Posts Tagged ‘pot belly pigs’

I’ve mentioned a few times that we are needing to downsize and reorganize some of what we do.  As a result of this decision, we’ve had to say farewell to several beloved animals.  Jasper (the friendly goat), Laverne and Shirley, the two most wonderful mules in history, my Kiko goats, just to name a few.  Each has left a hole in my heart as he/she drove away to their wonderful new homes.

Well, it happened again this week.  A few more of my goats went to live in new digs.  We are very happy with the new owners, but my heart aches when I go to feed and they don’t come up to give me kisses.

I always thought farming was supposed to be an objective, matter of fact business, where animals come and go as the business needs demand and that is that.  I thought wrong.

On a small farm, and I suspect on larger ones, too, bonds inevitably develop between farmers and livestock.  I was talking via email earlier this week with a small farmer who simply cannot bring himself to process any of his hens, because he’s grown so attached to them.

I’ve always thought of myself as immune to that sort of thing.  For example, I’ve heard people talk about ‘buck fever’ during hunting season, when they just can’t seem to pull the trigger even with an unmissable shot.  I have never even has an inkling of such a condition.  So you can imagine my surprise when farming revealed a whole new side of me.

Most of our livestock is merely that, livestock.  We buy them or breed them, raise them, process them. It’s what we do.  It’s part of the circle of life.  But once in a while…

Exhibit A: Miracle the chicken.  Miracle has not laid an egg in at least a year.  She should have been in a crock pot or dog food a long time ago.  When she was only about 8 months old she caught her leg on some rusty barbed wire and got gangrene.  I found her in a pasture unable to stand.  The green went all the way up her leg.  I was sick about it, but was convinced that putting her down was the right thing to do.  Brittan persuaded me to try nursing her instead.  Her logic was, if she dies, she dies, but if we can save her it’s worth the effort.

My own thinking was, chickens don’t recover from gangrene and she’s suffering.  A responsible farmer doesn’t let the animals under his care suffer.  We’d had a lot of loss to predators that spring and many of the chickens weren’t quite dead and I had been forced to put them down.  I was really weary of killing, so I agreed to nurse the hen.  We put her in a corner of the barn with a water bowl and feed dish in easy reach.  For weeks she lingered at deaths door and didn’t move an inch.  She would, however, eat and drink a little.  Then one day we went out to gather eggs and the chicken was up.  She was limping badly and had lost quite a few chest feathers, but she was on her feet.

Each day after that she showed steady, observable improvement until she was back to normal with the single exception that the injured leg was twice as big around as the other one.  That’s when she got the name, Miracle.  Many chickens have come and gone since Miracle’s injury, but she remains, and will until old age finally takes her.

Exhibit B: Patty the Pig.  Patty is a Vietnamese Potbelly and should have been sausage ages ago.  She had one litter and all the other potbellies have been processed and forgotten.  Somehow, Patty never found her way to the freezer.  She now pretty much has the run of the place.  She sometimes sits by the milk bucket while Brittan is milking, hoping for the excess to make it into her bowl, or hoping B will look away long enough for her to pull down the whole bucket and steal the entire contents; all the while, wagging her tail and looking ever so innocent.

Patty has gone from livestock to pet.  It just happened. She will be with us forever.

This week, some more of our goats, a couple of them personal favorites of mine, went to live elsewhere.  I don’t know how, when or why I got attached to them, but I did.  It’s just not the same without them around.

Farming is not nearly as dispassionate as I thought, or hoped it would be, but it is realistic and reality says, things change.  We will go on.  Some of this year’s crop of kids will replace the ones we sold.  I’m going to try not to get so attached this time.  I expect to fail.


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sausagesOne of the words in every farmer’s vocabulary is, ‘flexible’.  We don’t always like the word, we sometimes wish we didn’t have to embrace it, but if we are anything, it is, flexible.

Even this blog post was originally going to be about my surgery and how Brittan has become even more of a superwoman than ever, but that post now has to wait.  I need to be flexible.

We made all these plans about butchering beef and pork in November.  Keep them on grass and hay all summer, then butcher in the autumn. Everything about the plan was solid.  We had a processor.  We had customers, including deposits. We had the animals. What could possibly go wrong?  Let’s go with….everything.

First, my neck went out.  Five bulging discs and pinched nerves put a real hamper in my ability to wrangle animals.  Heck, it messed with my ability to do pretty much anything except hurt.

As the weeks passed and my insurance company delayed approval for surgery, the processing time slipped to December, then January then February.  Besides frustrated customers and empty freezers, the delay meant extra feed bills.  Oh, well, we’re flexible.

I eventually gave up on surgery ever happening and booked a date in February to get the cows and pigs to the processor.  Then, out of the blue, my insurance company relented and my much needed surgery was scheduled.  You guessed it, 5 days before the animals were to go in.

Fortunately for us, the processor was able to move the date one more month into March.  It’s inconvenient because we had to feed animals all winter which is expensive. Life happens.

Wait, we’re not through yet. Speaking of life happening; three days ago, as I’m resting under the influence of my post op medications, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head,  my text message alert goes off, waking me reluctantly from my slumber.  The text is from Brittan saying, “We have baby pigs.”

As fate would have it, our runaway potbelly boar, managed to impregnate at least one of our Large Black Hogs before his demise.  For all we know, we may have more in a few days.  At any rate, we have 4 little half breed girl piggies and one little boy.  The bad news is, mamma won’t be going to become ham anytime soon.  It also means a pig pen needs to be built at our new farm.  And since I’m laid up for several more weeks, guess who all the work falls on?

The good news is, we know where our 2013 feeder pigs are coming from.  That will save us a few bucks.  If the other sow is drops young uns in the next month, we will have other issues to consider.  But….we’re flexible.

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve only been farming for 2 years.  Even if you count the two years of gardening alone as farming, the total is still only 4. That’s not a long time at all, but I’ve learned a great deal in that time.  Here are some highlights:

  1.  If your wife is the better mechanic, just go with it.

I am not, and have never been, handy.  My wife, on the other hand, is.  I believe in the Yellow Pages. Brittan believes in doing as much as she can by herself.  That’s true of carpentry and engine mechanics.  She likes stuff like that. I don’t get it.  I have rudimentary skills, in that I can do some rough carpentry, plumbing and electric when forced to.  I have done roofing, drywall, laid blocks, taken apart starter motors and a few other things as well over the decades, but I loathe it and am poor at it. One should only depend on my handiwork in dire emergencies.

Brittan, on the other hand, is good at these things and enjoys doing them enough to want to improve and broaden her skill set. Silly girl. But she has saved us a ton of money on things like chicken coops, feed troughs, raised beds and even minor truck repair.  Her latest wild idea is to replace the brakes (lines, discs and calipers) on the truck, by herself.  Her logic is sound. Doing it by herself will save us hundreds of dollars. And since the truck is a 97, what have we got to lose?

I have neither the desire nor the attention span to do things like that myself.  And yet, for the longest time, my ego didn’t want Brittan to do them, either.  Eventually, I got over it.  Saving money and having a happy wife are much more important than admitting to my macho friends, “My wife does that stuff around here.”  Oh, did I mention that she’s pretty darned good at it?

  1.  Pot Belly Pigs are liars and deceivers.

I love pigs. I love the pork they produce.  What I never liked was seeing a field or pen destroyed by the rooting and burrowing that pigs are famous for.  I figured the answer was Pot Belly Pigs.  They are cute, tasty, smart and too small to do much damage.  Besides, anything that can be leash and house trained can’t be too destructive, right?

We got our pigs back in the summer. They were just little weanlings and too cute to describe.  We kept them in an old chicken tractor for a couple weeks to make sure they were acclimatized to us and our other livestock.  We fed them some garden scraps and lots of whey and excess goat’s milk.

When we turned them loose, they went right to grazing and browsing, eating weeds and grasses that even the goats had ignored. It was perfect. Between the chickens and the pigs, we have not thrown a single table scrap in the garbage can for months now.

This idyllic scene lasted all summer.  A handful of goats, some chickens and 5 little pigs sharing a pasture in perfect harmony.  Brittan even trained one of the pigs to let her squirt goat’s milk straight into his mouth from about 3 feet.  It was a great party trick.

Then winter came.  The grass died. The milking stopped. The rains fell. The pigs got bored. Now, their pasture is dotted with pot belly pot holes. They have turned that idyllic space into the Iraqi frontier.  The little monsters deceived me. They spent an entire summer like some sleeper cell, lulling me into a false sense of security, then out of nowhere, BAM, shock and awe.

Sure, they’re still cute.  They love to get their ears scratched and bury themselves in the straw in the barn to nap, then pop out of their camouflage to squeal with delight when they’ve scared the wee, wee, wee all the way home out of me.  But I am no longer deceived.  They are terrorists.  Adorable, heartwarming, loveable terrorists.  It will not be forgotten at bacon makin time.

  1. Farming for food involves a lot of death.

Whether it’s eliminating rodents from the garden, processing animals, finding the remains of predation or dispatching the sick and injured, I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of death and gore in the last couple years.

Death never gets easier. Nor should it, I guess.  I did not anticipate, though, just how emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting it would be.

Brittan and I are omnivores. With a couple of notable exceptions, our customers are omnivores.  Fortunately, even the vegetarians among the East of Eden family of producers and consumers are appreciative of what we do here.

We started farming to produce our own food naturally, sustainably and ethically.  We knew there was death involved.  Brittan and I hunt and fish. We are not new to animal death, but shooting a turkey at the edge of field from a safe distance is a whole lot different than the up close and personal methods employed in pasture based poultry. I assure you that when you’ve spent 13 or 26 weeks with chickens and turkeys respectively, or 9 to 18 months with a feeder cow, the emotions change.

Over that time, we watch them grow from tiny, helpless little things, to maturity. I the case of poultry they are usually just a day or two old when they arrive. Rabbits and other livestock are often born here. In many cases we were there to watch and even assist in the birth.  We have fed them, cuddled them and nurtured them every day. We have talked and sung to them, and they to us.  They have made us laugh and they have made us angry. They have brought us something that too many people never experience; joy.

Processing days are hard. Anyone who does this will tell you the same.  It is emotionally easier to pick up a plastic wrapped package at the supermarket. That’s just meat.  To look a creature in the eyes and take its life, is an act of intention and is not done lightly.

It’s just as easy to ignore the fact that the steak, pork or chicken picked up already neatly presented at the supermarket very likely lived its life without a moment’s pleasure.  In the case of poultry, the birds may have never seen daylight until they were loaded on a truck and taken to be processed. Most pigs have never had a chance to tear up a pasture or bury themselves in the straw. The cows that produced the hamburger lived the last months of their lives in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, without the feel of grass beneath their fee or the sheer ecstasy of lying down at the edge of a hay stack for a nap in the afternoon sun.  That is why we do what we do. Our animals have a good life. They live as God intended, eating the food God created them to enjoy.  Their end comes at my hand and I know their lives are taken with respect for all they have given me.  When we sit down and the dinner table to enjoy a meal of vegetables and meat that we have raised, processed, preserved and prepared ourselves, we are aware of the connection we have to the soil and the life. We are more aware than at any other times in our lives that life is not cheap, but it IS precious.

While processing animals is stressful, having to put animals down is more so.  On multiple occasions, we’ve had birds or bunnies, which due to accidents or illness had to be put down.  For a while last summer, it was every day. We had a serious predator problem and we would come to the pastures to find killing fields. The carnage was awful.  Each time, I felt more helpless and angry than the time before.  Dozens of headless, partially eaten chickens and turkeys littered our pastures. Coyotes, hawks, owls and neighborhood cats and dogs were wreaking havoc.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there were ‘survivors’. Some animals escaped, but with mortal injuries.  For weeks on end, I had to dispatch one or more birds a day. I remember telling Brittan that I was totally exhausted from the task.  My soul hurt.

With the help of better fencing, donkeys and mules, my own .45 caliber pistol and the marksmanship of a good neighbor, predation has dropped to a manageable level, if such a thing exists, and I don’t know how I will cope if I ever have to go through a spell like that again.

To be continued…

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There’s not much happening around here this time of year and that’s the way it should be.  We have nothing in the garden except a few sugar snap peas and they are in the sun room in the house.  We have some small cherry tomato plants in there as well as a winter experiment.  Out at the farm things are quiet, too.  The sheep are gone. Most of the turkeys are in the freezer. The chickens are starting to slow down production a bit. The cows are getting ready for the processor.  The goats are finishing up the autumn breeding cycle. The rabbits are a bit behind in their breeding schedule, but are enjoying Fall. The pigs are eating everything that doesn’t move, because that’s what pigs do.  The donkeys and mules seem a bit bored with it all.

The only projects on the move are building some new chicken shelters and setting up the aquaponics tanks. I should be working on some of that right this minute, but I’m being quite lazy this week. So there.

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