Long Over Due ‘Post’

Life happens and shit needs doing and other stuff gets pushed aside for awhile. It has been well over a year since I posted to this blog but I am happy to report nobody ‘bought the farm’ we are all still here and busier than ever! Harvest is upon us and the combine has been opened up to air out the stench of Eau De Mouse Turd. First up on crop harvest list will be soy beans and I will pop in to update that over the next couple of days.

For now I will leave you with a ‘post’ from last year. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so this should tied you over until…tuesday?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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What’s in Your Living Room?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFebruary is the cruelest month or is that April? Either way why not try to bring a little hope and joy into the bleak wintry month or the wet weary one if that be the case? Well, that was the theory I was working with anyway when I filled yet another online purchase with carefully collected eggs. I had no preconceived notions of failing in my endeavour and basically had the equivalent of a birthing chamber and a coffin set up in my living room.

We have usually  purchased our chickens as day old chicks from hatcheries or breeders in the past.  I thought this year, since we have a couple of established flocks with their own roosters that it was time to try to hatch some of our own chicks. I also reasoned that it would be a wonderful experience for our daughter to be able to watch the miraculous transformation from egg to chick. Yet again I dove headfirst into Google. I joined several backyard chicken forums, read many blogs and University Ag. posts, I felt I had adequately educated myself with all the knowledge required of a hen and  just needed to source out the necessary equipment. I placed an order for an incubator on Amazon ( I do not receive any perks from this company, I just find myself using it more than I should) complete with automatic turner, built-in hygrometer to measure both internal temperature and relative humidity and a circulating fan.

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An egg in your pocket is worth two in your hat!

In February I collected eggs over a 5 day period and placed them pointy end down in egg cartons, that I propped up on one end with another egg carton.  I turned the cartons around, end to end, when I woke up, at noon and just before I went to bed at night.

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French Black Copper Marans Hen

I placed 10 French Black Copper Marans eggs, 3 Grey Marans eggs and 4 Buff Orpington eggs into the incubator tray, filled the water reservoirs, set the temp to 99.5 degrees Farenheit and started the 21 day count down.  I candled the eggs on day seven and quickly realized that the Marans eggs were too dark for the untrained eye to see much and that I could not bring myself to discard any of the eggs, so back in the incubator they went. I candled the eggs again on day twelve and worked up enough nerve to remove two that I was pretty sure were no good. I apprehensively cracked these, one by one, into a bowl and thank goodness discovered they never started to develop. These are duds that were never fertilized, I have since learned they are called Yolkers. This left me with 15 eggs in the incubator.

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Lockdown initiated

On day eighteen of incubation the incubator needs to go into lockdown, not to be opened until the eggs have hatched and the chicks are moved to the brooder. I candled the eggs in preparation and found that yet again I could not see much nor did I have a clue what I was looking for. Since none of them were cracked and passed my sniff test (yes I smelled each of them) I removed the automatic turner and placed the eggs on their sides on paper towel on the mesh rack of the incubator. I filled the water reservoirs and put in some wet face cloths to increase humidity for lockdown.  All I had to do now was wait, something I am not very good at.  I found myself peering into the window of the incubator lid every hour or so.

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Pip, zip, now hatch quick, quick, quick!

Then it happened on the night of the nineteenth day of incubation I heard a chirp. I gazed in on the eggs and saw a pip, the first tiny hole that the chick makes in the shell and it was at the right end! It is important for the chick to get itself situated in the egg so that it’s head is closer to the wide end of the egg where the air sac is, this greatly increases the likelihood of a successful hatch.

Once the chick has pipped it will internally zip a line around the inner membrane and then start working its way through the shell with its’ egg tooth (sharp little horn on the tip of its’ beak). It is kind of like opening a can of Spam.

Of the original 17 eggs only 7 hatched within the appropriate time frame 21-23 days. I cracked open the 10 remaining eggs and found that 4 of them were early quitters and the rest were yolkers.

I felt terrible about my lack of success and swore I would never try again. However, it has been a couple of weeks now and I have justified my initial sub par incubation experience by focusing on the joy that the seven chicks brought and not on the guilt that accompanied the ten that went in the wood stove.

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Fuzzy Bundle of Joy

Hatching isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (pun intended) for the hen either.  At anytime a snake or rat could steal her eggs, other hens could force her off the nest and she might only hatch 2 or 3 and then up and abandon the rest of the clutch. It has become much easier to console myself by thinking that I have managed to hatch seven eggs that just as easily could have ended up in Saturday morning’s French Toast or Sunday night’s Quiche Lorraine.

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It Really Doesn’t Get Cuter Than This

 

Calving at Christmas

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Handsome Hamish

Well, it looks like Hamish figured it all out after all. Despite his short comings and confusion ( I have a previous blog entry on poor old Hamish you can find it here) our little bull has four healthy and stocky calves on the ground. They have also been hitting the ground relatively close together, which has been nice. However, the weather here in Ontario has not been as kind. Temperature wise it has been great but it is just so darn wet and muddy. We have a maternity pen in the barn where the calves can be born and have made a temporary nursery outside on high ground. We definitely need a freeze up around here.

We acquired Hamish by way of a trade, I had been surfing the internet looking to purchase a bull and came across his add, I emailed the seller and a conversation about beef ensued. It ended up that they could use a replacement heifer and low and behold we had one we were willing to part with! The trade was made and Hamish came to Sunnydale Farms.

Once Hamish was loaded in the trailer and we were both back in the truck my husband and I looked at each other and shared our thoughts on the limited stature of the bull we were bringing home. Surely he would get taller? He was only 9 months old and he wasn’t purebred White Galloway, his mother was a Simmental after all. Our commercial herd girls are quite tall having come mostly from our original four holstein heifers from the dairy farm down the road. We were wrong, at 2 years old now he has filled out nicely but is still a short little guy with no modesty (sorry, didn’t photoshop the pee out).

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Hamish is dwarfed by our girls

Mother Nature has knack for making stuff work though and apparently where there is a will there is a way. This year the calves names all have to start with the letter D (makes it easier to remember their ages) and our daughter has had the task of naming each of them. So without further ado let me introduce Darlie, Duncan, Dancer and Dickens, ok I may have had something to do with Dickens, but he was born on Christmas Eve after all.

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Darlie

This little cutie was born December 4th she is a girl and will hopefully join our herd as a replacement heifer. Her Mom is a Hereford/Holstein/Red Angus cow and Dad (Hamish) is a White Galloway/Simmental. We breed for Hybrid Vigour around here!

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Duncan the Red

 

This little bull calfs mom was also a Hereford/Holstein/Red Angus cross. He was born about a week later.

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Dancer

Dancer is a heifer calf and was born the day after Duncan and out of a Holstein/Hereford cross cow. Our daughter was catching the Christmas spirit and wanted a reindeer name.

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Dickens

Last but not least this little dickens was born on Christmas Eve.  He is another bull calf out of a Holstein/Hereford mom. We couldn’t have asked for a sweeter Christmas gift.  We would like to wish everyone a wonderful New Year full of surprises and who knows with three cows yet to calve we may be in for a new years baby as well!

Trees and Nuts and Pie, Oh My

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Treasure hunting

I find myself often wishing I could slow the pace of my life down, go back in time to an era in history that was less encumbered by the weights and measures of today.  I don’t want to say less stressful or simpler because we all know it wasn’t any easier then either. There is no way I could chop,cut, and stack my own wood for winter let alone single handedly milk Bessie and then butcher her calf. Both of which would prove to be extremely stressful and hard for me. So instead of abandoning this modern world for the idyllic shack I have built for myself (in my head of course) I take pleasure in simple moments spent with family. I find the fall the perfect time to wander and walk with my daughter, it isn’t hot and there are no pesky bugs to bother us. I don’t have to bundle her up in a million layers, just pull on your rubber boots and slap on a cap and out the door…simple.

When our daughter was about two I had a Hickory nut for the first time, Scott had taken Marlie on a crop tour and stopped to pick Hickory nuts up off the ground along the way. When she got home she was so excited to show me the treasure that her and Daddy had pillaged from the cross road. I took one look in her bag and was surprised to see large green, slightly smelly, husks. I asked what exactly was in the bag and was promptly laughed at for not knowing what the hell they were (by Scott, not Marlie). I was then subjected to a rant about how “could I not know” what a Hickory nut was, that quickly turned into a nostalgic rendition of “I remember picking these when I was a kid, me and so and so would chuck them at each other”.  I rolled my eyes and apologized for not knowing a thing about Hickory nuts to which Scott responded with his typical “well it’s been that way my whole life”.  This is the phrase he uses every time I question anything about the workings of, or things around the farm.

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Shagbark Hickory Nuts

Marlie informed me they were for eating.  I immediately turned to google to determine the safety of consuming random nuts found along the edge of the road.  There are a couple of varieties of Hickory Nut trees that grow on, or around, our farm in Prince Edward County; Bitternut and Shagbark . The first is inedible and tastes just like the name implies, the second however is truly a decadent treasure.  After much reading I deemed Marlie’s treasure worth sampling.  Oh Man were they good! Way better than a Pecan. Scavenging for these treasures has since turned into a family affair, we all go for a walk with our communal bucket…simple.

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Treasure hunting

To make sure you aren’t wasting your time collecting Bitternuts you need to either stake out your trees in early spring before the buds open or rely on their bark for identification. The buds of the Bitternut Hickory will be a sulphur yellow colour in early spring, the Shagbark will not….simple.  If you don’t get out early enough in the spring it is pretty easy to tell by the bark. Shagbark Hickory is just that shaggy, having big flaky pieces of bark that curl away from the trunk….simple.

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Treasure hunting

It is important to gather these gems in early fall before the squirrels start hoarding them. The nuts are encased in a thick green husk that easily breaks away in quarters, shelling the nuts themselves is another story. If you find yourself gathering later in the fall the green husk will have turned a dark brown colour and dried out quite a bit.

Shelling these nuts to get at the meat inside is a chore and one of the reasons they aren’t readily available at the grocery store.  However, the extra effort is so worth it and the smile that will creep across your face when you actually crack one perfectly and get it out in one piece is priceless.

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Nuts, shells and the prize inside
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The meat is worth digging for
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Pure loveliness

I spend evenings (well some nights anyway) shelling the nuts and putting them in mason jars for use in many recipes throughout the year. I substitute them into everything that calls for nuts. A family favourite around here is my Hickory Nut pie (it is like a giant butter tart). I also make maple glazed (yes we do our own maple syrup too) Hickory Nut cookies. I have even thrown the nuts in the pan when roasting squash and apples.  So time with family wandering down a lane way can be simply rewarding and time outside does wonders for your stress level. Word of advice though don’t look up “decorative pie crusts” on Pinterest, that shit takes the simple out of everything!

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MMMMM Pie

Sunshine, Sunflowers and Sons…..

We have grown black oil sunflowers off and on around here for about 8 years but with no real commitment. They either fit into the crop rotation well that particular year or prices were good and the local feed store wanted them. When we chose to go ahead with the addition of our new seed cleaning mill we thought it might be time to grow them again. This time around though we would clean, bag and sell them directly off the farm ourselves. Last fall we cut back on wheat ground and set aside about 15 acres for sunflowers. We put in our seed orders with various dealers and then tried to order sunflower seeds only to be told there weren’t any to be had and to just wait and see if any turned up come spring. In May we went ahead and planted all our other crops (soybeans, hard corn and popcorn) and held out to hear if any of the dealers had sourced some seed. None had and so we turned to the internet and started googling other seed dealers from farther afield, we found Keystone Grain in Manitoba, Winkler to be exact. A phone call was placed and a lovely conversation was struck. Turns out they were a fairly large seed distribution centre and did not normally place small orders, we only needed about 4 bags. Well  to our amazement we found 4 bags on our shop floor less than 36 hours later. The phone call was at 9 am and the seed was in the driveway 2 pm EST the next day. Now that is customer service!

Just starting to bloom.

We planted the seeds in late May in two plots, a 4 acre and a 12 acre. One thing we have learned about growing sunflowers is that the larger the plot you can plant the better and not just because of the beauty of a huge field of yellow flowers. The bigger the field, the less damage the birds can do to your crop. Many of the bird species that enjoy sunflower seeds also enjoy the protection offered by the trees and shrubs in a fence bottom. They won’t venture too far out into the middle of the field to feed and ultimately devouring your entire crop. The birds will eat pretty much the first four or five rows along the edge of the field, similar to raccoons with hard and sweet corn. The spots we chose this year were large enough and only really had trees on one side.

Deffinately the prettiest crop on the farm
Definitely the prettiest crop on the farm.

By about mid July the heads were in full bloom and the bees were busy making sure the heads filled with seed. I spent many evenings walking through the field camera in hand, sunflowers and sunsets just seem to go hand in hand.

The seeds are there.
The seeds are there.

The magnificence of the field only lasts so long though and then the life cycle of a sunflower comes to a head (pun intended). Early September saw the petals fall away and the seed heads fill in. Timing was perfect to walk the fields and pick out the perfect head to enter in the Picton Fall Fair. Our daughter evidently chose wisely as the sunflower head she picked took first prize. Even more impressive, it wasn’t the only entry in the class.

Fall Fair entries.
Fall Fair entries.
Red ribbon worthy.
Red ribbon worthy.

By early October the heads had turned brown and started to die down and droop. They always remind me of people in mourning, sad and spent. The droop is important though because it does prevent birds, to some degree, from cleaning out the entire head. The birds did however prove to be worthy adversaries and several will be very fit heading into this winter.

Autumn in full swing.
Autumn in full swing.

We harvested the fields the last week in October. The seeds themselves were dry enough but the stalks proved a challenge. We had initially hoped to combine them with the corn head (see the post Dakota Black is in the Bin: A Primer on Thrashing) however the wet stalks wouldn’t feed through the head properly so we had to switch to the grain head and turn the air reel way up to minimize seed loss.

25 ft grain head equipped with an air reel.
25 ft grain head equipped with a Crary air reel.

The crop was average yielding and I’ll take that. One of the first things I learned after marrying a farmer is that you shoot for average and anything above that is pure gravy. The seed will be run through our drum cleaner and stored for a bit and then put through the big cleaner, bagged, tagged and available here at the farm gate for purchase mid November.

Loaded up and ready for the cleaner.
Loaded up and ready for the cleaner.

Dakota Black is in The Bin: A Primer on Thrashing

Ready for harvest
Ready for harvest

The middle of October saw us harvesting the first of this years popcorn crop. We started with the Dakota Black an heirloom, open pollinated variety that grows beautiful dark purplish black cobs. This year we were trying several open pollinated varieties and thus had to strategically plant them far enough apart both in distance and time to ensure there was no cross-pollination between them.  We are only in the second year of this popcorn adventure and as such we didn’t want to dedicate much land to the endeavour so we got creative (I had the brilliant idea and my husband conceded it was “smart”).

When Scott planted the wheat this year he had a few spots where the drill missed resulting in bald swaths in the field.  I figured the corn planter was basically the same width as the seed drill so why not plant the corn in the misses. The wheat would be off the field by august and the corn wouldn’t come off until fall.

Four rows of Dakota Black popcorn, one pass with the corn planter.
Four rows of Dakota Black popcorn, one pass with the corn planter.

The corn was planted using a four row wide planter (36″ rows) which means it has to be harvested with a combine equipped with a four row corn head. The head itself is made up of four row units spaced 36 inches apart, sandwiched between the snouts; each row unit has two stalk rollers that pull the corn-stalk through the head. When a cob comes in contact with the deck plate it breaks away from the plant and then the gathering chains on the deck take the cob to the auger that feeds the machine. The plant material is left on the ground and never enters the combine itself, remember when you were a kid and played tree or bush? It is just like that, you ran your thumb and fingers along a spear of rye grass and all the seeds gathered in you fingers and the stem came away clean.

Four row corn head.
Four row corn head.
Plants were short and had died down but fed through the machine just fine.
Cobs on the deck plates being fed into the feeder house auger.
Cobs on the deck plates being fed into the feeder house auger.

A combine is also referred to as a thrasher because essentially that is what is does, thrashes the grain from the cob or seed head. There are various types of combines on the market today, ours happens to be a rotary type. This means that once the grain has left the head via the feeder house it goes into two rotors turning at about 800 rpm, this is where the seed is separated from the husk and cob. The trash (empty cobs, husk etc.) continues through the machine and is sent flying out the rear of the combine.

The stover (the garbage) that doesn't make the grade.
The stover (the garbage) that doesn’t make the grade.
The chaff and stalks left behind.
The chaff and stalks left behind.

The seed leaves the rotors and falls onto a shaker table. The shaker is air assisted by a cleaning fan in order to screen out the largest of the garbage which also goes out the rear. After the grain has passed through this initial screen it encounters a second finer one. At this point anything that is too large to pass through the screen is recycled back through the machine to be thrashed again in the rotors. The grain that does go through this second screen finds its way up an elevator and is deposited into the bin on the top of the machine. The bin of our combine has a capacity of a 190 bushels.

Machine thrashed cob and whole cob comparison.
Machine thrashed cob and whole cob comparison.
Some of the bounty that is our Dakota Black 2015 crop.
Some of the bounty that is our Dakota Black 2015 crop.

This variety came off the field at about 20% moisture. It was ran through our new seed cleaning facility to screen out over and undersized kernels as well as any foreign material (weed seeds). The cleaned grain is now drying down and will be packaged when it hits the ideal popping moisture content of about 12% to 14%, just in time for stocking stuffers!

Things Went a Little Fowl

Pickles, the perfect little duck.
Pickles, the perfect little duck.

We have a farm, I’ve said this before and my idyllic farm has animals, lots of animals. For years I had been eyeballing an old claw foot tub that was laying discarded in the fence bottom over at the barn. Every time I would mention doing something with the tub my husband, Farmer Scott would grumble and say it wasn’t worth doing anything with.

We have had chickens for almost five years now and love them but they are over at the barn which we can’t see from the house, so I decided we needed to add some form of livestock to the dooryard.  As with every good whim I have I started with Google and Pinterest. I knew I wanted some kind of bird and after some internal debating I settled on Call Ducks! These things are so stinking cute and come with a rich history (ok maybe not rich but fascinating to say the least). Call Ducks are the smallest duck breed, the Bantams of the duck world. I have read that they were originally bred as decoy ducks and used to “call” in wild ducks. They are a great size for a yard but as their name implies they are very noisy.

Pickles and Piper, they are quite the pair.
Pickles and Piper, they are quite the pair.

The colours that these ducks come in are amazing and I had a hard time deciding on the ones I wanted. Our daughter, Marlie, wanted a white one, I liked the snowy ones as well as the magpies. I went online (kijiji) and lo and behold found a ‘guy’ that had call ducks not so far away, he informed me that getting a couple of breeding pairs was a nice idea, we could raise our own little ducklings, wouldn’t that be sweet. I couldn’t argue with that logic so I ordered up a pair of snowies and a pair of magpies and one white call duck for Marlie, packed up the cat carrier and away I went to meet a stranger at the end of his driveway (biosecurity, who knew?). I had it all planned out, we would put the ducks in a rabbit hutch that Scott had built for me a few years back (it feels really weird googling “most humane way to dispatch of a rabbit”) and my mother and I would build a large duck hutch together.

Reading to her duckies, priceless.

I turned to Pinterest yet again and spent hours looking for the perfect duck house design. With a photo of the most beautiful coop in my purse I set out for the local lumber yard and ordered up all the supplies we would need and had it delivered right to our dooryard.

I had mom on board to help and we were ready to take on the world, except the drill wasn’t charged and I couldn’t find a ratchet, the ground wasn’t level and I’d misplaced the shovel. The two of us fumbled around a bit, discussed our options and quickly realized we were knackered.  So we started to move stuff from one spot to another and talk louder so that Farmer Scott, who was working on the seed drill or something, would hear us and wander over.

Now what?
Now what?

Scott took pity on us and came over to lend a hand, he basically built the whole damn thing. Mom and I  handed him tools and painted it.

Just like on Pinterest
Just like on Pinterest

It turned out perfectly, functional and aesthetically pleasing but most importantly structurally sound. The ducks love it and I regularly find Marlie out there in it with them. The best part about the entire thing is that I finally found a use for the claw foot tub that Farmer Scott couldn’t argue with.

What duck wouldn't want an antique tub?
What duck wouldn’t want an antique tub?

Oh and remember the “guy” that talked me into getting a couple of breeding pairs? Well lets just say I don’t know who the actual mom or dad are but we did end up with three ducklings, all drakes of course…..maybe it is time I sold something on Kijiji!

Sweetness overload!
Sweetness overload!