It is really busy around here in the summer, so I have switched to Instagram to share our farm journey. Check in here or follow on our Instagram page. Thanks for coming along on this journey with us!
Since this is a farm blog, I have tried to leave out a lot of personal details. Trying to do that has been quite futile, I must say, and has led to either some very boring posts or simply just a lack of them. Not that our farm is all consuming of our life (well it shouldn’t be), but it is interwoven with our life and therefore it is hard to separate farm topics from personal topics. Although we have been very busy this spring and summer, I have also had a small case of writer’s block. I am not sure I can classify myself as a writer because of writing these short blog posts! A few months ago, a child that had been in our home for almost a year had to leave us. It was a very difficult time for our family (still is actually), and I couldn’t write about it at all for a time. However I felt it would be very difficult to write a post and not mention anything. Therefore I didn’t write at all! Of course our extra bed wasn’t empty for long. That is the way of foster parenting. It isn’t easy, but it is what God has called our family to do and we are privileged to be able to love so many special children. Each child that comes into our homes becomes one of us, when they leave there is a unique child-shaped-hole in our family that will never be filled. They have become a part of our family and we know that in some small way, we have become a part of these children.
No more personal stuff…on to farm business. So of course we have more chicken problems. We have lost at least 15 hens to predators. We moved our chickens further from the house so that they could forage better. We hoped their feed consumption would decrease. We also purchased an automatic door that opens at sunrise and closes at sunset to help prevent predators and maximize foraging. I took a video of it in action, now I just need to figure out how to post it! The dilemma we are in is that our neighbourhood fox was quite smart and waited for dawn in order to come visit. It was a great hunting strategy for him. He could wait by the door until the sun comes up and it would very neatly open up and our poor stupid, unsuspecting birds hop right out into his reach! We have also had daytime visits from a coyote which is frustrating considering we have 2 dogs that are supposed to be doing something besides eating and sleeping. Mike decided that enough was enough and got up at dawn and waited for the fox in an upstairs window. He showed up right on time and it is safe to say that he will not be prowling around here anymore. I have pretty much given up on the whole thing, but Mike patiently goes on.
Other spring farm chores have included lots and lots of fencing, feeding baby lambs and of course gardening. We also said good-bye to our horse, Major, this spring. He is going to Alberta to work on a sheep ranch. We were too busy to give him the attention he needed and he had a problem with eating things he shouldn’t! The last example, was him eating the honey frames, wax and all. Sheep and cattle chasing was another of his favourite pastimes. We hope that regular work will keep him busy and help stop the annoying habits. The kids, especially, were sad to see him leave.
Garden harvest has started with herbs and garlic. We have been drying the herbs for winter use in the kitchen or for making our beeswax body care products. We hope to have soap available this winter as well. The garlic harvest went well and has been selling quickly. Let us know if you want some.
Mike moves the cattle daily to fresh pasture. For awhile the low rainfall had as worried if the pasture would last the summer. Thankfully some good heavy rains are helping the grass to grow back fairly quick. The heavy rains also came with lightning which unfortunately killed 2 young calves. The dry weather has also exacerbated some health problems in the herd.
Our family takes a day of rest and worship on Sunday. If we are at home, we always take a walk to the back of the property. It is a wonderfully refreshing time when we get to leisurely walk and enjoy nature and our farm without the pressure to be working. Till next time…
We will have a limited amount of pastured pork available in the fall. Reserve yours soon! We will be feeding them organic pasture, vegetables and wild apples from the farm. They will also be supplemented with GMO-free grain and organic milk.
Last month we had the pleasure of welcoming our newest farm residents: a flock of 15 beautiful Katahdin sheep, given to us by a generous family from our church. We also bought a livestock guardian dog. Katahdins are a hair sheep breed, which means they don’t have wool. Some people think they look more like goats. There are advantages and disadvantages of course to all breeds, but one of the best aspects, in our opinion, is that they don’t need shearing. With Mike working full time and I a homeschooling and foster mom, we welcome any reduction of labour! Twenty-five percent of a sheep’s energy intake goes into producing wool and shearing costs are higher than the wool is worth. So it make sense to maximize meat production. I think eventually we will get some different breeds and perhaps use the wool for some value-added products. Sheepskin rugs or wool duvets anyone? We won’t be selling lamb this year, but there will be freezer orders available fall 2017.
Our puppy is a Maremma which we purchased from HollowTree Farms. We had a great visit with them when we picked her up and they helped us out by answering our multitude of questions. Her name is Katniss and we hope she will live up to her namesake and protect her people (the sheep!) She lives with the sheep full time so that she can bond with them. We try not to touch her too much so that she does not bond to us. It is so tempting though!
We have had a difficult few months on the farm with everything breaking and culminating with an accident with our hay wagon. A very frustrating experience, but thankfully no one was hurt. We are still waiting to see if insurance will buy a new one.
Spring is here and we are keeping busy. Garden planning and spring cleaning are taking up a lot of time and we are also preparing to say good-bye to the precious boy that has blessed our family for almost 9 months. Keep us in your prayers. We are also planning more fencing and doing an intensive rotational grazing system for our cattle and sheep. Farmers can stay tuned for a ‘guest’ post from Mike on the subject. Our new lip balms have been very popular and we have lots of eggs of course. Stop by for a visit anytime.
I am so excited to let you all know that we have finally launched our newest product: Welsh Hill Farm Lip Balms. They have been in the works for more than a year and I had planned to have them ready to sell for fall 2015. Life, however, got in the way. Especially farm life and kid-sickness life. They feature our own completely pesticide-free beeswax and honey, as well as other locally sourced (when we can) ingredients.
There are 4 fabulous flavours and they sell for $4 each.
One year ago, we started this blog and launched our Welsh Hill Farm website. We have learned a multitude of new skills, fallen flat on our faces many times, cried with frustration and with joy and had our idealistic ideas turn into real messy, dirty life. I was trying to think of a list of the things we have learned so other new farmers/homesteaders/idealistic people can learn from us.
- No matter how many youtube videos you watch, you are not an expert until you have done something, and done it over again, many times.
- Having freedom, lots of fresh air and a healthy diet is amazing for children. Especially for the ones who didn’t have it before.
- Fifteen pounds of organic seed garlic translates to a lot of garlic. In fact, it ends of taking up half of my garden space. On the upside, maybe we can sell some organic garlic next year!
- We cannot sell chicken at Costco prices and not lose lots of money.
- Free-range laying hens look awesome (in a sustainable, eco-hippy sort of way) and all the permaculture people will tell you that you can feed them for free, but that only works if you have 5 chickens not 50. Feeding chickens dog food and canning tomatoes is not economical. Also, no chicken feed equaled pretty much no eggs in our case.
- Apparently our township has a bylaw that you cannot have a wood boiler to heat your house within 100 metres of a property line. In our case that means we can’t install one although we have almost 200 acres. Of course we should have called the township first before ordering a boiler and arranging a loan to pay for it…
- Smoking bacon on your back porch, not only infuses your pork with smoke, but your entire house and family. Every time you leave the house, every dog in the neighbourhood trails behind your van looking for a treat. (That is not exactly true, but I couldn’t help but think the the people staring at us in the grocery store were smelling bacon.)
- Homemade bacon is really, really good and worth the work.
- Holding onto the electric fence while your 5 year old has access to the extension cord that plugs it in, is not good for parent/child relations. Especially if the said parent has a 30 pound 2 year old on their back.
- Every time you pay off your line of credit, something breaks. Every time you plan to go out, something breaks. Actually, pretty much every time you try to do anything, something breaks. Usually it is the tractor.
- Every time your 2 year old sees meat, he says “pig, oink, oink.” Not everyone will be as excited to know the actual source of their meat.
- At speech therapy assessment, your child can point out every farm animal and heavy machine but does not know ice cream, school bus, zoo animals or babysitter. He does know the f-word though. He means truck.
- White slipcovers in a farmhouse with 4 children are the epitome of Pinterest-style not so practical decor. For some reason, I still like them though!
- It can all be summed up with Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
The fall of last year quickly became almost overwhelmingly busy with animal butchering, garden harvesting, a family wedding and the beginning of our homeschooling year with 2 of our children in Grade 1. Something needed to be removed from my plate, so I took a hiatus from updating this blog. I apologize to those who have loyally visited this site looking for updates.
Okay, so that was 2015. For 2016, we of course have many new plans. Our first big project is to build a barn. My father is moving a reclaimed barn to our property and we are really excited to be finally at this stage on our farm. It will enable us to have a place for winter/early spring calving and lambing. There will finally be a proper place for feed storage and a winter watering system. We will also be able to get a family milk cow at some point. Here is our initial plan, which is a work in progress (drawn by Jeff McDougall.)
Another thing that is different this year is that we will not be selling our pastured organic chicken. We unfortunately lost quite a bit of money because of a several reasons and we would not be able to sell them again this year without a substantial price increase. Moving chickens every day and giving them natural greens and insects makes a delicious and healthy meat, but unfortunately in our case it meant the chickens grow more slowly. Also we had a problem with our feed and had to switch suppliers, at a much higher price. We will continue to grow chickens for ourself and experiment with some ways to keep costs a bit lower. We will keep you updated on our progress.
The hens are starting to pick up their laying now that the days are longer. Eggs continue to be really popular and we pretty much sell out every week. It is best to call ahead of time if you want to make sure we have some. Our feed price has gone up considerably and we may change the price but right now the price is the same as in 2015, $6 per dozen.
As usual the children are having a blast playing outside in the snow and skating on the pond. Please stop by for a hot drink and a skate sometime!
Here are some of the flowers that I designed for Jill & Dave’s September Wedding. Despite a few rain showers, everyone was full of smiles for these gorgeous photos. Photo credits to Ryan Parent Photography & Jessy Bakker Photography.
My original plan for this blog was to give a snapshot and a bit of a ‘how-to’ as well, of small farm life. So instead of topical posts that I never get around to writing, I am going to switch to rambling updates on everything going on. It seemed that every time we got into a big project this summer, I thought of how it would make a great post and how I should take pictures. The thing is, I am so busy doing the project that I never have the time to write about it! So here it is, a bit of everything.
I know a lot of people have asked about our honey. Unfortunately we are not going to be able to sell any this year. Mike decided to harvest just one frame from each hive. A lot of apiarist in our area lose their bees over the winter. Mike wants to ensure that they have a lot of food for their first winter and hopefully with full bellies and less stress they will produce twice as much next year. One good thing about not selling honey this year is that I will have at least a full year to figure out how to print a label straight.
Canning tomatoes, peaches, relish, jam and pickles took up a lot of August & September. Our new pressure canner sped things up a bit. It helped to not have to worry about the acidity of the tomato sauce and to be able to throw all kinds of vegetables and herbs into it. I also used it to can a small batch of beef stew and I have a lot of other plans for it as well. I have to admit that I didn’t use all of our vegetables this year. I felt a bit burnt out after awhile with all the work. I was stressed about food going to waste. So instead of trying to do everything and ending up losing patience with people, usually 4 miniature people, I prayed about it, asked my husband’s advice and decided to leave it. We gave away some, slowly ate a lot fresh and the rest went to pigs and chickens to convert into eggs and meat. In the end, I don’t feel like it has been wasted at all.
The pigs and chickens are living in harmony as they till and fertilize our larger garden. They have also been enjoying all the produce that we didn’t get around to eating or preserving in the busy summer months. It has given us the idea of planting a garden specifically for the poultry and pigs next year. The plan is to get the chickens to scratch it up in the spring, throw some squash, bean, lettuce and whatever other seeds into it, then leave it until the fall. I guess that is more of a permaculture approach to feeding them.
Mixed in with all the plant, livestock and child rearing was two weddings. One of which (Mike’s mother), we hosted. It was a beautiful day, but I was so busy that I didn’t take one picture. I am hoping I can get some from someone else to share here. I also had the opportunity to design and create all the flowers for a special couple that I grew up with. Jill & Dave’s families attended the same church as my family for many years. Their wedding colours were wine and grey, but we decided to stick with mostly white flowers. She also wanted just baby’s breath for the bridesmaid bouquets. It was nice to take a break from canning and spend a few days doing something creative. Here are a few cell-phone shots:
The little hooligans have been busy helping us and playing outside for most of the summer and fall. The twins have been a real help this year, now that they are almost six. Homeschooling has started as well and we try to spend a few hours 4 morning a week reading lots of great literature and practicing reading and writing. We have also joined a homeschool co-op this year at our church.
I have had a few requests for house pictures. The dilemma I face is that my house is never clean for more than a few minutes. As I type this, I am surrounded by clean laundry and toys as well as the weekly flyers. The kitchen island is loaded with cabbages that I have to ferment, there is a fly sticker 12 inches wide and 4 feet long hanging from my kitchen ceiling (with several hundred flies on it), and the laundry/mud room is stacked with bee frames. So my goal is to clean one room, snap a picture as quickly as possible and post it for each new post. So here is the bathroom and the toddler’s room.
And five minutes after taking the pictures, this is what the boys’ room looks like. It was too depressing to take a picture of the bathroom…
Wow, four children makes life really busy. I am sure that statement is not a new revelation for most people, but I have found the last couple of months to be crazy. Once again, I am doing a lazy post and just giving a quick update on the farm.
First off, all our goats are gone. We have had to prune a lot of unnecessary things from our life right now and the goats were an extra. Clarabelle was the last one to leave a couple of weeks ago.
We had some trouble with our egg production going way down again. From 55 hens we were only getting around 15 eggs! That is not okay with me when we are feeding them expensive Organic feed. We noticed that some eggs were broken and eaten so I decided to take an empty egg shell and stuff it with hot pepper flakes. I put it in the nest box where we often found the broken eggs. The next day it was completely gone, not a trace of anything. It seemed to work. We still have a few broken eggs, but not as many. It took two weeks before anyone laid an egg in that box though! After some help from a nice local farmer at Funny Duck Farms we figured that the protein level in our feed was too low for young hens. Apparently older hens do fine with the protein level we had in our feed, but the young ones need quite a bit more. Our feed supplier was very helpful and milled us up some new feed right away. It did the trick and we are now getting around 3 dozen a day and it is slowly increasing.
Our pigs recently decided that they didn’t want to stay in the pasture. They were getting out once to three times a day. Not great when we have worked so hard in our gardens. We have had to use the electric netting that we had purchased for the goats. It seems to be working, but it has only been two days…
Fencing continues and we have almost finished going around the yard and house.
I decided that I will show you pictures of the gardens because if I wait until they are weed free and perfect, there will never been any picture.
I will end with this picture of the front of the house. Helpful for those of you that have trouble finding our place.
Wow, the last month has been a blur here on the farm. Mostly because of a precious new arrival, a temporary arrow for our quiver, that has stolen our hearts and stolen my sleep! I can’t give any details, but we count it a blessing every day for however long he stays with us.
The garden is progressing, although it is still not doing as well as I had hoped. I know it takes several years to build soil back up after many years of neglect, but I had hoped all of our compost would make up for that. The garden fence is slowly coming along, unfortunately dogs and chickens can still get through…
Our pigs are also growing slowly. We don’t know a lot about pig breeds and we were told they were Berkshires by the woman we bought them from. If any one knows about pigs, please feel free to comment with your opinion!
Some predators got into our chicken tractors the other day and got one of our meat chickens. It is always frustrating when they get killed or die when we have got most of the feed into them. It is a risk that is part of farming though. Moving the tractors has been a lot easier since the addition of some wheels that can be lowered when it is time for Mike to move them. He moves them once a day to give them fresh pasture to eat and also to give them a clean pen. It works well and it is always surprises me how they all attack the fresh grass. We have a few extras from this batch that are still for sale. They will be ready July 8th.
The mobile hen coop has been very efficient. The flock is doing well and we will soon be over run with eggs as all our pullets are starting to lay. If anyone is looking for eggs, we have a few dozen extra a week right now and will have lots more quite soon.
Mike has removed the bee feeders from the hives and the honey bees are busy making honey. When the feeders were removed, Mike had to cut off some honey comb that they bees had attached to the bottom of it. We all enjoyed trying some of the green honey, but it wasn’t ready yet so Mike fed it back to the bees. Our lawn is humming with bees because of the clover being in bloom and we have had a couple of bare feet stung. I have found the best remedy for us is Benadryl internally and a mixture of 1 tsp olive oil, 10 drops each of lavender and peppermint essential oil that is applied to the affected area every 15 minutes.