Check it out… We are featured in the November edition of Experience Berkshire https://americanberkshire.com/experience-berkshire-november-2019/
Check it out… We are featured in the November edition of Experience Berkshire https://americanberkshire.com/experience-berkshire-november-2019/
Hey. Just dropping by for a quick visit. It’s been a long hard summer, just like every other summer on the hog farm . But I’ll take an endless summer… where do you sign up for that? Now the days are getting shorter and the nights a little colder… soon the rain will return and the snow will fly… so we strap it on again… once more unto the breach dear friends. I am off to Alaska for a little break… yeah! I’ll be dropping by this venue more often in the weeks ahead. Love your pigs, they’ll love you back. Best, Randy
There’s been a high demand for our meat products, so I’ve been running all over the west to/from processors and delivering to customers. And what a fun winter this was! February particularly. Talked to a Rancher down in the Butte country and it was around -40F for a day or two there! That’s an arctic circle temp right there, folks.
The snow is melting now, as you’d expect in March/April in Montana. And it’s a helluva mess. Snow, mud, ice… gotta do the penguin walk… although I did take a hard fall the other day; the first one in a while.
The Enumclaw place didn’t fare too bad, but February was a bit rough there too… Plus the perfunctory occasional monsoon. We’re building lots of decks over there to try to keep animals high and dry. They would destroy pastures right now so we’re not doing that. Those typical Enumclaw devil winds raise their heads often enough to wreak havoc on the farm… had to rebuild a few times now.
It’s a tough gig raising hogs outside for sure. I breed for reproductive vigor in the often-rough conditions found west of the Cascades and in the Northern Rockies. But these Berkshires have evolved from landscapes and conditions of this sort historically. They like being able to be pigs.
So, Spring is here, summer is on the way, life is good! Now it’s back to repairing and improving facilities. We’re also moving farther back into our roots… focusing on our breeding programs with these beautiful animals.
Get out there and enjoy your pigs. And sun. And those spring showers.
With warm regards,
Yeah, I fool around in the music scene then and again… my connection to what’s inside – what’s outside – what’s on any side… so I’m headed back to Nashville late summer for another project. I have the great fortune of playing with some of the awesome folks, so it’s way fun.
Raising hogs is a perpetual every day – every night – in the rain – in the snow – in the wind – in the mud – in the dusty old dust slog … then add the marketing, meat processing/deliveries (we’re into this with restaurants pretty heavy these days) and all the miles running around the west … it takes its toll.
So, darn it … I’m going to have some fun this summer! I am. I really am. I’m not going to be dissuaded – talked out of it – diverted – sidetracked – thwarted – or shanghaied into anything else. Yes, you beautiful Berkshires, we’ll still get those decks and roofs built as promised, that will get done but you’re not going to see the old guy every day – every night – in the rain – in the snow – in the wind – in the mud – or the dusty old dust … so just deal with it. You’ll have to be hogs alone with your thoughts. Of course someone will feed and water you … don’t worry!
It’s summer! Take it in. Bask in all its glory … I’m going to do it! Yes I really am.
I’m also going fishing. Yep. There’s a lot of water coming down country this year so the streams will be in better shape longer … I bought this old Alaskan camper and I’m gone … I’m going where the cell phones don’t speak and spook the trout I seek. Yes I am. I’m also going to do some WA surf fishing … that bold quest for the mighty red-tailed perch. I grew up doing this in extreme northern CA and passed the adventure onto my family. Now there’s the lazy approach with the lawn chair and 12 pack … maybe an umbrella for the dog mainly … sunflower seeds, cold hot dogs, lots of water/diet pepsi … then there’s the red eyed hunter approach … out in the surf casting like you would go after trout in a stream … lots of fun … but never ever never turn your back on the ocean!! Did I say never do it? I mean it. If you want to go to Japan, book a flight.
So … I’m gone.
Enjoy our awesome summer here in the NW. You (we) deserve it!
Over the years, I think I’ve had all manner of exercise machines and gadgets. Doing my best to neutralize these rather robust eating habits I have. I even bought this huge Universal system awhile back just because it’s like the one we had in our high school gym back in the day! But the house isn’t a high school gym so you can imagine how many essential household items this massive erector set evicted from the home. Not exactly fodder for domestic tranquility.
But a true Heritage Hog Farmer really doesn’t need machines or gadgets to stay in shape … she/he (normally she and he) has the farm! And this is particularly the case in these northern winters. If you are blessed with the presence of the ‘delightful’ snow … as that song goes … it’s possible you could compete with Mark Twain’s bullfrogs in the jumping contest … as Yoda would say: ‘the legs get strong they do’. But tired. And sore. Do they still make that old “Ben Gay” ointment? I could use some of that.
And, of course, in the Great White North it can get cold. Colder than a well diggers ass in Montana cold … Frozen snot cold … eye watering cold … you get the drift … but we get the snow drift. So, in the cold, stuff freezes up. Especially anything having to do with water. Yes, when the hydrants freeze, which they all most certainly do when the mercury drops to around the no number mark … it doesn’t seem to matter how deep of a hole they’ve been planted in … they just stop doing their darn job. And thus, it’s the bucket brigade. How fun! Let’s put that Universal back in storage, honey … it’s now buckets or bust!
We have two hydrants. The one outside freezes first of course (ok you plumbers with all your expert advice regarding how to set these devices to prevent this from happening … I’ll present you with a challenge … you can come up here and install one ‘properly’ as you say …. If it lasts a single winter without denying me the product I depend on it for, I’ll pay for it. When it doesn’t, I won’t … any takers? The one in the barn lasts longer. The pipe wrap works a little better in there but inevitably it freezes, then it’s onto the buckets.
I put a faucet in the basement finally after a couple years of the bathtub bucket drill. Ah yes, lifting 40 lbs out of the tub and carrying it down a flight of stairs unscathed is quite the trick.
Everything is harder and takes twice as long in the winter … gotta dig the truck out to get feed … gotta dig the grinder/mixer out to make feed … gotta find the digging bar to free up a gate … the stock trailer … the flatbed trailer … did I mention the gates … and so on.
So if you’re considering one of the perpetually evolving ‘medically proven’ no carb, high carbs, all meat, no meat and on and on diets … maybe you should just get some land and be a heritage hog farmer!
And then you’ll also have the thrill of the mud … the delightful dust … the occasional face plant in both … serendipity if you will.
So, it’s January. If there is a marathon somewhere I could go run it. Basic training again … not a problem. But you know, who would take care of my hogs?
Love those rascals. Give them a scratch now and then. They’ll make the long winters worth it. And keep you in shape.
Now there’s a word… one that should be used only to be kept alive. It’s quite a ﬁtting verb for a hog farm actually. Because it so perfectly describes the nature of some hogs at certain points along the way… like loading and unloading for instance.
Getting hogs in and out of stock trailers is a routine enterprise on the farm. Gotta get ’em in to move them to new pens/areas. Gotta get ’em in to take them to a new home. Gotta get ’em in to ‘take them to town’… a phrase I borrow from Kelly Klober; thanks again. ‘Taking a hog to town’ is a kinder way to say taking them to their demise at the processing facility. Which in turn is a kinder way to say they’re going in for the kill.
‘Gettin’ ’em in’ is substituted by ‘trailerin em up’ on Wilderness Farms. “Let’s trailer ’em up”; the crusty old hog boss barks. Getting’ ’em out is the obvious conclusion of a trip in the trailer and can be as much fun as gettin’ em in. Since hogs can have a stubborn streak, not wanting to do anything that you want them to do because it interferes with what they want to do; trailerin’ ‘em up and getting ‘em out can be a challenge indeed. All due to their pure unabashed CUSSEDNESS.
Gilts are the champions of cussedness. If it didn’t take a gilt to make a sow I just wouldn’t have them. Every time I partake in a battle of the wills with a gilt I hear John Lennon in the background with that Liverpool accent… “gurls…”.
Just yesterday I loaded 23 pigs, 150 pounders, by myself. I’m so proud! It’s all about preparation and prediction. I prepared with 2 pallets held together by two 2×4’s on each side outside of their 4 foot gate… attached to both the fence and the stock trailer. I had a hog panel ready on the inside of the pen to hopefully encircle them between the panel and gate; pounded in a tee post on the outer bend of the panel… to be wired in to keep the pigs from pushing up the panel and thus freeing themselves. They will absolutely do that. Then I had a line of feed and water from the foot of the trailer to the back. The runway was about the size of a hog board, so once in the runway I could drive them into the trailer if need be.
I predicted that there would be a good number at the gate that would go in at the outset after the feed and water. This in fact is what happened. I knew there would be some hesitant stragglers. This was the case. So I got the ﬁrst group into the trailer, into the ﬁrst compartment and closed the center gate to contain them. Then after some gentle coaxing I was luckily able to get the stragglers in two additional groups, one at a time, with each group based upon their level of you guessed it: CUSSEDNESS.
‘Gentle’ is a key word. If you lose your temper, become full of cussedness yourself, their own cussed nature will take over and you may never get them in, or out. It took me a bit too long to learn about this fact, and with much restraint… I now restrain myself albeit my extensive training by my father working on cars… just spectacular and quite creative profanity.
I hope your day is full of whatever the opposite of cussedness is. I think if you pay lots of attention to your animals… scratch their bellies and ears as much as you can… their level of cussedness will be diminished. I have no scientiﬁc basis to make this statement… but I think it’s true.
Early Summer (at last!)
This was a God-awful winter. I could quote all manner of statistics… snowpack, the 9 ft of snow the local ski resort got in February, all the bone-numbing days of sub-zero temps… but I’m just going to sum it all up as such: It Was a God-Awful Winter.
It was the first year I’ve had hogs just step over hog panels; the snow was so high and ice so packed. Litters were lost… I don’t like farrowing in the winter, but circumstances led us into that in a few cases. Yeah it was about 4 months of doing the “penguin walk” here in paradise.
Both outside hydrants froze, of course. Until we installed a water line in the basement, it was the 5 gallon bucket brigade out of the bathtub. Down the stairs… great exercise… at least there was some silver lining.
Occasionally I felt jealous of all my barned-up colleagues, mostly in the midwest, with those nicely heated structures… with all creatures, great and small, bundled in a cozy corner somewhere. But those thoughts were short-lived… give me that stiff north wind in my face and that crunch of a dry, crisp snowpack under my feet… vertical, horizontal, diagonal snow… bring it on.
The hogs take it all spectacularly. Yeah the temps set them back a bit certainly. It’s fairly primitive here with all manner of huts, all outside. Wooden huts of all configurations I’ve built in my little shop… just have to make sure the darn things aren’t too tall to clear the door when you pull them out! The details… We also have some of those metal port-a-huts… very handy and pretty warm with the half door and lots of clean straw… I get the big 4×8 bales… just make sure you put them on pallets and tarp them good! When they freeze to the ground, it’s just not fun at all.
There’s always periods of thawing/re-freezing. This attaches everything into the earth as super glue would… and everything is harder and much more time consuming… digging out the straw, digging out the truck, digging out the flatbed to go get grain, digging out the stock trailer, digging, shoveling, pushing, lifting and tossing snow. More exercise! But God-Awful.
Winter is a clean time of year, however. No mud. Sleds with feed, straw, buckets of water and whatever slide almost effortlessly… that just doesn’t happen pulling along the ground.
Raising hogs outside, as they should be raised, is a hard enterprise in its own right… but winter puts a hard edge on it all… the contemporary clothing makes just about anything bearable… as long as you keep moving… sitting on the tractor up in the breeze pushing snow around can be a bit chilly, but worth it… absolutely necessary actually if you need to move any equipment around; stock trailers for instance. The tractor all chained up is something I can’t do without.
So, all you folks raising your hogs in less temperate climes… rejoice! But we take it here in stride… clean snow-blanketed mountains overhead… that little northern pigmy owl that hangs out here most winters… the chickadees and nuthatches frequenting the hanging suet box… snowshoes, skinny skis and insulated coveralls. We can take it… as God-Awful as it can be.
But now spring is here… banging its drums. I’m sitting here in my beloved cargo shorts … on balance, life on the Heritage Hog Farm is the life for me.
Enjoy the animals, scratch their backs, rub their noses. They’ll take care of you if you return the favor.
Finally Spring… 2017
Winter has fallen down upon the Montana place… high of 9 today, 8 tomorrow. Maybe it’ll kill some pine beetle larvae… gotta look on the bright side.
The Berks are huddled in their huts like, well, beetle larvae in cambium. I’ve got these 4’ x 8’ bales of straw in a big tarped stack… shuttle loads out to the huts in plastic sleds that work the best with snow on the ground… I have to move fast to stay ahead of them. Straw is really important. If the rascals would just realize it’s for bedding – not to eat
It’s a peaceful time of the year, and quiet. No mud, no dust, just cold and dry snow… powder… time to break out the skinny skis. Not that I need any more exercise really… a Heritage Hog Farmer can relate.
Made up a trailer full of feed for WA with the Machine yesterday… might ﬁll the barn today but I’m not sure I want to run it when it’s this cold… but maybe it’s better to run it vs sitting… I don’t know. Maybe we’ll ﬁnd out.
Have to run some buckets of water out to Blackfoot, Belle, Lady, Jett and her pigs, Torrnado (yes with 2 r’s), Aspen, Tennessee and two groups of feeder pigs as soon as they start to stir… which will be awhile. Hogs are deﬁnitely on ‘musician time’… particularly in the winter. They don’t do anything until noon. Gives me time to do paperwork, ﬁll the bird feeder, rehang the thermometer just to break the bad news, write this blog, bring in ﬁrewood, etc.
Water is a real issue here in the winter. I’ve been too stingy to throw down for those fancy insulated automatic fence line waterers… really expensive. So I put hoses in a horse trough and throw a heater in there… works pretty good if you get the hoses untwisted before you put them in there. Otherwise it’s like trying to get the right amount of spaghetti out of the pot. And you gotta move fast before they freeze up so this is a real problem. Sometimes I just bucket it out there… faster and more exercise! You haven’t lived until you’ve lifted a 5 gallon bucket of water over a fence to empty its contents in a pan. More exercise!
So dig in folks. Winter is here. The hogs can take it. The Berks don’t need no fancy heated concentration camp to survive winter. Just straw them up, raise the ration and get them the water they need… twice a day since everything is froze up.
Enjoy your animals. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.
Wisconsin/Minnesota. North of the Twin Cities. Garrison Keillor’s country. Lots of little lakes lined with woods and farm fields. Typical idyllic farm compounds surrounded by basically one or two things: corn or soy. Midwestern folks… the best in the world. Found this John Deere 750 grinder/mixer on Craigslist… along with some others. Emailed and talked to folks. Emailed and talked to more folks. Finally settled on the Deere… I’ve had good luck with the green machines… but you do pay more for that green paint. So off to Wisconsin I went to get me a brand new 1970’s era green grinder/mixer with an 18-foot unloading auger and everything!
I didn’t have much time… I was after all in the middle of moving about half of the Berkshire clan back into their Montana lair… so I took about a 20-minute nap in the 18 hours or so I needed to get to Clear Lake, Wisconsin. The long-haul trucking gig I did before college raises its head again from time to time. When you start seeing animals from the Serengeti running along the side of the road you need to know that this is the time to take a nap.
I have this 18-foot flatbed trailer… but it’s of the car hauler variety which has caused me an unreasonable amount of grief in all the years I’ve had it… it’s the fenders, see… makes it tough to get anything on or off of that dead zone between the fenders. Animal raisers, hay handlers, grain haulers take note: Don’t get the fenders! So, the fender grief began anew… Old Floyd, the once proud owner of the green mini monster with seemingly one or two augers on each side, judiciously measured every angle of the big Green Machine and reported these figures to me before the journey… ok, with the tires off it was 76 inches wide which would fit nicely between the 81 inches that exist between those fenders. Well, upon rolling into the Floyd compound I could see it right off… there was no way that thing was going onto my trailer. Sure enough, the unit turned out to be about 86 inches wide hub to hub with the wheels off. Here I was 1,300 miles from home for only one reason… to pick up this big steel tub full of augers… and it wasn’t going to go on my trailer!
Ok. Well. Let’s see… it can’t, but must be done.
The old manager in me starts kicking into gear, somewhat rusty gears but they’re still turning… First, what are the resources at hand… there’s 70 year young Floyd, still in good shape… who has a bobcat and ample tools laying around… and he is a farmer right, so that just automatically means he’s a resourceful dude… although it turned out he spent much of his life as a used car salesman… hmmm… Then Fred showed up… a mechanical engineer… but I didn’t know that right off… and Mark the neighbor… this wiry fellow that was just a bit too enthusiastic about everything. To summarize… it was me, farmer/car salesman Floyd, Fred the mechanical engineer and Mark the nuclear reactor for a neighbor. Priceless… and perfect.
Off the team went on the journey to make the impossible possible. The first hour consisted mainly of role definition. Who really knew what the hell they were talking about? Who would lead this rabble. After all the sure’s … I don’t know’s … maybe’s … we can’t do it that way’s … that’ll never work’s … the two finalists for leader of the group came down to me and the mechanical engineer, before I actually knew he was a mechanical engineer. Floyd just wanted to see the thing gone with money in hand, bless his heart. Mark lost all credibility from a leadership standpoint right off… but man he was ready to rock… extremely valuable. So, it was the engineer and I as finalists in the leadership selection process. Alright, now for the resume check… tell me Fred, what do you do? “Oh … I’m a retired engineer.” Oh. From that point on all the gibberish I’d been enduring from his direction gained clarity and I cautiously yielded the leadership role to him… not that I’d want to leave the fate of the world up to engineers, but we just had to see if we were going to solve the Great Loading problem… I needed to get back to my hogs! So, onward we went… Fred could be considered the ship captain, with me as the XO. He had the authority to fire the missile, but had to have my concurrence to do so.
And on we went… we developed our plan… removing the wheels, getting the thing blocked up so the hubs would clear the fenders, putting a round fence post under the tongue so we could push it forward with the bobcat enough, getting the unloading auger set so it would clear my truck and not get ripped off by an overpass… And after proper implementation of the plan… the old Deere was strapped down on the trailer tight.
Mark had to run… which I believe is probably his exclusive mode of mobility… I offered to take him with me back to my farm because I knew he could get done what would typically take me a month to do in about 2 days… he had to decline… had to train for some marathon or something… wow that made a trailer load of sense.
Old Floyd’s wife Faith Anne… whose name is so great I just have to say it again… Faith Anne… after we finally overcame the Great Loading… had an entire spread of cold cuts and lots of stuff from her garden spread out on this huge round kitchen table including this even bigger batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies she made in a wash tub… about a gazillion ounces of flour and so on. She gave me a ziplock of the still warm sand dollars from heaven for the trip of course. Fred the engineer had my entire journey around anything Minneapolis/St Paul planned out, printed and highlighted on 4 map quest maps … it took me 4 pages of map quest maps, numbered from 1 to 4 so I wouldn’t go backwards… to get that grinder mixer out of that country and onto the interstate unscathed. Floyd mentioned that I need not call him if I have any problems with the unit. Bless his heart. Faith Anne gave me one of those warm midwestern hugs. Bless her heart. When I pulled away from Floyd’s and Faith Anne’s driveway… feeling the weight and that very specific side to side rocking related to a high center of gravity (see Fred already had me thinking like an engineer)… I just knew I was not going to make it… and wondered how many tow trucks I was going to have to employ along the way to get it home.
It can’t, but must be done.
So… thanks to the mind of Fred, the economically driven inertia of Floyd, the brawn of Mark and the cookies from Faith Anne… the Big Green Machine landed in Bigfork unscathed.
After nearly a full day of unloading fun with a tractor that couldn’t pick it up other than one little corner at a time, all manner of jacks and profanity I got the wheels back on the thing and got it onto the ground.
Now I just needed an hour to get local barley in and 10 hours to bring cull peas in and then we would be rocking in the grain… no more expensive sacks of whatever from the feed store… no more grinding/ mixing in those little Italian grinders into minuscule buckets… no more soaking grain… no more going way out to get soy from those wonderful Hutterite folks… no more wondering what I have really.
If I can just keep the old Green Machine running, we’ll be in good shape I think.
Straw up those hogs folks, winter is coming. I mean, I think it is.
Now, there may be some folks who have an acute passion for animal welfare (that more than likely have never actually raised them) who may take some exception to the following essay… but I can assure all of you that the programs described actually enhance the welfare of our animals by keeping them away from the hinterlands where the boogey men await… and love hog on the hoof! And these programs allow the outside hog farmer to be an effective outside hog farmer. Spending all of your days chasing feral hogs just isn’t productive, nor sustainable.
I have miles of hot-wire… electric fencing. Here it’s used along both sides of fence bottoms … internally to keep the rascals from digging their way out from their lairs, destroying labor intensive fencing and the like. The external wire is to keep the boogey men from invading their lairs to wreak havoc on the inhabitants. In Montana, Grizzly Bears are the leaders of the boogey men tribe.
The entire network of metal wire is driven by a charger… a solar/AC power box that sends electrical charges out in pulses… click, click, click it goes night and day, rain or shine.
Now… the trick is keeping this network functioning effectively. All manner of problems can interrupt the working order of the network… fresh mounds of dirt thrown on top of a section by our destructive and quite intelligent Berkshires… limbs can fall on the wires… other farm subjects (sheep) can push the field wire against the hot wire and short it out… metal on metal is always the most compete and effective short… often shutting the system down entirely… vegetation (grass) can grow around the wire… etc.
Our porcine friends know almost immediately when the hot-wire is down, or reduced enough to not act as an effective deterrent in any way whatsoever. When this happens the sanctity of the farm is dramatically compromised. Fence bottoms are stretched creating additional shorts, insulators are broken, the Berks suddenly rediscover the art of fence climbing in an effort to ‘socialize’ with their neighbors and on and on. If the system is down long enough… animals, particularly smaller young pigs will escape their lairs.
This is when the fun begins… I’ll put my handy little hot wire tester on the wire to test voltage… and it reads 0. Pigs will look up at me, dirt on their noses, in total glee… it’s their turn to become the masters of the farm. Finally they are in charge… the mastered have now become the master. What fun!
Well… the original master… the one who built the facilities to provide for the originally mastered needs… housing, protection, feed, water, etc… has to drop every other necessary and scheduled chore and go about locating the short(s) straight away to thwart all the new founded freedom and fun our beloved Berkshire’s are partaking in.
Ok… normally there are the usual suspects… particular stretches that have a history of problems… critical control points if you will… these are checked first. No… there’s something else… so you go about your systematic walking of the entire system looking for the perpetrator of the malfeasance… all the while the dirt is flying creating additional problems… it becomes this snow ball from hell (yeah, that’s an oxymoron for you)… you have to work as fast as you can to get ahead of the furry little @#&%. No… your first complete trek around the system finds nothing… still the dirt is flying like rooster tails from the working end of a dirt bike… on to the second systematic walking of the system. Nothing. Now you can hear the field wire stretching… testing the grit of the fence staples… now it’s time to actually isolate the system in sections (what you knowingly know you should have done in the beginning)… yeah, the problem is in a particular area… so you go about combing that little community for the reason you’ve had to spend a couple hours now using up critical time you needed for your other tasks …
Alas! There it is… one single piece of metal the original owner decided to bury, along with a bunch of other crap… out of sight out of mind I guess… this insignificant little strip that was freed from its intended tomb by our lovely little pod of pigs and pushed up on the wire… and bam… down goes the entire system.
So you quickly remove that problem… re-connect the system… run around and remove all other relatively minor problems created during the shut down… and Mother of God… the litter tester conveys the magic number… 4 kv.
Now… here’s the rub for the squeamish… the once silent period on the farm… short of the stretching fence lines… is broken. Fresh chirps and squeals briefly echo across the land like songbirds on a summer morn. A musical harmony like a warm blanket next to a campfire for the old farmer.
Pigs are looking at me again… fence line dirt having fallen from their noses like cool water on a hot day. Respect for the original master has returned. But… in turn… respect for the originally mastered has been reiterated… restored.
This is the gist of Electric Warfare on the hog farm. It’s really somewhat like the gross and unfortunate nuclear warfare chess game. They have theirs and I have mine. When my system is in place and operating as it should… the effective standoff is secured.
Happy Father’s Day everyone.