Donʼt Fence Me In…

This is an old song, actually written by a poet/engineer with the Montana Department of Highways (Robert Fletcher) who sold the song to Cole Porter for a whopping $250.

Mr. Porter re-worked it a bit:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in!
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in!

Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in!

Just turn me loose
Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the Western skies

On my Cayuse
Let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in!

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in!
Let me ride through the wide country that I love
Don’t fence me in!

Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in!

Just turn me loose
Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the Western skies
Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo

On my Cayuse
Let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise
Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
And gaze at the moon ’til I lose my senses
I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in!

No, Papa, don’t you fence me in!

Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter, 1934
———————————————-

Well, the thing with hogs is… unfortunately… you have to fence them in… these days anyway.  I visited old Andy Jackson’s Hermitage on one of my jaunts to Tennessee a couple years back and was amazed to learn how pigs were left free to roam the sizable compound.

Perhaps if we had such a spread carved from the wilderness, devoid of neighbors we could get away with this – they should always come back at feeding time anyways… right?  But I can’t imagine that we would enjoy much success with this strategy and these rascal Berkshires… we actually have a sow aptly named “Miss Jay’s Rascal”… and what a complete rascal she is… and her pigs and her pigs’ pigs.  Rascals one and all…

I think itʼs a game that they play with me… ʻletʼs see who can upend old Randyʼs latest addition to our domain firstʼ… huts, water barrels, hog panels, gates, inferior fencing… you name it.  And of course old Randy himself if he holds onto the feed bucket too long or makes the errant move to try to infiltrate a group with one or two too many large feeder pigs in it.  But you know, we love our Berks!

Fencing
Fencing

So… fencing is a must.  Good fencing is rudimentary.  And the kind of fence that would be a detriment to a D4 caterpillar is much preferred if one hopes to contain our porcine friends over the long run.  Because really thatʼs what these guys are… a herd of D4 caterpillars that are plenty motivated to remove all obstacles in their path… and well below their path actually.

Now Iʼve been building some manner of fence every day for the past three years… well, it seems like every day anyway.  I donʼt think there is a spot anywhere on my body that hasnʼt felt the magical touch of my hammer.  Not to mention the 3/8 drill bit I put through my hand one hot August day… and had to pull it back out!  Canʼt remember if I put the drill in reverse or not… thankfully Zack was nearby to take the old guy to town to get fixed up.

Thanks to the animal husbandry experiences of my youth, I basically build fortresses.  Hog fortresses.  Heritage Berkshire fortresses.  And the rascals are at bay.

You see, I grew up on a little farm/ranch in northern California and like Noah himself, I think we had about two of everything. Certainly a few too many of everything.  Now my Pop, God love him, he didnʼt like to spend money on anything, especially fencing.  So young Randy cut his teeth on a dead run… chasing one form of Noahʼs creatures or another… and had to suffer the embarrassment many times of chasing a steer through a neighbors garden, geese off the county road, pigs off the other neighbors beautiful pastures.  My older brothers were grown up and gone, so it was typically just me and the lone prairie… on a dead run.

So, these days I pay particular attention to the fences. Now, Iʼm just a dirtball biologist, not a carpenter, so just about everything I build is a bit, shall we say, whimsical, but they hold these black/white rascals… after all, Iʼm getting too old for those dead runs through the woods.

Hot Wire Energizer
Hot Wire Energizer

You know the old saying… If you talk to 30 different farmers about a subject, you’ll get 30 different answers… with conviction!  So, these are just My ways to go about putting up fence to contain hogs.  If you have better ideas… by all means use them!  But if you think you can just put up a couple strands of loose hot wire to hold these wonderful creatures weʼre so blessed to share space on the landscape with… please at the very least have a good perimeter fence!  Unless you owe the neighbors some favors…

Corner and gate bracing is key.  Strong livestock gates are a must.  Only use Red Brand field wire (please send endorsement money to the address in the contact section of this site… you see, weʼre small farmers and really could use it!)… the way itʼs wound is far superior to anything else Iʼve used.  You can get ahold of it and stretch it good and tight.

 
Hotwire in and out

Hot wire is a must.  Along the bottom of the fence, and since we live on a landscape with plenty of predators (it is Wilderness Farms after all), we also run a strand about 18 inches off the ground along the outside of the pens.  This keeps all creatures great and small out of trouble.  

Hog and cattle panels are great, but very expensive.  But hog panels are essential to have around to build quick enclosures for young pigs.

We have a post pounder to use with our tractor to drive the wooden posts for braces.  You can rent these things as well.  By all means be careful using these contraptions.  Donʼt go at post pounding with something else on your mind.

 

Cedar Sticks

Smooth horse wire works well for bracing wire and you can use pieces of lumber, or as we do here, cut up stout cedar limbs for winders to tighten the wire.  Use heavy 10 inch nails to fasten the horizontal blunt brace posts. Stretch the 4 ft Red Brand field wire between brace posts and use 6 ft metal T posts every 8 ft in between.  Attach the hot wire, turn it on and youʼre ready to sleep well at night with a reasonable assurance that you can be sparred those midnight dead runs…

Enjoy your hogs.  Scratch their ears.  Talk to them.  They have quite the vocabulary themselves!  Hogs are special.
 

Cheers,
Randy

Getting Real at Wilderness Farms

I’m just now reading about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his latest grab of the company behind the ‘Oculus Rift’- a virtual reality headset that allows one to “enter a completely immersive computer generated environment” he says.   Ah, the questions…

Now, Iʼve endured and even supported all this video game mambo jambo with my kids, but have often worried about the what seems to me to be more than ample time they have spent in their rooms wailing away at zombies, foreign nationals, and the KGB …  vs being outside or reading or doing just about anything thatʼs actually real … you know, really participating in real life.

Iʼve also been dragged into in the growing onslaught of ʻsocial mediaʼ, kicking and screaming I should add … mainly when we were more heavily involved with the music scene because all the mentors and publicists said we must use the social sites to promote what we were doing … but this sort of thing could not possibly be more ʻnot meʼ.  You may find this a bit surprising if youʼve endured some of my blogs, but the last thing I am is a ʻchattyʼ person … that feels that it is absolutely necessary to share with the world my every thought, predicament, and ambition.  Nor do I want the world to know where I am and what Iʼm doing 24/7.  What’s wrong with me?  Perhaps only old relics like me like their privacy …

So, back to Zuckerberg and his growing Facebook empire … what kind of person wants to “enter a completely immersive computer generated environment”?  What’s wrong with the actual environment all around us? 

Now I can understand the need for a break from reality from time to time … but being a farmer, I rarely get one … except with an occasional movie, good book, or Zackʼs baseball games – which are very ʻrealʼ for him, and all of us.  Zack works hard at his game every day; a game that actually takes place outside on a real field with real players, real coaches, and here in western Washington … real rain.

Maybe, to give all of us a diversion from the daily grind, Iʼll gather up my little Berkshire family and weʼll go to Hawaii or Disneyland for the holidays … mmm … if Broadway, Bridger, Backwhen, Cathy, Mato, Joan, Norma Jean, Jett, Shiloh, Amy, Miss Pig and Suzie took on Disneyland – that would certainly be a break from reality … and for a lot of people and pigs!  And a good story … “Wilderness Farms goes to the Magical Kingdom” …  But the escapade would probably be reduced to fodder for another video game where our beloved Berks would be dispatched like zombies …

Our little farm is a real farm.  You can actually scratch the ears of our Berkshires and get a kind and thankful response.  You can carry buckets of water and grow real muscles … which is great for our baseball fanatic son Zack, who is, what can I say … ʻfarmer strongʼ. You can toss feed to all manner of pigs and hogs and finally quiet the masses … a calming silence you just have to experience to appreciate. You can build fences in ways that fit in with the farm landscape … giving plenty of consideration to the black-tail deer and red-headed woodpeckers.  And now that spring is here … you can hear multiple frog choirs going off … competing with the hog harmonies at supper time.  When it rains it gets muddy … trees can come down when the wind blows … and when the sun finally appears hogs and man just stand in it and take it in with a level of thankfulness that canʼt be surpassed here on the farm.

A farm life is an adventurous life.  When you think youʼve seen everything something new happens.  Itʼs hard.  Itʼs fun.  Itʼs rewarding.  Weʼre always tired.  We can rejoice every day in the progress weʼve made and fret about all that still needs to be done.  Itʼs actual reality.

Thatʼs it for now … now Iʼm going to post this on Facebook.

A Day with the Chickens …

Itʼs been rough around here the last couple months with consistent, relentless rain … but what should one expect in Western WA … right?  I think itʼs possible that our Berkshires will start quacking like ducks any day now. Remember, this is an outside operation … we have none of those fancy hog barns the industry uses in their concentration camps.

Farrowing season is upon us … Miss Pig and Cathy have had litters recently and Shiloh delivered a nice group of 11 on her first try! Suzie, Mato and Norma Jean will be farrowing in the next month, with Joan, Jett and Amy litters later this spring.

We still have a ways to go to get ʻdry lotsʼ set up back in the wooded areas so we can get the animals off the pasture areas to allow us to get these systems established.

Thereʼs a lot of clean up to do as well … parts of the farm were logged a few years back and thereʼs much debris to deal with and wood to mill up with our little chain saw mill.  At least weʼre not bored!

Now ʻdaylight savings timeʼ is here, and the days are getting longer thereʼs more time to get it all done … just keep the coffee and energy drinks coming, please.

Anyway, yesterday was a beautiful sunny day here, finally, and I spent the day building a new feeder pen in our garden area where we also have our chickens … they were still celebrating the arrival of their new cinder block/tarp shelter we put up for them this past weekend … we salvaged the roof frame from one of those cheap shelters we bought at Costco that the wonderful SE wind we get here from time to time so readily reduced to pasture abbatis … the same SouthEaster that snapped the top off a big cedar that bounced off a camper and impaled itself in the house like an arrow here a few years back … after all this place was coined ʻEnumclawʼ … a Salish description having to do with evil spirits and thundering winds.

Obviously I was under the influence of this all too infrequent sunny day, but as I was building a floor for the new hog hut, it dawned on me that these birds that were quietly clucking about were actually pretty cool … and understand that we love our Berkshire hogs here, but there is absolutely no way I would be able to do this work in such a peaceful purposeful manner if I were surrounded by any manner of hogs.  Hogs would be at my boots like they were apple sort-outs … they would be trying to remove the bottom threads from my jeans … the tools I had staged with appropriate juxtaposition would cause extreme fascination with our porcine friends … is there anything more fun than playing Randyʼs tool toss? Other than maybe Randyʼs tool ʻhide and seekʼ … perhaps an ʻIndiana Jonesʼ of the 22nd Century will discover archaeological wonders here that these hogs have so joyfully buried.  Iʼd bet a good set of fence pliers would be worth at least a hundred bucks in the 22nd.

So, I enjoyed hanging with the chickens.  Our flock consists of mainly the Light Brahma variety, with a few Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks that have been with us for many years.  When we got the Brahmas … a beautiful large heritage species … we got a ʻmixed runʼ, meaning both sexes were present in about equal numbers. We did this with the thought that we would select the best rooster and put the rest in the freezer … well, ʻbutcher dayʼ has come and gone now many times and several of the big boys remain.  Whatʼs amazing about this is these guys arenʼt beating themselves into submission … which is my experience when thereʼs more than one rooster in the hen house … certainly thereʼs occasional disputes and brief ʻtalon-i-cuffsʼ but these altercations are far from the lethal ones I would expect.  So, we have several roosters competing with Greg and Barbaraʼs peacocks down the road for the pole position on the neighborhood soundwave … but the Stellarʼs Jays readily mock them as a reminder to all of us that these domestics are truly out of place here in the foothills of the Cascades.

Weʼll do all we can to reconcile these differences.

The Enumclaw Plan – Part One … “The Destination”

I was reared professionally in the food industry … as a young biologist/production manager for a large food processing cooperative many years ago now.  Here we were ruthlessly trained in the ʻmanagement artsʼ by learning the finer points of management:  Planning, Organizing, Leading, and Controlling.

Therefore, I wouldnt know how to do anything without a plan – a roadmap that defines where we want to end up on our journey, what routes we want to take to get there, where the landslides/potholes/dead-end roads are to be avoided, etc., etc.  I like to draw plans up backwards … starting with The Destination’ first.

So, The Destination’ here at our little Enumclaw Heritage Hog Farm is to raise healthy, happy heritage Berkshire hogs entirely outside, on pasture and in the woods, to provide quality meat products and breeding stock for folks in the Great Pacific Northwest.  We want to, as much as possible, integrate this operation with landscape values/wildlife habitats here on our little hog farm, and perform all facets of this business as environmentally sustainable as we can.

This approach really isn’t at all different from the crusade Ive marched along with throughout my career as a wildlife biologist – which is basically this:  we have an economic priority in this country.  This is just the way it is.  We need to find ways to integrate what we do to support ourselves with our vastly impacted landscape if we want to continue to enjoy landscape values in this country outside of public lands.

When you look at all the economic entities out there, agriculture arguably has the greatest potential to integrate what it does with the landscape (but when mismanaged, can really screw things up).  So, my career crusade has revolved around exemplifying the environmental potential of agriculture.  And now we get to do it for ourselves!!

You have to be able to take some arrows as a crusader, and I certainly have my scars.  In the middle of our crusade within the California food processing industry an Executive VP said to me, during a meeting involving a large group of colleagues, that all this environmental mambo jambo “was just a bunch of bunk” … among the milder forms of ordinance Iʼve taken.

Back then it was difficult to find room within the big business mindset for anything other than the bottom line … and anything ‘environmentalconjured up only visions of regulatory agents with badges who were out to change your business, cost you money, or worse’.  Its very heart warming today to see so many folks/businesses really place a priority on such critical aspects as environmental sustainability, landscape values, and the like.  And there are many, many of these people here in the Pacific Northwest.

Part Two of The Enumclaw Plan’ will start mapping out the journey our little Heritage Hog Farm will take to reach ‘Our Destination’ and will be coming soon …

Randy – January, 2014

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.

Randy

October 31, 2013

Enumclaw…

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!

Cathy

 

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.

-Randy