay racks, trying to mine for the alfalfa hidden in the hay, and the ram was pacing his pen - itching to get out and join the girls.

I stood in the sheep enclosure, with Smokey the barn cat doing figure eights around my ankles. I still had water troughs to fill, but for a moment I was content to stand amongst them, listening to the happy sounds of eating.  It was warmer than usual in the barn, surprising as it was such a bitterly cold autumn night.

The barn lights are not that bright, and seem to always cast a yellowish glow no matter how many bulbs manage to remain on. It makes for a cozy place to stand and observe.

A small head butted my thigh, and I looked down to see one of the ewe lambs seeking attention.  I softly scratched her head, and continued surveying the barn.

We still had work to do, floors to level and water systems to install - but the addition of the sheep pen had definitely made this old pole barn feel like more of a true barn. The sweet smell of hay, and the musty smell of wet wool gave it a distinct smell, one that I seem to find comforting these days.

Filling water troughs could wait, for a moment I was enjoying simply being in the barn.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Together we succeed

A question that I am often asked is "How do you manage to work a full time job and run a farm?"

When I am asked this question, I wish I could provide a step by step guide on how to do just that, but the reality is that I couldn't do it alone. It's about teamwork.

There are so many tasks on a farm that simply can't be done alone, whether it's erecting fences or repairing tractors, two pairs of hands are far better than one.  Many folks in the farming community have reiterated to me that "The couple that does chores together stays together".  I suppose that there is something which bonds you when you shovel poop together, but I do think it's more than that.

Sharing repeated tasks with a partner means that you have to work together to find efficiencies.  You also discover your partners strengths and weaknesses.  While I may not be adept at driving the tractor, I am fantastic at healing injured livestock.  It's through our shortcomings that we enable our partner to shine. 

I also think that the key to a successful partnership is to recognize your partner's efforts and successes.  We all like to be recognized, even if it's for the smallest thing.  When I get home from work and find that supper has been started already, it puts me in an appreciative mood.  I find myself thinking "wow! that was nice, what can I do to reciprocate?"  This is how after dinner my better half finds himself looking down at his favorite type of pie.

Kindness begets kindness.  

So how do we run a farm and work full time? We work together to prioritize, we support each other when things go wrong, and we divide tasks so that we each focus on what we each do best.

Of course, a little silliness helps too. It's very hard to take someone seriously when they have straw in their hair.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture

I am not really entirely certain when the idea began to take shape. But suddenly I found myself smiling and nodding, in agreement to take on the new role.

It began when I got an invitation to attend the Annual Meeting for the Dufferin County Federation of Agriculture (DFA). I made a mental note of the date, intending to go.

Weeks later, I was in discussion on Twitter with Wayne Black, Director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).  Wayne was considering the idea of running for President of the OFA, an idea I strongly supported. Not only is Wayne tech savvy and forward thinking, he comes from a long line of agricultural history and understands the issues in agriculture.  I think Wayne would be a breath of fresh air, and an opportunity for a new voice at the table.

I suggested he attend the DFA meeting with me.  It would be a great opportunity for Wayne to meet folks from Dufferin County, and for me to connect him with local farmers.

So Wayne came, and I found myself sitting next to him as they asked for nominations - looking for Directors for the board.  Wayne raised his hand, and spoke my name.  I suppose I could have declined, but I was secretly thrilled.  A chance to have a voice at the table, an opportunity to learn more about agriculture within the province....I nodded my head. A vote was cast, and voila! I am a Director for the Dufferin County Federation of Agriculture. 

I truly hope that I represent the farmers in my region well, and that they share with me issues or questions they may have.  I am looking forward to this next great adventure!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spectacular Colour

I simply couldn't let the amazing splendour of fall go by without sharing it, it's breathtaking in person. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I am a Sundowner

It’s often frustrating to have to split my time between the farm and my day job. While a part of my brain is fully aware that one wouldn’t exist without the other, it becomes painfully obvious at times that there are advantages to farming full time. Sadly, one of those advantages is NOT being able to pay the farm mortgage, and so I continue to have a day job!

Fortunately, I love what I do each day. I have a career in something that I enjoy, and am passionate about. Some mornings, I do feel odd as I put on my office hat and take off my farm hat – or literally take off my coveralls to hop into the car with my suit and heels on! The one hour commute allows me to disconnect from the farm and provides time for me to focus on the day ahead at the office. Vice-versa on the route home I begin to leave the office behind and think of farm tasks that wait. The commute becomes my decompression time – or my preparation time. Depending on how you look at it.

We spent quite a good deal of time this year preparing our Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). As a part of this program, bursary’s are available to farmers to assist in implementation. As new farmers, any sort of cash flow is a good one, and we were quite excited about it. We spent many hours preparing our plan, used vacation days to attend the in class EFP training, and were eagerly awaiting the final submission date.

But that’s where things did not go as planned.

You see, the way the funds are allocated is that all farmers within a county must show up in person, bright and early in the morning, and line up for the funds. Funds are distributed until they are gone, which often takes only an hour. Some farmers line up at the crack of dawn to ensure that they receive funds. That’s not so bad, right? Well, for those who work a day job it is a challenge. This distribution happened on a weekday, during business hours. Unfortunately, neither of us was able to get the time off work – and since our day job is important in terms of the overall success of the farm we had a choice to make.

That day, as I sat in a meeting at the office my mind wandered to the scene that was likely unfolding at the Agricultural centre. I longed to be in that line up with our EFP. I felt that I deserved a chance to implement some of the environmental solutions that we had worked so hard to create. But as I refocused on the task at hand, I realized that part of being a “sundowner farmer” is the unfortunate fact that it is not equitable. Full time farmers will always have the advantage.

But that doesn't mean we won't do our best to be included.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

So where is the Romance?

Recently, a seasoned farmer asked "is farming as you originally pictured it? I always find people have this romantic ideal of farm life."

It was a great question.  Here we are, just over a year after this great adventure has begun and I can't say I have one moment of regret.

I am also not sure if I came into this adventure with a romantic ideal of farm life. I knew it would be hard work, a lot of hard work.  I was prepared for the hours of labour involved.  I think summers working at garlic farms and in strawberry fields prepared me for that type of need.  What did surprise me is how easy it has been to learn so much in such a short period of time.

We were so apprehensive in the beginning, afraid to try anything that hadn't been field tested by hundreds of farmers before us.  Google searching every question we had, and comparing answers before we made any type of decision.

Now we simply fly by the seat of our pants, and try things to see if they work. It has been this cavalier approach to farming that has allowed us to invent new systems, create processes that streamline work, and find ways in which to cut overhead costs.

The best lessons that anyone can learn are from costly mistakes.

We have also found that we quite enjoy the work, and get a great feeling of accomplishment when we are able cross things off our white board.  We would have made great pioneers.

Having said all of that, I do still find that farming has romantic moments. Why just today I stood with my better half enjoying the most gorgeous sunset, as we stood amongst the sheep tired and weary from spending hours in the barn. Terribly romantic.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And then there were three....

Since early man first learned to form tribes, they have depended on dogs to help them do their work.  Not much has changed in the world of sheep.  Nomadic tribes used dogs as protection from predators for thousands of years,  effectively protecting very large flocks in remote regions.

We recently added a third livestock guardian to our team.  Murdzo is a purebred Sarplaninac, and at 6 months he is already 100lbs! We were not certain how he would fit into our pack, but the transition has been seamless.  He has been readily accepted, and they are now a strong team.

His first visit with the sheep was wonderful, he did all of the right things. Approached them slowly, allowed them to smell him, and sat looking disinterested to show submission.  It's amazing that our ewe lambs will still run from us, but will run to the dogs! It is almost as though they instinctively know that the dogs are their guardian angels, there to protect them from things that go bump in the night.

Murdzo was a cherished  and much loved pet for the first 6 months of his life. His family was very sad to see him go but circumstances changed and they needed to find him a new home.  The farm was perfect, and it means they can visit him any time they like. We are truly blessed, he has such a happy go lucky temperament, and is a wonderful addition to our farm.  He has enjoyed his new found freedom, and spends his days with our other two dogs exploring the fields, chasing chipmunks in the forest, and watching over the sheep. 

Dogs with jobs, are very happy dogs indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wee Wooly Ones

Well, it's official.  After months of talking about it, and weeks of planning - the sheep have arrived. We were not quite ready, in fact we still have to finish fencing in the pasture, but thus far they haven't attempted to escape.

It has been interesting to understand the ways of sheep.  They are quite a skittish bunch. If I walk up to the herd, they tend to walk the other way. This is extremely helpful when bringing them in at night, but doesn't soothe the urge I get to dig my hands into their woolly coats and give them a big old fashioned bear hug.

Of our four donkeys, Whisky and Lucy are best with the sheep.  Clover and Radar have been very naughty, and spent hours chasing the sheep during the first two days.  The combination of the hot September sunshine and the thick woolly coats was not conducive to running laps around the pasture, so Clover and Radar have been relocated to the centre courtyard. They are not happy about this, and have made their displeasure known by loudly braying and complaining.  Each night when we bring the sheep in, we bring the donkey's in as well and house them all side by side. We are hoping that with time Clover and Radar learn to accept the sheep.

I am still not used to their droppings.  After months of scooping donkey poop, the wee tiny pellets produced by the sheep led me to believe we had been infiltrated by rabbits! Tiny.  Extremely tiny. So tiny that my manure fork can't pick them up. I have resorted to sweeping the concrete. Which works...kind of.

I have suggested to the better half that a giant shop vac would do a fine job. He gave me "the look".   I didn't understand what was so odd about vacuuming the concrete paddock area. Now if I decide to pull out the Swiffer, then I would understand the concern,.

Monday, August 22, 2011

No sugar, just spice

Our neighbour has an apple tree that is so old it's a wonder it is still producing apples.  The apples are a pale yellow colour, and best used for apple sauce.  Their texture is dry and full of fibre, which doesn't make for great eating but does make for pretty amazing applesauce.

Thankfully, they allow us to take as many apples as we want each year.  The catch is, we can only take the ground apples.  My 80-something neighbour tells me that the ground apples make the best applesauce, and while initially I didn't believe her I have now realized she is correct. When they ripen to the point of dropping they are at their sweetest, and make a divine sauce.

It takes a little bit of pre-work, as I am opposed to insects in my sauce.  So I cut open each apple, removing cuts and insects before washing them.  Once washed, they go into the pot to boil their way to sweet delicious goodness!

The results are worth the time over the steaming hot stove on a warm August day. Come January, I will be thankful I made the effort.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A change of scenery

All you could hear was the soft clunking of the crates as we loaded them into the back of the truck. It was one of those dark end of summer nights, almost cool enough for a jacket.  The moon was so bright there was no need for flashlights, and we worked with quickly with a quiet sense of teamwork.

We felt like prohibition outlaws, secretly working under the cover of the night. But there was no chinking of brown bottles, just the cooing and clucking of the hens.

We were moving 49 pullets from their temporary home in the garage, to the new custom built coop.  It was quite a task, as you have to catch a pullet in the dark.  Chickens don't see well in the dark, and will hunker down in one spot. This makes it easy to catch them and load them into crates. When I say "easy" I specifically mean "easier than catching them in the light where they squawk and panic".  It is challenging to find them in the dark - but we managed.

Now the task at hand was to place a drop of Ivermec on each hen before releasing her into the new coop.  Again, it's easier to work in the dark as the hens remain calm - so by the light of the full moon we gently held each pullet and administered the Ivermec.

I wondered as we worked what they were thinking. Their entire life thus far was within the confines of one of our garages. Surrounded by snowshoes, camping equipment, and a wall full of garden tools.  Their new reality will be an open air run - with views of pastoral fields and the chorus of the crickets.

With the last hen perched carefully in the new hen house, we softly shut the door and for a moment we stood in the barnyard gazing at the moon. The frogs were in full orchestra, and the air smelt like fall.

Their whole world had just changed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Baaaa....aaadddd news

The sheep are ready for pick up.

We are not ready for the sheep.

This past few months has been a blur of to do lists, unexpected tasks, and loads of visitors.  All of this has put us way behind schedule.  We had hoped by this point in time to have the back pasture re-fenced for the sheep. Currently it is a split cedar rail fence...not suitable to hold in ewe lambs! Nor will it keep the coyotes out. 

We had also hoped to complete our barn conversion. Our plan is to build a new shelter for the remaining two cows, and then move the hay into the "cattle" barn.  That would then allow us to retrofit the hay barn for the sheep.   We have handling runs to build, lambing pens to create, and have to build hay racks and feeders. 

We haven't begun any of this.

Why does it always seem that winter is just around the corner, and we are nowhere near ready?

I adore the guests, but I do sometimes think they have an idyllic view of "farm life".   My mother spent some time with us, and now she truly understands that once we hit the ground running at 5:30AM, we don't stop - as we are in a race to beat the seasonal clock. 

Winter is coming.

More importantly, the sheep are arriving! Hopefully we can delay the pick up until the first week of September - which will give us the remainder of this month to get some sort of temporary housing in place.

Now if only I could get those visitors to work, we may just meet our sheep deadline!  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Coop Update

The grain silo conversion is almost complete, and should be ready for the hens to move in tomorrow.  It's taken quite some time for us to finish this coop - we had to get the hay in, there were visitors from overseas - but at last it's going to be done.

I white washed the interior today, in the hopes that the whitewash will prevent mould growth in the winter months.  It didn't turn out as white as I had anticipated, but I can live with the results.  We still need to find a window or two for the silo, in order to allow more light and air flow. 

It's hard to see the red door, but it is directly in line with the exterior door in the photo below.

We used one inch hardware cloth, as we find chicken wire doesn't stand up to the raccoons. We still need to have the sand delivered for the run area - and we need to put wire mesh down underneath the sand to keep predators from digging in!

The hens will have a great view of the creek pasture. Once we get the electrical in tomorrow, I can get some photos of the inside. We still need to build the nest boxes, perches and figure out the watering system. One day at a time right?

And finally - me! Tired, covered in dust and lime whitewash and wearing my pink tool belt.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What the duck?

We haven't had the best of luck with ducks. The last group that we had relocated to the neighbours farm, likely due to the fact that the fox kept lurking about our barns.  They were Indian Runner ducks, and never did really bond to us - in fact they ran from us just as they ran from the fox. Despite my best efforts, the Indian Runners never felt at home here, and so they moved.  They are now happy as a pig in a poke, on a great big pond with an island in the middle.

We said "no more ducks".

So how is it that less than a few weeks later, I find myself with this fellow?

He is most definitely a duck. My better half reminded me that we were not going to get anymore ducks. I nodded my head, as I fed the duck broccoli.

I explained that the duck was given to us by someone who didn't have acres of green fields for him to run about in, nor did they have a creek for him to splash in.  How could I deny the poor duck that opportunity?

Some time later, I found my better half sleeping on the couch, with the duck nestled in the crook of his arm. 

It seems the duck is staying.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In the end, I am an omnivore

I hate to say it, but I didn't feel bad when the meat birds left for market. I know, I know...I should have felt a pang of remorse.  I didn't.

I was far more relieved that I wouldn't have to stick my head inside the chicken tractor one more time, sliding on chicken poop and banging my head on the sharp corners.  Let's not forget to mention the multiple times that the chickens decided to shake as I entered - spraying me with wet chicken poop.  I managed to close my mouth on most occasions. Then there was the horrendous time that I slid on chicken poop in my Crocs, like a giant slip and slide - ending in a heap of slippery stinky chicken poop.

So, when the time came to load them up for their final journey, I have to confess I felt a bit elated that our time together had come to an end. It was a long 9 week relationship. 

Most of them came in at about 6-7 pounds, and as we savoured a freshly roasted bird last night I did pause for a moment and thank the bird for giving me such a delicious meal.

It was a short bittersweet relationship.

I suppose this was a bit like a rite of passage, a chance for me to prove that I am a real farm girl. I can raise up a meat hen, send it to market and enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Yee haw. I have arrived.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Haying for the first time

It’s hard to believe that only just a year ago, I didn’t realize there was a difference between hay and straw. To listen to us speak now about the types of grasses in our pasture, one would wonder if we had a degree in field grasses!

As we got closer to hay season, we began to wonder if we should invest the money into buying used haying equipment, or if it would be simpler to have someone else hay the fields for us.

We had no idea how hard it would be to find someone to do so! Having made several attempts we learnt that:

1) Most farmers are too darn busy haying their own fields to do yours

2) If they do take it on, they don’t guarantee it will be done before the rain comes…after all they have to get their hay up first

After many hours of searching on Kijiji, we finally found a retired farmer who was selling a haybine. It needed work, but after a few hours of repair we were able to get it up and running.

It took 3 more weeks to find a baler we could afford, once again Kijiji led us to our new acquisition.

We were now the proud new owners of haying equipment…but could we actually hay the fields? Could we manage to learn how to use the equipment in time to get the hay in?

In the words of my 89 year old neighbor “Your field looks like it got a two dollar haircut”!

And of course, no sooner had we finished baling the first 9 rounds of hay – but the weather forecast changed and the hydraulics went haywire on the tractor. We stood in misery watching the storm that night, the downpour soaking our freshly baled hay. I am sure our anguish was visible, we were so pained to see all of our sweat soaked efforts go down the drain.

However, the hay is baled. It’s now stored inside of our pole barn. That’s what counts right?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The cutest ass

Asses are like potato chips, or purses, or great cannot stop at one.

What began as a practical means of keeping coyotes out of the field, has now turned into a bit of an ass obsession. I fear that I will turn into a wild eyed version of the crazy cat lady - standing in some old post and beam barn surrounded by asses.

I swore I would stop at three, but then I read on a highly official government site that you should have one donkey per 50 sheep.  Of course, another site said that was hogwash, and that you could have one per every 100 sheep, but I used the first ratio as my strong argument in the purchase of Lucy.  Never mind that we don't have the sheep's all about effective planning!

Lucy is our new 4 month old donkey.  How could I resist her charm?

Donkey's are wonderful when it comes to livestock protection. In terms of value for dollar, they provide endless hours of entertainment, in addition to coyote protection.

In order for donkeys to provide the best predator protection possible it is important to first understand how they protect the flock. Think of a donkey like a security guard - in order to provide protection they must both be in the right place at the right time. The donkey's herding instinct combined with its inherent dislike and aggressiveness towards coyotes and dogs make it an effective livestock guard animal.

If a coyote enters the field, a donkey will raise a ruckus, and chase the intruder. In most cases they will actually confront the predator, and attack them by rising up on their hind legs and striking with both front feet. They will then attempt to bite the back of the predators neck as it ducks to defend itself, causing damage to main arteries.

It really makes you stop and think about how cute and fuzzy they are doesn't it?

Perhaps that's why I like them, they are cute, sweet and fuzzy...until you rub them the wrong way!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The concept of getting the meat birds seemed like a good one. In theory.

Raise fresh pasture fed chicken for our freezer. How hard could it be? I now had almost 9 months of chicken experience under my belt, and had successfully raised 3 baby chicks. Surely it wasn't that much different.

Well it was.

The Meat Birds aka. The Meaties are eating machines. I have never watched a chicken eat so enthusiastically. We feed them a protein pellet, in addition to the pasture on which they graze.

Allowing them to graze on pasture was a feat in itself. The challenge being that the fox family is still routinely visiting the farm to see what there is for supper.

Voila! The chicken tractor. A large hoop cage on wheels which we can drag around the pasture, providing the birds with a fresh patch of grass and greens several times a day.

Like locusts they eat the grasses down to nothing within hours.

It's remarkable to see really, lush green Timothy grass riddled with dandelion leaves and clover reduced to a pile of mud.  On which the fat white birds laze about in the sunshine.

They can be quite ferocious with their appetite, and will peck at your hands when you duck in to change the water.  I often have to remind myself that chickens are omnivores, and would not hesitate to enjoy carnage like a turkey vulture if given the opportunity.

This morning as I watched them bask in the sun, all I could think was "a few more weeks...just a few more weeks".

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Chicken Math

June of 2010...

"Ok, so darling wife - this chicken coop that I have made you will hold 20 chickens. That's more than you will ever need, right?"

Me: "Yup! I can't ever see having more than 20 chickens. Can you imagine having more than that? This chicken coop is wonderful! I love it! Thank you!"

1 Year Later.....

Me: "Honey, where am I going to put my 53 new laying hens? I think I need a new coop"

Thus began the grain silo conversion.... stay tuned for more photos!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rub a Dub Dub

This whole farming business is all a learning experience, but I always feel super guilty when one of the animals suffers at the extent of my learning.

When our donkey's arrived, we got them brand new spiffy halters and discarded the halters they were wearing. Like getting a new puppy we were pleased to see them sporting their bright new halters.

We left them on. All of the time.

We truly didn't know any better. The halters made it easier to hold on to them while cleaning their feet or grooming them.

Until recently I didn't see that the halters were rubbing the hair from their faces. Our poor donkey's were suffering and we hadn't noticed!

We immediately removed the halters, and put polysporin on anything that looked the least bit irritated. Primarily it was simply areas where the hair had rubbed bare.

A quick Google search informed us that halters only go on when needed, and should not be left on for turn out.

Apparently the hair will grow back now that we have removed the halters. They weren't much good anyway - pulling on a donkey to get it to go somewhere never works.

Baby carrots however work wonders.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The dogs earn their supper

Our dogs have been fantastic at chasing away the fox for the past few weeks, the trouble is that the fox just keeps turning up like a bad penny.

We have been letting the dogs spend more time in the yard, in the hopes of encouraging the fox to move along...but so far no luck.

I have all of the hens on lock down, and they are miserable. They love roaming free and enjoying the sun and the fresh greens of the pasture.

Here's hoping the fox moves along soon!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wiley as a....

There is nothing more disturbing than a pile of chicken feathers.  Like small puffs of soft cotton, they were clinging to the grass in a circle. It looked like some sort of feathered alien spaceship had landed and left behind feathered crop circles.

But I knew better.

A quick head count revealed that 5 hens were missing. One of my sweet barred rocks, and 4 Red Sex links. My most prolific layers.

No sign of blood, but a definite struggle. Something fast, and of a decent size. Small enough to get under the fencing and slip in unnoticed.

We had a fox in the hen house.

We took a quick walk of the fields, and found one poor hen, sans head. It seems she was dropped on the way to the den. We also found two dens on the property, which we smoked out and filled with rocks and diesel oil. We are hoping to convince our foxy friends to move away.

The hens are now on lock down, and hating every minute of it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our One Year Farm Anniversary

It's been one year since we moved here to this magical corner of the countryside.  As I sit back and ponder on the past 365 days, it's hard to believe that we haven't lived here much longer.

A huge thank you to all of the readers who have spent the last year following along with us - I know you laughed just as much as I did.

It has certainly been a year for learning, the knowledge we have acquired has not always come cheaply. But I wouldn't trade one sweaty, exhausting, sun burnt minute of it.

The next year holds oodles of adventure, and I can almost smell the winds of change as they blow across the pasture.

We have finally decided what will work for this farm as a profitable venture.


It's been quite a process to make this decision. We had a farm consultation through the Ontario Growing Forward program, and took the time to job shadow a sheep producer to see if we could handle the gory aspects of lambing. We have visited feedlot systems and pasture grazing set ups. We have researched breeds and crunched numbers. We created a Business Plan.

We are now on the verge of plunging into this newest adventure, and while it's a wee bit scary it's also quite exciting.  It will mean no more free weekends, or summer vacations for a while - but it will be worth the risk if we can begin creating a farm income!

Monday, May 23, 2011

What does it all mean?

Today's storm was a real doozy.

Flashing streaks of lightening, dark skies, and rain that came down like the skies had simply opened to let go their contents. It came upon the farm quickly, and then just as quickly it was all over.

I noticed the light became very eerie, and so I went outside to investigate and this is what I found. It's hard sometimes not to believe that we live in a magical place.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New girls in town

I am still trying to determine if we actually make any money on the sale of eggs. I am quiet certain that if I factor in the hours spent cleaning coops, putting up protective fencing around my gardens, feeding and watering, caring for chicks etc. that my hourly profit is somewhere in the region of 3 cents.

However, sales are up.

So we recently bought 20 Red Sex Link pullets to assist in the demand for fresh eggs. As young pullets it is taking them while to get up to full laying production. We are now at about 15 eggs per day.  That brings our total daily egg count to about 22-24 eggs per day. In theory, with 33 hens we should have 33 eggs per day, however the hens don't seem to agree with that theory!  I am not counting our 3 young Americauna pullets as they haven't begun laying yet. Again, in theory that would bring us to 36 hens - providing they are hens as one is looking particularly roo-ish.

Layer feed is currently sold for $12 per bag, and we go through about a bag a week for all 36 hens.  Wood chips are $6 per bag, and we go through one bag per week when cleaning out the coops. I am not factoring in the cost of oyster shells and scratch as they are free fed and seem to last longer.

At present, we break even if we sell all of our available eggs. I suppose this means that we get eggs for ourselves that are farm fresh, with the added joy of keeping chickens.

Someone really needs to tell the ducks to start laying. Currently, in my books they are freeloaders.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

And then there were two...

We haven't yet decided what sort of farm venture is going to be profitable for us, but we are well on our way to figuring it out.

What we have realized is that with only 50 acres, cattle are not going to be suitable for us in terms of profitability.

So the cows had to go.

We have been fortunate to sell the girls to various cow calf operations, and the bullock to a new herd where he will be a herd sire.  That leaves us with Monty, our bull, and Kelda our favorite girl.

For now, they can roam the hills until we determine if they will have a permanent spot on the farm or not.  My dear sweet man is quite enamoured with them, and I figure if I have my donkeys, then he is allowed some bull!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wee ducks

Everybody knows that baby ducks are cute. With their fuzzy yellow heads, and their cute orange beaks, what's not to like?

The stink.

My experience with chickens and wee baby chicks did not prepare me for ducks.  I assumed that it would be the same in terms of care and upkeep.

Boy was I wrong!

So here are my learning's about ducks.

  1. They swim in their water dish.
  2. They like to eat their food wet, which means that their water is usually a murky colour as the food has been sitting in it all day.
  3. Their wood chips get wet, and combined with the daily poop they become a sticky brown mess.
  4. They are not cuddly, in fact they will wiggle out of your grasp like an oiled snake.
  5. They like to tip their water dish, which means changing the water frequently - see number 1.
  6. The wood chips become cement like after two days.
The ducklings are now living with Charlie out in the barn in an enclosed area, until they are old enough to free range. For now, we are using straw in their enclosure, but I am beginning to realize why the folks who keep ducks have earth enclosures -and have them open to the elements. I realize now it's so that the rain can wash away the stench!

Soon enough they will be free ranging, which will solve the issue for the summer months. However, I am not looking forward to the cold winter that smell will be indoors for the season.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Call 24/7

One of the challenges about being a "part-time" farmer is that unexpected situations can really wreck havoc with your day.

I arrived home after a particularly long commute to see my better half running towards the gate in a panic.

Uh oh.

I rolled down the window to hear the four words that most farmers cringe at.

"The bull got out!"

I have never moved quite so fast - changing into my farm gear and running for the pasture, grabbing half a loaf of bread as I ran past the bread bin.

The damage wasn't so bad, fortunately he didn't knock out the cedar fence posts, only the railing in between. I shook my head at the damage, and sighed. Putting up the new electric wire was on the to do list for the weekend, it seems our bull didn't want to wait.  The bull looked at me with baleful eyes, and seemed to be apologetic.

We managed to get him down into the barn area, using bread and grain to lure him into the barnyard -- and then strung a temporary electric fence to keep him there. What followed was 2 hours of fencing, in the dark cold drizzle and rain.

As I pounded fence insulators into the old grey cedar posts, I realized that this is the side of farming which most folks don't think about. The fact that there is no "9-5" work day. Farmers are on call 24/7. Whether it's to assist in a lambing, fix a fence, or check on some chicks in the incubator... you are always on call.

Hours later, curled up together on the worn out old sofa in our family room, I asked with a smile "so what do you think, too much work? Should we give up the farm?"

My dear sweet man smiled at me as he grabbed the latest copy of Ontario Farmer to read the classifieds "Never".

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's a farm without a....

When I saw the ad, I thought "what on earth would we do with him?", but given the massive fly problem we have been having I thought "why not?".

And so Charlie arrived.

Charlie is an Indian Runner duck, and what makes him facinating and albeit comical is that he stands straight and tall like a bowling pin.  At the present time, he is hanging out in a dog kennel down by the barns, and being spoilt with every treat imaginable.

The trouble is, we think he's lonely.... and so we have some Indian Runner ducklings arriving this weekend. Fingers crossed that one of them turns out to be a Mrs. Charlie!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't waste your vote!

We have an upcoming federal election, and it is so easy to get lost in the sea of information out there when it comes to candidates.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture provided this great comparison table, which compares key parties and their thoughts on major initiatives.

I have found it to be very handy, and will make the most informed choice I can at the polls!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Growing Forward

The Ontario Farm course we took recently, "Growing Forward" has allowed us to look at our farm as more of a business, and less of a hobby.

When asked recently "what do your kids raise on the farm?" my mother-in-law replied "pets!". 

We hope to change that!

Prior to this point, we have been sort of floundering around and experimenting with different ideas, and while experimentation is good it is also costly. So we have now developed a business plan for the property, which will allow us to hopefully move forward and create a viable hobby farm that supports itself financially.

All of this is excellent news, with the only downside being that part of that plan involves selling off the cattle.  Our 50 acres is not suitable to a cow/calf operation, and so the difficult decision has been made to sell off most of the herd.

So what will we be looking at next? Sheep. We will be partnering with a sheep farmer, and learning more about their operation.  Having hands on experience will allow us to explore the idea without having to put capital up front.  If we decide that it's something we would like to explore further, we will begin with a small flock and ensure a solid foundation.  No more jumping in blindly, as fun as that was.

So the donkeys - all three of them - stay, and so do the chickens.  As for the cattle, we will have two for now. Our bull and one female.  However, down the road if we find the right home these two fine specimens will also leave the farm.

Endings are only the beginnings of new adventures - and this one seems like it's going to certainly be an interesting one!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ontario Farm Fresh

We are fortunate that we live in a province that values agriculture. We are also fortunate to live in a province that is beginning to understand the health benefits of eating quality foods.

The Ontario government will be launching a new website for farmers, producers and buyers. Think of it as a "Dating site" for farmers and buyers!  Buyers will be able to go online and find specific producers, and producers will be able to connect with buyers.

To sign up your farm for this website, visit

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm Not A Flower

My dear sweet fireman was early down to the barns this morning, and as he stood greeting the donkeys he saw a large black cat dash by with it's fluffy tail at full mast.

He chided the cats for allowing a Tom cat into the barn. Peering around the hay bale, he tried to catch a glimpse of our visitor.


"Here puss puss! Here puss puss!", he called for the big fat Tom.

Our three barn cats sat lazily watching him searching the hay bales.

He climbed up a stack of square bales, and peered down inside the hidey hole where the barn cats like to sleep.

Peering up at him was a very large skunk.

He slowly backed down the hay bales, and retreated from the barn.

Seems our barn cats have allowed a visitor to share their cozy hay pile. Now the question to get the skunk out of the barn? We can't trap him - imagine how he will spray us! Skunks can spray their musk up to 15 feet. We don't want to poison him. So we are not sure what options are available.

A quick search tells us that:
  1. We may have to remove the self feeder for the cats, and start feeding them twice a day. The skunk thinks this is a buffet and we don't want the whole family moving in.
  2. Place cat food up high. Skunks are terrible climbers and won't be able to climb up to the shelf. Apparently they have no issues climbing hay bales though.
  3. My guess is since it is April, she is looking for a place to have her young. So we need to vacate her before that happens!
  4. A loud radio can deter them, they don't like lights and noise as it doesn't feel safe. (apparently our quiet dark barn was perfect)
  5. Coffee cans with holes poked in the sides full of mothballs. Tight fitting lid will keep cats from eating it.
  6. Human urine. Yup - my better half is going to love that one. Apparently it is a deterrent. I don't blame them. It would deter me too.
  7. Our grain is going to have to find a new home in a sealed bin, as right now it is a tasty skunk treat.
I suppose if we try all of this, we may be successful. The tricky part will be doing so without the dogs getting sprayed! For now, I will continue to open the barn door with caution.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Country Fashionista

As time goes on, I find myself caring less and less about the brand of purse I carry - and more and more about the price of corn and the practicality of something.

It seems that most days, my bogs are the footwear of choice as they are both dry and warm - a combination that none of my designer pumps seem to offer.  My coveralls, while not highly fashionable and several sizes to big, do a much better job of keeping dirt out and warmth in. I have become familiar with such fashion houses as Carhartt, Dickies, FarmGirl, and Rosies. I am constantly amazed that I manage to "clean up so well" for my off farm day job!

So was it little wonder that I would invest in a Fleece Union Suit?   I reasoned that they were popular in Vermont, an area known for it's celebrity sightings. So surely it can't be too unfashionable - can it? Our drafty old farmhouse is simply not suited for the skimpy choices available today for women's loungewear.  Flannel or fleece is more than just a choice, it's a neccessity.

I did notice that it is surprisingly similar to some of the baby sleepers I see for small children, but I am trying to ignore that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I am winning the battle! Sort of...

Like any great battle, there comes a point where you manage to turn the corner and realize that victory may be yours.

Today I did a chicken inspection, and I am pleased to report that I didn't see any creepy crawlies on the hens. Regardless, I dusted their bottoms once more with the lice powder, just in an act of "good measure". 

They certainly seem happier - clucking away and acting more like their usual selves again.

The wee chick who has clung to deaths door for the last few weeks also seems to be turning a corner. I have sat on the fence when it comes to this chick.  I am still undecided if I am battling a case of infectious sinusitis - also known as Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) - or if she simply had Infectious Bronchitis (IB).  Regardless, I just didn't have the heart to cull her. She was still eating and drinking, and seemed to be fighting whatever it was. I separated her from the others, and gave her Superbooster (an antibiotic, vitamin treatment).  It seems to help, and she does seem to be recovering.

The difficult part about both viruses is that so many backyard flocks seem to have them if they are free ranging. Wild birds carry the virus in their stool and when backyard chickens roam they often pick it up.  

My choices became:
1) Cull the chicks as they have all been exposed. If it's just a "cold" then I may be culling them in vain, but if it's Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) I will hopefully prevent my other hens from being infected.

2) I allow them to live, knowing that they "may" have Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), and that they will have a stronger immunity to it. Some of my other hens may get sick when exposed, but again - if they recover they will have an immunity to it. Much like we develop an immunity to colds.

This website had some great info to help identify illnesses in poultry. Further reading shows me that many backyard chicken owners disagree on the subject. I guess it's somewhat like the decision to vaccinate your animals, or inoculate your children. There are always to opinions!

For now, she is still hanging in there and I just don't have the heart to "cull" her. Time will tell.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gobble Gobble

Without meaning to, we have become proud owners of a large flock of wild turkeys. It began last fall when they wandered into the front field. At the time, we thought they were simply passing through.

Then they discovered the feeders.

I have several feeders out for squirrels, chipmunks, deer - and the feathered folk too. I suppose it was simply natural that the turkeys would choose to move in.

They took up residence in the forest, and while turkey's may have wings they are not excellent at roosting. It's quite a frightening sound to hear them crashing through the branches at two am.

We began with about 12 turkeys, and somewhere over the winter that number seems to have doubled. Today they were wandering in the back pasture, oblivious to the dogs barking up a frenzy at these "intruders".

So I did what any farm girl would do, I put out more chicken scratch for them.

I need them to stick around until Thanksgiving!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creepy Crawlies and the Chicken Peepers

When I was a small child, I had a complete disdain for insects that could crawl on you. A flea for example, would skeeve me out completely. It seems I have not completely lost this disdain for creepy crawlies!

My dear sweet fireman and I ventured into the hen house tonight to resolve this mite issue once and for all. We were armed with the Ivermectin, more Blue-Kote, some Anti-picking lotion, rubber gloves, and the chicken glasses.  He was still not convinced about the chicken glasses, and thought that his friends would chuckle at the idea of him "painting his chickens and putting glasses on them."

Still, we were ready.

So into the hen house we went. I selected the first hen, one of my favorite barred rocks. Her rump was so hen pecked that the skin had been torn off. I cringed inwardly and held her as he applied the Blue-Kote, and then the Anti-pick lotion the surrounding area.  A few drops of Ivermectin at her neck and it was then time for the glasses.

He sat there, poised over her head.

"I don't think I can do this" he said, "my hands are too large".

So I handed the hen to him, and took the small plastic glasses and the tiny plastic pin. He held her head still, and I slowly positioned them over her bead. I gently began to align the pin, and I was doing so I felt the poor hen cringe. Her eyes closed, and she literally braced herself.

I couldn't do it.

I didn't feel so bad, because neither could he. So instead, we picked up the next hen intending to treat her in the same way. As I pulled back her feathers for the Blue-Kote, my dear sweet fireman reeled back in disgust. She was crawling with what appeared to be small white insects.

Feather lice.  Now fortunately for both of us, feather lice are species specific, which means they have no interest in mammals and only like a host with feathers which they can eat. Poultry mites and lice are not dangerous to people. They can and may bite you, causing irritation but they are not a blood sucking lice, they would rather eat the feathers and feather dust on the bird.

Still, my skin began to crawl.

We continued to treat each hen, until all 15 were done.

Now I knew why they were so itchy! It also meant a change in tactics. So tomorrow I will apply something with a pyrethrin in it to kill existing lice dead. Pyrethrins are derived from certain chrysanthemum flowers - but are lethal to insects. I am also going to take a large pan and fill it with the DEarth in order for them to dust themselves with it. All of this is going to have to be followed by a complete overhaul of the coop, a full cleaning and disinfecting with bleach, and a good dose of a pyrethrin into all of the nooks and crannies.

Hopefully, I can do all of that without running for the hills. My skin is crawling just thinking about it.

Our hens have been spared this fate as we were too chicken to apply them


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicken Peepers

I decided I needed more arsenal. So I went to the Feedmill for help. I love the Feedmill, it's like stepping back in time. I swear that the place looks the same as it must have 50 years ago.

After discussing my issues with them, they came up with some solutions. They agreed a dose of Ivermectin would help, as would dusting with the Diatomaceous earth. However - they had an even better idea.

They explained that once chickens become cannablistic, it is often their nature to continue. Some hens begin to like the taste of blood, and won't stop attacking one another.  I assured them that my hens were very sweet, and had not become the zombie's they were describing. Regardless, I listened to their solution.

Chicken Glasses.

I was astounded. They had such a thing. Tiny plastic glasses that would prevent my hens from seeing straight ahead - causing them to stop pecking at each other. My only objection was that to apply them I would have to slip a small plastic pin through the hens nostrils, to afix the glasses in place. At fifty cents a piece I figured it can't hurt to try. She assured me I don't have to leave them on permanently, simply until the warm weather comes and I can allow them to free range.

The urbanite in me was horrified at the idea, but the farm girl in me knows that the welfare of the hens is what's important, and this will stop them from hurting each other.

Still..chicken peepers?

seems it's not a new idea!

The Battle Begins

Day one of the battle went great, up until the part where I realized that the Blue-Kote antiseptic that I was putting on the hens was also getting all over my hands. Not a problem, I would just wash it off afterwards, right?

This is yet another reason why it is important to READ THE LABEL before using. "May permanently stain skin and clothing". Yes, I see that.

Not to worry, I had a mission. I continued to dose each hen with Blue-Kote and soon realized that this was not a job for one person. Holding a squirming hen while trying to daub them with lotion is a challenge at the best of times, trying not to get any more of the damn stuff on skin or clothing was near impossible.

So I decided to wait one more day until my dear sweet fireman could help.

Sorry girls, you will have to squirm for one more day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tiny Strangers in the Hen House

There is an unwelcome visitor in my coop.

All of this picking and pecking led me to do a deeper investigation this evening, and what I discovered horrified me.

I have mites in the coop.

As a new chicken owner, I couldn't fathom how they got there, but I have been assured by the friendly folks at the feed co-op that wild birds (yes, those lovely cardinals and bluebirds I adore) share them with the hens.

So I am now preparing to fight the battle.

It will begin tomorrow night with diatomaceous earth. Taking each hen, I will encase her in a pillow case filled with diatomaceous earth and in the words of the fellow at the feed co-op "Shake and Bake them".  Coating each hen with this fine powder, which will hopefully begin the process of killing off the mites.

Step two will be to remove all of the existing wood chips, and spray the hen house down with ivermectin spray. Ensuring it gets into all of the nooks and crannies. (Ivermectin is a broad range antiparasitic medicine.) Each hen will also get a drop of Ivermectin on the back of her neck. Then, I will re-fill the hen house with new wood chips and another liberal dose of diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth is food grade and safe. In fact it is probably the most effective naturally occurring protective powder on earth. It is taken from a geological deposit made up of the fossilized skeletons of marine and fresh water organisms, particularly diatoms and other algae. These skeletons are made of hydrated amorphous silica or opal. When crushed, they break up into tiny pieces of "glass'' (so tiny and fine that the diatomaceous earth feels like talcum powder). This is easily picked up by the hairy bodies of most Insects - whereupon it scratches through their protective wax layers; and they also absorb some of this material. The result being that the insects lose water rapidly and dry up to die.

It's the Ivermectin spray I worry about. So for 7 days we will not be selling eggs from the coop. I can't in good conscience sell eggs that I wouldn't want to eat myself! My customers will be very disappointed - but I am quite certain that they too would want the hens restored to their former happy selves.

Wish me luck with this battle!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Fever

We need spring to arrive. It seems that spring fever is hitting the farm hard this last week! I will share with you some of the ups and downs of the last 7 days.

The chickens are plucking themselves out of boredom, I have now taken to giving them entire heads of lettuce and cauliflower to chase around the coop. It seems to help, for a short while. I sadly had to re-home one Golden Laced Wyandotte as the rest of the flock seemed to think she was a head of lettuce, and would chase her around pecking her poor bleeding backside.  She has now joined a new flock where she can recover peacefully.

The new chicks were doing marvellously well, peeping away in the laundry room. But alas, two days ago they began to sneeze. What followed was a full scale epidemic, and armed with Superbooster I have been dosing them in an effort to combat the cold. Three have recovered quite nicely, but the fourth is still in critical care. I feel terribly responsible for the life of this tiny chick, and so I diligently ensured she got her share of antibiotics via an eyedropper. It remains to be seen if she will pull through.

I certainly did not need any more chaos added to the mix, but our Livestock Guardian dog (LGD) decided to scuffle with our wee mutt. An initial vet visit was made, and all seemed fine. Some antibiotics and a clean up of superficial wounds. But over the weekend the wee dog didn't fare to well. What followed was a trip to the emergency vets (why is it that these things always happen after hours?) where he was treated for infected lymph nodes. He now has a shunt to drain the large abscess in his neck and is sporting a cone to keep him from scratching at it.  Our other dogs feel that this cone is simply a unique handle by which to grab him as he runs by. We have resorted to crating him, where he sits miserably wondering why he is being given a time out.

Our female LGD has just this week been hit hard with spring fever, and has found all sorts of unique ways to scramble under the electric fencing. She discovered that if she ran quite quickly, and flattened herself at the last minute, she could slide on the ice under the bottom wire with a whoosh! and land on the other side untouched.  What followed was hours of us wandering our 50 acre property trying to listen for the sound of her cow bell. Thankfully she wears a cowbell, or we would not have found her on the neighbours front lawn.

With all of this excitement, it was kind of touching to watch our wee bullock frolicking in the sun. And he does frolic. As the air warmed today, you could see his excitement - he began kicking his heels up like a wee elf in delight, knowing that warmer weather is coming.

I hesitated for a moment as I watched, and then thought "why not?" and I too did a little leprechaun jump. It can't hurt, can it?

Taken just before the frolicking began