Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Eulogy for Bernie

Folks who have visited the farm have met our rooster, Bernie.  Perhaps you were admiring the view when something heavy and sharp suddenly slammed into your thigh.  Perhaps you were busy carrying heavy feed buckets when a puffed-up greenish blur blitzed out of a rosebush to attack your boot.  Perhaps you tried to fight back, learning only too late that any agression short of a full-fledged punt only made Bernie more excited to fight.  Perhaps, then, you will feel some relief to know that Bernie is dead.  Long live Bernie.

Frost-hardened Bernie in his milk parlor fortress.
Although I spent much of the spring and summer fantasizing about stewing Bernie up this winter, his death came as something of a shock, and the barnyard is a much more dull and lonely place without him.  By August, in fact, I had decided that Bernie added more flavor to life than he would a stew.  So it goes.

The Big Man and I learned early on that Bernie was something we had to keep our eyes on when we were on His Side of the Road.  First he killed all the other roosters.  We collected their corpses with trepidation while watching him patrolling the hillside.  Then he moved his hens out of the coop and into the milk barn.  From that home base he was able to scale up his bird-on-human attacks, ruling the area from the road to the bottom of the pasture, setting up ambushes, herding his hens, and making life interesting (sometimes terrifying) for the farmers.  He chased Big Man through a burdock patch, landed me on my rear in the compost pile, and has been the reason for numerous lost tools as anything within reach has at some time been flung at him in a vain attempt at self preservation.

 The Big Man eventually whacked Bernie enough times with shovels and pitchforks to earn some respect, so I spent the entire month of April trying to teach him to similarly respect me.  I had six of seven brooms stashed around the barnyard so that I was never more than a few strides away from one.  Every time he got within brooms-length of me, I'd let him have it.  After four or so good whacks (often I would thwomp him, golf-style, sending him flying a few feet through the air) he would shake his head clear and mosey off in the other direction, keeping one vengeful eye on me.
Getting close enough for a good brooming.  Thwock.
Since the brooming, the rooster-on-farmer violence had slowed, with Bernie preferring to play red light, green light.  Walking through the barnyard, I would often see him out of the corner of my eye, slowly edging his way toward me, pretending to peck at the ground as he maneuvered.   I'd turn toward him and he would instantly freeze, one foot off the ground.  If I turned to walk away, I'd hear the "thwap thwap thwap" of him running toward me.  Whirl around, and Bernie would freeze mid-stride.  He would look at me stunned for a minute with an "oh crap, she caught me!" face, before narrowing his eyes and pretending to peck at the ground, slowly inching forward.  I got fairly adept at walking backwards.

A few attack-free days and several nights featuring a Bernie-less top roost confirmed it: Bernie was dead (long live Bernie).

King of the mountain.  Bernie is always king of the mountain.
All in all, and it is strange to say, Bernie is sorely missed.  I was really starting to enjoy standing on the house side of the road, watching him stalk an unsuspecting farm visitor.  And he was such a sweet, puffed-up dad with the 13 hoarded chicks.

We have one of those male chicks in the henhouse now -- Bernard II, Son of Bernie.  He's got the same green plumed tail, and (like many roosters) the same severely crazy orange-red eyes.  Here's hoping that he got some of Bernie's crazy genes as well.

RIP Bernie.  May the wind be ever at your back, and unsuspecting shins ever before you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making Up For Lost Time

Little Red was supposed to have piglets, along with Spot and Scar, in early August.  Despite her svelte shape at the time (after all, she hardly showed with her first pregnancy -- we thought she was still 3 weeks out on March 1 and then suddenly she was giving milk), we dutifully frittered her away into a spacious and private farrowing stall on July 27th.  In the neighboring stalls, Spot and Scar had their litters right on time. Little Red politely greeted us, piglet-less, with confused grunts every time we went in to poke and prod and otherwise hunt for signs of imminent new life.

One of Spot's or Scar's August piglets today.
On such a mission one day, the boar next door was making quite a commotion.  He appeared to be trying to dig through the concrete floor to burrow into Little Red's stall.  Odder still, Little Red seemed to be trying to shove her body through a small hole in the wood to get to him.  So we took down the temporary wall that had separated them to see what would happen.

Now, according to popular hog knowledge, a female pig will only entertain a boar's advances if she is in heat, and she would not be in heat if she were pregnant.*  The second the wall was down, it was clear that she was interested in the boar's advances; meaning that she was not pregnant.

How many can you see?  Not enough... 

We are not sure why she eschewed having August piglets.  The heat in July or the stress of moving her from the far pasture to the barn may have caused a miscarriage, or she might never have recovered enough from nursing her last litter (and then competing with the larger Spot and Scar for food throughout the summer) to get fertile again.

Anyway, in the last two months, we have watched Little Red turn from the smallest sow on the farm into a gentle, russet-colored sphere.  She definitely had something in her belly.  However, we weren't sure if it was actual piglets or just a lot of grain now that Spot and Scar (still nursing piglets in the barn) were out of the picture, or a combination of both.

Well, today we learned that it was mostly piglets.  When the Big Man checked at midnight, it was clear that something was happening.  A calm Little Red and nine piglets at 2 AM made him think she was finished.  But this morning, FOURTEEN piglets greeted him at chore time.

That is a new farm record -- by a lot.  Her first litter was nine.  Spot's first was seven and her August batch was also seven.  Scar had eight for her first litter and six born alive in August.  Now, the heat can account for their small numbers in August, and the March piglets were First Litters for all of the young sows, but fourteen is a more than respectable number any way you parse it.

LR; pile of piglets.
 It will be interesting to see how many she can keep alive.  We have a heat lamp set up, and they already know how to use it, but fourteen is a fairly big burden on a sow (with only fourteen teats...whereas humans usually have two for each baby and cows have four for one or two calves), and there is already one 'let who seems a little small, tired, cold, and generally uninterested in moving.

Little Red and Tiny Reds

*We are still trying to figure out if this is true. We have no clue.  The internets/books seem to think it is so, but we are skeptical because of our logic skills.

Monday, November 21, 2011

THANK YOU, Farm to City Participants

First of all, we'd like to give a giant and heartfelt THANK YOU to our hosts in Philadelphia and NYC who were so generous to open their homes and ovens to us for a fantastic Farm to City weekend.

An equally giant and heartfelt THANK YOU goes to our illustrious crew of farm sitters, who are slowly but surely chipping away at my certainty fear that everything will run away and/or die the second we step off of TBA lands for any significant period of time. Thanks to you we returned to a farm full of happy, calm beasts, and I have one less excuse to nurture my hermitic instincts.

It was great to meet new people and reconnect with old ones.  You were inspiring as always, and provided us with lots to mull over as we plan the next stages of the Farm.

AND, for those who picked up their turkeys: I *think* that I managed to get my admittedly dorky but extremely useful Pastured Turkey Fact Sheet to all of you, but if I missed you, just email us and I can get you a copy (the basic gist being: do not lick your raw turkey /do brine that bitch).  Additionally, if you have any other turkey-related questions (like: why did my turkey goody bag include two hearts/livers? etc.) feel free to email them and we can illuminate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Farm to City This Weekend

For those east-coast dwellers not on our email dislist*, let it be known that we are bringing the Farm to Philadelphia and New York City this weekend in the form of a good old fashioned cookout.

We'll be serving up samples of our sausages, chicken, vegetables and sundry other projects.  Some adult libations will be offered, but we encourage visitors to contribute on that front.

ALL ARE WELCOME.  Bring your friends and neighbors.  We're a more-the-merrier type of operation, and we love meeting new people.

Food offerings will start around 8:00 PM, but feel free to come early and stay late.

Farm to Philly will be this Friday, November 18th, in West Philadelphia (please email tbafarms@gmail.com for the address)

Farm to NYC will be this Saturday, November 19th, in the East Village (please email tbafarms@gmail.com for the address)

In addition to samples and fun, we will have lots for sale if you want to take home your very own bit of the farm:

Turkeys: As of press time, a couple of these most iconic of holiday birds are still available at $4/pound. Pasture-raised, antibiotic free and all that jazz.  Let us know asap if you want to reserve one.
Rabbit: is available sold whole, $5/pound.  These are a great and healthy alternative to white meat chicken.  Delicious braised in a sauce or stew.
Chicken: sold whole at $4/pound. We have them ranging from 3 - 7 pounds.
Fresh Ham Roasts $6.5/# These are hams cut into 3 pieces. The butcher recommended it as a more saleable cut than hams, and a few of these will make good roasts, but some of them are like super thick ham steaks, which will roast up fine but look kind of odd.
Pork Chops $7.5/# These are smaller than you're used to, with the bone in. Think Lamb chop sized, very cute, one of our most remarkable and complimented cuts. 2 per package.
Spare Ribs $5.5/# These are quite literally spare ribs, bits of ribs they cut off of other cuts, as opposed to the big thick slabs you're used to at the BBQ joint. Great for braising.
Sausage $8/# Hot or Sweet Italian, cased but not linked.
Fresh Pork Belly $7/# What to make your own bacon? This is what you need. Also common in many Asian dishes. These are whole slabs, approx. 5# each.
Offal $3/# liver, heart, tongue, soup bones.

*Sign up for our email dislist!  Just email tbafarms@gmail.com and ask to be added.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Inside-out Sow

My camera is broken.  This is actually fairly lucky for you, readers, because this past weekend we had a notably unattractive health scare with one of our sows: a prolapsed rectum.

Anal prolapse gathers like dark clouds on the horizon...

Situations like that this generally incite a googling frenzy on my part, a frenzy that always results in a feeling of utter disappointment at the lack of DIY vet resources there are out there for the small farmer.  This is exacerbated substantially by the lack of actual vets who deal with livestock, on farm, at all.  Around us there are a few who deal with cows.  Pigs however...while I'm sure there must be someone, he/she is awfully hard to find.

Not to mention that these days, cost margins are so thin that it would take something exceptional for us to even consider calling a vet out to look at our animals.  One $100 vet visit, and we would lose our entire profit on a 250-pound meat pig, or have to take a loss on a litter of piglets.  The only instances I can see it being justifiable are if there is an outbreak of a disease that threatens the herd, or if one of our best sows, perhaps when pregnant, is afflicted with something that would be an easy fix for a vet but is an utter impossibility for us.

Scar, and friends, before the incident.

This is a real shame.  I was recently visiting my family in Ohio, and while staying in my childhood bedroom I rediscovered the joys of All Creatures Great and Small by my man (and subconscious inspiration?) James Herriot.  He was a country vet in the 1930s, a time when the practice was just  beginning to move from primarily serving farmers and their livestock to servicing the dogs, cats and other house pets of the town-folk.  Reading it this time was different, because now I actually do know what it was like to be up in the middle of the night in 0 degree weather with a hand up the birth canal of a struggling mother-to-be and all the frustration/amazement/terror/exhausting delight that comes with it when the little ones inexplicably arrive alive, somehow knowing to head straight toward the warmth and nourishment of the teat within seconds of being born.

Little ones, growing.

Anyway.  Scar had a prolapsed rectum.  This is an ugly condition wherein what should remain inside (the rectal tissue) is suddenly outside (expelled through the anus).  It can be just a bit of material, or a heaping lot.  Luckily for us, it was just a bit, and equally lucky for us, the Big Man caught it fast.  One of the bigger dangers of a prolapse is that the tissue get caught on something (such as inquiring mouths, or barbed wire, or twigs, or...anything, really) and get cut.  According to google, the causes range from hormones to indigestion to an, er, rough, encounter with the boar, to a million other things.  It seems to be fairly rare in sows and more of a problem among young male grower pigs.  The suggested treatment involved sedating the animal, gently pushing what should be inside back to the inside, and stitching up whatever hole it came out of with a purse-string-suture-type stitch.  Or, separating the animal from its curious friends, and crossing ones fingers that would work out.

Luckily, this time, that's exactly what happened.  A few hours on her lonesome, and Scar was as good as new.  I kept her in for an extra day to make sure that everything was working its way through alright, and returned her to the general population yesterday afternoon.  She's doing great.

Missy in the foreground, and an increasingly spherical Little Red (now, amazingly, our largest sow...this time hopefully because she's full of babies) in the rear.
But next time, it might not work itself out so well, and that's made me want to redouble my efforts to become an amateur vet.  Anesthesia is now on my 'Controlled Substances to Buy' list.  And I will be practicing some purse-string sutures on some unsuspecting fabric this winter, just in case.