Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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We kept 10 piglets from the last litters. I don’t name them, because they are going to be in someone’s freezer come spring, and I know that. I do try to keep somewhat of an emotional distance from the food animals, while at the same time treating them with love and respect. Pigs are smart and funny. Our have been trained to water themselves…it makes less mess if there isn’t a big container of water for them to wallow through in their pen. So, just like the horses and cows, we open the door to the pigpen every evening and they run down to the creek to drink. After quenching their thirst, they usually run around, rooting up the snow or chasing the sheep and geese. It looks like they do this just for the entertainment of watching the other critters run. Eventually, they file back into the building they live in. They know fresh food and a dry bed await them when we close them in for the night.
If the piglets could talk, I have no doubt they would tell me this is their favorite time of the day. The minute they hear me filling a bucket of water or opening the door to the hen house, they squeal and start pushing at the door. I think a pen of hungry dinosaurs would probably make less noise. When it is their turn, they rush out so quickly that I sometimes see one on top of another for a few steps, since none want to be the last one out. After the frantic racing is over, I watch the door some nights to shut it when all 10 are back inside. Lately I’ve offered them a cookie by standing very still next to the path with my arm outstreched. One taker one day led to much friendlier piggies. Last night, they were racing down to the creek when one stopped, turned around, walked up to me and just stared at me, head tilted to the side ever so slightly. I looked down at this piglet at my feet and realized that she was asking me for a cookie. I pulled one out, offered it to her, and she took it gently. Munching the cookie, she turned and scurried down to the water with her siblings. It was one of those times when you are certain you know exactly what another creature was thinking, without words. I also don’t believe she’d taken a cookie from my hand before, so it was a rather charming moment. She had seen the others get a snack and saw that they trusted me enough to eat from my hand, and that nothing bad happened to them. I know it sounds a little Disney-fied, but Dan happened to be filling a bucket of water and saw the whole thing. Even living on the farm his whole life, sometimes he sees the animals act in a way that is still surprising. This was one of those times. He agreed that there really was no explanation other than that the pig stopped, turned, and asked me in her wordless way for a cookie.
Posted by Emily
@ 11:46 AM EST
Dan and I love going to auctions. Lately, we haven't been to many as most farm auctions start at 9 AM on Saturdays, which is our mad rush to get the stand in order before opening. So I was very excited to find an "old farm moving auction" on a Wednesday afternoon only a few miles from the farm. The advertisements always list a portion of the items to be sold, and what really caught our eye was a corn sheller. This is a machine that seperates the kernels from the cob. It is used for field corn, which is hard and dry (think decorative indian corn, but usually all yellow.) Some have motors, but this one is powered by a hand crank that moves in a circle on the side. We have been looking to purchase one of these to shell the corn to be used in our animals' feed and also as the first step in grinding our own cornmeal. The last one we saw at auction was a John Deere model (with a motor) and it went for $750, so it didn't go home with us! This one had obviously been restored, but was in beautiful working condition, and we were very cautious about bidding on other items before the sheller came up, as we didn't want to overspend on small stuff and be short when it came time for what we really wanted. There were many crocks & other antiques, so there were a lot of antique buyers present. Luckily for us, the restoration which enhanced its usefulness to us also ruined its antique value for those who would buy it just to sit in a corner and look pretty. Dan and I discussed how much we were willing to spend on this piece of equipment, and agreed that I would bid on it. It's good to sort this out ahead of time so you don't overspend or accidentally bid against each other! When I first started going to auctions, I was far too nervous to bid, afraid I'd make a mistake or buy the wrong thing somehow. Now that I've been to plenty, I have a better understanding of how they run and can follow what the auctioneer is saying, which at first sounded like gibberish to me. So bidding can be great fun! When the sheller came up, I was the first to bid. It went slowly at first, then a couple other bidders jumped in, but when it was over, I had the winning bid, and for a good bit less than what I was willing to spend if necessary. My hands were shaking a bit because I was so excited. It's a standing model, which weighs a couple hundred pounds, and the location it sat in wasn't really accessible to the truck at the time, so we waited until the crowds thinned as the auction ended to try and load it. That way we could drive up. In the meantime, we bought a few other tools and other useful things for the farm. I had to laugh though, because much like the dump rake, the corn sheller was a big conversation piece for the older auction goers. We had a few gentlemen come up to us and ask if we really planned on using it, and most people seem surprised that we do plan on using the equipment we buy at auction. I imagine it's because we are a young couple doing things the old fashioned way, but we really love using things the way they were designed to be used. Older equipment is a part of America's farming heritage, and a part that slips away as bigger farms and better machines become the norm, so it's very cool to me to be a part of the preservation of how things were done years ago.
As for those of you wondering about the piglets, all 18 are healthy and doing well. They had their first round of iron shots last night. The sows don't understand about booster shots, so we locked them outside and when they came back it was over and everyone was doing just fine!
Posted by Emily
@ 11:02 AM EDT
Well all the babies all made it through the first night ok. Piglets always look so small and frail, and there is a possibility that the sow could accidentally step or lay on one or two without realizing it. After the first week, the piglets are alert and mobile, but right now I hold my breath every time one of the sows gets up or lays down. Fall is also rapidly creeping in, with temperatures falling into the mid 40's during the night. We gave the pigs lots of good clean hay which they use to make a nest to keep everyone warm, but we still wake up in the night and wonder if we should have put a heat lamp on the babies. I guess farm babies are always a little tougher than I give them credit for; they usually do just fine without much help from us humans. There was only one small problem this morning; Charlotte had an extra piglet and Fern was missing one. This is the first time we've had piglets in this building, it is a temporary arrangement until we get a badly needed new roof on the hog house. So in building the dividers, there must have been just enough space for a smaller piglet to squeak through! They grow so fast, they'll be too big to fit through the gap in a matter of days, so we're just going to leave it as is. The great thing about our sows is that they love thier babies and when something like this happens, they just take care of it as though it were their own. So extra piglet was snuggled up to Char, nursing just like a piglet is supposed to. We decided not to leave the piglet though, and keep things even so each sow had enough milk for her babies. I knew Char had 5 black babies and 4 blue butt patterened ones and that most of Fern's babies are black with very little white. As there were 6 black babies, I looked for the smallest piglet with the least amount of white. So I picked up the most likely suspect and quickly but gently set it next to Fern, who wasn't upset until she heard it squeal (piggies don't enjoy being picked up!). Char picked up her head as well and seeing that everyone was ok, I quickly exited the pen. Commercial pig farms use what they call farrowing crates, which are basically a little cage for the mothers. They can't get up and move around, so there is less chance that they will squish the babies, but the babies can put their heads inside the crate to nurse. We don't use anything like that, so I am very cautious about angering the sows. Char probably weighs around 400 pounds, and a pig is incredibly quick when it wants to be. In walking into their space, I had no more protection than blue jeans and sneakers offer, and so Kept a wary eye on my only exit door! That's why Char is in the pen by the door, she's more docile when she has little ones and we can just lean over her side of the fence to feed Fern, whose name becomes "Evil Pig" when she has babies because she is so protective. But I escaped unhurt, I think the piglets have grown already, and now it's back to canning....I have the last of my tomatoes ready for the food mill, so I guess this is it for the salsa.
Posted by Emily
@ 11:57 AM EDT
Well, last Friday we planted a few seedlings in the garden. Some of the heritage zucchini, squahes and melons were getting a bit crowded on the kitchen window sill. We put down black fabric to cut down on weeding and put the plants in. A gentle rain fell all night and the temperature stayed in the mid 60's. Sounds like a great start...until the wind started on Saturday. The black cloth ended up wrapped around the moveable rabbit pen at the edge of the garden. I'm not sure how or if we'll get it back where it should be. Plus last night was the 3rd night in a row we had to cover everything with floating row cover because of frost. Happily, more than half of the seedlings appear to have survived their traumatic transplanting!! My flower bed and herbs seem to have weathered through well. Some of the potatoes got nipped a bit by the frost, but they'll be ok, and the rhubarb seems to be indestructible at this point. It's beautiful but I just don't have enough time right now to be making anything with it.
Alicia, our only ewe born last year, had a little ram lamb on Monday. She's a dedicated mother and he seems to be doing just fine. She was born last year the day after Mother's Day, and had her own baby the day after Mother's Day this year! It's been cold the past few nights, so I put a little fleece blanket on him. I think it makes me feel better than the baby, but it surely isn't causing any harm. I started making the "lammy jammies" this February when most of the lambs were born out of scraps of fleece material I found on discount at Wal-Mart along with a few clearance-priced buttons. It sure beat the prices in the livestock supply catalogs, and they were custom fit.
We'll be weaning the piglets this weekend. The sows are going a bit stir-crazy in thier pens. They both escaped out into the boar's run this weekend. I would have loved to have seen the 450-lb sow climb over the 3 1/2 foot stall divider. Twice. Luckily, no pigs were hurt during this stunt. The babies are also getting very good at pushing the hog house door open and escaping into the main barnyard and pasture if the door isn't shut VERY tightly. A cinder block propped up on the outside works too.
Dan is done with the plowing for the year. There is still much fieldwork to be done before all the field corn is in, but everything is moving right along. Tom, my father-in-law, is coming to help us out again this weekend so I'm hoping for clear skies! I am also hoping to work my horse a bit behind the harrow this weekend. Dan has worked her a bit, but she's acting a bit barn sour and I think he's a little too easy on her when she starts to throw a fit. But I am excited to get her used to her new harness. We were at an auction and found a gorgeous show pony harness with both a collar and the ability to hook up to shafts for a buggy or sleigh for a price we could afford. When it was brought out, I was in love with it and was sure it would go too high, but it must have been meant to be! It is beautiful and covered in metal dots which will be shiny once I find time to clean and oil it. When we tried it on Sara in the barn, it fit like it was custom made. I only had to adjust one buckle on the whole thing! The leather is in fantastic shape, it's just got a good layer of dust accumulated on it. It even came with an ornate piece of leather that fits over the hames and collar just for decoration. I told her she'll look fancier than a Budwieser Clydesdale! The only thing I was nervous about is that the bridle has blinders on it, which Sara has never worn. However, Dan used the new bridle with the old harness last week and said she acted like she'd worn them all her life. Now if I can just get her used to the straps around her hind end without a royal kicking fit...
Posted by Emily
@ 10:39 AM EDT
After getting home from work, I checked Scotchie's nest box and she had 8 babies after all! I am so excited that my first-time bunnies have been such good mamas. Both Scotchie and her sister have raised 8 without any losses. I am just anxoius to see the new ones hopping about in their pen, they should open thier eyes in a few days.
We are expecting piglets soon too, possibly as soon as the weekend. Both sows had 7 each last time, and raised a total of 13. But we're hoping for even more this time around! However, we only keep as many babies to raise up as we have orders for pork. They just eat too much :( So if anyone reading this is interested in a whole or half hog please contact me for more information!
I am so excited, our seed order from Seed Savers Exchange came on Monday. The packets show such beautiful plants, I can't wait to start them. I was also impressed because each packet tells you how to preserve seed for next year. I did some last year, but only green beans and sunflowers, so I appriciate all the information I can get! We hope to do that this weekend, but first we have to finish a chicken coop & run, as we wintered over our Phoenix chickens and a few Delaware pullets in the greenhouse. We need to move them before starting the seeds, because otherwise my beautiful seeds will just be expensive chicken food!
Posted by Emily
@ 09:40 AM EDT
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