On Work Well Done

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They say a Border Collie can replace five farm hands, but thus far in Tripp’s life he’s been more like adding one. He helps, but his help has been in addition to our usual human team, not as a replacement for anyone.

Was, I say, because late last week he and I rounded up, sorted out and checked over all of the sheep by ourselves. In fact, at first I’d left him inside altogether. He hasn’t done a bit of work since November when we brought all the sheep into their winter pen and I knew he was probably going to need a tune up and a confidence booster before he would be of much help. I figured we three humans — The Man and I, plus the oldest kid — could probably more than handle the job. But it turns out, we couldn’t. The ground was icy and the sheep were jumpy and we weren’t getting anywhere quick. Continue reading “On Work Well Done”

On Bred Ewes

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If I’m not mistaken Louisa is due with (round about) tax day lambs. She and Ferdinand wasted absolutely no time when we introduced them back in November. Which wasn’t intended but was a nice bonus since we were running about a week later than I had hoped getting them all into the winter sacrifice pen together. And since there are only three ewes for him to service, including Louisa, I’m assuming there’s a decent chance all three of them will be having lambs within the last two weeks of April and at the very worst no later than the first two of May.

Getting into sheep after many years raising hogs has been an interesting endeavor. My temperament is definitely different now than it was when we were starting out. Maybe it would have been different regardless–actually I’m sure it would, I’m in an entirely different decade now–but I’m not sure it would have been different in exactly the ways it is. There’s what age does to a temperament and then there’s what experience does. This, I think, is a bit of both. Experience — the good, the bad and the ugly; maybe even especially the ugly — relaxes you in a way age alone can’t. And when you’re farming, especially on a small scale, that’s a good thing. You have to be able to let go; it’ll kill you if you can’t. Continue reading “On Bred Ewes”

The Myth of Cheap Garden Hauls + Heirloom Favorites

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If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I’ll just grow my own, it’s cheaper!” I would have at least one large piggy bank full of nickels. I’ve heard it about fruits and vegetables, pigs, cows, sheep… basically, if it comes from a farm people seem to think they can do it better and cheaper themselves. And in certain cases, they’re right–or at least not wrong. A couple dozen square feet of raised beds or a handful of pots on your porch don’t require much tending and the super-containment reduces the risk of failure, at least at first.

Even with animals, breeding one or two of your own can work… until it doesn’t. The problem, as with gardens, is that when the plan fails it usually does so in epic fashion. More importantly though, you can’t predict when that failure will come about and the smaller your operation the more acutely the failure can be felt. It’s the old, “all your eggs in one basket” issue. When you’re breeding just a few animals or growing just a tiny garden you have a lot more riding on each plant or animal.

Of course, there’s also the issue of actual inputs and the DIY route doesn’t pencil out in at least as many cases as it does–and I’d contend many more–but most people either just don’t know or don’t care what it actually takes to bring into this world a ripe tomato or a feeder pig or a frolicky calf. Continue reading “The Myth of Cheap Garden Hauls + Heirloom Favorites”

9 Frequently Asked Questions About Pig Farming

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Over the past couple of years hundreds of thousands of people have landed on this blog after searching for information about pigs, pork and farming practices. What the record of that traffic amounts to is something of a social pulse. The exact questions that bring people here vary with the seasons and, in some cases even more so, with the news cycle. For instance, when restaurants like Chipotle are facing national scandal over contamination in their restaurants that has left dozens of people ill I see an uptick in searches about food safety. Or when the Humane Society of the U.S. or PETA releases an undercover video about pig farming more people end up here looking for information about farm animal welfare. Over time the topics ebb and flow, but the traffic seeking knowledge is constant and many of the questions are recurring. This post isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but it is a round up of some of the most frequent and interesting. I’ve written about many of the topics before–that’s why people end up here after searching–so I’ll link out to those posts where appropriate while aiming to make this the “Quick & Dirty” version of those answers. I’m calling it “Take 1” because there are so many other questions that pop up here I intend to do more posts like this in the future. Continue reading “9 Frequently Asked Questions About Pig Farming”

State of the Farm: What Doesn’t Kill You

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About three-quarters of the way through last year I considered, and even briefly decided to quit farming. That’s not a sentence I ever imagined would act as the hook of one of these addresses, but it’s the only sentence I can fathom using right now.

Here, 2015 started out on the wrong foot, and I was having trouble switching back to the right one–at least that’s how it felt in the trenches. It was easier than I expected to let it go, and easy can be intoxicating.

When we figured out what was causing our pseudopregnancies, lactation failures and unthrifty litters last winter it felt like those mycotoxins had been built up into a brick wall and we were running full-steam-ahead into it. When, in the absence of the piglets that normally make up most of our spring income, we started selling sows to keep the farm bills paid there was a sense of relief. Our kids are older now and as we count down the years we have left with both of them at home, we’re feeling an urgency to do more. Over the summer we had less than half of the herd we’d become accustomed to and it was easy to pick up and go or do a lot of those things. By fall when we had just a handful of sows left we took entire long weekends away without any real anxiety or worry about what was happening here. Continue reading “State of the Farm: What Doesn’t Kill You”

New Year Goal: Purposeful Email

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I’m not really big on New Year Resolutions, I have learned–like most humans, the hard way–that sweeping changes are hard to come by and even harder to sustain. I won’t say slow and steady wins the race, because that’s too cliche, but little steps towards a goal do seem to be the best way of actually getting there.

That said, I do like how the New Year–like the beginning of a new school year and the changing of seasons–gives us a built in reason to reassess our goals, set new ones, and make sure we’re actually taking the steps we need to take in order to achieve them. This year one of my goals was to revive this blog, but not just as it was. That was something I struggled with when I started writing here again last year. After basically a full year away from here it felt impossible to jump back in. We were all in a different place–me, you, the online ag community, my farm, even just internet trends in general. So last fall I gave it a lot of thought, and ultimately ended up disabling the automatic delivery of blog posts to subscriber emails in preparing for what I wanted to do this year: which is to make the emails I do send those of you who have subscribed more purposeful. Last week I started that, and then this morning continued it. Continue reading “New Year Goal: Purposeful Email”

On Crinkle Cookies + Cold Days

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I’m not much of a baker; it’s an artform that requires more precision than I can usually muster, but it’s cold–as in first day I had to wear my winter hat with the face mask so my lungs wouldn’t hurt cold–and there’s something about cookies that make everything better on cold days.

I would say the same about soup, and I’ve got a crockpot full of that bubbling away on the kitchen counter as I type. We’re in full-on survive-without-hibernation mode here. Continue reading “On Crinkle Cookies + Cold Days”

To You and Yours: A Prosperous New Year

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The Man took two long stretches off over the holidays. Well, long for us. It seems like it’s been an almost literal forever since we have just been here at home for more than a day at a time without anywhere to go. Usually, when we take time off there are vacations or kids’ activities or some kind of commitment we have to take care of. We’re virtually never just home.

I had forgotten how grounding his presence is to me. For a man who is normally running full speed ahead, he is also really great at taking his time and being intentional. It’s exactly what I needed to close out 2015 and get in the right frame of mind for the year ahead. Continue reading “To You and Yours: A Prosperous New Year”

On Supporting Staff

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There are six of them in there; hunkered down for the storm of the centurydecadeyear… winter so far?

I spent two hours on the road this morning just as the front edge of that storm hit and I was reminded how under-appreciated the men and women of agriculture’s supporting industries are. All through the holiday season I saw friends sharing pictures meant to remind people of the doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders who don’t get Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Day off. Every once in a while I’d also see someone comment on those pictures adding farmers to the list, but I’ve never seen anyone also recognize the farm workers, milk truck drivers, feed deliverymen, livestock haulers, grain transporters, slaughterhouse line workers, feed mill and grain elevator employees, veterinarians and so many others who not only rarely get holidays off, but who also work through some of the nastiest weather of all–in many cases out in that weather to make it possible for farmers to feed the world. Continue reading “On Supporting Staff”