Old Hickory

Hickory nuts are dropping in the woods and in the hedgerows.  The pigs are pleased.  They crush the shells with their molars and then sort the nut meat from the shell with their tongues, spitting out the fragments.  The noise from the cracking shells sounds like it ought to be painful, but the pigs obviously don’t think so. Nuts and acorns have been traditionally used for pig forage.  Our farm has red and white oaks scattered thinly over it, but they are so far apart that we can’t move the pigs to all… Read More

Forty-two pounds of edible fungus

Forty-two pounds of edible fungus In the wilderness a-growin’ Saved the settlers from starvation. Helped the founding of this nation. Homer Price, Robert McCloskey Funny how I can still recite this chorus from Homer Price.  I’ve forgotten the story now, but the chorus burrowed its way into long term memory.  Actually I’m surprised that I haven’t reread the story to my kids.  I believe I’ve ready every other Robert McCloskey book to them.  One Morning in Maine is my favorite; Blueberries for Sal is theirs. One subject for which I feel profound ignorance is mushroom identification…. Read More

Translating Cow

The English language has a history of a highly specialized vocabulary for animals.  We have words for specific types of animals (“herd”, “flock”, “pride”, or “gaggle”).  We have words that differentiate by gender (“buck” vs “doe” or “dog” vs “bitch”).  We have words to indicate age (“colt”, “kit”, or “kid”) and general body condition (“nag” or “breaker”). When people talk to us about our livestock, there is often some awkwardness discernible just because the specialized language isn’t universally familiar.  So here is a general overview of the bovine nomenclature. Perhaps the biggest… Read More

Rusted and Busted

Over the last few years I’ve been able to find good deals on round bales of oat straw for the pigs’ winter bedding.  There are sometimes a small number of oats in the bales, but the raking and baling processes tend to dislodge most of the grain.  I don’t count on the grain as amounting to enough to provide feed.  I like oat straw for its body.  Unlike hay, even coarse hay, straw doesn’t pack down into a sodden mat as quickly, so the pigs benefit from warmer, dryer conditions.  This year… Read More

We’ll go no more a-roving

One of the sure things about livestock farming is that one can never be sure how a day will turn out.  When I went to fill the pigs’ whey trough in the morning round of chores, I noticed that the trough was nearly full.  Strange…  I usually see the pigs in their paddock, but right now they are homed in a dense patch of brushy woods, so sometimes they are snoozing in the shade.  I called and whistled for them and got no response.  Hmm…  I started beating the bounds of their enclosure and came to… Read More

Just for Fun: The Beef Trust, Puck Magazine 1906

Measuring the Boar

Cyprus the boar stood still for me the other day so I could measure him.  According to the tape, he weighs 698 pounds.  If he were fed a free choice grain diet, he’d be much bigger, but even so he’s a big guy. I was measuring pigs so I could get a reference for new gates and chutes I’m building.  It looks like mature feeder pigs need a gateway 15-17 inches wide, open sows need a gateway 16-18 inches wide, and late term bred sows need up to 20 inches.  But the boar… Read More

Grazing Grapes

Cattle readily eat wild grape (fox grapes, Vitis labrusca) leaves and vines any time the plants are green, but as the grapes start to ripen they seem especially motivated.  Only the vines growing six feet above ground remain unscathed.  While they aren’t as resourceful as goats, who manage to gain extra reach by standing on their back legs or even stacking up on each other, the meticulousness with which the cattle strip out every possible grape and grape leaf within reach indicates that this must be a particular favorite.