California came out of the pasture five days ago in order to set up for her farrowing. Tuesday evening she kicked from the red hut the two smaller sows with their piglets and began building her nest. The two homeless sows found warmth in Gronkle’s hut where all the piglets now cuddle between the three mothers.
California took all day to bring in hay and make a thick, dry nest. Last night around 10:00pm she gave birth to her first piglet. By 2:00am, Dave came to bed saying she had had 6, but was not being careful to stay off of them. We were not hopeful that many would survive. I was pleased to have 7 healthy piglets greet me when I entered the hut this morning.
California didn’t seem entirely finished and had squished 4 to death. Another one is now warming by our fire, but I doubt he will survive. 7 out of 12 in a warm hut on a cold night isn’t a stellar performance, but she did manage to make a good nest. Over the next few days we will watch to see how many more she squishes so we can decide whether to keep her or make her into sausage after these piglets have weaned. It is a farm reality that bad mothers have to be culled. Mothering instincts are genetic, and if we want to strengthen our herd we need to stick with careful mothers.
California finished her delivery with two more piglets, but the last one out had died in the birth canal. Final count: 14 piglets, 8 living.
In the winter, we could lighten our work load. The cattle are bale grazing
and require as little as breaking ice, opening a section of fence for the next bale, or just checking on.
The pigs’ whey troughs need to be filled daily
and any supplemental food (veggies or organic grain) are easy to spread in their large yard.
So how can we be productive with all of this “time off” the normal pasturing chores?
One way we have found is to raise bottle or bucket calves.
Calves who are born in dairies–typically males–who aren’t needed and end up at auctions or as veal.
Each year we get a few to raise for meat for ourselves and friends.
This year we have a thriving Brown Swiss,
and three Devons.
We are particularly excited about the Devon calves because they are a dual purpose breed.
They are known for their milk production and their meat quality.
We got these three from the wonderful people at Dharma Lea who are doing meaningful work on and with their farm.
Bottle or bucket calves, or in our case nipple pail calves, need to be fed twice a day.
These five together drink eleven gallons of warm milk.
We have a source for milk and store it in a shed off our farmhouse.
As we need it, we move it from the below freezing shed to as near the wood stove as possible.
It thaws all day or night and a few hours before feeding, we transfer it to large pots on top of the stove.
When the milk is about 100 degrees we carefully transfer it to the nipple pail (carefully because the ice between the house and their pen has been tricky to navigate lately) where they take care of it in less than five minutes.
It is simple enough if we keep to our routine.
We get a lot of meat in return for a few months of thawing and warming milk
during a time that should be less complicated.
In the spring, these guys (and a gal)
will be turned out with our beef cattle for rotational grazing, and we will have eleven in our herd.
The world is all gates,
strings of tension
waiting to be strung.
Let me show you a few of the gates we have constructed.
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate.
A gardener and general outdoor enthusiast in New Jersey gave us a box of garlic bulbils he collected from his patch.
So Dave tilled a strip six feet wide by 80 feet a few weeks ago, and Harry and I planted at least a thousand bulbils.
We knew a storm was on the way, and we were just able to get the bed covered in mulch before the blanket of snow.
We welcomed it with a bit of slipping and sliding on the icy pond.
…to the greenhouse. Last week, we put the finishing touches on the pigs’ winter quarters.
We spread hay in their yard,
installed gates and whey troughs,
put up chicken roosts
and nest boxes.
Persuading the pigs to walk up the hill to the new yard took some effort, but they are happy to be inside,
and enjoying the convenience of whey right outside their front door.
We are happy to announce the beginning of our own beef herd with our first purchase of two Angus heifers.
A heifer is a female bovine who has not yet given birth to a calf.
The two heifers have been bred to this bull, and we are looking forward to meeting their calves in August of 2014.
Meet Professor Sprout
Two steers–castrated males–joined us this spring.
Darth is Angus
and Chewy is a cross between a Belted Galloway and an Angus.
We have, of course, already been raising dairy bull calves that we have gotten from the dairies around us.
The two we brought home last winter will be with us for another year.
Han Solo is a Brown Swiss
and Boba Fett is a Holstein.
So far this season we have only purchased one dairy calf–another Brown Swiss named Dumbledore.
As you have probably guessed, the kids get to name most of the animals.
The flurry of harvesting is nearly over.
The garden has browned and crumpled,
the winter kale has stopped growing,
and the tail end of the harvest is in the kitchen waiting to be put away.
The last of the apples are landing in baskets
and boxes, and pies, and crisps, and sauce, and jelly and dehydrated slices.
The pantry is full.
We are ready for the season of stews and slow roasts, warm bread and pies.
Not long after Dave pulled into a produce wholesaler to pick up our weekly load of mushy produce, a man approached offering a tractor trailer load of veggies. The trucker’s reefer had malfunctioned on his trip up from Georgia and his whole load had been frozen: he needed to find a place to dump it.
He arrived at our place around 8:00pm that night. With our backhoe and some chains, we pulled off each pallet, stacked high with boxes of veggies. It wasn’t that simple, of course. It took close to three hours.
The next morning, this is the scene that greeted us.
And it took all morning to dump,
break down and stack up each box.
We took a break to inspect the temperature log we found.
It showed that the trailer dipped down to 23 degrees F just hours after loading.
In the end, we had an impressive pile.
It would be a waste of time and energy to get it to the pigs way out in the pasture,
so we decided to build a lane and lure the pigs up to their winter quarters for the feast.
It proved to be much easier to scoop and dump here.
We anticipate they will have access to this place for two weeks
while they gorge themselves.
During that evening of work when the trucker and his wife helped us to unload the hundreds of boxes, we found tucked away at the very front a pallet stacked high with boxes of watermelon. We headed straight for the kitchen to get a knife and together broke open the delicious melon. The next morning we enjoyed another one. And the next.
Well, wouldn’t you?
Our lives require this day.
We can hide it and make it seem shameful,
or we can accept our place in the interconnectedness of living things.
To separate ourselves from this day would be to dishonor the lives we need,
degrade the animals we tend
and diminish us as persons and farmers.
We stand by, claiming responsibility for the lives we trade for our own.
It is the completion of the work that has nourished our minds, hearts and bodies throughout the year.
The work itself is good. The animals we raise are healthy.
The sacrifice we make is necessary.
The food we enjoy is pure.
The energy it provides fuels the good work we achieve.
There is no shame here.
There is hope, thanksgiving,
As Hannah Coulter puts it, “This is our life. This is our giving of thanks.”