Monday, November 8, 2010

Of Blogs and Bogs and Bears

Blogs really are an unusual phenomenon when you think about it. When I was a child it was very common that little girls would have a diary where you poured out your innermost secrets and then hid it away for no one to see. The biggest disaster in the world was if, heaven forbid, somebody found your diary and read it and, even worse, they shared it with someone else. Yet with the social media today the more people who read your blog the better. And in some cases, the more personal the information the better. OK it seems pretty weird that I am saying this on a blog but.... I don't get it. I write my blog because it keeps people up to date on what is happening at the farm which is as much a business as it is a home. It puts a face on the business and allows clients to feel connected to where their food is produced. But to share my innermost secrets in public. It ain't gonna happen.

On another note I just found out that I inadvertently have started wearing a trendy piece of clothing ie Bog rubber boots. No I do not have the fashionable paisley or plaid versions but rather the conservative black ones. Silly me! I just thought they were comfortable, waterproof and warm. Little did I know that I was making a fashion statement. Super models stand aside!

And now for the bears. We have had two men hunting on our property for several years. These are good hunters, conscientious, good shots and courteous to us as landowners. They were here at the beginning of the hunting season just after our first snow. They saw bear tracks in the snow at the back of the farm. We knew they were in the area but not necessarily on the farm. A new owner bought several hundred acres just behind our farm. This land which previously was wooded has now been clear cut and drained. All the wildlife that would have been in that woodlot have obviously moved onto our land. We are probably going to see a lot more animals on our property. While I have no problems with bears, I am glad we have the guardian dogs with the sheep. I just want to co-exist with wildlife ... except for beaver... but that is another blog.


Monday, September 6, 2010

How cute is this

This is a pair of our Tunis twins from this year. One is heading to a new flock in October. I don't know why they like sleeping in the feed dish but they all do.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Lambs are Weaned

The lambs were weaned yesterday which means a lot of crying and baaaing on both fronts- the ewes and the lambs. However some of the ewes seem to be happy to be rid of their babies which are nearly the same size as their moms and lift the moms off the ground when they are nursing.

The lambs will be in the barn for at least a month while we condition them to being away from mom and get the replacement stock their first vaccines.

This year has been a bad year for parasites in sheep here in Ontario. We monitor our flock by fecal tests on a regular basis and deworm as necessary. We also rotate our pastures at least weekly. All that has been to no avail; whether it is parasites that are developing resistance to the products we are using or just conditions we just had to deworm the flock again before we had expected to. We are going to start selecting our breeding stock based on their resistance to parasites and it looks like we have one ewe line that will need to go. The harsh realities of farming.


Thursday, August 5, 2010


Laminitis is one of the most dreaded words to a horse owner. Our 17 year old broodmare, Katee, developed laminitis within weeks of arriving to our farm a little over 10 years ago. It was a painful learning experience for both us and the horse. I knew very little about horses at that point but knew enough to recognize laminitis. Our vet support was poor at best - arrived 12 hours later, administered Banamine and left. No real direction. She developed secondary problems as a result and had chronic hoof problem for years.

Fast forward 10 years. Katee was having inflammation in her hocks making her very uncomfortable and difficult to exercise her to control her blood sugar. Now, we are fairly sure that Katee is insulin resistant and have since her initial attack always been careful with her on pasture. At the suggestion of the vet we had her hocks injected with cortisone. While it helped her hocks, it triggered another bout of laminitis.

Fortunately, 10 years into horse ownership, I know a lot more. Within minutes of realizing she was dead lame, I gave her asprin, put cold compresses around her feet, put frog supports on her feet and got her into deep bedding. With the aid of the vet we got her into thicker pads. She was stall bound for the first few days with constant icing (debatable as to whether that was appropriate). I kept her on Asprin and then Bute for a week, kept her in foot pads. By day 5 we were able to hand walk her comfortably for short stretches gradually increasing the time out.

This morning (day 7) she was out in the grassed round pen for a couple of hours with a grazing muzzle. Inside she is on controlled weight of hay fed in a hockey net bag to slow down her consumption. Plus she has had a couple of longish hand walks. She is wanting to trot and is striding right out.

I am cautiously optimistic about the prognosis but deeply guilty about causing her problems in the first place.

If you have a horse that is insulin resistant or has had a bout of laminitis in the past - Do not use cortisone at all, even joint injections. It really is not worth taking a chance. You might be helping one area but causing yourself and your horse even more grief.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Lambing is finished - can sleep be far off

Like two synchronized swimmers going through their routine, the last of our two ewes lambed simultaneously two days ago. We had what I considered a very successful second lambing season. 10 of the 11 mature ewes lambed out. We do not know whether the 11th ewe caught and lost her lamb or did not catch. With the 10 ewes that lambed we had 18 lambs. One was stillborn but test results showed no obvious cause so it was not a management problem on our part.

Now we can finally sleep through the night. But I am not through fussing about them. Until they are about one week old I always fuss about whether they are nursing enough etc. I worry about infections in the ewe, mastitis etc. OK I just fuss. Thank goodness I didn't have children of my own because I would have driven them and me crazy.

We record tons of information during births so that we can start to recognize norms and when to intervene. I needed to intervene with two births. One where the lamb was backwards with one hoof caught behind the pelvic bone and the second presenting forwards with one leg back. I am pleased to say that both lambs are fine as are the moms.

We also collect other information that is interesting but I don't know how relevant it is. We have had 14 sets of twins. We have only had ewe/ewe twins or ewe/ram twins. In all the mixed sex twins but one, the ram twin was born first. Go figure!

The sheep will all be out on pasture in the next week. And things quiet down to leave us time to hay.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Beginnings

The last of the horses we had for sale left yesterday for their new home. It was a day of mixed emotion; one of sadness of passing of a dream, but more importantly, one of excitement for the beginning of a new dream.

It has been nearly 10 years since we have had only three horses in the pasture... it looks empty!! Lucan (looking ever so lovely to the left) is coming home from Saddle Ridge this week. He has been there for 10 weeks and hopefully knows a lot more than us. Then there will be our four horses at home. Now really begins the learning.

Bob and I are taking riding lessons and will be for most of the year. We have no expectations of being competitive riders. I really like Sally Swift's Centered Riding approach. We just want to be able to safely hack with our horses here at the farm and over other trails with friends.
Next step is getting Lucan and Mirage back into harness so we can also be driving here and away.

Despite being a horse owner and breeder for over 10 years, I am not under the illusion that I know it all or even a small fraction of what there is to know. I am constantly learning something new about horse nutrition, behavior, health, hoof care, training... and so the list goes on.

The luxury of having only four horses is that I can start looking at the individual nutritional needs. I have been doing this with the assistance of a wonderful web site called FeedXL from Australia. The most obvious lesson I have learned is unless you get your hay analyzed and adjust the horse's supplement requirement based on that analysis you are just wasting your money on supplements. So few of them even come close to meeting the horse's requirements; they overshoot in some nutrients and are so low on others you would need to feed hundreds of pounds to meet daily requirements. The net result is we were overfeeding and under nourishing the horses. Hay samples are leaving this week and will be done every year from now on.

The other lesson that I have learned is the markup on these supplements is astronomical. By custom mixing our own supplement we will be able to save hundreds of dollars a year and have better results. With some supplements we literally were pouring dollars into the manure pile while they excrete unneeded vitamins etc. Obviously you need to work hard with an animal nutritionist.

With only four horses I can really focus on more timely hoof care. We have been trimming our own horses for four years now and with 14-16 horses it was tough work. It was everything I could do to keep them on a 6 week trim schedule let alone a preferable 4 week schedule. Now I can address issues and imbalances as I see them... and with trimming monthly, I doubt I will ever use my nippers again.

Finally, I will go through my horse stuff and be able to sell items I will never need again... and maybe use the money to get a new saddle.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Impossible to Change/Change to Impossible

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power. -Alan Cohen
This quote was posted on a favorite Facebook page Solve Horseback Riding Fears by Jane Savoie and it really captures what I have tried to do most of my life. Over 5 years ago I gave up a secure but stressful job with the government to work full time on the farm. While it is much less secure and definitely has its moments that are as stressful, it is a whole lot more satisfying.
At that time we were breeding horses, and while the quality of horse we were producing was extremely good, the market was continuing to dry up so another change was required. It broke our hearts but we sold most of our horses and started to breed sheep and raise stockers. There are some that would say I was crazy at my age to take on a new, physically strenuous enterprise but I guess that is changing to the impossible.
With these changes I have to make sure that I celebrate the small victories to keep motivated. Yesterday for example we got the lab reports from flock fecal samples. All three sub-flocks of sheep are free of internal parasites. The bonus is we do not have to treat our sheep and can move towards our goal of prevention rather than treatment.
Yesterday also I tested whether I still was capable of selecting the best quality of dairy cattle (an earlier part of my life). I had reviewed the All Canadian Nominations for 16 classes of Ayrshire Cattle and noted my placement. Yesterday the official placements were released and my placements corresponded with those of the judging panel 26 of the 32 times and were off my a single placement for the balance.
Small victories, big motivation. I have a sister that kids me about "living large" but these small victories are important to me.
The sheep are shorn and lambing begins next month. The seasons evolve as they should.
Next week for the first time in my life I am starting regularly scheduled riding classes. I want to be ready when Lucan comes home. Change to the impossible.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Look carefully before you generate your own power

Two years ago we agreed to have an internet tower built on our farm so as to expand the broad band, high speed network into this part of the province. It has been a huge advantage to property owners. Last week we were visited by the property assessor and it turns out that part of the property will be reassessed as commercial and will be taxed accordingly.

It turns out if you plan to add a wind generator and/or solar generator and sell back into the grid that part of your property can be zoned as industrial with the land tax rates associated with industrial zoning. Do the dollars and cents and make sure the taxes don't take up your profit.

With the government pushing green energy, I am surprised to find that one hand is giving and the other is taking away.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Humane Management of Livestock

We are designing a sheep handling facility to make it easier to vaccinate, trim, sort and body condition check the sheep. If you are planning a facility, your best bet is to look at the research and recommendations of Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is a very much respected authority on the human handling of livestock. We just picked up her book on humane management of livestock and what an amazing reference. She has such good insight on animal behaviour and how it can be used to move and handle livestock in a stress free manner.

And why is this important? Primarily is the moral consideration. Just because an animal is being raised for meat production doesn't mean that it should be handled any less humanely than an animal that is not raised for meat. Be it our horses, who now are mainly pets, or our sheep or cattle, they all get the same level of care and compassion. Another reason is explained by Dr. Grandin. Meat from animals that are stressed is prone to be dark and not last as long in storage. I also believe that it has a significant impact on tenderness and flavor.

Dr. Grandin also discusses the current approach to breeding livestock. Too often breeders focus on one trait to the exclusion of all others be it rate of gain, production, performance, colour etc. This often has an unexpected and unintentional adverse impact on other traits such as temperament, longevity, fertility. Like with our horses, our breeding program is looking at a balance of numerous traits.

Along that line, I also am surprised that flavor so seldom figures into a breeder's production goals. I suppose it is because flavor is individual and is so difficult to test. I would love to see more taste tests used as part of breeding success. Ultimately the customer is the judge and if it doesn't taste good they judge with their wallet. Flavor is always going to be front and center with our goals.

Check out Dr. Grandin's website. It is very good reading.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Training and weight loss challenge

The new year is upon us with new year's resolutions, the excitement of the Olympics and a general need to get over the mid-winter blahs. Both our horses and I have turned into pasture and couch potatoes respectively soooo..... we shipped Lucan out to a new trainer to get started under saddle (and to lose some of that round bale belly). I have yet to make the phone call to get me to the trainer but putting it on "cyber" paper hopefully will give me the incentive to do so. But I have taken the step to start a more healthy eating style with an anticipated weight loss outcome. Years of wear and tear has been hard on my hips and knees and considering they are the only thing that is keeping my tush off the ground I better take care of them. Healthy eating, weight loss and exercise will help me on that path.

Now back to Lucan. He is at Saddle Ridge Stable being trained by Reuben Geleynse and is coming along very well. Reuben has a nice soft way about training which will result in what we want from Luc; a calm, safe horse for hacking. We will be documenting his progress on uploaded videos on our Youtube channel. And yes, we no longer just believe that Luc has ribs under all his fat, we (almost) can feel them.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Holy Doodle Batman, Hawk Hill is going High Tech

When personal computers first came out, I was in University... OK I was in graduate school.. but hey I have earned these grey hair. At that point I was a technophobe. I don't think I turned on my Osborne (remember them) for three months after I bought it. Now it is a pretty rare day that I don't spend at least some time on the computer.

The internet has opened incredible training options in webinars, on line journals, discussion groups, training videos. How to vaccinate a lamb is just a click away.

While I am just new to both blogs and social media, I recognize their power in networking people both friends and future clients. That is why I have just started a new Facebook page: Hawk Hill's Lamb Lovers Page. It is a place where those of us who love lamb can share recipes and other information about our favorite food - Lamb.

Check it out and become a fan.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raising meat animals then and now

I was reorganizing my recipe books (and updating my new recipe page on our website) and I started to read through some of my old recipe books. I was reading a 1950 edition of the Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book. It was very interesting to see what they had to say about beef and chicken. Here are a few quotes.

"The quality of beef depends on the age of the animal and its feeding. The best beef is from a steer 4 to 5 years old."

and Chicken:
"Broilers or spring chickens or squab chickens are young, tender birds (8-14 weeks old). Allow 1/2 small broiler to a person.
Fryers weigh 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pound (14-20 weeks old). One fryer serves 2 to 4.
Roasters weigh 3 1/2 pounds and over (5-9 months). A 4 pound bird serves 4 to 6.
Capon (unsexed male) usually weigh 7 to 8 pounds and serve 8 generously."

Oh have times changed. Most beef is processed between 12-20 months of age. And with current chicken breeds it is easily possible to have a 9 week old bird dress out at an average of 6 lbs. I have done that myself numerous times. It brings up what we have gained and what we have lost.

I think that one thing we have lost is flavor. A beef animal takes time to develop the marbling throughout the meat and as I mentioned in an earlier post, most of the flavor is in the fat. The gains are obviously quicker turnaround times and reduced feed costs... maybe. To bring an animal to market faster required more concentrated feeds -- grains, higher protein concentrates etc. These feeds cost more than a forage based diet. You can go back and forth on the cost, time argument and much of that depends on location, market etc. A pasture based diet is only inexpensive on cheap farm land. Land prices around much of southwestern Ontario could make a pasture based system very expensive indeed. What it should come down to is what the client wants in their meat and what they are willing to pay for it. We will always be a pasture based management system supplemented with grains to start and then finish the animals. We will process at 2 years of age at the earliest. However we are small enough to allow us the flexibility of breaking from the norm. We will play with our management to make the best flavor and quality in the beef.

Another unexpected loss is quality of leather. A number of years ago, I apprenticed with a harness maker. He bemoaned the fact that it was getting increasingly difficult to get good quality leather. And the reason is that cattle are slaughtered much younger. The hide thickens as the animal ages. (You sure notice this come vaccination time.) Younger animals means thinner hides.

As I mentioned I can raise a roaster sized chicken in 9 weeks. However to do so we give them free access to high protein feed. This year we will reduce the protein level in the feed, and allow them access to pasture. bugs etc. We will see what difference that makes in the flavor of the meat. I know the young roasters were tender and tasty. Lets see what we get with the pasture penned poultry.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Bag of Bones Soup

Many of our clients are new to buying lamb by the side or whole and are unclear as to the process of selecting cuts. We had a very helpful local butcher (who actually teaches butchering) allow us to watch and learn as he processed our lambs. We also have been reading (and cooking) so that we can better advise our clients.

Here is some basic information when ordering lamb.
Unless your supplier is processing a number of lambs at the same time, don't request ground lamb. Almost one pound of meat remains in the grinder and is lost. If you need ground lamb you could process some at home; partially thaw stew meat and run it through your food processor. It won't be perfect but you won't lose as much.

If you want brochette cubes you are going to have to sacrifice a hind leg. This cut provides the best meat for brochettes.

If you want stew meat, the best cut is the shoulder. You could ask for boneless shoulder roast and then cut it for stew meat. However make sure you get the bones back. Cooking the bones in the stew greatly enhances the flavor.

Most of our clients do not want the organ meat. However I recommend they take it anyways. I find the delicate flavour of lamb liver superior to liver from any other animal. It certainly is worth a try. You might find a new addition to your menu.

Many of our clients also don't want the bones. For the most part I think they do not know what to do with them. Soup is the obvious answer. However I want to share some cooking tests that I did with the bones. I love Scotch Broth, a classic lamb based soup so I boiled up a bag of lamb bones. The lamb flavor was weak and totally lost in the soup. When I have made Scotch Broth in the past I have always used the left over leg bone from a roast so the next time I made soup I first roasted the bones in the oven until well browned and then covered them with water and used that to make soup. Wow what a difference. It would have been further improved if I had roasted a few carrots, onions and celery with the bones. Keep an eye on the web site because I will be adding a new recipe for "Bag of Bones Soup". Note: The recipe is now on our web site.

So next time you are ordering a lamb, take it all. It sure will add more tasty diversity to your menu.

Cheers and good eating,