Tag Archives: Dark Creek Farm

V is for Victoria-Vancouver-Victoria and a Victory over Violence

On Sunday I had a quick business meeting over in Vancouver. Saturday night I slept in the truck once again, still on piglet watch with Olivia. Sunday morning down on the farm started a bit earlier than usual because of my ferry departure, but was otherwise completely normal. No piglets. No nesting. Full teats, but she’s had those for a while now. So off I went thinking I was in for another night in the truck after I returned.

I took the 9am ferry over to the mainland and was just about to drive off the boat when a text came in from LS, who is visiting from Berlin and holding the fort while I was away. Olivia, according to LS, was behaving strangely. He sent a couple of photos of her pen. She had been busy in the couple of hours since I left the farm. She had stripped leaves from the bushes in her run and scattered them around in her bed inside the safety pen. She dragged in mouthfuls of sticks and twigs and added them. She rooted around and fluffed up the hay from underneath the fresh debris and mixed it all together. Olivia was nesting!!

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LS summoned T (soon-to-be-SIL), who has been present for a couple of prior farrowings… There followed the most stressful series of texts as I headed into my meeting, made a presentation, and politely declined a lunch invitation (“Sorry! Must race back to the ferry – Olivia is in labour!!)

I made it back to the terminal in time to catch the 1pm boat, flew into the house at 3:10, pulled off my meeting clothes, pulled on my grubbies and rubber boots and raced down the hill. The guys had done a fabulous job of setting everything up – the heat lamp was positioned over two nursery boxes (used to contain the piglets as they awaited the arrival of their siblings), fresh towels were at the ready, Olivia was in her safety pen, the wet leaves and sticks had been removed and replaced with clean, dry hay (which she had been reorganizing all day).

The first piglet arrived at 4:01. Olivia lost her mind, leaped to her feet, spun around, and tried to kill it. This pattern was repeated every 15 minutes or so for the next couple of hours, but because of the new safety pen, each piglet was plucked out of the pen before Olivia could do any damage to either the piglets of to any of us [thanks to earlier helpers MC and SP, who built the pen after long discussions about crazy sows. Now that we know it works, I’ll post a how-to article soon with more details of what we came up with as a solution to porcine matricide.] By 6:30 pm we had 11 healthy piglets – 6m and 5f. We were feeling pretty smug at this point and settled in to await the expulsion of the placenta, knowing from experience that she would have no interest in nursing the piglets until that was done. It took some time and some massaging of her teats to stimulate contractions, but in due course it arrived just fine.

By now it was after 9pm and we began the process of trying to introduce the piglets for nursing. At which point we were thwarted by Olivia’s ridiculous (and terrifying) insistence on pouncing on any piglet that wandered anywhere near her. She ate a meal, we let her outside to stretch her legs and relieve herself – she paced and turned and nested and lay down and got up and steadfastly refused to have anything to do with nursing. Her attacks were slightly less vicious, though – she was tossing piglets aside but not savaging them any more – only two had superficial bite wounds and those were from earlier in the evening.

The piglets were all in good shape and warm under the heat lamp, so at about midnight we decided to stop stressing everyone and get a few hours sleep. In the past, we’ve had some luck with sows figuring things out without anyone being around. The piglets had already figured out how to escape from the safety pen (by slipping under the lower rail) so we left them to it and headed for the house…

Which is where I will leave this post because if I had a terrible night, tossing and turning and fretting and wondering what I would find in the morning (piles of crumpled bodies? a contented sow suckling her young?) then it seems only right you should suffer the uncertainty along with me for a short time… Fear not, as soon as there’s another break around here I’ll finish the story…

N is for Neverending Nights of Nothingness

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Nada. Nothing. Nobody. Nary a piglet in sight. Honestly, I am beginning to wonder what sort of mind games Olivia is playing with me! Last night as I snuggled into my sleeping bag on piglet watch once again, it started to rain rather hard. Over the roar of raindrops on the roof of the truck cab, Iago’s (the barn cat) wailing was so piteous I could not resist and let her inside.

I was as stretched out as possible on the back seat in the cab and each of the dogs had staked out a front seat. When the cat arrived, our peaceful arrangement went to he!! in a handbasket. First, Iago visited each of the dogs, purring and chirping and rubbing her head against their faces. This is a peculiar kind of torture from the dogs’ perspective – they know they are not allowed to chase the cat and inside the cab, there is hardly room to turn around, never mind play tag.

After she had tormented the dogs, Iago crawled into the back with me and plunked herself on my head, purring and cuddling. This was too much for Tuulen, whose jealous tendencies are legendary. He leaped into the back seat and squeezed himself behind me. There followed a licking war. Tuulen licked the cat, the cat licked me – each tried to be cuter and more cuddly than the other so I would stroke only cat or dog, but not both.

Iago sat on Tuulen’s head so she could have better access to my face and stop him from talking to me. He protested by pushing her out of the way and trying to wriggle out from behind me and onto my pillow… He is far too big to fit on my pillow, particularly when that space is being defended by a determined cat.

Meanwhile, I was getting pretty desperate for sleep, so I burrowed under my sleeping bag and left them to fight out their turf war somewhere above me. Eventually, after both had fallen off me and the back seat a couple of times, they each managed to stake out an acceptable bit of territory and fall asleep.

I must say I was toasty warm, but man, oh man – what I would give for a decent night’s sleep in my own bed!! Come on, Olivia! Deliver!

D is for Dark Creek

“So, you have a creek at your farm?”

It’s not an unreasonable question, really, given the name of my farm is Dark Creek Farm. In fact, there is no creek (though seasonal springs burble up each winter as soon as the water table rises and the ground is sufficiently saturated). The place isn’t really that dark, either (though, there are some pretty big trees on the south side of the property, beneath which it’s lovely and shady in the summer).

The name is a strange fusion of fiction and wishful thinking, life imitating art imitating life…

The original 1997 cover for Rebel of Dark Creek. The book went on to be reprinted several times with various new cover designs. It was also published in Sweden and Denmark, where the covers looked completely different to those that came out in North America.

The original 1997 cover for Rebel of Dark Creek. The book went on to be reprinted several times with various new cover designs. It was also published in Sweden and Denmark, where the covers looked completely different to those that came out in North America.

When I wrote my first novel for kids (about some horse-obsessed kids living on Vancouver Island) I needed a name for the farm where the main character boarded her horse. To keep my fictional world anchored in its own reality I based the made up barn and small farm on the place where my daughter and I were riding at the time. That farm didn’t have a creek running through it either, but was an otherwise perfect setting for my fake world. I shifted a nearby creek over a few hundred yards and gave it a new name, “Dark Creek.” I can’t even remember now why I chose that name, but it stuck and became part of the title in several of the books in the StableMates series. Rebel of Dark Creek was the first book to come out back in 1997 and six more books followed over the next several years.

 

 

 

Rebel of Dark Creek - the Swedish edition

Rebel of Dark Creek – the Swedish edition

It wasn’t until 2003, though, that I wound up moving two horses here to our place after the original farm on which Dark Creek Farm in the books was sold. At that point, I didn’t really think of our place having a farm name, per se, but not long after the horses arrived and fences and outbuildings were being built that other animals started materializing… a couple of goats, an ancient pony, some ducks, a few chickens, some bantams, then hogs, turkeys, and more chickens… and sheep. The garden expanded – and then expanded again – and again. More fruit trees were planted, we opened the farm stand, and started a CSA. We produce a whole lot of food now from a very small piece of land (and some fields I lease around the neighbourhood) and at some point in that snowballing process we needed a farm name.

Dark Creek Farm seemed appropriate. It had always been a dream of mine to farm – and since the original Dark Creek Farm didn’t exist except in my imagination, I thought it entirely appropriate I steal the name back and use it for my new farm reality. I’m not sure if I’ll write any more Dark Creek Farm books in the original StableMates series – probably not. That world was before cell phones. Before google. Before email and the internet and ipads and all that stuff that is impossible to ignore when writing contemporary fiction set in the here and now. There were more stories planned, but I got a bit distracted with other books and series and projects and, of course, the growing farm and I suspect that Jessa and Rebel and all the other kids and ponies in those books are stuck without a season finale. Though, if I wait long enough, I could add another couple of installments and those books would come out as quaint historical fiction from back in the day before all that Internet stuff took over the world.

Hog House Par Excellence

I’m not exactly sure how this has happened, but ever since the international volunteers have started to come I’ve been busier than ever!! What is most excellent about this state of affairs is the number of things that are getting ticked off the To-Do list!!

One of the big jobs that really needed to be done was to finally get the weaners (now growers, soon to be finishers) moved over to Maypenny Farm. I had managed to sort out enough electric fencing, a battery and battery-powered fence charger to make a decent-sized grazing area, but the hogs really needed a good sturdy shelter that could be dragged around from place to place in the field as we moved the pigs from one pasture area to the next.

When MC arrived, it was quickly obvious he was a handy guy. He also fast figured out that my building efforts were not always exactly square and level. Our conversation considering how we might proceed with building a new hog hut went something like this:

Me: So, do you think we could build a small hog house? Sturdy, moveable, weather-resistant… up off the ground…

MC: Sure. No problem. I must warn you, though: I like to make things perfect. [Remember, MC is an engineering student back in Germany.]

Me; [Keep in mind that my farm outbuildings are not exactly perfect – more like rickety, cobbled together structures that defy gravity and windstorms because if you use enough binder twine, zap straps, and duct tape, you can actually make something that’s remarkably difficult to deconstruct.] Do you think I would drive you crazy if we worked together?

MC: [Exceedingly politely] I am happy to work alone.

Poor MC. I don’t think he fully realized that the project would not start with a trip to the lumber yard. Instead, we collected together a pile of shipping pallets and I showed him where the heaps of scrap lumber and tin roofing were stashed (leftovers from the renovation) and gave him the nod. It’s not that easy to build something square and solid and neat when you are starting with experienced raw material that has just spent a winter under inadequate cover.

Undeterred, MC set to work. There was a great deal of banging and the whirring and whizzing of power tools. After a remarkably short amount of time, I discovered THIS in the back yard!!

German engineering on the farm... the new fully portable hog hut.

German engineering on the farm… the new, fully-portable hog hut.

Tuulen checking out the ramp into the new hog hut...

Tuulen checking out the ramp into the new hog hut…

Undercarriage of the new hut... designed to be strong enough to pull behind the truck.

Undercarriage of the new hut… designed to be strong enough to pull behind the truck.

Alas, it has been so wet since the structure got its walls we haven’t been able to paint it, but the building itself is GREAT!! At this point in the process, the hut was behind our house – a distance of about five kms from its intended new home. This meant we had to somehow move it from our farm over to Maypenny.

Turns out if you build something solid enough to withstand being dragged around by the truck and rubbed against by hefty hogs, then its final weight is eighty-seven tons. More or less. Keep in mind our house is on quite a steep hill and the road is above the spot where the hut was built and we had our first challenge – how to move the hut from the building site to the road so we could then attempt to load it… somewhere. Into the back of the truck? (the canopy could come off… twelve burly men or a crane could show up…)

When we realized it wasn’t practical to lift this heavy-duty 87-ton hulking hog hut into the back of the truck we decided to drag it up to the road using a strong rope and my big truck and then somehow get it into the horse trailer.

It’s late and I’m bagged, so you’ll need to stay tuned for how that played out… Let’s just say that there is a very good reason why this blog hasn’t heard much from me over the past week or so… It turns out that moving a German-engineered hog house from A to B is not exactly a five minute job… Nor, for that matter, is convincing five teenaged hog boys that they would be happy leaving home in the pouring rain to be re-settled in a hog hut somewhere over in the next valley…

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What the Heck is THAT?

What the Heck is THAT?

No wonder I spent the morning rounds squinting… I actually couldn’t see a thing on the screen when I pointed the phone at this fierce, glaring orb that was clearly trying to get my attention! It was impossible to make eye contact because a) after a nano-second of looking at that blazing thing my retinas would have been scorched and b) I was distracted by the high winds roaring in my ears and some excessive nose dripping due to the extreme cold… I think I am glad to see the sun, though – despite the plunge in temps it has brought to my corner of the world.

Day 22 – Let’s Talk Turkey

They can run, but they can't hide...

They can run, but they can’t hide…

This year has been a bit of a challenge in terms of timing for processing our Christmas turkeys. Until very recently, the closest place to have the birds processed was up in Cowichan Bay an hour or so north of here – a journey that requires a VERY early start to get the birds there on time and then a return trip the following day to pick them up again (the processed birds can’t be transported until they have been sufficiently chilled). As you can imagine, the demand for slots is huge right before the two major turkey feasting holidays, so it is not easy at all to book a date that is close enough to Christmas to be able to offer customers fresh birds.

Add to this the fact our Ridley Bronze turkeys take their own sweet time growing to a decent size so an early date and frozen birds is not a great solution for us, never mind the fact our customers overwhelmingly prefer fresh birds to frozen (though, I have to say that having tasted both, there isn’t a noticeable difference in flavour). Anyway, the closest date we originally were able to get to Christmas was December 13, which meant very stale ‘fresh’ birds (too stale, really – though there is no definitive number of days a fresh bird can sit properly refrigerated, we were uncomfortable selling birds that would be 10-12 days before preparation). So, we were resigned to selling them frozen.

Invite a Ridley Bronze to your holiday dinner...

Invite a Ridley Bronze to your holiday dinner…

Then, we heard through the farmer grapevine that a new processor had been approved here on the Saanich Peninsula and, when I got in touch, I was delighted to hear he had space for our birds on December 21 (ready for us to pick up and get them to our customers December 22). Not only can we provide fresh birds, they benefit from an extra week or so of growing.

Now that we have the processing date finalized, I can post the link to our fancy schmantzy online order form.

Please note, we do not produce a huge number of birds and they grow to the sizes they want to grow. To avoid disappointment, please, please order sooner than later so you have the best chance of getting a bird close to the size you are hoping for. We do our best to match you up with a good dining partner, but it’s not like we are running a factory farm here with thousands of birds to pick from. We always sell out, so if you are interested in a fresh, local, delicious heritage turkey, click on that there link and let us know!

We are now able to take VISA and Mastercard – details for payment options are on the form. Over the next little while we’ll post some favourite recipes and cooking tips – these birds are not quite like the broad-breasted whites you’ll find in the supermarket. More on that, too, in future posts – for now, just wanted to give you the heads up on our late-breaking turkey news!

Day 18 – The Moon Coffined in Clouds

“We love the night and its quiet; and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is coffined in clouds.”  ― Fitz-James O'Brien

“We love the night and its quiet; and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is coffined in clouds.”
― Fitz-James O’Brien

When we first moved the horses here a dozen or so years ago it was a very strange sensation to make my way down to the barn in the pitch darkness. There were dips in the land I had never noticed in daylight and the short trip seemed to take three times as long after the lights were out. Strange crackles and sighs came from the trees and, particularlywhen the weather was awful, I thought of farmers in prairie blizzards who had to tie a rope from the house to the barn so they wouldn’t get blown off course and disappear forever.

Deer, who had not yet figured out that their regular highway was about to be interrupted by fences and horses and outbuildings and dogs and strange activities at all hours of the day and night would occasionally crash away through the brush, panicked by the sudden appearance of a human. I rushed, nervous at being out there in the dark all alone. I remembered childhood stories of wolves and bears and shapeless creatures who sucked souls and left young girls for dead and thought more than once of the statistic that Vancouver Island boasts the greatest number of cougar attacks in the world.

I always carried a flashlight, which morphed into a headlamp (much better to have one’s hands free while dealing with hay and gates and feeding the cat) and was happy to reach the barn where I could turn on the light.

These days, the tree spirits feel more like they are protecting me, rather than trying to eat me.

These days, the tree spirits feel more like they are protecting me, rather than trying to eat me.

Gradually, things changed. Over time the batteries in the headlamp faded and I forgot to replace them. I found myself in the dark, strolling down the hill as if I could see. Which, it turned out I could do perfectly well when the moon was high and the skies clear. I found I knew where we were in the moon phase without referring to a calendar. And somewhere along the way the nervousness completely disappeared.

Instead, the nightly walk down the hill became one of highlights of my daily routine. One night I reached up to stroke the cat on the gatepost only to discover it was a cat-sized barn owl. His heart-shaped face looked into mine as if to ask, “Were you seriously just about to touch me?” We stood like that for several long seconds before he lifted off and floated up to the roof of the goat barn, where he resumed his silent observation of my comings and goings.

I have sat in the orchard at midnight and sunk my teeth into a ripe pear sending a sticky sweet dribble of juice down my chin. With my back against a hay bale, I have listened to the patter of rain on the roof while the cat hopped into my lap for a snuggle. To my amazement, I discovered I could identify which of my three bay horses was which, even on a moonless night when I could barely make out my hand as it reached for the chain on the gate. I have paused to listen to the owls calling back and forth, the first frogs in spring, the goats munching their hay. The night is a different place for me now, one of calm and quiet where I don’t see all the many jobs that need to be done but instead savour a few moments of simple satisfaction as I find myself still here at the end of another day.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!