Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Waiting Game

Late Monday morning I got a call at work from the Big Man -- Scar was producing milk.

Of late, we have been occasionally googling "signs of farrowing" and phrases similar, somewhat lazily. We knew that producing milk was a "24 hour, 48 hour max!!" sign. An "imminent farrowing!" sign. Blood pressures rose. Close family and friends were informed. Scar was immediately moved to an abandoned horse stall that we filled with fresh hay, a piglet creep was built and installed, a heat lamp plugged in, and mandatory every-3-hour checks were instituted.

For good measure, we moved the gigantic Spot into the neighboring stall as well. Shortly after the move, she began to exhibit a "discharge", which is often referred to as a "few days" sign. Scar had been exhibiting the same for a couple days.

And, 50+ hours later, we are still waiting.

"Signs of farrowing!!!!" has become an obsessive google. Leg position and breathing patterns have become notable. Water and food consumption is discussed and dissected.

At the 7:30 PM check, all is quiet. No agitation, no stretched back legs, no huffing. "Narf" Scar grunts softly to Spot, through the wall. "Narfnarf" replies Spot, through the wall. At the pre-bedtime check, huffing! from Scar. Curious grunting from Spot. At the 1:00 AM check, only the placid sonata of "narfs". At the 4:00 AM check, restlessness, stretched out back legs and barking!! from Scar. But at the 7:00 AM check, only regular, hungry piggos.

So, we obsessively google, and we annoyingly recite to ourselves that "every pregnancy is different" when the googling continues to point to "imminent piglets!!!" about 36 hours ago, and we keep with the 3-hour checks. We hypothesize that perhaps the extreme cold of the last couple nights, combined with the stress of being separated from one's sister and sleeping buddy for the first time ever may have (fortuitously, as far as the weather goes) pushed actual labor back a couple days.

All googling aside, the fact is that we are now at 112 days from their first exposure to the boar, and 112 days is the magic number threshold for Extremely Possible Piglets, the spread being 112-115 days in the vast majority of pregnancies. With first time moms (gilts) tending toward the lower end.

The three-hour checks will continue....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Mystery is Explained, or Maybe Deepened

Last summer I wrote about the mysterious spring that the pigs dug up shortly after we moved them on to the pasture. The mysterious part about the spring was that some days it flowed profusely, and some days it was completely dry. It was also oddly coordinated with the barn well -- on days when the spring flowed heavily, the well would dry up if we needed to take more than 5 gallons out of it. Both flowed sporadically, but always one or the other, never at the same time. We discussed lots of theories, none of them entirely satisfactory, and then winter came, the spring was buried, and we moved on.

Until this past week, when the Big Man walked into our barn one afternoon to find water bubbling out of a crack in the concrete. And, the well did not flow, although this time you could hear water moving. Suspiciously familiar.

The new theory is that there is an entire plumbing system that we are not aware of that plugs into the well. For reasons not entirely clear to me, (but are I believe entirely clear to the Big Man, who was, in all truth, explaining his theory and How Wells Generally Work to me without any visual aids at all, which means I retained somewhere around 50% actual facts and invent the rest to round out my understanding), sometimes this alternate universe plumbing system is able to steal the water from our universe's system, sucking it out of the pressure tank or stealing it at a secret elbow, and squirrels it away to a broken pipe somewhere below the table saw, or perhaps to a broken pipe somewhere near the "spring" head.

The unfortunately placed new "spring"

All to say that Big Man has scheduled some chilly time this week for Digging and Investigation. Because pregnant gilts drink a lot of water, more pigs are on the way, and hauling 5 gallon buckets down from the house is not a sustainable solution. Hopefully his theory holds true, and some re-plumbing and inspection can make the barn well endlessly more reliable (although the pigs will miss their little stream wallow when the spring runs).

Of course, none of this explains why this new "spring" started up in the middle of a decidedly below freezing week, or whether or not there is an underground cavern under the barn, nor can we discern any logical reason why the plumbing system that we are theorizing would exist. Mysteries remain.

Not mysterious at all, however, is the delicious bacon (along with numerous other pig parts) that we've been working through this winter. Stump most certainly did not die in vain.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Off to the Races

The Boar has the Tiniest Nipples

Step up and try your hand at the latest and greatest game here at TBA farms:
Who's gonna pop when?!?
What all's in there?!?

Little red

These are the questions Johnson and I have been asking ourselves and each other for the past month. We have three sows, Little Red, Scar, and Spot Belly (we didn't set out to name them, but when you only have 3 it just happens.) All three are supposed to be pregnant, they've been in with the boar for over three months now and we've seen signs of action to say the least, although we've never walked in on them. We had initially planned to put them in together 12/1/10, but The Boar had different plans and made the decision for us 11/3/10, leaving a tell-tale stain on Scar's hind parts. We did the math and decided it wasn't the end of the world, by the time they'd farrow it'd be warm enough to avoid catastrophe.

Little Red's nipples

Most pig farms keep each sow in it's own little confinement pen and when they want her "serviced" they'll facilitate some face time with a boar. They'll watch and maybe help, and make sure they go at it at least 2 times in 24 hours, and of course record the date. We didn't do any of that.


Here's what we do know, though. A pig goes into heat every 21 days. A pig's gestation period is 114 days on average. If the boar was lucky enough to catch one in heat his first day out, and that gilt came to term 5 days early we'd have piglets on 2/21/11. If the boar missed the heat cycle by a day and the gilt came to term 5 days late, we'd have piglets on 3/24/10. That gives us a 31 day window to work with.

Scar's Nipples

We're not dealing with a pig in a poke either, we can get up close and look at these girls. At this point Johnson and I agree that Spot Belly is the furthest along, Scar is second and Little Red is holding up the rear, but who really knows? We can also inspect their teats, a pig supposedly "bags up" 7-10 days prior to farrowing. You can see in the pictures that their nipples are becoming much more 3 dimensional, although I don't think anybody's bagged up yet.

Spot Belly

The even wilder card is how many piglets we're going to get. Spot Belly is totally gigantic right now, but I don't have much experience to go on. Are their 16 in there? or just 1 gigantic piglet? Little red doesn't look that big, but she's not a huge pig either, so maybe she'll have a whole pile of svelte little piglets. Gilts (lady pigs who have never had piglets) are known to give smaller litters, and the USDA average litter is ~10 piglets.

Spot Belly's Nipples

Now you know everything we know. Dare to put your money where your mouth is? You guess the answer to any or all of 6 questions and if you're right, you win!! I'll keep track of who's betting on this spreadsheet(updated daily), and each of the six pots will be split among those who guessed correctly, proportional to the amount of their bet. If you choose to spend your winnings on TBA farms products we'll give you a 25% bonus. How do we raise money with this gimmick? Well, we're definitely going to bet right along with you, but we're also going to take a cut of the total before we divy it up among the winners. You're welcome to bet up to the date that each pig farrows, so even if you pick and your day flies by you can hedge later on.

In order to place your bets, just fill out the form below. You don't have to put something in every field, but I'd suggest diversifying. You can send us the funds one of two ways: click on the "donate" button in our sidebar and pay with a credit card or Paypal account, or mail us a check, our address can also be found in the sidebar. Either way, fill out the form below as it'll just be easier for me. If I don't receive payment within 10 days of bet placement I will cancel your bet. Be sure to keep tabs on the spreadsheet to see the group's opinions. If any of the pigs fail to pop within the allotted time frame all related bets will be canceled.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The new face of small scale financing

It seems like every time I look up there's a new way for small start-ups to raise funds. Peer-to-peer lending, micro-loans, group funded philanthropy, you name it someone's made it possible. We have a number of friends and acquaintances who've made use of Kickstarter, and I have to say the theory behind it is wonderful, especially if you've got a great new product in mind but you don't have the funds to produce it en masse. In my mind, the biggest downside to these funding methods is the various cuts taken along the way, a successful Kickstarter campaign can lose 10% to these middlemen. I am fully aware that these are the costs of doing business, Johnson and I were just discussing how the price of basically everything is 3% higher than it needs to be because of the proliferation of credit cards, and you can't often save that money by using cash.

You know me though, I can't just use a good thing, I have to tweak it a bit and make it my own. In recent months I've considered a number of Kickstarter proposals that could benefit our farm and homestead, ideas like a 0 mile meal, where absolutely everything would be grown here on our property, or a pre-buy for our fledgling pastured chicken operation. One of the great tenets of Kickstarter is that those who are funded should provide an incentive for the funder. Tech startups provide pre-buys, artists offer original work, and restaurants give coupons and gift certificates.

While we have plenty to offer, meat, produce, a damn good time, I'm hesitant to put these on a pedestal. As food growers we don't strive for consumers to buy our products for special occasions, but instead to elevate their consumption as a whole and work towards eating and purchasing more locally, and more communally. Now, just because it's a goal doesn't mean we expect to fully attain it, after all we still buy a lot of our food from Wegman's, and we haven't put as much energy as I'd like towards buying locally. Lofty goals are necessary to make big impacts, just ask Coca Cola, who at one point had a corporate goal that people would drink more Coke products than they drank water (a goal attained in Mexico.)

So, how else can a poor farmer raise funds? It just so happens that something else has been in the news a lot recently. Lotteries are one of the oldest tricks in the book for fundraising, used for everything from bolstering the nation's education funds to providing arms for the Civil War. Often referred to as a regressive tax, gambling persists for a number of reasons, the most of which is obvious: It's fun. Our lives are especially filled with uncertainty: Did the pigs eat all the chicken's food today? Will the well be frozen? Is there an impending snowpocalypse? One question in particular has pervaded our thoughts here at TBA farms, and soon I will invite you to answer it along with us.

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Exciting things to come

I just finished picking out Hop Rhizomes from Midwest Supplies, the place we get most of our homebrew ingredients and supplies from. A few friends have started homebrewing recently, and I can't help but take a little credit for the inspiration. Growing our own hops will save us a boat load of money, hops have been especially pricey lately due to some major catastrophes in the small world of hop growers. One area has a flood, another producer has a barn burn down, and prices almost tripled, as well as rationing. It seems to be on the mend, but I am pleased to be free of that economy soon. Combined with maintaining our own yeast, I hope to cut our beer prices in half.

I purchased 5 varieties, one Rhizome each of Williamette, Magnum, Cascade, Fuggles, and Golding. These should be well rounded enough to provide a number of flavor profiles for my recipes. Each plant is expected to grow over 15' tall and 10' in diameter, producing a literal boatload of hops. The first year is thin, as usual, but since each 5 gallon batch of beer only uses 2-5 ounces I bet I'll get some use out of them this season.

This is but one of our experiments this year in permaculture, and the biggest hurdle so far has been figuring out where to put all of these plants. Johnson's got 13 or 15 fruit trees on the way too, and that doesn't even begin to touch on berries and other viney stuff. I'm sure she'll enlighten you soon...