Wrong Direction Farm

Saying Good-bye to the Mama Cat

Mama Cat is slipping away today. She has produced a remarkable amount of kittens (most of whom must have gone to feed coyotes) in the last 3 years, and we will miss her mousing prowess.

We noticed a few months ago as the mama cat was preparing to kindle that she had some growths on her breasts.  We don’t know what happened to the two kittens she had.  But almost as soon as we realized they were gone, we could see her big with another kindle. She delivered in our milk shed this time.  The rains drove her back to the barn next door where we visited the kittens daily, bringing the mama liver and fat and table scraps. We could tell the cancer was growing.

Then a few days ago the kittens disappeared and the mama was at our house much more frequently.  Last night we noticed her back legs giving way beneath her and knew the end had come.  We did a search of the field next to ours where we had seen her walking a few times, and we found her kindle–all safe and snug and big! By the time we had them all settled in the summer kitchen in a cubby, the mama had all but stopped using her back end.

She worsened through the night and remains on her side now.  Allie fed her chunks of pig heart since she can only move her head and barely hold up the front of her body. The kittens have a small chance of survival at this age.

She has been a great mother all the way to the end. When her kittens mew in distress, she tries to move to them despite her inability to get up. Early this morning we took them all out on the grass, but the mama was concerned and attempted to drag one away. She didn’t want them exposed, so we settled them all back in their nook.

The kids are keeping vigil.

 

Mama Cat in the barn with her kindle

Mama Cat in the barn with her kindle

AJ's favorite is Chubbers

AJ’s favorite is Chubbers

each with a favorite

each with a favorite

Catlett

Catlett

last time outside

last time outside

 

 

Beautiful and Deadly

 

A coopers hawk has a nest in a near pasture, providing lovely glimpses of these beautiful creatures soaring above the valley. But of coarse there is a darker side. A few years ago our free ranging meat birds provided the hawks with many tasty meals. Last year our rooster fought them off on the few occasions that they came after the laying hens.  This year we have had too many disappearances, and we continue to startle a hawk  away from our milk house, compost heap, hay bales and pine trees.  It seems that he or she is spending more and more time watching our little laying hen chicks as they scurry around with their moms. A couple of days ago we found him trapped in our hoop house. Since the only way in is the open door at ground level, his presence meant he had chased one of our birds inside.

On the one hand, I felt disappointed that such a gorgeous, fierce and independent creature was trapped and spending his day flapping against plastic sheeting.  On the other hand…we are loosing hens.

We ended up leaving the door on the upper level open and when I went out to check yesterday afternoon, he was gone.  Soon after, a hawk swooped low over me in chase of a flock of red-winged black birds. And soon after that he tumbled with another of his kind through the air and soared into a new group of black birds.

So there they are, gracing the sky over the valley with their beauty and living to kill the beautiful birds we love to watch as well as the chicks we try to raise.

DSCF8250hawk

DSCF8488hawk in tree

DSCF8509hawkbody

DSCF8586hawk in coop

DSCF8588hawk eye

DSCF8599another hawk pic

Rain

Our main fence charger blew because of nearby lightening last night. Dave discovered the problem around midnight and turned on our backup.  It was nice to catch the problem so quickly– this post could be about the excessive rain rather than a morning of rounding up cattle and pigs.

You can read about the local flooding here.

Our farm has a seasonal stream running through the low point.  Today it didn’t look much like a stream.

IMG_20140822_170311428

Three Bull Calves and a Heifer

Sprout gave birth to a bull calf this week. Though we tried to watch our heifers giving birth each time, we were always a wee bit late until Sprout.  We could see from our vantage point on the hill that she was in labor in the early afternoon, so we grabbed the camera and jumped on the four wheeler. She didn’t go away from the rest of the herd, but she was restless. Unfortunately we were called away just before the calf dropped. By the time we returned, Sprout was licking her calf. The next day when we opened a new section of pasture and the mamas were busily eating, we found the new calf in an attempt to tag and band it. (Why banding instead of cutting this time? Fly pressure.) He wasn’t about to take it lying down. Bolting through the gap between farmers, the calf high tailed it down into a new pasture, disregarding fences along the way. We caught up. After the procedures, he wanted to find his mama and despite our gentle herding, broke away again and ended up a hundred yards distant in a neighbor’s field. DP carried him back to his mama, and the calf found his comfort.

Molly and Lava

Molly and Lava

DSCF7161lava2

Luna and Nightingale

Luna and Nightingale

our only heifer this summer

our only heifer this summer

The last of the heifers to calve, Sprout is shown here in labor.

The last of the heifers to calve, Sprout is shown here in labor.

Yes, we got to view this process as we stood in the rain.

Yes, we got to view this process as we stood in the rain.

Sprout

Sprout

another push

another push

Darth tried to figure out what was going on by sniffing Sprout.

Darth tried to figure out what was going on by sniffing Sprout.

Sprout nuzzling Sprint right after the birth

Sprout nuzzling Sprint right after the birth

The two Angus heifers Sprout and McGonnagall, with their bull calves C4 Explosion and Sprint

The two Angus heifers McGonnagall and Sprout, with their bull calves C4 Explosion and Sprint

 

 

 

 

Transitioning Piglets

We like to transition weaned piglets with clabbered milk before giving them the whey that the rest of the herd drinks.  Piglets do better with the extra fat provided by whole milk.  After a few weeks on milk they can make the switch to whey without a hitch.

IMG_20140720_210606

When is enough enough?

Saturday we got the old Ford truck back up on its feet again. It had gotten into a bad habit of coughing, bucking, and backfiring whenever we asked it to move. In the end, the main problem was a faulty oxygen sensor. 19 years and 222k miles on the original one, so there’s nothing to complain about there.  This old truck is mostly a backup truck these days.  It doesn’t have enough suspension to handle the big loads we put on the other truck.  But there are enough times that the other truck is broken down that having a backup is a lifesaver.

Dealing with machines presents us with the question nearly every week: When is it time to replace this old machine? When is enough enough? There’s the old saw about farm equipment held together by baling wire, but modern hay balers don’t use wire anymore. If they did, we’d surely have some holding our equipment together. But it is worth noting that we do have a muffler held up by high tensile electric fence wire, so that might be close enough.

Besides the oxygen sensor work, the old sideboards in the truck’s bed cracked, so we built a new cargo rack for it.

cargo box

New cargo box

The truck has a few other issues. Besides the mice that live in the seats and the yellow jacket nest in the passenger quarter panel, there is an ever growing list of broken parts. For most of these we just accept their loss and try to decide what is truly essential. The keys are long gone, so there’s a screwdriver in the ignition and no door lock cylinder on the passenger side. The driver side window doesn’t roll, the radio has been gone for years, the hood latch requires lots of banging and shoving to open, the tailgate handle is useless, the secondary gas tank is abandoned, the air conditioner is long dead, and to shift into four wheel drive one must climb under the truck and yank on the transfer case linkage. The frame and body are both rusting away with steel plates and channels bolted across rotted sections. But it still runs, pretty well actually. So we just keep patching or abandoning parts, changing the oil and fluids, greasing up the zerks, and wondering how long until we need to install the Flintstone propulsion unit.

truck interior

Beauty

DSCF7646barbed wire and acorns

A tree I found in the hedgerow has a gaping hole in it made by an old barbed wire fence.  Squirrels have hidden their acorns inside.

 

3rd Annual Pig Roast

Each summer since 2012, we have invited Dave’s family up for a pig roast.  All but the the aged, pregnant, infant or wimpy camp out.  The eight cousins all 9 and younger enjoy getting filthy, shooting arrows and guns and eating all the desserts Grandmom brings. The adults get hungrier and hungrier as the pig roasts. Dave did a great job bringing the pig to a perfect golden brown with crispy skin.

 

We dropped our pig off to be slaughtered and returned with skin on and picked him up on Thursday.

We dropped our pig off to be slaughtered and returned with skin on and picked him up on Thursday.

curious cousin

curious cousin

We roasted skin side down first.  See all the marinade in the cavity?

We roasted skin side down first. See all the marinade in the cavity?

 

time to flip it over

time to flip it over

 

pouring the rest of the marinade over

pouring the rest of the marinade over

 

beautiful and crisp

beautiful and crisp

 

bringing it in

bringing it in

 

the pig and his farmers

the pig and his farmers

 

peeling the skin back and cutting him up

peeling the skin back and cutting him up

 

family going out to look at the broilers

family going out to look at the broilers

 

looking at the pasture the cows just left

looking at the pasture the cows just left

 

looking for the 40+ piglets

looking for the 40+ piglets

 

bonfire!

bonfire!

 

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!

 

The cousins fit right in!

The cousins fit right in!

 

Zia made friends with the puppy.

Zia made friends with the puppy.

 

Goodbye Ash Trees

The ash trees in our part of NY are dying.

Dead ash in stand

Emerald Ash Borers (EAB) have been killing them.  Since the unintentional introduction of the Emerald Ash Borers from Asia in 1990’s, the infestation has spread rapidly.  Many foresters believe that a total irradication of the North American ash species may result.  During our first summer on the farm we noticed several dead ash trees in the hedgerows.  In the years since the problem has become worse.  Wherever we drive in our area, we see standing dead ash trees.

Emerald Ash Borer Imago

Emerald Ash Borer Imago

The adults eat some of the leaves, but the main harm to the tree comes from the larvae.

Emerald Ash Borer Larva  (note the pincer-like appendages on the back -- we couldn't get them to nip us with them so we don't know what they use them for)

Emerald Ash Borer Larva (note the pincer-like appendages on the back — we couldn’t get them to nip us with them so we don’t know what they use them for)

The adult borers drill through the tree and deposit their eggs in the living xylem layer between the bark and last-year’s growth ring. Once hatched, the larvae begin to eat their way all over the tree while being sheltered by the bark.  For the tree this is disastrous because the entire vascular system is disrupted.  But from the purely aesthetic view, the patterns left as the larvae tunnel along are often striking.

EAB Galleries 2

According to the NY DEC’s tree survey, ash makes up 10% of our tree population.  Not every ash tree in our area is dead, but the disease seems to be hitting hardest at the middle half of the ash population.  The very oldest, largest trees seem to die more slowly, and the very young trees also seem resistant.  Perhaps the young trees aren’t as appealing to the bugs.

So for now, we trim out the dead and dying trees.  We don’t cut down healthy ash, since we want to give them a fighting chance.  Maybe here and there we’ll find a tree that has more resistance to the bugs.  But all the dead trees get chopped up for firewood.  Ash is a little stringy and thus splitting isn’t as easy as other species, but it puts out a middlin’ amount of heat – about 20% less than red oak but 25% more than pine.  It is the wood we have on hand, so that’s what we’ve been burning.

Next winter's firewood stack is growing

Next winter’s firewood stack is growing

A Slaughterer Speaks

We received a great question that we felt deserved a longer answer.

Hello, I came across your farm in my search for a meat CSA. Your website is very informative but I find some important specifics missing regarding slaughtering and butchering, would you be able to tell me more information about the processing please. Also, I found your photograph above, that of two individuals butchering a dead animal immediately adjacent to living pigs fearfully watching the entire ordeal vexing, is this how you normally butcher the CSA meat?

Any question related to slaughter can be uncomfortable to ask, so we are glad for head-on questions.  We’ve detailed the on farm slaughter of our beef cattle in this post, but we haven’t done a step-by-step blog on pig slaughter yet.

This may appear paradoxical, but we slaughter on-farm because we find it to be much less stressful on the animals.  Pigs are social animals, but they are not sympathetic animals.  Except for a brief instinctual period of fierce guardianship of their piglets (and that only lasts for the first two or three weeks), pigs really don’t care what happens to each other.  Pigs are entirely selfish, although they are selfish without being malevolent.  Pigs value being in the herd, but unlike the more benign mutualism among cattle, stronger pigs push themselves to the center of the herd and force the smaller weaker ones out to the edges, presumably their survival strategy in dealing with predators.

We’ve found that the pig being slaughtered is much calmer if it can remain near the other pigs and if it can remain in a spot it is familiar with.  Pigs get agitated when they are moved into a new place alone.  When pigs are scared, they hold their heads low to the ground, looking for an escape route.  They avoid direct stares and instead make furtive side glances.  Their breathing gets more like panting and they will often let out a sustained vocalization that sounds more like a high pitched humming rather than their normal squealing noises.  If pigs sense danger, they run away.  The pigs in the picture below are actually approaching the fence, with heads up.  They would only do this if they felt confident that they were safe.

slaughter

When we slaughter pigs, we bring them to a small enclosure just outside the area where the rest of the herd is.  However, we have had the need to put down injured pigs when we judged it would be better to kill them in place rather than trying to move them out of the herd.  The reaction of the other pigs is very predictable.  They will run a few paces away when they hear the bang from the rifle, but within a minute a few pigs will approach the dead one, bump it with their noses to figure out what’s up, and then walk off to eat/sleep/mate or do whatever else they were engaged in moments before.

This is impractical, but it is a pity that we all can’t be involved in the raising and the slaughter of farm animals.  It might result in more people being vegetarians, but it certainly would clarify much in the minds of those who continue to eat meat.  On the one hand we need to improve our commitment to understand animals and to structure our husbandry in ways that give them good lives, and on the other hand we need to be careful that we don’t assume that human emotional and social values are shared by our four legged friends.

written by Dave