farming

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

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

Taigh-ghlainne: Our first greenhouse

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

Greenhouse and pastured poultry pens on a Sprinter day

Greenhouse and pastured poultry pens on a Sprinter day

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

Let there be dirt...beneath greenhouse plastic

Let there be dirt…beneath greenhouse plastic

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

Corner purlins

Corner purlins

Brackets for roll up side

Brackets for roll up side

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

Roll up the side

Roll up the side

South side, sunny side.

South side, sunny side.

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

Getting pumped up for pumpkin planting

Getting pumped up for pumpkin planting

In ground direct seeding has begun

In ground direct seeding has begun

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

Hard at work on her own will

Hard at work on her own will

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

Egg-wagon: Restricted free range laying hens

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

I'm free, free rangin'.

I’m free, free rangin’.

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

In for the night, I just might.

In for the night, I just might.

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

Double decker nesting boxes

Double decker nesting boxes

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

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

Solar power

Solar power

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

Restricted free range eggs have arrived on MacCurdy Farm.

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

Three days of meals with Heritage Breed Chicken

20140809_143159[1]

The past two years, when our meatkings go to table, we send our heritage breed roosters along with them.  Sadly, they don’t make the selection for breeding due to either temperament or less suitable breed traits.  The first time I cooked a heritage breed rooster, I made the mistake of cooking it like a meatking, which is a type of bird that amasses muscle very quickly due to selective breeding and is super tender when roasted.  Unexpectedly, I bit into a drumstick the consistency of rubber, and less along the lines of the meat that falls off the bones with meat kings.  With a potential customer base for heritage breed chicken, I set out to cook atleast three meals in three days from two roasted heritage breed roosters to provide customers with some recipes and quality feedback on the taste and texture of heritage breed chickens, the type of chickens that my grandparents grew up raising and eating in their barnyard/backyard flocks.

20150202_201834[1]

Each and everyone of us has a different level of expertise in the kitchen.  Hopefully, you can take these words of advice and add cooking heritage breed chicken to the list of culinary favorites.  As I continue to pursue a larger disconnect from the “supermarket” mentality that once governed my decisions on food, I find myself spending more time in the kitchen and making more efficient use of food items that have come from our small diversified farm.  Each time I cook a heritage breed chicken my imagination takes over and I picture myself operating a homestead and cooking around an old L’Islet cooking stove like the one we have inside our farm house.  Before the age of the supermarket, people cooked in the name of efficiency.  They made multiple meals from a roast beef or roast chicken.  The one and done approach didn’t cross their minds.  They ate to survive and cooking was an experience, not a quick stop in your day.  I try to keep this in mind when I look at the left over meat on the chicken carcass.  The chickens gave their lives to feed my family so I’m not going to throw the meat that didn’t get eaten into a garbage can (Like many of us often do) but rather I’m going to make multiple meals.

Before I cooked the two heritage breed roosters, I did a little research on cooking heritage breed birds.  I found a gem on Mother Earth News, which I had incidentally read about in Joel Salatin’s book on pastured poultry.   Just click on the following link for an informative read: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/cooking-heritage-breed-chickens.aspx.  This article, as well as other leading authorities on chickens like Gail Demerow, Joel Salatin, and the many contributors to the backyardchickens forum, talk about the four different types of birds available for cooking.

On our farm, our pastured meatkings qualify as broilers as they are processed up to 12 weeks.  By this point they have amassed a substantial amount of meat but are not impeded by the weight gain to the point that they are immobile (unethical and poor management at that point).  However, meatkings do not qualify as heritage breed birds so you’ll rarely see a heritage breed rooster processed that young because they are a much slower growing bird.

We have not produced fryers yet, but this year when we have our turkeys processed in the fall we will also be doing our heritage breed roosters that have not made the cut for breeding or have not sold to other farmers.  Our Plymouth Barred Rock Cockerels/Roosters are supposed to make excellent fryers.  When it comes to livestock I also offer them a chance for life on another farm first before having them processed.  We have sold more than a few roosters over the last couple years in exactly this effort.   When we keep our roosters through the winter we process our roosters at an age that qualifies them for roasting and slow-cooking techniques.

The recipes/meals in this blog are written for roasters, which are birds on our farm that are still the first year of their life, but past physical maturity.

Finally, we seldom process stewers, or our laying hens that are near the end of their egg production days.  We do not butcher on farm so these birds often end up finishing out their days on another farm as pets or, strangely enough, stewing hens.

Cooking:

Take a roaster, Close the vents.  Add a 1/2 cup to a cup of water and some olive oil to the roasting pan.  Place the birds breast side down in the roaster and cook in the oven for 3.5 hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is important to note that a pastured rooster will have very yellowish fat.  There is nothing wrong with the bird, it simply means that they had the luxury of enjoying the great outdoors and the healing power of the sun during their life cycle.  The carotenoids found in the grasses that the chickens forage on deepens the yellowing color of their fat, filling it with nutrients that make their way into your soups and gravies.

Day 1: Chicken Wraps

Our family is big on wraps and sandwiches so we use up the tenderest white meat in our own concocted wraps, which usually includes sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms.  You can choose to use any part of the chicken for your meal but I suggest delving into the tenderest meat, especially if you have young ones.

Day 2: Baked Chicken and Rice with assorted peppers

At this point, day 2, we start to pick away at the meat on the legs and wings as well as anything left over from the breasts to cut into cubes for our baked chicken and rice, which is a family favorite.  You can make changes to the recipe as you see fit.

Day 3: Homemade Chicken and Rice Soup

Finally, my favorite day, soup day.  I have grown increasingly fond of hearty soups and stews this winter (Our Northern New Brunswick winter has been especially hard on people of all ages).  I have added two soup recipes (Heritage Breed chicken and rice soup and Grass fed beef and barley soup) to our farm website menu.

Heritage Breed Chicken and Rice Soup

Stock

Place your left over chicken scraps (back, legs, wings, etc.) in 4 quarts (16 cups) of water.  Including a small amount of vinegar will help to break down the ligaments and sinew on the bones.  Bring to a boil and then put on low heat for at least 3 hours.  Skim the water as it cooks.  Add a 1/2 cup each of celery, carrot, and onions.   When the broth is done strain the liquid to remove the chicken bones and pieces of vegetables.  These can be composted.  Place the pieces of meat from off the bones in the chicken stock.

From chicken bones to chicken soup

From chicken bones to chicken soup

Soup

Again, add a half cup of celery, carrot, onion and rice to the stock with chicken.  Then add a whole can of diced or whole tomato for color and flavor.  Add a tea spoon of sea salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper for taste.  You can change these amounts at your discretion.  Add a small amount of garlic, a 1/4 teaspoon of celery salt, and a bay leaf.  You’ll remove the bay leaf after the soup has finished cooking on a low heat for an hour.  This makes a hearty soup.  I prefer to leave the vegetables sliced in larger size pieces for a chunky appearance.

Soup is Served!

Soup is Served!

Enjoy this soup as a natural treatment for a cold or on a cold winter day with friends and family.

Categories: farming, Heritage breed chicken, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Snowblower Ramp Build

In case you haven’t noticed, Winter is here.  It is here for a good time … and a long time.  And, according to our little shadow fearing varmint, the groundhog, there will be 6 more weeks of it.  I haven’t checked my farmer’s almanac but judging by the frequency of snowstorms this Winter, I felt it was time to extend the reach of my snow blower.  It was time to build a snow blower ramp so that I could load my Ariens Deluxe 28 snow blower onto the farm truck for some snow therapy at the farm.  The high winds over the past few days have cause hard packed drifts to litter landscape of the farm, even making our farm lane impassable.  Our tractor blower has been out of commission since my grandfather passed in August of 2003 and these cold days with windchill up to -39 degrees Celsius have rendered the old Massey 383 out-of-order due to severe frostbite.  Time to bring up the Ariens to the big leagues and blow out a path to my chicken barns.  The cold has been a nasty opponent to our flock’s health and laying production this winter.  I’m in the process of adding more ventilation to my chicken barns, some poop boards beneath their roosts, and some heating via heat lamps, which will be run off of a solar panel on the south side of the barn.  A diversifying farm is never without projects.  In fact, if you’re not careful you’ll get bogged down with them.

The Build:

I’ve always enjoyed repurposing materials that are readily available.  I had two 2 x 6s that came out of an old green house frame, excess ice shield from my reshingling my home this summer for grip on the tracks, and an abundance of greenhouse strapping.  We could basically say, the cost is free, or better yet, undetermined.  Overall this project took under 2 hours to complete.  I assembled it in my basement next to my toasty pacific energy wood stove.

Modelled on an SUV

Modelled on an SUV

Cut list

  • 2, 2×6 @ 78″
  • 12, 1 x 2 strapping @ 5 1/2″
  • 3, 25″ long boards (any width).  I used 1 x 6 spruce.
  • 2, 5 1/2″ wide strips of gripping surface (I used ice shield)

Materials:

  1. 2 x 6
  2. 1 x 2 strapping
  3. Material for grip on the surface of the tracks (I used excess ice shield)
  4. 2 1/2″ screws
  5. Staple gun to secure the grip to the track
  6. boards (1 x or 2 x)

Tools:

  1. Cordless Power drill
  2. Staple gun
  3. Circular (skill) saw
  4. Scissors/shearers (To cut ice shield or grip material)

Steps:

  1. Cut your 2, 2×6 to 78″ (or a length that suits the vehicle you will be loading your snow blower onto)
  2. Cut the ice shield (or similar material) to 78″ length and staple to the tracks.
  3. Cut and fasten 3, 25″ cross pieces (braces) to the two tracks.  The boards are cut to 25″ to accommodate the width of the snow blower tire base.  Fasten, with 2 1/2″ screws, in three locations: bottom, middle, and top.  I used 4 screws on both sides of the ramp.
  4. Cut, and then fasten, your 5 1/2″ pieces of 1 x 2 strapping.  Fasten the first piece 2″ from the bottom of the track and then at 12″ spaces until you have installed the final piece on each track.
  5. Test the sturdiness of your ramp before you attempt to load your snow blower onto your truck or SUV.  If it’s bending, you may have to add thicker cross pieces or shorten the ramp tracks.
20150204_163711[1]

Top side of tracks with grips

cross pieces screwed to the tracks

cross pieces screwed to the tracks

Loading your snow blower:

  1. Firmly set the base of the ramp into the snow.  The bottom cross-piece will act as a footboard so that you can brace the snow blower as it travels up the ramp. 
    20150204_163749[1]

    Foot board to stabilize the ramp

  2. Engage the differential lock on your snow blower, if it comes equipped with one, so that the wheels turn equally as it climbs the ramp.  Otherwise, one wheel pulls more causing the snow blower to come off the ramp.
  3. Walk the snow blower up the ramp in the slowest travelling speed.  Take caution as you do this and, if at all possible, have someone with you as an extra set of eyes and hands.  You may find that there are alterations and adjustments to be made with this plan to make the loading and unloading of your snow blower an easier endeavor.
  4. Once the snow blower is loaded, firmly secure it with ratchet straps and/or rope to the bed of the truck.  Do the same to your ramp.  Don’t forget, it has to come off at some point but the name of the game is safe road travel.
  5. Remove the key.  We wouldn’t want that to bounce loose on the drive.  Drive to your destination.

Unloading your snow blower:

  1. Firmly position and secure the ramp before loading the snow blower on to it.
  2. Do not bother to start the snow blower.  Slowly back the machine down the ramp.  Use the cross pieces as braces to give more resistance to the snow blower as you back it slowly down the ramp.
  3. Bundle up your ratchet straps and ropes.  Put up the tail gate and get to work.

I hope these plans and pictures can inspire you to make this functional ramp.  At 200 lbs, it safely handled my weight.  During the snow blower test, it safely handled the weight of my Ariens deluxe 28″, which weighs in around 250 lbs according to the specs.  I would suggest fortifying the track supports by using 2 x 4 instead of 1 x boards should your lumber flex more than it should.  I used true rough sawn 2 x 6 for this project.  This is a bit of a change in content from my usual blog posts but, I’m determined to make this a site for all things related to farming.  I’ve always admired DIYers and FIYers so projects like this continue to help me draw a deeper connection to the way things used to be done.  Namely, when people built their own needs and didn’t flock to the nearest hardware store to order something they could build with their own two hands.  People like Dick Proenneke, who built his own log cabin with traditional woodworking tools in the Alaskan wilderness, are becoming harder and harder to find but for people like us, the MacCurdy family, they represent a truer sense of sustainability and an honest way of living.  Enjoy your build.  If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment. Next up, a blog on cooking heritage breed chickens.  After that, building a farmhouse table.

Categories: farming, MacCurdy Farm, snowblower ramp | Tags: , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Address to the Future Generation of Farmers

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

Greenhouse door

Greenhouse door

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

The Farm Land

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

Animal Husbandry

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

Our herd during a pre-storm hay feast

Our herd during a pre-storm hay feast

Read…Alot

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

Multi-Generational Considerations

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

Oral Traditions

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

Farm Safety

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

PTO safety is a must

PTO safety is a must

Stick by your principles

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

Bonnie, heifer with calf

Bonnie, heifer with calf

Educate Yourself

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

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

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: