SNF’s Foray into Livestock…Pigs!

Getting set up for our pigs to come took forever….or at least the good part of the last two weeks. But, with the hard work behind us and a new, mild manure smell lingering on our boots, we are elated with the new addition to our farm. This is a blog post about our path to becoming the delighted owners of three Tamworth piggies.

Ginger, Charlotte and Bob (short for Roberta) cuddle up for the first time in their new home.

When we started talking about what we wanted to do with the farm sometime back in December, raising pigs was close to the top of our list. I have always been in love with them (along with almost all other animals)…and it seemed like a good fit for the land (which is rough pasture and partially treed). However, we didn’t have a clue where to start, and we didn’t think we’d get started on it this year as there was/is so much to do just to get the land ready for veggies (see Farm Goals 2013 for what we thought we’d get up to this season).

However, in typical Patrick and Amy fashion, we couldn’t wait to get going… and started searching for weaners (i.e. pigs that have been weaned from their mum’s milk and weigh 30 to 40 lbs) shortly after arriving in Ontario. We looked on the internet but couldn’t find any pigs close enough to us to pick up, and checked out the local livestock auction but only came across one scared little weaner that went for $4.

And then we found Norm’s listing for Tamworth gilts (a gilt is a female pig that hasn’t had babies). So I drove down to check them out – Norm’s pigs were a little larger than we had hoped for, but they seemed very healthy and happy (in my very amateur opinion) and they were close enough that he’d deliver them to the farm once we got set up.

After we settled on purchasing three, and told Norm that we’d be ready to take them in a few days (a gross underestimation of time) we got to work getting our pig palace set up. The photos probably sum the next two weeks of set up best, so I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Step one was to build the pig’s shelter. This one is portable and will be moved around on pasture once the land has dried up a bit more.
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The pig shelter takes it’s maiden voyage!
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The next step was to erect a fence. This being our first experience with fence building, and having being told that pigs have a knack for getting out, we built it fortress strong.
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With the help of this rented auger – those posts are 4′ deep.
Next came the gravity fed waterer (we don’t have running water hooked up yet, but will come early summer). The free water barrel from the dump was a huge score! You can also see the solar fencer we got to run our electric fence (we’re off the grid for now)…that thing can fence up to 30 km!
Norm arrived with the pigs on Saturday….with snow on the ground! Blah (the snow that is). Here they’re being transported out to the pig palace.
The three lovely ladies explore their new home. As if those aren’t the cutest little pig butts eh?
The piggies are getting well fed with mash and our veggie scraps and are settling in to their new home. Once the pasture dries up a bit more, we’ll be sending them out to root and forage (something that Tamworths do well).
Little Yarrow has found peace with her new funny friends. As long as she gets as many treats as they do.
Quite the setting for the pig palace eh? They get one of the best views on the farm, and are sheltered from the winds, tucked in below the hill.
How could you not love that face? What a beauty!

So, we didn’t find weaners, (although we think we’ll get a few in June), but we did get ourselves three pigs, that if all goes well, will be bred in the summer. Next I want to write a post about the Tamworth breed, because they are just so darn cool….but that’s all for now.

Oink Oink…Snort.


Building a Farm, Literally

When we decided to move Ontario to start a farm, we did so for the unique opportunity to ‘grow’ a farm on family land. You see, in BC we leased land and thus were hesitant to invest significant capital in buildings and other infrastructure due to a lack of certainty around our future on the land. I should also add that we were unable to keep livestock, which is something Amy and I were interesting in trying. At our new farm in Ontario, we can plan and grow our farm with some certainty that we will be farming on the land long term.

So, we have hit the ground running and have been building up a storm. With no more than the land to begin with (which in itself is a huge asset), we are building the farm from the ground up. So, here’s what we’ve been busy building.

First up was the growing set up in our heated garage at home. We wanted to get seeds going at the beginning of March and with nothing set up at the farm by way of a heated greenhouse, we opted for shelves with grow lights in the comforts of our little garage.

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“We’re gonna need a bigger boat” – George Jung (Blow)

With the number of seedlings growing quickly and no interest in spending more money on grow lights, we designed and built a hoophouse in our backyard with a handy hoop bender from Johnny’s Seeds. We opted for a 12 ft wide structure, which was relatively simple to construct.

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Truck bed, 2 x 4s and a sheet of plywood made for a handy bending platform.
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We started to run low on materials but needed a vent, hence the patchwork window to save some pennies. Amy think it adds character, I try not to look at it.

Happy plants!

Next up was the chicken brooder.  Having ordered 132 day-old baby chicks with little clue as to how to care for them, we had to hit the books (we really like the Storey’s guides to raising livestock) and the interwebs. We ultimately came up with a simple brooder design that will house the chicks for the first three weeks at which point they’ll be moved into their permanent home, the mobile chicken coop (currently in the concept phase). The chicks seem to be happy in their little brooder with ample space to test their roadrunner legs. However, they grow like weeds so the plan is to construct the mobile chicken coop next week.

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Farmer Amy with brooder

The most recent project was the mobile pig house, also known as the pig bunker. With three gilts (female pigs meant for breeding) on the way, we again referred to some farm books and the internet for how the keep the pigs on pasture. With decided on the design seen below which can be dragged or rolled (with the addition of wheels) from location to location. Amy wanted to paint it red, but we went with the desert storm camo colour as it was 75% off at the hardware store. The pig bunker will be situated within a fenced area where the pigs can roam freely. We’ll post some pics of the whole set-up when everything is in place.

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Pig bunker on runners. In theory this should work, we’ll keep you posted.

In and amongst all of the building we have purchased ourselves a nice walk-behind tractor which should come in the next two weeks. We are also deciding on a water sources and exploring options for power at the site (which is off-grid). Finally, we have purchased a 20 ft by 96 ft greenhouse which lies disassembled at the farm…it’s on the list.

So all in all, life is busy on the farm with much to do to get it off the ground. Yet I will say that days have seldom gone by so fast.

Happy Spring,


A farmer’s musings on chickens, pigs and poop.

We gained 100 and some odd new farm family members this week with the arrival of our day old chicks on Wednesday.

Little chickeys arrived in a box, segregated, a little stressed and chilly.

If you are a fan of us on Facebook you may have already guessed that we’re sort of obsessed with them. They’re so fluffy and they make the cutest little peeps.

Hey there little fluffball.

So cute actually that we don’t even mind that we’ve been cleaning their poopy butts all week. No joke…sometimes baby chicks get what’s called “pasting” which is where their poop gets stuck to their bums and can block everything up (potentially lethal if you don’t take care of it in a timely manner).

Farmer Pat gently cares for the poor little lady at our chick aid station.
Farmer Pat gently cares for this poor babe at our chick aid station.

All cuteness aside, they serve an important function on our farm. In a few weeks we’ll be moving them outside onto pasture where they will we rotated around our fields. They’ll be eating, scratching at the soil and pooping lots. Their manure will help to fertilize our future veggie growing areas. Anyone who has ever purchased organic compost to fertilize a large growing area ($$$bling) can appreciate why some livestock is such a valuable asset to the small, mixed farming operation.

Around late August they will start laying eggs, adding to our revenue stream and giving us product to sell year round.

Future egg layers right there.

We’ve also purchased three Tamworth pig gilts that will be delivered later next week. If all goes well, they will be our breeding stock for our small herd of pasture raised hogs. Similar to the chickens they’ll be working double time, rooting, digging and helping to revitalize pastures as well as pooping lots – giving us great material to add to our own compost pile.

Some Tamworths - I stoled this from Wikipedia.
Some Tamworths – I stole this pic from Wikipedia.

So, while rest assured that we will be posting many, many adorable photos of the animals that are soon to be on our farm, it’s not all about the cuteness (although that is certainly a bonus). For those of you who enjoy eating the aforementioned farm products, we’ll have eggs ready for purchase through our CSA program and from the farm gate in late summer, pork in the fall, and a small amount of chickens and thanksgiving turkeys this year.

On another note, Happy Easter! We hope you’re all having a great weekend with at least one delicious dinner.

March is for….starting seeds.

Which is what we’ve been doing steadily for the past week or so. See the full garage for photographic evidence…


I had a little of the panic when we arrived in early March and hadn’t yet started our first seeds of the season as we were usually starting our onions and leeks around Feb 15th in BC. It turns out that because the growing season starts a bit later here (we were in zone 8 before, and now in 5b) that it’s really not a big deal and we’re not really off-track.

The seeding machine looks over his work

I had another minor wig-out after driving around for three days following various leads to source seed starting supplies that we can use for Certified Naturally Grown production. We plant most of our seeds into soil blocks which allows us to reduce our use of plastics and were making the soil block mix recipe recommended by Johnny’s seeds last year. We were really happy with the mix and were hoping to make it again, but it turns out that some of the fertilizer ingredients are hard to find here. We finally found something comparable from a fertilizer supplier who happens to stock certified organic fertilizer in their Quebec warehouse and were able to order it into their Brampton store for us. We’ll start making our soil blocks this week for our brassica and tomato seedlings. Anyways, the lessons learned is that we should probably get used to mail ordering most of our supplies here to avoid driving all over the place to get what we need. Good thing I am so good at internet shopping!

The very first seed to germinate was a weed! Imposter!!
But soon after the alliums started to germinate
and now they look like this! Cute little onion/leek babies. Mmmmm, can't wait to eat you!
and now they look like this! Cute little onion/leek babies. Mmmmm, can’t wait to eat you!

We’ve ordered a 20′ x 100′ hoophouse from a local builder which is currently being built for us. In the meantime we’ve set up our seedling shop in our heated garage. It’s quickly filling up so Pat is out getting the parts we need to build a mini, heated seed starting hoophouse so we can start moving these guys outside (they much prefer natural light to the grow lights we’re using, and we’d prefer to look like less of a garage grow-op in our new neighbourhood).

Pat build this germination table to help us get started this year before our hoophouse gets here. We’ll turn it into our microgreen zone once we can move these trays outside.

I realize that this is probably a bit of a boring blog post for anyone who isn’t a farmer, so I thought I’d end it with a list of what we are growing this year – some of which we’ll start indoors and transplant out, some of which we’ll plant directly into the ground a little later on in spring. If you’re a CSA member, you’ll have access to all of this deliciousness and more!

Veggies: Artichokes, Asaparagus (available in year 3), green, yellow and purple beans, beets, broccoli, brokali, flower sprouts (a new gimicky plant we’re trying from Johnny’s), Brussels sprouts, red and green cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, endive, bok choi, sweet corn, collard greens, cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, eggplants, arugula, our special peppery salad mix, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, microgreens, onions, scallions, parsnips, peas, sweet and hot peppers, peashoots, potatoes, pumpkins, radicchio, radishes, spinach, winter squash, swiss chard, tomatoes, ground cherries, zucchini and summer squash.

It’s worth mentioning here that we won’t have garlic this year as we didn’t arrive in time to plant it in the fall. Oh poop. Next year!

Fruit: Strawberries (most likely available in year 2), raspberries (year 2) and melons.

Herbs: Basil, chives, cilantro, cumin, dill, lavender, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, stevia.

Flowers: Asters, calendula, cosmos, echinacea, bee balm, statice, stock, strawflower, sunflowers, zinneas, dahlias (and about 50 more that would take way too long to type out, but that’s what we have a lot of).

Thanks for reading!


Across Canada

Reflecting on our recent move from BC, I wanted to share some pics and thoughts on making the move to Ontario to start a farm.

– Patrick

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Thailand – The Highlights

In between farm seasons, we took our belated honeymoon in Thailand. So this really has nothing to do with farming, but a lot to do with life. We hope you enjoy! xoxo Amy and Pat

Farm Goals 2013

We’ve been on vacation in Thailand for the last couple of weeks on our belated honeymoon. Sort of a period of relaxation before we head home, pack up our house, relocate to Ontario and hit the ground running on the farming season. Our time here has been awesome and relaxing but inevitably we’ve been thinking and talking quite a bit about the impending farm season (which we have discussed is not such a bad thing as long as we aren’t doing actual farm work while on vacation).We’ve also been thinking quite a bit about our past farm and discussing what will be different this time around. Not that things were wrong with our previous farm, but we feel like we now have an opportunity to grow our farm and farming skills far beyond what we had before. With so much more land, more time (not being in school and also doing consulting work) and the security associated with farming on family owned land, our imaginations have run wild with potential future farm projects…we’ve had to reel ourselves in a few times. So, sitting on a sunset patio one afternoon, we came up with what we feel is a reasonable list of farm goals for the 2013 farm season and wanted to share them with you on the flog (farm-life blog). In no particular order…

1. We’re planning to try some new endeavors and take on some necessary and experimental farm projects this year in addition to producing veggies (which we feel we do reasonably well although there is always experimentation involved there) including:

  • raising poultry – eggs and turkey specifically this year
  • keeping bees and producing honey
  • cultivating mushrooms (the culinary kind)
  • learning how to make soap (using farm products)
  • building fences
  • restoring pastures
  • and creating an irrigation pond amongst other farm improvements

2. We plan to save seeds where we can for our use and for others (to either swap or sell)

3. We plan to produce food throughout the winter and if all goes well we will have a winter CSA.

4. We’re going to be better at social media which includes regular updates to the blog and lots of farm pictures (which are absent from this post since we are still away and this is being typed on a PC circa 1995.)

5. We are planning to attend a market from the beginning of the season to the end of the season – even if we don’t have much to sell (which we predict may be quite humbling).

6. We hope to find the farm – life balance which has been absent from our lives in the past due very much to our own inability to know our personal limits.

7. We will eat what we produce! This may seem really obvious but you’d be amazed how many times in the past we have worked through dinner time and ended up eating out even though there is abundance of food available from our fields.

8. We have set financial goals for the farm and we plan to achieve them. We want the farm to be able to sustain itself and be our primary source of income. Even though we may take on other projects, we don’t want to rely on off-farm income to get by.

9. We want to get involved with our new community and use our farm as a learning opportunity. We’re thinking of accepting apprentices in 2014…stay tuned for that.

10. We want to stay in shape physically and mentally. Hopefully this will come naturally with our new farm venture…we think it’s all about finding the balance between farm and life this time round for us.

With love and sun from Thailand,

Amy and Patrick