Tag Archives: small farm

NABLOPOMO – We should be doing more of this… mending, that is.

Dad recalls all kinds of slogans from the war and post-war years. "Make Do and Mend" was one of them.

Dad recalls all kinds of slogans from the war and post-war years. “Make Do and Mend” was one of them. [E. colin Williams]

Sometimes I think my life must seem incredibly boring to other people. I don’t actually know anybody else who obsesses quite so much over things like buckets of water! If you are fed up with the subject, move along!

The hog water troughs have long proved to be a challenge – the pigs love to dump them over, climb into them, fill their mouths with dirt and then rinse and spit into them…

The ducks are the only creatures who are perhaps even worse at fouling (fowling?) containers of water. They blow their beaks under water to clear out the mud and sludge they accumulate while sifting through sludge looking for… whatever they are looking for. Anyway, between that delightful habit, their incessant splashing and dunking, and the liberal amounts of poop they deposit while they are busy floating around in places they don’t belong, they make a mess of the hog water quicker than you can say, “[Duck] Bottoms Up!”

With all that in mind, I decided to try a new watering system for the hogs. Inspired by a similar set-up over at my neighbour’s place, I bought a hog nipple and a couple of threaded bits so I could convert a garbage can into a covered watering system.

Dad and I set about installing what appeared to be a pretty simple set-up. We wrapped all the relevant threads in plumber’s tape, drilled a big hole in the side of the plastic garbage can, and then proceeded to fasten all the bits together. We screwed the hog nipple into Part A, put Part A a on the outside of the garbage can and then threaded Part B onto Part A, but inside the garbage can, sandwiching the wall of the can between the two parts. Sounds ludicrously complicated but was actually very simple.

Hog nipple screwed into Part A. If only I'd paid more attention at the farm supply store as to what Part A was actually called... Threaded collar into which a hog nipple is inserted...

Hog nipple screwed into Part A. If only I’d paid more attention at the farm supply store as to what Part A was actually called… Threaded collar into which a hog nipple is inserted… The red ring is the outside cover of the roll of plumber’s tape.

We put some water in the garbage can so it just covered the new hog nipple installation and went and had dinner.

Testing the seal...

Testing the seal…

When we returned to check on the water level, it had dropped to just below the ring. We figured we didn’t have a good enough seal, perhaps due to the ridges on the garbage can, so we dug out our our handy dandy Roof Patch stuff and applied it liberally.

Roof Patch goop - can be applied wet - guaranteed to stop leaks. We also added more plumber's tape for good measure.

Roof Patch goop – can be applied wet – guaranteed to stop leaks. We also added more plumber’s tape for good measure.

Roof Patch goop

We repeated the water test and… noticed that the water level was dropping even more rapidly. Not only that, there was the distinctive sound of water dribbling… A closer inspection revealed that the problem had nothing to do with the nipple installation but everything to do with a nail-sized puncture wound on the back side of the garbage can!

How did we miss this hole the first time around?

How did we miss this hole the first time around?

At this point in the proceedings Dad had a nostalgia attack.

“”What we need here are pot menders.”

This elicited a blank look from me. Pot menders? Who mends pots, anyway? Apparently, during and after WWII, all of England was told to mend their pots by none other than the Queen.This was done using something called pot menders. The following image showed up in my email inbox at 2am that night as Dad thought he was losing his mind and remembering something that never existed.

Photo by ijbison on Flickr

Sure enough, these double washer-type doohickeys were fastened together on either side of the hole in the kettle or pot, fixing the broken item. It occurred to me that these days if my kettle stops working I run out and buy a new one and toss the old one in the trash bin. I don’t think you could buy anything like this any more, except maybe on E-bay and besides, I don’t think plastic would respond well to this treatment.

Needless to say, our supply of pot menders was non existent, so we cast our minds around to see if we could find another solution. Duct tape? Pond liner patches glued to the inside of the can with Roof Patch goop? Some sort of rubbery plug?

In a flash of inspiration Dad thought of roofing screws which are backed with a built-in rubber washer. We found one, slathered it with Roof Patch goop, and screwed it (gently) into the hole.Roofing screw to the rescue!Roofing screw to the rescue!Our improvised version of a pot mender in position. Our improvised version of a pot mender in position.

Ta da! Hog nipple installed!

Ta da! Hog nipple installed!

The final step was to add water and wait. The can sat overnight and we lost nary a drop of water!

The next big hurdle is installing it in the hog paddock in such a way that the hogs can’t tip it over. Stay tuned… because, yes, there is yet more to come on the subject of water containers…

NABLOPOMO – Anti-freezing Water Experiment

A duck's eye view of a pond freezing over...

A duck’s eye view of a pond freezing over…

During the recent cold snap, I was having my usual problems keeping all the animals watered. There are two main issues to deal with. First, all the water on our long, skinny farm-let originates at the top of the hill at the house. Miles of hoses with various junctions and side shoots and connectors and whatnot distribute water from the tap at the top to animal and poultry pens all the way down to the bottom of the hill. It is not practical to coil up all those hoses and drag them inside each night. Leaving them dripping works as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too low, though it does waste water and results in nasty little ice patches all over the place. The other problem is that the hoses zig and zag, go up and over obstacles and around corners and without fail, those bends and kinks are where ice blocks form, shutting down the system downstream from the blockage.

After I win the lottery (or, maybe I should try one of those crowd funding projects) I will install a frost-free in-ground water system with frost free taps all over the place… But until then, when the hoses freeze I am stuck schlepping hot water in containers from the house.

A five gallon jug of water weighs over 40 lbs. I shudder to think how many pounds I lifted during the past week!

A five gallon jug of water weighs over 40 lbs. I shudder to think how many pounds I lifted during the past week!

The water needs to be hot because the second problem that develops is the water in the various buckets and tubs freezes. When it isn’t seriously cold, it isn’t hard to smash through the layer of ice on top to get to open water below. When it stays cold for several days or when the temperatures plunge, the layer of ice is too thick to break.

This problem of the top layer freezing was addressed in the current issue of Small Farm Canada (with thanks to regular reader, blogger, and fellow farmer, Sailors Small Farm for pointing this out…). In a short how-to article it was suggested that a piece of closed cell foam insulation cut to fit inside the bucket would keep the water from freezing. The example shown was for a small pail being used  by chickens. Holes large enough for the chickens to dip their beaks in had been cut in the foam so the birds could get at the un-frozen water.

As it turned out I had some of this stuff around and thought it might work to stop the goat water container from freezing over.

A thin layer of ice just starting to form on the surface of the goat water bucket.

A thin layer of ice just starting to form on the surface of the goat water bucket.

First I roughly measured the foam – and cut it to size.

Roughly measuring the size of 'lid' needed.

Roughly measuring the size of ‘lid’ needed.

I cut a small opening on one side so they could get their muzzles in to drink.

The small opening was just big enough for thirsty goat lips...

The small opening was just big enough for thirsty goat lips…

Then, I waited to see what would happen. The goats drank out of the gap just fine and immediately under the foam lid the water did not freeze. But, all around the edges, ice formed the first night. The ice layer grew thicker and it became increasingly difficult to peel off the layer of foam each morning so the goats could get at the ever-smaller water hole in the middle. By the fourth day, the foam was completely frozen into the surface and disintegrated when I tried to peel it back.The opening was the first part to freeze, which wasn't too surprising...The opening was the first part to freeze, which wasn’t too surprising…After a few days of being able to peel back the foam, it froze to the surface and came apart when I tried to lift it...After a few days of being able to peel back the foam, it froze to the surface and came apart when I tried to lift it…It was impossible to remove the last shred of insulation... I went back to the old system of pouring piping hot water into the bucket to thaw a hole and warm up the rest of the water enough that the goats would have a good, long drink. It was impossible to remove the last shred of insulation… I went back to the old system of pouring piping hot water into the bucket to thaw a hole and warm up the rest of the water enough that the goats would have a good, long drink.

The article suggests that the system is most useful inside a hen house where the temperature is right around freezing but not seriously cold. I’d have to say that when this is the case it really isn’t that big a deal to chip a hole in the skim of ice anyway. Alas, much as I had hoped this would be a great solution to my bucket-freezing problems, it seems I will have to keep looking for other methods and keep experimenting.

NABLOPOMO – From Squash Hauler to Ambulance – Love my Multi-purpose Cart!

Around here we do a lot of improvising (stay tuned for a post about what we are doing with a garbage can and a roofing nail… experiment currently under way in the laundry sink…).

And, I also do a lot of schlepping. With my critters living in various locations up and down the road, I am constantly hauling loads of feed from one place to another. I had been improvising with one of those folding luggage carts onto which I had fastened (with bungee cords and binder twine) a sturdy plastic vegetable crate. I don’t have a great photo, though here it is in use hauling pumpkins and squash from the neighbor’s place up to the pigs.

Cart and Squash

The capacity was a bit limited and on uneven terrain, the whole contraption was very tippy. The handle also tended to collapse at the most inopportune of moments. Worst disaster with this unit occurred when I foolishly tied the dogs to the handle and stopped to pick up a broken bottle from the road. Mistake! The dogs spotted a squirrel and took off, scattering buckets, grain, carrots, and hay all over the road. They terrified themselves when they realized the clattering disaster was chasing after them and tried to flee into the brush. The whole dreadful incident ended with the dogs cowering in the ditch and me standing in the middle of the road with my mouth open, still holding the broken bottle.

For larger loads, the wheelbarrow came in handy.

Lunch CartThis worked ok here at our place (and, as long as I didn’t tie the dogs to it), but wasn’t so good going up the hill and along the road to where I keep the turkeys, mostly because I never did figure out a good way to deal with frolicking dogs, laden wheelbarrow, and the hill all at the same time.

Wheelbarrows have also come in handy during the annual winter schlepp of water containers down the hill…

Winter at Dark Creek FarmRecently, I procured a new schlepping device, a garden cart that is quite stable, has plenty of capacity, and can be dragged along behind the frolicking dogs.

Garden CartThis has also proven handy during the recent cold snap for hauling water (I can get more into the cart than I can into the wheelbarrow).

IMG_6934-001

What I hadn’t anticipated was it’s usefulness as an ambulance for a turkey who was a bit under the weather.

Look closely at the thing that’s wrapped in my coat behind the empty feed buckets…

IMG_6935After a few days of TLC up at the turkey spa, the patient recovered fully and rejoined the flock.

The other thing that I found a bit surprising was how challenging it was going to be to navigate my way through the goat pen with the cart. I know better than to attempt such a maneuver with goodies in the cart, but coming down through the goat pen with a couple of water jugs shouldn’t have been a problem. Those goats can sniff out a spilled morsel of any sort of grain or seed or fleck of carrot from fifty paces. They charge the cart and surround it, oblivious to my shouts and threats.

The goats swarming the cart in search of spilled treats...

The goats swarming the cart in search of spilled treats…

Electra is a bit on the short side, so her solution is to jump right in, all the better to sniff around and lick up anything that might be lickable.

So far, the cart has proven to be worth every penny and probably gets used more than any other single item on the farm. If only all my tools were so darned satisfying…

NABLOPOMO – Speed Blogging for Farmers – Sheep v Goats

Today’s NABLOPOMO challenge is to write the whole post in ten minutes.Perfect! I am running behind and only have a few minutes to get this done. So, how about a quick handy dandy guide to how to tell apart the sheep from the goats?

Goats and sheep are similar in many ways – cloven hooves at one end and a noise that sounds a bit like ‘maaaaahhhhh.’ Though, I think goats might be a bit more nasal and whiny than their sheepy cousins. You can milk both creatures, eat both creatures, and, if you have cashmere goats as we do, you can make sweaters from their winter coats, too (though, you use the shorn fleece from the sheep and the carefully combed out and collected under-fluff from the goats).

Lamb

Goats are more likely to climb over their fences to escape, sheep will get down on their knees and force their way under. Goats are the ones with beards and sheep are the ones with long, floppy tails. On most farms you won’t see those long tails because they are docked when the lambs are very young, but left unaltered, they are so long they nearly reach the ground. Goat tails are short and perky and tend to stand straight up.

At the nose end, the upper lips of goats are divided, whereas sheep lips are one continuous line. Goats tend to be browsers, nibbling on bushes, brambles, and bark (though they will certainly eat grass, too, particularly if there isn’t anything else). Sheep are grazers and will eat away at pasture until they reach bare ground. Rotating them onto fresh pasture before that happens gives the grass a chance to recover and helps reduce parasite loads (more on rotational grazing strategies on a day when I have more than ten minutes).

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats would be the devious ones, pushy and greedy and quite fearless. Sheep tend to be more skittish, bunching together or fleeing wildly when threatened. My dogs, having been slammed into the side of the barn with a nasty head but once or twice after making faces at a goat are terrified of the caprines. The sheep, on the other hand, are terrified of the dogs.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Ding! Ding! Ding! My ten minutes are up!

No time to do the second part of the assignment (how do you feel about writing under such a tight deadline?). I’m breathing too hard and my fingers are quivering too much to type another word!

NABLOPOMO – Charging in for seconds! (and thirds… and fourths)

 A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed…

I don’t know why anyone thinks that calling someone a ‘bird brain’ is an insult. I have a lot of birds around (turkeys, ducks, chickens, and a cute little cockatiel up at the house) and I can tell you they know exactly which end is up.

Hen at Large

The farm birds range from a group of laying hens procured as pullets to fancy light Brahmas I raised here. We have a few spare roosters, a flock of fancy bantams, and some gorgeous Black Orpington hens. Our Muscovy ducks produce some lovely ducklings each year and the Ridley Bronze turkey flock is made up of a mix of those we grow out for holiday table birds and our breeding flock (the Ridley Bronze birds are a Canadian heritage breed that has been teetering on the edge of extinction for a number of years).

Most of the time, the birds do their own thing, roaming around hunting, pecking, posturing, and procreating. They never go far first thing in the morning because that’s when they get their major meal. Then, they scatter, scavenging lost morsels the hogs might have missed, making trouble in the hog water (if they are ducks), and sneaking off to lay eggs if they are chickens.

The turkeys have the worst case of wanderlust of all of them. They make their rounds to various neighbours (thank goodness the neighbours don’t mind too much!) and all over our property, gleefully hopping over fences and leaping from branch to branch in the trees. They know where the best bramble patches are (late, sweet blackberries are a favourite!), the plumpest seed heads on the tall grasses growing along the edges of the fields and ditches by the road, and have memorized every place where I might ever spill a few grains of feed on my rounds.

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed...

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed…

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The ducks are particularly fond of the the manure mountain and pick through the recent deposits in search of red wigglers. The pile is full of worms turning it into rich compost, so the ducks have a field day feasting.

They also do a round of the areas of the vegetable garden I’ve opened up for them – they, along with a few of the chickens, are on weed-pulling and slug-annihilation detail. The ducks are also marvelous for trimming the grass paths between the beds, a task they eagerly look forward to each autumn.

Weed Patrol

No matter how busy they have been or what treats they have managed to find during the day, every free-ranging bird on the place knows when it’s three o’clock: time for seconds (thirds, and fourths)! I will head down the hill to do the afternoon hog feed and be met at the feed room door by a sea of bird beaks and beady eyes.  The turkeys and drakes are the pushiest, literally crashing over the stacks of feed buckets in their haste to beat me to the feed bin when I enter the barn.

Yesterday, a young Tom turkey launched himself into the air at the same moment I opened the lid of the plywood feed bin. A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed and there was much thrashing and indignant complaining (from both of us!) until I could haul the bird out of the bin and send him on his way.

The birds are such a menace, the only way to get them out from under foot is to throw a bit of feed down outside. As I was doing this today it occurred to me the birds have totally won this round of farmer vs livestock (why would I think otherwise? I’m still way behind in the game of ‘Put the Turkeys To Bed’). They have very efficiently trained me to start the hog and horse feeding rounds in the afternoon by tossing bonus grub to the birds!

Afternoon Tea

Doubt my word about bird intelligence? Watch this Ted talk about crows, the way they have adapted to life with humans, and their cool vending machine… Intelligence of Crows

Sigh. I don’t have a hope if my motley flocks start talking to their wild cousins.

Theme_Large_Nov_2013_0 nablopomo

Day 20 – A Gleaning We Will Go

Apparently, gleaning (being the act of scrounging for leftovers after farmers are done harvesting their fields and orchards) was encouraged way back in the Bible. Back then the beneficiaries were meant to be tragic and unfortunate souls like widows and orphans, but I tell you, this contemporary farmer is very happy the practice has not died out entirely.

Michell’s Farm Market on the Saanich Peninsula – several generations of the family farm the land and run a successful farm market.

I am neither widowed nor an orphan, but I do have a lot of mouths and beaks to feed. As it turns out, the generous Michell clan down the road (of Michell’s Farm Market fame) has a lot of slightly squidgy squash, pumpkin, and gourds left over now that the big Halloween/Thanksgiving festivities are done. Add to that some ever-so-slightly yellowing broccoli and you have a FEAST for hogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. 

You can imagine my delight when I had a call asking if I wanted to come pick up some goodies for the critters. Oh, yes please! Thinking there might be a box or two or three I didn’t bother changing back into farm clothes as I was heading into town on another errand right after picking up the veggies. Mistake!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

Of course, it was bucketing down with rain when I started to load and by the time I had transferred the bounty from the bins to my truck, I was soaked.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

I stacked everything in a corner of the hay shelter and have been doling out the treats to everyone ever since. I have to hack open the harder-shelled gourds for the birds (they love the seeds and innards), but the hogs manage to crunch through whatever I toss in their direction.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Thanks, Michell farmers for keeping a glorious tradition alive! And, in case you are wondering what happened to my in-town errands, I was running so late by the time I had loaded and hauled away the booty I didn’t have time to go up to the house to change and had to make an appearance in not one, but two different offices wearing soaking wet, filthy clothes. Ah well, my embarrassment was a small price to pay for the sake of hearing those happy snuffling grunty noises of deeply satisfied hogs.

 

Day 19 – An African Women’s Farm

Last night Dad and I attended a talk about a women’s collective farm in the north eastern part of South Africa. It’s hard to know where to start as the talk touched on so many vital issues facing agriculture today. The speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, was excellent – her talk both inspiring and horrifying.

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

In the aftermath of the apartheid and drought, a group of women in Joppie Village started a small farm so they could grow vegetables for their families and community. 20 years later the farm is a vibrant hub in the community serving many roles beyond simply growing vegetables. It was inspiring to hear how these women have managed to get the farm off the ground, how it sustains them today, and fuels their hopes for the future.

Issues like the fact they must use hybrid seed (and, therefore, are beholden to the seed companies each year), have very little capital to invest in infrastructure, endure long periods of heat and little rainfall followed by short periods of deluge, and the ongoing struggles they face to protect the equipment they do own (pumps to provide essential irrigation to keep crops alive during those dry periods) against theft make my farming challenges insignificant hiccups. Despite the obstacles, through their perseverance they have created an amazing hub that sustains many people in many ways.

I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t be looking more seriously at other land-ownership models here on the peninsula that would make it easier for young farmers to have access to farmland (the Women’s Farm is owned collectively by the community) and at the same time move us along the road toward securing our own local food supply. Not so very long ago, Vancouver Island produced 80+ percent of our food. Today, that figure has plummeted to somewhere between 3% and 8% (depending who you ask). If we do not provide markets, infrastructure, and access to land for our farmers, AND we proceed with making changes to the ALR as is being discussed by our dear government, then why would we expect to see any farmland left at all? As a farmer said at a recent Peninsula Agricultural Commission Meeting, if we were to make farming a viable profession, there would be no need to protect farmland because young farmers would be lining up to get into the profession and they would be financially able to do so because farming would be a job that would pay a living wage.

There are so many cans of worms in that last paragraph I would be blogging until Christmas if I started opening them all. My point is, really, whether we are in South Africa or south Asia, Australia or Hawaii, the Fraser Valley or right here on our island, we ALL need to pay attention. We need to worry about seed saving, about who owns the genetic rights to living things. We need to think about smart ways to use infill development, to preserve the farmland we have left and make it accessible to a new generation of farmers. And, we need to provide useful ongoing support to farmers willing to use that farm to grow food. We need to look at the logic of using chemicals on food crops and how smart it is to ship lettuce from California when we can grow lots of it right here in our back yards.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make - organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes - but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make – organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes – but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

A vibrant community farm is far more than just a place to grow vegetables. The way we feed ourselves, our children, our neighbours, our elders, our friends, and our communities tells us a lot about how healthy [not just physically] our families and communities are likely to be for the long haul. 

Soapbox moment finished – for now. Stay tuned. And consider coming to the ALR Town Hall Meeting in Sidney (Mary Winspear Centre) 7pm on November 27th. Unless, of course, you don’t eat. In which case, farmland really is of no concern.