Winter on the Farm

I still remember the day my mother asked Ralph what he did in the winter at the farm, since there “mustn’t be much work to do.”  Thirty years later, I still smile at the thought.

Farming is one of the few professions that truly is governed by the changing of the seasons.  Preparing the land and planting in the spring is followedgrass by tending to the crops in the summer, and harvesting them in the fall.  Winter may be a time of hibernation for the land, but there are still things that need looking after.  Our daughter has some horses that need care every day. Aside from the laying hens, which need to be fed and watered also, we don’t have any other livestock at the farm any more.  Other farmers with animals (beef, dairy, sheep, goats, alpacas, etc.) need to look them every day.  And with pastures covered in snow, animals need to be fed hay and/or grain rations every day.  It’s certainly much easier to turn them out to pasture to graze and fill the feed trough.

Everyone will agree that this past winter has seen abnormal amounts of snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures.  Most non-farmers have had to cope with high snow banks along their driveways, drifting snow and even some power outages.  Now imagine a large farm yard that needs to accommodate a tractor and wagon (used to take spent mushroom blocks to the compost pile), a large delivery truck, and occasionally, a tractor trailer that may be picking up grain from our silos.   Oh, and our vehicles, too…. After one really significant snowstorm, it took Ralph all morning with a very large tractor-mounted snow blower to clean up the yard.  Winds overnight often mean more clearing the next day, even if it didn’t snow.  Ralph even had to clear snow around the horse barn, so that the horses could make it out to their paddock without trudging through belly-high snow, and so that Natalie could get into the barn more easily to clean stalls.  All extra work that isn’t required in the summer…

Mushrooms still need to be picked every day, deliveries have to go out, and I have to prepare for and attend my weekly farmers’ market.

Without the gardens and the fields to look after, however, there is a bit of “down” time.  February is traditionally called “Meeting Season”, as many farm organizations hold their district and annual meetings at a time of the year when farmers actually have time to attend….weather permitting!  I use this time of the year to prepare all the year-end books, as well.

A new venture for us at the farm this past year has been to make our own chicken feed for our laying birds.  Our girls are outside in the sunshine from early spring until late fall, hensscratching for insects, eating grass (and kitchen scraps!).  In the winter, however, we don’t have an outside area for them, and they are housed inside a barn, free to roam around their coop area, or to jump up onto the roosts we have for them.

In previous years, we have bought their feed, but with concerns for GMO’s (found in corn and soybeans in many layer rations), Ralph decided to make his own.  Our open pollinated corn is one of the main ingredients, along with our forage peas and barley.   Using peas means we can avoid using soybeans to provide the protein.  An organic supplement that includes herbs is added to the grain mix, along with oystershell and granite grit.  Chickens that lay eggs have very specific nutritional needs.  When those needs aren’t met, it can mean fewer eggs, weak shells, or smaller eggs.

IMG_20140213_105940Last summer, the chickens started on their new feed mix.  After a bit of “tweaking” here and there, getting the right coarseness for them (which is now achieved with a roller mill), the girls seem to be quite happy with their new blend.  Some of them are almost two years old, and although they have gotten a bit scruffier feather-wise, they are  still quite happily laying lots of eggs!

When we visited a local food event this summer, we met a couple that was promoting backyard chicken coops in urban settings.  They were very interested in getting some of our open pollinated corn.  One thing led to another, and they are now buying Ralph’s layer mix for not only their own chickens, but other backyard hen owners in the Guelph area.  Today, I got to help Ralph bag up the feed.

IMG_20140213_105125      IMG_20140213_103632


So there you go!  If you live in an area that allows you to keep backyard hens, I highly recommend it.  Not only are you provided with delicious eggs, you will receive hours of entertainment watching the chickens go about their daily routine….scratching about for food, chasing each other when one finds the “early” worm, and listening to their incredible “language”.  And if you need to buy some feed for you chickens….well, now you know where you can get it, too!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Julie, we have a ton of empty bags from our organic chicken feed. Can you use them? And we should talk about chicken feed. Hope to make it to the market this weekend….finally! Clare


  2. Posted by MaryEllen on February 14, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Great blog, Julie! Glad you included the photos. A very fun and interesting read for this city girl! 🙂 ❤


  3. Posted by Christine Hudson aka Kiki on March 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Julie Looks like you have been busy farming for the past 30 years.


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