Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yellow Puffs to Oval Boxes

A very happy event occurred on the farm today, leading me to finally do this post.

I have mentioned the fresh, free-run egg business that is being added out on the farm briefly in the past, and I have been intending to post the process (and hopefully progress) here on the old blog. However, as things will be, I have not done so yet. But, as I said, something happened today which meant it was time to do some catching up. Good thing I have had my camera along most of the days I have been at the farm, so I have been documenting.

This was day one, back in early June.

We started the chicks in a small shed/coop which housed the last batch of hens that mom kept. It was quite a bit of work to prepare this approximately 10 yr old shed. The USB floor had given way in a few places (have I mentioned how much I hate USB?), so I replaced that with 3/4" plywood. Then I hosed down the inside of the shed and gave the walls a bit of a scrub. I likely should have used some sort of detergent but there'd been no illness or non-meal-oriented death in the previous hens so I made due with just a scrub. I used bubble wrap vent insulation to make a circle enclose for the first couple of weeks, to keep the chicks from clumping in the corners, which significantly decreases the chance of squashed/trampled chicks. Indeed, we didn't lose any birds this way, and only lost about 4 young chicks overall. 4 out of 200+ isn't a bad mortality rate at all. I should also mention that we used pine shavings as bedding. I would have preferred to use contractor's sand in order to reduce dust and the chance of starvation due to gorging on shavings, but it was not easy to locate. Next time we are using straw, since we always have it and it decomposes in a fraction of the time.

My folks did not remember how quickly chicks grow, and they hadn't been taking my wheedling seriously so it was something of a surprise to them after about 2 and a half weeks when the young birds had almost quadrupled in size. Crowding was beginning to be an issue and some of the chicks were being pecked badly. I had to retrieve about 6 of them and set up a separate "recovery" area. Then it was time to get those birds outside!

A day or so before letting them outside I had tried to distract the little buggers from their pecking by setting up their roosts. This allowed some chance to escape from pestering, and helped to maximize the space per bird ratio. I took this chance to thin some young poplar stands for this project, and again later when it was time to build roosts in the larger coop. It distracted the little buggers for a time, but only getting them out of doors would really work. And so it did.

I also built a "rockin' roost" outside which some of the birds came to really enjoy.

About a month earlier, I had transplanted some carrigana shrubs along the west fence, intending for them to grow into a sheltering hedge in a few years. The seeds are also a nice protein source for the birds, or even a main food source if necessary. Luckily they had just enough time to settle in before the chicks were unleashed on them, and then were moved to the larger run before they got too big, so the shrubs should survive nicely.

I guess my folks felt the southern run that was already there (built by myself, my dad and my uncle around 10 years ago, with much fighting of course...) was not enough, so they got to building a temporary run at the north end of the small coop, out the main door. It was quite hilarious to watch the whole flock suddenly take off running/flapping from one side, through the coop and all the way to the far end of the other run...only to do it all again a few minutes later. And Isa Browns are supposed to be calm birds. I think something went very wrong in the breeding of this batch.

The first big surprise to me, was just how much destruction such a flock of little critters could cause. These things literally devastated both the north and south runs, including killing a small willow. Soon enough, however, all the shite left behind will eventually result in a lush growing area, indeed some grass has already begun to grow in thick and green.

This devastation rather hastened my construction of the larger run attached to the larger new coop/shed which is to be home to these ladies for the rest of their lives. By early August I had moved the flock to their new home which they took to quite eagerly, although with some fear early on!

In September I built and installed the nesting boxes, since we were thinking that eggs would begin to appear around the end of October. Behind the nesting boxes, venting insulation was stapled to the wall, as this is the northern wall. I still need to cover the lower stuff with cardboard or plywood as the ladies predilection for pecking has them eating small bits of the mylar.

As the days are getting shorter and colder and the birds are spending more time inside, it became clear that ventilation was needed. We needed a window anyway, to provide some natural light during winter, so I went to the building supply recycle place which just happens to be within sight of where I sit as I write this post. I found something perfect for the planned location, a long and narrow window which could be mounted so as to allow opening at the top for ventilation. I think it was removed from an old school portable room or something like that. At 10$, I wish they'd have had 9 more or so!

Outside, it has been a little bit rainy over the last few days, and with the birds being mostly full grown now, and therefore wreaking havoc on the grass and ground in their run. As such, the run near the coop has become quite muddy and gross, so I broke up several old and wet hay or straw bales and spread them around. The ladies just love this, especially since much of it is wheat straw containing many stray seeds. You can also see the clump of willows in the background here. Many of the ladies spend all day trying to roost in the branches or huddled on the ground in the shade and/or out of the wind.

A little over a week ago, many of the hens began to display the bowing posture, as if to be mounted by a rooster, when someone would walk by. This shows that the birds have reached sexual maturity so we began the look-out for eggs. Up until today, one or two of the nests were being used, but so far nothing had been left but the odd shite.

But then, today...or I guess yesterday since its well after midnight now...I happened to have a look and, lo and behold, there in one corner lay two pristine brown, strong shelled pullet eggs. And only slightly smaller than full size! Really, it is surprising that the first eggs have well formed shells like this. Typically we'd have found a pile of soft shelled ones to start with. It must be that we started laying out oyster shells quite early on. Sadly, I must report that I retrieved the eggs to show them off to mom and dad, too quickly to think to take any pictures of them. But I promise they were there, right where the red mild crate is in this picture. Yes, I put a milk crate nest in each corner, since they obviously want to lay there. The buggers better use those stinking nests tho!!!

I'm sure they will start doing so, very soon. Looks like the water got put into the house just in time because there's going to be plenty of eggs to wash soon.

Happy event indeed!

By the way, how's this for an eyeballed fence line?

Next year we may build a twin setup beside this run and double the operation. I think I will suggest 150 hens per run, however, should we decide to expand. I really feel that we have about 50 too many birds in the run now. You never know though, some of the fatter ones might end up roasters.

So that's it for now, but there is more to come on the chicken topic for sure.

Be good to each other.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't Hide From Your Shit!

Well, for the first time ever, the family farm has running water to the living quarters. The contractors are still working, but as of Tuesday evening the kitchen taps were functional. No more filling pails for indoor use, no more carrying them to the house from the old pump all through winter. Part of the 20th century, and it only took to the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

Soon, if it isn't done by now, the plumber will work on the toilet. I am happy about all but this.

Flushing toilets are perhaps the most bothersome aspect of modern civilization. Indeed, higher population concentrations have always had troubles dealing with their own bodily wastes. In an effort to inhibit pathogens from continuing to cause death (an obviously worthy endeavor) we have harnessed yet another limited resource, perhaps the most vital... naturally occurring fresh water.

As most of us now know, flushing our toilets is the largest use of fresh water in our homes. Such use commits this water to long periods of time in toxic conditions and introduces these toxins back into the water table before there has been time to remove them naturally. As well, in order to reduce the amount of water sitting in holding lagoons, this water is processed out of the lagoons, sterilized by harsh chemicals, and then sent back into the drinking water supply to be re-used.

Mmmmm chlorine water....

If we only had a balanced outlook on our own wastes, much of this situation could be fixed. Composting toilets DO require a bit more effort and care, but the reward is huge. We could re-engineer our water and sewage infrastructure in a far more sustainable and healthy manner, as well as properly reintroduce vital nutrients and healthy soil building matter to our environment. Humanure (a word coined by a dude whose name I cannot remember just now and which I don't have time to find again), once composted (preferably vermi-composted), is one of the finest fertilizers around. If there is a concern about remaining pathogens, it can be used for non-fruit or nut bearing trees, although properly composted humanure is toxin and pathogen free.

I can't believe we used to dig all those damn outhouse holes, when all we really needed was a bucket chamber and carbon material such as peat moss (which is all over the bottom of the lake/slough), chopped straw (which we always had plenty of), or wood shavings/sawdust (which we also had plenty of due to two wood stoves). In that case, ignorance WASN'T bliss, it was harder work, more dangerous.

So in closing,

Don't hide from your shit!!*

*Note: This is good advice for more than just bodily waste.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Solitudinous Communion

I was standing on the lake bank today, looking out over the reeds and water, enjoying a beautiful fall day. I had been gathering some fine manure/soil to use as potting soil so I was wearing my headphones and mp3 player, listening to podcasts. Over the talking, however, I could hear some swans in the distance so I took the headphones off and just stood there for several minutes. I could see, off to my left and probably a half mile away, a group of white shapes whose size and sounds told me were Trumpeter Swans. Straight out in front of me I could hear what sounded to be quite a large flock of Whistler swans. The sounds of both were somewhat faint, uplifting yet calming. Also in front of me, and off to the right at a distance, I could hear Canada geese talking back and forth as well. My folks were in town, my sister at work and the contractors were gone so I had the whole farm to myself. It was a very peaceful and solitary (in terms of humans anyway) sort of feeling.

As I stood there, flock after flock of geese began to fly overheard, off to one side or the other and then right overhead as well. Some of these flocks were huge, some were just a small group, and some seemed to be even larger flocks broken into various smaller sizes. At the height of the mealtime migration, their passing was continuous. All together, easily a thousand geese flew over in a space of about 10 minutes.

It was one of those moments that can most definitely be shared, but just has a certain special quality when experienced alone. It is rare to find these moments in our world nowadays. It seems that most people expend a great deal of energy in order to spend as little time alone as possible. I do not think this is a good thing. We need time alone in order to ponder and to reflect. We need this in order to be truly comfortable with ourselves as individuals, and therefore in order to be truly comfortable in our world. Even Superman had a fortress of solitude, after all.

Granted, it is also to go the other way and spend TOO much time alone. I am likely guilty of this at times, being a life-long bachelor and all...and given my tendency to find most people to be selfish and shallow. Still, I think I prefer this than to be uncomfortable with solitude. I don't think I would give up moments like today for anything. It's where I find balance.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Dubious Power of Man

The farm where I grew up, that I have talked about so much over the past months, sits at the base of a large hill. Up one side of this hill a 4 lane highway runs north and south. The hill was actually somewhat re-engineered when the highway was upgraded from two to four lanes. Running east and west over the hill, is a fairly heavily used and fairly wide gravel road. A rail track runs around the west side of the hill, following the north/south highway. A thick but shallow ravine runs down this western side of the hill, and during spring thaw much water runs down this ravine and out over the farmland (belonging to a neighboring farmer of the large-scale industrial sort) which is immediately at the base of the hill, and then down over our last field, before emptying across our pasture into the lake.

I have always remembered a stand of trees that stood to the northwest, starting just beyond the gravel road on our side of the hill. As a matter of fact, I think I have a picture of it.

Well yesterday, when I looked off in that direction...I thought the view seemed odd. But then, all the snow on the ground seemed a bit odd too, as did the sub freezing temperature. I think my mind just registered the odd view as heavy cloud cover but when dad later asked me if I noticed the bush was gone, well I suddenly realized why it seemed odd.

Yep, that old stand of trees is gone, and its only been 2 days since I was out there...

I guess someone is putting an acreage there and the stand was in the way. I wonder if they have any idea how significantly that changes the northern view from our place. That hillside was so stark against the steel gray sky.

That might seem like something of a selfish comment but the year 2009 has been one of quite a lot of tree stand removal in the immediate area. Back in the early spring I wrote of the destruction of a stand on land that was in my family until just a few months before that, in order to expand the local landfill. A few other stands were removed or cut back significantly in order to make room for the Alaska highway Grande Prairie ByPass expansion this summer. This mess is 4 miles from us and is also removing my quiet backroad route out to the farm. Another big stand was cut way back earlier this spring, nearer to town. I'm not sure of the purpose for this one. And these are just the ones I know of because they are immediate to my view.

It still amazes me how quickly we can rip through a stand of trees nowadays, indeed how quickly we can reconfigure the terrain of an area. There is usually an aspect of order to what results but there is no longer room for diversity or healthy balance. And how many trees are being replanted to make up for those destroyed? What is the true cost of these projects?

To be fair, we did some "reconfiguring" at the farm this summer too. A new well was dug and trenching laid in, so that Mom and Dad could finally have running water to their house. Yes, the house I grew up in was unplumbed and the house they live in now had only outgoing plumbing until now (although we are still waiting for a pump so that the installation can be finished. We also re-channeled the spring run off creek that runs through our yard, in order to alleviate spring flooding. It would have been nice to put in a pond attached to this creek, especially since that part of the yard is shaping up to be "Fowl Land", but money doesn't grow on trees and I just didn't feel like digging it out by hand and by myself. The time was better spent on other tasks anyway.

I am worried that we might need to do one more round of this before winter sets in, as the water line trench needs leveling, and a load or two of gravel should go down. I doubt the tractor bucket could handle the trench leveling over the driveway, as it has been so well packed by now. I'm a little bit pissed off that the trencher left it this way, a big fucking lump across the driveway. I am not sure what he thought we wanted to do with it. We should have said something, I know, but still...

Wow, how did this end up ranting about contractor stuff? But then, did I mention we're still waiting for a well pump, over a month later, and after having received a bill for said pump?


Peace and comfort to all, though, even contractors. I am one after all, after a manner.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Harvest 2009

I am not yet used to the traditional ceremonial seasonal (too many al`s??) calendar dates like Autumn Equinox that passed 10 days ago. Yet whenever I realize one of these dates has passed, I feel as though it is something to which I should be paying closer attention. That I do not do so suggests to me that I have a good distance remaining to go until I reach something of a balance between self-centeredness and, hmm, whatever word suits the other end of that spectrum.

This line of thinking relates to the "harvest" theme in that personal insight may be harvested at any time of the year, wherever one may be. Consciousness provides this bounty.

Looking back at the two seasons past, spring and summer, it is easy to see the disappointments, personally and otherwise. Planned tasks which remain unfinished, some even un-started. Lack of rain leaving the ground parched to the point of large cracks in the fields, pastures, garden and yard, even though the well pumped worked hard to irrigate the latter two. Finally today, a day of rain and drizzle allows for reflection back over these things.

But this reflection also reminds of the great bounty that was received despite the weather and time spent at things that can later feel wasteful. Despite the dry, I am 1.5 days from being done bringing in all the hay from the fields. Assuming a typical winter, there should be plenty of feed for dad`s cattle without having to buy any. We even managed to lay in 2 small fields of fava beans as silage. This will be a nutritious addition to their hay on especially cold days. Once the hay is in, we`ll hire a trailer and driver and bring in all the round straw bales as well. Our 3 grain crops managed to produce a good amount of straw, also despite the dry, but if the damp that has come today persists, we may not be able to bale up the last field. Given the arid summer and fall so far, we will likely get the full 3 fields of straw in. Just two of them will mean there is plenty of straw for bedding when needed over the winter.

On a side note: since we have such a small herd now, and the winters have been relatively mild, we do not go through a lot of straw. This means we have a buildup of a few years now, of old straw (and hay) bales. As such, I have YEARS worth of worm bedding, carbon for compost piles, mulch, etc etc. The large amount of our own straw that we have not been using, plus all the local large scale grain farmers whose combines just chop up and blow their straw back out on the ground (which doesn`t send a whole lot of nutrients back into the soil), it amazes me that there is NO straw bale construction going on around here. How I wish I had access to some capital...

Back to Harvest 2009, the garden that initially seemed like it was going to maybe not produce much at all, finally ended up turning all the irrigation into a pretty decent yield.

Some might recall that I planted a patch of the garden in the Three Sisters manner, combining corn, squash and climbing beans. Well, late frosts did in the squash and the climbing beans. I ended up with one pathetic runt of a squash plant, one larger squash plant that managed to blossom but was not able to bear fruit, and one lone bean that didn`t climb at all but remained very bush-like...and which produced perhaps 4 scrawny pods. It was also looking like the corn might not turn out to much, but it ended up producing probably 250 delicious ears of corn. We ate steadily from the patch, plus mom was able to freeze about 150 ears. I`m tempted to do two patches next year.

A large patch of potatoes produced decently, although the white potatoes are mostly fairly small. The reds, of which around 150#`s were sold, paying for most of the cost of the entire garden (other than time spent seeding and maintaining).

Our beans, however, produced very little this year...maybe 3 lbs worth.

The peas were much better producers, although I feel the patch was too small. Mom got a decent amount frozen though.

The onion sets turned out quite nicely, yielding a decent amount to store. Those grown from seed did alright as well, and the greenhouse still has a few growing.

There is a nice amount of tomatoes ripening off the plants now, or frost would have done them in. They`ll be canned soon. The greenhouse tomatoes have provided us with cherry type tomatoes for every meal for a good 3 months now as well.

Both the garden and greenhouse cukes produced decently as well, although one section of greenhouse cukes were overwhelmed by roots from adjacent tomato plants. The same thing seemed to happen to a small group of melons that dad put in one bed with some tomatoes...a good lesson here it seems.

Thanks to my brother`s lovely wife, mom was introduced to kohlrabi (sister in law is German where it is very popular) and so two patches were planted to a lovely result as well. Seeming to be a cross between cabbage and turnip, I doubt I will be fond of the taste but I`m sure its enormously healthy, like both cabbage and turnip. They and many of the other vegetables will go into the delicious soups that mom makes and freezes.

This year`s radishes seemed to be a disappointment. I`m not fond of them so I don`t tend to notice, but my dad loves them and I don`t recall seeing him eat many of them at all. I think many went woody very quickly, and then to seed.

The pumpkin patch was late to get going seriously, but it still produced a few `kins which are currently ripening indoors. I`m not sure why they were more successful than my squash.

Mom also ended up with a couple of rows of pretty kick ass looking sunflowers too (sorry Linda, I`ll share pics later tho). They drew honeybees like nothing else. I had forgotten that about sunflowers. This really got me thinking about wanting to set up a colony or two.

Mom is also looking at getting into growing gladiolas on a small commercial scale, so she set in a nice big patch of them which did their thing well, according to her. I don`t really know anything about them but she was happy with the result. I will definitely have to add pictures of the bulbs we pulled though. They look very cool, with all the baby bulb stalks and such. I don`t think I have seen anything like them before. Pretty flowers too, I must add.

We are hopeful that we will be harvesting pullet eggs by the end of the month as well. Mom`s young flock of laying hens are doing very well, although they look nothing like the other Isa Browns that mom has. I got the nest box built and installed a few weeks back and once I add walking rails so the birds can more easily access each nest, I will do a post with pictures of the summer`s progression from chick to laying hen.

We are down to two of the old hens that I mentioned in Old Lady Tractor
. One died suddenly one night a few months back. Nothing seemed wrong with her but she had been the injured escapee mentioned in that post. Then the other darker feathered bird started to decline as well. She didn`t seem to be suffering but one day mom pointed out that she couldn`t even get up off her side so I went to have a look. Sure enough the poor old thing was laying pathetically on her side, legs sticking straight out in the air. So I got the axe and went to put her out of what I felt must be suffering. As I did so, I thanked her quietly for what was given to us through her, and I hoped that we had given her a decent life...although obviously not an ideal one. In the end she was, or is being, harvested by nature itself, as I deposited her remains where the carrion creatures would do what they are meant to do, and what is left will be nutrients for more life.

I can`t help but wonder where the feeling that the harvesting of this life has more significance than all that vegetable life mentioned earlier. I AM thankful for it, but I did not express my gratitude with the harvesting of each life, as with the bird. Perhaps that is just ease as there was only the one bird and a whole LOT of vegetable ones. Ah well, that is for subsequent consideration I think. I have been sitting here long enough now.

I had wanted to mention that I feel there was significant harvest this year, that had nothing to do with caloric consumption or income or anything like that. I gleaned a great deal from this summer, not the least of which was a re-appreciation for truly productive physical labor. This is something I intend to continue. The other really significant harvest gained this year was a reconnection with my parents. It has not been all roses, by far, but it has been good...very good. It has also solidified my intention to maintaining this focus on what I feel to be proper living in preparing for much different times.

In the end, I think it has been a very good year in terms of harvest even though it has been an expensive year, due to preparations for the future. But such preparation will, hopefully, help to ensure future harvests. We`re thankful for what we have, and what we have the potential for.

Peace and comfort, to all.