Hey, it’s hay!

Today I sorted out the hay situation for the sheep. Since I live smack dab in the middle of dairy country I figured getting hay wouldn’t be too hard, and sure enough it was as simple as introducing myself to another of my neighbors and asking them to call me with their prices. No more than an hour after our conversation he arrived with his hay tractor containing 10 large squares of hay and some small bales of straw. By large squares I truly mean massive squares – these guys are 7 feet long (4×4 feet wide/high I believe)! They were manipulated skillfully by the farmer with his small tractor and are most definitely staying right where they were put for the entire winter. We covered them with a tarp to keep out the rain after transferring a week or so worth into our barn lobby for easy distribution.

I imagine it was an interesting day for the sheep. They all gathered around the barn when the farmer was unloading the hay, watching curiously. They all flocked around us while we spread out the straw inside the barn, some tried to nibble the seedheads but most gave up quickly. They all went crazy for the new yummy hay, and I learned very quickly that the bales are very compact indeed and a little goes a long way with my tiny sheep!

Then we spoiled them and gave them a yummy grain snack with lots of snuggles. That’s just how I roll.

The bird pen got a fine layer of straw and now looks like a golden oasis amongst the dying/frozen grass. I’m sure all the birds are greatly enjoying finding the seedheads. It won’t be too much longer for the turkeys until they are ready for harvest, we are beefing them up and they are eager to eat so it’s a win win situation.

We have a bit more cleaning to do outside, some firewood is coming in tomorrow morning, I need to finally put away all the summer tools and get out the winter ones… but we are well on our way to preparing for the winter months which seem to approach quicker with each passing day 🙂

Rebellion Controlled!

Animals love to rebel. It seems to be a common trait between all species!

We fixed the duck solution by trimming one wing, just as we did with the turkeys, and housing them in the garden. They were startled at first but are taking to their new living situation ok.

Tess the cat has finally started to leave us alone and make the barn her home. Hooray for that!

I brought Lee into the field today to corral up the sheep and he did a surprisingly good job in both being serious and responding to my commands. There is hope for him yet! He’ll never win any shepherding awards I can tell you that for sure, but he’ll be a valuable asset. I think eventually once I have enough sheep to warrant it (so probably 2012) I’ll make an arrangement to adopt one of his offspring that shows good signs of wanting to herd sheep.

As with everything, one day’s perspective is enough to refocus your mind on what is important. We are focusing on securing the fields with a second offset layer of fence so that not even the goats can escape. This way we can bring home two more Maremma pups who will get used to guarding the flock and allow me to expand to multiple fields next year. We hope to have them home ASAP, Heidi is certainly up to her neck in cute but studious guard animals! If you know of a farmer who’s looking for a livestock guardian pup do let me know.

A Cold October

The Flock in October

It’s the middle of October and boy is it cold. Today was officially the first hard frost, I doubt it if much grass will live through it but I’ve been surprised before so I won’t discount it completely. I had to go out and break up the ice on the waterers, a task I will no doubt get very tired of very fast.

Turkeys

My turkeys are grown up. It’s hard to believe that they were once as small as could be, fitting easily in the palm of my hands! Now they are massive huge beasts who require constant feeding and monthly feather-trimming to prevent them from escaping their enclosure. Already the big white tom I bought from my friend Bill escaped, and if it wasn’t for Lee’s natural ability to capture prey like this I would have spent probably a half hour chasing him back into his house.

One of the 2010 duck girls

The ducklings too are grown up. Here’s one of the girls after a feeding (that’s some feed dust on her back). The girls fly around all day long while the boys waddle to catch up. In fact I think one was sleeping in a tree this morning!

Charlie is doing very well. Each day he runs a bit faster and has a bit more energy. Today in fact he surprised me by flying over to the feeding location, something I’ve rarely if ever seen him done. So he’s definitely energetic about living, which I love to see. We will continue to monitor his health, especially with the onset of cold weather, to see if he pulls through.

Wet Spirit

My next goal is to reinforce the fenceline so that I can bring home two Maremma puppies from my friend Heidi’s farm. I have lots of plans to expand, and with the coyotes here guardian animals are a must. Nothing beats a guardian animal who grows up on the farm they work on, so getting them here soon is quite desirable. The key now is to find 1500 feet of suitable fencing and install it, which is much easier said than done.

Charlie and Tess and Reflections

I don’t believe I’ve yet told you a lot about these two creatures on the farm, so here goes.

Charlie being fawned over by the lady ducks

Charlie is one of the two male ducklings that Jane hatched this year. He was the alpha baby, leader of all ducklings, the prime choice for being John’s backup or for being traded. Last Thursday Charlie was in an accident. It was raining, and all poultry loves going to the roads cause the worms all come up. He was on the road when a blue small car barreled by and honked at him while smashing into him at 80km/h. I ran into the road, picked him up, and brought him back to relax and for me to decide what to do. That was the day I dropped off the animals at the slaughterhouse so I decided to let him sit while I took care of that business. By the time I returned to see him, he was stationary but perky, so we decided to let him live out the next days while monitoring his condition. We put him into our large dog crate with food and water, and within a few hours his ducky family came to see him (and steal his food).

I am glad to report that Charlie is doing well. He has a limp, his foot is not infected though which is great. After a few days in the cage we released him back with his family and he generally hangs around with them, albeit the last of the pack now. Even Pebbles, the white duck, is higher in the hierarchy than he is. The girl duckies are being hormonal and chase him around sometimes which I find quite cruel and is behaviour I try to stomp out when I see it happening. Nonetheless Charlie is a trooper and I’m sure we are all rooting for him.

Tess meowing

The other recent addition is Tess. She is a small, young, charming, very pretty and energetic barn cat. She has a very long tail and is quite friendly, but apparently she tears up furniture like no one’s business so as much as we’d like to have her in the house, she will be a barn cat for now. She has made the upper level her home along with Twilight the black rabbit. My one qualm with her is she meows nonstop unless you’re actively snuggling her or feeding her. Hopefully she will have kittens sometime soon and they can take her attention in addition to bringing up the barn cat population and thus reducing the rat and mice numbers!

Of course when I mention breeding my animals, whether it’s the cat or Lee or my sheep, it’s important to breed responsibly. There are far too many people who breed irresponsibly, and bottom line is it’s just unfair to the animals both parents and offspring. This is something I have been considering recently due to my ability to breed Lee – there’s a balance between respectfully spreading his very unique genes and popping out puppies every day. As his owner, determining where that limit is falls on my shoulder – if he had it his way no doubt he’d be having puppies as often as he could, that’s just how nature works. With sheep it’s a bit different, Shetlands don’t produce more than 2 or rarely 3 per year, beyond that you can use them for meat or sell them to another flock, unlike dogs and cats which are not eaten here in North America and aren’t often housed in large packs.

This theme of responsibility with animals and other food is something I have really been made aware of during my first year on this farm. It has definitely changed my way of thinking and my relationship with food. No longer am I the kind of person who buys and discards perfectly good food, because I now understand the full effort put into making it. I am someone who pays attention to how well animals are treated in return for providing us with their meat, because it is the responsible and respectful thing to do. I am someone who now knows that the limited supply of food you see in the stores is only the tip of the iceberg as to what varieties of foods are out there, and with only a small bit of effort you can bring into existence foods that delight you with their fresh delicious flavours the likes of which you’ll never find in any store. I am officially a different person than I was when I came into this farm, and while I wasn’t expecting it in the least I most certainly embrace it. This is living, my friends. This is what life is all about.

What’s Up?

It has been a busy week, surprisingly with harvesting and preserving. Even though we planted nothing to harvest during this time, there have been some latestayers in the garden, so we’ve been able to do some more things.

We harvested a few sunflower heads which were ripe if not a few days too early. I’ve never really observed how a sunflower grows so it was neat to see that the seed is formed at the base of the flower while the flower is still attached. I wasn’t expecting that form of growth! The seeds popped right off. We soaked them in salt water then roasted them slowly in a low heat oven. They were yummy and perfectly preserved, not like they lasted long at all. Sunflowers are high on our list for next years growing plan, both edible seed kind and oil kinds.

Yummy Corn

Our one-sister garden, piles of corn, were ready for harvest. They were probably ready two weeks ago and would’ve been ready weeks prior to that had we planted them at the right time! Regardless, we harvested four ears of corn which ranged in beauty from toothless hick to picture perfect cob (albeit with a mini corn cob tip with no kernels). All were equally delicious, more on the starchy side than sweet side, a mealy filling corn. More corn next year is obviously the plan, of many varieties.

As are squash and pumpkins. I would give anything to have a field of orange pumpkins growing steadily. Sadly this isn’t the case this year but we are working on it for next year. I will just have to make do with other farm-bought pumpkins and store bought squash.

Hot Pepper Jelly

One other plant which produced regularly was the hot peppers bought from a local greenhouse. We converted the most recent harvest of peppers with our fridgeful of sweet bell peppers and made some hot pepper jelly. It turned out to be more sweet pepper jelly than hot, I will add more hot peppers next time, and can in smaller containers to make nice gifts. It is very tasty with crackers and cheese.

Dad and Daughter

The ducklings have grown up into young adults. The girls have grown down and the boys are pudging up. Pebbles is one of the gang now which pleases me greatly, harmony is peace.

Big Turkey

The turkeys are no longer invited to stay for the year. It would have been quite a bit of effort to fit them in and keep them warm over the winter so we are electing to slaughter them for yummy meat. Oh and I’ve noticed the result of playing with your baby turkeys: they will flock around you all the time, pecking at your legs, getting in your face, etc. It was fun to raise them so close to us but I am totally ok with saying never again! Next year it is an outside protected brooder house for the baby turkeys. And by fall 2011 we should have a nice permanent turkey house in the new portion of pasture. I will be doing one of the males for our personal use and look forward to harvesting his large feathers and seeing if I can make up little quill pens 🙂

My sheep have grown up as well it seems and are little teenagers working on their pecking orders. Their days consist of eating, resting, eating some more, resting more, going to bed, sometimes having a midnight snack. What a cumbersome life! I am super excited to shear the boys in the spring and not excited to pick out the burrs out of their fleeces for processing. Another lesson learned this year: the importance of eliminating burr bushes from pastures as soon as you see them. Hand in hand, the value of gas equipment over electric equipment is now well known. Sure an electric lawn mower for around the house is ok, but for field and pasture cleanup you want the freedom of gas powered equipment.

A Nighttime Pickup

We were in the car heading back to the farm from our day trip to Ottawa when I get a phone call from The Duck Kid.

A bit of backstory, I met this nearby (aka 25 minutes) farming family via a UsedOttawa ad for free duck eggs. Sadly the eggs were not alive by the time I picked them up. I left my number with them in case they needed any more help with raising their Muscovies, and indeed I was contacted a few weeks ago to give my help with raising one duckling which also did not live past a day. I saved the family’s number in my cell phone under the name The Duck Kid, in case they called again.

I guess their failures were discouraging enough to the point where they wanted to find a better home for the breeding pair, so again my number was dialed, and again I was glad to provide my help.

Henry and Pebbles are now spending the night in the never-reinstalled Poppy’s Haus at the end of my driveway. Tomorrow we will move them into the Poultry Welcome Area (aka the coop portion of our barn), and in a few days once they’ve imprinted this place as their home, they will be let free to roam around and make peace with our existing Muscovies.

Henry

Henry is (from what I can tell at 10:30pm) pure white, whereas Pebbles is white with black wings. Combined with our pure-chocolates, we should have interesting and colorful batches of ducklings next year!

Pebbles Side view

Photos to come tomorrow morning, and from this day on – I finally went back to the PC part store and kindly demanded some satisfaction. I’m glad I did, I walked out of there with a case and Tom is currently nose deep in setting it up. Hooray!! I feel whole again almost!