Think Big, Start Small. Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn’t it? How often do we hear of young entrepreneurs crashing and burning after a short while down their avenue of commercial exploration. The stresses of debt accrual and the pitfalls of a “too much too soon” approach can rob an individual of the fruits of their labor and seriously jeopardize the longevity of his/her small business. An approach that embraces “Think Big, Start Small” can provide a small-scale family farm with an opportunity to explore the grandiosity of the scope of their farm plan through the power of imagination. As it stands, this years additions to MacCurdy Farm (pastured poultry operation) were financed as a sideline. The generosity of friends, neighbours, and community members also went a long way in helping us to complete projects. Gradually our farm is becoming, little by little, more diversified from a cow-calf operation to a farm with an abundant variety of life. Dad continually reminds us, that our farm is a farm of life. This message serves to keep us ever attentive to the needs of the animals, soil, forest, and gardens. Not to mention working safely each day.
I’ve decided, with the close of our first year of pastured poultry farming on MacCurdy farm, to chronicle the additions to this year’s farm model, give some critical commentary, and include the plans for expansion in the upcoming 2014 calendar year, beginning this January. It is important, as a blogger, to write reflectively. When looking over archived posts, I want our readers to be able to get a sense of how our farm changes, grows, and evolves. Some day, we can look back and say, “That’s where we started. That’s what we had, and this is what we (through God’s grace and love) have made from it.” It’ll take time and lots of effort. But, it’ll be worth every ounce of energy.
Beginning in the frigid months of January and February, which is what you might call down time for a northern climate farmer as calving season has not yet arrived, we built a small 8′ x 12′ coop and three 10′ x 12′ portable poultry pens. Some days involved working outside in -35°C to -40°C weather without the windchill. You get frostbite in places you would not expect, if you get my drift. I’ve dubbed our completed fleet of portable poultry pens triple-Ps.
Other grass-based farmers call them chicken tractors, poultry pens, portable chicken housing, etc. So, given that I work in the education system where buzz words are a dime a dozen, why not exercise my creative juices and make it fun. After some research into designs for chicken coops and portable poultry pens, I went ahead and designed our own. One has to give consideration to the movement of air in the triple-Ps as heat can be deadly to chickens. So, in our designs we included a low pitch gable roof with wire meshed ends to allow trapped air to escape. On one side of the gable roof we also included a wire meshed section to allow for sun exposure and air escape. One third of the triple-P is open to the elements so that the chickens have free movement from shade to sun. The next round of triple-Ps, which we will start to build this january, will require a few revisions. The 2 x 2 rafters will have to be reinforced with makeshift collar ties to compensate for winter snow load storage, rope handles for easier pulling, attach rain gutters for rain collection to further reduce our carbon foot print, and a custom-made dolly to give us a break pulling the triple-Ps on 2 x 6 lumber, which we used to create less resistance. If anything, it asserted our knowledge of simple machines…lol. However, we’ll graduate to the wheel and axle with the custom fabricated dolly this coming year.
Beginning this January we will be building 4 more portable poultry pens to bring our Triple-P fleet size to 7. A lucky number one might say. First the power of three and then the luck of 7. We have been collecting scrap tin from generous community members and friends, which will allow us to increase production this spring. Most likely we’ll have to buy some appropriate gauge tin in the spring to complete construction. We will be doubling our pastured chicken operation to 400 chickens as well as including turkeys. We couldn’t meet the demand for our pastured chicken this summer/fall so doubling production is necessitated. There is a quota system in place for turkeys, which I believe restricts us to 25 turkeys per individual on the farm. More to follow on this but we are happy to inform our customers that turkey will be on the menu, to one extent or another, for the fall at the Restigouche Farmer’s Market in Dalhousie. We are hoping to do some pork this year but that will require building a portable pig hut and the purchase of electric fencing, as we plan on doing a forested pork finished on apples. Scrum-diddily-umptious, I know. Our approach to animal husbandry revolves around allowing an animal to express its animal nature to the greatest degree so we’re hoping, given the time to prepare, that we can add heritage breed pork to the menu if it doesn’t stretch us thin. Nevertheless, It’s in the works and brother Jon will run with this project.
Finally, our egg production system is in place. Our heritage breed layers and hybrid layers are performing nicely. We’re able to supply eggs at the market every saturday. The laying rate is down as we are not yet equipped with solar-powered lighting to put the birds on a regulated laying cycle but the birds roam freely around their winterhousing and are in great health. Some aspects will have to be tweaked, namely the purchase of bulk feed, to find savings. In the months ahead, Jonathan and I will also begin to construct our portable layer house as we will be doing pastured eggs this summer as well. We decided to construct a shed roof chicken coop on an old wagon frame. As with our forested pork intentions, this will require the use of electric fencing (electromesh) for protection against predation and restricted grazing. I am really looking forward to this aspect of the farm. The prospect of further improving our local food supply system for locavores excites me greatly.
Lately, brother Jon and I have been tuning in to a newly discovered show called The Farm Kings. The show is based on a family in Pennsylvania of 9 brothers and one sister who have embarked on a farming adventure after breaking away from their father, for agricultural differences. I am thankful that we continue to farm as family. There are times when we butt heads and share our differences vociferously but we have kept it together. We understand that there are generational disparities that exist. Dad has his tried, tested, and true ways and sometimes our approaches don’t agree, in principle, with his, but we make it work. Communication is the key and when that breaks down, so does everything else. For this reason, thinking big and growing in small increments is required. Essentially, it allows us with our new endeavours to prove to ourselves, and the ever watching eyes of Sir Jim, that we can do it. In the show, the Farm Kings, they meet weekly to discuss business related matters amongst themselves. This is uber important. It allows them to realign themselves with their farm goals, express their concerns, and make progress. Think big, start small.