Thursday, August 20, 2009


Our Thanksgiving dinner arrived yesterday morning, with 7 of her friends. Well, perhaps that sounds a big too crass when the emotions of looking into a cardboard box containing 8 little baby turkey poults have labels such as "oooooooooooh How Cute!" and "Wow, look - it ate a spider!"
Turkey poults are different than baby chicks. More active, more confident, way more 'are you my mommy?' They also need a very much higher protein diet than their smaller cousins.

As I drove by cornfields green and tasseling, soybeans still dark green and growing, windows down to feel the cooling breeze, I reflected on the moment. Here it was the height of Summer, cicadas buzzing, me in shorts and t-shirts night and day. The kind of day-the season in fact- we like to daydream about during a snowstorm. And I was driving into town to go pick up what will be my holiday dinner centerpiece. I believe this is what they mean by 'slow food'.

Our 8 poults have settled in nicely. You may not know this, but it is nearly impossible to find turkey starter (the feed formulated with the 28% protein that baby turkeys need) that does not contain drugs. I have had success in the past (the one time I raised turkeys) with non-medicated feed, so we are going to try it again. Most all the books say to give them medication to get them off to a healthy start. Since I couldn't find any feed in bags that fit our bill, I decided to mix my own from the grain mix I had on hand and added more soybeans to up the protein level. This involved grinding the whole roasted soybeans in our Kitchenaid grain mill and adding it to the grain mix, then putting it all in a cement mixer to ensure adequate mixing. I also am adding a poultry vitamin and electrolyte mix to their water. As of day 2 all is well.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pig farming round 2

The pigs came today- or rather, we retrieved them. Last year the guy we got them from brought them here and this time we got to load them, with his help, and unload them into their new home. I got to perfect my subcutaneous injections on swine (somehow, very different than newborn babes) and even with that additional insult the piggies were really mellow and hugely curious and rompy almost immediately. Having been farrowed in a barn, in a crate- this was the first day their hooves hit grass and dirt and the first time out in the glorious summer sunshine. They are quite pleased. They spent more time rooting, grazing, and chewing on the logs and fencing in their palace than finding where their grain was. Likewise, it took a while for them to find the nipple waterer but to cool them off and help them drink we put out a rubber tub filled with the hose and they launched and lurched their little bodies into it, limbs hanging off the sides while they splashed about. It is really cool (all over again) to see how pigs just like to be pigs- no matter how many generations have been raised in concrete slabs- they know what to do with dirt and pasture, know how to rummage out it's nutrients, cool themselves in it, play in it.

Every day seems to have it's successes and I've been finding ways to relish them amidst my 'constructive criticism' of what we'll do differently next year. Today- it was the pig arrival- not only celebrating our launching of another season, our second herd, but also hearing so many exuberant and encouraging responses from our friends who became our first customers last year. One family who had our pork and signed up for another hog this year came to visit and see the pigs today. Everyone is really excited and is sharing their appreciation of how great the pork was. It reminds me of one aspect of why I love this so much- it's like having all these friends for supper and knowing they enjoyed the meal! We will likely need to use another butcher and I'm hoping it will be as good or better than last time.

Another success - a funny one actually- is my first successful compost. I have been too busy to turn it much- and today- after cleaning out the chicken coop and adding the manure to our new pile- saw that both the new and old pile are that dark rich hummusy crumbly stuff that I've only READ about. I've been using compost bins in some form now for about 7 years, in my urban yards, and both because of frequent moving and the limitations in size, scope and content, my composting has always felt like a bit of a failure. I always cheer folks on- and tell them it's not complicated- but now I've really done it well!

A few days ago I was digging out hip-high weeds in my perenial garden and finally looked up to miraculously catch that view of the chartreuse dill weaving above the echinacea and the asters and the bobbing sunflowers and then surveying the alpine strawberries started from seed and the 6 strawberry transplants that now spread over the bed into a real PATCH and suddenly the 'What a disaster' summation of the garden turned to 'it's brambly and taking form into something really really beautiful'. Given that all of this work gives ya time to think, it's a great exercise in turning towards optimism- seeing what emerges and trusting that the world will grow and mend itself, that pigs will play in mud and runners throw out shoots to make strawberries, that rich fertilizer will emerge from what was dead and discarded.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A few minutes before bed left.

Tonight after work we went to check out our next batch of feeder pigs. Way cute! They are the same three-way breed cross as the first batch, but they are mostly red and white, no black ones in this bunch. There is at least one 'calico' in the bunch. I wonder at my potential to make a true pig farmer due to my weakness for cute colors in a pig. Not the best way to pick out a good sound animal, but it certainly pleases me.

Been working hard on a new outdoor pig enclosure for these guys. This will be a large permanent pen set up in a grove of scrub trees, providing lots of shade, grass, leaves, fresh air, and general piggy heaven. There are still a few final touches that need doing, but the major work is done, and it feels good to know we'll soon have little grunting porkers pushing their noses through the soil.

When we have not been building pig pens and moving the new chicken fence, we have been
preserving as much as we possibly can from the garden. The limitation here is time. Our garden is providing us with a great bounty of everything. The peas are finally about done, and I am glad to not have to shuck them for a while, though I love fresh peas for sure. The beans are on their way to finished. The garlic is mostly out of the ground and drying in the barn, and the onions are soon to follow. We are waiting for the potatoes to season in the ground before we dig them for storage. We have been eating some fresh fingerling potatoes - yum! The biggest, best garden arrival in my opinion is the sweet corn! The corn is at it's peak right now, and I have to say, this is an excellent crop in all regards. Big, beautiful ears of snapping sweet kernels. Besides eating it right in the garden, and slightly cooked at dinner, we have been freezing most of it. This weekend I'm sure we'll be canning more corn. I think we'll have to go get more jars, as the tomatoes are right behind the corn.

My birthday present arrived today - it's the book titled Charcuterie, the Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing. This book is very much hailed in the meat foodie world, and a quick perusal tonight has me excited. I've got some pork ribs thawing in the fridge awaiting a magical transformation.