After two days off work being ill today was a long day back in work. The day was made even longer by one of our wethers getting out and eating our trees. Then Riley, the goat that just kidded last weekend developed a temperature. I called the vet out and she thought it looked like she did not expel all of her placenta when kidding. So she gave some shots and then chatted a bit. $100 for the checkup and meds and call out after hours which I don’t think was too bad at all. Then however we go to finish feeding the pigs up on the land. Luckily they hadn’t farrowed because I was not in the mood to notch ears and process them tonight. The ladies did however escape by pushing their hay bale onto the fence line. They were rooting away when we came. Luckily they have learned to come running for feed when they see us so they weren’t too much trouble to get back into their field. It wasn’t however, what I wanted to do tonight. I was hoping to quietly feed everyone and then go to bed. Tomorrow is a day school on swine at Cornell so we have to be up at 3:30 to get there in time. I need to be in bed about an hour ago.

On a high note the peepers were out for the first time this year. I’m marking my calendar March 27th the day the peepers sang.

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I take my hat off to Mr and Mrs President. Many folks involved in the sustainable agriculture community have been calling for a return to the victory garden and the 1st family has listened to this call. The Obama’s have called for the south lawn to the white house to be planted as a garden for the first time since WW2.  This will surely bring on a new wave of victory gardens.
clipped from www.nytimes.com

Local Food, From the South Lawn
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Ever wonder why people charge so much for goats milk? Its because its a lot of work. Not only do you have to care for the animals which takes time, but the process itself is time consuming. Starting with washing your buckets and pails are meticulously clean the next step we do is to get the goats up on the stand and brush the goats down. This helps to loosen and brush away any dust or hairs on the goat to keep them from falling into the pail while milking. Next step is washing and drying the udder. Then we squirt the first milk from each teat into a strip cup. This is because the milk that has been in the teat since the last milking is higher in bacteria. You want to flush it out so you have the freshest milk possible and also to check to make sure the milk looks good, no clumps or lumps. Now its time to milk. Milking by hand is a rythmic squeezing of the teat. I liken it to tapping your fingers on a desk. After we have milked all of the milk from the udder we dip the teats and put mama back in with the babe. Its then into the house for storing the milk and washing up the equipment.

By the time you are done your hands are tired and achy until you get them used to the work. As our does are just freshening my hands have been killing me lately.

We are both not feeling well and by the time we get home from work and take care of everyone including ourselves we’ve not felt up to posting.  However, I thought I’d post a few pictures of our weekend.  We spent Saturday morning cleaning around the house.  Then we went to the land and cleared trees and brush hogged the land.  We gave the pigs some fresh ground as well.  When we got home we burnt some brush and wood that we had piled at the bottom of the hill that was left from loggers from before we bought the land.  When we got home one of our goats, Riley was kiddling.  We at around 9:30 a buck kid joined our family.  We have been milking, cleaning, moving fencing, and keeping busy ever since.

Here are a few photos from our weekend.

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Johann 1 day old

I’m sure it is too early to really be saying this but it really felt like spring is in the air.  It was sunny and warm (50’s) and a great day for working outside.  Ian, however, is still ill.  I’m not 100% but he is like 20% and I’ve not seen him like this ever.  Needless to say we didn’t get all that we hoped to finished.

Our big plans were to finsih the frost seeding on Friday.  Get straw on Saturday and then go to Tidioute to visit the family.  Then today was to be spent puting in fenceposts.  However, Friday the fanbelt snapped on my old jeep while heading back to my work office.  Needless to say I didn’t make it back to work nor home in time to do the seeding.  Saturday we did pick up the straw.  It was the best straw we have found so far and we will definately get some from the gentleman if it is like that this summer.  We took all that he had which was around 30 bales.

After we got home from the Straw we had to wait for the dogs to get finished at the groomers.  We fed the animals and figured we’d start the seeding since we had a few hours to spare.  Well I managed to lock our jeep keys in the car.  Looking to see if we could find another set took up some time.  We ended up giving up before we got into an argument over the situation.

We did end up making it up to the land to do some seeding before we went to visit the family but I didn’t get much done.  We have never attempted to frost seed before so here is hoping that it works and will improve the pastures.  I chose red clover, timothy, and orchard grass and mixed them.  Doing any acreage with one of these hand crank models takes some time.  This however, is much cheaper at under $40 vs something to use on a tractor.  Plus you don’t end up with compaction of the ground this time of year. However, I don’t think I’d like to to it that way every year.  My arm is aching after it.

Around 3:30pm we finished up at the land, went and got the cockers and drove to PA.  The visit to Tidioute was good.  I do like going to see the family as often as possible.  Another benefit of going down is that my dad graciously made us a solar furnace out of pop cans.  We brought it home last night and put it up today.  I do believe it made a difference in the house.  Yesterday the outside temperature was about 40 and the furnace maxed out the thermometer at 150.

Other than working on setting up the furnace, we were able to finish the seeding today.  Instead of walking to finsh up the fields Ian drove the ATV and I tried several different positions trying to find the best way to sit so the spread would not hit any parts of the atv.  The hardest part was holding on and keeping balance while bumping around, cranking the handle and keeping the spreader in place.  I think we may have to invest in a spreader that we can attach to the atv for upcoming years.  Even driving I would say it took about 2 hours going back and forth with him driving and me cranking the spreader.  The darned pigs and goats better appreciate the work we do for them!

On a high note we were able to break into the jeep to get the keys out.  On a not so high note it was pretty easy to do it.  Thankfully the jeep not really theiving worthy.  Speaking of vehicles reminded me of our other vehicle issue.  I’ll try to type up our progressive insurance and autobody collision repair shop frustrations tomorrow because that is something that really isn’t making me happy now.  Needless to say if you have to get collision work done I wouldn’t recommend autobody collision in Warren PA.

Lastly, no kids or piglets yet.  We are still playing the waiting game.

This post is a followup to a comment:

A fair price is a tough thing to peg down. For us a fair price would be covering our expenses, paying us for our labor, and not gouging the customer. Unfortunately, consumers have grown comfortable with artificially low priced goods. We all want cheap. The problem is we don’t fully recognize the actual costs of cheap. Across the US the prices will vary. Right near us there are no large CFAO’s putting downward pressure on local pork. Nor is there a lot of competition in the pastured pork arena (yet.) However we have the difficulty of living in an economically depressed area. We’re in the “rust belt” We have high unemployment, and even now working hours at factories and in manufacturing and even some service sectors are being cut.  Layoffs are happening in many industries. Because of this we’ve had to re-think our prices. Right now we are re-budgeting to try to come up with new prices that can accommodate all the costs, infrastructure, taxes, electric, fencing, housing, we have feed, seed, breeding stock, vet costs, straw, hay, gas to and from the processors and to get supplies. When everything adds up it is VERY difficult to make any profit in pork.

This is part of the problem. Profits are hard to come by and many farmers are happy to break even and not give themselves pay. We were guilty of this at times and we’ve had to step back and smack ourselves. Our biggest competitor is the grocery store.  There is no way we can compete with those prices.  I wouldn’t say they undersell farmers because I honestly don’t believe the quality is there.  WHen you take like for like they are probably charging too much for the quality of some of the meat they are selling.  However, getting consumers to recognize this is part of the battle.  I’m hoping that the HBO special on pigs will drive more business our way once people can get a face to the food and see where it comes from.

Part of our key is marketing.  Marketing to consumers is all about sharing our excitement and our true affection and belief in the product. We are willing to let people come and see the animals for themselves. They are able to recognize the humane treatment. They see the animals express natural behaviors. They can see the vigor in the pigs and see the food they eat. This helps. We constantly explain away the stereotypes of pigs: they are dirty, pig farms stink. None of this is true if treated and raised properly. This ability to talk one-on-one with the end consumer is key.  Ian and I truly live, eat and breath pig here.  We are converting people one pork chop at a time.

France, Southern Brittany is where the newest round of agricultural striking has taken place.  France is well known across Europe for its willingness to protest, though in the US we typically think of think of the French as stylish, perhaps cool, or even uppity.  However, we don’t think of France even having farmers.  I’m sure many will get mental imagery of tall thin guys in tight pants and a tight t-shirt smoking while leaning against a tractor.

Imagery aside, think of what would happen if we tried to do what they did here in the US.  If we blocked a large slaughterhouse, set free 250 pigs, welded the gates shut and wrote things like “Certificate worst payer”, “Pork bought for one euro, sold for seven euros. Who benefits from this crime?”  There is no doubt in my mind we the protesting farmers would have been arrested for these actions.  We may even have been called terrorists having the patriot act used against us.  I’m sure we’d end up on Fox News with the newest model (ahem, I mean newscaster) berating our decision to terrorize the country and manipulate the food supply.  They would go on about how pork should be sold for a$.59  a pound to the packer (that is the recent commodity price-The French are complaining about a $1.40 a pound)  They would say that its a free economy, that capitalism will win.
However we know a few things.  A: its is not a free market. and has been a socialist market economy for years, with government interference and support for corporations and businesses.

B: we know that pork when raised in a healthy and humane manner manner, cannot be raised for .59 cents a pound.   It would be difficult to raise it out doors sustainably and received $1.40 a pound.

C: It is impossible to compete with CFAO’s (Large factory farms) and their scale.  They, like walmart, can lower prices to unnaturally low levels because of their scale.

Thankfully, We have a loyal group of wonderful consumers that appreciate that they are paying for quality, sustainability, and fair prices for farmers.  It does however, irk me when small local farmers undercut others and under price their product.  I know full well that they are have to be losing money and they just want to recoup some money.  However, it would be better for all involved to stick with your prices that will pay you back for your labor and investment or get out of the business.  That, however, is a discussion for another day.

For today, I’ll take my proverbial hat off to the French for standing up for their livelihood in a way I’m sure we couldn’t here in the USA.

The land prior to pigs

The land prior to pigs

Less than 24 hours of pigs on the ground

Less than 24 hours of pigs on the ground

Pigs on the land two full days

Pigs on the land two full days

Ian hating the mud...

Ian hating the mud...

Saturday the pigs arrived at the pasture land from our woods down the road.  Since then it has rained and rained and rained.  Today we had a break in the rain because it turned to snow.  It is supposed to rain Tuesday and Wednesday as well.  The animals and I are sooo not looking forward to it.  I guess its easy to forget how much mud hinders daily life on a farm.  I know I was sick of the snow and cold but overall having it cold and dry and frozen is easier on all of us than having wet and cold and mud.

Because of the mud I added more straw to the huts tonight as I wanted to make sure that the girls were able to keep cozy and dry.  Prior to getting the port-a-huts we always had huts with floors.  These proved to be terribly difficult to move and sanitize hence the port-a-huts.  However, when it comes to mud nothing beats a floor.  I figure we’ll need to add a bale every other day if the rain keeps up.  That way the ground builds up a straw pack keeping everything upabove the mud level.  I’ve recently bought  straw at 4.95 a bale because we needed it (hay just isn’t as good for bedding when its muddy plus the pigs eat a lot of it, leaving them with less bedding)  With the straw they are much less likely to eat it and it holds up better in the wet than does hay.  Luckily I found a man selling hay for $2 a bale.  I told him I’d take all he has.  This weekend we are getting the 50 bales he has figuring the money will be well spent.

We still don’t have a clue when the pigs will definately farrow.  Tomorrow is the full moon.  The girls are due anytime after the 12th.  I know I saw a boar mount each of the tamworths the day that they were put together.  I also saw one of the old spots breeding as late as January 18th.  This means that the piglets could start coming as early as the 12th by the math and then as late as April 13th.  Its always a waiting game this time of year.

Speaking of waiting, the goats are bagging up real well.  I still have two weeks until the scheduled kidding date for Riley one of the LaMancha does.  She will be a first freshener and is  due the 21st.  She has an udder that really impreses me.  This is my first time with dairy goats but I think she is looking huge.  Her ligaments are still really strong so I don’t expect her to kid soon.   I just don’t know how much larger an udder can get on a goat.  If it keeps going, in two weeks time it will be weigh as much as her!!!  Rileys udder 2 weeks to scheduled due date

Side view of the LaMancha udder 2 weeks till due date

Side view of the LaMancha udder 2 weeks till due date


This picture was too cute not to post, but it does remind us that we need our boots today. Everything is either covered in or actually just plain old MUD. Today is the day of mud and flood. Our sump pump stopped while we were working outside and when I came in we had about 8″ of water in the basement. The hot water heater’s pilot is out and we now have no hot water until things dry out. We all love cold showers on cold wet muddy days *sarcasm here*

On a brighter side Ian has made good progress on the transportable water dispenser for the pigs. We think it may be finished this evening to take up to them. Here’s hoping we don’t get stuck in the mud.