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Archive for the ‘homestead pigs’ Category

This is an annual event — three or four families gather to slaughter and preserve five hogs we’ve raised together.  It used to take three days.  Now, after 17 years of doing it, it takes us about ten hours.  The salting, of course, will be quite a bit longer, but the cuts are all done, and the lard is rendered.  The same bad jokes have been told, and new ones introduced into the script; pots of coffee and pans of cinnamon rolls consumed regardless of gory hands; two harvest meals prepared and eaten.  Now Barry can drain the waterline to the barn before the ground freezes too deep.

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Topping mangels in the field.  Topped roots are bagged in used feed sacks and go into the root cellar for a few weeks of aging, after which they are more easily digestible.  The tops will be fed out to the pigs over the next couple of weeks, providing a valuable element of green food in these late fall days.

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Mangels are great pig food for the winter months since the store very well and are a high-energy food, good for helping animals keep warm when the temperatures drop.   We harvested a 30 x 50 foot bed two days ago; the crop was just fair, but even that is about 1500 lb. of roots, plus there are all the tops to feed out right away — about 200 lb. of high-iron greens.  Fall is abundant in its provision — we are backed up with farm-produced calories for the animals.  It helps to have some experience in determining how to put these to put these to the best use — for timing, for the right animals, in the right proportions and combinations.  On the farm, there is no such thing as waste.

 

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Cheese making has many permutations.  There are enough curds in a ten-gallon cheese that we can steal some for the chickens’ daily protein ration and never miss them.  Whey goes to the pigs, except the quart we’ve reserved to backslop the next cheese.  Now the cheese cabinet is nearly full, it’s time to buy in a couple of extra calves and take the burden of milk processing off the cheese makers.

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Pigs are how a farm stores surplus nutrients, and how non-human-grade nutrients are converted to forms of more value to the farm.  In plain language, farms need pigs to eat the garbage and turn it into bacon and piglets.  For us, this means we need at least one or two pigs all year ’round, and usually we have at least four going.  We feed them out until they get big — sometimes really big — or until we have a new set started — and then we butcher.  Summer and fall, of course, generate the most surplus, dropping off as winter closes in, but never really drying up; there are always whey and buttermilk, rinds and hulls and seeds of things, carrot tops and potato water and so on.  The summer hogs went into freezers — ours and the monastery’s — in September/October.  Four little guys are bunking in the sty in the big barn now.  With the late calves weaning and the consequent cheese and butter making, they are having a hard time keeping up with all the buttermilk and whey.  The garden is still furnishing us with some bean haulms and perennial weeds to add greens to the pigs’ diet, and the poorer-grade hay we toss down to them is acceptable food before they turn it into bedding.

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There are deep footprints through the plots of mangel-wurzels, oats and field peas, and Country Gentleman corn, where three cows got through the open lane gate while we were milking and did spring dances in the soft, wet earth.  They probably didn’t do much real damage, but beds aren’t as pretty any more.  Where the potatoes are just beginning to come up, weeds are threatening to get ahead of them, so we have to begin laying on the mulch trusting to our memories to tell us just where those seed potatoes are.  Ten beds, fifty by seventy-five, rotate between field corn, potatoes, mangels and squash, with a cycle of turnips and beans to follow the potatoes, and the squash and corn undersown with clover.   The beds of mangels and rows of corn alternate with paths we are slowly converting to Dutch while clover, the small-scale, low-tech version of contour plantings of corn and fallow.  The interplanting of clover should shade the soil, hold moisture, slow erosion (a serious issue on our sloping garden), foster beneficial insects and fix nitrogen.  It also makes work, since the paths must then be mowed or hand-harvested of their legume crop, but is this any worse than having to weed them?

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pig gestation

Porca’s seven piglets justified the pig farmer’s maxim for porcine gestation:  ‘three months, three weeks, three days and three o’clock in the morning’ — it was just about three o’clock Tuesday morning that we pulled our sore bones out of the shower — we’d been sitting in the pig pen since eleven — and climbed into bed.  Seven piglets, with one casualty, stepped on before we got there.  Beautiful, vigorous spotted babies anxious for nourishment.

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