To make a floor.

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Aug 242014


You know what’s a lot more fun than it sounds : pouring concrete floors.

Given the number of outbuildings and the amount of space we now have, we decided the thing to do was to buy a walk-in freezer. We’ll save on the cost of renting freezer space, spare ourselves the inconvenience of getting to and from the warehouse, and we’ll be able to pack beef boxes as we go, and for shorter periods of time (as opposed to Paul freezing his hands off packing boxes in the freezer for eight consecutive hours).




Here’s our freezer, all in pieces. We’ll put it together once our own chest freezer is full (of sweet blanched garden goods!) or as the abattoir season draws nearer. An electrical professional will do the rest.


We bought sand, rebar, and some insulating foam. We made the form with 2 x 6s, shovelled in sand, laid the foam, put out the rebar, and used a level and some sidewalk chalk to mark the wall.


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The guy backed in the truck, snapped the chute panels into place and let er rip. We all froze when it first started pouring out, I’d say, but the shovels got busy pretty fast. Wet cement was pushed into corners, along the wall, and shovelfuls were chucked to fill indents left by boots. Paul grabbed at the rebar, to try to centre it within the layer of cement.

Moving a long board back and forth, we started smoothing out the cement.


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We smoothed until we got to one of the beams and started shovelling anew.


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Plank and shovel. Plank and shovel.


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Turns out that « washing the kitchen floor » trick, whereby you don’t trap yourself into a corner with nowhere to go but wet shiny floor, also applies to laying cement floors. Mopping and cementing, who knew.




Quick word to the wise : due to the caustic nature of wet concrete, skin can be burned by the contact. To prevent these chemical burns, it’s really quite advisable to wear gloves. Since Josée’s hands are still raw and about as soft as 80 grit sandpaper over a week later, she’s decided that, when working with new tools or materials in the presence of professionals (in this case the cement truck operator), she’ll do a quick scan of their own safety gear before jumping in. He was, for the record, wearing work gloves.


Paul smoothed over the area using a bull float (a big swiffer like tool). We’re hoping that the barn will eventually be able to house a bit of an on-site store. This was a solid first step at occupying the barn, which is remarkably full of strangely shaped, unusable nooks.




As everyone else was washing up tools, Danny tried out the mechanical float we rented, and proceded to propel himself off the machine and into the fresh cement surface. No pictures, unfortunately.




Not only is there a sizable mound of leftover sand,




but we also had extra cement, so a sandbox is in the making, and we poured and smoothed a bit of a basketball court at the back of the barn.

We all forgot to sign our names into the floor, so the true barn residents went ahead and did it.



And the green grass grew all around

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Jul 012014


Summer is officially here. With the heat and sun, our seeded pastures are, for the most part, growing well.


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We’re still low on grass though, which means Paul’s pasture math is really critical. We’re also finding ourselves needing to temporarily fence small parts of pasture in order to make sure the two herds — the yearlings and the cow-calf herd — have enough to eat and to grow.

Here our friend Cory, who came up for a weekend to roll up his sleeves and lend a hand, and Paul are tightening a new fenceline by putting tension on the wire.








This day consisted of harvesting t-posts from old, useless fence lines and pounding them along a new fence line, a foot or so away.







adding insulators,











and pulling the wire along the new fence line, with the help of a cart and quad. (We’re all grateful that we held off on trying to quickly selling the quad that we had to buy with the farm. It’s definitely not how we want to get around the farm longer term — we are dedicated to our farm bicycles — but it’s definitely speeding up work during this hectic first season).

It’s strenuous work, and at this point, we’re only about 10% done the fencing that needs to get done, but it’s definitely a scenic work place.











We’re also working on getting all the barbed wire and page wire out of the pastures, by creating different reels for easier removal.








And we’re using some of the page wire as trellis for our lentils and peas. (Also, the garden is starting to look like one!)








We don’t really have the time to stay entirely on top of the potato beetles and weeding, but the plants are doing well for the most part.












And in other news, we’ve added four laying hens to our farm ménagerie. We built a mobile coop (also called a chicken tractor) for them, and like the cows, they get fresh pasture (for their pecking and bug eating pleasure) daily. They share our dairy cow’s pasture and the calf is really very entertained.




A full farm, fencing and friends.

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Jun 172014


We are now pretty close to being a full farm. The 40 yearlings that will be this year’s CSA beef arrived last week from their home farm in Vankleek Hill. They were in the winter paddock area for a few days, eating hay and getting used to the place, as we waited for the pastures to green and grow.








The drier and warmer weather made it possible for us to get the fields cultivated and seeded. We were seeding three different types of grasses, a mix of legumes, and oats as companion plant.








On the last morning of seeding, the workers realized they were running out of the legumes mix — the small seed. Here Paul is speedily mixing alfalfa, bird’s foot trefoil and huia white clover.

If you want equal parts of each, you would think that you would have to mix one full bag of each, but since the seeds are different sizes, you actually need one full bag of alfalfa, two thirds of a bag of bird’s foot trefoil, and one third of a bag of white clover if you want a pasture with an equal number of plants of each type.


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I’m not sure it’s entirely visible in this photo but the oats have started coming up in the fields across the road (a happy sight to wake up to.)








We’re still working hard to stay on top of the fencing, in order to be able to give the two different herds — the cow-calf herd and the yearlings herd — fresh pasture every day. Making our fencing systems more efficient is really key. Here the fencing cart is being upgraded, replacing the wooden reel with a welded metal one made out of some of the stop sign posts that we inherited.











The roll of fencing wire stays in place with the hooks and the wire is now fed through a ring that can be opened and closed to allow for easier manipulation.

Notice the rubber stopper in this model, an addition that really speeds things along as it keeps the reel from spinning on (and having to be constantly re-rolled) when we stop the cart.








Careful planning (and long work days) are making rotational grazing possible despite our needing to build permanent fencing, temporary fencing, fix culverts, and move pasture pumps.








Despite the seemingly endless amount of work, the long days and little sleep, we’ve been pretty blessed with visits from good friends, eager to roll up their sleeves and lend a hand,








some good times together,







and some amazing skies.







Spreading, seeding, sowing and naming.

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May 302014


It’s been a sunny week here on the farm. The last of the fields are drying, enough for the lime to be spread, in fact, and hopefully seeding will be done in the next week.

We’ve tilled our “lawn” to make room for a vegetable garden. We may have bitten off a bit more than we can chew here, but we’re hoping to grow the bulk of what we’ll be eating (including our  popcorn and pumpkin seeds), so it may not be far off.








We’ve also been looking into more ways of using all of the delicious milk our Jersey is producing. Here is the first of our fresh cheese endeavours : making paneer.











The result was a pretty perfect addition to our curry. Fresh cheeses are great but they don’t have much of a shelf life so we’re looking into ordering the necessary supplies to start making hard cheeses. I’ve been reading “Keeping a Family Cow” which explains that, given the natural tendency of all dairy species to bear their young in the spring, there is plenty of milk available then but that “cultured dairy products are essential for the preservation of milk. Yogurt and allied products serve to preserve milk for a few days. Hard cheeses, with its wonderful keeping qualities, has been the natural answer to milk preservation nearly everywhere”.  So hard cheeses we shall make.










In other dairy news, we have finally named our Jersey. We’ve called her Ursula Franklin after this great pacifist.












Paul has also been keeping an eye on all the fields, to get the lime spread and the seed sown as early as possible. We took a family trip to see the fields on the other side of our Rang and compared to the lush pastures near our home, they were a sight for sore eyes. Bare tilled earth, left without a cover crop in the fall, now drying and cracking in the sun, the soil’s nutrients being eroded with the rain and snow melt — the ditches are full of valuable topsoil. One of the learnings that stuck with me from the Holistic Resource Management course we took a few years ago was about the importance of cover crops, that is, of sowing green organisms to use the sun and the rain to do what it does best in order to foster healthy, resilient soils.








We’re both looking forward to seeing these fields come alive later in the season.












And the fencing continues.








Screwing in insulators in the posts — which hold the electrical wires in place and prevent the electric current from going down in the ground — is a task that is easily done with a child in tow, so we’ve been taking in the fresh air and scenery that way.












The yearlings — the part of the herd that will be turned to meat for the 2014-2015 CSA shares — are arriving on Monday, which means that the priorities for the next few days will be, again, fencing, and getting the pasture seeding underway. Sowing the vegetable garden is also at the top of the list.

We’re also super excited to announce that our dear friend Danny Howard will be joining us on the farm this summer. Like Paul, Danny grew up on a farm in Alberta and has a background in engineering. He brings hands on know-how, knowledge, gumption and good spirits to the team. Glad you can make it, Danny, we’re looking forward to having you back.



On pasture, everyone.

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May 222014


Well, today was the day : all of the cows and calves are officially on pasture — including our beloved dairy cow and her twin calves. My sister Roxanne is here for a visit and got to lead the pasture parade.








It was the first time the baby calves ventured out, and while they were pretty nervous and tentative at first, their curiosity soon took over.








This one had gotten to our back entrance, and too close to the road, so had to be carried back. At 10 days old, he’s about 60 pounds and quite the little prancer.











And here they are, all three of them on pasture right outside our back door.








Kiddo was happy that the “bébés!” are closer to home, but the calves aren’t the only little ones that will need to get the hang of being around electric fences, so this mama is holding on tight.











And in other good news : we just found out that there’s an app that will allow us to read cattle ear tags ! (Which is great news. As we’re working on getting all the right farm registrations and farm numbers, we were told we need to submit our inventory i.e. all of the tag numbers for the cattle we have. Numbers we don’t have on paper. The thought of having to chase down all forty five cows to try to read and write down these small identification numbers was pretty daunting. So voilà ! Hours of work saved.)

Tomorrow : we till to start planting our vegetable garden and we keep working on fencing.

Fencing for Jersey.

 On the Farm  Comments Off on Fencing for Jersey.
May 202014


Today we decided to prioritize getting the fencing done around the pasture near the house to bring the Jersey (name pending), our dairy cow, out on pasture, so I got to see the post pounder in action.

















We used this handy cart, fashioned with a lazy susan, to unroll and lay out the wire for the fencing.








And kiddo helped by watering the wire before it unrolled.



Our first week at the new farm

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May 192014


With the help of good friends, we moved all of our farm and personal belongings to our new place in Saint-André-Avellin last Sunday.


quad ride post move






(photo credit : Avi Caplan)



We’ve since been working pretty non-stop on the house, on fencing and on spreading fertilizer.











We’ve been setting up our systems and getting better acquainted with the animals.








Yesterday, the herd was moved from their winter paddock, where it ate hay while we waited for the grass to grow, to fresh pasture, which definitely makes this new farm home look and feel more like ours.







And tonight, as Paul moved the fences to give them fresh pasture, the line we saw in the field is a tell tale sign that they’re eating well.



















 Posted by at 02:12