Welcome to our Holden's Hide a way farm

Holden's Hide-A-Way Farm is a diversified farm that produces a wide variety of meat product, in much of the same manner as a farmer would have 100 years ago. Our ideas on how to raise livestock come directly from mother nature. We raise grass fed beef and lamb because that is what mother nature intended. Our pigs are free to root and roam through out the warm seasons. Winters are spent in a barn with ample space and lots of hay to eat and root around in. Poultry is raised on pasture where they get lots of fresh air and can do the things poultry likes to do.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

It's begining to look a lot like winter

Well the snow has finally arrived. Here at the farm we have been waiting and wishing temperatures would drop. Yes that's what I said.Fall and spring for that matter are busy times, I guess every season is busy. However fall is particularly troublesome. All the wet weather is not comfortable for us or the animals. So we spend a lot of time getting the tractor stuck trying to get hay out to animals, or trying to sneak across a field with the tractor and hay waggon on, in an effort to not leave deep tire ruts. The tire ruts are very difficult to repair, but are even more difficult on hay equipment the following year. We have had to plow up entire fields because someone left deep tire ruts that would stop a tractor dead while baling hay. Lynn is busy making makeshift shelters for the pigs, who enjoy being outside all year round as long as they have a warm place to sleep. Lynn is not a carpenter and gets frustrated easily while building. Especially since the pigs seem to love disassembling her building project. You might be wondering why I am not doing the building. It is because I am spending most of my days hauling whats left of our hay home. We cut hay in fields all over the area and a considerable amount of time is spent hauling it home. A tractor is not a fast machine. To add to this there are some mighty big hills in our area. It is a sobering experience going up a steep long hill with 20000lbs of hay on a waggon, when you look down and notice the tires are spinning much faster then the tractor is moving. Cross your fingers and hold on. As you reach the top of the hill you realise that the battle is only half over. Now the decent begins. Every muscle in your body tightens every time the wheels can be felt slipping instead of rolling down the hill. Once at the bottom of the hill you realise how much you were sweating over the ordeal, because the cold wintry wind cools that sweat quickly. 15km/hr does not seem fast, but the windchill at that speed is significant. One of these years I will get all the hay home before snow flies, or I will get a cab for the tractor.

The cattle are all penned up, with the exception of a couple small calves that can sneak under the fence to wreak havoc on my nicely piled hay. They have access to a small spruce forest for shelter. However the highland cattle are built for cold weather. They stand out in the worst winter has to offer, chewing their cuds as if it was  a nice summers day. The angus on the other hand huddle in between the highlands. Not as winter hardy, they will return to the refuge of the forest when the weather is bad enough. For the most part cold does not bother the older cattle. They no not however like the falls wet and cold weather. Can't say I blame them.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Wheat Belly

I just bought the book called Wheat Belly, written by William Davis, MD. Dr. Davis is a cardiologist in the USA. The book basically describes the effects of wheat on our bodies and the reasons why. He describes how wheat causes a multitude of physical problems primarily related to blood glucose levels. The book also details how wheat started out as an innocent grass that was manipulated by man to create wheat, then in the last fifty years man began to really change the genetic makeup of wheat in an effort to increase yields and decrease losses through disease, drought, insects etc.
While Dr. Davis specialises in wheat all of agriculture has shared the same focus for the last fifty years. Yield per acre is what is considered most important. In the process nutrition and health have been sacrificed. Most people concerned with the issues realise that corn and soybeans, the next two most consumed agricultural products, have gone through the same transitions as wheat. However almost all consumable agricultural products have gone through the same process. Meat production has changed drastically. Our ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) are being force fed grains to increase growth. Antibiotics and growth hormones are given to increase growth rate. Even the breeds have changed. Angus cattle have increased in size. Other breeds have taken over as the most popular breeds such as Charolais, Limousin, Belgian blue, etc. These are huge animals requiring huge amounts of feed. These cattle are ready for butcher at 12-14 months. Traditional breeds on grass take up to 30 months. Many new breeds carry a mutated gene that causes "double muscling" making the livestock look like body builders. Milk production has gone through the same process. The milk of today is far less nutritious than our grandparents drank. Hog and poultry production has turned into a factory operation where workers where coveralls, breathing and hearing protection. The manure has become a polluting concern. Years ago hogs were raised outside like cattle. Manure was not an issue. Hogs and chickens were raised on grain and garden waist. In fact that was what the hog was for years ago. The first recycler. Any farm waste was fed to the pig and turned into a meat product. Now waste is landfill, adding to our garbage problem. Meat is not the only issue. Vegetables are going through the same issues. Anything is sacrificed in the name of production. Vegetables are fed a steady diet of liquid fertilisers accompanied by a mix fungicides, pesticides and herbicides to decrease disease. Vegetables are picked before being ripe and "chemically ripened" in the back of transports as they are shipped around the world. Tomatoes and peppers are raise in hot houses with their roots bare, not even in soil. The chemists raising and experimenting with these vegetables are arrogant enough to believe they have out smarted mother nature.
Testing done on the products is usually minimal and irrelevant. The tests always seem to favour the new producing product. A large number of tests have been published lately that state organic is no better then conventional production. I do not dought that these same scientist are experts in hydroponics, because they must be smoking something. Something people have to remember is that the companies producing these engineered plants and animals have invested allot of money in their production. They will spend more money to make sure their product is accepted and flourishes. The people growing organically do not have patents on their products. They have no money invested(outside the farm). They also have a much smaller market. The money simply is not their to defend their way of production. The only time we get noticed is when someone like Dr. Davis writes a book that gets attention and gets people talking.
For your own test go to the grocery store and buy some organic and conventional bananas. Do your own taste test. Then tell me there is no difference.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

October has arrived and the harvest is done for another year. Vegetables have bean picked and stored in cans or in the cellar, hay is baled and the slow process of trailering it all home has begun, the grain is off and in the barn. We are drying seeds from a variety of vegetables to ensure an organic supply for nest season. The rest of the seeds and supplies for nest season will be ordered in the nest couple of months. It seems early but to ensure we get what varieties we want we must order early. We are beginning our marketing plan and determining prices now for next seasons vegetables.

This summer has been a trying one on the farm. The worst drought in decades affected our vegetable, grain, and hay harvests. We only harvested about half the hay we usually do. But the expense was higher than any other year. This makes for very expensive hay. Hopefully we have enough. The vegetables faired a little better because of our organic growing methods. One of which is deep much. The 6+ inches of hay mulch added to the garden did not keep the weeds down, but with out it the drought would have been devastating. By the third week of July our soils were drying and our grass was turning brown, but the soil under the mulch was still damp. The end results were an average year for most of the vegetable production. As far as the grain is concerned we had a poor yield. The grain was thin and the grass and clover came up thick making combining the grain difficult for our old combine. Like the hay our grain yield was at about 50%.

In other news around the farm, many people read my article in the news paper about the spraying of herbicides in the forests around our region. The article received a lot of attention and in the end we were able to stop the use of helicopters to spray the herbicide close to our property. I even had two forestry representatives show up at the farm to make a sales pitch about the chemicals used. Like many of the under educated users of these chemicals they used personal experience with the chemicals as evidence of the safety. One guy stated that even had the chemical sprayed right into his mouth and had no ill effects. What they do not realise is that it is the long term exposure to these chemicals that cause the problem. Using their argument smoking, alcohol and most drugs are not hazardous. We all know that one cigarette, beer, or even hard core drugs will not usually be fatal if only used once. It is long term use that causes the real problem. The long term effects of the herbicides used are just now being studied. So far as most people can guess the results are showing they are NOT safe. The government knows how dangerous most of these chemicals are. But they turn a blind eye in the name of economics. Just this week Azinphos-methyl(AZM) a known harmful pesticide was taken out of production. AZM is a highly neurotoxic insecticide that attacks the human brain and nervous system. Where would we spray such a dangerous chemical? On our apples, pears, cherries, bluberries and parsley of course.

Many people wanted me to continue the fight to ban the use of herbicides in our forests altogether. Unfortunately this is not an easy fight. Forestry companies, chemical manufacturers and even the Ontario government support their use. I simply do not have the time or resources for such a fight. However I would support any one that takes up the fight. Nova Scotia and BC both have activist organisations called Stop The Spray. They are dedicated to stopping the use of herbicides. Their web sites contain a wealth of information on the topic. One of the biggest issues with our modern day reliance on strong chemicals is the fact that not everyone reacts the same to them. They may cause prostate cancer in some, Parkinson’s in others, maybe fertility problems, or allergic reactions or some other side effect ranging from severe to not so severe. All of which are not easily measured in a six week study trial. Most of which are paid for by the chemical manufacturer. Most people do not know that our government does not study and evaluate every chemical used in our country. Instead they rely on the chemical manufacturer to pay an independent firm to study the product and give the results. What decision do you think the independent firm is going to come up with? Monsanto has already been convicted twice of tampering with the results of studies done on their products.
In any case I do not want these chemicals near my property. After reading my article one of my neighbours called the Nipissing Forest Resource Management office and asked what effects the chemicals have on wildlife. Their response was that the wildlife usually leaves the area because the chemical kills off all their food. However what they fail to realise or tell you is that the chemical takes a couple weeks to become effective. In that time the deer, moose, rabbits, bears, etc are all ingesting the chemical laden leaves and berries. My neighbour was very upset, because they are devoted naturalists. They hunt for many reasons but one is knowing that the meat they have is clean, chemical free and natural. Or so they thought.

This blog is too small to get into all the details about our over reliance on chemicals. I hope it does spur people into researching the topic themselves. I am content with the fact that I was able to get the spraying with helicopters stopped in my vicinity. Especially since I was told just last week that areas close by were sprayed this summer and they missed their target. Instead they sprayed the front yards of the rural homes.

So the winter wind down has begun and I will be able to spend more time on the blog and creating our new website. After I haul the hay home, spread the manure, plow the fields,…I though winter was supposed to be slow on a farm.

For anyone interested our winter meat box prices and details will be going out this week. As well as information on our 2013 vegetable CSA program. Anyone signing up before December will get a discount. People that sign up early allow us to make sure we can order and pay for supplies that we will need for next season.  


Friday, 7 September 2012

Organic vegetable nutrition

Vegetable harvest is in full swing now. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, beans, peas, even the pumpkins are ready for harvest. Now that Lynn and I are in vegetable mode we are very excited. Our CSA program has been a success, vegetables are looking good despite the drought this summer which did effect some of our harvest but most have recovered. We plan on expanding our CSA membership to 20 full time members next year.
While researching some information for our marketing efforts for next year we have run across many articles which reference a recent study published in The Journal of Science of Nutrition and Agriculture. The article states that their research indicates little to no nutritional benefits or difference between organic and conventional produced vegetables. The problem with these "scientific" studies are that they are conducted by scientist, who tend to be biased. The fact is that they believe they know all there is to know. For instance when the scientist research what chemicals need to be in a fertiliser for tomatoes, they typically decide on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels. These three elements are generally recognised as the ingredients in chemical fertiliser. However we all know that plants require much more than these three elements.
The problem with conducting studies such as the one mentioned is the journal is that there are so many variables. For instance many large companies have jumped on the organic bandwagon. Large companies have bastardised the organic industry by bending and twisting the organic standards in an effort to capitalise on the increased prises and niche market created by the organic industry. While all farmers are in business to make a profit, some are more relentless than others. In general smaller organic family farms concentrate on plant health and the quality of their product. This added effort is represented in the higher prices most organic vegetables demand. Big business capitalises on the higher prises, but often use conventional farming practises that have been modified to meet organic standards.
Additionally the "scientific" studies do not measure the entire chemical makeup of the vegetables. While common vitamin and mineral levels are measured, photo chemicals are not. These are compounds that are not vitamin or mineral that are believed to contribute to our health. Photo chemicals effect the taste and colour of fruits and vegetables. They also help fight off disease in the plant. Much can be changed about the nutritional value of a plant by its environment. Small organic farmers use green manures and animal manures for fertilisers. Making the soil more diverse and nutritious for the plant. This nutrition is passed on to the final consumer. Large scale industrial type organic farms use "natural" fertilisers such ad alfalfa meal, soy meal, blood, bone meal or corn gluten meal. All of these chemicals are approved for organic production. They represent a poor attempt at copying the conventional vegetable production. I should mention that I am not against using these products, however they should be used as amendments to the soil, not as primary means of fertilisation and plant nutrition. They are still better that adding oil derived fertilisers like the conventional vegetable producers use.
This brings us to the next point. Something that is not mentioned, is what is not in the organic vegetables. Chemical residues from commercial fertilisers, pesticides, hormones and antibiotic residues form commercial manure applications. As well there are chemicals that are added for chemical ripening, or preserving fruit and vegetables.  None of these chemicals have had adequate testing to see what the long term health effects are on humans or our environment.
An article published in mother earth news 10 years ago is probably more accurate that the studies published now. 10 years ago organic produce was not being bombarded by the commercial industry like it is now. While I can not remember off hand the exact numbers in the study it basically stated that, when a conventionally grown tomato from a grocery store was compared to an organically grown tomato grown in composted manure, the latter had over 300% the micro nutrients.
How do you know what to eat. Its simple, find a farmer you can trust and eat as seasonally as you can. Organic certification only means that the farmer meets the organic standards. It does not mean they have to be ethical about it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Summers passing us by

July flew past us between haying, gardening and our unexpected trip to Sick Kids with Allison. Allison is doing great and is pretty much back to normal. She is still taking it easy just to make sure. Another event that took place during the last month was a confrontation with the Nipissing Forest Resource Management. Many people have called, emailed and even showed up at the farmers market to express their support. We received a letter stating that the NFRM would be aerial spraying herbicides in an area close to our farm. They spray the chemicals to kill all broad leaf plants, giving coniferous trees such as spruce and pine an advantage. As you can imagine the letter did not impress me and really upset Lynn. In response to the letter I sent an email to NFRM, our MPP, The Green Party, and the Nipissing News. My letter basically expressed my concerns including the concern that our government is pouring known carcinogens into our forests. Our MPPs office was very helpful, so was the Nipissing News, who published my letter. They also wrote their own article after interviewing me. The result is that the NFRM will no longer be spraying with helecopters. Instead they will use skidders. A skidder is a large tractor that is used for hauling logs out of the bush to a landing site. I made sure to express in my interview that I am not against logging. In fact done properly I think it is sustainable industry. My major concern is the spraying of toxic chemicals into our environment. The main chemical used is called Virox Max. Virox Max is basically the same as Round up. If fact they are manufactured by the same company, Monsanto. Yes the psychopathic company Monsanto. Producer of PCB, Agent Orange, synthetic bovine growth hormones and most genetically modified plants. I did not know much about Virox Max, I do now, but I do know a bit about Roundup. My personal opinion is that Round up is a dangerous chemical for a variety of reasons. First of all the health hazards. Monsanto would have us believe it is perfectly safe. However independent studies are proving otherwise. I won't go into great detail but glyphosate affects hormone production. Messing with hormones can cause a variety of disease, not the least of which is cancer. Monsanto has already been convicted twice of falsifying results of an "independent" study. I found it ironic that even after the convictions Canada did not do any testing of these products. They rely on independent studies paid for by the producing company. Glyphosate is extremely deadly to frogs and amphibians, which in turn are food for a large variety of wildlife. The use af glyphosate in the forest destroys the natural habitat and food supply for moose, bear, deer, rabbit and a variety of other animals. It also causes mono cultures of coniferous trees. We all saw what that can do this summer with the forest fires in Northern Ontario. Coniferous trees are far more flammable than deciduous tree. Mono cultures can also be devastated by disease. We are all ready seeing this problem with the red and white pine trees.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hay and Horses

I haven't written much this month simply because it has been extremely busy here at the farm. First of all as most people know it is hay season. Or as I call it break down season. We spent have the time making hay, the other half fixing equipment. Tractors, haybine mowers, and balers are not usually cheap to fix. So far we have had to repair a rear tire on the tractor, fix a hydraulic pump, replace hydraulic lines, repair baler belts, replace a u-joint and rebuild the yoke, several bearings on the baler, and a u-joint on the truck. But the end result is worth it. Working by myself I can put up about 100 bales in 5 days. If we had to buy these bales it would cost well over $3500. Now the hard part is getting 5 good days. Usually we are racing the rain. Not a problem this year. However this dry hot weather has created a new problem. Lower production. We have to cut about 40% more land to get the same amount of hay as we usually do.
We had to take a week off of haying for a trip Sick Kids in Toronto. Allison was injured while working with her new horse. We are not sure what exactly happened, but some how the horse was spooked and reared up. From what we understand the horse then fell on Allison. When a horse falls or goes down in any way they panic to get up on their feet.Some how during the event Allison sustained a blow to the side of her head from a hoof. We ended up very lucky and Allison is doing fine now. However after a suspencful week Allison did end up with 6 stitches and a small fracture. The girls usually wear helmets for riding, but it is clear they need them whenever they work with the horses. Allsion is now "grounded" for the summer. Doctor's orders. No horses, no heavy lifting, no bike riding, no swimming for 8 weeks.

Allison has been bugging to help with hay all year. Here she is raking the hay so I can bale it for her horses, before the accident.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

New additions

Some new additions arrived on the farm this week. On Monday Lynn and I made a trip to a livestock auction to purchase some more stocker calves to finish for this winter. Demand for our beef far exceeds the number of calves that our cattle produce. We usually purchase weaned calves and raise them on our farm until they are old enough to process. However calf prices are extremely high, approximately 2 times what we paid last year. At that price we can not finish the beef and market it at a reasonable price. Our beef sales may have to change to reflect the lower than usual number of calves we will be raising. 
 On a "positive" note. There were other creature that were reasonably prices. I can tell you now there is a good chance I will be winning father of the year after bringing home these two "pets". The girls were and still are very excited about the new additions. The Appaloosa is a 16 month old gelding and the bay coloured is an 8 month old filly. Very affectionate little fellows. The girls will be responsible for basic obedience training over the next year. The horses cannot be ridden until they are 2.5-3 years old. But training starts now.
We are not really horse people. Horse people can be pretty extreme. However we do enjoy horses. Unlike other livestock they can have a genuine affection for their caretakers. Sheep, cattle, pigs, chicken, etc. only really care that you bring food. The gelding was afraid of the trailer while. So after several attempts and praise and petting, I could tell he was not sure about the trailer. While stroking his neck and telling him it would be OK, he leaned into me placing his head against my chest. If horses could hug that was one. He eventually loaded and was fine on the trip home.  

Lynn's Polish hen decided it was time to be a mother hen. A Polish hen is a funny looking thing. They are the only white egg layers we have. It takes 21 days of dedication from the hen to sit on eggs in order to hatch them out. Several  chickens share a nest box, so we don't know who actually laid the eggs that this girl hatched. We collect our eggs on a daily basis, but ever once and a while the hens find a new hiding spot. These guys were hatched out in the wall of the barn.

We keep a few goats, I am not sure why because they can be a real handful. This little girl was born this week and looks to be in good health. when we have more time, such as through the winter we like to milk the goats. They provide excellent milk that is far more nutritious than the watered down, broken down stuff you buy in the store. Goat milk is much easier to digest then cow milk because of the different sugars (lactose) and the fat globules are smaller making them easier to digest. Goats are one of the other animals on the farm that has a personality. But that is not always a good thing.

Guard duty

Jack and Jill standing guard.Luckily for everyone we have not seen or heard any coyotes or wolves since winter. The odd fox comes around at night, but they know better then to cross the fence. The sheep are enjoying the pasture and the lambs look great so far. Our flock (as well as approximately 90% of all Ontario flocks) have been plagued by foot rot. Foot rot is an infection caused by the combination of two bacteria. It can cause discomfort for the sheep and effects the performance of the lambs. If left untreated it can lead to more serious problems. One of the bacteria is found in almost all soils, the other is usually imported when   an infected sheep is purchased. The infection is a major issue across Canada and around the world. It can be very difficult to cure, especially here where 
the climate is humid. However through much research and and planning we think we have effectively cured our flock. All without the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are only moderately effective as treatment because the bacteria live on the hooves of the sheep for months, hiding in any cracks or crevices. The bacteria can also survive in the environment for weeks. We are anxiously watching the flock for signs of infection, but have been infection free now for two months. If all goes well we will start marketing our ideas to other sheep farmers. Spring is usually the worst time for foot rot.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Real grass fed cattle

The girls are finally out on pasture. Its is a little later then usual, but we had to fix fences before they went out. Last season we had a rouge cow that wandered the bush for about 3 months. We don't want a repeat of that. we use electric fencing here. Electric fences are what is called a psychological barrier. A 1000lb cow could easily walk through the wire. However once they learn and feel the shock of an electric fence, they never want to touch one again. It works on humans too. I know everyone in our house is terrified of touching the wire. Even if you know the fence is unplugged, you will think twice about touching the wires. An electric fencing causes a sensation that is not really painful, but extremely uncomfortable. Our fence puts out a minimum of 5000 volts, and up too 10000 volts. The variance is dependant on fence length, and how much grass growth is touching the fence. Before anyone begins thinking that this fence is going to kill the cattle I should mention that volts do not kill. The amperage kills. Electric fences produce very low amperage. That is why even Allison and Christina touch the fence at least 3-4 times a year. So far everyone has touched it once this year.
The sheep are out on pasture as well. Lambs have been out for a while, they can sneak through the fences. Several are getting too big now and are having a difficult time getting through.
A few calves enjoying the fresh green grass. The marbled one on the left is our new young bull. He is still a little shy. The girls give him a rough time. But he should bulk up and star assuming the bull role over the summer. The small brown calf in the background is the bull calf that had pneumonia in the early spring. He is a little stunted because of the experience.
This picture is of one of our latest calves. He is out of my favourite highland cow. He is very well built and growing extremely well for a highland. If he keeps doing this well we may decide to sell him as a breeding bull in the fall.
Her is a picture of his mom (my favourite highland cow). She is one of the boss cows. She can be very pushy with the other cows, but gentle with us. Plus I really like her colour. Colour doesn't really affect meat quality, but it helps to have cattle you like to look at.
The cattle hiding in the spruce trees. They love to hide in the bush, and scratch on the branches. The new bull is looking into the sun.
Our youngest calf getting a good drink. Her mother is not the best looking cow, she is small even for a highland. However the calf is healthy and growth very well.
Finally here is a year old heifer calf. I think she wonders what I am doing with the camera.
I will get some pictures of the sheep soon.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

It feels like summer

The weather is balmy here on the farm, but that's not why it feels like summer. Its the black flies. I think I fed the whole population on Friday while planting potatoes. I even had to don a bug had and put on bug spray. I am not an advocate of bug spray. I remember when the push was on to stop using DEET products. That was pre-westnile. I rarely put it on any of the promoted products such as bug sprays or sun screens. The ingredients in each of these products have proven to cause skin cancer. I find it ironic that the health agencies promote cancer causing products, to save us from other deadly illnesses. I prefer to limit sun exposure and use the products sparingly. Covering up usually works for mosquitoes and blackflies. Not this week though. The pigs have found a way to keep cool and stop the flys. Pigs don't sweat, so they require a wallow to roll and soak in. These guys look very comfortable. 
The meat chickens out. As you can see in the picture they are enjoying the grass. Meat chickens are not the smartest creature. They require the "chicken tractor" to keep them safe from predators and provide shelter, while letting them get their fill of grass, legumes, bugs and fresh air. Meat chicken grow to heavy weights are are very lazy. Most "free range" chickens are put in a barn with an open door allowing access to the outdoors. Unfortunately the birds have no desire to walk out the door when the feed is inside. It is false advertising. 

The laying hens are a different breed all together. They are slimmer birds made for walking around. Her it is difficult to see but there are a bunch of chickens beside the old manure pile. In the foreground there is a chicken scratching through the grass. The holes in the dirt beside her were created from the chicken dust bathing. Dust bathing grooms the feathers and helps control parasites. Our plans are to build a portable hen house to get the chickens out on the pasture with the cattle. Chickens are great for cleaning up bugs and spreading the patties out. The chickens also add large amounts of nitrogen to the soil, which in turn promotes grass growth. At this point the chickens only roam the pastures close to the barn.
Our latest litter of piglets are 4 weeks old. That is the age we put them out of the barn. The sow was one that we purchased, as a piglet, from the auction. She has turned out to be a great mother raising 9 piglets. All are large and very muscular. I think it is our best litter we have ever had. Lynn and the girls love the colours. We have had red spotted pigs before, but they were always males. This litter has 4 spotted females. The two best just might stay for breeders.

The green house is up and running. Thank goodness I have my kitchen back . It was getting pretty crowded in there with all the seedlings.
We have hundreds of plants now well started in the greenhouse, and many more already planted in the garden. So far the smaller gardens are planted with carrots, beets, garlic, green onions, spinach and Spanish onions. The larger garden has potatoes, two types of beans, peas, lettuce, cooking onions, kohlrabi, bok choi, beets and the corn will be in before the weekend is over.
Things are getting busy. On top of all this I still have hay to bring home, 15 acres of grain to plant, fence expansion for cattle, manure to spread, sheep to shear, and probably a dozen things I am forgetting.

 Hopefully the blackflies get their fill on campers this week end and go back to sleep

Sunday, 6 May 2012

It' not all work

The girls have been working very hard on a new project. We have actually had "Maisey" for almost two years.  However she spends much of her time out on pasture. We adopted Maisey from a local couple that were afraid of horses. Maisey was their foster children's pony, but the foster children had long moved on. She was neglected and in rough shape. She still suffers from a disease called heaves, similar to COPD in humans. The primary cause is years of feeding on dusty hay. Some days are worse for her then others. She will never be a good riding horse, but she is fun to play with when she is feeling up to it.
The girls have been friendlying her up since we brought her home. It has taken until now to get her calm enough to saddle up. When we originally brought her home we were told she was ridden often. However when we saddled her up she turned into a bucking bronco that could have given any bronco rider a run for their money at the Calgary Stampede. After much work the girls found the way to Maisie's heart is through her stomach. She would eat a whole bag of carrots if you let her. Maisey was in an exceptionally good mood when this picture was taken. She had her first taste of grass for the year. As you can imagine after a winter of dried up old grass (hay), fresh green grass is a treat. We had to limit her intake because Maisey would eat enough to make herself ill.
Allison and Christina have been bugging for a while now to take her out of the corral for a little ride. After a quick brushing they saddled her up with an old pony saddle and to my surprise she was very calm. I was even able to get her up to a trot with Allison on her back. I was able to get her galloping for an instant but had to slow her down. I am not sure if she was uncomfortable or if it was the sound of Allison screaming, NO SLOW DOWN, but her bucking bronco days returned. However after going back to a trot she calmed down quickly, so did Allison.
A short ride and a brush, then Maisey ate her carrots and returned to the easy life in the corral. Allison and Christina have done a very good job of friendlying up Maisey. We have had many dogs and other pets, but horses are a special animal. Training is very different compared to training dogs. Horses are a prey animal. They need to trust their trainer, they are always getting "spooked". I have had horses stop dead and not move because of a shadow on a trail. Maybe someday the girls will take the experiences with Maisey and train a good trail riding horse  

Friday, 27 April 2012

New CSA porgram

After much discussion Lynn and I have decided to offer a CSA for this year to a limited number of lucky people. For those that are not familiar with what a CSA is there is a wealth of information on the internet. CSAs are becomeing increasingly popular all over the world. They offer participants a steady supply of local vegetables all year. Usually farm produce is made available on  a weekly basis. Purchacers pay for a subscription that lasts from June to October. Usually 18-20 weeks. Knowing how many people to supply upfront allows the farmer a chance to plan out production better. This type of program works well for both the subscriber and the farmer. The subscriber accepts some of the risk. For instance if potatoes do not do well they may not get as many. However if another product does well then more will be made available. In our case subscribers will be getting a healthy supply of organic vegetables for a price that is often less than conventional vegetable prices. The CSA subscriber pays for the subscription up front. This allows the farmer to have the capital to start the season as well as shows commitment from the subscriber.
Our CSA will be operated in a simular manner. The cost of a subscription for a season will be $525. Half subscriptions are also available for $275. Payment can be made partial payments providing the total has been payed before the delivery of the first vegetable box. A half subscription offers the same vegetables, but on a bi-weekly pick up schedule. Because we are offering fresh weekly vegetables subscribers are required to make arrangements for pick up if they are unable to make it. Delivery to your home will be an option with in city limits of North Bay for a small fee. If picking up we ask that you bring grocery bags. Other products can be added to your box such as some of our many meat products as well as our popular free range eggs.
Lynn and I have spent many hours going over how to price our CSA. Searching other farms the prices range from $500-$850 for a subscription. We settled on $525 because this is our first year operating a CSA. We are expecting that subscribers will help us learn from this season. We grow allot of vegetables evey year. However a CSA requires much more planning. When growing vegetable regularily it does not matter if all the tomatoes ripen at the same time. With a CSA we want some to ripen early and continue through out the season. Our price is equal to $26-$29 for a 1/2 bushel per week depending on the length of the season. We think this is more than reasonable for organic vegetables. Selection is limited at the beginning of the season but as it progresses the variety of vegetables will increase and change.  
The CSA is the next logical step for our family in our progress as a farm. It allows us to expand availablity of local products to North Bay and area residents. As we all know local foods are the key to healing our family and our planet. We will be making up a pamphlet detailing the CSA and what we expect will be included. I will also be blogging more on the topic in the near future.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Where did spring go?

I am beginning to think we were really spoiled by the weather this March. It looks like winter just does not want to let go. There must be 3 inches of snow outside. It makes for damp slippery conditions that no one is happy with. When I go outside the cattle and sheep look at me like its my fault. They are not impressed by the damp cold weather. The soil that I was worried was too dry has turned into a soupy sloppy mess that has is very good at removing rubber boots. There is not much more maddening than trying to make it through the mud only to have a rubber boot sucked off your foot. Before you have a chance to realise what has happened your shin deep in mud with a socked foot. If you were lucky enough o keep your sock on. Sorry no pictures of this experience.

Luckily there is allot of work that needs done in the house. Lynn is still planting away. She just informed me that she is up to 1000 tomato plants. My house has turned into a tropical rainforest. It is getting difficult to walk through the house without knocking over a plant of some kind. Our window sills are covered with plants of various kinds. I feel like a jungle explorer peering through the jungle foliage every time I look out the window to see what the dogs are barking at, or why the cows are mooing.

Spring can't come soon enough now. Looking at the long range forecast suggests that thing will improve by next week. If you trust the weather network, that means we can start putting these plants out into the greenhouse.  Night time temperatures have to start staying above freezing before we attempt the relocation of Lynn's spring efforts. Next year we hope to have some sort of supplement heat for the greenhouse.

If everything goes well we should have enough vegetables to feed a small village. Lynn and I are hoping people enjoy our vegetables as much as they have our meats. We are have faith in the fact that there is a growing number of people out there that are worried about how and where they get their food. Our customers trust that we produce foods with the right priorities in mind. Unfortunately there is a growing number of "commercial" producers even locally that are starting up and taking advantage of the public trust. People need to start looking into where their food comes from. Ask questions. Don't trust catch phrases such as free range, naturally raised, grass fed, or even organic. Ask your farmer exactly what they do and how. You might be surprised to find out it is not what you think. You might even find out the person you are talking to isn't a farmer.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Arpil Showers

Its April and despite the sayings about April showers it has been a fairly sunny month. The greenhouse is up. As soon as the night temperatures stop dipping below zero, or we find a woodstove to heat it with, we will begin filling it up with seedlings. Lynn has gone crazy planting seeds. Pretty much any area that gets sun and some that don't, has plants growing in it. My kitchen is looking more like a "hot house" than a kitchen. Fluorescent lights are everywhere, with a few piled in the corner waiting for Lynn to decide where they could best be utilised. Lynn has been busily planting seeds in trays, then separating the seedlings into small cells like the ones you buy at the garden centre. The next step is to re pot the seedlings into larger 4 inch pots. It is a time consuming job that has kept Lynn busy for the last few weeks. Lynn uses a store bought organic potting mix. As soon the seedlings are up they receive a daily watering of manure tea. Manure tea is basically an organic fertiliser that we make. Soaking well composted manure in water to make a "tea". Despite the ingredients there is no smell. The manure is well composted and odourless. It seems to be working very well. The pumpkins, zucchinis, and squash are taking off. Our tomato plants are strong and about 8 inches high now. At last count we had about 300 broccoli plants coming up. Lynn plans on doing three farmers markets this summer, so she is going to need the stock.
Other things happening on the farm are not very exciting. We are hauling a lot of manure. The fields that we are using for the garden require allot of composted manure. The pastures for the livestock need manure as well. Most people don't realise it but manure is the most valuable product we produce on the farm. Without it everything else suffers. Manure is  like gold to an organic farm. Everything we produce takes nutrients from the soil. Vegetables, hay, grass, livestock all remove nutrients from the soil. The only way we can put the nutrients back is through compost. Most farms have depleted soils, simply because manure has been considered a waste product. Manure was piled up or given away instead of being applied back to the land where it belongs. We compost the manure for many reasons. First of all economics. As manure composts it reduces in size by up to ten times. That means less hauling, less diesel fuel, less time. All good things. Secondly composted manure is more stable and uniform. The composting process produces intense heat, which kills germs, and weed seeds. The pile can get hot enough in the middle to burn. Some creative farmers have been able to harness this heat to heat barns, greenhouses, even houses. Composting also eliminates the risk of ground water pollution. Fresh manure is full of molecules and compounds that cause pollution and foul odours. Compost smells like soil. The molecules and compounds have been reduced to stable natural levels. Manure is teaming with good and bad bacteria. As it is composted the ratio changes until the good bacteria far out number the bad. There are literally millions of simple life forms in a handful of compost. All working together to produce the soil that the more complex life forms depend on. The plants also produce nutrients as well through photosynthesis. They capture oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the air, and convert them into a product that is usable by bacteria and higher life forms.
That's probably enough about that shi...stuff.

I think we have had our last lamb for the year. But I have been surprised before. A couple of younger ewe lambs born late last year have produced healthy little lambs. Calving season should be getting into full swing. We have had five calves (3 bulls 2 heifers)so far. We should end up with about 16 this spring. There will be more in the fall. For those interested the little brown highland bull is doing well. He is a little slower than the others but is catching up quick. The black bull calf in the pictures is about a week younger. He is about 20lbs heavier. This is mostly due to the breed. The black calf is mostly angus. The mother is a cross breed the father was pure black angus. The brown calf is pure highland. As I mentioned before they are a smaller breed. Next year we will get our first crop of highland shorthorn calves. Breeding our own breed of cattle is a long process. Since these pictures were taken we have had a small highland heifer. Her pictures will be coming. At birth she was tiny, about the size of our border collie. The girls called her Friday, since she was born on Friday the 13th.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Early Spring

It sure has felt like spring for the last couple weeks. We jumped the gun a bit and started some seeds we saved from last year. We have not had much luck saving seeds before, so our technique usually involves saving and sowing many more seeds then we need. However this year we seem to be doing a much better job. I sure hope people like squash. The rest of our seeds arrived this week as well. Lynn was like a little girl on Christmas opening the big box that arrived in the mail.
 The grow lights are set up. Lynn is already asking me to build more. I am afraid the OPP are going to show up at the door soon. We don't have a big house so finding room for these seasonal projects can be difficult. so far we have butternut squash, pie pumpkins, giant pumpkins, yellow zucchini, ground cherries, tiny tim tomatoes, sun flowers, mint, rosemary, and some flowers that Allison planted. I don't know what type of flowers she planted because she through out the envelope they came in.

The cattle have been busy as well. This is our first pure highland calf. A little bull. I will post pictures soon of our Angus bull calf just shortly after birth to show the difference in size. The highland is only about 40 lbs. The Angus are usually 60-70lbs. Unfortunately despite being very small the cow had a very difficult birth.We think that the little guy might have took a breath before all the birth fluid has cleared. This can cause pneumonia. Hopefully he will be ok, but he is a little dopey and slow. He is four days old a still going, but still slow. 

                                                                  Christina is enjoying the spring weather. The girls have built a "fort" in the bush behind our cow pen. Using bits and pieces that I have thrown out from various building projects. I have to give the girls credit, they are ingenuitive. I have noticed that most of my pictures are of Christina. I am going to have to make an effort to get some more of Allison.

Another view of the fortress. Unfortunately I know that one day I will be cleaning up all that lumber.

All the cattle have been brought in to their spring paddock. We do not confine our stock unless it is really necessary. In the spring the frost comes out of the soil making it very soft. The cattle range in weights from 400kg to 600kg. They can make a mess of a pasture, turning it into what looks like a mine field. It is also the beginning of calving season. Having the cattle close to the house and all together makes it easier for us to keep an eye on them. As soon as the grass is up to about 25cm they will all be out on pasture. The girls are confined to about 1/2 an acre so they still have lots of room to lounge.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

New Projects

Everybody is pitching in with the new projects. Allison, Christina, and I are assembling the new greenhouse. We were able to pick up a few old portable garagees last fall. Enough material was scavanged to make a 24ft long greenhouse. The entire frame was assembled. Now we just have to add some strapping to fasten the plastic to. If the weather lately is any indicator we will be needing the greenhouse early this year. Lynn and the girls started the first seeds earlier this week. We have never used a greenhouse before, so this will be year should be intersting. In the next few weeks we will be ordering the rest of our garden supplies as well. More seeds are coming as well as mulch and row covers. We use a mulch material that conserves water and supresses weeds. Without the mulch weeds would out number the vegetables. Floating row covers are put over plants creating a greenhouse effect. This will speed up plant growth and help keep pests off the plants. We have always grown the bulk of our own vegetables, selling off excess, however this is the first year that we will be growing specifically for sale. We are all looking forward to providing natural chemical free produce to everyone. The taste alone of fresh naturally grown vegetables will make them a hit. It is difficult to compair the bland, residue covered, mass produced vegetables that are shipped from around the world to the grocery store, with the fresh, crisp vegetables produced locally. 

Its Chicken time

Spring looks like it has arrived. On the farm many things are happening during this time of year. The cows and sheep are having their offsrping, seeds are being ordered, and chicks arrive. Our chicks arrive on March 28th. Anybody interested can order chickens ahead of time. We do require a down payment of $10 per chicken. Chickens will be available by June however pre-ordering ensures you get as many as you want. Chicken is a popular and we usually run out quickly.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


I was recently forwarded a link to FRESH the movie. I will attempt to put the link on our blog. It is another very informative movie explaining the corruptness of our food production system and explains many of the ideas that we have tried to implement on our farm. My personal opinion is that the movie does an excellent job of explaining how our food production system is controlled by big business. Big business has a commitment to its shareholders, not to consumers. Where this movie and all the previous movies fail is in explaining how this in only one piece of a massive puzzle.
Many of these movies vilify the meat production side of agriculture. Unfortunately all that does is make people want to protest against meat production. By the time I am done watching this type of movie, I want to protest, and I am primarily a meat producer. However I firmly believe humans are omnivorous and require meat in our diet. It is part of our nature, which is what the basic argument of movies or books like FRESH, Food inc., or An omnivores dilemma. Meat production in nature is inseparable from vegetable production. Food production is so far removed from "natural" that it is no longer life sustaining. A good example of the symbiotic relationship between vegetable and meat production is Will Allen's farm, which is talked about in the movie.
I do not believe FRESH will get the publicity that Food Inc received. Food Inc. caused a big stir. Unfortunately after all of the publicity people went back to the grocery stores and bought all the conventional produced meat and vegetables. Big businesses like Monsanto have done a terrific job of capitalising on every humans lack of will power, short attention span and ignorance. I will admit my family is as guilty as the next. We are trying to make the best decisions when it comes to not only food but every purchase decision we make. It is difficult to pay "extra" for a Canadian or even USA made product when you can buy the same thing from China for significantly less. Even though quality usually suffers and many countries have terrible labour laws. People need to start putting the same effort into buying their food that they put into buying any other product. Stop buying junk at the grocery store.  Find a local farmer and talk to them about their production methods. Paying a little more at the till for good food will make a big effect on our health care system, the environment, our communities, our independence and society in general.
Despite my criticisms of the movie we did enjoy it and will probably watch it again. If you want to be more informed about where/how your food gets to your table, then watch the movie. It does give some good examples of how our food should be produced. People that enjoyed Food Inc will appreciate the movie.
Please forward the link to everyone you know. The more people that see it, the bigger the effect it will have. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

This week on the farm

Mild weather and mid winter blues have everyone thinking about the garden. Seed catalogues have been ordered, supplies are being listed, plans are being made. We are expanding our garden this year. Last season we plowed down an acre of pasture land in preparation for our next expansion. Up until now our mission was to provide "natural" meat products to the public. Without all the antibiotic residues, growth hormones, unnatural feeds. Growing the stock in a way that is sustainable, environmentally friendly and animal friendly. This year it is our goal to provide the same people with fruit and vegetables. The research we have done through our journey to become full time farmers has taught us allot about all areas of food production. While livestock, cattle in particular, have received allot of media attention regarding how taxing they are on the environment. Vegetable production has stayed below the radar. However conventional vegetable production can have devastating effects on the environment and the health of our families. Mass amounts of chemical fertilisers and insecticides are only two of many issues. Conventional vegetable production means crop specialisation. Huge specialised machinery for tilling, planting, spraying, and harvesting means farmers can only afford to grow one or two types of vegetables. Large scale potato farming for instance involves equipment that can add up to 1/2 a million dollars. These large mono crops lead to soil depletion of certain nutrients that have to be put back with chemicals, and disease infestations lead to huge amounts of chemicals being added to combat the disease. The soil provides nutrients for the plants, which in turn provide nutrients for the consumer. When you continually harvest the same crop, you drain the nutrients in the soil. Conventional farming only really tracks nitrogen(N), phosphorus(P), and potassium(K). A study we read last year showed a comparison of a grocery store tomato and a tomato from a small organic garden. The grocery store tomato had 12 measurable nutrients, the garden tomato had hundreds of measurable nutrients. I can not remember the exact number, but the difference was huge. The same holds true for other naturally produces vegetables. They may not be as pretty as the grocers store vegetables, but they are by far more nutritious.
We are not an "organic" farm but we do our best to produce food that is chemical free, working with nature instead of fighting. My wife had an experience a couple years ago that has pushed us in this direction. While out at a local berry patch picking she realised there were no black flies. At home the black flies were so bad she could not remain in the garden for more than 30 minutes. Just about the same time she saw the 60 foot wide crop sprayer heading out on an adjacent field. Strawberries are very difficult to grow organically. Everything loves straw berries.
We plan on growing a little bit of everything. Rotating crops, growing the soil with composted manure and cover crops, and utilising modern tools and old fashioned know how to grow nutritious family friendly food. This is a learning process so it will be a couple years before we are in full production.
The longer we farm the more we realise we are not just selling food. We sell nutrition.

On another note our livestock guardian dogs are almost ready to go to their new farm. One is going to a local sheep farmer, the others are going to three different sheep farms in Quebec. These dogs have been used for centuries to guard livestock from predators. They live with the sheep and consider the sheep their "pack". There are many breeds from all over the world. We prefer the Great Pyrenees. As the name implies they originate from France. Lambs are a favourite for many people, as well as coyotes, wolves, bears, bobcats, foxes..... There really are not very many carnivores that don't like lamb. Predation is one of the biggest issues in lamb production across North America.

We have had great success with a combination of electric fencing and dogs. We have never lost a lamb to a coyote, wolf or bear. They offer a non lethal way to keep predators away. They rely on the fact that wild animals do not want to fight. When a predator shows up at our fence Jack and Jill (the dogs)meet them. I have witnessed on several occasions a silent meeting at the fence. You can almost read the minds of the animals as they stare at each other. Then the coyotes wander off to eat the lambs of another local farmer. Many of which think we are crazy for feeding these big dogs. I have told them that all the dogs have to do is save three lambs per year to earn their keep. Old farmers tend to be stuck in their ways. In our opinion they are one of the best investments we have ever made. As far as the dogs are considered, they live the dream life (for a dog). They have access to the entire property, but usually stay inside an acre or two of fenced  land. No kennels, no tie out stakes. They eat a balanced dog food, with the addition of extra eggs and meat products produced here. They work for a living, but spend most of their time lounging on top of a hay pile in winter or under a shade tree in the summer.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

First 2012 Calf

Happy new year everyone.

Our first calf of the 2012 year has arrived. Born during the night of January 20th. We don't usually like calving during the winter, for obvious reasons. However last year we were late getting a bull and we could not justify waiting a whole year to get a calf out of our girls. We have at least one more cow that will be calving before spring. Hopefully we will be as Lucky with her. The new calf is what they call a "black baldy". They get this name because they are black in colour with a white face. This colour is usually produced when crossing breeding a black angus with a hereford cow(red and white cow in the first picture). Black baldies are very popular as cattle because these two breeds are excellent mothers and very hardy. By cross breeding them you usually get the best of both. For our set up it the breed is a very good addition because along with being a good mother they produce terrific grass fed meat. My wife, Lynn, loves the colour and has wanted a black baldy cow for some time now. The calf born is a female, so it is most likely if all goes well she will be added to our breeding herd, not for meat production. This has worked out well for Lynn because we no longer have a black angus bull, and we only have one hereford cow. So this was her only chance of getting a black baldy. This year we are using a Shorthorn bull. Shorthorns rival the angus in meat quality and marbling. Angus is just marketed better by the breeders. We were looking to add some diversity to the herd and shorthorn fit the bill.  Farmers from years gone by used to use a three way breeding program to produce good grass fed beef. Every two years most farmers change their bull, and these old farmers would rotate from angus to hereford to shorthorn. In one order or another. All three of these breeds offer good qualities. Most of ther best grass fed breeds are old British breeds. They include the three above plus highlands, galloway, murry grey, welsh blacks, white park and any combination of the above. Every farmer has their favourite, but each breed offers something. As mentioned above angus is only popular because it is the best advertised. The best steaks we have ever produced were actually from a couple of shorthorn cattle. You can see in our pictures we have a variety of breeds and cross breeds. The long haired shaggy looking creatures are highland cattle. They are a unique breed related to ancient Scottish cattle. They actually decent from a different line of cattle then all other breeds. They are known for their hardiness and exceptional mothering. Their meat has won many taste tests when competing with all other popular breeds, including angus. The royal family actually keeps a herd of highlands, and that is their source of beef. They are not as popular with the commercial guy's because they are small framed and slower growing. They require an extra couple of months to finish them. however they fir our program almost perfectly. When crossed with a shorthorn bull they will produce a nice beef animal, and an easy keeping mother. An added bonus is that the Highland does not produce as much external fat. This fat is usually just trimmed off the hanging carcass and wasted, which is a waste of money. Because the Highland has such thick insulating fur, it does not produce the amount of fat other breeds produce. I will be posting more pictures of the highlands as time goes on. Another bonus for us as farmers is the Highlands come in a range of colours. Most breeds have been selected for one or two colours at the most. We find it much more appealing to see variety in the pasture. A field of white or black cattle is just not as exciting to watch. And when calving season comes around it is always more fun to be surprised by a unique calf colour.