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.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Simple Life

Last week Lynn was making small to a potential customer while manning our booth at the North Bay Farmers Market. The lady Lynn was engaged with stated “I really wish I could live the simple life”. This is a comment we have heard repeatedly, usually from people that watched way to much Walt Disney as a child and are completely disconnected from how their food is produced and the delicate relationship between a farmer and nature. Of coarse Lynn smiled approvingly at the lady, nodding her head and replied “it is a nice life”. To clarify the easy life I decided to write a little about our year and how and just how easy it was.

On a cold January morning I went down to the barn to begin chores. I opened the door and quickly went inside. Before the door closed I could hear the pigs rise from their night sleep. Immediately they begin screaming a high pitched deafening scream like only a pig can. Making sure I know that they deserve to be fed first. I ran for the food pails only to find out that they were not filled the day before. I began the task of hauling four five gallon pails into the mow, up our old wooden ladder. Filling the pails as quickly as I can just to try and shut the pigs up. In a factory hog farm, workers where hearing protection because the hogs screaming can be so load. By this time my girls show up to help me with the barn chores.  The pigs are fed and some more grain is gathered for the sheep. We don’t usually feed grain to the sheep, but the drought last year caused our hay to be of poorer quality so we need to supplement. I carried the 30 lb buckets of grain through the mob of 50 sheep to the feeder. This is an experience that many more people should have. In fact I think it would be great training for someone entering a rugby league. Try to understand that grain to sheep is like cocaine to addict. Now imagine carrying the sheep’s “fix” through the mob of addicts and trying to get it poured into trough. Not exactly like Walt’s depiction of the stock lining up nicely and waiting patiently for their grain. While the sheep wolf down their fix, I noticed one ewe that is bagging up. This means she is developing an udder. Something she should not be doing until at least March. Then I notice at least 4 more ewes that are bagging up. How does this happen when we planned out our breeding very carefully to make sure lambs do not arrive in the cold weather. However a few overly active ram lambs thought otherwise last fall. We thought they were to young for breeding. Obviously not. Well now we get to look forward to many nights of checking ewes in the cold weather every 2-3 hours all night and all day. A lamb born in  cold weather has little chance of survival, twins even less. A fact of lamb production is that the average lamb loss is 20% on Ontario farms. We lost three lambs this year. Well below the provincial average. But it has not always been that way. We have lost our share over the years. Good breeding, experience and luck mean a lot in farming.

February rolls around, a fun time for Lynn. The seed catalogues start arriving by mail. It’s the equivalent to when the Sears Christmas catalogue arrived when we were younger. Sound great to most but when she is done going through and making her lists of mostly needs and a few wants we tally up a bill of about $1000 in seed. Add to this row covers, a new tiller, green house supplies, soil, etc… I thought the list would never end. While Lynn finalizes her list I go and do a check at the barn. The ewes are starting to get close to lambing now and one of the sows are do soon to. I open the door to the barn and the pigs begin screaming as usual. Unfortunately they have already been fed, but now are as well trained as Pavlov’s dog to the sound of barn door opening. I check on the sow. She has eight little piglets in her pen. I hope she is not done because to be profitable a pig must have at least 10 piglets per litter. I check out the piglets they are all nice and healthy, so I put them under the heat lamp to stay warm. Piglets are naturally attracted to their mother’s udder at birth. The sow usually develops a fever shortly before giving birth and the piglets gather around her for heat. The problem is a 500 lb sow can easily squish a 1.5 pound piglet as she lies down or moves around. So the idea is get them comfortable under the heat lamp so that is where they want to be. I proceed to check on the ewes one has lambed a set of twins. As I get ready to leave the barn I hear the sound of a new born lamb coming from out side. Last night was cold, dipping down to -18. Out side there is a nice healthy little lamb. Jack the Great Pyrenees guard dog is watching over the little guy. The next few days are supposed to be warm so I decide just to leave the lamb outside with his mother. Lambs are very hard after they are dried off, warmed up and get a good drink of milk.

The next morning I arrive at the barn to find the power out. I enter the barn to the sound of screaming pigs and immediately check on the sow. Unfortunately with the power out the heat lamp off the piglets gathered around the sow for warmth. We lost four piglets that day. Devastating to us since the sow did not have enough piglets in the first place. Next I went to check the water. The pump is frozen and so is the water lines. The girls and I do the barn chores, but now they include hauling 10 five gallon pails of water from the house to the barn. A five gallon pail ways about 50lbs. The house is about 500 ft from the barn and up a slippery hill. We hauled water for one week every day until I was able to get a new water pump and unthaw the water line to the well. Not an easy task. Luckily sheep can make do by eating snow. In fact even when we offer water in the winter it usually freezes. Our barn water freezes usually 2-3 times ever winter. The hydro frequently goes out or someone unplugs the heat cable and forgets to plug it back in. What ever the case Lynn and the girls don’t like to tell me when it happens.

We made it though another winter, most of the livestock made it. We lost a couple lambs because a ewe could not produce enough milk and we did not notice. Our second sow farrowed and gave us only one living piglet. We are not sure why, the rest were still born. We lost one cow to bloat. She fell asleep on some frozen hay, melted into a hole and could not get out. Cows are built funny with their multiple stomachs they bloat easily. Basically bloat is the build up of gases in their digestive system. If the can not pass the gas it can place pressure on their diaphragm and heart. Ideally it would be nice to not lose any animal, but realistically that just can’t happen. Even with modern technology and safety equipment people pass away all the time. To think that doesn’t happen to farm animals would be unrealistic. After all the farm animals can not tell you when they are sick, the farmer must notice. Animals hide sickness well. In nature the sick are picked off by predators. Goats are the worst. Usually you will not know a goat is sick until their heart stops beating.

Lynn has been busy starting vegetable plants. Our house looks like a grow-op. Every window is covered in plants and we have four shelves with grow lights on the go. April rolls around and we should be starting to put the plants in the green house, but the weather is so cold we can’t risk it. By May we start putting out the hardiest of plants and start more in the house. Lynn tallies the numbers of plants we have. Over 1000 and that’s just the tomato plants. We did not sell as many CSAs as we wanted to and a few extra expenses surprised us so the cultivator/ditcher won’t be purchased this year. All these plants will be planted by hand and shovel. I estimate over 10000 plants by the time we are done. Planted, fertilised (with composted manure), watered and harvested. Of coarse this is all weather dependant.

Spring arrives but the heat doesn’t. Everything keeps getting pushed back. Our CSA customers have to be informed that the vegetables will be two week later than anticipated. Thankfully many of them understand. Last year we had a drought, this year we have cold weather. At least the animals are finally out on pasture. Many people think this is an easy time of year. After all the livestock just wander around easting grass right. NO. First of all we use electric fencing. The animals do respect the fence, but if it is not working they are out before we know it. Usually I know when the fence is not working when one of the girls says “Is that cow supposed to be in the garden”, or “are the sheep supposed to be in the neighbour’s grain field”. Things that take down a fence include tree branches, moose, deer, bears, atv riders, and fencing trolls. Pastures them self harbour certain problems. Sheep for instance eat grass so close to the ground that they very susceptible to parasites. Another problem is predators. Everything in the bush likes to eat lamb. We have guard dogs that live with the sheep. On some nights the dogs bark all night. We know there is something out there. Is it a wolf, coyote, fox, bear, moose or an angry chipmunk? We don’t know, but it makes for a restless night.

As it turns out the only predator this night was the ground hog that ate all the plants that Lynn spent all day planting yesterday. While checking on the damage Lynn noticed a whole row of cucumbers are turning yellow. They have the same living conditions as the row beside them. What could be causing the problem? I don’t know but we stand to lose a significant amount of money if we don’t find out.

The year is not over yet, hay season is coming. The weather is being predictably unpredictable again. Hopefully we get some heat and the vegetables start producing. I still have to get our irrigation system figured out. To top all this off Lynn just called me. We lost two ewes tonight. Why, I don’t know. One was old, but why two. When we started into sheep a farmer told me “sheep are born trying to die. It’s the shepherds job to keep them alive until the appropriate time arrives”. All in all the easy life is not so easy after all. We work 15 hour days at least. No relief ever arrives. We have people that are willing to give us a break. But we know better. Time off isn’t relaxing when you are worried if your cow heard is grazing down the neighbours corn field. Walt Disney lied to everyone. A more accurate perception of farm life would be gained by watching an old black and white western. Where the farmer and his family works day and night to keep a fence around the cows and keep the draught from killing the crops. All so he can pay the bills. The simple life. No. But we like it.