Monday, December 7, 2009

Horses to Rabbits

In our old barn we have a lovely stable area with two large box stalls and two individual stalls for standing horses. One box stall I use for storage the other as a milking parlour for the goats. These two areas are as old as the barn and we keep them in original condition. The standing stalls however are a recent addition and are only any good if you own horses. Well we don't do horses and the area had no use for us. I also did not want to rip it out until I found a worth while use for the area.
Then the rabbits arrived, and not long after that the cooler weather. So we ripped out the standing stalls and made a nice open room. Installed some water proof boarding on the walls(rabbits especially bucks have a nasty habit of spraying to mark territory).We now have our three does and our latest arrival, a New Zealand buck, installed and very happy according to their behavior.
Clare my wife and rabbit herdsman is also happy with the setup but now worries they may be getting too fat. Pellets, hay, carrots, apples, and willow sticks to keep the teeth in shape will no doubt do that. Yesterday she had them out of their cages one at a time doing laps around the rabbitry on a new weight watchers program!
As a stockman with experience of many farm animals I am out of my depth with rabbits. My only knowledge of rabbits is you need a ferret to flush them out the hole into a net so you can catch them for the pot! I will admit though I am enjoying this new addition to our farm and learning from my wife a lot more about these little furry critters than I ever knew before.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Preg Checking

Jay the vet came the other day compleat with his Borg like ultra sound equipment to preg check the goats. Sadly they were all empty (not pregnant) but on reflection I was relieved and happy. Let me explain.
We could not find a Toggenberg buck any where and many breeders suggested we line breed by using one of this years buck kids. I knew this was a common practice with purebred breeders but to a commercial breeder like myself it was all a bit much. I felt very guilty turning him in with his relatives and a sence of guilt and shame came over me. though young he seemed to be doing his job and well, at least we would have kids born on time and a milk supply for orphan lambs. What you see is not always what you get, espesialy in this case. Although busy the buck was not mature and so was shooting blanks. A huge burden of guilt lifted of my Catholic consience, I felt much better, but where was I to find a buck this late.
Being late is what saved my bacon. The origional supplier of my doe's said she would rent me an unrelated Toggenburg buck who had finished his work and was keen for some overtime. So of to Lumby I went and brought home Charles who is now very busy with his new ladies. We will have the kids later and I may have to buy some milk powder to start the orphan lambs, but at least we will have Toggenberg kids with out the "goatie insence"!

New Arrivals

Long before I met my wife she raised meat rabbits for the local butcher in England. Later when logging in BC in the 80s we had some for our own consumption. Its the other white meat, and it doesn't make a noise at first light so you can produce them in town without any one knowing!
With our Harmonious Homestead agritourism business we were looking for new forms of livestock that would earn their keep but still be fun for visitors to pet and see. After much web searching and phone calls Clare came back from visiting the grandchildren in Alberta with three beautiful Californian does. Then this coming weekend we will have delivered a New Zealand white buck from a rabbitary in the next valley. Needless to say they will not be getting closely acquainted until February so we can have little bunnies galore for our open days!

Rosa RIP

After moving back to the farmyard side of the river and with access to the road our dog Rosa developed some annoying habits. It started with her collecting garbage from the road side and bringing it back into the field to chew on. Amazingly she could chew an aluminium beer can to shreds and not cut herself. Sadly it turned into vehicle chasing. Why any dog starts to chase 3 tons of Detroit steel never ceases to amaze me, I mean what do they think they will do with it when they catch it!Several neighbours said they had seen her in the act, but I had not caught her to tell her off.
One morning several weeks ago at first light I found her lying in the barn with major injuries all down one side. It was obvious she had been struck by a vehicle and had come back to the barn as it was her "safe place".The only choice was to put her down as she was in pain with no hope of recovery. I buried her next to our first guardian dog Emma in our pet cemetery who thankfully died at a much older age due to a stroke. Even though I view these types of dogs as livestock and members of the flock it is still tough and lonely doing chores when you loose one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Feed

Our lambs were held up in their growth this year due to extremely hot weather and so they are a month behind their normal schedule. We usually have all the lambs sold before the grass runs out, but not this year. We sold about 70 lambs to feedlots to be finished by new owners. The remaining 90 or so we will feed and market finished ourselves. We do plan to keep back 15 to 20 of our best Dorset and Romney ewe lambs for replacement ewes as our flock is rather old. If we do this for the next two to three years we will end up with a strong young flock.

As you can see by the photos it does not take them long to learn what a feed trough is. Rosa now enjoys being around the yard as she can visit the different pens, wander out to the field to see the ewes, and terrorise the barn cats when ever she catches them by surprise!

Oreo cookie lambs

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lambs are looking good.

Our lambs are looking well now.With the grass drying out and more fibre to protein content than lush green grass, the lambs are getting more carbs in their diet and are starting to fatten out nicely. Just don't mention mint sauce or they start to get nervous!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Truck Tales

We always had a pick up truck on our old ranch in Manitoba. First was the 'Brown Beast', a remnant of my logging days, a true three quarter ton Ford, passing everything on the road except a gas station. After many years of trusty, and towards the end, not so trusty service, we sold her to some local lads to play with on the sand dunes in the hills to north of us, after they put on a set of swather wheels and tires for traction. They wanted to pay $250, I wanted $500. As she had sat in the same spot for two Prairie winters, I made them a bet. If she started on the first long crank of the key, it was $500. They figured I was a fool and took the bet.
Doing my best to hide my smile I went to the shop for a battery and some gas. After hooking up the battery I took off the air cleaner pan and poured some gas into the carburetter. I then scratched around in the dirt until I found a pebble that was just the right size. I jammed it in the butterfly valve at the top of the carb so she would get lots of fresh air. Then sitting in the drivers seat I pumped the gas peddle three times, turned on the ignition and started to crank her over. in less than two seconds she exploded into life and sat there purring like a cat by the wood stove. The boys admitted defeat and handed over the $500. I said I couldn't guarantee that she would win for them, but so long as there was gas in the tank she would cross the finish line. Just don't expect her to pass a government safety inspection!

Next we had a nice tame grey half ton Ford that had been a grain farmers run about. Well we hauled every farm critter imaginable along with all other forms of vegetable and mineral connected to ranching. She did make it to our new place in British Columbia but we knew it would be throwing good money after bad to get her through the vehicle safety so we took her off the road. She was sold after three years in our barn to a fellow who put a snow plow on the front and used it to clean his yard. Old Fords never die, they just keep causing fuel shortages.

I have spent the last four years without a pick up truck. It's been tough but as we are only five miles from town I could use the farm tractor and trailer cheaper than I could buy and insure a truck. Lately though we have needed to go further afield and a truck seemed like a good idea. Trouble is North American models and for that matter imports are expensive and hard on fuel. They seem to be in league with the oil companies, even when they have fuel efficient diesels in other countries they will not sell them to us here. But there is a way to beat them and send them a message. We bought a 'Grey Market' Toyota Dyna at an auction in Japan and imported it, had it safetied and now we drive it here. It's a one and quarter ton truck with four doors and it does 30 miles to the gallon, more if you drive carefully. Although it is a 1992 model it only has 50,000 kms on the clock. We bought it from a reputable dealer who has running parts in stock and wait time for engines and clutches is a week. GM and Ford are no better on parts and a whole lot worse on price and fuel consumption.

The only down side is it is right hand drive. Having learnt to drive in England this is not a problem for me, and isn't for any one else so long as I am five feet from the curb in my drivers seat. The back is a cargo cage with the tarp over the top and with the smaller back tires (duals) there is no wheel wells to get in the way, just a nice big flat bed. My children's only comment was they expected to see men jump out the back dressed in para military uniforms with AK47s chanting, "power to the people"! They might well come in handy in the long line ups at the gas pumps with all the North American motors using up our fuel. Thankfully though, I only spend a third of the time there that I used to, a third less money too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Chick

We came home from visiting our daughter and grand children in Alberta to find our Silkies, Jack and Jill had finaly had a chick. We are not sure of the sex yet but the name Junior works both ways!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Outstanding in my field

Or should that be "Standing out in one of my fields"!

Pasture Shift

How to move 260 sheep real fast, just shout "got grass". Note Rosa the dog was through first to make sure all is safe.

Hot !*%#! Hot.

Very busy this last month and for the last two weeks its been super hot. Never less than 18c at night and often nudging 40c by mid afternoon. We have not had a shower of rain for a month, the air is smoky due to all the forest fires and I never stop irrigating and packing pipe.
Other than that its great! Just picked the bales from our second cut of hay as they say we will have cooler weather and rain over the next few days. As expected our second cut was bigger than our first. Now if the the third cut can top them both we might just have enough hay for the winter. Needless to say, us farmers spend a lot of time on our knees. Though lately it seems to have been worth it as after a poor start to the season things are slowly coming round.
I am looking forward to some cooler weather as my energy levels just aren't there in the heat. Yeah I know I'm getting older, but I can get more done in 20c weather than in 35c heatwaves.
The photos show how are lambs are comming along. The single born ones will soon be ready, so we will start marketing later this month.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Well it's been a while. Since the last post we have made hay, started irrigating, had the Grand children for a visit and presently have my wife's parents with us.
The hay was a poor crop and typical of many of the older stands around, due to a cold dry spring and then a quick jump in temperatures the crop was light with only half the normal bales. This means we are watering and hoping for a good 2nd and 3rd cut or we will be short of winter feed. The pasture is doing well though and the lambs are starting to fill out. Rosa our Guardian dog is now very well adjusted, and is a great dog, doing all the right things for a change!
The garden is coming along but with the strange spring weather not all plants grew as they should. There will be few carrots and parsnips this year and very few cauliflowers and broccoli. Needless to say we shall still be up to our armpits in zucchini and beans!
I have always been a keen veg grower, but just for the house. With all this hundred mile diet and so many people in our area looking for local produce I have had to do some soul searching. So I hitched up the discs and chisel plow and ripped up half acre of pasture on the south side of the barns to prepare a market garden for next season. I know this is too small for a serious venture but I would like to start small, if it works I have 4 acres next to it to get serious with.
I plan to keep cultivating it and irrigating it till mid August, that should keep the weeds at bay and deplete some of the weed seed bank. Then sow fall rye as a cover crop and in mid October cover it all with sheep manure compost and work it all in ready for next springs planting.
We are presently checking out the area Farmers Markets to see what sells and if there are any niches open to us. The farmer that I am means that I like to plant big seeds into the dirt and stand back. Though I think I will have to get more technical and do the whole transplanting thing and may be at a later date a greenhouse. For now I will need a nice hoe to lean on instead of my shepherds crook, though the wife says I have to weed with it , whats with that?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Smart Dogs

Several weeks ago I took a day off and the wife and I went up into one of the side valleys near us to watch some sheepdog trials. It was a beautiful sunny day and being high up the mountain we caught the sun and came back glowing. Folks were there to compete from all over western Canada and north western US. Most of the dogs performed well, though the odd one had stage fright and was a 'no show'. One thing I noticed was that 80-90% of the handlers were women which suprised me , as while growing up in England it was the opposite, well done ladies.We watched for several hours and had a very enjoyable time watching other people work! We travelled in a circular route so we could explore some valleys we had not yet seen. We have tried to do that lately and the more we see the more we realize we bought our farm in the right location. Close to town on a black top road, plenty of water for irrigation and low elevation for more heat units.Now we just have to find a crop to utilize these attributes that is profitable and legal!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Over the River

The river running through our land is thankfully crossed on our property line by a nice walled goverment bridge which we use when moving stock from one side to the other. When we had cattle it involved more muscle power as steel panels were needeed to block off the road and steer the cattle. Now with sheep we find it so much easier and when they have done it once they know there is fresh pasture on the other side as the sequence of photos show. It was all I could do to stay ahead of them and they still beat me to the far side of the bridge. Note Rosa our guardian dog leads the way and is ahead in the pasture as well. We cross the river about eight times a year and it only takes a few minutes so we rarely hold up the traffic.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Raw Material Economics

The opinion below appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper today 25th May under the heading " We can't keep offering cheap calories to the consumers." It seems the business world is worried about profitability in the agri food sector along with the retailers, shippers and manufactures but not a word about sustainability of the farmers who are paid 1960s prices. We are the goose that lays the golden egg but we can't keep laying with out some feed!! Big food has made money by cutting costs at the farm gate for raw commodities so as to give cheap food to the masses thus ensuring continued disposable income for all the other stuff our society thinks it needs and big business makes to sell them at inflated profits. If we had to pay 20, 30 or 40% of our income on food like days gone by and the increase showed up at the farm gate I feel us farmers might smile a little more often and this one may well trade in his 17 year old Volvo for something a little newer! Raw materials are the fly wheel of any economy, pay the true value for them ( ie Parity, costs plus wages plus retirement contributions )and the rest will take care of its self. Any costs for food safty are passed down to the farmer in lower crop prices to cover the agrifood sectors costs.
The article in full below, there are good points but the farmer who makes it all happen seems to be left out!

Once again, the only price category that showed any signs of upward pressure in April was food. Although food prices in retail stores have gone up by 8.3 per cent in the past year, a broader perspective on global market conditions indicates Canada is actually in a good situation. Not only are we better positioned than most countries to absorb adverse economic developments, but higher prices become investments in food industries, local and global, that sorely need redevelopment to deal with problems such as food safety and production efficiency.
Food remains cheap in Canada and has been for decades. Canadian households barely spend 10 per cent on food every year. Thirty years ago, the figure was between 25 and 30 per cent. Food prices at retail in other industrialized countries are much higher than they are in Canada. Market conditions are even worse in developing countries. In a poll of developing countries published recently, a majority of people in nearly all of them say that rising food costs have negatively affected them.
Higher food prices are desirable for two reasons. The first is food safety. Because of food recalls of wide scope in recent years, safety is becoming a critical issue for governments and the private sector. We are asking agrifood companies to spend more on traceability systems, conduct more inspections and apply rigorous protocols. All these initiatives cost money.
It is increasingly challenging for the industry to focus on new safety initiatives when it does not have access to more wealth. For years, we have seen companies change their cost structure and develop centralized operations in order to offer cheap calories to consumers. In addition, global trade is making distribution systems highly complex. As consumers, if we want our food to be safeguarded, we should expect to pay more. The latest polls on this subject, however, suggest consumers are still not willing to do so. That will need to change before Canada gets hit by a food safety catastrophe.
The second reason for higher food prices is capital investments. After commodity price hikes last year, fertilizer companies embarked upon major expansion projects. Mosaic, Agrium and Potash Corp. all announced projects as a result of increasing potash prices, a major component for soil fertilizers.
Potash prices rose significantly last year for one reason: Demand for fertilizers was up because farmers wanted to grow more efficiently. At the same time, farmers naturally wanted higher yields because commodity prices were higher.
Rapid economic growth in developing economies such as China is creating a transitory imbalance: too much demand, not enough supply. With more fertilizers, world agriculture will be capable of producing more, and doing so will eventually stabilize commodity and food prices at retail for the longer term.
In Canada, if we want affordable food in the future, prices at retail need to increase at a reasonable pace in the present. This may seem counter intuitive, but higher prices will bring more investments and allow developing countries to build production capacity.
If this happens, an increase in supply will eventually force prices to decrease. Canada, the biggest producer of potash in the world, has a definite role to play in improving global food production.
In the recent past, low food prices at retail have compelled the industry to do more with less. As a result, we have had little or no innovation, more food-borne illnesses, more poor farmers and fewer capital investment projects.
Now, food is regularly in the headlines and paradigms are finally shifting toward food consciousness. More wealth within the industry will be beneficial for the common good. Organic and fair-trade products will become more attractive because the gap between retail prices of conventional food products and those of premium items is diminishing.
Canadian-based biotechnology firms may also find bigger footholds in world agricultural markets for which they can provide sound, genetically engineered products.
But higher prices alone are not the food industry's redemption. This shift in prices invites consumers to rethink how they consume food and how they perceive the meaning of nutrition in their lives. Higher prices may hurt some consumers at first, but we need to invest in the future of food in order to benefit both consumers and the agrifood industry.
Sylvain Charlebois is associate dean, Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business at the University of Regina.
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Thursday, May 7, 2009


Our son came home from University and decided our Harmonious Homestead and Ewe blog site for our Agritourism venture needed an over haul. Link to it on the left hand side of this page and check it out. We think it looks great, with much new text and updated photos, puts the Folly to shame!


We have almost finished lambing now , just two more to go. We are still holding the sheep off pasture, at least till Sunday, then we will be out of hay and will start grazing. Our open days have been going well with two more left we will be glad of a rest. Folks really enjoy the interaction with the animals and "kids" of all ages enjoy bottle feeding and playing with the lambs. Answering the many questions is fun and sometimes challenging though as a life time farmer it scares me how big the urban rural gap has become. On the prairies many people have family that still farm so are at least familiar with land and livestock, but here in BC many folks are several generations removed from the land and it shows in the questions and misunderstandings that we heard. This makes us realise the important task at hand and ahead to not only entertain but also educate all ages so as to fill in the huge gap between their plate and our farm gate.
The chicks that were little fluff balls for our first open day are now ugly half feathered teenage chickens, and after making another "chicken tractor" for them they are now outside weeding the grass in our young orchard, moved once a day they are doing a nice weed and feed job. Our goats are doing well and producing milk for our orphan lambs as well as raising their own kids. At noon I shut the does up away from the kids till after supper then milk them before reuniting them, this means there is a good supply of milk and I only have to milk once a day.
The lambing went well as many of the ewes are old hands, we had 8 sets of triplets and one set of quads, many twins and only a few singles, either from first time lamber's or old ewes. With this many multiple births we only had 4 bottle fed lambs (thank goodness) and a first in all my years, several sets of premature lambs, all of which were born fine but with no wool until at least 2 weeks of age. We did loose a couple early on due to poorly developed lungs but the rest are out with the main flock and doing fine. This is the first year I did not inject the pregnant ewes with Selenium Vitamin E three weeks before lambing and I suspect this may be the cause of the premature births. Selenium increases the level of Oxygen in the blood in the ewe and unborn lambs making birthing and "cleansing " of after birth easier as well as producing more vigorous lambs. This may well have caused the early births, so next year I will not be so cheap and use the S and E again. Any other stock men or Vets out there with comments I would love to hear from you.
With grazing only a few days away I will be sorting out electric fencing equipment and setting up the first few paddocks. Thankfully last night we had our first decent rain since March so the grass should start growing quicker now. Her is to a green spring for all the graziers out there.

Not so young, not so old.

The old owner of the Suffolk sheep we bought last year came for a visit during lambing to see how things were going. They still remembered his sheep call and looked up when they heard him speak Farsi, which could explain why they never pay any attention to me, I speak a foreign language to them! John showed that you did not have to be a kid to enjoy bottle feeding lambs and that proves our open days are for the young and young at heart.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Rosa finds all the lambs tiring as they never leave her alone in the field so she is often found "chilling" in peace ouside the fence. She has greatly improved during lambing and has realised why we allow her to have dog food and what her true vocation in life is. All in all she is turning into a very good guardian dog.

Breaking through to the other side ( of lambing)

Its been nearly 3 weeks since my last post and very busy for us as we now have about 160 lambs up and running and only 17 more ewes to lamb. with only 10 or so singles most are twins and so far 9 sets of triplets and one set of quads. Thankfully we only have 4 bottle fed lambs so I still have some patience and sanity left, allowing for the fact we keep sheep in the first place! Most of the ewes left are first time lambers so most will probably have singles. We have put them out on a sacrifice area so they have plenty of room . The ewes are still on hay and barley as it will be at least two weeks before we can start to graze.

Friday, April 3, 2009

No rest for me!

In the pictures above it looks as though things are pretty laid back around here. Well for some maybe, but for us two legged critters lambing is heating up we had 9 ewes come in yesterday and they had 17 lambs between them. Also its now only 7 days to our grand opening and there seems to be way too much left to do and not enough day light to do it in. That said I may not blog this next week for obvious reasons!

Do any thing for milk.

Our main mama cat Nappy is expecting again and is no doubt in need of calcium, so much so ,she is willing to tip over the dogs bucket to steal the dregs at the bottom at great risk to herself if Rosa spots her.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We have now finished our farm sign complete with sheep underneath telling times and days. The sheep did get out the other night after an unusually heavy wind and after gathering them up and doing a better job of attaching them they now seem to be staying put. The sign is a total of 8ft by 8ft and is 12 ft high so if they can't see that I question whether they should be driving!

The other lower sign is for recognition of the farm environmental plan we completed last Fall and is proof we are doing it right. Though for us it was not tough as with a grazing operation and organic farming practices we are easy on the environment. At the same time we also completed a Biodiversity plan which catalogues our management practices and the natural fauna and flora that are on the farm and how we assist in there care and enhancement. Sadly we do not get a sign for that, but we have a nice printed portfolio with maps, text and photos as a keepsake. We are doing well in the biodiversity side of things as we only forage farm and do not disturb the soil and natural pathways of the wildlife going to and from the river.Non of this is profitable dollar wise but it gives a great feeling of satisfaction and a sense of being native to this place.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Heavy with expectation

Most of our flock are due to start lambing in the next 10 to 12 days and are content to sit around like beached seals resting in the sun. A few black sheep which we bought in were bred earlier and so are already lambing.

Caprine Yoga

Can any one out there scratch behind their ear with their big toe all done while standing?
Of course it takes plenty of minerals as shown by the top photo,even 4 legged kids eat dirt.