6 min read

Adventure Farming

Get in over your head, get out, repeat.
Adventure Farming
After a storm that downed many trees in our area, the wood chips are coming fast. Awesome!

In my fourth year of university studying engineering, my marks were better than usual in the first semester. Being someone involved in a lot of things and not a stand-out academic, I thought to myself, "what if I cut out all parties and drinking alcohol, and just focused on studying... how well could I do in school?"

I recount the experience often, because it taught me a few things. One of them was this discomforting truth: give me a minute to rest and I'll rest for a minute. Give me an hour to rest and I'll rest for a day.

My grades plummetted eighteen percent the next semester, during which I did not go out a single weekend evening, or drink a drop of alcohol. It may seem likely the culprit was an absence of the stress-relieving benefits of carefree socializing with friends, but I found that idle time was to blame. Missing was an urgency; being behind and feeling guilty for tossing time away eating donairs at 2am. My roommates would wake up hours later than me, laugh incredulously at whatever it was whoever did, and break out their books. I couldn't drag myself off the couch.

Subsequent experiences taught me more, including the fact that I'm an adventure junkie. Sometimes adrenaline is involved, but most often it's simply something I've gotten myself into and, well, now I have to get myself through it. What is addicting about it isn't the work and stress that you encounter, but rather the satisfaction you feel when you realize what you're capable of, and how much you've accomplished. I hope you surprise yourself sometimes, too.

Springtime in this farming adventure offers no lack of "what have we gotten ourselves into?" moments. Of course, no one's education is at stake here, so this is usually followed by some self-depracating comments and laughter. Here are a few examples for your entertainment, at my expense. Enjoy!

112 birds in the car

We had the distinct pleasure of meeting local food maven Heather Newman and her husband, Dan, of D&H Farm, to pick up 100 white chantecler chicks and a dozen beltsville small white turkey poults. It was a gorgeous day for a road trip and we had lots of fun learning from Heather as she prepared the birds for their journey, all between just hatched and a couple weeks old.

It was a pretty long drive for little birds, 6.5 hours. It's also a pretty long drive for the humans, who were thankful it didn't rain and the windows could be open a bit - helpful with 112 birds pooping a few feet behind you in your car, which for us is a small wagon with the seats folded flat to accommodate the boxes of birds.

Young birds can't go that long without water, so we stopped once in a while to give them a drink.  On our first stop, we quickly realized that putting water in the box of birds wouldn't work.  The birds are too frazzled with the activity and just walk in the water, spill it, and get wet. As is normal practice when receiving chicks, you pick up each one and dip its beak into some water a couple of times, making sure it swallows some. It's a simple procedure and quite fun really. But where do you put the chick that just took a drink? You can't put it back in the box when there are dozens of them... they all look the same!

We pack them back into the car. Clearly, we need a few "transfer" boxes for this process. So we google the closest liquor store, not for booze to calm our nerves (I'm driving after all), but rather to get a couple boxes. Done. Then, we set up in a Timmies parking lot to get coffee (for us) and dip 112 little beaks in water. We feel a tiny bit conspicuous with our peeping boxes spread out beside the Tim Horton's drive-thru lineup, but we did get some admiring "aww's" from mostly female customers.

Great, they're all watered. These boxes and our paper towel bedding are getting a bit dirty. "Hey there's a grocery store!" We pick-up a package of paper towels, more water for us and them, and change the paper towel bedding. Off we go until the next pit stop.

All arrived healthy and happy, including the humans.

More chicks?

A few days later we had 100 cornish cross day-old chicks arriving (those mentioned in a post about building chicken tractors). Overall, we calculated that we needed 275 kg of "chick starter" feed to get through the first three weeks! Along with lots of bedding (pine shavings), they were picked-up from our local farm supply store; no roadtrip this time.

Phew... all settled in the tractors; warm, dry, watered and fed. But they won't stay there for long. We have some logistics to figure out.

The birds grow.  Fast!

Our large permanent coop in the pole barn will comfortably house 80 hens. Our chantecler flock will be reduced in the fall as we process most of the roosters and keep most of the hens. At that time, the whole flock will move to that big coop.

The young chanteclers only have a week or two before they're overflowing their current quarters, which will free up a tractor to finish (needed in 20 days or so to put the cornish on pasture).  They'll need the garden-shed-turned-turkey-brooder to move into, which is currently housing turkeys, of course.

Those six beltsville small white poults we featured in Talking Turkey are growing fast, and will soon be joined by their 12 new friends from D&H Farm, in a new home that doesn't exist yet.  This is contrary to common advice to prepare the infrastructure before you acquire the livestock, but per the theme of this post, we're not here to be all organized and well-prepared... what would be the adventure in that?

The plan is to build a mobile turkey coop on top of a repurposed tent trailer frame we were gifted by our generous neighbours. We'll put it on pasture for the summer surrounded by electric fence (yet to be procured), and move all the turkeys there.  It will be moved into the pole barn for the winter.

With the turkeys moved, we can move the young chanteclers to the brooder shed housing the turkeys now, which has a grassed outdoor run. At that point we can finish two of the chicken tractors, then divide the cornish chickens into them on pasture, and get to work on the third tractor before they get too big for two. Following so far?

Always one more thing...

I guess I have my to-do list for this weekend... build a mobile turkey coop. I'll get right on that, after we finish with the 60 kids from the local Boys and Girls club that are visiting the farm today. Good thing I fixed the tractor's flat tire yesterday and spread the wood chips that are arriving like crazy after a recent storm.

It's the funny farm we say, and it's definitely an adventure. I tip my hat to those who do this for a living, especially those who built the farm they work. The effort involved is incredible, and its part of what I enjoy learning about. Spring won't wait if you're not ready to seed, chickens won't stop growing if you need another week to prepare, and that turkey coop isn't going to build itself, so...

Day old cornish cross chicks

Thanks for reading.  Send me an email anytime. You can peruse other musings of this wannabe farmer from the homepage, or click on my picture, below.