Monday, June 04, 2007

New Lamb

We weren't expecting this little girl. We are way past due on the lambing and I simply thought that we weren't going to have any. Yesterday, I went out to feed pigs and chickens and looked up and saw an extra "sheep"! I was happy to see her suckle happily and she is now running and playing and she seems quite healthy. A very nice surprise.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The New Lambing Barn

I had a busy few days this past weekend...I needed to fence a new paddock with the wire mesh "farm fencing" so that the sheep could move in to their new lambing pasture. It was previously fenced with simple wood railing fence that keeps the cattle in, but the sheep would easily squeeze out almost anywhere they wished. I spent a few hours on Saturday to install the mesh and then a few more hours to set up the "barn". This is one of those portable garages...we purchased it from Costco a few months ago for around $400. It went up easily without any tools. I know several people who have these shelters and a couple of them collapsed this winter with the weight of the snow. Another fellow I know of had his up all winter without incident because he would go out and knock the snow off from time to time.

We wanted a portable, temporary shelter that we could use from year to year to facilitate lambing in different fields as we saw fit. It isn't good to have birthing areas occupy the same area on a yearly basis...this goes for any livestock species.

The good thing about this new pasture is that we can keep a close eye on the ewes out our living room window. It is approximately one acre in size and is adjacent to all of our other pastures that total about 10 acres. We are due to begin lambing around May 25th.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spring Field Work

Here is the 766 hard at work with the breaking disc. The breaking disc is a very heavy implement with large diameter discs. This implement does a very good job of breaking through sod and compacted soil. Plowing in this field did not work out so well because of some large rocks about 6" below the surface.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another Generation of Large Blacks!

Last year, about this time, I sold a couple of Large Black gilts to a fellow in Manitoba. Yesterday he e-mailed me this picture of his first litter from one of the girls! 6 healthy little ones, 4 gilts. I was happy to see another generation of these rare pigs hit the ground in a good home. Neal was very happy with how good a mother she was too. Most farmers will tell you that you need a barn and a farrowing crate etc. etc. Neal even went to the trouble of building a couple of a-frame farrowing huts for the girls out in the pasture, but this sow didn't like his construction because she just built a nest of straw out in the open and did her thing. Neal mentioned how careful she was in moving about the nest so that she wouldn't lay on anyone. This is entirely normal for the breed and probably normal for any breed that is given the ability to farrow outdoors in a natural setting.

Spring Field Work

Spring work has been frustrating so far this year. The 766 is working well, but we have encountered some unexpected field conditions while plowing the new land. There are some pretty good sized rocks about 6 inches below the surface and we have broken the plow twice. On top of that, we sprung the back arm on the plow and that made it almost impossible to set the plow to work properly. We tried for a couple days and only managed to plow 20 acres. Finally, yesterday, we gave up trying to plow and made arrangements to rent a very large and heavy breaking disc. We'll see how that works at breaking up the hay field.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Brooder

We brood our day-olds in an old horse water trough. It works well and is so deep that it allows us to continually add bedding all the while that the birds are brooding. We have a wire/lumber top for the brooder that allows us to hang two heat lamps over the chicks. We can adjust the lamps to whatever height we need to keep them comfortable. This year, as every year it seems, we are experiencing extremely low temps. that are well under normal. I had to cover the brooder with a silver tarp and a blanket and then set up an electric baseboard heater nearby to keep the temperature up inside the brooder. If it is too cold, the birds will crowd each other and make a big pile. The birds at the bottom of the pile suffocate and die. We know that the temperature is correct when we see the chicks off in all corners of the brooder pecking away at feed, water and whatever bugs and grass is in their bedding straw. They will stay in the brooder for a week or two and then we will set up another one and split them up to allow them to grow until they are feathered out. Typically, near the end of brooding, we transfer the chicks to the pig barn where they have lots of room to grow until they are big enough to be transferred to the field pens. Once they are fully "feathered out", they are able to care for themselves outside without the need for extra heat from lamps or an inside room. All they need at that point is a roof and some wind blockage that comes from the movable pen in the pasture.

Chicken Season 2007!

Chicken season is underway once more. Yesterday, Cindy travelled to Rochester Hatchery in Westlock to pick up 314 day-old chicks. This year we went back to the Cornish Giant breed. Last years chickens did not grow the way we had hoped. Slower growing genetics combined with organic feed minus the growth hormones and supplements made for a season that was just too long for us to handle effectively. We have had good luck with the Cornish Giants on our own feed in previous years but we didn't like the fact that they were bred to grow so fast and do have so many health problems when placed on accelerated/medicated feed in big commercial operations. We wanted to support the smaller, less popular breeds. Fortunately for us, the Cornish Giant breed works very well on organic food. The breeding genetics make the bird grow quickly, but the organic non-medicated feed keeps growth in check and produces a very nicely finished bird. Combined with all the fresh pasture that they can eat, the end result is simply scrumptous.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The 766 with a new coat

Here is the new 766 ready for the field. I gave her a quick new coat of paint, changed the fluids and cleaned out the cab along with a few other minor adjustments here and there. It still needs the decals, but those can wait until spring work is complete. Now I am ready on Wednesday to drive to the farm where the plow is waiting to be picked up and then off to the field that I am renting south of our farm. I will spend the next few days plowing 50 acres or so of alfalfa in preparation of seeding with wheat. First though, I need to take off the dual wheel on the right hand side to be able to travel down the furrow cleanly without driving on newly plowed ground and keeping the plow level.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Mix Mill

I went ahead and picked up an old New Holland Mix Mill last weekend. It was at a good price of $400. I haven't seen one in any condition for less than $1000 so I jumped at it. It was through a friend of a friend so I know what I am getting into. It needs some ducting, but that is easily fixed with some stove pipe and some fittings that I already have in the barn. It also needs to be thoroughly cleaned out. Having sat out in the rain and snow for a year, it shows some signs of rusting around the clean outs. I will clean it up and get it running and then park it in the barn for the rest of it life. It should last me until I am ready to retire from farming (no time soon I hope).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A new tractor!

I haven't posted in a while but that ought to be changing any time now. Spring is almost here and with that, we will be working steadily with various projects outside. Chicks need to be ordered, equipment needs to be repaired and maintained, fencing, new hen house location, etc. etc.

One new item around the farm will soon be our new IH 766 tractor. I recently bought this from a fellow in Saskatchewan. I am heading down to pick it up on the weekend of April 1. It is a 1975 model with a diesel engine. It doesn't have a turbo and puts out somewhere around 80 horsepower. It should work fine for pulling the new round baler and the new mix mill (other posts upcoming!). I have recently made a decision to expand the farm by renting some land and growing organic grain crops. I am currently looking for land now. I have rented some smaller parcels already, but I need a bigger field of around 60 acres or more to put the new equipment to work efficiently.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

We Have Our Turkeys!

Finally, we have our heritage breed turkeys! We have been looking for quite some time for a breeding pair of turkeys and I hooked up with Judy Fitzsimmons. She has quite a few heritage breeds of livestock and had a pair of Broadbreasted Bronze Turkeys. The added bonus was the fact that the hen is broody! We are very excited to have this pair of birds and hopefully, we will have some chicks this spring. We haven't seen any breeding activity yet, but it is still early. I do plan to build them a separate coop along with adjacent yards. We will try to produce a small amount of turkeys for friends and family and see where it goes from there.
These birds are very interesting to watch. They are quite close to their wild cousins in the way that they behave and are exactly the opposite of their reputation of being "stupid". They are extremely aware and have a complex behaviour of displays and verbal communication. The Tom is funny because with every loud and sudden noise, you get an immediate return "gobble" from the pen. Also, he is still quite possessive over his hen and whenever someone approaches the pen, he fans out his tail feathers and puffs out his body. They also have a whole bunch of different clucks, purrs and squacks that mean different things.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Prudence was enjoying a nice mid-afternoon snack yesterday when I snapped a photo of her. It is funny how the picture turned out because it looks as though we caught her with a mouth full of food and she is saying "what are you lookin at?".
The sun is finally moving higher and higher in the sky. Actually, it has been doing that since December 21st, but now you can actually feel the difference in the amount of heat it gives off. The days are longer too! This is the time of year where the anticipation of spring is just starting to appear in my mind. The animals are spending more time outside of their shelters and soaking up as much sun as they possibly can. The slowly melting snow is revealing little morsels of food that were covered early in the winter and the pigs spend a good portion of their day out rooting up the snow in the pasture now. It is good to see them enjoying the outdoors once more.

A Full Load

I made a couple trips to Vince's place over the weekend. He had a fairly large pile of small, square alfalfa bales that a helper didn't tarp very well. Some rain and melted snow got through the improperly fastened tarps and rotted the sisel twine holding the bales together. Some of the bales were ruined, but more importantly, a good portion of the bales had broken apart. Vince took as many bales as he could that had held together and sold them to folks who had to travel some distance to pick up the hay. The rest of the broken ones, he gave to me. We decided to just stuff as much hay as we could into the horse trailer. It has worked well so far and we are almost complete cleaning up the, maybe two more loads to go. It is great hay too. Very rich with Alfalfa leaves and quite green. The sheep, cows and pigs are loving it.

Horse Trailer Full...

Unloading the loose, broken bales of alfalfa hay.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Haulin Feed

This past weekend I hauled a little over 6000 pounds of Rye screenings and flax from my friend Vince's farm about 3/4 of an hour away near the town of Thorsby. With all the snow we have had, it was quite an expedition. We had to tow the forklift from the shop to the storage building. Then we had a bunch of logistics to get to the different pallets of feed that we needed to access. All told, it took me about 3 hours to bring home the feed. This latest batch of feed will last me well into Spring for the pigs and laying hens. The cows and sheep don't get grain at all in their diet so we just need to keep enough hay for them to last until the grass greens-up in late April/early May. I will need to haul some more hay next weekend. Vince has a big pile of really nice hay but the strings were bad and most of the bales broke apart. I will take the horse trailer and stuff it full of as much hay as I can. I'll take some pictures of that next weekend. All in all, things around the farm are still very static...daily chores are about all that we are up to right now.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The New Loading Ramp

This is the loading ramp I was talking about earlier. It only took me 2 hours to build and is fairly simple. I made it about 36" high which should cover most farm trucks. I had to build it so we could load the large sow into the stock rack in the back of a customer's truck who had come to pick up a 60 pound Large Black Boar. Loading the little boar was easy, we just threw a big sack over him and put it over my shoulder to carry to the truck bed. Getting the sow up the chute was not as easy but it worked finally. I was happy to see the ramp easily handle the weight of both me and the 250 pound sow!

Our new sow

A couple weekends ago, I needed to get some more pigs for the meat market. There is an older fellow north of Edmonton that had some piglets and at the same time wanted to give me the two sows! I took both of them and then passed along one of the sows to some folks who had just bought our little Large Black Boar. I kept this little red sow. It looks as though she has some Tamworth blood and/or Duroc. She is a beautiful sow and will cross well with Bubbles, our Pure Bred Large Black boar. I have been calling her Big Red Pig and my son thought of the name "Burp" because of the initials BRP. Clever! So, Burp it is. She still has 4 little ones sucking, but they will soon be weaned.

Sheep at the feeder

Here is one of the latest carpentry projects that I have completed. At first I built the crib for the hay to set in. Quickly though, the sheep started using it as a bed! I then had to install the dividers of 1x4 at roughly 12" apart. This keep everything except their head from entering the feeder. At the one end I have installed two plastic troughs. One is for the salt and the other is for the mineral. This way I can simply pull the feeder to wherever the sheep are without moving all their mineral troughs too. In the future, when we have more sheep, I will copy this design and use several.

Monday, January 29, 2007

New Carpentry

I have to say that my carpentry skills are improving. A few years ago, building something like a loading ramp or a simple feeder would have been fairly easy but it would certainly not look very good! These past few weeks I have had the challenge of building two projects for the farm. First, I needed a hay feeder for the sheep. I needed to build something that would keep them out of the feeder, yet be large enough to throw a good supply of hay into. The second project was just this past weekend when it was determined that I needed a loading chute to get a large sow into the back of a customer's pickup. My wife even made the comment that the chute looks professional! I will post both projects separately tomorrow after I get some photos.

A Recent Trip

This is a little footage from my recent trip to S. Alberta to pick up the sheep. I love southern Alberta, especially at sunrise and sunset. The scenery is just amazing to be in a place so flat with such a big sky. Throw in some distant mountain ridges...awesome.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Little Boar For Sale

Here is the little boar from my last litter. He is a really good example of a young Large Black Pig. His conformation is excellent and he has really good length. I am happy with how he has turned out but I cannot keep him because he is related to my little herd. I brought in a new boar from Ontario last year so this little guy can go to a new home and spread some Large Black genetic material. The breed is actually good as a cross with Yorkshires and other commercial white breeds. The white breed is dominant so most of the piglets will look like their mom....white with little ears.

SOLD!!! This little guy was sold and his new owners Lindsay and Brenda came all the way from near the U.S. border to pick him up. We had a great visit over the weekend and loaded both him and a mixed breed sow without too many difficulties. I am glad I got the chance to meet Brenda and Lindsay, they are going to give this boar a great home and I am looking forward to hearing about his progress.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Butchering Cows

We have had two Hereford cows on our farm since early Summer. They belong to friends of ours that were short of pasture and we had an excess. Besides, it was alright for our cow Henny to have a little herd with her and her calf. Alas, the time came for us to process these two cows and downsize the "herd" considerably. Instead of simply trailering the cows to a processors where they would be scared and stressed, we hired a mobile processor to come to our farm and take care of the business without transporting them at all. It really is the best way to process meat for your own use. Stress is a common problem with transporting animals and decreasing the quality of meat. All of this is besides the point that perhaps the traditional method of processing meat is not the most humane procedure. I'm not sure about that, but what I am sure of is how easy it was for us to accomplish the task on our farm. We hired a fellow to come to the farm and he quickly dispatched the animals and bled them. The hard part was over in a matter of less than 2 minutes. After that, the cows quickly started looking like the meat that we know and appreciate. He skinned, gutted and split the carcasses using our old Allis Chalmers tractor with the front end loader to hold them above the ground. We loaded the quarters into the truck where they were carefully wrapped and from there, he took them to the meatcutters' shop where they are now hanging. For our troubles, our friends have given us a quarter of beef. We will intruct the cutter on how we want our meat cut and wrapped and fairly soon we will have some nice organic pastured beef in our freezer!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Sheep!

Over the holidays I made a trip down to Lethbridge Alberta to pick up our newly purchased flock of Clun Forest Sheep. I bought three ewes and a ram. This picture shows the group of young rams that I had to choose from. We have been researching sheep for several months now and have been thinking about them for the farm for a lot longer than that. For several reasons we decided to track down and purchase the Clun Forest breed of sheep over all the others. We have talked to many people, read many books and publications and made a list of the priorities that we had, or the goals for our flock. Since we are a diversified farm and we have little experience with sheep, we wanted a breed that had tremendous mothering instincts and the ability to lamb without assistance. Nothing would turn us off of sheep quicker than spending the spring pulling lambs and dealing with orphans and dead lambs and ewes. I cannot overemphasize that different breeds have different characteristics. We want sheep that do well on a grass-based diet...not grain. We want sheep that are hardy and resistant to disease and parasites and most importantly, we want sheep that can produce a good crop of lambs with little help from the shepherd. Clun Forest fit the bill in all these categories and we are excited for the future of our herd. They are a multi-purpose breed that make good gains on pasture for the meat market and also produce a fine wool that is in demand by spinners. We plan to direct-market our meat products in the same way that we sell our pork. The lambs will be processed by a licenced facility and the wrapped & frozen meat will then be delivered directly to the customer. There appears to be a good demand for farm fresh lamb and of course, our lamb will be produced organically with a grass based diet to make it even more desirable by customers.

Large Black Pig

This is of my sows. She is quite large as you can see. I haven't had any luck with her this year as far as piglets go. I had a old lame boar up until several months ago and his replacement has been too young to breed such a large sow up until recently. I hope that she is bred now and I suspect that she is due to farrow in the next month or so. In this video, she has just been placed into her new pen with the farrowing hut relocated and cleaned out. She was quite content to sleep, uninterupted, in her new house soon after I left her alone. She will stay in this pen until after she has farrowed and weaned her pigs.