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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

What did the hen say when it layed a square egg?

My grandmother likes to throw little tidbits at me every now and again, often in the form of jokes or old sayings from the Miramichi where she grew up.  I’m not sure why she does it, but her wit brings a great deal of emotive response from me.  Perhaps, this is one of the many ways she exudes her kindness and caring attitude.  I am amazed by her resiliency and her strength of mind.  Her mental faculties, especially memory, are phenomenal.  I’ve told her that I hope I have the same wits about me when I am her age.

Some people tell jokes to bring the limelight onto themselves while others use humor selflessly to brighten a person’s day.  My grandmother knows the power of laughter, in any moment, to generate happiness in those fractions of our day when fatigue, apathy, or stress weigh us down.  Recently, as I prepared my eggs for the cartons, she called out to me from her rocking chair, “Justin! What did the chicken say when it layed a square egg?”  I paused, caught off-guard by the joke, and tried to solve the humorous riddle.  I came up empty.  “Ouch!”, she laughed.   She did this all in stride while she sat, pulling on her winter boots in preparation for a walk to feed the cats in the barn.  She doesn’t skip a beat.  That joke completely turned my day around and although our communication was fairly brief, it gave me a brief hiatus from the mental stresses of getting things done in a short period of time.  I have a window of opportunity, from 4 pm to 8 pm everyday after school, to build infrastructure, give our animals proper care, and manage ongoing projects at the farm.  To facilitate growth and progress, I break ongoing projects up into steps each day so that it always feels as though I am moving in the right direction.  If I try to do too much too quick, it can quickly feel insurmountable.  I have wants and needs, but my focus must remain with my needs so that I can achieve my wants, one step at a time.

Laughter is a good indication, in my opinion, of lower levels of stress.  If I’m not laughing, I’m too serious, and if I’m too serious, I’m not enjoying what I’m doing.  If this happens, and it does, I try to slow everything down.  Time doesn’t slow, so we must make the most of every minute we have to live on this earth.  I slow my rate of work, pause my plans, slow the heart rate and relax.  Humor, in times like these, can counteract life’s stressors and help me to recoup.  It’s not always self-centered.  I find just as much joy making someone else laugh or watching them laugh.  It’s contagious and a staple of family life, I believe, in our region.

This past weekend, my father and daughter, spent time copying each other’s laughs.  We’ve dubbed dad’s laugh as, “the dying horse” laugh as it is a long, windy, drawn out laugh with a bit of wheezing.  It was deeply amusing to watch my daughter squint her eyes, throw her head back, and imitate the laugh.  The power of positivity.  Imagine if each of our actions were governed by the desire to have them emulated by others to bring about laughter, smiles, happiness, and love.  I aspire to do this with the people around me and I am constantly reminded of this when I look at my beautiful and intelligent children.

Recently, I read a poem/speech delivered by Paul Harvey in 1978 in a speech to the Future Farmers of America Convention.  One stanza reads:

“Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.'” So God made a farmer.

This poem, with its strong Christian imagery, embodies the importance of laughter in the family unit.  For members of a small family farm, working day and night to bring something positive to the Restigouche region, the mental image of the hay bale as the metaphorical family resonates with our souls.  Farming is all about bonds.  We see them in stewardship of the land, in loving and laughing embraces, in farmer and implement, with the proximity to livestock, and between generations.  Whenever I hold my son or daughter’s hands while we walk around the farm, I am reminded of the blessing they are to me and I am motivated to create a better future for them with opportunities on the family farm.

Finally, for all you coffee/tea drinkers here’s a little cow joke for you.  What do you call a cow that has just had a calf? You can answer in the comment box below.

 

Categories: farming, future generations, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

MacCurdy Farm “Sheddy” Build

Winters in Point La Nim, NB on the frigid shores of the Restigouche River/Bay of Chaleur are filled with possibilities for winter sub-zero fun like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding (aka. sliding as we call it), tobogganing, snowmobiling, ice skating on the outdoor rink, and smelt fishing, which has become a permanent cultural fixation for North shore men, women, and children.  Growing up we tried smelt fishing in “shanties”, tarped tee-pee set ups, and exposed to the elements.  Each method offered its own experience of the elements.  The fishing shanty/hut with an oil lantern for heat, tops the list for comfort and child-friendliness.  The tee-pee was a unique idea championed by my father when we were youngsters.  In the end,  solidly frozen toes led to its brevity as a means of fishing smelts.  However, we had caught a fair amount with our Crappy Tire jigging reels.

Smelt fishing, and smelt eating by the way, have become ingrained into our North Shore culture.  Smelts become a winter staple on the table and fishing becomes a means of getting out of one large cabin into another to share stories, laughs, and good times.  Below you will find a list of materials as well as photos of our February Shanty build.

Cammy and his sheddy

Cammy and his sheddy

The Sheddy Build:

We used rough sawn lumber from our wood lot acreage on the farm.  Earlier this fall, a local man with a portable saw mill generously sawed up our lumber into varying lengths and dimensions.  We decided to use our spruce and cedar lumber for the shanty build.  The walls, roof rafters, door and window frames, and floor joists were built using ripped 2″ x 2″ lumber.  This was done to minimize the weight of the shanty.  To further minimize the weight of the “sheddy” we use luan 4′ x 8′ sheets as siding and covered over the gap seams with 1″ x 4″ boards.  We’ll take some time this summer to paint it MacCurdy Farm blue and green with some shamrock and Scottish thistle decals.

Rough sawn 2 x 4s cut to length before being ripped.

Rough sawn 2 x 4s cut to length before being ripped.

Runners/Floor:

Both 2″ x 8″ runners were cut to 9′ length with a 45 degree angle cut to turn them into skids.  For the floor we used seven 4’8″ x 2″ x 2″ joists end nailed through the skids.  Left over aspenite from a previous job was used to cover the 8′ x 5′ dimensions of the floor.  Along the length of the floor for reinforcement we nailed a 2″ x 4″ piece of lumber which also divided the 14″ x 30″ fishing holes into four holes.

For the fishing hole cover (see photo), we used the original cut-outs and connected them using 1 x 5 boards and hinging them to a 1 x 5 board nailed into the floor.

Fishing hole and framed walls

Fishing hole and framed walls

End Walls:

Dimensions of both end walls with 2″ x 2″ studs on centre are 4’8″ length x 6’6″ height.  Top plate and bottom plate are 4’8″ while each stud (5x) measures 6’2″.  We used ten studs in total for the end wall.  Insulate between studs with fiberglass batt insulation.

Side Walls:

Dimensions of both side walls with 2″ x 2″ studs on centre are 8′ length by 6’6″ height.  Top plate and bottom plate are 8′ in length.  We used 13 studs in total for the side walls, not including the two extra king studs for the door opening.  Insulate between studs with fiberglass batt insulation.

Framed walls

Framed walls

Door Opening:

The door opening measures 5’10” height x 30″ width.  3o” x 2″ x 4″ header at the top of the door frame.  The door was custom-made with 2″ x 2″ lumber and covered with 1/4″ luaun siding.  In fact, we sided the entire shanty with 1/4″ luaun.  It was cheap and light.  Attach a door handle and a lock clasp on the outside of the door and a deadbolt barrel latch inside.  We chose to have the door open out to leave the space inside the Sheddy uninterrupted.

Windows:

We installed our custom-made windows on the side wall opposite the door.  Windows were constructed with 2″ x 2″ lumber to fit an opening 14″ wide by 28″ high.  We installed rectangular hinges to a 1″ x 4″ board on the exterior wall above the window opening.  We used some scrap plexiglass from our chicken coop windows project that fit the bill for two windows.  We pre-drilled holes before setting the screws in place to secure the plexiglass to the frame.  When placing the “sheddy” on the ice, we strategically positioned it facing southwards to soak in all of the day’s sunlight heat.  We’re not heating up chicken coops but a bit of sunlight goes a long way.

The Roof:

We constructed rafters from 2″ x 2″ lumber.  First we cut our 2″ x 4″ ridgeboard to length (9′) to allow for an overhang on the ends, if necessary.  We elevated the ridgeboard on the end walls by 2″ so that the height above the end wall was 6″.  Our slope, rise/run, ended up being 6/30.  We used that slope 1/5 to make our angled cuts to attach to the ridgeboard and left a 6″ rafter overhang.  The carpenter square is a must have tool for any work with a pitched roof.  Finally we attached 7/16″ aspenite to the roof, installed 1″ x 4″ fascia boards on the rafter overhang and cut aspenite for the eaves (We didn’t want cold air coming in or wasps nests being built in the summer should we double the sheddy as chicken housing.  You just never know!

Sheddy roof rafters (Aligned opposite rafters after the photo)

Sheddy roof rafters (Aligned opposite rafters after the photo)

Bench:

We determined that a bench on one end wall and open standing space/camping chair space on the other end would suit those who like to stand to fish and those who like to rest their snow beaten legs after a snowshoe out to the ol’ fishing hole while they fish smelts.  When installing the bench we cut a piece of aspenite to stretch the length of the end wall, 4’8″, with a 14″ deep seat.  We framed the bottom of the bench with 2″ x 2″ lumber to brace the bench to the bottom plate with angled arms.  On a test sit, the bench held the weight of two 215 lb plus men.

Accessories:

Some necessities when it comes to smelt fishing include bait (we use pork fat and a can of sardines), rods or lines, a tackle box, nails on the walls to hang your rod and reel, a shelf for odds and ends and your cole man lantern.  We chose to hang our Coleman lantern above the fishing hole on one of the rafters.  The light gives us some heat and acts as a lure for the fish.  Finally, make sure you have an ice chipper and a sieve of some sort to strain out the slush in the fishing hole before you drop your lines.

Finally, I feel this story is worth telling.  We were unsure how to best move the “sheddy” onto the ice.  Dad had an ingenious idea to strap it onto two toboggans, slide it down the farmhill, across route 134, and down our private beach byroad.  We snowshoe packed the trail out to our preset fishing area, cleared a 10′ x 10′ patch of ice, and cut the hole through the 18″ – 20″ thick ice.  With a two man team of MacCurdysdales and a MacCurdy bull (Dad aka. Jimmy Mac) behind the “sheddy” we pulled and heaved the fishing hut out to the area.  We had our doubts, but as I told my sister’s boyfriend, Jimmy’s ideas, although met with resistance at times, work 99.5% of the time.  That being said, I’m not looking forward to hauling it off the ice.  Another project successfully completed as we continue to further diversify the farm, even in the thick of winter.

More pictures to follow.  MacCurdy Farm – Responsibly stewarded, naturally balanced.

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Hatching chicks on MacCurdy Farm

It’s been a year long wait, but we’ve finally purchased an incubator to hatch eggs on the farm.  We purchased the hovabator genesis 1588 incubator at the recommendation of another poultry enthusiast/farmer.  Unfortunately, one part was broken but Incubator Warehouse mailed a replacement part free of charge with free shipping and without fuss, which was a relief.  I’ll definitely consider them again when we purchase a larger incubator down the road.  If anyone is interested in purchasing an incubator, I would recommend the following two websites: (1) http://incubatorwarehouse.com/ and (2) http://www.berryhill.ca/.  Incubator warehouse is American and Berry Hill Farm is Canadian.  I’ve purchased from both and have been equally satisfied.  Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t go with a larger size Sportsman incubator that can handle up to 200 chicken eggs.  I’ve decided to be frugal and principled.  We’ll continue to think big and grow our business slowly and without haste so that we handle our business properly.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there is no room for error when dealing with life.  This inaugural hatch, requires attention to detail and a step-by-step procedure to follow to insure a high hatch rate.

This past year, as someone new to poultry husbandry, we purchased 7 different breeds from breeders in NB.  We went with New Hampshires, Black Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Delawares, Speckled Sussex, and Silver-laced Wyandotte.  After nearly a year of observation I’ve decided to forgo any attempts to breed the silver-laced wyandotte, delaware, and speckled sussex.  These breeds lay smaller eggs, which our local market doesn’t support, and are not as cold hardy as their coop mates.  However, I have a soft spot for the Delaware (my favorite breed) and the Speckled Sussex.  Both breeds are extremely  docile and child-friendly, which has the ol’ hamster wheel turning about possible farm education potential with both these breeds down the road.  Speckled Sussex make excellent pets and Delawares are one of the top dual purpose breeds (eggs and meat).  Time will tell.  However, at this point of time, I want to focus on four main breeds: New Hampshires, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Black Australorps.  Three breeds originating out of New England and a heat hardy/excellent egg layer Black Australorp, which originated in Australia.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire

Barred Plymouth Rock

Barred Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red

Black Australorp

Black Australorp

These four breeds will allow us to run our pastured poultry egg laying operation with the appropriate numbers for breeding flocks (minimum size approx. 50) and keep us under the current restriction of no more than 199 laying hens on NB farms without quota.  All in all, we’re moving closer and closer to our organic certification by upholding beyond organic principles, building infrastructure, and treating our animals with an ethic of care.  Slowly and surely.

For our first hatch, I’ve decided to purchased hatching eggs from a farmer south of the province, which afforded my wife and I the opportunity to buy our new Merrell barefoot running shoes.  Spring, a time for growth and a time for healing but, i’ll save my excitement about running for another blogpost.  For our first hatch, we purchased 24 Plymouth barred rock eggs and 12 Easter Eggers.  Our breeding loft is in the works, so we had to go off farm to get hatching eggs.  The eggs for the next hatch will come from the farm, which further increases our self-sustainability.  For those of you who do not know what Easter Eggers are, they are chickens that carry a blue or green egg laying gene.  What better way to get kids interested in farming and eating healthily, than piquing their visual curiosity in chicken eggs?  At MacCurdy Farm, educating youth about where food comes from is a priority.  Building connections from consumer to producer allows us to do that.  Look for the odd blue or green egg in your egg purchases this coming fall!

Blue/Green eggs anyone?

Blue/Green eggs anyone?

Incubation, as far as the literature dictates, is a science so I thought I would compile some important information for those of you to access should you feel compelled to incubate and hatch eggs.  Below, you will find some important how-to information if and when you become a poultry enthusiast or a homesteader or a small farmer or a person with a newfound passion for food made in your backyard.

Setting eggs

Eggs need to be set (incubated) after being stored for no more than 7 – 10 days and should be allowed to warm to room temperature before being placed in the incubator.  Eggs must be placed in the hatching trays with the small point downwards.  The air sac will be on the round part of the egg.

Hovabator Genesis 1588

Hovabator Genesis 1588

humidity

Keep the humidity inside in the incubator between 25 – 60% up until the 18th day when humidity needs to be between 70 – 80% for the hatch.  However, I’ve recently been made aware of an approach to hatching called the dry hatch when you keep humidity to a level between 30 to 40% for the entire hatch.  If humidity is kept too high during incubation, it can lead to chick drowning inside the egg due to a high level of moisture inside the egg that the chick reaches when it begins to pip. By the point of pipping, the air sac needs to be 1/3 of the size of the egg.   By this point, the egg white will have completely evaporated.  This way, the chick can pip and not have egg white and water clog it’s nostrils and suffocate it.  Adding water to the water tray increases the humidity and should be checked daily to make sure it does not fall below 25%, which can lead to defects and deformities in the chicks.  Use a hygrometer to assess the relative humidity.

Turning eggs

I strongly recommend purchasing an egg turner to save yourself the time it takes to turn eggs three times daily from x side to o side (traditionally eggs are marked with x’s and o’s to track their turns).  Remember a hen would naturally do this when setting on the eggs.  Eggs are turned up until the last three days of hatching (Day 19, 20, 21) when they are removed from the hatching trays and place on the mesh floor to allow the embryos to move into the hatching position.

Temperature

The optimal temperature to incubate eggs is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit according to the experts.  The hovabator genesis 1588 is preset to 100 degrees Fahrenheit so we had to make a slight adjustment to our temperature setting.  Remember, lower temperatures lengthen the hatching period and higher temperatures shorten it.

Candling

We purchased a candler aka. “glorified flashlight” to test for vein growth and embryonic growth inside the egg.  While inside a darkened room place the egg on the candler.  This can first be done after the 5th day of incubation.  Candling allows you to check for viability.  Infertile eggs are clear or will show a dark ring, if they have died.  Make sure to remove dead or infertile eggs to avoid contaminating the rest of the eggs.  If the entire egg glows and no veins are apparent, the egg is infertile and must be removed.  Infertility checks should be made around 10 days.  The first signs of growth will be in the form of veins and towards the 18th day the air sac should have enlarged considerablye (approx. 1/3 of the egg will show an air pocket) with the appropriate humidity.

Lock-Down Period

Bring the humidity to the required level for the 19th to 21st day and then lock it down until the hatch has completed or you intervene on the 22nd day.  Do not remove chicks until they are fluffy as they may get a chill.  It is important to have your brooder kit set-up before the hatch completes so they can be moved to a comfortable home outside of the incubator.

Chick Brooder with heritage breed chicks

Chick Brooder with heritage breed chicks

We’ll treat this article as a living document and edit it as experience dictates.  There will be more pictures to follow of the hatch.  Here’s to a great hatch in 21 days!

Day 1 to Day 5:  Humidity kept between 40 to 60%.  Eggs are turning nicely on the automatic turner although the gearbox for the turner seems to be an impediment to turning one of the eggs in the tray nearest to it.

Day 6:  Candled my first egg and although the egg appeared to be a bit porous in places (specs of light shine through the egg shell) I was uber excited to see veins forming inside the shell.  Only tested one egg.  I’ll candle 2 eggs from each tray on the 8th day.

Day 8:  Tonight, I meticulously candled 6 trays of eggs from the incubator and made notes on the apparent fertility of each egg.  It took approximately 45 minutes as I took extensive notes on appearance, type of egg, fertility, and the position of the egg in the incubator.

Day 8 candling notes on each individual egg

Day 8 candling notes on each individual egg

Upon candling the eggs I decided to categorize the eggs three different ways: (1) fertile, (2) infertile, and (3) questionable.  At the end of candling 36 eggs, 28 appeared to be fertile with apparent vein growth or visible chick development, 3 appeared to be infertile with either no growth at all or the sign of early death called, “Ring of death”, and 5 were questionable as they had vein growth but I wasn’t sure if they had stopped developing.  I’ve decided to leave all eggs until the 10th day at which point I’ll candle the eggs I’ve determined are infertile and/or questionable a second time.  If there has been no change, they will be removed so that they do not explode inside the incubator.  I’m hoping that development makes a turn for the better for no other reason that I’m a big fan of life.  My notes and documentation of each egg and it’s location will allow me to track the egg’s development up until the 18th day when the eggs are removed from the turner and placed on the screen inside the incubator.  The signs that I used for growth/active chick development were vein growth, chick movement, or evidence of a dark mass (developing embryo).  The signs I used for infertility/early death were the literature based ring of death, an overly porous egg, or a transparent egg.  See the photos below for evidence of tonight’s candling.

Life cycle of a fertile chicken egg for comparison

Life cycle of a fertile chicken egg for comparison

Chick development: Dark spot aka. embryo.

Chick development: Dark spot aka. embryo.

Possible infertile egg

Possible infertile egg

A fertile, but porous egg.

A fertile, but porous egg.

Olive Egger Easter Egger

Olive Egger Easter Egger

Vein Growth in Barred Rock

Vein Growth in Barred Rock

Day 12:  I decided to candle a second time tonight and to my surprise my original fear of 8 infertile is down to only 3 inconclusive.  There are two porous eggs that I am unsure of and a third egg has a ring but a developing mass that was not present on the day 8 candle.  Not sure what to think of this barred rock egg.  I’ve also decided to take pictures of air sac development tonight as the air sac needs to gradually get bigger until it takes up approximately 1/3 of the egg.  Tonight the air sacs appeared to make up 1/6 to 1/8 of the egg.

Air Sac development

Air Sac development

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was unsure how to check the development of the air sac so I simply continued to hold the egg with the point facing down and the rounded end facing up.  Then, I shined the candler from the top end to see the air sac.  It was very clear and apparent in each of the 8 eggs that I candled this evening.  Hopefully, in following the dry hatch method, the air sac develops properly and healthy chicks emerge on day 21 and 22.  In other news, it looks like I’m going to sell some hatching eggs to a local poultry enthusiast for a broody hen.  I’m interested to see how it goes.  All part of the poultry game.

Day 18:

Tonight was the beginning of Day 18 so I thought I’d candle the inconclusive eggs.  Two early deaths and two infertile eggs, which leaves 32 healthily developing chicks in the other eggs.  Candling of a few of the fertile eggs revealed airsacs that had grown in size and a fuller egg with a larger chick inside.  One can also weigh the eggs to measure % of weight loss.  Ideally in the first 18 days, an egg should lose 11 – 13% of it’s weight.  Tomorrow night at 9 pm the eggs will go to lockdown at the beginning of the 19th day for three days until the 22nd day when I will open the incubator to remove fluffy chicks and place them in their new brooder home with pine shavings, water, feed, and heat.

Day 19:

Awoke this morning to find a shell being pipped.  The very distinctive cheep cheep of the Easter Egger chick caught my attention.  The chick has not emerged yet, so as a first timer I’m a little concerned.  While away in St. Quentin getting hay, another Easter Egger chick completely unzipped and started to flop around the rest of the eggs in the incubator.  As most of us are prone to doing these days, I googled day 19 chicks and read the chicken forums.  It appears to be uncommon, but usually does not pose a risk to the health of the chick.  Small eggs, and certain breeds, sometimes hatch ahead of time.  I’ll most likely turn the heat down on the next hatch and avoid strictly following the manufacturer’s instructions.  I’ve also learned, through email exchange, that shelf liner (you can buy it at the dollar store) makes an excellent footing to lay over top of the wire mesh in the incubator.  It serves to prevent splayed leg problems in chicks as  well as keep egg-shell fragments from going into the water trays.  It’s something we’ll implement on the next hatch of MacCurdy Farm only chicks.  Just a couple more things to complete on the breeding pen.

Day 20 – 21:

The chicks are steadily hatching, both Easter Egger and Barred Rock chicks.  Three eggs appear to have partially pipped and can not completely zip to exit the egg shell.  Not sure if the humidity from day 1 – 18 had an effect on this situation.  Just hoping the chicks can make it out.  It’s been a frantic lockdown period.  I’ve watched several emerge from the shells alongside my children and wife.  The kids have been uber excited to watch each new arrival.

Hanging out during lockdown

Day 22:

Removed all of the hatched chicks to their new brooder home.  Before letting them get acquainted with their new surroundings, I first dipped their beaks in water to train them to drink.  Afterwards, with the help of my wife, we released the chicks onto the feed covered newspaper.  By sprinkling feed on newspaper, the chicks learn to distinguish between the pine shavings and a feed source.  At the end of the night, the chicks have settled in nicely.  The brooder is set to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week.  We’ll check on them periodically to make sure they are eating and drinking.  Finally, we lost one barred rock chick to a condition called sticky chick where the inner membrane sticks to the chick so that it can’t move to pip.  It was upsetting.  I assisted two other Easter Egger chicks in their hatch who were in the same predicament by gently picking off shell fragments around the air sac.  One chick appears to be healthy and properly developed while the other has a crooked foot.  This is the inherent danger in assisting chicks out of the shell as sometimes they have deformities or conditions that are life threatening or will require culling.  Life can be so precarious.

Drying out for the brooder

New octagonal brooder home

Clean-up

After the chicks and eggshells have been removed from the incubator you must clean the incubator to disinfect and sterilize before your next hatch.  A quick browse of the internet will give you some ideas but I would recommend one of the following two methods.  (1) dishsoap and warm water.  (2) Bleach and warm water.

I prefer dishsoap and water as bleach can be corrosive and it smells if not mixed properly.  I scrub every square centimeter of the foam with a scrubbing sponge, inside and out after I have removed the digital thermometer (undo a couple bolts) and unplugged the power source from the fan.  You do not want any bacteria festering in the incubator before your next hatch.  They recommend drying in direct sunlight over the course of a couple days but, given our Sprinter (portmanteau of Spring and Winter) weather, I’m drying mine by the wood stove.  In cleaning the mesh, I use a hard bristled toothbrush to scrub the gunk off of the wiremesh.  Next time around i’ll be using shelving cloth so it won’t be as difficult scrubbing the wire mesh.

All that is left to do is calibrate my thermometer with a couple small thermometers and collect my NHR and Black Australorp eggs.

Categories: farming, hatching chicks, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

Animal Therapy

Today, I’ve decided to take a different approach to blogging. I normally write my title first, after I’ve spent a significant amount of time ruminating over events in the weeks leading up to the deadline (self-imposed ofcourse). I like to have a loosely defined road to travel with the points of my narrative so that I can get a feel for fluency and voice in my writing. I don’t want my writing to sound staccato and disconnected. One way of overcoming this is to find the pieces of commonality (i.e., theme of your blog post) that exist between the points you want to cover in the blog. I do not write simply to write. I need to feel inspired, motivated, encouraged, or excited to put pen to paper or finger to key before I turn on the creative juices and delve into my opinion piece. So, I spend some time writing down key points I want to cover, researching applicable quotes, selecting suitable photo material, and usually finding a title that catches the eye and gives a preview of the content.

Everyday after teaching math (my other current passion) I drive 15 minutes from Campbellton to Point La Nim to feed, water, and give care to my laying hens and roosters. The avian class, in general, has always fascinated me and it still does, only on a more intimate level. Spending time with the chickens (and cattle for that matter) removes any lingering stresses from the school day. It is remarkably therapeutic. Many people ask how I go from an 8 hour work day to a 3 hour work evening at the farm? My response, “animal therapy.” I truly enjoy watching chickens be chickens. The Roosters posture, watch over the flock, and cock-a-doodle-doo.

Foghorn Legwho?

Foghorn Legwho?

The hens scratch for bits of hidden goodness in their deep litter, turn their eggs with their beaks, establish their pecking orders, and peer at you with a wary eye.
Casting a wary eye

Casting a wary eye


I always take my time around the chickens and cattle. I try not to rush through my chores. It’s my time to slowdown and unwind, if only for a minute. As those who farm know, there’s always something to do when it comes to farming but the only time stress arises, in my humble opinion, is in interactions with other humans, not animals. Animals do not talk back. If they could, I’d want mine to say, “Farmer Mac, you’ve done well, real swell lad.” That being said, there’s always room for improvement, which probably explains my continual renovations to housing, routine inspections of the animal’s health, and fine tuning routines around the animals.

Recently, I had a little sit down and chat with my beloved grandmother, Betty MacCurdy. She is a driven, animal loving, get up at dawn and work all day, lovable, beautiful person. She has, and continues to be our source of family history. I was drawn to farming because of my father’s work ethic and love for animals, my mother’s love of fruits and vegetables, and my grandmother’s ability to bring farm histories to life. As youngsters, we knew we were in for a treat when we heard our grandmother say, “I remember the time when…” I sat with my grandmother, listening to her stories about how the MacCurdys stored their eggs in the milk house on a large tray before the time of refridgeration, cooked chickens in brown paper bags to keep them moist, and how my grandfather had purchased a dozen meat chickens when he was near my age to raise for the family. I hadn’t heard the story before but my grandmother cracked a smile of reminiscence that I’m sure held a memory of my grandfather and his time on our farm when he was with us. Thank the Lord for the positive memories we carry with us through our lives. Taking the time to sit down with my grandmother and listen to the stories of our farm history makes me want to soldier on to write my own chapter of farm history with my family members.

With Spring only a couple months away, now is the time to act on our farm goals. That means purchasing an incubator to hatch our own eggs, building an eggmobile for our pastured hens, purchasing a solar energizer and poultry netting for protection against predation, and increasing our fleet size of triple-ps to 6. Every week i’m emailing and telephoning companies for prices and trying to find the best deal possible. At this point, we have a price on our solar electric fencing set up and a new Hovabator incubator. the ball is rolling and we can begin to chip away at necessary costs to improve our farm outputs. Our farm’s transition towards sustainability will take time and unfortunately a fair amount of money in the beginning while we add infrastructure and technology to the farm. However, it’s an exciting endeavour. We fund it as a sideline and grow it slowly taking care of it for future generations.

Brain Fodder

Brain Fodder


My brother and I are both looking forward to the Spring time. We’ll hatch our own heritage breed chicks, along with 20 Easter Egger chicks. Easter Eggers carry a gene that allows them to produce blue and green eggs. I’m excited to provide green and blue eggs as a novelty item at the Farmer’s market to get young children excited about eating healthy food. Green eggs and ham anyone?
Our little egg eater helping dad take care of the hens.

Our little egg eater helping dad take care of the hens.

Winter provides a time to enjoy the company of family. We can share stories, make plans, and look forward to the upcoming growing season. While the fields lay dormant our active imaginations and creative spirits come alive as we plan for further diversification on the farm. I’m praying for the continued opportunity to make history on our small family farm. Finally, our new business cards will be arriving in two weeks so you can pick one up at the Farmer’s market. Come see us at the Restigouche Farmer’s Market in Dalhousie.

Categories: farming, future generations, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Learning by Fire, The Cold Way

MacCurdy Farm logo

MacCurdy Farm logo

No amount of scholarly research can substitute for the power of experience.  Experiential knowledge teaches us a great deal about ourselves in the process of learning.  Although we need both, our experiences should guide our decisions for scholarly research and help us to filter out the necessary information.  This past year, as we embarked on our first foray into raising pastured meat chickens and egg layers, we learned by fire the many sides of animal husbandry.  We pride ourselves on the care of our animals, especially our beef, which we have raised with diligent care for many years. 

This year when it came to raising our meat king chickens, we lost about 15% of our flock due to a variety of factors.  We were broken hearted, confused, and unsure of the answers.  We regularly checked the temperature, rounded the corners of the brooders, blocked any drafts, fed them regularly but still we found suffocated chicks, chicks with malformed beaks and feet, and bloated chicks.  It was dumbfounding,  We had read about an “acceptable” loss of 15% but in our minds, 0% is acceptable and nothing more.  On the other hand, we lost 1 out of 60 of our heritage laying breed chicks.  Clearly, something has happened along the line of selective breeding that has affected the robustness of meatkings immune systems.  However, we are happy to report that we didn’t lose a single bird to heart failure, broken legs, or any other condition from the age of 4 weeks to the end of their life cycle.  With an increase in production around the corner for us this Spring, we’re hoping to greatly reduce the level of loss with our chicks.

Winter, that glorious season, has presented it’s own challenges.  Namely, the cold.  I learned very quickly that although our heritage breeds are cold hardy, frostbite can become a serious concern with the exposure of their combs and waddles to frigid air.  We’ve kept our laying hens confined to their winter housing until this cold snap passes.  Some of my roosters have a bit of frostbite, so we’ve applied some vaseline to the tissues to protect them from further damage.  Will it work?  Chicken forums tell us yes.  The verdict from experience still isn’t out yet.  On top of that, we’ve completely insulated the chicken barn with fiberglass insulation and vapor barrier.  Not my choice in terms of eco-friendly insulation but something had to be done to provide better care for the birds.  The final step will be to add some lighting to retrofit the building with electricity, since solar power seems to be out of the question, so that when our birds go to pasture in their eggmobile (portable chicken coop) this Spring, we can set up our brooders. 

Everything requires planning.  I’ve learned from four years of teaching mathematics that the best lessons are those that are well planned.  The same applies to farming.  The best ventures are those that have been mapped out for success.  Undoubtedly, we will run into challenges and issues along the way.  However, we are good at thinking on our feet so when troubles arise, we’ll problem solve and collaborate to find solutions.  The key is caring.  You need to want to go beyond suitable care and provide all the requirements for comfortable housing, proper diet, protection against predation, water, and flock management. 

I have always been a proponent of learning by fire.  When opportunities arise to allow us to learn by our experience, we enter into problem solving situations without pre-conceived notions and rigid ways of thinking.  This affords us a great deal of flexibility to problem solve.  I have never aspired to be a one way only type of thinker.  As a youngster, I often fell victim to criticism, from one person or another, and as a result I lost my way in a maze of self-criticism and perfectionism.  Eventually, I couldn’t get out of the starting gate in the pursuit of knowledge because I feared failure.  Our new approach to farming has allowed me to express my creative side, overcome my fear of disapproval or not measuring up, and find pride in my/our successes on the farm.  I’m proud of everything each of us have done over the course of this year.  Looking forward to more of the same in 2014.

Categories: 0rganics, Bay of Chaleur, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Think Big, Start Small.

Think Big, Start Small.  Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn’t it?  How often do we hear of young entrepreneurs crashing and burning after a short while down their avenue of commercial exploration.  The stresses of debt accrual and the pitfalls of a “too much too soon” approach can rob an individual of the fruits of their labor and seriously jeopardize the longevity of his/her small business. An approach that embraces “Think Big, Start Small” can provide a small-scale family farm with an opportunity to explore the grandiosity of the scope of their farm plan through the power of imagination.  As it stands, this years additions to MacCurdy Farm (pastured poultry operation) were financed as a sideline.  The generosity of friends, neighbours, and community members also went a long way in helping us to complete projects.  Gradually our farm is becoming, little by little, more diversified from a cow-calf operation to a farm with an abundant variety of life.  Dad continually reminds us, that our farm is a farm of life.  This message serves to keep us ever attentive to the needs of the animals, soil, forest, and gardens.  Not to mention working safely each day.

I’ve decided, with the close of our first year of pastured poultry farming on MacCurdy farm, to chronicle the additions to this year’s farm model, give some critical commentary, and include the plans for expansion in the upcoming 2014 calendar year, beginning this January.  It is important, as a blogger, to write reflectively.  When looking over archived posts, I want our readers to be able to get a sense of how our farm changes, grows, and evolves.  Some day, we can look back and say, “That’s where we started.  That’s what we had, and this is what we (through God’s grace and love) have made from it.”  It’ll take time and lots of effort.  But, it’ll be worth every ounce of energy.

Beginning in the frigid months of January and February, which is what you might call down time for a northern climate farmer as calving season has not yet arrived, we built a small 8′ x 12′ coop and three 10′ x 12′ portable poultry pens.  Some days involved working outside in -35°C to -40°C weather without the windchill.  You get frostbite in places you would not expect, if you get my drift.  I’ve dubbed our completed fleet of portable poultry pens triple-Ps.

Triple P - Pastured Poultry Pen

Triple P – Portable Poultry Pen

Other grass-based farmers call them chicken tractors, poultry pens, portable chicken housing, etc.  So, given that I work in the education system where buzz words are a dime a dozen, why not exercise my creative juices and make it fun.  After some research into designs for chicken coops and portable poultry pens, I went ahead and designed our own.  One has to give consideration to the movement of air in the triple-Ps as heat can be deadly to chickens.  So, in our designs we included a low pitch gable roof with wire meshed ends to allow trapped air to escape.  On one side of the gable roof we also included a wire meshed section to allow for sun exposure and air escape.  One third of the triple-P is open to the elements so that the chickens have free movement from shade to sun.  The next round of triple-Ps, which we will start to build this january, will require a few revisions.  The 2 x 2 rafters will have to be reinforced with makeshift collar ties to compensate for winter snow load storage, rope handles for easier pulling, attach rain gutters for rain collection to further reduce our carbon foot print, and a custom-made dolly to give us a break pulling the triple-Ps on 2 x 6 lumber, which we used to create less resistance.  If anything, it asserted our knowledge of simple machines…lol.  However, we’ll graduate to the wheel and axle with the custom fabricated dolly this coming year.

Example of a Salatin dolly

Example of a Salatin dolly

Beginning this January we will be building 4 more portable poultry pens to bring our Triple-P fleet size to 7.  A lucky number one might say.  First the power of three and then the luck of 7.  We have been collecting scrap tin from generous community members and friends, which will allow us to increase production this spring.  Most likely we’ll have to buy some appropriate gauge tin in the spring to complete construction.  We will be doubling our pastured chicken operation to 400 chickens as well as including turkeys.  We couldn’t meet the demand for our pastured chicken this summer/fall so doubling production is necessitated.  There is a quota system in place for turkeys, which I believe restricts us to 25 turkeys per individual on the farm.  More to follow on this but we are happy to inform our customers that turkey will be on the menu, to one extent or another, for the fall at the Restigouche Farmer’s Market in Dalhousie.  We are hoping to do some pork this year but that will require building a portable pig hut and the purchase of electric fencing, as we plan on doing a forested pork finished on apples.  Scrum-diddily-umptious, I know.  Our approach to animal husbandry revolves around allowing an animal to express its animal nature to the greatest degree so we’re hoping, given the time to prepare, that we can add heritage breed pork to the menu if it doesn’t stretch us thin.    Nevertheless, It’s in the works and brother Jon will run with this project.

Finally, our egg production system is in place.  Our heritage breed layers and hybrid layers are performing nicely.  We’re able to supply eggs at the market every saturday.  The laying rate is down as we are not yet equipped with solar-powered lighting to put the birds on a regulated laying cycle but the birds roam freely around their winterhousing and are in great health.  Some aspects will have to be tweaked, namely the purchase of bulk feed, to find savings.  In the months ahead, Jonathan and I will also begin to construct our portable layer house as we will be doing pastured eggs this summer as well.  We decided to construct a shed roof chicken coop on an old wagon frame.  As with our forested pork intentions, this will require the use of electric fencing (electromesh) for protection against predation and restricted grazing.  I am really looking forward to this aspect of the farm.  The prospect of further improving our local food supply system for locavores excites me greatly.

Lately, brother Jon and I have been tuning in to a newly discovered show called The Farm Kings.  The show is based on a family in Pennsylvania of 9 brothers and one sister who have embarked on a farming adventure after breaking away from their father, for agricultural differences.  I am thankful that we continue to farm as family. There are times when we butt heads and share our differences vociferously but we have kept it together.  We understand that there are generational disparities that exist.  Dad has his tried, tested, and true ways and sometimes our approaches don’t agree, in principle, with his, but we make it work.  Communication is the key and when that breaks down, so does everything else.  For this reason, thinking big and growing in small increments is required.  Essentially, it allows us with our new endeavours to prove to ourselves, and the ever watching eyes of Sir Jim, that we can do it.  In the show, the Farm Kings, they meet weekly to discuss business related matters amongst themselves.  This is uber important.  It allows them to realign themselves with their farm goals, express their concerns, and make progress.  Think big, start small.

MacCurdy Farm logo

MacCurdy Farm logo

Categories: farming, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Get your fresh beef here!

Market day is tomorrow November 9th, 2013 at the Restigouche Farmer’s Market in Dalhousie.  Our newly processed beef has arrived so we are taking orders for 50 lb boxes, quarters, and sides.  Our market deep freeze is stocked with steak, hamburger, roasts, stewing beef, soup bones, etc.  We have the following steak cuts available:

T-Bone

Packaged t-bone with two steaks

Packaged t-bone with two steaks

Porterhouse

Packaged porterhouse with two steaks

Packaged porterhouse with two steaks

Sirloin

Packaged sirloin with two steaks

Packaged sirloin with two steaks

Prime Rib

Packaged prime rib with two steaks

Packaged prime rib with two steaks

MacCurdy Farm Beef

MacCurdy Farm Beef

MacCurdy Farm Beef

Our hens are currently laying steadily and this week we will have 10 dozen eggs with us at the Farmer’s market.  These eggs are guaranteed to show the difference between a farm fresh egg from chickens who have access to vegetable and grass feed and a factory farmed egg.  They are currently selling for $4/dozen.

MacCurdy Farm eggs

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

Nature’s Estate Preserves and Veggies

At our market table you can also purchase preserves and veggies (carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes) from Jonathan MacCurdy.  Prices are available at the market.

Nature's Estate preserves and veggies

Nature’s Estate preserves and veggies

Hope to see all the locavores from all over the Restigouche region tomorrow at the market.  Please share this blog post to help us get the word out about our grass-fed beef, pastured and free range eggs, and beyond organic veggies.  See you at the market booth tomorrow!

Categories: 0rganics, farming, grass fed beef, Locavore, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Music to my ears

The farm is like a symphony of nature’s instruments.  The cows moo, the cats meow, the chickens cluck, dogs bark, and all other passersby add their sound to the mix.  These sounds, to a farmer, are music to his ears.  Definitely, music to my ears.  I sometimes stop in my tracks, raise my hands in the air, and soak in a plethora of sensation.  I call it farm therapy and it helps me to keep my sanity in today’s demanding society.  Lately, with winter encroaching on our warmth laden afternoon days, I’ve found myself scurrying to complete unfinished jobs that must be addressed before snowfall.  Having handily prepared to complete these jobs, I’ve found a little down time to pursue a lifelong interest, learning how to play guitar.  My ambition is simple:  I want to learn how to play songs around the beach fire, learn some blues songs, and play some good ol’ gospel songs at church and with family.

In keeping with my philosophy on supporting local farmer’s and artisans, I jumped at an opportunity to take music lessons from a local music school in Dalhousie, N.B., named Musicpro Restigouche music school.

Musicpro Restigouche

Musicpro Restigouche

I feel it is vitally important that the arts, along with athletics, receive support within our communities.   Musicpro Restigouche music school offers lessons in percussion, guitar, piano, and bass so I jumped at the chance to pluck some guitar strings.  I didn’t know what to expect, having taken guitar lessons in Maine over a decade ago, so I went to my first lesson with an open mind and the intention of learning what I could.  I came away from the lesson with a great amount of confidence and a determination to return the next week to further develop the calluses on my finger tips.  A big shout out to Paul Jensen for his differentiated approach to guitar lessons.

My family is a very musical family in terms of appreciation of the art form and our memory capacity for songs on the radio, which allows us to sing along to every lyric of every song on the radio.  Do some people get annoyed? Yes.  Do we keep on singing away? Yes.  (Insert laughter if you wish).  We appreciate the universality of music and it’s threads into every aspect of our lives.  Some farmers have even told me that playing certain genres of music in a cd player for their chickens helps to increase their laying rate.  I haven’t empirically verified this report but I can say that animals are very much in tune with rhythm and melody.  Often times, I’ve sat in the barn listening to the cows methodically chew their cud.  Each of them chewing in unison.  Then with an approaching ambulance or a whistling farmer, they stop, ears pointed towards the sound until they determine its relative importance.  Then, as though they hadn’t stopped, they resume their rhythmic mastication.  The same happens among the chickens when I share my “vocal” abilities with them.  They stop in their tracks, turn their heads to the sound of my voice and patiently wait for the noise to cease before they resume their collective clucking and cock-a-doodle-dooing.  It appears, in the name of common sense, that animals as well as human beings have an ear, or two, for music.

Last night, as I plucked clumsily at the strings of my wife’s guitar I found myself closing my eyes momentarily to try to make sense of the sound of the note, while other times I peered intensively at the neck of the guitar to find the exact location for my finger placement.  My farmer hands and the small neck of the guitar didn’t mesh together at first.  My instructor, Paul Jensen, remarked on the overwhelmingly physical nature of playing guitar.  Building muscle memory through practice helps us develop our musical playing abilities into extensions of ourselves where we simply touch our fingers to the strings and strum away without a thinking about the next note to make.  I’m a long way off from that level of mastery but I can say that by the end of a 1 hour lesson my confidence level had boosted.  My memory and musical ear allowed me to play the notes of the new scales in my head while I plucked away at the strings.  While I write this blog post, I am forever trying to connect this experience to that of farming but I think I should just let it stand alone.  Perhaps, when I’ve written a song about the farmers blues or the fight for sustainability I can meld them together via a celebration of local farming in the form of a concert with food and drink at the farm?  A couple of years ago, my brother suggested the idea.  No doubt, it is an endeavour requiring a lot of planning  but, I think it is a foreseeable opportunity to bring local music and food together.  More on that in the spring.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t provide our readers and farm supporters with the contact information for the Musicpro Restigouche music school.  They currently have openings for guitar, piano, bass, and percussion lessons.  Lessons are provided on the second floor of the NBIP building on william st.  You can contact Tim Harquail at 684-6472 or search their Facebook page on Facebook.  I attempted to hyperlink the website in this post but it wouldn’t work.  Thank you for your continued support of local entrepreneurs, farmers, and artisans.

In a side note, our eggs are now available at the Restigouche Farmer’s market.  My pullets have come into their laying cycle and, despite the shortening daylight hours, they are laying very nicely.  I will have approximately 8 – 12 dozen each saturday for the time being until we get more chickens.  Enjoy!

MacCurdy Farm – Responsibly Stewarded, Naturally Balanced.

MacCurdy Farm logo

MacCurdy Farm logo

Categories: farming, guitar lessons, Locavore, MacCurdy Farm, music school, Musicpro Restigouche, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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