Fall 2013 – The Blackberry Forest

Well, the move to Enumclaw is complete … at least all the animals are here anyway!

The past summer has been all about building fences and moving hogs, horses, chickens and sheep … that’s right… we traded our last Jersey cow for a little band of Katahdin sheep that are really cool actually.   And easy to take care of!  As compared to hogs anyways.

There’s this little wether we call Lewis … after Meriwether Lewis of course … and he’s so completely friendly I donʼt think weʼre going to be able to complete the ultimate task that is the traditional destiny of wethers …  and to warm my heart fully the other day, I witnessed our little Katahdin band eating blackberry leaves!!!

Blackberries are for eating but blackberry bushes are to make disappear in whatever fashion one can fathom. That old movie “Apocalypse Now” is coming to mind … “thereʼs nothing like the smell of Napalm in the morning …”

I know, Iʼm a wildlife biologist who shouldnʼt be having thoughts like this … Our little farm in Enumclaw is basically a blackberry forest. The mother of all blackberry forests Iʼm quite sure. If some bored botanist somewhere conjured up the idea of tracing the blackberry species back to its beginnings, Iʼm sure that journey would end right here on our little farm.

Blackberries are evil.  And I’m convinced that they know fully when someone with malicious intent has entered their lair to do them harm … Blackberry stalks (I would say vines, but the word ‘vine’ doesn’t come close to giving the reader an accurate description of their destructive powers) …  yes, blackberry ʻstalksʼ are out to get you … and theyʼre quite good at it.

Our house is up on a knoll from the farm down on the flat, and we drew straws to see which of us would be the unlucky soul to run the extensions cords we needed to power up the heat lamps for our soon-to-be farrowing momma hogs down the slope and through the blackberry forest to reach the huts.  You guessed right!   Yours truly was ‘awarded’ the assignment.

Glowing Huts

Now … this area, on the slope between ‘headquarters’ and the farm contains the absolute oldest of old growth blackberries in existence on our farm- the genesis of the blackberry in the Pacific Northwest.

As my loving family was helping me adorn the toughest of Carhartt armor, I was looking down through this mass of brambles from hell and seriously considered my fate … did I ever update my will like I planned on doing?  If I perished in this wilderness of thorn and trip cords would anyone even be able to recover my remains?  Would I be left to all manner of slimy bottom dwellers that scratch out their living in this God-forsaken environment?

Anyway, down the slope I went …basically a cardboard man into the virgin blackberry forest … the slope was actually steeper than I thought with a rock talus substrate that immediately gave me the sense that perhaps it wasn’t the blackberries that were going to do me in after all…  and since the rocks were all so very effectively camouflaged with various moss and lichen species there really wasnʼt a clue to be had where to effectively put a foot down …

Then amazingly it dawned on me that this blackberry forest could actually be saving me at the moment … so effectively did its stalks have me encumbered by foot, hand, leg, and ankle there was no way our beautiful stalky forest was going to let me go careening off this precipice to my imminent peril!

And since my loving family, those folks that were so eager to send me out alone into this wilderness, had so lovingly wrapped me up in the toughest Carhartt canvass, the thorny nails inherent to this morass could not penetrate my skin.  All I had to do was somehow break an arm and a leg and another arm and a leg free, momentarily anyway, to work my way down country and try to hang the extension cord lifeline, one tree at a time, all the way down to the grassy meadow (and new pastures) below.

Needless to say, since Iʼm sitting here writing this little narrative, I did make it down through bramble and boulder and stalk and trip cord, and we were able to get the heat lamps up in time to warm our first Enumclaw litter … from Joan, her second, who successfully gave birth to 10 little black and white gremlins (pigs, not actually gremlins silly).

Joan all aglow...

Itʼs nice when the days on the farm turn out so well!

So, my perspective has changed slightly about our blackberry forests. But not entirely … I wonder who I can call for some of that napalm? Do you think the neighbors would mind?


… more soon.


October 31, 2013


Awhile back I mentioned that our son Zack decided to pursue his college and baseball education over in Washington State.  Well, sure enough, Zack recently signed on with Green River Community College in Auburn, WA to play baseball … which is close to our farm there in Enumclaw.

Zack at age 14

We figure the community college route will be better for Z because he should get more playing time vs going to a four-year school and competing with sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  Plus, this school is so close to our Enumclaw farm!   And, since heʼs interested in the medical field academically, heʼll be able to get some of those basic courses – chemistry, physics, etc. out of the way before he gets to the university.  Thatʼs what his folks did.


So, weʼre expanding our hog operation a bit at our Enumclaw farm to help Zack through college and actually be able to take in some games.


We started this business a few years ago with a primary focus of helping fund Zackʼs college … where he can actually help put himself through school by helping out on the farm … what a concept!  Zackʼs hard work played an important role in the development of our little hog farm … so this work is starting to pay off … isnʼt this the way it should be?


Please join us in wishing Zack the best on his new journey …


Iʼve been going back and forth for the last couple months getting the Enumclaw place ready for their new hooved inhabitants … will I ever be done building stuff?? … where all the hogs will be on grass and rotated among pastures … itʼs going to be great!  Hogs do extremely well on pasture as this forage provides vitamins and minerals that they need throughout their life cycle.


Our Enumclaw farm is in a great location, backed up against forest lands and really blends in well with that landscape … and weʼll keep it that way!

‘Spring’ 2013

Spring in Montana can be many things. In fact, spring here can concoct just about every form of weather that has existed over time. One day several weeks ago comes to mind … just to give you an idea of what Iʼm talking about …

The day started early as I awakened to a refreshing warm mountain rain… wonderful! It was so great that I wasn’t bothered by my oversight of roasting coffee the previous day … no coffee! … so I got the roaster out and got it cranked up outside and watched the rain make its way down upon our little farm. The hogs like these rains … it softens the ground up just enough and many were out early brushing up on their plowing skills …

Then the rain stopped, and the sun came out to make thousands of little light prisms out of the raindrops … glorious! This scene coupled with the caffeine so aptly delivered from those fresh ground Costa Rican beans got me thinking about that wood pile that had been standing in front of the bin for some time now … perhaps it was time for me to get that split up and stowed before it became a permanent refugia for voles and gophers – Montanan ‘Columbian Ground Squirrels’ ‘gophers’… so, when in Rome … gopher’s they are.

So out I went to attack that stack of doug fir with vigor and multiple layers that began as a t-shirt, standard long-sleeve cotton shirt (plaid, of course), and heavy Carhart overshirt. After a few dozen swings of my trusty six pounder this ensemble was reduced to just the t shirt. The entire process of getting chord wood into the bin and stove is one that I have always found to be quite satisfying … and a good way to stay in shape … but, sure, like a hog farmer really needs additional exercise!

About 20 minutes or so into my bout with the wood pile I saw this giant wall of dark cloud approaching from the northwest. Ah, it’s going to miss us I thought, as these systems typically travel from the southwest to northeast here … so, back to the splitting and stacking … splitting and stacking.

Then came the swirling wind … the tarp I used to cover the wood I think touched all 360 points on the compass over the course of about 5 minutes.  Then the temperature began to plummet and the layer process began once again … just in time too, as it began to sleet … or what those untrustworthy folks at the weather channel would call a ‘winter mix’… then it was hail – little styrofoam looking things that looked like they fell off your acoustic ceiling … then the wind stopped and it began to snow … then it was like standing in a snow globe for a few minutes – big flakes floating down in a seemingly peaceful way … then the wind again … not swirling this time, direct from the north with teeth and purpose …

Spring in Montana looks a lot like winter in Iowa!!!

We still have some of our original hog huts … simple architecture really … a wooden deck with two metal cattle panels looped over to form an arch with one of those heavy duty tarps you can get for about twenty bucks in a two-pack at Costco attached to the structure the best you can … anyway, there was one of these out in a circle pen originally designed to exercise normally free-loading hayburning horses that we converted to a higher purpose … raising hogs!

The wind was fierce by now and it dislodged the tarp from the windward side of the hut … but those heavy electrical ties I used to secure the covering to what was now the lee side of the hog home was holding …! (a farmer must take pause during these rare moments when one of our ideas actually works) … so there was this 20 ft tarp, stretched out and whipping like a flag on Gillian’s Island … but this was only half the fun … as I said on an earlier blog, pigs just want to have fun.

Well, the 180 pounder feeder pigs that were in the pen at the time where doing just that trying to catch the lee end of the tarp flag and just having the time of their lives … fantastic! By now, it became apparent that I had to address this situation with nails and hammer and the snow began to compete with the wind for maximum impact … it was a blizzard, plain and simple.

So, it was now time for an additional parka layer, gloves and a beenie and into the blizzard and swirling pigs in the feeder pen … awesome!  White out. The pen is only about 75 yard from the house which I could no longer see …

A 180 pound pig is formidable enough … but six of them running in and around your feet and ‘through the wickets’ in a driving snowstorm was a bit unnerving … but we got through it together, with grace, good humor, and only a smattering of profanity … for which I apologize.

all we are saying … is give pigs a chance …

Ok, I’ll come out on this one…  I like music.  I like to hear it…  I like to connect songs to eras – remember where I was and what I was doing when that song came out…  I like to fool around writing it.  And of all the artists that have been around in my day… the Beatles were my favorite…

Pigs have gotten a bad rap.  Unknowing folks, which are most folks, relate pigs to ‘pig sty’  ‘pig pen (Charlie Brown)’,  ‘you’re dirty as a pig’,  ‘you smell like a pig’,  ‘you eat like a pig’, ‘you need to quit pigging out’… you get the picture.  But pigs are extremely cool animals.  They’re smart.  They’re curious.  They love adventure.  They love new ground and things to explore – stumps, logs, tarps, baling twine, my jeans, fence posts, the fine art of destroying their huts, their neighbors, and most of all… my muck boots!   I think they’re just fascinated in how that hard rubber springs back after they bite into it.  They also love to play the game ‘hog pan toss.’   It definitely should be a sport added to the next pig Olympic trials.

Some hogs don’t toss the pan though… they just like to carry it around.  Maybe they just want to re-arrange their cribs.  Maybe they’re just trying to get through my thick skull that if I keep giving them water in the same spot every day it’ll turn into a swamp… but they love swamps, so that doesn’t make sense.

Smily Pig

Pigs are perennial optimists.  They see the good in anything, and can take it when things are rough – blinding snow, horizontal sleet, monsoon rains, howling winds, blazing sun… all of which can happen here in just a single day!   I call it ‘Extreme Farming’… another story for another day.   But most of all they love the hail… the bigger the better.  They can push it around then it just disappears!  Amazing!  Pigs are easily amazed.

Pigs also sleep in.   All that stuff about farmers having to get up before dawn can be easily tossed aside with pigs.  They know when feeding time is.   Why get up and stand around like fools hours before it’s time to feast?   I feed them in the afternoon…  it’s the musician schedule… they don’t do anything before noon!

And when feeding time comes… they come alive.  I close my eyes and can picture myself as John Lennon at Shea Stadium in 1964…  I swear those gilts can scream and shriek just like those girls did for the lads back in the day…

-Randy   (February 2013)


Winter 2012/13


I was reading John Updikeʼs great narrative of Ted Williamsʼ last ballgame this morning, and realized itʼs past time for me to provide a little narrative myself of what is up at our little farm.

Today was a rather tough one… weʼre in the middle of the yearʼs first breeding season -the one that will give us Spring pigs.  These pigs born in April/May/June will give folks animals to raise up over the summer and butcher hogs for our customers over the holidayʼs.

Ours is an operation that exists entirely outside.  So, gates that swung free in June are now entombed in several inches of hard ice.  Weʼre up against the Swan Range here in western Montana, and eastbound clouds typically full of Pacific moisture often travel over the Flathead Valley to the west intact, but are forced to dump their contents on our farm to clear the mountains above us. We get a lot of snow here.  What a perfect place to raise hogs!  If we stay here long enough maybe our Berkshires will evolve … develop snowshoeʼs like a hare or webbed feet like a goose.

Anyway, the only way we, or do I dare say ʻIʼ have found to get through this ice is by hand with a heavy digging bar.  And of course, the hogs find this process amazing, like they find most everything in life.  They get right down there with the digging prod and endure quite an ice pelting.  Their heads look like they are encased in a snow cone.

Maybe I should get them some safety goggles, but I think the only thing that could possibly work would be racquet ball goggles – the ones with the straps; but if they worked it would only be as long as it takes for the others to divert their initial fascination over the ice to the goggles …

So today we moved our Red Wattle/Durocʼs – Miss Pig and SuzyQ in with our boar Broadway. These red-heads catch his attention immediately and the romance begins!Maybe spending day after day with the same old Black/White Berkshires has gotten monotonous to the old boy … I donʼt know.

I did my annual jaunt to Iowa this fall to visit select members of the Conover family, and brought back a trailer full of great breeding stock. New members of our little herd are Kazuno – a young boar we got from 88 year old Tom Conover … who said he is “all boar”. Kaz-man is as bouncy as a young labrador retriever and we started breeding him this past month.  Also packed in the trailer were a two year old sow “Cathy”, and a January ʻ012 gilt “Amy” we got from Chris Conover … Tomʼs great nephew, and three April gilts from Tom who we simply call “The Joanʼs” … Iʼm still amazed at ʻoldʼ Tom …who doesnʼt look a day over 65. Tom crawled through the back of my stock trailer and over three separate compartments to vaccinate/worm these pigs before I hit the road!



Tomorrow weʼll be weaning Cathyʼs litter and moving Sweetness into her farrowing hut.  More ice chipping … oh boy! You wonʼt find any of those gestation crates the industry likes to use here.  Our gals can come and go as they please in these huts.  They have ʻpig railsʼ where the little ones can escape their monster mothers when they lay down.  This is one of the big causes of mortality in young pigs and the reason the industry uses the crates. We put heat lamps in the huts this time of year … the cold can get the youngsters too. I like using the red lamps ʻcause it just looks so cool out there against the snow on a winter night! Itʼs also supposed to calm the critters down … works for me!

Weʼve been really blessed with an army of great customers. Folks from all over the northwest – from Plentywood to Valier, the Bitterroot to the Flathead, Spokane, Seattle, northern Idaho and beyond. All folks that want the best for their families. Folks that want to know where their food comes from. Chefʼs that want quality for their customers.

Itʼs neat listening to Dawn talk to these people on the phone. In addition to her over 30 years of experience in many facets of the food industry … she has quite a knack of conveying how cool things are in life, whether you knew it before hand or not … and when she is in high gear itʼs almost musical. And these nice folks do not have a chance … and are glad for it!

Thanks to everyone for putting up with our enthusiasm about these hogs. Itʼs hard work for sure, but itʼs a labor of love.


Late Summer/Early Fall 2012

Dusty Old Dust …


I donʼt know whatʼs worse for a hog farmer … mud or dust.

August was very dry here in the northern Rockies, and these cloudless days have carried over into September without a hitch. In this land of frequent precip, it doesnʼt take much of a dry spell to pull whatever moisture thatʼs in the ground out of it and turn the forest floor into kindling.  Some fires are burning around Montana, but fortunately none around here … yet.

This is a tough time for the hogs.

So when they see me coming with the water hose Iʼm sure itʼs like the sound of that ice cream truck getting closer when I was a kid. And the dust rises up and into everything… our eyes, ears, nose … but our animals are good troopers and seem to be taking it all in stride.

All this dry dirt makes me think of the Dust Bowl days and old Woody Guthrie …

I got that dust pneumony, pneumony in my lung,
I got the dust pneumony, pneumony in my lung,
An’ I’m a-gonna sing this dust pneumony song.
I went to the doctor, and the doctor, said, “My son,”
I went to the doctor, and the doctor, said, “My son,
You got that dust pneumony an’ you ain’t got long, not long.”
Now there ought to be some yodelin’ in this song;
Yeah, there ought to be some yodelin’ in this song;
But I can’t yodel for the rattlin’ in my lung.
My good gal sings the dust pneumony blues,
My good gal sings the dust pneumony blues,
She loves me ’cause she’s got the dust pneumony, too.
It it wasn’t for choppin’ my hoe would turn to rust,
If it wasn’t for choppin’ my hoe would turn to rust,
I can’t find a woman in this black ol’ Texas dust.
Down in Oklahoma, the wind blows mighty strong,
Down in Oklahoma, the wind blows mighty strong,
If you want to get a mama, just sing a California song.
Down in Texas, my gal fainted in the rain,
Down in Texas, my gal fainted in the rain,
I throwed a bucket o’ dirt in her face just to bring her back again.

… Dust Pneumonia Blues … by Woody Guthrie


No rain in the forecast yet …but the nights are getting colder, the leaves are turning and a new season is on its way …

Summer 2012

Summer started late here at our farm in Western Montana. We had lots of rain to contend with throughout the spring and well into early summer. Some days I wondered if in fact we were in Seattle vs Bigfork …

Rain is not a fun thing for a hog farmer operating outdoors like we do. The animals seem to take it mostly in stride and will lay out in their huts when itʼs coming down, and then make good use of all the new wet earth to work on their rooting techniques when it stops. Our ʻdry lotsʼ look like theyʼve gone through a blender!

Weʼve had a few hotter spells which present their own problems … when this happens itʼs a challenge keeping enough water in front of them. You really need to go out on hot days and water them down. Pigs donʼt sweat like we do, which helps us stay cool, so they really need water/mud to wallow in to cool themselves off (along with a good shelter). Our Berks are very handsome animals – until they exit the ʻhog wallowʼ … then the mud dries out and hangs off them like little ʻmud sicklesʼ. It can be hard to recognize who is who!

The work load for the old guy was increased drastically when our son Zack took off to play baseball up and down the west coast. It was a great opportunity for him to get exposure with college coaches/scouts/etc. He did really well and will be back this weekend!! So, heʼll be ʻput in chargeʼ immediately while I head for some water somewhere myself …piglets

New Berkshire litters have arrived this summer from Sweetness (11) Babe (8), and Emily (9). There are some great looking pigs in these litters. Weʼll be keeping a few gilts for breeding stock and will sell a few as well. Iʼm already having discussions with my Iowa friends regarding getting a little boar to work with the gilts we keep this year. If we can get another as great as Broadway (our herd boar and the father of all these rascals), weʼll be in ʻhog heavenʼ.

Broadway is such a cool hog. A couple of the gilts we got from Tom Conover in Iowa are a bit ornery with some of the others. So theyʼll ʻgo at itʼ at the fence line with their rivals. Broadway will commonly go over and break these events up … just wanting some darn peace and quiet I assume … also, he and Babe were sharing a pen temporarily when Babe farrowed a few days earlier than the date I had on the calendar.


Broadway graciously gave Babe and her babies all the space they needed and stayed out of the hut with them completely! What a great boar! Some boars have been known to harm piglets … but not our Broadway!

Spring 2012

Spring in the Northwest resembles winter in many other places … and 2012 has been a particularly wet one. Early spring is a challenge with melting snow/ice and what seems like a never ending weather pattern often called a ‘wintery mixʼ by those brave souls who try to predict the weather in Western Montana.  So, you have to be ready for anything and have boots with the air-bob soles for sure. Amazingly, I only took one hard fall on the ice … but it was a good one!

New litters began arriving in May, with Miss Pig leading the way with a litter of 9. Unfortunately, she left the farrowing hut (we do not use those hideous farrowing crates here that are commonly used in the industry that constrain the gilt/sow where she canʼt even turn around!), and dug a small ʻfoxholeʼ outside in the rain. Here she laid on three of the pigs and they didnʼt make it. So, 6 survived, 4 boars and two gilts and they are husky little rascals to say the least.

Suzy Q followed Miss Pig with a litter of 10 with 9 surviving. Both MP and SQ are red wattle/durocʼs and they were bred to our berkshire boar Broadway. Heʼs our pride and joy.  He, like most of our berks, was obtained from the Conover family in Iowa … the family that originally brought the breed to that state way back when.  Babe and Emily came to us from Les Tower in Ellensburg…   their father was also from the Conover family!

We are expecting our first ʻall berkʼ litter this season from Sweetness … who is actually due today …

Other new arrivals to Wilderness Farms this year are three wonderful Jersey cows … Bossie, Lillie, and Megan … weʼre planning on trying our hand at some cheese making and other dairy products … but mostly now weʼre providing our hogs with some awesome milk in their rations … and they arenʼt complaining at all!

Lillie (4 years old) freshened in early May with a little heifer calf – Norma -, and Bossie (5 years old) had a calf on Memorial Day … a spunky little bull weʼve called Norman … anybody remember that first “City Slickers” movie …??

Megan (3 years old) will be having her second calf this coming November. Our youngest son Zachary (17 in September) was selected to play baseball on a great college prep team that will play in tournaments all over the west throughout this year and next …   Since it looks like Z will be going to college in Washington, we’ll be  focusing more on developing operations on our Enumclaw property in western Washington … in the shadow of Mount Rainier!

So, weʼll be busy this summer moving animals and such … with more litters on the way from Babe, Emily, MIss T, and BB … weʼll keep you posted!


It’s winter here at Wilderness Farms … and it is Montana, so it can have a particular hard edge on it.

But it’s a quiet time and the animals seem to take it all in stride. This winter has actually been milder than most – so far – and we haven’t had much snowfall that’s stuck around – yet.

Everything is a bit more difficult in the winter, and takes more time. I bet I spend 15 minutes a day just getting in and out of several layers of assorted clothing … and here’s a special thanks to the makers of those arctic sport Muck boots …

Water is the most difficult thing right now. We don’t have water lines/frost-free hydrants run out to where the hogs are, so it’s all about 5 gallon buckets (with lids) on the back of the ATV. It’s good for the upper body though … helps mitigate those long hours inside eating more than we should. Especially during the holidays! We grind all our own feed so often all you can hear is the sound of the grinder doing what it does off in the distance.

The usual winter wildlife suspects have settled in here with us as well … chickadees and nuthatches do their best to empty the bird feeder (all sunflower seeds) before the wild turkeys do … turkeys have really come on strong in numbers here over the last several years. They’re one of those species that seems to get along with us humans pretty well … until around Thanksgiving when they disappear suddenly … for some reason. Our April and June gilts (Sweetness, April, BB, and Miss T) did feast on one, however. It was young and obviously inexperienced in the importance of getting out of the hog pen in time …

It’s always a challenge keeping the deer off the alfalfa … we feed quite a bit of alfalfa to the hogs – a good source of vitamins/minerals that they need … whatever we do the white-tails seem to get some; but it’s their home too so we don’t mind sharing a little bit. A beautiful male northern goshawk came through a few days ago … we don’t see them very often. The chickens scattered – it’s amazing how these birds that are not usually thought of for their intelligence ‘get smart’ pretty fast on matters that are really important.

Anyway, we’ll be breeding a couple gilts here this month (April and Sweetness), so we’re upping the grain a bit for them (flushing) and our handsome boar (Broadway). Then he’ll have a visit with Babe and Emily next month, and BB and Miss T in March.

Here’s to an awesome 2012!

Randy Riviere
Wilderness Farms