Author Archives: MacCurdy Farm

About MacCurdy Farm

My name is Justin MacCurdy. I am the son of a farmer and teacher who has followed in both their footsteps to farm and teach. I am passionate about local food supply, sustainable approaches to farming, and learning about how to steward the land. I believe in lifelong learning, I believe in the pursuit of truth, I believe in God, and I believe in the revival of the small farm through organics and permaculture. Currently I teach middle school and farm in the evenings, weekends, and holidays. My ambition is to grow our farm through diversification into a sustainable farming entity that will provide food to the people of the Restigouche Region.

Try Hards

In my time as a school teacher I’ve come across many catch phrases, sayings, colloquialisms, buzz words, and derogatory labels.  Students and people in general lay hold to certain terms for one reason or another in their efforts to categorize and make sense of the world around them.   The term, try hard, has been the most perplexing and honestly, the most agitating that I have encountered.

Having been raised by two hard-working parents who were both raised on family farms, I was instilled with the values of trying your best at everything you did, regardless of the activity, simply for the purpose of doing your best.  My parents lived by their principles and I appreciate the power of  principled life now more than ever.  As I grew into a young man, I quickly equated enjoyment with my level of success in a task.  In other words, I didn’t shy away from a tough task but motivated myself to tackle and conquer it.   It was a resolute stickwithitness and it has stuck with me to this day.  If I was mucking out the gutter in the beef barn, then the quicker I did it the more capable I felt.  I was trying hard and no voice of criticism stood in my way.  No voice made me question why I was working so hard.  I lived with the belief that a person was meant to try or work hard at everything they did.  Today, that message seems to have changed.  Voices of criticism have intensified in volume.  Enter the easy button generation.

Recently, I overheard my son and his group of friends using the term try hard.  The term carried a negative connotation with it’s apparent application in their conversation so I couldn’t help but wonder why?  Naturally, within groups leaders and followers form.  Evidently, in my son’s group of friends parity is highly valued.  Maybe his group doesn’t have a clear leader per se or the group values sameness across all areas of life more than difference.  I found myself wondering about the long term effects of a term intended to diminish one’s level of effort in an activity.

It seems that kids today are just trying to survive by doing the bare minimum.  They aren’t striving to become better and as a result they aren’t thriving in their endeavours.  This was always my experience in my group of friends as well.  Within my group of friends there were always peers who took others down a peg, and rightly so sometimes.  However, there are costs and benefits to this approach to friendship.  When ambition is replaced with complacency, people let go of their dreams and live for acceptance of the group.

We have been fortunate with our hired help on the farm.  For the most part, the local area high school students who we employ from time to time, really put their noses to the grindstone when it comes to doing their paid tasks.  There are only voices of encouragement, saying. “You’re doing a great job! Pace yourself.”  Their effort responds to positive encouragement and they can try as hard as they need to finish the humdrum tasks of cleaning out stalls, piling hay, digging fence post holes, etc.

From time to time, I share my life experience with my son and daughter.  I think it is parental duty that helps children prepare for the unknown paths in life.  I try to impart valuable advice to them to help them build skills to thrive in life.  For example, whenever you are doing business with someone find time to talk with them, don’t rush away, but don’t overstay your welcome.  Friendships can be forged, respect deepened, and shared interests opened.  My grandfather and father taught me this valuable lesson.  Don’t be so busy with your life that you disregard your kind and caring nature.  I also teach them to hold doors open, even if you’re in a rush, for anyone and everyone.  This simple act of kindness helps you to find acceptance in putting others before yourself.  After completing university, a friend sent an email to me.  In the email, he shared how the one mark of kindness left an indelible impression upon him: I always held the door open for people coming behind me.  I had no idea that this had such an impact on his life.  I wasn’t trying hard to impress anyone, I simply had an innate desire to show kindness to others.

Farming, and life in general, has ups and downs and all arounds.  Learning to navigate the tumultuous ebbs and flows of life can be a challenging task.  Finding time away from hard work is important to live a balanced life on a family farm.  Thankfully, farms abound with opportunity for a moment of rest.  In fact, these moments are always available to us.  I found and still find myself sitting down to listen to the repetitive cud chewing of the cattle in the barn.  During hay season, I’ll take a moment between loads to lay down and stare into the expansive blue sky to ponder life.  At the farm dinner table, I’ll turn off the busy button to listen to my grandmother narrate tales from her past.  There is always an occasion to turn off the mind and find rest.

My son and daughter both try hard at those pieces of their life that they are passionate about.  Shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t they strive to rise above normalcy? The etymology of the word pursuit means to follow and persevere.  A follower can follow the group or follow their heart and passions.  We persevere or try hard, not to set ourselves apart but to bring our own unique talents and skills to the group.  All sheep need a shepherd, but we can be sheep and shepherds in life where we can help others to achieve and still find achievement ourselves.

In my walk with Christ, I am a follower who tries to continually have a servant’s heart.  Farming is a service? Isn’t it?   I try hard, every day, to improve our family farm.  Sometimes, I tried too hard at the expense of my physical and mental health.  I should have listened to my parents when they said, “Go home and rest,” but my pursuit of a dream to have a self-sufficient family farm trumped my better judgement and the voices of concern and wisdom, went unheeded.  We can try too hard.  Lately, I am learning to let go of negative thinking, grudges, and other unhealthy habits.  Instead, I am trusting God’s will and His promises that I am discovering in His word.  It’s hard not to try hard.

Sometimes it feels as though we are learning a language within a language.  This can be especially troublesome for us as we go through life.  I explained to my son that being called a try hard or calling someone else a try hard can be taken one way or another.  The term carries negative and positive connotations.  Negatively, a person tries to hard that they forget to enjoy the activity that they are doing.  That’s a win at all cost attitude.  Positively, a person tries hard to be the best that they can be in order to improve themselves or better contribute to their group.  We have the ability, as parents, to guide our children through the rapidly changing landscape around them and positively try hard.  My hope is that my son and daughter will continue to try hard in every avenue of life.

 

 

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The Inevitable First

Today marked the first day in my three years as a shepherd of Shetland sheep that we had a lamb killed to meet local culinary interests.  The growing demand for lamb in our local area, the expense of feeding the animals, and the ever present debt warranted the right of passage that mostly every sheep farmer must go through.  It isn’t easy; butchering is an emotional experience.

I spent a week mentally preparing for the date, which I left off the calendar but at the forefront of my mind.  Shetland sheep have a way of working their way into your heart and some, more than others, nestle right into our good graces and affections.  Those lambs/sheep will live out their days on the farm as fibre pets, while others ultimately go to the table.  One has to remember that a farmer spends countless hours, around the clock, toiling away at tasks that provide protection for his animals, healthy nutrition for their diets, and safety within their free movement pens only to have the journey with his animals culminate in harvesting the animal.

There are no jokes to be made (bbq this and stove top that) but there is an immense amount of respect that one must show to the animal before and after the task is done.  I sit here writing this next to the wood stove, with the sheepskin I am tawing drying beside me on a rack, thankful that the lamb will provide meat for hungry families and a sheepskin for a lovely throw or carpet.  Every part of the animal has to be used, even the entrails.  Agrarian societies have made use of every part of harvested animals since time immemorial.  Although we now wear mass produced clothing that we buy in clothing stores and animal skin clothing items seldomly find their way onto our backs, we feel it is important to honor the animal that gave his/her life.  I think this sentiment is echoed across many cultures and especially farming communities.

Given that I wouldn’t be killing the animal but helping to dress it and prepare it for the meat-cutter, I contacted a friend of the family who agreed to ethically kill the ram lamb.  I didn’t want to hire anyone with a bloodthirst or inexperience as I wanted it to be swift.  I am thankful to have had the help of this individual who was very calm and collected throughout the whole process.  I believe this is a must.  The animal must be calm before it meets it’s fate.

Culling is a big concern for a sheep farmer.  In the event that sheep can’t be rehomed as fiber pets or sold as breeding stock, the sheep with less desirable traits find their way to the freezer in small farm flocks.  Bad horns, bad feet, bad mouths, and slow gains make for tough decisions.  This year, I made every effort to sell my ram lambs from the past two years into breeding programs in other Shetland flocks.  Out of 7 rams, two were sold to breeders with Shetland sheep flocks, two will be wethered (castrated) and remain in the flock as fiber pets, one has gone to the freezer, and the fate of the last two is undetermined.

Make no mistake, our Shetland sheep are bred primarily for the purpose of meeting the growing demand for wool, either raw or cleaned and scoured.  However, Shetland sheep are also known for very tasty meat.  Although they are small-boned and a primitive breed, they have a high meat to bone ratio even though they dress out smaller than commercial breeds.  Case in point, the quizzical look on the meat-cutters face assured me he hadn’t cut the smaller bodied Shetland lamb before.  Some other Shetland shepherds/shepherdesses have suggested that 12 months is not enough time for the slower growing Shetland sheep.  It remains to be seen.   If we end up harvesting our lambs after a year old, they will technically be called hogget up until 2 years old when the sheep becomes mutton if harvested.

Our plan is to provide the following individual cuts: lamb chops, rack of lamb, leg, shoulder, and ground lamb for the time being until we have more volume to sell a half or full lamb.  With increasing demand, we will be increasing our supply for next year when we introduce a cross-breeding program.

lamb

Shoulder, neck, ground lamb, racks, and chops.

Cuts are priced as follows for the time being until we have more readily available lamb and more quantity to sell:

  1. Chops – $10/lb
  2.  Rack of lamb – $10/lb
  3. Ground lamb –  $8/lb
  4.  leg – $10/lb
  5. Neck/shoulder – $8/lb

Our sheep and lambs are fed hay and grass primarily.  They do not receive oats or grain of any type.  They do receive produce in season such as apples, pumpkins, lettuces, kale, and balsam fir trees as anti-helmintics to help with any worm load.  Currently, we only de-worm in the Spring before the sheep go to pasture, which is a year ahead of butchering.  They also receive sheep mineral blocks throughout the year as well to make up for any missing micronutrients.

Due to the relatively small size of Shetland lambs many Shetland sheep shepherds crossbreed to improve carcass yield.  Supply of market lamb is limited until we start a cross-breeding program.  We will most likely introduce a terminal sire to breed our Shetland ewes or a few commercial ewes to breed to one of our Shetland rams.  At this point, we will be able to produce a faster-maturing lamb for meat purposes.  We are considering the North Country Cheviot for our crossbreeding program.

Click, for more information on Shetland meat.

 

 

 

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Shetland Sheep Shepherd

grazing Shetlands

As some of you may know, I have a proclivity for raising Scottish breeds of livestock.  From the large Clydesdale draft horse to the Belted Galloway cattle to the Scots Grey chicken, breeds of livestock from Scotland and the surrounding isles have always brought about a great amount of curiosity and interest in this Scottish descendant.  This past year, I decided to pursue an interest in a Scottish breed of sheep, Shetland sheep.

In recent years, handspinning and knitting have seen a resurgence in our geographical area as people begin to return to simpler ways and reconceptualize the meaning of the term local.  Market gardening and selling from farm gate affords a farmer ample opportunity to talk with customers and friends of the farm.  While restocking my roadside stand this past Summer, several people approached me and shared that they would really like to be able to purchase local wool for handspinning, yarn for knitting, as well as lamb and mutton for their freezers.  All we had to do was find some pedigreed sheep to start a flock and we could begin to provide for a growing demand in our area.

After spending several months researching breeds I landed upon a smaller statured, primitive sheep breed originating from the Shetland Isles in Scotland.  Scottish Blackface sheep seemed to be in short supply in the Maritime provinces of Canada so they were out of the question, but after browsing the NASSA website (North American Shetland Sheep Association) and sending requests to join several Shetland Sheep Facebook groups I felt confident that we would find breeding stock.  The search for a ram and three ewes was on.

In recent years, the last couple decades really, the breed has seen a resurgence in popularity with small-scale flock keepers due in large part to the breed’s primitive appearance (shorter tails and smaller features). their generally calm and docile temperament, and their maternal instincts.  Shetland sheep have 11 different colorings and 30 different markings.  This variety of colors and patterns make the fleeces from Shetlands highly desirable for handspinners and avid knitters.  When considering Shetlands as a food source, their meat is considered to be very flavorful and high quality.

The Ewes – The Three Ladies

Finding our first three ewes to start a flock took us to Deerfield, NB, which is approximately 3 hours southwest of our farm in Northern, NB.  A long time shepherdess, Dr. Cathy Gallivan, was looking to part with some of her ewe lambs as she had decided to only keep a small flock of retired ewes.  It was a treat to meet my first sheep farmer and talk farming with her at her family’s homestead.  I spent a good deal of time talking with Dr. Gallivan about her experiences with equine livestock in an effort to grab a few bits of information to mollify any lingering worries about raising sheep that were still perturbing my mind.

I’ve learned over the years, from stories and experiences visiting farms, that you should always allocate time towards the development of conversation between farmers.  We can’t treat the purchase of livestock like convenience store shopping.  Although you can flirt with the possibility of wearing out your welcome, gauging the farmer’s willingness to let go of their livestock will signal when it is time to leave.  Speaking from experience, farmers can grow deeply connected to their livestock and experience difficulty letting go of their animals, especially those animals who have journeyed alongside them.  Taking time to develop trust before the transaction is finalized can reduce any sitting tension or anxiety on both sides of the transaction.  It gives you time to inspect the animals, observe their behaviors, and at the very least allow them the chance to get used to your voice.

three ewes

We loaded the 3 ewe lambs into the back of my Honda CR-V.  Don’t worry, I flipped the seat up, installed a divider to keep the ewe lambs from jumping shotgun in the front seat, and laid a tarp down to catch their raisin nuggets.  Pelleted sheep dung is a bad prank waiting to happen, let me tell you.   The three sisters stood tensely for the first hour of the return trip, eye balling me while I coursed through the meandering back roads to the Trans Canada highway and then Highway 17 and 11 home to Point La Nim, NB.  The trip was uneventful, unique and eerily quiet at first, but with the radio on CKNB we pulled into the farm lane just after dark in the beginning of December.  In the dark of night, our breeding stock had arrived at MacCurdy Farm.

Robbie MacRam

The breeding window of Shetland sheep is seasonal.  Generally, the further the sheep breed originates from the equator the shorter the breeding season.  Our ewes arrived at the beginning of December but the search for a ram, and a livestock hauler, took us into the last month of Winter.

In March, after coming to terms on the purchase of a ram from Chassagne Farm in Puslinch, Ontario, our ram finally shipped.  Chassagne Farm is home to the lineage of the first Shetland sheep flock introduced to Canada by Col. Dailley.  Not to be outdone by the three ewe lambs, the ram received a ceremonial trip in a dog crate in the back of the Honda CR-V.  I travelled 2 hours to meet the livestock hauler in St. Leonard, NB where we transferred the ram into the large size dog crate, which my aunt had used for her large sized dog.  Travelling alone again the second time around, my wife wisely chose to stay behind with the kids, I had a two hour bonding window with Robbie the ram, which culminated in him ramming the cage door when I greeted him at the back door of the jeep.  There was no way Robbie would allow me to open the crate and get him into the livestock barn.  However, stubbornness would not prevail.  Distraction would win this battle.  My sister, home for a visit, waved her hands at the other end of the dog cage, while I snuck my hand at the cage opening to grab a horn. Painless victory!  We then proceeded to coax our newest addition to the barn, myself on the curled end, my sister on the raisin pellet end, but were met with resistance like that of a toddler dead set on not going to their room.  In the end, Robbie joined Martha, Rosie, and Ruby establishing our first flock on MacCurdy Farm.

Robbie the ram

Bearing in mind that Shetland sheep, in colder climates such as ours, tend to have a shorter breeding window, I thought the introduction of a ram to the three ladies had a small chance of producing lambs.  Only learning later that some shepherds/shepherdesses avoid breeding sexually mature ewe lambs to allow their body condition to develop, I thought no need to rush things.  In the absence of any witnessed breeding behavior, the opportunity to have lambs seemed a dismal possibility.

Say what now?

The gestational period, pregnancy term, for ewes lasts 148 days give or take a day or two.  If Roberto was successfully able to throw lambs with the three ewe lambs, it would be July 27th before the fruits of labor arrived.  On the morning of July 23, 2017.  I received a phone call from my father, “Justin!”  Busy preparing breakfast, I responded, “Yes?”  There was a pause on the phone, “You might want to come up here,” he spoke, the excitement pouring through the phone.  “Why? What’s up?” I curiously inquired.  “There’s a baby lamb in the pen, get up here!” dad said, and just like that a day had eagerly anticipated had arrived.  My father, like myself, loves animals and does everything in his power to insure that their lives under our care are meticulously cared for in all aspects of animal husbandry.  Given the novelty of a newborn lamb on the farm, I knew the importance of attending to the lamb as quickly as possible.  After all, if there is anything that defines us as a farm, it is our love for our animals.  Unable to contain my glee, I told the kids about the new arrival, we grabbed breakfast on the go, jumped into the Honda CR-V, cleaned and with a human occupancy only rule now in place, and drove up to the farm.  The joy we shared as a family watching the new lamb, Daisy, stumble after her mother was palpable.  I could see the wonder in the faces of my two little ones.  My kids, not convinced of sheep as companions, fell in love with the new lamb…and the next two that followed during the Summer.

Daisy

After allowing the ewe to clean her lamb and establish a bond with her lamb, I sterilized the remaining piece of the umbilical cord, fed momma, and sat back with my own precious lambs, Cameron and Addyson, to watch a new mother nudge, guard, and teach her newborn lamb.  My lambs repeatedly exclaimed, “She’s just so cute! I want to name the next one Daddy.”  They would each have their turn naming the next two lambs.

Both lambs that would follow, Midnight and Storm, would weigh in at just over 6 lbs, which is at or near the average weight of Shetland lambs.  Shetland lambs are up on their feet in no time, unlike us human beings who take 9 – 12 months to find their feet.  The fact that they stood so quickly on their own made it easy for me to weigh the lambs on my platform scale.  Taking records of the date of birth, weight at birth, conditions of birth, colorings, health status, and any other pertinent information quickly followed weighing the lambs.  Shetland sheep truly are easy lambers with strong maternal instincts that go hand in hand with their hardiness as a breed for our snow filled and cold infused Winters on the North shore of New Brunswick.

To date, my experiences with Shetland sheep have brought a great deal of pleasure to my foray into sheep production.  They love saltine crackers, have unique personalities, are curious, produce beautiful natural colored wool, and provide lots of fodder for story telling which leads me to the story of the last lamb, Storm.

In an effort to learn about the lambing behavior of Shetland sheep and experientially document the tell-tale signs of imminent lambing, I decided, as both a precaution and an educational experience, to follow the last lambing.  I have years of experience in assisting cattle, when necessary, with difficult births but in the equine world of lambing my rating is at nil.  Dr. Gallivan had graciously given me an arm load of books when I left so I wasn’t a complete greenhorn in the area of lambing.  Well, maybe I was.  At any rate, Martha showed behavior consistent with being close to lambing such as getting up and down, making of a bag (udder), dazed appearance, and finally the passing of her water bag.  I thought, “Oh wow, I’m going to witness my first lambing.”  Outside the barn, a thunderstorm crackled, illuminating the sky in the heat of the August night.  Inside the barn, I lay on a stack of hay, praying for a healthy lamb, cowboy hat resting over my exhausted visage.  It was nearing 2 am so I got up, went inside my parents house to tell them that I’d be back up in the morning as the ewe didn’t look to be distressed and would likely lamb before morning.  Oh but that was not the case, when I returned to say goodnight to the animals, there was a brand new ram lamb that only 5 minutes earlier had not taken his first breath.  Amazing!  In the same manner that I had never witnessed any breeding in my flock, this ewe decided to keep the birth of her lamb private, away from the shepherd’s eyes.

Storm

As I continue to raise sheep, I find myself thinking that just as these beautiful sheep are under my care, so too am I under the care of my Shepherd.  Psalm 100:3 says, ” We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  I am thankful for the experience of having these beautiful small-bodied with big personality sheep.  A little over a year later, we are now registered Shetland Sheep breeders with NASSA (North American Shetland Sheep Association).

More to come in the near future on my experiences with raising Shetland sheep on MacCurdy Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, family farming, farming, MacCurdy Farm, pasture based farming, Shetland sheep, small family farming, Uncategorized | Leave a 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

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