I didn’t think I was a feather fancier…I, Iike many other it seems, was a bit freaked out by the flightiness of birds that I had encountered in the past. It turns out that chickens are actually really sweet when they are used to daily human contact. I’ve had some of my best cuddles with our Rhode Island Reds (which I have determined to be the cuddliest of the four breeds that we acquired last year for our laying flock). 

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We wanted chickens on our farm for two reasons: One was to have farm fresh eggs for ourselves and for our customers and two was to generate some fertility on our vegetable fields by rotationally grazing chickens on our future growing areas.

It turns out that fresh eggs are just out of this world…so amazing I don’t think I could eat the ones from the grocery store again. Eggs have a stellar shelf life, so the ones that you get at the store can be about 6 weeks old….not that there is anything wrong with that, but at that point, they taste different and have a different texture that ones that come fresh from the chickens bum 🙂

It remains to be seen how well the chickens have fertilized our fields, but we’re excited to grow on those areas where the chickens grazed last year to see if we notice a difference in veggie production. 

Anyways, our jump into the small scale egg market in Ontario, admittedly may have been slightly under researched. We started in March by purchasing 100 day-old laying hens, which is the maximum amount of birds that you can have in Ontario without owning quota through the supply managed system.

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This limit is quite a bit less than some other provinces (for example in BC, you can have 399 laying hens annually), but none-the-less 100 birds = a crap ton of eggs. At their peak these birds were laying 7 – 8 dozen eggs a day..really they are just amazing little food producers. Such abundance sounds great right? Unfortunately we learned that our plans to sell these eggs at the farmers market (which we had seen happen in BC with relative ease) was not so easy. It turns out that in order to sell your eggs at the farmers market in Ontario they must be graded at a licensed grading facility. The grading process checks for cracks/deformities in eggs as well as sizes eggs according to weight, washes and packs eggs all for a cool $1.90/dozen. Sounds good? Well sort of except for that the closest grading facility to us is over an hour away and requires a trip to drop the eggs off, and a trip to pick them back up which is maybe or maybe not justifiable for a small amount of eggs, but certainly difficult to do in the height of the season with everything else that is going on. That and the cost of the grading for a small scale producer either really cuts into relatively small margins or gets passed on to customers, which is why you often will pay upwards of $7/doz for a dozen free-range eggs at the farmers market from a small scale producer (rest assured that it’s not the farmer trying to gouge you!)

 

With these barriers in place have we been turned off from small-scale egg production? No, not really…in fact we are much more enthusiastic about chickens now that we know how lovely they are. We are trying to be a bit smarter about how we produce and sell eggs by selling egg-shares through the CSA, and we are considering trying out weekly or bi-weekly trips to the grader (side note: perhaps we need to work on an egg carpool with another producer or work to get a grading facility closer to us eventually). We have culled part of our first flock down to about 35 birds for the winter in order to not have too many eggs, and to have some really tasty soup hens, and have ordered some new birds that are set to arrive in spring. Part of why I wanted to write this blog post is because I am super excited about the breeds that we are getting! 

We’ve ordered some standard Red Sex Links, ready to lay hens (i.e. approx 16 week old) that will be coming around April. In addition to that, we’ve ordered some day-old Silver and Golden Laced Wynadottes:

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A gorgeous Golden Laced Wynandotte roo:

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And last…but not least…we have some Ameraucana chickens coming in April too

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Which means our egg stash is going to look something like this!

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Ameraucana chickens lay green/blue eggs, so we’ll actually be producing green eggs…and ham this year at Sideroad Natural Farm!

As you can probably tell from my attitude in this post that for us, having a laying flock can’t just be all about the money (although it would be nice if we weren’t out of pocket on them this year), it’s about the happiness they bring us and to other people, it’s about having a source of fresh, healthy food from animals who get to be outside and about rounding out our farm by creating a system where we generate soil fertility on-site. 

Happy Sunday!

Amy

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It was around the end of November 2012 when the Mr. and I drove out to our old farm field in Yarrow, BC to work on putting things away for the season…only to discover that our faithful little tractor had been stolen from the field in the middle of the night.  Sadly, at that point we were getting relatively used to farm theft…but it still hurt. I cried a few tears and we filed a fairly hopeless police report and started on our insurance claim.

Now up until that point, we had planned to stay farming in Yarrow, BC for a while…moving to Ontario to farm on Patrick’s family land was but a dream, fuelled by desires to have a secure place to farm that we could invest in for the long term. We like to think of the loss of our first little tractor in a more positive light now – a minor farm tragedy that tipped the scales in favour of Ontario. That, and the cute little house we bought in Clarksburg that I had been pining over for a year was still on the market…and far more affordable than any house we could have ever found living in the Lower Mainland in BC.

Over the next few months we made our arrangements to shut down Skeeter Farm, finish up our consulting contracts and say goodbye to family and dear friends. On February 27th we started our great migration half way across the country to begin our farming dreams in the Beaver Valley…

Road trip!
Road trip!
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It’s a good thing she loves us so much.

If you’ve been following along with us since the beginning, you may remember that we took our belated honeymoon in Thailand just before heading off on our migration.

Can't take us anywhere...
Can’t take us anywhere…

While sipping on some soda pops at the beach…we mustered up some farm goals for our first season.

We like goals…should probably get going on writing our 2014 ones. Although we didn’t do everything that we managed to dream up on that beach in Thailand, looking back, I am fairly impressed with the amount that we have accomplished.

To recap, we arrived at the farm in March, managed to get our farm field started from scratch….like clearing brush and witching for water from scratch, and have a full farmers market/CSA season. The farmers market/CSA combo was not a new venture because  we were doing that back in BC…but the whole growing season/weather/frost/snow!/pests/soils/water situation was brand new, and not without its challenges. We also ramped our farmers markets up, way up, from what we were used to. We did a grand total of 54 farmers markets last year between May and October, which was about 42 more markets than we had ever done in a season, and most certainly way too much for one couple to manage in perpetuity. We’ll be scaling back on that for this season.

I feel like the CSA was a success. It was much smaller in terms of shareholders than we have had in the past, but it seems like most of our customers were quite happy with the experience and the produce that they received. In retrospect, I am happy we started smaller and had happy customers, rather than tried to go all out with the CSA in our first year only to have to ration produce. The plan is to scale up the CSA slowly year by year until that aspect of our business matches the revenues we bring in at farmers markets. That is the balance we have had in the past, and despite the structure being somewhat challenging in terms of crop planning on our small farm (generally for markets we have found it’s best to have more quantity over variety and for CSA more variety with just enough quantity so that the shareholders aren’t overwhelmed), we feel more comfortable with a more diversified business.

Week 1: Onions, rainbow chard, kale, basil, spring mix salad, sunflower sprouts, peashoots, cherries and garlic scape pesto.
The very first CSA share to go out the door sometime in mid July

We whole heartedly delved into livestock with the addition of hogs, turkeys and laying hens to the farm in the spring. It would be dishonest if I failed to mentioned that there were moments of panic throughout the season, and that the experience of slaughtering animals that we had shared so many laughs and cuddles with was quite hard and continues to be hard. However, overall, the livestock have been a fantastic and rewarding way for us to round out our farm operation (yay good compost!), provide a break from the occasional monotony of the veggie season and to meet a whole other amazing group of customers who are into buying meat from small farms.

The beauty of a brand new litter of tams and the heartbreak of losing a sweet little babe a day later.
The joy of a brand new litter of tams followed by the heartbreak of losing one sweet little babe a day later.

For this next season, we’re planning to continue with the pasture raised pork, turkeys and eggs and we’ll also be trying out some pastured meat chickens. There are a couple of small bee hives arriving at the farm in spring which we are very excited about.

Back at the beginning of the year we wrote about our goal of finding the farm-life balance that we have been struggling to find since starting to farm six years ago. I am not sure we really moved towards that goal in 2013. This past year felt particularly unbalanced as we were really pushing ourselves to get things up and running. We also ended up taking on a bit of off-farm work in order to finance more of the infrastructure we need at the farm and to keep things running on the home front. I am working part time with an organization that delivers environmental and business programs to farmers and we’re both working on similar consulting work that we thought we had left behind when we left BC…but has found us again. I didn’t think this would be the case, but I am actually really enjoying the balance that more work, and different work brings to our lives. We both enjoy being connected with the broader community through work and for now, it eases our financial stress as we get through the start up years of the farm.

All this work on the farm and elsewhere hasn’t really left much room for play, and at times it can be taxing on our relationship which is very much entwined with our farm and other work…but perhaps that’s just the farmer’s way? I don’t know…we’re still trying to figure that one out.

In all, an amazing year, a crazy year, a hard year, I am glad it happened, but I am happy it’s behind us. Here’s to more news on the blog as things unfold this season.

Thanks for reading and caring.
xo
Amy

Again it’s been forever since posting up here. Last weekend was our final farmers market of the season. Our  CSA program still runs for four more weeks, but we have a lot more free time so expect to see us back in blogging action, catching you up on the events of the season. We went for a lovely fall walk just before Thanksgiving and we thought we would share some photos with you. I am pretty excited about Ontario fall, it’s my first!

-Amy

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We’ve been a little neglectful of the blog lately as we focus on putting plants in the ground and getting our markets going. Sorry about that! We’ve got a few good blog posts marinating in our minds that we’re almost ready to post…but that’s not going to happen today because it’s sunny and we have about a million and a half onion seedlings that still haven’t been planted.

So for now, just some pictures of what’s been up at Sideroad Natural Farm since the last time we posted on here.

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I meant to post this on Sunday as a “week in review” blog post, but the day ended up consumed by a massive wild leek pickling turned leek pesto making mission. As the days get warmer the weeks are starting to blend together anyways, so we’ll use the idea of a “week” loosely. Going forward, you can expect less wordy blog posts, and more posts filled with pictures as we struggle to keep up with needs of the farm and form proper sentences (oh and don’t even expect us to grammar/spell check our posts during farm season…just putting that out there now for all you grammar police:). If you’re not a Facebooker, but still want to keep up with the farm on a more regular basis than our sporadic blog posts allow, you can view our Facebook page without having an account (www.facebook.com/sideroadnaturalfarm). Without further ado, here’s whats been up at the farm:

The week started off with a bang with some of the nicest darn weather we’ve seen yet. What a turn around from April eh?

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The piggies sure were happy about the sun and started spending copious amounts of time in their mud bath.

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The chickens were a little jealous and were like…”Hey! What gives. It’s sunny, let us out!” With time little chickens, with time….(They’ll get out in the next week or so once they’re a little older and we get our electric fencing set up).

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Our first task of the week was to tackle the hoophouse that has been sitting the farm’s driveway in pieces for the last month. We would have liked to have it set up sooner, but couldn’t bear to touch so much cold metal in sub zero temperatures. Step one was to transport all of the greenhouse parts out to the field. Holy dina! What a chore!

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The transport took a day….a whole day! Our progress wasn’t helped by getting the tractor seriously stuck in the still mucky fields.

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In between transporting the hoophouse and actually setting it up, we had a visit from one of our neighbours in Clarksburg who is skilled at finding water with a divining rod (in this case an apple branch). We all took a walk on the farm and tried our hand at finding ground water using, in addition to the branch, a saw, two coat hangers and a pocket watch. Both Pat and I could pick up on the water with the coat hangers, but couldn’t get the branch to work for us.

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Layla and Yarrow thought we were all crazy and pointed out where the water was using their own spidey sense.

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Buuuuut we all agreed that the pups’ creek would dry up once the spring melt ended, and Debbie ended up finding us two good sources of ground water, one at 20 ft, one at 30 ft, both potable. We were happy for the insight and were pretty amazed by her skills.
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We then moved on to setting up the hoophouse which involved setting up the anchor posts first (the most time consuming and physical part in our experience). After that we put the hoops together and set them on the anchor posts. Here I am with Yarrow, modelling the inaugural hoop.

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After a few sporadic periods of work, we managed to get the whole frame up this week. There are just a few more supports to add onto the structure to make it snow/wind proof, then the plastic on, and it will all be ready for our tomatoes, eggplants and peppers around the middle of the month.

Near the end of the week we worked on clearing parts of the field of Hawthorns (a terrible, prickly, scraggly tree) with the help of Pat’s dad Bob (thanks Bob!). We also mowed and got ready to start working the soil.

Before we got to working the soil, we took a nice walk in the forest with some of the 25th Sideroad neighbours and Mel. The forest is so beautiful right now and we were happy to learn some of the local flowers from our neighbours Bill and Elaine.

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The flowers sure were pretty, but the primary purpose of our walk was to harvest some of these bad boys (wild leeks).

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Yarrow was a great leek scout

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And the rest of the team brought their A-game as well.

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After leek harvest, I hurried home to start a massive wild leek pickling mission.

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However, after 6 hours of leek cleaning, and only 12 jars of pickled leeks, I decided to switch gears and turn their delicious garlicky leaves into pesto. The pesto making went much smoother and I am happy to report we’ll have many jars for sale at the upcoming Clarksburg and Collingwood Farmer’s Markets.

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While I made pesto, Pat started on something that we’re very very excited about…working the field!! We bought a little PTO driven plow to attach to our BCS rototiller which has allowed us to work up a half acre of land which we’ll start planting in tomorrow.

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The plowing sure is tough work though and it’s super slow going…we were happy to hear today that our farm neighbour is able to help us get the rest of the field plowed early next week! We are very appreciative of this as we know he is a very busy farmer, especially right now as he tries to get his planting done for the season.

And with that, one awesome, sunny, productive week comes to an end.

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– Amy

p.s. as I read back through the post I noticed a common theme…we have such awesome neighbours!!! Thanks everyone (including family) for being so supportive as we get this farm off the ground.

When we decided to move Ontario to start a farm, we did so for the unique opportunity to ‘grow’ a farm on family land. You see, in BC we leased land and thus were hesitant to invest significant capital in buildings and other infrastructure due to a lack of certainty around our future on the land. I should also add that we were unable to keep livestock, which is something Amy and I were interesting in trying. At our new farm in Ontario, we can plan and grow our farm with some certainty that we will be farming on the land long term.

So, we have hit the ground running and have been building up a storm. With no more than the land to begin with (which in itself is a huge asset), we are building the farm from the ground up. So, here’s what we’ve been busy building.

First up was the growing set up in our heated garage at home. We wanted to get seeds going at the beginning of March and with nothing set up at the farm by way of a heated greenhouse, we opted for shelves with grow lights in the comforts of our little garage.

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“We’re gonna need a bigger boat” – George Jung (Blow)

With the number of seedlings growing quickly and no interest in spending more money on grow lights, we designed and built a hoophouse in our backyard with a handy hoop bender from Johnny’s Seeds. We opted for a 12 ft wide structure, which was relatively simple to construct.

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Truck bed, 2 x 4s and a sheet of plywood made for a handy bending platform.
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Bam!

We started to run low on materials but needed a vent, hence the patchwork window to save some pennies. Amy think it adds character, I try not to look at it.

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Happy plants!

Next up was the chicken brooder.  Having ordered 132 day-old baby chicks with little clue as to how to care for them, we had to hit the books (we really like the Storey’s guides to raising livestock) and the interwebs. We ultimately came up with a simple brooder design that will house the chicks for the first three weeks at which point they’ll be moved into their permanent home, the mobile chicken coop (currently in the concept phase). The chicks seem to be happy in their little brooder with ample space to test their roadrunner legs. However, they grow like weeds so the plan is to construct the mobile chicken coop next week.

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Farmer Amy with brooder

The most recent project was the mobile pig house, also known as the pig bunker. With three gilts (female pigs meant for breeding) on the way, we again referred to some farm books and the internet for how the keep the pigs on pasture. With decided on the design seen below which can be dragged or rolled (with the addition of wheels) from location to location. Amy wanted to paint it red, but we went with the desert storm camo colour as it was 75% off at the hardware store. The pig bunker will be situated within a fenced area where the pigs can roam freely. We’ll post some pics of the whole set-up when everything is in place.

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Pig bunker on runners. In theory this should work, we’ll keep you posted.

In and amongst all of the building we have purchased ourselves a nice walk-behind tractor which should come in the next two weeks. We are also deciding on a water sources and exploring options for power at the site (which is off-grid). Finally, we have purchased a 20 ft by 96 ft greenhouse which lies disassembled at the farm…it’s on the list.

So all in all, life is busy on the farm with much to do to get it off the ground. Yet I will say that days have seldom gone by so fast.

Happy Spring,

Patrick

We gained 100 and some odd new farm family members this week with the arrival of our day old chicks on Wednesday.

Little chickeys arrived in a box, segregated, a little stressed and chilly.

If you are a fan of us on Facebook you may have already guessed that we’re sort of obsessed with them. They’re so fluffy and they make the cutest little peeps.

Hey there little fluffball.

So cute actually that we don’t even mind that we’ve been cleaning their poopy butts all week. No joke…sometimes baby chicks get what’s called “pasting” which is where their poop gets stuck to their bums and can block everything up (potentially lethal if you don’t take care of it in a timely manner).

Farmer Pat gently cares for the poor little lady at our chick aid station.
Farmer Pat gently cares for this poor babe at our chick aid station.

All cuteness aside, they serve an important function on our farm. In a few weeks we’ll be moving them outside onto pasture where they will we rotated around our fields. They’ll be eating, scratching at the soil and pooping lots. Their manure will help to fertilize our future veggie growing areas. Anyone who has ever purchased organic compost to fertilize a large growing area ($$$bling) can appreciate why some livestock is such a valuable asset to the small, mixed farming operation.

Around late August they will start laying eggs, adding to our revenue stream and giving us product to sell year round.

Future egg layers right there.

We’ve also purchased three Tamworth pig gilts that will be delivered later next week. If all goes well, they will be our breeding stock for our small herd of pasture raised hogs. Similar to the chickens they’ll be working double time, rooting, digging and helping to revitalize pastures as well as pooping lots – giving us great material to add to our own compost pile.

Some Tamworths - I stoled this from Wikipedia.
Some Tamworths – I stole this pic from Wikipedia.

So, while rest assured that we will be posting many, many adorable photos of the animals that are soon to be on our farm, it’s not all about the cuteness (although that is certainly a bonus). For those of you who enjoy eating the aforementioned farm products, we’ll have eggs ready for purchase through our CSA program and from the farm gate in late summer, pork in the fall, and a small amount of chickens and thanksgiving turkeys this year.

On another note, Happy Easter! We hope you’re all having a great weekend with at least one delicious dinner.
-Amy