Tag Archives: small farm

What’s the Farmer Reading? Wise Acres

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Wise Acres, by Michael Kluckner

You would think that given a few minutes for purely recreational reading I might pick up a satisfying work of historical fiction or a glorious coffee table book full of photos of horses in exotic locales, or something… But no, I reached straight for Wise Acres, by Michael Kluckner, a memoir about a middle aged couple who sell their place in the city and buy a tiny farm not that far from Vancouver.

Like any good memoirist, Kluckner (who is also an artist) can write about the most mundane of subjects and make them interesting and, even better, often funny. The creatures on his farm (sheep, geese, hens, ducks, cats, etc.) are wonderful characters, each with a personality, a history, and a particular relationship with the author. These are not numbers and quotas and pounds of meat on the hoof but sources of companionship and entertainment as much as sustenance.

Of course, this means Kluckner is constantly struggling to find a way to balance his sentimental side with the practical and it is perhaps this aspect of the book and Kluckner’s story that I found most compelling. Certainly, I struggle with having too soft a heart for someone who raises animals for meat and at various points as I read I found myself nodding and sighing, thinking how much easier my life would be if I lived in the city and was a vegetarian.

Kluckner spends the most time talking about his sheep operation, which was simultaneously instructive, reassuring, and a tad horrifying to someone like me who is quite new to shepherding.

Woodblock prints by Kluckner illustrate each chapter (for those interested in Kluckner’s art, visit his website for more images). A thoroughly enjoyable read, Wise Acres will appeal to city folk thinking of moving out to the country and country folk wondering whether it might be time to cash in the sheep and return (or move on) to a more urban existence.

Oh, the Food!

Oh, how I love the way this season is all about the food!

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We kicked things off with a bang with our Holiday Cookie Exchange party on December 1st and it has been plain good eating ever since.

A couple of weeks ago I tested out a new super fast, super hot oven turkey recipe (with butter and maple syrup slathered between the breast skin and the breast) – it was so super fast it was ready before I had the veggies done, but was delish nonetheless.

For our family Christmas dinner I cooked up one of little turkey hens (about 8 lbs) the way my neighbour C. suggested – 350 degrees for a couple of hours with a bottle of beer added to the pan. I stuffed garlic butter under the skin, tented with oiled parchment and then foil, and uncovered for the last half hour. Oh. So. Juicy. Very, very good – Thanks, C.!

It will come as no surprise that two fave presents this year involved food… A frozen fruit dessert/sorbet maker that requires nothing but the addition of frozen fruit (though, you can add a bit of yogurt, if desired). What a great way to dessertify the bags of berries and apricots and plums we still have in the freezer! Also an excellent way to use up very ripe bananas, just pop the bananas (pre-peeled) into the freezer and then, when frozen, run them through along with whatever other fruity deliciousness you have on hand. Yum!

The other most excellent handy gadget (and, yes, I know I shouldn’t be quite so addicted to handy gadgets) was a gift I received – a Magic Bullet. Though the various blades can be used for all kinds of chopping and blending, my plan is to use it mostly for smoothies [though, the ‘grown-up’ beverages they describe in the accompanying booklet along with instructions for how to host a refreshingly fun party are intriguing…]. I have experimented with various other blender type devices but this seems to be particularly well thought out in terms of being able to make small quantities in the same container you are going to drink out of. So far I’ve only indulged in fruity versions, but I have plans for adding kale, carrots, and various protein options so my smoothies stick with me for a little longer than they tend to given my high energy outputs on an average day.

Right at the moment, I’m jotting these notes while making turkey stock for soup tomorrow.

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Too soon this season where food is front and center and nobody feels bad about food being front and center will move on into the New Year where so many people feel they need to to return to a relationship with food that centers on self-deprivation.

My food-related resolution will be this: more smoothies. And, to steal the theme word that will be getting a lot of airplay over in Catbird Quilt-land, EXPERIMENT. [Catbird Quilt Blog] Coconut oil. Sunflower seeds. Carrots. Parsnips. Maple syrup. Chocolate. Yes, chocoloate! I wonder what cool combinations I might be able to come up with in the smoothie department? I might have to re-listen to the An Organic Conversation podcast segment that was all about smoothies…

Which reminds me how much I enjoy their podcast. Are any of you podcast listeners? What are your favourites? I’ve loved the book and cookie recipe suggestions – how about some ideas for great podcasts I should be listening to while I muck out the horse paddocks and wash the hen eggs?

The Shortest Day

There is a strange beauty in the dark, particularly when it's snowing.

There is a strange beauty in the dark, particularly when it’s snowing.

Racing around like a mad woman today trying to get the turkeys to the processor, hay loaded and unloaded, everyone fed and watered, paperwork more or less in order for tomorrow’s turkey pick-up and sale, it was hard to remember that the Winter Solstice is a day of joy and cause for celebration. Mostly, I was wishing I had just a few more minutes of daylight so I could get a few more things done outside.

The farm at night...

The farm at night…

 

Though it’s tempting to just keep on rushing to try to squeeze just a bit more into each short day, poems like The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper are a good reminder that this is a time for celebration of a very elemental sort.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Scenes like this make me want to make wildly atmospheric movies where melancholy reigns supreme and a desperately lonely old man gazes off a cliff edge and is held back only by the presence of the loyal sheepdog at his side.

Scenes like this make me want to make wildly atmospheric movies where melancholy reigns supreme and a desperately lonely old man gazes off a cliff edge and is held back only by the presence of the loyal sheepdog at his side.

So there you go, my mood is perfectly balanced between frenetic and celebratory and plain old gloomy, kind of like the Winter Solstice itself.

Welcome, Babar! Go Away, Snow! (NABLOPOMO)

Welcome, good sir...

Welcome, good sir…

Babar the Cotswold ram arrived today and is now in with the ewes to be bred. Given it was a perpetual motion kind of day, it’s actually a minor miracle I managed to get this quick (terrible) shot when our new boy arrived in the sheep shelter. It didn’t help that he had no interest in posing, but immediately dove into the grain bucket…

After polishing off the few morsels of grain left in the tub, he shot out the door and chased the girls around. I'm sure he's thinking he's arrived in a pretty cool place!

After polishing off the few morsels of grain left in the tub, he shot out the door and chased the girls around. I’m sure he’s thinking he’s arrived in a pretty cool place! This did not, however, make for a relaxed photo session.

Rushing around for the humans continued after the ram delivery – had to do a bit of Christmas shopping (it’s never too late to get started…) and then convince all the Christmas turkeys that, yes, they really were going to bunk up together even though they hardly know the rejects from the breeding group. How, exactly, they can tell each other apart, I don’t know – but they certainly keep track of who’s who and today there was an awful lot of restructuring going on in the turkey hierarchy.

Then, the rest of the evening chores by headlamp as the turkey rodeo went on for far too long and darkness overtook me before I was done… A very long sigh when I spotted Olivia’s piglets ambling around nonchalantly with the adult hogs (what!?). Nothing to be done at that point except open up all the gates between the pens to make sure everyone could find room in a proper shelter during the night.

Good thing I did so because when I went down to the barn to do the late hay rounds for the horses and goats, it looked like the farm had been transplanted into the inside of a snow globe.Okay. Thank you. That's enough snow now... Okay. Thank you. That’s enough snow now…

No relief in sight (except, perhaps, for the snow… the temperatures are supposed to stay mild, so I doubt this will stick around for long). Busy, busy for the next few days and right into the holidays. Despite myself, I am feeling most definitely festive!

NABLOPOMO – How to Make a Hog Waterer from a Garbage Can

New hog watering can in place...

New hog watering can in place…

A quick, nearly wordless Wednesday water update…

Wedged securely between two trees and flanked by 2 X 6’s, so far, it hasn’t moved an inch. The piglets caught on right away and have been happily slurping, but Cora remains unconvinced this is worth her time. I’ve been putting small amounts of water in the blue dish in front to give her the idea this is a good place to be looking for water and, as I say, the piglets are happy to drink from the hog nipple, but it looks like Momma is going to take a little longer to catch on.

Meanwhile, there is still water in her old tub, but I’ll continue to encourage her to check out the lovely CLEAN water, unpolluted by duck butts or hog snouts…

(For more info and photos re. how we built this, check out the post from a few days ago…)

NABLOPOMO – Sorting – More of These, Less of Those

The next few days look like they are going to have a similar theme: sorting and reorganizing.

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[Image D. Craig, Min of Agriculture] – Some of last year’s Toms in the breeding group.

The Christmas birds are going to be processed on the 21st which means I’ll need to pick the very best birds to hold back for breeding. I’l be looking for decent size and reasonable growth speed (there are two groups – a younger and an older and there are birds from the younger group that are actually much bigger than birds from the older lot), decent temperament, and, finally, more or less correct colouring. I’ll keep 2-4 Toms in the breeding group and 10-12 hens. That way, if someone comes along who would like a breeding trio, we can accommodate them. The birds will be useful through the breeding season, producing a good variety of poults for sale as well as my next year’s Christmas birds. Some of those breeding birds will have reached a good size by summer and when the laying and hatching season is over, some of those can be processed for a few Thanksgiving customers. I will likely also hold back some of the scrawny stragglers for the same purpose.

We are also slowly building a customer list of people who are interested in turkey eggs for eating. We love them, but it is very uncommon to find eating eggs in stores (can you think of a time you saw a carton of turkey eggs at a shop?) and it just doesn’t occur to people that turkey eggs are an option for the frying pan or baking.

Without the competition from the larger flock and some extra time, the smaller birds will have a chance to grow out in time for Easter or Thanksgiving of next year. Carrying more than 15-20 birds year round gets very expensive – commercial organic feed is exorbitant and during the winter months there isn’t much decent pasture for the birds to devour. And devour they do! Hungry turkeys eat an incredible amount each day and though I supplement with hay and veggies and softened alfalfa cubes (plus whatever they manage to find themselves), the feed bill gets out of hand very fast when I’m feeding too many birds.

Of course, the keepers and those destined for fine dining are to be found scattered between my two main groups of turkeys, which are raised in two different locations. This will mean penning, sorting, and transporting birds from A to B and B to A and then, the night before they leave the farm, loading the dining birds into the stock trailer for the short ride to the processor. We will also need to make sure we have more or less the correct number of birds of approximately the right size to fill the turkey orders.

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[Image D. Craig, Min of Agriculture] Freckles, one of the ewes soon to be introduced to the ram, Babar.

Meanwhile, our new  Cotswold ram will move from the farm where he has been spending the past number of weeks to the sheep fields. But, before he can get here, we need to move the ram lambs to their own field and separate the small ewe lamb who is too young to breed (she will spend the next couple of months hanging out with the goats). Only then can we introduce the new ram to the ewes to be bred for late spring lambs in 2014.

The ducklings from this summer are now also ready to process, though whether or not I can get coordinated to run them up island before the holidays are full upon us is another question. The ducks will stay with the layers (each year we increase the numbers a bit to try to keep up with demand) and all but two of the drakes will go for processing.

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[Image: D. Craig, Ministry of Agriculture] Pompadour, our Large Black Hog boar, ready to do his duty and sire more piglets.

And, finally, the piglets still are not fully sorted and reorganized. Olivia’s piglets are in a separate paddock but after a spectacular bolt down the hill and through an electric mesh fence, Cora is back in with her little ones. We will give that another go, perhaps tomorrow, to see if we can’t get all the weaners in one place and all the sows back together in another. Pompadour will then be called upon to woo the two mothers and we will continue to watch Pearl closely for telltale signs that she is pregnant (she has been in with him for a month or so now, so it won’t be long before she starts to bulge a bit).

The chicken sorting can wait until the new year, but not too long as the heritage birds do take their own sweet time starting to lay, so an early start is definitely an advantage. Wimpy will get to move into his own area with the four gorgeous Black Orpington girls who are now mature and ready to get to work in the spring.

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[Image: D. Craig, Ministry of Agriculture] Bill, the light Brahma rooster yelling about something… probably protesting my plan to take away his stunning Black Orpington girls and give them to Wimpy.

So, for the next few days it’s going to be all about counting and patience, because even though it may seem like a simple thing to move some piglets from pen A to pen B and sort out a few dozen turkeys, the critters seem to have a knack for being particularly uncooperative when their routines change. Wish me luck!

NABLOPOMO – Turkey Uprising Down on the Farm

Watch this shocking video warning farmers not to use certain words in front of their ‘holiday’ birds…