goats in snow

What do Farmers do in Winter?

A few people have asked me what farmers do in winter, when crops are under a cover of snow and nothing grows. While the answer varies depending on the operation, the answer is always “a lot.”

Animal Care

Any farm with animals will still have to care for those animals in winter, and often this becomes more difficult. While animals in summer may spend most if not all their time outdoors, eating what nature provides, animals in winter require shelter, feed, non-frozen water (it’s own little nightmare) and constant care and attention. For dairy and egg farmers, it’s often business as usual, as cows/goats/sheep must still be milked and birds continue to lay throughout the winter months.

On our farm, we have chickens and goats year-round, having processed our meat birds just before Christmas. The goats are in the barn, with access to the outdoors when they want it, and the chickens have a sheltered, fairly insulated coop with a fenced run. Keeping everyone warm and safe has been our number one farm priority, and fortunately, it’s going well so far. The barn is in rough shape, so we’ve added some shelters and tarps to give the goats wind and snow protection. The chicken coop got a door we can open and close depending on the weather. The biggest hassle has been lugging water buckets from the house to their shelters twice a day, as water freezes quickly in the frigid Ontario winters. We’ve had a few very sunny days where everyone has free-ranged, but for the most part, everyone’s staying inside out of the cold.

Breeding often occurs in winter, though it can be more difficult if animals are more seasonal. Our goats go into heat every month regardless, so if we had a buck, breeding now would mean lovely late spring baby goats. As it is, we’ll be getting our buck next month, a bit later than we hoped but we love him, and that’s worth waiting for. Hope to have some exciting news to share in late March/early April!

Infrastructure & Equipment

While most farm building happens in good weather, a certain amount of infrastructure building and maintenance happens in the winter. Many farmers will take advantage of every not-so-bad day to build or repair sheds and outbuildings, tune or repair equipment and vehicles, and/or cleaning up indoors. The absolute last thing a farmer wants to do once the weather is good is discover their tractor isn’t working.

Purchasing

So many things to buy in winter! Seeds must be ordered so they can be planted early. Livestock and poultry doesn’t just appear, specialty breeds in particular have to be reserved early so they’re the right age when spring comes. Lots of equipment and raw materials become more and more difficult to find as the season progresses, so early ordering is crucial. Farmers will be hard at work planning what they want to produce and sell for the next year, and what needs replacing from the year before, and ordering those items.

For example, a “nuc” or starter colony of bees should be ordered in January or February, to ensure breeders have enough time to split hives and create the conditions for the necessary number of queens. Most are sold out well before the season begins. Fruit trees are grown a year or more in advance, so securing the species and types you want needs to be done early.

Seeds

Produce and flower farmers will often start seeds indoors, if they’re not already greenhouse farming. Different seeds vary in start times, from 2 to 8 weeks ahead of growing season, which means most small farmers are busy starting seeds indoors from late February on.

Winter Products

There are plenty of things farmers sell that can be produced in winter. In Ontario, maple syrup/sap can only be produced in late winter as the temperature fluctuates around 0 degrees C. Homesteaders especially may produce soap, textiles, dried or canned food, and more in winter to maintain revenue streams.

Research & Paperwork

So boring, but there’s no time (or desire) to do this when the weather’s nice, so it better get done now. We’ve been working on our farm ledger, compiling information for our taxes, registering our purebred goats, researching regulations around products we want to sell, pricing supplies, and basically learning about homesteading all over again.

There is a lot that happens on farms in winter, even as the fields lie fallow. Depending on where you live, some things may still grow in February! It’s certainly not the case here, at least not until we get our greenhouse, but we are in full-fledged planning mode and can basically smell spring coming. The best years come from the best winter preparation!


A Tale of Livestock Misadventures

One of the “lessons learned” from 2018 was that animals are unpredictable. Well, that has never been more clear than this weekend.

With Y out of the country for work, the farm chores have fallen to me, which hasn’t been easy in this polar vortex -37C with windchill weather. I was looking forward to this weekend because warm weather moved in, and the animals were able to free range more.

Well, Saturday afternoon I was setting up some things I bought for the animals: a modified patio swing for the goats, and a clothes rack as a perch for the chickens. While hanging out in the coop, I noticed one of the Silkies (the white, fluffy chickens) was bleeding from his head feathers. Not much, but enough to be noticeable. I stayed in the coop for awhile to get a sense of the dynamic. It turns out, this rooster was trying to mate with the hens, which apparently made the Alpha rooster quite jealous. As soon as the Silkie was on top of a hen, the big rooster would charge over and start pecking at him to stop. Clearly, this dynamic isn’t going to work.

I brought the injured rooster inside to camp in our bathtub for the evening, to make sure the bleeding was minor and he was still doing okay. He seemed unaffected by the whole ordeal, but I think our best option is to re-home him. I’ll be listing him for free to good home today, in hopes he’ll find a flock that’s a better fit.

Saturday night, as I was driving home quite late from a party, I noticed the oncoming car was driving very slowly, and they flashed their high beams at me. I slowed down and proceeded with caution, to see two cows at the side of the road, well outside their enclosure, happily chewing their cud only feet from traffic. The farms at the four corners of that intersection are all owned by one family, one of whom is my neighbour, so I raced to his house and knocked on the door. No answer! Fortunately, some of his relatives (who we’ve met, if only in passing) were listed in the phone book, and I was able to get a hold of someone. She was naturally upset, but thanked me profusely for calling. Since there were no signs of roadkill the next morning when I drove by, I really hope it all worked out and those cows are back where they belong!

Sunday was “normal,” if that word has any meaning at all. The Silkie rooster went back out to the coop, since the weather was beautiful and they could free range again I figured he’d have space to escape if he was getting picked on. Goats were playing, chickens were pecking and laying and crowing.

Fast forward to this morning, Monday. Before work, I went to feed and water the chickens. I’d left the gate open to encourage free ranging the night before, so I wasn’t surprised to find fewer chickens indoors. I was, however, surprised that I couldn’t find more than half our flock anywhere.

I feared the worst. Perhaps someone had come on the property and stolen the birds? Perhaps an animal had entered through the open gate and absconded with them? I walked the whole property looking for them. A dead animal on the road caught my eye, but it turned out to be a skunk. Where the cluck were these chickens?!

Eventually I heard the rooster crow, and it was coming from my neighbour’s yard. I ran over to find the rooster and seven of his favourite ladies camped in heavy brush under the neighbour’s front window. The rooster was crowing loudly and with reckless abandon, which, I can only assume, annoyed our neighbour to no end. I crawled through the brush to herd the chickens back to the coop. I spent over half an hour getting them back where they belonged, making me disheveled and late for work.

We already planned some netting/chicken wire around that area, to keep the poultry from wandering off the property or onto the road. Clearly that plan should be accelerated. I’m also planning an apology note and some freshly laid eggs in the neighbour’s mailbox – Chris, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry!


Happy New Year!

If this is your first visit to our site, welcome! You should know that, while we certainly have loftier goals for updating the site in 2019, your best bet for up to date information (and cute animal videos and photos) are to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

So, speaking of goals for 2019, you may have seen our recent social post of our goals/to-do list whiteboard. We felt, given the tumultuous year we had in 2018, that it was important to catalogue not just our plans for this year, but also to show all the things we managed to accomplish in our first year homesteading. If you haven’t already, we strongly recommend doing this! Listing out all the things we did, even in broad terms, got us SO MOTIVATED to write out our new goals.

The January to-do list is unlikely to actually be completed in January; we’ve done some of the things but added more since. When we hit February 1, I’ll change the month in the heading, and add a few more things. But having our accomplishments and over-arching goals right there helps us keep the to-do list in perspective. While we are crossing items off the to-do list, we won’t do that for the Goals. Goals get check marks, and will stay up until next New Year’s when we start all over again.

It’s been hard, moving from the city to the country and learning a whole new way of living. Even without Y’s injury, we found it overwhelming and challenging. Family and friends asked “Isn’t that a lot of work?” “Aren’t you exhausted?” “How will you manage?” Yes, it’s been a lot of work, but the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a day’s work, the feeling of calm as we look up at the stars, and the taste of food we grew ourselves, has made it all worth while.

If you’re considering making the switch from city to country, YouTube and the web have lots of amazing resources for you to check out. As I blog throughout the year, on each post I’ll mention a few resources about specific topics.

So that you have a sense of my agenda, and so I have something to stick to, the next few posts in January and February will be about garden planning, seed ordering, and starting seeds indoors. March and April will be all about big spring projects, including our barn. May will be all about preparing and planting the garden, along with livestock and poultry purchases. With any luck, we’ll have some goat news to share by June, and we can start talking about breeding and selling livestock, milking, and animal health. Over the next six months, you’ll also see updates on the bees, chickens, ducks, goats, and yes, possibly even the cats. We’ll be working hard on our list, and will keep you updated.

Best of luck with all your own goals for this year. Thanks for reading, and happy 2019!


What We Did and Didn’t Accomplish This Summer

If you follow any blog, no matter how often they update, you’ll eventually get a “we’re sorry we don’t blog enough” post. Perhaps followed by a list of excuses. Ours has just come earlier than most.

I’m sorry we don’t blog enough. Or, frankly, at all. Aside from farm life being a bit more overwhelming than I initially expected, we had some setbacks that have put a damper on some of our grand plans this year.

First, what we did manage. We made a lovely home for ducks and chickens, and have since added more birds to the flock. We took our first ducks to slaughter, and sold or ate their meat, with mixed emotions. We are eagerly awaiting eggs, once we figure out if our chickens are hens or roosters! We made the barn somewhat livable and brought five goats home, with plans to breed and milk next year. We planted a huge vegetable garden, got a new roof on the house, dug a pond, put in fencing, and cleared tonnes of garbage and ruins off the property. I completed my beekeeping course and am building up my first hive of bees. We definitely made progress. See our YouTube channel for video of our adventures thus far.

Sarah Cuddling Sirius Black

Then, at the height of the good weather, Y had a serious accident. While pulling rotted wood from the upper floor of the barn, he fell through and broke his hip.

Less Than an Hour Before the Accident

We are extremely grateful his injury was not worse, but it did mean an ambulance, major surgery, over a week in the hospital, and eight weeks (so far) of wheelchair and crutches while he learned to walk again. It’s been difficult for me to keep up, and for Y to watch me struggle being largely unable to assist. I sprained my ankle and was on crutches for a few days too, which made things even harder!

Y Enjoying Being Home After His Hospital Stay

He is recovering very well, and is back to helping with the farm chores, riding the tractor around, mowing the lawn. But it did mean most of our large projects were put on hold, and during the eight weeks he’s been off I’ve had to let a few things slide.

Our garden became overrun with weeds, and we never planted the second round of vegetables. We have managed to harvest a lot from it – including more zucchini than we could possibly consume – but still more rotted, never grew, or grew too much (e.g. lettuces that bolted). It’s been a shame, but unfortunately low on the priority list. We are salvaging what we can and learning our lessons for next year about what grows well and what doesn’t in our clay-based soil.

We Managed Some Stellar Vegetables

We were hoping to get the barn more finished and stable, as a good home for the goats this winter. We may still get some done, but are also looking into other options. A lot depends on how nice the weather is this fall, and whether or not we can get a contractor to actually return a call. The goat pens and milking stand will have to wait too.

The duck pond is still just a hole in the ground, which fills with groundwater and rainwater. We wanted to get something filtering, so it wasn’t just a stagnant pool. Oh well. Ducks don’t seem to mind; they can be found in there most of the day.

We wanted more animals, turkeys and geese for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Might still happen, I guess, but we’ll see. We even thought about getting two lambs to live with the goats. Next year, hopefully.

We wanted to build up social media and this site, and start selling things properly. Make a real go at this farm being a second business. I’ve done my best with Instagram and YouTube but couldn’t keep up. Priorities.

I think even if Y hadn’t gotten injured, our plans were overly ambitious, but that’s the kind of people we are! We will do what we can for fall and winter, hibernate a bit, and get back at it in spring. We have many years ahead of us to complete all these plans and more!

So don’t give up on us. We got sidetracked, it’s true, but we’re mostly healthy and recovered, our resolve is not diminished (if anything it’s stronger than ever), and we WILL get this farm going.


The Inaugural Blog Post!

Hello! My name is Sarah Rodrigues, and I’m a co-owner of the Rodrigues Farm. I’ll be the main blog writer around here, updating you regularly on how our farm is progressing and what we’ve been working on.

But first, let me introduce us. My husband Yvan (who will henceforth be referred to as Y) and I moved to the country in September 2017. I’ve lived my whole life in the suburbs; Y was more rural growing up but has been city and suburbs ever since. Y had dreams of farm property, with enough acreage that he could pursue projects, raise animals, and grow things to his heart’s content. I wanted peace and quiet and a much bigger kitchen. We weren’t really even looking for a place, but I saw this property and thought “It couldn’t hurt to go to the open house.” A few days later, our offer was accepted and we began the process of moving.

Y asked me over and over if I was sure I could live in the country. I was sure. The first time we visited the house at night and I looked up to see, not horrible light pollution, but actual stars, I was sure.

The house was a pristine 1800s farmhouse, with stunning woodwork and every upgrade. It was move-in ready with only a few minor tweaks to make (low priority; we’ll deal with them next winter!) and exactly what I wanted. Though not particularly large at around 1500 sq ft, it is ideal for us, and had my absolute musts: a big bathtub, huge kitchen, dining room, three bedrooms, and lots of light.

dream kitchen

The property also managed to fulfill my husbands qualifications: no more than 30 minutes to work, at least 2 acres (it’s almost 5!), a large workshop, and room for animals. This property came with a dilapidated but structurally decent bar, another 1500 sq ft of workshop and garage, and even a dog run (now a chicken coop).

The price was right, the location was great, and it checked all the boxes, so without even looking at other places, we bought it. Maybe it was a bit impulsive, but #noregrets. If you’re considering moving from the city to the country, I’ll be posting about some things you’ll want to consider.

Fall and winter, not much happened. We dealt with moving in and unpacking, taking in a third cat, had our families over to see the new place, then pretty much hibernated over winter. With our full time jobs, we didn’t have a lot of time and energy to do much else, especially once the sun started setting at 5:30! Oh, except Y bought a tractor and backhoe without telling me … surprise!

With spring approaching, we kicked into high gear, ordering supplies and deciding what to put where. I took a beekeeping course, built my hive and ordered bees. Y plotted fencing and garden plots and got the equipment up and running.

We bought some ducklings and chicks on Good Friday. That’s sort of when it all became real for me – we now had animals to keep alive.

ducklings on day 1

Now that we’ve had a few proper spring days, and a few weekends of prep work, our farm is really shaping up. We’re getting ready for our two goats – Luna Lovegoat and Sirius Black – to arrive next weekend. We’re making sure our chickens and ducks are protected. We’re planting seeds and fruit trees. It’s exhausting – we both still work full time jobs – but in the best possible way. Being tired at the end of the day because you worked hard and accomplished something is the best feeling.

In addition to the actual farm work, I’ll be building us a web presence so you can all follow along, and hopefully inspire a few of you to try homesteading for yourselves. Check this blog for updates, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter or Instagram, or send me an email!

That’s all for now! Thanks for joining us on our journey … it’s going to be interesting.

Sarah