It was way too busy a winter. On the snowy evenings, as dusk gave way to night, Duke (the LGD) barked like crazy, and through the trees I could see the cows chasing each other; running in circles. It feels good to know they are happy.
I have been running the farm alone for over 4 months. It has been hard going it alone, and sad, at times. But on the plus side, for a woman who is about to turn 48, I am fucking fit! My daughter recently told me I look like the Wasp (Marvel heroine) when we were watching Ant-Man. NICE. Turns out, when you spend 4 hours (as a minimum) a day lifting weights (ie:water jugs), it's bound to happen. I'm just trying to eat enough Haagen Dazs to keep up. Some days (or weeks, as it were), when the ARGO decided not to start, I had to take a shit-ton of water and hay bales to the cows, 1000 ft away from the barn, uphill, using a sled, in the snow. That was fun. I could feel my shoulders tearing the first couple of days. Now, I'm ripped like Jesus. Just doing chores in the snow & freezing wind is an ass-kicker. After those mornings, mama needs more cappuccino, a big bowl of oatmeal, some Netflix, and a couch with a blanket. By the time I recovered, it was time to go out again.
This year, instead of a heritage, specialty chicken, I will raise commercial meat chickens and a faster-growing, heritage pig (Berkshire), which will allow for some real income (& way less labour). A lot of what creates excess work on my farm is the fact that I choose to incubate & breed most of my animals, and I prefer slow-growing heritage breeds. If I were more frugal with my time and money, and less idealistic, I would be buying all my babies, and only overwintering the hens. I considered divesting myself of my breeders and animals that currently don't (or haven't yet been able to) pay for themselves (ducks, geese, kunekunes, cows, all but the layers, basically), but have opted to keep them for now. At the end of this summer-fall, I will look at it again. I could simply raise pigs by buying weaner pigs from other farmers, buy chicks from other farmers, etc.. Some animals are hard to source here, and it's slim pickings, so it will take some serious analysis before making a decision. If I were breeding my Runner ducks, for instance, I would have already had 2 customers without even having put an ad out, so... there's that. I can sell babies from my heritage breed animals, and my guineas. I will sell the keets that hatch with mamas late this summer & early fall, but I likely won't incubate unless someone puts down a deposit.
I am trying to finish the final touches on a coop that can house 199 hens. I currently have 44 chickens (6 are roosters). I can have up to 199 hens (unless I get quota - which Nova Scotia seems to only give to farms that want to torture hens in cages, indoors). As a regenerative farm, I need a mobile coop for the flock so they can be constantly moving to fresh ground. My farm has no real road, is very hilly/rocky, and has the softest ground imaginable. It makes designing a coop that would be portable challenging. Instead of continuing to put off income from the maximum allowable amount of hens, while I devise a mobile system that would work, I will house them in a stationary coop. Once I have built multiple, small coops on trailers, I will rotate them around the farm. I need two more trailers, time, energy, and to draw out the plans. For now, I will move the electric poultry net around to give them access to fresh fodder. I will cut into the forest - that is close in- so I can let them in there, as well. When I shift the flock into mobile coops, the coop I'm finishing now will become a brooder for chicks, ducks, and turkeys (and allow for scale). The nest boxes will be easy to take out & install into the mobile coops (& the greenhouse in winter). The coop was made with a shed kit from a local mill. All the wood was harvested here, in Nova Scotia. I have 100 point of lay hens coming next week to add to my heritage flock of 39 hens. I will go from getting 2 dozen eggs/day to a shit-ton/day. I better fucking finish the nest boxes & get those big ass holes covered up. (The nest boxes have reverse roll out rear collection, which means the eggs roll away from the chickens, into a bin, and I can collect them from outside of the coop. This increases the cleanliness of the eggs, as well as an easeful collection.) Once the nest boxes are assembled and in place, I can seal up the holes and set up the fence. The roosts are half-way done, and will be easy to finish up. I'm using some of the cut trees I have piled everywhere for the roosts.
Most days I feel overwhelmed by my to-do list & have trouble starting, or knowing which project deserves my attention. Like today. It's shitty out; cold & rainy. I'm fucking tired. I have barely slept the last 10 days with all the hatching and babies in my office. I have 4 days to get the coop done & fenced before those bitches arrive. But I am so beat right now, and I have been trying to finish this fucking blog post for weeks! So I'm doing this. And maybe dishes and some laundry to make my house less awful inside. And then I can go out. Later. Shit. I procrastinate.
I am changing the way I manage my laying ducks, in order to get them on the regenerative band wagon. I am going to build a Suscovich chicken tractor (with flooring), so I can move them around and confine them to a certain area. As it stands now, they duck under the perimeter fence (get it?) and go all over the place, including my front yard and driveway. Once I have one built, I can try it out. They found the pond a couple of weeks ago. I will start the new routine around the pond area. They will be so happy to have their house there. I can move them over to the greenhouse for a day if I have issues with pests; allowing them to be my "pesticide". This will give me great flexibility in their management and increase their productivity on the farm.
Building and running a farm is complex; being that I'm aiming to be a regenerative farm, it becomes even more complicated. This means each animal needs portable housing. I have to be able to move it by myself. I have to build it. So fucking much to do, so little fucking time and energy. On the days I laze about inbetween feeding the child, the other animals, and any other have-tos, my Apple watch says I took 14,000 steps, and the battery dies 2 hours before my work day ends. Those are the "lazy" days. And most days I feel as if nothing got done. And the lists are always running in my mind. "Hey siri, set a reminder to fix the hole in the duck house." Sigh. I did manage to build a pig shelter in December. I now need to build a second one. I built a new ramp & door for the goose house to replace the defunct one. I just finished converting a pen in the middle of the barn into a duck brooder, complete with heat lamps. Last year I had them in the chick brooder, which is only 2' tall, and they got too tall for it. Now I have one small brooder for chicks/guinea keets, a larger brooder for 100+ chicks, and a duck brooder, which could also double as a turkey brooder for a small number of turkeys. Don't get me started on adding turkeys. And rabbits. BUNNIES!!! CAN'T WAIT! Hopefully by fall I will have built the necessary housing to start my pastured, organic-fed rabbit enterprise.
The Kunekune pigs are delightful. I trained a group of 4 (ranging from 11 months to 20 months old) to be quiet. At feeding time, they whine such that I would harvest them right then and there. I hate that sound. So now, when I approach their fence & have their bucket in hand, I can say, "What does mommy want you to do?" or "shoosh!" and you can see them almost hold their breath. One will inevitably let out a grunt, and I say, "shhhh." Once I have total silence, they get their food. It's hilarious. Pigs are smart. Too smart.
That said, Kunekunes are expensive to raise for meat on organic feed, and require a lot of labour. Between farrowing and managing their grazing, and the fact that they take 18 months to get to a size worth harvesting, it's a lot of time and effort. I spend 3 times the length of time one would spend raising a "normal" pig. So - 3 times the labour, 1/3 of the feed of a normal pig daily, which works out to the exact same amount of feed, and 1/2 the amount of pork in the end. That makes it twice dollar amount spent, and 3 times the labour, ergo, it should actually be quite a bit more than twice the price of regular pork. I harvested my first one in January. I have yet to run the numbers to see if I am even breaking even, much less being paid for my labour. This isn't your run-of-the-mill pork. I carefully explain to customers how it is produced and that it isn't your everyday bacon. It is very red and looks like beef. It is the most amazing pork I have ever eaten. It is very different, leaning more toward the taste (and look) of beef. So if you think of it that way, it's about the same price as beef. Sounds fair to me.
In an effort to provide continuity to my growing clientelle, and in order to get my pork to scale, I have added a small group of weaner pigs this year that are a new-to-me, heritage breed (Berkshires). I have yet to assemble their run-in shelter, so I need to get cracking. I'm hoping to run them through a new silvopasture that had baby trees that were cleared. Right now, it's a mess. I need to get all the cut trees and branches out of there. Once I get those pigs in there, they will fuck it up so nice! Then, I can get more next year and have them rip up all the woody shit (rose bushes, etc) in my other pasture, so more grass can grow. They will be my tillers. And then they will be bacon.
Some days the lists in my head and the tasks ahead feel overwhelming. My barn is going to collapse, and possibly roll downhill. The foundation repair required is going to cost $70K CAD. They will have to jack the 46' x 33' building up & dig out the front & side. When the contractor looked at the state of things, his facial expression was enough for me to start crying. Yes, I cried right then and there.
I have to build a shelter for the meat chickens as soon as I'm done with the coop, and will be unable to move it, except in-between flocks, as it is very large & semi-permanent. Like with the hens, I will move the electric poultry net to change their access to fresh pasture. I have reduced the number I planned on raising this year due to brooder constraints and the lack of portable shelters. I have less than a month before 100 "meat" chicks land on my farm. A second batch comes in July. Right now, the July batch ordered is also 100, but that may change. I will get a 3rd batch, if possible.
I incubated some more olive and espresso coloured egg-laying chcikens, as well as some polish chickens to add to the fun! I managed to hatch 15 last weekend. I helped 2 out of their shells. Not sure if I should have. I fucking hate the hatch. It is emotional torture for me to watch and wait and decide whether or not to intervene. And when I do, it is sometimes worth it, but, often it causes me to get attached to a tiny, fucked up baby that either needs euthanasia, gets picked on to death, or needs way too much of my time and love, and they end up dying before their time. My favourite broken baby right now is the one that was stuck a very long time & I got her out. She is maybe 1/3 the size of the others & has a defunct leg. I doubt she will live long, but she seems happy & does what all the chicks do, except she hops on one leg. And she's very cute. I also have 22 Indian Runner ducklings that just hatched this weekend (they will be egg layers). I hope the gods of agriculture are smiling down on my farm and give me a disproportionate amount of females out of all these babies. I ended up helping 2 ducklings out of their shells, and they were just fine.
I'm signing off here. Too much to say. I can't keep you reading forever, and I need to get my ass outside.