Pigs, Pigs, Pigs!
Pigs are cool. Anyone who has ever had one can attest to that. That being said, when you are up to your eyeballs in them, they can get a little overwhelming.
We have been in the middle of a pig-a-palooza lately and have a few pig stories to share.
Pig # 1: Violet. Violet is one of the girls that was born to our sow Petunia last winter. We've kept her around and decided, randomly, last fall to have her bred. We weren't sure if it was successful, but we had both her and her sister in the pen with the boar at the same time, because, well you never know. We waited and waited and finally began to think that the first breeding wasn't successful. Then BAM! She got huge overnight, to the point where her nipples were almost dragging on the ground. Yup, she was pregnant. We weren't 100% of her due date (bad, bad farmer!) so we just sort of waited. As it turned out, she took it all into her own hands (or hooves, whatever) and after commandeering one of the smaller houses in the big pasture, gave birth to five healthy piglets! That was where the problems started. Vi had no interest in her babies whatsoever. I panicked because it's been cold and miserable here and that was the last thing we needed was a bunch of frozen pig-cicles. We got them all bundled up under their heat lamp and set about to convince mama that she needed to let her littles nurse. I tried cramming her in the house; I tried feeding her in the house, nothing. And then, via the wonders of the internet, someone suggested an old farmer's trick of getting the sow drunk to help her relax. Ok, so maybe drunk is a strong word but multiple forums and groups suggested giving her some beer to get her to calm down. Since beer doesn't last in our house, like at all, I called the neighbor who came to the rescue with a couple cans of Coors Light – some for Violet and some for me. A couple of cans later, Vi flopped right over and the littles began to nurse away. Since then, she's been an alright mom. All five kiddos are doing well so far, however we are going to be pulling them from their warm cozy house the weekend for a welfare check - and to give supplemental nutrition if needed. As for Violet, we are going to let her wean this litter but that will be it. She's not a very responsive mom (they can shout and cry and she barely reacts - not a good sign) and we worry that could hurt future offspring. So, once the litter is weaned in about seven-eight weeks, Vi will be culled from our breeding program. It’s not a fun choice to have to make, but when we think about what is best for our farm and our company, you have to make those tough decision.
Pig #2/Pig #3: Chrissy aka Chrysanthemum. Chrissy is Violet's sister/littermate. Their mom is Petunia aka Tuney who is one of our favorite sows. Chrissy got pregnant at the same time her sister did but for reasons unknown, she's a horrible mother. Like makes Violet look like mom of the year kind of thing. First off, she had four babies. She decided to give birth in the pouring rain the night after Violet did. The Fisherman and I sat in her house with her, watching, hoping and praying that all would work out. Two were still born, one took its first and last breaths as I held it and the fourth is our little brawler that we're calling Solo. Or Colombo (because he's so small, he'd fit on a Colombo roll - yeah the Fisherman has a sick sense of humor). Unfortunately for Solo, Chrissy could care less that he's on this planet. We had a hard time getting her to let him nurse right after he was born and his motions are still super jerky and erratic, which research says could be due to a lack of oxygen during birth? Still not 100% sure. Even after his first night, she would just leave him to go scavenge during the day, leaving him all alone in their big house, cold as ice. We started feeding her in their house, one to keep her out of the mud because it has been raining incessantly and two, to keep her closer to him. As soon as she'd stand still to eat, he would rush over and start nursing, like he hadn't eaten in hours. Then, yesterday, when we went out to feed around 7 am (again, in the pouring rain) we found him on the other side of the paddock, about as far away from his house as he could have been. Chrissy could have cared less. We got him scooped up and moved back into the house but as he tried to nurse, Chrissy kept pushing him away. We said we'd give her another chance but yesterday evening, when we went back out to feed, he was curled up in a corner, shivering and wasn't even able to get up to nurse. I decided it was time to intervene. Scooped him up and he didn't make a peep which was really unusual for him and stuffed him into my jacket to keep him warm, all the while Chrissy noticed nothing. We moved him down to the house and have been feeding him via a syringe every 30-45 minutes. He's already gained a couple ounces and is back to being his little fighter of a self. As for Chrissy, she’s another one that we’ll remove from our herd. Kind of a bummer but I would rather not have to go through that anxiety again.
Now Solo is living in a dog carrier in our bathroom with a heating pad and a very watchful Ally Mai as a babysitter. He needs to eat as often as possible so that means that I’m up EVERY HOUR to feed him a couple syringes worth of his formula before collapsing back into bed. I managed to kick The Fisherman hard enough a couple times during the night so that he’d go do it (I work full time and he has this week off, the lucky bagger) but he also is with Solo ALL DAY so I figure it’s only fair. So far it’s working. Last I heard Solo was running around the house like a giant, fuzzy, black roly-poly bug with Ally Mai hot on his heels. He’ll get moved onto a bowl of formula here in the next 24-48 hours (hooray for a full night’s sleep!) before we re-introduce him to the herd in a few weeks.
Phew, I'm exhausted just remembering all that. And yet, it's not over.
Pigs # 4: In the midst of all this drama, The Fisherman swung by a friend's house in Angwin on Thursday and noticed a small potbelly pig in her front yard. After confirming that no, she did not have a new pet, they caught the little porker and moved her into the yard. Our friend canvassed the neighborhood while the pig destroyed her backyard (so much for gratitude, right?). Since she lives in a rental, the pig had to go. And who volunteered to foster her until we found her home? That's right, The Fisherman. HAHA! I know you were all thinking it was going to be me. I said 'No way Jose' and was clearly overruled. Granted the moment he brought her home, I started begging him to let me keep her. So much for will power. Anyways, we had moved the four boys that had been born on Thanksgiving down to the yard when Violet and Chrissy's babies were born and so the pig I christened Delilah moved in with them. We spent the weekend alternately chasing and then running away from a herd of five hogs (and our whippet, Ally Mai. Yeah, my life is bizarre). We posted all over social media, plastered the town in flyers and called every single animal rescue group and law enforcement agency in the county. Nada, nope, zilch. Clearly, she had been dumped. **Side note** For anyone who is ever going to consider buying a potbelly pig as a pet, please understand, these so-called teacup pigs will not stay teacup sized for long. Pigs grow - a lot. Potbelly’s in particular can quickly grow to 75, 100, even 200 pounds. They get overweight very quickly and can become as ill-mannered as dogs – even worse sometimes. There are lots of people who think mini-pigs are so cute and that they will stay itty-bitty forever. WRONG. This leads to a very high number of pigs being surrendered at shelters, rescues or just plain dumped on the side of the road. To those people who thing it is ok to abandon an animal, a pet, on the side of the road, there is a special place in hell reserved for you.
Do you research before considering one. Pigs make great pets, don't get me wrong, but don't think they will stay the size of your beer can forever.
ANYWAYS. So we spent four days searching for her previous owner/trying to find someone to take Delilah off her hands. We had a few nibbles but nothing concrete until yesterday morning. During one of the rare windows that we had power (again, still raining so much that I got stuck at home and wasn’t able to get into work) we got a text saying to call this gal who was interested in adopting Delilah. They had never had pigs before but were looking for a great way to introduce them onto to their mini-homestead. And they only live 15 minutes from us. After talking a bit more, The Fisherman and I decided it would be a good fit. We loaded Delilah up and drove her up the hill. Good news, we only had to dodge two or three landslides to get there. Arriving at this family's adorable place, we know instantly it would work. There are kids everywhere, plenty of green grass and a snuggly little shelter. Renamed Penelope by her new mom, the ungrateful little wench just waddled off to peruse the buffet in her new paddock instead of saying goodbye. Rude. But all is well that ends well. Penelope has a wonderful new home with a fabulous family to love her and I have one less pig in my yard. HALLELUJAH.
All in all, it's been a crazy couple of days. I'm tired and sore. My diet has mostly consisted of caffeine and anti-anxiety meds and I wish I could explain where all the different bruises came from. Thankfully, I’ve got some pretty amazing friends, both real and via social media. Please know that your support has an immeasurable effect on me. Your cheers, thoughts and prayers make be both want to laugh and cry with joy – but mostly cry because I’m so damn tired.
But I'm still here. I love every second of this life, even the dirty ones when you're smeared in blood, shit and god knows what else.
In the heartbreaking ones, where a new life is snuffed out before it has a chance to grow into something wonderful.
In the exhausted ones, when you hear the squeal of a starving piglet coming from the bathroom at 1:47 am and know that you have to get up, despite an alarm that will be going off in just a few short hours.
I embrace the exhaustion because it means that I am living my life to the fullest. There is something profoundly satisfying about collapsing into bed at the end of the day, so tired you can barely lift a hand to turn out the lights. That profound exhaustion means that you are fully engaged, mind, body and soul into what you're doing. It's a very common thing for farmers but there are many others who experience it too and can vouch for me too. That deep, delicious ache means you are alive and living a life worth living. And in my opinion, there is nothing better. Maybe except for a cold beer - those are pretty darn amazing too.
With love from our dirty, exhausted and overflowing hearts,
Lailand & Jeremy
The First Rule of 2016...
Is we don't talk about 2016.
Kidding. Well, only a little bit.
I don't know about you guys but I feel like this year put us through the wringer. It has been an incredibly busy, fast-paced, EMOTIONAL year, but here we are. At the end. Wondering where the hell the last 12 months went.
While doing some routine site maintenance, I noticed my last blog post was in April of 2016. Bad, bad Lailand! We've had all sorts of thoughts and adventures and stories this year that I've wanted to share but sometimes, after a long day at my desk, plus taking care of all the animals and the Fisherman, sitting down and writing drops to the very end of my to-do list. And so I've managed to put it off....for eight months. I am the Queen of Procrastination y’all.
Quite a bit has happened over the year and since I don't want to bore everyone cross-eyed, I'll summarize.
Spring 2016: We had our first foray in meat chickens. They grew quickly, were easy to process (especially when you just pay someone at a USDA facility to do it for you) and sold like hot cakes. We'll be considering another batch in the spring of 2017. We are just trying to work out housing and processing logistics.
Our American Guinea Hog boar Reggie arrived and has since made himself at home on the ranch. He has already been bred to three of our six girls, producing one Thanksgiving litter by Petunia, and two more to come in late winter with Marigold and Olive.
Summer 2016: The mad furious dash that it was. We had eggs up to our eyeballs and dozens of amazing customers who were happy to take them off our hands. The chicks we bought in January started producing and at our height, we were gathering 4+ dozen every day. Needless to say, we'll be investing in a large-scale egg washing unit in 2017, since we plan to add at least 100 more laying hens to keep up with demand. Super awesome, especially for my dry and chapped hands.
The Fisherman and I had a chance to take not one but two back-to-back vacations, which will, in all honesty, probably never happen again. It was great to get away from the farm for a few days, and we left everyone in the perfectly capable hands of my best friend and partner-in-crime, Brooke. Thank God for her sweet self.
At the end of August, we added another new face to our farm - Mt. Hope's Rose, our newest registered Hereford breeding sow. Well gilt. She was only 9 weeks old when we brought her home and she spent the first three months living in the yard. Pig shit on my front porch coupled with racing a 125 pound mud-covered wrecking ball to the gate every time I left the house meant she moved up to the pig pasture in November. She is almost 7 months old and we will be introducing her to Reggie in January, expecting her first litter of babies in April.
Fall 2016: Turkeys. The theme of Fall 2016 (besides election nonsense) was turkeys. Stupid bastards. I'm sorry for anyone who likes turkeys, but I can say with complete and total honesty that I do not. I loved Babette, the sweet little hen who was attacked by a raccoon, but she was attacked a second time, this round by her flock mates and she didn't make it. Assholes.
The theme continued with getting them processed. One of them escaped during the loading process, and in my effort to return her to the shipping trailer, I fell off the roof of the chicken coop and dislocated my shoulder. Once again, assholes.
The third and final straw was our normal processer's machinery breaking down less than a week before Thanksgiving. I spent two days frantically searching the internet for a USDA approved poultry processer in Northern California that could managed 30 turkeys less than five days before Thanksgiving. Yeah, right. Finally, I found one. In Oakland. South of the airport. Hilarity ensued when the Fisherman and I tried to deliver the birds to said processor. At one point, I ended up sprinting down the streets of Oakland, with my arm in a sling, chasing two birds who decided their chances at life might have been better on the 580 Freeway than in that trailer. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT FUNNY.
Needless to say, NEVER AGAIN.
Oh, and we hosted our very first joint Thanksgiving between the Fisherman's family and mine. Needless to say, NEVER AGAIN. It was a ton of fun but an insane amount of hard work and I slept for three days afterwards. Next year, I'm thinking we go to Hawaii instead.
We also processed two more hogs in October, which was another great learning experience. We get better each time around.
Winter 2016: Is pretty much over, even though technically the first day of winter was, well, yesterday. We've been on the new ranch for just over a year now, and although we've accomplished quite a bit, we still have a very long way to go. Christmas is in two days and I'm not even close to being ready. Oh well. Life goes on.
We'll be doing quite a bit more in 2017, but shhhh it’s a secret for now! Stayed tuned.
One last thing. Both the Fisherman and I would like to extend a huge, heart-felt THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us this year. We would not be able to do what we do without all of the amazing people in our community who not only humor our endeavor but support us week in and week out. We don't know how to every truly thank you guys.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year! We'll see you in 2017!
Lailand & Jeremy
The EO Life
I've wanted to do a post on essential oils for a long time now but life always has other plans and I haven't had a chance to really sit down and review my thoughts until now.
Now I know what you're probably thinking - "Oh great, another one of those hippie-dippy lavender and patchouli wearing yogi health nuts" (or something along those lines). And I'll admit, a year ago I would have completely agreed with you. For a long time, I carried the assumption that it was mostly the placebo effect - where if you think something works, then it does. And then I was actually introduced to doTerra essential oils through my horse trainer, Mandy. She had started using them to great success, both in the barn and out of it and encouraged me to try them. I hemmed and hawed and kind of ignored it for a while but then a single event truly changed my perspective and it didn't even have anything to do with me.
For those who do not know, in addition to being a farmer, I am also an equestrian. I have been riding horses most of my life and my current love is a 10 year old Arabian gelding named Tucson. He and I had a rough start and some major ups and downs over the years but we have stuck it through and have emerged into an incredible partnership. In August of last year, during a riding lesson, we noticed a lump on Tucson's chest. After some inspection and keeping an eye on him for a couple of days, we arrived at the conclusion that Tucson had contacted pigeon fever. Now everyone in the equine world who is reading this probably just lurched away from their keyboards - it’s an instinctive reaction when it comes to pigeon fever, which is a very gross, highly contagious bacterial infection that leads to large swellings in the chest area of equines. These abscesses burst and release a torrent of some of the NASTIEST stuff you could possibly imagine (puss, blood and all sorts of other cool stuff). I would be lying if I said I wasn’t gagging just writing this, remembering what it is like. But this case was different. As soon as Mandy got wind of the fact that Tucson did indeed have pigeon fever, she pulled out her essential oils. Normally, as soon as the swellings burst, you want to soak the whole area in antibacterials, such as povidone-iodine aka Betadine. The problem with this method is that while it kills as the nasty little beasties, it also kills the good bacteria that the body sends in as a response team. Puss is, after all, just dead white blood cells being sloughed off by the body (doesn't make it any less gross but still). After giving the wounds a good cleaning, we soaked Tucson with a couple different oils: Clove (for numbing and antibacterial), Frankincense (anti-fungal, antibacterial), Lavender (another super awesome anti-bacterial), Peppermint (cleansing and anti-everything gross) and a doTerra Essential Oil blend called OnGuard, which is pretty much the go-to in the doTerra universe for whenever you get sick. We kept the abscess covered and maintained the process up of changing his dressing every day for about 10 days. At one point, a vet came out to take a look at him and commented that it was one of the cleanest, easiest cases of pigeon ever she had ever seen. HUH? I was confused to, until it was explained. And the reason for that is as follows: When you have an open wound, your body immediately sends in a white blood cell to take on the bacterial invader. Using povidone-iodine, you kill both the good and bad bacteria, which causes the body to kick into overdrive and send in more white blood cells, resulting in more puss and more drainage and more mess. By using essential oils, you are only sending in things that body would absorb naturally. As Mandy put it, it’s kind of like sending your white blood cell into a knife fight with an AK-47 - still itself just much more prepared. Long story short, it was one of the quickest, easiest, shortest cases of the dreaded pigeon fever any of us had seen, and that was thanks to essential oils. **For those unmoved by the story of the disappearing pigeon fever case, go google pigeon fever and check out some of the pictures. Warning – it’s rather gross. And if left untreated, pigeon fever can actually kill a horse – all the more reason to get excited about it being taken care of quick and easy.
Since then I've started incorporating them into my daily life more and more. I use peppermint and a blend called ClaryCalm to combat hellacious PMS symptoms instead of using the heavy painkillers I used to take. I use lavender and helichrysum on burns and cuts to help them heal faster. I even use EO’s on the Fisherman, who likes to protest but I think he secretly thinks they are pretty cool. We run the diffuser in our house almost 24/7 and not only does it smell amazing but it can really affect your mood. I use lavender to help me sleep at night and I wear the Balance and Serenity blends during the day. I even used a wet bandana soaked in the Breathe blend while we were evacuating horses during the Valley Fire last year. And you know what? This life-long asthmatic made it through all of the smoke and ash without a problem. We use them on the animals too – obviously there are numerous equine applications but EO’s can be used all through the barnyard too. I add a couple drops of cinnamon to the large 5-gallon waterers for the chickens, and I’ve used OnGuard on pig scrapes. White fir is another great one and we use it on our anxious, hyperactive pup Ally. Makes a world of difference. There are dozens more oils that we use on a daily basis but if I listed them all, we'd all be stuck at our computers until next Thursday.
Now, I will never ever tell someone that essential oils can replace modern medicine or provide a cure that other meds can't. doTerra, the company I use, has made it very clear that, and I quote, “*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Now you normally see that kind of tagline while watching infomercials for those amazing, crazy wonderful weight loss drugs. I can tell you for a fact that the ingredients in doTerra essential oils are nowhere near as terrifying as the crap that must be in all those slim-cap or fat-flush products. The oils are released as CPTG or Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade. This goes beyond organic or sustainable and ensures that the resulting products are only the best possible quality.
I use EO’s alongside mainstream medicine and as supplements/compliments - after all, they are a natural lifestyle product, not a miracle cure. But in a world where every third product (including bacon apparently, which I call nonsense) supposedly can cause cancer, I think it’s incredibly important to consider what we use on and put in our bodies. Yep, there's the health nut. Damn, sorry.
There are some people out there who have pursued and created a career out of working with and selling doTerra essential oils. That is incredible but not something I’m trying to do (as much as the Fisherman likes to call it my Mary-kay scheme). I’ve just been fortunate enough to see some incredible results. Not everyone will have the same results, just the way that taking main-stream medication doesn’t always affect every person the same way. But, if you’re interested in trying out essential oils, I highly recommend giving them a try, in your own way and in your own time. I’m happy to answer any questions anyone might have.
My point is, that in a world so much is uncertain, why not consider trying something a little different? You never know, it could be good for you and you might enjoy it too. And in the end, if you don’t like them, you’re no worse for wear.
Another day, another road trip.
It's been almost two weeks since our drive up to Eugene OR to pick up the newest addition to the farm - Babylon's Reginald, our new American Guinea Hog boar. As our farm grows and expands, breeding our hogs has become one of our number one priorities. And with the gene pool for AGH's in California being very small, it was super important for us to find a bloodline that was not connected to ours. Enter Reggie - he comes from a line of hogs out of Virginia but he was bred and born in Tacoma Washington. His owner was thankfully willing to meet us in Oregon to save us from having to drive ALL THE WAY to Washington and back. Since our time is pretty limited when it comes to getting away from the farm, we decided to make it a turn and burn and do the whole trip in a single day.
Cue us leaving the ranch at 1:00 am last Sunday. Thankfully the first half of the drive was easy - and dark. We sailed across the Oregon border just after the sun had come up and it was gorgeous to say the least. We zipped through Oregon and found our contact Steve waiting with Reggie in Eugene at 9:30. It's funny - the more pigs we move, the better we get at it. We were able to drop the gate of our trailer, bribe Reggie across the gap with some apples and shut the gate behind him. Poof - done. Even Steve was impressed, and he said it had to have been the easiest pig transfer he'd ever seen. Hallelujah. We signed the paperwork and transfer papers (the amount of paperwork to bring livestock into California is STAGGERING) and it honestly took longer to do all of that than to move Reggie from one trailer to the other.
In less than 30 minutes we were back on the road and heading south again. We hit the California line and scared the absolute daylights out of the bored guard who asked, "Fruits or veggie - what the hell is that?" as he pointed to Reggie's grinning mug (with three inch tusks) as he poked his nose through the trailer gaps, searching for threats. The Fisherman filled out the paperwork as I tried not to die of laughter and explain to the border people (who were all really shocked to see him) how special Reggie is. After a few minutes we were back on our way.
We stopped a couple times to give Reg some water and to switch drivers but we made pretty decent time and made it back to the farm by 6:30 pm. Upon opening the lid of the trailer, we realized that Reggie had somehow opened one of the straw bales that he was packed in with and had made himself a bed so he could cruise the highways in comfort. That would explain the swirls of hay that escaped the trailer as we drove down highway 5. He looked up at us and grunted like "What?" We got him settled and moved (again, far too easy) into his new pen, where he promptly fell head-over-heels in love with little miss Georgia, who lives on the other side of the fence.
Now that we've got our big guy settled, we are going to give him another week to acclimate to the ranch before we introduce him and Georgia in person. They'll be together for about a month and then we'll introduce him to Petunia. Her littles are over three months old now and don't need to be with mama any longer. We'll move them over to the big pasture as soon as the current group of boys is processed (next weekend!).
We're also waiting on Cali. As some might remember, we had a wild boar break through our fences the morning of February 25th and attempt to breed with Cali. At this point, she has paid ZERO attention to Reggie, which makes us think that she is indeed preggers. Her due date, if it is indeed that, is June 19th. Once we know for sure she's either in the clear or pregnant, we'll make plans to breed her.
Other than that, the farm is humming along nicely. The meat chickens are getting bigger, the new layers are every day closer to laying their first round of eggs and the turkeys arrive next week. The rabbits Tom & Stella will be bred next month with the first litter of rabbits arriving in June. We are ordering fruit trees, working on the garden and generally loving life as it slips by, each day prettier than the last.
With busy hands and hearts,
Lailand & Jeremy
Little Bunny Foo-Foo
I'll be the first person to admit that if someone had told me 10 years ago that I would start a farm and begin raising animals for meat, I probably would have believed them, but in an indulgent, "thanks for thinking I could" kind of way. Now, as my mother likes to say, I'm already way too far down the cliff to consider if I should have looked before I jumped.
And since I can’t resist taking chances, we have rolled the dice and added a new animal breed to the farm. Albeit, this post is a few weeks late as we’ve now had Tom and Stella, our American Chinchilla rabbits for a couple of weeks but life has been getting in the way of writing lately (hello El Nino rain storms!).
Since the beginning, we have toyed with the idea of meat rabbits. I’ve always been a fan of rabbit. It is a great protein for those who lean away from beef and tend get sick of eating chicken all of the time. Quick and easy to produce, rabbit has been a staple of many homesteads for generations. They are cheap to raise (by supplementing grass and other green roughage, you can cut production costs down to almost nothing) and the saying, “breed like rabbits”? Yeah – there is a real validity to it. If our basic calculations are right, from our single breeding pair, we could conservatively produce almost 50 rabbits a year. 10-15 kits in each litter x 4 to 5 litters each year = a whole crap-ton of rabbits. A doe can be bred every 5-6 weeks, with her litter being weaned at 6 weeks. Since I’m not looking to have my rabbit population absolutely explode (not to mention that is A LOT of processing), we’re going to wait for at least 8-9 weeks between litters. We are also hoping that we will be able to provide show and market rabbits for local agriculture students as they make a great 4-H and FFA rabbit, since they have great temperaments (I have to admit though, I’ve never met a cranky rabbit) and grow fairly quickly for a heritage breed.
When we first started researching rabbits, our first goal – like all of our other animals – was to find a heritage breed. Since there are roughly a dozen different breeds of heritage rabbits, it was about finding a breed that was hearty and dual purpose, meaning they can be harvested for both their fur and their meat. Not that we have any inclination to go into fur production but it is always another possible income source. We finally chose American Chinchilla Rabbits, a large grey-colored breed that throw big litters and produce good quality meat. After hunting around on The American Livestock Conservancy website for a while, we found a breeder in Sacramento who was will to part with one buck and one doe. We drove out and picked them up a couple of weeks ago and they have since settled on the farm.
Stella, our doe, was born in December so she is still a little too young to breed – we’ll be waiting until May before introducing her to Tom. Tom is our buck, a large, healthy boy who is about 18 months old. His fur isn’t perfect but he has a tendency to produce very large litters (we’re talking 12-15 kits each time) and like I said, fur is not our first priority. He is a sweet boy who loves to run and kick – very cute.
American Chinchilla Rabbits are one of the most critically endangered breed of rabbits in the United States right now. By adding two more to our farm and allowing their population to continue to grow, we are putting one more breed back on the map that might have otherwise disappeared.
Short and sweet – sorry about that – but we’ll have more updates from the farm soon!
With love from our muddy hands and busy hearts,
The fact that the sun is now going down AFTER 5 pm now is big news people. It may seem like small beans to some, but the fact that we are gaining a full minute every day is very exciting. The importance of this measly minute you ask? Well, among its many virtues, it means more daylight. Daylight is big for us because this time of year, we spend most of our time (at least on the homestead) in the dark. And let me tell you, trying to run a farm in the dark - yeah not the most fun thing in the world.
My alarm goes off somewhere between 5:00 and 5:15 am. Do I get up? Usually not. After the third snooze attempt the Fisherman will incoherently growl some threat at me and I'll haul my sorry behind out of bed. I stumble across our room in the dark, tripping over laundry baskets, the cat and usually one if not both of the dogs. I shower until the hot water runs out (darn tiny little country hot-water heater) and get ready to head outside - in the dark. Thank god for headlamps. I tramp around, slipping in the mud, tripping over pigs and accidentally kicking chickens as I maneuver my way around the coops in almost total blackness. I fill feeders and break ice off waters (as needed, even if it isn't, it is REALLY cold at 6 am). It is also kind of creepy out there. Don't get me wrong, I'm a country girl and will tough out being outside in the dark just like the next person but man does it make me jumpy sometimes. I'll hear a stick break and nearly jump out of my skin. I caught a glimpse of a pair of very blue, very predatory eyes in my headlamp beam the other morning and nearly gave myself a heart-attack. Turns out, it was Ally sitting outside the chicken coop, waiting for her girls to come out and play. After everyone is fed, I come in, get dressed, do the dishes from the night before and drink my coffee while watching the sunrise out of my kitchen window. The sun tends to peek out around 7:30is, usually as I'm finishing my coffee and gathering my things to leave for work. I'm off work at 5 and get to enjoy the last rays of daylight on my drive home. I then proceed to take care of everyone again - in the dark.
My point is, I am probably daylight saving's number one fan. It means more sunlight, longer days and a start to spring, which brings all sorts of wonderful things including but not limited to sprouting seeds, new babies, more daylight, longer days ect.
One thing among many that is very exciting is the arrival of the next generation of animals for the farm. Today, I placed an order for 45 more laying hens (to supplement our current 2 dozen) as well as 40 more turkeys for this year's holidays. They won't arrive for another couple of weeks but it is a sure-fire sign of spring when little fluffy things start to arrive. We also have an order in for 25 meat chickens and will be giving those a try. Wish us luck – I hear they are impossible little buggers sometimes.
Another thing we are doing is mapping out our garden to-be. We have a great amount of space to play with; we are now planning if we are going to do raised beds (yet again) and what we are going to grow. Since one of our goals is to start a bi-weekly produce & meat box, we have quite a bit of planning and planting to do. My entire High Mowing Seed Company catalog is full of circles and check marks, folded pages and sticky notes. I've got plans for different planter boxes spread throughout the entire house. I've got starter shelves picked out and am lusting after a really awesome set of growing lights. We plan to go full-scale as soon as possible with our garden. And to do this, we need more light, warmer weather and you guessed it - SPRING!
Also, as I’m sure you can guess, my to-do list is about 19 pages long with 50 million things on it. We are still unpacking and trying to get the house organized on top of business as usual so things have been a bit crazy. I read a great post recently from NW Edible's Erica, talking about the flexible to-do list and wow did it speak to me. Makes so much more sense and I'm glad I'm not the only one with a revolving door of a to-do list. Read it here - http://www.nwedible.com/the-flexible-to-do-list-getting-it-all-done/.
So while we feed the animals in the dark, salivate over heirloom seeds and continue to find things that were packed and thought to be lost, spring is inching closer. The list is getting shorter and the days are getting longer and I for one am over the moon about it.
What is your favorite thing about Spring returning?
With utterly filthy, over-worked hands and a clean and completely ecstatic heart,
At The Speed of Light
Happy almost 2016 everyone! I cannot believe how fast 2015 has flown by. It feels like I was writing my 2015 goals post just a month or so ago and now looking back, I see it was last January. It is both a joy and a curse how fast time has gone. There is still so much left I want to accomplish, but it is a great thrill to be embarking into a new year with new possibilities.
A lot happened in 2015. We met several goals, including starting our first beehive (abysmal failure on that one - thanks to a fall swarm, we are now sans-bees) and raising our first batch of Heritage turkeys. I have to say, that was one of our more successful goals and we plan to go bigger and better for next year. Our first litter of pigs was born and we processed our first hog as well. We've learned so much along the way - everything from how to properly break down a turkey carcass to how to correctly run water pipes. I’ve cried, yelled, laughed and sighed throughout the year and while this is not an easy journey, it is one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
We've also moved, which we are still on the tail end of. We are settled in the new house, on the new ranch and have started making it our forever home. Now we just need to finish cleaning the old place and that chapter will be closed.
We have big plans for 2016 as well. I plan to re-start my beehive - we'll see how that goes - as well as add rabbits, beef cattle and a vegetable garden to the farm. We plan to start a weekly/monthly produce and meat box program, offering fresh and local meat and veggies to our friends and neighbors. I've been pouring over garden plans and seed catalogs for weeks planning and plotting. I'm also ordering another 50 chickens in the New Year - bring on the babies!! We plan to travel to Colorado in the spring to purchase and bring back a new batch of hogs, including an American Guinea Hog boar as well as introduce Hereford Hogs into our herd as well.
The Fisherman and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary this month and it was so surreal, sitting at the bar at the restaurant where we had our first date, to think it has already been three years. Day by day, I'm reminded how lucky I am to have such an incredible man in my life. He has been my rock through this move and all of our other tribulations (not to mention he has become the turkey killer extraordinaire). His skills become more fine-tuned with every project we tackle and it makes me so happy to see his unending joy in this life, even more so than mine.
We count our blessings every day that this journey has been successful thus far. It wouldn't have come to float if it wasn't for my amazing parents. They have helped, pushed, scolded, guided, scoured, lugged and fought with us and for us every step of the way. The Fisherman's dad is another amazing resource that we are so fortunate to have. He has a well of knowledge that in this industry is priceless. To our folks, without whom we wouldn't even be here, the biggest and most sincere thank you. Without you, this would not exist.
Another amazing blessing are our customers and clients. We could farm all the pigs and chickens we want, but without all of your amazing support, we wouldn't be where we are today. Thank you for your words of encouragement, your faith in us and of course, your continued support. A brief list of all of our uber-dedicated customers: Bonnie Storm of Grove 45 EVOO, Bev & John Lincoln, Rick & Debbie Lawson, John Gretz, Charlotte Williamson, Elias Fernandez, Dianna Stockton, Roberta Quick, Rick & Candace Oberschulte and so many others. We cannot thank you enough. To anyone I forgot I am sorry - know you are in our hearts and minds!
Thank you again everyone and we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year and wonderful 2016!
I've been horrible. In the crazy crush that is my life, I'll be the first one to admit that blogging is not even remotely close to the top of my priorities list right now. Caring for the animals that I write about? Now that's a little higher up there. Paying the bills and making sure that the Fisherman still remembers who I am? Yeah, I guess those are important too.
But all that nonsense aside, I realized it’s been forever. Like weeks (maybe even months). So I figured now that we are heading into the holidays (because this time of year isn't stressful at all) I'd at least make an effort to get one post done. And since Thanksgiving is on Thursday, I wanted to celebrate the fact that we, Rosebud Heritage Farms, have met one of our goals for this year. We had hoped last winter that we would be able to provide local, organically raised heritage turkeys for our customers and score one for the home team! Not only did we manage to find the birds, get them ordered and raise them, but we spent yesterday processing our very first batch. And yes, the turkey in the picture is still alive, I promise.
Processing a turkey is actually easier than it sounds but it's fairly labor intensive...if that makes any sense. Thankfully we had the Fisherman's dad on hand who was raised on a farm in upstate New York, which makes him the turkey killer extraordinaire. He knew exactly how to move through the process so the birds were calm and their deaths were instant. No amount of reading or prep work can replace hands-on, old-fashioned know-how. DISCLAIMER: If hearing about animals dying bothers you in any way...you should probably find another blog to follow. Below is an accurate and honest explanation of what it is to process turkeys.
Make sure to have all of the proper tools and materials on hand. Ours include:
A giant pot for boiling the water
Gas or propane burner for heating water
Large feed bag
A small hatchet (longer handled axes can make your swings wild and unpredictable)
Sturdy chopping block
Several lines of cord 2-3 feet in length
4-5 five gallon buckets
Carving and cutting knives
Whetstone to keep knives and hatchet sharp
Plastic folding table
Garbage bags (LOTS of garbage bags)
Large ice chest
Lots of ice
A place to process the birds that won't scare the crap out of the neighbors when they see headless turkeys hanging from the trees
First, you want to select the bird you will be processing. We had a bunch of them to get done so it was up to the Fisherman to dive into the turkey run and root around until he could catch one - just FIY, there are few things funnier than watching my long-legged boyfriend chase a bunch of equally long-legged turkeys around. I should have been helping and instead I was rolling around on the ground laughing. Anyways.
Secondly, you want to make sure that once you catch your bird, you have a way to secure them. We use a feed bag with one of the bottom corners cut off. This keeps the bird contained and calm. It also minimized thrashing and bruising once the head has been removed.
Tie a cord around the turkey's legs and secure it to the branch of a tree. Again, this will prevent them from flopping around on the ground and bruising the meat. It also keeps them from running away (you know, without a head).
Tie a second cord just behind the turkey's head. This allows you to stretch out its neck, giving you a clean, clear shot.
Take your hatchet and chop cleanly through the neck. (Very serious side note: If this is the route you are choosing to take, instead of cutting the artery, please make sure the person swinging the hatchet is comfortable and strong. One, clean hard cut will sever the spine and kill them instantly. Someone nervous or inexperienced could miss or just injure the bird, prolonging the death and scarring everyone involved.) Make sure that the hatchet is very sharp to ensure a clean cut. We owe it to the birds and to ourselves to make sure each death is as quick and painless as possible.
The body will continue to twitch for a few minutes after the head has been removed. Hanging them from a branch allows them to bleed out cleanly. Since we had so many birds to process, as soon as a head had been removed, we would move the carcass to another branch where it could drain into a bucket. We wanted to stay as contained and clean as possible, instead of letting them just bleed all over the place.
After this, we give them a quick rinse, just to keep everything clean.
Once the bird is done draining, you want to dip them in boiling water to help remove the feathers. It is a very fine balance between not enough and too much. Not enough and you end up tearing skin as you pull the feathers out - too much and you start to cook or burn the bird. We dunk them for about ten seconds before exposing them to the air for another ten seconds, and then dunk them again. It is very important to completely submerge the carcass to ensure the tail feathers are included.
Pull the bird from the water and hang them from another branch over a garbage can or tarp. Quickly remove the larger feathers, the tail and flight feathers, by pulling on them one or two at a time. These can be the hardest to remove and require a bit of strength. Wear gloves at first because the carcass is hot and those little downy feathers hold in the hot water. The Fisherman would also like me to recommend wearing a welder’s mask (Or, you know, just don't pull feathers and laugh at the same time because you end up with turkey water in your mouth – it’s disgusting he says).
Pull the feathers in small groups or one or two at a time. Larger chunks risk tearing the skin.
Pick the bird clean the best you can. Rinse again with the hose.
Move to your folding table and begin the processing.
First, we cut away the small oil gland that rests at the base of the tail. Leaving it can affect the taste of the meat. Cut around it very carefully to remove.
Next, cut a circle around the vent to remove the innards. Be very careful not to cut or nick the digestive track. If you do and some of the material still left in the body spills, make sure to rinse everything down right away.
Pull everything free by inserting your hand into the body cavity and pulling gently. Set aside the liver, heart and gizzard (a really cool, disc-shaped organ that is this wild opalesant blue) to make your giblet gravy and you can throw away everything else (we boil everything down for the dogs).
Note: The gizzard will probably be full of food and the small rocks that turkeys use to grind up their food. Using a filleting knife, cut VERY carefully into the organ with light stroke until you can just see the pale white of the liner. You should be able to peel the two sides away and remove the inside. The outside can be saved and the inside tossed aside.
Using your fingernails, gently scrap along the inside of the rib cage to remove the lungs.
Once you have the body cavity cleared out, you will need to remove the windpipe and esophagus from the neck (and no, in case you are wondering, you CANNOT blow into the trachea and make turkey noises. That only works with ducks. Ask the Fisherman, he’ll tell you). Cut a slit up the skin of the neck and then remove part of this skin, the windpipe and esophagus by pulling them free.
Next, remove the crop from the chest area by working your fingers between the crop and the skin. If you did not remove food from the turkey pen, this will likely be full of food. Make sure to toss this and avoid getting any on the meat. If you do, make sure to rinse with lots of clean water.
To remove the feet, cut a circle around the leg where the skin meets the scales of their feet. Bend the joint and cut through the ligaments and tendons. DO NOT cut the bones, otherwise you can end up with splinters and sharp spots.
Once everything has been removed, make sure to rinse down both the bird and your work station. You want to keep the carcasses cool, as heat can breed bacterial growth. We put the finished birds into clean contractor bags and pack them in an ice chest with plenty of ice.
And there you have it! Once the bird is cleaned over a second time with tweezers or pliers, you have a Thanksgiving ready turkey.
To brine, mix 1/2 cup of salt (This is for regular refined salt. Rock salt, mix 1 full cup) per gallon of water. We add all sorts of fun extras to our brine to give it more flavor. Some things can include honey, maple syrup, vanilla beans, dried cranberries, dried apples, dried orange peel, thyme, sage, oregano, pepper - you can get pretty creative. We brine our bird for 24 hours before cooking and then it cook for a couple hours at 425 degrees, or until the breast meat reaches 150 degrees.
Heritage turkeys cook much faster than traditional birds because of the almost-perfect dark-to-light meat ratio. A few pats of butter or slices of lemon under the skin while cooking add great flavor and moisture. We cover the bird with parchment paper - not tin foil - which we then remove 30 minutes before it is finished. We also cook our stuffing separately because it won’t have enough time to finish if cooked in the bird.
And voile! Heritage Thanksgiving Turkey.
What a week. Or maybe I should say what a month. It has been crazy around here, both in good and bad ways. Lots has been happening, both on the homestead and in life in general and after looking at my calendar I realized how long it had been since I posted. Lately, due to all the craziness, we've had to make a lot of tough choices, regarding ourselves and our animals and we still have more to come.
At the beginning of September, we decided to take Petunia up to Grass Valley, to hang with Nigel and be bred. It was a hell of a trip getting her there. It was almost 100 degrees on the day we drove up, and the adventures included the multiple escape attempts on her part to me sliding into my future brother-in-law's wedding ten minutes late with the pig trailer still attached to my truck. Not a good thing. And here we were choosing Petunia to be bred instead of Belle because we like her sweet, complacent, obliging personality. What a crock that is. She's just as wretched as the rest of them. UGH. Anyways, I've been corresponding with Laura, the breeder, who says Tuney has been getting along great with Nigel and will be ready to come home the first weekend in October, which is, as we all know, practically tomorrow.
We have also been working on securing a new location for our hogs. Our littles (almost 3 months old! How insane is that?!) have been growing like crazy and are about to out-grow their current pen. After doing some searching, we have found a place that is closer to home that will allow for some much needed expansion. However, we still need to get a pen built and in my mind, I wanted to have it done before Petunia came home - yeah right. Things are a little tight financially so the building of the hog pen was going to take some extra thinking. After mulling it over and looking at everything we have on hand versus what we need, we've decided to take out an ag loan to help cover those up-front costs. I’m not a huge fan of taking on more debt but at this point, we are out of options. Cue another debacle. I've been eyebrows deep in business plans, custom cut pricing and feed-related-growth weights for the last couple of weeks. After sitting down with a representative from an agriculture based lender, the gentleman behind the desk told me frankly that I was asking for too little money (WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT on that one) and that it wouldn't likely be approved. His advice was to find a credit card with a high limit...yeah right, at 24% interest. No thanks. So after more research, I spoke with two more institutions, both of which turned me down on the basis that I am A) A agriculture start-up which is considered too high of a risk and B) I don't have any collateral (aka anything they can take should I default) so I'm not worth it. More than a little frustrating. But after reaching out to some folks on Facebook, I received a ton of good advice, which I now following up on. Wish me luck.
I've also been contacted recently by some people interested in purchasing chickens! How cool is that? So I have decided that all of the babies that have hatched this year (5 hens and 1 rooster) will be going to a new home next weekend. They were supposed to go last week but the Valley Fire put a giant damper on that.
Speaking of the Valley Fire...another reason I have been missing from the airwaves. Saturday, September 12th through Monday, September 14th had to have been the longest 72 hours of my life. It started with smoke and ash falling from the sky like snow-flakes, to evacuating horses in the dead of night as we watched the fire crawl over the ridge, turning everything bright orange. It was tough, making the call of "Do we go or do we stay?" The choice to evacuate 22 horses is not one easily made or undertaken. But we did make the choice and I am glad we did. While our barn suffered no damage, the area around it came very close and I would have been in agony had we let the horses stay - I barely slept all week as it was. While we were VERY fortunate to escape with no injuries and no damage (the fire didn't make it far enough south to threaten our home), there are hundreds if not thousands who were not as lucky. My heart still aches for these people who now have to rebuild their lives from the ground up. If you are interested in helping with the relief efforts, consider donating to the local Hardester's in Middletown. They are extending credit to the hundreds of people who have come in with nothing and how nice would it be to pay off someone's account? Do us locals a favor and stay away from the Red Cross - horrible response to this disaster and multiple people have a thing or two to say to the ARC, none of them very nice.
Another tough decision that I've been mulling over recently is what to do with Belle. Belle is one of our original three hogs who were originally purchased back in June of last year. We planned to have her bred right after Petunia, creating a rotating cycle of babies. Unfortunately, over the last several months we've noticed her personality becoming more and more cantankerous and more and more aggressive. Neither are ideal characteristics in a breeding sow and can lead to severe issues, including not letting us handle her babies, injuring other hogs, being too protective of her food and not letting us in her pen. Do we allow these problems to persist and potentially pass them down to another generation, or do we cull her and find another sow - one who has a better personality. One of my very first blog posts on this sight was about purpose - how every animal must serve a purpose in order to have a place on the homestead. Right now, Belle is not serving her purpose of a breeding sow and so I think we are going to have to have her fulfil her other purpose - as a meat animal. It’s a tough choice but we need to make it and soon.
So many things coming to a head in the next few weeks...
Results of our ag loan application
The building of the new pig pen, provided we can get the money
What we decide to do with Belle
Wish us luck!
With dirty hands and a clean heart,
Ag Education for Dummies
I recently took an in-depth look at my website (after realizing that I had been spammed - my apologies for anyone who might have gotten caught in that) and realized that my last post was in the middle of July. After thinking about when I could possibly share, I thought about a conversation I had with an old grade school acquaintance a few days ago that is still bothering me and thought it might be a perfect way to shine the light on some issues we are facing as an industry as a whole. I bumped into this gal while grocery shopping, each asking the other how life was. I explained that things have been crazy but great, and that all was well on the farm. She hadn't heard about my venture so the look of surprise on her face didn't bother me - at first. I explained what's been going on, talking about the idea behind my company and lifestyle, as well as some of the challenges we face on a regular basis.
To step back real quick - Things have been busy here on the homestead, but nothing more than the usual nonsense. I could write about how every morning I get up at 5 am, feed, take care of all the animals, get ready and head to work, then about how I come home, do it all again and tumble into bed usually around 10 pm. Lather, rinse repeat. Nothing super exciting. There really hasn't been any big news from us - everyone is growing steadily, egg orders coming in, I’m working 40 hours a week for my regular job, blah blah blah - just because our daily grind keeps us busy from before the sun comes up to after it sets, doesn't mean it’s interesting enough to blog about.
We've also recently had our fair share of minor crisis’s but nothing we couldn't handle. The front end in the truck blew out, and a $4100 fix later we still don't have it repaired or back yet. We had to have Aria the kitten fixed after her first heat cycle and another expensive vet bill later, we have our kitten home, although she is still just as bat-crap crazy as she was before. My horse caught a nasty case of pigeon fever, a fairly contagious bacterial infection spread by flies and the poor kid is out of commission until further notice. We tried to transition the youngest batch of chicks into the flock and the smallest has been getting the crap kicked out of her – yada yada yada, you get it. Let me tell you - this is fairly typical. It is just one thing after another, but all part of the normal, crazy, amazing, exhausting life that farmers and homesteaders live. Yet for all the issues, all the frustrations and all the headaches, I wouldn't change it for a thing.
So back to the conversation I had with the old friend (although that is not a word I will use again) - After explaining my company and answering a few skeptical questions, she flat out told me that she thinks I'm insane. Normally when people say that, it's with a smile and maybe grudging respect, like "Haha you crazy kid! Good luck with your dream". But this gal, I could tell, meant it in another way. There was nothing in her look but distaste. I tried to corral the conversation, bringing it back to local food sourcing and meat laws (I tend to ramble and get really passionate about those things) and she just shook her head at me like I was a raving idiot. I was so shocked that someone (who up until that point, I had assumed was relatively intelligent with a firm grasp on the modern world) could care less about where their food comes from that I was completely caught off-guard by her next comment.
"You're the reason we have all these nasty GMO foods, and why the environment is so screwed up. Thousands of animals die every day because of you people. If you farmers weren't in it for the money, we wouldn't have so many problems." She proceeded to call me a pawn on Monsanto (uh, no?), a water-waster and a super-bug propagator. I was so flabbergasted by her tone and accusations that I literally had no response. It was like every bad myth that had ever been told about agriculture was embodied in a single person and it was all being thrown back in my face. It was clear she hadn't listened to a thing I had said (talking about sustainability of heritage breeds and low impact farming) and even if she had, she chose not to listen. After my eyes stopped bugging out of my head, I managed to smile, told her it was nice to see her and walked away. Thankfully, I didn't start to cry until I had made it back to my car.
Recently, I became a member of the Facebook group "My Job Depends on Ag". This could not be a truer statement. Both my full-time and part-time jobs depend on agriculture. My life, my health and my future all depend on Ag. And that is the reason why the conversation with this lady upset me so. This group is dedicated to promoting and focusing on agriculture and everything that it contributes to society. We talk DAILY about GMO's, water rights, misconceptions, antibiotics, trucking, environmental regulations and more. We come from every corner of California and the globe. Some folks aren't farmers - merely curious. Some are organic farmers and others run chemical companies. Some grow GMO corn and some only grow heirloom soybeans. You get the picture - there are hundreds of thousands of farmers (if not millions) worldwide and yet we still only account for 2% of the work force in the US. We feed the nation and the world and honestly, it breaks my heart when we get a bad rap - regardless of how we farm. As stated by John F. Kennedy, “The farmers is the only man in the economy who buys everything retail, sells everything wholesale and pays the freight both ways.”We all work hard because we care about our crop, we care about our families and we care about feeding the world. There will always be pros and cons for EVERY SINGLE ISSUE that we face as an industry and it kills me that there are those who will only see us for the negative stereotypes. This is why we need more ag education, starting in kindergarden on up through college. Isn't where your food comes from one of the most important things in the world? The most exposure to ag we have, the less people will think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
It made me very sad that just because I choose to raise animals for meat and have the audacity to call myself a farmer that this gal thought that merited the vitriol that came from her mouth. What hurts the most is that this was not an isolated incident. There are countless people out in the world that do not understand the agriculture industry and its impact on every single person's life. We are accused of being cruel animal abusers, greedy corporations and thoughtless water thieves. As with every group, there are always some bad apples, but 99.8% of those folks who toil day in and day out in the hot sun to make sure you can have your steak with a baked potato and salad don't deserve the hatred or the slanders or the disrespect.
I guess in the end I only have one request - If there is something you do not understand about agriculture, ask. Most farmers and those who work in agriculture are more than happy to discuss their livelihood and answer any questions you might have. We want to share our work with the world, because after all, you eat it three times a day.
With dirty hands and a clean heart,