Address to the Future Generation of Farmers

This autumn’s hiatus from our farm blog was not without thought from the wheels of pensivity.  I had much time to muse over material for our next blog.  Many ideas crossed my mind, especially with the arrival of our new greenhouse kit from multishelter solutions but sadly, with an early start to winter I was left with little to write about concerning the greenhouse installation and operation.  But, we have assembled and installed the sliding door entrance this new year so only the plastic remains to be installed.  Raincheck until the Spring rains arrive.  In other words, we’ll hit the ground planting in the Spring with our greenhouse setup.

Greenhouse door

Greenhouse door

Over Christmas vacation, I had the great fortune of spending time with my family and loved ones around many lovely meals, and one that included a MacCurdy Farm turkey (Insert plug for farm here).  During a moment of midday revery I thought about the things I would most like to say to my own children, nieces, nephews, and the next generation, if they decided to some day take up the pitchfork or broadfork and pursue a love of farming.  This is exactly a topic I can pour my heart out about, with no apprehension, to create a fossil record of my insights into multiple aspects of farming.

The Farm Land

Get to know your land.  So much can be learned through the exploration of every nook and cranny in the farm landscape.  Every generation has draws and matters of interest that might pull you away from the farm from time to time, but make it a point of importance to explore anything that might pique your interest.  This is how oral histories are formed and connected.  For example, from our peramblings along the brook that runs through the acreage of the farm we found a multitude of farm artifacts such as horseshoes, cow skulls, pottery shards, and old cast iron cooking pots.  Each item would and will elicit responses of how things used to be done on the farm from the older generation.  I’ve always said that we have to respect the ways of our forefathers and seek to make our own stamp in our own agricultural pursuits.  By making connections with the generation that farmed before us, we find a commonality that elucidates a shared affinity and love for agriculture.  It helps to ease young farmers with  breaking new ground in implementing new aspects to a small diversified farm.

Animal Husbandry

Don’t worry, this term does not mean what you think it means.  Animal husbandry is defined as the practices of care and management of livestock.  As farmers who are parents, new-born animals are often the first introduction for a young child to one of the joys of farming, birth.  I remember the feeling of wonder when I first watched my father and grandfather assist a cow during parturition.  Today, every time I bring a calf to its mother, alongside my father, I ponder the journey the calf takes until it takes a breath and its eyes flutter.  A bond is not only formed between cow and calf but also between farmer and animal.  Oftentimes, I spend time observing animals and I’ve watched my father and grandfather do the same thing over the years.  There is something deeply tranquilizing about studying animal behavior up close.  I took an animal behavior course in university but nothing substitutes for a firsthand experience of behavior between animals in a social group, such as you find in our herd.

Our herd during a pre-storm hay feast

Our herd during a pre-storm hay feast

Read…Alot

Personally, my love affair with reading has come in cycles.  I would encourage you to read as much as you can, when you are inspired to read or your pursuit of knowledge draws you down a road of discovery.  As a youngster, I read books like, “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriott, which deepened my appreciation for rural life, agricultural, and animal medicine. I didn’t read the book on a whim, but rather, I accepted it as a gift from a gentleman who taught me music theory and composition while I was at private school in the USA.  His passion for rural agrarian community reaffirmed my love for farming and my appreciation of the hard work that my grandfather and father put into their operation.  I still think of him and his ability to sing gutturally (throat singing).  As you grow older you will grow to more fully appreciate the people who come and go in your life.  Always lend an attentive ear to those who chose to share their life experiences about farming and life in general to you.  When you’re not farming and not sleeping or eating, read.  Whether it’s a manual, a magazine, or a how-to book, read your heart out.  It will facilitate life on the farm.

Multi-Generational Considerations

At the present time, I’ve been drawn in by author/farmers like Joel Salatin, Elliott Coleman, and Jean-Martin Fortier, who embody my sentiments about small time food production and local food supply.  Joel Salatin touches on the issues of stacking additional portable enterprises on to pre-existing farm systems (e.g., pastured poultry on hay fields) to allow young and new farmers to get their hands dirty without falling victim to capital-intensive start-up costs like buying a tractor or building a state of the art beef barn.  However, these opportunities require trust and trust is built by developing responsibility, accountability, and consideration for others on a small family farm.  Beginning at a young age I started to work in the hayfield (about 10 or 11).  Some farmers joke and equate farmers children to slave labor (perhaps offside) because they get paid very little but I understand now that all of the time I spent working in the hay fields was an investment in earning trust and respect.  I do not believe I would be able to pursue my agricultural interests on the farm today if it was not for that investment of time, sweat, blood, and tears over the years.  Some of us would balk at the idea of lending a vehicle to a friend if we didn’t trust that they would return it in the same condition.  The same principle applies in the transfer of ownership and responsibility on a family farm.  Nothing is privileged, everything is earned.  I am thankful for this type of experience and I would hope that you would embrace it when the time comes for you to test your mettle in the reinventive field of agriculture.  Hardwork is a precursor to a successful business venture and the generation that made footsteps ahead of you will appreciate your devotion.

Oral Traditions

I have a fondness for storytelling because of my grandparents.  My grandfather liked to spin a yarn that made you question every word out of his mouth but in it he had a remarkable ability to bring a smilish grin to your face.  On the other hand, my grandmother always had farm stories to tell.  My siblings and I would gather around the table for cookies with milk in our favorite cat mug, while Grammy proceeded to tell us about how she rode the draught horse bareback to get Grampy in the woods or how her mother-in-law had a hen that would follow her in the house and peck at the specks on the linoleum floor.  When she’d finish sharing stories about the animals, she’d tell us about how the landscape of the farm used to be with its orchard, milk house, and in ground cold storage on different parts of the farm.  Afterwards, we’d spill out of her kitchen and into an area on the farmland that we were drawn to and, unknowingly, we formed our own stories to share with future generations.  To this day, I still listen to Grammy’s stories about the farm, even though I have heard them multiple times, because they bring a great deal of mutual joy to the both of us.  I get a break from physical exertion to recharge the bio-battery and she has someone to sit and converse with about how times used to be.  Always ask questions, it deepens your understanding and it assures a person that you are interested in what they are saying.  In my grandmother’s case, it allows me to tap into her wealth of knowledge about the farm’s history that I can in turn share with you.  I would strongly encourage you to pursue your own adventures on the farmland. We roamed at will as youngsters through the acreage and are no worse for wear.

Farm Safety

I do not believe there is a topic of greater importance than farm safety.  My father always insisted that I read the manual before I used a piece of machinery.  To a great degree I always read the operational and safety portions of manuals when I purchase something for the farm.  However, even more can be learned from listening to those who have worked on the farm before you.  It may get under your skin and, if you are like me, test your pride and patience but in the long run you will be better equipped to work safely on the farm.  Where there are tractors and PTOs (power take-offs) used to run implements there will be injuries.  Unfortunately, livestock operations have a higher incidence of injury than other farm types (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/ca-ra2006/articles/snapshot-portrait-eng.htm) so one needs to be even more vigilant.  I’m telling you this, not to scare you, but inform you that farming requires safety training and farm first aid, when available.  One rule that I live by is to never work when I am fatigued to the point that I lose motor control.   When this occurs, accidents happen.  As gung-ho as we may be, take frequent breaks or vary the pace at which you do your chores and responsibilities.  The human body is finite and therefore has limits.  If you are a farmer, strength will find you but use restraint and lift wisely.

PTO safety is a must

PTO safety is a must

Stick by your principles

We are what some might consider organic but not certified and in other cases transitional in terms of our status as a small diversified farm.  This change happened from the principles related to farming practices that both Justin and Jonathan have carried onto the farm in their agricultural enterprises.  We determined, as have many others across the country and world, that the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, destroying soils through deep tillage, and crowded animal housing practices had to be evacuated to build a more sustainably and responsibly managed farm system.  So, we developed a pastured poultry (chicken and turkey) operation and a restricted range egg laying operation.  Meanwhile, we’re steadily transitioning to a higher percentage of grass-fed beef with only oats and barley fed to combat the cold during the winter months.  Pesticides and fertilizers will not touch our soils by our means and as we continue to educate ourselves more changes will take place.  It takes some money to make these things happen, and money takes time.  For example, we are trying to source a chisel plow to get closer to no-tillage in our field practices.  With all this, we stand by our principles by continuing to show a great measure of respect to all aspects of our farming operation in terms of the soil, livestock, and interpersonal relations.

Bonnie, heifer with calf

Bonnie, heifer with calf

Educate Yourself

Approximately six years ago, I had the opportunity to follow in my father and brother’s footsteps and attend agricultural college at NSAC.  However, I felt pulled in the direction of education so I pursued an education degree in stead.  Fast forward 6 years later and I am about to embark on another educational experience.  I’ll be travelling to Maine six times beginning in May 2015 until October 2015 to become certified in permaculture design.  I’ve decided to do this for several reasons, the first being that apart from a life of learning from others on produce and beef farms, I have no formal education in agricultural practices.   Some of you may laugh and say, it’s just a piece of paper but I feel it is necessary to receive this training before the farm comes under direct management alongside my brother.  My father’s generation and those before him have a profound respect for education and I know it will please my father to know that I studied alongside like-minded people to take the farm into new management and help it thrive.  Secondly, community drives farming.  Given our increased connectivity with social media today this course will allow me to network with other farmers in this part of our world.  Thirdly, it highlights my devotion to pursuing farming and keeping the farm alive for another generation.  Most importantly, it teaches my children that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish great things.

Finally, I’d like to close this address to you, future farmers, by saying that this is a living document of suggestions, which you may or may not uphold, and which form the crux of life on family farm.  More importantly, you must come to your own conclusions on agriculture and life on the small family farm that will allow it to not only survive, but thrive.  Add to the list, if you wish.  In closing here is a quote from Alice Waters that really hits home:

“Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live in a community responsibly is the center of an education.”

Categories: farming, future generations | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Dancing Farmer: Honor System

 

Welcome to part II of our blog post on our road side farm stand.  We hope to share some insights into effectively running an unmanned roadside stand to sell your produce, meat, preserves, wood crafts, or any other item fit for roadside commerce.  Our roadside stand has been a blessing to our small diversified family farm operation.

Our roadside stand runs on the honor system.  We do not hire anyone to stand and exchange money, rather we trust our farm supporters to pay the asking price into an honor box, which is under lock and key.  When your hunger for vegetables grown without the use of pesticides,  herbicides, and chemical fertilizers brings you to The Dancing Farmer farm stand at MacCurdy Farm the first thing you will notice is the absence of any workers in it.  Do not be alarmed, we have a system in place.  The honor system.

The decision to employ the use of the honor system was born out of necessity as we needed to allocate money towards infrastructure and operating costs for the first year of small fruit and vegetable production on the farm however, charity is very much an aspect of the system because we want to see people eating well as well as make them feel trusted.  At the moment we employ pickers and farm hands when needed but we couldn’t justify paying someone to work the stand 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week.  After a little research online and some conversations with food conscious people about the honor box system use in other parts of our country, we decided to go ahead and try it out.  We had nothing to lose.

chalkboard-price-list

Our prices are listed on the chalkboard on the wall as well as marked on any packaged produce items.  A customer simply has to do the math.  Time to put those math skills you told your middle school math teacher you’d never use to work.  To keep things simple, our prices go to the 50 cent of a dollar.  We use competitive pricing bearing in mind that we charge a premium on most of our products as they are all grown according to organic principles.  However, we understand that times are tough in our economically challenged area so we try to keep our prices affordable so that everyone can eat healthy in our region.  You can always pay more if you feel the prices are too low but we ask that everyone please honor the asking price.  From time to time we have talked to people who were a little short on change.  We’ve told them to simply pay the difference the next time they pass by.  On a couple occasions patrons have brought the money they owed to our booth at the Restigouche Farmer’s market.  That’s honesty! We love it.

built-in-honor-box

Honor Box Code

Pay the asking price

If you are short on change, pay the difference the next time.

Cash only.

Place unwanted greens/bad veggies in compost pale

Spread the word.

Feel free to leave comments.

We’re watching you, just kidding, we trust you.

This year we stocked the produce stand with the following items: Strawberries, lettuces, spinach, rainbow swiss chard, radishes, tomatoes (different varieties), hot peppers, green peppers, carrots, beets, kale, dill, field cucumber, English cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, yellow beans, pickles, assortments of herbs, and hanging wave petunia baskets.  Everything sold well with little waste.  Any waste (swiss chard, tomatoes, lettuces) went to the pasture turkeys and chickens as an added source of nutrients.  Minimizing nutrient loss is essential.  Given the location of our farm stand at the base of the farm lane, we restock, empty the honor box, and check the shelf life of the produce periodically through out the day.  We plan on expanding the variety next year.  After a few conversations we made note of some regional culinary favorites that we will grow next year, which included potatoes, onions, zucchini, squash, and corn.  Regretably we only grew some of these items for family consumption this year.

Although work takes us many other places around the farm we always take time to stop and chat with customers especially if we feel they might have questions or have some confusion over how it all works.  A small diversified farm has a steady stream of jobs and tasks, much like the old time homesteaders, but much of our operation is set up within sight of the stand so we are always handy unless we are on our hay, garden, or woodlot acreage.  Availability of produce items is indicated in hand painted wooden signs attached to the exterior of the stand.  As items come in to season, the signs go up on to the wall.

As with any new venture, there is always room for improvement.  Next year we will increase our signage on the sides of the building.  We will have to level off the site with pea gravel as mud and wet became an issue this year.  Improved shelving and a double bi-fold door will also be an upgrade.  Currently, we stock the stand in the morning and bring back into store every night.

For more information on the story, you can check out an article by Bridget Yard of CBC on the Dancing Farmer.

Categories: Agricultural Awareness, Bay of Chaleur, family farming, farming, Food Awareness, four season farming, organic agriculture, organics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

MacCurdy Farm Roadside Stand Build

dancing-farm-roadside-standLate in the Winter of 2016 we sat down and tossed ideas around about a sugar shack and roadside stand build. After browsing the internet, contacting timber frame outfits, and surveying our current set up, we decided to proceed with a 20′ x 10′ double bay building with a lean-to roof.  As with everything we build on the farm, we try to always find multiple purposes for it.  The roadside stand will triple as a sugar shack in the Spring, a roadside stand in the summer, and wood storage in the Fall for our greenhouse operation.  If we happen to add a farm store in subsequent years, the design will allow the building to be used as a run-in-shed for our livestock (horses, sheep, cattle, etc.)  The ability to plan ahead saves a farmer time, energy, and money.  Each of which is a precious commodity for a small farmer.

In March of 2016, Jonathan and Justin purchased a 1996 air-cooled Skandic 500 to haul logs off of our woodlot to the farm.  We cut down 10 sizeable spruce and cedar trees to be milled at a nearby neighbors saw mill.  He cut our logs into beautiful rough sawn boards, 2 x 4, 2 x 6, 4 x 4, and 6 x6 timbers.  Given the restrictions of the length of lumber he could cut on his mill (14′) we decided to sister 2 x 6 lumber together to get 21′ skids, which formed the base of the building.  The sistered 2 x 6 lumber formed a 4″ x 6″ skid that we could use to tow with the tractor.  After the skids were nailed together with 3.5″ spirals and screwed together on either side of the joints and at the ends with 3″ lag screws, we put the circular saw and chisels to work to farm 1/2 lap joints on our 4 x 4 x 10 cross pieces.  The cross pieces needed corner half laps and the skids needed 3 dado joints (notches for the half lap to sit into).  The dados can be made by making multiple passes with the circular set to a 2″ depth.  The slivers can then be knocked out with a hammer and then the seat of the joint cleaned up with a chisel and rasp.  With the base finished, we moved on to the front and rear walls.

Flying solo, I used 2 x 6s to temporarily brace the three front sections of the 10′ high front wall and the three 4 x 4s on the 8′ rear wall.  Once the walls were erected and temporarily braced, I fastened the top plates to both front and rear walls with 10′ rough sawn 2 x 4s.  The front and rear walls are connected with 9’6″ rough sawn 2 x 4s that are toe nailed at a four foot height on both corner 4 x 4s of the front and rear wall.  At the midway point on the side walls I installed a 4′ stud to remove any sag in the cross piece.  Each bottom corner (with the exception of the two bay openings) are knee braced with 4′ 2 x 4s while 2′ 2 x 4s are used on the top a the plate height using 4″ spiral nails.

Our lean-to roof uses 12′ 2 x 8s purchased from a local lumber yard.  The pitch of the roof is 2.5/12 so I used a framing square to cut the birdsmouths for the front and the back walls as well as the ridge and tail cuts on both parts of the overhang.  The rafters were positioned with 2′ spacing on centre and toe nailed into place on the separate top plates.  Afterwards, I nailed the 2 by 4 purlins at 2′ spacing perpendicular to the rafters.  The purlins will be used to give the roof more rigidity against prevailing winds as well as provide a surface to fasten the royal blue metal roofing sheets.

The royal blue metal sheet roofing came from a company called Vicwest through one of our local hardware stores.  The royal blue is in keeping with our color scheme for the farm that includes green and blue as found in the MacCurdy tartan.  The metal roofing went on lickity split, as they say, and I was careful to follow the manufacturer’s suggested installation technique to avoid any future issues.  Always be careful to not overtighten the self tapping roofing screws as the gaskets will wear more quickly if compressed too much.

back-side-of-roadside-stand

Sheathing the structure involved some creative license.  I had tried board and batten before but with growing carpentry skills I thought making our own cedar shiplap siding by using a 3/8″ rabbeting bit with a guide on our router.  By clamping the boards to both sawhorses and passing the router and opposite edges of each side of the board some beautiful shiplap siding was made from this year’s rough sawn cedar and spruce as well as last year’s boards, which I removed from our smaller chicken barn.  This was very time consuming but worth it in the end given the beautiful look of the vertical shiplap on the three enclosed sides and the horizontal ship lap on the front wall.  It took a lot of measuring and cutting over the course of a week during free moments to make the shiplap.  After running out of full length 10′ boards I used shorter 8′ boards and jig-sawed the pieces together to make the siding.

On the triangular ends there is some math involved in cutting the appropriate angle on the board to run plumb up the wall.  The pitch of the roof is 2.5/12 so depending on the size of the board used (4″, 5″, 6″, or 8″) I solved for the unknown rise for each board width by finding an equivalent fraction to 2.5/12.  For example, for an 8″ board, the rise is 1 and 2/3 of an inch which is about 1 and 11/16″ on a measuring tape.  Measuring down from on end of the board 1 and 11/16″ I would make a pencil mark and then using my speed square draw a line from the mark to the opposite corner of that end of the board.  It is important to note that each board width has a different rise which must be used to cut the board to the appropriate dimensions.

After the siding was attached with 2″ spiral nails, the building had to be stained.  We used a semi-transparent cedar stain to completely stain the outside of the roadside stand.  After many brushstrokes and a day of drying it was ready to move to the roadside.  In order to haul the stand on skids, we drilled holes in one end of the skid in order to insert 8″ eye bolts.  Make sure these eye bolts are heavy duty i.e., thicker gauge.  Do not use them if they have rings.  The weight of the building combined with the pressure from the steel cable can pull the eyelets apart.  For a 10′ building, we used a 18′ braided steel cable.  We roughly calculated 18′ from the length of a semi-circle of a circle with a diameter of 10′.  C=pi x diameter.  Circumference = 3.14 x 10′ = 31.4′.  Half of 31.4′ is approximately 15′ 8″.  The braided cables have to be looped so we add at least a foot of length to each end to get us to 18′.  Once the steel cable is passed through the eyelets it is brought back and run through a cable clamp that matches the gauge of the cable.  Tighten them with a ratchet or wrench.  Once this is done you are ready to haul and set up your roadside stand…by the roadside.

eye-bolt-hitch-with-braided-cable-and-clamp

We used our 5445 Massey Ferguson Tractor to haul it slowly and carefully down the hillside to the preset location.  It’s best to have your site prepped in advance so that you can pull it into place, unhitch, and start your season selling veggies.  More to come on the honor system and our first summer with the roadside stand in a blog to follow.

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, family farming, farming, four season farming, MacCurdy Farm, multi-purpose housing, small family farming | Leave a comment

The Bridge and the Brook

Bridge over trickling waters

Bridge over trickling waters

There is a brook on our farm that collects mountain runoff and empties into the undulating Bay of Chaleur.  The brook serves as a water source for our family and is a favorite place no matter the area on the farm that we find it.  It meanders within a pebblethrow of the cattle pasture through the mixed forest often exposing the root systems of the moisture loving cedar trees that accompany the brook along it’s journey through the farm acreage.  It brings the love of nature and the awe of God’s creation into immediate thought as it is difficult to avoid the beauty in sound, sight, and smell that surrounds you while you walk along this watercourse.  This experience has led me to follow a lifelong dream to make a trail system on the farm that can be used by visitors and family alike to reconnect to everything nature and farm life has to offer.  Family walks were a mainstay for our family growing up and my wife and I continue to do this with our children.

Today’s world is nothing but distractions.  Technology especially.  I say this as I write a blog on a laptop, however, that comes after many years and hours spent enjoying the great outdoors.  Reconnecting with our natural surroundings has been on my mind a lot lately.  At Christmas we purchased tablets for our two kids (to be shared with their parents), which have proven a great deal of fun but have also pulled our kids away from spending more time at the farm.  In an effort to have our kids share in the experiences we had during our childhood I set out to create an area along our hiking trail where our kids could go and play while I worked at the farm or when I had a spare moment to play with them.

A bridge over the brook was first on the agenda.  In the fall of 2015 I promised my neice, Brooke, that we would build a bridge over the brook where we could create a picnic or lounging area in the woods as a safe place for the MacCurdy grandkids to play.  We set two 20′ long logs we had recovered on the beach in front of our property across the banks of the brook in the Autumn of 2015, cut the railings and posts and then waited through winter and early Spring to recommence the project.

This Spring came the assembly.  Over the course of a few days in mid-may we fastened the pieces together.  First we leveled the bridge over the uneven terrain by shimming with 2″ x 6″s. Then I fastened the pieces together in the following steps:

  1. With 4″ spiral nails fasten the 30″ rough sawn 2″ x 6″ with a 2″ spacer between each across the expanse of the bridge.
  2. At the beginning, middle, and end fasten 54″ rough sawn 2″ x 6″ lumber to hold the posts and knee braces.
  3. Using 2 lag screws, fasten the posts at the beginning, middle, and end 2″ x 6″s underneath.
  4. Cut knee braces out of small 4″ cedar posts and fasten to post and 2 x 6″ with 4″ spirals.
  5. Using the chainsaw, saw a v-groove at the top of each post to partially recess the railings.  The middle post will need a larger v-groove (approx. 4″) to fit two posts.
  6. Nail the railings using 4″ galvanized spirals.
  7. Lay down on the bridge and soak in the sights and sounds while the sun shines.
Bridging the generations

Bridging the generations

Along the brook we find items of curiosity like purple trilliums, fiddleheads, small tree seedlings and juvenile yellow spotted salamanders.  Each species has it’s own lessons to teach us as we explore them in their natural habitat.  Some can be eaten, some can be looked at for their color, some can be measure year to year, and some can be observed as they move around their natural habitat.  Adding a bridge to the brook allows our kids to safely cross the brook and explore everything our mixed forest has to offer. It keeps learning in the hands of learner.

Yesterday as I pondered ideas for writing this blog, I decided to take a walk to the brook and have a nap on the bridge.  A little shut eye from time to time is good for the heart and soul.  Listening to the sounds of nature not only put me at ease and took my cares away but it made me realize the wealth of knowledge and discovery that exists at the tip of our senses in our natural surroundings.  Nature’s classroom is a powerful educational tool.  It might even help us cross some bridges.

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, bridge building, family farming, future generations, MacCurdy Farm, trail systems | Tags: , | Leave a comment

MacCurdy Farm Timber Frame Sign

For those of us not intimately acquainted with the old road (Route 134) and the farmsteads, homesteads, woodlots, and family businesses that can be found along it, signs can come in handy when you are trying to get to your final destination and the GPS wants you to turn into the Bay of Chaleur (It could happen…I’m just sayin’).  We sometimes take for granted that people visiting the farm to purchase farm goods do not know where the old green MacCurdy Farm house is precisely situated.  Our rural address, 29347, can be hard to locate on our mailbox if a passerby blinks or becomes distracted by the beautiful scenery that adorns the landscape and horizons surrounding Point La Nim, N.B.

New to the property

New to the property

After some discussion with family about putting up a sign to welcome visitors to our soon to be landed roadside stand and to our annual pumpkin pick/farm visit weekends in the fall, we decided to try our carpentry skills at a timber framed sign frame.  Justin set out with a chainsaw and powerdrill to form the mortise and tenon joints that would tie the two 9′ cedar posts to the 6′ beam and the  7′ bowed cedar log character piece on the top of the sign.  It was his first attempt at it so equipped with his helmet, ear protection, and safety goggles he set out to form the joinery that would hold all the pieces together.

Given the absence of any appropriately sized 2″ chisels in our carpentry tools arsenal the tenons are formed by measuring the cut lines to form a 2″ by 6″ by 12″ tenon with an angled end to act as a drip edge.  This was done with a framing square and carpentry pencil.  Very precise and careful cuts with the chainsaw (Yes, I said chainsaw, not circular saw) were made along the cutlines by idling out the chain along the cut lines and cutting carefully to save the 2″ thickness of the tenon.  To form the length of the tenon the 6″ x 6″ post was laid flat on a level area and then sighted by eye for plumb along the cutline.  I wasted an old piece of 6″ x 6″ that was meant for firewood to practice the first time around.  In all, only two tenons needed to be formed.  The difficult task came in cutting the mortise joints, which involved plunging the chainsaw bar into a 6″ by 2″ rectangular hold that was previously bored out with a power drill to form a slot to guide the bar into the mortise.  By steadily cutting away both faces of the mortise and plumbing up the narrower face 4 mortises were formed, two in the beam and two in the cedar log.  The danger in forming mortises in this manner comes with the high possibility of kickback from the chain saw.  Forming mortises in this manner requires every ounce of your attention and a steady downward cutting action.  Familiarity around a chainsaw is essential.  The saw was filed twice during the whole process and the oil checked regularly given the downward position of the bar.

Joining the pieces together required a little bit of MacGyvering to be done.  We didn’t have any hardwood pegs and I didn’t want to make any so my physical restraint brought about mental creativity.  An old hardwood broom handle cut to the appropriate 6.5″ lengths would do the trick.  I tapered the ends with a belt sander and left the whittling to the boredom of mountain men.  With the pieces connected, but not joined, the pegs were gently tapped through the 1.25″ holes through the mortise and tenon.  Sign complete? The frame was but we still had to stain and create the “MacCurdy Farm, Point La Nim, NB” sign to go between the posts.

Home Hardware had a great deal on a gallon of cedar stain so we bought that as it would also coat the exterior walls of our roadside stand.  Always think ahead when you buy more than you need.  With two coats of stain applied only the sign had to be created.  An old piece of 3/4″ plywood was laying around the basement and it just happened to be a 4′ by 2.5′ piece that fit the sign opening.  Fortuitous discovery!  The inscription was formed freehand by using a router with a straight cut 1/4″ router bit.  First, the sign was measured out into a grid to properly place the lettering in pencil.  The style was borrowed from our MacCurdy Farm facebook profile picture.  After some very careful edging and two applied coats of stain the sign was mounted to the insides of the post using small slotted pieces of 2″ x 2″.

MacCurdy Farm Timber Framed Cedar sign

MacCurdy Farm Timber Framed Cedar sign

Thankfully, through all of this I had a very helping hand from our cousin, Brenda, who was visiting with her mom, Marion, from B.C.  Her encouragement and excitement over the project, not to mention the help in erecting the sign, were hugely helpful in bringing the project to fruition.  To know the kindness of a loved one is one of life’s greatest treasures.  We even had the blessing of having my grandmother, her mother, the kids, Brenda, and myself take a family picture in front of the sign.  We hope others do the same when they stop in to visit or sign in to the farm on our facebook page.

Our Directions to the farm can remain the same, “Take exit 397 off of highway 11.  Turn North, cross a set of railroad tracks and come to a set of flashing lights.  Turn right towards Dalhousie.  Travel just under 3 km until you come to 29347 Rte 134 Point La Nim, NB, Canada.  The farm is on the South side of the road.  Look for a large green farm house next to an old timber frame barn.”  Well, we can now add, “Find our MacCurdy Farm Sign at the base of our farm lane.”  There is nothing like a sign to welcome newcomers and old friends to our slice of agricultural heaven in Northern, NB.  We hope the character of the sign is inviting and welcomes you to our family farm as you drive past it and up the farm lane to a place we lovingly call, the farm.

More to follow…

Next blog, MacCurdy Farm hiking trail and the new bridge.

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, family farming, four season farming, MacCurdy Farm, pumpkin pick, Timber framing, wooden sign | Tags: | 1 Comment

2016: A New Year Brings New Ventures

After a quarter annual hiatus from the blog, we are back with some updates and ready to roll out some new blog posts in the next few months as we build towards more changes and additions on the farm.  Despite our absence from the blog, we’ve continued to plug away at farming on MacCurdy Farm.  Winter has a tendency of recharging the batteries, when sickness is held at bay, and tends to reinvigorate the body.  Lots of quality time snowshoeing on our family acreage helped to reinstill a hope in the members of the family to further establish our transitioning farm.

Multi-season farming has been a goal for Jonathan and Justin since they began to pursue their separate farm endeavours.  Without abandoning previously established elements of the farm, Jonathan and Justin have decided to put their knowledge sets together to increase productivity on the family farm and partner together in the birch syrup, small fruit, pastured poultry, and greenhouse operations.  They’ve both come to the realization that together they can accomplish much more in seasonal aspects of the farm that require man power and brain power.  Who better to partner with than a brother or sister?

Warm me up Scottie!

Warm me up Scottie!

Justin and Jonathan will be tackling birch syrup production beginning in March when the sap starts to run.  They’ve set amibitious goals and have made filling last years crowdfunding backers the first priority for this season, with birch syrup for the market and other stores within Canada to follow.  We’ll be putting out an informative blog series on everything pertaining to birch syrup production in the coming weeks for those of you interested in trying the product.  An informed consumer is more likely to be a satisfied consumer.  We have hopes of potentially sharing our knowledge in the school systems in years to come as well.  We’ve started to prepare our evaporator, sap collection equipment, and temporary sugar shack for our big boil downs to come.  The next few weeks leading up to March Break/Study break will be busy, to say the least.

In other news, Justin and Jonathan have added a wood fired furnace to the greenhouse to get an earlier start in march with herbs, cut flowers, tomato and pepper plants, and some in ground cold hardy plants for the table.  In our winter with the greenhouse, we are pleased to announce that we’ll be able to produce a substantial amount of produce, herbs, and flowers.  Our goal is to open up the greenhouse as flower shop in the Spring to provide hanging baskets, cut flowers, container herbs, and other floral arrangements.  More to come in the coming months.

We will be sharing more about our seasonal adventures on MacCurdy Farm/Nature’s Estate Farm in the near future.  We apologize for the hiatus from the blog.  Jonathan will hopefully be able to contribute his keen knowledge set on everything pertaining to birch syrup in the following months.  Please look for another tab on the website related to birch syrup.

MacCurdy Crest Dartboard Cabinet

MacCurdy Crest Dartboard Cabinet

Taking care of health and family relations have been a priority for us this past year.  Justin has kept busy with teaching school and some small carpentry projects, Jon is constantly studying his craft and mom and dad are busy being busy.  Together, they are very excited to tackle birch syrup, small fruit production, market gardening, our cow/calf operation, pastured poultry operation, and greenhouse growing in the Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2016.  We are hoping to satisfy the local palates of our devoted customers and locavores.   Until we get to see you at the market this Spring, enjoy some of what’s left of Winter in our beautiful region in Northern New Brunswick.

 

Categories: birch syrup, family farming, four season farming, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm, small family farming, small fruit, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Broody hens: Hatching eggs au naturel

By fortuitous circumstances one of our Plymouth Barred Rock hens set on 10 eggs in our egg mobile this summer.  She somehow evaded daily morning egg collection.  Instead of laying in the nesting boxes, which we access from outside the egg mobile, she hid in the corner away from sight.  She’d gone broody.

I'm gone broody

I’m gone broody

Natural hatching has always intrigued me.  Before purchasing our heritage breeds, I had read about the varying levels of broodiness in the different breeds of hens.  Plymouth Barred Rock hens have a tendency to go broody and make good mothers.

Into the Light

Into the Light

Allowing a hen to go broody and hatch eggs involved special care and attention.  Hens can sit on 8 – 12 eggs respective to their breed.  Our broody hen naturally incubated 6 out of 10 eggs.  All eggs were candled (shine a light on them in the dark) to show full development inside the shell so I am uncertain as to why the last 4 eggs did not pip or hatch.  I didn’t keep the nest as clean as I could have so it is possible that there could have been some bacterial contamination.  It is important to keep the bedding dry and clean.

Broody hens are easy to identify.  Stick your hand inside their nesting box and feel the power of the beak pinch and the alarming shreak of terror.  These are unmistakeable characteristics of a broody hen.  Broody hens have a tendency to leave the nest at the same time of day to relieve themselves, eat, run around, and dust bath. Their fecal deposits are ginormous, for lack of a better word, and you will observe them dance around their nesting area.  I liked the fact that we used our egg wagon as a shelter for our hen (having moved our layers to another housing) as it allowed Hen-rietta to get outside, do her business in the sunlight, and then get back to incubating. The incubation process takes approximately three weeks (18 – 22 days) and the hens will fulfill their mothering duties for up to 5 weeks when they begin to lay again.  The last three days of the hatch usually find the hen locked into the nest until the hatch completes.

Let's eat!

Let’s eat!

Broody hens should be left alone as much as possible so they can go about their business.  I kept a small margarine dish of chick starter and a chick waterer near to the nest (in a dark corner of the egg wagon) to make sure that the hen stayed hydrated and nourished. Broody hens consume far less feed than laying hens so high protein chick starter or pullet grower in place of laying mash or pellets works well.  Some may even need prompting to feed and drink as they become entranced and entrenched into never leaving the eggs.

Normally, a hen would be encouraged to go broody in mid-Spring, however, our broody hen decided to go broody in August.  Given the late discovery of her developed egg cache in a dark corner of the egg wagon and my refusal to discard the eggs, Hen-rietta was able to bring 5 beautiful chicks onto the farm.  As they say, a chick hatched via a broody hen has a much higher likelihood of becoming broody as a laying hen so here’s hoping that more natural hatches can happen in the Spring with our Plymouth Barred Rocks, Black Australorps, and New Hampshire Red crosses.  I’ll probably invest in a couple of Silkie hens by then as they are top notch broodies.

This was my first experience facilitating a broody hen hatch.  Next time around, Spring 2016, we’ll have a hatching pen set up inside one of the chicken barns so that multiple broodies can hatch at the same time.  A temporary nesting box in the form of a pet carrier, bucket, milk crate, or box in isolated pens will serve as a maternity pen set-up.

The most important lesson I learned in this whole process was through the maternal behavior exhibited by Henrietta.  Mothers are teachers and she was quick to educate her chicks on drinking, eating, and the safety of a mother’s wing.  It is a beautiful thing to watch the chicks imprint onto their mother.  I won’t retire the hovabator incubator, but I will certainly enable our hens to go broody and hatch chicks as often as possible this coming Spring and Summer.

Everybody scatter!

Everybody scatter!

Categories: farming, Heritage breed chicken, livestock, pasture based farming, small family farming | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Grazer Dome

On MacCurdy farm we try to maximize the power of the sun by getting all of our animals on pasture. With a fleet of pastured poultry pens (chicken tractors) already in action, it was time to get our turkeys onto pasture with the good ol’ fashioned grazer dome raising.

Turkeys, depending on the quality of pasture, can meet up to 70% of their dietary needs from pasture.  At present we don’t do a rotation with cattle. Instead, we harvest a first cut off of our hayfields nearest the farm and then start our meatking chickens and commercial turkeys onto pasture.  We have used Joel Salatin’s golden ratio by housing turkeys with meat chickens with some level of success but this year we felt it was time to construct a new type of housing for our turkey poults.  Generally, one would keep young poults inside the grazer dome only until they are aerial predator proof at which point the dome becomes enclosed by our poultry netting so they can get out and get working on naturally fertilizing our hayfields.

We pride ourselves on being erudite in all aspects of preparation and decision making concerning our animals so I set out earlier this summer to a farm in Colpitts Settlement, just outside of Riverview, NB for some networking and to pick up my favorite breed of heritage chicken, the Delaware.  Maplehurst farms, owned and operate by the Beatons, had a beautiful pasture based rotational operation in place in their picturesque slice of heaven.  After a tour of their pasture and some introductions to their Berkshire pigs and Dexter cattle, I found myself intrigued by a portable hoop house design that they were currently housing turkeys in.  My project gears immediately started to turn at the sight of the housing on skids.  “How am I going to find the time to build this?” I thought to myself. After, an exchange of emails, Jason shared the materials list along with pictures and other bits of advice on his Facebook page that set the project into motion. I attribute the design of the grazer dome to the Beatons and a book entitled, “Chicken Coops: 45 building ideas for housing your flock“.

Grazer Dome

Grazer Dome

I have a tendency to apply a twist to projects to make them unique to MacCurdy Farm but I made very little alterations with this project.  However, I will highlight those aspect of the grazer dome that are different than the ones at Maplehurst farms to show you other options in building the turkey grazer domes.

The Skid

As with most projects, you build from the ground up.  However, after calling around to local hardware stores I determined that 16′ 4″ x 4″ lumber only came in treated form, which we do not use on the farm.  Option B, fire up the Stihl chainsaw and cut down four straight cedar trees, delimb, and truck them to a local saw mill.  For a small price I had two 16′ 4″ x 4″s and two 10′ 4″ x 4″ along with two 16′ 1″ x 4″s sawn up.  On the two 16′ pieces you will need to angle the ends to create a skid plate on each piece.  I measured 6″ back from the top and then plumbed to the bottom.  Next, measure 2 inches down from the front of the piece.  Finally, using your speed square or a straight edge, connect both marks to form your cut line.  I used a chainsaw to make a clean cut.  After arriving back at the farm, I quickly trimmed the 4 x 4 lumber to length and then laid them out in a rectangle with each corner propped up on two foot 4 x 4 blocks.  With a cordless drill, I first predrilled three holes at each corner with a 6″ 1/2″ bit.  Working solo, this allowed me to bring about a tight and properly aligned fit between the 16′ and 10′ four by fours.  I used three 6″ by 5×8″ lag screws on each corner.  Afterwards, I took four pieces of 4 x 4 and using a speed square made two 45 degree cuts to create a corner brace for each corner.  Using the speed square to bring the corner into square, I then used 4″ galvanized spiral nails to secure the corner braces.  You will use the same type of bracing to plumb the corners of the side walls except you will use 2 x 4 in place of 4 x 4.

I chose to go with 24″ studs on the side walls, which equates to a 32.5″ jump for the turkeys to get onto the roosts.  You will require approximately 140 linear feet of 2 x 4 to complete the side walls, which does not include the end framing.  An additional 50 linear feet for end framing would suffice, but I just used old 2 x 4 hanging around the farm.  I always take the approach of using left over materials on previous jobs to finish new projects.  I placed vertical studs at 4′ on centre on each 16′ side and at 2′ on centre on the 10′ end walls.  The fewer studs used will allow more air to pass through the fenced in side walls.  The opening in the door is 32″ between each jack stud to allow sufficient space for several chickens, turkeys, or pigs to cross the threshold at once.  These structures can be used for varying purposes on your small scale family farm.

GRazer dome framing

Grazer dome framing

Use 1/4″ or 1/2″ hardware cloth that has been galvanized after the weld around the side walls. I use a 3′ roll around the completely perimeter of the structure, only cutting out the piece over the door opening.  On the ends, you can use chicken wire above the hardware cloth.  You can use a staple gun or hammer in small fencing staples.  A slight overlap onto the 4 x 4 skid is suggested.

End Framing

End Framing

The grazer dome is equipped with a 1/4″ braided metal cable.  First use your cordless drill with a 1/2″ wood bit to dril out a hole on the front 4 x 4.  Push the 1/2″ eye bolt through the openings on either side and place a washer and nut over the ends.  Tighten.  Outside, thread about 8 – 10 inches of the metal cable through the eye bolt.  Using cable clamps, tighten the cable clamp over the loop ends that you have formed.  The grazer dome is now ready to be pulled with a tractor or truck or team of horses.  It’s your choice, really.  If you happen to pull transports for sport, this is an option as well.  Just saying.

Braided metal tow cable with cable clamp

Braided metal tow cable with cable clamp

Rebar Ribs

Take all 5 of your 20′ length 3/8″ rebar and cut them to a length equivalent to half of the circumference of a circle with a 10′ diameter, or in my case a 10’6″ diameter.  Input your number into C = pi (3.14) x diameter and then half your result to achieve the required length of your rebar.  With a cut-off blade on a grinder, cut the pieces to length.  I did it on a hot day so I kept a pail of water close by in case a spark caught anything on fire.  Prior to installing the dome ribs, first equip the cordless drill with a 1/2″ wood drill bit.  At four inch intervals drill a hole at a depth of 1″ into the top plate of the side wall.  You will need to drill 10 holes.  Good math, right!  Ideally, find an accommodating person to assist you in placing the rebar into the predrilled holes.  If that said person is nowhere to be found, place the end of one side of the rebar into the hole and gently walk your hand up the rebar until you have created a semi-circle to bend the rebar into the hole on the opposite side wall. Do this five times.  Next, set the 4′ side of the remesh along the side wall and tie at multiple locations on each rebar until it is securely fastened.  Cut metal wire to 4″ lengths in advance, which you will use to attach the remesh to the rebar.  A simple pair of pliers or vice grips will work to twist the two ends together.  Bend the ends at the top of the dome downward to avoid creating rips and tears when the tarpaulin is pulled over the dome.  Once all 8 sheets of remesh have been securely fastened to the rebar ribs, take some 2″ screws and screw them in at an angle over top of the rebar entrance into the side wall.  One screw at each hole will suffice.  On the end framing, you can also use the cordless drill to install screws to keep the rebar ribs in place over top of the framing.

rebar screw

rebar screw

Blue or Green

Chose a colored tarp to impede some of the sun light.  Shade is a necessity for birds in the field.  The tarp will act to provide shade and shelter from rain.  I went with a 20′ x 20′ tarp as I hope to create a roll up side wall in the future.  Positioning and securing the tarp to the side wall will require an additional person or two.  Gently zigzag the tarp over top of the dome until it is evenly divided.  Using the 16′ 1″x4″ pieces of cedar, screw into the 1 x 4 over top of the tarp and into the side wall on one side of the grazer dome.  Do the same on the other side.  At this point, you can grab a pair of scissors or a utility knife to cut off the excess tarp or do as I did and roll it up on the ends where you will sandwich the tarp between boards cut to fit inside of the contour of the end wall.  Screw through the boards over top of the rolled up tarp into the end framing.  This will provide anchoring for the tarp on all four sides of the structure.

All tarped up and ready to go

All tarped up and ready to go

The Doors

Human entry at the front, turkey door at the back.  I won’t bother to give dimensions with the door, but take care to leave a 1/2″ of space between the width of the door and the width of the opening so that the door closes without jamming.  I double latch the door at the same height at the T hinges.  A quick google seach of barn doors or a look at my photos will set you on the right track.  We’ll be adding a sliding turkey door between two of the wall studs at the rear in the near future.  This will allow the turkeys to come and go from the dome with more facility.

Roosts

Turkeys, like other birds, prefer to roost in the night time.  I fitted the grazer dome with two roosts supported by angle braces on either side.  They bear all 200 lbs of farmer MacCurdy plus some.  In my opinion, it is essential to include angle braces if you are housing larger birds.  I always enjoy having a staring competition with the birds while they are on the roosts.  They usually give me a look that I anthropomorphize into curiosity.

Modus Operandi

It is best to move the grazer dome when the manure application inside of it covers the better part of the pasture.  We currently move the dome after 48 hours in one place.  We undo the poultry netting, move the s17 solar charger to the next location, drag the grazer dome to it’s new piece of salad bar, reposition the poultry netting, and lead the turkeys to the next rotation.  Lots of feeders, waterers, and the occasional greenhouse lettuce or edible weeds treat keeps the turkeys happy.  Not to mention they are free to explore the expanse of their surroundings visually, run around their portable enclosure, and, when the opportunity arises, chase Farmer Mac’s children into a flight of fear…haha. Turkeys are remarkably clever, communal, and tasty.  Support your local farmers and get out and visit a small local family farm when you have the chance.

Materials List

2 16’ 4*4
2 10’ 4*4
2 8’ 4*4 for cross bracing the sled
8 sheets 4*8 remesh
5 20’ lengths of ½’ rebar
A roll of rebar wire tie
A tarp at least 16’ * 16’
12 5/8” by 6” lag bolts with washers
Bag of screws or nails
If you want to build a wall some more 2*4 will be required
Also some more lumber to board in the ends

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, farming, livestock, organic agriculture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Learning Through Trial by Fire: How to prevent farming burnout

Farming can test one’s mettle no matter your prior level of experience.  The tail of the tape can read very differently for each individual farming journey.  If one is not careful, the fiery flame inside your heart can quickly become extinguished and leave you burnt out.

Although I’ve been working the farm from a young age, like the previous generations before me, the past three years have been particularly trying as we attempt to establish ourselves as local food producers on top of running our cow calf operation.  This blog attempts to elucidate some of the warning signs for burn out.

Entrepreneurial pursuits can, in retrospect, seem as though they went very smoothly when one peers back into their origins from a perspective of feeling burnt out.  However, burnout can begin in the very first year if we blaze into terra nova without any respect for our mental and physical health.  It is important to always lend an ear to voices of reason and advice concerning the level of work one does in attempting to bring a farm to sustainability.  Often my parents have kindly suggested that I do one of the following: (1) Slow down, (2) Stop doing so much, and/or (3) take a break and do something fun.  However, we can’t simply assume that our loved ones will have timely advice.  If we fail to have conversations about our emotional, physical, and spiritual health the tell-tale signs of burnout might go completely unnoticed and we’re left to suffer.  Thankfully, farming is usually a family endeavor with shared responsibility.  Our co-workers are often our family, so there is a pre-existing safeguard in place.  Attending to advice from parents, siblings, etc. can free us from the mental stress of not living up to expectation and remind us that others can see our fatigue and stresses that we wear on our faces.

It is important to have some safeguards in place as a prevention for the damaging effects of stress.  They may seem like common sense but often these safeguards are overlooked as we strive to meet our goals.  Entrepreneurial nearsightedness sometimes keeps us from seeing the bigger picture.

  1. A routine, preferably written on paper or on your smart phone notes can visually remind you of what lies ahead in the day, week, or month.  As we know, there are only 24 hours in the day, 12 of which should be spent working, 6 – 8 sleeping, and 4 -6 spent with family.  I am by no means a type A personality but learning to write lists allows me to prepare for a week ahead and feel a sense of accomplishment as jobs are stricken from the farmer-do list.
  2. Eat well.  Having a big breakfast has always been a staple ingredient in our recipe for work on the farm along with snacking through the day and a large supper.  Do not skip meals.  Our bodies require a substantial amount of nutrition and it’s recommended that you eat your own supply, seriously.  I even have an extra plant protein shake a few times in the week to repair the muscular wear and tear from the daily grind.
  3. Listen to your loved ones.  Taking time to converse with those closest to you will help you identify areas of imbalance between home and work life.  It’s often overlooked and is a best practice for any farmer, especially those who travel the work path alone.
  4. Set a limit to your work day.  There were days this year that I worked, manual labor, 12 – 14 hour days for extended periods of time, often working into the moonlight or with flood lights to finish a job I started or wanted to get a head on. Given that I don’t live on the farm but nearby, 8 km away, I try to be home before it’s time to put the kids to bed so I can spend quality time with them and unwind.  Going to bed with work on the mind keeps us from resetting our batteries and robs us of a sense of fulfillment by allowing us to think that we didn’t accomplish enough.  Get your rest, shut it down early, and get to it early in the morning. If you don’t establish this as a best practice you will find yourself experiencing an unceasing fatigue.
  5. Relax.  Easier said than done  Find a time at least once a week to do something that brings you peace and rest.  Whether it be prayer, music, or a walk in nature.  Do something where you cast your worries aside and focus on something outside of yourself.  We can’t live our lives forever walking backwards into the future.  We need to find outlets to release stresses, worries, regrets, and mistakes so we don’t carry them with us.  I find time to pray, time to walk through the fields, time to kayak, and time to anything completely unrelated to work.

You’ll never get anywhere you’re meant to be by travelling yesterday’s road.  It’s a new day, find a new way.

Prior to investing a great of time and energy into revitalizing and diversifying the farm I spent time competing in the highland games and in preparation for events, in the gym.  I weighed a solid 220 lbs but in the three years of farming I dropped 25 lbs on account of overworking, not eating a high enough calorie intake, and high levels of stress,  Burn out can happen in the snap of the fingers if we don’t pay attention to warning signs.  Below is a generalized listing of some of the warning signs that I have paid attention to:

  1. Nagging fatigue.  We all know fatigue leads to poor decision making and a higher incidence of farm related injury.
  2. Anger outbursts.  Nobody is perfect and this unfortunately happens when we are pushed to a point outside of our mental flexibility.  The key is to be real, accept that it happened, and ask for forgiveness if someone else was on the receiving end.  How easily we can misdirect our anger so take responsibility for it.
  3. Irritability/Frustration
  4. Feelings of loneliness.  If you put too much on your plate we may feel helpless and start looking for help.
  5. Weight loss
  6. Altered perception of events.  For example, small troubles are amplified to a higher degree. It can take the form of worrying about the state of your health
  7. In severe cases, panic attack, tremors, and high anxiety.

I first thought about writing a blog on burn out after a conversation with another farmer at a local saw mill.  I had driven back, by myself, to get a load of shavings for bedding for our chicken and cattle.  At the time, I thought it strange that the woman and her kids loaded their truck while the father and husband sat in his truck.   I struck up friendly conversation with them to find out who they were and learned that the husband was burnt out.  His doctor had put him off work.  I felt terrible for him knowing how difficult it would be to let go of a passion, even if just for a while.  Flash forward three years later and here I am writing this caveat to help any of you who may be on the verge of burn out or are currently experiencing it.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking it can’t happen to you because, it can.  Set some safe guards in place and make yourself acutely aware of warning signs.  Everyone responds to stress differently so your safeguards and warning signs might not be written on this list.  Take some time to write them down and save yourself the stress.

Finally, entrepreneurship is characterized by innovation.  We purposely cast ourselves into the fire as we establish our businesses.  We have to learn through trial by fire.

Categories: burn out, family farming, mental health, stress | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Taigh-ghlainne: Our first greenhouse

In the fall of 2014, after a successful summer of pastured poultry, we decided to re-invest our earnings into further diversifying our family farm.  A greenhouse seemed like the next logical step.  I decided to do a google search of different greenhouse manufacturing companies like Rimol in New Hampshire.  We felt the prices were a bit outside of our price range and then we happened upon a “choosing the right greenhouse” article on ACORN.  This set the ball in motion to purchase our greenhouse from http://multisheltersolutions.com.

Greenhouse and pastured poultry pens on a Sprinter day

Greenhouse and pastured poultry pens on a Sprinter day

We decided to strategically place our greenhouse close to dad and mom’s house.  We leveled a large mound of topsoil to fit the dimensions of our greenhouse, 52′ long x 2o’ wide.   The topsoil had sat there since 1986 when it was removed from the site of where my childhood home was built.  I know, providence, right? This location would allow us to have a water supply, future connection to the grid, a prepped planting site, and the green house in direct view from the home. A small bulldozer leveled the topsoil to dimensions slightly larger than green house frame.

Let there be dirt...beneath greenhouse plastic

Let there be dirt…beneath greenhouse plastic

With pick axe, I dug out the trenches to place the 6″ x 6″ pieces of cedar.  It took a fair amount of digging and readjusting but I took the time to give the greenhouse a proper base.  Each 6 x 6 was anchored to the ground by using two T-posts per length of 6 x 6. Using a maul, the T posts were hit into the ground at an angle to help resist the lifting force. The soil was leveled and tamped.  Before moving on to the next step, we checked for square by pulling tape on diagonals.  They were within a couple inches of each other.   Success! We installed the base brackets at 4′ widths, starting the first a couple inches in from the end.  It was helpful to use a socket in our 18 V power drill to accelerate screwing the lag screws to the sill.  Once this is done, it becomes increasingly difficult to do it alone.  Thankfully, Jon helped attach the ribs/hoops to the ridge frame.  Having a set of scaffolding positioned beneath the ridge, helps with speed screwing the hoops to the ridge and the ridge to the ridge connectors.  I should mention that I used ratchet straps coming off the end hoops to plumb the hoops.  This is absolutely necessary to avoid problems with your end framing and should be done before a few set of hoops are erected.  We taped each ridge connection and filed off a burr or two as we went.

Corner purlins

Corner purlins

Brackets for roll up side

Brackets for roll up side

Finished? Not even close. We continued to follow the manual provided by multishelter solutions and tackled the purlins next.  We did not order cross ties, as they were not recommended, but purlins were a must.  These four bars, two on either side, spanned two sections of hoops starting above eye level on the corner and angling down towards the base.  The rigidity of the structure increased significantly from this point.  (Purlins are meant to counteract head winds that blow against the ends.)  With this step covered, the most time consuming step, in my opinion, was next. We ordered roll up sides so that meant cutting lengths of two by four to fit between the hoops.  The hoops are secured to the frame using brackets similar to the base brackets.  Speed screw from each side into the side of the hoop to secure the 2 x 4.  Once this is done, screw pieces of 1 x 1-3/4″ strapping along the top of the outside of the length of the side mount.

Roll up the side

Roll up the side

South side, sunny side.

South side, sunny side.

Instead of using wirelock, we decided on using some of our strapping that we had cut off the farm in an effort to reduce costs. The plastic installation followed.  I would have preferred to have done this in the fall, however, given our heavy snowfall winter, it was probably best that we waited until Spring, slushy Spring. We decided to call in some Fofs, friends of the farm, and we had a new-fashioned greenhouse covering.  Or something like that.  A group of 7 mild-mannered and helpful people was exactly the right amount of people to secure the plastic.  We began by unrolling the plastic alongside the length of the greenhouse, tied each end with lengths of bailer twine that we tied together and then, in a zigzag motion, slowly pulled the first cover over the hoops.  We temporarily secured the plastic to the base at 3 points on each side of the length of the greenhouse.  First, we installed a piece of wire lock on both sides of the end hoops to secure the plastic lengthwise. The wire lock tracks, previously installed prior to pulling the plastic over the hoops, allows us to zig zag feed the wire into the track to tighten and secure the plastic.  The next step involved pulling the second layer of plastic over the hoops, but not as taught as the first layer.  Using strapping, previously preset with screws, we fastened the strapping to the 2 x 4 side mounts the entire length of the green house on both sides.  Using ladders, on uneven ground, I then set out to install the wirelock on the ends with the help of our FoFs. The roll-up sides had to be installed next.  Sections of galvanized piping are connected to run the length of the greenhouse.  The plastic is fastened to the pipes by being sandwiched between the pipe and aluminum pipe strapping with speed screws.  A series of screw eyes are installed in an alternating fashion onto the side mount and the base as nylon rope is weaved through them to keep the roll up sides tight to the hoop framing.  I have to say that this feature is an absolute necessity for regulating temperature and air flow.  Not to mention it gives our neighbours, human and animal, a chance to peer into the living world of the greenhouse.

Getting pumped up for pumpkin planting

Getting pumped up for pumpkin planting

In ground direct seeding has begun

In ground direct seeding has begun

Today I found myself face to face with a diminutive emerald green ruby throated adult male hummingbird.  He struggled mightily to escape through the plastic so I used a spaded shovel to usher him to the end with the sliding door and eventually, after about 15 minutes, I was able to guide him to the open sliding door and see him speed away.  The roll up sides sometimes allow other members of the animal kingdom into our growing space so we close them during the cooler night time hours when some animals are actively searching for food.  On either end of the greenhouse we will be installing gable vents above the doors.  Our door on the east end allows me to keep an eye on traffic going to the farm and is positioned on the end with the prevailing wind.  We will be installing a door on the opposite end as well after we have landscaped and planted grass and perennial flowers along the sides of the greenhouse.  Shade loving plants on the north side, sun loving plants on the south side, and shrubs on the ends.  Our plan is to plant pollinator-friendly plants and flowers around the greenhouse to bring a vivacious buzz to surroundings. The overall plan of our greenhouse is to bring an improved aesthetic to the farm, grow food for our family, community, region, local school children, and supporters of local naturally grown food using beyond organic growing principles.  Sustainability remains the fundamental goal of our farming pursuits as we continue to diversify our operation as well as providing opportunities for future generations on MacCurdy Farm.

Hard at work on her own will

Hard at work on her own will

Categories: farming, four season farming, organic agriculture | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Egg-wagon: Restricted free range laying hens

Our egg-wagon is up and rolling.  After two years of planning, preparation, and construction we finally put our egg layers out to pasture.  With built in nesting boxes and roosting space, the 7′ x 12′ egg-wagon is built to house up to 60 birds.  Given that this is our test phase, the birds currently have around 1700 square feet of salad bar to feed on, exercise in, and express their species specific behaviors.  At present, we are moving the egg-wagon to a new section of greenery every 7 to 10 days when the grass is eaten down and fertilized by chicken manure.  We’ve had success with fertilization by chickens using our chicken tractors so I am curious to see the rate of grass growth after one pass on a chicken grazing quadrant.

I'm free, free rangin'.

I’m free, free rangin’.

Our set up includes our egg wagon, waterers, feeders, free choice grit, calcium, and kelp meal, electric poultry netting, and an s17 Gallagher solar energizer.  The s17 is not recommended, however, if one mows the perimeter of the fencing before installation, there is lower impedance that allows for a fully functional and electrified poultry netting.  In one week, one bird jumped the fence and made her way back to the chicken barn.  To date, it’s been successful, but we’ve found that egg production dropped markedly over the first 3 – 4 days while they acclimated to their new surroundings.  White egg layers, who have a tendency to lay in the grass, stain their eggs making an egg unappealing to customers.  I am thinking of adding cut out milk crates for portable nesting boxes as well.  A brief search on http://www.backyardchickens.com should produce some creative ideas for extra nesting space.

In for the night, I just might.

In for the night, I just might.

I can truly share with you that it is very rewarding, aesthetically pleasing, and peaceful to sit and watch the birds run around their mobile enclosure, safe from predation and free to be chickens.  I can’t imagine a bird of such activity being stuck in a cage to lay eggs for the duration of their lives.  Can you?

Double decker nesting boxes

Double decker nesting boxes

Given that the egg wagon is built on a single axle frame, we stake all four corners and strap down the hitch with dog t-screws.  During the second move, one side of the fence remains in place, while the other lengths are moved to a freshly cut strip and staked to establish the next grazing quadrant.  This can be done with one person, but two is preferred.

Keeping chickens in a restricted free range egg laying system requires letting them out of the coop every morning.  Filling waterers as necessary and feeding birds their daily layer mash ration.  It is important to keep a pan of grit, calcium, and seaweed available as well.  Supplementing these things may help to deter heavy scratching on the grass bed.  Nothing is more tedious than willing chicken ruts in your fields.  Every week I clean out the nesting boxes, putting down new straw.  I also shovel out poop inside the egg-wagon onto the grass between moves.

Solar power

Solar power

Roosting space is incredibly important as well to maximize space inside the coop for night time roosting and also provide a place for hens to get away from the roosters and other bossy hens.  Remember to provide ample width for the birds to place their feet on the roost. A two by four is suggested and it’s what we use for all roosts.

Restricted free range eggs have arrived on MacCurdy Farm.

Categories: farming, organics, pastured poultry | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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