Wrong Direction Farm

Birth and Death

Yesterday we noticed the very pregnant sow was in distress and realized she was trying to give birth.  Two stillborn piglets lay near. A sow usually has her piglets in fairly quick succession so when two hours passed and no more appeared, we knew it was time to intervene.

Carefully sliding a hand into the vagina, we can usually tell where the problem is. It was immediately evident we were in trouble because the distance between the sacrum and the pelvic bones was so small that my clenched fist would not fit. Later we learned that the pelvic bone slanted upward and the sacrum was positioned a little too far back, causing the piglets to move through the canal at an odd angle and bump against the sacrum. In addition, the unusually small opening prevented piglets from passing through quickly enough to remain alive. Unfortunately there is no way to tell before farrowing if this problem exists since no pig will stand still for an examination any time other than during active birthing. If you are interested in learning more, look here.

The next piglet was jaw up on the other side of the opening but could not move through the canal. We pushed him back into the uterus, rotated him and attempted to bring him through by clenching the lower jaw between thumb and finger and then forceps. We were disappointed to realize we needed to take him out in parts.

The fourth piglet presented bottom first. We thought this might be easier and we hoped for a live birth, but the head would not come through. We walked away for a while to see if the sow could pass it on her own, having seen the sack with the broken umbilical cord slide out and indicate that the piglet would not survive. An hour later she had birthed all but the head. Even with our help, it wouldn’t come out whole.

If we had another sow birthing at the same time, we could have done a c-section and placed the litter with the surrogate sow, but without the alternate sow, the piglets have only a slim chance of survival by bottle feeding.  As it happened, we shot the sow and butchered her.  And the kids had a hands-on anatomy lesson.

The piglet's head was not able to pass the tilted pelvic brim.

The piglet’s head was not able to pass the tilted pelvic brim.

 

removing the carcass

removing the 350 pound carcass

The piglet that couldn't get through is lying on top of the uterus.

The piglet that couldn’t get through is lying on top of the uterus.

Harry removing the uterus from around the unborn piglets

Harry removing the uterus from around the unborn piglets

Allie was thrilled to get to dissect this piglet.  She said she felt like Doug, our butcher.

Allie was thrilled to get to dissect this piglet. She said she felt like Doug, our butcher.

She ended up removing the skin on the belly, taking out and identifying the organs, and expressing her wonder at how beautiful the different colors were.

She ended up removing the skin on the belly, taking out and identifying the organs, and expressing her wonder at how beautiful the different colors were.

Of Mud, Pig Pancakes and Wrestling

It should have been simple.  All we needed to do was open the gate of the pig’s winter quarters and let all but 5 out into a lane that led down to the prepared pasture. We began the process a little after 8, took a break to give a tour for a family who came to pick up some meat, and then ploughed on. We were tired, sore, thirsty and ready for lunch when we got in a bit after 3 0’clock that afternoon.

It was quickly evident that I couldn’t carry a camera and work, so I didn’t document the fiasco.

We had moved the big breeder pigs (the boar and his three sows) from their winter pasture into the pasture where the cattle bale grazed the winter–lots of hay and poop to root through. We wanted to reserve the five biggest growers in the winter paddock for the next round of butchering. The older the pig, the calmer the pig and the easier to move, so when we opened the gate, the pigs who volunteered to come through were the ones we wanted to stay. The younger pigs wouldn’t venture out when they saw the older pigs pushed back. We set up a new gate to separate the stayers and got four growers out. They panicked and desperately tried to rejoin the others who got spooked and wouldn’t approach the exit.

So we set up a new lane way at the bottom of the paddock and removed part of the paddock fence. No go. We left them to give a tour and started in again.  This time, tempted by grain, all but an older grower and two piglets left. The paddock is slick with mud and on a hill and fairly large. I’ll leave the details of our long and aggravating chase up to your imagination. Toward the end of that round, we realized that though none of the growers had gone far from the paddock, all the breeders had come up.

The next stage was to get everybody back down to the pasture, which took some persuasion. And the pack of piglets absolutely refused to step over a pipe into unknown territory. We reconfigured fences.  They broke out.  We tried gentle urging.  They bolted. We tried chasing.  They balked and broke through new fences. We tried more new fences.  They broke free entirely and headed toward the road. Then we started wrestling. Pure spastic muscle writhing and screaming. A few we snagged by the tail and ears and dumped into barrels. One found his head in a bucket and had a snout full of grain to munch through for a while afterward. The last pig was desperate, and so were we. When we had no more patience and he bolted, there was nothing to do but pancake him. Flat down on top of him we sprang, and while he screamed and writhed and protested as only piglets can, we dumped him in the last barrel and sent up a cheer.

Someone asked us recently if we are still learning.  I hope so.

California is on the slaughter list.

California

 

Here he is--the last of the piglets to be caught.

Here he is–the last of the piglets to be caught.

 

Cyprus on new grass

Cyprus on new grass

 

Cyprus and Gronkle

Cyprus and Gronkle

 

nuzzling

nuzzling

 

time for a chat

time for a chat

 

scratching

scratching

 

more scratching

more scratching

 

rooting in the new pasture

rooting in the new pasture

 

The Cattle Begin Their Spring Pasture Rotation

We bale grazed 5 cattle through the winter, and raised 5 calves on milk.  Recently we brought in 4 heifers from another farm in the area, and this week we brought in a heifer and a steer from our neighbor. We want to keep the calves on milk a little longer, but we don’t want the main herd to be held back from the pasture, so last week we ran the cattle down to their first rotation area. It went as smoothly as we could have wished, unlike yesterday’s crazy pig move. More on that next time.

 

moving them out of the holding area

moving them out of the holding area

 

bottom of the lane

bottom of the lane

crossing the creek

crossing the creek

 

the newest steer--Aberforth

the newest Angus steer–Aberforth

The electric line snapped as we were closing the fence, so we had to do some quick fencing.

The electric line snapped as we were closing the fence, so we had to do some quick fencing.

Luna and newest heifer Apolline

Luna (211) and newest Angus heifer Apolline

 

They are walking along the fence near the greener pasture that is shut off to them.

They are walking along the fence near the greener pasture that is shut off to them.

 

 

 

 

 

Early Spring

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Spring is here, and we are all happy to be outside more.  Everything seems to be about preparation this week.  Preparing to send the animals out to pasture, preparing the garden for early crops, gathering the needed fencing and feed and equipment. Our ducks got held up in the mail again and only five were living when they arrived. Allie is their caregiver this year, and she is diligently keeping the last two alive.  We put our two older groups of cattle together without any excitement, and we have been keeping our eyes on the pastures to see when they will be able to handle the herds.

Grandmom visited and helped plant some pansies.

Grandmom visited and helped plant some pansies.

AJ turned 9 and is enjoying his birthday rocket.

AJ turned 9 and is enjoying his birthday rocket.

The introduction went smoothly.

The introduction went smoothly.

Luna getting to know Darth

Luna getting to know Darth

peas, onions, radishes, beets, early greens

peas, onions, radishes, beets, early greens

dad and daughter checking out the pastures

dad and daughter checking out the pastures

playing in the pond

Playing in the pond on a sunny day is so much fun.

This is Wild Woman's daughter and her daughters.

This is Wild Woman’s daughter and her daughters. Wild Woman got hit by a car last year, so we are happy that her daughter inherited her mothering skills.

Allie decorated the duckling nursery.

Allie decorated the duckling nursery. She tried hard to save the 5.

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very pregnant mama cat

The very pregnant mama cat that has adopted us is about to pop.

Aw, Nuts! The Bulls Become Steers

Curious about the nitty gritty on the farm?  If you can stomach it, come along and see what happened here today. Castration might make you squirm, but it only takes a few minutes and it is absolutely necessary in maintaining (containing) a herd. The pictures tell the story: let’s go! Thanks to Dave Rainbow for helping farmer Dave while I took pictures.

The two Daves discuss the best way to set up the head gate.

The two Daves discuss the best way to set up the head gate.

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securing the gate

securing the gate

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This big bull calf is as sweet as can be, but he is becoming a real pest when we go in his pen. It was time we settled him down.

This big bull calf is as sweet as can be, but he is becoming a real pest when we go in his pen. It was time to settle him down.

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The kids thought this would be a good observation point.

The kids thought this would be a good observation point.  They later moved in for a closer look.

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caught in the gate

caught in the gate

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extra security for the big boy

extra security for the big boy

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before

before

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cleaning him off

cleaning him off

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initial slice

initial slice (we cut four bull calves today)

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pulling it out of the scrotum

pulling the testicle out of the scrotum

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exposing the testicle

exposing the testicle

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The inner membrane also needs to be sliced.

The inner membrane also needs to be sliced open.

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clamping the blood vessel

clamping the cord

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slicing it off

slicing it off

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applying some blood clotting powder

applying some blood clotting powder

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done

done

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The first time we harvested testicles, we fried them up and ate them.  This time, we launched the grenades into the pig pen where they were eagerly devoured.

The first time we harvested testicles, I fried them up and we ate them. This time, we launched the grenades into the pig pen where they were eagerly devoured.

The Newest Bovines

Yesterday Dave went to an auction to buy some heifers he had previewed a few weeks ago.  Three of these ladies are due to give birth in June.  One is a stocker for meat. They came off the truck at a run and covered in dried mud. Our herd greeted them with bellows from another pasture, and the pigs were quick to get to know the new girls. We will let them get familiar with the place for another week before introducing the other cattle. Once they have learned to get along, the whole herd will begin their warm weather pasture rotation. This brings our cattle number up to 14 and hopefully by the end of August we will have 5 additional calves.

Matt trucked the heifers for us.

Matt trucked the heifers for us.

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out at a run

out at a run

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Dave Rainbow was on hand to help.

Dave Rainbow was on hand to help.

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bunched up in the corner

bunched up in the corner

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no names yet

no names yet

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food?

Knowing the pigs they are probably trying to figure out if these animals are food for them.

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Red Angus

Red Angus

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Allie and Hazel found good seats for the show.

Allie and Hazel found good seats for the show.

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These heifers are an Angus Devon cross, but in this one, you can see a Hereford great grandmother.

These heifers are an Angus Devon cross, but in this one you can see a Hereford great grandmother.

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Angus Devon cross, carrying a calf from a Devon bull

Angus Devon cross, carrying a calf from a Devon bull

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Measuring Up

To determine if a pig is ready for slaughter or to gain an idea of how quickly it is growing, we need to know its weight. The thought of wrestling a pig onto a scale or somehow scooping it up in a sling is humorous, but the method we use is simple. We take its girth and length measurements with a fabric tape.  Using these calculations, we can find out about how much the pig weighs.

Dave measures and I record. Recently I took my camera out with me for the amusing scene.  We throw food out for them and attempt to get the tape around one or another as they all jostle for the grain. Rarely do we get the measurement on the first try.

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Beauty

Beauty

California Farrows

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.

DSCF4445 piglet pile up on sows

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.

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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.

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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.

The older piglets are curious about the newer piglets, but they kept their distance.

The older piglets are curious about the newer piglets, but they are keeping their distance.

Dairy Calves

In the winter, we could lighten our work load. The cattle are bale grazing

graze1

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.

yard

So how can we be productive with all of this “time off” the normal pasturing chores?

winter

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,

Dumbledore

Dumbledore

a Holstein,

renamed Firenze

renamed Firenze

and three Devons.

Mad Eye

Mad Eye

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.

Sirius

Sirius

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.

milkholder

These five together drink eleven gallons of warm milk.

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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.

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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)

Hermione

Hermione

will be turned out with our beef cattle for rotational grazing, and we will have eleven in our herd.