Category Archives: Livestock

Early Winter

It’s been raining for 4 days straight, so I’ve finally found some time to blog.  I may have to cut this short if it keeps raining and try to teach the chickens how to swim.  Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been teaching Spanish at the high school lately (yikes!) and with the daylight getting shorter each day I just haven’t found the time to put pencil to paper.  Er, fingers to keyboard.

Since the last blog, we’ve mostly put the gardens to bed.  There are still some greens and peas hanging on, but everything else has been chopped and mulched with leaves from the surrounding trees.  I’ve been working really hard on the gardens this summer and fall.  Next year should be our most ambitious gardens yet!  Lindsey’s dad Ronnie wants to help out with the gardens and essentially combine our labor on the gardens here to produce veggies for both of our families.  I’ve prepped the 2 raised bed gardens that we’ve used the whole time we’ve been here, the 3 Sisters garden that we made two years ago, and the new “straw garden” I made last fall and put to its first use this year.  I’ve also “broken ground” on two new gardens that we’ll use for the first time this coming spring.  One will be another standard garden and the other will be a trellis garden for growing vertically-oriented crops like cucumbers, Malabar spinach, peas and beans, and small squashes.  All of our gardens are created by first closely mowing all of the vegetation.  Then we lay down cardboard sheet mulch to block any regrowth (thanks to Jake and Ronnie’s move we’ve had access to a lot of cardboard).  After that I throw on layers of manure and old hay and straw and let that mix compost in place all winter.  Then in the spring, the garden is ready to go!  Plant, mulch, harvest!  All told, next year we should have almost 12,000 ft² of garden space in production next year!

The Food Forest in the backyard is moving along nicely as well.  This year we managed to get almost of the trees planted!  Our ultimate goal here is to teach people that a phenomenal amount of food can be produced in a regular suburban-sized back yard.  When we moved here there were a few raspberries planted in the backyard, but that was it.  Last year we planted grapevines and built an herb spiral with our interns Cameron and Alexa.  This year we got 5 apple trees in the ground (Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, MacIntosh, and Arkansas Black), 2 plums, 2 sweet cherries, several blueberry bushes, 3 pawpaws, a mulberry, 2 hardy almonds, 2 brown turkey figs, 2 mayhaws, and 2 golden chain trees.  Most of the trees look like sticks right now, although the ones we planted in the spring put on some good growth.  These will be the canopy layer of our Food Forest and we wanted to get them growing as soon as possible since it will take several years for us to begin to see the literal fruits of our labor.  Next year the goal for the Food Forest will be to begin the establishment of the understory plants to grow underneath the trees.  These shorter plants will provide some food, but will also accumulate nutrients, block the grass, and generate mulching material on site.  Right now all the mulch comes from old chicken and rabbit bedding.  These plants will include comfrey, horseradish, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, sea buckthorns, nasturtiums, daffodils, and other shorter plants.  Once the trees get larger, we’ll add some more vining plants for another layer in the forest.

We also got a corral built around the winter quarters for the cattle and goats.  Now the animals should be secure behind a solid physical barrier.  We’ve been using just electric fencing and that isn’t a great winter solution because it doesn’t work very well in the winter.  We can’t keep the batteries charged well in the cold and snow shorts the fence out on occasion.  But now we shouldn’t have to worry about escapes due to faulty fencing.  We’ll be down to just human error now.  No place else for me to hide!

We are continuing to learn about pigs.  I really like them!  They eat a lot, but they are very useful and I can see them improving our woodlots paddock by paddock.  Now if their jaws could just get strong enough to actually crack all of the black walnuts they have access to we could cut the feed bill down significantly!

Finally, we’ve adopted a cow for the short term.  One of our Amish neighbors needed his cow bred, so we traded out our bull Russell’s stud services for some hay.  I didn’t ask Russell for his permission, but I can attest to the fact that he did not mind a bit.  I like this deal a lot.  Our bull knocks up someone else’s heifer and we get a half a winter’s worth of hay from it.  Only with cows…

 

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Breeding Season has Arrived

The bull went in with the cows and heifers back in July, so the Red Poll cattle on our ranch should have been bred a while back.  The cattle this year are relatively uncomplicated.  The bull isn’t related to any of the cows or heifers, so this year we can just keep the whole group together.

That is not the case with the goats.  Our best buck is related to our best doe (it’s his mother) and all of this year’s crop of doelings.  Since he’s such an outstanding young buck, however, we do want him to contribute his genes into our herd.  This means that today Lindsey and I had to split our goat herd in two.

The 5 doelings (Meg, Hotlips, Winnie, Gumby, and Cher) from this year’s kidding season plus Miss Priss are now in the newly-fenced South Field with all of the cattle.  We’ve put in the 2 Boer bucklings (Desmond and Tutu) to breed that group.  From those pairings we should get a nice group of 50% Boer/50% Kiko kids plus one set of 75% Boer/25% Kiko kids.

The 5 older does remain in the Front Field with Jack the alpaca and Jack the Kiko buckling (son of Miss Priss/sibling of Meg).  These pairings should yield 3 sets of 100% Kiko kids and 2 sets of 50% Boer/50% Kiko kids.

Our first due date is officially April 3, 2013!

South Field Fenced

Google Earth image overlay of the area we just fenced. About 8 acres south of the greenhouse and bird barn.

Hooray!

Last week my neighbor Elden and I finished fencing in the south field.  This is important because we now have 2 securely fenced areas in which we can graze our animals.  That’s good because next year we will have to separate the bulls and bucks from the cows and does during the time from calving/kidding until rebreeding.  Without this fence we would have been solely reliant on electric fencing to contain them.  Our animals are well-trained to the electric fencing and do respect it, but I don’t like it as the sole containment for the animals because sometimes storms or high winds can knock it over and then your prized animals are loose in the woods somewhere…

This fence job went far more smoothly than when we fenced in the front field last year.  We bought a hydraulic post pounder and used a skidsteer to set the posts in the ground.  So much faster than digging all the holes and setting each post by hand (which means hauling in gravel, shoveling it into each hole, and then tamping the gravel down with the throw bars – exhausting), as well as heart-pounding, ear-splitting, and dangerous.  But it only took us 3 days to get all of the posts into the ground, as opposed to 4 weeks last time.

This field formerly had a fence along the eastern side just below the old logging access road you can see in the Google Earth image.  This fence row had grown up over the years and was covered in cedars, honeysuckles, brambles, poison ivy, and all manner of other nasties that would make clearing the fence row difficult.  So in the month prior to starting the project, we ran our goats and pigs (separately, of course – no goat suppers for the pigs!) through the fence row.  Those guys happily ate, trampled, and otherwise demolished the vast majority of the nasty stuff.  By the time they were through with it, Elden and I only had to spend a morning with a couple of chainsaws to clear out the remnants.  Aren’t livestock wonderful when you can use them to do your dirty work?  And you’ve never seen happier pigs!

After setting all of the posts and braces we stretched 4″ x 4″ goat and sheep fencing and hammered and hammered and hammered and hammered staples to secure the fencing to the posts.  I think this type of fence will do much better for us than the standard field fencing we used in the front field.  It doesn’t matter for the cattle, but the young goats get the heads stuck in the field fence constantly and the 4″ x 4″ fence should keep them from being able to stick their heads through and getting caught.

All that’s left to do is stick the gates on for access and the field is ready for grazing!  It’s first action will be the cattle and half of the goat herd.  The other half of the goat herd will remain in the front field.  This separation is to prevent inbreeding and so we can control which buck had access to which does.

Next project: corral panels and gutters for the new barn to provide a more secure and drier winter environment for the cattle and goats.  Should be done by the first week of November!

Beginning our Forage Forest

So I don’t know how many readers have actually been able to visit GLR yet, but for those who haven’t gotten the chance…

… It’s a bit hilly, hillbilly.

We have 3 fields/pastures totaling around 40 acres that are relatively flat, but the aren’t all connected.  Plus, we’d like to be able to utilized more of the property for food production.  So here’s the plan, which is now underway.  Barely.

The green highlighted area above the pasture and below the old-growth forest is the area that will become the forage forest.

In the Google Earth snapshot above, the green area represents what will become the forage forest.  It’s an area that was once clear-cut and turned into pasture but over the last 15 years or so has grown up with all manner of brush – young cedars, oaks, poplars, hickories, and some brambles and berries.  When we first moved here I thought we would clear out all of that secondary growth and turn that portion of the hillside below the old-growth forest at the top of the ridge back into pasture for our ruminants.

The problem with that idea is the slope of the land:

Here’s a view of the typical slope we are talking about. It seems much steeper when you’re on site.

I understand that the previous farmers on this property had turned this portion of the farm into pasture, but I also have eyes and can see that all of the topsoil on this slope is not there anymore.  It’s probably been washed down into the creek and off to the Green River.  That slope is just not conducive to short grass.  It needs things with deep roots to hold the topsoil in place.

Those of you who know me know that I like to think about things for long periods of time before taking action.  I’ve been pondering that steep hillside for 3 years now.  I’ve thought… pasture, orchard, grapes(!), water slide into the creek, leave it alone, etc.  Then I came across a book that I think all landowners should read – J Russell Smith’s Tree Crops.  It was written in 1929 and it’s still revolutionary and ahead of its time today.  It has inspired what our hillside will become – a forage forest using native trees to hold the topsoil, provide forage and shelter for our livestock, and provide a microclimate under the canopy into which we can sow annual and perennial ground-level crops.

Here’s the idea:

  1. We utilize the pigs and goats this fall to eat down some of the brush (especially the briars and brambles) and root up the thin soil a bit to help loosen the grip the bunchgrass has on the hillside.  This part is starting to happen as we speak.
  2. This winter, when there’s more room to move around after the leaves are off and the goats and pigs have thinned things out a bit, I will go in there and selectively remove trees.  Most of the cedars will go away to be used as fence posts or be turned into other useful things.  Lindsey likes them to keep moths out of her sweaters.  The best oaks, hickories, and berry patches will stay and the rest of them thinned to give the best trees room and light to grow even better.
  3. After the thinning, we will plant some native forage-producing trees in the gaps created by the thinning process and (for the shade-loving trees) under the canopies of the existing nut trees.  These forage trees will include things like honey locusts, mayhaws, pawpaws, persimmons, crabapples, and mulberries to complement the oaks and hickories.
  4. Underneath the canopy (after the pigs have tilled the soil a little for us) we’ll plant a mix of perennials and annuals that we hope will become a permanent feature of the forest.  We’ll have to manage it carefully for the first five years, but we hope to establish clovers, orchardgrass, alfalfa, Jerusalem artichokes, squashes, berry bushes, turnips, rape, peas, sunflowers, and other little treats in the understory of the forest.
  5. Over time, these planted trees and the existing trees will begin to produce forage that the goats and pigs can self-harvest.  Our plan is to combine the understory plants and the fruit- and nut-fall from the trees and actually not have to feed anything other than what the livestock can gather in the forage forest.

The hard work will come in when we plant the trees.  Kentucky’s Dept of Forestry at least makes it easy to acquire them.  You can order bundles of 100 bare root trees for around $40 from them.  Anybody wanna come help dig this winter?  The hardest part (for me anyway) will be the patience needed to wait for the trees to grow.

So when this forage forest kicks into full production (in like 10 years, *sigh*) our pigs’ year will look like this:

January-February: piglets born, everybody’s in the warm barn, adult pigs eating walnuts saved from October harvest and our extra corn
March:  pigs go into the cattle/goat hayfeeding area to churn compost for us, pigs feeding on the compost and our extra corn
April-May: pigs go onto pasture and start heading towards the forage forest, feeding on grasses & clovers on spring pasture
May-June: pigs go into the forage forest where mayhaws and mulberries are ripe and falling to the ground for them
July-August: mulberries continue to fall, blackberries ripen, ground cover crops plentiful
September: ground cover crops are still going, nut fall is starting, crabapples and pawpaws are dropping off the trees
October: nut fall is in full swing, pigs feast and fatten on hickories, acorns, and hazelnuts
November-December: persimmons and honey locusts drop their bounties, pigs are finished.  Pork is harvested, breeders return to barn.

So that’s the plan – to create a forage forest that produces our pork without any off-farm feed inputs.  With good management, I believe we can also harvest extra fruits and nuts from the forest and run our goats and poultry through the forage forest occasionally as well.  The best part of all of this is that, in addition to producing all of those wonderful products, this plan will actually stabilize that hillside, prevent erosion, shelter our animals, create a corridor to move the cattle through to the back pasture, and provide valuable timber towards retirement time for Lindsey and I.

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September

The new group of pigs rooting around in one of their paddocks.

Well September is here and with it the promise of fall right around the corner.  The morning and evening temperatures have dropped into the 40’s and 50’s.  The day time highs have been in the 70’s and 80’s, and both the animals and farmers are much happier with that.  We have our first couple of trees hinting at changing colors and dropping leaves for us to add as mulch to the gardens.  Sweet potatoes, squashes, beans, and corn are getting close to harvest time.  Our last batches of broilers for the year have arrived and are growing nicely.  And while having intern help is absolutely wonderful during the summer, fall is a wonderful break from the hectic pace of the spring and summer seasons.

Our spring and summer have gone swimmingly, even through the rough drought earlier in the year.  Fortunately we didn’t have it as dry and hot as people in Arkansas, Illinois, and Missouri, but it was rough.  All four of our creeks stopped flowing and dried up.  Both wells went dry.  Both ponds dried down to mud and muck.  We hauled water in tanks and 5-gallon buckets two or three times a day to all of the critters.  Do you know how much water 7 cows and 20 goats require when the temperature is in the mid 90’s and the heat index is 110?  I didn’t before, but I truly appreciate it now.  And that’s not to mention hogs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas, and . . .

But through all the heat and pestilence (my god, the flies!) all of our animals did fine.  They really earned their keep this year!

Both cows had healthy bull calves that are now growing steers.  One of them is going to be for our family and the other has been sold to another fine family (Thank you Joe G!).  Our new bull Russell the Love Muscle (aka Shuter’s Last Chance from Shuter Sunset Farms in Indiana) has hopefully impregnated the two cows plus the two heifer calves born in 2011.  That means our herd will grow by almost 50% next year!  We’ve gotta get the water situation resolved!  Here’s hoping for 4 strapping young calves in April next year.

Almost all the goats raised twins this year.  Every doe had a set of twins, but the first goat to kid did so 5 weeks early and we lost both of those kids.  All the other does twinned as well and those kids all thrived.  After the kids were born we traded our stud buck Apollo for 2 Boer bucklings (Desmond and Tutu).  We also kept back our best pure Kiko buckling for breeding.  The current plan is for him to breed all the does except his mother.  Desmond the Boer will get to breed the other Kiko doe and all 5 doelings we are retaining from this year’s kidding season.  We’ve sold two other the remaining kids (Thanks Jennifer and Rachel!) and will be processing the two remaining kids shortly.  That will leave us with 3 breeding bucks, 6 older does, and 5 young does to carry over for next year.  With 11 does bred for April delivery, we should have quite a kid crop next year if everything goes well.

We raised our first batch of hogs this year!  They tilled our gardens and turned our compost for them before we turned them into the best pork I’ve ever eaten.  We kept one of the first four we raised for ourselves and sold the others (Thanks Chastity W, Kelly M, and Melane H!).  Everything went so well and we (and our customers) loved the pigs so much that we got another group to raise for throughout the fall on our nut fall in the woods.  The first group tasted so good that I can’t wait to see how they taste after they fatten on hazelnuts, hickories, and acorns!  In this group we have 7 that are a Red Wattle and Hampshire cross and 2 that are a Berkshire and Tamworth cross.  We still have 2 available if anyone else is interested.  They should be available sometime between late December and February, depending on how fast they grow.  Right now the are enjoying the pasture edges, digging out Johnson grass roots, rooting out falling nuts, and cleaning out our new fence lines.

The chickens are doing great as well.  We’ve rebuilt our coyote-decimated laying flock and have run through several batches of broiler chickens (Thanks Joe G, Sarah M, Christine M, and Ronnie & Jake P).  Next year I truly believe that we can have our first year without ordering any chickens from a hatchery – all chicks should be produced on-farm.  Sustainability!

The only animals that had a really bad year were the rabbits.  It was so hot that we lost many of them to heat strokes even though they were as sheltered as we could make them in the barn with fans and cool water.  It is interesting to note that we didn’t lose a single rabbit that was on pasture in a rabbit tractor.  Only the ones in the hutches.  This reinforces my desire to build larger portable tractors and get all of our rabbits on pasture throughout the year.  They just do better and seem far more comfortable.

We are also coordinating with Lindsey’s father Ronnie to expand the gardens next spring!  Lindsey’s parents moved to nearby Campbellsville this year and having them nearby has helped tremendously.  Lindsey and I even got to go to Cincinnati for a whole day and see a Cubs doubleheader thanks to Ronnie and Jake farm sitting.  Ronnie approached me about combining efforts and growing more produce next year, so we should have more than enough for 2 families and some to sell with meat purchases.

Right now we are busy on our fall plans.  I’ve got to finish stuccoing the Indian dwelling.  Elden and I are going to build a fence around the south field to open up more grazing and foraging areas for our animals.  I am building a winter corral and hay feeding area for our cattle and goats that will last and withstand the pressure the animals exert on the fencing.  And, of course, the job search continues in the rough economic climate.  The job is necessary so that we can finally get a tractor to help us accomplish some of the tasks that we either currently rely on neighbors to do or just don’t get done at all.

Well, that’s the update.  Thanks for reading!

Drought

Dry Creek living up to its name.

See that creek there?  It’s usually more like a small river.  Couple feet deep, 60 feet wide.  Flows and everything.  Now it’s reduced to unconnected pools of standing water.  Even those are evaporating fast.  We have 3 other creeks crisscrossing our property.  All of them are dry.  We have 2 wells.  Both of them are dry.  We have 2 ponds.  One is mud and the other has a few inches of muddy water left.  And we are lucky.  On the ridge above us they’ve been out of water for a lot longer.

I’m sure everyone has noticed, but it’s frickin’ hot.  It’s bone dry.  Basically, going outside is like stepping into an oven.  Man, I’m sure glad I have an office job where it’s air conditioned and I don’t have to go outside and haul hundreds of gallons of water everyday.  Oh, wait…

I don’t remember the last time it rained.  I know it hasn’t rained at all since we came back from San Antonio.  That was a month ago.  I’m not sure when the last rain before that was.  We’ve had dark clouds, thunder, lightning, and high winds, but no rain.  Mother Nature’s a tease.

We planted corn, squash, and beans a month ago.  About half up it courageously sprouted only to wither in the blast furnace we called June.  We probably won’t get any flour corn this year.  We’ll try planting some more squash if it ever rains again.

All our plants are struggling.  The corn that has sprouted (and every other farmer’s around here) looks like garlic – it’s short, pale green, and thin-leaved.  We lost the blueberry bushes we planted.  I’m lugging water to the apple trees every other day, but I think we’re going to lose at least one of them.  The hundreds of little pawpaws, redbuds, and Kentucky coffee trees that did so well in their first year are about to go belly up in year two.

The animals are pretty unhappy.  We’ve made more shade shelters for them and moved some into the barns. We’ve moved the cattle and goats underneath the trees.  We check water 3 or 4 times a day instead of twice.  But we can’t make the grass grow.  Check out our pastures:

The grass literally crunches when you walk on it.  If you kick the ground, the dust flies.  We’ve got about 10 days worth of grazing left, then we’ll have to resort to feeding hay in order to buy enough time for the rain to come and the grass to regrow.  In the meantime, we’ll have to keep using city water to bring to the animals.  That’s not a fun haul.  The creeks we usually get water from (knee-deep little tributaries of the large creek) are bone dry:

One of our “permanent” streams.

The weatherman has predicted a 40% chance of rain tomorrow and a 50% chance on Monday.  The weatherman has been wrong for weeks though.  We need a significant amount of rain so if you know any rain dances or chants, now’s the time.

What I want to be doing at this time tomorrow.

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Russell

“Russell”

We spent a while trying to locate a Red Poll bull to whom we could breed our cows and heifers this summer.  We first tried to rent or lease a bull, but we couldn’t find anyone east of the Mississippi who was willing to do that.  Finally, we decided that since we had two bull calves this year (meaning no heifer calves to breed next year), if we bought a bull we would be able to use him for at least two years’ worth of breeding before we would even have to worry about him encountering any breedable female relatives.

Our search led us to Brian Shuter at Shuter Sunset Farms in Frankton, Indiana.  Brian is another member of the American Red Poll Association and we had met him briefly at the 2011 National Sale in Danville.  He said that he had a bull available from his champion bull Tuff Enuff and a high EPD cow from Weise Farms in Kansas.  After talking to Brian, we decided to pull the trigger and get this bull for Good Life Ranch.

Russell’s sire – Shuter Sunset Farms’ Tuff Enuff
Photo courtesy of Shuter Sunset Farms

So on Friday I made the trek up to Indiana to pick up the young bull.  I got there just in time for the semen testing (yay), which the youngster passed.  He weighed 1175 lbs as a 14-month old.  He was good-sized, well filled out, had great conformation, and was docile.  Brian just threw a halter on him and led him to the trailer.  I hope that we can keep him halter trained.  That’s pretty convenient!

It was a long, hot day in the truck with the temperature over 100° F all day.  On the way back I stopped a couple times to fill up a 5-gallon bucket with water for the bull.  But he made it back in good shape and we got him into the paddock with the girls and the goats around dark.  Too dark for pictures, so I waited until the next morning:

Russell and Jack engage in a staring (and spitting) contest.

Don’t worry boys! You’ll be that size in a year, too.

Kickin’ up a dust storm – aka showing off for the ladies.

“What you lookin’ at, kid?”

I’m sure the yearling has an officially registered name, and we’ll find that out when Brian sends us the transferred registration papers next week, but we’ve decided to call him “Russell.”

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2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374729892592146.88189.102369686494836&type=1 

 

Rabbits Don’t Like Heat

In fact, they die from it.

Our grower rabbits are in movable tractors on grass but our adults are in raised hutches to help generate manure and compost for our gardens.  We deliberately placed the hutches on the north side of our barn so they would only get sunshine in the morning and would be near the chicken house so the chickens could stir the rabbit manure/straw mixture into garden compost for us.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

Even though the rabbits had plenty of water and were in a sheltered location, we lost 6 rabbits to the heat today.  It’s been over 100° F for over a week now and I think it was just finally too much.

We moved all of the hutches into the barn.  It will be cooler in there but there will also be less sunshine to sterilize everything.

This weather needs to break soon.  If this is June, I’m really not looking forward to July and August.

 

Pig Day 2012

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This morning I took a bittersweet drive to the processor’s to drop off our four Gloucestershire Old Spot/Duroc hybrid hogs that we’ve been growing out for the last few months.  I am greatly looking forward to the pork but will miss our intelligent, friendly kitchen cleaners.  We haven’t used the disposal in the kitchen for months!

These pigs started out as 50-lb weaner hogs bought from Joe Ritchie.  He feels as strongly as we do about the disastrous effects of hormones, steroids, and routine antibiotics in the livestock industry and raises clean hogs.  He keeps some breeding pairs of Gloucestershire Old Spots and Durocs and crosses the two breeds for many of his meat hogs.  I bought his last 4 piglets of the spring and felt lucky to get them.

We brought the pigs home and set them to work composting the leftover hay mixed with goat and cow manure from the overwintering area.  The pigs feasted on the grains and scraps we threw down as well as cleaning up any edible remnants of the hay, clearing up some weeds, and digging for grubs and earthworms.  In the process they basically saved me the work of turning a huge compost pile.  They injected oxygen into the hay/manure mixture and helped speed the decomposition process.  The pigs also tilled the material into the top layer of soil for us.  We ran a wheel hoe cultivator over the top of it and then planted in it.  Even without rain for a couple weeks, the ground was moist and the corn, squash, and bean seeds sprouted within 48 hours.

After their service in the garden, the pigs spent the next few weeks rotating through some other areas, knocking down weeds, rooting up worms, and feasting on grasses and clover.  We learned a lot about rotating pigs – they won’t willingly cross where an electric fence used to be, for instance –  and look forward to raising them again.

After 4 months with us, the pigs are now officially hogs.  They weigh 270 lbs each and are ready to go to the processor’s.

The worst part was rounding up the hogs.  Now, that may seem like the easy part.  But convincing 4 270-lb pigs to go where they don’t want to go is not at all easy.  Next time we will have our corral facilities in place.  This time, we tried to entice them with food first.  That did not work.  Then we tried setting up a plywood chute into the trailer, herding the pigs in there, and closing them in with a third piece of plywood and forcing them into the trailer with it.  The pigs scoffed at us as they tossed the plywood aside.  Then I tried grabbing their rear legs and pulling them into the trailer.  That may have worked if we could have kept the pigs in the trailer each time we brought another one over.  Finally we put T-posts in the ground, attached hog panels to them forming a chute into the trailer, herded the hogs in and bent the panel behind them and tacked on another T-post.  Then I got in and pushed all the pigs into the trailer.  That odyssey took 7 people 2 hours.

We want to thank Kelly and Bryan, Chastity and Rob, and Melane and Doug for giving our pork a try.  We hope you enjoy it and we can’t wait to try our first home-grown pork chops next Wednesday.

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