Saturday, August 4, 2012


It has come to my attention that there are people out there that think "hobby" farming is what they envision "Old MacDonald's Farm" to be like...chickens scratching in the yard during a sunny afternoon, cows munch lush grass in scenic meadows near crystal clear running streams and pigs lounging in a small fenced in area eating ear corn that conveniently just appears before them.  The farmer would be dressed in a nice clean pair of over-alls that have a cute little hanky handing from one pocket as they survey the farm, drive a tractor and watch animals all day long, that is when they aren't taking all of those animals to market and getting a fist full of money for them.
There was a lady at the farmer's market that we go to that asked me why my meat was more than the meat at Wal-Mart...she honestly thought that all I did was take the animals that my animals gave birth to on our farm, to market.  After all, these animals don't cost me anything right?  First of all, comparing my meat to what WalMart offers is apples and oranges.  I don't know where their meat comes from, and don't like how most of it was raised or processed but she doesn't realize this and was asking an honest question because in her mind, Old MacDonald’s Farm is an actual place. 
Yesterday was the perfect day to ponder this question and set the record straight.   My day started with a phone call from the bank about a customer that had bounced a check thereby requiring me to come up with enough money to cover it.  A phone call to the customer comes up as a disconnected number.  Shortly after that, while doing chores, one of my pigs was starting to farrow.  This heat has been brutal on them and of the 15 babies that she had, four lived.  Heat for two to three weeks before farrowing will result in a higher percentage of stillborn babies.  Our heat indexes have been in the 100's for the past several weeks.  There is not much I can do about the weather and so I watch with a heavy heart as my poor Charlene passes stillborn piglet after stillborn piglet while rejoicing as the 4 living babies root for Mom's milk.  After two hours of this I am covered in anything BUT clean new overalls.  It is still in the lower 90's.
Meanwhile, in the backyard pasture I have been trying to train my goats to stay behind an electric netting fence so that I can move them from place to place while keeping them safe and in one area.  I have found that they tend to leap forward as the shock from the fence hits them. The fact that it is net should give you pictures of goats tangled in a web, much like fishing net catches fish.  Because of this reaction, I must unplug the fencer each time so that my nets don't continue to shock the trapped goat.  They say that goats train to this type of fencing quickly..."they" are wrong.  I sat there all day long in the heat plugging in and unplugging the fencer, fixing my broken net and getting loose goats back in the my not so clean overalls wiping the sweat off of my face with my token little hanky.  Three days of trying and they still weren't getting the hint.  A good friend of mine came over and helped me get the message across to them.   I don't want to go into how we did it but I am fairly certain that my goats consider me insane and stayed away from the fence for protection from the crazy lady on the other side of it.
In my poultry run, I find that 3 of my smaller turkeys are missing...pulled under the fence by a "cute, fuzzy little raccoon" that has decided that my poultry house is its own special little grocery store.  So I set live traps.
In the pasture, my cows munch on grass as the calf lays in the shade nearby.  That is until some idiot in an airplane decided to "buzz" my place and send them in a panic through a fence into the neighbors property.  I have one bunch of frightened cows to round up and another fence to fix.  When rounding them up and getting them back into their pasture, I  come across a cloud of biting gnats.  I am bit in places that I am too embarrassed to scratch and if the pilot does it again, I swear that I will bring one of his wings in for identification! 
While making supper I check my emails.  The man with the bounced check has written apologizing.  He has hit upon hard times...alot of people have.  He says that he will make it right.  I choose to believe him.  I have been there and it isn't a comfortable place to be.
I going to have to hussle to get to my paying job at 8pm.
All of this happens in one day and not all days are like this, of course.  Some days are better, some worse.
Needless to say hobby farms are so named not because they are a hobby as such but because according to the IRS, we don't make enough money to live on.  By the time I buy fencing, build or repair buildings and sheds,  buy feed and give bedding to my animals and provide them with the best environment that I can, each of my pigs could never have litters large enough to cover it all and I don't expect them to.  I do chores at least twice a day in rain or shine, 100F degree days and -30F days.  I haul hay to bunks and buckets of water in the winter.  I check and repair fence, trap predators and put up hay in summer. 
My animals count on me for food, shelter and protection from idiots in airplanes and cute fuzzy raccoons.  I count on them to help me provide clean and healthy meats for my family and our customers.   This blog is not a pity party for me but to help people understand what the "hobby" farmers go through to provide people with good food that comes straight from the local farm and not hundreds of miles away (or more).  You have to love this life or you just couldn't bring yourself to do it day in and day out but it can be disheartening and exhausting.
Tomorrow will be a whole new day.  I will get home from work in the morning, do chores and check my baby pigs and my traps.  I will move my goats to the electric netting fence again and then take a nap before I start all over again.  Tomorrow will be a different day.  I probably even catch myself humming a few bars of Old MacDonald had a farm because now I can't get that song out of my head...EIEIO

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The gauntlet-
Ready, Set, go!

Have you ever seen those extreme sporting events on tv? I saw my first one the other day...couldn't help it, Law and Order wasn't on and it was literally the extreme sports show or an infomercial. I am fairly certain that it wasn't the sporting event itself that attracted my attention. It wasn't even the incredible muscles that were so very noteworthy (although I would have watched that part again if I had TiVo). It was the fact that they called this an extreme sport. Apparently these athletes have never had to feed 22 hungry hogs at dinner time. Many of you know that I have had plans the past few years for putting in a new perimeter fence. With pigs, goats, cattle and all varieties of feathered creatures living in semi-harmony at Hindsight Heritage Farm, fencing is a must...good fencing is the thing that dreams are made of.
I have dreamed, researched and drawn out my new fence for two years before even buying wire or dropping a post. I dream of fencing the way my dear city friend dreams of new colors of nail polish her Coach purses or those Juicy Couture swimming suits. The sheep of my sleep jump over brand new shiny high tensile woven wire fencing held tight and strong by good stout wooden posts carefully placed for maximum effect. The problem with new fencing is that you have to take the old fence down before you can put the new fence up. This leaves the pigs in my barnyard until the new fence is done.
Because my pigs are in the barnyard they are bored. They have more space to run and dig around than most pigs in our area but at any rate, my pigs react to boredom the way that alot of people do, they eat and they get crabby. Dinnertime at Hindsight Heritage Farm has become an extreme called the gauntlet.

To run the gauntlet you must get set up. This is what the recreational sportsmen call stretching. First you set up the needed feed. This consists of four 5 gallon buckets of feed weighing about 35 lbs each. Then you set up the garden hose that will fill the water tanks. Once everything is in place you undo the chain that holds the gate in place as quietly as you can...hopefully you will keep the pigs from hearing that dinner is about to be served. Once the "stretching" is done, you must get through the gate. By the time that the entire herd knows what is about to happen and they are all screaming in anticipation. They are crowded around the gate like a riotous mob. They are three and four deep just beyond the fence. Only the fear of the electric fence keeps them on their side. As they crowd around the gate, the gauntlet participant (me) has just a few seconds to pick out the path that will get the feed to the pans without being mangled, mauled or caught up in the flow of these hungry beasts. Now I am not a little woman, but these are 220lb plus pigs. There are 22 of them, 12 pans for feed, 4 buckets of feed and one of me. With my path chosen, I step to the other side of the fence and lift one bucket. Pig number one jumps the gun and pushes me into the electric fence...which is working well. The first bucket of feed is spilled and there are 22 hungry pigs pushing and shoving to get to the spilled feed all the while I am still feeling the effects of a working electric fence. Once I can get away from the fence and work my way back to the other side to get another bucket of feed...I re-figure my path of least resistance. I once again step into the danger zone. With another bucket in hand I make it to the other side of the fence relatively unscathed. The majority of pigs are oblivious to the fact that I am there because they are still working on the feed that was spilled. There are several of the pigs that are not getting to the pile of spilled feed. They spot me making my way along side of the barn. I run as fast as I can toward the first feed pan and one of the pigs picks up the pan and turns it over as I start to dump the feed.  Most of this feed lands on the ground but I am feeling pretty good that some makes it to another pan nearby. This is repeated with each of the four buckets until all of the pigs are occupied. Then I get to fill the water tanks. The sound of running water reminds the pigs that all of that feed and activity have made them thirsty. I now have about half of the herd wanting water. I fill the water pans and they dump them on the ground and on me…repeat this… and finally they decide that there is enough water on the ground and I am soaking wet so they allow me to actually keep water in the tanks.  I don't care what the temperature outside is...cold water soaking your clothes and filling your boots is cold!

Feed pans full, water tanks finally filled and 22 pigs content, me soaking wet and covered in feed, dirt and "compost". Doing it again tomorrow...These extreme sporting events have nothing on a herd of full grown butcher hogs at dinner time and those over paid athletes have nothing on me!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to weigh a pig - In three easy steps

How to weigh a pig...

I get calls from people that want to know how big their pigs are and when they are going to be ready.  I don't have a livestock scale, although if you garage salers out there could keep an eye out for one I'd really appreciate it.  I try to give the best guess thing a try but I really am not all that good at it.  There is a way to measure your pig and calculate the weight but I think that this is meant for pigs that apparently have more training than mine do.

The first thing that the directions tell you to do is to get the pig to stand in a natural stance and relax.  My pigs are pretty laid back, their normal "stance" is on their side in a hole of watery mud.  Once in this position they are not all that inclined to move.  My second option was on all four feet, the only problem there is that if pigs are on their feet they are not usually in a "natural stance" but they are running around digging and, well, moving.  It is hard to convince a pig that is moving to stand still long enough to run a tape measure around their girth (for my dear city friend- the girth is part of the body that is just behind the front legs)   I not only have to run the tape around the girth but it has to be snugged up fairly tight.  Pigs are prey animals.  They don't like anything "snugged up tight" on their bodies. 

My pigs are used to me and they usually just come up to see what I am up to and if I happen to have anything that could be considered a treat.  The second that I go into their field with a string though it is game on.  I found the pig that my customer bought and followed her around until I got her somewhat isolated.  Now pigs are smart...Einstein should have been so smart.  This pig who was named Lucy by my customer knew that something was up and I had to convince her that it wasn't bad and would only take a couple of seconds, 60 at most, of her busy day.  I talked to her, gave her a special treat and pretended that I was just out for a walk.  I scratched her ears and her side and then gently placed the tape down her side and, still scratching her side, reached for the tape.  With one ear cocked to the side and her eyes slightly squinted with evil thoughts, Lucy was off like a rocket, taking half of the tape with her.  I was left holding the other half of the tape. 

Round two...Hiding the new measuring tape, I isolate Lucy again, and give more treats and scratches.  I try to get her up against the fence in a corner so that it isn't one freakishly smart pig against little old me.  This time I am less sneaky about the tape and as I slowly lean down to grab the end of the tape, Lucy shifts her weight and my arm is now being firmly held between her and the fence...  I am so glad that my pigs are tame.  By the time that I free myself she is very pleased with herself.  After throwing about 12 dozen eggs for her I finally have a girth measurement and a headache. 

The second part of the measurement is the length.  A much easier measurement to get even on the run.  This measurement is from the base of the ears to the base of the tail.  The calculation for the weight is girth squared times the length divided by 400.  

So my dear customer I can tell  you based on my calculations and one hard afternoons work that your pig weighs somewhere between 100 and 400 pounds and will be ready for the freezer sometime between tomorrow and September.   I REALLY need a scale!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The ramifications of selective hearing

I'd like to introduce you to the newest members of the Hindsight Heritage Farm family!   Two of my three does had their first kids.  Penelope had a single doe and Berniece had a nice set of twins, one doeling and one buck.  I like to go with vintage people names for my animals but truth be told, for these guys I was at a loss...nothing seemed to fit.
The day that the first of the three was born, my Granddaughter Audrey, who is "all of her fingers" old (5 to you and me) was visiting.  She was the first to get to see the little bitty goat.  I must have mumbled something out loud about needing to come up with a name for her when Audrey who has the same auto-selective hearing that most kids her age have, heard "Audrey do you want to name the baby goat".  I understand that 5 year old people do not like their creativity stifled by rules of naming or explanations of the word vintage.  Truth be told, vintage to her is not even out of date to me anyway.  This sweet little girl with big blue eyes and soft strawberry blonde hair was so excited at the prospect that in a moment of tenderheartedness I thought to myself...How bad can it be?  My first little doeling was then Christened "Princess Unicorn".  Visions of all things glittery, shimmery and fairy tale like pranced threw my growing headache as I managed to choke out the most obvious of questions "are you sure"?  but by then she had hit the auto-select off button so the name stuck.  
After the other two babies were born, I asked two of my other grand kids for naming ideas.  Hadlee, who has never had a problem with self esteem, decided that there was no better name than hers and so "Hadlee with a Beautiful Dress On" was born...Yup, that is her entire name!  You'd have thought that I would have learned after the Princess Unicorn thing wouldn't you?  Her brother named the little buck Bustard...I wasn't sure if he said Bustard or Bastard but I used my selective hearing to decide what I wanted to hear and so Bustard it is.
I have one goat left to come in and 10 more grand kids.  I brace myself for any number of super heroes and fairy tale creatures.

So with no further ado, I introduce to you (drum roll please)

Hadlee With A Beautiful Dress On - shortened to Hadlee for time and convenience.  She is the little black doe that is on the bottom of picture no. 2.  She won't face the camera but she is just like her brother who is facing the camera.

Bustard - The black one with white ears facing the camera

Princess Unicorn - the little tan one in the back of Bustard in picture no.2  I would like to shorten this name but I am at a loss and NO Princess is NOT an option...maybe Eunice?

The little doe in picture number 1 is an adoptee from an unfortunate home.  I named her Myrna after Myrna THAT is vintage!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The life of one misdirected pig

Meet Loretta, this is her story... 

I should start this post off with a note that I work at a county sheriff's office that has no real animal control officer.  If you find or lose an animal you call the local sheriff's office expecting them to deal with it.  People call about dogs at large, barking dogs, horses and/or cows in the road etc.  Some people are helpful enough to bring them to the sheriff's office to save an officer the trouble of ignoring the call.  I got one of my house cats named Elliot that way.  A guy just brought him in and left him there.  At any rate, one morning I got a call from my boss who told  me that a young couple called in to report a baby pig in the road, would I go and get it.  I asked for directions and off I went.  I arrived at the home of the people that had taken the piglet in and they told me that this poor thing had fallen out of a transport semi onto the highway.  This semi was going about 65 mph when it went by their place.  I expected the worst when I went to see it but I was not ready for what I saw.  This poor little thing was about 10 days old, wrapped in a towel and shaking.  She was covered with road rash, bloodied with bruises showing through her white skin.  Her entire right side was swollen and her right eye was swelled shut.  I took her home and gave her a bath in Epsom salts water.  She was in awful shape.  I took her out of the bath and gave her a dish of warm milk with a grain mix in it.  I was happy to see that her appetite wasn't affected.  After eating she settled right into her laundry basket to sleep.  She was named Loretta.  I had a Grandma named Loretta, I don't think that she would be amused but the name stuck.  Loretta lived in my laundry room for the next week.  When she regained her strength and I was certain that the other pigs wouldn't hurt her, I moved her to the barn.  She still walked pretty stiff but she went off to see the other pigs.  I am pretty sure that she figured that she had nothing left in life to fear, so she walked right up to the old boar and laid down beside him.  Walter, my boar, grunted and sniffed but didn't bother to get up for such a bold little thing.  For the next several days, Loretta gained her strength and started to figure out that she had room to run around in the grass and dirt and she had other little pigs to play with.   Over time and for the most part, the scars have healed and she has grown.  I was telling someone the other day of her story and mentioned that she was almost ready for market.  She was appalled that I would consider butchering her after all she had been through.  That is what prompted this blog.  I fail to understand people most of the time.  How could people be so upset that she was destined for a plate?  Sure, Loretta has been through alot.  I am more upset that she was ripped away from her Mom at 10 days old only to be transported to a farm untold miles away.  The only sunlight or fresh air that these poor things are exposed to in this type of confinement set up is during this transport.  She was going to live out her life crammed into a building with hundreds of others, fed a measured amount of medication and chemicals to keep her "healthy" until finally she was to meet the transport truck again for the final ride to a slaughter house that hurries them through in a way that I can't begin to describe to you.  All of this in the name of cheap meat.
Loretta is still destined for a plate.  What I don't understand is why this person was upset that she got to live the life of a lucky pig.  The life that she was supposed to live in a perfect pig world.  She experienced mud, bugs, grass, sunshine and fresh air.  She got to run.  She got to hide in deep bedding and wallow in her pig made pool.  The others on that truck weren't as lucky as she. 
I often talk about the high cost of cheap meat.  These animals pay a high price for our cheap meat.  When I talk about this from now on, I will tell them the tale of one lucky little piglet name Loretta. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saying Good Bye

I had to say good bye yesterday to two of my sows.  Hazel and Ivy, my two half wattles, were born on this farm, had one litter of great looking babies each here and were great pigs to have around.  When I decided to discontinue the breed-up program for my herd, I knew that they didn't fit into my new long range plan and that I would have to part with them.  I didn't realize how hard that it would be.  I miss my old boar Bernard and think of him often, but at about 900lbs, he can pretty much take care of himself.  He has a great new family and as the only boar with a harem, he probably has not much to worry about. 
Hazel and Ivy are different.  I keep wondering if they are doing ok, if they hate me or are upset that they had to go.  Do they wonder, why them?  Ivy is shy but around Hazel she is better.  I told the new owner (a very nice man) all of the important details about them but will he notice that when Ivy is upset she gravitates toward Hazel, her sister?  Will he notice that Hazel eats all of her food and most of Ivys if the bowls are not far enough apart or that at dinner time, sometimes you have to go wake up Hazel or she will sleep right through it?   I am sure that he will take good care of them and I understand that he didn't buy them to put in a shed somewhere just to spit out babies but I have an emotional investment in them.  I held them when they were babies, I threw apples to them when they were little just to watch them chase them, and each other, around their lot.  I doctored the cut that Hazel got scrappin' over a pumpkin. 
I am sure that he will fill in the blanks as he gets to know them.  I, on the other hand, will continue to miss them but I will always have the little things to remember them the rip in my jeans that an impatient Hazel gave me when I just stood around talking to the pigs while I should have been pouring the food in the dish closest to her, the huge, pig sized hole in the barn door that Ivy went through because she heard me in the barn and wanted to for once, be the first for dinner, and the hunt for feed dishes that I went through every night because those two would hide all of the dishes under their bedding.
I still have some of their babies at home.  I won't be keeping any of them but they reminded me of their Mommas as I was doing chores the night that they left.  I caught a glimpse of one of the piglets dragging off a food dish...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A "Red Neck" Christmas

I have a friend who calls me a red neck.  She isn't being mean about it but that is the me that she sees.  She is a small cute little thing that paints her nails, has perfect makeup and always looks (and smells) like a girl.  She buys $15 nail polish and some juicy couture swim suits that cost her more than my car cost me.  I shop for my clothing,  tractor parts and other farm supplies all in the same store and the only paint that my nails see comes from a can labeled semi-gloss. 
I must confess that I secretly give myself a high five when I come to work with what could eventually become some great compost all over my shoes, and she gets all city girl on me. 
This Christmas season she presented her friend who, we have affectionately dubbed "boy toy", with all kinds of manly must haves like clothes that have buttons but no hoods and drinking glasses that are not actually salsa jars.   My husband and I are not huge gift givers.  He buys what he needs and I do the same.  This year, I bought him a new seat for his tractor and he bought me a hoist that I can haul dead animals into the tree to cut up.  Upon hearing the news of this gift giving exchange, my dear city friend was actually rendered semi-speachless.  This, if you knew her, is no small feat.  I, however, am happy as a clam to have something that not only is practical but makes one of my more unpleasant jobs so much easier.  That and I have the bonus of not having to dust it!
I gave her a hand painted ornament with an angel on it...very girly.  She gave me a body care set that smells good.  It isn't a very flowery smell, more like clean laundry...She said that it was a start.  My husband thinks that she has her work cut out for her and she probably does as my heart will always be in my barn and my shoes will always be covered in "compost".