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While waiting for the electrician I noticed a yellow/orangish colored thing in the grass.  Upon first glance I thought it was a carrot, but then I processed that thought some more.  This *carrot* is nowhere near the garden and why would it be just lying on the ground?  So I decided to inspect further.  Upon initial inspection I realized it was not  a carrot but rather a lightweight hollow *thing.*  It’s flesh, when squeezed, was not unlike a crisp curcurbit flower however it had a most terrible odor.  This thing stunk, the smell reminded me of a long National Express bus journey from Edinburgh to Exeter when a drunk man stinking of stale beer and even more of stale urine sat beside me for the long journey finishing by leaving a puddle of urine in his seat when getting of the bus at Manchester.  That is what this smelled of… dirty Mancunian.  When Ian got home from work I had him give his analysis.  Him being a dirty Wiganer I figured he would know a dirty Mancunian if he saw one…  Well, he had no idea what the thing was but only that it stunk and he thought it looked somewhat phallic.

We had a look around to see if we could find any more of these things and then went home.  I having never seen anything like it, on a hunch looked in my mushroom book.  After perusing all the pages the closest thing I can come up with is the Elegant Stinkhorn.  I’m not 100% convinced because there was no slime on top but it was hollw, simlar colored, the right size, and definately stinky.

Here are some shots I took…Stinkhorn?

Stinkhorn2?

stinkhorn3?

We have taken some time off from the computer and have been spending much more time outside working, all apologies for being lax with the blog.  Things we’ve done or are working on are selling the vast majority of our stock.  We have kept back a few GOS and some of the Tamworths and we have sold most of the goats.  Its been tough because its hard to decide to size down and emotions sometime come into play. We decided earlier this summer to downsize to free up more time to improve infrastructure.  We have dug lines and assisted the electrician in putting in electric to the land. Even the pigs and dog’s joined in.

The pigs helped to backfill some of the trench...

the trench... around 500' of it

Currently, as I type, I’m waiting on the electrical inspector to co

me out and approve the work.Then we will have electric to run some permanent lines and for general comfort issues.

We are still getting quotes on wells so we don’t have to haul water daily allowing us to set up automatic waterers.  The sawmilling has been slow becuase we have not had the tractor freed up from the backhoe attachment and its harder to manuver small paths with the extra stuff on a tractor, plus you can’t really skid logs well with it on.  So as soon as the electrical inspection clears we will be cutting more wood.

I’ve spent the past few evenings reading Michal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma which is an interesting read.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in food and agriculture.

We haven’t had the opportunity to see Food Inc. due to the limited distribution however it seems to be along the same vein as the Omnivore’s diemma and something which we hope will be at a theater near us rather soon.

The pigs that we have kept are growing nicely.  We’ve been moving the adult pigs weekly as that had been sufficient given the lower numbers and dry ground.  Now that the rain is back I anticipate our weekend we be spent setting up new paddocks and moving everyone again as the wet ground makes for easy rooting and isn’t able to stand up to pigs as well as the dry.  Whenever I ead back out I’ll try to get a picture of this same view today to show how much it has been trampled since the rains started.

Port-a-huts on pasture..

Port-a-huts on pasture..

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.

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

After going to the dump today to dispose of items from the basement flood I did have a bit of good luck.  I ran into a couple that were throwing out old glass cider vinegar and apple cider jugs.  I was able to save them and bring them home.  The couple were happy that someone wanted to use them.   I’m hoping to start cleaning them out to use them for my lacto fermentation experiments.  The starter should be ready any day now.  I just need to figure out what flavor we want to try first when making the soda pop.

Also on one of the yahoo groups I belong to someone was discussing small scale baling.  Luckly someone found a link to a hand baling apparatus that you can download a pdf for.

This baling is an interesting concept.  As it stands we have been using maybe 50 bales per winter at 2.25 – 4.25 a bale depeding on where we get it.  So I figure that we spent about around 160 a year on hay.  Now that may not be much but we really would rather not spend any and do it ourselves.  However, the equipment is costly.  If we could hand bale 100 bales a day one or two days effort would give us what we need for all of our animals this year including any babies we keep.

I’d love to hear any opinions on hand baling of hay or other suggestions for keeping perhaps 5 acres for small scale production.
Also while on my way to the dump, I listened to Greg Judy’s talk on high density grazing and how he does not use any hay at all but has his cows on pasture year round.  He seems to think this is possible in our climate with a good high density grazing program.  I’d love to see examples of this being done in areas with high amounts of lake effect snow fall.  Here in WNY I have concerns that the snow may be just too deep for winter grazing.  However, I’m open to becoming a believer.

I would like to see more on his grazing using a multi species approach.  On his site you can see a picture of a big sleeping by some goats.  Now I know most goat people would NEVER think of letting their goats around a pig.  However, in the one picture they seem very content together.

I’m just writing to let everyone know that we just got back from 4 days of sharing thought provoking, energizing, AMAZING sustainable agricultural information at the PASA conference.  Ian and I are so excited we don’t even know where to begin.  The conference theme was the worldwide search for food sovereignty: finding your foodshed.  If you have never heard of Raj Patel, he is an food activist/economist/journalist (made Ian proud to be british) check out http://www.rajpatel.org/  He presented an energetic and yet poignant speech on the economy of food.  Apart from that Ian attended a two day sustainable forestry workshop and I on beginning cheese-making. Throughout the main conference we split our time between various topics from training your livestock to eat and love weeds to making charcoal and using it to increase soil fertility.  In addition we bough CDs of lectures that we were unable to attend so we have nearly 24 hours of conference we can appreciate from the comfort of our home.

A snippet of the variety of information we learned:
-Cheese-making equipment/facilities are EXPENSIVE to get to be able licensed to sell.
-There is a whole new (safer way) to cut down trees than what most of us were taught
-People will come on to your land to plant ginseng (stealth gardening-kinda like some people do with marijuana)
-Mineral deficiencies are really harming us all and we need to eat more nutrient dense foods.  The only way to do that is to have healthy soil.  PS you need animal protein to get some minerals and nutrients that just aren’t available in veg.
-According to PA’s buy fresh buy local people ” if every household in PA spent $10 a week on regionally produced food, $48 million dollars would stay in the local economy each week or $2.25 Billion per year.”
-We need to be doing value added processes to our pork (we’ve been looking into charcuterie) an would love info on who to talk to in NY as to how to go about doing this 😉
-Even farms as small as two acres using poor management (fertilizer, pesticide, herbicides etc and runnoff) in a watershed can wreck havoc the ecosystem killing aquatic wildlife(check out bernard sweeny’s research http://www.stroudcenter.org/about/bernardsweeney.htm)
-We need to use riparian buffer systems (i wish I had the money to do proper fencing on the new land)
-Raw milk from a good clean dairy using proper sanitation and feeding their animals good grass fed diets TASTES great and is good for you- there are beneficial enzymes in it milk are killed with pasteurization. (4 days of drinking raw milk and we are doing fine)

Ian and I are discussing our plans/goals for our farm and how to implement some of the action steps we have taken away from this conference and we hope to share this with you in the near future.