Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tagging pigs

Although we've been raising American Guinea Hogs for four years, and we had Tamworths for about six years before that, we've almost always sold them for meat. However, the past couple of months, I've had several people contact me about buying breeding stock. In fact, all of our September piglets have been sold as live piglets to people who want to raise them either for meat or as the beginning of their breeding program. In order to provide positive identification for them, the pigs need to have ear tags, tattoos, or ear notches. I hate ear notches; tattoos can be hard to read; so that leaves us with ear tags. It's the lesser of three evils.

Three piglets were picked up on Saturday, and we needed to put ear tags in them. I really expected it to be about as much fun as a root canal without novocaine. Mike and I discussed whether he or I should hold a pig or be the tagger. I personally didn't think that I was necessarily strong enough to do either. Although most people think of pigs as "fat," the fact is that they are the most concentrated bundle of muscle of any of the animals on the farm. Ultimately we decided that he should hold the pig while I put the tag in the ear.

And I am happy to say that it went much better than anticipated. In fact, it was easier than tattooing goats or tagging sheep. The pigs made a short squeak when the tag went into their ear, but that was it! No thrashing, no non-stop squealing, no drama. It wasn't much harder than using a hole punch in a piece of paper.

And the three little pigs were on their way to their new home!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Livestock Conservancy Conference

Last weekend I attended the Livestock Conservancy's national conference in Austin, TX. Like all of their conferences, the food was amazing! Members donated a variety of delicious pastured meats from heritage animals. Then the lucky chef gets to use that meat in all sorts of creative ways for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The meats included Gulf Coast sheep, Red Poll beef, and Large Black pork.

Although food plays a starring role in the conference, the real reason that everyone attends is to learn and network. I presented a half-day workshop on Friday morning about creating value-added products with heritage livestock, and it was a lot of fun. The point of the session was not to tell people how to do things (like spin yarn) but simply to give them an idea of things that could be done and what type of investment would have to be made in terms of learning and and financing. I met some very interesting people at all stages of the farming journey, from those still in the planning stages to those who've been raising livestock for many years. Saturday, I presented a one-hour talk on goats as the centerpiece of a diversified homestead, which includes information on how to actually make things like soap and cheese.

When I wasn't speaking, I attended sessions. During most hours, I was wishing I could be in two places at once! My favorite was a session on silvopasturing pigs -- or, raising pigs in the woods. The speakers were Marc and Lydia Mousseau of Atlanta. If I had met them anywhere else, and they had asked me to guess whether they were pig farmers or the owners of a design firm, I would have totally chosen the latter. However, the correct answer is "both!" I could totally relate to them because they were city slickers like I was 12 years ago!

It was two years ago that Marc became enamored by Ossabaw Island hogs and started talking about raising them on their land outside of Atlanta. Of course, his family thought he was nuts. (Sound familiar?) But as he continued talking about them and even came up with a business plan, they began to realize that he was serious.

Marc talked about the job of building a barn and erecting fencing for the pigs, as well as his agreement with an Atlanta chef who buys all of the pork that is currently being produced. I laughed more than once at his stories, and I filed away a couple of interesting tidbits of information. (1) He buried his fencing eight inches deep to keep the pigs from escaping, (2) If you say "Ossabaw" to Siri, she thinks you're saying "Awesome Bob," so of course, Marc had to name one of his boars "Awesome Bob!" and (3) Ossabaw Island hogs kill and eat coyotes! But they don't eat the tail.

Although Austin was unseasonably cold with temperatures in the 50s, Illinois was much worse! I arrived home to temperatures in the teens, and we had a dusting of snow on Monday evening. Winter seems to be arriving much earlier than normal, and I am definitely not looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Culling pigs

Tomorrow is the day that our last group of yearling pigs will go to the locker for processing, so I have to make my final decision on which gilts to keep for breeding. Yesterday morning I went outside for another one of my visits with the pigs. Although they were not at all friendly a few weeks ago, my little visits have turned most of them around. There is still one pig with a pink nose and two white legs that has made it quite clear that she doesn't want to be friends, so her destiny is sealed. The other four that are still here, however, have grown accustomed to my little visits and enjoy being petted.

This one was the first to roll over for a belly rub, and now I can walk up to her and start petting her, and she just drops herself to the ground and rolls over like this! In addition to winning me over with her sweet personality, she also allowed me to count her teats. She has 13, which means she'll be able to feed a lot of little porkers! One of the other pigs has 14. Two of the others only have 11, which is not good if they have more than 9 piglets. Two teats at the end often don't develop enough for the babies to actually be able to use them effectively, so more teats is better. Julia had 13 babies last year, so these pigs can have a lot! Because the sow lays down, and all of the piglets nurse at the same time, she needs to have enough teats for all of the babies.

In addition to personality and number of teats, I'm also looking at body conformation. The pig in the picture is one of the medium-sized pigs. Unfortunately the one with 14 teats is huge. She has a lot of fat, especially around her jowls, and it makes me wonder if she'll have fertility issues. Overweight animals often do. She has been getting all of the same food as the others, and somehow she wound up weighing a lot more. Since she is bigger, will she have bigger piglets? It might be interesting to keep these two and see if they are different in terms of fertility and how many piglets they are able to raise.

So much to consider, and my deadline is only a few hours away.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A new goal

As we are making the transition from homestead to full-fledged working farm with a strong emphasis on education, I am attending a variety of business seminars, and a couple of days ago, I attended one on managing multiple priorities -- and boy, do I have multiple priorities! It seems like I go through every day doing whatever is urgently demanding my attention, whether it is a goat in heat that needs to be bred or milk that needs to be turned into cheese, which leaves little time for things that need to be done but are not urgent, such as finishing the staircase or putting tile around our bathtub. (Yeah, we moved in 10 years ago.)

"Goals" was one of the many topics covered in the six hour seminar, and although I am no stranger to goals, sometimes we need to be reminded to actually apply what we know! Even though something may be important, it may not get done because you don't have a goal. So, I've decided to set a goal of posting on here at least once a week. I'd spent so many years just posting as soon as something happened that I never thought I needed to set a goal to post on here. But as other things have taken over my life, I find that blogging on here gets pushed to the back burner.

I have a goal of posting on my Thrifty Homesteader blog three times a week, and I usually meet it. Because that is a "how to" kind of blog, I feel a commitment to produce information to help people learn to homestead or live a greener life. But, I've always looked at this blog as my homesteading journal, and feeling that no one really "needs" to read this stuff, it gets put off day after day. I suppose I think of this as my fun blog and Thrifty Homesteader as my work blog. Even if that is the case, I should still make a habit of blogging here regularly because we all need to remember to incorporate fun into our lives, right?

So, rather than thinking that I'm going to write lots of individual blog posts on all of the little things happening around the homestead, here are a few highlights. You see that rose up there? That was really taken on our farm two weeks ago! And the same bush is still blooming, even though we've had two nights with below freezing temperatures. There are currently three blooms on that bush!

I planted lettuce in August, so we now have lots of big, beautiful heads of lettuce!

And that means we can have lots of salad! I especially love an entirely homegrown and homemade Cobb salad made with our chicken, bacon, jack cheese, boiled eggs, and lettuce!

Here is a picture of the butter I made with the milk from our new Jersey cow, which we got in early October. I am still hoping to tell you how we got her because it's a funny story, but for now, you get to see the butter. We've also made yogurt and gouda with her milk so far. No verdict on the gouda yet because it has to age, but the yogurt was a lot thinner than my goat milk yogurt, which would be fine for smoothies, but when it comes to fresh eating, I prefer the goat milk yogurt.

We currently have the goats grazing around our house, so here's Lizzie! We do rotational grazing, and now is the end of the grazing season, so we're letting the goats have every last bit of greenery, including everything in our yard.

Next weekend I'm heading down to Texas for the Livestock Conservancy conference. If any of you are there, say hi!

So, there you have it ... what I've been up to the last few weeks and where I'm heading. And I now have a goal to post on here at least once a week. It may not be perfect, but it'll be something.


Related Posts with Thumbnails