The Price is Wrong

July 14, 2017 in Home, Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 6.33.06 AMIt’s veggie season again and that means those of us who sell produce at market have to step away from the fields and weeds for a few minutes every week to research prices. Consumers look for the best deals and selling any commodity requires competitive pricing on the part of the seller. There’s a fine line, however, between asking too much and not enough, and that line changes from week to week as things come in and out of season.

For those of us who sell at farmers markets pricing is always a struggle. We want to offer consumers a fair deal and encourage them to buy from us instead of the big chain stores. But we also need to make a living, to pay for seeds, market fees, fuel, and all the other costs that come with growing and selling. It’s all too easy to undervalue a product just to sell, and that seems innocent enough on the surface. After all, customers love a great deal! In the grand scheme of things, however, under-pricing creates a vicious cycle that undermines everyone, especially when multiple vendors have the same product.

If vendors don’t charge enough for their items:

  • The market becomes unprofitable for the vendors and they don’t return. The market fails.
  • Consumers develop an expectation that the product has less value, and therefore become unwilling to pay a realistic price. Farms fail.
  • Consumers end up with less choice when it comes to buying local. The local food system fails.

Determining a realistic and fair price for an item doesn’t have to be an an onerous task. There are multiple ways to choose fair pricing:

  • Organicpricetracker.ca  averages regional prices for a multitude of produce types. It’s a quick and easy-to-use resource for up-to-date data on market, wholesale, and bulk pricing.
  • Looking around at supermarkets and other farmers markets can provide a guideline for the average price of items. Of course it’s important to compare organic to organic, weight to weight…  lettuce shipped from Mexico cannot be considered the same as no-spray lettuce picked from a farmer’s field an hour before market.
  • Talk to other vendors and agree on a fair price.
  • Consider the value that product has to you, the vendor! There comes a price point where I’d rather take an item home and feed it to the pigs than sell for less. After all, pig food costs money too. Don’t have pigs? If your tomatoes went ballistic and you have way too many, instead of selling them for nothing why not donate them to a food bank or soup kitchen?

Dumping of product at unrealistic prices isn’t good for the vendorship, it isn’t good for the market, and in the long run it isn’t good for the consumer, either. Farmers markets aren’t flea markets… they are venues for local producers to sell quality product at fair prices, and make a living in the process. We need to cooperate to ensure that we CAN make a living. We also need to engage consumers and make sure they understand how and why prices are determined, and why sometimes our products are worth a little more than the chain store “equivalents”. If we undersell ourselves we’re underselling a whole local economy, it’s that simple. Make sure the price is right!

 

Meat is Murder?

November 4, 2016 in Food, Uncategorized

WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC PICTURES OF MEAT PRODUCTION THAT SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND OFFENSIVE OR HARD TO VIEW.

Meat is murder? Well, that depends on which definition you use, and which meat you’re referring to.

Murder refers (according to dictionary definition) to the killing of another human. But the dictionary also describes “murder” as “to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously”. I presume that when people claim “Meat is murder”, that’s the definition they’re using.

Moving the carcass from the pig pen

So yes. Some meat, undoubtedly, is murder. And that is exactly why we kill our own animals.

Now, if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, I’m not going to convince you that what we’ve done is right. I am speaking to the omnivores and carnivores amongst us, all who hold some responsibility for the death of animals to produce food. There are 270 other carnivorous species of animal on the planet and 670 species of carnivorous plant, so it’s a wide audience, even if I don’t include my hamburger-loving friends.

A few weekends ago we (and by “we” I mean Troy and I) killed our pigs.

Sides hanging after skinning and gutting

It’s easy to make light of the product of that killing (mmmmm, bacon) for the sake of easing the reality of what we did. But when you’re standing in front of a live animal literally holding a gun to its head, when you’re choosing the exact second that its life will end, and then when the life is bleeding out of it from the slit in its throat, it is anything but easy. It is the hardest thing that a compassionate human being will ever do.

And that is exactly why we do it ourselves.

Death is not easy. Death is not pretty. Death sucks. But every living thing dies, and some things live specifically for the purpose they serve after they die. Many farm animals would never have any life at all if they weren’t being raised for the purpose of producing food. How one lives and how one dies are both important attributes to one’s existence. We believe that if we’re going to eat meat we have a responsibility to make sure that both the life and the death of that meat are as good as they possibly can be.

Removing the organs

It would be easy to load our pigs into a trailer and haul them to the abbatoir, picking them up days later neatly wrapped in butcher paper with no sign of entrails or other telling pieces. The pigs would be stressed by the trailering and the drive, the arrival at the slaughterhouse and the ensuing activities leading to death, but it would certainly be easier for us. (I’m not implying that abattoirs are bad – some of them might be, but there are some that are run by people who care as much about animals as we do). We also don’t fault the many small farmers who use those facilities, as the current food safety system doesn’t allow for meat to be sold unless it’s killed in an inspected abattoir. If you’re making a living selling meat you have no choice but to do it that way.

We raise meat for ourselves, so we can kill it where it was raised. When the time comes, we throw some feed on the ground and as the pigs eat and snorfle in the dirt we put the gun to their head and  pull the trigger. There is no stress, they don’t know it’s coming, they die instantly. There are no strange people, no strange places. Just us, the people who scratched their backs and brought them apples every day of their lives.

It’s the hardest way for us, but it’s the easiest way for the pigs. That is why we do it ourselves, even though we both hate every second of it.

I am not looking for sympathy from the anti-meat brigade. Rather, I hope to give animal-loving meat eaters an understanding of how we can bring ourselves to do the deed. We are the same people you are; the people who always insisted that we could never kill anything, the people who have nightmares leading up to the day, the people who would much rather buy a pound of pork at the farmers’ market so that we don’t have to look it in the eye while we pulled the trigger. In the end, though, food production on any scale is a responsibility to the environment, the animals and ourselves. Knowing how something lived, and how it died, is a part of that process. We kill our own animals because we feel it is the right thing for us to do. It’s not because we don’t care about them, it’s because we love them.

An opportunist hen taking advantage of an easy meal

Every time we kill an animal I am forced to reconcile my feelings about causing that death with my own desire to eat meat. And yes, I will fully admit that it IS a desire, but I also firmly believe that biologically humans are designed to be omniverous. I remind myself that humans are the only animals on this planet who can or will make a conscious decision to eliminate a certain kind of nutrient source from our diet. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. As an animal lover those lifestyle choices would be much easier for me to digest mentally, but animals would still die as byproducts of the production of my food – it would just be easier to tune it out.

Killing does not feel good to me and it never will, but food security feels amazing. With scary things about to happen across the border, with an increasing world demand for intensive agriculture that destroys the environment and our health, with rising food prices and decreasing nutritional content in the products we buy, it feels good to know that I have 3 freezers full of meat and vegetables that came from here and my neighbour across the road. It feels good to know how my food grew, and exactly what went into its production. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why we are doing it. It will be just as hard next year when we do it all again, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, and as the world changes, I suspect a lot more people will be doing the same thing.

Not all meat is murder. Some meat is just doing a hard thing for all the right reasons.

Late Winter “Rustic” Gnocchi

March 21, 2016 in Food, Uncategorized

cookedgnocchiI made gnocchi about 20 years ago, prompted, I think, by a Martha Stewart recipe. After hours of intensive labour rolling them out to perfectly even little ovals and then carefully pressing fork ridges into the dough, I swore I would never, ever make them again. They were good, but the store-bought ones were actually better, and mine were SOOOOO much work. Although I’ve bumped into lots of gnocchi recipes over those 20 years I’ve stuck to my guns and refused to give them the time of day. Until now.

About a month ago we were invited to have a “simple, quick lunch” with friends. I was excited to see steaming bowls of a tomatoey sauce arrive at the table, laced with plenty of parmesan and dotted with what appeared to be… gnocchi? I was right, but they weren’t like any gnocchi in the supermarket or the food blogs. These gnocchi were large chunks of dough quite literally pinched from a roll, the ends gave the technique away. They were uneven, unlaboured, and quite likely the best tasting gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. Rustic. I suddenly had new hope for homemade gnocchi and began planning the day when I could build a stash of the little potato pasta in my freezer.

Last week I came home from market with a rather homely looking buttercup squash. This late in the winter storage veggies sometimes look like they’ve seen better days. Humming and hawing about what to do with the beast, I relected back to all those recipes I’d skipped over for squash gnocchi. A lightbulb went off.

I halved the squash and scooped out the seeds, baked it until it was mushy soft, and then set it aside to cool overnight. The next day I set about making squash and potato gnocchi and managed to put about 12 servings of the pasta in the freezer in just over an hour. Like my friend’s gnocchi they aren’t perfectly shaped and they aren’t pretty, but I cooked some for supper last night, and they are definitely delish. My homemade gnocchi drought is over!

1603_gnocchi_002Here’s the recipe for my rustic version of gnocchi. You could use any kind of dry orange squash -butternut, acorn, etc., but depending on the moisture content you’ll need to adjust the flour to make a workable dough. If you’re worried that the squash flavour will overwhelm the gnocchi, don’t be. It is there, but it’s subtle, and it made this healthier pasta version just that extra bit tasty, so it’s totally worth the not-much trouble. This recipe is pretty loosey goosey touchy feely. You can add more or less potato, more or less squash. Adjust the flour until you have a soft dough that’s kind of sticky but not unworkable, and then run with it.

Rustic Squash & Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 cooked orange squash (butternut, buttercup, hubbard, etc.), cooled
  • 2 large Russet (or other dry type) potatoes, peeled, boiled and cooled.
  • 1 large egg, straight from the chicken, if possible
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling

1. Prepare a couple of cookie sheets by covering with parchment paper

2. If you have a large food processor puree the potato, squash & egg until it is totally lump free. I have a tiny food processor, so I used my KitchenAid mixer  and beat the heck out of the veggies and egg. Worked like a charm.

2. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, and any other seasonings you may be tempted to grab. Then add the flour 1/2 cup at a time and stir well. Stop adding flour when you have a soft and slightly sticky dough that you can form into logs.

3. Working with a tennis ball of dough at a time, roll it out lightly with your hands on a well-floured surface to make a long log that’s about 1-1.5 inches thick.

4. 1603_gnocchi_001Using a fork dipped in flour, break off 1/2 inch pieces of the log. Roll gently to make little ovals (or don’t)… it’s up to you. You can also roll your fork over the surface to give them those characteristic gnocchi indentations… or not. Again, depends how much fuss you feel like. Either way it will still taste awesome.

5. Place gnocchi pieces on the prepared cookie sheets and freeze flat. When they are frozen solid, divide into baggies of however many portions you choose ( I allow about 15 gnocchi pieces per serving), and return bagged gnocchi to freezer.

6. To cook gnocchi, remove from freezer and let thaw for about an hour. Bring a generous pot of water to a rolling boil, add a teaspoon of olive oil, and then toss in the gnocchi. In about 3-5 minutes the gnocchi will rise to the top of the water, at which point they are done. Remove from the water and add the sauce of your choice. I love to toss them with diced chicken and basil pesto. Yum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Become a Farmer: 8 Things You Should Know

February 18, 2016 in Home, Uncategorized

drivewayHow does one become a farmer? It seems simple enough. Get some land, grow some meat or veggies, sell it. It seems simple enough, but  in reality, I still have no idea. When I took the jump  it was more of a clumsy tumble than a leap of faith. I threw myself into the abyss with a plan mapped out on a piece of graph paper and an idealistic vision of how everything would be. That piece of paper helped get our fireplace going during the first winter here, and the vision has been hatcheted from every direction by the very boards, governments and individuals that I thought would make up the core of my support system. I have no clue what I’m doing, but despite everything I seem to be finding my way.

I feel like the last person on earth who could tell someone how to become a farmer, but I can suggest eight tips I wish I’d known from the get-go. If you’re thinking about farming as a new career path, read on.

#1) Forget about Joel Salatin

youcanfarmOk, that’s harsh. I’ve read almost  every  one of his books and except for his occasional Bible thumping I feel like he’s got it 110% right. He inspired that initial list I had of how things were going to work… yeah, the one that ended up in the fire.

So what’s wrong with Joel? Well, nothing, except that he doesn’t live where you do, he doesn’t have the same property you do, he may be dealing with regulatory bullshit but it’s not the exact regulatory bullshit you’re going to deal with, and as comforting as it is that he’s found ways around the challenges he’s faced, his successes haven’t made it any easier for you, and won’t apply when you try making the same points to your own government entities. You will not be able to just set up an outdoor slaughter facility and sell your chickens to customers far and wide.  You will not be able to sell gazillions of eggs just because you have them. Sticking it to the man is a time consuming job, and if you plan to start up a farm you’re not going to have time or energy to fight battles, no matter how right you are, especially if you don’t have a gaggle of kids to put to work while you write the emails.

#2. Do read the regulations

Seriously. Before you even start looking for properties take a good hard look at municipal by-laws. Then read provincial and federal regulations regarding anything and everything you might be thinking about producing. Understand what you can and can’t do according to those regulations. Make sure you have a really good grip on how restricted some commodities are because they’re controlled by marketing boards. In Nova Scotia you can’t even sell a turnip without a permit. Growing and selling food looks like dirty, invigorating work until you find yourself mired in the bureaucracy that surrounds it. Then it’s just dirty. Don’t make any plans until you understand that from the inside out or you’ll be making plans for nothing. There is definitely money to be made, but there are a heck of a lot of rules about who can make it, and how.

#3. Don’t count on grants

Why not? Because there aren’t any. There are lots of loans and forgiveable loans and “partnerships” and funding possibilities, but they will all require that you cough up money too, and almost all of them will need to be repaid. Loans are not grants, and because I know you’ve already immersed yourself in those Joel Salatin books, I’ll tell you right now that one of the things he has very right is that jumping into debt is no way to run a farm. At least figure out what the hell you’re doing before you start applying willy nilly for money. Wouldn’t it suck to find yourself paying back a loan for a pig barn when you suddenly decide blueberries are what you really want to grow?

#4. Be open-minded and versatile

goatI have no idea what I’m doing but my sales are building instead of falling. Why? Because I’m not putting all my eggs in one, two, or even three baskets. When I started with goats I had wild dreams of a dairy ( and I still do) but in the meantime, until I think it’s financially viable, I’m using the milk to build a soap business instead.  Soap doesn’t sell well in the winter months, though, so I’m cooking hot lunches at market to pick up the slack. I thought meat chickens would be a big part of my operation, but I’ve discovered that I really don’t enjoy raising them, and I’d rather just produce enough to meet our own needs. I knew I’d have a garden for our own use but I didn’t anticipate that it would double in size each year so I could expand and sell. When you’re small scale farming you have the advantage of being able to try different things, you can change what you produce as trends and customers come and go. You can change what you produce if it turns out something just doesn’t work for you. You’re not tied to a multi-million dollar layer facility or a fleet of tractors for producing grain. Don’t let your head get stuck in one place, be creative with what you’ve got ( and what you’re good at), and somehow things seem to work.

#5. Understand that nothing is instant

If you cultivate a garden at a new property it’s going to take time to balance the soil, figure out the micro-climate, understand the pest and weed challenges specific to the area, and learn to plant accordingly. If you buy a place with a run down barn or house you will find yourself making repairs to get by and reworking things over and over until you finally get them right.  If you start selling at a market you may not even  make enough to cover your table fee for the first several months, until customers become familiar with you and your product.  Dreaming of farming seems very straightforward – grow food, sell food, work hard and profit. And then you realize that fences need constant restringing because snow and deer stretch them, hooves grow faster than you can trim them, crops get mangled by insects,  and a single fox or eagle can decimate your poultry in the bat of an eyelid. Farming is one step forward, three steps back until you’ve gone so far backward you’ve come full circle, Then you do it over again.  If you’re not a patient person, farming probably isn’t for you.

#6. Network

Perhaps the most valuable thing I did when I started was to throw myself into networking opportunities whenever possible. Sure, it was partly because I wanted to make some farming friends, but it also gave me avenues to find cheap things I need, to find advice from people I can trust, to get the inside scoop when something important is going down, and to attract new customers. Getting to know other farmers will show you that there are a million ways to do any one thing, that going with your gut is often as good as going by the book, and that who you know can be as important as what you grow when it comes to making a sale. I love my non-farming friends dearly, but when I need to talk about cucumber beetles, scours, and preferred castration techniques, nothing beats someone who gets it. Real gold is having a number you can call at 11pm  to get some emergency colostrum for a suddenly orphaned newborn. When you have that, you know you’ve been networking successfully.

#7. Assess your needs and wants

Do you have to have a new car every 3 years? Are designer shoes high on your list of wants? Does walking into a Frenchys make you queasy?  Is a trip to Cuba the only way you can survive the Canadian winter?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions farming is not for you. You will not be rich, and if you have livestock you will not be able to take off and ditch your job, even for a night. Understand how tied to your land and animals you will become, and if that’s a deal breaker, walk away. We used to love camping, back country adventures, & multi-day backpacking trips. Now we enjoy the occasional day hike and a night in our tent down in the back pasture. Dogs can go to a kennel while you vacay. Chickens, goats, sheep, horses, llamas, donkeys and pigs can’t.

#8. Really understand that farming is hard

gardentillSure it is, you’ve heard it a million times before. Unfortunately, you really don’t understand HOW hard it is until you’re in it. You will work all day, every day ( there are no weekends). You will struggle to pay the bills. You will collapse into bed every night and toss and turn thinking about what didn’t go right today and what needs to be done tomorrow. You will do what needs to be done no matter how sick, hungover or exhausted you feel, no matter how bad the black flies are, no matter how crappy the weather.  You will realize that the glamour and romance associated with the small farm are  bullshit nostalgic sentiments created by people who’ve never mucked a stall or watched a sick animal die. But at the end of the day, if you’ve survived all that and you still love what you’re doing you’ll know you’ve made the best decision of your life. If farming was easy everyone would do it.  Before you take it on be very aware that there’s a good reason everyone doesn’t.

 

 

 

Peas…and Thank You!

July 24, 2015 in Food, Uncategorized

peasA few weeks ago I started bringing veggies to market along with my soap products. I’m not bringing a ton- we already have great veggie sellers at market, and there are only so many tubs and coolers you can fit in a Matrix. Still, the produce has definitely spiked my market income. After all, people go to markets for veggies first. Everything else is an afterthought, it seems.

Two years ago when I finally took the plunge and went from well-paid employee to floundering farmer, the decision may have been somewhat provoked by midlife crisis. I loved aspects of what I was doing, but my day-to-day existence, immersed in bureaucratic  turmoil and  low morale, was not exactly fulfilling. I knew that food was my passion… not just any food, but clean, local food that has the ability to affect health and economy. My therapist always told me I am an idealist, and armed with those ideals and a stubborn belief that I am capable of doing just about anything I put my mind to, I did what seemed to be “the right thing”. I started growing food.

Ideals are easy to forget when money is tight, the work is hard, the days are long, and the aches and pains are never-ending. I never question that decision, it always feels like it was “the right thing” for me, but I often lose sight of the “why”. It becomes easier to worry about what needs to be done in the moment than to take time to remember why I’m doing it.

At market yesterday I sold a bag of snap peas to a dad and his two young sons. I didn’t think too much about it until I spotted one of the boys a few minutes later from across the square. He was ravenously stuffing those peas into his mouth with a big goofy grin on his face like most kids would gobble a chocolate bar. The choked up feeling that hit me like a Mack truck completely caught me off guard. Watching that kid eat something I’d grown, and watching him really enjoy it… that was worth every blister and frustration I’ve experienced so far. It made me stop and remember what I’m doing, and why.

I hope every person gets to have that feeling I had yesterday at least once in their life. We spend so many waking hours trying to make a buck, but it becomes so worth it when you know you’ve made something more. Weeding feels much less onerous today.

Thanks, kid!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s “Too Expensive”?

July 9, 2015 in Food, Uncategorized

imageOver the past month it seems I’ve been overhearing more comments than usual about the price of food – in particular the price of local and organic foods. Those comments bounce off my radar somewhere between  irksome and downright aggravating, but then I have to stop and remember that before I was in a position to call myself a “producer” I thought the same way.

So here’s why chemical, antibiotic, hormone, steroid, and abuse-free food costs more, and why you should dig deep and buy it, despite the price tag.

The easy answer is that it costs more to produce food without syntheimagetic chemical assistance. If bugs decide to make lunch out of a crop, the easy way out is to spray the heck out of them with poison. Often you can apply the pesticide once and the problem disappears for the rest of the season, but even if the infestation requires multiple sprayings, it’s a heck of a lot less time-consuming than the alternative. What’s the alternative?

Hand picking.

Non-spray growers have a limited tool kit for dealing with bad creepy crawlies, and hand picking is near the top of the list. While organic pesticides do exist, so do studies that show these may actually be more harmful in the long term than conventional pesticides. The only way to get rid of bad bugs and have absolutely no impact on the good ones is to pick them off the plants, with your fingers, one by one. Last year I picked hundreds (if not thousands) of squash bugs and cucumber beetles. It takes a lot of work. Covering plants with agricultural fabric before the bugs become a problem can save a lot of trouble, but then there’s the problem of monitoring for maturation so the plants can be uncovered at just the right times to let good bugs come and pollinate. Then everything gets covered up again, hopefully before anything bad gets in.

Diatomaceous Earth is another popular way to combat bugs. It consists of fossilized algae shells ground into a fine powder, and it’s abrasive to some bugs, cutting them as they crawl over it when dusted onto their favourite plants.That dusting is also labour-intensive; in order to be effective, leaves must be dusted top and bottom, and the DE has to be reapplied every time it rains.

imageSuccessfully growing produce without harmful pesticides require good soil- in other words, soil with an appropriate pH level for the particular crop in question, soil that retains moisture but also drains well, and soil with lots of nutrients. This miracle soil is easily attained by pouring on chemical fertilizers. Unfortunately, such fertilizers are often highly acidic and therefore kill the bacteria in the soil that help make nitrogen available to the plants. Organic fertilizers take longer to feed the plants, and are required in higher quantities to achieve the same results. Organic fertilizers are usually things like manure and kelp – things that take time to compost before they can even work as fertilizer. Unlike synthetic chemical fertilizers, however, organic fertilizers actually help to build good soil rather than simply providing an instant growth hit. Building good soil, like everything else about organic and no-spray growing, takes time.

imageAs if the intense labour required to grow no-spray food weren’t enough to raise prices, there is also a much higher rate of discarded product when growing without chemicals. When pesticides are implemented all the potential bad bugs (and most of the good ones) are killed, so there is no opportunity for an insect to cause blemishes or damage to the produce. Ugly produce doesn’t sell, so if bugs have the slightest opportunity to cause blemishes, that food will likely end up in the garbage instead of shopping carts. For this reason, a lot of organic and no-spray produce never makes it to the table, even though it’s perfectly good and nutritious food. I was told of a local broccoli producer who discards up to 60% of their crop each year because it doesn’t look perfect and the chains won’t buy it.

The typical supermarket peach is like a person who’s had a little too much plastic surgery. Sure it may look good, but those looks come at a cost (not a financial cost so much as a cost to the environment and personal health). Looks aren’t everything, especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately we’ve been conditioned to believe otherwise. The local no-spray peach that you get at a farmer’s market may not be as pretty, but it will likely taste fresher, every insect in a 5-mile radius won’t have died to put it in your basket, and you’ll be able to eat it without wondering what other things you’re ingesting at the same time.

Why is it that a plastic clamshell of “Spring Mix” lettuce which traveled from California or beyond, can easily fetch $6 at the grocery store, yet if someone at a farmer’s market asks $3 for a head of no-spray lettuce, pulled from the ground that very morning, they are accused of trying to rip the consumer off? With a shelf life of about 2 days before slime starts setting in, California should be paying us to take their lettuce. I have bags of greenery in my fridge that I harvested over a week ago and they still look as good as the day I picked them.

Yes, buying locally produced products costs money. Buying anything costs money. The difference is that the money spent on local products goes right back into the community instead of getting transferred to California or Mexico. If people supported the small businesses in their communities they might not have to fly to Alberta to get a job. They might not have to ask why rural economies suck. They might not have to wonder why businesses are closing and forcing them to drive further and further to get what they need.

Next time you think a spray-free cucumber is a rip off, think of me on my knees between rows of plants surrounded by hundreds of beetles which I’m squishing between my fingers, one at a time. Think about how many hours you’d be willing to do that to avoid blasting your plants with poison. How much would you be willing to pay NOT to spend time doing that?

Probably more than the price of an organic cucumber.

 

 

Farewell Hunter

April 20, 2015 in Dogs, Uncategorized

imageIn 2003 Hunter came into my life. He was in Michigan, a resident of a rescue organization who’d managed to snag him as he was about to be gassed. I was in Nova Scotia, looking desperately for a German Shorthaired Pointer, and drawn to the internet as a last resort. Hunter travelled via a train of volunteer drivers from Michigan to Sackville, Nova Scotia, where we met his last driver in the Kent Bulding Supplies parking lot and saw him for the first time.

We brought Gryphon with us that night, figuring it would be better to introduce them where neither had any concept of territory. Our precautions were unnecessary; Hunter immediately climbed in the back seat, snuggled up next to Gryph and fell asleep. There was no doubt it was meant to be.

As a former puppy mill stud, Hunter came with some neuroses. He loved people, but was scared of young kids ( high pitched noises sent him running to hide under tables and desks). When kids came into his life later on he finally started to deal with that fear. He didn’t appreciate any dog that decided to play with his best friend Gryphon, and would pick a fight if he felt his friendship was threatened. Our vet prescribed Prozac for him during one period when high winds hollering through our old house would send him into anxious fits, resulting in destroyed furniture.

Hunter had other oddities, too. He lived with us for over 3 years before he ever issued a bark. Once he learned, though, he was gleefully vociferous. For a bird dog he was surprisingly afraid of the water. When we encountered a lake on a mountain bike trail Gryphon would be in the water long before we got to the spot. We’d roll up to find Hunter pacing frantically along the shoreline whining like crazy and dipping his feet in before springing back to dry ground. It wasn’t until he slipped off a wet ledge and fell in one day that he finally started to paddle around and discovered how much he loved it. Subsequent trips to bodies of water saw Hunter in over his head sometimes even before Gryphon, swimming in circles and snapping the flowers off patches of lilypads whenever he could find them.

Hunter was an incredible mountain bike companion. He was built like a racehorse, and he rarely stuck to the trail. I always wondered how something could move so fast through the woods without losing an eye, but he was the definition of agile. He never disappeared for long, though. He would run ahead, and then pop out of the woods to check up on us before ducking back into the brush and emerging again moments later.  Whenever the was a junction on the trail he would wait to ensure we all went in the same direction. Like us, he was obviously at his happiest running through the woods, and at times when he did end up walking at the end of a leash it became blatantly apparent that Hunter did not know how to walk. He paced, even on leash, no matter how slowly we went.

I believe that it’s because of Hunter I emerged unscathed from a much-too-close encounter with a black bear on a Spider Lake trail in Dartmouth. Coming down a steep hill on my mountain bike I slammed on the brakes as a smallish bear wandered across the trail in front of me and stopped. I went flying over the bars, landing in a heap about 3 feet from the stinky, snorffling bear. As my panicked brain scrambled through options, trying to remember if I should play dead or run, Hunter came tearing through the woods barking his fool head off. I was sure the bear would attack him, but it turned tail and ran with Hunter in hot pursuit. Just when I was convinced I’d never see Hunter again, he came crashing back, tail nub wagging like crazy. He got extra treats that day and If I ever went mountain biking without him again it certainly wasn’t by choice.

Hunter was starting to slow down when we moved to Tremont. His face was turning white, and his hips were starting to drag a little. We’d had a malignant tumour removed below his eye about a year before we moved and the vet said it would return, but he likely wouldn’t live long enough to have the second one removed. We figured Hunter would leave us shortly after our move, but Gryphon was the first to go, while Hunter seemingly found a new will to live in his spacious farm environment. We’ve watched him gradually go down hill for the past year and a half, the muscle mass in his hips shrinking and his legs slowly caving in underneath him. We’ve helped him when he needed a little extra support on walks, and we’ve done what we could to give him reasons to keep on going. Even in his last few days it was obvious that Hunter didn’t want to miss a thing, although we knew he was dying, he was clearly determined to fight it until he took his very last breath.

As energetic as he was, Hunte also loved to curl up next to us on the couch and just cuddle. I’ve never seen an animal extract so much enjoyment from every waking moment, it was obvious that he appreciated being rescued as much as we appreciated him. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone, but I know that he had a full and long life, and he died peacefully soaking up heat from the woodstove. 15 (or maybe 16) years is no small feat for a German Shorthaired Pointer, and especially a big one like Hunter. I’d always hoped that when his time came he’d just drop dead on the trail, and while it didn’t work out that way, this was not a bad substitute.

imageWe’ll bury Hunter down back on the new trail that we’re cutting in our woods. The trail is where he belongs. I’m pretty sure that he’s already beat us to it.

 

 

 

Wiling Away Winter

March 23, 2015 in Home, Uncategorized

1503_snowanddeer_003Apparently it’s been spring now for a couple of days, but never mind, Nova Scotia has decided that it’s not done yet with winter. What to do, what to do?  No need to go shack whacky, cabin crazy, absolutely batty… there are so many great ways to pass the time. Here’s how I’ve kept from getting bored this winter.

1) Take the Dogs for a Snowshoe

1502_snowshoeingdogs_006Bored dogs are worse than bored kids, so what better way to burn off excess energy than strapping on the snowshoes and taking them for a stomp through the woods? Never mind that the snowshoes mean you only sink up to your knees instead of up to your waist. Enjoy the hilarity of large dogs leaping through the air and then disappearing again into the snow like breaching whales. Throw the frisbee and watch the slow motion chase. Return to the house exhausted… the dogs, because they had a ton of fun, and you, because walking through 4 foot drifts in snowshoes is like trying to swim with bags of concrete strapped to your feet.

2) Bake

1544566_10153659220875117_1297074966_nWinter is the time for comfort food, which means lots of fat and lots of sugar. It’s the season to bake up a storm (no pun intended). Bake cookies, bake breads, bake cinnamon buns and muffins. Feel your pants slowly snug tighter and tighter around your waist. Promise yourself that tomorrow, once all the treats are gone, you will go on a diet. Check the forecast and realize that another storm is brewing, Take pity on yourself and head back to the kitchen. Repeat cycle every 2-3 days.

3) Haul Water

semi-frozen-water-bucketCurse the frozen water lines in the big barn. Curse the heated water buckets that don’t work worth a damn. Fill the buckets in the small barn, then carry them across the yard to the big barn. Give them to the animals, head back to the small barn, do it over and over. This is an excellent form of winter crossfit. Carrying across ice improves your balance, carrying through drifts improves your stamina, carrying in blinding whiteouts improves your mind-body awareness. All forms of carrying improve the likelihood that you’ll suffer from multiple tennis elbows and the occasional back muscle spasm. Which leads to number 4!

4) Take Long, Hot Baths

haydayIt’s winter, you’re chilled, you ache. What better way to combat those miseries than a nice hot bath? Fill the tub with the hottest water you can handle. Throw in some bath salts. Pour a glass of wine, note that you’ve acquired a little extra winter padding and resolve to do something about it, climb in and feel the cold leave your bones. Just start feeling relaxed ( despite the tiny and uncomfortable tub) when the dogs scratch at the door to go out and pee. Curse the dogs, get out and grab a towel, let the dogs out, wait while they take longer than usual, finally let them in again, head shivering back to the bath. Suds up your armpits and get ready to shave. Hear a loud banging noise downstairs. Get out of the bath again and rush to see what’s going on, The door has blown open and the wind is smashing it back and forth. Freeze your butt off securing it, then scurry back to the warmth of the tub. Just get warmed up again when you hear horses in the driveway. Scramble, still wet, into the first clothes you find, run outside and herd them back to their corral. Fix the gate they’ve ripped apart out of boredom. Head back to the tub. Realize the water is now cold. Chug the wine and go bake something.

5) Clear Snow

251403_10151422383914474_1443512195_nSnow clearing is exhilarating, it’s good exercise, and it gives you the freedom to leave your bloody house and procure food, supplies, and human contact. It can also kill lots of down time, so boredom is never an option! Spend hours piling the snow higher and higher, and then revel in your excitement as the wind picks up when you’re done, blowing all the snow back into your driveway and walkways. Give up and become a hermit.

6) Clean the House

With a constant supply of shedding dog hair, dust and ashes from the woodstove and dirty barn boots traipsing through? Yeah, right… dream on!

7) Renovate

This winter we fixed up two rooms… our laundry room had a makeover to become my soap production room, and we hauled the motley crew of misfit shelving out of the pantry and built in shelves that actually work and fit. The best thing about doing renos in the winter is that you have to stay in the house with the mess you make, so you’re extra motivated to get it done quickly. The worst thing about renos in the winter is that you have to stay in the house with the mess you make, so if you run into problems and the disruption goes on for an extended period of time, someone might die.  No bodies ended up getting put through the snowblower this time, so I think our renos were a success.

8) Visit Friends

What fun is snow if you can only bitch about it to yourselves? Take advantage of the winter season to bitch with as many other people as possible. Bitch over coffee, bitch over beers. Misery loves company, and everyone you talk to is guaranteed to be just as miserable as you. (Ok, so we really didn’t do much of this one… too busy clearing f#*%ing snow. Grumble, grumble.)

9) Go for a Drive

Gas was at an almost all-time low this winter, so we took advantage to go explore our new neck of the woods a little. It’s the perfect time of the year to see what fields look like covered in snow, what back roads look like covered in snow, what the North Mountain looks like covered in snow… you get the drift. We discovered all sorts of snow-covered nooks and crannies that we’d never seen before. Exploring is fun, especially when you see new things (covered in snow).

10)Dig Deep and Enjoy Your Extended Existence

When all else fails, winter allows you to enjoy the fact that time slows to a crawl. Light is short, limiting the amount of time you have to enjoy outside, so days feel rather long. Nights are longer still, with howling winds tossing maple syrup buckets against trees, branches knocking against your roof, and screen doors slamming as winter poltergeists come and go from your porch. Sleep doesn’t come easy, so you can feel like time all but stops. And who doesn’t want to live longer? What a bonus!

603154_10151374774104474_399329680_nI love winter, I really do; my asthma is less severe, there are no bugs to drive me nuts, I can bundle up in wooly clothes and feel cozy instead of constantly sweating like a pig on a spit. But I’m done. Now that I’ve given you an exciting list of things to do with the tedious winter months, perhaps spring will suddenly appear. Just to be sure, though, I think I’ll go buy a toboggan. That should guarantee the snow melts in record time. If I’m wrong, you’ll find me curled up in a ball rocking back and forth in the corner of a goat stall, weeping. Winter activity #11 – suffering defeat.

Add it to the list.

 

 

Rehab for Selenium Deficient Kids

February 22, 2015 in Goats, Uncategorized

Disclaimer: I am not a vet. This blog is a summary of my experiences with a weak kid. In no way do I claim that the medications, doses and therapies I outline in this blog will work or be correct for any other situation, they are simply what worked for me.

I’ve just spent a week rehabilitating a weak kid. Although at times this looked like a lost cause, she has made the transition from almost dead to almost normal in the past seven days. The internet was of some help, but it was hard to find specific and creative solutions that worked. I was bound and determined to get this goat back to health, and as a result came up with some off-the-wall solutions… solutions that really seemed to work. Maybe my experience can be of help to someone else with unhealthy kids. If this baby could be rehabilitated, I think there’s hope for pretty much any kid.

1502_horseshunterkids_005A week ago today my seasoned milker Endo gave birth to triplets. This was the first time she had more than two kids, and although she’s normally an excellent mom, there were problems from the start. The first kid looked healthy enough, but it quickly became apparent that the second and third were not as thrifty as they should be. The second kid was weak, and dragging his hind legs a bit, the third, my first doeling from Endo, was a mess. Her hind ankles were turned completely backwards, feet towards the sky, her hind legs appeared completely useless and dragged along behind her as she crawled on her front knees. Her right hip was collapsed in under her body, it looked almost like the hip was dislocated, although I could tell by feeling it that it was just a case of some seriously tight muscles and tendons. She was much smaller than her brothers, as well. After a couple of hours the boys had managed to nurse, but she didn’t seem interested or able. I milked out some colostrum into a bottle and offered it to her. Although she drank, it wasn’t enthusiastic. I gave all 3 kids a shot of Selenium, the first course of action for any weak goat baby. I did some internet research and time and time again was re-assured that if I just left her alone the problems would likely straighten out in a day or two. I was skeptical, but decided to wait and see what the selenium shot could do.

Note: The product I used is Selon-E. There is no recommended dose for goats on the label, but the dose for lambs is 1/4ml for prevention and 1/2 ml for treatment. I spread the 1/2 ml intramuscular injection over 2 days. Selenium deficiency results in the symptoms I was seeing in these kids (White Muscle Disease). Selenium deficiency is common in many areas, but there is a very fine line between too little selenium and too much selenium. Too much selenium causes selenium toxicity, which apparently produces the same symptoms as selenium deficiency, and can also lead to death. For this reason, I was hesitant to give too much at once. On some Forums people recommend giving the suggested doses for 4-7 days in a row. This seems ill-advised to me, given the small margin of error between deficiency and toxicity so, tempting as it was, I did not exceed the recommended dose.

Day 2. I entered the barn in the morning to find one of the boys – the first-born and healthiest- dead. It looked like his mother had laid on him. The second boy was nursing and Endo was attentive to him, but the girl was curled up in a corner, not doing much, and I decided to pull her from her mother and place her in a crate with a heat lamp. I bottle fed her frequently, but she didn’t seem even slightly interested in trying to stand up. It wasn’t looking great.

Day 3. I went out for the morning feeding and found the little doeling lying on her side, eyes half closed. I thought I had lost her too, but as I approached she lifted her head and let out a little noise. I decided that if there was any hope, she had to come into the warm house. We set up a crate and brought the little one inside. She was crusted in yellow diarrhea, which was oozing steadily from her hind end. I bathed her and dried her, then tried to feed her some milk, which I’d taken from her mom. She wasn’t really interested, no sucking instinct, but when I squirted a small amount into her mouth she did swallow it. I fed her a little at a time over the course of the day. By the evening her diarrhea was starting to firm up and she was taking the bottle a little more eagerly. I read that giving extra vitamin E would help with selenium absorption, so I went to the drugstore and bought a bottle of Vitamin E gel caps. I poked one with a thumbtack and squeezed the contents into her mouth. Finally I re-examined her hind legs and found that they hadn’t improved even slightly. I decided it was time to apply splints.

1502_splaynomore_006I splinted the ankles first using Vetrap tape (one of the most useful things you can have in your first aid kit), bamboo skewers, and masking tape. I placed the ankle in the correct position, wrapped it twice with the Vetrap, snugly, but being careful not to go too tight and risk cutting off circulation. Then I cut the bamboo skewers down so I had two pieces about a couple of inches long. 1502_splaynomore_007I placed one behind the ankle and one in front, then secured the whole works in place with masking tape. I was careful to use as little material for the splints as possible…I figured she didn’t need extra weight or bulk complicating her mobility issues.

1502_splaynomore_004Day 4. My little goat was starting to poop normally. She was also taking the bottle like a pro and screaming her head off when she was hungry (in true Nubian form). She was finally standing on her own although the right leg, the one with the really deformed hip, was still a wet noodle. We started a physio program, stretching the leg and moving it through a full range of motion, massaging the muscles, particularly around the hip, and pulling the leg in ways that made her try to pull it away from us… an attempt to help stimulate the muscle and build some strength. It didn’t take long before we could start to feel an improvement. I finally felt hopeful that she was going to make it, so I gave her a name. Her legs reminded me of a sticky disc brake, so I called her Caliper, Cali for short.

Day 5. I removed the ankle splints and was happy to see that one ankle had corrected to the proper position. The other (the one on the worst leg) was a little better, but still bent backwards. I re-splinted the bad one, but I was delighted to see that one leg was now completely normal. Cali began to walk on the three good legs, dragging the worst leg along as she went. We continued the physio, and I diligently placed the bum leg under her over and over in the correct position as she went. Occasionally she would stand with it in the right position, but as soon as she started moving again, the leg would go limp and drag. This was very frustrating for me, I knew there had to be something more effective than me following along and picking up her leg for her. I decided to splint her hock so that her lower leg was forced into the proper position. It was a bit more challenging to splint than the ankles, but after a few tries I found something that seemed to work.

To splint the hock, I placed it in the proper position and wrapped it in Vetrap. I found a fairly thick piece of cardboard and cut out two L shapes at slightly less than a 90° angle. I taped these on either side of the hock to force the hock back and the foot forward.

1502_splaynomore_005Once splinted, she began hobbling around fairly well, but that hip still wanted to turn under, and the foot continued to drag. I watched her for a while and then an idea popped into my head for a very simple, but potentially helpful device to get her walking as she should. Immediately after I put it on her she began walking almost normally. I’m calling my brilliant invention 🙂 the Splay-No-More. It worked like a charm.

The Splay-No-More is a bunch of elastic bands linked together. Seriously, that’s it. I created the “harness” section first by selecting two bands that I could slide up her front legs and allow to sit loosely around the top. I joined these two bands together by linking just enough elastics to span over her back snugly, but not tightly. Then I found an elastic that was about the same size as her ankle. I linked a bunch of bands together to form a chain from that band to the harness, just above the leg strap. It took a bit of trial and error to get the right length… it had to be just long enough to be slightly taught without pulling too much. The idea was to prevent her bum leg from splaying backwards, but to force her to use her own muscles to move the leg as she walked.

Day 6. We continued physio, adding an exercise where we’d get her to stand squarely, and then pick her good back leg and opposite front leg off the ground, forcing her to balance on her bad back leg and opposite front leg. This really seemed to help her understand where that back leg needed to be. I removed the hock splint, and saw that the hock seemed happy to stay bent the way it should be. I let her walk around the dining room wearing the Splay-No-More and it wasn’t long before she was actually running. I put a few obstacles in her path and she climbed over them. Very exciting. I found that if I detached the Splay-No-More from her foot, she could actually take a few steps normally before the back leg began to drag again, and even when it did, the drag was far less severe. She was using those muscles a bit.

Day 7. She can walk normally! The bad leg looks a little stiff, it might be in part to the splint that is still on that ankle, but the leg doesn’t really drag anymore, the hip is square, and she can walk on all four. I’ll take that splint off tomorrow and see how the ankle is looking. She’s going out to the barn for a play date with the other kids today. Exciting!

Seven days ago Troy told me not to get my hopes up, but I’m glad I did. It’s taken a lot of time and patience, but a week later I now have a very chatty, friendly and rambunctious future milker to add to my herd. Cali was worth every bit of trouble we went through to rehabilitate  her.

Sprocket’s little girl was born a few days ago with a gimpy leg too, but thankfully she straightened it out on her own. Although I’ve never given selenium shots to my pregnant does in the past, it’s a practice I’m going to adopt starting next year. I think it’s probably far easier to treat the doe prior to kidding than to deal with affected kids after the fact. Another lesson learned.

The moral of the story for all you goat owners out there is don’t give up no matter how bad it seems. If there was hope for Cali, there is hope for every  kid. It might take a lot of commitment on your part, but in my mind, a lifetime of goat is well worth it. I think Cali agrees.

H2O Woes

February 10, 2015 in Uncategorized, Us

Water can be a blessingimage or a curse. Yes, we need it to sustain health and life, that’s a given. But at that very moment when the flow just stops in the bathroom tap leaving you with a rabid mouth full of toothpaste foam, anything that makes its way through those suds will be a curse, and a creative one, guaranteed.

Some people are plagued by rodents, some people are plagued by scabies or nits. We seem to be plagued by water-related woes and it’s getting to be annoying.

We’ve lived hear for 20 months, and in that time we’ve replaced the water pump 3 times. Even in the driest weather our drilled well never runs dry. We do more laundry than a house of 10, we run gallons and gallons every day to water goats and horses and chickens and the assortment of other resident thirsty critters. We irrigate the garden, we bathe a LOT. Still, the water keeps on coming.

What doesn’t keep on going is the technology. Getting water moved from the well to the tap seems to be more difficult than putting lipstick on a llama. It’s a struggle to make it happen and once it’s there you’d better take a picture quick. Carrying water buckets from the little barn to the big barn through waist deep snow is no longer the hardest part. Getting water in the buckets in the first place, that’s the challenge.

Early in the winter freezing gave the troublemaking jet pump a break. We thought we had our lines well insulated, run from top to bottom with electric heater cables. We were sure we’d have water in any weather. Sub-zero temps quickly flipped a chilly bird to our in-barn water supply, however, forcing me to tear off layers of insulation and duct tape and start from scratch. It wasn’t so bad in the little barn, While messy, the re-wrapping project was fairly straightforward. The big barn was a different story… the insulation had actually gotten wet and frozen to the pipe. It took me several days armed with a knife, a space heater, a heat gun, and a pair of pliers to free the encapsulated water line, replace the broken heater cable, bust part of the floor from the barn so the line could drain at a better angle, and then re-wrap the works. Working in the basement of a barn that’s collected a century and a half of cobwebs is anything but my idea of a good time, I focused hard on the job at hand so I wouldn’t notice the spider bodys floating in fuzzy oblivion around my head.

After all that, the line remained frozen.

imageWhen we moved in, both barns were equipped with automatic waterers. I can only think that old Ralph Neily must have run alcohol through the lines in the winter, because how he kept them from freezing otherwise is beyond me. This place was set up as a dairy farm, but perhaps White Russians  straight from the teat were the real moneymaker for Ralph.

Last year we bought a hydrant and hummed and hawed over the best place to install it. We never came to a decision, so it’s still lying next to the house waiting to be put to use. Last year we also thought it might be smart to pull the foot valve up from the well and see if a problem there might be responsible for our intermittent pressure. The to-do list was long. It didn’t happen.

We are never completely stuck. We have great neighbours we can turn to if need be, and we have two fast flowing brooks on the property that never freeze or run dry. With so many water guzzling animals, however, the logistics of either option are more than challenging. The horses will pick hay from the manure barrow but they  don’t seem keen on dipping their lips in the stream. The goats are terrified to get their feet wet, and I have yet to find rubber boots that stay put on cloven hooves. I continue to carry buckets to them over and over, but while those buckets are slowly filling, nobody seems to be topping up my patience.

I suppose the answer in all of this is a new to-do list, and the items at the top will include the hydrant and the foot valve. Until the ground is soft enough to deal with those tasks we will have to continue taking baths that get cold by the time they fill half way, and spacing our laundry and dish washing so they never occur at the same time.

We do have running water at the moment, and it’s potable, safe and plentiful, if slow. I suppose the difficulty of simply getting it on demand could be seen as a “first world problem”, but when a farm depends on it in copious amounts one might forgive me for feeling it’s a little more serious.

I wonder if Evian has ever sponsored a farm? Might be something to look into. In the meantime I’d better go try to fill some buckets. Again.