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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


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!

The piglet project comes full circle

10 Sep

We did a lot of research prior to adding animals to our farm. We thought it would be nice if we could find animals that served several purposes and so when we researched pigs, we found that they will:

1. Root up brambles (we have lots of those!).
2. Till the soil
3. Amend the soil.
4 Eat poison ivy. !!!!!!!
5. Do well on pasture and in woodlot areas.
6. Forage.
7. Dig a shallow pond for you… uh, maybe.

8. Consume all of the extra fruits and vegetables we don’t use or sell.
9. Be very economical sources of meat if managed correctly.
10. Taste great!

We initially got 3 six week old Yorkshire cross piglets and raised them through the winter. They tilled the soil until it froze. We then decided that it might be a good idea to breed them – perhaps we were not quite ready to eat them? Eating what we raise has been an interesting journey…another post for another day.

Then we learned about the wonderful Red Wattle Hog through various sources, but most importantly, through Econtonefarm. We found these great folks when we got our Narragansett turkeys. They have a lot of good information about the Red Wattle Hog on their blog.

So, in early spring, we purchased a registered Red Wattle Hog boar to be our “herd” sire. He was 4 months old – we got him from Jan Black in Dover, TN.

He is a lazy, docile boar. We were not sure he would be of much assistance in the “piglet project” but by May, he developed, shall we say – more energy.

On Labor day, we got our first litter of 6 piglets. Two days later we welcomed 4 more. Two days after that, an additional 5 healthy piglets. 15 total!

We were told that it was important to separate the boar from the gilts and piglets for their safety. The above picture shows our boar with his first batch of piglets. Notice that we put up chicken wire to keep them OUT of his pen. We learned the answer to the question “where do little piglets go when their mother is not looking?” Answer: wherever they want!

What I did for summer vacation

26 Aug

What I did for summer vacation according to Jack, age 7:

Our first Farmers Market from the OTHER side of the table:

There is always something to plant at Pink Guitar Farm, always.

And so we planted, a lot.

But of course then you have to weed and control the bugs…by hand, since we don’t use chemicals.

And then every Saturday it was time to pick more produce and go back to the market. Thank goodness another farmer at the market sold homemade fudge – for a dollar. :0

Then we would come home and take care of chickens.

And walk the goats.

But the most work probably had to do with the pigs. They can’t sweat so we moved them into the woods so they could stay cool.

And the girls are miserable because they are pregnant, all three of them.

It’s his fault… Wally is a Red Wattle Hog. He is special because according to my mother he is listed here and here.

So, after a hard days work we would go to the creek, which is awesome!

Mom and Dad usually stopped working around that time too.

Then on Sunday, we’d go downtown to Layla’s Bluegrass Inn for some music. I love the song “Friends in Low Places” But I’m also working on “Mama Tried”.

Planting seeds – an act of faith

24 Jun

Amazing in size and function, the seed is capable of fantastic feats. Given water and a little room to grow, some good soil and sun, a little unsuspecting nugget can transform into a surprisingly beautiful, unique organism. An organism that exhibits its own evolved characteristics for survival – as in thistle, poison ivy, stinging nettle all of which we might try to avoid. Or, to our epicurean delight – watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant broccoli, basil, beets, alpine strawberries, lettuce, kale, chard and too many other tasty edible plants to mention.

To read the seed catalogs, dream of the garden, purchase the seed, hold the packets, is all about pure creative intention and maybe some planning. A beautiful place for the mind and body to dwell, in the sway of imaginative bounty and abundance if, like me, you are OCD about seeds.

But the needle skids the record when the shovel hits the dirt. If you’ve been gardening for a while and have planted seeds, you’ll know… this is where you let go – in that moment you have the opportunity to concentrate on the transition between what you dream of and what you have. How wide is that void?

So there it is, dirt and the newly planted seed, you can’t see it anymore but it’s in there and it is supposed to become something.

My daughter loves strawberries. Most strawberries are not planted as seed but are cultivated by cutting off smaller plants along rooting stems or by root divisions. Alpine strawberries, the tiny little fruits that burst with flavor and can be found in woodland areas in the Northern Hemisphere, may be grown from seed. The seeds are microscopic (in my opinion). When planting, there is no way they can be singled out. One must simply scatter hundreds of seeds in a flat and observe what shoots up. The seed must be kept in the dark until the seedlings sprout (according to the directions on the seed package). My daughter who is ten, made the strawberry project her own. She propelled herself into this, dreaming not of lush berry plants with nodding flowers composed of delicate white petals and smiling yellow centers but of things further down the road. Strawberries and vanilla ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie and even strawberries right off the plant… without the cream and sugar.

The seedlings came up surprisingly fast, if these were the right seedlings, I wasn’t sure, this was my first time growing these seeds. I peered at them and wondered if the bed had been “contaminated” with other seeds, weed seeds? They were tiny, and didn’t do anything. They sat there in the flat, petite and undemanding. Not looking for transplant, not really caring about much except being a stem with a teeny tiny leaf or two. After a month of seedling “Wu Wei”, we decided to put them in the raised bed outside. Carefully picked apart and inserted into pencil size holes they were swallowed up by the soil. Still, they sat idle as another month went by. This was late April and every time we got a downpour I wondered if this was the rainstorm that would wash them away. While nothing was happening on the surface, much must have been taking place underground. The roots were winding their way about the soil seeking moisture and nutrients. Once the weather got consistently warmer additional tiny leaves appeared.

My daughter’s faith in these baby berry plants never wavered. She talked to, and tended her little plants several times a week, weeding and watering with true focus and commitment.

By May, the plants were sending up sprigs that would fan out into cute saw-toothed leaves. Yet the Alpine Strawberry plants were dwarfed by their regular sized cousins (also in the same raised bed) so they still looked ineffective and weak.

And then we got a little flower! My daughter watched the flower morph into a tiny yellow/green berry that eventually started to blush pink. With patience she waited until the next day to pick the berry, knowing that flavor comes with peak ripeness.

That next evening, she headed out to the raised beds to pick her first strawberry of the season. Unfortunately, something else had gotten there first. The tiny fruit was gone, chewed off of the stem, red bits still attached to its green base, leaving little doubt about what had happened. My daughter has been by my side gardening with me since she was a toddler. She knows the ups and downs of planting a crop. She knows there will be more berries. She still has plenty of faith in her little strawberry plants. She stands undeterred, vanilla ice cream at the ready.Alpine Strawberry

Sowing seeds is about beginnings. Faith. A goal. For me, it starts with a seed and the goal is to be a farmer. Turning a hobby into a job is quite a task. One I would not have taken on without faith in my seeds and myself and to be honest – no forthcoming job interviews out in the real world. What to do? Learn from my daughter and plant seeds! Stay tuned…

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