Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Not sure what or who is growing fastest!

Ok, here's another one for you, Aunt Karen (and any other Terah-video fans out there). She's playing her new favorite game - which I think she may have first invented with Grandma and Grandpa Myers: "Stand up...Sit down..." The problem is that now she is getting so good balancing that she has to kind of make herself plop down half the time.

She is getting harder and harder to keep "out of trouble." I love having her in the kitchen with me but she seldom is content in her doorway jumper for more than a minute, in the backpack for more than about two minutes and her circle seat for more than five. She wants to be getting around, and she's getting fast at it too. She wants to open drawers and I'm not looking forward to the first finger pinch. So far I've been creative enough to delay the inevitable. Pictured here was how I got the onions chopped for our lambsquarter saute. And, yes, Jason and I enjoyed it even after she had trampled on it!

The rest of the pictures are from my short walk around with Terah last night. The older girls were at a sleepover and while, we miss them dearly when they are gone, I was happy for the space it opened up to hang out with just Terah (we even read some stories before bed!).  Anyway, Terah is now awake and about to get into mischief so I'll let the pictures speak mostly for themselves!
Have the first crock of dill pickles fermenting - the excitement about cucumbers is palpable in this house! 
I think this is one of Terah's favorite berries - good we have loads of them coming ripe...and, my what a mess they make!
Beauty in Nora's garden!
Mouths watering...
Hmmm, I think we'll have enough carrot seed!
Good to see chickens out roaming again - until the foxes realize we are risking it again!
Scything done...let the mulching commence! The corn is happy!
Anise hyssop - one of my favorite plants right now.
Ok, I'm really out of time! Let me end by saying how thrilled I am to watch our girls excitement as the growing season gets fully underway. Alida is checking her tomatoes several times a day!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What's the rush anyway?

Let's see if I'm coherent enough to share a few thoughts on recent days. I wish I could say that I was feeling rested. It is nice that a weekend long upgrade on two systems I use for my work may mean that Terah's afternoon nap time includes a short snooze for me too - so I'll type fast! I've been trying to do my office work in all her naps but have had to cut short my hours some days as I can't keep my eyes open and end up falling asleep while working on something (which has meant I jolt awake as my fingers get heavy and accidentally delete an email I still needed to do something with). So while I'm trying to slow down this "growing up too fast" thing happening around here, I will admit to being a tad impatient for the day (or night more like it) when I can sleep for 4 or 6 or, my I can't even imagine, 8 hours without disruption(s).  I think my whole family will like me a lot better when that is happening on a regular basis and I'll like me more then too!

We are often singing the song, "have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry..." to Terah. It actually works (usually) to stop her crankiness long enough for us to finish snapping her up. I would not say it has instilled in her more patience, but has provided the necessary entertainment at times to distract her from her impatience. This gal does not want to be kept from doing things she wants to do, going places she wants to go, eating things she wants to eat. She has some serious drive! Oh, and, she really really likes to drive!

Yesterday around 3:30 p.m. we finally got on our way to spend the afternoon (well it was almost evening by the time we arrived) and evening with friends we have gotten to know through our kids playing soccer together. We had never been to their home, which is right up against the National Forest and along the river. It was Kali's month to plan a family night and she wanted to go swimming. It didn't end up including a lot of swimming as a storm came in as we were headed their way and while it cleared off and was a lovely evening, the water was a tad chilly. After a stint playing in the water, we enjoyed eating around an outdoor fire and the kids warmed up with some soccer fun. But I'm ahead of myself. On the way there we stopped at Rocking R to get grass and clover seed to sow where we had some excavation done this week. We also wanted Kali to look at the wheelbarrows as we thought for her birthday it was about time she had her own wheelbarrow. She seemed to agree that that was a nice idea (she's so amazing - really not being able to come up with anything she needs or wants for her birthday).

By the time we got there Alida had sacked out so I hung out in the car with Terah while Kali and Jason went in. I was very entertained. Terah is thrilled if she can get in the driver's seat. So while Alida is obsessed with being 10 years old it seems that Terah would like to skip to 16. I'm not sure Alida should have been quite so relaxed with her chauffeur. Here's our fearless driver (in the other video I got she even played around with shifting gears a bit). Silly baby!

Today when I took Terah out to put our updated car registration in the glove compartment, I could barely get her little hands unwrapped from the steering wheel. She's got quite the grip.

So I mentioned the excavation above. This job has been a long time in coming and kind of expanded some in recent months as we waited to rise to the top of the excavator's priority list. In the end, he dug a trench for some plumbing we need to have done, worked on the access path around the house and behind the swing set, helped fix some grading issues along the back of the in-law quarters and created a flat spot where we had dreamed of putting a pavilion but might just put a volleyball net for now! Terah was interested in the project but a little scared of the big noisy machine being operated by a strange man.  It's rather pathetic but I've not even walked around to see the whole completed job. Tonight is the night! Jason and I have on the schedule to do a walk around once it cools off a bit. I will commit here to trying to celebrate all the successes around our place as we look things over, as much as I'll be adding to our project list!

The summer harvests are starting to ramp up. Most mornings now need to start with a walk around. This morning Alida and Terah joined me and we came in with a bowl of red raspberries, blackberries and a few cherry tomatoes, some more tea (as we are going through about 2 gallons daily right now), fresh oregano, and a handful of cucumbers. We looked at the sweet potatoes starting to create a carpet of vines in the garden, the flowers on the squashes, the green tomatoes, the corn rising above us, etc... We've been sharing leeks with anyone who wishes to take some home with them and we've also been dehydrating them and eating them. I made a cheesy leek casserole this week that we devoured - I'm sure our homemade butter and oregano mozzarella didn't harm it in the least!

Most of our midday meals right now are cold - it's just too warm for hot stuff. The girls and I have usually been in for a bit of the morning but Jason is often on his second shirt by lunch - the first being almost wring-out-able with sweat. I experimented again with using some of our fermented green tomatoes in hummus. The girls like it (including Terah), which is great. Jason and I aren't thrilled with it, as we both feel like green tomatoes are hard on our tummies it eaten in any significant quantity. I also experimented today with fresh, rather than dried, oregano in homemade mozzarella. Jason likes it a little less than dried. Kali likes it a little more. I like them both! Oh, and cucumbers! We had our first (of many) cucumber dill salads this week.

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We pulled our garlic this week so it is on the racks in the garage currently. We'll soon need to make room for the onions - which it appears will at least pull through and produce a crop after their very rough start. Also this week we enjoyed going wineberry picking with my parents (the evening before they headed back to their West Virginia home). It threatened to storm the whole time we were there, with thunder rumbling and Alida asking me constantly if we should head back to the car. We picked enough to get a few containers in the freezer and enjoy fresh with homemade vanilla pudding.  
I think that about covers it for now. I'm going to try to savor a lot of time with our older girls this week as a week from today they head to WV for a week with grandparents and cousins. They will be missed! I've enjoyed playing some Phase 10 with them today, but it usually ends with Terah being pretty mad that we won't share our cards with her. She doesn't seem to get that there is anything disturbing about her folding and munching on them. We've already relinquished two of the instruction cards, but those have long since been destroyed...She is likely to be just as smart as her sisters were if we tried to fashion some kind of card substitute. There is really nothing like the real thing!

I also hope to read some more of Alida's library books to her this week. In just the last month or so Alida has become passionate about learning to read. It was as if some switch was flipped and she determined that it was time! She is flipping through the encyclopedias one by one and comes to me excited whenever she has figured out a word. She talks about words and their spellings and is getting more interested in writing too. I often find most of my cookbooks off the shelf after I've been tucked away with Terah for a nap. She enjoys "reading" those too. This week she wanted to make grapenuts and she found it in the index and then found the page. I love it! I'm constantly amazed watching our children seek out learning because they want to so much they can't bear not to. I think Alida realizes how aspects of the world will open up to her when she learns to read and I'd say she's just on the cusp of it.

Now for that snooze I mentioned!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Life...holding it all together!

This has felt like a week of extremes and words fail me! But I'll try anyway, as lots has been welling up inside me as I think about all the beauty and tragedy that I've gotten wind of and experienced from my little corner of the world.

Yesterday we had the privilege of hosting a lovely baby shower for my sister-in-law, Emily. She and Jonas are expecting their first baby, a daughter, on Terah's first birthday (October 11th). The girls were so excited, helping to make signs for the doors and making little finger knitting "baby toys" for their new cousin. Kali also enjoyed the actual party, while Alida was a little overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar faces and was unraveling at the seams by the time most had departed. But it was nothing a trip to the blueberry patch couldn't cure!

As we anticipated celebrating a new little family member set to join us this fall, we were also grieving a family member leaving us abruptly and what felt like way too soon. Yesterday, in Canada, family gathered (some who had intended to come south for the baby shower) for Jason's cousin's funeral after she died earlier this week very unexpectedly. She and Jason were born the same month and year, so she was just shy of 40 years old and leaves behind a husband and young children, as well as many other family and friends who are grieving and still trying to absorb the shock of this sudden loss.

Obviously all of us feel some losses more acutely than others. That said, it not hard to get overwhelmed with both the grief and the loss, not to mention the outrage and fear, that many are experiencing in our country and world this week. By choice we do not have a T.V. in our home and do not get any newspapers. We seldom listen to the radio and get one magazine monthly (The Sun). Yet my hundreds of facebook friends across the globe give me a glimpse into their worlds and perspectives and just minutes of scrolling through my feed leaves me wanting to celebrate and scream, laugh and cry... I feel thrilled to see pictures of a new baby born this week after being eagerly anticipated by his parents and those of us who love them. I love hearing the adorable things my niece is saying as her vocabulary explodes and she gives us glimpses into her fresh perspective on the world. Bur right next to those posts are news from graduates of the program I work for whose communities are in turmoil and experiencing war. And we needn't even go that far...here in the U.S. it feels like our fear is reaching new heights and it seems like the response of resorting to violence is coming all too quickly and naturally for many.

How can I respond? How do I respond? Is there a right response? Is it different for everyone? Is it ok to choose not to watch the videos shared on facebook of the violence? Is that just another marker of my privilege? How do I talk with our daughters about our crazy and messed up, yet so incredibly beautiful world?

Thursday at one of our family meals together our pre-meal activity was to each share a hope for our day. Mine was a simple one: that we'd all get to go pick blueberries together again before the season ended. That evening we were all prepped and ready to fulfill my hope when a thunderstorm rolled in (this has been a rather frequent occurrence). As it cleared, a beautiful double rainbow appeared. We all went out to admire it and soon made our way down to the fire ring, which was full of water. No blueberry picking but we enjoyed a rare family play time in the fire ring - enjoying the freshness in the air after the storm, the rainbow in the sky, the lush green growth all around us, and the girls having a marvelous time. We all got wet, some of us dirtier than others.

Later when we were in getting cleaned up, I commented to Jason that it may sound strange but that time together outside felt like one of the best ways I could honor his cousin's life. I haven't been without frustration this week, or annoyance at once again not clocking in more than 2 hours of sleep at a time. But below that surfacy stuff, has been a deeper awareness of how precious this life I'm living is. I don't understand why the human experience is so varied - from ecstasy to misery. I want more than anything for my life to contribute towards more health and wholeness for all those that I come in contact with. And, for starters, I felt like this week that meant savoring the three beautiful girls in our family and trying to focus more on their growth and development and experience of the world, than the weeds and dust threatening to take over corners of our home and property...

I'll share one thing I savored and that was Terah enjoying a last sugar snap and snow pea from the garden. She knows when she has something that we are watching her with closely (choking is one of my worst mommy fears). She holds on tight and vocalizes her joy in obtaining such an item. In general she is enjoying big people food at meal times much more! She also likes to mush it up and then rub her eyes and nose and mouth This morning she went to new lengths getting fresh fig in her hair. She goes through an outfit per meal most days. But it's worth the enjoyment she gets from experimenting with new flavors and textures!

Another thing we savored this week will be harder to share with you since it is long gone: Kali continues to rise to new heights in her cooking abilities. And we are the beneficiaries of her growing culinary skills! This week's menu included: marinated venison steaks (in her delicious marinade concoction), roasted red beets, sweet potatoes and turnips in fresh garlic, sauteed beet greens, and yogurt cornbread. She harvested the beets from her garden, pulled the garlic, ground the cornmeal... This was a home grown and prepared meal, which we all thoroughly enjoyed!

Oh, and then there's chicks. More and more cute chicks! We keep losing some birds - another duck for Kali and several young chickens for Jason - due to this year's seemingly increased fox population. We were grateful for a great hatch on this last round and have a mama hen taking good care of these fuzz balls! They are probably happy to be with her and not around the little munchkin who would love nothing more than to get her hands on them. We gave her a chance to touch one before they went out! Jason is still collecting hatching eggs as he's got another hen gone broody (haven't discussed when we need to call it quits on hatching but neither of us tire quickly seeing a mama hen raise chicks - I do think we are done with the incubators for the year!).

Let's end with the crop that is currently looking like the most marked increase in production since last year. Our thornless blackberries look amazing and the first few are coming ripe - giving us each a taste every day or two. Kali has decided she does like blackberries after all!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Saying goodbye to Goldie Bean...and we have a crawler!

Alida had a really hard time deciding last evening whether she wanted to see Goldie Bean before Jason buried her. I wanted to give her as much time as she needed but darkness was coming, and Terah's need for my complete attention was also about to set in. In the end she wanted to if we could all go down together. As we approached the coop she asked if Goldie Bean would be alive. It was interesting how the concept of Goldie Bean being dead forever was having trouble sinking in. For that reason, I think the process of her looking at her pet hen, petting her, and helping Jason bury her was probably helpful. There was no mistaking that she was not alive. I'm not going to mince words here: it was not easy to look at her and see clearly where the snake had tried to swallow her head first (unsuccessfully).

I felt, once again, amazed by my daughters. I was thinking a lot last evening about when Kali's pet bunny died, and the two of us reminisced about that: http://myers-benner.blogspot.com/2011/08/grief-learning-from-my-daughteragain.html. I am grateful that, as much as I hate it and want to protect my daughters from experiencing devastating loss, I get to be present to learn from them when they do. Alida chose a few of Goldie Bean's beautiful feathers and Jason clipped off her leg band for another memento. We took the pictures she wanted and a few tears were shed, but overall she seemed to be feeling ok. It's nice that we are having a great hatch inside so there is lots of new life to be enjoying while we feel the sadness of losing Goldie Bean. The reality is that Alida was not yet to the age where she had assumed daily care of her hen and in all honesty Kali had probably spent more time with her than Alida - though she was often encouraging Alida to join her. So in some ways it feels like the loss was more the idea of losing a pet forever and also the loss of the dream of watching her mothering baby chicks (as well as just the feelings associated with thinking of her actual death - ok, so maybe that is where I'm getting hung up in this whole thing!).

Let me end on a brighter note by sharing some big news from Terah! After thinking she might bypass crawling due to the thrill of pulling to standing and trying to walk, she decided to debut her new skills at Shalom this morning. We hadn't been to church for quite awhile and, even though we arrived right at her morning nap time, she was pretty interested in all the people, the music and the carpeted floor. We weren't there long before she set off for a toy. She had made one or two movements forward in the last few days but nothing that made me feel confident to write "crawling" and the date in her baby book. No doubt it is ready to be added now. She's got some heavy little legs to lug around but here she is doing it! And I should note that she then nursed heartily and fell asleep easily for a short nap during the second half of the service - had to check out and let her brain integrate all that new information and skill acquisition! We'll see how life changes around here in the coming days...

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Happy times and sad news!

Well, I might as well start with the sad news that is dominating my emotional landscape right now! A few weeks back Alida noticed that her hen Goldie Bean was acting broodie. This was very exciting, and a few days of her hen sitting tight on fake eggs confirmed Alida's suspicions. So we set eggs under Goldie Bean and the anticipation of chicks began. By the second candling we were down to half the number of eggs - thin shelled and kept breaking. But when Jason and Alida went out after dark to candle the remaining eggs, they all looked good! We also had an incubator full of eggs set to hatch at the same time and so as eggs started pipping inside we wondered what was happening outside.

This morning Jason found out what was happening, and it was not at all what any of us were hoping for. He found Goldie Bean dead and the eggs gone. A snake had gotten in, likely going after the eggs, and when Goldie Bean likely tried to defend her nest, she was killed. This was not easy news to share with Alida. Nor was it easy news for any of us to swallow. I have a feeling "building snake proof brooder coops" will rise a bit higher up on our priority list before next hatching season. I definitely was feeling inclined towards a meltdown of my own, with an irrational desire to shout out to the universe how unfair it was: why, literally the day before Alida's hen was set to have baby chicks poking out from underneath her feathers, did this have to happen?

As I learned from watching Kali when she lost her bunny, Curious Hiddley, kids do this grief thing pretty well when we don't get in the way and just support them and provide comfort as we are able. Alida shed a lot of tears initially. Then she wanted me to read a book, which I did. Then she wanted to know if Goldie Bean would come back, which led to a conversation about us all coming from soil and returning to soil. Then Jason came back in (he had the baby outside so I could hold Alida) and we talked about pet hen replacement options, and Alida made it clear she didn't want a rooster, since they aren't as friendly. She shed some more tears on Jason's lap and then wanted another story. She was unable to decide if she wanted to see Goldie Bean before Jason buries her, so we have left that for the evening. Now, she is creaming me in National Parks Monopoly (though I haven't been present for any of the game as I'm in the bedroom with a sleeping baby in my arms). She keeps coming to give me updates on how many lodges she has and to show me her big stack of money, informing me of how poorly I'm doing.

We waited to share the news until after our friends left for their return to PA. It was a very short but sweet visit with my dear friend (from middle school to the present) and her three children. We filled about every minute possible with visiting, but still only managed to scratch the surface on catching up. We are dreaming of a longer visit together this fall... Last evening Terah was so sweet reaching for Erin and giving her little hugs before we went to bed. I should not have been surprised (I like her a lot too!), but Terah really hasn't gone to anyone regularly other than Jason, Kali and my mom. I've often noticed that it seems like our children can sense when we are comfortable with someone. Our girls all warmed up quickly, including Terah! The kids played soccer, tore around the blueberry patch while we picked some for them to take home, and in general entertained themselves while we exchanged as many words with each other as we could fit into the minutes we had! A long walk this morning was great, but just enabled us to start another half dozen or so conversations we didn't manage to finish before their departure time arrived. Long distance relationships are hard at this stage of life, so it is awfully nice to have a relationship with such deep roots and a level of comfort that enables us to pick back up where we left off the last time.

So this weekend was our time to host visitors from PA and last weekend we made the trek to PA to be with Jason's family - a special weekend centered around all being together and celebrating Dad's 70th birthday. I know the girls would say one of their highlights was two long stints in the pool - Kali would have stayed in all night if she had anyone wishing to linger with her. I was pretty impressed that she has slowly worked her way up to going under water. It's so neat to see her slowly challenging herself in areas that felt too hard or scary previously. She's on to plan our next family night and has chosen swimming. Another highlight was Grandpa giving a bunch of us a cart ride. It was exciting, even if it put Terah to sleep!

I really enjoyed the time a bunch of us spent out under the shade trees in the backyard just visiting and watching kids run around popping bubbles or playing at the swing set. It's such an unusual activity for me to just sit (with nothing that I need to do) and let Terah climb all over me while I visit. It was really lovely! It was a warm day but the shade and the breeze made it quite pleasant. The time we spent together singing before most began dispersing Sunday was also right up there on my list of enjoyable times. It was good to all be together!

Terah would definitely say that her highlight was NOT the car trip. Adding to the list of ways this kiddo is making her mark, and standing apart from her big sisters, is her dislike of being in the car. It's not that Alida or Kali loved it, but we never had much crying in the car. Terah is getting more entertainable (peek-a-boo is a favorite) but when she is tired and wants nothing more than to fall asleep stretched out, she is not very patient with the predicament she feels any of us could get her out of. It didn't help that the ride up included an hour plus of stand still or crawling traffic and several other traffic related delays. I was rather frazzled by the time we arrived, and felt so relieved when the return trip home was uneventful in comparison.

In the days preceding and following our trip, the girls and I made a number of treks to the blueberry patch next door. They are having a bumper crop year and the berries are amazing! We have invested a lot in blueberries for our freezer and it feels worth every penny. If  nothing else, it feels like fabulous family entertainment - we don't have to get in the car, we get a little exercise walking there and back, a great nutritious snack is provided, there's a gorgeous view to enjoy and it is a family-friendly environment! What more could we ask for? Alida is great at helping to entertain Terah and feed her blueberry halves. Normally she lasts about as long as it takes us to get a bucketful, and then she is ready to either help pick (which would be disastrous for the bush) or have my undivided attention. 

It's a little hard to believe July is already here. The peas are coming to a rapid end. The older girls and Jason pulled our candy and potato onions and the shallots yesterday. Garlic will be next and then our main onion crop following. I think there are some grain crops Jason will be harvesting here before too long, but I'm honestly not up to date on the status of everything outside. I can hardly keep up with getting three meals on the table daily and our family's dirty laundry accumulation - esp. as our littlest gal joins us at the table and needs a new outfit every meal. We'll possibly have a bit of a lull before our tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and green beans have us flooded with food preservation tasks. In the meantime, I'm making batches of pesto here and there, drying oregano, making lots of cheese and butter while the cows are on pasture and the milk is high in omega 3's, and cooking with the lasts of things from the previous year (I chopped up the remaining two winter squashes yesterday). We hope to try dehydrating leeks this year as we have a lot of them, but otherwise won't likely be doing a lot of experimenting. We are out of diced tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste and have one quart of salsa left. So let the tomatoes ripen and the chopping get underway as soon as possible! And may my creative juices be flowing in abundance to think of ways to keep our littlest entertained and happy while I attempt to put up food for the winter. I'm thinking putting her in her high chair with a large tomato might do the trick for at least a little while... Time will tell so stay tuned!

June family book report by Jason

Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs—by Kelly Klober

Another report full of information, unlikely to be of much interest to those not into or considering raising pigs. For us, it was a timely read!

This book is intended to be an informative primer on how to get started with swine raising for any purpose, and a guide for answering basic questions one might encounter along the way.  If the reader pays good attention, it would seem to me that many mistakes can be prevented, and it would be much more likely that the would-be pig keeper will have a satisfying and productive experience rather than a frustrating or disappointing one.

At this stage of life our family has no need for guidance on how to breed or raise pigs for show purposes, how to maintain a herd of breeding hogs, or how to organize a swine venture of commercial scale.  As such, I either skipped or skimmed some of the sections of the book related to these pursuits, and have included many fewer quotations from these topics.

The information I did find relevant to our family’s and farm’s stage of development I have organized into sections.  It seemed to me that the first applicable topic is around the question of alimentation, or feeding.  Do we have at our disposal, from our land or other available resources, what is needed for hog raising, and for how many?  What nutritional program best fits our farm’s swine production goals, and from what era of history does that program hail?

The second topic is that of facilities.  What physical structures must we provide in order to promote the healthy, comfort, safety, and productivity of hogs here at Tangly Woods?

Thirdly comes the question of swine health.  How can we best understand the factors that contribute to the thriving of hogs, and what interventions might be needed from us to support that thriving at critical times?  How can we avoid unnecessary health compromises or losses without incurring unnecessary expenses or exposing the hogs or us to unnecessary chemical health treatments?
Some aspects of these first three topics are highly subject to variability based on variations in the fourth topic: genetics!  A hog can perform at a worse level, but never a better level, than it genetic potential.  But what good performance means varies tremendously by the system of production chosen, and a hog that might perform admirably in one system might fail to produce much at all in another.

In the last section we tie it all together in the topic of the enterprise of hog production.  I organized this section loosely concentrically.  That is to say we start with the microenterprise of hog raising to provision the family table, then work our way outward through small-scale production until we end with some philosophy on what hog entrepreneurs face by way of challenges and opportunities in today’s rapidly changing pork market.

Each section will consist primarily of quotations from the book, with a sprinkling of commentary by me.

Feeding Strategies
We start with some standard, expected advice:

Page 73 “On range, or when adding to the ration food items with a lesser-known nutrient content, it is best to keep the hogs on a complete dietary ration appropriate for their age and role as sow, finisher, grower, and the like.  Consider your additions as a little something extra and offer them in modest amounts that the animals will clean up quickly.  Hogs are like big kids and can easily render their diets completely unbalanced by choosing items they favor in taste over less-palatable, more healthful options.”

Page 181 “Few sights are prettier than a set of hogs, slick and shiny, on a rich, green pasture.  It is the picture of health and wholesomeness.  Hogs can fare well even on total legume pastures—something few ruminants can do. Hogs are not the most efficient users of pasturage, however.  They are omnivores and have a single gut.  They do not totally utilize the browse—twigs, leaves, and shoots—and they need richer sources of energy.  One-quarter acre (0.1 ha) of pasture will adequately carry up to four sows with their litters, but it has to be considered little more than a dessert option for those sows.”

These quotes show good wisdom for most scenarios, especially for commercial production where meeting market expectations and parameters is every bit as critical to profitability as making use of available resources.  But what if your highest priority is making use of resources and production timetables and predictability are less critical?  And what if the genetics you are working with are more generalistic, less tailored?  These questions were not directly answered, and I wonder if this is information that will be accessible anywhere in written form.  We may need to learn this by experience, won in time or borrowed from friends.  If the answer is available, though, perhaps this quote shows where it might be found:

Page 73 “One of the best feeding investments anyone can make is an older, unabridged copy of Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding.  This great old book contains all of the basics of livestock feeding and feedstuffs’ composition.  And it was put together back in the day when the mixed-stock farmer was king and regionalized farming practices were the norm.”

Clearly hog farmers and hog markets used to be more tuned to a more integrated and hands-on approach:

Page 74 “Meat scraps and skimmed milk were once about the only protein supplements to be fed to hogs, along with open-pollinated corn that was much higher in crude protein than today’s heat-dried hybrids.  Together these three items created simple, nutrient-dense rations for all classes of hogs and pigs weaned at around 8 weeks of age.”

Page 75 “Swine rations concocted between 1900 and 1940 were simpler than most seen now—many hogs were finished on pasture or while gleaning grain fields.  Still, as noted above, rations were filled with nutrient-dense ingredients.  Not only was the tankage supplement 8 to 10 percentage points richer in crude protein than today’s widely used soybean oil meal-based protein supplements, but the corn in use then was also more nutritionally dense. In the good old days, skimmed milk or good legume-pasture and corn varieties like Reid’s Yellow Dent or Bloody Butcher were all that was needed for late-stage finishing or sow maintenance.  Those old, open-pollinated field-corn varieties often tested in the 13 to 16 percent crude-protein range.  This was far better than the 8 or 9 percent levels assigned to modern hybrids, and many hog producers are assigning a value of just 6 percent when formulating rations with heavily heat-dried corn.”

Page 78 “Early in the last century, growing hogs were given X amount of corn each day.  The corn was counted out to provide so many ears of corn per head or so many scoopfuls of corn per pen of hogs.  For many months of each year, the hogs were on legume-rich pastures with a bit of corn fed each day.  Skim milk or tankage might be offered in a trough once or twice each day.”

Page 76 “Many producers still feed some ear corn, sometimes even allowing the hogs to glean it in the field, and others feed a great deal of shelled corn, especially if feeding on the ground or in open troughs to better counter waste. A once-common practice was to keep barrels of shelled corn soaking in water to improve palatability and digestibility when fed.”

These quotes tantalize a reader like me with hints of how hog production might fit into our farm some year in the future, even if for the moment it makes sense to keep things much more simple.

Of course, there are some modern health concerns about the practice of feeding meat products to food animals, and Mr. Klober addresses them in some detail.  The upshot is this:

Page 74 “I support the use of fish, dairy, and eggs being added to rations, although some consumer groups prefer those that are vegan.  It is widely known that in the wild hogs eat a lot of red meat.”

Page 77 “There are alternatives to soybean oil meal and meat scraps, including some dairy-based products, but they tend to be higher in price.  The alternatives contain more complex and easily digestible proteins.  They do create very good, palatable rations, and they are a must in formulating rations for very young pigs.”

Essentially, it would seem that the combination of grain and some source of protein form the customary basis of dietary needs for hogs.  If a person wishes to go against this “grain”, they will not find much help for it in this book.

In addition to diet, there is the question of feeding pattern.  Free choice and Limit feeding are the two styles outlined.  Here is the comment on limit feeding (which is closest to our practice):

Page 80 “Limit Feeding a hog to about 90 percent of appetite, the second approach to feeding out an animal, will produce a slightly trimmer hog and will somewhat reduce daily feed costs.  It will also extend an animal’s time on feed; as a result, you will probably realize no overall savings on feed costs.”

Extending the question of pattern beyond the daily and into the pattern of growth of the animal, we have the following quotes:

Page 80 “As a finishing hog ages and grows, its growth rate and feed efficiency slow, and much of the weight gain in the late stages of the growout period is often finish (fat cover) rather than lean or muscle gain.  A traditional feeding practice to help the producer cope with this natural pattern has been to reduce the crude-protein content of the ration as the hog grows.”

To that quote I ask: But what if you want the fat?  Then how would you want to feed?

But let’s assume you did actually have to buy all their feed in a sack.  How much feed are we talking about?

Page 81 “By the 50-pound (22.7 kg) bagful, feed regularly falls into the 8- to 12-cents-per-pound range; one growing hog will generally consume 650 to 750 pounds (295 to 340 kg) of such feed as it grows from 40 pounds (18.1 kg) to slaughter weight.”

There was way too much detail on this topic in the book to relate here.  I will include a few nuggets, from which we may extrapolate that appropriate facilities are not necessarily premium facilities, but that knowing the parameters of what makes for hog health and comfort supports the small farmer’s needs and tendencies to make do and to improvise.

Page 54 “…be sure to insulate the roof.  This will prevent condensation from forming on the inside of the roof and falling on the pigs and their bedding.”

Page 146 “Many hog facilities can be made to do double duty by housing other species (a one-sow farrowing house with a solid floor is also a dandy place to brood baby chicks or waterfowl)…)

Page 181 “One of our drylots was in continuous use for nearly 10 years and still sheltered sows in a safe and healthful environment.  However, many producers prefer to rotate drylots every few years, plowing them up and sowing them to grass or legumes for a time.  Leaving them idle for 12 months will disrupt the life cycles of a great many harmful parasites and disease organisms.

Page 204 “Seasonal farrowing on range is possible 6 to 8 months of the year in most parts of the country and is pursued even in Michigan and Minnesota.  On pasture the houses need to be positioned 100 to 150 feet (30.5 to 45.7 m) apart, to keep sows from doubling up in them and thus increasing pig losses through crushing.”

Page 210 “If outside air temperatures are above 60 degrees F (15.6 degrees C) [when farrowing], you may not need supplemental heat.”

Health Management
A few themes I noticed from the extensive commentary on this topic were: 1) If you start with clean and healthy animals and you are careful not to contaminate them, you are not likely to have much trouble, 2) A well-designed environment is the biggest factor in success, 3) The small-scale operation has a huge health advantage over the large-scale one, 4) Breeding and genetics are key, and 4) Supporting and challenging the animal’s immune system is a more effective strategy than barricading the herd from inoculum.  Still, some interventions in the case of disease, or even just in case of it, are recommended in the book.  A sample of quotes follows:

Page 87 “Unless you have been assured otherwise—and have some sort of documentation—assume that all pigs have at least been exposed to all of the major internal parasites or worms, as well as to external parasites and any localized problem parasites.  They will need to be dewormed…”

Page 241 “Current thinking [on pre-farrowing cleaning] is that a simple cleaning and scraping are generally more than enough.  Placing a couple of forkfuls of spent bedding from the farrowing house into the gestating pens a month ahead of sow due dates and getting the sows into the farrowing quarters a week ahead of their farrowing dates will help each animal develop her own natural immunity to any harmful organisms.  This is also an immunity that she can pass on to her young through the milk for the first few weeks of life.  It is also far easier than trying to sterilize all the porous surfaces and nooks and crannies in a farrowing unit.”

Page 268 “Your best money as a producer will be spent on quality feedstuffs and safeguarding animal comfort.  In the worst of weather, I knew I had done the best by my hogs if I left them well fed and watered and with clean, dry bedding before the coming night.”

Page 268 “In nature, when the population of a given species becomes too great for a certain locale, natural forces intercede to trim the population to more sustainable numbers.  Generally, these take the form of some sort of contagious or infectious agent.  The same is true when domestic animals are packed too tightly into an artificial environment.”

Page 269 “Drugs and steroids have kept a lot of hogs in the gene pool producing when they should have been washed out of the herd long before reaching the breeding pen.”

Page 270 “Practice lot and pasture rotation.  This helps to control parasites and mud, which will keep the animals more comfortable.”

Page 270 “…many swine illnesses can be prevented through management—the type of management that the small producer can provide.”

Page 296 “To avoid [Transmissible Gastroenteritis] in your herd, be careful not to buy or bring in infected animals.  Don’t go to other places where there are hogs, or hog producers, in the same clothing you wear around your hogs.  And be sure to keep birds and dogs away from your herd.”

So much clearly depends on the genetic material you start with.  Knowing the history and uses of the various breeds and strains, and ultimately of the pig families we buy from or into, could go a long way towards getting animals to raise that catalyze the kind of success we seek.  I was influenced by the book and other reading I have done towards an opinion that a person should not approach these choices with prejudices for or against any particular breed or category, but should maintain an open mind and understand that with genetics you are working with a paradox of dependable traits nested within and dependent on an ever-changing process.

Page 32 “The Chester White is an American-developed white breed that originated in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with the name Chester County White.  It has a medium-sized frame and drooping ears.  It is probably an underutilized white breed, considering its hardiness, which makes it appropriate for producers working outdoors with simple facilities.”

Page 35 “Heirloom breeds are still to be valued for a number of reasons, including the simple fact that they represent some of the hardiest of all the swine genetics.  As a group they are quite naturally lean, adapt readily to a wide range of environments, and are among the best choices for a pasture- or range-based production system.”

Page 44 “Some preservationist groups, such as the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, have brought needed focus on these breeds, but where is their long-term thinking about them?  There needs to be a real meeting of the minds as to where these breeds should be genotypically and phenotypically.”

Page 45 “A couple of breeds that are growing in numbers but that do not fit any practical niche are the Vietnamese Potbelly and the Kune Kune pig.  Their greatest appeal for the moment is as “miniature” swine, but they were developed as meat animals for very constrained environments.  They were raised by families who had limited feedstuff for the livestock, who had to eat all meat when it was fresh, and for whom every bit of food counted.  These and other environmental restrictions dictated the breeds’ sizes.”

Page 46-47 “The exotic breed sector has a hard question to answer and one that must be answered soon:  What is the ultimate use of these animals?...If preservation work succeeds, the “rare” or “sellers” market it fosters will go away…What is the long range vision for them?  Where are the guidelines for breeding them for better and more production? What market niches will they fill 5, 10, or 20 years from now?...The modest-sized whole and half carcasses of exotic breeds might make them a good choice for today’s smaller families.  They may produce some exceptionally flavorsome pork or lend themselves to certain cuisines.  What do they taste like?...I don’t like myself when I become skeptical, but until I see a Choctaw or an Ossabaw hog win a market hog show in the Midwest, I am going to continue my pessimistic ways.  Eventually, they will have to play by the same rules as the Hampshires and Durocs and their producers.  To do this they must be moved along in that direction now.  This means selective breeding for litter size, economic traits, and a consistent standard for breed character…Sadly, right now they are valued mostly as hobbies for the wealthy.  These hogs need some showdowns in the show ring, true-type conferences, a pool of data proving their worthiness and the specific roles they can play, and producers that see them as livestock with a future and not just two hundred specimens with a past.”

Page 48 “Smaller-sized pigs such as the Potbelly and Kune Kune are more easily transported, a trait that was especially crucial in locales such as Polynesia, where the supplies and livestock needs for a new settlement had to be carried by canoe and outrigger.  These pigs can live in harsher landscapes, where their food supply is limited and where their size is economically justified.  These miniature swine were and still are hogs in every sense.  Unfortunately, they are being raised in this country primarily as gimmicks to sell to others.”

Page 49 “Most hybrids are stronger than their purebred parents; the result of two distinct bloodlines coming together is a stronger, more durable animal.  But the traits that are expressed are also less predictable because they are two different breeds.  These days hybrid vigor is accomplished almost entirely by seedstock companies that sell crossbred and composite breeding animals…Many of the modern so-called hybrids are quite complex in their structure, and because the strains are so closely managed, they lock producers into joining a contract program using a whole phalanx of company hogs to maintain even a semblance of hybrid vigor.  It is an expensive and complex practice that require much genetic fine tuning and extensive housing and produces some animals that are not as productive as purebreds.  It’s a system that could shut individual producers out of swine seedstock production in the same way that independent poultry producers were blocked from producing now-favored broiler and laying-hen strains.”

Page 267 “Experience has taught me that before anything else you must select for basic vigor and what we have come to call stoutness.  You want them big, strong, full of vinegar and prunes, and ready for whatever life may throw at them. And that begins in the first hours of life in the farrowing pen.”

These thoughts could be useful for making intelligent choices about feeder pigs, and those experiences could in turn affect a choice down the road about acquiring breeding stock.

The Enterprise
This is a big topic to which I cannot hope to do justice here.  There are innumerable ways one might organize the activity of hog raising, each a response to a different set of constraints and pressures coming from all levels and directions, from personal flavor preferences to health understandings, to 
available market opportunities to public health laws.

The basic pattern

Page 11 “Hogs are very efficient users of feedstuffs, often averaging 1 pound (0.5 kg) of gain on just 3 to 3.5 pounds (1.4 to 1.6 kg) of feedstuffs, even in the simplest of facilities.  While this may not be a trait that first-world weight-conscious humans would find becoming in their own physical development, hog producers gratefully accept the fact.”

Page 102-103 “When you’re up to your elbows in the task of working up a carcass, you’ll soon see the truth in the words of the legendary livestock nutritionist Frank B. Morrison in the ninth edition of his classic text, Feeds and Feeding Abridged: ‘Pigs exceed all other farm animals in the efficiency with which they convert feed into edible meat.  They require much less feed and much less total digestible nutrients for each pound of gain in liveweight than do other farm animals.  They also yield a higher percentage of dressed carcass, a larger percentage of the carcass is edible, and pork is higher in energy content than other meat.”

Page 53 “The growout period will normally be between 90 and 120 days, depending on the starting weight of the pig, and in many places fits into the spring or fall season, to avoid the weather extremes of a Missouri summer or a Maine winter.”

Page 30 “Remember, the goal is to achieve optimal performance from a given set of hogs and facilities.  Maximum levels of performance in any type of production agriculture are seldom, if ever, truly cost-effective, as they must be supported by fancy housing and more-costly rations.”

Page 215 “The performance of young boars is enhanced by the presence of male hormones that will be unavailable to barrow or gilt offspring.”        

Page 250 “Castration may be an even more controversial procedure than tail docking.  Still, in this country the meat from even the youngest uncastrated boars is sharply discounted in price.  In Europe a lot of lightweight hogs are used for fresh and processed pork products, many of them intact males of 5 months of age or less.”

Acquiring stock

Page 49-50 “Long ago I was cautioned that if you bring something in from 1,000 miles (1,609 km) away, you may have to haul it back every one of those 1,000 miles to get it sold again.”

Page 65 “The best place to buy feeder pigs is at their farm of origin…Pigs at an auction are often stressed from the transport and handling.  There is also a very real risk that they might have been exposed to disease organisms or sick pigs.”

Page 65 “Early spring may be the most expensive time of the year to buy feeder shoats because fewer sows farrow in the cold months of December, January, and February, when the early feeders are born.  Still, these pigs are desirable because they will reach a good slaughter weight before the weather grows excessively hot and humid.”

Page 212 “I’ve found the best ways to find out about good buys on hogs are (in order of preference) talking with fellow raisers, attending hog events, reading local newspapers, and checking out hog publications.”

Page 213 “It is perhaps best to go with first impressions when selecting breeding animals.”

Home production

Page 65 “As mentioned, hogs are not all ham and chops, but one or two hogs fed out each year will go a long way toward meeting the protein needs of a typical family of four.  If fed out at least two at a time, the hogs will be more content, because they are herd animals.”

Page 53 “…along with quality control, there is much that you as a home finisher can do to contain costs.  Granted, a pig is not all chops, but when it is raised and processed to order, you can expect to maximize the cuts and quality you and your family prefer in meat and meat products.”

Page 171 “The classic sausage seasoning, sage, actually doesn’t freeze very well and can impart a bitter flavor to the meat in frozen storage.”

Meating” the public: the commercial scale

Page 177 “In many countries known globally for the quality of their pork, younger, smaller hogs go to market.  Forty years ago, you could have yourself a 220-pound (99.8 kg) butcher when the animal was just a bit older than 5 months.  They were efficient gainers because they were young and growing muscle, and they moved through finishing facilities and off the farm in short order…I believe the younger, lighter-weight market hog may again have a role for those engaged in the direct marketing of pork and butcher hogs.  They are the porcine equivalent of the Cornish game hen or the “baby chicken” broiler now showing up in pricier restaurants.  And this approach would certainly produce the basic cuts of pork now in keeping with today’s smaller families.”

Page 314 “There are some of us who share a fairly common sentiment that family farmers should be freer to directly process and sell their own production.  They can’t, however, because the needed inspection services are not in place.”

Page 315 “Two quality cured hams will now often bring as much as or more than an entire butcher hog on the hoof—but family farmers are now largely cut off from this market, which was once their traditional domain, through a series of nitpicking rules that do not always prove effective in guarding public health or food quality.”

Page 317 “It is far easier to fund and establish 10 different farm ventures netting $2,000 each yearly than to create just one enterprise with a capacity for $20,000 in net earnings.”

Page 5 “The versatile hog will always be a creature of the small farm and the smallholding; it is a far too valuable and utilitarian creature to think it might serve otherwise.”

Page 10 “Many people believe they must have a large acreage and hogs by the hundreds for pig production to be a viable enterprise.  Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Page 5 “Although hog production had been forced into a corporate mold in recent years, those practices don’t consider the nature of the hog, the laws of the marketplace, the wishes of the consumer, and the calling of the farmer to be a wise and thoughtful steward.”

Page 318 “At this writing, the small-scale pork producer must function as something of a maverick—a “repioneer.”

Page 318 “The only farming sectors still in total favor with the consuming public and whose output garners a willingly given premium from that public are the organic growers and the clearly identified family farmers.”

Page 319 “Animal-rights issues, environmental measures, and consumer concerns can and may all grow to a point where the pressure they will bring to bear on the large operations will be just too great.  Some small farmers are already tapping into this resistance by pursuing niche markets for additive-free pork, pork raised outside, and pork with real pork taste.  The niches of today are the only alternatives for tomorrow.”

Page 321 “Optimum production means seeking a fair and reasonable return on investment rather than attempting to totally maximize production in the faint hope that returns will eventually surpass costs.  In other words, by optimum I mean aiming for a fair and livable return, rather than attempting to extract every cent of return possible by any means available.”

Page 322 “The time and resources needed to wring every dollar possible from a venture are simply not always justifiable on economic grounds or sustainable environmentally.  And let’s be realistic here—life is just too short to spend the whole of it down in the hog lots rooting out every last dollar to be had there.”

Page 340 “By becoming more focused on the care and breeding of the hogs, small producers are finding a way out of the morass of agribusiness and pork as a mere commodity.  After years of drifting away, there are young people and families coming back to raising hogs.  It is happening on a modest scale but with the solid backing of a dedicated consuming population that approves of what we are doing.  Consumers are seeking input now, and rewarding our production with premium prices.
I feel better about this kind of production than I have for some time and see a very bright future for this truly artisanal type and level of production agriculture.  Ultimately, it will be what we, the individual producers, make of it.  We have an opening unique and apart from any seen in my lifetime.”

Page 347 “Dad used to say that if you couldn’t walk the whole of your farm before breakfast, you were farming too big.”