Autumn's bounty

The birch and poplar trees start to remind us that the end of summer is nigh.  Today we stopped at NSLC and Spurr Brothers on our way for groceries and picked up a few Valley items.

Potatoes, strawbs, Gravenstein apples, peaches and white rasps from Spurr Bros.  Corn from Keddy's via Gouchers.  White Nova Scotia blended wine from Jost and Bulwark Cider from the Valley. 

Fifty pounds of number 2 potatoes for $8!  We will be sharing these with the piggies at Black Sheep Farm, but can you believe that price?

The Homestead - Part 2 of 3 - The Animals

If you missed Part 1, click here.

What's a farm without animals?  Sure, there are a lot of grain operations in southern Saskatchewan, but everyone has two or three chickens, a few head of cattle, or at least a horse or two.

My grandfather primarily grew grain, but everyone in the family knew about his chickens!  I can remember being quite young and going to the chicken coop to gather some eggs.  This memory is a bit of a mystery to me as I know that he mostly kept meat birds - birds which are slaughtered well before egg-laying age...

While Dad conducted business with Grandpa, I would tear around the farm-yard on an itty-bitty mini-bike.  Around and around and around I'd ride, by myself all day, left to my own devices. I'm not even sure what Dad was doing on those visits and rarely were there cousins with whom I could get into trouble - my cousins were all boys at that time, and either much older or much younger than myself.   

Now that I'm older and have listened to a few stories, I realize that my days were quite tame compared to the rest of my cousins.  I never went into dilapidated barn or the precarious old homestead house.  I never went up to the nuisance ground nor to the gravel pit, both of which were across the road from the farm.  Neither did I start fires nor beat up my siblings.  Listening to stories of my brother and cousins, it's a wonder that any of them survived childhood!

A day on the farm always ended with a big evening dinner - fried or roasted chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy to die for, creamed peas and carrots.  Everything from the farm. I know Grandpa took a tremendous amount of pride in providing food for his family.  As I place my chickens into the freezer, I get a small sense of this satisfaction, too.

Going back there with my Dad was such a good experience. There are so many reasons why I didn't have much of a relationship with Grandpa, but walking through the homestead and listening to my Dad tell stories about each building, each place, each item, each person, was a very special experience.

 This receipt was stapled to the wall of the chicken house.  It's not terribly old (heck I still remember 1981!), but those seem like pretty good prices. It's also interesting to note the address of the poultry supply - corner of Dewdney and Albert, Regina.  I know there is a car wash and battery place on the east side of Albert and some empty lots on the west - I think the business still exists, but that location is long gone.

This is actually a photo of a photo.  Although these are likely not the chickens from the receipt, it does shine a bit of understanding on Grandpa's chicken operation.  I see he has only a few nest boxes for this many chickens, so that tells me these aren't laying birds.  I count at least 60 birds in this photo.

The chicken coop now.  I see that he raised the five boxes from the previous photo and added more at some point.  I didn't get a snap of it, but the roosting dowels from the previous photo were mounted on hinges and had been raised to the roof in order to clean the coop.  The triangular box on the left (and partially cropped on the right) were feed trays - I bet he could fit a 40kg bag of chicken grower in each of those hoppers.  The brooder light still hangs from the ceiling and oddly enough the long-empty room still smelled of chickens.

Certainly at the time, but more poignantly as I look through these photos now, it occurs to me that each item on the farm, save for a few, has been placed in it's spot by a person who is no longer with us.  I suppose most of us have experienced loss, and it's true I was not close to Grandpa, but as I walked through the farmstead I couldn't help but think about all the remnants, collections and detritus of one person's life.  I took this photo of field coats because all of them have hung there for as long as I can remember.  The milk cans and milk bottle rack are the remains of Grandpa's side business of delivering milk to the town's folk.  I can remember a large barn on the property, which housed the draft horses and milk cows, as well as a large pig barn.  Both of these buildings are now gone, with only a small garden marking where the pig barn once stood.

Walking through the tall grass on the south end of the yard, one must be careful - the remains of implements, fencing and miscellaneous dips and holes will greet the unwary visitor.  My dad said he can remember the drafts pulling this manure spreader, he may have even driven it himself.   In the yard there was also some sort of horse-drawn processing equipment (possibly for potatoes) as well as the "flat deck".  Dad says he can remember Grandpa harnessing up the horses and taking all the kids in town for a ride.  Hidden in the grass is a seed drill and several types of harrows. It's remarkable that anyone was able to work that amount of land with this equipment.  Aside from the horse-drawn equipment like the spreader above, it is all in very good shape and very usable, on a small scale.  In fact, Grandpa still used the "one way" (a two bottom plow) and the disk harrow on his 1 acre garden.

Using horses meant feeding and watering horses.  With the chicken house in the background, these two enormous water troughs are the tires from an even older steam tractor.   It's too bad the story of their beginnings and arrival is long-gone, as I'm sure it was quite an event to see these big wheels arriving.  Can you imagine the machine from whence these came?  It's difficult to get an idea of their size, but they are at least 24" wide and probably 8' diameter!  Grandpa placed these next to one of the well houses and filled the bottom with concrete in order to provide water for the horses.  Dad says he can remember playing in the troughs, paddling around with his siblings on hot summer days!  Inside the closest trough is a spike/drag harrow and a roll of snow fencing.

It's hard not to feel a sense of sadness, walking about the property.  The old tractor sitting out in front of the shed. The shop, contents placed with care and attention to function, sits slowly sagging.  The chicken coop, once full of noise and business of chickens, is emptily tidy.  Implements left in the field according to a lost rhyme and reason. The big barn is gone. The big pig shed is gone.  All of the life and lives which once filled this farm slowly dwindled away...

I'm not sure that the family would have consented had I asked, but knowing what I do now, I can't help but wonder if we couldn't have made a go of it on Grandpa's old farm.

To be continued...


A person happy doing his own work is usually considered...a subversive.

I know this may be a bit large for your monitor. I apologize in advance if you have to scroll sideways. 

Thanks to Slate.com



The Homestead - Part 1 of 3

As many of you know, I recently returned to Regina in order to attend my sister's wedding. While there, my Dad and I spent an afternoon together at the family's homestead. This site was the landing spot for the clan - Great Grandfather owned a couple of sections of land and even donated what is now the town site to the United Church.   At the peak of the farm's productivity, Grandpa owned and farmed almost 2000 acres of land.  This may seem quite average by today's standards (in 2011 the average Saskatchewan farm was  1,668 acres), but 50 years ago this was an enormous amount of land.

As the story goes, after growing up on the family homestead in Saskatchewan, my grandfather struck out to find his fortune.  His searching would lead to a manufacturing job in Toronto, where by all accounts he did quite well and was rapidly rising through the management ranks.  One day he received a missive, instructing him to return to Saskatchewan and take over the family farming business. Not wishing to disobey his father, Grandpa packed up his wife and newborn daughter and abandoned his career in The Big Smoke for the family farm in Big Sky country.

During the War, Grandpa volunteered to go overseas, but was rejected due to his eyesight.  As the story goes, the recruiter assuaged my Grandfather's disappointment by telling him that his work on the farm was just as important as those in the trenches.  I cannot say for certain if this was any consolation, but back to the farm he went.

It was here that three more sons were born into the family, including my Dad - the youngest and the apple of his mother's eye.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in town for many decades, spending winters in Florida, until Grandma's passing.

Grandpa then moved to the farm and continued to snowbird down in Florida for many more years.  Later in life, he moved back into town and "commuted" to the farmstead with his red pickup truck.  He'd then either jump on the tractor or the quad and head out to his enormous garden.  I will always remember digging carrots and potatoes in that garden, and enduring his admonishments and scorn as I accidentally forked a root vegetable.

The dinner table was always furnished with the fruit of his labour - a home-raised chicken, potatoes from the garden, creamed peas of which he was very proud, and inevitably a strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert.

Since my grandfather passed away last year, the farmstead has been completely abandoned. As you can see from the photos, some of the outbuildings have long since been unused and fallen into disrepair.   As we walked about the yard, my Dad told me stories about these old buildings - stories of his childhood, growing up in a small town, his schoolmates, siblings, pets and animals.

 The Land of Living Skies
I guess this is where every prairie story begins - with the wide open spaces, above and under foot.  This is the sight that greeted me as we wended our way from city, through valley, over flat lands and through coulees to the family's cradle.  I felt like a young child again, in my dad's car, head out the window drinking in the dry summer air.  Upside down, watching the clouds roll by, as one correction line corner fell into another. 

The Field
The staple of southern Saskatchewan, once prolific and ubiquitous - wheat.  Although many contemporary farmers have diversified into other grains and pulses, wheat, oats and barley were the traditional backbone of the Canadian prairies. This field, slowly ripening, is part of the homestead, now leased, but still producing beautiful grain.

The Swather
If you can imagine, this swather has done more work in its lifetime than I have done in mine. Compare this to the monstrosities of a contemporary farm and your mind will reel at the amount of work this machine performed in order to prepare 2000 acres of grain for the combine.  This machine cuts the ripened grain and lays it neatly in a row for the wind to dry before the combine gathers it up. I have memories of my Dad on this machine, helping Grandpa and working well into the night - under a shade umbrella with a jar of water by day, working carefully by tiny headlights in the dust by night.

The Combine
One of the greatest and most complex machines on the modern farm.   Once the grain has had a few days to dry in swathes, the combine moves down the row, picks up the cut plant, removes the head from the stalk (straw), and winnow the grain from the chaff.  The grain is then held in the large hopper behind the driver and emptied with the auger, hanging out on the right, into a truck or tractor wagon.  This machine is miniature by modern commercial farm standards, yet performed just as much, if not more, work than a modern machine.

The Elevator
In so many ways, Grandpa was ahead of his time.  He was one of the first to move from teams of draft horses to a tractor, the first in southern Saskatchewan to own a four-wheel drive truck (the International Harvester Scout) and one of the first to clean his own grain.  This is the farmstead's elevator - where grain was cleaned, dried and stored for a short period of time before moving to the granary. This structure, and the machinery once contained therein, was built entirely by my grandfather.  The building's machinery was housed in the centre portion. Once prepared and ready, the grain was "elevated" and poured into one of the side bins. This is the traditional shape of a prairie elevator and although they are a rare sight today, in my mind's eye I can still see orange, grey and white sentinels standing guard over prairie rails.

The Granary
These buildings dot the prairie landscape - some larger, many smaller.  They are often found boarded up, rotting away and leaning away from the prevailing winds. This building would hold the cleaned, dry grain from his elevator - waiting to be taken and sold to the commercial elevator in town. The church, elevator and Chinese restaurant are the heart of every small Saskatchewan town.

To Be Continued...

Part 2 can be found here.


It's Regina day...

Traveling two-thirds of the way across the continent.  Talk to y'all later!


On safari in our very own yard!

I have a feeling the fauna is becoming quite comfortable with our presence here. 

My morning ritual consists of being woken up by Truman at approximately 630-7am, after he's had his breakfast. I then sit on the couch, at which time he jumps in my lap for a dead-bug snuggle, then make my breakfast and drink a coffee.  After that, the dogs and I head out to take care of the chickens.

This morning started off in its usual fashion, with a dog wagging on the bed frame to wake me and some snuggles on the couch.  We have a pair of mourning doves who have made their home somewhere in the vicinity, as they are usually on power line leading to the house or browsing near the compost bin.   A pair of them were dawdling about near the car this morning, when I heard a kerfuffle outside the kitchen window.  I looked up to see that a hawk had chased one of them under the car and was trying to drag it out.

I motioned to Laur, who grabbed the boy and the three of us watched as the hawk got the dove out, and dragged it about six feet away.  I'm not sure if the hawk let it go, or if it escaped, but the dove suddenly took off in one direction and the hawk in another.  Laur said she watched the hawk wheel and follow the dove, so I'm not sure what the future holds for that poor bird.  I guess we'll know if there's only three on the wire tomorrow.

After breakie, El Doo and I usually go out to do our chicken chores.  I was moseying about, filling water and food dishes, when I noticed him standing under a spruce tree looking quizzically up into the highest branches.

Tick, tock, tock, tock, tack, tick, thunk.
Tock, tock, tick, tick, tack, thunk.
Tick, tick, thunk.

I could hear something(s) falling through the tree and hitting the ground.  I bet we made quite a picture, the dog and I staring up into the tree.  Something fell on my head. What the heck?

Looking waaaaaaaaaaay up to the very top, I could just barely make out the tell-tale, herky-jerky movements of a squirrel tail.  It appears there was a squirrel at the top of the tree, tossing the half-ripe cones from the very top of the tree to the ground, presumably so it could gather them later.  I wonder why it would choose ones which were not yet ripe?

Anyways... the animals are interesting 'round these parts. I reckon I'mma hafta rig up some string so the hawk doesn't get our baby hens!

I'm off to get some work done. I hope your day begins with as much adventure as ours!


Why move to BC when you can live here?!

We didn't take much of a drive today, as the whole family was busy working on the homestead.  I had a chance to finish up my fencing project, whilst Laur did some brush-cutting for a path from the meadow (which is now officially a pasture) to the brook.  The Boy kept us both company, while we worked.  He first "drove" the tractor with me, then took a walk with Momma and learned about wild apples, haws and chokecherries.

I check my new fence whilst The Boy picks flowers and the dogs snuffle about.

Our very first chokecherries - they're everywhere!

Haws - these are the unripened fruit of the Hawthorn tree (Crataegus Succulenta - a member of the Rose family). When ripened, the fruit will turn a vibrant red.  It's a tree with an interesting history and usage - apparently it not only makes an excellent jelly containing natural pectins, but has been used in folk medicine as a heart tonic.  Modern testing and research has substantiated this use.  The spines of this tree can penetrate rubber boots, sneakers and many non-steel shank footwear (I know this from experience).  Some people are quite allergic to their spines and experience tremendous swelling and pain. 

It's almost the middle of August and the Valley produce is starting to roll in!  We had our very first corn last week and there's more on the grill tonight.   You should see some of the corn fields - I bet some of it is over seven feet high!

Mooshum brought home the season's first apple last night and the farmers are getting ready to start picking early varieties this week.  Grain is ripe and there's tons of combining going on as we speak.  A lot of farmers are also getting their second cut hay done with all of this fine weather.

Today, on our way to Fox Hill for some chocolate milk, we passed a farm selling something by the side of the road (actually, a lot of farms sell stuff by the side of the road, so this in itself was not so unusual).  But because Laur was traveling at her usual Speed-Of-Light pace, I didn't quite catch what was in the basket.

On our way back, we pulled off the road to see what was for sale.  Lo and behold, it was peaches!  Five dollars a box!

Peaches! Amazing!  Sweet, juicy, delicious peaches!  By the time I took this photo, we'd already eaten two of them, so the box looks a bit light!   Not only were the peaches amazing, but once again I was awed by Nova Scotians honesty - I put our $5 in the jar and there must have been another $15 waiting for the owner to collect. Gosh I like this place!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - I picked a tick off my hand today.  It seems a bit unusual to see them this late in the season and this guy could well have been the last tick in Nova Scotia. Sadly for him, however, he was deposited out the window of a vehicle moving at 110km/h and will likely never get the meal he so desired.

And thus another amazing (or "unbearably beautiful" as Laur described it) day has come to a close.   


Alouette, gentille alouette, Alouette, je te plumerai.

I have a solution to the growing obesity epidemic.  Provide people with means to acquire and house food animals,  then provide instruction and guidance to kill and eat their own meat.  If someone really likes McChicken sandwiches or KFC, it might be worthwhile to grow, kill, prepare and eat your own chicken to really appreciate what's on the plate in front of you.

I am not being facetious.

Warning: details about 'processing' animals after the jump.


Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Horse now on farm! Extra!

Well, here it is, the big announcement.  Ok, it's not my announcement, but it's exciting nonetheless!

Today Mooshum and Kookum brought home their newest member of the farm!   With help from Tim, Brandy (16 year old Percheron cross) came home to Black Sheep Farm this morning and is settling in nicely.  She loaded into the trailer like a champ and stood nicely all the way home.

She came from a place that does trail-riding, but has been pulled, driven, logged and ridden. A  great all-around package!

This was the photo from her ad on Kijiji. Looking a bit rag-tag (and like she has a dingle-berry).  A stout girl!

After a brief stint in the grass with Tim, we brought her around front and gave her a quick trim. Despite having quite a few superficial grass cracks (which are starting to grow out), her look feet pretty good. She's been unshod since she was pulled as a youngster, and this makes for some decent feet - nice big frogs, healthy heels and tough soles. We'll have to keep an eye on the cracks (none in the quarters), but with some supplementation and good exercise to take some weight off, she'll have great feet in no time.

Kookum gave her a good brushing and worked on her mane and tail for a bit while I gave her a trim.

Just out of the trailer, with Tim and the dogs - Stella and Morag. Brandy is big, but not huge.

She stood very well for her trim and lifted each foot for me. Say hello to my butt!

After her trim, we went for a wee walk. This road is perfect for her - it's not asphalt, nor is it too rocky. I didn't even have to hold her lead as she walked when I walked and stopped when I stopped. I turned around in both directions and she followed me to a T.

She's wonderfully calm. Throughout the entire adventure today, she showed interest but remained level headed. The only time she was a bit hesitant was when we went by the blue garbage bags by the side of the road.  This is not surprising, however, as they contained chicken parts and probably smelled a bit off.  Her head and ears came up briefly, we inspected the bags and were on our way.  I didn't even have to hold the lead, she was so relaxed.

Coco, the Jersey calf, seemed to stare in wonder at the huge animal getting out of the trailer.  All Brandy had to do was look at him and he took off back to the barn.  She had her head hanging over the fence, trying to engage him, but he wouldn't move from the door of the barn. It was quite funny to see him interested, but so tentative.

After a bit of a walk down the road, we turned her out into her new pasture where she wandered a short distance and started to graze. I asked Mooshum to come with me, just to see what would happen, and we walked to the other side of the field.  When she realized we had wandered off, she gave a whinny and walked briskly over to be with us.  It was so great to have her already looking to us for companionship and direction.

A bit of supplement for those feet, a bit of exercise for the chubby bits and a bit of love and structure and I think she'll be an absolutely great horse - she already is!

(I can smell horse on me as I write this... I've missed that smell!)



Laur is working all hours of the day and night on a "go live" at work, so we've been grounded this holiday weekend.  It's actually ok, because it's given us an opportunity to test-drive our chicken processing equipment for tomorrow.  Because she was tethered to the computer off and on today, we stayed put and got some farm work done.

Laur weed-eated The Circle while I took down a section of the dog fence.  She then moved sticks and branches out of the dog area and intended to do a bit of brush cutting, but work got in the way.  The dogs will soon have a new set up which will allow us to let them out to do their business (unsupervised) whilst fowl have run of the rest of the "yard".

I'm 85% sure that Doo wouldn't harm the fowl, but Aida has not proven herself trustworthy in the least. Rather than having dead duck/Guinea/chicken, and consequently dead dog, it's best for everyone that dogs and fowl be separate.

This evening I'll be working on a couple of walk-through gates for the new configuration.

As you may already know, on Thursday we received permission from Canada Post to have a mailbox at the end of the driveway. It seems to be a rather long process, as we made the request before we even left Regina - almost a year ago!   A Delivery Planning representative was required to view our driveway and road markings in person before any delivery personnel would commence delivery to our box. Until this time, we've been using a Community Mailbox, which hasn't been that bad.  It goes without saying that we'd much rather have someone come out, view our location and make sure it's safe than have a preventable accident.

So! The time has come for us to sink a post and mount our mailbox!

As you may already know, we like to do things a little differently.  To that end, I began looking at ideas for a chicken-themed mailbox.    Some very nice examples were available for sale at $300 (US).


We don't have that kind of money (that's half a horse, for goodness sake!), so I began to look at chicken mailbox woodworking plans.  But, I do not have a scroll saw to get into decorative nooks and crannies and I'm not sure the jig saw would be the most expeditious tool.

That's when Laur piped up.  What about a Volkswagen mailbox, she asked.

She showed me a couple photos of some boxes available for $120 (US) plus $50 shipping.  Wow!  Good for the guy that can get that price for his mailboxes!  But once again we just couldn't justify that kind of dough on a mere mailbox.

So, as usual, it's back to our default acquisition method.  If it's too expensive, we'll make it ourselves.  And just like that, we were on our way out the door and up the drive - going to the hardware store for a white mailbox.

 A basic, white, $20, rural mailbox.

I drew the design, Laur does the painting.

 Yes, Kubota Orange is an actual colour.  Bertie would be so proud!

After taping off the bottom section, she starts with the first coat.
The first coat is drying.  It will likely require one, if not two, more coats.
After supper we took a jaunt over to Cottage Cove to watch the sun set over the bay.  I took a couple snapshots while we were there.

Another gorgeous day comes to an end in Canada's Ocean Playground!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot! I've got my first horse booked for a trim this week.... and it's an exciting one. Stay tuned for some terrific news early this coming week!