Pigs and Potatoes

Or things that make me ridiculously happy.

It was time to move the pigs. There was much planning. Discussions of how, when, and where. Sketches on a notepad. And waiting for some reinforcements. It felt a bit like a military operation. Moving the pigs is a process.

We forage our pigs and during the winter we would bring them back to the stall at night, making it easy to move the electric fencing to new areas. But the stall needed to be cleaned out, the weather was warming up, and it was time to begin keeping our Large Blacks out in the woods.

Keeping them in the woods makes our day a little easier but makes moving their fence a challenge. How do we keep them contained and occupied while we shift the fence to a new area? We had been working on this for the past week. Firstly, food is involved. The plan was to keep them occupied with breakfast in one spot while we moved the fence around them. A good plan until one of the big girls snuck outside the fencing and went back to their stall. Not ideal, but it could be worse. We locked her in the stall and brought back extra food to keep the remaining three occupied. When the fence was set up, we brought our escapee back and gave still more food to everyone.

After three days of pig camping, it was time to move them again. We decided to bring them back to the stall, feed them there, move the fence while they were secure, and then bring them back to their campsite. This worked perfectly but was not ideal because we wanted to use the stall for other animals and keep the pigs in the field full-time. Additionally, we were relocating them half-way across the property to an area we need cleared for a new fence line. This would involve a pig procession.

We needed a plan.

After some complex communication, Mr. J and I had a clear-cut plan. We set up an extra length of fence in the new area, making an enclosed paddock. The pigs would be moved and kept there (with food, naturally) while the rest of the fencing was shifted from the old location to the new one. We waited for our oldest son and daughter-in-law to return from a visit with grandpa. This was all-hands on deck. The “kids” arrived, we laid out the plan, and got to work. The girls walk the pigs across the pasture while the guys move the fencing and water.

Ready, set, go.

It was quite the parade. Two girls shaking containers of cracked corn calling “pig, pig” followed by four pigs wondering when they would get their treat. At times, the pigs are like cats crisscrossing in front of you and you have to keep a close eye on everyone all at once. But we plodded along and made it successfully to their new paddock. Meanwhile, the guys worked quickly to move the remaining fence and set up their portable shelter.

Walking those pigs across that field makes me ridiculously happy. I have them trained; I know that we are giving them the best life. And it worked without a hitch! I love it when a plan comes together. Especially, when we often find ourselves saying, “well, that wasn’t the plan.”

If you would like to learn more about pasturing pigs, we have gotten some great information and inspiration from Billy Bond at Perma Pastures Farm. This video gives you a look at how he pastures pigs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u69BLyOD_Wc

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My potatoes are going gangbusters. And this makes me ridiculously happy.

I wrote earlier about my foray into potato growing. (You can read about it here) I had no idea if my little experiment would work. In my enthusiasm I planted them entirely too early. With the snow and freezes that followed my initial planting I feared that they would just rot in place, and I would have a potato farming failure.

Then I saw them popping through their mulch of aged horse manure and straw. I covered them with more manure and straw. It rained. They popped through again. Now every time I am in the garden, I look at the potato patch and am amazed by its growth. All I am doing is covering with aged compost and they continue to thrive. I LOVE this. I am a simple woman, and stuff like this makes me ridiculously happy.

Homestead Happenings – January 2022

Our life in pictures.

The Return of Helen Reddy and Panda

After two weeks hanging out with our neighbor Travis’ herd of Angus we finally have our heifers back on the homestead. The recent rain and snow made the ground too muddy for us to retrieve them until two days ago when we had enough of a gap between wet weather to give it a go. Our neighbors across the road lent us their livestock trailer and Travis was a life saver in separating our girls from his. He even used his tractor to pull our truck out of the mud.

Fencing, Fencing, Fencing

Cows

Helen and Panda’s escapades made it clear that our fencing was sorely lacking. While they were safely contained in the neighbor’s pasture, we put all our energy and time into fencing one of our pastures. Thankfully, we had some extra help from visiting friends, extended family, and our two grown sons visiting for the holiday.

Mr. J quickly educated himself on how to install durable perimeter fencing – H-braces, 5 strands of tensioned barb wire, woven wire, and gates. Our brother-in-law suggested we rent an auger instead of digging the post holes manually. Genius! As of this post we are more than halfway done. Lessons learned here will be applied to fencing the rest of the property.

Pigs

The pigs have been much easier to work with than the cows, but fencing is still a focus. We currently use hog panels and t-posts to set up temporary paddocks in my garden. The pigs happily root up the soil each day and I rotate them to a new space weekly. I will need to invest in some electric fencing for the pigs so that when they finish with my garden, we can easily move them to other areas of the farm to be worked. They are already trained to the electric wire, but I would feel better if they were surrounded by electric hog netting.

Our weather has been cold and wet. To keep the pigs warm and dry we bring them into the barn each night. I am training them to follow me from the barn to the garden in the morning and from the garden to the barn at night with voice commands and food rewards. Every time I go down to feed the pigs I call “Piiiiiig, pig, pig, pig, pig” and they squeal in anticipation. When we open their fencing to relocate them, I continue my call while shaking a container with some food. They either follow right behind or run ahead because they know where to go.  My hope is that this association with my voice and food will make it possible for me to herd them farther distances. So far so good. Plus, it makes me laugh.

Chickens

I have a confession. Our Great Pyrenees is a chicken chaser. He will walk towards the birds and if they start to move away, he will give chase. The faster they move, the more excited he gets. For him it is a game, but it may not turn out well for the chickens. So, I decided to enlarge the chicken run to give the birds more space. This meant in addition to everything else, we quickly put up a run with welded wire fencing and t-posts. It was completed yesterday, and the girls were let out of their smaller enclosure. What happy chickens!

As I write this, snow is falling, and our fires are burning as we anticipate 6-10 inches of snow.

Beautiful.

Peaceful.

Magical.

Fiat Farm