Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Crazy ducks

I got ducks back in the spring as about week old ducklings. Of course, they start laying just as it turns cold. They lay in one or two communal nests, and I guess draw straws to see who has to sit on them. I just let them sit and took a few eggs here and there, 'cause you know duck eggs are great for baking.

I never dreamed that they would hatch out in this weather. Well, they did....on a 16 degree day. I found out when my dog came running into the house with what I thought was one of her squeak toys. As she got closer, I could tell it wasn't her squeak toy. Yep, it was a duckling. She didn't kill it, it just didn't make it because it was too cold. I couldn't believe it hatched. There were actually three. None made it. That hen is going to be a good brooder in warmer weather if she can hatch them when it's this cold.

We've been seeing a lot of the sad side of the circle of life recently. Hopefully, we'll get to see the happier side soon with the arrival of several healthy doe kids. On a side note, I'm still being entertained by the pigs. I think it's mainly because I don't know much about them. They're vicious little beasts to each other, and all they do is eat, sleep, and poop. They're coming around to us, probably because we usually show up with something they want. Gotta keep the bacon happy. We'll get them on pasture soon where they belong.

What's going on today in your world?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The pigs have landed...

They're here. They're here. Saturday, I made the two hour drive to H and H Farm in Norton, OH to pick up my registered gilt (young female) and two feeder (bacon) pigs. The Hoffman's have a beautiful farm where they raise heritage hogs, turkeys, chickens, and Limousin cattle on pasture. I also picked up some of their pork to get a taste of what I was raising...more on that later.

I loaded the pigs into a dog crate. I had originally planned on only getting one feeder but decided if we do get into a farm market, it would be nice to have some to sell, so ended up getting two feeders.
Now, I'm here to tell you that a two hour drive with three pigs cuddling in a crate is not a pleasant experience. the pigs didn't seem to mind. They like to snuggle together when they sleep. After about an hour, the heat went off, as it was only enhancing the smell. That's when I remembered that Chad had bought me a Carhart hat with a pulldown facemask and it was in my pocket! I drove the rest of the way home looking like a bank robber but was in olfactory bliss.

Let me introduce the pigs:
Mr. Humphries
Since these pigs originate from England, we tried to give them British sounding names. We love the 70's British sitcom, Are You Being Served, so named one after Mr. Humphries. Martha is named after Martha Stewart. Nigel just was the most British sounding name we could think of.

Martha and Mr. Humphries are both pure Old Spots. Nigel is 1/2 Old Spot and 1/2 Large Black. The Large Black is another heritage breed that is also listed in critical status by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. I really like the looks of Nigel. He's only a week older, but considerably larger than the other two.

We have the little porkers in the barn until we get the pasture all squared away for them. I never realized what a vicious world it is for pigs. They do not like to share at all. They take turns standing in the middle of their feed dish and biting the ears of the others that try to eat( just like in Mr. Humphries picture). I'm finding that pigs can be a bit picky too. They don't like raw carrots but scarf down cooked ones. I've taken to throwing all the cooking scraps into a pan and boiling them. Yes, I'm cooking for pigs. Trust me, it will all pay off in the end. Yesterday, I fixed them a nice, big bowl of oats for breakfast.

Now to the important part, BACON. I bought some bacon, sausage, and a roast with the pigs to see what I was in store for. All I have to say is, if that was bacon, what the hell have I been eating the rest of my life. It was nothing like Oscar Mayer. It was thick and meaty and substantial. It was delicious. It also didn't have any ingredients in it that weren't completely naturual. I can't wait to try the rest.

We're really hoping we can make a difference with this breed. We can't let them just fade off the planet like so many other species. I think we're in the middle of a food revolution where people actually care what they're putting into their bodies. I'd be very proud to be part of that revolution. Pigs weren't meant to live in closed up buildings never seeing the sun except maybe when they're loaded on the truck to take them to the slaughterhouse. They are meant to root around in pastures and forests. The stuff that you buy on slabs of styrofoam wrapped in plastic is not what pork is. It's some engineered product that we are told is pork. If you don't already know, you'll see when these pigs become pork.

Are you going to be part of the revolution?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Today is one of the sad ones.

This morning we were running around a bit hectic. Chad is playing a benefit show in Columbus, so we were taking care of the animals before we left with Ma and Pa. I was feeding the goats and I noticed that Esmerelda was bleating a lot and not coming over to eat. I went over to pet her and check her out to see if anything looked wrong. Well, something definitely looked wrong. She had something about a foot long hanging out of her lady parts. The lighting wasn't the best in that corner of the stall, so I ran to the house to grab a flashlight, towels, and Chad. It's amazing how fast you can move when that adrenaline is pumping.

I called the vet and found out who was on call this weekend. It ended up being Dr. Monica from the Fredericktown vet clinic. Pa was in the stall with Esmerelda when I got back to the barn. He's seen lots of farm critters give birth in his many years. He said it looked like what comes out after. Dr. Monica agreed. We talked a bit more and she advised that if I was comfortable with it, I should try to go in. I knew that day would come and definitely hadn't been looking forward to it.

I pulled the membrane we saw out. You should only do this if you've been advised by your vet or have WAY more experience than I do. I examined the membrane and saw something odd. I examined closer and realized that Esmerelda was miscarrying. It was a fetus that wasn't very far along. I called Dr. Monica back and she said that I didn't need to go in, just watch and make sure she was ok and looked like she passed everything and to give her penicillin twice a day for the next 3 days. I thanked her again and sat with Esmerelda hoping I was providing at least a little comfort to her.

Shortly, Esmerelda started pushing again. I figured this was just after birth. It ended up being another kid that was breech. This one was much farther along. In fact, I was hoping there might be a chance that it was alive. It wasn't. It was a little billy.He didn't have fur yet, but had the coloring on its skin.He looked likehe was going to be colored just like his mama.

I called Dr. Monica back just to let her know the whole story. She said it was very odd to have the two fetuses of different development levels. I asked her if we should try to milk Esmerelda if she develops and she recommended not to. We'll keep a close eye on her and pamper her even more than usual over the next week or so.

It's interesting looking at everything in hindsight and all the a-ha moments. Yesterday, Esmerelda was very talky which is unusual for her. Her teats were bigger which we missed. She recently had pinkeye. One of the types of bacteria that cause pinkeye can also cause abortions.

You have to take this as a learning experience, but it's very sad. The farm can be a brutal classroom at times. I'm sad for Esmerelda, sad for us, and sad for the little kids. We'll bury them in a nice spot so they can go back to the earth and nourish the farm they would have called home had they lived. It's all very cyclic on the farm.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

That's some pig...

I'm working on training the barn spiders on web writing. So far, it's just a bunch of cobwebs. The time is steadily approaching when we're going to pick up our first pigs. We decided on Gloucestershire Old Spots. They are a heritage breed out of England. They do well on pasture and were once called orchard pigs, as farmers kept them in their orchards to glean the fallen fruit. Legend has it that their black spots are bruises from falling apples. They are classified as critical by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. There was so little genetic diversity in the stock in the US that they used a cyclic breeding schedule where only certain color groups are bred together to build up genetic diversity.

We are getting a gilt (young female) for breeding and a feeder from H and H Farm in Norton, OH. We're hoping to be ready for them by next weekend. Last night, Jo sent me pictures of our little gilt. She's some pig....
Look at that face! Look at that length!
Look at that ham. Hopefully, she make lots of little piglets with nice hams as well.
Look at that bacon, look at that loin. OFG, you drooling yet?
Some pig....
We're very excited to start raising pigs, as well as a little nervous. We're also very happy to help preserve such a wonderful heritage breed. The feeder we'll be raising is an Old Spot as well. I plan on using them to help me wrangle some invasive Japanese Knotweed and get our gardens ready for spring. We will have plenty of eggs and hopefully whey to help with the feeding. I'm going to use Ohio Farmgirl's method for growing out a pig on the cheap. I'm going to try to arrange a visit to Spring Hills Farm which is very close to me. David raises Tamworths on pasture, another heritage breed on the ALBC's list in 'threatened' status.

On a side note, we got enough good alfalfa mix hay to last the winter and probably spring for our goat girls and the kids. The hay that we had been getting just wasn't up to par. It was way too dirty. We went to the Danville livestock auction and won a load of 67 bales for $5.50 a bale. In some parts of the country, this would be a steal. We were paying $4 for the crappy stuff, so it's not too big a jump. The girls are certainly loving it.

We're enjoying spring-like weather here in central Ohio. I'm sure we'll pay for it soon. We have everyone out of the barn whether they want to or not to enjoy this fine weather. We have some chickens that just don't like to go outside. I have a feeling that it's due to rooster politics.

I know we're enjoying the spring weather. What's it like in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lost and found...

My mom and step-dad have been visiting since before Thanksgiving. They're staying in their travel trailer parked out by our barn. It's bigger than our first apartment. We love having them here, they're very helpful around the farm. They love the farm. My step-dad is a good ole boy from the Ozarks of Arkansas. He has never met a stranger and has done just about everything.

He gives us lots of farm advice and works hard. He sometimes tends to do things his way and most of the time that turns out okay. He's the one who went to the livestock auction and came home with a surprise alpaca...

In my blog from earlier this week, I told you that we were going to be getting pigs soon. When I got home from work/school last night, he told me that he had stopped by the local sawmill and bought some wood for the pig barn and they were going to deliver. He got a really good deal on some 'irregular' lumber that wasn't quite standard. He's great at finding bargains like that.

He told me the sawmill guy asked how the 'banker and the telemarketer' were doing (I'm not a banker, I work for a bank setting up their telephone line and Chad works for a health insurance company dealing with doctors' offices around claims and their contracts). Immediately all the stories that he could have been telling them are running through my head and I picture burly lumberjacks rolling in laughter at our shenanigans. My step-dad said, "Oh, they're lost." The lumberjacks stopped rolling and looked at me in shock awaiting my reaction. And then I snapped out of my daydream.

That struck right at the heart of me. I wasn't mad, hurt, or anything like that. Lost? I couldn't think of a word that would describe the way I feel less than 'lost'. In fact, I would have to say that if anything, I feel 'found'. At no point previous in my life have I had a more clear picture of what I want to achieve and I think the same thing goes for Chad. We look back and can't believe the progress we've made and the things we've learned. We both have a burning purpose in our lives that we've never had.

After I mulled it around a bit, I was a little hurt, but not much. Whatever hurt I felt didn't stick around very long. My step-dad has a huge heart, unfortunately, it's not in control of his mouth muscles. I think maybe we just do things differently than he may have done them. Neither one is right or wrong, they're just different. In fact, I ended up a little grateful. It helped me realize just how lucky we are to know exactly what we want and to be on the path to it.  That is a wonderful gift that I think many people don't get to experience.

I think Chad and I may need to put on our fanciest duds and do a little shopping at the sawmill.... We don't want to deny those lumberjacks their laughter ;-)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Year in Review

I think too often we focus on the things that didn't get done in the preceding year. I've found myself doing that often since moving to the farm. I decided to inventory what we did accomplish and was pleasantly surprised...

First and foremost, we bought a house. It wasn't just any starter house either. It was my dream house in the country. For Chad, I think he thought it may end up being his nightmare house, but he finally learned how wonderful it is to live in the country. I told him until I was blue in the face, actually, I was more red 'cause he wouldn't just take my word for it and pack up and head for greener pastures. He is hooked completely now. We've both been happier than we ever dreamed possible. When people ask me about living on the farm, I say, "I've never worked harder in my life and I've never been happier".

We acquired a barnful of animals. While this may not sound like an achievement, it really is. We've learned so much about the animals we have and luckily for them, most of it has not been at their expense. Most of the animals, we got by choice. Taabitha, we got by accident. Most of you haven't met Ivy yet. She is our first alpaca. My step-dad went to the livestock auction one Wednesday and came home with her. Who does that? An alpaca is not a typical surprise gift! Well, she was surprising, I'll give him that. She's very entertaining, and we've grown fond of her.

We've started Tilton Hollow on the road back to becoming a farm. In the coming year, we hope to provide most of our own food and a little extra to sell. We should be having goat kids(which means creamy delicious goat milk) in the next couple months and we will have pigs any time now. We plan on raising and breeding Gloucestershire Old Spots. We have a gilt(young female) and a feeder(raised for meat) coming in the next few weeks.

So, when you take a look back, don't focus on what you didn't get done, focus instead on all of the accomplishments. What you didn't get done either isn't important or it can stay on the to-do list. We sat down today and made a list of 2012 goals. I'm a firm believer that you can't get where you're going if you don't know where that is. I like to write my goals down on a piece of paper or put them in a computer file that is visible all the time.  I like to keep them in the forefront so they don't get forgotten.

In closing, we did suffer a couple of losses in 2011. We lost a super sweet little banty hen, Chipmunk. She was one of the original 8 chicks I got at TSC. We lost her partner in crime, Puff. He wasn't very sweet, but he was spunky. All in all though, it was a great first 'year' at the farm and we're looking forward with great excitement to 2012.

What are your goals for 2012?