Friday, September 14, 2012

New Sheep in 2 weeks

Our new ewes are coming on Sept 28th so this weekend we'll have the barn finished and the fence in place. The importance of the barn is really for keeping the hay dry and as a shelter for new lambs once they come. Sheep will happily live outside with a cover or 3 sided shelter in even the nastiest weather, but we like to have a barn available anyways. We're also going to add a coop on one side and probably a lean to shelter to the other side for the sheep to have some shade if they want it.

The sheep we're getting are culls from a larger flock. And since I would usually advise people to make sure they're not getting culls, why are we doing it? Did we feel sorry for the sheep?

In keeping livestock there's a balancing of caring for your animals and being able to butcher them if you're raising them for meat. Good producers treat their animals well and take care of their needs while still being able to maintain perspective and know that they have given them a good life before slaughter. Does that make sense?

Well, our girls are very good quality mature ewes of 3-4 years old that have lambed multiple times each and have twins/triplets. I've seen their lambs from this past spring and they're lovely healthy looking animals. But such frequent lambing, ( the STAR system does 5 lambings in 3 years) nursing and subsequent mastitis (I suspect) has left them with udders that are blind on one side, that is, they only make milk on one side so a lamb can only suckle on the one nipple. That's fine for a single lamb but what about for twins, triplets or quads? Who feeds the other ones? Well the short answer is that the shepherd is responsible. So as I mentioned in a previous post, we'll be out in the cold and dark bottle feeding lambs. It doesn't sound too bad does it? But feeding colostrum to lambs is a 5 times a day commitment and after that they still need 3-4 feedings every 24 hours. So your day looks like this: feedings at 6am, 11am and the bedding gets cleaned now, 4pm and then before bed at about 9 or 10pm. For newborns there's a middle of the night feeding at 2am. Plus each feeding can take an hour or more and you have to factor in the prep time for mixing milk replacer as well as the cleaning of equipment afterwards. Suddenly it's looking like a full time job! Which is is for the first month until they are eating hay and grain and having less frequent feedings.

So you may be asking yourself why on earth I'd want to do this. Well for several reasons, the main one being economy. We would like a flock of good quality meat sheep with mid grade fleece so that we can have meat lambs and spin the wool. We are getting 4 Rideau Arcott and 1 Charollais. However, the going rate for a good breeding ewe is around $200-$250 and there's the cost of freight and breeding. So a flock of 10 ewes, bred and transported would cost around $3000. I don't have that much money so we're going another route. Our 5 ewes are costing us $750 and are bred to a lovely Suffolk ram, that's basically half price. By the spring we aim to have raised 10 lambs with 5 ewe lambs being kept in the flock and 5 (or more) lambs for market. If we make an average profit of $200 per lamb sold then it will more than balance out the cost of feed for the lambs and any butchering fees, equipment etc. Plus I'll still have those 5 new ewes for a total of 10 breeding ewes. My flock will have taken lots of work but cost me $750. The following year we'll let the younger ewes raise their own babies, do the same thing again with the older ewes and keep 5 ewe lambs back for a total of 15 ewes. At the end of the summer we'll cull the older ewes leaving us with 5 one year old ewes and 5 two year old ewes.

Will it be worth it? We think so or we wouldn't be willing to try. If we get lucky I'm hoping that we can make enough money to buy an older livestock trailer and save the transportation fees of our market lambs and for other farm use. Trailers are SO helpful. I can live without a truck, but the trailer is a necessity!

Other reasons we're getting sheep are that they are good close grazers and that will be very good for our pastures, trimming them up nicely. Sheep also do well in orchards and that's something we're starting to work at rejuvenating this fall. The trees bore apples but are definitely in need of some pruning and there are some 30 foot pine trees growing up in there and shading them out so the pines are coming down. I guess we can always limb them and them use them as posts for a run-in shelter for the sheep. Hmmm, that seems like a good idea.

Once the pasture for the sheep is finished this weekend, I'm going to turn my attention to perimeter fencing. We measured it all out and will need approximately 110 posts and 7 rolls of barbed wire (1320 ft each) to make a 4 strand fence all around our pasture along the neighbours, the river and the road side. We found a local family who make posts and charge $1.75 each so we might use them for a good number of the posts with some larger posts from the feed store on the braced corners. I'll leave that up to Steve. If we can get the posts in the ground before the weather turns nasty that would be good but for right now we're a bit short of money and have other priorities (like bills) to pay first. Fencing can wait for now.

The new chicks are all snuggly warm and in their boxes in the garage but next week we'll be moving them over to the garden to a poly tunnel shelter. We built a frame out of 2x2's and then put PVC pipe over in hoops to support the plastic roof. The frame both holds up the hoops and gives us an anchor for the heat lamps to hang from. I'll take pics once it's all ready to go. The plan is to raise them out beside the greenhouse for the next few weeks while the tomatoes/cucumbers etc finish up and then we'll move them into the greenhouse when the plants are removed. They can scratch up the ground, remove any bugs and fertilize it for us. We'll probably keep the meat birds for 10 weeks which puts us into December and then will dig over and rest the greenhouse for a few weeks before getting ready for a very early spring planting.

This weekend is going to be just crazy busy. But I know that all this work will pay off in the end. Have to go. Hope you have a good weekend. Look for more about the Rideau Arcott breed of sheep tomorrow.


I'll cover bottle raising lambs in a later post, likely in January as we get closer to lambing time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I'm a Mormon

I think that most of you know I'm a Mormon, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Our religion has been in the spotlight a lot recently because Mitt Romney who is running for President in the USA is also Mormon.

Like any other religion, we come in all different colours and sizes. Some of us are funny, some are professionals and some are a bit strange. We're just people after all. No, we don't have 3 wives (or husbands), no we don't have horns, yes we do have missionaries and we read the Bible, and yes, we try to follow the example of Jesus Christ to be better fathers and mothers, friends and neighbours. More members of our church live outside the US than in it. It's the fastest growing Christian religion in the US, Islam being the first overall I believe. Women and children are loved and highly valued in our religion, not second class citizens as some people believe. We value a persons right to choose what they believe, we can discuss beliefs but at the end of the day my friend, your choices are up to you. Some of us are good gardeners, some of us can sew, some of us can build beautiful playgrounds in a welding shop and some us are lawyers. There are lots of "I'm a Mormon" ads out there... and here's one I'd like to share with my permaculture/gardening buddies. Because no matter what our religion, we're all sharing Planet Earth together.

Comments and Questions welcome.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hurricane Leslie in Canada

Although it's now down graded to a tropical storm, Leslie continues to feed lots of moisture intot he weather systems stalled over the Maritime provinces here in Canada and have given us some torrential downpours in the last 2 days. Here in the Annapolis Valley the rivers are very high and so we're keeping kids and pets away from the water. Sarah, our black lab went for an unexpected swim today after crossing at her usual shallow spot and finding the water deeper than usual. But she's fine, she needed a bath anyways.

There are farmers fields flooded but it's not too bad. In low lying areas around dykes though it's another story. Check out this report for some good images of the flooding around Truro area. And good luck to those people in Newfoundland who will get the storm tomorrow. Around NS people are mopping up flooded basements, swamped cars and clearing debris off roads. I'm glad I live on high ground and it's one of the features of our property that it's got natural drainage. Just another reason why it's important to know your and in all seasons, so you can more safely site your house.

Still Growing

It's been a bit wet lately, as it often is this time of year as the weather systems draw moisture from hurricanes and tropical storms. Leslie is going to miss us but has still given us 125mm of rain in the last 24 hours. So I'm busy working on drying onions and preserving tomatoes. Indoor work is good on a rainy day. We bit the bullet and got some black poly that farmers use for their plantings and are going to try using it in our Autumn garden for both weed suppression and to warm the soil on cool days. That in combination with a poly tunnel should give us a few more weeks of cool weather growing. The greenhouse still does not have the end walls on so that's something we'll need to do before the month is out. It's still doing well with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and melons etc. but I want to get the next lot of crops started so how do I do that if the ground is in use? Simple...start seedlings in flats, just like you'd do in the spring. It's also a good way to do it when the weather is wet and you just don't want to be slogging through a muddy garden.

Our main garden has now got lots of field (dry) beans maturing and they look very impressive. It was a packet of Jacob's Cattle beans we bought from the store and planted into a 50 foot row as an experiment. Well, I'm happy to announce that our 1 lb bag of beans has made beautifully healthy plants bearing hundreds of beans each so if we can get them all matured and dried we'll call it a success. We also have the next batch of green beans ready for picking so this week I'll take Kate out and pick some. She is our queen of beans but sometimes picks them too old and stringy so we're going to pick together this time. Pumpkins are beginning to turn orange in the garden and we have some zucchini to harvest too. Please ignore the weeds in the pics, we later pulled them out :) And the fence is lowered down because we tilled over the garden in preparation for planting this week.

The strawbale garden idea, remember that? Well it eventually took off and now the tomatoes that were clinging to life have re-rooted themselves, flowered and are looking promising. I'm going to put fall lettuce in the other side this week and see how they do. It's another experiment that worked but here are some tips. Next time I'd leave the bales to decompose longer, perhaps starting them earlier in the year. Initially they don't hold much water and if the weather is hot it's hard to keep them moist, but once they're decomposing they hold a lot more water. We didn't have a weed problem at all, just a few mushrooms which we left alone. Would I do this again? Absolutely if for no other reason than we used them to anchor down the greenhouse plastic and they worked a charm!

The poly tunnel greenhouse is currently home to eggplant (with the purple flowers), melons, English cucumbers and tomatoes. The melons have pretty much stopped flowering but the other plants are still going strong so as long as they're flowering and it's warm enough, they'll keep producing. You can see the tiny cucumbers with flowers still attached, aren't they adorable? I have dry hay under the eggplants to keep the fruit off the ground but the cucumbers are growing up a wire so they're ok without the mulch. I ripened the melons on upside down clay pots to keep them off the ground and away from slugs.

Our next batch of chicks comes in a couple of days, both meat birds and next year's layers. The big hens are all laying but with the shorter days it's almost time to put a light in their coop for them. The light has 2 benefits, it's like a beacon in the evening saying 'come to bed' and the light fools them into laying in the winter instead of going through a molt and ceasing to lay. We've always just used a simple bulb and timer to have the light increase in the morning from 6-9am and then in the evening for a couple of hours. I've used solar lights before and they can work but a simple 40 or 60 watt bulb works great too and provides a little heat in the winter. We're debating about building a new winter coop and having it out at the property with the sheep. I'll let you know what we decide.

Another thought lately has been that rather than buying a mobile home and living in it temporarily while we build, maybe we'll get an RV and put that out there. It would save us the cost of moving (we got a quote for moving a mobile home and it was $2600 not including the permits) plus we could always resell the RV when done. It's a thought, we haven't made any plans yet. Still waiting for our tax refund and family allowance to get straightened out which will be at the end of October hopefully.

With the wet weather this week it's been a good reminder to get the firewood covered up. It's going to be warm and sunny for the rest of the week once this weather moves out overnight which will dry the wood again, then it's time to stack it indoors and in the garage. If the boys can get it all cut to length then I'll help the girls stack it.

All Photos taken in our garden or poly tunnel greenhouse Sept 7th, 2012.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Solar Dehydrator

What are the best ways of preserving food? Well, I guess that entirely depends on what you're storing, what facilities for storage you have and how you plan on using the end product. Take onions for example. You could pickle them, store them in a cool room as whole onions, chop and dehydrate them or chop and freeze them.

Each method has it's advantages but for us the options are limited. Our storage room isn't nearly cold enough for onions and potatoes to last very long so pickling or drying are better options. And our freezer is full of other things that can't be dried so it's time to get chopping.

Normally I would build a simple solar dryer using window screen, fibreglass not aluminum, and letting things dry outside. I'll make one over the weekend and show you. But since it's rainy and cool the best thing to use is an electric one. Unlike an oven there is a fan and the air temp can be regulated better to ensure even drying. I still rotate my racks periodically as well. Just follow the directions and you should be fine.

Onions are getting done as I've got so many to do and I'd like to get them packed into jars and on the shelf. It's rained for a few days so using a solar dryer is out of the question, but the electric one will work great. A word of advice though....use your dehydrator OUTDOORS or in the garage. Onions release all sorts of moisture when they are drying and also volatile oils. Your house will really stink of onions for days after drying indoors and the oils can make your eyes water even if you're not cutting them up at that moment. So a covered spot outdoors is always a good choice, trust me!

One other thing about electric dryers, you can use them year round on rainy days which makes them useful.

If you're interested in building your own solar dehydrator there are plans online. But you don't need to get complicated. Remember the solar heater project one ofour boys did for the science fair? It's easy to modify that to provide a flow of warm air into a box where your trays are waiting. Building it out of plywood means more cost but multiple years of use whereas a cardboard one can be composted every year. Just remember to screen your air inlets and outlets to keep out those pesky flies.

Other things we'll dry this year are tomatoes and some cherry tomatoes cut in half, apples, and fruit leather. I might try grapes for fun too, just to see if I can make raisins. It's not economical, but it will be interesting. Even root veggies like carrots and turnips can be dried and used later for soups and stews.

Well, I should go get ready for my visits and then I'll let you know how the onion chopping goes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Noisy Wake Up Call

A gaggle of geese are flying overhead as I write this, honking and making quite a racket! It's a cool and misty morning but otherwise a clear day and looks like it's going to be another beautiful day. I hesitate to say the fall is coming, but the intense heat of summer is over and we are having much moderate temperatures now int he mid 20's during the day and into the mid teens at night. I love these temps because it's cooler and easier to sleep at night. A few leaves are turning on the trees but we'll start to notice more and more over the next few weeks.

We had a busy Labour Day long weekend. On Friday we went into the city for a BBQ and camped out at Steve's trailer so we could get an early start on Saturday morning. Saturday we were in a subdivision in Cole Harbour dismantling a shed. We found a cheap shed on Kijiji for $75 and had to take it all apart, load it onto the trailer, and drive it 2 hours home here to our new place. Next weekend we'll start putting it together.

Taking a shed apart and keeping the wood intact is a LOT of work, and the guys really sweated it out up there and worked well together. There were a few mishaps. Jordan got hit in the stomach by a piece of flying metal from hitting 2 hammers together (they were using one as a pry bar) and later Chris got hit by another piece of metal, but this one nicked a vein on the top of his wrist and made a terrible mess, blood everywhere! There was so much blood pumping out that we couldn't see how big the hole was and the plywood he was working on was covered, yuck! But being a wise mother I'd taken both my first aid kits so we were able to elevate his wrist and pack a pressure bandage on it right away. After resting for an hour I removed the bandage to check out the damage, washed his arm, and found only the tiniest hole about the size of a sesame seed that was already healed completely over. If I hadn't taken pics I doubt anyone would believe me that both he and I got covered in blood trying to bandage that thing. Boy, that guy can sure bleed!

Having our second best worker out of commission for a couple of hours (he later came back to work at half speed) really delayed us by a bit and so we missed the beach party in Port George with our church friends, but we're looking forward to making it up by having a family dance at the end of September with them. The shed will hopefully be standing at our new place this weekend, I might even get it painted and shingled again if I'm super lucky. It will be nice to have it ready for the sheep to move into when they get here. Fencing posts will go in the ground this week and be all ready for our new furry critters. Our first building will be up and first animals moved on.

We're making progress!