October 2013


We recently had a virus go through the family.  Poor R had the worst case of it, and absolutely could not sleep at nap or at night.  She would be OK until she laid down, and then all the gunk would settle into her lungs and she would be unable to breathe, start a croupy cough, and sometimes cough until she gagged or threw up.  Poor girl.  First, I tried the humidifier, which helped but didn’t solve the problem.  I tried Chest rubs, sitting out with her in the cool night air, and even gave in and tried a little medicine to help her breathe.  I even tried propping her up on extra pillows, but as soon as she fell asleep, she would just slide down to a more horizontal position and start coughing again.  Nothing worked.  Then, out of desperation for my own sleep, I came up with a new plan.

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I put her carseat in her bed, propped the head rest up on her stack of pillows, and put her in it.  Granted, it helped that she really likes her car seat.  In any case, the slight incline coupled with the head support pillows that prevented her from folding over onto her bed in a totally horizontal position worked!  Poor girl (and poor mommy) finally got a good night’s sleep!  She even slept late the next morning since she was so tired.  After 3 nights in her carseat, she was finally on the mend.

Then she gave her cold to Mommy.  The only problem was, I outgrew my car seat MANY years ago.

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I figured it was time for a little update on our pigs.  

The girls are in their 3rd paddock rotation at this point.  They have not shared this one, so they’ve done the majority of clean up by themselves, and it is quite impressive, if I do say so.  Here is a photo of the land.  When we first put them in, the brush went up to about 3 feet from the fence, and even then, the space right beside the fence was covered in poison ivy, weeds, and vines.  Since this is a major traffic area for the girls, as they run alongside each person walking or driving down the street, hoping for a hand-out (they never get one, they just always hope!), they have really cleared the brush back away from the fence.  

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Yesterday, I decided to get an estimate on their weights.  I used a method I learned from Walter Jeffries over at Sugar Mountain Farm.   To summarize, you measure from the crown of the head, right between the ears, straight down the spine to the tail head, right where the tail attaches to the body.  That gives you the length measurement (L).  Then, you measure the girth, wrapping a string or tape all the way around the rib cage, right behind the front legs.  That gives you a girth measurement (G).

Then, you multiply:  L x G x G and divide by 400.  

I have no idea where the 400 comes from.  In any case, though, I came up with a weight of 117 and 128 lbs, roughly.  Supposedly, this method is accurate on roaster and finisher pigs to within a few pounds.  

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So, based on my research, compared to commercial hybrid hogs on commercial feed, mine are about 2/3 to 1/2 the weight they should be (depending on the source).  Compared to pure-bred, pasture-raised hogs not on commercial feed, however, they seem to be right on par.   I contacted Walter at Sugar Mountain Farm directly, and he said their weight sounds perfectly normal, and he would expect them to almost double in the next 2-3 months.  He explained they really seem to pack on the pounds in the end.  

In any case, this has been a fun experiment.  The pigs have been the lowest-maintenance animal on the farm by far.  They have required absolutely NO clean up, and in fact, have cleaned up the land they were on just as we had hoped.  All we’ve really done is supplement them almost once a day with excess milk and organic kitchen scraps, and on occasion, organic rolled grains.  

The low financial inputs into raising them has taught us that it would be worthwhile to raise our own on just forage and excess milk, even with the risk of decreased gains by slaughter time.  It’s clear why the hog is popular as a good source of meat and income, even for the poorest in some nations.  They seem to thrive so easily.

Due to the fact that we are hoping to sell one of these girls, however, I would like to see a bit more gain.  Therefore, I am going to increase the milk they are receiving with milk I have been stockpiling in the freezer, as well as begin offering free-choice rolled grains and organic corn on a more regular basis.  It won’t be full time, but as close as I can get, as the organic, non-GMO versions can be hard to come by around here.   I use rolled grains instead of whole grains due to increased digestibility.  They will continue to have full access to their forage and woodland paddock until slaughter time.  In the event the weather turns bad first, they will get all the hay they can eat.  

So far, I have really enjoyed raising these girls.  Minimal inputs with seemingly good outputs if their gains continue well.  They are fun, and quite a different experience than other livestock I’ve dealt with.  I am really looking forward to those hams and bacons, though!

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Check out those hams! Still a ways to grow, but looking good so far!

Here in IL, now that we have a real barn with real stalls, a good sized garden with lots of green stems and leaves growing (and dying) in it, and lots of animals which produce lots of manure, we also have a much larger compost pile than we did in CO.   Unfortunately, a large compost pile does not remain piled neatly very long when there are lots of free-ranging chickens present.  A compost pile is like chicken heaven with all those bugs, seeds, food scraps, and other items just sitting there waiting to be eaten.  In fact, by the time they’ve spent a couple months scratching through it, it winds up looking something more like this:

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I needed a better set-up.  It was time to tackle another project on my list and build a compost bin.  We actually don’t produce as much compost as you might think.  When the animals are being rotated on pasture, we don’t scoop manure since they already spread it for us.  We also don’t normally house animals in the barn (except rabbits), so stall cleaning only happens in spells where I do need to house some critter for some reason (like weaning calves).  Garden waste happens more seasonally, with just little bits here and there.  Nonetheless, it all adds up over time.  By allowing it to be scattered, I was loosing all those precious nutrients to leeching or evaporation.  In order to turn all the waste into the priceless black gold that makes up a good compost, I needed a bin that would allow me to pile it roughly 4 cubic feet (considered the ideal size for rapid, aerobic composting).

After taking a look at my scrap lumber and coming up with a plan, I decided to speed up the process by using the wood as-is rather than trimming it down.  I used 7 foot boards on the back wall, with old fence posts as the corner bracing.  By adding an additional post to the middle of the wall, I was able to divide the bin in half.  I used 6 foot boards on the sides and in the middle.  This created 2, 3.5 x 6 foot bins.  I used old cedar fence rails for the sides and back.  The untreated cedar doesn’t decay quite as fast as other wood, but also doesn’t contaminate my compost with chemicals often used in wood treatments.  By leaving gaps between each board, more oxygen is able to penetrate the pile.

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This project took me about 2 days.  That included building the bins, cleaning my stalls,  cleaning up the original, scattered compost pile, and filling the bins, layering as needed.  If I can remember to turn and wet down the pile once in a while (if we don’t get rain), then I should be able to have an abundance of nutrient rich compost for the garden come spring.  I may have to build a couple more, as all the animals have been moved to a sacrifice paddock now.  I will discuss that more in another post.  In any case, though, it means I may have a lot more material than normal needing to be composted as winter approaches.  Notice in the next photo that, for now at least, I situated the bins on a slope.  With the front boards, I needed to raise the wheelbarrow up a hair to dump into the bins easily, so I just piled a “ramp” out of some of the original compost pile as I raked it in.  This made dumping into the bins MUCH easier!

The finished compost bins.  Amazingly, the original pile, the stall I cleaned, and the misc. other stuff I put into it only filled it about half way.  This means I can flip it into the other bin as part of the stirring process when it's time to start the next pile later.

The finished compost bins. Amazingly, the original pile, the stall I cleaned, and the misc. other stuff I put into it only filled it about half way. This means I can flip it into the other bin as part of the stirring process when it’s time to start the next pile later.  

Once S arrives, he will probably redo these bins and we may even decide to relocate them.  To make them more permanent, I should have buried the posts.  I wasn’t sure if this is where I wanted them, however, so I just left them sitting on the ground, where they’ll work for now.  We’ll see how I like it in a few months and change if needed for next year.