June 2018

For those who are interested in the latest news from the farm where I live in Western Ontario, lots of developments.  Photos are not yet of our place, but added just to give you a visual reference. This is Canada, a wonderful place to live, with a marvelous view of Georgian Bay and the apple tree growing region in the valley below us.

Having moved here seven years ago, I have found farming quite different than where I was raised further East. This is a grain growing region, while my home area was livestock-based. In reality it was a lumbering region not farming, but lots of rural properties where people could have some cows.

In my 20’s, I worked in Prince Edward County on a large dairy farm that hosted farm tours and I helped with milking about 60 Holsteins twice a day. Quite the change from my childhood. I had learned to milk two Holsteins by hand when I visited my neighbours during evening milking. I think the couple had about 12 head of cattle at that time.

Each cow came into the stable and knew its place in that long line of staunchions, with the last cows having to squeeze into place between others. One of us would walk between their bodies to tie a chain around each neck, while the animals eagerly ate their grain in reward.  We’d then take a simple hard stool to sit down on beside each cow’s right side and have a pail of hot water with us with a disinfectant to wipe down the udder.

With the pail for milk between my legs, actual milking began: I’d take two teats, one in each  hand to  begin the rhythm:  squeeze left tit and pull down, release; squeeze right tit and pull down,  release, back and forth. As the milk emptied, the teat softened. When I stripped the last bit out of it, it was time to change to the two other full tits and start again.

It was tricky getting up with a full pail of milk to empty it in the big one in the alley way. And move to the next cow to begin again.

Occasionally the cow’s tail would swipe me hard against the face while milking, and invariably there would be a touchy animal who would suddenly strike out with a hind foot and knock the pail out of my hands. I was about 12 years of age and just learning how to milk. The farmer would slap on a pair of hobbles to stop her kicking, and sometimes take over to finish her for me.

I remember when the first milking machine was introduced in that barn, a simple system in comparison to the modern one. The couple sold cream to make a living,  and kept it stored in the cool basement until they had a can full.  The farmer then carried the can to the top of the big hill for pickup once a week.

All of the farm work back then was done with a team of heavy horses, Percherons.  Horses became an important part of my life in my twenties and early thirties. I belonged to a very active horse club and enjoyed showing at local fairs and other events every year, going on trail rides and attending the bigger events like Quarterama in Toronto.

Most cattle in this region now, however  are beef animals, which are rarely handled, and can be quite wild and easily frightened.  I noticed a farmer had sent an old cow to be company for a bull being sold at the sales barn, just to keep him quiet.  British breeds  bring a higher selling price at the sales barn. We check markets from time to time to keep abreast of prices for cattle being sold. Our nearest sales barn is at Keady, near Owen Sound. Where I grew up, it was Hoard Station.

Farms in Ontario are around 100 acres, slightly more or less, in most regions of Ontario. But on the Prairies and out West farms and ranches are in sections of 160 acres, even over 1,000 acres in one parcel. I’ve lived in both regions, even helping at a branding session in Alberta  where cows range for miles and miles in open country and need to be easily identified, since they might  mingle with cattle of someone else.

Farmers are a unique breed unto themselves and each has their own opinions and ways of doing things.  If you are living in a city, I am hoping these comments might encourage you to seek rural living. I  returned to the farm in my senior years, after 17 years in the city, and hopefully will never have to go back.  I like city conveniences, but here I live in a “community” where people know each other for miles around, and help each other, something I had growing up.  I lost that for half my life.

The 86-year old farmer where I live has retired and recently rented 100 acres to a 19-year old who did a great job with fencing the barnyard and two large pasture fields nearby. There is a mature herd of 15 red Angus/Simmental cows on the property, dropping calves from time to time. These are a group that is birthing late.

The power of these animals came home to me recently when the water system went down overnight and all 15 demanded water urgently the next morning. I heard their bellowing, which drew my attention. In this case they were very thirsty and were fighting each other to lick the trough, and tossed it about in their frustration.

One of the men had to put up a gate against the bars to block their access until the trough was filled again. A float value controls the flow of water into the trough, It automatically shuts off the water when the trough is full, or opens as the cattle drink the water.

These cattle are trained to stay back from a single strand of electric fence in the pasture field.  I am hoping that it will keep the coyotes at bay,  as they got two calves last year from the farm across the road. I don’t particularly like electric fencing, but it can be effective. We sometimes hear the coyotes yelping in excitement just before/at a  kill. The farmer across the road has sheep, which are an even greater temptation for hungry wildlife.


The new chicken coop is done and six Leghorns inside.  The outdoor yard is being fenced. It all takes time. I’ve just finished cleaning up around the building, and making lists upon lists of what is still needed.

I’m now studying adding solar power to the chicken house by fall to run the florescent lights (16 hours a day of light is needed for full egg production). I have to set the automatic timer for the lights for an early get-up so that, during winter, the lights don’t go off suddenly after dark, leaving the hens unable to see a roost. There will be a water heater, and maybe supplemental heating a bit in winter,  so I am trying to figure out total power useage anticipated in order to choose what power level of solar panel I will need. And then there will be a big battery, converter, chords, and where to set up a power centre on the building. Maybe.

My personal friends  recently went off grid (no hydro bill) with a large solar  panel and home-built wind turbine on their 5 acres.  I don’t know much about solar, but I like it.  However the 500 ft towering wind turbines are just south of us are now at Feversham.  I detest them.  When I was interested last year in a property near Duntroon, I got a map from the Real Estate agent of the plan for those wind turbines that were coming into the Collingwood area: 8 big turbines linked from Feversham to come down off the mountain into the valley between Duntroon and Stayner. More towers planned to continue on along the shoreline to Parry Sound.

Fortunately the turbines have been stopped for now because of the airport activity.  But will politics and money push this project forward?  These towers are defacing the countryside, in my opinion and I hope not.   I don’t want to live anywhere near huge wind towers. There are many of them now in Ontario, but especially just south of here towards Shelburne and Bruce County,

In my recent travels, I noticed one on Hwy 115 (Peterborough route) and another at village of Bethany.  I do feel that alternate energy sources are important, but I do not support using these monsters in public areas where people live. Solar panels can be huge, too, and many farmers are using them now on roofs of buildings or free standing. But the combo my friends have is particularly interesting. I’m keen to learn more.

Forgot to mention the stress over ventilation in that chicken coop. We have solved it for summertime by adding a screen door for air circulation and a smaller vent I can open and shut at will. The screening keeps out flies and the hardware cloth over it  keeps every other predator at bay. A small fan keeps the air circulating on hot days even with the screen door open. Manure produces ammonia fumes, so keeping the floor well bedded and clean is important. I just found a roll of lineoleum to put down, and maybe roofing paper under it to help insulate the floor. Now that a yard is fenced, I leave the screen door open all day so the chickens can go in and out at will to feed, water and a rest.

The great danger is from coons, who visit my deck often to look for leftover seed on my bird feeding station. They have not been able to get into the new chicken pen, and I feel very relieved.

My neighbour gave up trying to fix a  shed window  coons smashed, because the animals wanted the 50 baby chicks inside. Fortunately the little ones were safe in a thick plywood screened box under a heat lamp until big enough to go out into the main yard.

Changing subjects, I was in Barrie to have breakfast with my son recently and coming into the city I noticed a farmer  had started cutting hay. It was the last week of May.  Now the third week of June our big field of red clover has just been cut, rolled and then baled after two days drying in the sun, and then wrapped in plastic for winter feed of the cattle. I had not watched the wrapping process before. Apparently it is hard to get red clover dry. Other fields are now being cut. We have to watch the weather for rain, and judge the timing of haying to get it dry, and for that you need at least 3 days, unless you wrap. I notice the young man is using both methods, and moving the dried bales directly into storage in the barn as soon as they are harvested.

Old timers in this area still leave the bales of hay outside all year round, even during the winter. The bales gradually blacken on the outside for an inch or two from weather damage, but apparently the inside is protected and has lots of goodness, they tell me. I won’t use them, since I have had a bad bale of hay ruin (founder) one of my best horses in the past,  I know of the dangers of mould and mildew and dust, but the attitude from years of farming this way dismisses my health concerns for the animals given this feed.

Someone has just bought 30  bales of last year’s blackened hay in the field for $15 a 4 x 5 bale, as fresh new hay is being cut. I won’t be surprised if new hay will still be sold for $35 to $40 per bale locally, even though those in the business will press to get $60 and up. I paid $30 a bale over 20 years ago for my own livestock.  Small bales sell for $5.00, probably going to $6.00 locally, mainly for horses and small animals. You have to have a tractor with prongs to handle the bigger bales, which mainly come in two sizes. We like the smaller 4 x 5 size. Most are now wrapped in a mesh, instead of the nylon string used commonly until now.

We are now entering a heat wave with temps in the 30C range, so we retreat inside as Canada Day approaches.

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