Archive for the ‘homestead pigs’ Category

The last weeks of October are full and straining at the seams.  Apple cider and pie apples leave only sauce apples to process; when they are done it will be high time to get the cabbages out of the garden and start kraut.  There are still some bell peppers to freeze, and the green beans the frost hasn’t burned could still be harvested; we hope the field corn will dry and the ears drop before the deer get really determined about jumping the fence.

The animals are on a different cycle:  all the cows and heifers have been bred — some more than once — but it remains to be seen whether they settled; we watch the cows through the barn door while we milk, but no one seems frisky.  The heifers, who are at the back of the farm, are wearing heat stickers, which we hope will let us know if any one needs to be re-bred.  On All Saints’ the ram goes in with the ewes; the sow, God willing, will farrow in the next week or so.

What doesn’t kill us will make us strong —


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We have something less than half of the mangel-wurzels harvested.  They filled the back of the pickup.  We brought them home and topped them and put them in the root cellar between the rows of potato crates, and our muscles ache from the hauling, but they are money in the bank — piggy bank, actually, since they are a good part of our winter pig food.  Mangels, according to our sources, shouldn’t be fed until they have aged a few weeks; this is fine, since there are still quite a few sub-prime winter squash for the pigs to finish first.  Isn’t it nice that squash seeds are a natural wormer, just when we are going into the winter and want to make sure that everyone has his parasites under control?

We should have a litter of piglets soon; we were aiming for July, but the boar was a little slow off the mark . . .

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Baking day.  Sixteen pounds of dough for loaves, ditto for rolls, and crust for eight pizzas, means a substantial amount of bread, and should last us about a week and a half.  The last of the peaches were picked and frozen, and the garlic we set on screens in the summer kitchen to dry, are being tied in bunches and hung up high under the roof over the stone fireplace where we grill steaks.  In the woodshed, the onions from one of the three onion beds are drying on boards set across two sawhorses, four double rows of three-inch bulbs.  They will not be dry enough to braid before we harvest the other two onion beds, so we will have to overflow into the garage and dry onions there, too.  Food is everywhere; some, like the tomatoes, still growing; some, the late green beans, for instance, just getting their legs under them.  A great deal of food is running around in the back pasture, or grunting in the styes under the barn.  But the tide is beginning to come in.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014:

This time of year there are thousands of things to write about and no time to write them in.

The Joe Pye weed is frothing over in all the ditches, huge cauliflower-heads of mauve on six-foot burgundy stems, with whorls of lanceolate leaves from the ground up.  Chickory still hangs blossoms the color of heaven at the edge of the road, and Queen Anne’s lace is so thick over the pastures they look frosted.  But the first golden rod is in a tumbler in the middle of the kitchen table, so we know summer is on a limited tether.

The mangel-wurzels (real word, we kid you not) were thinned twice early on to give them room for expansion; they are supposed to be able to grow as big as twenty pounds.  Nevertheless, the rows are crowded, and we decided to thin them once more.  At least, we decided to see what would happen if we did, but we hedged our bets by only thinning alternate rows, leaving the remaining rows to do what they would.  “Thinning” may not be the mot just — we are harvesting large mangels, one-half pound or more, mostly, and leaving more mangels, large and small, to grow as much as they will before frost threatens.  We straddle the odd-numbered rows, pushing the harvested roots, candy-apple red, into woven feed sacks so we can carry them home to the sow and boar.  A full sack weighs somewhere between thirty and forty pounds, we guess, the leaves taking up a lot of the room.

We just finished row eleven of fifteen — that is, the sixth row to be thinned of eight — and we have harvested somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty to twenty-five sacks of mangels, or about eight or nine hundred pounds.  We feed them at the rate of a sack a day, with corn or milk or both for the second feeding.  In October we will pull all the mangels, top them, and pile them on the big barn floor, tarped against frost and wandering sheep.  Comparing the weights of the mangels from thinned rows against those from rows unthinned should give us some idea of which ultimately produces more.  Leaving aside the food value of the tops, which the pigs will appreciate, there should be well over a ton of mangels to feed the hogs, that is to say, eighty to one-hundred twenty days’ worth of pig roots — Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise.  That’s a substantial amount of pig food.  And we haven’t even begun to estimate the turnip crop.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014 (nighttime):
The past three weeks have been very warm, up near ninety during the day, and the south wall of the dry cellar, unprotected as yet by ivy or overhang, is soaking up lots of solar energy. This is fine for the day lilies planted along the wall, but not so good for the cheese cave built into the back of the dry cellar. The thermometer in the cave has been creeping up from the forties (in April), to the fifties (May and early June), and a week ago it had gotten up into the low sixties – time to move the cheeses into the dairy cooler. This is okay as far as aging the cheeses goes – they are meant to be eaten young – but not so good for the cooler, which easily gets crowded. Eight five-pound cheeses take up a lot of room.
This afternoon we cut into the oldest cheese, to fill the gap between Sunday breakfast – always a big meal – and Sunday dinner, a late meal beside the fishpond. It was a three-month-old Appalachia, a thermophilic hard cheese, which we had wrapped, for purposes of experiment, with muslin and coated with lard. It was an interesting mottled orange on the outside, with spots of olive green and chartreuse, not all of which peeled off with the muslin. We tried the first bit with the rind and decided this cheese needed to be pared (just a little earthy, it was); but the inner cheese is outstanding. And the pigs will love the rinds.
We love cheese. And pigs. They go together.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014:
Snow last week has given way to temperatures in the fifties. The sun has been out some of the time, and the green tinge on south and west slopes of the pasture deepens noticeably in a single day. The cows scrounge for the tender green spears of new grass and leave the brown, high-carbon forage to lie. Question: do we expand paddocks to prevent overgrazing of the new growth, or tighten them up to increase competition and best use of the limited forage? We’ve tried the first (Beth gets fretful about low milk production, and the lactating cows are, after a winter of good flesh, looking a little boney), and our observation has been that the cows just spread out and scrounge some more spring growth; so, tomorrow we’ll close down the twelve-hour paddock by forty percent or so and see if rubbing shoulders with one another increases their root-pig-or-die instincts.
In the garden the winter spinach is growing faster than we can eat it; much faster. The young chicks get some chopped spinach along with their ground liver every day. We eat spinach salads with young chives and slivered almonds practically every night, but it never gets monotonous, it is so delicious. On Friday we’ll make spanakopita. Two long beds of seed onions have been planted and last night received the blessed rain; a row of peas set out last week won’t be enough, and we’ll plant another tomorrow. In the kitchen garden there are short rows of beets, carrots and lettuce planted, with wire panels laid over the beds to keep the dogs from digging them up, a capital offense if Mom finds out about it.
Last Tuesday as the Bishop said the funeral mass for Father Ray Ryland and his family and devoted friends followed his body to the grave, a Consol tug steaming down the Beautiful River between New Cumberland locks and Pike Island rounded the bend above Weirton, West Virginia and grounded gently on the sandbar below Alikanna Creek. There is a buoy marking the bar, and twelve barges of coal overran it before the tug, drawing more water than the giant raft, met the bottom. I don’t know if the pilot was asleep, or distracted, or just not looking. We shoveled the dirt into Father’s grave by turns, old men and young men, women and girls and small children, but mostly his strong, tall grandsons, while the sextons looked on. They said no one had ever filled in their own grave before. I wonder if the river boat pilot lost his job.
That boar had three weeks with Porka the sow before we took him out of there. Last fall he fathered ten piglets on her and we thought the job was done this time, but her gestation time is more than past and there are no piglets. There is more to this game than pouring swill in a trough and counting days; we will seek help from our experts.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014:

   Last Friday the late summer hogs went to the freezer.  These are the hogs we raise on commercial feed up the road with our friend, neighbor and mentor, Barry, the man who taught us how to butcher something big and get recognizable pieces at the end.  Each year for the past dozen or so years, around about July, we pick up three or four  feeder pigs from one or another of the local farmers, pen them in Barry’s palatial bank barn and put as much commercial feed in front of them as they’ll eat.  Used to be that was all there was to it:  we’d keep the self-feeder full, clean the pen and water tank once a week, and somewhere around the first weekend in January they’d be ready, weighing in around two-twenty-five to two-fifty apiece.  We’d make a three day marathon of it, hanging the sides overnight to let the meat set up so it would cut easy.  Squadrons of little kids – in the beginning they were very little kids – would stand on both sides of the nine-foot-long butchering bench cutting meat in chunks for the grinder, while the men cut chops with a hack saw and inside someone scraped casings for the sausage.  It was a good way to learn.

   The last few years the schedule has been variable, though.  It’s a funny thing, but the pigs are getting picky about their feed.  More than once we’ve had the experience of finding that the young animals aren’t eating their mash, or their pellets, just scooping it out of the feeder and onto the floor, building up a bank of wasted feed around the galvanized feeder.  The pigs don’t grow; they just maintain, and meanwhile sack after fifty-pound sack of feed is going uneaten.  After giving them ample time to adjust to whatever we are offering, we’ll switch and try something new.  If it is pellets they are rejecting, we’ll try mash; if mash, then pellets, or our feed mill’s specialty mix.  Eventually we find something that goes down all right and the pigs finally get their growth, but in these cases we end up butchering late, February, or even, as this year, in early March.  We watch the weather anxiously, needing a cold weekend for the job since Nature is our only cooler.

   We’re hearing stories like this from other places, too.  Farmers in Minnesota and South Dakota, for example, in Vermont and Kentucky, report animals turning picky about commercial grain rations.  In Pennsylvania one of our correspondents reports ongoing experiments with their own animals, experiments that seem to indicate that, given a choice, livestock will avoid eating genetically modified grains and beans.  Even the rats, we hear, will bypass a bin of Bt corn in favor of a non-mutated grain.  We wonder if the constituent ingredients of our commercial hog rations, undoubtedly including GM corn and soy, are the reason for the hogs’ lack of appetite.  Fortunately our home hogs, Porca the mother sow and her children, are on a diet consisting mainly of garden surplus, fruits and vegetables salvaged from a local grocery store, with a good bit of waste bread from a small bakery in the city, and lots of waste buttermilk, whey and clabber.  Whatever GMO’s are or are not doing to our livestock and ourselves, we’re glad to think that our farm is largely independent of a bankrupt agricultural system.

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