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.