Sunday, November 26, 2006

Learning about pigs

We just discovered that one of the pigs has a hernia. Apparently this is rather common in pigs. I've never heard of a goat or a sheep having one, but the pig farmers on my Internet list say it's common in pigs. We haven't added a new species of animal to the farm in a few years, so it's unusual for me to be so unsure about how to handle a situation. I am back on-line, asking for advice from seasoned veterans. Having a problem with a pig is very interesting and probably very unnerving for most people -- since it is a food animal, there is no question about it's value. It doesn't make a lot of sense to run up a big vet bill when you're just going to eat the animal in a few months. In this case, it looks like he'll become dinner sooner rather than later.

I've also learned that hernias in pigs are hereditary, so I wouldn't want to breed him -- except that he is a barrow (castrated male). Makes me wonder though if the gilt is related to him. If so, it might not be a good idea to keep her for breeding. I wouldn't want to have a bunch of piglets with hernias.

I've also learned a lot about castrating. Apparently if you're going to butcher a pig at six months, you really don't need to castrate him. They'll grow faster if they're not castrated, and they don't reach sexual maturity by then, so it doesn't affect the taste of the meat. So, I've decided that whenever we do decide to start raising our own piglets, we won't be castrating them. Makes no sense to put them through the misery of castration if it's unnecessary.

With the unseasonable weather we've been having (temps in the 60s!!!), we're getting a lot of work done outside. The yard and the barn are looking nice. Looks like we'll have a few more nice days, then the temperatures will be back below freezing.

My Thanksgiving break from school is ending, so tomorrow, it's back to class. Only three weeks to go, then I'll have a month off. Seed catalogs start to arrive after Christmas, and I can't wait to start planning the garden for next spring!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving and more turkey lessons

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and we had a 20-pound turkey breast. It came from the biggest turkey we've ever raised -- a 43 pound tom! I was shocked when the processor said how big he was! All the way home, I said I'd never raise another broad-breasted bronze for seven months. In fact, my daughter, who accompanied me on the trip, said that I repeated, "I'm never doing that again" at least a couple dozen times. I'd be sitting in silence, staring at the road ahead, and say, "I'm never doing that again."

Well, my mama always said, "Never say never," and if someone had reminded me of that last Friday, I'd have said that she never grew a 43-pound turkey! Yesterday, when I took my first bite of that turkey, I knew my mama had been right. It was the most delicious turkey I'd ever had in my entire life -- including all the wonderful heritage turkeys we've been eating for the past four years. My oldest daughter was reading the newsletter of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy a couple of months ago, and it said that the reason heritage chickens are so tasty is because they're older. Chickens in the supermarket are all 6 to 10 weeks old, and they simply have not developed any flavor. They say the tastiest chickens (and I think I agree) are the older ones. Without a doubt, the old laying hens make the most delicious broth. Well, now I think I understand why the heritage turkeys always tasted the best to me -- they were seven or eight months old. We've always butchered the broad-breasted by about five months because they were getting so big, and they were always on the dry side and without much flavor. The turkey we had yesterday was delicious and tender without being mushy. It had so much broth cooking off of it (4+ cups!) that I used it in the stuffing and the gravy -- and yeah, it was the tastiest gravy and stuffing I've ever had also. Although I've always liked chicken better than turkey, this turkey was better than any chicken I've ever had. It's hard to believe how much basic knowledge has been lost in our culture. While we charge ahead at light speed developing faster computers and electronic equipment, our culture is losing basic information about good food.

Tonight we had turkey tetrazini for dinner, and it was the best I've ever had. I'm thinking that I really should remember my mother's advice to "Never say never." After eating such a delicious turkey, I do think we'll be raising them to seven months of age again next year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pig time again

About a month ago, we picked up four piglets to raise for meat. We've raised two pigs per year for the past two years, and two people have already said they want a whole hog for next spring, so we decided to buy four piglets this year. The pig farmer didn't have four boys, so we wound up with a girl in the mix. We've always raised the castrated boys (barrows) in the past, so as soon as he said that we'd have to take a girl (gilt) if we wanted four, I started thinking about keeping her and starting to breed our own pigs. The pigs have settled in nicely, and the gilt is the one laying down closest to the fence. You can see that they had grass when they moved in, but these pigs love to root! I'd really like to get them into the garden. I've heard that pigs in the garden over the winter are great -- they're little rototillers and fertilizer machines!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Turkey time

Friday we took the turkeys to Arthur for processing. We got up at 3 a.m. and were on the road shortly after 4:00. Two hours of driving in the dark is tough when you've had only six hours of sleep. Shortly before sunrise I started getting really sleepy, but Katherine was doing a good job of talking about anything and everything to keep me awake.

We arrived at the processing facility at 6:45 and were able to unload the turkeys right away. Then we went to breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants in the area, Yoder's Kitchen, which has Amish-sized portions of everything. The Amish eat lots of hearty food, but obesity is only 10% in their community (compared to 60% of overweight Americans) because they do so much manual labor. Shortly after 8:00 we left the restaurant and started visiting all our favorite Amish stores. Their grocery stores have the best bargains imaginable -- cheaper than any store I've seen including Wal-Mart and other discount stores. Also, they have things that you just don't see in other stores! They have half-gallon canning jars and salt petre, which I think is used for curing meats.

At the end of the day when we picked up the turkeys, I was shocked beyond description when I learned that we had a 37 pound and a 43 pound turkey! I knew the broad-breasted bronze turkeys were getting big, but that is just ridiculous. Someone asked me how we (the all-natural farmers) could grow something that big, and I replied that it's just genetics. Broad-breasted were raised to get big, although I was under the impression that they did not ever get THAT big! That's why I chose them rather than the broad-breasted whites, which are the modern commercial strain. I know the white ones can grow to 50-60 pounds. We've never had a bronze get that big before, but we've always bought them from other hatcheries. It is possible that Privett has a strain that gets bigger than normal.

You might recall that I decided to grow only slate turkeys as our heritage breed this year. That's because they're my favorite heritage breed, and they are still critically endangered. The bourbon reds have become quite popular, and there are a few thousand of them now. Slates are still virtually unknown. We kept a gobbler and two hens, and we're keeping them in a poultry tractor, which is a movable pen. (I know I'll need to post a picture.) This way, they will be safe from predators, and they can have fresh grass every day. When the hens hatch their babies, they'll also be safe from predators. Our free-range turkeys this year were not able to raise any of their babies to maturity, and I really want to raise our own turkeys! I don't like buying from the hatcheries because I'm not really increasing the population, although I am at least helping create a demand for the birds. It is also NOT sustainable to keep buying poults every year -- and we want to be sustainable.

Here's an interesting story ... when we were waiting for our turkeys at the processor, we met a couple who was also waiting for their turkeys. They had raised broad-breasted turkeys for many years, always buying them from hatcheries and butchering them every year. They were probably in their 60s, and the man said that he thought about keeping a pair or a trio this year so he could raise his own, but then at the last minute he decided to just butcher all of them again. I made a comment about how he'd have had to do artificial insemination to raise them -- he didn't know that. I find it amazing how little today's modern farmer knows about the simplest things -- like the fact that broad-breasted turkeys can't mate naturally. They have swallowed the factory farm lifestyle with all its associated craziness, and they don't know anything else. Do they not think about the fact that their information comes from big corporations who (like drug dealers) want to keep you buying from them year after year? Big Ag wants you to grow animals and crops that can't reproduce, from turkeys to corn and soybeans, so that every year you buy new baby turkeys or more corn to plant. And it seems that no one questions the idea that we should even try to develop a turkey or a plant that can't reproduce without human intervention. Of course, they just hear how much money they're going to make by growing these genetically modified lifeforms. There are farms that are sustainable and profitable, and I hope that more of them will move in that direction.

Falling off my soapbox now ...


Related Posts with Thumbnails