Bay of Chaleur

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

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

Friends of the Farm – Hengst Quality Sausage

Point La Nim, New Brunswick is not only home to our small diversifying family run hobby farm but another local family run business, Hengst Quality Sausage.  In the name of collaboration, we teamed up with the Hengsts this end of summer to produce our first turkey sausages from MacCurdy Farm turkeys.  I know, just like Pavlov’s dog, I’m drooling at the thought of it too.

This summer, while the turkeys grazed on pasture in our fleet of pastured poultry pens (aka. chicken tractors), an idea came to mind.  Small scale farming always has room to consider value adding.  Those of you caught by the addictive game, Hay Day, on your smartphones, will quickly understand the concept of adding value to a farm product.  For example, pumpkins retail for $3 – $5 (depending on the size) but they can be value-added in the form of jams, pies, cakes,  and painted Jack-o’-lanterns.  Value adding allows us, in the case of pumpkins, beans, and strawberries, to find a return on our perishable products that might not sell at our local Farmer’s Market on any given Saturday.  Turkeys, on the other hand, require some more expertise.  Namely, quality production from our neighbour’s up the road.

Market days at Restigouche Farmer’s Market have their ups and downs for all vendors.  On those days when the crowds are waning, I usually saunter over to the Hengst Sausage booth to toss ideas around with Mark and have a tasty mild italian sausage (my favorite) off their grill.  Our conversations cover a lot of topic areas, mostly related to food, but on one occasion we discussed some possibilities for our larger retail turkeys that might not sell.  The turkey sausage idea was born.  Through many conversations with Mark and Jane, I’ve realized that they are just as passionate about locavorism and small sustainable family run businesses as I am.  Like us, they endorse buying seasonal local farm products and, like us, they understand that supporting small farms like ours boosts our local economy and funnels money back into the hands of farmers to help nourish the people of our region.  So, I jumped at the idea to try something new.  I love novelty.

As I came to find out from Mark, and his wife Jane, turkey sausages are quite common.  We talked at length about producing the best product we could with the turkey meat and settled upon mild Italian turkey sausages.  A bit of spice is nice.  To share in the experience of sausage making, I carved all of the meat off of the thawed turkey frame and boiled the flesh off of the bones (You can use up to 10% cooked meat in a sausage).  The meat, fresh and cooked, was bagged in freezer bags.  We bottled the remaining turkey broth as stock and have decided to sell it at the market for all of you scratch soupers out there.  I am a strong believe in using everything from a turkey and a chicken.  It’s healthy and you pay the animal respect by eating all of it.  A quick trip to deliver the frozen meat to the Hengsts and then the magic could happen, sausage making magic that is.

The before picture.

The before picture.

One of the most endearing qualities about Mark and Jane with their sausage business is their openness and willingness to talk about everything related to their operation.  In my opinion, it is a reflection of the knowledge they have required over their 20 + years in business and that passion that so often accompanies the entrepreneurial spirit.  They love to do what they do and they aren’t ashamed to share it.  They are exactly the type of people that we would want to collaborate with on a project handling the meats of our labor.  Their openness has allowed many people who grow and raise their own food in this region to create variety in their culinary selection.  Hamburgers, sausages, and steaks are all equally at home on the bbq grill.

Hengst Quality Sausage

Hengst Quality Sausage

Hengst Quality Sausage is a family owned business.  They use recipes that are over 60 years old with only the best ingredients available.  As Mark says, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.”  Isn’t that the truth.  Mark and Jane’s respect for the older traditions of sausage making are very apparent.  You can see it in their diligence and attention to detail in making and cooking their sausages.  Mark and Jane have been stuffing sausage goodness for over 20 years.  Now, thanks to their automatic stuffer, they can produce sausages at an accelerated rate getting them to grocery store shelves and home freezers at a much quicker rate.  They also have a variety of other food products available from beef jerky to smoked meat.

Mark’s passion stems from his roots in sausage making.  His father was a butcher and a sausage maker who worked as a chef in many of the finest hotels across the country of Canada.  Today, Mark continues to refine his craft as a next generation sausage maker.  Their business continues to evolve in a shrinking market via many pathways including word of mouth and social networking sites like Facebook, which can be found by searching their business name.  Their business finds success through the support of family and a collective effort to make quality the word that stands out in their business.  You can find their sausages and other products at the Restigouche Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning from 8 – 1 pm just across the way from our market booth.  Just follow your nose, it’ll take you to sausage heaven.  Trust me, I’ve tried every sausage they make, including our MacCurdy Farm turkey sausage, and all of them carry that taste that makes you want to go back for more.

Italian Turkey Sausage

Italian Turkey Sausage

I think it would be safe to say that both of our families could be considered Bay of Chaleur locavores who seek to provide tasty and healthy food products for the omnivorous diet in our region.  That is what excited me most about collaborating on this project with the Hengsts.  Tradition and innovation both play an important role in how our businesses evolve in our region.  There must always be a respect for those generations who broke ground ahead of us and a spark within us that seeks to make refinements and improvements while we are at the helm in hopes that something exists for the next generation of farmers and sausage makers.

MacCurdy Farm turkey sausages are available at the Restigoucher Farmer’s market.  Make a note of stopping to have a chat at one of our booths the next time you visit.  Conversation creates relationships as well as opportunities.  It did for us at MacCurdy Farm when we chatted with the Hengsts.

We will soon have a drop down menu on our MacCurdy Farm website entitled, Friends of the Farm, that will share more details concerning Hengst Quality Sausage products as well as other local businesses who use our products in their food creations.  Look for this added site feature in the very near future.

MacCurdy Farm

MacCurdy Farm

 

 

 

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm, pumpkin, turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Make Hay While the Sun is Shining

The hay crew

The hay crew

Hay season is upon us.  We are just finishing up our first cut for winter hay storage and feed.  Late summer/early fall will bring us into our second cut, which we feed at pasture.  The old adage reads, “Make hay when the sun is shining.”  In terms of haymaking, truer words were not spoken.  A quality hay harvest requires good weather.  Sunshine, drying winds, and properly timed cutting all lead to maximizing the quality of mixed hay.   As you’ll notice in the above photo, we make square bales and stack them on a hay wagon.  It’s hard work, but with the best view in Northern N.B. as the back drop of our hay acreage, how can one complain?

Our hay fields are a mixture of (1) perennial grasses like timothy, brome grass, orchard grass, (2) legumes like white and red clover, and (3) fescue.  Our hay fields have not been turned in decades so there is some vetch and other weeds in our hay, which the cattle will eat around or, if it smells good, chew it up and add it to the cud.  Smell, more than taste or appearance, is often the determining factor for a cow when it comes to eating forage.  MacCurdy Farm cattle are notoriously picky eaters.  On occasion we’ve purchased hay during shortage that no amount of molasses or shredding would make palatable.  But, I digress.  Our hay, from our acreage and rentals in the community, has served our cattle well over the years but next year, if our plans come to fruition, we’ll have some new hay sewn in the community to hopefully improve the digestible crude protein content in our hay.  Higher protein equals faster daily pound gains in our animals, which means a greater return when they go to table.

Making hay involves multiple steps:

  1. Cut the hay.  We cut our hay when the conditions are right and the weather forecast gives us a window to harvest.
  2. After several hours of drying time, or the following day depending on the time of the cut, we ted (spread newly cut hay) the hay with the tedder.  This exposes more of the surface area of the grass and legume to the sunshine and breezes.
  3. Rake the hay.  The rake implement, which is wheel driven, forms a windrow funnel that allows the wind to dry the hay before baling.
  4. Bale the hay.
  5. Collect the hay with the tractor and wagon and bring it back to the hay barn for storage.

I’ve learned a great deal this summer, having dedicated all of my time to farming in place of other extra-curricular activities, about the intricacies of farming.  Making hay is largely dependant on fine tuned machinery.  This summer, we had some issues with our haybine aka. cutter/mower that forced us to replace a busted hydraulic hose and broken hub.  Thankfully, a few phone calls and the parts were at the farm within a few days, so we didn’t lose any time making hay.  Dad is very mechanically inclined and i’m learning, more from watching than doing, about machinery maintenance and how to problem solve in a pinch.  That being said, it seems as though my father’s generation has difficulty letting go of the reigns.  They carry an attitude of only they can do it right, so you’re stuck in the shadows learning visually.  Most people learn across multi-modalities so I’ve joked with my father that if I were ever to apply for a job on a farm elsewhere and share my experiences with respect to my abilities operating and maintaining machinery, i’d have to say, “I watched my daddy do it.”  That comment, in and of itself, would terminate the interview.  Job opportunity gone.  However, at the age of 32, I can say I’ve learned a fair amount about farming, and even though I did not attend agricultural college (I chose education in place of my acceptance to study animal science at NSAC), my experiences on the farm have enriched my knowledge of the land, animals, and machinery.

The summer of 2014 was not one of drudgery and digging deep into energy reserves and spiritual strength.  This year, I hired two young lads to help me wield hay bales in the hay field along with help from family members.  Good help is hard to find but we lucked out this year in finding helpers that could keep up with the MacCurdy work ethic and stamina in the hay field.  We don’t brag about much, but our bale throwing prowess and ability to get the job done, even under the moon light, is something we take great pride in doing.  My father did it for years with his mother driving tractor while he piled.  I did it over the last couple summers jumping in and out of the tractor, alone, during days where the bales seemed like they’d never end.  I’d be exhausted, wiped with sweat dripping off my brow and a sluggish posture, and my father would say, “Don’t rely on your body to get things done, the body can only go so far, but trust your spirit to help you finish.”  Amazingly, it worked.  Believing that you can accomplish something at all costs, helps you to forget about the pain, allowing you to put your body on autopilot and complete the task at hand.  All the while, forging your hands into grippers, blasting your forearms into swollen bulbs, and pumping your lungs into air purifiers.  On one occasion this summer, one of our farm hands, sore from making hay the day earlier and feeling beat said, “I need to build up my stamina.”  I replied, “Making hay is all about pace.  It’s like running a race.  You can’t win a marathon by sprinting from start to finish.”  The hay field, like life, has many lessons to be learned.

Over the years, I’ve seen many people grip hay bales the wrong way.  Before heading out to the field with our hired hands this summer, I taught them how to grip a hay bale, pile a hay bale, throw a hay bale, and treat a hay bale.  Learning how to properly handle a hay bale is the key to an injury-free day of work.  Throwing a hay bale is very technical and it is my opinion that more people should incorporate functional strength tasks like splitting wood, making hay, logging, and lobster fishing into their life experiences.  Forget about cross fit and think about farm fit/manual labor fit.  People will absolutely exhaust and gas themselves in a gym but never develop functional strength.  So, when the day comes that something heavy has to be lifted, pushed, or pulled, they find that their bench press doesn’t do squat…pun intended.  Back to hay bale throwing 101.  When you grab the twines of a hay bale, your hands should be just outside of shoulder width apart with the hand on the side that the bale will be thrown on the twine closer to the body.  The other hand positions on the outside twine away from the body.  As in baseball, you load your weight on your back leg, bringing the bale in a slight twisting position to the back foot.  Spot the target for the bale, explode off of your back foot in the direction of the target.  Reach up with the bale, releasing the back hand and then front hand in close proximity of time, to the sound of the twine plucking off of the hand closest to the target.  The whole time you’re stomach muscles are tightened to counteract and stress on the back.  In a nutshell, a great core exercise.  I spent some time teaching other way to grab and pile bales because every tip and method that facilitates speed of harvesting gets more hay in the barn.  Some of you may chuckle to yourselves about a proper way of making hay, given that mechanization and invention has greatly reduced the amount of times a hay bale is touched before it finds storage, but until we purchase the coveted thrower for our baler and a wagon to go with it, we’ll continue to pick bales up and put them down, over and over again.

Gym or hay field?

Gym or hay field?

Finally, hay making is one of my favorite times of the year.  A full barn of hay means another year that our cow calf operation survives and thrives in Point La Nim, NB.  I look forward to the laughs we share in the field, the completion of each load of hay that is unloaded on the thrasher floor, and the memories that we form as a family.  A Shamwow and a bottle of Mr. Clean couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face as I watched my niece and son run through the field to kick down the bales that were standing on end.  My sister, brother, and I did the same thing when we were youngsters.  Some bales don’t fall flat on their bottoms, and stand on edge, which would cause us, like wolves with the scent of blood, to sprint as fast as we could to knock down as many as we could in the hay field.  We didn’t need video games to have fun.  Our feet carried us to it.  As always we’d stop for supper, made by the family matriarch and resident farm cat expert, Grammy MacCurdy.  A quick recharge for the body, inspection of the animals basic needs, and then back at it until the baler quit or the sun set, which ever came first.

The next generation, Cameron and Brooke.

The next generation, Cameron and Brooke.

Making hay, it’s in our nature!

 

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, hay making, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Turkey Walking on Pasture is Poultry in Motion

2013 was a year of novelty for MacCurdy Farm.  2014 has brought it’s own new additions to the farm grounds.  The school year is winding down with assessments, school trips, and other educational activities each with it’s own stresses.  Meanwhile, our diversifying farm continues to provide it’s own busy work.  We are ready for the arrival of our 200 meat king chicks this saturday.  I completely overhauled the roof of each triple p.  The tin had to be removed, new rafters installed, and gussets nailed to reinforce the load bearing capacity of the roofs during our heavy snowfall winters.  I’m confident that the improvement in the design will withstand next winter.  However, i’m keeping my fingers crossed.  We don’t house anything in the triple p’s past the first snowfall, which means we only have to worry about structural damage.

Newly renovated portable chicken housing

Newly renovated portable chicken housing

Our egg wagon is coming along nicely.  The frame is up, the rafters are on, windows and doors are framed, and the nesting box is nearly complete.  The board siding is complete, the tin roof has been installed.  We just have to construct and install a door and it’s ready for pasture.  I’ve found, given the limited amount of time I have to devote to growing the farm infrastructure, that starting a project immediately after another project has been completed, greatly improves productivity.  Perhaps, I’m feeding off of my natural propensity to always be working but I find that when one takes the time to get another project off the ground as the other finishes, one can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  An egg wagon, for those of you who may have not heard the term before, is a chicken coop on wheels.  The egg wagon is constructed from wood and bolted to an old wagon frame at the farm.  It will house 30 – 50 hens the first summer on pasture, and 50 – 75 hens the second summer.  Weight is an issue as the wagon has to be physically lifted at this time to be hitched to the tractor.  We constructed all walls and rafters with 2 x 2 lumber and the window openings will only have hardware cloth over them, no windows, to minimize weight for the time being.  We have scrap tin that we’ve used for the roof, as well.  The name of the game is minimal weight.  Eventually, we’ll mount a trailer jack to the wagon frame.

Pastured Egg Layer Palache for the Summer

Pastured Egg Layer Palache for the Summer

Egg Wagon nearing completion

Egg Wagon nearing completion

In terms of our pastured egg production, there are two issues we have to solve.  (1) We need a B100 solar energizer to charge our electric poultry netting and (2) we are waiting on our heritage breed chicks to come to laying maturity so we can provide more eggs at the Restigouche Farmer’s market.  In our first year of breeding chickens, we currently have 40 chicks that we are raising to be layers.  All roosters will go to table.  I have one last hatch planned to start within the next two weeks to produce additional Black australorp hens and then the incubator goes into storage for the Fall and Winter until next Spring.  Patience is necessary as we continue to develop our flock.  Patience on the part of the farmer who has to wait 22 – 26 weeks for the hens to reach laying age and patience on the part of the consumer in understanding what is involved in producing hen fruit (aka. eggs).  We apologize for any shortage of eggs at the Restigouche Farmer’s market this Spring and Summer and look forward to bringing more of our eggs into your kitchens this fall.

I am also putting out a call to anyone with  a portable chicken processing unit (scalder, de-featherer, processing cones, processing table, etc.) to contact us at the farm about processing our heritage breed roosters, and potentially our turkeys later in the year.  We’d be willing to talk price and dates.  We’ve collectively decided that it’s time to butcher our roosters that we will not be keeping for breeding purposes.  In the process we’ll eliminate the noise commotion on the farm.  It’s hard to make the decision but to prepare your roosters for the table but it’s something that has to be done once they’ve reached the desirable weight.  Most importantly to us, it has to be done ethically.  We don’t want some gunslinger with zero respect for life processing our chickens.

In other news, our pastured meatking chickens and turkeys have adjusted nicely to their daily salad bar on pasture.  Thankfully, we’ve had very few issues with lameness, limping, an leg problems.  Our hospital pen has a few in it for the time being and I pray that they’ll rehabilitate and regain their strength.  Water and feed will be the key for the next few days and Lord willing they will survive.  Our goal at the beginning of the year was not to lose a single bird to sickness, injury, or predation.  They’ve been going through alot of feed (25 – 35 kg /day) and water given the recent spike in the heat.  Thankfully, with our fourwheeler and wagon addition to the farm, it has become alot easier to fill up the waterers as we leave a 55 gallon drum of water next to the PPPs on pasture.  Once we purchase bulk feed, I’ll be leaving a 55 gallon drum of bulk feed in the pasture to further lessen the impact on the body.  One really needs to develop means of minimizing the amount of physical exertion on individual activities so energy can be put towards multiple tasks.  I sometimes cringe at the working methods of the older generation.  I look at them with great admiration and profound respect for the sacrifices they make, but on the other hand I’m always looking for ways to minimize the impact on the body so that we can further diversify our farm operations.  The old adage says, “Many hands make light work.”  In my circumstances, only my hands do the work when it comes to the chickens and turkeys (sometimes with the gracious help of my wife or father), so the many hands option is out the window.  If I didn’t minimize the amount of physical exertion on my body, I’d be burnt out, without accomplishing my goal of providing healthy food to people in our foodshed.  Don’t get me wrong, I love work and in farming the work never ends but sacrificing healthier working alternatives for pride and a “that’s the way it’s always been done” mentality is bad for business.  Writing metaphorically, would someone rather stare at a stagnant mud puddle or a moving brook? One is teeming with life and forever changing it’s composition, while the other dries up, is sometimes restored, and has no life in it.  The key in all this, is help.  A successful family farm needs help, from every member, young and old.

The key word in this post is motion.  Everything must be kept moving on the farm.  From the locomotion involved in daily farm chores, to moving the pastured poultry pens, to exchanging advice, caveats, and reminders.  A farm without motion, is not a farm at all.  Hayseason is just around the corner so look for another blogpost on haymaking on MacCurdy Farm in the very near future. Finally, I am taking orders for chicken and turkey on our facebook farm page (MacCurdy Farm), on our blog website, at the Restigouche Farmer’s market, and by phone at 506-684-2297.

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Categories: Bay of Chaleur, farming, hatching chicks, mobile chicken coop, raspberries, small fruit, Solar power, turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Calving season – A time for new beginnings

Spring has always been a season on MacCurdy Farm that is synonymous with life and new beginnings. It’s a time of the year when earthy smells emerge from beneath a blanket of ice and snow and, inside the barn, our cows enter the last phase of their gestation period. It takes roughly 9 months for a cow to go full term and in our case, with Hereford cross animals, approximately 285 days depending on the day that the bull serviced them. The ideal goal is for the animal to deliver the calf unassisted without going over the gestation period. The threat of dystocia, difficulty delivering calves, is magnified each day that an animal goes past its due date.  Spring time calls for vigilance and continual observation of the animals throughout the day.

We do not use artificial insemination. We use a breeding bull, from our line breeding program, which is changed every 4 to 5 years. At this age range (20 months to 5 years), bull fertility is still strong but bulls can become ornery around the higher age range and a little too big to handle. Farm safety is always our primary concern. The bull services our cows (approximately 15 – 20) each Spring, Summer, and Fall. We bring our animals into the barn to allow us to give proper care to our calves and calving mothers. For example, unlike the Belted Galloway and Scottish Highland breeds, our calves could never withstand our Arctic climate and long drawn out winters outside. Once inside the barn, dad and I can look for the tell-tale signs of parturition. I’ll begin by naming the few that I’ve learned through oral tradition from my father and some from scholarly research.

As a cow nears parturition, birth of the calf, we look for several tell-tale signs of impending calving.  It is not an exact science.  For anyone interested in the reproductive anatomy and physiology of cattle, you can browse the following link: http://www.selectsires.com/resources/fertilitydocs/reproductive_anatomy.pdf.

  1. Development of an udder that becomes more and more turgid.  However, development of the udder itself is not sufficient.  The teats must fill as well.
  2. Small-sized bowel movements due in large part to pressure on the rectum from the calf in the birth canal.
  3. Elevating the tale or keeping the tale to the side of the vulva and blood enlarged vulva lips.
  4. Restlessness.  A cow, especially a first time calver, will repeatedly get up and down and/or pace.
  5. Release of the cervical plug.  (The mucous plug blocks the calf from external infection.)  This can be an indication of impending calving although it may happen several days before birth.
  6. Relaxation of the pelvic ligaments.  If one feels the indents on either side of the tail above the hips, you will find two indents that get deeper as calving gets closer.  Labor will usually begin about 12 hours after complete relaxation of the pelvic ligaments.

Optimally, we want cattle to deliver unassisted and only under the watchful eye of the herdsman or farmer.  However, this is not always the case, especially with first time calvers.  Dystocia, or difficulty calving, can present a serious threat.  Some symptoms of dystocia are malpresentation and prolonged calving time (up to and over 8 hours).  The normal presentation of a calf in the birth canal has the feet followed by the head, shoulders, hips, and hind legs.  Anything contrary to this positioning is considered malpresented or breached.  We cull cows that run into frequent calving problems such as a repeated uterine prolapse or early abortion.

Having delivered more than a handful of calves by myself and assisted in delivering others with my father, we have become very familiar with sterile techniques for manually inspecting malpresentations and pulling calves out.  It is important to note that upon assisting a cow with a delivery, pulls should match the cow’s contractions.  Otherwise, uterine torsion or potential damage to the uterine lining may result.  Calves should be pulled at a downward angle and with enough force to help the cow pass the shoulders and then hips of the calf.  The sooner the calf exits the birth canal, the better in terms of health for the cow and calf.  Time is of the essence.  I have seen a large variety of malpresentations including retained legs, anterior presentations, and posterior presentations.  Each presentation requires diligence and care while trying to deliver the calf.  One must always exercise caution when straightening a leg or head, being careful not to tear the uterine lining.

A few different malpresentations in cattle calving.

A few different malpresentations in cattle calving.

Anterior presentations require removal of the membrane around the nostrils once the head has emerged and are generally done with ease unless it is an oversized calf, which can happen with an early calving heifer.  We pull straight until the shoulders have passed and then down to leverage the animal out of the birth canal.  Posterior presentations are always worrisome.  They require a great deal of strength, without chains, to get the hip past and must be removed as quickly as possible so that the calf does not inhale fluid.  There have been a few instances when the calves have defecated due to the pressure on the abdomen while we pulled the calf out.  But, there is no room for laughter.  Joy only comes when we have the calf with its mother.  After the calf has been delivered we sometimes tickle the nasal passage with straw to stimulate breathing and in dire circumstances, begin CPR.  My father has performed CPR on a calf on more than one occasion, sometimes keeping the other from the brink of death and other times losing them after a long hard-fought battle.  Dad’s calling was realized in the form of a herdsman delivering calves.  He dedicates his life to these animals, who in turn give their lives for us and our community.  He has performed CPR on a calf for up to an hour, held a prolapsed uterus in his arms to keep it clean for a couple of hours until the vet arrived, nursed ill animals back to health, and always to the glory of God.  At times, calves can be born stillborn but we never give up on a calf.  All life is precious and precarious.  Just recently dad and I delivered a posterior presentation (breach) and the calf came out not breathing.  Dad immediately started to gently blow in the nostrils while he felt for a heart beat.  I then took over giving small exhalations into the calves nostrils until finally the calves lungs filled, his eyes blinked, and his reflexes kicked in.  It was beautiful, as it always is when we welcome a new calf into the world.

First heifer calves of Spring: Ellie and Annabelle

First heifer calves of Spring: Ellie and Annabelle

One of my favorite stories about calving came from my father who was following the impending calving of one of our cows.  Everything seemed normal, nothing out of the ordinary,  until a voice came to my father’s head saying, “Help me, I’m dying.”  Dad immediately sprung into action and found that the calf’s hoof was retained keeping it from entering the birth canal.  Some of you, while you read this, may say to yourself, “This is preposterous, how can that be? Where’s the science behind this? You may muse to yourself, maybe it was just his inner voice responding to a multitude of environmental indicators that pointed to a troublesome delivery.”  At any rate, I accept my father’s story at face value, even with my own doubts, because of the intensely spiritual experience of birth.  I have been overcome with tears of joy and sadness after delivering a calf.  There is something to be said about having a hand in assisting a calf into the world.  The birth may be sterile, but the experience is not.  It brings a great deal of warmth to one’s heart to watch a newborn calve blink it’s eyes and suckle for the first time.

Destiny - all eyes, ears, and nose.

Destiny – all eyes, ears, and nose.

Developing nicely and always listening.

Developing nicely and always listening

Maternal instincts vary greatly among cattle in the herd.  We never give up on helping to form the bond between cow and calf.  Sprinkling oats on the calf, hydrating the cow with several pails of water, and watching the calf lay close to the cow all play an important role in facilitating a bond between cow and calf.  The cow will often tongue bathe the calf, helping it to dry off, and further cementing the bond between cow and calf.  Just imagine the neuronal synapses firing away while the calf learns the sensation of touch.  Within hours, sometimes days in the case of a hard labor, the calf can be found in his pen of straw, standing for the first time.  Falling for the first time.  Standing a second time.  Falling a second time like Bambi on ice.  I always imagine a web of neuronal firings taking place inside the calf’s brain while his/her legs feel the weight of gravity and body weight for the first time.  It is simply amazing how quickly a calf learns to bring their muscle  movements into control.  Clearly, a survival instinct that exists, in greater strength, in the wild today. The process repeats itself until finally the calf stands strong and is ready to suckle.  We usually kneel beside the calf for the first week of feeding until they are able to stand alone and drink on all four teats.  It’s laborious, but it’s a necessary scaffold for the newborn calf.

Cameron, the fairest of the bunch.

Cameron, the fairest of the bunch.

Calves are a welcome addition to our herd every year.  It signals the arrival of Spring and brings a great deal of love and laughter to the farm as we care for the animals while they develop into animals that we will befriend and then give their lives to us so that we may raise a healthy meat product for people of the Restigouche region.    It’s a part of the cycle on the farm.  If anyone is interested in visiting the farm to see the baby calves, we will begin to open up the farm to such visits towards the end of May, when our farm grounds have dried up extensively.

Finally, if you are left with questions after reading this article you can refer to the following article for assistance in calving and calf care: http://animalscience.tamu.edu/files/2012/04/beef-recognizing-handling.pdf

MacCurdy Farm – Responsibly stewarded, naturally balanced.

 

Categories: 0rganics, Bay of Chaleur, Beef calves, farming, grass fed beef, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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