Posts Tagged With: MacCurdy Farm

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

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

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

Friends of the Farm – Hengst Quality Sausage

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

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

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

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

The before picture.

The before picture.

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

Hengst Quality Sausage

Hengst Quality Sausage

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

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

Italian Turkey Sausage

Italian Turkey Sausage

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

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

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

MacCurdy Farm

MacCurdy Farm

 

 

 

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

Make Hay While the Sun is Shining

The hay crew

The hay crew

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

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

Making hay involves multiple steps:

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

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

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

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

Gym or hay field?

Gym or hay field?

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

The next generation, Cameron and Brooke.

The next generation, Cameron and Brooke.

Making hay, it’s in our nature!

 

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

Multi-purpose MacCurdy Farm Brooder

Incubation, hatching, and brooding season is upon us.  Every Spring poultry enthusiasts, hobbyists, and farmers start to set eggs to grow their flocks.  Provincial regulations, say what you will about the quota system, currently allow farmers without quota to have 199 laying hen and 199 meat birds on farm without a quota.  I’ll blog about the quota system a couple of months down the road but for now I’d like to focus on the infrastructural changes currently happening at the farm.  As we seek to grow our farm flock, we must continually build buildings (small-scale) that are multi-purpose to enable us to properly house birds at the different stages of development. for different purposes such as breeding, and to house them if they become ill, injured, or require confinement.  Brooders, such as the one below, allow us to do all of the above.

New multi-purpose home for MacCurdy Farm chickens.

New multi-purpose home for MacCurdy Farm chickens.

MacCurdy Farm Brooder:

You will need 6 sheets of 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood.

I ripped rough sawn 2 x 6 lumber into 2 x 3 lumber for all studs, bottom plates, top plates, rafters, angle braces, etc.

2 1/2″ screws, 3″ spiral nails.

Staples, and either chicken wire or hardware cloth for the end walls.

Front and Back Wall

Bottom plate: 8′ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

Top plate: 8′ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

Studs: 15″ x 2″ x 3″ (8).  I placed them at 32″ on centre.

Plywood sheet: 19″ x 8′ (2)

Side Wall

Bottom plate: 7’5″ x 2 x 3″ (2)

Top plate: 7’5″ x 2 x 3″ (2)

Studs: 15″ x 2″ x 3″ (8).

Plywood sheet: 19″ x 8′ (2)

Roof

Rafters: 8′ x 2″ x 3″ (3)

Plywood sheet: 8′ x 23″

End Wall pieces:

27″ x 2″ x 3″ (4)

25″ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

21″ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

17″ x 2″ x 3″ (2)

Hinged Roof

47″ x 2″ x 3″ pieces (2).  I used a framing square to cut the proper angle on both ends.

4′ x 8′ x 1/2″ (2)

3″ hinges (4)

Roost

8′ x 2″ x 3″ (1)

End wall side view

End wall side view

The brooder will need to be equipped with different feeders, waterers, and bedding depending on what you plan on housing in them.  At the moment, I am housing my breeding Roosters so I have straw and cedar sawdust as bedding.  I’ll continue to fork it around and add sawdust, wood ashes, straw, and water as necessary as I build up the compost inside of it.  I’m building an identical brooder to house my meatking chicks and turkey poults.  We’ll be purchasing them at the age of 3 weeks when their feather development is nearing completion.  The turkeys will be mixed in with them at the age of 5 weeks.  Chicks will require a different bedding (pine shavings) and chick sized feeders and waterers.

We’re making good time in our preparations for our second year of pastured poultry production.  The chicks and poults have a planned arrival for May 10 and May 31, 2014 on the farm.  It’ll be our first year trying turkeys, but we believe the demand from our farm supporters necessitates growing turkeys and we hope to have our turkeys on your dinner table for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We have some renovations to do on our pastured poultry pens and one more to complete to accommodate our chicks and poults this Spring.  After our meat birds make it to pasture, we’ll begin to break land for our foray into small fruit (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and my favorite, raspberries) production in the community of Point La Nim through a partnership with Natures Estate Farm.  We have an exciting summer ahead.  Look for future installments on our small fruit production and pumpkin patch plans to meet one of our farm goals of making it more family friendly.

MacCurdy Farm – Responsibly Stewarded, Naturally Balanced

 

 

Categories: brooder, farming, future generations, hatching chicks, MacCurdy Farm, multi-purpose housing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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

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

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