Just When You Think You're Out of the Pig Business...

20130914-132109.jpg  So we were JUST having a conversation the other day about our pigs - specifically how our boar, Tim, had been declared "ineffective" during his visit to a neighbor's sow.  Still, we thought possibly one or maybe two of our girls was looking a little "baggy" but maybe we were just being hopeful.  Tim had spent a great deal more time with the neighbor's sow than with our girls and if he couldn't get it done there, what chance did our girls have really?  But, alas, it appeared that we simply weren't going to be in the pig business this year.  We briefly considered keeping one sow, because they are such a nice heritage breed (Duroc-Berkshire cross), but finally decided that Tim and the girls would go to the Great Beyond (the freezer), allowing Frank to hone his butchering skills. We'd start over next year and, hey, won't winter be a little easier for us without four pigs to feed and care for?  Great plan.

Then we met up with that same neighbor the next evening at a fabulous party celebrating a group of women who all turned 60 this year.  He said, "Hey, I meant to tell you, I was about to load our sow up onto the trailer to go to the butcher and I looked at her and thought, 'Wouldn't it be stupid if I put a pregnant sow on that trailer?' So I decided to wait a little longer.  She had eleven piglets the other day.  Turns out I wasn't giving Tim enough credit."  Well, I should say so! Of course, we had doubted him, too, and had to apologize...

Turns out we had three pregnant sows.  (Thank you, Tim. Job well done.) There was discussion about where the sows would farrow, and when, but other big chores took precedence over building another pig house right away. Of course, as soon as a huge storm was headed our way Cinnamon chose to farrow with a litter of seven perfect little piglets.  Those are her little red piglets above and the exciting story of dropping a house on her is here.

Two days later, Eunice began pacing and by the time Frank was doing his evening chores, she was delivering piglet number two.  Frank and Maddrey hurriedly prepared the existing pig house for her, and separated Tim and Lucy into another area.  By the time dinner was cooked, Eunice farrowed eight little piglets.  The hard lesson of farming was restated this morning, however, when I went to see the piglets myself for the first time.  Seven little piglets were happily climbing over one another while one little piglet lay lifeless in the straw near the entrance.  I picked her up quickly, hoping maybe she was still warm and Maddrey could work some miracle, but that would not happen.  She had clearly died shortly after being born; her tiny body unable to handle anything more than her delivery into this world.

So we're up fourteen piglets in four days and watching Lucy for signs of another litter.  Frank is tearing apart an old shed for spare parts to create another wonderful pig house, while Maddrey gives tours to friends and neighbors who want a little piglet cuddle time.  Fortunately, all of our pigs are friendly, affectionate and don't mind people one bit as long as somebody gives them a butt scratch or a bucket of goodies.

The lesson here, of course, is that with farming, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.  And just when you think something isn't going to happen, it just might...

 Eunice's seven little piglets - they look just like her!


 Aerial view of Cinnamon's piglets.


Oran wanted to see the piglets as well, so he got a ride on Mama's back.




 This is our little herd (also a group of pigs can be a drove or a sounder.  I rather like sounder, and Frank insists that's the only term that is correct)... Eunice, Tim, Cinnamon and Lucy.

Oh, and the reason they're in a muddy enclosure is that we're using them to tear up old roots and thatch in our pasture, and it's been raining a lot lately.  We move their electric fence every couple of days to a fresh spot, and they dig in - literally - using their snouts to shovel up the soil, tear up the thatch and clean up our pasture to allow the grasses to return in the spring.





Someone Might Drop a House on You

Our wonderful boar, Tim (the good-looking fellow on the left), had gone to "do his duty" with a neighbor for a few months this last spring, and had been sent home with a gentle complaint that it was unlikely anything had "been accomplished" and no piglets were expected for their sow. Three heritage breed pigs

 We recently heard from that same neighbor that Tim was a daddy to ELEVEN piglets, all perfect. So we started looking harder at our own sows, which we had noticed were looking like they might have biscuits in the oven. Yep, we had two pregnant sows, possibly three, but we weren't sure when they were due exactly. Although swine gestation is typically 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, we knew we were close.

Turns out, Cinnamon was the first to farrow yesterday morning, presenting us with seven beautiful little piglets. We had roughly planned to house the sows and piglets in one side of the first horse barn, but upon consideration, Frank and Maddrey decided that another pig house needed to be built. Now, that would take a day or so, but the weather forecast said serious thunderstorms and hard rain were headed our way in the early morning hours. So Maddrey and I ran into town to get parts and Frank got to work.

Many hours later, in the blackness of an overcast, seriously dark night, Frank and Maddrey dragged the new pig house down into the field - through the mud from previous rains, over the roots and rocks and ruts, and into the pig fence. While Frank kept Mama Cinnamon occupied, Maddrey quickly made a deep bed of straw, bringing the piglets up into it, so they didn't really move. Then Frank literally dropped the house on them - tipping it carefully over the hay bed and piglets. Mama Cinnamon hurried inside to check her babies just as the rain began to pour. And pour hard. But Mama and her new babies were safe and warm in their new house. A much better outcome than the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz!

Frank temporarily roofed the pig house with a tarp, but will be adding tougher plastic and wiggle wire (which we love for building our hoop houses!) as time allows.






By the way, in order to obtain these photos, I needed to climb across the electric pig fence.  I've been moving so much better since breaking my hip last year, I was confident I could get across.  And I did.  Except when my second foot landed, I slipped and fell face first into the pig pen and ONTO our giant boar Tim. Visions of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz flashed in my head. Fortunately, our boar is a lovely fellow and only snorted a little, then looked back at me to ask if I was okay.  And if I was, would I be willing to scratch his butt?


Painted Pepper Farm

We went for a visit to see Lisa today at Painted Pepper Farm so that Frank could give her horse and donkey's feet a trim. It's great when farmers can help out or hire one another, and there are enough folks with special skills handy and willing to throw in.

20130630-172230.jpg The donkey is a cutie, but a donkey nonetheless, and was athletic enough to leap into the air with Frank still holding firmly onto one of its legs. Impressive. But look at that face...

20130630-172343.jpg Lisa has a herd of Nigerian goats and creates yogurt, gelato, and amazing fudge (chocolate and peanut butter favors) which she sells at Farmers Markets as well as local grocery stores. Check out her Facebook page at the link for locations The baby goats are ridiculously cute, bouncing all over the place. We have to goats ourselves (Zelda and Arturo). Maddrey assures me that baby sheep are even cuter... I suspect we'll be getting more sheep than our current herd of two soon.



Baby chicks in the house

The chicks weren't expected until Friday, but when Frank returned from the feed store and casually mentioned that all the chicks were in, Maddrey immediately got them both back in the car and off to the store they went. Less than half an hour later, they returned with 10 baby Silver Lace Wyandotte chicks. A quick, temporary setup with a box, shavings, and a desk lamp will keep them cozy for a day or two. Meanwhile, they make for good entertainment. chick video


Chocolate Moose

20130406-151640.jpg Well, it's good to have nice neighbors who call early in the morning to tell us we've got a moose behind the garage. Of course, we all threw on clothes and mud boots and ran outside, as seeing a moose in the flesh was a long-dreamed thrill for us all. There she was, a little, probably 9-10 month old female, looking slightly worse for wear and a little alone. Our neighbor guessed that her mother is probably dead, but we also read that mama moose will run off last year's baby prior to calving this year's crop.

We watched her quite a bit, but not more closely than the horses, who wouldn't come near their food until this creature was gone. And since Frank couldn't feed, he observed her quite a while which allowed him to notice that this poor baby was covered in moose ticks. Being a natural with getting animals to trust him, Frank was able to get close enough to apply a quick line of topical tick killer (Maddrey determined the correct dosage for this baby first). The Ivermectin should also take care of most internal parasites as well. So maybe she'll be a little healthier after her visit to the farm.

Who knows, maybe she'll hang out in our woods!

The Stowaway

When Frank came up to the farm to begin replacing the roof, he also brought a truck and trailer-load of tools, fencing, equipment... and a lone chicken. This little hen decided that Frank was not leaving without her and she managed to get into the trailer without anyone noticing.  Until Frank made an additional stop to pick up a wood-burning stove and discovered her.  She had settled in nicely but Frank was concerned that she wasn't safe in the trailer and brought her up to the front seat of the truck for the remainder of the ten-hour drive.  Once they were both at the farm, he managed to create a little area for her to be safe during the day - we had no fencing up anywhere and live on a street that gets more traffic that she is accustomed to.  But for the night, she needed her coop.  Always one to be creative, Frank found her a nice cozy home - in the kitchen cabinet.  She was delighted and slept tight until morning, when she was released into her little private yard.