Market Day for Pigs

On Tuesday the pigs went to market. That was easy. Seriously easy.

It all started on Sunday. Sunday we backed up the livestock trailer to the shed and allowed the pigs to explore the trailer on their own.

They did. Almost immediately. In spite of the step up.

PigTrailer1I put a bale of moldy hay in the wagon…the kind of hay you don’t feed to pregnant cattle…and the pigs had fun with it.

PigTrailer2Monday afternoon we let the hog feeder go empty. The pigs were comfortable hopping in and out of the trailer so I just took a bucket of feed into the trailer and dumped it near the front. Within 15 minutes all 8 pigs were all loaded, separated gently by the partition in the trailer and the four we were keeping were unloaded. Not so much as a squeal. We mostly just stood back and waited and quietly worked the gate. Low stress.

Pigs are obstinate and strong. If you try to force them to do something you will likely be displeased by the results. Go slow to go fast. No big whoop. That said, when 6 pigs are in the trailer and you are still waiting on the last two, go ahead and close the 6 up in the front half of the trailer. Then go sit down and wait. It will happen. The other two will join the herd. Now, if this was 50 pigs…well, you’ll have to let me know how it works out.

As a side note, I’m going to have to work on my string measurement. I was afraid some of those pigs were pushing 340 pounds. The four we shipped averaged 275. Just about perfect.

Zen Cows, Intense Pigs

Cows and Pigs are the two favorite parts of my farm day. Chickens? Meh.

Pigs are just crazy. Pigs learn about things with their mouths. They bite to feel. I had a pig feel the wrist of my Carhartt jacket when I was about 18 and dang if he didn’t just pull it right off of me, dragging it through the hog lot. I never wore it again. Pigs want to explore you. They want to rub on you and be scratched. They want to smell you, make noises at you and they will never leave you alone. It’s fun but pretty intense. I know the pigs would just love to eat me. It goes both ways. I do think the pig below (Newton) is smiling.

IntensePigsCows on the other hand want little to do with me. The milk cows may want me to scratch them on their poll and the steer may be a little too tame for his own good but otherwise, the cows are content to do their thing and let me do my thing. It’s peaceful. They don’t bellow at me the way the neighbor cows do when a tractor starts. They just munch away at their cud. Maybe get a drink of water. Maybe a lick of salt or kelp. When it’s time to move, we move. No big whoop. It’s all very zen. Nobody is trying to eat me.

ZenCowsI could sit in the shade and watch the cows all day.

 

In Appreciation of Pigs

We went 6 long months without pigs. With our current poor boy setup, I don’t feel we can do a good job of managing the heat in July and August. Rather than stress both pigs and farmers we held off on raising pigs until September, in spite of a waiting list for our pastured pork. BTW, if you don’t already have your order for pork in, you better act fast!

Why did I describe those as 6 long months? Because I love pigs. I just do. I love having them. I love watching them romp, explore and play. I love watching them grow. I love the noises they make. I love their greedy but appreciative grunts as I bring them a handful of hickory nuts. I also love it when they are ground and stuffed into a casing and served with sauerkraut. I love them cured with salt and smoke or roasted and smothered with apple pie filling! You getting the picture here?

Pigs

For 6 long months we composted our garden and kitchen scrap. There is nothing wrong with composting our scrap but I would rather turn it into bacon.  We’re talking everything from cantaloupe rinds, starchy green beans and carrot peelings to stewed, softened chicken bones. Pigs get it all. The weeds we pull from the garden? Pigs. They especially like lambsquarters but will greedily enjoy any of the grasses and weeds I can provide them. I pulled out the biggest crabgrass plant I have ever seen from the compost pile. Each stem must have been 3/8 of an inch in diameter. The pigs loved it. What they don’t eat becomes future compost.

Right now 8 pigs are in a 20×20 pen on top of last winter’s cow bedding pack. They aren’t digging into the bedding as much as I would like but I didn’t put down the whole grains that Salatin suggests.  I just piled wood chips and straw on manure and waste hay. They are happy here and could live happily all the way to their shipping date. They COULD but that would mean more work for me to keep them happy.

NapTime

Pigs tend to manure in one specific area of their enclosure. Each day I just cover their manure with some fresh bedding and we’re done. The rest of the pen gives room for the pigs to romp, play, dig or sleep. But as I said earlier, pigs like to eat their greens. By keeping them on bedding, not only do I have to refresh the bedding on a regular basis, I have to cut and haul greens for them as well as picking up a few tree nuts or apple drops. As long as we keep that routine up, we’ll have happy, healthy pigs. But we can do better. I can have happy, healthy pigs AND lighten my workload. We need to get the pigs out on pasture so they can harvest their own greens and spread their own manure.

When the pigs gain a few pounds we’ll move them under the shelter of the hickory and oak grove surrounding the cemetery. Salatin says not to put pigs behind single-wire electric until they are 150 pounds. Until then we’ll have them either penned up as they are now or behind electric netting. Keeping them penned up works well for now.

Like everything else we do, our pig operation is going to have to grow. It’s really just a matter of repeating the motions enough that each action becomes efficient and natural. Practice. I know we need to expand but the pigs still have a lot to teach us.

Current Events Aug. 2013

We’re a little busy right now, as is everyone else.  Here are a few pictures of things we’ve been busy with.

My sister raised a potbelly pig in her back yard.  We introduced it to the freezer.  He was an uncut boar.  I’ll say it was an interesting culinary experience. I had not scraped a hog previously.  I regret scraping this one.  We tried mason jar lids and a torch.  Mixed results.  I suspect my scalding method could be improved.

It reminded me it was time for us to get some pigs of our own.  These should be ready in late November or early December.  Get your order in now.
The pigs were hungry for grass and had a great time digging through last winter’s cow bedding.

PigsEatGrassWe are busy canning beans, peaches, tomato sauce…you name it.

As time allows we put a few ducks in the freezer.  It’s pretty hard work.  A chicken takes us about a minute, a duck takes about 10.  The extra step of waxing the bird makes it come out clean but adds a lot of time to the process. Here we are peeling the wax.

And always the kittens are watching us…looking for a hole in our defenses…wanting to invade our home and love us to death.  The kittens fail to realize that I enjoy them but do not love them.  That was a distinction my grandpa tried to explain to me when I was younger.  I understand it now.  More on that another time.

Dances With Pigs

If you are looking to expand your vocabulary look no further than pig ownership.  A pig is a 120 pound ball of muscle complete with teeth and fully equipped to outsmart your every effort to muscle them into making the right decision.  In this particular adventure I did not teach my wife or children or neighbors within a half mile any new words.  Everybody stayed calm…this time.  I’m going to skip to the end then tell you from the beginning.  We have learned to modify our schedule and to allow the livestock to dictate the pace.  Yes, I wanted to wrap up the pasture change in 5 minutes but it took almost two days.  It happened on the pigs’ schedule.

When our pigs see us they come running to the fence hoping for a tasty treat.  All of their experiences with us have been positive (well, except maybe the castration) and we give them food to reinforce the lesson.  If a pig is uncomfortable, no amount of yelling or abuse will make them more comfortable.  You just have to wait it out.  Patience and kindness.  Just moving to a new location is stressful for the pigs.  I can only compound that stress by changing from the nice food guy to the mean guy with a stick.  I have to tell you though, as I was standing in the rain Sunday morning I was wishing I had a tranquilizer dart for each pig so I could just carry them to their new pen.  Ultimately, patience proved easier by far.

The pigs were still in the winter sacrifice area on pasture and, since their initial (well, secondary) introduction to electric fence, hadn’t gone anywhere.  The pigs know that the white wires hurt but they also seem to think there is some sort of voodoo concerning the ground where a white wire once was.  As before, we made a corridor of fencing, initially with two strands of polywire, later with Pig Quikfence.  Saturday morning I opened the fencing from their pasture into the corridor then began moving their pallet and straw bale house to the new location 250 yards away.  The pigs stood their ground.  No amount of scrambled eggs or chicken broth could convince them to budge.

Hours pass.  The pigs aren’t having any of it.  They will not cross the line.  At 3:30 I decide to crowd them into the corridor by squeezing their electric fence toward them a little at a time.  Everything was going great until the black pig decided his fear of the unknown was greater than his fear of the fence and he attempted to break through the fencing and escape.  It was a shocking experience for both of us.  I don’t have to remind you that pigs are distinctly lacking in handles so I found myself wrapped in a tangling mass of electric fence and pork…until we pulled enough of the fence that it came unplugged.  Fortunately I had an insurance policy in place…a length of PermaNet surrounding their pen just in case.  The little black pig backed his way out of his fence and neither of us were worse for the wear.  The fence was not broken, just pulled from its posts and I learned my lesson.  Patience.  We closed things up for the night and headed off to church vowing to return in the morning.  Maybe tomorrow hunger will override fear.

After milking on Sunday I turned the cows out and set up the corridor again.  The pigs were not interested.  I put down a trail of feed hoping they would follow along.  They would come up to a certain point.  Then they ran back to their pile of straw on the ground.  Well, I have other things to do with my time.  They can’t escape the corridor so I’ll just check on them from time to time.

ChangingPigPastures

Around 11:00 I was sent out to the pigs with a bucket of scraps.  I placed these scraps deep in the corridor and upwind of the pigs.  The red pig (cleverly named “Red”) decided they smelled so delicious he had to get some of that.  Spot and Blackie (names just happen with small numbers of livestock) stayed back with a “not fair!” look on their face.  Again I walked away.  At 11:45 the kids called to me, “Dad!  The pigs are in the corridor!”  That’s what I was waiting for.  I headed out with a bucket full of feed and, like following the pied piper, the pigs were close at my heels all the way to their new home.

ChangingPigPastures3

Nobody was upset.  Nobody was abusive.  No frustration, crying, swearing off pigs forever or talks with the children about types of language that are acceptable around the house and how sorry daddy is and daddy promises to do better next time then daddy sneaks off to down a highball.  Nope.  Just pigs following that nice guy who brings them food and a new, fresh pasture full of greens on a South-facing slope.

ChangingPigPastures4

They will get to be here for a few days then we’ll move on to the next pasture.  It’s all about disturbance and rest.

I need the pigs to work for me.  It’s not enough that they get fat and taste great.  They have a job to do.  But MY job is to help them do their work.  My job is to make them happy in their work.  I see these animals several times every day.  My pigs don’t cower in fear at my approach.  They greet me, they grunt at me, they run and skip as I approach (really).  Happy pigs.  Happy pigs are easy to move.  Happy pigs are easy to load.  Happy pigs taste better.  There is enough stress on livestock.  I don’t have to add to it.  I can spend two days waiting on pigs to move themselves.  It will be even easier next time.

Moving the Pigskins

Not football.  Pig’s skins.  (Dad’s pun)

Before we left for Florida I recognized that the pigs were reaching a point where they needed to move out to pasture.  They are not cramped in their chicken tractor but it’s time for them to go.  Besides, they may just climb out of it.  I built a new temporary shelter with pallets surrounded by straw bales, surrounded by hog panels and covered with tarp then filled the living space with waste hay the cows had stepped on and refused.  I surrounded this with Premier One Pig QuikFence.  Since the pigs were only around 50 pounds I thought I would just carry them to the new pasture.  Unfortunately I ran out of time.

When I came home from Florida Sunday morning the pigs weighed at least 100 pounds.  Well, OK.  I’ll just do it anyway.  I picked up the first squealing, squirming monster and the other two came to its defense biting me on the leg.  You should see the bruise.

Once again, dad came to my rescue suggesting we just walk them back to the new pasture.  What a novel idea.  We stretched out the remaining three sections of pig quikfence as well as a length of garden fence and wired it to the 5 joule perimeter fence.  Then we opened the side of the tractor and …erm…negotiated the pigs into the fenced area.  We just strolled along as the pigs found their own way to the new pen.  Farmer 1:Pigs 0

MovingPigs1

MovingPigs2

MovingPigs3

MovingPigs4

Now, to get the cows in the barn for the evening I had to take the fence down so I had my son unplug the perimeter momentarily, closed up the pig pen and strung a new wire over to the fence.  We finished up chores and checked on the pigs again before heading inside for dinner and an early bedtime.

It could not have been easier to move the pigs.  Nothing went wrong at all.  Everything was perfect.

Then dad stopped by on his way back from the barn to tell me the pigs were out.  Worse, they were visiting the neighbor’s barn.  Ugh.  My fence wiring was at fault.  The wind blew and the ice-covered wiring lost the connection to the perimeter fence.  The pigs just walked over it and went on an adventure.  After some amount of coaxing with spoiled milk and old chicken soup, some work and serious praying the pigs are back in their pen in the garden.

Farmer 1: Pigs 1

We’ll try again on Tuesday.

Adding Value the Ferengi way.

In light of my recent post about different ways of raising hogs, dad suggested it would be worthwhile to explain why hogs are raised in confinement at all…and why this isn’t likely to change.  Since I have a sense of humor I thought I could explore this while having a bit of fun.  What follows is my understanding of why farmers raise hogs in confinement mixed with a dash of Star Trek.  Yup, Star Trek.

Now, I want to be clear.  I am neither apologizing for nor accusing the practice of hog confinement.  I am merely attempting to describe my understanding of why farmers do it…and showing my inner nerd.

So.  Why do farmers raise hogs in confinement?

Because farmers grow grain.

Need more detail?  OK.  Farmers grow lots of grain.  And interest rates were low and bankers were very, very much in favor of hog floors years ago.  That didn’t turn out too well in the ’80’s but interest rates are low again and…well, here we go.

Click on link for image source

Let’s say I was the kind of a farmer who grew acres and acres of corn.  Corn, corn, corn, corn.  Being from Illinois, I’m probably going to rotate soybeans through the same ground alternate years.  Every 10 years or so I’ll sow alfalfa, spread lime, etc. but for the most part, we’re talking corn.  Oh, and to get this corn to grow well we have to add fertilizer.  That costs money.  Boy does it ever.  And we’ll have to do something to make sure the weeds don’t out-compete the little corn plants.  Either we’ll cultivate or spray.

A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds.  I should get 150 bushels of corn per acre on our kind of Illinois ground.  (Maybe 200 but we’ll stick with the 150).  That’s 8,400 pounds of grain that has to be hauled and stored somewhere for every acre and I may be farming 2,000 acres if I want to be a medium-sized farmer.  That’s almost 17 million pounds of corn.  I could maintain my own fleet of trucks to do the hauling or hire a trucking firm to haul for me.  How far do we haul?  The nearest elevator?  Next town over?  Each mile costs money and time.

Worse, what do I return to the land when I haul all of my crop away?  Really just the crop residue.  Remember, I have to buy fertilizer.

Well, what if there was a way to avoid hauling the corn, add value to that corn, increase my profit percentage and lower my hauling costs AND make fertilizer I can sell to the neighbors or return to the soil?  That’s why there is hog confinement.  It’s not simply a bunch of greedy, heartless, evil farmers throwing as many pigs as possible into the least space possible to squeeze profit.  It’s a way of taking something of surplus and low value and turning it into something of higher value.

To bring Star Trek into the picture, there are several Ferengi Rules of Acquisition that apply here.  Law of Acquisition #2 says:

The best deal is the one that brings the most profit.

I think that’s pretty self-explainatory.  At one time, every house on the road had a few sows out on dirt.

Click on image for source

They are thrifty, independent and marketable animals.  When you look at the bottom line and begin to evaluate how Pareto’s Principle applies to your farm, pigs usually look pretty good.  If a few pigs look good, more pigs look better.  How many pigs can we raise before efficiency and the market snap us back to reality?  This brings us to Law of Acquisition #45:

Expand or die.

It didn’t take long.  Farmers went from a few pigs at every home to larger groups of pigs at fewer homes.  Then they started building Cargill floors and, ultimately, climate-controlled hog houses.  But, at each stage of the way, the farmer was looking for a way to bring home a little more income to the farm…and every farm needed more money, especially at the time when confinement houses were becoming popular.  You get from healthy, environment-enhancing pastured pork to unhealthy, destructive pastured pork to confinement pork in just a few easy steps and it is well summarized in Rule #98

Every man has his price.

Click on image for image source

But I have gotten ahead of myself.  Why did the farmers have pigs in the first place?  Partly because bacon tastes great but mostly because they already had the feed.  Should we move the mountain of grain to the pig or move the pig to the mountain of grain?  If nothing else, the pig can walk.  Transporting meat makes more financial sense than transporting feed.  I mean, with $6 corn it costs me $0.33 to make $0.61 worth of lean pork (at $0.86 lean pork futures).  So we sell the corn to ourselves and sell the pork on the market to nearly double our money.  Rule #12 tells us:

Anything worth selling is worth selling twice.

Then he can sell it one more time by “selling” the manure either to himself by replacing his fertilizer bill or actually sell it to his neighbors.  Those friends I mentioned in the previous article have entirely cut out their fertilizer bill and they make a bit of cash on the side selling the manure to neighbors.  Not only is that enough to make any Ferengi tug his ears in jealous rage but also means their farm won’t be spilling Anhydrous Ammonia into nearby ponds.

Obviously there are ups and downs in commodity production, weather you are producing commodity coal or commodity pork.  Massive expansion following Rule #45 meant there were a number of lean years for pork producers.  The late ’90’s were particularly awful.  But some survived even by the skin of their teeth.  This proves Rule #162:

Even in the worst of times, someone makes a profit.

So, confinement commodity pork production is a tool used to add value to commodity grain production.  In its original form, it saved on transportation.  That’s not really true anymore.  Rather than haul the grain from your own field to your own hog house, growers are usually contracted through a vertically integrated operation and the feed is trucked in from a contracted source.  Believe it or not, that’s more efficient…somehow.  All of commodity production depends on cheap fuel prices.  As fuel prices go up, it costs more to fertilize, cultivate, plant, spray and harvest the field, then haul the grain away.  It costs more to build and heat the hog house.  It costs more to haul and grind the feed.  It costs more to haul the hogs to the slaughter plant.  It costs more to haul the bacon to the store.  Unfortunately, when you are in the commodity food paradigm there really is no alternative.  Once you have that huge building, all that concrete, tons of rebar…all that stuff, you’re married to it.  Even I have a Cargill floor as a relic of previous generations on our farm.  What do I do with it?  Right now it stores lumber and odd bits of things but, for most people, as Rule 217 says:

You can’t free a fish from water.

Commodity production, it appears, is here to stay.  You, as an individual, can choose to participate or you can opt out by finding a good steward raising pastured livestock.  Not only are our pigs raised in the sunshine and allowed to express their “pig-ness”, they are leaner and more flavorful than confinement hogs, not to mention various health benefits from pastured meat sources.  Having butchered from both sources I can tell you the pastured meat lacks that distinct confinement smell.  But, these decisions are always difficult for us as consumers because of Rule #23:

Nothing is more important than your health, except for your money.

Differences, Samerences and Changerences for the Future…erences

We have some old friends.  Close friends.  Dear friends.  Mentors even.  Friends we homeschool with.  Friends we play cards with.  Friends we laugh with.  Friends who took time to show us how to butcher a hog.  You with me here?  Friends who care about their livestock.  Who want their animals to be raised under the best of conditions, under the best of care, in the best of health.  They approach it with a different paradigm.

Click on image for source

They just built a new building to finish 2,500 hogs.  At once.  Each hog will eat around 700 pounds of feed.  The feed is mostly corn.  Corn weighs 56 pounds per bushel.  Soybeans and oats weigh 60 pounds per bushel.  You get an average of 50 bushes of beans per acre where I live, 100 bushels of corn, 100 bushels of oats.  I mix 2 parts corn, 1 part beans (roasted) and 1 part oats along with minerals in my hog feed.  So it takes approximately one acre of corn, one acre of beans and half an acre of oats to raise 16 pigs.

Did anybody follow that?

OK.  Now.

To raise 2,500 hogs (the amount in that one building for 4-5 months) requires the production from approximately 400 acres of land.   But that one batch of hogs won’t make enough manure to totally replace the fertilizer bill for that same 400 acres if you apply 3,000 gallons of liquid manure per acre, let alone fuel for the tractors, combines and trucks involved.  The trade-off is you can keep raising pigs comfortably year round.  (Comfortable for farmer and for pig too…being out of the cold.)

Without going into the intricacies of finance and large-scale construction I’ll just say that’s fine for commodity growers.   We have found a niche by raising pigs outdoors on a seasonal basis and retailing them directly.  I’m not interested in passing judgement or saying one is better than another but I am happy to say there is a market for pigs raised on pasture.  Please understand this makes me the odd duck.  As usual, I’m the weird guy in the room.  Also, my friends make a living raising hogs and I…well…don’t.  Maybe I could though.

If you ask our friends about animal health and happiness they will tell you emphatically that their pigs are as happy and healthy as a pig can be.   They rely on veterinary services to keep their animals healthy including weekly video conferences with the vet contracted by the vertically integrated growers.  They rightly point to the range of climate control options available to reinforce their point about animal welfare.  Their pigs don’t shiver.  Their pigs stay shaded, misted and reasonably cool on hot days.

Ask me about animal health and happiness and I will tell you emphatically that our pigs are as happy and healthy as a pig can be.  Our pigs get no shots, they have their noses in the mud but they do pant when it’s hot and they do bury themselves in straw when it’s cold.

Ask either of us if we are stewarding the environment and both will say yes.

PasturedPigs2

Our core asset is not our hog management facility.  It is not our pig happiness index.  It is not our eco-score.  Our core asset is our flexibility.  Ask our friends what else they could raise in their hog buildings.  Ask me what else I could do with that pasture.  Ask me how much debt I have on my pasture compared to the debt they have on their building.  Then again, ask them about the labor efficiency they gain by using a building.  Ask them about the performance gain by keeping the animals dry and warm all winter.  Ask them what they make a living doing.

We are very different in how we raise our hogs.  I specifically don’t want to say we are better.  I recognize I am the odd duck in the neighborhood.  I also don’t want to imply that I am in competition with them.  I’m not.  I satisfy a small niche in our community.  They help satisfy commodity demand across several states.  Totally different world.  Sometimes a man just wants a pound of bacon.  But sometimes you want pork that carries other flavors; pork that tastes like acorns, walnuts, mushrooms, alfalfa, hickory nuts, and fresh air.  I can’t provide that for the larger market.  I can only provide it for your house and mine.  Different focus.

PasturedPigs1

We do it differently.  That’s why our pork sells so well.  Am I going to take over the world?  Nope.  Do I want to?  Nope.  I want to deliver a product to your table that is unmatched in flavor and texture.  I feel that I succeed in that goal.  Do I want laws to make hog confinement illegal?  Nope.  Customers will make or break those guys just as customers will make or break me.  I’ll keep my head down doing my best…same thing they are doing.  I do think there is room for us to come together.  There is opportunity for both of us to change.  Maybe something like this:

…or maybe something like this which is quite similar to Mike Butcher’s place up North.

LittlePigs

Is this the future of hog production?  Instead of millions of gallons of liquid manure, we could have tons and tons of finished compost.  Instead of single-purpose hog finishing buildings we could have multi-purpose hoop houses.  I could raise chickens, rabbits, pigs, and zucchini in the same space.  Add heat and I could raise orchids…with compost the pigs made.  Pigs can dig, flop, roll and rest in warm bedding.  They can find interesting things to eat and (probably) receive all the inoculation their immune systems need right from the bedding.

It’s an exciting time to be a farmer.  There are exciting problems to solve and a whole internet full of people sharing their solutions from around the world.  Do we need 2,500 head confinement operations?  Right now, customers say so.  Do we need 10 head pasture operations?  Customers say so.  Should we fiddle with what works?  Curious farmers say so.  Here’s to innovation.  Let me know what works on your farm.

Generalizing about Specialization

Specialization has made us all wealthy.  Cell phones, packaged meat, refrigeration…the dreams of kings!  All because of specialization.  Focusing on doing one thing very well and doing it repeatedly means I don’t have to do 50 things poorly.  I focus on doing what I do best and hire other specialists to manage the other things.  For example, I no longer turn wrenches on my own cars.  I hire a specialist.  Also, I am not my children’s dentist but I am my son’s barber.  By separating the duties of a roofer from those of a machinist from those of a cardiologist we end up with better roofing, more precise machining and a better chance of surviving when our lifelong assault on our heart becomes more than it can handle.  We are all better off because of specialists.

Generalization lends security.  What if I can’t get to a dentist?  What if I have to perform CPR on that stranger who wrecked his motorcycle on the road?  What if all the roofing companies are overbooked and nobody is available to put a roof on my house?  That’s when we rely broad knowledge and experience.

Everyone bridges the gap.  No person is 100% dedicated to their field.  The best cardiologist in the world is still a human the rest of the day.  She may also be a mother, a child, a volunteer or a welder by day and a dancer by night (she’s a maniac!)

I have to balance this out as well.  If I did nothing but my primary vocation from sunup to sundown I would make more money but I would be bored…and boring.  Well, more boring.  I really like what I do for a living.  It’s exciting, challenging and stimulating.  It is also air-conditioned and comes with a nice, cushy chair and a desk.  Though I don’t even get a cubicle to protect me from communicable diseases, I do have a desk of my very own. I am not the only specialist in my office.  The office is filled with specialists.  Each of us can create, fix, plan or manage our way to corporate profitability (though some get cubes!).

So far this hasn’t been a current events post about the farm but I’ll swing this back to the farm for you now.  I am a specialist in my career but my career does not define me.  I have traded away decades (yup, plural) of my life and a small fortune in training and books to gain the technical knowledge I possess.  Please understand, I take my job seriously.  I work hard to stay current on changes in technology.  That said, I am not my job.  The job is too small to describe me.  It’s just one thing I do.  I am not a specialist on the farm either.  Our speciality is pastured chicken but we also raise pigs, cows, turkeys, ready-to-lay pullets, mushrooms, garden vegetables, children, make tons and tons of compost, cut and manage our woodlot, and grow acres and acres of grass some of which we store in the barn for future use.  Each of these endeavors requires knowledge, practice, education and experience.  Because we do so many things I can only go so deeply into each one.  Why do I stop at 1200 broilers each year?  Because I am a generalist.  That’s all I can handle given our time constraints…for now anyway.  But the same equipment we use to raise broilers allows us to raise pullets for ourselves and for sale.  In fact, our fencing and chicken tractors can be used for pigs as well.  Not only am I a generalist, I try to utilize multi-purpose, non-specialized equipment.

I can set up, design and maintain your SQL Server database.  I can raise, kill and process chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ducks and pigs.  I am, over time, becoming a gardening and canning fool.  I can shingle a roof with the best of them.  I have flipped burgers, watered plants, mowed grass, designed landscaping, framed houses and traveled the length and breadth of North America (and Puerto Rico) training truck mechanics how to use software.  I have changed tires on everything from cars to semi-trailers to tractors.  I have changed diapers.  But I am not rich.  Were I to give up all this generalist nonsense and focus on my career I might be closer to “rich” but I do feel secure knowing we’ll eat well.

Forgive me if the world is less wealthy because I refuse to specialize.  I’m just having too much fun.  Besides, Heinlien said:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

New Cast of Characters

I built a large compost pile in the garden with two truckloads of horse manure and most of the garden waste from tomatoes and peppers.  I needed a little help getting it composted well so I enlisted the help of my sister’s turkeys.  This is just a 2-day assignment before they ship off to the freezer.

But mere turkeys are no match for a manure pile of such magnitude.  It was time to bring out the big guns.  I needed a pigerator.  I brought another chicken tractor home from the pasture, made it reasonably pig-proof and bought some new shoats!  WOOHOO!

I love pigs.  Little pigs.  Cute little oinkers that can’t knock you over and eat your arm.  Little pigs are just the best.  My sister is visiting and pushed me into it because she wanted to cuddle a spotted pig.  We got a spotted pig.

And just in time too because we have some milk that soured when we went to Florida, we’re still trying to put up apples, pears and jalapenos and we generate more kitchen waste than our poor worms can handle.

I may have to go back to Mike’s and get 7 more.

My last few batches of pigs have come from our friend Mike.  I posted about him some time ago.  He was vaccinating newborn pigs yesterday when we visited and we got to hold a tiny, tiny pig.

Thanks Mike for farrowing on pasture and raising such high-quality stock.