Getting ready to farrow

Well, I am not but one of our Old Spot sows is. Any sow getting ready to farrow out creates a little nest for her soon-to-be piglets. I was out doing stuff and saw this sow making a nest just down the hill from the house. I was a little slow to capture her making her nest, but you will be able to see it in the video. Also, I couldn’t resist helping out the nest process by creating a quick little rain shelter. She probably didn’t need the help, but I did it anyways.

About 3 hours after I took this video, she farrowed out 12 piglets. I will shot a video of her litter soon and get up that upload as well.

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Wall o’ Pork Goodness

This week was a good week.  Last week, I was watching our inventory shrink rapidly down to nothing. This lead me to all sorts of thoughts about “OMG, what do I sell?” which is never good for my beauty sleep. But, this week, I got a call from our butcher saying “your pork is ready.”  After I got over the heart attack of how much the processing bill was, I became giddy at all of the yummy pork we had. Mmmmm, bacon, grilled chops, pulled pork sandwhichs…oh, I just got hungry. Anyways, that is why this week was good. We got our pork on!

I took a quick little video on what 12 hogs look like when they are turned into pork and put into our freezer. Enjoy.

Porcine Fecundity

I got into the pig business about two years ago now. In all that time, I always said that I have no desire to breed pigs. I would just find a quality breeder and finish their weaners on our pasture. Well, never say never. Check out the video.

Replace your divots

Remember how I said that pigs are a great way to get rid of acorns on your lawn? That is true, as long as you actually get the acorns off the lawn. If you don’t, then your lawn becomes the most attractive feeding ground for miles around as it is the only place on the ranch that still has acorns left. And if you forget to make part of the fence around the yard hot, the pigs will figure that out as well. So one morning, you will wake up and see a good portion of the lawn nicely rototilled, which is not good in a lawn. All of that happened last week.

Here is a list of questions of how things went wrong:

  • Why were there acorns left on the lawn? Well, there is a lot of things to do around here and raking up treats, no matter how tasty and free, for the pigs wasn’t high on the priority list.
  • Why didn’t you make the fence hot? Hey, the fence was working just fine with no juice in it. Not a single pig had walked through the sham of a fence. How was I supposed to know that they would go through it like commandos on a night raid? Oh wait, previous experience does indicate that such maneuvers are a possibility.
  • Don’t you like have your lawn rototilled/areated? Not really. It makes a moderately level lawn into something that is designed to twist/break ankles. In fact, we call pig rooting and cow hoof prints in the lawn “ankle breakers.” (yes, I did just say cow prints on the lawn. What can I say, but that fences don’t always work, however lawns are always tasty looking and if you want to know more, you will have to wait for another post.)

Let’s let some pictures take over the rest of the post.

Here you can see how the pigs root up the lawn. You can only see about 60% of the total rooting that they did in a couple of hours.

Now that the fence is hot, the lawn is safe, but you can see why people always say that electric fence is a mental, not physical barrier. Of all those wires you see, only the white one has juice in it, the rest of merely visual barriers for taller animals.

The only way to patch the lawn back in some semblance of smoothness is by hand. Essentially, the pigs turn the lawn in bits of turf that you have to replace by hand, one piece at a time.

That isn't a smile, it is more of a grimace of annoyance at the pigs and perhaps the chump who didn't have the fence hot. BTW, I did replace divots, but I was running the camera so there is no proof of it.

How to move free ranging pigs

Mini, working hard and having a blast moving the recalcitrant pigs

It’s a fact of ranch life that livestock always believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Usually, it isn’t but there is something about busting through a fence that seems to speak to some deep part of an animal’s soul. Maybe it’s a little bit of payback for domesticating them, who knows? But whatever the reason, you have got to be ready to deal with escapees. For us, we don’t have any close neighbors so our breakouts are more a problem from a management standpoint, not from neighbor relations, but still we need to keep the animals where they should be.

Cows are easy to move. Someday I will write about our low stress livestock handling and how tame and easy to handle that makes our cattle. Basically, I just move into their flight zone, wait, and then let them walk off my pressure. Anyways, if a cow is in the wrong spot, it is no big deal to move her back to the right on. Sheep also move easily, but you never find one sheep on the wrong side of the fence. They are a herd animal, so if one is on the wrong side, that means that all 200 are on the wrong side. But their herd instincts make them quite easy to move with a herding dog. My sheep are quite “dog broke” meaning that they see a dog they flock together and move towards the nearest human.  When I find the errant sheep, I send a dog out to bunch them up and bring them back to the path of righteousness. Eze peze. Chickens, well, they never really get out and if they do all they  want to do is return to the flock. Chickens don’t cause much concern about their whereabouts, because they never go anywhere.

Now pigs on the hand, they are a whole different animal. Cows and sheep are prey animals who always have an eye out for a predator. Their instinctual fear of being eaten is what forms the basis of how we handle them. Pigs don’t scare, don’t herd, and don’t really care about much of anything besides food. So all of our normal tricks for moving livestock don’t quite work on pigs. Over time, as we have increased our pigs numbers, the issue of how to move pigs has become more important. Right now, I have 16 pigs on pasture and when they aren’t in the right pasture, it can sometimes be a hassle to get them back.

My current method of moving pigs is two-fold. The primary inducement to movement is feed. They know what the red bucket means and they are ready to follow it just about anywhere. But it takes a while to train them to following the bucket. Also, sometimes they will just decide that they have walked far enough and “who cares about that stupid feed bucket, anyways.” Well, that is when I bring in my second inducement, which is Mini, my New Zealand huntaway that I got from Kiwi Kennels. Mini loves a challenge. She gets to the far side of the pigs and barks at them until them move the right way. On sheep, she just needs one or two barks and she has all 200 going the right way. On pigs, she needs a dozen barks plus me shaking the bucket. But between the two of us, we can get the pigs back to where they belong and Mini has the time of her life.

Animals are the best part of ranch life. I get to work with dogs, sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens, and sometimes goats. Every day, animals bring a little bit of something new to my life. I just love it.

Free range pigs + acorns on lawn = perfect match

This has been a good acorn year, so good that we don’t know what to do with them all. Usually, a little raking, a little fall mowing and poof, all gone, no worries. This year, not so easy. However, there is a solution and it oinks. You read about how I got rid of my pumpkins earlier, well I am employing the same work force again, my free range pigs.

The formula is simple: rake leaves and acorns up, carry to pigs, feed pigs, repeat. I have been doing this for the past month or so. I haven’t kept track of the pounds of acorns that I have feed, but I am guessing we are into the hundreds of pounds at this point and we are only about 1/2 through all of the acorns on the ground.

This feeding program is getting me excited about the Spanish acorn hams that sell for $100/lb. Apparently, these special pigs are left to free range in the oak forests of Spain and then harvest when the acorns are done. Then magic happens while the ham dry ages, and presto next thing you know, $100/lb hams. Sounds like a good deal to me, but I am pretty sure that I am not going to get any acorn hams anytime soon, but it is always nice to have goals.

Many have fallen, but this one is just waiting until I have raked up all of the others before falling.

Our lawn was thick with acorns.

Just one of 4 big oaks around the house. Imagine how many acorns are left in this one gigantic tree, then multiply by four.

Just one of 4 big oaks around the house. Imagine how many acorns are left in this one gigantic tree, then multiply by four.

Chowing down on the acorns.

Food worth fighting over.

All for me and none for you is a pig's motto.

Full bellies means naptime. Life is good.

Pumpkin Eaters

For our wedding, one of our friends grew 5 acres of pumpkins for decorations. Yep, 5 acres. They are farmers from Colusa, who happen to grow pumpkins for seeds and they decided that a row or two of pretty pumpkins would be no problem. Well, their rows are 1,500 feet long, which can grow quite a few pumpkins. They, and some of our other Ca Ag Leadership friends, picked them about 10 days before our wedding. They managed to fill a 4-horse stock trailer just about full. That is close to 3,000lbs of pumpkins!

happycouple

Don't mind the happy couple, just notice how many pumpkins are in the background.

Where did we have them? Let’s see:

  • We had them arranged along the road to the ranch.
  • We had them at the RV park as parking guides.
  • We had them by gate posts.
  • We had them on the house porch.
  • We had them decorating the gift table (BTW, made from our ton of alfalfa hay we got from a neighbor)
  • We had them decorating the bar, the band stage, and the cocktail lounge AKA the lawn.
  • We had them framing the aisle we walked down
  • We had them at the altar.
  • We had them on the dinner tables.
  • In short, we had them just about everywhere.

It was wonderful to have so many pumpkins; for the feeling of bountiful harvest, for the color and as a symbol of friendship. But the real question becomes, “what do you do with that many pumpkins especially when they start to rot?” Luckily, I came up with a brilliant answer – free range pigs.

As you saw in an earlier post, I just got some weaners about two weeks ago. After taking a day or two to settle in these guys have turned on and tuned into chowing down. Imagine 15 teenagers who have nothing to do besides eat, play and then eat some more and you can pretty much imagine how much feed these guys go through in a day. So in order to feed the raging beasts (as it were), I started to toss the pumpking over the fence to the pigs. After about the first day, they realized how yummy pumpkins truly are. But they have an interesting way of eating them. We humans tend to eat the outside and toss the inside. Pigs are the opposite, they hog down the inside pith and seeds, and leave the rind and meat behind. Maybe if they were older they would eat the rind as well, but right now they just want the seeds and they will pretty much do anything to be the one to get it.

I took some pictures of the last batch of pumpkins that I fed to the pigs. It was about to rain and I needed them gone so I gave the gluttons what they wanted – pumpkins galore.

PumpkinFace

Making sure that no else is going to get that last seed.

Pumpkin&Pig

Pumpkin overload, but they will get to them all soon enough.

PumpkinSea

"Can't you just let me eat my feast without the damn flash, bud?'

PumpkinEater

Oh, yeah, I am a pumpkin eater, even if my name isn't Peter.