Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy new year!

This is just a quick little post to say a huge thank you to all our readers and fiends for your support and kindness over the past year. 2016 promises to be a year of tremendous growth for us and we hope you'll spend a little time with us each week following our adventures. 

From all of us to all of you, have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Snows

I awoke at 2:30 this morning to the deep hush that you only get when the Earth is blanketed in new fallen snow. It started yesterday and has been snowing lightly ever since. It's not a lot yet, maybe five inches or 13cm. It's hard to tell looking from my window. But it's enough that everything is well covered in a layer of white and it's reflecting the starlight and waning moon so that it appears much brighter outside than it has in months. I always find the darkest winter nights are those with no snow to reflect the light back. This means that it's officially the end of gardening season and the beginning of planning season, although we are still hopeful that if it warms up a little we might get some turnips out of the garden that are buried under the snow right now. The snow will actually insulate them from the cold drying winds that cause so much damage to plants. Having a layer of snow is actually good for your perennials. 

Planning for a CSA and market garden happens on an ongoing basis. Rotations, sunlight, pests, soil characteristics and fertility, all these facrors and more go into our decisions on which crops to grow and where the following year. We also have the considerations of the tunnels and greenhouse for starting early crops and seedlings too. It's becoming quite a complex thing to manage it all. So I'm writing it all up on paper initially but it will soon be transferred to a series of spreadsheets so that we can plan and monitor our progress and production. The week that it will take me to get it all sorted out will be worth it in efficiency in the growing season. It also means I can order seed ahead of time and that's important for crops that we grow a lot of and for our grafted tomatoes to ensure we get the rootstocks and varieties we want. Popular items sell out fast and I don't want to be left in April scrambling for seeds. 

Just because it's winter doesn't mean there's nothing going on here except paperwork. We are growing wheatgrass for a new customer. Lenna of In The Raw Sprouting Centre in Porters Lake has ordered a weekly supply of 10 pounds of fresh wheat grass for her business and we're happy to do that for her. As you know it's something we've done before and so as we speak the seeds (sometimes called wheat berries) are putting out little roots as they germinate. Once they've had another rinse in the morning they'll be ready to transfer to the soil trays for growth. Lenna is expecting the usual New Years rush of people who want to improve their health so we will be starting with a larger initial batch and then settling into a regular delivery schedule that will continue year round. Wheatgrass is pretty easy to grow indoors so we have space set up that's got the right temperature for the most part and we use clean food grade plastic trays and organic potting soil. Lots of other growers don't use soil, but wheatgrass is one plant that really does well in a soil medium. I'll take some pics of our methods once it's light outside. 

The rush of kids visits and dinners is over now and we're eating turkey leftovers. Yum! It's a good way to load the kids all up with root veggies we have stored for winter. Meghan is going to stay with her brother in the city for a few days which will be a nice break for her. She's leaving today. And Steve is back to work as usual. I think he's home again on Thursday and we're going to friends for New Year's Eve. Other than that it's just a quieter time at the farm. Having said that, it's 3:49 am right now and one of the roosters out at the hen house just started crowing. It wasn't a one off either, he's regularly warbling away every twenty seconds or so. And I can hear the ducks gently chattering too. Oh, now one of the Roos in the greenhouse beside my bedroom is joining in. With any luck they'll realize that dawn is hours away yet and go back to sleep. If I'm awake in the middle of the night like I am now, I always keep my bedside lamp off so as to not wake the Roos. I don't mind the noise and in fact I'm so used to it that I'll sleep through the pre-dawn racket. But the sound carries down the hill and along the river somehow and spreads over the neighbourhood. Our rooster named Gargle was famous for miles for his distinctive crow. Oh, the ducks are muttering curses at the moment and heading for their favourite spot under the house. That means either there's a predator about or Jordan's let the dog out to pee and she's scared them. Either way the yard is now quiet again and all I can hear is the gentle breathing of my sleeping family and the occasional crackle of the fire in the kitchen. I put a couple of logs on at 3 to keep the stove warm so that when Steve gets up at five to get ready for work the house will still be warm. The wood stove is our only source of heat and since its small it requires more regular filling than a larger stove does. But it's the perfect size for our little trailer and with good dry wood and a box fan that blows up the narrow hallway, it keeps the house warm. Our woodshed is now moved to be outside the back door and is expanded in capacity. We could probably get 6 cords of wood in there and still have a wide walkway but we burned less than 3 last winter and we  aren't expecting to burn more than that this winter. I let the fire burn low when it's just me at home and overnight so unlike a modern house the temperature fluctuates quite a bit. But that's okay with me. It just means warming the oven if I want to rise bread or planning ahead and warming the kitchen. 

Well I'm going to try and get some sleep. The roosters are all quiet again so it seems like a good time. Sleep well my friends!  

Here's a pic of the unfinished side of the woodshed. The other two sides have recycled metal sheets we salvaged from our friends shed that got some damage in the hurricane last year. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Christmas!!

How was your holiday? The weather here was absolutely gorgeous. Plus 15 and sunny. So we took some time this afternoon after we'd eaten to go into the garden and do some measuring. It's easier to plan now than when there's feet of snow on the ground. We looked at the most level spots for greenhouses and walked through areas we can put into production for next year. It was a good afternoon. 

This morning Steve got the roof shingles nailed back down that came off in the wind and he fixed the greenhouse roof and wood shed too. It's the end of December and we have about 80% or more of our wood left. The rule used by the older farmers hereabouts is that on Groundhog Day in February you should have half your wood and half your hay. That covers you for a late wet spring or a really cold March. 

Well it's been a fun day of chores, kids visits, home grown food and lots of games. All I really want to do is crawl into bed and fall asleep reading the seed catalogues. 

I hope you all had a lovely day and that the rest of your weekend is relaxing and filled with joy. 

All our best wishes, The Faires. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Still green in December

We've had a lot of wind and rain but so far not a lot of snow. Last year was the same and then we got five metres of snow in six weeks. So folks around here are a bit nervous the same thing will happen again. In the meantime the poultry are enjoying their freedom. Here are a few pics from around the yard including the ducks, some spinach and beets still growing and even our turkey Tom showing off and his new wife whose feathers are growing back nicely on her neck although it does look very spiky right now. We should call her maleficent. Despite having been repeatedly frozen and covered in snow and ice the greens are still good. Just more evidence that young green leaves can withstand freezing temps better than older ones and that we can grow things in Nova Scotia even if December as long as they're the right hardy vegetables. It's all part of the season extension plan. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fruitcake and Carols

  Yesterday evening the kids and I piled into the car and headed down to The Heart of The Valley which is a long-term care facility (nursing home) in Middleton. We met up with a couple of dozen adults and kids from church and went to the various wings singing in our joyous but non-professional way and we spent a little extra time with Ethel who is a member of our congregation but has not been able to attend for many years. She's such a cute lady and loves her visits and having the children around. We had an age range there from Mazey who is a few weeks old to our own seniors in their 60s. The teenagers (ok my teenagers) were instructed to help coral the little ones who sometimes take off and it all worked out really well. Everyone had a good time and we enjoyed some cookies made by our girls youth group (called Young Women).  I always take the kids out for hot chocolate too but this year we got frozen lemonade instead.

   Kate woke me up early this morning to help with baking. She is doing a fundraiser for CAPS which I think stands for Companion Animal Protection Society. She and two other classmates are doing a bake sale outside a grocery store this afternoon so we are baking giant cinnamon buns and snicker doodles to sell. The buns are out of the oven now and so the house smells divine. I will pick her up at school after lunch and we'll go to the bake sale.

   While the kids are at school I'm going to get some fruitcake made. Normally I'd have done this in November but time didn't allow so today it is. It still gives me time to brush it down at least three times before giving as gifts or eating it. That's the torture of fruit cake, it's best eaten after brushing with alcohol for a few weeks to get the moist dark cake but it's so good you just want to eat it now.

   Anyways I have my Grand Marnier now so today is the day! I took a photo of my bottle and my husband mentioned that it looks like I bought a five gallon jug, lol. Perspective changes everything! It's a 200ml bottle. That's all I need for my baking as I don't drink. But I thought I'd show you the pics for a chuckle. Don't worry, I had just gotten home and lit the stove do its not hot at all. Have a wonderful day everyone. The weather today is wet and windy so I'm happy to stay home where it's warm and dry. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Chicken Run Follow up and Pics and Christmas Begins

  Good morning! Well, we've been keeping pretty busy here a the farm. My laptop broke again but Jordan generously let me borrow his so I could do some writing and catch you all up on what's new. Some people are saying they can't read about the chicken run so here goes again, with pics this time.

Zakk felt really good about helping chickens
  Our chickens from the Chicken Run (rescue of battery hens) went well. By the time we got the poor things home they'd traveled about 200 km in cardboard boxesand it was dark outside but it was a good time of day to introduce them to a new home. We put them all in the prepared barn with good food, fresh water and heat lamps because we expected that they'd be used to a controlled environment and would perhaps not have all their feathers. As it turns out, their body conditions weren't too bad but they did look terrible. Many had toenails over an inch long and huge bald patches from constant feather picking. Other things we learned quickly was that they spooked very easily, didn't know how to drink from a water pail, and couldn't jump of hop onto a roost.

Kate helping unload the truck
   It's been a few weeks now since they came home and they're just about ready for roosts now. Their muscles have been getting stronger and more coordinated and they are finally learning to sleep sitting down instead of standing up. They are now much less skittish with people but the funniest thing is seeing all their feathers growing in. The way feathers grow is a little spiky tube leaves the skin and once it reaches a predetermined length it opens up from the tip. Consequently the chickens are currently covered in fuzzy down and an array of spiky feathers. Their combs are now more red and less floppy. They look hilarious, but so much better than the first day they arrived and I can't wait to see how they look in another couple of weeks once all their new feathers are in. At that point I'll adjust their diet so their protein is a little less and there's less corn, they can go onto what is closer to a normal chicken diet.

You can see how pale their combs were and
the state of their plumage on day 1.
  Their food is one of the things we planned ahead of time. I knew they would be stressed and potentially hungry and dehydrated when they arrived so we pre-mixed their ration and filled the feeders. The water has stress-aid added, it's an anti-biotic free form of gatorade for chickens and animals that has vitamins and electrolytes. The kids laughed because it's even the same colour as orange gatorade. After a week of the vitamins they are now back to plain fresh water. Their food took a little more thought and math. We bought soy meal which is 48% protein, cracked corn which is 9% and regular chicken mash which contains 16% protein. Knowing they'd need the corn for warmth and the higher protein I mixed a garbage can full at the ratio of 1 corn, 1 soy, 3 lay mash for a finished protein content of 21%. We've been adjusting it slowly with the idea of eliminating the corn, we just put it in there because corn produces a lot of heat as it's digested and it's easier to heat a chicken from the inside than heat the barn to 76 degrees. Soon I'll have them just down to 18% once they are done laying and taking a well deserved rest. We don't have any supplemental light in there and are now down to 6 eggs a day from 100 chickens. Once Spring comes and the days lengthen I'll have lights on for them in the mornings and they will start laying again. At that time they will be on a regular lay pellet for food, be able to forage outside, and I'll give them some crushed oyster shells for added calcium.

Pretty bald, but not the worst by far, many
had large bare patches of reddened skin.
  The battery hens have been joined by a small flock of barred rocks including a rooster and are all getting along very well. There are no more than the usual pecking order squabbles, we ended up losing 2 of the rescue hens who we noticed right away weren't doing very well, but at least they got a week of peace and freedom, and they're learning how to be more normal chickens. The hens have room to fly around, scratch through the bedding, explore the barn, eat and drink whenever they like, and learn how to be normal chickens again. This week their covered run will be finished and on nice days they'll be able to venture outside onto the grass covered ground for the first time. I will likely have to build a small ramp unless I can see that they're all able to jump back over the sill of the door. There is a very heavy duty clear tarp over the top of the south facing run and I'm going to finish the sides in plastic sheeting. This will allow me to use the structure for a greenhouse in the future, should add a little warmth to the barn on sunny days, and will keep the grass growing longer so they have a nicer outdoor play environment. Having the barred rocks is helpful because they're used to being outdoors and will teach the other hens by example.

  Well enough about the chickens. We got a larger trailer for Chris to live in when he's home. We bought a chevy trail blazer to fix up and use as a farm vehicle, and we're now into the season of Christmas parties. Last night we had our Dinner with the Grinch at church and it was a lot of fun. Good food, good friends, and amazing clothes and hair! lol. We delivered some meals to shut-ins afterwards and later today I'll reduce the leftovers into soup and stew meat. For Christmas I'm doing a lot of baking as usual but I'm also celebrating our British heritage by making dark fruit cake and I made a big batch of steak and kidney pie filling that I'm going to make into pies this afternoon. I have some cookies to make for the grandkids and then I need to get their packages mailed tomorrow. It's less than 2 weeks until Christmas so I must get them on their way.

  Well that's all from me for this morning. If you get busy and don't have a chance to read again before the holidays, Happy Christmas! I hope that whatever you celebrate you have friends and loved ones around and feel the joy of the season.



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Chicken Run and a Catch Up.

I was reminded yesterday that it's been a very long time since I'd written an update and since today I have about an hour to spare I'll let you know everything that's new at the farm.

Good morning! I've missed writing to you but with the regular growing season things can get a bit busy and I seem to simply put off writing until days and weeks go by and I realize you must think I got eaten by the turkeys. So here's a month by month account of what we've been doing.

September saw the kids back to school, Jordan for his last semester as  he will be graduating early, and Meghan started band. After much testing and deliberation she's playing the trumpet which is great because she likes tooting her own horn and we own a trumpet so we don't have to pay for the rental. It seems to be going well, and I have to say that listening to a beginner trumpet is much more pleasant than listening to beginner violin or bagpipes :)  I think August or September was when we found a kitten in the ditch and took him in and named him Apple because he was found under a crab apple tree. He's growing into a lovely cat and is a good mouser. I took him down to the chicken barn last week and he was in and out in less than a minute with a nice fat mouse. I'm going to make a small ladder that goes to the loft so he can hunt up there too.

October was the month I went to BC to see my friend Deanna. Her GoFundMe info is a few pages back. She's still fighting strong and had the boys again this past weekend. It was so hard to leave them, I miss them a lot. I've known Kasen since he was very little and the other two boys were born into my arms practically. I got pneumonia and bronchitis while I was away and again when I returned home so I've been joking that I've spent more money on medications in the past month than I did in all the 12 years prior. Everyone in the house got quite sick, even Chris who was stationed in New Brunswick, with the notable exception of Kate who had a 2 day sniffle and that was it. October also held Thanksgiving and marked the end of our first Farmers Market season. And what a way to go out! We had a huge gift basket to give away, lots of sales, and people were already sad that they'd have to wait until December to see us again. First frosts happened as they always do but our beets and some of the garden greens were still doing well in the garden.

November came and went in a bit of a blur. You'd think that with the market over for the season things would calm down, but they merely changed gears. We could have sold so much more last year if we'd only had the production so we took out our goal sheets and sat down to make plans for the next five years. We always work in a plan that looks forward five years and then adjust it as needed. It's normally what we do January 1st each year but given that we knew we were going to look at expanding it meant applications, research, planning, more research, and lots of phone calls to experts.

One of the big capital investments we want to make next year is a greenhouse. But last year, as you know, we got over 16 feet of snow. Many greenhouses collapsed and farms lost their livelihood. So we needed to make sure that we understood how to mitigate the potential collapse, check out the different engineering and styles of greenhouses, and then find a manufacturer in Canada who understood the demands placed upon a greenhouse in the Maritimes. In our case the problems are wind shear and snow loading. We're now working closely with Multi Shelter Solutions to arrange for the greenhouses and tunnels we'll need for the future. They've been lovely and to help out the community garden they're giving us free shipping if we take a tunnel and greenhouse at the same time. Which is a $500 savings. It allows us to get the tunnel for the community garden and have the greenhouse operational for starts early and to get some early crops in the ground. As you know, we always have a supply of seeds on hand so there's no waiting for orders to arrive and in fact Veseys catalogue is now out, yay!

Novembers two biggest happenings were our visit to FarmWorks gentle dragons yesterday (fantastic!) and The Chicken Run. I'll talk about the Chicken Run first. As you probably know most of the worlds chickens used for commercial egg production are raised in confinement. In the case of Nova Scotia, your eggs are likely coming from one of the farms associated with Egg Producers of NS and their hens are raised in cages. These are known as battery hens. 4 hens to a small cage is the norm and this makes for the most economical way of having chickens. There's not a lot of room needed, you can stack chickens multiple cage units high, there's no bedding material just the wire of the cages. and the only other things needed are water and food. Eggs are laid, roll out of the cage for collection and are then washed, graded and sent to your local supermarket. It's one of those things that we tend to put out of our minds as humans, that our eggs that are 30 or 50 cents cheaper than at the farmers market, cause suffering to the hens.

Now you might wonder how I know this and you've often heard me say to look at the results and then judge for yourselves, right? Well we had the opportunity thanks to a local chicken rescue, to re-home some old (old by commercial standards means 12-18 months) laying hens who were destined for slaughter. They've reached the peak of their usefulness and now are considered 'spent'. What they really mean is it's not worth it economically to feed them any more. Which is fair enough. Eggs are a controlled commodity and therefore big business. What that means for us smaller producers is something entirely different though so when Beckie Penman and I had the opportunity to get some of these layers for $1 each, we agreed that we would.

I'll be adding lots of pictures to the end of this post so go have a look, but I'd like to tell you about their behaviour their first night home, right out of the box. The hens were very wobbly on their feet, there are a few suspected broken wings and there are a couple who look so injured and shell shocked that I didn't think they'd last through the night. They have trouble walking due to their massively overgrown toe nails and the fact that they've never been able to really walk around much or stretch their wings since they were chicks. They are used to being huddled together in small spaces and so we have some corners of the barn set up with wooden slats over it to provide 'protection' and a sense of security for these newcomers. It's helping to prevent piling and panic. We found that talking consistently and quietly has helped, we move slowly in the barn when collecting eggs, and we  simply don't rush so we have time to observe them properly, especially any birds that are isolating themselves in the corners.

They came home on Friday night and by Saturday afternoon we'd collected 3 or 4 dozen eggs. They just lay them wherever on the floor, consequently I stepped on at least a few hidden in the litter. Today is Tuesday morning so they've been here now for a few days and so far we've had no casualties. There is still some picking going on and a pecking order being established, and our poor naked chickens still look naked, but they're much more mobile, exploring the barn, eating well (the feed amount eaten each day is increasing) and drinking their special water that looks like orange Gatorade according to my children. I explained that it's full of electrolytes and vitamins to help them recover from the stress so in effect it is like Gatorade for animals but without all the sugar. I mixed a special feed for the chickens taking into account that they need some extra heat and protein to re-grow feathers and muscle mass and get their strength back. Their bodies aren't in terrible condition, they're just basically bald, pecked and don't have strong muscles. Their diet consists of soybean meal, cracked corn and lay mash and it's balanced at 23% protein. As they regrow feathers and become more lively I'll be reducing that and introducing pellets. But one thing at a time. They're eating and drinking well now and it didn't take long. All you really need with chickens is someone to lead the way and they'll all follow. The hardest time for them was learning to drink from a regular waterer instead of the nipples they'd used previously, but they seem fine now. I put the food not too close to the heat lamps and thought there would be a pile of chickens three high in that corner but instead they are now content to scratch around, explore, peck the walls and door, eat and drink whenever they feel like it, and they're getting used to the shorter days and cooler nights. We leave the red bulb heat lamps on at night but of course we use natural light and that means instead of the 76 degree barn with 14 hours of artificial light they're now getting a chilly unheated barn (except the lamps) that the sun shines into and warms up the shavings on the floor but only for about 8-9 hours a day. We're 3 weeks from the shortest day of the year, and while I can definitely add light to the barn, I want them to moult and take some time off from laying. They've earned it.

Our plan with the hens is to gradually let them gain some strength before introducing them to any of the other chickens. We want them to have the ability to jump, fly a little from perches, have some colour return to their combs which you can see from the photos look like giant floppy combs drained of colour. Even in the past couple of days the colour has improved and some are standing more erect. I'm not 100% sure why but maybe the higher protein diet and vitamins. I'll get more photos as time goes on. In the early Spring I'll have introduced the other young hens I've raised this year and  they will all be ready for an increase in light to get them laying again. The hens will have what was the sheep pasture last year and it's a good size for a pasture raised flock. It's also got the barn ideally located in the centre and we'll rotate the sheep onto a different field next year. The turkeys will be down by the river. I have arranged for egg grading so now I can sell to restaurants and stores if I want since obviously I'm going to have a lot of eggs, and we're applying for a commercial turkey licence so next year will be very poultry focused in the fields down near the river.

This week we're going to be doing nail trimming. Some of the nails on these ex-battery hens are over an inch long and that poses several problems for the hens. It's going to take us a while to trim the feet of nearly a hundred hens but with some extra help I think we should be able to get the first trimming done in one afternoon. It will need to be followed up with another trim in a month. The reason we can't just trim them all it once is that the chickens can become very unbalanced by such a bog change, but more importantly that the quick (the blood vessel inside the nail) grows to an unnatural length as the nail grows and to cut the nails too short could cut into the blood vessel. We don't to stress the birds and more that they've already been, so using a bright light to see where the quick is will help us avoid cutting them by accident and it will shrink back as the nails get shortened. Once the hens are allowed outside in a few months their natural scratching behaviour will keep them short for the rest of their lives. We rarely have to do anything to the feet of our other birds because they free range but the turkeys we got a few weeks ago both came with scaly leg mite so that is something to look for in birds you buy or are given. It's easily treated but takes time.

Yesterday we were able to meet with some of the good folks at FarmWorks. What a great organization! It's a partnership effectively, between investors and local food businesses from primary producers like us (farmers) all the way to restaurants and processed food manufacturers. The goal is to both keep investment money in the local economy and to increase food security for all Nova Scotians. As you well know, sustainability is something we're very interested in and we're ready now to take our farm from our little self-sufficient holding to actually making a living. I really want Steve here more than he is now. And it would give us the opportunity to diversify a little into the bakery. Ah well, one job at a time. It's better to do one job 100% than two jobs half as well. FarmWorks is super interesting so I'm going to ask permission and then tell you more about it tomorrow if that's ok.

Well friends, my hour is up. Time to put another log in the fire and go play with my new kitchenaid mixer that Steve and Chris my son got me for Christmas thanks to a 40% off sale and a $50 rebate coupon I had. I'm feeling very blessed!

Love to you all. Stay warm, healthy, eat your veggies and do something nice for a stranger this week would you? Even if it's just buying a coffee for the person behind you in line in the drive-thru.

Pics to follow: technical difficulties