Tag Archives: farm life

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

“This dog is clearly crazy” I thought to myself when the volunteers brought her in to the meeting room. She greeted us all with a cursory sniff and glance then began to pace the room looking for something. She climbed up on the benches and looked out the windows nervously. She came back over to me and my family and sat down on my nieces feet and we all tried to pet her; she laid down for a split second then popped back up to search the room some more.

I watched her inspect every knook and cranny, eyes darting around the room. “I don’t know. she’s got issues I think.” I said to my mother. I was thinking of trying to replace my last dog, Ashley, whom we put down two years before and could only now get a new dog. I wanted an easy going dog, maybe one i could eventually farm with, definitely one to go camping and on road trips with. This one wasn’t that. I was suspecting PTSD.

“I think shes a good dog. No, I know shes a good dog.” We thumbed through her paperwork Given up to the Humane Society twice. Last home she wasn’t house broken, first home said she was. First time she went to the human society she was 3 years old, next time she was only two. Odd. We read the history: first home was a farm, kids, room to roam, goat herding….given up for “family problems.” Second home was a small house with a single woman and a black lab. Woman gave preference to the lab so this dog began to mark in the house. Ah, not that she wasn’t house broken but simply a dominance struggle. We decided we liked her and took her home. Tabitha got in the car with us excited to be leaving the kennel. I decided to take her on a walk as soon as we got home to show I am her new pack leader. We got out of the car and immediately started walking. She was fine, calm and happy as she could be (eyes were darting here and there) on the leash until a man walked by. She immediately lunged and tried to bite him.

Oh dear……

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Wednesday I sat in the exam room waiting for the vet. She popped her head in and asked me if i wanted to see the X Rays. Of course I did. “See those white dots? someones been shooting at your dog.” She had lead pellets, pellet gun pellets, lodged in her back, ribs and legs. They were old wounds. Wounds I presume from her life before me. No wonder she didn’t trust men when I got her!

I knew someone used to hurt her. When we first took her home she would roll over for a belly rub with her chest out, but would keep her legs closed. It took weeks for her to start trusting and exposing her belly to me. One day I noticed a big pussy wound on her back leg the size of a half dollar. I tried to grab her leg so to inspect it and she screamed in terror. I stopped and she looked me in the eye with fear. I tried to touch her back leg again and the same response: crying, pleading, begging for mercy. I began to work with her touching her shoulders and giving her treats. Eventually she let me touch her legs, though she was never comfortable with the prospect.

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But she trusted me and the family. Eventually she began to trust men, too. If I said they were okay, then that was good enough for her.

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PTSD is what I say she had. Her attention was either scattered or a lazer-like focus that was hard to break. I used to have to shake her to snap her out if she was going after something she shouldn’t have. Originally she’d lunge at men and other dogs on our walks thinking she was protecting me. I got her to break that habit, but she still hated other dogs. Especially black labs. i couldn’t let her off leash ever because i couldn’t trust her not to attack other dogs. In the city she loved to bark at squirrles, in the country she went after birds and rats. Her first few years with my family she was often on edge, but mellowed out. Not only PTSD  but abandonment issues made her fear car rides, after all, she could end up up for adoption again.

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Slowly she became okay with car rides. Slowly she became okay with other dogs. Slowly be learned to trust that she was with her pack. With that trust came her willingness to do silly things so long as it made me happy and laugh. Dressing her up was fun

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That led her to acting silly for my sake. Only two weeks ago I was feeling sorry for myself for being perma single and just feeling lonely like something was wrong with me. My dog crawled up on the couch and started rolling around for belly rubs, then started smiling to get me to giggle. every time i;d start pouting she’d wiggle at me and remind me “You’re not alone~! You’ve got me and I looove you!”

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When we moved from the suburbs to the farm Tabitha truely blossomed. Finally free to go off leash, but a good dog that didn’t harrass livestock. Infact, she loved and protected the baby animals.

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Watching over chicks.

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Watching over Blaze

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Loving the nieces bunnies. She wanted to visit the latest litter of piglets but Peppercorn got upset every time she’d approach. Eventually she snuck in and got to see the new babies while momma was eating.

Of course she got into trouble here and there.

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What farm dog doesn’t become a bear in the mud? And what farm dog doesn’t meet a skunk on a sunday evening when the stores are all closed and you have to scrounge for stuff to clean the smell off. I tried everything: hydrogen peroxide, tomato juice, baking soda, vinegar….I finally got desparate and tried urine. Yup, was in the show with her and I went “aw, what the hel! its worth a shot!” Poor dog probably felt more abused in the shower than by the direct skunk spray to her eyes. Catching rats and other small mammals became her past time. She attempted birds, but didn’t have much success. However she was the ratting queen in the barn and seemed to be having a contest with the cat. I remember her catching a rat one day and Rosie the pig got so excited she started chasing Tabitha to let go of the rat before it was successfully executed. Apparently she was vacuuming up Tabithas kills.

When I got a kitten I was afraid how the two would do. Apperently he thought she was his big sister. She would play bite him and when she wasn’t looking he’d jump and attack her. no one ever got hurt, but they just wrestled. Outside he’d tease her and she’d chase him up a tree. She always let him win. Just fun and games. My neighbor always told me how he loved watching the two of them play. Sometimes when no one was looking they’d curl up together and sleep next to each other. In the house I’d tell Tabitha to “get the kitty! get the kitty!” and she’d pounce on him in play. She knew who the kitty was.

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She was smart and quick to learn. She knew the names of many toys and when the toys broke i’d replace them with similar items. She was able to transfer the idea of “ball” to spheres, “dumbbell” to dumbbell shaped items including a rope toy shaped like one. she understood football was different from the other footballs. She knew a bone was a bone. Learning tricks didn’t take much time, but if you didn’t go fast enough she’d get bored and stop listening. She’d beg, dance, sit pretty, different hand shakes, learned to play dead and roll over. So smart. But the only thing she couldn’t do was herd.

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She was fast enough. But her focus was too strong and she’d block out my commands. Often she would herd the animals the wrong way. I attempted to herd when she wasn’t around. On occasion she would suddenly appear just as i was getting the animals in the pen usually scaring them out of that same space. It became a running gag. If I ever lost my temper with the sheep she’d assume it was the ram and bit his nuts. Yes, many of our sheep problems did originate there, but it didn’t matter to her if i was yelling as a ewe, ram or lamb. She’d bite the rams balls with joy. Did i mention she hated men at one time in her life?

She was gentle. People who didn’t like dogs liked her. A friends child was afraid of dogs, but trusted Tabitha. She welcomed everyone to my farm except predators. A matter of two weeks ago she alerted me a strange dog had gotten in with my sheep. I could have lost the flock but she got me up and out the door when danger was near. She chased off hawks and eagles for fun. And the cat who liked to eye the chicks.

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Last Saturday I came home from work. She didn’t greet me by dancing around my car, she just looked at me from the porch. I asked my mother why the dog was acting sick. She hadn’t noticed, but felt her guts and diagnosed constipation. I treated her with home remedies for a few days but it didn’t seem to do the job. I took her into the vet Wednesday for x rays to see if she had an obstruction. We couldn’t see anything other than lots of poop and some inflammation. We went home and she was happy and energetic all night playing in the barn for half an hour. In the morning we did chores together and she checked all the grain bins for rats. She smiled at me as i left for work. After I left, though, she retired instead of her usual spot on the couch to my room for the remainder of the day. When I got home I took her on a walk hoping to help her bowls. Towards the end of the walk she slowed down. Alot. That evening the pain became accute. I carried her to my to hoping she could sleep it off, but i eventually relented and took her to an emergency room.

There they preformed test after test to figure out the problem. We decided we needed to do surgery to get the final say. As she was prepared for the surgery I went in to see her. She was feeling good with the fluids and morphine. She jumped out of the cage to me wagging her tail. She looked me in the eyes and said she’d be okay. Yup, you will be. “See you in a few hours” we agreed.

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I never guessed the prognosis was going to me cancer. Mastitic cancer originating in her left kidney already infecting the right. There was nothing we could do. nothing. I had to let her go. We euthanized her under anethsia. I didn’t really get to say goodbye…just, “see ya later.”

Tabitha was a dear, sweet, gentle and kind dog. She came into my life so full of fear and anxiety and left as a dog with confidence and many friends. She cared about other animals. She was polite and wouldn’t take food that wasn’t hers, if she did she’d leave some as she did for the cats taking an exact half a bowl. Making a perfect straight line down the middle of her food and their food. She cared about people and made sure to make me happy when i was feeling down. She made everyone happy. She was one of a kind and will be forever missed.

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What Quacks Like a Duck and Looks Like A Cow?

PIGLETS!

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Yes, Peppercorn farrowed sucessfully. Sadly, she had mostly mummified piglets. 7 or 8 mummies (I lost count), 1 still born but 6 lovely, happy, healthy live births.

Friday night I came home from work and she was nesting like a mad woman. Crazy lady needed, “THAT PIECE OF STRAW, RIGHT THERE, YOU SEE IT? I NEED IT!” irregardless of any obstacles and objects in the way. Piglet box: obliterated. Walls: being lifted up and destroyed. Pigs are strong. I tried to make a roll bar so the piglets had a safe space they wouldn’t get squished. she broke it. So I put up an electric line. She backed into it and went from “straw straw straw…warm fluffy softness. need more straw!” to staring at the electric line going, “danger. there is danger next to my nest. its going to kill me. kill me and my babies. theres one there too. what do i do?! DANGER!!!!” She stood for an hour or two staring at the polyrope until i took it back down. even then she didn’t trust the space it was in. IT MIGHT COME BACK TO KILL HER, YOU NEVER KNOW!!!! I gave her fresh straw and she got back to nesting. midnight, barn was freezing, she was fluffing up straw but no real contractions. I went to bed.

5 am its time to do a check up. I got up, throw on some clothes and see how things are. Only she isn’t in the pen. oh dear. She lifted up the hog panel and slipped underneath. I turned to look to my right and there is now a GIANT pile of hay, straw, empty feed bags and trash shaking and oinking. Nut job isn’t in labor yet. I’m going back to bed.

Morning comes and I go back to the barn. I was fine until I realized she had grabbed Blazes fleece, pulled it out of where i was storing it, pulled it out of the bag and mixed it up with the hay. VIRGIN WOOL WITH ALMOST NO VEGETABLE MATTER, POSSIBLY A $30 FLEECE I WAS GOING TO TAKE TO SHOW DESTROYED.

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I lost my temper. I admit it. Hog panels were lodged on the riding mower, my tool area was torn apart, the bedding was all mucked up. And for what? Another piece of freakin’ straw. I tried to get her back into her space, but she didn’t want to go. DANGER! I finally calmed down enough to come up with a plan…..clearly she was terrified of electro-rope at the moment, so I just ran some unelectrified roped over the new nest. uh oh. THAT NEST IS DANGER NOW. she looked for an exit: the tool space caught her eye, but before she made her move I ran a line across the barn. She looked at the new line, new nest and old nest….and walked back into her space. After inspecting that it was safe she fluffled up the straw and plopped down. pretty soon she was into contractions.

Why is the image of a farmer a calm and collected man and woman? Because when you let emotion get in the way you waste time, energy, thought and make things more dangerous than they already are. Trying to force Peppercorn into the pen again would have been useless: she would have broken out again and possibly hurt me in the process of moving. When I calmed down and observed her mental state I was able to quickly and safely move her with almost no effort on my part. Part of being a successful farmer is letting go of emotion. It is what it is.

I had a heat lamp up and the frame up a roll bar up. I sat there cheering her on. I wasn’t looking when she gave a big push and out came the first piglet. After the first one popped out and started running around she sat up, looked at the piglet, looked at me, oinked a little, “What the–?” and I could hear from outside of the barn Rosie and Dot shouting at her, “Don’t worry! Its okay! Its your baby! You’ll love, lay down and let get some milk. You’ll feel woooonderful!” She laid back down this time with her butt towards the heat lamp  and stayed down the rest of the time. Next out was a very large still born and plecenta. I checked the body to see if i could revive it or figure out the cause of death.  I was still very pink and warm, fully grown, but the umbilical cord was filled with blood. By the time it the umbilical cord broke off the heart was not pumping blood. It was DOA. Was that all that was in that one horn? (Pigs have 2 uterus-es known as “horns”)

I was going to leave her, but i was concerned now that one still born came out. I noticed about two weeks ago she didn’t have alot of movement in her belly for her size. By a week before farrowing I was very concerned that the little movement I saw had largely stopped. Dots belly was dancing before she farrowed, Peppercorns did not.

I sat by as living piglets came out followed by dead piglets. Most were fully formed and very large in size. I would guess the majority died in the past 2 weeks.

I lost count. I refused to count until it was all said and done. I was hoping for 8 live, I got 6. Still, better than 2. Don’t let emotions get in the way. Can’t beat myself up about not getting all 14. It would have been good money, but, hey, it happens.  Looks like 3 boys, 3 girls. I will cut a few boys this time since I’m selling to 4-h kids.

Peppercorn continued to pull apart any bumper I tried to build going so far as to look me in the eye as she did it. How dare I try to decorate her nest!

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Shes a very good mother. Very calm and careful not to squish anyone. Calmer than Rosie was, more careful than Dot. I could have let her farrow alone in the woods and it would have been fine, though I think she liked having a midwife 😉

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Everyone is growing, a few faster than the others. I’ve not yet seen piglets that take this much time to choose a teat. A few are very opportunistic and bounce from teat to teat. They are the big ones. I’m happy with this litter, I think they will be quite nice pigs. I’m worried about the other two sows catching what Peppercorn had (I think Porcine Pariovirus) and having failed litters so I’m going to try and vaccinate them if its not too late. So much for being all organic! Now ya see why big producers use vaccines and anti-biotics, right?!

Barn Work

A pity I don’t have a camera. By the time my barn is done its going to look great…at the moment not so much. Pole style barns with metal walls are great: cheap and quick to put up. Problem with them is they don’t stand up to the pressures of livestock very well. Case in point: Rosie and her piglets punched several sheets out. I screwed them back in (a plus! easy to repair!) put they proceeded to punch them back out, Grrrr.

The solution is easy enough: line the barn walls with plywood where the animals will be. Together my mother and I spent saturday afternoon cleaning up and lining the walls. Sunday we spent putting cement pier pads in, then erected 4 support posts for the rafters. Amazingly, it looks more like a real barn now! I can start building stalls and walls off the posts.

I still havent bought my hay for the winter since I don’t have a safe place to keep it away from the animals. Once the loft is fix up and I build some walls I can make a feed storage area.

Speaking of which I’ve been buying the pig feed a week at a time since I don’t have a safe place to store feed. Once have the barn spruced up I can safely store feed more than a week’s worth at once. I’ve penciled it out and my best price for feed is $465 a ton, but thats soy and corn filled locally milled stuff. For non-soy/corn it runs about $650 a ton.  For a non-GMO blend with corn but no soy its almost $900 a ton.That means the cost of raising a pig from weiner to butcher runs $200 or $300 depending on my feed. So I am left to ask myself: what is my goal, what do i believe animals should be eating? I’ll start with the local soy filled stuff, but with the pigs on pasture eating grass. I might move to the non soy/corn stuff later..,but it will increase the price considerably. I’ll be picking up my ton of feed next weekend.

Whew. After all the lifting and carpentry I am feeling beat! I’m ready to go back to my day job. It’s a little vacation compared to this place!

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

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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!)