Friday, June 3, 2011

Mother Earth News Fair

Come heckle me and stick around to hear keynote Joel Salatin, as well as other local folks and interesting voices.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I haven't been able to squeeze in time for a blog for some time. So here we go... eggs are off to a slow start with 90% of our layers turning out to be roosters. The roosters are breeding each other, the turkeys are breeding the ducks, the ducks are breeding the geese, The geese are trying to hatch the chicken eggs, the goats are trying to get inside the rabbit pens, and the sheep are taking down the hot wire to set the pigs free, and an IT guy is farming. Did I mention someone has been selling chickens unauthorized under the Cryingrock label. I never in my life imagined I would have trouble with chicken counterfeiting. That is just weird. We made it through winter by the skin of our teeth, and are welcoming spring in our own um... unique way. The day after my birthday we welcomed a small litter of mulefoots. They are doing great and are a ton of fun. At a week old they are already walking up for back scratches. It was a very timely birth, as the numbers I have been hearing for existing Mulefoots are down to the 200's, I am trying to confirm for sure. So there are lots of new things happening here for spring. We inherited a small group of Tamworth Hogs from Black Sheep Farm outside of Port Angeles, started guinea hens, pheasants, and our spring chickens. Also we received our custom slaughter license for pigs etc. It is a weird dichotomy, that the hand that scratches the belly, is the hand that also splits the belly, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Humane treatment and quality are under our watch from gestation to plate, and it's a responsibility that we take solemnly. So in these early spring days of "rain, sun, hail, repeat", think about ordering a pig for you and your neighbor. Not before Saturday though, I need to replace my winch first. Since I broke it I dropped a gambrel with a 180lb pig hanging, down on my nose, and I don't want to do that twice. Mostly because I don't want to have to explain that I look the way I do because I dropped a pig on my face. If you can't make it out to see the new pigs, I will be bringing some out to the Mother Earth News Fair June 4Th and 5Th ( You can save if you order tickets ahead of time. And if you're in the Seattle area tomorrow, come by Pike Place and say hi.

Friday, February 25, 2011

To market to market to buy a fat pig....

Two days ago, the pigs were grazing in golden sun. Today they were back in the snow again. The snow this time around has been nice, since there hasn’t been the deep freeze like the last. Hopefully it stays that way so we can get to market on Saturday. Speaking of which, we will be three weeks old at Pike Place Market this week. Usually we are right under the famous neon sign. Last week it was a crystal clear sunny day and you could see across the pond to the Olympics, all the way over to Rainier, all from our booth. Folks would ask “where is Orting”, and I could just point behind me to the mountain. You would be amazed how many passers by read my sign aloud as “pasteurIZED pork”, it has happened so many times that I would not be surprised if they read it as homogenized as well. The Market has been fun. It is a hard day though, you have to squeeze out a whole days worth of farm chores before hitting the road at 7AM. But we have enjoyed getting visits from friends and family (especially those who brought treats), and meeting new people. The response to our rabbits at the market has been a great. The hard part is holding back enough of them to keep the breeding program going. It is a fine balance. Like Sally Field said “You like my rabbits, right now, you like my rabbits”. We have been trying a number of production systems with the rabbits, and are finding our groove. The timing is is kind of classic for us. For some reason we have this reoccurring theme of starting things at the wrongliest time. Farming in December, market in February. Maybe we will sell down coats, and woolly mittens this August, who knows. Well winter has been a bear, and an effort of survival. Signs of life are starting to break through though. The blue bells are a couple inches tall, hops are sprouting, hens are starting to lay again, and a lamb just dropped. I hope these are signs of a bountiful year to come.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mulefoot +3

The snow was beyond beautiful. Bella made a snow angel. Daniel and Jude made the biggest snow ball known to man. The white blanket covering the world even makes it quieter, with folks staying off the road. Sammy the wonder dog like many Washington drivers, took off at full speed – so sure and confident, not realizing that the breaks are not as reliable in the snow. It took him a few slide crash and burns before he got his snow feet. Before the snow we had a big box of plastic grocery bags from a former life when we used to go to the store. These all became holey boot liners, and lasted the whole storm! Sorry, you can take the boy out of Hilltop, but you can’t take Hilltop out of the boy. I had never in life had so many folks notice my foot apparel as when doing this particular survival ritual. Reactions generally fell into two categories – those very few who said hey that’s a great idea, and those who were completely perplexed. Thats OK, bag in the boot boy is used to being misunderstood. The Pigs did not think twice about the snow. Without having ever seen it before, they all knew to eat it heartily. I guess that is because it fell into thier favorite category of food - "anything". We put out a more robust shelter with walls, as opposed to their warm weather tarp. Late in the evening they would retire here to form a steaming pile of pigs in a box. They just spent the day rooting and grazing like nothing changed. Except I think they were eating twice as much to keep up the body heat. Sometimes when working the fences I had to stop and pet them so they would defrost my hands with their radiant heat. The snow did pile up on our polywire fences, but the charge stayed strong. I spent a lot of time knocking off what looked like clear rock candy from the whole line. The rest of the time I spent praying that the snow would melt before I needed to switch pastures, because my other posts and wire were under a white blanket buried who knows where. So it was beautiful, peaceful, But it was hard. A lot of work gets put on hold, or just takes a lot longer. Truck doors are frozen shut, and fingers are too cold to properly grab anything. I am trying to get caught up and cleaned up before it hits again. To add to the chaos we let the chickens out of the tractors so there are 200 free range birds piling on my feet whenever I am trying to do anything around the barnyard (they did great in the snow too). As far as I know we haven’t lost any to predators yet. For the most part they sleep on the haystack in the barn at night. There was one who slept alone in the snow the first night. We named her snowball due to the ice ball attached to her tail for the proceeding two days. We eventually cut it off even though it prevented us from recognizing her any longer. They are doing their best to scatter around any cleaning up I do, and cover it up in chicken doo. Sammy can’t handle the temptation anymore. Three times I have caught him with yellow feathers on his tongue. He doesn’t eat em, he just wants to show them he’s boss. This will be the last time we let that many birds run amuck. Next year we will be doing a day range system for a study with WSU. I kept saying that the Mulefoot litter was due around Christmas, but the piglets could sense the chaos, and decided to add to it by coming out today! That is OK, we welcome the surprise. It was a very small litter, only three. But that is OK being Pigerella’s first litter, and the Mulefoot’s are expected to have smaller litters anyhoo. I have to say these are the cutest piglets yet. Tiny solid hooves and big ears. Kid Pig is very gentle, and calls them just as Pigerella does. Pigerella is a fine mother, cautious not to sit on the tiny babies smaller than her nose. She had them nursing right away as well. She lets me come in and pet the piglets without a gripe. One did squeal when I pet it with my cold hand, and she let me know that would be enough. Mom and Babies are doing great. We gave them a celebration dinner of Cheese, bread, and vegetables. Their breakfast tomorrow will be mostly a bunch of sod clumps, which will help the piglets get the iron they need without having to inject shots like the norm. They actually come out of the womb knowing exactly what to do with dirt and grass, so why complicate it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Day In The Life

Joy! My rain barrels were filled this morning. This saves me a ton of work. I was so happy when I saw it that I laughed out loud. These days I wake up the rooster. I did so today starting my morning ritual, of letting him and the other Hamburg’s out of the coop. Everyone layed an egg (except the rooster, of whom we don’t require the service). I think the paragraph I just typed may have been the lyrics to Ice-Cube’s “today was a good day”, I better check to make sure I am not plagiarizing. Kid Pig’s piglets fed – check, Kid Pig and Pigerella fed and watered – check. Now let’s just continue this blissful morn on out and check on the chicken tractors. Oh no! Chickens are supposed to be in tractors, not around tractors… Apparently there was a gusty wind that blew the lid off one. As I cruised up full speed on my forest gump lawn mower, the birds came running up to me. I am sure it is because they wanted to eat me, but lucky for me their mouths were too small. After I caught the first one, the others changed their minds and ran off. Next me and Sammy the super pup reenacted the scene from “Rocky” where he is being trained by chasing a chicken. I was the chubby Norwegian Rocky, and Sammy was a furry mick – “you got to have speed Rock”. Sammy went around the tractor and held them off while I scooped them up. Amazing what that poor dog can do without his owners knowing how to train him. He was so ecstatic to get to herd something he was jumping in the air. Speaking of air, above us the local birds of prey were circling to offer clean up assistance should we miss anything (one of the main reasons why they are in tractors). I began to lecture the chickens. With the kids gone this weekend, I think I needed to be paternal at something. That was ill received and unsuccessful. After moving the tractors, we went over to water the pasture pigs. Sammy was so amped on herding that he flipped out and couldn’t stop doing his “jump and bark” at the pig fence. Finally I found myself between him and the pigs and he bit my leg. I think he quickly realized I only taste a little like pig, and quickly shied away. I threw my bucket and yelled “no”. He sulked under the gump tractor, and just sat silently for the rest of the time. If he had a paddle ball at the time he probably would have played it.
The ground is getting real soft with the rains. This makes the pigs go through the pasture a lot faster. They dig up huge clumps of soggy sod and flip it over finding bugs and roots. Bummer for me, a lot of times they drop these clumps on the electric fence, shorting it out creating a gateway to piggly freedom. I continued my ritual of walking the fence line, removing the clumps. Everything is well, time to gear up to give some friends a farm tour in a few minutes. I found a quick minute to throw down some breakfast and another cup of joe. I was watering the chickens when our visitors arrived. I started my usual tour, and when we got within visibility of the pasture pigs, my friend said “It looks like one of them is not in the fence”. Words like that always send a shock through me more than the fence itself. We ran out there to assess the situation. Surely, Strawberry was out having her own tour of the farm. I was just telling everyone how they can bury the fence, and not 20 minutes from when I had just unburied it, they reburied it, all stinking wires! The young pigs were starting to follow after strawberry. I could barely find the fence. I quickly started digging through deep clumps of mud and grass, trying to restore some sort of order to this circus. I got the fence out, but it was broken in one place. Hmm… how does farmer Joel tie the fence back together without getting defibrillated? If I run back to turn it off, everyone will escape. I managed to use two fence posts like chopsticks to form a square knot, tensioning with my rubber boot. Now why is it when I am tying knots with my feet, and holding the shocking fence of perpetual death with giant chopsticks, I get the most random obscure calls?
Me: Hello, this is joel (foggy glasses, clutching phone between shoulder and chin)…
Caller: (In a smuckers like grampa tone) I understand you are selling a resonator guitar on craigslist…
Me: yes sir that is me….

Caller: well I don’t want to buy it.

Me: Oh, uh um otay er…

Caller: You see I am selling my resonator, but I don’t know how much it is worth, I was hoping you could tell me…

Me: I am sorry sir you should talk to an appraiser…

Caller: Speek up sonny I don't hear well.

ME: Appraisor…God have mercy on me..Ap-rais-or...

Caller: I don’t know one, do you?, whats happening, something is happening with my phone, I have a friend who uses the internet..….

Long story short, I learned far too much about this nice man, at a very wrong time. The fence somehow was back up, It wasn’t pretty, but it was functioning. I had my buddies start chucking treats into the middle of the pasture to lure the piggies in away from the fence, and draw strawberry back in. As soon as she saw the treats, she slipped under the fence as I lifted it up (with a spare post). With everyone in their proper place, I went back to take care of some farm sales, and start another tour. Guess what the first question of the next tour was? I am sure I don’t need to tell you. Yes sir you are correct, those pigs are out of the fence... They had already buried the fence again. I decided it was time to get their new pasture built so they will keep their digging away from the fence line. Good thing this torrential rain is here now so we don’t get too hot while we work :). I guess you can’t have all sunny days and full rain barrels too. The new fence went up quick, and just in time. As soon as I had the exterior up and charged, the pigs buried the betweener fence and marched on through, I didn’t even have to ask them. After they passed, I just put it back up, and voila! Next I put up their tent shelter, with the usual assistance in the form of a couple pigs sitting on the tarp while I try to hang it, and another doing tug of war while I tie it. I then rechecked the fence line. All is well. Seeing a new fence up always gives me a feeling of satisfaction. Seeing how happy the pigs are knee deep in buffet always makes me happy too. I asked them all several times today as they were burying fences faster than I could recover them….seriously, could you really be that hungry? Whether they are hungry or not, they eat like a black hole. I think they are having a growth spurt. They are starting to get to that size where you are less telling them what to do than offering polite suggestions. With all the disasters of the day resolved, I hopped in there with the pigs for their daily ear scratches and belly rubs. I explained that I didn’t mean all those nasty things I said earlier. They just stood there quiet with mouths full of dandelions. By now it was getting dark, so I needed to squeeze in one more move for the chicken tractors before they doze off. Me and Sammy both looking like soggy mops, locked the Hamburg’s in their coop, and went to dry off. Canned Heat is on the radio and life is good. Should you need to borrow a pig to dig a Chunnel or would like some tasty pastured pork sausages, give me a call. Just don’t call to tell me you are not buying my guitar.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chickens on Parade

The chickens are cruisin down the pasture in their tractors. Little Eorth farm next door kindly loaned us the tractors because they knew in the timeframe it takes me to finish a project, they would be extinct before they got pastured. We have adopted one of the chickens as another farm mascot. He is blind and therefore wasnt getting around as able as the others. We named him Clarence Fountain, and he likes to perch on our shoulder. Don't forget this Saturday is Harvest Fest from 10-4. The website is: . We will be grilling and selling our own pastured bratwurst and retailing variety boxes of pastured pork.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

By now I should have learned that whenever I start to feel like things are in order, and under control, I should at that moment duck - expecting things to spontaneously combust. Today was business as usual, with the addition of some friends and family dropping by to lend a hand with farm chores and projects, gearing up for the October second Harvest Fest (you are invited by the way). We had harvested a good part of our dear piggies, and were planning out how the remaining herds will be ordered moving forward. I made an executive decision. All the growers will be separated off into their own herd, while all the sows will run with the Mulefoots. In other words making one group into two, and then two others into one. All I have to do to accomplish this is have total cooperation from the animals. Well, we built fabulous fences around some lush green paddocks, and were ready to bait and switch. Easy right? We get all the growers into the new pen and managed to push the sows back when Tiger Pig all of the sudden grew springs on her feet and leaped over the top of the fence. This reminds me of when I read pigs don’t jump. Did I mention she did it twice? This was not one of my low budget mini fences that Teresa shakes her head at, this was my super duty San Quentin model with an extra third strand of electric! It was the best I had to offer and Tiger leaped it like a horse. After wallowing in my self pity for a brief moment we pretty easily coerced her back in with a treat. She is a woman surely subject to her passions. I had to bear the tuff news to Kid Pig that the date was off. He was mostly just worried about what the kids at school would think about him getting stood up. We resolved to keep the growers and sows in their new pasture together and not fight it. No sooner had I done this, when the pigs started shoving each other over who gets to sit in the water trough. In all the ruckus, a little guy was pushed out of the wire. I say a little guy but he is probably at least 65 pounds. I chased him for a while, and soon the kids came and the fearless herd dog Sammy. Sammy utilized his vast training and natural instinct to wait until I had the pig caught and picked up, before he nipped him in the rump. Thanks for the help boy. He sat back with this vindicated look of “that’s what I’m here for”. Well for the most part everyone is in their proper place, or at least the place we grew too tired to wrestle them out of. Be sure to come by for Harvest fest next Saturday the second, we will be selling "hot off the grill" our own Crying Rock Bratwurst. Also we will be selling at the farm - variety packs of select sausages and cuts. We plan on wrangling some piglets into a pen so you can meet them, and Sumner Tractor has graciously donated a tractor for the day for hay rides! That is great because Teresa gave me the strangest look when I said I was going to pull the hay wagon with my lawn mower. We will be giving tours where you can see first hand, our rotational methods and pasture life cycle. Heck - watch the pigs outsmart us as it happens! Watch the chickens cruise in their tractors! It will be a death defying three ring agro-circus you don't want to miss!