Pretty Chilly!

I think winter is truly here. We have had temperatures registering on the thermometer into the double digits below zero, with the actual temperature lower yet due to wind chill. Yes, we have had some very cold days this last while! Fortunately our cosy house warmed by the wood burning stove has kept us warm. We are also well equipped with warm clothes to make the great outdoors tolerable, though we’ve been relying more on the strategic layering of our BC winter wardrobe than new purchases at this point. Though we have made some warm gear purchases since arriving: I bought a pair of Sorel winter boots which are truly wonderful in the snow and cold, and Will invested in a pair of insulated coveralls (yes, size XX large!). When it is really cold I wear two hats, one that goes over my ears and buckles under my chin and another that goes over it! I have some nice large, padded gloves and some good scarves as well, though when it’s really cold and windy I also need something to cover my face.

Now I could go on and on about dressing to enjoy the winter but what really gets me excited in this new climate is snow tires. What a wonderful invention! I can’t believe I’ve driven so long without them and what a difference they make to driving in the winter – no more gripping fear as I head out the driveway, now I know my little car will stay on the road and get me where I’m going! We put snow tires only on the car and plan to drive the truck when the roads are clear. We bought rims as well as tires so we can change the tires ourselves – more expensive in the short term but a long term savings. There is a local challenge out here to see how long you can wait before putting on snow tires – since snow tires are softer they wear more easily and provide more road resistance which lowers fuel efficiency. Therefore it is in our interest to have snow tires on for as short a time as possible though without compromising our safety on the roads. So you wait and wait until just before that big snowfall, and hopefully don’t find yourself digging down into the snow to jack up the car and put on snow tires!

Will and I visited “Au Fond des Bois”, the goat farm and cheesery near Rexton last week and what a test of snow tires that was! The farm is quite a ways out into the woods (hence the name) on a public road which is just not well maintained. We had had a good snowfall the night before and some snow removal had occurred, though not very much. The road travels down a steep hill with a sharp 90 degree bend at the bottom, over a narrow bridge and then up another steep hill before leveling off. Imagine our little Toyota Yaris (with snow tires) scooting along through fairly deep snow, icy patches and soft, slushy stuff. It was quite amazing but Will successfully piloted us through the course and to the goat farm. I was very impressed both with Will and the snow tires!

The goat farm is quite lovely. The family who operates the farm and cheesery are originally from Belgium and have lived in this area for quite a few years. They arrived here wanting to make a tourist retreat: cabins and dinner with the family at the big table in the house, but found their location was just too far off the beaten track and the road was just too formidable. The goat dairy and cheese-making business came along a bit later and they have built themselves into a bit of a local institution, though not without some challenges. Their biggest challenge has been the local health department and their stories of dealing with the worst of small-minded bureaucracy are quite scary. However they persevered and are now operating a successful business.

We toured the barn and I was very impressed: imagine a bright, airy, insulated barn full of happy, healthy goats – sigh! Yes, I think I have a bit of barn envy. The milking parlour holds 12 goats at a time, milking six at once and everything is tidy, clean and well organized. They are so far out into the forest that predators are a big problem and the goats were indoors at that time. They had a neighbor trapping coyotes and bobcat to keep the population down though their long term plan is to get a llama to live with the goats for protection. Their farm is a three person operation: father manages the business and marketing, son manages the herd and mother makes the cheese. They are milking about 60 goats now (or will be in the summer, they take a month off in the winter) so you can imagine the amount of work each person is doing. They help each other out in the various operations and will probably eventually hire some help, though for now they are completely self-contained. I talked to them about our interests in starting a goat dairy and asked about them possibly buying milk from us. She sounded interested and was very supportive of another goat dairy in the area. They aren’t an organic dairy but are using organic methods as much as possible. Organic animal feed is incredibly expensive out here and I haven’t met any organic producers who are feeding organic grains to their livestock. But, you say, then they aren’t organic producers, are they? Well, these would be producers of certified organic grass-fed beef, for example, who also raise chickens on pasture but not certified because of the cost of the feed. I’m hoping we can raise our own grains and maybe even create a poultry ration eventually, though that will be a while coming.

A couple of weekends ago Will attended an auction in St-Antoine and came home with some lovely treasures: an air compressor, socket set, drill bits, jack stands and a jigsaw (not a puzzle!). The air compressor needs a bit of work and some parts but is coming along. It is still blowing fuses, though we think it just needs to be on a bigger circuit. Right now all the circuits in the barn are maximum 15 amps and this just doesn’t seem to be enough to run the compressor, especially in the cold when the oil is thick.

The goats are doing well and bearing up in the cold. I kept the barn doors closed on the coldest days and the temperature in the barn stayed a few degrees warmer than outside. The girls have a heated water bucket so their water stays liquid, but the boys need an occasional top-up with hot water from the house. Will is working on the boys’ palace and has used up all the left-over metal roofing on two of the walls. He has put windows in on the west side and is framing in a door on the east side. Once it is all covered in siding and a feeder built and waterer installed, the boys can move in. It is a large space and will easily hold another couple of bucks. Then we will have more room inside the big barn for more does, yippee!

It’s good to hear from all of you out there in the big wide world. Hopefully you are all having a good winter and looking forward to the holiday season ahead.

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3 Responses to “Pretty Chilly!”

  1. jo willson Says:

    WOW! This blog is so interesting and exciting. You’re involved in so many projects. You are now at the threshold of experiencing a N.B. winter, I can see you in your multi layers of clothing. We have just begun our first snowfall of the season. We’re having a winter soltice gathering at the farm this Sunday, I’m going in with Barb who lives in Fort Langley. Chris {the wilderness women} and I toured the farm a couple of weeks ago – I bought a set of her books {8} for the farm library. She has since returned home to her wilderness cabin near Nimpo Lake, to temperatures of -34 degrees. Cheers

  2. Edith Schwartz Says:

    Good cheer to you both. You’ve brought such brightness to your community !

  3. et Says:

    “not certified because of the cost of the feed”

    it may sound like a good excuse but it shouldn’t fly with organic certification bodies

    if cost were a reason not to buy certified organic feed very few of use would buy the more expensive product…

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