Fields of Weeds

We had some amazing weather a few weeks ago with temperatures up into the mid 20’s. I was thinking at that point that spring was truly here but temperatures soon plummeted and we got a few snow flurries (yes, we’d removed the snow tires on that warm weekend!). Cold winds made it feel even colder and I was beginning to despair of ever walking around in anything less than my layers of winter clothes! Well yesterday turned into a warm, sunny day and today had a few warm moments before the clouds rolled in and the rain came down. All in all it’s been pretty dry this spring and we are farther ahead in our land preparation than we thought we’d be.

The last of this season’s goat babies were born this morning: Ruby had a boy and a girl and all are healthy and doing well. Nessie had her single buck kid last week, partly a blessing because we’ll get to share her milk earlier than if she was feeding two, though it would have been nice to get a doe kid from her. Our current goat count is at 18 though three of them are buck kids and won’t be over-wintered on the farm (dum de dum dummmm…). I’m running out of hay again and will buy yet another 50 bales from yet another farmer, this time a bit further afield in Irishtown (on the way to Moncton). I think I need to find a local hay maker who is willing to take two cuts and manage their fields organically. Most hay people around here are taking just one cut/year when, really, the second cut is the most nutritious and two cuts double your money from your hay field. Why not take two cuts, you say? I think it’s because hay just isn’t that valuable around here and most people aren’t feed dairy animals so the more nutritious second cut isn’t so critical.

We are on the hunt for inputs for our fields and transplants now. Local manure is hard to find; unlike at our previous home in BC’s Fraser Valley, it is not considered a waste product here and is very much in demand. We have a few leads on composted cow manure, chicken manure from some big chicken farms nearby, crabmeal and processed chicken manure from up north in NB. The crabmeal is quite local and is meant to be a good source of nitrogen (calcium too, you would think). The processed chicken manure is heated and pelleted but not composted so sounds like it would be a better top dressing on hay fields. The composted cow manure may be prohibitively expensive but I’ll check it out anyway. We have our own modest pile of goat manure (90% hay) which will be useful next year once it’s decomposed a bit, though I’ve top dressed our garlic with a bit of it already.

Will borrowed our neighbor’s scraper blade and is using it to move soil around on our coldframe site. We need to build up about 15” of soil on one side to level the site out enough for construction of the coldframe. The blade seems to be working quite well though some shoveling and raking will still be required. We had a visit from our local organic specialist today and we talked about weed management, pasture management, berries and small fruits and CSAs. He works for the NB government as an agronomist specializing in organics who helps existing farmers transition to organics and new farmers get started. He seems quite knowledgeable and practical and it’s good to know we have some good organic blood in the Agr. Ministry. The more I learn about weeds, the less I realize we need to be concerned about goldenrod – it is not a very difficult weed to control and usually disappears with any regular cultivation or mowing. Couch grass will probably be our biggest headache, and bedstraw is another persistant weed which we have in large quantities.

Will picked up our new second-hand milking system yesterday and it looks pretty good. We’ll replace all the plastic parts (inflations, vacuum and milk lines) since this is recommended to be done every year anyway. The company who sells this system have all the parts for it so we’ll probably call them up and find out what else we should be replacing. The whole system consists of a vacuum pump, 7 gallon stainless steel milking pail with lid and two sets of milkers. The advantages of the machine are that you can milk two goats at once (three if one person is still hand milking) and it’s easier to train people to machine milk – they don’t have to suddenly develop the appropriate muscles that I’ve spent the last 5 years building, and they don’t need hands that are just the right size to handle those tiny teats. I’ll probably continue hand milking this year while we learn about the machine and get it equipped, and then plan on bringing machine milking into our lives next year.

We recently discovered that we can’t get a license to produce livestock under the Livestock Operations Act. The Act requires setbacks from our barn to our neighbors’ houses of at least 300m and we have exactly 4 neighbors who are within that zone. So what does this mean? Well, basically that we won’t be looking at setting up a licensed goat dairy, since the investment required for this would necessitate having a much larger herd than the government’s exemption level (less than 20 goats) allows. We could still potentially have more than 20 goats but if any of our neighbors complain, the law would be on their side. Pretty sad when you consider that this is a farm on farmland in rural NB – where else does one raise goats? The other sad thing is that the exemption level is 20 goats, sheep or cattle and since when do 20 goats produce anything near the manure output of 20 cows? And if that’s not ridiculous enough (sorry New Brunswick but you really screwed up this time), horses are completely exempt from the law. So you can pile manure from 50 horses up against the fence by the neighbor’s house on your 10 acre property and no one can do a thing, but try keeping 25 goats on 50 acres and watch out!

The law allows up to 19 four legged livestock and 199 poultry so we still have some livestock development potential. It is a bit of a disappointment but not a huge one, in fact the thought of applying to the health board to sell milk was feeling a bit daunting and not really in keeping with my usual farming style anyway. So we’ll have our 19 goats and 199 chickens and see what kind of fun we can have on the farm! I think we’ll be busy enough with our veggies, bees and fruit trees, too. When we bought this farm we did so because of its location, the price, the topography of the land, the forest, pond, river and the small house and big barn. We knew that we’d be taking whatever NB had to throw at us as far as markets, climate, laws and everything else were concerned, and we’d do the best we could with it. Since then we’ve discovered that the markets for local organic look really good, we have excellent soil and well drained land, and we have very nice neighbors. All these factors pretty much cancel out one silly and very poorly thought-out law. And, of course, everyone who knows me knows how I deal with silly, poorly thought-out laws.
Until next time!


2 Responses to “Fields of Weeds”

  1. Gary Davis Says:

    Hi Guys, I really enjoyed your update and am glad most things are falling into place.

  2. Eileen Says:

    Too bad about the _ _ _ _ laws.
    Definitely – 199 goats and 19 chickens would be much better!!
    See ya here again soon – miss you guys!

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