Shall I Draw Your Bath?

Dust bathing is an important activity for chickens and for many other birds.  They scrape up dust with their claws, then scrounge around it in, ruffling their feathers and contorting themselves into all kinds of curious poses in the process.  The activity cleans feathers of dandruff and oils (basically everything shampoo claims to do for humans) and it is thought to aid in external parasite removal.  But I’m pretty sure it also serves some sort of social function, since I never see chickens dust bathing on their own.  What specific social roles dust bathing plays I… Read More

Pigs in Art: Bruegel and Unachievable Farming Ideals

I enjoy looking at the depiction of livestock in old artwork, particularly the pigs.  The bustling “Netherlandish Proverbs” painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is delightful.  It can be studied on many levels and it invites minute examination with its blending of highbrow irony and lowbrow bawdiness.  But I’m neither historically nor artistically trained, so I’ll leave those topics for others.  I’m here for the pigs.  Although the painting is more emblematic and didactic than literal, what I pick up on here is the commonness of pigs in daily life.  In our world of megacities and… Read More

Self Justifying Recycling Story

Visitors to the farm cringe at the slovenly pile of scraps next to the garage.  I like to think of my piles of offcut wood and steel as a carefully curated collection of resources available for later reuse.  Rachel doesn’t agree with my assessment.  She suspects I’m just building a monument to Tetanus. But this is a story to bolster my argument that it makes sense to keep heaps of junk around the farm.  This is a story of redemption, of second chances, of trash raised to noble heights.  Per aspera ad… Read More

Cold Snap

This isn’t a world record, but we dropped below -20 degrees this weekend.  That’s the coldest temperature we’ve seen in the five winters we’ve been here.  If nothing else, the cold sure has a way of expediting trips to the outhouse. The cattle, pigs, and chickens take it all in stride.  We’re the ones who do most of the griping. The condensation from the piglets’ breath caused fantastic ice patterns to form on the cobwebs in their hut. The cold weather makes handling the pigs’ whey difficult.  No matter how well insulated,… Read More

Freezer Figuring

I always enjoy the opportunity to put on my engineering hat and delve into a new project.  This evening I did the work to figure out how to size the refrigeration unit for our walk-in freezer.  I wouldn’t be interested in sizing refrigeration systems as a full-time job, but I enjoy digging into the details of tables and formulas to figure out what’s really going on. There are convenient websites to approximate the BTU loads, but I found that they oversimplify things.  First, I’ve added extra insulation, so the heat loss defaults are… Read More

Hospital Ward

We’ve all been talking about this absurdly mild winter, but a few weeks ago when we had the coldest period we’ve experienced this year, we noticed a few piglets suddenly looking very badly.  The self-feeder broke (that’s another story) and left all the pigs on short rations for a few days until we figured it out.  Their feeder would trickle grain, but only when the pig pigs bumped it, so they little ones weren’t getting anything out of it.  They still had whey and hay, but younger pigs don’t have as big a… Read More