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Posted 8/5/2018 7:00pm by Mrs. Funny Duck.

They say when it rains it pours, but sometimes it threatens rain, strikes lightning, starts fires, and your haying equipment incessantly tests your resolve. Thankfully, farmers seem to possess more resolve than any other type of person I know.

2018 has been a lousy growing season, third one in row actually. Trying to harvest enough hay for your livestock when the weather is your adversary is no picnic. In a drought like this year, the yields and quality are low, so you know that you will need every single scrap you can harvest, and you will probably have to cull your herd hard in the fall. But you find a way to make it through.

We’re involved in a project to help maintain habitat for the Bobolink, which is listed as critical on the endangered species list, and we always delay haying in certain fields until after July 15th. By then, the young birds have fledged the nests. These birds are an important part of the ecosystem, and we do all we can to help them. So, we wait to hay the big field where they nest, and the weather leading up till then is perfect.

Then, July 15th arrives. 

The weather turns. 

The perfect haying weather is gone.

The ground is still dry and parched from drought, but now there are constant threats of sudden showers, the humidity soars, and the haying weather windows shrink up and disappear.

To make good hay you need hot, dry, windy weather that sticks around for 2 to 4 days. Some of our fields need 4 days, other fields can be done in 2 to 3 days, if the weather and equipment co-operates. 

A 2-day hay window only works if you know you can get all the hay in and off the field. What you don’t want is to leave cut hay lying on the field to get rained on. And you sure don’t want to leave square bales on the field. You need to know that if you cut it, it will be baled and put away.

So, a haying window comes along. This is far from a perfect window. The humidity is high, the percentage of rain is wobbling from 40-60%, but the actual amount of predicted precipitation is very low, less than 1ml. We take a chance. We need the hay harvested so the pasture can re-grow and we can graze it because it’s a drought, and we need all the grazing we can get. 

We decide to cut two portions in our largest hay field, one at the top of the field, and one at the bottom. We know we need to get it done, but we all have some serious reservations about doing it. The weather window looks lousy, but better than it’s been in over two weeks.

The cutting goes great on the first section, same with the raking. We cut the second section the next day, and we are able to begin baling the first section that day too. Everything is going without a hitch, everything is running so smoothly! 

Part way through loading a wagon, and the knotter on the baler starts to act up. We stop, adjust, and continue but it’s not fixed. We fiddle about, contact some farmer friends for advice, look up as many YouTube videos about New Holland balers we can find, but we can see we are loosing daylight. We can see what part isn’t working, but we can’t really say what is causing it not to work. We stop baling and continue researching parts and repairs. Farmer friends offer to loan us they balers. They know what it's like to have hay on the ground that needs to get baled. Our local farming community is nothing short of amazing.

The next day, we have the baler serviced, and it’s the pin for the bill hook and a couple of brass nuts that were worn, preventing the knot from being made on the one side. 

The parts are replaced, and we are good to go! The dew dries off, and we begin to bale again. Soon after we’ve finished loading the last wagon for the first section we cut. Two of us go to unload the hay, and the other starts raking the hay that was cut the day before. There are only about 25, maybe 30 rows left to bale, and the rows at the end are short due to the shape of the field. We’re going to get it done, even though the baler broke and we lost all those hours! Such a relief!

My husband and I are putting the last few bales away at the other farm property, and as we finish up, dark storm clouds roll in and thunder starts to make angry noises. We head to the house for water and to quickly eat some leftovers before heading back to bale the rest. We check the weather quickly, and looks like the storm is here, but not where we are baling, 6km away.

I’ve told the two kids that are home that rather than come with us to the other farm to help bale now, they should stay here and rest up. I tell them to drink lots of water, and make sure they have a good meal. One seems a bit disappointed. I say to them both, “Look, later on, we might really need you guys to help, and I need you to have energy, because the grownups might be almost out by then, ok?” The youngest seems to accept this logic. 

We drive the 6km back to where the raking is taking place. Half the remaining section is raked and ready to bale, but there is a problem with the rake. A rear arm from the tractor got jammed between the double tongue of the rake when turning, and pried it open. A brief amount of time none of us feel we can spare is spent deciding if we have the tools to fix it. Ultimately, the decision to just put in a longer pin is made. Raking continues and baling the second section starts. We’re all trying to ignore the massive storm clouds that seem to be coming awfully close to the field we are working it. The lighting show is impressive, but startling at times.

There are three people, and two tractors running, and I don’t drive the tractors, so guess who’s on the hay wagon by herself? This old girl. I’m ok with it, because I know my sister will be there shortly, she doesn’t have that much more to rake, and my husband is running the baler slower for me. First layer of stacking is easy. Second layer goes well too. 

As I stack bales, I watch the barn swallows. There must be 50 of them flying around us. I love watching them swoop and glide over the field. Cutting hay exposes even more insects for them to feast on. I decide my favourite colour is the steely blue of a barn swallows back. 

We’re all still trying to ignore the massive storm clouds that seem to slouch ever closer to where our hay is laid out dry on the ground, naked and exposed. I say some quick prayers that God will keep those clouds moving further from us.

I see a fire truck with lights flashing go speeding past on the road, I can’t tell if the sirens are on over the noise of the tractor and the baler. I have a few seconds of concern, because there are only about 10 households on the road between our two farms, the sight of an emergency vehicle on it is rare, and its headed towards the house where the kids are.

I have a brief moment where I wonder what if the kids were cooking and there was a fire? But I know they are very careful. The idea of a lightning strike passes through my mind, I think about the animals and the barn, knowing there have been so many barn fires lately, but ultimately, I tell myself the local volunteer fire department is headed elsewhere. 

Moments later, I see a rainbow in the direction of where my kids are. I figure it’s God’s way of telling me that my kids are ok, then I have an instant where I think maybe it’s God’s way of saying they are over the rainbow bridge. I decide He’s saying it’s a sign they are well, and I keep stacking. Someone would call if there was a problem. 

I’m now on the third layer of stacking and things are still going well. I can feel that my muscles are getting tired, there have already been many bales moved today, so I’m being very careful as I climb up and down the stack to place bales. You have to climb up, place the bale in its place, they get back in time to catch the next one so it doesn’t fall off the baler and on to the ground. I don’t want to trip or stumble, no one can afford to get injured today. 

At one point we notice a friend of ours is walking up the field towards us. Lisa used to work with us, and her sister lives next door to me. She had mentioned she might stop by this week, so I was’t surprised to see her. When she caught up to us though, I was very surprised at the reason she had come right then. Lightning had struck about 400 feet from our house and started a bush fire. The house 2/3’s of my kids were at! 

The strike was somewhere between our house and her sisters place next door to ours. It set their vehicle alarms off, which caused a flurry of hasty phone calls to be made. Troy next door responded to the fire by stomping on it whilst wearing fire-retardant boots and pants, until our local volunteer fire department arrived, which thankfully was swiftly. The fire was put out before it spread.

Lisa and her sister had tried to call me, but my phone was inside charging. Lisa had first gone to check on the kids to make sure they were ok, then headed over to where we were haying to tell us what happened. Thank God for good friends and good neighbours! 

Now that I was no longer ignorant of the crisis that had been averted, it was back onto the wagon. The third layer was almost done and I asked for the tractor to go a bit slower for the fourth stack. Fourth stack was almost done and we kept going. The windrow of hay we were picking up was a thick one, and the bales were coming fast, even at the slower speed as I began to form the 5th layer. 

The sun was beating down, and I could feel the heat sapping my strength. The higher the stack, the more wobbly the wagon gets. I could tell that if I wasn’t careful, I would stumble. I gave my husband the signal to stop so I could rest. Jen arrived a moment or two later, and we finished up the wagon load. 

We were almost done. We got the next wagon hooked up and started baling again. We were still trying to disregard the lightning and storm clouds that were nearing us gradually. So close to being done. Just a few more rows to bale.

We were all tired and exhausted, because during haying the other farm work doesn’t stop, not one bit. There are still animals to be fed and watered and milked, there is still rotational grazing fences to be moved almost daily, there is still gardening to be done, CSA prep and planing, and of course admin work is always there eating up hours of each day. Baling hay was just one more thing to add to the list.

Seeing the end in sight, we all shook aside the feelings of being over-tired and over-heated, and I ignored the blisters on my feet that were getting worse by the moment. Turns out Jens feet were giving her grief too. All I could think was a few more rows and we’re done and I can take my shoes off. Neither of us says anything about our aching feet. Just a few more rows to go. 

Then the tractor stops. A tire on the baler is flat as a pancake. But we’re almost done! Why now? Why now when we have so little left to do, and we’re running out of day light? 

Jen runs down the field to get the compressor, charge it, and bring it back with the truck. Aaron and I start to turn single windrows of hay into doubles so we can bales faster if the tire will hold long enough to finish the job. There are only about 5 or 6 more rows now that we’ve compressed them. There isn’t enough time to get another baler. We need the hay off the field now. 

Aaron and Jen work on the tire and can see it’s damaged beyond repair, there is no inflating it to finish picking up the bales. We decide that we are going to feed the baler the last of the hay by hand. 

We make a quick call to Grandma and ask her to fetch the kids at the other farm. We call the kids and tell them to get their haying clothes on, to get pitchforks from the barn, and to wait for Grandma in the driveway. She said it looked like some bizarre version of American Gothic when she arrived there for them.

We limp the baler to the middle of the field, and using pitch forks, pick up the hay in the windrows and feed it to the baler. It’s hot, and its dusty, and it’s exhausting. But we know every pitchfork of hay is more mouthfuls of feed. We cannot spare to leave any feed behind on the field. Not this year when hay is so short.

As I’m moving hay closer to the baler, I’m trying to ignore the sick feeling in my gut watching Jen and Aaron work so close to all the moving parts that we all usually steer very clear of. I know how tired we all are, and how easy a mistake could be right now. The baler is hungry, but the animals will be hungrier this winter if we don’t do this.

So we rake and carry. 

As you move towards the baler and tractor, it gets so loud. The baler picks up the hay from the ground, packs it into tight bales, then ties it, but makes an incredible racket to do this. 

Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM! 

When you are stacking hay on the wagon, it’s a rhythmic, hypnotic sound. Almost encouraging, like marching music, or some type of primitive song that makes your body want to move.

But on the ground, as you get close to the dangerously powerful and fast spinning parts, it sounds so angry, and so hungry; like it will never be satisfied until it eats all the hay and anyone who stands too close. 

My mind tells me this is too hard, that we can’t do it; then I think of the farmers in Australia, and the massive drought they are faced with now. I think of them having to shoot their flocks because there is no feed anywhere, and how many of them think of using the last bullet for themselves. What we are doing right now is not too hard. We have hay, we just need to feed it into the baler. Nothing we are facing compares to what they are right now. I keep moving.

The kids arrive, and I am so thankful that there are now three more bodies holding pitchforks, three more bodies to move hay. As the first two reach me I say, “Remember how I asked you guys to rest up? Yeah, well this is your moment. We really need you guys right now.” I hope they can tell by my tone and my appearance that I am incredibly serious. 

We set them up working away from the baling equipment, and have them moving hay into piles so the adults can move it over to the insatiable baler. 

Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM!

It never ceases, even with its rotten, ugly, defective wheel.

We move hay. We watch the storm clouds. We see this incredible sunset. It’s so beautiful... the fields look lush and green in the failing light, the animals are off grazing in the distance, and the sun is massive and red on the horizon of the hill past the top of the field we’re working in. The trees on the horizon and our bodies are in silhouette as we work in front of the suns deep red light. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve see all day, and I want to Instagram that shit so bad, but there isn’t a moment to stop. The baler is hungry. 

Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM!

My arm and wrist is aching from carrying loads of hay on the pitchfork, even though I know my loads are smaller than Aaron and Jen’s. How the hell are they getting so much on their forks? I know everyone else is hurting too, so I just keep moving. My feet are so sweaty and gritty and I’m sure I can feel the blisters on the bottom of my toes opening up. 

Again I start to feel like we can’t do this, then I think of the farmers in Australia, and I keep going. This is nothing. Tonight I can hop in the shower, and tomorrow we will put the bales away. We don’t have to kill our animals to save them from starving to death. This is nothing.

I try to take my mind off the pain and disturbing thoughts by telling myself stories. When my kids were little, I used to make up bed time stories each night. They always started with “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…” and they would always be about one of the kids going on an adventure then finding their way home to finally go to sleep. 

...Once upon a time, in a land far far away, three little children were stolen by a cruel witch. The witch had a big steel leg, and when she walked, it made a terrible sound, Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM! Ka-thunk-BOOM! 

The story went on to have the children escape to the cool forest on the edge of the dry, dusty field she had them working in, and eventually they made their way home to find their parents. 

Telling stories was obviously taking my mind out of where I was, as my sister became worried about me. She said I looked like I was in bad shape. I was, but at least my mind was in that cool forest.

From time to time, I would worry how the kids were doing, but I would hear their Aunty Jen making jokes and keeping their morale up. There was talk of haying being like Navy Seals training, and then next thing you know they are talking about baby seals. Who doesn’t like baby seals? Everyone loves baby seals. I could hear little bits of laughter from them being carried on the wind. 

We kept feeding the baler until the last of the hay was off the field. Finally, the baler is shut off, it is quiet, and we can hear the crickets chirping. 

We did it. The hay is off the field, and the bales on the wagon. Jen takes a picture of us to capture the moment. The moment that shows we didn’t give up, we resolved to get the job done. I wish at that moment we had one of those stupid selfie sticks so she can be in the picture too, but I know that the photographer is always in the picture, just on the other side of it.

We head back to the farm house to eat the meal that Grandma and my eldest has spent the day preparing. The foods are amazing, exactly what we need, and so are the two desserts. Yes kids, you can have two helpings. 

The kids say how hard the job was, say that even baling hay the regular way is hard, and ask how we can do it year after year. 

I’m not sure how to answer really, so I shrug and say, ‘We just do it”.

...

Farming is a gratifying job, probably largely in part because it is a hard job. I want food to be affordable for everyone, but it bothers me that a dentist or orthodontist makes in a day what most farmers make in a week or more. It bothers me when people in $500,000 homes say they can’t fit local food into their budget. It bothers me that fewer and fewer family farms are running each year, and more and more multinationals are taking over the food supply. Multinationals that probably have little interest in your health or the health of the planet. 

I have yet to meet a family farmer that doesn’t care deeply for the land and the animals they tend. I have yet to meet a family farmer who doesn’t want to grow everything the very best they can, but can take only what the current market will pay. If farmers charged what the food they grew actually cost to produce, no one could afford to eat. 

I don’t like subsidies and hand outs, but we need to find a way to make sure the best, most healthy food is available to everyone, not just those who can afford it, and the farmer isn’t just making pennies to provide this essential service. 

I don’t know what the full solution looks like when it comes to farming and climate change and food affordability and food security, and all the other big problems we are faced with in agriculture, but I know it starts with supporting farms. 

It starts with taking notice when the government makes changes to agricultural programs and supports. Because changes have been made. 

It starts with buying local when you can, and understanding why it is that the farmers market or your CSA may not have a full selection like a grocery store. 

It starts with learning why it costs so much to produce good food, and why processed food is so cheap.

When your farmer looks weary, give them some encouragement. They may not always tell you what they are up against. 

I love that our CSA members get all this. I love that they understand this and are always learning about the food system and how we can improve it. I love that many of them donate their food baskets to needy families when they are away on holidays. Our members are why we keep doing this.

Even when the odds are stacked against us, we have have the resolve to get through, and to keep going.
 

  

 

Posted 7/13/2017 9:58pm by Samantha Klinck.

Summer Haven Horizon Suzette (or Suzie Q, or Suzie Cow as we used to call her) came to us in the winter of 2013. She was almost 6 years old, which is the end of the line for many dairy cows on conventional farms. Suzie didn’t come from a conventional farm though, she came from a local certified organic dairy farm up the road from us. This meant that she would probably live on to have a few more good years.  

She was sold to us as a cull cow. We were short on milk to feed our growing herd of pigs, so Suzie was to fill in the gap. Had we not bought her that day, she would have been shipped for beef within the month. So buying her was a win both her and the farm.  

When she arrived at our farm, there was the typical establishment of pecking order than took place with her and the other cows. Sometimes this can take all day, but with Suzie, it was done in about 2 minutes flat. This girl had a quiet authority about her, and she knew how to take the lead.  

Over the years, this beautiful cow was head cow within the Jersey herd and she kept the peace in the barn-yard. She was an easy milker, gave an abundance of creamy, sweet milk, and she just doted on any calves that came her way. If she were allowed, she would feed every calf in the herd, and still find a way to give us a few litres as well.  

As she came from a dairy line, she had only ever been serviced by AI, (artificial insemination). Last year, the extreme weather of the drought was making it hard to detect when she was in heat so we could have AI done. So, we took her down the road to spend some time with our Dexter bull, Apollo. She and Apollo fell in love. Never have I seen two cows interact like the two of them. It was incredibly sweet!  

She was due to calve this July, within days of her daughter, Buttercup. This Monday, Buttercup had a lovely heifer calf, and all the cows were there to welcome the arrival of the new calf. Suzie was right in there, acting as a second mother. She would have stolen that calf away in a heartbeat, given the chance.  

I had some concerns about the calf nursing off of Suzie. I didn’t want the calf to take the colostrum and start Suzie’ s milk production before the calf was born, or for the wax plugs that seal her teats to be removed. The wax is there to prevent bacteria from entering the teat, which could cause an infection. The immune system of a cow is most fragile around the time of calving.

However, every time the calf tried to suckle, she would wander all around Suzie (who was always right beside Buttercup, hoping to steal that calf away), and then find her way back around to her mother for a drink. Suzie was due to birth her calf any day, so I tried to not worry about it.  

Tuesday day and evening are always busy on the farm preparing for delivery the next day. I was up late harvesting veggies and herbs, and around dusk I went out to check on the cows. All was well. I was ready for bed towards midnight, only to be pulled from bed twenty minutes later due to our Livestock Guardian Dogs barking wildly at something. I went out to check, everything was fine, including the cows.  

The next morning I was prepping the last of the things for delivery, and then headed out to the barn around 6:00am. I brought with me some fodder for the cows, and everyone came running. Except Suzie.  

She’s ready to calve, I thought. Except she always goes and hides in the woods when she is calving, and she was bedded down in the winter pig area, which is dirty and dusty. It’s not grown back well due to all the rain we’ve had, so it’s still bare soil.  

When I got to her, my instinct told me I was looking at a cow with milk fever, which isn’t actually a fever, but a metabolic problem with the calcium levels in the blood. It usually happens after calving, but I figured if that calf had been suckling the night before, it might be the issue. I placed a piece of fodder in front of her and she turned away. I also suspected labour, but hadn’t seen her push yet.  

I headed back to the house to bring a bottle of calcium to inject into her to fix the problem. 500ml of calcium went in, and my gut again told me something was wrong. I called a vet to come as soon as possible, called Farmer Jen to let her know I might need her to do the drop off, and I called Farmer Alicia to have her bring more calcium from town.  

As soon as Alicia arrived, I gave Suzie another 500ml of calcium. At this point, my Suzie Q was moaning softly. The only other time I have heard a cow moan that particular way, was when they had mastitis. But, then I saw her push and thought she’s in labour, but too weak from the calcium imbalance. I also know that milk fever is painful for a cow, so perhaps that’s what the moaning was about.  

It seemed like too much time was passing with Suzie not improving, which usually happens within 30 minutes of the calcium going in. Farmer Lisa arrived wearing a pretty outfit and flip flops, ready to go out on deliveries, but she jumped right in with Suzie, oblivious to the dirt, or the manure Suzie had produced whilst lying there.

The litre of calcium had given Suzie enough strength to push out the water bag. The water bag is exactly what it sounds like, a big bag filled with fluid that comes out before the calf.

The vet arrived next, and did an assessment. She said there was mastitis in one quarter where the wax plug was gone, she confirmed the milk fever symptoms that were brought on from the infection, as the mastitis binds up the calcium in the blood. She wanted to pull the calf to treat it, then give Suzie a calcium injection right into her vein. But, having seen how quickly Suzie had declined in the span of a few hours, I asked her to please leave the calf and treat the cow. I suspected the calf was dead, and at this point saving the cow was more important to me.  

She ran the IV, and strongly encouraged a shot of Banamine to help with the mastitis which was systemic and causing her blood to be toxic. She explained how quickly this type of mastitis can kill a cow. We have dealt with mastitis so seldom on the farm, and we have never resorted to drugs. My first instinct as to say no, but knew that Suzie needed this shot, it was truly a life and death situation.  

I helped the vet pull the calf, which was also presenting with a shoulder in the wrong position. Earlier the vet said she was new at the job, but seemed to me this lady had pulled more than a few calves in her day, as we had that calf out fast. It was a beautiful heifer, but you could tell it had died a few hours before.

We retuned our attentions to Suzie again. We propped her up with bales of hay; a cow that lays too long on it’s side dies, and she was very weak.  

The vet gave me follow up instructions including when to administer medicine, and told me what to expect. By noon, Suzie had a drink of water, and tried to get up. She eventually did, and walked a bit then rested. She slowly made her way out of the winter pig area and over to the grassy pasture, where she laid down next to Buttercups calf. After a while, she would stand up again wobbly on her feet, then lay down again.  

She did this a few times, but an hour or so after she first stood, only 7 hours after I found her, I was having major doubts about her ability to rally and recover. She was getting colder and colder, and moving less and less. It was getting harder and harder to milk out the infected quarter. As long as the infectious fluid was in there, it was poisoning her blood more.  

Lisa arrived back from deliveries around 5pm, and we sat with Suzie in the pasture. At one point, Suzie gave a great groan and laid down. We were both sure that this was it. But she just laid there on her side, moaning. We held her and spoke to her, telling her what a good girl she was, sure she was going to go any moment. But then she sat up. It gave me a glimmer of hope, even though her infected quarter was growing cold and purple.

Farmer Jen arrived home from deliveries, and went out to see her. Jen sat down next to this ailing cow, and Suzie flopped her great head onto Jen’s lap and rested there.  

This sitting up and laying flat out went on until it was dark and the bugs came out. I was exhausted, and my eyes were puffy, and burning from all the tears. I needed food and water.

Making sure Suzie had water and food beside her, and a blanket covering her, I headed back to the house, setting an alarm to go check on her frequently during the night.

Sparky, our head Livestock Guardian Dog, had stayed close by Suzie for the whole day and night, seldom going more than 20 feet away. Each time I went out that night, Sparky was there. There have been numerous coyotes, bears, racoons, and weasels about this year, and I’m glad Sparky was there to keep Suzie safe, when Suzie was unable.  

My last check was just before 2am. Suzie had died. My girl was gone. Her beautiful heifer calf was gone.

I knew last fall that her breeding with Apollo would be her last. She was getting old, and I wasn’t sure she would have another calving in her after this one. But I was wrong. She didn’t even have this one in her.  

After crying over her cold, lifeless body in the dark, fighting off mosquitos, I headed back to the house. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. My thoughts kept circling round, going over all the things I could have done, all the things I should have noticed. My thoughts kept going back to the fact my Suzie Q, my dear Suzie Cow was gone.

In the morning, when I went out to the pasture, Sparky was still sat by Suzie’s lifeless body.  

Today meant figuring out what to do with her body, figuring out what to do now that we are short a cow.  

Today meant figuring out how to get through the day with my eyes constantly stinging and my throat burning.

Today, we all spent a good deal of time thinking how fortunate we are that we have had virtually no problems with cows calving in all the years we’ve had cows here on the farm. That we’ve never lost a calf. That we have not had to deal with mastitis. I guess we were overdue for some trouble, but it still hurts.  

Today, I was very thankful that it wasn’t a child or family member I lost, or that was gravely ill.  

Today, I was thankful that she was only in pain a short time; recovery would have been very long and painful for her, and she would have never been able to nurse a calf again. I think this would have broken her big, loving heart.  

Today, Suzie is gone, but her daughter Buttercup is so very alive, and so is her sweet little calf; her calf that I still have to decide a name for.  

Today I noticed that Buttercup has begun to moo the exact same way Suzie used to.  

Today and everyday, you will be missed and never forgotten, Suzie Q.

Suzie Cow

Suzie Cow 2007-2017

Posted 9/3/2016 1:24pm by Samantha Klinck.

An interview with Maggie, Keeper of Quail  

Hi, Maggie! How old are you?
M:
10 years old.  

What do you like about quail?
M: Eggs! They are small, and cute! My mom used to bring quail eggs home from the market, and I loved making little fried eggs on toast.  

What made you decide to raise quail yourself?  
M: The more I thought about the quail eggs, the more I wanted some. Then I asked my mom why didn’t we raise quail on the farm because I thought they would be cute to have and I could help.  

What did you do to prepare before you got quail?
M: I did lots of research on baby quail and adults, and what kind of food they eat.  I found out how old they had to be to lay eggs, and I looked pictures of the different types of quail. My mom and my brother and I built some moving quail pens so we would be ready when we found some birds to buy.  

Tell me about getting your first flock of quail.
M: When I found out that I could get quail, it felt like my heart was jumping up and down and I was really excited! I started to talk about them a lot more. I may have talked about it so much it was bugging my mom and dad.

One day, my mom asked me if I wanted to go and get some quail and I jumped up and down and said yes! After chores that afternoon, we drove a long way to get 54 baby quail chicks.   The person we bought them from helped me load them up into carriers to take them home. I asked him lots of questions, and he was very helpful and nice.  

On the drive home, I thought their poop really stank, but they made the cutest little cricket noises! Their poop smells better now, because their food is better and they are outside on grass. We got home and it was almost midnight. My mom and I put them in their new houses, and we let the dogs know that the quail were there and that they were part of the farm. 

The next day, we went out really early to check on the quail. I remember seeing a really pretty sight. There was a heron perched up really high on a tree with it’s wings flapping, and the sunrise was behind it. It was really beautiful and I will remember it for the rest of my life. If I didn’t have quail, I never would have seen that.       

Has there been anything you have found hard about raising quail?
M: You have to feed them carefully so they get enough protein, and it’s hard because we use organic food only, and we don’t soybeans. I use the chicken food our hens get with ground up sunflower seeds or crushed up boiled eggs.  

It’s hard to move the quail houses, I’m afraid I might hurt one if I’m not careful. I try to move the house every other day so they have fresh grass.

It’s hard to wake up early and do the quail feeding, and it’s hard when it’s raining. When it’s raining you have to make sure that they have dry spots to stay and their food doesn’t get wet.   Sometimes the cows get into the quail food I have stored in buckets, so I’ve found a place that is safe from the cows. When I’m feeding the quails, I have to use a stick to keep the cows away. The cows want to eat the grain!  

What will you do with the male quail that don’t lay?
M: Well, first I would have to make sure that there are the right number of girl quails for the males. If there are too many males, they can fight. I’m going to keep the prettiest, friendliest, biggest males for breeding. The others I will cull.  It’s going to be hard on butcher day.  

What do you think winter will be like with your quail?
M: I think it might be hard for the quail if they don’t have nice warm feathers, and I’ll have to get up early before school to check on them. Sometimes the weather will be bad to go outside, but what I need to remember is that it’s my responsibility to take care of them and I will always love them.  

If you plan on selling the eggs, what will you do with your profits?
M:
I would put some of the money back into the quail, and the rest I will use for things I’d like to save up for. I’d like to buy better cartons to sell the eggs, and a better house with rotating paddocks, and an incubator.  

What would you tell other kids that might be interested in raising quail?
M: It’s hard work, but it’s worth it in the end when you see your quail lay their first egg. Mine haven’t laid yet, but I’m going to be really happy when I see that. It will be very soon now.  

Anything else you would like to tell me about raising quail?
M: Having quail makes me feel more connected with the farm, because I’m outside more with the other animals helping. I understand better now why my parents are farming. Food is more precious. Once you realize that, you don’t forget it.

            

Posted 7/11/2016 7:02am by Samantha Klinck.

An amazing day was had at Lifestock: A Call to Farms yesterday.

A few of the Funny Duck Farmers got to spend time with some of their favourite neighbouring farmers from Fly Creek Farm, Hollanbec Farm, as well as farmer friends from farther away places like Severn Sunset Eco Farm. I even met a farmer there from Hurleybirds Eco Farm and discovered we had gone to high school together many years before!

One of the many highlights of the day (and there were many) was sitting and chatting at length with Montana Jones and Joel Salatin. Under the shade of some lilac bushes we sat in a small group for about 20 minutes talking until a crowd had gathered around us.

Thank you Joel for allowing me to put you on the spot numerous times yesterday so you could teach us and share with us your experiences and knowledge. You were so generous of your time, and so willing to share. I know there are farms on the brink of giving up, and I hope that your message helped them see that it is as you say, truly darkest before the dawn. I hope that anyone there yesterday, farmer or eater alike, gathered round under the lilac, or later when you spoke from the stage takes to heart the important messages you shared, and that in turn we all live out those messages and go on to share them with others. 

Thank you Montana for opening up your home and farm to us, and for sharing all you have been through, and you've been through a lot. The festival and all those you gathered to come created a magical, inspirational, fun-filled day. In spite of all you've been through you still have such an air of peace and happiness about you.

After sitting for about an hour chatting with these two inspirational farmers, Michael Schmidt arrived. Our good farmer friend Brandy from Fly Creek Farm introduced us all, and later in the day sat in the shade of a screen tent we talked of legal woes, cow horns, line breeding and all sorts of things. Thank you Michael for giving freely of your time, sharing your knowledge and experience, as well as for asking about my families past run-ins with the government and policing authorities, and our many years in the court system when we too were trying to change things for the better. It is always so encouraging to talk to others who have literally gone through trials in order to make the world a better place. Your peaceful nature and knowledge are inspiring. 

There were so many important messages shared that day, and one that really spoke to me was something Joel shared from the bible on what Romans 13 says about the government, "For civil authorities are not a terror to people of good conduct, but to those of bad behaviour. Would you have no dread of him who is in authority? Then do what is right and you will receive his approval and commendation."

So, the government is to be a terror to evil and an encourager of righteousness. 

Is that what our government is? A terror to evil? I'm not so sure. Our government here in Canada does do many good things, but in some areas there is a long way to go. Why are farmers persecuted for growing healthy food, for trying to feed families the best from the land? Why are the best and most healthy foods restricted? We have a long way to go, and this is not just a battle of farmers against the government. There are far more eaters out there than farmers. Much of the change has to come from the eater.

There were so many highlights to this amazing day, but for me one of the most personally meaningful was when I was speaking privately with Joel at the end of the day, and he told me that what I was doing, and what I did in getting him to talk to us was very important and good work, that I was a catalyst.

So my question to the eaters and farmers out there is this: What are you? Are you a catalyst for change, or are you going to sit back and let things stay as they are? It only takes a moment to write a letter, make a phone call, or email a politician to ask what they are doing for your food freedom and food sovereignty. It only takes a moment to choose a small local farm over a faceless grocery store chain.

It only takes a moment to be the change. 

LifeStock

Posted 7/11/2016 6:11am by Jen Hart.

Summer is here, we've finally had some rain, and I'm happy to report that our hives are busy as ever.  This year is already looking like a great year for bees, which means more honey for the CSA!

Last year we harvested over 100lbs of honey and comb, and several pounds of wax from our 2 hives.  Although we were very happy with this, we know it was low compared to other beekeepers yields, so this year we aim to at least double that.

My mentor, Buzz, got over 200lbs from one hive last year!  I won't make any promises, but it is looking positive.  We were pleased to see that both our hives came through another winter and seemed strong and active.  Unfortunately, our Queens are on the old side, and swarming was starting early this year so we had to get moving to make sure we didn't lose the colonies. 

When bees feel overcrowded, or a Queen is weakening, they can decide to swarm.  This is a decision made by the entire colony, and it happens in a flash.  One moment the bees are happily buzzing in and out, and the next there's a cloud of thousands exiting the hive at once to find a new home - often 60% of the hive population leaves during a swarm. 

This is the hives natural way of increasing the colonies, but it can mean disaster for beekeepers - it's a long-winded and expensive process to replace them once they're gone.

All the local beekeepers were rushing to set up swarm traps this spring - you hang something from a tree that would make a desirable home and hope that your bees find it and take up residence, making it easier to get them back into a box.  Usually, a swarm means bye-bye bees, so it pays to try and prevent it.

A month or so ago on a bright, sunny and very hot Saturday morning, I split the existing hives and we now have 2 more colonies at our second farm location.  I create this 'split' in the morning and leave it - a split is box with a series of frames containing honey, pollen and brood (baby bee cells) which draw bees from the main colony into the new box.  We use a metal rack called a Queen excluder to prevent the colonies Queen from heading up there as well. 

Returning later that day with un-hatched Queen cells from a local breeder, I open the lid to find the top box full of bees - workers and nursery bees only. They've followed the scent of the brood and are tending to it as usual.  These bees and the larvae in the brood cells make up the new hives for Funny Duck Farms - The Sequel.  We plug up the entrances and make sure the lid is on very tight, and carefully load both new hives into the van, making sure we don't disturb the Queen cells. Also, we don't want anyone escaping... It's bad enough driving around with a lit smoker in your van where only 2 windows are functional, but to be attacked by angry bees at the same time would be too much! I knew this only too well...

Once they're loaded, along with all the necessary equipment, we head off to the other farm and set them up near the pastures and hayfields. I had friends visiting that day to help and learn about bees - they were so great, very calm and so the bees gave them no trouble at all! It's always exciting to show people how gentle and calm happy bees can be.   

Once arriving at the new apiary site the hives are unloaded, and with a bare hand, calm and steady, I pull the Queen cells from their carrying case. They are about the size of a hazelnut, they must be kept warm and upright, and they have a teeny tiny plastic handle on the top to enable you to place them into the hive.  They must be placed in the middle of the hive, the plastic top gently pressed into the honeycomb and the adjacent frame slid back into place to catch the other half of the tiny lid, giving the cell stability and enabling the bees to get to it, to feed it and tend to their new Queen as she emerges. As I said, this must be done bare-handed - no gloves to protect me as they are too bulky for such delicate work. But if you remain calm the bees tend to remain calm and you can get away with putting your hand inside the hive.

I added a second brood box to both of these hives recently, as the new Queens have made their one and only flight (their Wedding Flight) to mate, and have been busy laying while the workers feast on the mustard, milkweed and other wildflowers they find in our hay and grain fields. I cannot say whether we'll get honey from them this year, but it is looking promising!  All being well, these little ladies could lay for us all day, every day for up to 4 years!

All-in-all it was a very successful effort, with minimal fuss and no stress.  Oh, how I wish this was always the way...

The weeks prior to this I went to assist my bee mentor, Buzz.  Some of you may have tried his honey - it is spectacular!  He had 6 hives in a local apple orchard to help with the pollination of their little trees - they are just starting out and all the trees are essentially saplings. On my first visit the trees were all loaded with blossoms - I helped him with some maintenance and re-queening of some of the hives, and it was no trouble at all.  We made and moved some splits.  The bees were very happy, there was lots to eat and we completed our work without incident. 

About a week later we returned to move the bees back to their original homes in a bee yard nearby.  The little trees had all been pollinated - we knew this because the flowers had fallen off the trees - and the owner wanted to spray so the bees had to be moved that night!  Thankfully, this apple grower gave Buzz the heads up to get his bees out to a safe place - many people are not aware that some producers who hire hives to pollinate their crops simply go ahead and spray while the bees are still there, killing many millions at a time.

So, after a regular day starting just after sunrise, and a CSA drop off, I headed to Buzz's place with my bee suit and gloves, ready to help move hives.  This was my third time moving hives, but my first at night.  We waited until 9pm when the colonies are back to the hive for the night and quite calm.  It was going to be a doddle, no problemo. 

We pull up beside the hive in the dark, smoke it, seal it up as best we can and lift it on to the flatbed of the pickup. Each hive weighs upwards of 200lbs, and we were having to dead lift them from a pallet on the ground to a bed higher than our waists.  As you grab the hive from the base, you can feel the bees crunching under your hands. Your face (within your veil) is pressed hard against the side of the hive and you can hear the enraged bees inside.

You cannot flinch. You cannot hesitate. You CANNOT drop it.

Then you feel the first sting. It's like a tiny electric shock and although the pain doesn't last too long (15-30 minutes), it's a surprise and you can't help but call out.  Then you feel another sting.  And another. Once they start they won't stop. With each successive hive it got worse and worse - they can smell the venom on you and you're now considered a real danger.  We were being attacked mercilessly but we had to get on with it or the hives would be sprayed.

We could only take 3 colonies at a time to the new apiary. Buzz's usual vehicle was in the shop, so this was a rental pickup truck.  He wasn't allowed to tow a trailer on the rental insurance - the trailer was ideal as it's much lower and bigger than the flatbed, and the bees are way behind the vehicle as you load, unload and travel - so we make 2 trips with the bees practically beside us. 

All the way there and back we were surrounded by bees in the cab, under us on the seats, on our backs, stinging us even as they were being crushed. The bee suits are usually protective, but if they really want to sting you, they will.  And even if they don't get through the suit, they leave venom behind which triggers the other bees to attack, and if there's a way for your suit to be compromised, they will find it. 

We had to keep our veils on at all times, even while driving, and the heat was oppressive.  Sweat poured down our faces, blinding us as we lifted the hives off the truck bed and back onto the pallets where they would stay until next year.  Bees poured out of the hive entrances where, in our rush to get them onto the truck, we'd knocked the paper towel we'd used to block the entrance.  Tens of thousands of bees were everywhere.  We swept as many as we could off the truck and back to the safety of their hive, but so many were lost.

Now we had to go back to the orchard and do it all again.  It's now nearly 10:30pm and I'm exhausted, but I can't give up.  The bees need us and so off we go, back to the orchard in the dark. By now I've been stung over 20 times, through my suit and my gloves.  I've put on a second suit over my own but they're still finding a way through and the heat is stifling.  It hurts so much but I remain strangely calm.  There's a part of your brain that kicks in at times like these, stopping the panic from rising in your throat and taking over your whole body. 

Many years ago I think I would have run, screaming, from the hives, refusing to go on.  But, apart from the first surprised yelp, I'm pleased to say I didn't lose it once. I don't think I've ever been so stoic or felt such overpowering calm.  I'm being attacked and brutalised by insects and all I can think is, "It's ok bees.  I love you and I'm going to help you, even though you don't understand.  Let's just get this done."  By the end of the evening I actually felt closer to these incredible superorganisms than I ever had before.

We finished loading the hives, returned to the bee yard and put the hives in place.  THEN we ran.  We had to get a long way away from the colonies as we were being bombarded and they weren't letting up. They followed us around the trees, down the hill and we were nearly to the highway before they stopped and went back. We must have stank of venom.

I've never seen Buzz swat at a honey bee before but tonight was exceptional.  We brushed and batted off hundreds of bees and when things had calmed we ran for the truck.  All the way home we sat helplessly as the last remaining bees tried to sting us. I almost felt as though I should let them, as they were now forever lost to their hives and their Queens. Best to end it quickly.

It's nearly midnight when we arrive at his home, and in the middle of his street in Portland we tear off our suits and try to get the last of the bees off of us. I can't imagine what his neighbours must have thought to see a pair of crazed beekeepers stripping down in the road, swatting at the air and dancing about like fools. 

I managed to get cleaned off enough to hop in my van, and I made my way home, never more ready for my bed.  My whole body throbbed with the stings, I'd lost count of how many I had.  But as I drove I smiled - I'll never, ever, forget that night. I was proud of myself - I'd got through it, and I couldn't wait to go visit my own bees the next day, it hadn't put me off one bit, in fact quite the opposite.  

Now I've seen these creatures at their worst, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  And I know that when I'm no longer able to do much else, I'll find a way to look after those bees. Besides, what's a few stings between friends?  

Honey Bee

Posted 6/27/2016 6:33am by Samantha Klinck.

My sister, Farmer Jen, gives me the most lovely things for my birthday. Twice now she has given me the gift of a fabulous story involving bulls, and better yet as the bull likes to escape on my birthday she gifted me with handling this all on her own! ;-)

This first fun event happened on June 25th, 2014. Here is the full account as told by Farmer Jen:

Today I twice had to retrieve my bull, Apollo, from the main road - the first time with the help of an unidentified man in a black pickup. I spotted Apollo on the wrong side of the fence through the window, and bolted out of the house as quickly as I could. A bull loose in the community is NEVER a good thing. The kind stranger happened to be driving along and saw the commotion. He stopped, put on his hazards, and corralled him using his truck while I opened gates and coaxed the beast back home (thank you, whoever you are), all the while my breakfast sat forgotten and congealing on the hob. The Funny Duck crew arrived shortly thereafter to assist me in getting Apollo out of the uncut hayfield where he had decided to make camp. DtBM (aka The Cow Whisperer) arrived quite unexpectedly (and fortuitously) and made the final move. Talking to Apollo calmly, walking beside him, coffee in hand, he lead the young bull back into his pasture without a hitch. Fences were then mended and we thought all was fine until... 

The second time Apollo escaped it was just me and our intern, Amanda. She was stellar in not only attracting all manner of biting insects away from me, but also getting the giant, stupid bollock-bearer back onto the property before he did any damage. Again, we walked him along the road, but this time no truck. I had to run to try and keep him from going past the driveway (anyone here tried to keep up to a stampeding bull??) but luckily he turned into the drive and headed straight for his ladies (PHEW!!!). We put him in with the heifers and would sort them out tomorrow. Fences were checked again, adjusted and we felt confident that was it for today, panic over. 

All was well, until I went to close the barn this evening. I hear a familiar bellowing from the crest of the hill. Mother Hubbard!!! I trekked up in the pitch black, being attacked by all manner of flying, biting things (Amanda where are you when I need you?!?). Armed only with my giant Maglite and my trusty dog by my side, I found the courage to face the bovine posse, all of whom were on high alert as we were surrounded by coyotes. I rallied them and got them all home, doing my usual call as I stalked ahead at pace. "Come on cows!". Cocoa was in the lead, and the rest of the herd, as always, followed her. Thankfully, this included Apollo, now forevermore to be known as PITA (Pain In The Ass). 

I then filled up their empty drinkers cos I forgot earlier in all the madness of the day, which likely spawned the wandering craziness. They were thirsty. Bad farmer.

Urgh. Wine. Now.

So now fast forward to June 25th, 2016. Similar events, but a much more seasoned Farmer Jen:

This morning I am thankful my fences are better and my knowledge of bovine behaviour has improved dramatically. As I write this I still have 2 bulls out of their pasture, but they've been stymied by a series of electric fences at every turn - there's only so many they're willing to push through I guess. The cows are hiding at the top of the pasture road, out of sight, trying to stay cool (it's 8:30am and already 20C). I have not taken them water so as not to stir up any activity. This will keep the bulls calm until help arrives. Buckets of grain are ready and I have a plan that does not involve running around like the proverbial chicken. I got all that out of the way last night, in the dark.

What excitement, and to think she left out the most exciting parts of this that happened in the dark whilst being bitten by insects! But for me, the best part is by the time we were able to get over to help her, she had taken care of it all herself! Amazing the difference a few years makes. Well done, Farmer Jen who I'm certain will yet again be receiving the Midnight Farmer of the Year Award!

Jen & Apollo

 

 

Posted 2/27/2016 11:11am by Mrs. Funny Duck.

I recently came across this neat video of something called ‘Kulning’ which is this olden day type of Nordic cattle call. When you hear it, it gives you goose bumps, shivers down your spine, and brings a smile to your face.  It is a beautiful, haunting sound. 

The idea behind Kulning was it was a way to communicate over far distances and call your livestock in. The high pitch of it carries better. In the short video I made today, I mention this awesome clip I saw of a woman Kulning out in the woods. Here it is, and I highly recommend you watch it. It’s really, really neat.   

Now, I sing my cows to the barn in the summer when they are out grazing and it’s milking time, but it doesn’t sound anywhere near as cool as someone who knows how to do this Kulning stuff.   When I sing my cows in, it’s more likely to elicit guffaws of laughter rather than tingles down your spine. 

I’ve always called them in a high pitch for a few reasons. I can’t whistle worth a darn, I can call louder in a high pitch than in a regular pitch, I always felt like a high pitch carried better through the trees and over the pastures, and I talk and sing to all our critters in a higher voice, so then they know when I’m talking to them.  My regular voice is for people, and when I use a high pitch voice all the livestock look up and pay attention to me. Incidentally, the high pitch works quite well on kids too.

So, this morning before milking, I went out to the far gate of the winter pasture and called the cows. I wasn’t sure if it would work. In the winter, the cow shelter is near the milking barn, so other than trips to the water dish, hay rack, and barn, they don’t really walk around much. As well, like most livestock, cows are creatures of habit. At milking time, they are waiting at the gate before I even arrive.   

They were waiting at the barn gate this morning, and I began to call them over to where I was. They both turned and looked and me, and pushed harder at the gate trying to get in the barn thinking I was calling them to hurry up and get inside. I called again but this time, they not only looked up, one of them bellowed at me. Probably wondering what on earth I was doing over there.  

A few more calls and I remember how to sing them in properly (it's been about 5 months or more since I've had to call them anywhere), and Suzie our lead and boss cow started to walk out to find me. This is why she is our lead cow. This girl is smart, and always ready to do what we ask.

Lucy, still back at the barn was curious, but somewhat confused. Not all cows are quick to learn new things, and here I was asking them to do something I had never asked before. Lucy is a most sweet and generous cow, but about as fast as a bag of hammers tied to a rock when it comes to learning new things.   

By the time Suzie was most of the way over, I stopped calling and ended the video so I could go and give her a treat for being so accommodating. After all, she was trekking out over the snow for no reason other than I had called her there, and now I was feeling bad for having had her make the trip.  

A few minutes later in the barn after I had milked her, I played back the video to watch it. I should have waited until I got to the house, because when the clip got to the part where I was calling, Suzie turned around in the milking stall and walked right over to where I was stood watching the video! Such a good girl.

So, here is our video me singing the cows in. Enjoy, and don’t laugh too hard!  

Posted 2/7/2016 7:02am by Samantha Klinck.

So I went shopping with some of my kids the other day. Well, I wasn’t shopping, but I took them to shop. Our two eldest kids had some Christmas and Birthday money from their grandparents burning a hole in their pocket, and they wanted to go to the big city to spend it.

Usually, they would ask to go to Goodwill in Brockville, but it’s recently been closed, so they got it in their heads that Bayshore Shopping Centre would be the place to go. I’ve only been to Bayshore a handful of times in the last two decades, and most of my memories of that mall are when it had only two floors for your shopping pleasure. It’s radically different, and yet so similar to when I went there as a kid.  

Now, you have to understand, I don’t spend time in the city. I do take care of our CSA drop off frequently, which is in Ottawa, but I drive in drop off the totes, and head home. The closest I come to shopping is when I gas up the vehicle or stop in at a Canadian Tire. Where in Kanata incidentally, people will hand you their Canadian Tire money if you are dressed in your farming clothes.  

I took an hour to myself whilst my two girls and one of their friends wandered the mall at the end of the day to sit in a lounge. It was a big spacious, quiet room with sofa’s and comfortable chairs and a few places for kids to play up on the third floor.  

I wrote our weekly farm update as I was sat there, and then got to thinking about the similarities that are in the differences between farm life and country life.  

There are things I saw the kids do today when they got to the mall that I see city kids do all the time when they arrive at our farm. We all think the two places, country and city are so different, but there are so many similarities in the differences.  

As our farm kids get closer to the city, they ask about the smell, they say it smells like school bus. It’s car exhaust, I say, smells like school bus to you because when all your buses park at school, the smell of the exhaust builds up. I tell them it’s like that in the city because there are so many cars out and about at the same time.  

When people arrive to the farm and I ask how the drive was, the parents and kids often say there was no traffic at all! Before you know it, they are wandering about the farm and experiencing all sorts of smells. Compost piles, manure piles, sour milk in slop pails. Both farm and city have their fair share of smells.  

When my country mouse kids enter the mall, their eyes open wide! The place is so big compared to anything near our farm, there is so much selection, variety, a million things to capture their attention. For the first few minutes, it’s like letting loose kids in a candy store. They want to see, touch and buy everything. Stay together, I admonish them, this is the city, we have to be careful! They calm down a bit but I can still see they are awestruck by much of what they see.

When city mouse kids arrive on the farm, it’s often the same. Their eyes open wide when they see the fluffy farm dogs lope up to see them, brown chickens pecking about, and it’s not unusual for dairy cows to be in the front yard.  There is a barn stacked with hay bales just screaming to be climbed, and a pond perfect for throwing pebbles into. Most kids immediately want to run from place to place, shouting and grabbing at everything and anything they can.  

I remember once when friends of our from the city came to visit, it was a family of 5 that lived in a small one bedroom apartment high off the ground, and due to many reasons, they were not able to get out any where very often. When faced with the wide spaces, their kids lost their minds for a few moments, a similar but different kid in a candy store moment that my kids experienced.  

Within moments, most parents are giving their kids comparable warnings to what I gave mine upon entering the mall: Stay close, you are on a farm, you have to be careful!  

I found it fascinating and surprising that in the middle of a big city, in a big mall, I was able to find this huge, empty quiet space. Many people that come to the farm are often shocked when they realize how loud it can be here, when they are expecting peace and quite. The ducks can quack up a storm so loud you can’t hear yourself think, when the cows get it in mind that they need to bellow, it’s quite a racket, and at night the crickets, peepers, coyotes and barking dogs make quite a cacophony.  

So often people tell us they could never do what we do, and when I spend time in the city, I feel that I couldn’t manage there. City and farm are different, and we all have our places in this world where we belong. Yet the similarities are there, if you look for them.    

Posted 12/26/2015 12:43pm by Samantha Klinck.

Many envision farming as an idyllic lifestyle. Days are spent working the land, in harmony with the seasons which results in calm and peaceful days; unlike those who have to work in the hustle and bustle of the city, with highly stressful and demanding jobs.

Well, I won’t lie, farming can be idyllic, but some days are packed with adventure, danger, and a large helping of ridiculous.  

One of our more action packed days in 2015 involved moving a bull. We have a small herd of Dexter and Jersey cows. These breeds are great to work with, as they are smaller than most cows, and generally docile. They have so many great traits, I could easily write a blog post on that. But, this post is about moving a Dexter bull.  

This particular Dexter bull was about 18months old, and a real looker. His sire, Apollo is even more impressive. Both these fellows are well muscled, with solid feet, lovely gentle temperament, and despite the title of this blog post, polled. An animal that is polled is born without horns.

A small beef herd like ours needs only one bull, so Apollo’s little brother was going to be taking his final journey.   We’ve taken many cows to the butcher before, and assuming the cow is well tempered, it’s rather easy. The biggest problem we run into is we don’t have a squeeze for loading at the other farm. A squeeze is an area you herd the cows into for sorting, and the ones that are staying go out one gate, and the ones that are being moved off farm are sent out another gate that leads to the waiting trailer.  

On account of our lack of a squeeze or proper loading area, I suggested that Mr. Funny Duck head over to the other farm the day before the move to make a plan with our farm hand over there. The two men had a plan, so I was happy to go along with it.  

Some of our farmer friends loaned us their livestock trailer for the move. We do have a trailer, but it’s more suited to moving shorter animals like pigs, so we thought the larger livestock trailer with the high sides and bars for a roof would be a good idea for the bull.

Mr. Funny Duck headed over to their farm in the morning to pick up the trailer. I forgot to suggest he stop for gas before getting the trailer, and he didn’t think of it himself because the gas gauge didn’t look like it was that low.  

A few hours later, we arrive at the farm where the bull is, and we’ve got four people on hand to load him. The idea the guys came up with was to create a squeeze with large cattle gates. It seemed logical, but the gates are heavy and not easy to move quickly, and because the weather has been so warm, the area we were working in was rather muddy. Some places you could loose your boot if you weren’t careful.  

Strategically placing some small square bales out, the two of us who handle cows the most begin pressuring them gently using our body language only to move them where we wanted, and the other two people were to hold the gates in place. We initially get lots of cows in the squeeze, but not the one we want.

The young bull knows something is up, he doesn’t want to co-operate, and shows us this by jumping with ease over round bales to move out of our way.  Most cows would treat the round bale like a wall it couldn't pass, but this fellow was a jumper. We do get him into the makeshift squeeze once, but we aren’t able to close up the gates in time.

The bull is still very calm, and although Mr. Funny Duck is getting mildly annoyed, I’m not worried. We had until 5pm to get the bull to his final destination, so I knew we had lots of time to get the job done.  

Two of us keep trying to move the cows where we want them, which is easier said than done in the thick mud with a herd of cows, and though the two bulls are polled, many of the cows have pointy horns.

An hour or more later after about 5 attempts, we finally succeed in getting the bull we are trying to move into the squeeze, along with two other cows we are not trying to move. We manage to get the two extra cows out, and now it’s time to move the bull into the trailer.   But the bull decides he doesn’t want to be where he is anymore, so with the smallest bit of effort, he rears up to hop over the gate that is being held up by two people. With a bull between them, one person can’t see the other, so both are propping up the gate with all their might, worried that if it falls, it will harm the other.

The bull, his two front legs now over the gate being held in place, finally lurches the rest of his body over. Immediately, both people that were holding the gate begin swearing and cradling their injured arms. Nothing broken thank goodness, but certainly some sore muscles to show for it.  

At this point the two of us who handle the dairy cows each day decide that not only is this method of loading not working, it’s also officially dangerous. We have a new plan, which is really just the old plan.

The way we normally load our beef cows on to the trailer is we move them into the next field away from the other cows, from there into a barn stall, then through the barn onto the trailer. Unless we’ve moving Jersey cows of course, then we just put a halter on them and lead them wherever we want.  

Before we can implement the old plan, we have to dump out the water tanks which have for some reason been placed directly in front of the gate we need to move the bull through. There is one large drinker on each side of the gate, and we tip them over, adding even more moisture to the already muddy ground.  

We move the trailer around to the front of the barn, and because this trailer has a ramp not a door, we also build some quick walls. That way the bull can’t decide to escape when he is so close to being loaded onto the trailer.  

We stop to finalize our plans, deciding who will be stationed where, and what each of our jobs are.  Once we are ready, it takes us less than ten minutes to move the bull to the other field, into the barn, and onto the trailer. No injuries, no stress, and the young bull seems happy to follow where we lead him.  

Then, as we are driving away, we remember that I forgot the ear tags. Most livestock require an ear tag, even if you are just transporting from one farm to another. The other farm with the ear tags is only 6km down the road, so we head there first. No sooner have we turned onto the road, and I remember that I have my ear tags, but my ear tagger has been loaned out. To the very friend that loaned us the trailer that morning.

Much swearing by Mr. Funny Duck follows this realization of mine. No problem I say. We stop by our place to pick up the tags, then to our friends to get the tagger, then to the butcher. No, my very annoyed husband says, after you get the tags we need to get gas, then we can get the tagger. Right, forgot we were low on gas.  

We arrive at the other farm, I jump out and I look back towards the trailer before I enter the house in time to see the bull TRY TO JUMP OUT OF THE TRAILER!!! Words can’t begin to cover the thoughts and feelings I had when I see this happen. We manage to get him back in.  

With all the events that have already happened, I’m embarrassed to say it didn’t occur to me right then and there to better secure him. I run double time to get the tags, I peek in at the bull before we leave and he’s happily munching on a bale of hay, oblivious to the fact that he’s nearly given both of us a heart attack, then we’re off to the gas station.  

Twice on the 8km trip to the gas station, we have to stop to get the bull back in the trailer and standing on all fours.  When he tried to jump out in our driveway, you could just see his head above the trailer top, but on the road, he managed to get a hoof up.

This is a high-sided livestock trailer, with bars running over top, so it seems crazy that this bull would even try to get out. But he was trying. Our worst fear was he would tip the trailer and get injured.  

The kicker was that this bull was so calm the whole time. He wasn’t shaking, his eyes and body were relaxed, and when he wasn’t trying to jump out, he was eating. I’ve never seen a scared cow eat, so he wasn’t scared, just not used to being in a moving trailer.   After getting gas and having the gas attendant chuckle at us, we get some supplies from the farm equipment place next to the gas station to better secure the bull.  

From the moment we left the first farm with the bull in tow, I'm trying to call my friend to tell her we’re coming for the tagger, but she's not answering. At her place, I have to safely get past her very large dogs, and thankfully, I have a good idea of where to find the ear tagger. With relief I find it in the second place I check. I thank her dogs for not eating me alive, and run back to the truck. We continue on to our final destination, and on route, I call my friend and leave her a final message to apologize for entering her home without permission, and for the many previous frantic sounding messages I left her earlier.  

The bull behaves for the rest of the journey, more interested in the hay than in escape, and many hours later than expected, a good deal of adrenaline still coursing through our veins, we reach our final destination. The bull gets off the trailer with ease, and is so calm, no one there really believes what we tell them happened earlier that day.  

Now, most of our days farming are not like this, but these crazy adventurous days happen more often than you might think. So the next time you eat a meal, be sure to thank a farmer, and take a moment to wonder what exciting stories might be behind that food.    

Posted 12/4/2015 1:25pm by Samantha Klinck.

(Trigger warning: This post deals with the topic of domestic violence)

I killed some ducks this week, and I actually feel pretty good about it. And I don’t just mean in the typical farmer way of putting food on the table. I feel good about it because many years ago, I killed a pet duck that belonged to a little girl, and I have felt bothered by the memory of it ever since.  

It wasn’t easy killing our ducks. Killing anything is never easy, but these ducks of ours weren’t pets, although they were loved. The ducks we processed were raised for food. They weren’t taken from a child and killed, to hurt and show dominance over the child. Today, when I killed our ducks, I gave thanks not only for the meat, but for a family that got a second chance.  

So now you are probably asking why would I have killed a little girls’ pet duck. I wasn’t intentional, I can tell you that.  

It happened many years ago. A woman newly moved to our community from Manitoba asked for help to butcher some broiler chickens her family had raised that summer. I was of course very happy to help. She wanted to come and assist so she could learn and become more self-sufficient.  

Butcher day arrived and her husband came to our farm. I asked where his wife, Natsara* was, and he said not to worry about it. But I was worried, something seemed off about this man. My husband and I opened the truck where he had the broilers, and the first thing we noticed was these were laying hens, not meat birds like we’d been told. And there was a duck in with the chickens.  

Something about the manner of this man had both my husband and I on alert. We exchanged a few glances, and when the man was out of earshot, we both agreed to get the job done as quickly as possible to get this guy off our property.  

We began butchering, and after the first few birds the guys’ cell phone rang. It was his wife, Natsara, and he told her that everything was fine, he’d see her later, and he hung up on her while she was in mid-sentence. I could tell that what he was saying to her did not correspond with what she was saying loudly in the background. My pace of slaughtering quickened.  

Then all that was left was the duck. I picked up this white, plump, beautiful duck. I didn’t need to catch it, it came to me. It just waddled over and looked at me. It seemed liked it enjoyed being held, and did not fight to get away. It looked me right in the eye. Something felt very, very wrong.  

Being a farmer, I have killed many things. It is always hard, but something felt so different with this duck, I had never in my life experienced this before, and I wasn’t even really sure what it was I was feeling. I strung the duck up, said a prayer, and killed it quickly. It looked at me the whole time, and I looked back.  

At that time, we had never yet processed ducks on our farm, so I wasn’t sure how the plucking would go as I had been told that waterfowl are notoriously hard to pluck. What I had heard was true, and the plucking didn’t go well. The man tossed the dead, soggy, partially plucked duck into a garbage bag and we sent him on his way.  

I called Natsara to find out why she didn’t come. She was talking very fast, she apologized and said there had been a mix up, and her husband was supposed to bring her. I told her that the duck hadn’t turned out very well. She told me that it had been her daughters’ pet. My heart sank.  

I posted about how awful I was feeling on facebook that night, and immediately one of my childhood friends who now works in preventing violence against women said that killing family pets was a big red flag indicating domestic violence. The idea that something like that was happening right in my own community was hard to swallow, but I knew it was true.  

After that, each time we butchered that year, I called Natsara and asked if she wanted to come and learn how, and even offered to pick her up as her husband wouldn’t let her use the truck. Any time I saw her, I told her that if she ever needed anything I would be happy to help.  

A few years went by and I tried to forget about the duck and the situation that I felt powerless to change.  Then I got a phone call from a neighbour. She said she didn’t know what to do; a friend had called her and confided that she was in an abusive relationship, and she wanted to get out. I immediately knew who my neighbour was talking about. I asked if it was Natsara, and she said it was.  

With the help, support, and advice of some of my friends that work in the justice system and for the prevention of domestic violence, as well as other women in the community, Natsara and her daughters were able to get out of the abusive situation. The husband was charged, and mother and daughters were able to move back to Manitoba to be with their family.  

So why write a blog post about this on our farm page?  

Because domestic violence is happening right now in our own communities, amongst our friends and neighbours.  

Because we need to be talk about it and be aware of it to help prevent it.

Because silence doesn’t help.  

If you would like to learn more about this incredibly important issue, or to help families in your community that are trying to escape domestic violence, then contact your local women’s shelter and ask how you can help today.  

*Natsara’s name has been changed to protect her families’ identity & privacy. This blog entry has been posted with Natsara’s permission and blessing.