Tag Archives: animal husbandry

Month of September Update: Pigs

I tried to update my blog. I tried. But my internet is terrible and the folks who “cleaned”my computer deleted my antivirus so my  computer is buggy and typing is a pain.

Peppercorn began to nest on a thursday morning. Big and fluffy nest. I gave her a whole bale all tied up in hopes of keeping her entertained for a while. She ripped out a bite of straw andookitto t   her nest. came back, another bite. cool, I thought, should keep her entertained for a while, right?

nope. Apparently she got impatient and just picked the whole bale up and waddled to her nest and dumped it there. She was so fidgity I gave her some beer to calm her down. Don’t know how much it helped, but she sure liked it!

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It wasn’t until the sun went down she started to farrow. The first few piglets took quite a long time. Two out, took a good 20-30 minutes before Peppercorn got up and repositioned herself. She was so focused on a stuck piglet she accidently laid on both piglets that were at her feet, but her nest was so fluffy i was able to dig them out and they were okay. Finally a HUGE piglet came out and then everyone else came out in fast order. 15 total.

It was a cold night and a few tried to wander off, but i grabbed them once they got too far away and put them back in the nest. I was cold, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was down to the 30’s that night. I went to bed once i felt things were good.

6 am  woke up feeling like I needed to get out ASAP. Found two piglets that had wandered out of the nest: one was chilled but okay and i tossed it in with everyone else. One was dead, or so it seemed. when i moved his ice cold body Ihis jaw flapped open with the slightest hint of lift. I had to move fast.

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Like I did with Blaze two years ago he went into a water bath. he was so cold I started with luke warm water so as not to shock his system and gradually increased the water temp. He started shivering, then squeaking. Eventually i pulled him out of the water and wrapped him in a towel with a blow dryer pointed in. He was getting better. Another dip in the “hot tub” and within 2 hours he was ready to go back outside. amazing!

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15 piglets, 15 teats means alot of fighting.

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While Peppercorn did her best to keep her little ones saft they still bit the hell out of each other at feeding time. I’ve never had injuries like I’ve seen with this litter so I made the desicion: pull a piglet. Sold one of the weaker ones that could benefit from more care. Down to 14 piglets and 15 teats everything started going smoother.

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We are at 4 weeks now. 15 born, 14.5 weaned. Very good! Dispite how Peppercorns first farrowing went (with 10+ born dead) she is now right in the national average of 21 piglets a year.

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We will start weaning this week. I’ll start with the 5 biggest who will go to a local farm and pumpkin patch. I’ll leave the smaller ones on for another week or two. Ack, I’m almost out of piglets?! How can this be?! My boar better hurry up and make some more for me!

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Sheep Breeding

I guess I was wrong: Ash had not been bred yet. As of this morning she has been. I am assuming she will take which will mean an January 30th birthing date. Dates are not exact with sheep since they seem to have some control over their birth.  There is a 5 day window sheep can lamb. In my experience they tend to lamb when they feel its safest thus Ash waiting until she could escape Rosie the pig (predator) and lambing in the woods within an hour of letting her out of the barn. Polly seemed to wait, too, until I got home from work. She was having contractions when I left, but didn’t really get going until I was back 10 hours later. The first flock of sheep did the same: they seemed to lamb only on days my ex had off from work as if they had some day planner that included weather and shepherds availability. Of course, this is my limited experience with small flocks.

I have been in a bit of a conundrum: I’ve been trying to dry the girls off which means restricting their feed.  But I also want to encourage multiple births…which means fattening them up with a little extra grain everyday. So what have I chosen to do? Well…keep them on pasture, give a tiny bit of grain but not enough to encourages milk production and cross my fingers I get twins.  I thought by drying them off now I could focus their energy on breeding, but I don’t think thats a great idea. Next year I think I will continue to milk and feed heavily while breeding. Cows can do it, no reason why it wouldn’t work on sheep. Then again, cows only need to make 1 calf and sheep…well we want 2-3 out of them.

The mating ritual in sheep is fairly gentle. Before ewes come into heat the ram will approach the ewe, smell/taste the air (flehmen), lick his lips (like a perv!) and try to mount. She she is not in heat the ewe just walks away, if she is interested she will turn to face the ram and give consent. Yeah, sheep give consent. After the act they will often nuzzle each other. Foreplay, consent AND cuddling?! Yes…….I’m going to let you all choose your punchline for that setup before i say something that gets me in trouble.

Sometimes he will chase after and this can lead to amusing Benny Hill like scenes across the barn-yard. This happens more towards actual estrus or if ewe leaves the pasture then comes back. Even more rarely will he headbutt the ewes. It doesn’t do anything other than make the ewes try to avoid the ram, but sexual frustration, yo! He just can’t help himself! Or something.

Speaking of sexual frustration rams start getting ready months before mating. It starts with fighting with other rams to create a pecking order. Then they get with the ewes and wait.

and wait.

uuuuuggg……

It was not uncommon to see the ram hitting his head against a tree repeatedly for minutes (hours?) on end, just keeping in shape in case someone comes along to challenge him and his ewes. He knocked down a few old fence posts shortly before Polly came into heat. Nor is it uncommon for me to greet the animals when I get home and find the ram with bark or other crushed material on his face. Khoresh seemed calm and happy after having servicing Ash for a whole day…but I swear the next morning he woke up thinking “ANOTHER YEAR! I HAVE TO WAIT ANOTHER YEAR! RAAAAAAA!!!!!” and then proceeded to knock over an 8 inch wood post. Battering ram indeed.

So now we just wait for the lambs to breed. Mooney is hitting “puberty” I flipped him over to trim his hooves this weekend and saw he was getting “hair down there”

Well, he already had hair down there, but it was soft, fluffy curly stuff. Now that is slicking out and being replaced by shorter, coarser hair. Thank goodness, not something I’d want to have to shear!

There we go: more than you ever wanted to know about the sex lives of sheep!

the Deed is Done

Since I was a child and I realized meat was actually muscle and there was no part on the animal that was just grown as “meat” I started to think differently about animal consumption. Somehow that realization made meat all the more real: like i was eating their very essence. From that point on I started to believe that if one eats meat they need to somehow be involved in the animal: preferably all the way to slaughter. At least once to really understand and be grateful for its sacrifice. Thus where I am today: farmer.

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I believe the boys had a good life. They did everything a pig could want: eat, sleep, play, forage, explore, cuddle, make friends and have sex. It was a full 6 months of life (6 months today!)

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I feel good about how they were treated…but it was time to go. They were starting to get a little big and a little pushy. Gorby knocked me over for cuddles which is cute now, but not later at 800 lbs. Wilbur I sold half to some friends, so he had to be slaughtered and processesed with a USDA stamp of approval. This morning the plan was to kill Wilbur and later I would do Gorbechev. I got up and took some pictures with the first animal I’ve raised and slaughtered.Image

I tried to get some selfies….Image

it was hard with him moving everywhereImage

Dang it. At least Gorby looks handsome

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Finally I got a good picture!

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Last minute we decided to include Gorby…but before that decision I broke my camera. Crap. So no pictures of me and Gorby cuddling. 😦 I also wanted pictures of the slaughter process, but alas, i was stupid. —

The slaughter guy showed up late, but no matter. The boys were ready to go. asked if he wanted to use grain and the fellow felt it was unnessecary. He honed in on Wilbur who was curious at the man in rubber pants with the big machine behind him. As he pulled the trigger Wilbur moved and he missed the brain. Wilbur squealed and ran off: all the other pigs got alerted and worried. Rosie was on the other side of the fence Wilbur had run to and she watched the slaughterer take another shot and bleed out. All the animals were watching. The sheep were staring wide eyed. Rosie? I’m not sure what she thought, but last i checked she was cuddling with her kids in the woods.

That was not how I wanted it to go. I was rather upset, but he did die pretty quick after the second shot. Gorby was concerned: he wanted to get out of there! I let Gorby settle down and the fellow process Wilbur before we did Gorby. Gorby came back up to me and I fed him some grain.This time the shot landed in the right spot and there was not even a squeal.

I can’t imagine spending all day every day killing animals for a living, at some point it must warp you. While the fellow was fine I felt like he did brush off animals intelligence a bit. “Aw, pig’s forget fast.” “It don’t bother them if they watch: they don’t know whats going on. After the first one they want to start eating up the blood.” From what I observe animals do know something about death. I am sorry Rosie had to see her son die. Rosie has been anxious the past few days, so I hope she can forgive me and not see me as implicit in the murder. I wanted to kill him out of everyone else’s sight, but the slaughter felt it unnecessary.

Overall, I feel good about it. Wilbur’s trauma did not last long Gorby didn’t know what hit him. I will be grateful for every bite I take, but feel guiltless because they had a wonderful life. I was there from the moment that were born to the moment they died. They died 100 yards from where they were born exactly 6 months ago. And I can say now: I truely know what goes on into the making of meat. Its not a magical product that appears plastic wrapped in the grocery store. It was a life. A being. A personality. A spirit. And I am grateful for what I have taken from them. I will always love my little boys, and they will become part of me. I will literally always carry a little bit of Wilbur and Gorbachev in me.

(….and with all the bacon it will probably end up carried in my heart! Now that’s love!)