Saturday Swinetacular: Find That Duroc

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Sometimes, when I’m avoiding more important work, I dig through the Library of Congress online database for vintage pig and hog pictures. This one is undated, but I’d place it mid-1900s if I had to wager a guess. And on the later end of “mid,” at that.

It was taken inside the South Omaha Union Stockyards to show off the facility’s covered hog pens. If you look closely you’ll notice electricity, concrete floors, professional mill quality lumber and posts, and many other hallmarks of the quickly-modernizing ag industry of the day. Of course the hogs themselves are a clue, too. They’re thinner than we usually see in pictures from the early 1900s and prior, and taller too. There are notched ears here and I even spy what looks like a plastic ear tag on the pig in the lower left hand corner. And can anyone out there find the duroc? Durocs were developed in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1950 that they started really beefing them out and using them for show pigs. And with his bear-like build, I’d say this particular duroc is quite the show-type. As is the Hampshire in front of him.

As a fun aside, the Berkshire in the center, halfway back, with his head hidden behind that yorkshire’s tail? Looks an awful lot like our Berkshire boar, Geoff Petersen. Lots of folks might say there’s not much to brag about in having pigs that resemble pigs from fifty years ago, but this is the era of pigs with which I’m rather smitten, so I’ll take it. They were still fat enough to be flavorful, fast enough growing not to put the farmer out of business and those long, strong legs meant they could get around outdoor terrain without darn-near dragging their bellies on the ground. I like a hog with a little daylight, even if it means I have to feed them a little extra to put that height on ‘em. Also? Hog hocks!

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On Being “More Humane”

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Recently I sat in a meeting where I had to talk a lot about our farm. I hope to be able to give you more details about it soon, but for now there’s not much to say. Except that part way through as we were talking about our operation, a person on the other side of the table spoke up and said, “and this is more humane, right?”

To which I kind of stammered until The Man, having tagged along for moral support, jumped in and saved me. The truth is, there’s a very fine line here; one that depends wholly on a rather subjective definition of the word, “humane.” And, since I’m being honest, for all the thousands of words that pour out of my mouth and fingers on a regular basis, I can’t say as though I’m confident I have the right words for that definition myself. [click to continue…]

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Monday Miscellany on a Tuesday

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It’s National Ag Day. I should probably be commemorating it in some special way, but I’ve got nothing. I’ve been mistaken about what day of the week it is twice in the past month, so I suppose I should just be glad I managed to remember it was a Tuesday, let alone that it was some sort of commemorative holiday.

We’re in a farrowing lull that will last about a month and a half, until we start back up again in May. There will be a time in the not too distant future that farrowing lulls no longer exist for us here, so I’m enjoying it while I can – though I look forward to that time heartily. [click to continue…]

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I’m never quite sure what to say when people ask me what it’s like to be a woman in agriculture. It’s a lot of things; which, I imagine, is akin to being a man in agriculture. It’s all at once easy, difficult, tiring, exhilarating, thankless, rewarding, frustrating, motivating and… overall, kind of awesome. Sometimes it’s cold; sometimes it’s hot. It’s virtually always dirty.

The truth is, I don’t consider myself all that much different. It’s like when people ask me what it’s like to be a small farmer or an alternative farmer. There was a time when I was hyper aware of the ways in which I diverged from the majority, but as I’ve become more confident in myself, my grasp on this industry and my experience both in and outside of it, that hyper awareness has largely melted away.

Sure, sometimes it’s lonely. Being a female producer is different than being a farm wife or an agribusiness employee, and there are very, very few women who understand and can relate to that experience. Which means I don’t have the same community and camaraderie that my male counterparts do. [click to continue…]

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A Bowl Full of Ag

As an author, there is this ubiquitous bit of advice we always get and give about book publishing: that launching the book into the market is really the hardest part of the entire process. With The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen that would be true if selling them were my end goal. But since it goes well beyond that, to a deep desire to change the way kids and their families relate to and understand the food on their tables, the launch has really only been the beginning. At the end of the day I’ve been much more concerned that the book would ultimately flop in the stage after the launch; when it really counts most.

So, shortly after the launch when I found out that Illinois Ag in the Classroom (AITC) had picked up The Cow and started recommending it to not just classrooms within their own state, but also to other state AITC programs I was ecstatic.

And, last week, when Kevin Daughtry, Illinois AITC’s Education Director, emailed me about curriculum they’d developed to go alongside The Cow… well, ecstatic doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This is an incredible packet of curriculum, available for free online, that includes age-appropriate lessons on farming and food.

Topics range from the history of breakfast to the anatomy of chickens to the history, origins and production of maple syrup, and so much more. There are interesting facts, engaging activities and really, just a good mix of everything you want in a well-rounded early elementary curriculum. There’s even a model cow and a timeline of the history of chocolate milk.

And I love that they’ve made it available to anyone, not just Illinois school teachers. Homeschoolers, Moms and Dads who just want to supplement their reading with some activities, and even school teachers from other states have an opportunity to benefit from this. The only way it could get better is if it somehow combined reading, writing and bacon… oh, wait! It does that, too. With a bacon poem. I cannot make this stuff up, people.

What are you waiting for? Go check it out!

Bowl Full of Breakfast: Food and Farm Curriculum for Kids.

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