The lambs and kids are arriving!

It’s been another busy week at Everdale, but it’s been especially exciting for me as a kid was born on Friday and twin lambs on Saturday! By the time I go back tomorrow, there may be many more lambs and kids on the farm, though I’m hoping the expectant mothers will hold off until I’m there to watch the birthings.

I saw Cinnamon give birth to her male kid,which was amazing! The kid emerged in the classic position where the 2 front hooves and the nose emerge first from the birth canal. At this point, the kid looked a bit stuck, so Gavin pulled on the legs a bit and helped push the vulva up over the kid’s head and then the little guy just slipped right out. I was quite surprised by how big he was as I thought Cinnamon would be having twins. I’m not the best at estimating weight, by I suspect he’s around 6-7 pounds. And he was up on his feet within the first 15 minutes or so of being born! It was really great to watch him trying to get up and seeing him look for his mother’s udder. Since he was born on Friday the 13th, Garrett named him Jason, but Lynn is more inclined to Nutmeg. We’ll just have to see what name sticks! That said, he may have to stay without a name as he will be raised as meat for 6 months. Male goats aren’t usually kept since they don’t produce milk or more animals, and if not castrated, need to be kept separate from the other animals, which requires more fencing and pasturage. The father of this batch of kids was himself only six months old and was slaughtered soon after the breeding. The meat eaters among us ate some of him earlier in the week as Lynn had roasted a leg and some ribs with rosemary.

Then on Saturday, while the last farm tour of the day was going by, Wink gave birth to twin female lambs in the field. I was laying out lines for planting pole beans in the 1-acre field at the time, but managed to get to see them while they were still in the field, and helped Gavin carry them into the barn. I kept putting the lamb under Wink’s nose so she would know where it was and follow us back to the barn. They kept bleating at each other as we walked down the hill. In the pen, Mark got to trim their umbilical cords and dip them into iodine. They’re absolutely adorable and have been named Darling Shannon and Sunshine, though it will definitely be hard to tell them apart! One of them (I think Darling Shannon) was already starting to do the 4-footed hop that I love watching lambs do. They’re both so much more leggy than I imagined! I think they’re about 4-5 pounds each. The one I carried (I think it was Sunshine) certainly weighed less than a small bag of flour.

Really, the arrival of the kid and twin lambs eclipses so much else of the week, though many other things did go on. We did a lot more seeding in the greenhouse as there’s a weekly schedule of new plants to start for weekly harvesting of salad greens for market. We also did a lot of weeding using a variety of methods: tractor mounted S-tines, hand hoeing, wheel hoeing, and flame weeding. Yes, flame weeding. This is done with a flame thrower of sorts and is used on fields that have been direct seeded where the germination is still underground. The flame burns up any weeds that have started to grow on top of the soil. On Thursday, we worked a super long day, not finishing until around 8 pm. We planted hundreds, actually, probably thousands, of vegetables that day! Mostly celery and celeriac, as well as the weekly salad greens transplants and some flowers for cutting.

Given how much work goes into planting vegetables: starting seedlings in the greenhouse, planting transplants in the field, weeding and then harvest, I cannot comprehend how we buy vegetables so cheaply in stores. Consider the celery that was planted this week. They take almost the whole season to grow, and quite a few weeks in the greenhouse beforehand, 3-6 hours of planting by a crew of 3-6 people and a tractor, weeding throughout the summer, and finally harvest. And we manage to buy non-organic celery for $0.99 at the grocery store? The math just doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. If all the celery gets harvested (I’m estimating 800 plants) and is maybe sold for $2-3 each (my guesstimate of premium pricing since they’re organic and sold at farmer’s markets directly to consumers), then you’re looking at a retail intake of $1600-2400. From seed to vegetable, they take 130-140 days to grow, and it still remains to be seen how many times we’ll need to weed them before harvest. And garlic has an even longer growing time, with planting in the previous fall and no harvest for more than 6 months in the climate of Hillsburgh. Each plant gives you one garlic bulb. The last time I bought non-organic garlic, I think I got 3 bulbs for $0.99. Again, how does this math work out?

Apparently, in industrial farming where a farmer wholesales his/her produce, the farmer only gets $0.02 on the dollar for each vegetable that is finally sold in a retail store. I cannot imagine putting all this time and effort into organic celery just to get back $0.02 for each celery stalk. And even assuming that it costs much less to plant and maintain with industrial methods (machine planting and lots of pesticides), I still can’t comprehend how any farmer even pays for equipment and inputs (seeds and pesticides) at $0.02 on the dollar.

I also helped with moving hay from a rented barn on the Berry farm (apparently a RIM employee) and had some asthma issues. Stupid me, I didn’t put the mask on until I was already feeling affected, and had left my Ventolin discus back on the farm. But I stayed calm and kept my breathing under control until we had filled up the van and drove back. I begged off working on the next hay load after that though and went to unpack and wash overwintered beets instead. I’m not sure if my reaction was to the hay or just all the dust stirred up from throwing pitchforks of hay into the back of the cube truck. I’m just glad I didn’t have Gwen’s job of standing in the cube and packing the hay in. She did wear an industrial respirator for the job, but it was definitely hot and dark in there!

On Wednesday, while the interns were off the farm for the day on one of their CRAFT field trips (interns have seminars on the farm and on other farms), I helped lead a school group from Oakville of 60 kindergarten kids. I was in charge of showing them how to card fleece and then roll the fibers into a lumpy piece of yarn, which I then encouraged them to use as a temporary mustache that they could store in their pockets. I was surprised by how many of the kids chose the mustache route over tying their pieces into bracelets! I was also in charge of passing out chicks for them to hold and pet, which was super nerveracking. I had them sitting in circles of 20 kids with moms (not a dad in the group!) and teachers helping out, but the chicks by this point were over a week old and starting to move around a lot more and trying to flap away, so they kept shocking the kids so they’d stand up and drop the chick. I was so worried that a chick would die from all the trauma! But they survived and I put them all back, living, with the other chicks. After the school group left, I spent the rest of the afternoon weeding the flower gardens (native plants in the beds by the community building, and cutting flowers in the big wheel on the hill) which was a good relaxer after dealing with all the kids! I cannot imagine being a kindergarten teacher.

After the interns got back on Wednesday, we took a field trip in the evening out to Val’s farm where we saw her new kids and goats, her really big cow (but with smaller horns than Amber, the milk cow at Everdale) and female calf, and big work horses. The triplet kids were very cute and soft to pet. I also saw how they had set up their pasturing system in a wheel with the animal housing at the centre and different pie wedges radiating out so that pasturing could be easily rotated by moving fence gates. Then we went to to look at the vegetable garden and helped clear part of an unplanted field of its very stubborn alfalfa plants. It’s super satisfying to grab hold of one of those huge alfalfa roots and manage to pull out the whole thing in one piece. Those roots grow down many feet! We were given some Cocoa Camino chocolate as a thank you which we all ate with our dirt covered hands on the ride back to Everdale.

My standard for cleanliness is definitely very different while I’m on the farm. Because I was attacked so much by mosquitoes my first week, I decided not to wash my hair with shampoo while I was on the farm but just to use water. My first shower of this week ended up being a freezing affair as Gwen was climbed up on the water tank trying to readjust the inputs. I had foolishly already soaped my face before we were guaranteed warm water, so had to finish the showering process in the cold water. Afterwards, my hair still smelled like shampoo, which just goes to show how much residue is left in your hair by hair products!

On Friday evening, Ben from the Home Alive! straw bale house starting running a weekend workshop on how to build a straw bale house. We got to tour his house along with the workshop participants, and didn’t have to do any cooking and kitchen cleaning for the rest of the weekend since we just ate with the workshop group. On Saturday morning, as I was eating my porridge, Ben walks in with his wife Jennifer who I hadn’t met yet. And this being a much smaller world than I ever expect, it turns out that Jennifer was in Arts & Science with me at Mac. We’re going to catch up one night over coffee. Strange to think that we’ve essentially been living on the same farm for the past 2 weeks! I’ve been in to mulch the house’s permaculture garden at least twice since I’ve been at Everdale too.

And I almost forgot, but this is the week where I’ve tried my hand at milking Amber. I can’t remember if Gavin gave us the first lesson last week or this week, but I went once with a larger group of interns who were interested in learning and had a chance to milk a few strokes, and then on Saturday morning, I went in with Mark and we milked Amber. I probably milked about half a cup’s worth and Mark milked another litre and a half. I definitely need to practice more and will be getting up at about 5:30 most mornings so I can join the milking at 6 am. I suspect Mark and I will be the dedicated milkers as the other interns haven’t shown as much interest, though perhaps Dave may join us as well. While we’re milking, we always have to watch for Amber shuffling around and potentially knocking over or mucking up the milk pail, or swinging her head around too much. We must be wary of her rather large horns! Hopefully she’ll get used to us soon and we won’t have to distract her so much with grain while milking.

I think that’s it for this past week…writing up these posts, it always amazes me how many different activities end up happening each week. I feel like I’ve learned so much even in just 2 weeks and will be talking to Gavin this next week about the possibility of me staying with them for the rest of the season, right into October, with some weeks taken off here and there. There’s just so much more to do and learn. Lynn has agreed that I can help her with the goat milking and subsequent cheese making, and at some point I’ll be helping Karen with the sheep milking once all the lambs are born and we can start milking some of the ewes. I’d also like to help Mark with the creation of ‘value added’ products, like preserved fruits/vegetables, soaps, etc., made from the farm’s produce. Dave has been really funny as he’s decided that his ‘value added’ product will be swags of rye, which do indeed look really good. I’ll probably make myself a rye wreath to put up for Christmas. Let me know if you’d like to order one as your Christmas wreath and I’ll see what I can do for you!

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

1 thought on “The lambs and kids are arriving!”

  1. Not only am I impressed by the amount of physical labour you’re doing, but how do you remember everything? Kind of like you, I think there’s nothing on earth like a gamboling baby lamb. I also fell in love with them on a trip to Scotland, but so far I’ve only shown my admiration by collecting little plush toys. You get real ones!

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