Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lessons Learned

A couple weeks ago, though all was cozy in the farmhouse, something was amiss in the pigpen. The boar, hungriest of hungries, was ambivalent about food. Otherwise, he seemed fine -- no wounds, no odd excretions, no discernible eye/ear or throat problems, no major lethargy. It's true that he seemed more interested in sleeping than the diligently curious ladies, but he also was spotted rooting through the snow and ice in the far corner of the pasture, and always got out of bed to fondly poke at my kneecaps.

Aha! Fond sweet nuzzles instead of diving into the feed pile....we'd seen this before. It was more than reminiscent of Stump in the first stage of her worm issue. Mentally checking a calendar, we noted that it had been eight months since their last shot, so we thought it best to give them all their boosters.

So, it turns out that it is difficult to stick a needle into the neck of an agile muscly beast of over 300 pounds. The Big Man was able to get the sleepy boar quite easily, and curious friendly Spotbelly with minimal trauma. For the two more skittish ladies, Scar and Little Red, he had to build a pig snare, a simple contraption that loops over the top bit of the nose and keeps the thrashing and jogging about to an absolute minimum. Even so, he still needed me, a full sheet of plywood, and a lot of wrestling to get Little Red.

And, just a couple days later, the boar was back on his feet, eating with reckless abandon. Last year, Stump was set back a good two months from the worms; the boar maybe lost two days of not eating to full capacity -- a gigantic difference. A life threatening issue last season becomes a mere hour-long chore the next. That's the direction we want the learning curve to keep moving.

And, in a vegetables and greens note, after last year I have determined the value of having TWO garden maps, for, really, two gardens -- one in spring at planting, and one in mid-summer, when the fall crops will need to be planted and moved out. With better planning (not to mention the fairly ginormous Garden Enlargement Project 2011, which adds a separate bed for storage crops and moves corn, squash and pole beans to the pasture), I feel confident that I can triple the garden output next year, which would put us nearly all the way towards self-sustaining ourselves through the year, vegetable-wise, not to mention doing a good bit to add to the pigs' winter diet with bins of farm-grown winter squash and dried corn to help hold them over.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Many hands make light work

If you were here for our big gathering in October you surely heard me constantly marveling at how much we were able to do and how effortless it was. It seemed that no matter what needed to be lifted, moved, cleaned, or eaten there were plenty of people ready, willing, and able.

The next time we do this, tentatively scheduled for earlier fall '11, I'd like to put fish on the menu. The early crew can make the baskets and once we have quorum we can clean out Nanticoke Lake. If we move with enough speed and stealth we might get a beaver!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dead Chicken

Although we have several black and white chickens, I instantly knew which one was the mangled, frozen body that I found outside the chicken coop this morning. It was Little Man, the poor fancy chicken who had been the flock outcast since he was a tiny chick. From the day I first had to separate him from the other chicks in the brooder because his back had been pecked bloody, he constantly had peck wounds on his back and butt. His tail never grew in; its feathers were constantly yanked out by either himself or someone higher in, as they tellingly say, the pecking order.

Who, me?

Being one who generally believes in the good in others, when I first saw him I thought a hungry predator had finally found the chickens. But, upon further inspection, I realized that his entire body was there, very bloodied but completely intact. When I opened the window of the coop to check for eggs, several hens wandered out the door for their breakfast, politely ignoring Little Man's corpse in the snow. Usually curious about anything new or amiss in their area, they studiously avoided even glancing toward the crime scene. And to think, I had been worried that they would be startled and appalled to discover their coop-mate so cruelly dispensed with. They cooed to each other righteously.

Brooding blizzard sunrise

I'm not sure if it was the rest of the flock, or just one or both of the other roosters, but this crime certainly seems like an inside job. All the snow and harsh winds recently have meant that the chickens have been forced to spend most of their time huddled together in the coop. I guess, finally, pathetic bloody Little Man was too much for them, a respectable bunch, to accept. If we were more experienced farmers, we would have seen this end as unavoidable, and we would have womanned-up and done the job ourselves back at chicken killing time. As it is, mob rule won out over the little guy. I'll miss his goofy muppet head bopping about by itself in the high grass, and I think he was our most famous chicken (having both inspired artwork and getting a shout-out on NPR), but it will be somewhat of a relief to have an outcast-free (and thus, fully feathered) chicken flock.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Years Diet Advice from the Animals

[Caution, NPR listeners: there are some nicely informative pictures of internal organs in this post, so if you are faint of stomach, as they coincidentally say, or are eating a tender and juicy anything, please stop with the eating for one quick moment.]

I've mentioned before about how, if I may say so, it is strangely lovely (or at least, strangely interesting) to be able to inspect all the internal organs of an animal that you've raised, and plan to eat.

One of the inspections that I am most intrigued by is cutting open the stomach to see what the animal has been eating.

Above is the stomach of the volunteer, Skittish Pig, who sacrificed herself to the fence and the pleasure of many of our closest friends and family members at our First Annual(?!) Many Named Multi Themed Party Event.

As you can see, it is mostly foraged greens, rounded out with a small helping of mostly whole grains.

This is a crop from one of the turkeys, killed the week before Thanksgiving. (I meant to look up what, exactly, a crop was, and how it works, but I spent all day doing estate taxes at work, and if I have to work through anything that reads remotely like Form 1041-I (which at this point is all words, ever), I will probably dissolve into an unbecoming puddle of self-pity. So, instead, I am going to salvage my evening and let you know that my imagination figures that this is where gobbled food goes before it is either regurgitated to be chewed at a later time, or where it hangs out for a while before some really bad ass chemicals come and help break it down there a bit before letting it pass on to the next stop. You can decide which you think. Or, obviously, look it up for yourselves.)

Anyway, the crop exhibits roughly the same mix of greens and whole grains, albeit in a more recognizable state.

So, in these odd, culturally mandated weeks of regret and atonement after the just-one-more-spritzer/sugar plum/whatnot-on-a-toothpick month of December, perhaps we should take a page out of the animals' books -- whole grains and lots of greens, not to mention naps whenever you feel like it, deciding not to leave the house when it is very snowy or a bit too breezy, and lots of socialization and snuggling before an early bedtime. They seem to have it pretty well figured out, actually. If I had to pick one, I suppose my New Years Resolution would be to live more like them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

To Do list for 2011

Time to start getting excited for warmer weather and all the impending progress. Off the top of my head we're shooting for:

Doubling the garden
Building a root cellar
Reinsulating the first floor of the house, complete with new drywall
Refinishing the first floor's floors
New doors for the house
Build chicken processing equipment
Build chicken "tractors"
Raise test batches (400 total, maybe?) of meat chickens
Mushroom cultivation
New roof for the house, if we can afford it
New geese
Greenhouse / Hoophouse
Pig slaughtering equipment/streamlining
Redesign grease collection pump
Move kitchen to where the dining room is
Turn kitchen into a mudroom
Scale up beer making
Growing cover crops and forage crops for livestock
Person door on the west side of the barn
Sell pigs in various forms

It looks awfully long, but when I look back what we accomplished in 2010 it seems quite doable, especially since many hands make light work and all.