Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Nesting Pigs

You probably have never seen a sow's nest. During early labor a sow spends a great deal of time creating the perfect spot to farrow. Previous falls I've had a litter or two of piglets born on pasture but I carefully protected the sow's nest. Two years ago when Brownie farrowed I remember pounding four posts carefully stretching a tarp over her nest protect it from rain and the hot sun. (newbie)

Colleen's piglets Day 1
This fall my plan was to move my portable pens to the flat part of the pasture to protect the piglets for the first few days. Clodagh was the first to farrow.  She'd been in a pen got out one morning and went to the far corner of the pasture.  When I returned from work she was deep in labor and would not consider moving from the nest she created. So we set the pen up around her carefully protecting her arriving piglets.

Cara and Tawny farrowed as planned in the set up pens. Celine relaxed for a week in her own quiet pen and was let out when we needed to use the pen to catch piglets for castration. The morning after her release Celine did not rejoin the others to eat. A quick hike through the pasture found she had built a nest soft, silty soil in the sheltered, sunny spot.   It was Thursday morning the first day of the annual Tunbridge fair with work and school the fair we had no time assemble a pen around her piglets.

Friday morning Coleen did bring down some grass but I was off to school and then to wait tables so I let her naturally do her thing. Coleen created an incredible nest lined with lots of great grass again on the sheltered hillside away from the wind. Coleen's nest is in the very corner of the pasture so she can see anything approaching. The next day when there was a rain shower in the evening while I was at work I wondered how the litters in the uncovered nests would fair.  The following morning I found Coleen's nest carefully relined with new grass and Celine's piglets clean and dry and her carefully selected spot.

Celine's silty nest with piglets Day 1
This morning when I heard the rain on our roof I wondered how the four day old piglets were doing. When I went to do chores I discovered they were warm toasty and almost completely dry. With this round of fall farrowing I have learned to trust instincts of my sows. Tamworths are a heritage breed making a strong comeback for a reason, they thrive on pasture, are incredible mothers, and produce flavorful meat.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Plenty of Space

I now feel settled into the routines of winter.  School vacation allows for more than completion of each days routine, it allows for reflection.  This year the chore routine is different as our barn is still under repair.  The understory is full of cribbing as the steel lolly columns are replaced with hewn posts.  The craftsmanship of the repair is incredible but one of my favorite features is the functional frost free faucets.

Typically the pigs come back to the barn and barnyard for winter.  Even though the pigs always had access to the outside I discovered the large pen 20'x30' was large enough they did not go outside to go to the bathroom and I had to clean the pen each week.  This winter the gilts are in an area at the base of the pasture in the backyard.  Having the pigs in the backyard is not ideal but was the best option as the paddock has piles of stone from the repairs and I did not want to walk through the snow up the hill into the pasture to feed and water (they will also till and fertilize for a new garden space.)  The five gilts share two moveable huts Mike made from reclaimed fence posts and tin removed from the lower level ceiling.  As with all things made by Mike, I describe what I would like and he improves upon it. 

Our new three month old boar, Corc, and his meat pig brother are in a hog paneled enclosure on the north side of the barn.  We completely cheated when sheltering them and simply set into the large enclosure the large wooden crate we transported them home from New York in.  They have been here since the weekend prior to Thanksgiving and have grown in little chunks.  They burrow into the hay for warmth, leaving the box to eat, drink and poop.  We will electric fence train them in the spring.

The winter routine is different this year with no poop scooping and water that does not freeze in the barn.  Even without the ample space of our barn the animals keep warm and toasty.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Weekend

It is a cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend in Vermont.  I was just out in the barn admiring how much our timber frame contractor can accomplish in a day.  Silas is soon to begin restoring the understory.  Our recent task has been to prepare for this enormous feat.  Mike is building a free standing 10'x12' chicken coop at the end of the stone retaining wall.  It is just as I imagined.  He is always able to make my crazy ideas a reality.  On Tuesday night this week I completed moving the last pigs from the barn.  Sparkler's daughters, Fuzzy and Brownie, are now outside in Jorgenson's lot with Brownie's piglets.  Creating spaces and moving pigs can be a multi-day process when you are squeezing it in around other work.  The boys and I begin putting up the hog panel enclosure last Saturday with Trenton and I cobbling together a shelter from the boys' old swing set.  One of my plans for summer is to create portable pig huts which are more presentable from the old swing set but last weekend's pre-prom creation works for now. 

My task this morning was to move manure out of the barn.  Covered in fleece and wearing a hat I soon was warm enough on this 40 degree day to enjoy the cool breeze coming from the north.  Our dogs Storm and Danny snuggled into a pile of straw and the laying hens worked around me enjoying whatever I uncovered from the manure.  As I worked in the back of the barn which had been the pigs' pen I have a clear view of Brownie, Fuzzy and the piglets.  The gang of eleven was clearly hunger and began demanding Brownie lay down to feed them.  Their squeals grew to be more like screams as they navigated on top of one another to find their specific teat.  Brownie grew frustrated with the fighting for place (and I would guess the ear piercing noise) and stood up.  After a minute or two she laid back down and the piglets settled in to nurse.  They were quiet for a good five minutes.  I know if I had been close enough I would have seen their quick gulps as her milk let down.

Life is super busy as we squeeze in work on the barn, around my weekend shifts at PINE and our regular jobs.  Yet moments of watching the piglets nurse, the hens scratch or the dogs sleep in the straw often remind me of work others have done on this farm and in our barn.  I am thankful for the opportunities we enjoy.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Web Site

As we gear up for a summer of raising poultry and meat pigs I spent a recent snow day creating a website on weebly.  As many of our sales come from placing a sign next to the road or a Craigslist ad I am not sure of the benefit of a more formal web presence but I decided it could not hurt.  I am happy with the results and welcome your feedback.  If you are intersted in checking out Another Button Farm's new site it can be found at

Big B

Hogwash Bam Bam came to our farm in December of 2010.  His name did not go over well with teenage boys so he became what so many boars are called, Boris.  I would often call him Big B.  He was respectful to the sows and always mellow and gentle with us but we respected him because of his size.

Our sows have had a difficult spring farrowing.  I believe there is some virus effecting the herd and biology tells me once you have a virus it is always present so we have made the tough decision to cull the herd and start fresh.  After the first sow had a small, weak litter we thought about allowing the girls to farrow one more time in the fall.  When the second sow had a small litter last week we decided there would be no fall litter.  It becomes a financial decision not an emotional one... no piglets means the sows are not paying for their grain.

I researched boar taint and debated about keeping him away from the girls and reducing his hormones but when it is about $4. a pound for commercial slaughter and sausage making.  But if that did not work and the meat still taste "boar" like it was not was not worth experimenting.

A Craiglist ad offering him for free drew a quick response and he left this week.  It is different having an animal leave the farm not knowing how he will be treated.  When I took Sparks to the slaughterhouse my conversation with Royal as we unloaded her was on that left me knowing she was in good hands.  He appreciated her gentle nature and that she easily followed me.  He asked about her litters.  He is a farmer, knew it is part of life's cycle.

Here on Another Button Farm we are begin with a new crop of registered Tams.  I am looking forward to meeting them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We do this because...

Last week for my job as a FACS teacher I had to purchase 18 roasting chickens from BJ's for our annual Renaissance festival.  As I placed these inexpensive chickens, two at a time, into a roasting pan I was struck by the dramatic difference from our pasture raised birds.  I am not an iPhone person so I did not snap a picture of their yellow tinged skin and short legs.  I observed another dramatic difference in the neck and liver in the little plastic package stuffed inside.  The chicken's neck was about the circumference of my thumb and the liver a mushy, burnt orange.

We have raised pasture based chickens for five years.  We started with dual purpose birds that we raised for most of the summer.  These chicks were cheap as they are often discarded by hatcheries selling pullets but their carcasses were not the breasty birds we are accustomed to.  We then tried the carefully breed Cornish Crosses one finds in the supermarket.  I know the ones I purchased at the supermarket last week lived about 50 days.  We were disgusted by the Cornish Crosses as they stayed belly up to the feeder not foraging and rarely waddling to another spot. 

We then discovered Freedom Rangers. These red broilers are slow growing and well suited for a grass based system.  The Freedom Rangers appreciate our efforts to provide them with fresh grass.  We move them outside as soon as they have feathers into portable pens.  We move the pens twice a day if the chickens are closed in the pen.  When the chickens are about 6 weeks we open the pens and release them into a polynet enclosure.  For the first couple of weeks of the pens being open we close them in each night.  It is great fun to watch them run when the pen is opened each morning.  They race in a big circle around the pen flapping their wings. 

We have the birds slaughtered on the farm at about 12 weeks of age.  The legs are long and strong, the neck thick and the liver and gizzard a deep burgundy color.  Beyond the health of the chicken and it quality of life it had is the flavor, it tastes like chicken and does not need to be hidden under BBQ sauce or marinated for hours to have flavor.  It is real food.

Friday, February 8, 2013

March 11th

I've called to schedule Sparkler into the Royal Butcher.  Sparks is my original sow.  She came to us over 5 years go and is a fantastic mother.  Her last two litters have been small with no piglets surviving from her fall farrowing.  After the failed fall litter we decided not to breed her again.  Mike offered to let her live out her life here as she holds the status of being our original pig.  She will follow me like a puppy dog.  Sparkler was the one who came when I said wouldn't it be fun to have a sow so we could have piglets.  After that it was "Well, if you are going to the barn to care for one why not have two, or three, or more."

I was torn about Sparkler's fate and undecided about what we would do.

The controversy this fall surrounding the oxen at Green Mountain College was a no brainer for me, of course they should be food it is cycle of life on a farm.  I was frustrated by those not understanding a farm's cycle but at the same time I was debating what to do with Sparks.  She is separate from the other sows and Boris in a hog paneled enclosure in the paddock with Maysa.  She talks to Maysa, we have even seen Maysa grooming Spark's back like she did the other horses.

One challenge with Sparkler staying is she still goes into heat.  Just last weekend I was greeted on Saturday morning by Boris out of his electric fence standing outside Sparkler's area.  He easily came for food and I closed he and sows inside for a couple of days until her heat passed.  Sparkler's age also has taken away from her the top spot with the sows.  Last fall when all the sows were briefly together she was no longer top pig and got beaten up some.  I worry about her being injured as she ages.

We talked about selling her to someone to slaughter but I've decided the most respectful thing I can do it to take her myself to the Royal Butcher.  She will be treated with respect.  She will experience minimum stress as  I will carefully load and unload her myself. 

We raise meat animals so we know they are treated well.  As a farmer I believe it is my job to care for and respect them from birth to slaughter, even when it is a difficult choice.