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Heritage piglets, heirloom seeds. Happy Easter!

24 Apr

Though we have not slept in for eleven years (kids) our morning started more gradually than it should have. Mr. Pink Guitar ran a hay/mulch errand, meeting up with Farmer Joe, one of our kindest farmer friends who offered to give us rotten hay rolls for the garden. Free mulch, what’s not to love about that?

Mr. Pink Guitar indicated that he would do chores when he got back, so the rest of us drifted around sleepily making breakfast, reading and starting seeds. Mr. Pink Guitar must have spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with Joe (who is a wonderful conversationalist and oozes wisdom) because it seemed like hours before he got back. We’d finally decided to start chores just as the big ranch truck rumbled up the drive, trailer laden with hay in various states of decomposition.

Sophie left the house and wandered off to the barn right after the truck pulled up. Soon after I heard her scream, when I looked out the window she was running, arms flailing towards the truck. I got my muck boots on quickly, mentally prepared to face something terrible.

Roselle had farrowed, but what should have been a joyous occasion became somber as the situation revealed itself. Roselle was not showing interest in her piglets and had crushed two. Two more had not made it through the birthing process. We counted six tiny piglets skinny and shivering huddled in the corner, ignored. We tried to put a heat lamp on them and Roselle freaked. Well, at least she was being protective.

There were a lot of hushed comments about letting nature take its course and leaving the new mom alone. Because it was Roselle’s maiden voyage into motherhood, we needed to give her a break, and the birthing conditions were not ideal. We had wanted her to farrow out in the woods separated, but comfortably close to her herd the best way for a gilt/sow to farrow in our humble opinion.

But Roselle had become Houdini and would be held in by NO pen, maybe she wanted to range with the chickens, but with babies on the way, we didn’t want her nesting in the woods somewhere – way out there. We put her in the barn (well, actually she walked right in because that’s where she was hanging around) two weeks ago, in a horse stall, ousting our calf; and with fasteners, clips, hog panels, power tools and stall mats, we were able to keep her contained.

The critical time for piglets or any newborn is the first 24 hours, the piglets needed colostrum and warmth and if they made it three days we figured we could announce with confidence the arrival of 6 purebred heritage Red Wattle piglets.

Update: Roselle has calmed down and is taking wonderful care of her babies, they are all fat and sassy. She just needed some time to figure things out and get used to the idea that it is not all about her right now. She does still like her “me” time a little more than the other sows seemed to. However, all is well in piglet world with 5 females and 1 sturdy male, who nurses at first position.

One piglet had an injured foot, so we had to do a little doctoring, which gave us an opportunity to cuddle (!) with her. This piglet is a runt and her name is Zinnia.

Heirloom seeds are one of the greatest gifts on the planet, at least to me. Great things come in small packages and I love seed packets. I collect them like a pre-pubescent baseball card junkie of olden days hoarding them in boxes and containers; I even turned my wine fridge into a seed vault.

So when we got an Easter care-package in the mail from our wonderful friends Bob and Kathy a few days ago we carefully cut the tape and opened the box with rapt anticipation. Care-packages are always exciting. Among the goodies, plastic Easter eggs filled with treats and treasure as well as several thought provoking books “Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating” by Jane Goodall and “The Good Good Pig, the extraordinary life of Christopher Hogwood” by Sy Montgomery. Both authors are vegetarian, one – Vegan.

Interesting how I had just come across this article and was pondering the debate about humanely raising animals for food versus the Vegan perspective – all this after watching Food, Inc.

I find it’s important to look at all sides of an issue with an open mind. Research and contemplation of an issue so close to home is a much better alternative than ignorance.

So what else was in the box? Some nice Easter cards and news clippings with great information about farming and food, mentoring us further along this journey, and last but far from least, was a small innocuous looking bag from the gift shop at the venerable Monticello Estate. I carefully unfolded the small sack to reveal the most marvelous selections of Heirloom seeds!

A cache of 12 historic plant varieties! Cardoon, Prudens Purple tomato, Bloody Butcher corn, Lemon Balm, Early Curled Siberian Kale, Purple Calabash tomato, Fish Pepper, Brown Dutch Lettuce, Sesame, Red Calico Lima Bean, Cow’s Horn Okra, Balsam Apple. WOW! Hey, what’s Balsam Apple?

From Packet: “Jefferson planted this tender annual vine along the winding walk flower border on Monticello’s West Lawn in the spring of 1812. The Balsam Apple’s glossy, delicate foliage, small yellow flowers, and bursting orangish red fruit are a curious and unusual addition to the summer flower border. Plant the seed after the last spring frost and provide support with a fence of trellis. The vines will twine to ten feet in a sunny, fertile site”.

This year will be the year for cardoons and artichokes, multiple varieties of purple tomatoes, herbs and pink corn, unique peppers, amazing lettuces, beans of all shapes and sizes, several types of okra and Balsam Apple! What am I forgetting? Oh, I need more land…

What a wonderful Easter Sunday: heritage piglets and heirloom seeds, it doesn’t get any better than this. We also planted a mini-orchard with 10 fruit trees (orchard now totals 50), moved the chicken coop so our 27 new chicks could be closer to the house and to make room for our 7 Bantams and 6 Pekin ducklings.

Reflecting back two years ago exactly, the enormity of our move away from friends and family was sinking in. We had just lost a favorite uncle with no opportunity to say good-bye. We were alone on the holiday and phone calls to loved-ones made the distance more painfully clear. We did the only thing we knew to do, face the future and embrace it, and plant an apple tree in honor of Uncle Wayne.

Pinkguitarfarm is in its infant stages. We keep on keeping on against various odds because we have cherished friends who have lent us huge amounts of emotional support, not to mention gifts, seeds, rotten hay, fencing, green house supplies, free pig and bull-calf castrations, community endorsements, wagon rides, songs and music, wisdom, social invitations, articles, links, books, mentoring, care packages, a skype camera, visits, wine and late night conversations. We have farmers market customers that try our vegetables and recipes even though the vegetables and recipes might seem weird, and those that buy our fabulous pork. Thank you for being a part of this crazy adventure!

There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
~Thomas Jefferson~

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Best friends

26 Jan

These two will teach you that you can make friends with anyone. Burley was recovering from a sprained toe and got some TLC from 4 month old T-bone. When we got T-bone, we were told that he and Burley would be inseparable. This is true.

Citrus, hazelnuts, truffles.

21 Jan

Until I have my own orangery (chances, slim to none) I’ll have to buy Florida citrus or hope my friends and former neighbors in zone 9 out west continue to take pity on my decided lack of bright yellow and orange food hues during the winter season here in Tennessee, where I am trying to eat local.

A few weeks ago I ordered 40 pounds of red navels and 40 pounds of ruby red grapefruit from a local food coop that has citrus shipped in from Florida in January. I suppose when you’re going to cheat on the eat local thing, make it count.

I’m a little late getting in on the whole canning/preserving lovefest. I tried this summer but had so much fresh produce to grow, harvest and sell (much of it to canners, no less) that I didn’t get a chance to put up much for myself.

Looking at canning recipes for citrus I found a gorgeous marmalade, Christmas Marmalade in the Putting Up book by Stephen Palmer Dowdney which I will try, but it calls for more sugar than I had on hand. I am trying to cut down on sugar and since I couldn’t help but want to preserve these gorgeous fruits and hold on to the vibrant colors – RIGHT NOW, I continued my search.

The description for Sliced Orange Pickles in The Joy of Pickling book, by Linda Ziedrich (pg. 243) goes like this: “chewy, sweet, tart and slightly bitter”. Assuming tart means sour, we’ve hit 3 of the 4 types of taste buds in one go. I like that for some reason, it seems thrifty, plus the recipe only called for 4 cups of sugar, so I went with it.

Since I’m new to canning, I didn’t trust my canning/sterilization methods with the first batch (confidence issue) and I thought the slices were too large to snack on (rationalization). The instructions called for slicing the segments rind and all, but they didn’t come out clean so I had a lot of pulp in my syrup.

I don’t care about the pulp, but wanted smaller slices and to ensure sterilization. Instead of putting that fist batch in the cupboard, I gave it to Wally, our Red Wattle boar. Pigs don’t typically like the rind of citrus but in this case, he ate it ALL.

Future truffle hunters. NOT!

Speaking of feeding pigs, although they eat grass from pasture or nuts, plants and roots from the woodlot, they still require additional food inputs, especially during the winter months. This can get expensive so the alternative is to generate the additional food for them on-farm in keeping with a more sustainable production model. The benefit happens to be tastier pork. I’ve researched nut trees to plant this year and have settled on hazelnuts. Obviously if I plant hazelnut trees, then they MUST be inoculated with tuber melanosporum, black truffle spores to make “black diamonds”. Can truffles be grown in TN? I guess the answer is yes, but it’s complicated.

Sorry, back to the oranges, this time I halved the oranges and sliced them, here is a picture of the finished product:

It looks a bit like marmalade. I see these petite spiced orange pickles as a smart garnish on all kinds of roasted or braised meat dishes. This recipe also makes wonderful syrup for vinaigrette’s and marinades. I even like the idea of putting a small slice in my tea for the aromatics of the cloves and cinnamon.

I highly recommend The Joy of Pickling, there are all kinds of unusual recipes and unique ingredients, like pickled nasturtium pods which, according to the book make better capers than capers. My nasturtium seeds have already been ordered; can’t wait to try that one.

Next, I turned my attention to the grapefruit, which was not disappearing as quickly as those beautiful red navels. I was thinking Moroccan Lemons but with grapefruit. Funny how my Joy of Pickling book doesn’t have any recipes for pickling/preserving grapefruits at all. There might be a reason for this, I shall find out.

I forged forward using the recipe for the Moroccan Lemons, again, in The Joy of Pickling book, by Linda Ziedrich (pg. 156). While I was preparing this very easy recipe, I thought about what goes with grapefruit. Crab, chicken, halibut, avocado, lemon thyme, parsley, cloves, cinnamon and why do I keep seeing a fresh red-orange papaya chopped up with the rinsed, preserved grapefruit, Italian parsley, red onion and fresh squeezed lime over Mahi Mahi? Must be hungry.

I put the salted grapefruits in the jars with the salted fresh squeezed juice. I left one of the jars plain and in the other jar, I added cinnamon sticks and peppercorns. I used 2 grapefruits per jar and 2 more for the juice. I topped both off with olive oil and marked the calendar for 3 weeks, at which time they will go from my counter-top to the fridge.

This is an experiment, if they taste awful I can always clean the bathtub with them. Or make bath salts. Preserving is fun, but still a little scary.

How about a nice easy limoncello, but with grapefruit, this seems fairly foolproof ahem, well, something proof. I did a quick search for pompelmocello and THAT’S certainly not an original idea! It would make a SAweeet salty dog though! When I make mine I’ll post it. It will officially be called a “Salty Hog”.

Next project: Pompelmocello!

Brined, smoked range chicken and a Charcuterie Challenge

9 Jan

This morning I decided that the 3 thawed range chickens we were planning on smoking today should sit in a brine overnight. Good planning on my part, eh? A search on the net lead me to this post, and a recipe for a quick brine, perfect for those of us that want something now or at least sometime today. Here is my version:

I mostly followed the recipe with ingredients I had on hand. I added Italian parsley and sage from the raised beds (that made it through last nights temps of around 9 degrees Fahrenheit) then added some of our farm raised dried red pepper in addition to about a cup of Red Guitar (!) Old Vine Tempranillo Garnacha left over from last night.

While on Michael Ruhlman’s site, a cute picture of some red pigs caught my eye. CharcutePalooza? Right on! What a coincidence! Though I did not see any telltale wattles on the pigs, I clicked to find out more.

Interestingly, I had just this past Friday, conversed with a local farmer friend about preserving meats and told him this was my year for learning about how to make Virginia style hams, prosciutto and all other good things porky: smoked preserved and otherwise cured.

I love how things come together in life and the universe gives you a kick start when you really need it. This is all part of my journey here in Tennessee towards learning the old way and in doing so, I plan to document artisan skills that are nearly lost. I believe it’s why I became a farmer in the first place and is a perfect opportunity to stay focused on the goal. Here are the “Ruhls” as posted on the Mrs. Wheelbarrows Kitchen site (see link to site above re: charcutepalooza).

“The Ruhls

* Let’s celebrate the age-old talents and skills of charcuterie with contemporary takes on techniques, flavors and presentation.
* Let’s agree to use humanely raised meat, sourced as close to home as possible.
* Let’s write about our experiences. Not just how the charcuterie is made, but how we use it, serve it, flavor it.
* Buy a copy of ‘Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing’ by Michael Ruhlman.
* Cook along as often as practical. There’s no obligation.
* Post about your experiences on the 15th of the month.
* Display the Badge, if you are so inclined;”

I am joining this challenge if only for the pork portion (since that’s what I have) in order to keep things simple. Duck Prosciutto, January’s challenge sounds wonderful, maybe next year? I’ve been hoping for a pond this year in order to raise more fowl. Yet another Mr. Pink Guitar honey do list item… The cool thing about this challenge though, is that anyone who has access to humanely raised meats can participate.

So I am off to purchase the book, please feel free to join me in this challenge, I would love your comments. Oh, and I will keep you posted on how the smoked chicken turned out.

UPDATE: Well, the smoked chicken sat in brine for a few hours and then went into the smoker:

Then we phoned up our West Coast expert smoker friend, Steve, for advice. Here is what we SHOULD have done, and will do so next time. Brine for at least 12 hours, then, and this is critical: RINSE THE BIRD prior to smoking. We only had our chickens in the brine for a few hours and did not rinse them, so, although we sacrificed full tender juiciness, we still got great flavor without too much salt.

The chicken was delicious, even with our errors in planning. I would love to tell you that we sat down to a fabulous meal of smoked chicken, a nice bit of couscous, some healthy winter greens and then complimented the smoky flavor of the chicken with a sweet ginger/plum chutney, but we got it to the kitchen and devoured it with a chopped salad. The bad, blurry picture below shows how horribly IMPATIENT we were to try the chicken. Sorry, the picture just doesn’t do it justice.

The next day, it was served in sandwiches with that beautiful ginger/plum chutney mentioned above – sent to us this summer by more good friends on the West Coast. We feel lucky to get to eat such wonderful food and it is even more satisfying to know that we raised those chickens here. We also really appreciate all of the good help and flavors sent from so far away!

Porky research and the Red Wattle Hog

6 Jan

When I started growing vegetables I wanted things I couldn’t get easily at the store. I wanted weird stuff that no one had ever seen and to make dishes nobody else had ever tasted. I’ll admit it, I’m a food adventurer, a trait encouraged and nurtured while only a 10 year old child on sabbatical with my family as we traversed around the world. We lived in Japan and Sweden during that journey for six months each and it was immersion into these cultures, and others along the way that opened my eyes to so many wonderful choices in food.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are therefore an obvious component in my garden. So too, are heritage farm animals, which brings us to the elusive and extraordinary Red Wattle Hog or Pig, depending. And really, just what is the difference between a hog and a pig? Just like heirloom plants, heritage animals must be consumed in order to continue on.

If there is no added benefit in the form of taste, better flavor, hardiness, regional adaptability, or an incredibly unique finished product, they will not survive our industrialized world. And if you have read this far, please check out this post a story regarding Adam and Eve, two 8 week old Red Wattles that traveled from Kansas to live in the Napa Valley. Especially thought provoking, are the comments in this link, there are excellent rhetorical questions posed and insights revealed.

Luckily, the Red Wattle population is increasing and most Red Wattle farmers are passionate about their cause. Although touted as a trendy foodie item for several years (yet again, another Adam and Eve reference), I hope that more people have the opportunity to taste heritage meat and learn about these animals with an eye towards preservation, animal welfare and excellent flavor. To know that meat raised the way it is supposed to be raised has better flavor and that more small farmers are supported in doing so, is a win, win situation for all local communities.

Raising Red Wattle Hogs is an honor. We have Yorkshire/Landrace/Hampshire cross gilts alongside the Red Wattles and the Red Wattles appear to be more primitive and old-fashioned. They are larger, grow faster, forage better, hold up to the weather and thrive in the woodlot and pasture. The Red Wattles have been referred to as dinosaurs and, I’ll admit, they do have a primordial look to them. When surprised or scared, they bark like a dog and hop around in circles, it’s a sound from the past, eerily prehistoric and oddly appropriate for their looks.

The white pig on the right is about 300 pounds - for perspective

Where did they come from? I wonder if they are a genetic remnant from our ancient past, a treasure that has been rediscovered and/or a delicious unsolvable mystery. Regardless, we are lucky to have them.

And by the way, what ever happened to the cute little piglets named Adam and Eve that got to go live in the Napa Valley?

So, with fingers crossed while knocking on wood (ow!), If all goes well, we should have our own farm raised Red Wattle piglets in about 4 months! If you are interested in a piglet of your own to raise, or a whole or half, please contact us at pjmatthews7750@gmail.com

I’ll take a Mimosa, hold the o.j.

1 Jan

Happy New Year! We started out our first day of 2011 processing chickens. This was not by choice but by necessity. An unpleasant task, but a practical one, because it means a freezer full of chickens, or so we hope – man, is it a lot of work!

First new year’s resolution: I will not order 125 baby chicks for any reason. For the life of me, I can’t remember the warped rationale that prompted this. Did I think I was going to be a chicken farmer some day and needed the practice? Did I want to torture the family? Did I buy stock in chicken feed and feel the urge to drive company profits? Whatever it was, it escapes me now as I am up to my elbows in…well, never mind.

Don’t worry, I still have some of my city sensibilities left so I won’t be posting any graphic pictures, but there is a lesson here – the very reason for this blog, to share success and failure and experiences in the journey towards sustainability.

Did you know that you can order day old baby chicks by mail? They show up at the post office after you lose your mind ordering them over the internet. This is how it looks:

First thing in the morning on the day your chicks arrive, the local post office will call you: “Hey Mrs. Crazy, your chicks are in!”. When you go to pick up your baby chicks, because of the nature of the small southern town you live in, you will find that the staff politely snickers and looks at you sideways. Why? Because it’s a small town and Yankee stupidity is FUNNY!

The real work starts when you get them home. Every chick is given a once over for health issues and as they are added to the brooder their beaks are dipped in water so they will know how to drink. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BROODER READY AND WARM AHEAD OF TIME!

The day before the chicks arrived, I was still trying to figure out my brooder arrangements and since the kiddie pool I had used before only held about 45 chicks, it dawned on me that I might be in a bit of a pickle.

I opted to convert my greenhouse shelving into a brooder with aluminum sheeting (flashing) and carpenter cloth from the local hardware store. We added a side door and with 2 heat lamps, we were good to go. Until, that is, about 3 days into baby chick brooding when I realized that the exponential growth rate of a chick was not factored into my brooder size calculations. Luckily, we had a second greenhouse shelving unit.

At this point, I became painfully aware of what poultry farmers already know. Baby chicks eat a lot, they also poop…a lot, frankly, I think more comes out than goes in! It’s really gross! Two weeks in the brooder and I was ready to put them outside in the coop. People, please find a poultry farmer and thank them! This is a dirty, thankless job!

Oh! And here was another realization, the coop was too small. Maybe I thought I would have a lot of loss? We actually lost less than 10% in the 3 months we have had them. Thanks to the LGD’s, and the hardy nature of this breed of chicken, we were lucky, despite my ignorance.

No doubt, I was unable to conceptualize what 125 chickens meant on any level.

So here we are, 3 months later, with an insane number of chickens running around the yard, free to go where ever they please. Except, since it is winter there is not much to range. So of course, they have identified food with humans and whenever we walk into the yard, try to get in the car to run an errand, open the front door, make a noise, etc., we re-live the movie The Birds, except this is a ground assault!

Today, we put another 10 in the freezer. 29 down, who knows how many to go? Paul is the executioner, the kids are the pluckers, I gut the birds and Paul puts them in the freezer. We have a good system. It’s quality family time. How did we get here? Our learning curve has been steep over the past year.

Taking advantage of our new year’s resolution and reflecting on 2010 in order to make better choices on the farm I asked each family member why we do this. Sophie said “so that we have fewer antibiotics in our food”. Paul said “so that we know where our food comes from”. Jack said “because we are stupid”. I say “so that chickens get to be chickens” We do this for their health and subsequently ours, even if it seems stupid.

So what the hell does this all have to do with a Mimosa? I don’t know, it’s the new year, people! A time to celebrate new stuff on the horizon and put a tough year behind. You can have a Mimosa, even if you are processing chickens. I had one with fresh squeezed tangerine juice from fruits sent to us all the way from California, no less. Thanks Scott and Eileen and also Bob and Kathy for brightening our winter with citrus! Hold the o.j., I’m out of tangerine juice, I’ll take the next one neat. Cheers!

‘Twas the night before…

24 Dec

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all down the lane,
not a creature was stirring not even our LGD Jane

The calf bucket was hung in his stall with great care
In the hopes that warm milk soon would be there

The piglets were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sugar beets danced in their heads

And Mama in her muck boots

Photograph taken by Don Nevins

and I in my cap

Had just finished mucking all of the horse cr*p*

When out on the farm, there arose such a clatter
I threw down my manure fork to see what was the matter

Away to the chicken coop, I flew like a flash.
I jumped over chickens and past Brad, feeling whiplash

photograph taken by Don Nevins

With the moon on the back of the two billy goats
It shined like the sun on Neptune’s white coat

When what to my wondering eyes might appear
But a giant pink tractor**, which may have (originally) been a John Deere.

With the little blond driver so lively and whack,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Jack.

His wheels crashed like thunder through fallow garden beds
I whistled and shouted and grabbed at his treads.

Move Jennifer! Move Sophie, move Burley and Jane!
Run Chickens run turkey, run piglets, I exclaimed

I chased after Jack as he drove out of sight,
Jack giggled and chortled and flashed a smile quite bright

Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!


* Horse Apples
**Everything in our version of this famous Christmas story is true with only minor embellishments except the reference to the giant pink tractor. We are hoping for a tractor in 2011. Let’s see if that all shakes out, and no, Jack will not be allowed to drive it.

Thanksgiving Dinner – and a contract negotiation

24 Nov

Whoa! That’s not turkey!

No, that’s two sides of pork ribs, smoked over a tray of pineapple juice with a brown-sugar spice rub. Farm raised pork. As in, raised here pork – on farm, yes! Historic for us because this was our first taste of pinkguitarfarm pork, over a year in the making (we’ve been patient). Was it delicious? Well, I, the author and farmer, cannot tell you if this mouth watering picture translated into a savory, sticky, spicy – gnaw on the bone(s) food revelation. It got excellent reviews, though.

Why? Because while I was making Pecan Pie, 5 individuals (3 under the age of 12) DEMOLISHED this entire appetizer dish. Nay, I can’t even call it a dish, these ribs DID NOT MAKE IT TO THE KITCHEN FOR PLATING. No utensils, napkins or dinnerware were utilized in the deconstruction of my special first course: pork ribs a la pinkguitarfarm!

I suppose I was not too upset because the main course featured fresh roasted hams (same rub) served with a Champagne cranberry reduction, wilted Swiss chard with pinenuts, caramelized sweet potatoes and Caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons. Needless to say, I did not go hungry and more importantly I am very thankful for the wonderful bounty our farm provided. As for the ribs….there will be more in the future.

So, what about the contract negotiation?

Earlier in the day I ran across our farm turkey, Brad. He engaged me in a conversation regarding his status on the farm – while hiding under the truck:

Me: “Brad, it’s Thanksgiving! No worries, dude! I went to bat for you; your status here is good. You are an icon, our mascot – sort of. You have style, presence, pizazz! If you weren’t here, the silence would be deafening! We think everyone should have a farm turkey, really!”

So then he handed me a list of demands:
1. Girlfriends – a whole gaggle of them.
2. My own food bowl. I’m done sharing with those stinkin’ chickens.
3. That blond kid, on a permanent time-out: in the house.
4. I ride shotgun in the truck, no more sitting in the bed.

I had to give the fowl a long somewhat respectful once-over. He’s got wattles, man!

Me: “Brad (with a patient voice) gaggles are for geese. You want turkey hens? Done. Your own food dish? Done. Now, I know you don’t like Jack, but I cannot keep him in the house, he helps with chores. Heyyy….are you two working together now, so he can get out of doing the chores? Okay, no on Jack. And no on the truck! Trust me, you don’t want to ride with me when I take the kids to school or run errands, that’s just weird. No, no, no! And stop trying to hide in the bed as we drive off to school in the morning, you’ve been making us tardy and the kids are blaming it on me.”

I must say, Brad caught me a bit off guard, but I was going to get him some turkey hens anyway. Next time, I’ll have my own demands ready so we can really negotiate, like: quit sleeping on my car, no harassing the children or the chickens and no gobbling while I’m outside on my cell phone, it freaks people out.

That Brad, he’s a tough nut…and people think turkeys are stupid?

LGD’S

10 Oct

We were losing chickens. By August, we had lost all of our spring roosters and we assume they died protecting their (our laying) hens. When the roosters were gone we started losing hens, almost daily. The day Sophie lost her prized Bantam hen “Peppermint” evidenced by a puff of tiny buff and white feathers, we decided that we must act and fast.

We felt we had two choices, fence the chickens in, or find LGD’s (Livestock Guard Dog’s) to protect them. We love having our chickens range and initially suffered few losses. But our farm was becoming an all you can eat buffet for all the usual (and possibly some unusual) suspects.

We want our chickens to eat bugs, weeds and whatever else a chicken/raptor chooses to eat even if it means hanging out with piglets. We feel that especially in the summer time, it cuts down on feed costs and aids health and immunity (as long as they are not being eaten by a predator!).

We also like the idea that our chickens get to go for an afternoon stroll (or scratch, rather) in the woods, take a dust bath in the pony pasture or simply work out their chicken politics in an open forum. We decided we did not want to fence them in, nor did we have the means to tractor them, so free range it was – meaning the search for LGD’s was on. As you can see below, the piglets enjoy a little free ranging too.

I started researching LGD’s about six months ago, but with so many projects, I wondered how I would have time to train one… or two. Nevertheless, I had talked to farmers, seen LGD’s in action and felt confident that they would work for us, we just wondered how to find one preferably already trained (training can take up to two years) that would also be able to transition to our farm.

While we were out picking up our RWH gilt, I mentioned to the farmers at Ecotonefarm that we were looking for LGD’s (they have two wonderful Great Pyrenees dogs). And as luck would have it, they knew of a farmer who was looking to place two 18 month old Great Pyrenees dogs, a male and a spayed female who were siblings. After several e-mails, phone calls and a visit to our farm by this very conscientious farmer, we went to pick up Jane and Burley on October 3rd.

This is Jane (to the left), not only does she patrol all night long between the chicken coop and the pig pens, she walks the kids to their bus stop (the entrance to our driveway) in the morning. Jane is a sweetheart.

This is Burley (above right); he wanted to hang out with me in the garden today while I harvested sweet potatoes. I put him in the shade by the barn since he is too large and furry for the meager shadows of a fallen amaranth flower stalk and a bell pepper plant. I sure appreciated the company though! He is a big sweet boy.

Poor Jane, she had no idea that when she came here, she would have the dubious honor of piglet babysitter. She is a good piglet herder too, especially when they are naughty and try to eat the chicken food up by the barn.

Burley is more reserved and mellow than Jane, and he has a very deep bark. There have been no more chicken losses in the past 10 days since they arrived here.

Everyone sleeps better at night now that Jane and Burley are here on the job, including our Narragansett tom turkey, Brad. In fact, he feels so secure now, he even gobbles at the moon. G’night Brad!

We are very grateful to have found Jane and Burley through the farmers at Ecotonefarm and to benefit from the wonderful training they received from their former owner. Jane and Burley are truly amazing, incredible dogs and are already a very important part of our farm. Many thanks to C.J. and Fletcher!

Roselle the Red Wattle Gilt

12 Sep

We are convinced that the Red Wattle Hog is the right heritage breed hog for our family farm. Docile, gentle, hardy and disease resistant, they need little intervention to maintain a healthy herd with proper management. So, was it the time to add a gilt to the “herd”? We had 15 piglets, so we knew that our boar could do his job. However, there were concerns about how to find one. They are critically endangered according to the ALBC.

Our Yorkshire gilts were about to farrow, so we contacted the very helpful and knowledgeable farmers at Ecotonefarm, they had recently gone through a “farrowing” and were the only people we knew of with recent experience. I had contacted C.J. to find out if he had any advice prior to the birth of our piglets. He was generous with his time and provided excellent information. We also happened to find out that he had a gilt left from his first RWH litter and when we ran the inbreeding coefficient, we found that his gilt would be a good match with our boar

She is home with us now at PGF and doing very, very well. She is a playful, affectionate, talkative gilt with a lot of personality!

See C.J.’s post regarding the match.

Why the name “Roselle”?

We grew the plant “roselle” this year with excellent results. We feel that there is potential for the flower and the gilt to become a very important elements on our farm in the future!

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