Saturday, February 6, 2010

Same Day, Different Year

24th January 2009 Approx 2 - 3 feet of snow, a normal winter.

24th January 2010 So you still dont believe this Climate Change thing?

My Latest Friday AM article

The Secret Life of Goats

With goats on the silver screen thanks to Mr Clooney I thought it was time to bring them to print media. We have goats at our farm to supply fresh milk at lambing time to feed any orphan lambs or ones not getting enough from their mothers. This means the goats need to have their young three to four weeks before the sheep so they are in full production with enough milk for their kids as well as spare for any lambs in need. This requires knowledge of goat reproduction cycles and careful planning with a calendar to ensure timely arrival of kids and milk. With an October breeding the goats will birth in March and our sheep start in April, so all will be well.
We have Toggenburg goats, the oldest of the Swiss breeds. They are hardy milk producers who have good winter coats and do well here in Canada. Their downfall is they tend to mature later than other breeds. We were using a very young buck and I had some concerns he might be “firing blanks”. So thirty days after the last day the buck and does were together our Veterinarian came armed with an ultra sound scanner and pregnancy checked the does. They were all empty (not pregnant). What were we to do? We wanted to keep our Toggenburgs pure but there were no Togg bucks for sale, and the thought of using a Heinz 57 buck from the stock yards was totally out of the question.
It was time to get into the “oldest profession” and rent a buck if there was one available. After phoning around I found “Charles” was ready, willing and able as he had finished his work for the season and was ready to go freelance! I drove to Lumby where he lived to negotiate the deal and pick him up. The exchange was done under the barn light (white, not red) and we loaded him up in the back of the truck. $100 bucks for one buck seemed expensive, but divided over forty five days and six females I could see we had a bargain! Charles has had a good Holiday season, forty five days of good food and good company, but like all good things it comes to an end, and as the contract is up I will drive him back home to his owner. The girls all seem quiet and content so I hope Charles has done his thing. We will have to wait till early February when our Vet comes again with his scanner to check both the sheep and the goats to see who has been naughty and who has been nice (or maybe both). Even if the goats are pregnant the delay in the breeding date means they will birth after the sheep. Any orphan lambs will have to have milk powder until the goat milk arrives. To ensure we do not have a repeat of this fiasco I have a buck ordered for next Fall, kind of like a mail order groom.
With my experience in goat match making and seeing how the internet has gone maybe its time for me to launch Eharmony for goats, a one stop shop for caprine partners!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cutting back and posting more!

Yes it does actually make sense. I have four Blogs and lately they all seem to get little attention from me. So I have decided to shut two of them down and slip them in here at the Folly. Hence the following are my articles to date that I have written for the Friday AM. My apologies to those of you who have read them on the old site, and to those who are new enjoy, or surf on to something more to your liking! I will still update our happenings on the farm as well as give my unsolicited opinions and inner mental ruminations, political, religious and none of them correct!!

My Friday AM columns

Farming in the City
My name is Rob Fensom and I am a resident of Salmon Arm. I have been here for the last four years living and working in this fair city. This is something I never dreamed of saying, as a country boy like me would never live in a village let alone a city. On our old ranch in Manitoba it was a thirty mile trip to get the mail and a lot further to find a city. I am a farmer you see, living in the city but thankfully this city is bigger than Vancouver in area. So although I am five miles from down town in the middle of a lovely valley filled with farms, I am a ‘city slicker’.
The title Farming in the City got me thinking of Sex in the City, though frankly the only time its hot and steamy around here is when I am working under a blazing sun moving irrigation hand lines. As for beautiful women, I am regularly surrounded by 100 ewes and their lambs along with a slim young thing called ‘Rosa’ who is their guardian dog keeping stray dogs and coyotes at bay.
Now with all this talk of eating locally and one hundred mile diets I hope to take this opportunity to bridge the ever widening gap between Urban and Rural folks. You need us for the milk, meat, eggs, fruit, and veggies we produce. We need you for gas bars, liquor stores, fishing tackle and gun shops, oh and of course ‘Tims’. All the usual stuff Hollywood depicts us local yokels coming to town for, along with curling rinks, ice arena’s, libraries, doctors clinics etc.
The farm we live on has the Salmon River flowing through the middle of it. This makes for a beautiful setting but with that comes responsibilities for Riparian areas and the plants and animals that call these areas their home. We have to farm wisely and profitably to be able to meet our responsibilities and stay on the farm. This day and age that is a major task with every one watching you over the fence to see its done right and you comply with the mountain of Provincial, National and City laws and regulations. It also seems to me that every one is an expert on the environment and has a point to make. With this in mind last Fall we completed an Environmental Farm Plan whose sign we now proudly display along with our farm sign. We also at the same time did a Biodiversity Farm Plan which catalogues the animal and plant life on our farm along with wild life corridors to and from the river. This gives us a snap shot of the farm and a starting point to monitor future improvements.
We have always farmed organically though at this time we are not certified. We produce lamb and wool from our flock of sheep along with breed stock. This year we opened to the public for the lambing season so folks could pet the lambs and watch and learn about a working sheep farm. This was very popular as one can rarely walk through a field of 260 lambs and ewes, stopping to pet sleepy lambs and friendly ewes. The big hit was watching them at feeding time, as once all the ewes have their noses in the trough the lambs form a large group and run up and down the field.
With our market close at hand and interest in local food production I have had to step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. No longer am I a rancher producing animals for feed lots and packing plants two provinces away. I am your neighbour producing food for you in your back yard. This has meant a paradigm shift in thinking and doing around our place. Not only do consumers need to connect to farmers but also farmers to consumers, something many of my kind are slow to do as we are naturally a shy bunch.
One way of doing this is keeping you the consumer up to date on happenings on the farms in your area to give you a better understanding of what all us guys are doing out there.
The year so far has been dry; no doubt your lawns are telling you this. Along with the cool spring it meant for a slow start for any new seeded crops and poor yields for the first cut of hay. In my vegetable garden I could not get carrots or parsnips to grow if my life depended on it. Our first cut of hay was half the usual size and pastures were slow growing and poor yielding. We irrigate from the river but can not pump water until June as the river is high and full of sand which can wreck the brass impellers on the pump. I switched the pump on the 4th June and could have sworn I heard a large Ahhh sound from the fields, not unlike me after a hot day and drinking a cold one. With steady watering our second cut of hay looks much better and we hope to make up for lost bales. The story is the same from many area farmers, those with newer ‘stands’ ( fields of two or tree years old) did better than the older thinner ‘stands’, much like my hair. Market gardeners that I spoke to had similar concerns, though mainly about the colder weather slowing up crop development.
Our lamb crop is doing well, with some lambs approaching 50-60 lbs this is putting pressure on the grass as the growing lambs eat almost as much as their mums. Instead of 100 ewes and 160 lambs, we have 260 ewes and the grass is disappearing fast. We move our sheep to fresh pasture every two days and use electric mesh fencing to keep them in. As the whole system is portable we move the sheep around in a box, building a new one for them to enter as the old one comes down. This gives them fresh tasty grass, and allows the pasture time to recover for the next grazing. Most pastures are grazed every 21-35 days, so I am busy taking down and erecting fence, moving sheep and irrigation pipe most of the summer. Keeps me out of trouble and you in lamb chops!

Local Food, Old Ways

Back to the Future: The 100 Mile Diet.
I had the pleasure recently of attending a tea for past and present residents of the Mount Ida area. This is the area that was the old school district around Mount Ida Hall on the Salmon River Road. It starts at the first bridge south of Gort’s Gouda farm and continues south and west to Blanchflower road. I am a resident of the area so I hoped to learn more of the areas history and any snippets about our farm.
Many of the folks there were past retirement and could tell tales of the 1920s and 30s. Those with good memories could also recall tales of their parent’s younger days in the valley during the turn of the last century. It was interesting to see how close knit the community was. This changed after the Second World War, as people moved away and travel became more common.
The other significant change I noticed was how agriculture had shifted after the war and how the pace had quickened into the 50s and 60s. In the pre war days most of the produce from these local farms was eaten locally in Salmon Arm with the excess being put on train or truck to Kamloops or Vancouver. Today nearly all the product is shipped to Vancouver or out of province with only a small fraction staying in town. The area of farm land is about the same and the population of Salmon Arm is doubtless ten times what it was in 1930s, so in theory we should be eating all we produce and bringing in the extra we need. Instead nearly all we produce is shipped out and virtually every thing we eat is trucked in. So what went wrong?
We now have single purpose farms which are production orientated and one farm can produce more eggs or chicken than our town can consume. The same goes for milk and a lesser extent beef. Modern processing factories require more product than our bountiful valley can supply so our farm produce is trucked away to bigger centres, sometimes out of province. All of which has led to 1000 plus mile diets and huge carbon foot prints within the food system.
Back in the early part of the last century all the farms were mixed farms and the folks I was sipping tea with produced milk, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, fruits and vegetables, all or any combination of these. This provided a steady cash flow for the farmer (unlike today’s once a year pay cheque when you ship the calves) and with a variety of products a degree of security was in place because if one thing did poorly you had several other products and crops to pull you through. Many more folks would be living on the land and more folks would be employed in town to process the farm product if we went back to this style of rural economy. Our city would be more food secure and maybe more of our young folk would stay in the community if there were more employment opportunities due to a local food production, processing and consumption.
I know, you think I have my head in the clouds and I am dreaming, or you are beginning to wonder what was in the tea we were drinking, another home grown product! Seriously though, what I am proposing is all the rage and in the news most days, it’s the 100 mile diet. Actually it’s nothing new and was about for several thousand years but has been out of circulation for the last sixty or so, hence we think it’s sexy and new. In parts of the world where fuel is expensive or transport rare it is still the normal way of food production. With climate change, rising fuel prices and transportation costs it is the logical solution, especially in a climate such as ours. We can grow food in three out of four seasons, and some are breaking new ground and growing salads in winter in unheated greenhouses, ask Wild Flight Farms from Mara. In theory we should only be trucking in out of season fruit and vegetables along with tea, coffee, sugar and flour. (Oh, my wife just reminded me to add chocolate to that list!) The dollars would stay within the community from farm gate to your plate, and that would bring about security and sustainability for lot of people. A new leg on our wobbly economic stool which would help stabilise the seasonality of tourism and the ups and downs of lumber. This to me should go hand in hand with Smart Growth, sensible urban growth and local food production is a new paradigm that needs to be explored and acted on. It’s up to you the consumer, hunt out and buy the local product. Encourage the farmer, not just with your dollar but with a thank you for a job well done. Learn about your local food and feel proud that your actions are keeping your dollars circulating in the Shuswap as opposed to going out of province, or worse, off shore to a large corporate entity.
They say things go in cycles and after talking about days gone by with some locals I wonder if its time for them to come around again. I did learn that my barn is probably one hundred years old and in good shape for the next two hundred. Now if only I could find a hardy Cacao tree to make my own chocolate, I could eat lots because it was grown local, right!

Ready for Fall?

4 seasons no better than 3.
Extra Season Does not Help
With cooler nights and shorter days we all think of winter. Like you folks with yards to clean up and leaves to rake we farmers are no different. Thankfully I don’t rake leaves as my pasture is usually knee deep in Black Cottonwood leaves, but I do have much preparation to do before we have our blanket of snow. The corrals need cleaning, manure spreading and barns made ready for winter guests. All items on the ground around the yard need to be stowed away so we can push snow into piles and not get a flat tire on the tractor, when we still have the yard and lane to clear. Been there, done that!
To top it all we have about fifteen cords of silver birch all in tree length waiting to be cut and split then hauled and stacked by the wood stove. My excuse is I am waiting for cooler weather as its hot work. I have often wondered which produces more BTUs, the burning wood or me working up a “muck sweat” cutting, splitting and stacking it.
On our old ranch in Manitoba, Fall was always a mad rush, we had many more animals and more wood to cut, yet we always got finished in the nick of time, just before the minus 20 and blowing snow. The prairies you see have 3 seasons, Snow, Mud and Dust, so we did well to get every thing done in a shorter year. Here in BC we have the traditional 4 seasons, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, yet with the extra season how come its still a mad rush and I only just make it before the first cold snap.
You may well ask, is it just this guy, maybe he’s slow, or lazy. Well no, having talked with other ranchers and farmers and watched them from my pickup truck as I drive by, we all seem to be in the same hurry. So watch out for farm equipment on the road over the next while, and be safe. Trucks and tractors hauling hay, corn silage and manure to and from the field as well as livestock to market will all be about in greater numbers during the end of September and October. So if your commute to work or home is slowed up by one of our farm machines, just remember you had a good lunch and the guy in front is carrying your next one!

New Organic Dairy Farm

Old Ways, New Learning Curve,
Going Organic On The Farm.

With the recent visit of Percy Schmeiser and the movie ‘Food Inc’ many consumers are thinking about GM (Genetically Modified) food and food products in the things they eat. The truly annoying and scary thing is that there is no labelling so folks don’t know what they are eating; is it GM or not GM? There is a way to avoid the GM conundrum though. Organically certified foods are GM free as no GM crops are allowed in the certification rules for farmers. With this in mind I was interested when I heard of a local Dairy farmer who was converting to Organic. In Canada most organic dairy producers have smaller scale operations, and many make cheese, yogurt and bottle milk much like Gort’s Gouda here in Salmon Arm. They produce and market their product, which is a major undertaking and keeps them very busy, as milking is a year round, 24/7 occupation. So you can imagine, not a decision to take lightly.
The McLeods, Ken and son Jack farm next to Foothill Rd under Mount Ida and milk 125 cows which make’s them mid sized dairy farmers. As I sat at their kitchen table I learned of the changes and challenges of their new venture into Organic Farming. It takes three years to transition into Organic certification from regular farming, and Ken and Jack are well on the way with two years under their belts and one more to go. This ensures any chemical and artificial fertilizer residues are out of the soil and the animal’s environment, so as to avoid any contamination. During that time all organic rules are observed, use of organic seed and feed, only recognised cleaners and medications may be used. This means cost of production is increased while the price of the end product does not, the organic price premium does not come till the three years are completed.
The corn grown for silage is a major part of the cows ration and is now organic seed. It is planted later to ensure the maximum amount of weed seeds germinate so they can be cultivated under thus giving less competition to the corn. Ken and Jack were pleased with the yield as there was less of a drop than they had expected with the shorter growing time.
Timing as they are discovering is everything and attention to details very important. Making a mistake in regular farming can be cured with a spray or medication, but with organic management, prevention rather than cure is the goal. Ken and Jack realise they are now using knowledge that their father/grandfather used and wish they had more farming books of the 1930s 40s and 50s with tips and remedies to help them in their management practices. So you can see, it’s not just plastic and cans that get recycled.
Besides growing organic forages and sourcing organic grain for feed, bedding for the cows and calves also has to be organic. The milking cows lie on sand in individual stalls known as free stalls. This is actually very comfortable and during my visit most of the herd were comfortably snoozing and ‘cudding’ before afternoon milking. The cows that were soon to calve and the young calves were bedded with organic spelt straw; this is a kind of grain and was grown in Armstrong.
Probably the biggest change and by far the toughest learning curve will be adapting to summer grazing the milking herd while maintaining production. The organic rules insist that all stock receive four months grazing. Most all of the dairy herds in Canada never graze, you may see them out in an exercise area for a leg stretch, but never to earn their keep grazing, all are fed at a feed bunk. The McLeods need 70 acres of pasture and this was a worry until the neighbour, Ken’s brother John, agreed to rent them his land and buildings. Now you can see new fencing in fields adjacent to the road and next year there will be the photo opportunity of contented cows grazing and snoozing in the fields, making for a truly pastoral scene. This will require a new skill, that of rotational grazing one which Ken and Jack are keen to learn. The obvious advantage is healthier animals but also money saved as the animals harvest the crop and feed themselves, meaning a third less hay and silage making for the McLeod’s. In turn this means a smaller carbon footprint on the milk as less fuel is used to produce it. A win-win for everyone and the environment.
Once they are fully organic the milk will be handled separately to keep its organic status. The milk will be picked up by a truck that only handles organic milk, and will be added to milk from another organic producer from Mara, then sent to the coast for processing. It would be nice to see it stay here and be made into cheese, yogurt and fresh bottled milk, but Ken and Jack say they have enough on their plate for the moment. (Of course if you would like to start a dairy and process their milk I am sure they would be glad to talk to you.)
The big question I had to ask was why go organic? Especially with all this extra expense and three year transition period along with a mountain of stress and paper work. There was silence around the table, then some smiles and nods of heads. The main reason they both explained was they had come to a point when they realised there had to be a better way. All the expensive chemical inputs and fertilizers, none of which Ken’s father and grandfather had used and they farmed just fine. They were tired of the ‘agribusiness’ way and were wanting to do the right thing. With modern trends and consumer thinking they feel happy they have made the choice to go organic. With their obvious dedication, determination and enthusiasm I have no doubts they will reach their goals and I look forward to talking to them when they are fully certified.

Fair Trade

Monday, December 7, 2009
Fair Trade

This is a little rant about politically correct coffee. You know fair trade coffee that costs 2 or 3 times the price of regular coffee and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside because you did the right thing. Here in British Columbia , 9 times out of 10 if you are at a public meeting on any community, church or environmental issue it’s a given the coffee is fair trade.
Every one knows Juan Valdez and his donkey need all the help they can get as they receive but a few cents on a pound of coffee. The fact that a family of four down there can live on $5 a day seems to escape the average person here. Stats Canada has a family of four in Canada needing about $45,000/year or $123.29 / day. I wonder if any one has worked out the return on investment for a Juan Valdez family coffee farm compared to the return on investment for a family ranch or grain farm in western Canada. I have the sneaky feeling that Juan see's a bigger return than our local boys. Of course it’s fewer dollars than ours, but compared to his over all investment, a 5% to 20% ROI would not surprise me. Having graduated from the Ranching for Profit School (yes, for real, I have the certificate) I know that the average ranch in North America runs at a loss even in good years and most run on a plus or minus 2% ROI. Seems to me like the guys keeping your country side looking nice and producing all that local food for your consumption, well maybe they are the charitable ones. We family farmers keep and protect the pastoral scenery you all enjoy and for some reason that does not show up in our wallets. So when you think of Juan Valdez and Fair Trade coffee think about John Smith and ask why there isn't Fair Trade beef, pork, lamb and wheat available too. Demand Fair Trade Food and watch rural Canada blossom, and put an end to farmers looking for supplementary income as greeters in big box stores!