Pasture Valley Local Farmer - Stephen McRae Shares

Posted 9 months, 2 weeks ago


Blairich farm developed in 1995 after I moved to my parents cottage property near Perth Ont for two weeks and never left. I had no plans to farm but had been interested since I was a child. Most likely because of my New Zealand heritage I decided to start with sheep. Knowing very little about them, my father suggested getting some and having them teach me. My flock consisted of 6 Rideau Arcott ewe lambs and a ram. I was fortunate that the farmers who sold me the sheep let me gain experience on their farm or I would not be where I am today.

As the flock size increased I looked to unused neighbouring fields. Agriculture in the immediate area was on the decline due to the refocus on machinery based cultivation where it is more economic to work larger areas. The soil here is rocky and shallow which is best suited for pasture. 90% of what the animals consume was being left behind to help fertilize the pasture. With temporary electric fence and a portable corral I was able to take advantage of these spaces and borrowed several other properties for hay and pasture. 

 

My next adventure was to introduce cows to the operation. In the beginning I felt that I would never be able to work with these massive creatures but after a few years of sheep I was ready to consider it. What really brought it forward was the fact that cows will eat the hay that sheep are not interested in so it made sense to capture a wasted resource. Two Hereford cows and their calves were purchased from the same farm I bought the sheep. Soon I could appreciate these majestic creatures and see how they fit into benefiting many aspects of the operation.

 

Chickens have always been on the farm but only for ourselves. We have raised a few egg layers and play cat and mouse with all the other animals who enjoy eating chicken. I then discovered the idea of chicken tractors which are moved everyday to provide fresh grass as well as 24hour protection. With these we started to collectively raise meat birds with the neighbors and get together to process them. There was nothing like having our own chicken to cook up over the winter and the taste was fantastic.  Once we found an abattoir that could legally process chicken to sell we decide to share the taste.

 

Diversity is one of the keys to a healthy environment and when considering my next move I thought about what was available on my operation. The pastures are all surrounded by forests so I decided to expand there. Of all the images of pigs I had in my head, none included their natural habitat. I was surprised to learn they are a forest animals. It makes sense once you think of their ability to root in the dirt and find food on the forest floor. I decided on Berkshire pigs for their temperament and abilities to thrive outdoors. Temporary electric fence is used to contain them in different areas of the forest to provide food and leave nutrients behind.

 

From 10 acres of fields on the home farm we now take care of 7 other properties with over 200 acres of hay fields and pasture. We also co own another 100 acre farm nearby.

Stay tuned to learn along with me the joys and challenges of managing a multidimensional operation with the aim of working with nature to provide food for people and rebuild the system of soil, plants, and animals.

 

 

Stephen McRae 

 


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