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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..

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Thanks to some nice weather, we finally got all of the pigs up to the new land.  Its been a long time coming.  5 months of wintertime kept us away.  They loaded on the trailer in less that 5 minutes.  They unloaded well.  The only hiccup was that we had to make a chute out of 1 strand of electric wire (not electrified) which ran 400′ and around a corner to their new paddock.  They moved fairly well however, one section was damp and they decided to have a brief wallow before walking the last 100′ to their home.  I was stuck pushing Charles (the young old spot) up the hill as he was taking his time and rooting and wallowing the whole way.  It was suprisingly un-stressful and it went quite smoothly.  They are now all settled in and loving it.

I love the grass...

I love the grass...

While watching them appreciate their new abode, I was able to get a few pictures of everyone.  I have a wonderful video of Newton (the red pig which is a tamworth boar) walking up to Ian and looking at him then laying down.  Newtown loves a good scratch on his belly and every time he sees Ian he knows he either gets food or a scratch.  If Ian doesn’t have a bucket Newton knows that means the scratching will commence so Newton gets ready by laying down.  If I can figure out whats up with the problem attaching video I’ll put it up sometime.

Most likely due to the nice weather, this weekend was the first time the piglets came out of their huts.  It is also the weekend when we got all of the piglets that we have castrated.  The castration on this batch seemed harder.  I’m thinking it was because the boys were stronger.  It is, however, amazing how quickly they get up an go after being castrated.  I think if I were a male and I had my testicles taken out, I would be so uncomfortable I wouldn’t be moving for a couple of days.  They mustn’t have felt that way because they were out wandering around within an hour.  The first hour was spent in the hut probably afraid to come out again for fear of what they would lose this time.

They're thinking..."Oh my god, not her again."

They're thinking..."Oh my god, not her again."

In addition to moving the pigs, we also got the some of the goats up to the new land as well.  They seemed settled in and are liking all of the browse.

We're loving the new scenery...

We're loving the new scenery...

Moving the housing for all of the animals proved to be difficult as the trailers that we have do not fit some of the housing that we had built prior to getting the new land.  We ended up having to use the handy, but very redneck looking truck cap housing for the boars.  The goats got the A-frame since the large goat house would not fit onto anything.   This means we have a wonderfully large dog house that we need to revamp.

The dug spring

The dug spring. Notice the old pipes in the bottom left hand corner.

In other good news, we found why we have a nasty wet section in one of the fields.  There is an old dug spring at the bottom of the hill.  I plan to check the rate of flow this week to get an idea if it will be worthwhile working on it to use for livetock water.  I’m thinking it will be worthwhile by the looks of things.

Where the spring runs out into field

Where the spring runs out into field

We also got the chance to start some plowing.  We got an older john deer 3 bottom plow from the spring consignment auction last year.  It works very well but now we need more implements.

My future veg garden.

My future veg garden.

The only nasty thing to happen this weekend was when one of my goats sucked my finger into her mouth and then bit it.  It happened so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to react.  it hurt like heck but its better now.  It just feels like I whomped it with a hammer.

Nasty Goat Bite

Nasty Goat Bite

Things have been busy here at the farm as is typical at any farm most any time of the year.  We’ve had our goats kid, we have been working on the ground getting ready for planting, the pigs have started to farrow.  On top of this we have had a few mishaps and some around the home appliance malfunctions and this is on top of the never ending cold that I seem to have.  (since end of Feb beginning of March and its not giving up)

With pigs on the mind lately I thought I’d show a few pictures I was able to get of the Tamworth’s and Old Spots to help those who may be farrowing pigs for the first time get a visual of of signs of farrowing.  Emily, the more yellow of the Tamworth’s farrowed the morning that these pictures were taken.  You can see that her teats have dropped and that her vulva is quite swollen.  Compare this to Fran (more red of the Tamworths) Fran is also swollen.  Fran farrowed two days after these picture was taken.  Petunia the Gloucestershire Old Spot, also posed for this indelicate photograph.  Her vulva is not puffy at all.  She has some time to go before she farrows as there is no milk letdown in her teats and she is not poofy yet.

Emily's vulva the day she farrowed

Emily's vulva the day she farrowed

Fran's Vulva two day's prior to farrowing.

Fran's Vulva two day's prior to farrowing.

Another view of Fran's vulva

Another view of Fran's vulva

Petunia is not due to farrow for a few weeks.  Notice the marked lack of swelling.

Petunia is not due to farrow for a few weeks. Notice the marked lack of swelling.

So far we have had two litters both Tamworth X GOS.  The one was a terrible litter of 5, yet all  were born and are still alive.  This mother will get to wean them and have one more go before she is off to slaughter because its not economical to keep her if she is only going to farrow a few at a time.  Plus she is just awkward with the piglets laying the wrong way for them to get to the teats.  She does however have a good length and structure.

The other litter was 1 stillborn, 1 crush, and 9 alive.  This is not bad and she is good mother wise, very attentive and yet friendly with us.  She is a bit shorter in body length but the numbers for her make the difference for us.  She has thrown good sized piglets and tends to be able to raise them well.  I’m excited to see how these TamX GOS grow out as these will be our first litters of crosses.

This is the tiny but healthy litter, only two gilts out of the 5.

This is the tiny but healthy litter, only two gilts out of the 5

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

Well we got the ladies up to their new land yesterday.  I was silly and forgot to put the memory card in the camera so i didn’t get any pictures at all.  Overall it was pretty easy.  The girls loaded well and we had no problems separating them out.  The main fiasco’s of the day were having the truck slide into the drainage ditch while backing the truck and trailer up to the entrance to their old house and then up to the land getting the truck stuck in the mud and needing to fire up the tractor to pull the truck and trailer up to the pigs new plot.  Once we got everyone moved Ian and I spent and hour or so laying in the port-a-hut watching the girls and giving them scratches as they wandered past.

So far they have been up there 16 hours and counting.  All I can say is that they are mighty happy and rooting away.

Notice the foreground where the fence stops the pigs.  They have rooted a lot in 16 hours.

Notice the foreground where the fence stops the pigs. They have rooted a lot in 16 hours.

This morning when we went to check on the ladies at around 7am it was in the 40’s. When we arrived to check on them after their first night at the land, we found that Fran and Emily were not sleeping in the huts but had chosen to lay beside the large hay bale.  The weather has been considerably nicer than it has been all 2009.  We even hit the mid 60’s yesterday.  They must have wanted to appreciate the view of the night sky and the good weather before more snow and cold nights come again.

As you can see from the picture the pigs were pretty active.  In the short amount of time that they have been there they have made a definite impact on the ground having rooted quite a bit already.  That being said, even our footprint could be seen where we walked.  We figure that given their quick work, we may be moving them on in the next week or two.  We’ll have to play it by ear to determine how much is just enough and not too much.  We want them to turn it, not compact it.

We are also trying to balance out a couple of other things.  A: We don’t want the manure to be too “hot” and kill any plants.  B: We want to make sure that everything has enough time to break down enough to reduce concerns for pathogens.  From what I have found:
PART 205—NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM

Section 205.203

(1) Raw animal manure, which must be composted unless it is:

(i) Applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption;

(ii) Incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles; or

(iii) Incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles;

We’ve already discussed not using this area for our root crops but rather for some of the corn and pumpkin production.  This way we can test two plots to see if there is difference between having the pigs tilling and manuring or not and how this affects the productivity of the corn and pumpkin.  Either way we will be well within the harvest timelines for the application of the fresh manure.

Also speaking of manure, we have also discussed that its nearly time to clean out the winter chicken housing.  Now that the weather is warmer they don’t need the deep litter composting down in the coop to provide the extra heat.  This will be a task for one of the upcoming weekends.

This weekend, specifically today, we are finishing up the new automatic water dispensors.   We found a supplier of all kinds of food grade tubs in Falconer NY.  We chose two large metal tubs with re-sealable lids.  These are going on a trailer that can be hauled back and forth so we can fill it up here and then take it to the pigs.  I’ll get some pictures of this as Ian progresses and we’ll post more about it sometime later.

oldspot3809

Image from Stardate.org and excellent resource

As I’ve discussed a bit already, we have goats and pigs that are due to give birth within the next few weeks. The sows were exposed to a boar back in December and they should start farrowing around the 11th. The Goats are officially due the 15th and the 21st. Tonight when I went outside I noticed how bright the moon is. This got me wondering when the full moon will be. Well needless to say its the 10th which is Tuesday. Now here is my question. Will the animals give birth on the 10th? If any pigs do give birth they will be at minimum, a day early. The goats would be 6-11 days early. I’ve seen some reference to goats kidding in a 3 day window before or after the full moon. I know that the goats and 1 of the pigs udders are really filling out so the day is fast approaching.

In anticipation of the goats first pregnancy, I did get a chance to shave down the goat’s backsides in preparation with the new clippers we picked up tonight.

I’m also stocked up on supplies for the goat supplies as I want to be ready given this is their first freshening. The sows on the other hand are old hat at farrowing and they are more than capable of birthing on their own.

I’m sure all will go well. And I am interested to see if the phase of the moon will affect the animals.

You know you are sad when…

Today we had to pass up a day out for lunch as well as a gun show with another couple in order to get things ready for the new goats that are coming in the next couple of weeks.  We spent most of the day today getting things ready for the upcoming kidding but also dring around to find CDT vaccine as everyone was due for their yearly booster shots anyway.  Well we finally found it in Corey PA and so when we got home everyone got their booster.  We also fluffed up and topped off straw in everyone’s houses and added more pine shavings to the chicken coop.  Just a note, the shavings from Tractor Supply that are in a clear bag are not packed tight and are not a good value for the money.  We were able to get much better coverage from the black bags at TSC than these new clear ones.  We bought 2 bags and they didn’t come close to covering what one used to cover.  Thankfully the sawmill will be up and running this summer becaue then we will be able to use our own shavings.

Oh and just so everyone knows, the weather is still crud.  Snow and cold and wind.  That being said everyone seems to be doing fine.  The pigs are as active as ever and the goats were active but cheesed off about their shots.  The chickens laid 9 eggs today and as many yesterday.  We still are not adding supplemental heat or lighting for them so I feel they are doing pretty well.   They are starting to come along nicely for this season and we could have 4-5 dozen available for sale a week now.  We had poached eggs for breakfast and they super tasty.  I’m thinking I may be doing some egg salad sandwiches this week.

Today I attended my first ever livestock auction.  Ian was sleeping since he worked overnight and I didn’t feel like spending the day at home.  I noticed that Sherman has its 3rd Saturday of the month auction so I decided what the heck I’ll drive out and give ‘er a go.

Any time we have purchased livestock in the past we bought directly from a breeder.  I’ve always been told that any animal that goes to auction is the sickest of the sick or terribly diseased.  That being said, most animals at the auction looked ok if not good.  A few calves had a poopy rear but they were active and bright eyed.  There was also what appeared to be a tamworth cross piglet that was just standing staring off into space.  If she was on our farm she probably would have been put down if she had been that way.  She just didn’t look or act right.  I definately wouldn’t have taken it to auction to further stress the poor thing.

Overall the auction was run much the same as a typical estate auction.  I made my mind up to not buy any animals while there.  I’ve always heard of horror stories about buying at auction.  I did however, pick up a couple of buckets and bowls for use with the animals here at the farm.

The auction ran from about 10:00am until nearly 5pm.  The first several hours were mainly tack items.  There were few things that I wanted since we don’t have horses here at our farm.  After the tack and miscellaneous, they then moved on to poultry and rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets.  After than it was goats, pigs, cows and finally hourses.

To get an idea of the prices that animals fetched here in SWNY and NYPA I’ll give a brief run down.

Turkeys – appeared to be royal palm hens $40-47 each
Rabbits – $6-15 each (one guy bought just about every rabbit)
Guinea Pigs – $2-3 each
Buck Goats $80-90
A doe that looked in milk – $100
Other does $60-65
Cross breed steer calf – $55
Heifer Holstein calf – $60
Holstein Bull Calf – $10-22.50
Jersey Bull Calf – $7.50-15
Bred Sow probably yorkshire cross – $160
Feeder Guilts approx 300# = $165
Weaner pigs – $35

Horses I didn’t write down the prices because I really have no clue one horse for another.  One that stuck out in my head was a bred halflinger mare $385.  There were a lot of broke horses good for trail rides but many many went unsold.

What suprised me was that the goats went for so much.  For cross bred auction goats I wouldn’t have touched them with a 10’ pole for fear of CL or any other number of insidious diseases that don’t always make animals look ill.  I was also suprised to see guinea pigs and pigeons…oh and a ferrett.

Overall, I really would have expected more animals.  The bulk of the auction was non-livestock.  By the 50th halter I was ready to need a bit for myself.  Despite this it was a worthwhile day.  I learned a bit and I talked with some very nice folks.

I kinda wish I would have spent the money on the steer and bull calves and given them a go.  I don’t think I would have bought a heifer at auction for fear that it would be a freemartin but going did open my mind to the auctions.  It didn’t, however,  break me of all of my fears.  Now that I’m home my carharts are in the sanitary wash and my boots will be getting a scrub in disinfectant.  I my not taking any risks with my livestock just in case there was something catchy there.