Hello Lovely Eaters,
Wow – the last newsletter I wrote seems a lifetime ago – so much has happened since! May and early June have been interesting, for sure…
Firstly, we really appreciate any of you who accommodated our changing the Farm-to-Eater Delivery date last month, as Troy had to go into Brandon for emergency surgery, and recovery in the hospital for a week. This was quite a shock for us, and what looked at the time like it was a case of appendicitis ended up being removal of appendix plus bowel surgery, namely removal of an abscess that was attached to Troy’s large intestine. As much as it threw us all for a loop, and made things more challenging for the time following the surgery (Troy unable to lift very much – so that rules out a huge part of our everyday farm work), we are so thankful that it was not worse than it was, and that the results of the biopsy were negative.These things happen when you least expect it, and we are so fortunate to have the support of family and good friends who came to our aid to make sure things that needed to be done on the farm got completed. Some of our aspirations for this Spring will be affected, such as Troy’s hopes to try the process of queen [bee] rearing, but we can accept that and move on with what we are able to do. His recovery has been incredible, actually, and he has found that not having a grapefruit-sized foreign object inside his body has given him more energy and stamina than he had previously! Who’da thought?
Calving has gone well, and the last couple of cows are just about to give birth and we’ll be done. The cows and calves were moved from the calving paddock, where they were receiving supplemental hay, out to the fresh Spring pastures, at the beginning of June. This is always an exciting time, and Troy has been doing a great job of moving the herd to fresh grass once or twice a day. Making smaller paddocks at a time and increasing the stock density has been shown to have positive effects on the grass, and general soil health as the cows eat the plants, deposit manure, and move on so that we can provide that paddock an adequate rest/recovery period to regrow. We will return to the same spot at least once during the growing season. We are so thankful for the rain that came, mostly in the past 3 weeks, as things were getting incredibly dry with hardly any rain in April or May. Now, the grasses and legumes (nitrogen-fixing plants that the cattle also eat out in our pastures) are jumpstarted and things are looking way more optimistic in the near future. We also make all of our own hay, and so the moisture on the hayland is crucial for a good crop of hay for our winter feed.
Lambing began on June 1st, and this is one of my (Michelle’s) favourite times of the year! It has been extra interesting this year, as we have a different breed of ram that was in with the ewes, and we are getting our first black-and-white-coloured lambs! At the time of writing, we have had 39 lambs from 18 ewes, and I have never had so many triplets as this year! It is nice to have more animals, but you have to keep a close eye on the trips as mama only has 2 teats on her udder so it sometimes one lamb can get left out and hungry. The weather has treated us well during lambing, as opposed to last June, when it was cold and rainy and I had many cases of hypothermia to deal with. One thing I realized this year, is that it is difficult when you have a human baby and lamb babies and you are trying to distinguish between the two crying…there was more than once where I heard the lambs call for their mother and did a double-take that it wasn’t my own son! So far, it is looking promising for the kinds of numbers that will allow us to increase our flock (with new breeding females for next year) as well as lambs to finish as grassfed lamb. What many folks don’t realize is that it takes us the better part of a year to actually finish a grass-fed lamb. The cute little babies you see in our photos now grow very quickly on the pastures over the summer, and by mid-to-late Winter when they are going to be butchered, they are very close to the size of an adult sheep (and a lot less cute)! In fact, we just had the very last group of last year’s lambs go to be butchered, and that is what we have available for sale until about next Feburary. So if you are interested in buying a whole or half lamb, now is a good time to order and make sure you will get some! In the meantime, here’s some photos from lambing time:
As for the bees, things are looking up as Troy purchased replacement hives for [some of] the ones that were lost over this last harsh Winter. He was able to rely on some of his trusted beekeeper friends to help him out, such as Bruce McLean from Western Sky Apiary in Dauphin, MB. Bruce has been a mentor to Troy since we began, and we appreciate his generosity to share knowledge (and sell us some of his fantastic bees)! Now is the time of year when Troy is “splitting” colonies, ie. taking the strongest hives and splitting one box into 2, sometimes 3 before bringing them out to their summer pasture yard locations. He adds new queens to these “new” colonies, and if things go well, they begin busily gathering nectar and pollen and producing brood and honey throughout the Summer! Some of the colonies Troy will have this year are “nucleus” colonies, or smaller ‘mini’ hives that will be mostly focused on gaining strength to be a productive hive next year – we won’t expect much honey from these in the current year. Aside from the loss of the value of the bees after Winter (only a portion was covered, thankfully, by insurance), there is also the loss of the sale of bees which we normally are able to do in Springtime. This Spring, there were many beekeepers who suffered losses over the Winter such as we were, looking to buy, so the price was higher. Anyways, we are happy to see the alfalfa and other pasture floral sources like sainfoin are beginning to flower, so the bees will be starting to bring in the ‘good stuff’ very soon indeed.
Sydney is doing really well, and over the past week hit a major milestone of crawling! He is gaining momentum quickly, and has even pulled himself up to standing once. We can see that he loves to move and discover things and as much as parents are terrified of this stage and all of the ‘trouble’ babies can suddenly get into, it’s very exciting to see him mobile and so happy as a result. It really is incredible how “chill’ he is, very happy to hang out on a blanket outdoors while I work in the garden, or brought out in the stroller to take a look at how the lambs are doing. Of course, he is finding out how delicious soil is (see photo), loves ‘swimming’ in his kiddie pool, and is captivated by Merle (the dog) and watching the laying hens peck around the yard. The boy who once was dubbed ‘very serious’ has blossomed into a smily little baby, even laughing sometimes, and it’s a lot of fun to see the joy he finds in the smallest things. While it is so fun spending time with him, I have found it a continuous challenge to balance time spent with him versus the time spent doing important farm tasks that I am used to participating in. The busier season (and Troy’s temporary setback) put me in more of the driver’s seat with farm activities and I find myself sometimes envying the parents who leave their day jobs to focus on raising a baby, a divisive transition of tasks. Our work lives face us almost every moment of every day here on the farm, and so it really is a delicate balancing act that we are still trying to get some handle on – I don’t believe we will ever truly master this balance, just do the best we can.
However, the envy of those who don’t have an opportunity to live and work outdoors here in the country like we do fades very quickly, as we take in all that this wonderous season has to offer us. The days are long (Solstice coming up just this week) and therefore we find ourselves working for as long as we can, often until the light is gone. This definitely is not something we are necessarily proud of – we would love to be in a position to have more free time to spend doing more leisurely activities. But the plants are growing bountiful and green, the birds singing, the frogs chirping in the marshes and the evenings see the glimmer of fireflies doing their flickering mating dance. So it is nice to stop and appreciate these things as we’re in the thick of it.
This Spring has also been largely about community and supporting one another – particularly in our community of farm friends in our area. We called on folks to give us a hand with some projects that fell by the wayside this month, and were so thankful to the people that willingly lent a hand, even though this is a busy time on their own farms. Also, our friends Lydia and Wian at nearby Luna Field Farm at Belmont experienced one of the worst effects of last Thursday’s hail and wind storm, which resulted in a lot of damage to farm and house infrastructure, vehicle, and loss of some of their livestock. It is a very vulnerable feeling to be at the whim of the weather, and we are seeing more of these kinds of extreme weather systems take their toll on our livelihoods (for example, the loss of our bees over this past Winter). We and other farm friends went over to help them clean up some of the aftermath of that storm, and enjoyed the camaraderie that comes from this rare occasion of working alongside one another. We feel lucky to have good farming folks around us like those from Luna Field Farm, The Dogs Run Farm, Folkways Farmstead & Apothecary, and Brown Sugar Produce.
Something else momentous for us in May was that Sydney finally got his own room! We have a very old home (it was my grandparents’) and had to do some fixing up in a room upstairs. Troy went at it, and with some help from his Dad Ed, we now have a great little space for Sydney! If you’re anything like I am, you love to see before and after photos. So here you go:
That’s about enough of my rambling for one newsletter. Much love to those of you reading this all the way to the end, and please – if you ever have questions about some of the things we do on the farm, or if you would like to come out and tour our place at some point this summer, please get ahold of us. We are often sorry that we can’t be the type of farm that comes into the city for markets and events where we can meet and talk to folks in person, but we try to communicate what we do, and why we do it, through this medium (and our social media posts on Instagram and Facebook). Lately I’ve been playing around with Instagram Stories to show some of the day-to-day stuff happening. Looking forward to seeing some of you this Thursday!
Michelle and Troy (and Sydney)
Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.
– Anthony Bourdain