Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Prelude

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone! Can't believe how fast the time is flying! We had a lovely time with family. Don't have enough time to spread out all the details this minute, but I promise to post more before the end of the weekend, and include some new photos. But for now, the sun is's going to start snowing tonight and we're due to get 2-5 inches before it's over tomorrow. So that means I need to put up the holiday lights right now!

Sunday, November 2, 2008


This week was glorious for the end of October and the warm weather gave us more time to put up fencing (ok- Red did most of it herself. I was working in the house and came out just in time to put the last strand of wire in) and to coax the pigs onto pasture. I knew that we were getting these guys from a farm where it's not exactly confinement, but there was no pasturing. Stalls in barns that let out to some concrete pads. We would love to only get pigs from other pasturing/organic folks but we had the opportunity and thought we should jump in. And sort of like adopting from an animal shelter, you feel like you'll give them a better go of it. So these pigs for the first time were having real soil under their feet, and fresh air and sky! So Reddie is the one most like her duroc parentage ran right out, dug her snout deep into the soil and began foraging for goodies. Several had their moment with the electric fence, and one, the Hampie, managed to bolt through and before Red or I could say "PIG!" bolted right back IN! Another thing to be grateful for. We turned off the fence for a while to get some chores done around the fencing and knew it was risky but we realized that Sandie (ok really not too original in the name department.... I think it's our ONLY concerted effort to not be too attached to them) had not come out at all. We really wanted her to get over it.... and it worked out just fine. Ok- some escaping happened.... but I think it was a good idea. She totally got more confident and they've been able to explore the whole pasture, finding our garden leftovers, the yummies where the compost bin was, and lots of soft warm dirt and green grass to play in. They were galloping, and trotting, and hopping all over as well as burrowing and lounging on the pile of dirt that was left from our trenching. And they all seem to get the very important lesson that three strands of wire teach you. Red got lots done outside today but mostly she just didn't want to come in, I think. She told me she would rather shovel manure than do dishes. I don't know if I should take her up on that or not. I'm thinking it's not exactly either/or , ya know? I worked on chores outside but also kept coming in to clean and cook, bake some bread... but this woman loves her farm. I think for me, it's all so new. I'm loving it, but I think I like coming back to things familiar. For her, I sense her relishing this in a way that I don't know yet. It's a returning to something so cherished but lost and now found again. I think all of us are so filled with joy. But maybe Red knows how to breathe more deeply in these moments. Birk is so happy, too. My kid, once so stressed out with my divorce and upheaval, is so IN her skin. So we're all learning to be on pasture. To breathe in that smell of dirt warmed by an Indian Summer, to hear leaves breaking under our footfalls, to listen to the ways the wind blows differently on these hills with the trees now mostly bare, and to remember our instinctual selves.
Red;> Nicely put, my love. A clarification about the escape today: we had filled their trough with several half gallon containers of milk. oooee, pigs really love milk! We had temporarily tossed the empty containers just outside the electric fence to be disposed of later. The fence was off for various reasons. When I looked over, there was one of the piggies just outside the fence picking up the containers in her mouth and running back inside the fence to tease her mates with it, whereupon they all joined in a game of chase. This is one of the moments when you just gotta be there!

I laughed at her description of me saying I'd rather shovel manure than do dishes. Absolutely true. Even when it's very wet and heavy. Even when the pigs think it's funny to keep tipping the almost-full wheelbarow over. Again and again.

And don't even talk to me about cleaning bathrooms. I'd rather do something gross than that.

Why? I dunno. It's part of the reason it's hard for me to come back inside. I can spend hours watching livestock. I'm not just staring blankly, as some might (ahem) imagine. Why no siree, I'm looking at conformation, at breed characteristics, at rate of gain, behavioral cues and quirks, planning fences, gates, layouts, pastures, gardens, listening to their vocalizations and trying to understand what each means, watching for any sign of illness or injury, and of course contemplating the ever-important load out (and in) intricacies. I'm using my hands and my back. My arms and legs are getting the kind of workout they used to, and it's good for me.

In between my busy study of my herd and their wastes, I was often reminded to look up by the raucous calling of geese flying overhead. Had the Packers game on the radio in the background. When I looked up across the horizon, I saw rolling fields of browns, golds, and greens against a cloud-streaked Fall sky. I could smell apples on the ground and a wisp of woodsmoke from the bonfire last night. Getting some work done. Real work. Not that any other kind of work isn't real work as well, but this kind of work, in my mind, is very satisfying because of what it means and what it returns. There is something very deeply satisying to me about raising food in this manner. It's a connection to the past, when plain folks knew how to take care of themselves.

As I went through my barn this afternoon, sealing up cracks around windows and doors to block the major drafts, I looked at the old wood set into stones. As I pulled cobwebs away from nails and mortar, I wondered who put them there. What were they dressed like? What era was it? What kinds of animals or other purposes did this barn serve then? There is a piece of limestone on the front of the barn that has 1866 etched in it. For this part of the country, that is pretty durn old. I am awed and thrilled by that stone.

Perhaps over all the years, my barn has been occupied by different kinds of habitants. The old headgates clearly show at one time cows were milked here. Perhaps at one time, before she sat empty, someone had a diverse collection of animals necessary to any homestead-cattle, a few hogs, and chickens. We know that for many years before we got here, this barn was filled with dogs and junk. Maybe some day we'll tell you that story. But I like to think that the old farmers who settled here would be glad to see this old barn housing some real hogs again.

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