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Posted 10/12/2014 10:00am by Samantha Klinck.

This is the time of year I love.  

There is a beauty to be seen and felt outdoors this time of year like no other. Yes, the days are getting shorter and colder. Yes, Old Man Winter slowly skulks and slouches ever closer to us, his cold and boney fingers ready to grip us in ice and snow, but for the moment, Autumn holds firm.  

The trees, in one last triumphant show of their splendour bring forth shades and designs that only artists can dream of. The wind rustles their leaves and you can hear them whisper stories of summer memories long past.  

The perfect autumn days are the ones you can see how the sun, now slung low in the sky, practically lights the trees on fire. The blaze and arrays of red, yellow, and orange are enough to make your heart pound and your mind swoon with the beauty of it all. Days where most of the leaves still cling to the branches in defiance against the change of season, whilst others rain down in submission to autumn in a shower of movement and colour, skittering across country roads and fields, like mice running for the shelter of their nests.  

The rolling fields are golden brown with crops yet to be harvested. The meadow and pasture grasses have slowed their growing. They are a deep, rich green from the cool nights and sunny days, diligently sending all their energies below the soil surface to their roots in preparation for the winter to come.  

The animals winter coats become more noticeable each day, as they too feel the internal and unstoppable pull of autumn. All the small birds of the meadows and fields that have been flocking for weeks gather into larger and larger groups, readying for their great journey. For time to time, one of these large assemblies takes to an indescribably blue sky, reeling and rolling in an impressive flight across a backdrop of perfectly formed clouds.  

Wood has been stacked, gardens laid bare, animals have been fattened, and the larder is full from the harvest collected and stored. Families and friends gather together to feast and celebrate and give thanks. And for a short while longer, we can ignore winters approach, and the work it entails to enjoy these brilliant, most wondrous autumn days.  

This, is the time of year I love.    

Photo by Jen Hart

Photo credit: Jen Hart  

Posted 8/20/2014 6:57am by Mrs. Funny Duck.

When most folks think of livestock, animals like chickens, pigs, ducks, cows, and lambs come to mind. One animal that sometimes gets over looked is dogs. Dogs have always played an important role on our farm, helping to keep the predators away from the flocks.  

When our young farm dog, Millie, died unexpectedly of cancer a few weeks back, we were faced not only with the loss of a family friend, but with a major gap in security on our farm.   To make the problem worse, we’ve got flocks of birds on two separate properties.

On our home farm, our old dog and a younger one can take care of the chickens quite well. On the second property down the road where Aunt Funny Duck manages things, it’s a bit different. That farm has much larger open spaces for birds to wander off far away and enough hedgerows to hide all manner of predators until they are ready to pounce on our unwitting fowl. She does have a Maremma named ‘Star’ over there, who is a mature and trained Livestock Guardian Dog, but to do the job right, a bare minimum of two LGD’s are needed. Prey are very good at learning the sleep habits of LGD’s, and feasting when they are dead asleep. Two or three dogs will take turns keeping watch over the flocks.  

So, there were discussions about sourcing at least one or two more LGD’s. We looked into a lead on some amazing LGD’s not far from Brockville, but the cost was just not in range for us this season, but something we’ll plan for in the future.  

We called the breeder we bought Star from, an older fellow who is known well by famers in the area as both a butcher, and a breeder of heritage livestock. He was no longer breeding Maremma dogs, but did have a recommendation of another breeder in the area who was. He said this breeder had great dogs, and she had one pair ready to go to a new home. They had bonded well as littermates and the breeder didn’t want to split them up. She was willing to let them go for a bit less money if they went together.  

It seemed like a good solution for Aunt Funny Duck. We didn’t really have the cash on hand for the purchase, but we couldn’t afford to loose any more chickens. We knew it would be a few months before the two new dogs would be fully trained up, but it meant by spring (prime hunting season for nesting predators with babies to feed) her flocks would be well guarded.  

As it turned out, there was a third pup available. We got the three dogs for an excellent price, along with an excellent recommendation. Aunt Funny Duck went to pick them up on a Tuesday. They arrived at our place at 9pm that night looking rather worse for wear after being very, very car sick during the hour-long drive. I looked at these poor creatures covered in their own sick and mess, drooling terribly, and appearing generally miserable. Aunt Funny Duck assured us that they had looked very fit and healthy before they went for the car ride!

I picked up the one that was ours thinking to myself, ‘Come on, little miss, lets get you cleaned up.’ I carried her to a sturdy and secure empty barn stall that has done an excellent job at holding all manner of animals, large and small for all manner of reasons. I set her down in the fresh hay, and tried to show her the food and water, but she just looked at me with the saddest look ever. ‘Well, missy’, I said to her, ‘we need to clean you up, don’t we?’   I took a clean cloth from out of the milking stall supplies and began to wipe her down, all the drool that had soaked her face and neck, as well as all the various other bodily fluids that had been expelled from her and her littler mates and onto themselves. I was really glad I had given Aunt Funny Duck a blanket to cover the back seat of the car before she left to get them!  

I spoke softly to her, and eventually she laid down. I sat with her talking about various things until she seemed to fall asleep. Little miss, you are one cute pup, I thought as I turned on a trouble light before leaving so she wouldn’t be in the dark on her first night. I went out around midnight to check on her and she hadn’t moved. Hmm, wonder if little missy here is going to need to help getting back to snuff, I thought. Little did I know, she was going to need far more help than I realized.  

I went out the next morning a little after 5am. She was gone from the stall. I snickered a little, expecting her to be tucked around the corner where there was more hay piled. She wasn’t. My heart sank. I searched and found no trace. I brought my older dog over and she scented out the stall as well as where she had scaled the wall to get out. She followed the trail as far as she could, but then lost it, as she's not a tracking dog.

My husband was angry, because it was the easiest thing for him to feel, having had a rather painful track record in his life when it came to dogs. I was torn between disappointment, sadness, anger and complete relief that my kids were away for the week so they had no idea that there was to be a new dog, let alone that we had lost it.   

We spent Wednesday searching as much as we could around our farm duties, but it seemed rather futile. We posted online that she was lost, let most of the neighbours know, contacted the local dog catcher and animal shelters. By Wednesday night, I was a horrible mess of anger and sadness and hopelessness. I had just buried a dog, and couldn’t handle the pain of another loss so soon. How did this little dog wiggle her way into my heart so quickly?

A canoe ride with my husband that evening, some ice cream, and a chat (mostly me begging, really) with Jesus, and I was able to change my perspective. There were far worse things in the world, and I had an awful lot of blessings to count in spite of the hard things I faced.  

On Thursday we brought Star over to see if an adult female similar to the lost pups mother would help bring her out of hiding if she were in the area. Star followed the exact trail that our old farm dog did and past it to the fence line then out to the road, but no pup was found. I took the soiled blanket from their messy car ride and drove a ways from our house, then stuck the blanket out the window and drove back home, leaving a stinky trail of carsick puppy behind me.  

That afternoon, I walked down the road to talk to a new neighbour who’s phone number I didn’t yet have. I told her what was going on, but frankly, I’d lost hope of finding her. We chatted for a while longer, then the neighbour exclaimed ‘Oh! Look, look!’ and there out of the bushes trotted the little Miss. I smiled and said to our neighbour how thankful I was that God answers prayer! I turned to go and retrieve the wayward pup when the neighbours old dog barked, which scared the pup back into the brush.

I spent about 2 or three minutes combing the bushes, and calling out to this dog that I hadn’t even had a chance to name yet, calling things like ‘Here, little miss! Come on puppy! Missy Muffet, where are you? I happened to look up the road a ways only to see ‘Little Miss’ about 800 meters further up the road. No way I was going to catch up to her in my clunky-held-together-with-duct-tape barn shoes, but I tried my best. Other neighbours began to pitch in, and one drove me up and down the roads helping to search. So close to getting her, but not close enough.  

Later that day, we brought the missing pups litter mates to walk up and down the road again hoping to draw her out. Aunt Funny Duck and I walked for a while, then there she was! About 400 meters ahead of us, trotting down the road was Little Miss. I’m sure that when she saw us she picked up the pace. I could feel such a sense of relief begin to fill me. Then, she saw the two pups with us, and she ducked back into the bushes. We found where she went in, but no trace of her. So close again.  

Friday morning shortly after dawn I wake up. My kids come home this afternoon, I thought. I need to find this dog. I walked up and down the road again, dragging the puppy blanket, hoping to make a trail back to our house. I must have been a sight, but all our neighbours are animal lovers who would have done the same. No sign of her.  

I went home and milked the cows. I’ve just finished the milking chores and a neighbour down the road calls to say they saw a white dog near the railroad tracks about a kilometre from our home. I tell her I’m on my way.

I’m driving there and I give it one last chance: Lord, I need this. My kids need this. My farm needs this. Please, I need to find this dog. 

I turn the corner to where the tracks are and I can see my neighbours car, and he’s standing outside it. As I get closer, I wonder if it’s because the pup has taken off again, or maybe something has gone wrong. Closer still, and I begin to think maybe he’s holding the pup. No way, that would be too easy, but wait… Sweet Lord in heaven! He’s got my puppy in his arms and he’s waving her little paw at me!  

I cannot begin to explain the feeling of relief and joy I felt! I jumped out of the truck and took the wet and very sad looking little dog from him thanking God and thanking my neighbour. She was so glad to see people! I brought her back home to clean her up, thinking how happy my kids would be when they arrived home.  

Who knew that this little pup I kept calling ‘Little Miss’ and ‘Missy’ would actually go missing? This should be the happy end to the story, but sadly it’s not. At least not yet.  

A move is stressful for animals, especially very old or young ones. So is being lost for a few days and going without food. Within a few days of her return, it was clear that something was amiss with Missy. A trip to the vet on Saturday confirmed that she needed some heavy duty care. An $1800 weekend at a full care facility would give her a 60-80% chance of survival. Home care came at a cost of $281, would give her a 50% chance of survival if she lived until Monday, and would mean a lot of work for us.  

She was brought home, and then began the numerous medications, injections, and care. The best place we had to let her convalesce was our bathtub. We could keep her clean and warm, and we could prevent the spread of anything if it was something contractible that she had picked up on her travels from the scat of foxes or coyotes. Along side the conventional treatments, we also began treating her with homeopathy and other natural remedies.

It’s hard work caring for a sick animal. It’s why we strive so hard to keep them all healthy on our farm, so we don’t have to deal with illness. When you spend so much time and energy caring for the animal that is ill, your own health and rest suffer, and before you know it, you can find yourself under the weather. The thought that kept me going was how thankful that I was caring for a dog that might be on her deathbed, not a child. I know too many parents that have it the other way around.  

Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure at all she would make it to Monday, but we kept up the care and we kept up the prayer. We had already paid for the meds, so we were going to give it our best shot. By Sunday night, it seemed a possibility that she might make it to the next day.

Then to my utter joy, she hopped out of the tub on her own around 4am Monday morning and peed on my office floor. Never been so happy to clean up puppy pee. It was so great to see her little tail wagging again.

Missy is recovering well. She still has a few more days of medication to be administered, but she’s drinking water on her own and eating again, so we no longer need to give her injections of electrolyte fluids. If she recovers fully, which I think she will, I’d say we’re going to have one devoted farm dog.  

So, should you be the type of person that prays, I have to tell you, I’d be mighty obliged if you could not only say a prayer for our dog, but for some peace, quiet, and tranquility on our farm. We could really use it!      

Poor puppy

 

Posted 8/13/2014 5:41am by Mrs. Funny Duck.

Every year Canada Geese come to our farm as a stopping point part way through their migration. The mostly hang out in the back pond, where we can hear them, but not always see them. I had always hoped at some point I’d get to see a mating pair raise a family of goslings closer to the house in the pond up front. I mean, maybe it was already happening on the back pond, but to be able to look out my kitchen window to see a family of geese? That would be something!  

For the past three years, one pair has spent more time here than other geese. This year, we spotted the pair quite often on our front pond. There was lots of honking every day from the two of them, and I kept hoping that maybe they were actually going to stay and nest this year. Then one day, it got quiet. I thought that they had moved on and found a better spot to nest. Maybe next year, I hoped.  

Then some days later, I spotted the pair again. Oh, they’re still here! I was rather pleased. This pair had gone from flying and swimming about, honking all the while to being very quiet, and not moving about much. This went on for a while, then I finally noticed. Goslings! There were tiny little fluffy balls of cuteness scrambling about under the feet of their very watchful, cautious, and protective parents.  

I recall having a run in with Canada Geese goslings when I was about 12 years old at the Metro Toronto Zoo. I suppose it was actually a run in with the adult geese that was the memorable part. The young hatchings are so sweet and innocent looking, you just want to pick them up and love them. Until of course the very large, very protective, very powerful, very intimidating parents loudly encourage you to do otherwise! I instructed my kids to keep their distance from these geese living by our farm, which I knew would also help keep the dogs from bothering the new family.  

It was hard to count the hatchlings. There were possibly as many as 8, or as few as four. They were so small in the grass, and the parents wouldn’t let us get close to have a good look. It was a week or two later that we were able to confirm that 5 goslings were present as we observed them from a safe distance while they were swimming. Always one parent in the lead, then the goslings, then the other parent taking up the rear.  

The goslings were growing, but it seemed they stayed fluffy for the longest time! Day old chicks begin to feather out within days of hatching. It would seem geese take a fair bit longer.  

It was fascinating to watch them. The parents always stood guard. Only one would eat at a time so the other could stay watchful. In spite of their vigilance, one gosling was captured by a hawk. I hoped that there would be no more losses.  

Finally, we began to see the formation of tail feathers, then feathers on their bodies. Before you knew it, it took a good look to tell the parents from the young. All of the geese had become bolder now. You could go right into the field near the pond where they were feeding and get rather close. Close enough to hear their quiet vocalizations with one another, a soft, low ‘harunk’ sound. Some mornings, I’d find them practically at my back porch steps when I’d go out to milk.

Then began the flying lessons. They would start at one end of the pond and by the end of it, they would be almost out of the water. A few days of this, and they were in flight by the end, and landing in the water.  

I knew they would be leaving soon, as autumn is approaching. We often think of fall as something that arrives in mid to late September, but it begins much sooner in a very subtle fashion if you take the time to look. Most folks don’t notice, but if you keep a close eye on the trees, some actually begin to turn in very late July and early August. Many bird species begin to flock as well. Mating pairs of Mourning Doves begin to gather with other pairs, Cow Bird flocks double, then triple. The second hatch of barn swallows takes flight and before you know it, they are gone too.  

I wondered when our goose family would leave. I saw some of their first major practice flights. Circling our home, honking loudly and flying low. Such a beautiful sight and sound! From time to time, a young one would miss a beat and fall a few feet in the air, then pick up the pace again. This happened a few times.

Last week, I saw our family of geese take flight with a few other geese. The group flew wide, low circles over our home then their flight path broadened to fly over the ponds and pastures. Then they were gone.  

I’ve read that Canada Geese can live as long as 20 years in the wild, they mate for life, mating pairs usually return to the same place every year, and that eventually, some of their young may come to nest here too when the parents are no longer alive or breeding.  

I wonder how many years I’ll get to witness this mating pair raise their young on our farm. I hope they have a safe migration and return next spring. I feel so blessed that they felt our little farm a good place to raise their first family. It’s kind of a nice change watching animals grow up without having to do any work for them!

Note: Shortly after writing this, a friend of mine brought my attention to this very neat article about Lessons From Geese when it comes to teamwork. It's pretty neat, and worth a read! http://www.agiftofinspiration.com.au/stories/inspirational/geese.shtml

Canada Goose 

Posted 8/5/2014 5:12am by Mrs. Funny Duck.

I know of about a dozen farms that raised chicken for one year only. Farmers see the high price on chicken and say, "Golly! I could make some good coin there!" All they need to do is buy chicks, feed them grain, and put them out on pasture, right?

So, they order up some chicks, and buy some grain. The cute little day old balls of fluff arrive, and the farmer tucks them into the brooder so they stay safe and warm. If all goes well, and the brooder area has been set up right, the farmer will be thinking this is a piece of cake! If the brooder is the wrong temperature, or there isn't enough trough space or drinkers, the farmer might be looking at a 10 − 20% loss in the first few days.

If the first two or three weeks goes by without incident, the next thing will be the farmer noticing how well the chickens are growing! If they are doing their job right, that will continue and the birds can be moved outside, but if they aren't careful with feeding, the birds begin to drop of heart attacks and leg problems.

Now the birds have feathered out, it's time to move them to the pasture. Thank goodness, because these little critters eat a ton of food, and you know what that means on the other end as it comes out! It is a task in itself to keep them clean and on dry bedding. If you time it right, the days will be warm but not too hot, and there won't be rain for a while. If the weather throws you a loop, you can loose many birds the first few nights out on pasture.

So now, you've had these little birds long enough to have invested a fair amount of cash, time, and resources into them, and their metabolism is revving up. You become worried they might actually eat you out of house and home before you even sell the first one and start to make your investment back. Now that they are outside, you've got to make sure nothing eats them before you have a chance to. Many a flock has been lost to predators. It is incredibly demoralizing to see your investment and your winter food source decimated.

Assuming you've got the brooder stage right, you transitioned them to pasture well, and the predators have stayed at bay, you are now feeding hundreds of dollars in feed to these growing birds every week. The risk gets higher everyday that you keep them alive. As the birds get closer to slaughter weight, they are more at risk to dying from extreme heat or cold. 

Last night, we had a torrential down pour that started whilst I was milking in the barn. The rain fell so hard and fast, the 800L water tank filled up in just a few minutes. By the time I made it back to the house, there were puddles everywhere, and the rain was still pouring down. After the milk was processed, the rain still fell and the thunder and lightning were close enough that electrical things like phones and such were unplugged. We've lost electronics like that before in lightning strikes. It wasn't safe to go outside, even the cows and hens had taken cover.

When the lightning finally stopped it was close to dusk. Out to the fields to check the birds which are only days away form being ready to process. Now is NOT the time to loose them! Across the field I could tell something was amiss by the sound of the birds. As I got closer, I could now see the whole end of the pasture where the chickens were situated was under about 5 inches of water. There was a small bit of high ground in one tractor, but the birds were soaked, collapsed, and many almost drowning. 

If a farmer was growing chickens for the first time, they might not go out to check, assuming that the birds wold have gone under cover like they usually do in the rain. In the morning, they would come out to find a dead flock. 

When we saw the birds in trouble, we moved their shelters to the closest high ground, first removing the birds that were too wet and weak to walk. A few dozen were taken to a dry brooder area and put under a heat lamp right away to warm up while we hoped for the best.

Once on high ground, the rest were given dry hay bedding so they had a chance to make it through the night. I would have moved more birds, but it was so dark by this time. The ground was flooded, my boots were leaking, and the bugs were out of this world. The birds left behind were at least able to move about fairly well, so we had to hope they would bed down on the dry hay and keep each other warm.

This morning, I was thankful to God to find each and every bird alive! I moved most back out to the field, and left back a few who look like they need a few more hours to warm up. If we hadn't taken those measures last night, I'm sure we would have lost half the flock.

So this is what raising chickens is all about, folks. This is why so many farmers give it up after the first year, or why they grow chickens up in a barn stall, never to put them outside on grass. It can be a massive amount of work and risk and expense. This is why good chicken is so expensive. It's also why good chicken is so good!

We still have about another week to go before the chickens are ready. I have no idea what the weather is going to throw at those birds next. All I can do is hope and pray things go well, stay vigilant, and hope all this hard work and expense will get paid back. Ah, the life of a farmer!

broilers on pasture

Posted 7/26/2014 5:05pm by Mrs. Funny Duck.

Farming is filled with ups and downs. Filled with incredible joys, and crushing sorrows. Hard work, and fun times. More often than not, the good stuff, joys, and happiness outweigh the rough times.

Today was a rough day. My heart broke a little, and got mended all at the same time.   Life and death are common place on the farm, but today our family went through something any family anywhere might experience, save for a few details perhaps.  

We’ve got an old farm dog. She’s a huge Bernese Mountain Dog who is now 7 years old. She was hit by a car when she was three, and it hardly slowed her down. But, knowing this breed tends to have a short life expectancy, and knowing that it might take up to two years to raise up a new farm dog, we found a puppy.

Millie came into our lives a little over a year ago, another Bernese Mountain Dog.  She grew up along side our older dog and they became fast friends. They played together, got in trouble together, stole food from my kids together, and kept the prey away from the livestock together.

Millie was growing well, almost too well! She was a big girl; strong and powerful.   As Millie began to mature, our older dog began to seem even older to me. But then something unexpected happened, and it happened so fast.

About two weeks ago, I was thinking that Millie was maturing into such a great dog! Her puppy exuberance was settling down in to a nice, calm demeanour. About a week ago, I started keeping more of an eye on her. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but I knew something was amiss.

About three of four days ago, when I was grooming her, I noticed she had lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very, very short time. I also began to notice a slight difference in her posture. Yesterday, her breathing seemed wrong, and her heart was really working.  

I took her into see the vet that day, and it took us some time to figure out the problem. Her heart was racing, you could see it pounding in her chest, and her temperature was elevated. Was it bacterial? Was it viral? Should we do blood tests? We kept trying to sort out what it was and what course of action should be taken, the vet palpating Millie's body and asking me questions the whole time.

That’s when the vet began to suspect a pulmonary problem. She began to palpate and listen again, and then found the problem. Millie's heart was on the wrong side of her chest, and there was a mass you could feel on the opposite side that we suspect was larger internally. It may have been putting pressure on the heart and pushing it over. Some X-Rays confirmed there was something certainly very, very wrong in there.  

I brought Millie home with some anti-inflammatories and some pain killers. We also gave her some strong herbal remedies. This made her comfortable and helped her get a very good nights sleep. The next morning, she seemed ok, and was still resting comfortably.  She was sleeping on a pile of fresh hay under a shady tree. When you spoke to her, she didn’t open her eyes, but wagged her big beautiful bushy tail instead.

An hour or so later, we heard her yelping. The kids and I ran to her to see if we could help. The kids looked worried and I felt my heart start to sink. We rubbed her head, and she continued to cry out a little then stopped.   “Well, kids… I think we have a hard thing to do now” I said to them my voice breaking a little.

They looked at me, and began to weep and cry, tugging at my shirt saying “No, Mom! Don’t kill her! Not yet! Give her one more day! Please, just one more day! Just give her one more day!"

I began to think maybe they were right, a day couldn't hurt, but then Millie would yelp again, and I’d change my mind. She’d stop, and I think the kids were right again. I didn't want my dog to die.

My husband went back to the house to get ready for what was to happen, I’m sure he had already known the day before what would need to be done. 

Millie was laying quiet now, and no longer panting.   “Kids, we need to do this, she’s in pain. If we keep her alive it’s not for her, it would only be for us. We can’t let her suffer any more. She can’t move, and she hurts.”

Again they began to tug at me and beg, and again, Millie cried out.  My heart began to tear in two.  Then slowly without another word from me, all the little hands dropped from tugging at my shirt, and the pleading was replaced with sobbing. They all began to say goodbye to this dog who seemed far to young to be dying.  

I looked at my three kids, my heart breaking and filling with love at the same time, as I realized that they, on their own could see that need of this dogs pain to be over was far greater than avoiding their own pain. They weren’t happy about it, but they knew and understood that it was time for her to go. They stepped aside, wiping the tears that were streaming from their eyes, in order to let their father take care of the rest.  

She’s buried now. The kids helped to fill in her grave, and they gathered flowers to decorate it.

Our kids see the dance of life and death all the time on the farm. As a parent, I want them to know and show compassion to the creatures that we work with everyday, but I’m never really sure if they’ve got it, if they really know how important it is.  Today, I saw with my own eyes that they get it. They get that sometimes the needs of the animals come before our own, even when it really hurts. It's a hard lesson to learn.

Millie as a pup

Posted 6/22/2014 9:24am by Mrs. Funny Duck.

You hear it all the time from farmers. It's a goal to strive for, something to work for, an achievement to constantly reach for. Sometimes it seems like it's the Holy Grail of farming.

There is lots of talk about it in organic agriculture, permaculture, and bio-dynamics. There are books and articles written on it, and probably whole YouTube channels devoted to it.

"I want my farm to be self-sustainable." 

"On our farm, we are becoming more self-sustainable every year."

"Self-sustainability is a part of our farms business plan."

Well, I tell you what folks. There is a whole lot of teamwork and community required for 'self'-sustainability.   

I know, I know, often when people are using the phrase ‘self-sustainable’ they are talking about the land providing for the farm so less off-farm inputs are required; a closed circle in which the parcel of land is what sees to the food, the water, and all the other needs on the farm.  

Incredibly, land can do that. You see it in nature all the time. But sometimes when we try to reproduce those natural models in an agricultural way, it often takes a whole lot of elbow grease, blood, sweat, tears,,, and community. Lots of community.  

Our farm would be nowhere if not for other farmers. I could fill books with accounts of the ideas, input, and help that other farmers have given us over the years. From time to time, we are blessed with the opportunity to pay the favour back to those kind souls who helped us. In some cases, we’ve paid it forward, by sharing what we learned with others.  

Here is but a small accounting of some of the reasons we have been thankful for others on our ‘self’ sustainable farm:

- livestock farmers giving suggestions and advice when we were first staring out in to livestock production,

- experienced market gardeners giving a helping hand when we were planning our orchards and gardens,

- the many farmer friends who have answered late night calls when there were on-farm emergencies,

- other farmers or friends lending a hand when we’ve had equipment problems, or have been short of hands,

-all the farmers who have helped us think outside the box when presented with problems and setbacks,

- all the farmers who prayed for us, or gave a listening ear when times were rough, and then shared words of encouragement with us to bolster our will to continue.

I could go on a long, long time with literally years worth of examples of other folks taking their valuable time to help us out when they didn't have to.  

So I tell you what, I don’t think the phrase should be ‘self-sustainable’ I think it should be ‘community-sustainable’ because that’s really what it’s about.

Double rainbow

Posted 3/11/2014 6:05pm by Aunt Funny Duck.

This blog post was written by my sister. It’s about the two days that she had to tend the farm for us when we had to go away unexpectedly in February. The winter days on a farm in many ways entail less tasks than summer days, but winter brings its own kind of trouble. Everything is stiff, frozen, things break easily, and it’s much harder to keep the cows and barn clean and free of manure. These extra challenges can make a short winter day seem very, very long. Now to really put her blog entry into full and proper context, you have to understand that had been over a decade since my sister, (Aunt Funny Duck) had spent a winter in Canada, she’s never farmed before, and she’s learned everything from scratch. She’s done a fantastic job where others in her place would have failed, or ran screaming back to where they came from. She’s still very, very new to the task of milking, working with the dairy cows, and understanding the finer details of milk handling and caring for the milking equipment, so it was rather stressful to me when one of my cow’s pregnancies ended due to common hereditary condition just two days before we left. We knew there was a possibility of some minor complications such as fever, lack of appetite, or mastitis, but as of the day we left, everything with my cow seemed fine. Here is her blog entry:

Was it really only 2 days?!?
I had been practicing alternative swearing for days.  I swear like a sailor at the best of times, in spite of my excellent vocabulary, and was trying to learn to tone it down while Mr. Funny Duck’s parents were in town helping to look after the farm.  

“Son of a Nutcracker!!!”, “Holy Hand Grenades!!!” and “Mother Hubbard!!!” seemed to work well for me, but I was confident I wouldn’t need to worry about my internal sailor for the next few days - it was going to be a doddle.  

Mr. Funny Duck had to go to Toronto for two days for an intensive medical assessment.  He needed someone by his side to support him, and there was really only one person who could fill that role - his wife and the backbone of our farm, Mrs. Funny Duck.  

Mrs. Funny Duck had never had to hand over the milking to anyone else in all the years she‘d been doing it, and was now faced with a dilemma - support her husband and hand over the reins to someone else, or stay and hope he managed without her.  She had managed both farms on her own many times and could have done the job with bells on, but this time there really wasn’t a choice - she had to go, and I had to step up to the rather enormous plate.  

I had done their chores from time to time, usually under supervision. The chickens were no problem - I did this every day and could do it with my eyes closed.  The pigs were not my forte, but they didn’t scare me so I knew I could take them on as well, possibly with a few scrapes and bruises, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  The milking, however, was a different story - this was going to take some doing.  

I started training to milk in earnest about two weeks before they left. I’d complete my own chores, and I’d travel over and complete the milking both morning and evening whenever possible. Mrs. Funny Duck knew the process so well she could hear from outside the barn when something wasn’t right. She was always there in a flash to give advice or lend a hand when I got in a muddle.   

I was exhausted before it even began - there’s no getting away from the schedule the cows set for you.  The must be milked every day, rain or shine, hail or sleet or polar vortex. Come Christmas, New Year, birthdays or weekends, the milking must be done, and it must be done on time.  

The milking process itself is quick and quite simple - her cows are trained and well behaved, they know what to do and are keen to get started once they hear the milk wagon rumbling over the snow and ice.  When things go well, milking her cows is a pleasure, and it’s an amazing thing to be able to get so close to these enormous, gentle animals.  

While you’re milking there’s a whole host of things that must be observed and attended to;   you must deal with the young heifers fighting at the gates to get to the grain, and the other cow yearning to be milked, feed the young calf who is so strong she can knock you out if you don’t get the milk to her in a timely fashion. You must keep the dogs out of the barn, and watch that the pigs don’t release the chain holding back the gate which keeps the other cows from intruding into the milking area (I think the pigs enjoy the resulting mayhem), and ensure that you rotate the cows in such a way between milking that you don’t get knocked over and trampled (I had borrowed my sister‘s steel-toed rubber boots to avoid broken toes, and was still getting used to how they felt on my feet).  

And then there’s the cold - it’s an incredible obstacle to overcome.  

If you hook up the hoses to the milking machine incorrectly you will struggle when you’re in the barn, sat within kicking distance of a hoof and tail while you try to untangle the lines without covering them in manure. When it’s very cold this can be a real problem, as your coordination is limited.  If the milking machine will not get to pressure you cannot milk - again, with the cold it can be difficult to figure out which valve is not completely closed, or is it the cold itself causing the problem. You must follow the washing, feeding and milking process to the letter in order to get the full let down from the cows, else you don’t get the rich cream they will provide if they are happy and well tended.  Even then they may not give you much cream - it can take awhile for them to get used to someone new milking them, and the cream is reserved for their calf (as they tend to think of their primary caregiver/milker).  They like routine and any deviation can result in poorer yield and quality. You cannot milk with gloves on, and the brutal cold causes your hands to go numb except for the excruciating needles of pain you feel as your fingers begin to freeze.  I can’t explain how quickly this happens - it only takes moments and it’s truly shocking.  The only respite you have is to slide your hands between the udder and the hind leg to try and get a little warmth from the soft fuzzy bag, hoping you don‘t end up with a handful of faecal matter.   

I should mention at this point that the cows are not in the least bothered by the temperature.  They are happily munching on their feed, looking at you as though you’re insane while you wave you dance about to get the blood circulating.  

After the milking is done, the calf is fed and everyone is returned to their pasture for the night.  The remaining milk is carried back over the rough, icy landscape (hoping the wagon doesn’t hit a rut and tip over so that you lose all the milk in the snow), up the icy stairs, past the crazy dogs and cats (and sometimes kids) to the house where it is then filtered into jars and jugs for milk and cream.  You have to scrub every piece of equipment in scalding hot water until it’s free of any trace of milk, and set it to drain, ready for you to start the process all over again a few hours later.  This happens twice a day, day in and day out, without fail.   My first few times milking were a bit sketchy, but I seemed to get the hang of it. 

Mrs. Funny Duck was nervous to leave the farm, but everything had been accounted for. Poppa and Nanny Funny Duck would be there to look after the kids and the house, and to tend the fire. Poppa Funny Duck, usually a great help on the farm, had hurt his back so couldn’t do much in the way of heavy work. Dave the Boiler Man (hereon in to be referred to as DtBM) and I had to get over to the farm to make sure we had all the chores and the milking procedures down on paper, as I would be doing most things on my own, with help from Poppa and DtBM wherever possible. We went over any possible hiccoughs, Mr. Funny Duck took us all through the chores and feeding protocols, right down to which containers to use for water and how to drain the hoses so that they didn‘t freeze solid before the next chore time.  Finally, we were done for the night and DtBM kindly drove my sister and brother-in-law to the train station for their journey to the big city.  

“I’ve got this”, I thought to myself.  “It’s only two days, no worries.  They do this every day, what could go wrong in two days?”  Fatal last words…  

I went to bed at 8:30pm the night before my first milking. I had my lists, the milk processing was going to be very straightforward and I had some emergency contacts - some friends who had a lot of milking experience.  No problem.  

In the morning after my own chores, chugging my coffee along the way, I headed over to Home Farm and got the milking equipment ready and headed out to the barn.  Everything felt like it was going to plan.  While I milked, Poppa Funny Duck got the pig feed ready, taking down the slops from the previous day and mixing the grain in four 5-gallon buckets for Paul the boar, and his brood.  

I got the feed ready for the cows, and they filed into the barn to wait, along with the little heifers hoping for a few scraps.  The pigs were in the stall next to them just starting to stir, all piled up on top of each other, steam pouring off them in the cold. I placed the first bucket in the milking stall and opened the gate so that Suzie (number one cow) could run through to munch away while I prepared the equipment.  Everything was going smoothly.  It was cold and snowy, but only about -15C so nothing too crazy.  

I cleaned her first with warm water as I had been taught, then dried her off with a clean cloth.  I squeezed a few times to clear the old milk so that any sitting bacteria would not taint the milk we would be drinking.  I brought the machine to pressure without issue, set up my stool and milked all 4 quarters, finishing off with one teat cup on each quarter in succession, applying gentle pressure to the udder to try and glean any cream she might deign to offer up. There wasn‘t much. The cows, like people, often mistake me for Mrs. Funny Duck, but this time she was not fooled. I unhooked the machine and carefully decanted her milk into a stainless steel milk pail.  So far, so good.  

I led her out of the milking stall into the holding area, fully expecting to see Yanna (number 2 cow) waiting her turn with the pushy heifers and the calf, but she was nowhere to be seen.  I was faced with just the little ones, wide-eyed, waiting to see what was going to happen next.  My heart sank. Thankful for the steel toes, I pushed past the other cows and saw that the pigs were now awake and urgently heading out to their feeding area.  I found Yanna around the corner of the barn, head lowered, favoring a hoof and refusing to budge.  

“Jiminy Crickets!!!” I said under my breath, still sticking to the no swear policy I’d placed on myself.  This was not good.  The cows are always anxious to be milked at this point, bellowing if you’re too slow, and the fact that she did not want to move into the milking stall sent my alarm bells ringing off the hook.  

I didn’t know much, but I knew that milking this cow was imperative to her health and welfare.  I had to get her into that stall because I could not milk her by hand outside. It was too cold, it was snowing and I was too inexperienced.  I had to pull on her collar with all my strength, then move to slap her hindquarters as hard as I could to push her into the milking stall so that I could hook up the milking machine.  It took some force. Cows are made of leather, and it takes quite a hard hit to get them to move when they don’t want to. Poppa Funny Duck was now in the barn with me, trying to help, but didn’t quite understand how much force he had to use to get her moving.  

“Hit her hard!!!” I yelled as gently as one could yell when yelling was required.  His gentle taps would have felt like a fly to Yanna.  “Haaarder!!!!“  

His gloved hand connected with her hind quarter and she moved another step forward.  I knew that if I got her into the stall to be milked she would feel better, and she would trust that I was doing the right thing by her.  I moved around to her rear end and pushed with everything I had, slapping her until she hobbled into the stall.  I could just about reach her teats with the lines fully extended. I sent Poppa Funny Duck to the house to call our emergency milking contacts to report the lame cow and ask for advice.  

Yanna was visibly depressed, and she wouldn’t even eat grain which Mrs. Funny Duck often describes as ’crack cocaine for cows‘.  I lifted the hoof she had been favouring and checked it - there was nothing obvious to cause her limp - so I started the milking process, all the while speaking reassuring words in gentle tones (this was more for my benefit than hers).   

I cleaned her udder, dried it off, and squeezed out a few shots of milk. I was just about to connect the teat cups when I remembered what my sister had told me about the taste of the milk - if it’s salty it might mean mastitis and a sick cow. I squeezed again into my palm and tasted.  Salt. I tried another quarter. Salt again.  I licked my (not so) clean hand to make sure I wasn’t tasting my own salt as I was now sweating profusely in spite of the freezing temperatures, and squeezed once more.  Definitely salt.  The heifers were watching anxiously, the calf banging at the gate begging to be fed. Suzie had long since emptied her feed bucket and was stomping around, loose in the holding area. I could hear the dogs barking and the pigs squealing in frustration awaiting their turn.   

I milked Yanna as best I could, fed the calf and prepared to give the rest of the milk to the pigs.  

While all this was going on, Poppa Funny Duck had returned from the house and begun readying the pigs’ breakfast.  I heard him call for help, but I couldn’t leave the barn as the calf was loose and I was still finishing up with Yanna.  I had no idea what was actually going on just a few feet away from me on the other side of the barn.  

I ventured out with the milk and the wagon, relieved that all the cows were where they should be and that Yanna was safely isolated in the milking stall, to be faced with a scene that threw my no swearing efforts a total curveball.  

“Holy expletive, what the expletive expletive happened here?” I muttered to myself.  

Poppa Funny Duck had prepared the food for the pigs, and had carried the buckets over to the gate of the pen to wait for me so we could feed them together. The pigs are contained by a rickety wire fence held by a single board and a couple of nails. The dogs had broken the electrified fence at some point earlier in the season and up until now the pigs had respected the fragile barrier Mr. Funny Duck had built until a new fence could be put in when the ground wasn‘t frozen solid. 

But the smell of breakfast inches from their snouts was too much to bear, and Paul - the approximately 700lb boar - and his 3 enormous girlfriends (along with their various sized offspring) decided enough was enough. They smashed through the fence, knocked Poppa Funny Duck and the buckets over onto the icy ground, and went to town on the food.  It was total mayhem as all the various swine poured through the gap.  Poppa had tried to hold them back, but trying to stop Paul would be like trying to stop a Smart Car at full pelt, let alone all the rest of the now frantic animals. 

Poppa was attempting to scrape up what was left of the feed (now frozen into the ground) and at the same time hold the pigs back using the broken, twisted wires that once resembled a fence.  The scene repeated over and over - Poppa would put the fence up and push away the pigs, start scraping at the ice, and they would smash it down and start rooting in the mess at his feet.  Poppa was covered in feed and visibly shaken.  My internal sailor was struggling to stay contained.  

We managed to contain the pigs and give them enough food to calm them down, jury rigged the fence, and they all settled back to sleep through the cold morning as if nothing had happened.  I returned to the house to filter what was left of the milk, siphon the skim milk from the cream in the fridge, and wash the milk dishes.  Suffice to say I was feeling overwhelmed.  

Our friends arrived to help with Yanna, and I felt physical relief - they would know what to do.  We took several tests of her milk and determined that she did, in fact, have mastitis and would have to be milked by hand from the offending quarter. They helped me with the dishes and the cream, and were a great support for me in such a stressful time.  

I tried to milk Yanna by hand, but my inexperience was now a real problem, as my hand and arm ached from the strain of trying to coax milk from one quarter on the far side of the beast.  I was cold, I was tired and I was worried.  I managed to get as much as I could and left her to rest for awhile.  

I had been up at 5am, arrived at Home Farm at 8am and finally finished morning chores just after 12pm.  What would the evening bring I wondered.  

***  

The UK is covered with a patchwork quilt of land that has been cultivated for over a thousand years, dotted here and there with sheep and cattle. There are hundreds of small farms consisting of a collection of brick buildings and sheds, many of them hundreds of years old.  There are a few large enterprises, but mostly they are small family run farms, often on rented land. They are beautiful, manicured fields and pastures that have produced incredible food for nearly a thousand years. Looking at them, it was impossible to imagine that life running a farm would not be a perfect one, and the farmers I got to know there were inspirations in every way.  

Visiting Funny Duck Farms in the past I had the same feeling, without the extensive history behind it.  It was a new venture, but it was idyllic in a wild and Canadian way, and the Funny Ducks made it all look so easy.  Looking at both magical worlds it was hard to believe that the farming life could be so trying. I never imagined I would know just how trying until I drove into the farmyard later that afternoon with DtBM to see every single pig wandering loose and ransacking the feed shed…  

I was now in emergency mode.  I laid on the car horn to try and alert everyone that we needed help, running towards the pigs as much as the icy surface would allow.  DtBM, a picture of calm, helped me to herd the pigs away from the feed barrels.  One of the barrels was tipped on its side, feed everywhere and two little pigs inside it snuffling and grunting, stuffing their faces with more food than they could possibly manage in one sitting.  

Paul, and his sows, Linda, Heather, and Sarah-Jane all got a good telling off, and my internal sailor was now very much a full-time presence on the farm. The air was blue, but DtBM kept his cool and helped me to get everyone behind the gate.  He manned it until we were able to figure out a way to fix it. But in the meantime, these pigs needed to be fed, now.  The milking had to wait.  

Poppa came out and we started mixing their feed.  DtBM suggested we should find another avenue to feed the pigs in order to distract them.  They were crowding the fragile fence and although DtBM is a big, strong guy, he was struggling to keep Paul and his posse at bay, even with the help of our farm dogs and his little black lab, Remy.  He suggested going around the back of the paddock to distract them from the crowded fence, so I took a bucket of slops through the barn, climbed over the gates with it, and crept up behind the pigs to start filling their bowls. They were onto me in a flash - boy, can they move fast - and I was able to distract them enough to allow Poppa and DtBM to get through the gate to distribute the rest of the food and water, all of us slipping and sliding around the pigs until they were fed. Crisis averted.  

I carried on with the milking.  Yanna was in the usual milking stall so I had to arrange the stall beside her to allow Suzie a place to be milked.  Suzie ran into the other stall without issue, and I suddenly realised I had to milk from the opposite side.  All my careful work to get the hoses on the milker correctly was now undone, as everything was backward.  I had to slow down and find my way around the mess of hoses, and I got her finished, leaving her to munch away on her feed.   

Yanna was looking marginally better, but was facing the wrong way round and refusing to turn.  I had to milk through her hind legs - this proved to be not so much fun.  Imagine a very long, strong tail, covered in manure in your face, as well as said face experiencing a proximity to a part of an ill cow you never want to get too close to on a good day.  This was accompanied by a mucky and slushy floor due to her temporary confinement, slick with dung even in the subzero temperatures and in spite of the pile of clean hay I had added, and add to the mix an inexperienced milk maid cursing and swearing (in a calm and gentle voice of course) until even the cows raised an eyebrow.  I managed to milk Yanna and settle her in for the night, but not before I had to take her temperature.  I was at the appropriate end as it seems cows won’t hold a thermometer under their tongue. Yanna was not at all impressed with the process (even though I warmed the thermometer before insertion) and I tried to explain that I wasn’t so chuffed about having to do it either, but I don‘t think she cared how I felt.  Thankfully her temperature was normal, and I could carry on with feeding the calf and getting everyone tucked away for the night.  

Poppa sorted the chickens (although not before flooding the coops with water from the leaking drinkers - thankfully DtBM had kept chickens and was able to help on this score) and DtBM fixed the fence using pallets and wire, and cleared an alternative entrance to feed the greedy swine the next morning. I returned to the barn to top up the cow drinker only to discover that the hose leading to it was frozen. Of course it was. There was enough water to see the cows through the night so we detached the frozen section of hose to thaw in the house, ready for the morning.  

I finished the milking, filtered the milk, washed the dishes, went home and went to bed and straight to sleep.  It was 8:30pm.  

The next day Yanna seemed brighter, but was still facing the wrong direction and refused to turn around.  I milked Suzie in the stall beside her - still on the opposite side. I had not remembered this when setting up and had to mess about with the hoses again.  I milked Yanna, again from behind, narrowly avoiding dropping the teat cups into the muck at my feet and being battered around the face by her manure caked tail, then followed the process of feeding the calf and managing the other cows. Mrs. Funny Duck had recommended that I return Yanna into the main cow pasture with her friends, provide minerals and dose their water with homeopathy.

Poppa Funny Duck had brought the thawed hose from the house and connected it, so I went to turn it on to fill the drinker - nothing.  I checked every valve - all frozen.  I had not checked to see if the hose had been drained completely before we reconnected it, so now the entire hose - from the house to the drinker - had frozen solid in the time I was milking.  We would have to fill the drinker by hand.  This involved many trips hauling two 5-gallon buckets of hot water at a time. We carried them from the house, down the icy hill, past the garage, the feed shed and the barn, and over the fence into the drinker.  My clothes were soaked and immediately froze solid.  To top it off I was sweating buckets.   This was officially no longer fun.  

Poppa Funny Duck took the milk inside for me and gathered up the over 200ft of hoses to place them in the heated market room while I continued with the chores. The chickens were fed, watered and eggs gathered, so I took the pig feed through the chicken area and out the door on the other side of the coop that DtBM had cleared of ice the night before. I was still wearing Mrs. Funny Duck’s steel toed boots, which felt large and clunky compared to my lighter insulated wellies that I usually wore.  I had been glad of them whilst moving amongst the cows, but now they felt cumbersome on my feet.  The pigs sensed weakness and swarmed me immediately, circling my legs and weaving around me until I lost my balance.  It took about 45 seconds before I was on the ice, flailing, covered in slops, trampled by pigs grunting and stomping around my head.  Even my internal sailor was now cringing at the language coming out of my mouth.  

Aunt Funny Duck said a really bad word many, many times.  

I got up, left them to fight over the bucket, and managed to get the rest of the feed buckets through without incident, although most of it ended up on the back of the smaller pigs’ heads.  I returned to the house and cleaned up before I filtered the milk, washed the dishes and returned to my house for a few hours before the next chore session. Only one more night to go, they were home tomorrow and I would never be happier to see two people in my life.  

The last evening’s chores started off with a problem - the hoses had not thawed and now the tap from the house was frozen as well.  I could have cried.  I was attempting to untangle the hoses while Poppa Funny Duck went in the house to use a hair dryer to unfreeze the pipe.  I was feeling so upset, fighting with the massive hoses that seemed to become more knotted with every twist, I was ready to lose it when I looked up - there was DtBM walking up the hill with Remy, laughing at me tangled up in the hoses and my sad attempts to straighten them.  “How’s it goin’?” he said, knowing exactly how it was going. I’d never been happier to see anyone in my life.  He took over and helped me get the tap unfrozen, then helped Poppa haul water while I went to get feed ready.  

I entered the barn to milk, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw Yanna was waiting to be milked alongside Suzie.  When it was her turn she rushed to her feed and ate like a trooper. DtBM tended to the cows beds and hay, then we all pitched in to feed the pigs together.  This went smoothly, with only a moment of madness where we thought the pigs were going to invade the chicken coops - oh the havoc they would have wreaked… We all headed back to the house where I filtered the milk and washed the milk dishes, readying everything for Mrs. Funny Duck‘s return, while the kids and DtBM ate doughnuts in a sort of celebration.  

After saying our goodbyes to Poppa and Nanny, DtBM and I returned to my house where we made dinner, fired up the woodstove to a blazing heat and polished off several bottles of wine.  

I was so glad it was over.  It was a truly amazing experience, a trial by fire (or should I say ice?) and nothing died on my watch.  I had always known how hard the Funny Ducks worked, but until I experienced it myself, I couldn’t know the real dedication and quick thinking that managing their farm requires. Mrs. Funny Duck said to me recently that she never used to appreciate a glass of milk until she got her own cows. You can’t understand how much blood, sweat and tears goes into every litre until you experience it yourself, and I’m glad to say I now know what she means.  

I have to thank Poppa and Nanny and our farmer friends for the unwavering support they gave me during the craziest 48 hours I have ever experienced. To know they were there when I needed them helped to keep me focused and not sweat the small stuff.  

Extra special thanks go to DtBM who, on his 28th birthday, was there to swill pigs, clean cow stalls, haul water, feed chickens and provide a calming presence for me when I needed one.  There aren’t many guys who would do this for someone they just met and I feel very lucky that he was there for me.  

And dear, dear Funny Ducks, if you do need to go away again I‘d be more than happy to cover, but please can it be in the gosh darned summer? 

Jen milking Suzie

Posted 2/25/2014 8:01am by Samantha.

The past two days have been the most unusual I've had in years and years. I'm writing this not from the living room of my farm house after finishing up chores and whilst making cheese, but from a small cramped hotel room 14 stories off the ground in the city of Toronto. No, the farm life didn't get the best of me and I haven't run away. If I had, I can assure you it wouldn't be to here.

I'm here for my husband. Some of you may know that he has worked as a Paramedic even longer than I've known him, and at this point, I've known him for more than half my entire life. He loves his job, and he's excellent at it. It was his good and steady income from being a Paramedic that gave us the finances we needed to purchase land and start farming years ago.

He's been a paramedic for over 22 years. He began working for free for many years as a volunteer Paramedic, until he completed his schooling and found a full time job. He's seen a lot of crazy things over the years. He's held many a hand of the sick, injured, and dying. He's seen violence, where there should have been love, and misery where there should been happiness. He's always done his best to bring God's love with him whenever he's at work. Some days he does that better than others.

The things he sees and has to do never bother him. Much like when I was a licensed Funeral Director & Embalmer, you learn to focus on the good things, and you let go of the bad stuff. Most days, his job is basic and there is no stress. Just bringing people to the hospital for appointments, and back home again. Silly calls where people think they need an ambulance, but probably need a good nights sleep more. Calls where a family member feels a little ill, and the other ten family members there can't take one of the 5 cars in the driveway to drive the person to the hospital themselves.

Once in a while, things get a little more hairy. Vehicular accidents, farm accidents, and other major calls demand more of Paramedics. He's always been able to deal with the ups and downs of the job. He lets go of the bad stuff, and is always ready to handle the next call to come in. Then he had a really bad call.

One day he had a call so bad they sent him and his partner home afterward. They NEVER send you home. Having bad calls is what Paramedics do. If they had to send the Paramedics home after bad calls, there would be no one there when you call an ambulance. But one day, they sent him home. 

I still remember that day very clearly. I was working in the house, and I heard a car pull up. I went to see who it was, and I assumed he had come home early because he was feeling unwell. Why else would he come home hours before his shift ended? He then tells me that he was sent home. I would have thought he was fired, except he didn't look upset. Thinking back on it now, he actually looked a bit shell shocked, but I was so surprised to see him home, that I didn't really think on it much.

He told me that there had been a bad call and they sent him and his partner home. What?!? Now I'm worried. What on earth kind of call could he have possibly been to that they sent the guys home after?

It was a bad call. It was a young boy that he and his partner had met the week before for one of those silly calls. The kind where you don't really need to call an ambulance, but it was called anyways. It was a fun call. The boy was nice, wasn't really injured, and they met his family too. They talked about lots of things, and what plans and hopes the young boy had for Christmas which was right around the corner. Then a week later, a call to the same place, but this time my husband saw the boy die in front of him. Not by anyones hand, but in a tragic, heartbreaking accident at school. Our hearts ache for this family that lost their son, and we still wonder to this day how they are now.

Everyone else there at the scene was unable to function. So my husband did what he does best. He took control of the situation, and he completed the call. Then the ambulance supervisor drove them back to base, then sent them both home and told them to take a few days off. 

My husband was fine for a long time. Or so I thought. But then the whole family started to notice subtle and sometimes not so subtle changes in him. He was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, which is being diagnosed more frequently in Paramedics, more than in other emergency service jobs. In Canada, the current rate of Paramdics that make it to retirement is only about 4%. The rest just can't do it.

He took some time off, learned some great coping skills, then went back to work. But PTSD is a brain injury. Like any physical injury, once it is there, it's easy to get re-injured. The symptoms came back recently, and he's now having some assessments done in the city of Toronto.

When I found out he would have to travel to Toronto for a few days, I wasn't worried. I've managed both farms on my own before. It's not fun, but I can do it. And the pace of life isn't as crazy this time of year. So I wasn't worried. Until I was told that the assessments are potentially stressful enough that he would need an escort with him, and the best person to escort him would be me. 

So now I'm worried for my husband, (what exactly are they going to do to him?!?) and worried about how to manage the farm and the kids if I'm gone. I've not left the farm for more than a few hours in years and years. Thankfully, our family stepped up to the plate. My in-laws would come and look after the kids, and make sure our wood stove stayed lit during the coldest winter we've had in a long time. My sister would learn to milk the cows, and tend to all the other chores.

Then, after all the preparations, I have to get on a train, and hope that nothing goes wrong while we're gone. Lots of things did go wrong the first day, and I haven't heard yet about what's happened today, but I'm sure the adventure continues. I'll have to ask my sister to write a blog about what happened on the farm whilst we were gone!

Spending these two short days in the city has made me think about lots of things in a new way. I look outside the hotel room window, and I'm fortunate enough to have a view of a little courtyard below. It's winter and the trees are bare, so I can clearly see that there are 36 trees and just over a dozen shrubs down there. 36 trees and a bunch of shrubs surrounded by skyscrapers and a few thousand people in the space of a city block. How many more little courtyards are there like this? Hopefully lots more.

Exhaust from buildings bellows out of all the roof tops I can see. People hurry about on the ground bundled against the cold and wind. The occasional person walks their dog to the little spot with the 36 trees. I can't imagine the extra work of keeping a dog in the city, and I wonder how my old farm dog and my still-a-puppy farm dog are fairing at home.

When we venture out of the hotel, the sights and sounds are almost overwhelming to me. There is more than my eyes can take in. I wonder how people manage to have so much input for their brains to process each day and still go to work and have energy for their families. I begin to understand how it is that people put mental blinders on when they are outside, or why they focus so intently on their little hand held devices. Maybe it's to shut out some of the input that they don't want, or need, or can't handle.

I am in awe of the vast amount of electricity being used at all hours of the day. I cannot even begin to comprehend that massive amount of electricity and water being used in our hotel, let alone in the whole city.

When I'm on the farm, and I walk around our property, there is an infinite amount of things to see and take in, but it doesn't seem to overwhelm my senses like the city does. There is always sights, sounds, smells, and movement from animals, birds, trees, insects and so on, but somehow my brain can manage this. So why does it feel like my senses are being bombarded and overcome in the city? 

People need nature. We need it on a deep cellular level, our spirit craves and desires to be in nature. Being in nature is healing to the soul, like hitting the reset button on a piece of equipment that is jammed up and no longer working properly. 

At home, my family is blessed to not only be surrounded by nature, but to be eating naturally too. And now, having spent this short time in the city, I better understand why our city dwelling customers get so excited about our food. If you can't be in nature, you need to be eating it. In every bite of fresh, real food, there is within the healing touch of nature. Instead of having nature surround you, your body benefits from the experience of nature internally with every meal you consume.

We brought some food with us, but had no way to pack two days worth of food, especially when I packed all the paperwork from my home office to sort and organize while my husband was away for his appointments during the day.

So, we are left to consume the foods and drinks that are available in the city on our extremely limited budget. The hotel food makes my stomach churn, which shocks me almost as much as the high price of the tasteless food, as I've got a stomach like a coyote and can eat most anything.

We head to the massive grocery store that used to be Maple Leaf Gardens, and are so pleased to see lots of 'organic' signs through the windows in the huge produce section. But, when we go inside, it's only a very small portion of the fruits and veg that are actually organic. The signs have been positioned to make more of it look organic from the outside.

I can't imagine having to live in the city, and not being able to eat farm fresh food every day. It makes me want to go home and work ever harder to provide our customers with the best food I can for them and their growing children. I want to provide them this food so they can survive and thrive in the midst of the chaos and pollution the city must throw at them.

Working a farm can be hard, unrelenting work at times. But this little foray into the city has steeled me to keep on when those hard days come. It will be midnight when we arrive home tonight, and we will be tired tomorrow. There will be two days worth of work that I will need to catch up on, but it will be worth it.

It will fill my heart with joy to see my beautiful kids again, and to go and see my sweet cows, funny pigs, and quirky chickens. I will be able to breath the fresh air, take in the sights and sounds of the countryside, eat some good food, and drink a big, tall glass of fresh milk.

Returning home will be like hitting my reset button.

Glass of milk

Posted 2/6/2014 10:26am by Samantha .

My family would be shocked to hear this, but I have a love/hate relationship with math. They wouldn't be shocked at the hate part, but certainly the love part. I hate that I'm not very good at it, and I really hate how they are teaching math in the schools now (what are ten squares? why does each question require a paragraph of writing, but no actual numbers?), but I do love how math can sort out so many things.

It seems that there is not a day that goes by on the farm where math isn't needed to solve a problem.

I need math to sort out what I am going to do with each days milk: I need 'X' litres of milk for my family, 'X' litres of milk for my sister. This then leaves me to sort out how much milk is left from that day, and if I will have enough litres of it to take cream to make butter. How much is needed for cheese? How much butter and cheese do I need to store up for when I have to dry off a cow for her next calving?

I need math to sort out grain costs. It seems that the cost of grain keeps going higher and higher. Now, we need to explore options like bulk deliveries in to large grain storage. Which means calculating the different costs of bulk totes, bulk trucks, fuel surcharges, and how much will those gravity wagons and that big hammer mill actually hold? To add to the fun, much of the farm equipment we have measures in imperial, but the feed is weighed and priced in metric.

Then there is the math of gardening. How many seeds do you need to feed your family and a few dozen others? How much space? How many garden hoses to irrigate? Thankfully, I don't have to sort out any of that math, as I've been told by my husband and my sister that I'm not in the 'Tomato Club.' I'll have to blog about the 'Tomato Club' in a future post.

There is all the math of organics, which again, is an easy one. We always aim to meet then exceed the requirements of the Canadian Organic Standard which is a large rather cumbersome tomme to read through. Now when building animal shelters or fencing pasture areas, we see what the standard requires, and just make it bigger. Makes life easier.

Now, calculating how much wire and how many fence posts are needed to enclose a new pig area that encompasses meadows and woods? That is tricky math when working over rough terrain. Make an estimate and then double it, I say!

There is the math of federal taxes, HST, inventory, expenses, and income. Hundreds of slips of papers that all need to be complied into various forms and spread sheets. It is really something to see when all the expenditures and income from a year of farming are gathered and tallied. 

There is the math of hay. How many acres of pasture and hay needed, factoring in grain crops into the rotation. How many hay bales will be needed to get through the winter? Once that is calculated, is there space enough to store it? 

There is the exciting math of how far can the truck go once the gas light goes on. Each farm vehicle has a different distance it can travel once that little light makes it's soft yet ominous glow on the dashboard, depending on the speed you are traveling. Then, factor in how far you are to the closest gas station, and depending on the time of day, will it be open?

There is the math of time. It takes about 10 hours for the cream on the milk to rise to the top. I can only fit 6 gallon jars of milk in my fridge, and it takes at least an hour to skim the milk, wash the jars and have them prepared for the next milking. So, after a milking which takes an hour or so, plus add on time for calf feeding and washing the milking equipment), how many hours do I have to complete the 'to do' list in town, then get home to sort out the mornings milk, and be back in the barn for evening milking?

There is also sometimes the math of loss. A failed litter of pigs born too soon in the spring when the weather is still too cold and snowy will have a trickle down effect that doesn't stop until almost a year after. A heifer of breeding age that dies unexpectedly, and leaves your farm plans for the next three years in turmoil. Losses like these mean trying to plan and compensate for what should have been, and now isn't.

The math never stops! I never would have guessed that farming had such math. But my favourite math is trying to calculate the value of what we get out of our farm. By that I don't mean the income we make, or the monetary value of the land and assets, that is something we won't really have until we go to sell it, or pass it on to our kids. 

How do you calculate a value on being a 'midwife' to beasts and birds of all sizes?

How do you calculate the joy you feel in your heart watching the cows kick up their heels in a newly opened spring pasture?

How do you calculate the sheer bliss at tasting that first bite of fresher than fresh, crisp, sweet, juicy apple in the fall, or watching your children's faces light up when they realize they could climb up into that canopy and eat till their little tummies are full?

How do you calculate the intense gratitude you feel when farm customers tell you that their kids are healthier than they have ever been because of the food you grew for them?

I guess it's not something you can tally, but I tell you this, I do store up all these little things in my mental savings account so I can withdrawal them on the days when the math goes bad.

This math of farming is something I have grown to love, almost as much as the land itself.how much hay does a cow need?

Posted 10/16/2013 12:14am by Samantha .

It late. Very late. Too late for a farmer who needs to be up really early kind of late. It's autumn, a very busy time of year, and there's lots to be done before the snow flies, and there's much change afoot.

In the span of about 6 months, we've increased our land area, our herds, our staff, our self sufficiency, we've ended some CSA programs, started up a new one, and there's a new website to boot.

I hope you will bear with me through my farmer wanderings that I will commit to page here in the form of a blog. The prior blog entries are old newsletters from our farm, but I'd like this space to be a place for me to tell you of my observations whilst tending the land. A place where I can tell you things I've learned. A place where I can share the daily joys and sorrows of this farm.

And I hope that in some way it will help connect you more to the food we lovingly grow for you.