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!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Porcine Rodeo

We decided to make the pasture switch a family affair. Meaning instead of the usual me vs the pigs, it was me vs the pigs and feral children. It was actually really fun. I had Teresa ready on the Walkie Talkie switching the power on and off while I modified the fence. Once we created a pass through gate, the kids all threw a treat in the new pasture to bribe the pigs in for a fast change. It actually went pretty smooth. It quickly digressed into a free for all where all three kids suddenly learned how to ride pigs like a horse. Yes I said the kids were riding pigs like horses. I was so shocked, for many different reasons I just had to become a spectator and watch. Sometimes I worry if my little piglets are growing, well I saw them in a different light as they carried my kids around like a bird on the back. I opened up the well to create a new wallow, and all the kids synchronized their efforts to loose their flip flops all at once in the mud. If you were riding your bicycle down the street during the event, you probably would have seen me waving my arms and blurting "told you to wear boots, bladdy bladdy..." It went in one ear and out the other, to much fun to be had, and the sun was so hot I think our brains were evaporated by then anyway. It is so hot that pigs don't need much for shelter, just shade. For this time of year I just pound in four t-posts and string a tarp up. The pigs always help out by scratching themselves on the posts while I pound, and standing on the tarp while I tie it. It was great to see the pigs so enthralled in their pasture. Alot of volunteer plants seemed to be favorites, particularly wild geraniums. After that it was dinner for us, and then off to work on our former residence.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Keeping the Mulefoot alive

So as I mentioned before, the Mulefoot sow has arrived. Turns out a farm here in the valley had bought a breeding pair and lost their boar. You may remember we had lost our sow last winter in transport. While we still hope one day she will show up on our doorstep with a suitcase bearing stickers of all the places she had visited since she hopped out of our stock box - we know for now we need to make other plans... So the appropriately named "Pigerella" is on site and occupying the honeymoon sweet with Kid Pig. Already we have a bunch of Mulefoot crosses running around, and now expect to see some full Mulefoot piglets around Christmas. True to form for the breed, Pigerella has the best temperament you could ask for. I had an epiphany that depending on the size of the litter, we will have over 1% of the existing Mulefoot herd here at Crying Rock. Our little border collie pup "Sammy" is learning the ropes here at the farm, and really wants to herd pigs. His challenges so far are that the piglets want to play with him, and the sows have in the past, offered to eat larger dogs. Maybe we will start him with the chickens instead. Meanwhile, the pigs are in the pasture that was over seeded with Canola, and they love it. They have about two days of grazing left in the field before I send them into the next, that was over seeded with buckwheat and sugar beets, along with some volunteer mustard and oats.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hay going and piglets coming

If you have driven by the place lately you may have witnessed a grass stuffed giant marshmallow Stonehenge like arrangement, like Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of our agricultural future. Don't' fret, that is just the ancient art of hay being done. There are some local fellas that have been haying this land for years, and the grass was growing faster than I could graze, so we worked it out. I don't know if I was more impressed by the art or industry of it, but the only ones who enjoyed seeing it more than I was the coyotes. In broad daylight they will follow the baler picking up the mice who just had their thatch roofs removed. I am sad to see the marshmallows loaded up and heading down the road, but excited to let the field turn green again, and spread the grazing pastures farther out. Currently the pigs are tilling the new hop field. It is getting late in the year for our hop trials, and I think we can kiss this fall's harvest goodbye, but we should have our foundation plants in the ground and ready to overwinter in time to make a strong showing next year. Ezra Meeker would till new ground twice and then stick new hops in, tilling occasionally between the rows to control weeds (all horse draft). We are just going to have the pigs till so most of the natural soil structure, and microbial life will stay intact. We haven't decided who will graze the rows between yet, so far it is a tossup between the smaller breed pigs, and sheep. We will have them do paper scissors rock and see who wins. Speaking of the smaller breed pigs, our prized mulefoot "Kid-Pig" just congratulated his third wife on his third litter (her first). In a week or so his fourth wife, a registered mulefoot from Minnesota will be arriving. I keep telling him to slow down, but he just tells me I am too old fashioned. Check out Facebook if you want to see pics of the new ones.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sun and fertile ground

Hot sun, and extremely fertile ground has things growing like mad here. Grass depending on the species is anywhere between my waist and as high as I can lift my hat in the air. The pigs are grazing a dent in it, but most of the field has seeded out. This means it needs to be hayed off so it can go green again. Right now the neighbors are making round bales out on the field and it looks great (hence thier tractor in the pic) The first pasture that the pigs mowed down is almost fully grown back with a deep shade of green, with no irrigation and maybe one day of rain. The buckwheat is coming up too. I should be announcing the harvest schedule in a couple weeks or so. I have been planning the pasures to be about two weeks of grazing, and that has been working out pretty good. Ususally I will throw the pigs a snack every day, to remind them they are domesticated, and that they like me. Unfortunately it causes them to associate me with tasty snacks all the time, so when I go out to walk the fence line, the whole heard follows me along the fence line, honking in single file. I can't help but laugh.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pasture sytems go!

My phone doesn't take the grandest photos, but what we have here is the last three pasture rotations. Foreground is about to be opened to new grazing, middle ground is current grazing, and the next field out is regrowth from the last grazing. I cannot believe how fast the pasture springs back with growth after the pigs have tilled her. At three weeks rest it is almost regrown. If you were to see closely you would notice that the pigs don't leave the ground level. They dig all kinds of peaks and valleys. For the first replanting (in addition to the pasture that regrows on it's own) We have broadcasted sugar beets in the peaks, and buckwheat in the low spots. The buckwheat will create allot of biomass, as well as rich forage, while helping to fill in. We hope the beets will lure the pigs to re level the high points next pass through. If the birds leave the seeds in the ground, and the pigs cooperate - it will be a pretty cool system without need of machinery. No machinery outside of the sickle bar mower I use to mow the fence line at least. Pasture samples were lab tested at 20% protein, try to buy commercial feed that dense. Now that the grass is in seed the protein is lower, but morning glory is running rampant, and making up for it, and the pigs go crazy for the morning glory. When I get a chance I try to cut a little and hand ensile pasture for leaner days. So far the silage is a delicacy to the pigs, so that may play into winter plans for these guys if I can figure out how manage the large quantities without braking my spine. In general I like the pigs to pick their own grass. We are getting ready to breed our first 100% mulefoot pair in a week or so, and rethinking the breeds for our production girls. The 50% mulefoot piglets are growing fast, and are lightening quick little guys. They are like watching furry little pin balls bounce around. Carrie next door at Little Eorthe farm is helping us plan out our seed saving field for our heirloom "Mammoth Red Mangle" beets. These monsters grow up to 20 pounds, and likely will be an important part of our winter forage systems in the future. We are growing seed, because it takes a mortgage to buy them, and also they are very rare and hard to get. We have had some challenges recently with organic wormers. We had been using diatomatious earth, which was not working internally. If anyone out there in interweb land has had success with natural remedies, I would love to talk shop. Other than that we are loving being on site. Carrie Little just tilled our family garden for us and Tahoma Farms gave us a bunch of starts to put in. With neighbors like these we may just have to stick around for a while.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The season we have all been waiting for!

This is what the first day of summer looked like here at the rock. A couple of our blackberries basking in the mysterious light above. Allot of folks think Himalayans are an invasive species. But how could something be imposing when it just wants to crawl into a bottle of wine? The pigs have tilled around four acres so far, and counting. The ground behind them is holes and mounds differentiating between 6 inches to one and half feet in varience. For our first replanting we will be broadcasting root seeds in the hills, and buckwheat in the holes. Over time the bio mass should even out the level again. If not, then next time through the pigs will dig down the hills for the roots, and get er releveled. I am trying to avoid tilling since the pigs are leaving the soil structure pretty much in tact, but we shall see. So far Summer has been pretty true to form, the kids are out riding bikes and finding bugs and snakes. We are doing alot of hand haying long into the evening. Life is hard, and life is good.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Blais family has landed...

After living in the same city for 31 years or so, they have finally put me out to pasture. We have been living on site for two days now. It has been a little too busy to really appreciate it. It is a little surreal, Teresa and I feel like we are staying at a cabin, and we are waiting for Monday when they make us go home. But today is Monday and this is now home. Moving day overall went spectacular, except that the pigs knew we were busy and decided to move too, outside of their fence. Thanks to cousin Donny for chasing them back in while we were in a truck full of our worldly possessions movin on down the road. Also, while the house here was empty, an extended family of little grey mice decided it was cozier in the house than in the field. We closed up all the holes and vacuumed up all the little black presents they dotted in all the corners, set some traps, and now assume we will not be carried off by them in the night. But we will see. One of the first things you notice out here is the stars. Big and bright. Nighttime goes down a little differently now, the old sirens are traded now for frogs croaking and wily coyotes howling. And the smell of burgers, fries, and paper mills are traded for the sweet smell that blows across the grass. I don’t know how the smell changes when it turns dark, but it is awesome – and addicting. Since on site we have also found out Teresa is quite the pig whisperer, as you can see in the picture she has this little piggy hypnotized with a belly rub.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Life and Death

There was an article earlier this month about 1500 pigs dying because of a power outage.
Gosh, I feel for the farmers and the animals. A loss like that is terrible in so many ways. How could a power outage lead to this? It could be said there is a flaw in the model when there so many animals crammed into a box so small that air ceasing to be pumped in for a few moments leads to monumental death. I am not going to kick this guy while he is down. I blame him no more than I blame traffic congestion and smog on the guy on the assembly line putting mirrors on Fords. We drove the car, and we ate the pork chop. God knows my model is far from perfect, and I have a disheartening number of failures for every success. I am convinced however that sustainability is 90% not being ridiculous, and 10% mystery. Pigs want to be outside. Pigs want to gather their own food. Pigs do not bite each other’s tail off because you failed to cut it off first. Pigs don’t want to impersonate pickled sardines. That is what I mean by the 90%. The 10% is going to take some trial and error and a huge amount of humility. Whenever we assume we fully understand something, we often miss out on the needful details. Like boiling life down to NPK and waking up a century later one step away from desert. I have been doing OK so far following these “not being ridiculous” assumptions, and down the road I am sure there will be some hard lessons. There is not a lot of guidance on full pasture systems with swine. Actually I haven’t found any. But in the wild, pigs are quite prolific and we can look to those systems at least. In the mean time I will measure quality by how many wild birds are perched on the backs of my sows. It still falls into the 10% realm however, how I will keep said birds out of the field peas I am broadcasting behind the grazing pigs. Here’s to the mystery.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The sun was so bright today. One of those classic blue sky, puffy white cloud days. Like you remember from summers as a kid. All the kids were out “helping” today. That means while cutting grass on my little Forest Gump lawn tractor, Daniel was sailing on the bow, Jude was in my lap steering, and Bella was on the side fender laughing in my ear. It must have been ridiculous to see, but it was a lot of fun. Days like this are for cutting your silage while you can, slipping in a few conversations with lambs, piglet belly scratches, catching kittens, and yelling “get those scissors away from your sister’s face, put that machete back where you got it”! Most of the piglets have joined the herd and are hanging with the big girls. It makes me a little nervous, but for the most part the giants are gentle with the babies. The grass is getting real thick, between knee and waist high. Cut and compressed the animals eat about a cubic yard of it per day. Monday or Tuesday the pigs go into a new pasture so I won’t need to bring it to them anymore. I think we are getting pretty close to being able to farrow on pasture anyway so mowing will be a thing of the past (I keep telling myself). I hope to catch some time lapse of them switching pastures so you can see them at work.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Don’t cast your pearls before swine...

Or your eyeglasses for the same reason…

With all the litters we have now, the initial morning feed has gotten complex. There is a lot of prepping and bringing food to the farrowing pens. Patata was not pleased that she was not first in line and decided to jump over the wall to meet me half way. Her piglets were as shocked as I was. I could see squealing little snouts popping up and down just over the crest of the wall, as if they had found a little trampoline. Fortunately she only went into the cache pen I built next to her. I placed the feed in with her piglets, and quickly she hopped back over the wall. She knows her piglets take after her and would finish the dish before asking if she wanted some. You would not expect this girl to be so nimble, but she is a slave to her passions, and little stays in her way. Ok, pigs are now in their proper places, how shall we keep them put? Nail a board up higher of course. I go on a barnyard scavenger hunt gathering all the things: old 2x6, nails, hammer etc… I start nailing the board and off go the glasses - plummeting into the pig pen of no return, where 52 hooves quickly smash and turn to nice compost anything that meets their acquaintance . Think fast! Yes I caught them just in time, that was close. Putting them back on I realize I popped out a lens. The world suddenly looked like a 3D movie without the special glasses. After some left eye- right eye experimentation I narrowed down what eye was functioning. I looked out of the last good eye to spy that my precious lens landed softly in a nice fresh pile of doo. While considering whether I will lay down under those 52 hooves to retrieve my precious vision, or send Kid Pig to seeing eye dog school, I thought of a third choice. I will reach in with the shovel and fetch it! I fumble around half blind, which for some reason is worse than had I just took the glasses off - due to some weird fuzzy depth perception thing going on. But no time for smart moves and wise choices, I am busy trying to do something fast. I find the shovel and walk across the fuzzy-blurry barnyard to retrieve the precious gem. I jump into the cache pen and stretch in with my hardware. Delicate…gentle…don’t bury it! There may be nothing more curious than a piglet. To a piglet, shovel in the pen means party. Everyone comes over to see what this amazing thing is. At least three of them are biting it, and at least one is sitting on it. Somehow me and the piglets managed to get the lens on the shovel and back in my hand. I quickly wiped it on, yes my shirt (at this point it’s about survival) and returned it to its proper and very functional place. When I got home and told the kids the story, Jude replied "did you wash your glasses yet"? Anyhoo, the pigs have been hogging all the attention and it is time to start sharing some with the next enterprise, hops. This picture is the remainder of last years Cascades giving a black barleywine a fruity undertone, with a healthy layer of Hallertau's on the top (fresh hopping). I stole a couple samples this week, but I think it needs a little more time before it is finished, hopefully in oak. This one actually is brewed with a wild yeast, since I never got a chance to pitch the yeast (too busy chasing pigs) - but it decided it wanted to live and fermented itself. A lager surprisingly. Well this batch is the last of our hop supply so it is time to step up production. By end of May we will have in the ground: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Cluster, Crystal, Fuggle, Galena, Glacier, Hallertau, Liberty, Mt Hood, Newport, Nugget, Perle, Saaz, Santiam, Sterling, Tettnanger,Vangaurd, Willamette - and a very very special variety that I will talk about at a later time. Tomorrow Joel Salatin is speaking in Seattle so I need to get things wrapped up at the farm quickly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This little guy is our first hazelnut, imported wild from my sister's yard over on Fox Island. It is step one of our long term plan of transitioning to a savanna like polyculture for greater diversity grazing year round. Hops are going in the ground by end of may, and on that note I have been reading Ezra Meeker's "Hop Culture in the United States". It is a phenomenal read from a local historical perspective if not only because I am the uber hop nerd. Love the pioneer spirit.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This will only take me two days, seriously...

Seriously. I have been trying to get the perimeter fence finished for almost a month. Every time someone will ask "hows it coming", I reply "two more days". Those words have become a famous habitual lie at Crying Rock. Today I really was on my last second day of the last two days of fencing, when Gerbil started shooting babies out her back end. Soooo, it may take a couple more days after all. This birth was different than the previous ones. Patata and Silly had no issue with me picking up their little ones and shuffling them around. Gerbil is the dominant sow in the bunch, and for good reason. She looks like a bull with a flat nose, and today she was a momma bear. Every time I came near she puttered loudly like a Harley Davidson, and had a crazy wide eyed stare. Not the same girl as when her nest was empty. So I conceded and built a pen around where she laid with the piglets as opposed to trying to move her to a different location - while she eats me for Easter brunch a day early. This birth however was much cleaner. She had them all washed up before I came in. With Silly's litter I ended up walking around Wallymart in the late hours, half asleep, looking for a heat lamp with a piglet in my shirt - umbilical chord hanging out, and placenta covering my hand (long story - ask me later). I am probably in a picture somewhere on a Internet site because of that ordeal. Anyhoo that's the cost of living the dream. I'll write a little more in two days, I'll have time because I'll be finished with the fence.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring has sprung...

and today it sprung a leak. It was monsoon season here today. I am used to seeing rain in the context of on my windshield, or draining down my umbrella walking to work. It is a completely different experience watching it blow and billow across the large pasture, while listening to it all fall on the barn's metal roof. It was a beautiful orchestration. For those of you who get the blues when this weather happens, I have found the cure for it! All you have to do is develop a dependency for it, and you will relax when it comes. Build a rain catchment for your garden or hot tub, or put a metal roof over your deck for coffee outside. You will extend your fresh air season immensely, and welcome the rain like I do. That being said the sun we had last week was friggin awesome. Burn on my back to prove it. I can’t believe how long it has been since I have posted a blog entry. It has been very busy here at Crying Rock. Patata’s litter is 4 weeks old and they are huge! Silly’s litter is two weeks old and growing steady. We have had another litter since them and two on the way in a week or so. After that we shouldn’t see any new ones for about 2.5- 3 months when the Mulefoot\Chinese are born. We added 3 more Chinese landrace to the fray by the way. The last one we added -Annabel, so enamored Kid Pig that he immediately decided to get fresh without even taking time to introduce himself (it’s kind of his MO). This royally freaked Annabel out and she decided to break out and run off into the sunset. Hours later, me with a rope and a bucket of feed, neighbor Ken with his zippy golf cart and wascally hounds could do nothing to out sprint this chubby little ball of speed. Finally I called cousin Donny with his livestock wrangling dogs and he had her caught within a few minutes. Annabel is small until you have to carry her, I was sore for a week. I gave her a couple weeks to acclimate across the fence from Kid Pig, and this time it went a little smoother integrating them. She has taught me well. In the next couple days we will be moving all the sows who are not nursing litters into the new pasture, and planting behind them in the old paddock the first seasonal forage pasture. This time around it will be yellow peas, sugar beets, clover, canola, and oats. And a little bit of whatever they didn’t eat before they moved. I have had allot of crazy ideas about raising pigs and now that our feet are getting wet, we see working out (and others not so much). Many of you are familiar with the industrial model and understand that it is expected when a piglet is born it will have its tail cut off, needle teeth broken out, castrated, ears clipped or tagged, iron injected, and who knows what else…
Well I am happy to report that despite not stealing their tails – they have not in turn had them bitten off by a tail hungry sibling. Castration, well the jury is out and we will hear back in 5 months, but some research is on my side (and so are all the male piglets). Despite failing to remove their teeth, mom and piglets are in great shape and growing fast. Despite not cutting strange triangle identifiers out of their ears, each piglet is born incredibly unique and we just identify it by its natural markings. Despite not injecting Iron, our piglets figured out how to eat grass and dirt on their second day of life and therefore are not iron deficient. They are just happy pigs, nursing and rooting, biting my gloves and squealing at their mom. If you firmly believe that some of these special mutilations imparts a special benefit or flavor, well that pork is available at Safeway for 2$ a lb. I am not in that business, this is a different product entirely. Before I get too proud, some of the things that didn’t work out: Farrowing on pasture - I just have too many predators and can’t pull it off at this time. Farrowing as a group – I just can’t do this until I live onsite and can monitor closer. That is all for now if I am going to get up in the morning. Be sure to check out the recent issue of PCC's Sound Consumer

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wedding Bells!

We finally introduced Sassy, Peanut (our new Chinese landrace pigs) and Kid Pig to each other. It went very smoothly (for once!). I think the combined qualities of these two breeds will make the ultimate homestead pig for our region. They seem very happy together at the moment.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Flatulence fence, rocket pigs, and three ways to eat sod.

Since the last episode I have been trying to get a larger boar on site as sort of a peace offering to the sows… “occasionally I will slide a male under the fence, and you will not hurt me or the other villagers”. I have come very close a couple of times to achieving this, but every time some wily mishap seems to occur here at Crying Rock. I have decided to call it meant to be for now. I resolved not to rush the big boar, rather focusing on containment and survival. For step one we set up a hot wire across the pen where the girls keep busting through to Kid Pig. I reassured them while hanging the fence that my bright smile was not out of delight in revenge, rather in appreciation of everyone’s new found security. Now I figured they would learn right away, but the manner in which they did was quite surprising and brought out my inner 7th grader. I am boiling with curiosity as Hamster goes to test the wall…I hear a ”pop” as Hamster jumps and does a 180, lets out a…weeee, then farts. Never touches the wall again. Here comes Gerbil, ahh she has broken this wall more times than a Mongol in China, no problem for her. Here she goes…”pop” jumps and does a 180, lets out a…weeee, then farts. After moving away a good distance she turned around and just stared at it in disbelief. One time for Gerbil. Here comes Tiger Pig, no exception… pop” jumps and does a 180, lets out a…weeee, then farts. Tiger Pig like me has little faith and has to learn the hard way multiple times, well just two times for Tiger. Patata, once and so on and so on, all the girls are fence trained. Well looks like Farmer Joel will be farming from a hammock with this new found technology, until…a giant dual prop helicopter thunders over head. The pigs must of thought it was Y2K or WW3 because they went ludicrous. Patata stood up on my 2x4 reinforced steel post field fence placing all her weight forward. Now I have seen this before because she did it yesterday to get to the feed before everyone else. She did manage to push the fence down, but this time I managed to push her back (barely) and get the board nailed back in, before she got all the way out. To continue on the theme of me learning the hard way multiple times, I resolved that was just enough times for me to learn. I exclaimed to all pigs present “that’s it - your getting a wire across the top!”, as if I was super nanny and they understood English. Well, the wire across the top of the fence does not have me farming from a hammock, but it does make feeding time much more civilized. Everyone recognized that little orange wire and stood very clear. With all this building up and breaking down, I finally came up with a good system. I build panels out of Plywood, or livestock panel, frame them with 2x4, and put chains on all four corners. This allows me to quickly put up walls and move them around almost as quickly as they can be bowled down. To make them a little more lasting I put a hot wire alongside it. Works like a dream. In all of this whoop-de-doo I had a realization. As eager as those girls were to get at Kid Pig, he really wanted to hang out with them too. I believe if he had a pair of stilts the day everyone escaped may have turned out different. So not only do I need to get a big boar, I need to get a little sow. I swear when I jumped into this I thought I would be dealing simply with the simpler things of life, but to honor the continuing theme - I do tend to learn the hard way. So I did some research and found a small Chinese breed. I did some looking and found two of them only three hours away. Quick Kid Pig, put on your best sweater and wash your face, I’ll be back in 7 hours! I loaded up Teresa and the kids into the green beast and drove to the edge of the Earth. You may not know this but the edge of the Earth is exactly two tanks away. At the end of it there is no drop off into infinity, rather a ridiculously steep gravel road the width of one car. I had to switch into low 1 just to climb it, Teresa was literally covering her eyes. We could not believe there could possibly be people and pigs at the top of this hill, so twice on the way up we called to be sure we were in the right middle of nowhere. Sure enough there were people and pigs, so we tossed our coke bottle over the edge, loaded the pigs, and headed home. The kids decided to name the bigger of the little sows “Sassy”, in honor of the Mulefoot we lost on the way back from Bellingham. The little one acquired the name “Peanut”, I can’t remember how she got it, but she sure does look like one. These girls couldn’t come a moment too soon. Kid Pig is so social and sometimes it is hard to get work done cause he wants to hang out all the time. This morning when I pulled up, he shot out of his den like a bottle rocket emitting a trail of hay. When I came in his pen he just laid down on his side (meaning stop what you are doing and rub my belly). Who have I become farmer Joel introspectively asks himself as he starts the morning scratching pig bellies. Short story long – Sassy and Peanut are penned up eating organic mash, DE, Kelp, and pieces of Crying Rock sod. It is interesting to see that they eat a clump of sod the same way the other girls do having genes from across the globe and having been raised in relative confinement. They pick some grass. Then they flip it over and eat some soil. Then they tear it apart and snack on some roots. Tomorrow they will be released into Kid Pig's old bachelor pad. Kid Pig will be in the new bachelor pad one fence away. The idea is that I will keep them separated for one more week. Knowing that kid pig has been shown by the best how to decimate one of my best fences, it may be more like a day. In that case we will let nature take its accelerated course. I don’t know if I nor my measly pitch fork can stand yet again between two pigs with stars in their eyes. Besides they are the same size which in pig law is legally married. One last thing before I pass out. Today was a major milestone. The girls are in their first pasture (not counting the one they escaped into for a day). Our intention was always to be a pasture operation, and it has taken from when we started in December until now to make that happen, I almost died 1000 times. It was beautiful to see them rushing around with clumps of grass in their mouth, eating blackberry brush, and rooting under the sod. Hamster had some grass straws stuck on her nose like a kung foo master's mustache. I now have until they till that down to get their next paddock built, I am guessing two weeks – but we will see. As soon as they till it up I will plant yellow peas behind them for the next time they come through this paddock. These will grow with the existing pasture polyculture of sod grasses, clumping grasses, clover, blackberries, dandelions, plantain and who knows what.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Furry maniacal bulldozers, new piglets, and El Niño

Things are moving really fast these days. With the warm winter we are having, my hops started shooting up about a week ago. Likewise for roses, irises, camellias, and rhubarb. It seems like everything just went dormant, and now it is here already. Teresa had managed to throw her back out really good and had been laid up. Also some nice fellow stole our insurance settlement out of our mailbox, so we have been pretty busy on the home front let alone pedaling the farm along. I think the piggies sensed our vulnerability and figured this was the time to stage their revolution. The neighbor’s alpaca escaped into our barnyard and told the girls of his freewheeling lifestyle. I didn’t know the girls speak alpaca, but they understood fully and two of them decided to join him. When I showed up, I was quite surprised to see them wandering around the barnyard. I fed the well behaved ones to keep them focused while I opened the gate to get the misbehaving ones in. I was able to get Patata, one of our Blue-Butt sows to follow me in with a bucket of feed, but Gerbil was not so easily convinced. She wandered into the barn and planted her face firmly in the bag of winter reserve feed. I closed the cow gate behind her while I devised a plan to get her back in the pen. I built a cache pen to keep the other pigs back while I opened the gate for Gerbil. Then I had to build a corridor from the barn to the pen. I strung up two strands of barbed wire on each side, parked a car on one side, and the green beast on the other, then filled in all the gaps with old boards, bales of alfalfa, and children’s bicycles. It is funny, I can remember fixing old Volkswagens in the same manner. This was four hours later to complete. I opened the pen gate and went to get Gerbil, she had her face planted in the Diatomaceous earth. When she looked up her face was covered in pure white (it looked like a scene out of Scarface). I went behind her to nudge her along, but she needed no nudging she went right into the pen. I reinforced the iron gate with tighter chains and strung barbed wire in front of it. I estimate Gerbil ate about 14 pounds of kelp, 5 pounds of DE, and however much grain a girl can inhale in 4 hours. I was surprised to find the next day that my reinforced gate was child’s play to the pigs, they bent it like butter and I found four of them with their face in the winter feed, and two in front of Kid Pig’s pen giving him a graphic example of the birds and the bees. I dumped some feed in the pen and most followed into the pen. I Still had my wire runs handy from yesterday and strung them up again (just one each this time, and no bikes). It took a little prodding but finally they both went right in the pen. I restrung the barb wire barrier, put beefier chains, attached a heavy gauge galvanized panel, and then parked the green beast in front of it. I was tempted to say “let’s see you get through that”, but I know better. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see them driving down the road in the same truck cruising for dudes. I wish I could say it ends there, but the next day….I pull up and find 6 of the girls frolicking in the middle paddock with kid pig. They had bulldozed through the side panel barbed wire like a marathon finish line, and broke down kid pig’s fence and busted him out. Poor young Kid pig thought he was going to his first junior high dance, but quickly found himself in the evil den of domination. Keep in mind kid pig is about 50 pounds and these girls are 350-500 or so. At first they flirted and kissed noses, but then they started getting real aggressive, biting and sitting on him. This would have been ok to manage if a litter of piglets didn’t just start dropping. Gerbil threw Kid Pig in the air and bit him, and two of the other girls were trying to mount him, I literally had to get between him and two of them with a measly pitch fork. I lifted up his fence for him to run to safety, but he didn’t seem to get it. After a couple hours of the battle royal cage match, I poured some feed into the girl’s pen and all but Gerbil went under the fence. Gerbil wanted to but she was too hesitant to go under the barbed wire again. I built another cache pen and cut the fence. She went in and I reinforced the fence behind them. They were literally going ballistic; they would look at kid pig and loose all sense of restraint and manners. They kept pushing through until I put up full sized sheets of plywood so he was out of sight. I reinforced the fence with hog panels, 2x4’s, and steel posts in addition to that. While all this was going on I was supposed to be back in Tacoma unloading a pallet of electric wire fence, which I hope will soon make issues like this fewer. The driver fortunately unloaded without me, after having a good laugh at my expense when Teresa explained why I could not be there. Kid pig was exhausted, and so was I. We laid down in the middle paddock and rested. I gave him a good scratch, and he told me he was thinking about becoming a priest. That was short lived however, as he went over to the girls pen raising ruckus again. I led him back into his pen with food, and mended his fence. He is too charming for his own safety. I had a similar experience building the farrowing pen in the middle of all these girls, but that is another story. On a positive note – the half day the handful of pigs were in the middle paddock, they tilled it up about 50%. They are going to be excellent tractors. I will try to get pictures of the piglets up soon – right now I can’t find the adapter to upload.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rising rivers, quick sand, metric ton spillage, and home brew...

It has been a little bit since I have posted and I am now sifting through the drama and slap stick that occur in a 5 day stint on our shiny acre. First of all driving in you can't help but notice the Puyallup River is bloated more each day. This sparked a small fear in me, causing me to take a stroll to the old creek in the sticks out back. Happy day, the creek is behaving! It is pretty much the same as it has looked every time before. Speaking with some of the neighbors, they say it has never flooded as long as they have been here. "(Hear) Sigh of relief". I did some early spring cleaning in the barn to make way for the 2,205lbs of organic feed about to be delivered by some friendly Canadians. Unfortunately the bag spilled over in the truck and we could not move it. You don't realize how big a ton is until you have to try to think of a plan b to move it. The poor truck driver asked me if I have a tractor. I just pointed over at my 14 porcine tractors, all of which would love to assist, and could indeed move it (rendering it into a ton of fertilizer) - but it would take them at least 14 days, and everyone needed to get home for supper. The driver decided to go to his next stop and see if there was a tractor there, after which he would come back for our delivery. He took off and I trotted over to the faucet to hook up my "now unfrozen" hose for some easy watering with no bucket carrying involved. Stop there... now my new hose connector is completely flat. How I managed to drive over it when it was hanging on the wall I will never know. Possibly the pigs are playing a trick on me like some nightmarish Farside comic come to life. So Joel carries water buckets for a living after all. Now I could have worked that self pity all day if the feed guy didn't come back around 3pm limping! No, his next stop did not have a tractor, but they did have an empty grain bag that he could shovel it by hand into, so as to get it out of the way, freeing up his electric pallet jack. This poor poor soul, I will straiten up and not tell him I had to carry water. I offered him the one beer I keep in the medicine cabinet, of which he refused. In Canadian culture when you refuse a beer, you are legally deceased. Speaking of beer, I finally met the folks farming next door. They will also be in hops this spring, and are also avid brewers. As a welcome to the neighborhood they gave me a fresh growler of chilly wonder! It was a rich dark malty porter with a generous hopiness. If there is a "chicken soup for the beer appreciators soul" on the shelf at Border's, it probably has that story in it. Come Saturday, after our weekly pancake ritual, I packed the whole clan up - all clad in rubber boots (the ancient weapon on our family crest), and headed to the farm. It was the first Sunny day since we have been operating here, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The kids helped feed and water then ran off to play. Not a moment later I hear this wailing of the sort you can't make out if its joking or real. I look over and Jude is stuck in the mud where they just filled in the well work. I go over there and he is sunk up to his knees and balling -sure that this is his muddy end! I go in to pull him out and I sink up to my knees (Bear Grylls don't fail me now). I pull him out (minus boots) and he goes swishing in his socks back to mom. I managed to wriggle out (barely convincing Daniel not to come rescue me), ran and got my sorting boards (glorified plywood with handle holes) and placed them across the mud in time to rescue the little boots that were quickly sinking to China. Thank God today was the day I was able to achieve connection of a functional hose to a functional faucet, and wash away our muddy memories. Later Jude quietly asked me, "dad how did you get so strong to pull a kid out of the mud?" I told him "carrying buckets of water son". I didn't really tell him that... I am a nerd but not that much so. Over all, it was a great week. Me and my brother built the fence training pen, all our ingredients for the sow's detox came in, and this strange life seems satisfying and enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hay Day

I am not a hay expert, but many animals appear to be. Today I placed about 10 bales of straw bedding around the sows to dry things up a bit. They immediately started flipping out, tossing it around, and voraciously devouring it. For a while they all had green\yellow Santa Claus beards as they carried around flakes of the stuff. They ate themselves into a food coma and passed out in their own plate (see picture). It was hilarious. What is strange is this was straw bedding. I have purchased "quality" alfalfa for four times as much, and they did not turn into hammerhead land sharks. Goes to show that there is a science to grass, and animals can tell (whether they know it or not), if it was grown in a manner that is good for them. Next time I buy hay, I may take one of the pigs with me just to be sure I get what I am intending to.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tomatillos going and piglets coming...

This morning while strolling through what is left of our warm season garden space, I was intrigued by the small lace globes filled with seeds scattered on the ground. These are the tomatillos that did not make it into our salsa. This was our first year growing (and eating) these, so this was an interesting surprise. Meanwhile, back at the farm while tending to the girls, I noticed two of the sows seemed to be getting milk, meaning piglets around the corner! Another highlight was finding out that Kid-pig is a morning glory assassin! He pulls up the roots and shows no mercy, good boy Kid-pig.