Monday, November 23, 2009

Chore list

foggy and cool, 45 degrees

Got some stuff done this last Saturday, not everything I had wanted to.

What did I get done?

  • Finally built a shelf that I've been needing in the garage

  • Stowed away the new, big coolers I bought the other day

  • Moved some big rocks from the melon patch to the perennial garden

  • Cleaned up the flower bed in front of the garage in preparation for winter

  • Tidied up around the compost bins, added more plant material

  • Talked to a neighbor who stopped by to talk about a holiday sale down the road

  • Smoked up a bunch of ribs on the cold smoker

  • Cleaned out the broiler pen in the barn, consisting of about 12 wheelbarrow loads of broiler litter

  • Turned the compost pile with the tractor loader

  • Changed the oil in the car

  • Did some laundry

  • Picked up the garden area

  • Organized some old magazines and periodicals

What didn't I do??

  • I didn't get to the paperwork I wanted to do, bills, etc. Why? Because I'd rather shovel manure than do paperwork.

  • I didn't clean the house like I wanted to. Why? Because I'd rather change the oil on a car than clean the house.

  • I didn't post a blog. Why? because I ran out of time.

  • I didn't completely clean out the big barn. Why? See the above.

  • I didn't even begin to clean the pole barn. Why? See above.

  • I didn't change the oil on the tractor. Why? Not enough time.

  • I didn't put the door back up on the basement cellar stairs. Ran out of time.

  • I didn't vacuum, or put away laundry, or mulch the garlic, or really a hundred other things that it even takes too much time to think of!

I always wonder what non-rural types do with their time off. What did you do this weekend?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Keeping Hogs Healthy

I just ran across an interesting article in my newspaper. This paper is aimed at farmers, and is called AGRI-VIEW. You will not get these kinds of news articles in your metro daily. This article appeared in the november 12, 2009 issue, and addressed concerns conventional pork producers have regarding keeping their pigs and employees healthy, particularly during influenza outbreaks.

"Swine workers should adhere to the following practices:
  • Wear protective clothing, preferably disposable outer garments or coveralls that are laundered at work after each use...
  • Wear rubber or polyurethane boots that can be cleaned and disinfected or disposable protective shoe covers.
  • Wear disposable gloves made of light-weight nitrile or vinyl or heavy duty rubber work gloves that can be disinfected.... Change gloves if they are torn or otherwise damaged. Remove gloves promptly after use, before touching non-contaminated items or environmental surfaces. Take off disposable gloves by turning them inside out over the hand and placed in the trash after use...
  • Wear safety goggles to protect the mucous membranes of the eyes. Wear disposable NIOSH-certified filtering facepiece respirators ...that are the minimun level of respiratory protection. This level or higher respitatory protection might already be in use in swime operations due to other hazards that exist in the environment...
  • Wear disposable, lightwieght head or hair covers to prevent contamination of hair if shower-out facilities are not avalivable.
  • Discard disposable PPE properly, as well as clean and disinfect non-disposable PPE as specified in state government, industry, or USDA outbreak response guidelines."
AGRI-VIEW, november, 12, 2009 by Sarah Young

The article does not end there, but I think that's enough. This really illustrates the types of environments that our food supply is coming from. Pigs are so crowded, so stressed, and lack of ventilation causes situations that are ripe for rampant spread of viruses and other diseases. Workers need to wear rubber gloves, boots, and respirators.

We wondered after reading the above article about the untold mountains of un-recyclable biohazard waste that must come from the thousands of confinement pork farms in this country alone.

Since pigs' anatomy is so similar to ours that we use them as organ donors for humans (except of course, they have a much more sensitive sense of smell than we do), what does that do to the pigs' eyes, lungs, and sense of .... I don't know how to put this.... fear? Lack of contentment? Desperation, maybe? We know that pigs from confinement buildings have to have their tails cut off or they will chew them off of eachother out of 'boredom'. This is what we are told. Maybe it's more than boredom. Maybe they are so stressed by being raised in dark building in cages over lagoons of their own excrement they savage eachother in unnatural ways. Maybe this causes them to go a bit mad. One thing I have learned in all my years working with animals is that we are more alike than we are different. I know conditions like that do cause just about every species of animal to exhibit abnormal behaviors and to suffer ill health effects. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a zoologist to understand this. It's just common sense, and it's obvious.

I'm so glad I don't have to eat meat that is raised under those circumstances any more. We raise our pigs with access to the outdoors, they root in the dirt and get vital minerals.
They sleep outside, feel breezes on their skin, run and play, and eat healthy fresh food. No need for rubber gloves and respirators here. If you don't want to drink from that fetid stream, find a local farmer who raises their animals humanely and buy your food from them. You'll be doing the world a favor.

Last year karen went to an auction in her very early days as a new farmer. She brought home three old, wooden chicken crates for a good price. These crates are slatted, about 3 ft. by 4 ft., and can fit about ten chickens in them. Since monday morning is the time for us to take in the broilers and turkeys, I went over these crates today, patching and shoring them up so they will hold up to the weight of at least 60 lbs. of live chooks. We have one plastic crate, and Karen went to Nasco today and picked up one more, which should be enough to carry all of the birds. We are down to 4 turkeys, and they should fit easily into one large dog crate.

Finished planting (more) garlic today. After last weeks' planting, I stood back and looked at the garlic plot and thought 'we need more garlic than this!' so I went back to the garden center and picked up a few pounds more. The turkeys accompanied me in the garden. They 'helped' by pulling up my markers, carrying off my bags of garlic, and then lying down in the rows and scratching up as much dirt as possible onto themselves. Did I mention how much I'll be glad when they are gone?!

Cleaned up the garage a bit as well; moved some lumber out from projects, swept the sawdust off the floor, burned some sawdust and feed bags cluttering up the barn. Picked up the yard. Added more straw to the broiler pen, tended to them, and it was time to come in and do some cleaning and Fall preparation. Finished caulking & sealing all the house windows to keep out the chilly drafts. Some day, we will have all new windows! And insulation!

Friday, November 13, 2009

To market, to market

Well it's mighty quiet around the place today. The pigs were successfully delivered to the butcher. For the uninitiated, here's how it went, in a nutshell:

We had ten pigs to go to town, one trailer. The butcher shop allows them to be brought in either Wed. afternoons, or Thursday mornings before 9 am. Since pig loading is almost never a sure thing, we decided to try to get them all loaded and delivered on Wednesday. That way, if we needed extra time or ran into any difficulties, we still had the Thursday am window. Always good to have a backup plan when it comes to pigs, or any livestock for that matter!

I backed the trailer up and opened it up for the pigs the day before, to let them get used to it. Some went on, most were uninterested. We had decided to cut them off from their sleeping quarters, to encourage them to use the trailer for sleeping. but they had other plans, and went right through the wire to their old house. Hmph.

Karen and I started out several hours before we needed to leave on Wednesday. We encouraged the piggies with treats on the trailer. We were having a good deal of success, most of them would get right on the trailer, but not all of them, of course. I did succeed in closing off 3/4 of the rest of the pen by bringing up our poultry netting and stringing that across the pen, giving us a smaller space to work in.

As fortune would have it, an eager, strapping teenage boy who lives next door and is itching to help us with farm chores showed up on his riding lawnmower at just the right time! After a brief wait while he ran home to get his "rancher coat" and hat, he returned ready to work in the pig pen with us. We advised him that perhaps a full-length leather coat was not really advisable inside a pig pen. He quickly agreed and took it off, and grabbed the other end of a heavy 5 foot long gate. As Karen petted, rubbed, and scratched our piggies, and we enticed them with donuts, Jared and I slowly crowded the remaining 3 or 4 piggies from behind with the gate. Soon they had nowhere to go but on the trailer. Two of them hopped right on, but there were two (the biggest 2, wouldn't ya know) who simply did not want to get in the trailer! The big red barrow turned toward the gate we held. I stood on the bottom rung of the gate to hold it down. Big Red Barrow put his nose in the gate, and I was then airborne! Lofted straight up a foot in the air! No harm was done to me, Jared, or the gate, but it was startling, and honestly just a little fun to defy gravity like that, if even momentarily. Hey, ya gotta enjoy the little things.

At that point, Karen and I agreed it was time to close the trailer up, and go with the 8 pigs we had on. We'd have to make two trips.

We drove to Lake Geneva and off-loaded the 8 pigs, then came back home. We decided to try and get the last two pigs on the trailer right away, as we still had daylight left, and I wanted to take advantage of that. We opened up the trailer door for them, and with just a few spinach leaves as enticement, they, magically, quietly walked right on! Guess their issue was they didn't want to go into a crowded trailer! Maybe they didn't like that it smelled like pigs (and goats) in there. I don't know. But we gave them more treats, and let them sleep in there.

Next morning, soon as Birk was on the bus, we started back to Lake Geneva with our two big boys. Unloading at the shop was just as quiet and easy with them. I'm thinking it might simply be easier in smaller groups. Good food for thought for future loads.

While we were at the loading dock, we helped a guy which had pulled in ahead of us, who was trying to unload 8 pigs by himself. Turned out he was unloading Berkshires, which is the breed we are wanting to get into for the next phase. It was good to talk to him, and we got his number.

Now when I come home, I still sometimes hear a pig grunt or a feeder lid bang, and I quickly remind myself they are gone. I've been hearing what I want to hear, what I am used to hearing. Karen says she is experiencing the same thing. People often ask us isn't it hard, getting attached to something and then taking it in to be slaughtered? My answer is usually yes, it is. And it should be, at least a little bit, don't you think?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wow, what a beautiful weekend. Warm, sunny, and breezy. Highs in the high 60's, warm enough for short shirt sleeves. We don't often get weather like this in November, so it was very much relished and taken advantage of.

Yesterday I picked up the trailer (borrowed from a friend) that we will haul the pigs to "freezer camp" in, and then we can use it to load up the broilers and turkeys and take them also to their respective final destination. The pigs should go in on Wednesday afternoon, and the birds have their date the following Monday. I've wondered what it will be like that week, after the pigs have left but we still have birds to take care of. And of course, I think about what it will be like after all of our 'agricultural products' have left the place. I will miss the rhythm and responsibility of caring for them, and I will surely miss the entertainment of watching them run and play. It will be quiet around here. I hope it gets really cold soon, because if it stays this nice, and I want to work outside, it will be too weird without the grunts and cackles and squeals and squawks and the constant mental notes of checking on water and feed and fences.

Couple of days ago, I stopped in the local garden center looking for garlic. We just hadn't gotten it together to purchase any replacement garlic yet. Garlic needs to be planted in the fall in these parts, and is harvested in July. Karen especially was feeling anxious about our lack of garlic in the ground, but I kept telling her we still had time. As long as the ground isn't frozen solid, you can plant garlic. And our soil is still nice and fine, especially with all this warm weather just now. So I walked in to that garden store thinking I was probably too late, and they'd be all out of garlic. I asked, and they said they had just gotten a fresh shipment in! Score! I bought about 3 pounds of the stuff. Varieties called Siberian, Italian Late, Musik, and Northern White. got it all planted yesterday afternoon. Once it was all in the ground, I realized that this paltry amount would be a nice moment in garlic time for us, but if we wanted to really grow most of our own garlic, we needed a LOT more! So I'll go back this week and hope other procrastinators haven't cleaned them out before I get there.

Last night the neighbors had their annual bonfire, which is always fun. This year they strung out some party lights, which added a nice effect. Got to chat with another new neighbor, so that was nice, too. I love going to events where my trip consists of going to the backyard, grabbing a chair and walking next door. Nice.

This morning I started some pork spare ribs with a rub containing mainly brown sugar, mustard, seasoned salt, paprika, pepper and onion powder. Left them in the fridge for a couple of hours, then I lit a fire in my smoker and put them on to smoke around noon. I smoked them for about three hours. The wind from the south today was my ally, as it made for a perfect draft and I never even had to poke my fire even once. Plenty of time to keep working on other stuff. After three hours of smoke, I brought them in and roasted them in the oven. I poured my "slather" over them, consisting of a bottle of flat dark beer, brown sugar, yellow mustard, white pepper, some salt, maybe a few other things I can't think of right now. About 1.5 hours in the oven, and OHMYGOD, they were gooooooooooood!! An added benefit is that our house smelled like a traditional smoke house. mmmm. That's a good thing, in my book.

Today I moved surplus sheets of plywood from the garage to the barn mow, making room in the garage for more storage for winter. My goal is to be able to get the tractor in there for the cold weather. I cleaned the barn, cleaned up the yard, greased up the trailer and hooked it up to the truck, turned the compost piles and combined them into one with the tractor loader. Went through the old pig pen and cleared the hot wire of dirt and debris, preparing for the next round while the ground is still workable. Fixed a leaky faucet in the kitchen and then cleared a clog in the bathroom. Besides putting the grill away and doing a load or two of laundry and moving hoses and shaking down all the remaining apples from the apple tree and general picking up all over, I don't know where the day went, but I do know I was almost constantly moving today. It did feel good, I have to say.

When the days get short like this, but we get a warm southerly breeze, we tend to go nuts with running around outside, like the squirrels do. We know there are so many things to do, and we do get the necessities done before the snow flies, but if we have extra time, we find so much more to do! I could still have used more time to get to that dirt pile next to the berry patch, and to prune them, and work on the perennial garden, etc., etc., Guess that might happen if we get more mild weather, hey?

Friday, November 6, 2009

How long until bt doesn't work any more?

The article linked above discusses another looming biological disaster. Rules and procedures that farmers who have planted bt corn designed by Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, et. al are supposed to follow are being disregarded. If the guidelines are not followed, insect resistance to bt will develop.

The bt defense is one long used by organic growers and they loudly protested the injection of bt right into the corn by these companies years ago. The reason is because of this very issue. Any type of insect or fungus or other disease control is much more effective if done judiciously and applied appropriately at the right time and for the right reason, not just broadly spewed over half a continent.

What is infuriating is that our federal government looks the other way as long as the food and environment offender is a gigantic corporation. But when it comes to small, locally producing family farmers or even people just trying to feed themselves out of their own backyard, they are tightening restrictions, monitoring every move, and taxing and burying and choking these little guys with paperwork, permits, records and identification numbers and tags. While Cargill refuses to test it's ground meat for e.coli and gets away with it resulting in the deaths of many Americans every year and the sickening of untold numbers more, the government is hellbent on making sure every chicken in a backyard chicken pen has an id chip in it. For what? For traceability!

When I first started farming over 10 years ago, things were bad, but not this bad. Our government is getting worse and worse and even worser in terms of the ways it treats independant family farmers and consumers who simply want to buy healthy, wholesome food that was raised simply by folks they know. This is not just an issue for farmers, it is a major problem for anyone who eats.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I's been such a long time since I've blogged, it just feels wrong and sad. I have several reasons for not doing it in the last few weeks including not having a functioning computer, having lost the digital camera which causes me to hesitate to post any un-illustrated stories, having too much to do and of course, too little time to do it in much less to then sit down and write all about all the things I just did and didnt have time for, y'know?

So in no particular order, I have these things to say:

The broiler chickens are doing very well. I am impressed with their health and vigor. We only lost two at the very beginning, which I think were squashed by their bretheren. Karen, on the other hand, is unfamiliar with these types of chickens. She has a very different take on them and wants to arrange to raise the next batch totally differently. We have begun what will surely become a long process of discussion and compromise over the winter. Let me just say - I have been there, and done it that way, and I don't want to go back. That's all I'm saying about that right now!

While the broilers are a quite labor intensive agricultural product to raise, turkeys are in a class of their own. I have only raised them once before, and I found them to be messy, difficult to contain and keep track of, dificult to get them to do what you wanted and not what you didn't want, and then difficult to transport and store in a frozen state. This time around, I have found them to be even messier. They insist on getting up in the window sills of the barn at night and apparently a turkey poops an average of 20 to 30 timjes per night, per bird. And this ain't pigeon droppings either, my friends. These droppings rival those of our lab mix. So I guess you can ascertain where I'd put them in terms of doing what I dont want them to do!
Also, they have a habit of jumping into the broiler pen and eating all their food, etc., when they have the whole farm to roam. Though Dottie has already reduced our turkey flock herd by half, the biggest Tom has lately seemed to become keen on hurling himself toward her as she quivers on her side of the driveway, expectantly waiting a turkey dinner delivered fresh and hot. We have actually had to run, hollering at the turkey to get back as he runs headlong toward a certain mauling two weeks before Thanksgiving. It's like keeping a three year old child from the edge of a highway. You know that's where they are set on going. I was curious to try turkeys again and see if they really were as exasperating as I remembered. Oh. Yes. Next year, I'll be happy to support some other local farmer who went to the trouble with turkeys.

Now the pigs! The piggies are and have been a pleasure. They have grown so fast, you can practically watch them doing it. The hoop house in the piggie palace really did work very well. We got a very very wet October. They did finally end up playing with the tarp on their hoop house, and I did make some modifications to it, but I knew it was temporary anyway.
After we finished harvesting the garden in the middle or end of September, I started working on setting that area up as the next place to put the pigs. I enclosed it again with electric fence, and made a makeshift alley way between the palace on top of the hill, and the garden area below. They soon caught on to the routine of going back and forth, and now they readily go through the gates between the two. This is part of the big plan, as I hope that it will help when it comes to moving day, when we need to load them onto the trailer. I will back the trailer up to the same gate area well ahead of the time they need to go, and just let them explore it. Hopefully they will become accustomed to going onto the trailer, and I will be able to simply close the door behind them on the appointed day. That's a plan I have used before with pigs, and it worked beautifully. No stress for them or us!

I also had another big project that took me a few weeks to complete which was the new pig hut. This one is designed as more of a winter shelter, as I made it with plywood sides and a metal roof. I built it on the lawn, and pulled it on to the garden with the tractor just before bringing the pigs in there. They took to it right away, and it has served them well. We may be able to use this as an outdoor farrowing hut in the future as well.

The tractor is home now, and I am getting over my grudge against her. I changed her fuel filters the other day, and I held my breath a bit as I turned the engine afterwards, having heard all kinds of horror stories about diesels and dry lines, etc. But she fired right up and purrs like a kitten. The more I get to work on her and do chores with her, the more she feels like mine. I need to take a bit off the top of my exhaust pipe to be able to get her into the garage this winter. All the cars will have to park outside!

The garden was really quite a success. We have been eating from it pretty much continuously since we started in about May or June, I guess. Not exclusively, but virtually every day we eat from our garden. Last night we had some of our frozen corn, and it is still the most delicious and sweet variety I have ever had. We were all commenting on how much we love this corn, and we will definitely use the same variety again. We got it from Johnny's Seeds. Next year, though, I want to plant a different variety of pumpkin. The fancy french cinderella pumpkins may have been okay for pie making I guess, but they sucked for seeds or carving. I want the kind of punkins I used to pull lots of seeds out of as a kid! One of my favorite autumn treats is roasted pumpkin seeds.

We did have a really fun time taking Birk into town for Trick or Treating. Lots of friends there, great costumes, great decorated houses, and just really nice people. It was a perfect night for it, too, with a clear, cold, crisp night and a full moon!

So those are some of my random thoughts on this and that. I have been researching laptops/netbooks, and I am sure once I get a machine I can call my own again, I will be better at posting more regularly. Oh, and maybe we will find the lost camera and I can post pics of the new pig hut.