The reality of farm life: it ain’t all sunshine and roses

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that we are still relatively new at this farming/homesteading thing-only a couple of years.  Most of the time, we are blessed with happy and healthy animals.  But, as with everything else in life, it’s not always that way.

Enter in Wilbur, one of our barrows.  Wilbur was one of the piglets we brought home late last year and raised to full weight.  He was a happy and healthy pig…until he wasn’t.  When we fed the animals on Sunday morning, he wouldn’t get up to eat.  By the time we came home from church on Sunday, he seemed worse and died within minutes of us arriving home.  Maybe he was waiting until we got there to say bye?  Yeah, I’m not quite that sentimental, but it did all happen really fast.  My immediate fear was the PEDv going around, but he didn’t display any clinical symptoms..and frankly, the way we farm and the few people who are invited onto our land mean that we have pretty strict biosecurity procedures naturally.  Upon further research, I found that it’s not terribly uncommon for pigs to die without obvious physical symptoms and the only way to confirm cause of death is with an autopsy.  Seems a little too CSI for us, but I’m sure that makes perfect sense to a “monoculture” farmer with thousands of pigs to protect.  We immediately moved him from their yard and took him a good distance away from all livestock for disposal.  Some have asked why we didn’t just butcher him and sell/eat the meat.  There are so many reasons why we wouldn’t do that.  One is that for a pig to be butchered commercially (ya know-not by your uncle Fred behind the garage), the butcher or his/her agent has to witness the killing.  Two is because we didn’t know or even suspect what killed him, we did not feel good about selling (or even giving) that meat to anyone.  We may not know everything there is to know about raising pigs, but we know our own values and we will never sell meat we wouldn’t feed to our own Blueberry girl, so with his death, it’s a total loss.

As to the future, our remaining gilts/barrows seem to be doing just fine.  They do not love the high heat, but do love the baths I’m giving them every day.  We have made some tentative plans around what we want our future to be with raising pigs and I think it’s the right decision.  We have been thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly!!!) enjoying the hand cured/smoked bacon, amazing chops, delicious steaks, and incredible sausage from these Berkshire piggies, and for that, we are grateful.  If it’s up to us, we will never, ever go back to what we now recognize as inferior quality pork from the local mega mart.

Until next time, happy homesteading Blueberry Acres Fans!

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Here piggy piggy! A curly tale about getting pigs

Well, he went and did it!  Sheldon went last week to pick up our “couple” of pigs…except the maybe 3ish pigs turned into 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 very large boar.  For those of you playing at home, that is 9 pigs….who need to go into an enclosure that was designed to hold 6 at most?  Not only that but the gilts that we picked up are not quite at the farrowing (the baby making stage for you non-pig people) stage, so we need to keep the boar away from the ladies a bit longer.  Have you ever tried to encourage a lonely 200ish lb pig of anything?  Yeah..it ain’t easy.  Gripety gripe gripe gripe.

Ok, so let’s reboot and start this post again.

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Yeah!  We were blessed to be able to afford 9 Registered Berkshire pigs that will enable us to begin our pig farming (on a tiny scale) but will also help fill our freezers with high quality, pasture raised pork for the winter.  While the plan was to start with a smaller amount of piggage (I made that word up, don’t bing it for accuracy, ok?), Sheldon just became so enamoured of the piggy potential that he decided to up the ante by starting our pig endeavors with 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 ginormous boar. 

Hush little piggies don't say a word...mama's gonna buy you a big pile of food

Hush little piggies don’t say a word…mama’s gonna buy you a big pile of food

3 out of the 4 older pigs.  I didn't want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

3 out of the 4 older pigs. I didn’t want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

And so I don’t make you go on out to Wikipedia, I will tell you what all of these words mean:

Boar: a male pig of breeding age.  Some people refer to this as an “intact” male.  Our boar is named Shoot after his sire, Shoot to Thrill and he is very very intact.  Like I cannot look directly at the back of him intact.  Like we had to have a biology lesson with The Blueberry intact.  Ok, you get the picture.

Gilt: a female pig of breeding age who has not yet had a litter or maybe has only had 1 litter.  Our gilts are named Charlotte, Hey You and Other Pig (ok, so we are a little behind on the naming) haven’t yet had any babies and should be totally ready to go later this fall/early winter. 

Barrow:  a male pig that is castrated at a young age before he hits puberty.  Yes, pigs get pimples and act awkward too, except they don’t..but of course they do go through puberty.  Barrows are often prized as feeder pigs because many people think that the lack of testosterone in their systems means their meat has a superior flavor.  We have 5 barrows named Hubert (he’s French), Spot, Skunky, White fur and Wilbur.  Of course we have a pig named Wilbur!

And just for fun

Stag: this is a male pig that is castrated at a later age.  We didn’t get any of these, but when I saw this term in my pig books, I had to laugh…next time your husband talks about going to a “stag party” you can laugh with me…

Now here is where it gets a little more intensive.  Because we had built the pigmahal and pig yard, we thought we would be set on pig buildings for a long time.  It took Sheldon a long time to finish the pig house because that man built it out of concrete blocks with mortared in concrete blocks.  No ramshackle pig house for our pigs! 

Butttttt…because our girls aren’t quite ready to get pregnant and our male is very ready to make everything pregnant, we are building him his own little bachelor pad with an adjoining “birthing house” next door so we will be able to lead the appropriate pig to the appropriate place when the time is right.  In addition, because we ended up with some little piggy barrows, we didn’t feel good about putting them in with the big kids, so they actually went into a temporary enclosure until we get Shoot moved this weekend.  Ironically, they went into a chicken yard that I had just finished.  This means that we are delaying moving around some of our chickens, but we thought it was better that than have Shoot step on them all in his excitement to get to the ladies.  Once Shoot is settled in, we will move the barrows into the run with the gilts and then the chickens can finally get rearranged.  Whew.  It’s like musical chairs but with a lot more poop.

It’s been about a week since they have been here and while it’s a heck of a lot more work in the mornings, I’m really enjoying them.  They all have personalities and I really enjoy being in with the barrows because they are such goofy little things.  The big pigs are fairly docile but are interested in Sheldon and have given him some love nips a couple of times.  While we don’t think they are about to eat us, they do seem to be naturally curious.  We’re keeping them very well fed, so we don’t think we are going to end up as one of those horror stories of a farmer getting eaten by his/her pigs, but still..I prefer not to get love nips from someone who could eat me.

I’m looking forward to trying out all manner of pork recipes with these Berkshires, but for now, they are just eating, pooping, mess making machines.  Enjoying it all the same!  What’s new on your homestead?