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Posts Tagged ‘feeding beets to pigs’

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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Wednesday, November 13:

   Updates.  The lactating cows are still on the front pasture, and it looks like they will be able to graze there another two or three weeks, making two months in all.  This pasture was only worth a month of grazing in July.  The conclusion to these facts is that the second-growth forage has a higher feed value, due in part to the beneficial effects of rotational grazing.  This is predictable, but still gratifying.

   The dry cows are moving across the back half of the farm, where there is still about five weeks’ grazing before they must be moved closer to the frost-free spring tank.  Even paddocks that were grazed only a week or two ago show green regrowth, and the west side of the hill, over which the cows passed in September, is emerald green and smooth the fuzz on a peach.  This area is remote from the monastery; a six-year-old boy with a golf-club and no interest in the work at hand returned from a dusk stroll with reports of two coyotes patrolling the wood’s edge, and a frenetic skunk doing the hoochi-coo in the naked raspberry canes.  It is an interesting life.

   Eight small piglets were moved to the monastery garden last Thursday, where they patrol an area some thirty by thirty-five feet, grubbing for whatever pigs grub for.  We have not yet put them in the barley patch; right now they only have access to frozen beans, which are of only slight interest, and the beets and turnips, which have more appeal.  Unforeseen is the disparity in size between the turnips – many are larger, considerably larger, than a softball – and the tiny mouths of these fifteen-pound baby pigs.  The tops of the vegetables are eaten with relish, but the roots themselves are just too big for the  babies.  Shall we cut them up? – lengthy job – or pull them and cart them back to the barn for Hunk and Porca, the parent pigs?  Actually, Hunk, who lived his first five months on commercial feed, shows little interest in roots, but Porca, who has been with us since she was a little piggy and knows all about vegetables, loves beets and turnips.  Come to think of it, it will be nice to know that there is at least one food Porca will get to enjoy without having to compete with Hunk, her ungallant lover.  At any rate, the pig garden looks like giving us a good deal of pig food, one way or another.

   Our first snow of any consideration fell late on Monday night, and the cows’ consumption of water went down to almost nothing.  Who needs water when every bite of grass includes a good mouthful of snow?  But paddocks have to be bigger now, when the cows require extra food just to keep warm.  The two-year-old steers that have been out on grass an hour west of here on the farm of a friend with more grass than livestock, were fetched home yesterday and put in with the dry cows.  The grass must have been good where they were; they are huge, for Jerseys, solid, with a look of meditation in their dark eyes.  One will go to the locker on Monday, his karma being to provide fuel for the monastery’s prayers.  They knocked down a fence this afternoon, so I, for one, will not miss him.

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Wednesday, September 26:

Let us speak for a moment about pigs.  Not the two pastured pigs presently residing by the stock pond, but the pigs in the barn.  It is a serious consideration for the family-scale farmer what to feed his livestock; since he is not raising his animals primarily to sell them but to eat them, it is important that they be fed for just as small a cost as possible.  The meat we raise may be better than anything money can buy, but we whose means are limited cannot consider it a bargain unless we reduce the actual cash outlay to almost, or literally, nothing.  This means little or no bought-in feed.  So what do our pigs eat?

Well, first of all, dairy waste.  Only in a family-scale dairy, there is no waste, there are just dairy products.  The ones that usually go to the pigs are whey, buttermilk, and some skim milk.  Right now, with the cows either going into heat or in early pregnancy and with three baby bulls in the calf barn, there is less milk to spare than we like to see, maybe a gallon of skim every other day, two gallons of buttermilk a week, and whey only by the quart from drained yogurt.  The pigs devour it.

When there is no milk there is swill, or slops, the cooked vegetable and table scraps from our own and the monastery’s kitchens.  This is also extremely palatable to the pigs, as well as to the chickens and dogs.  There is bakery waste usually two days a week, given to us at third hand by the Franciscan sisters to whom it is delivered in black plastic trash bags.  There are windfall apples by the bucketful, gathered from the trees in the pasture.  These have only been ours for two years, just since we bought the field, and the pruning we have been doing, while it helps, has not yet succeeded in making the apples from those trees worth harvesting for our own use, but the bruised fruit, sweet , red and yellow, is prized by pig, chicken, and duck, miniature horse, and the cows.

The garden offers many things for the pigs, and will offer more.  The zucchetta rampicante, or tromboncino zucchini, which has sprawled fifteen feet out of the raised bed where it is trellised, produces far more squash than our households can use.  The overgrown individuals are roughly chopped with a hatchet when we split the firewood for cooking swill and added to the mess in the big copper cauldron.   Bean plants, corn stalks and tomato vines pulled from the garden are thrown in the pig pen where what is not eaten becomes bedding, trampled and chewed to shreds.  In the monastery garden ranks of beets and turnips, maybe a thousand row feet or more, fill the open spaces left when the potatoes were harvested, and these are intended for the pigs winter food.  And the late beans, when we have had our share, will provide good protein for all the pigs on the farm.

This last item seems to us a good idea, and next year any spaces left empty before the middle of Augusts will be sown to pintos as fodder for the pigs and cattle.

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