Pasture Pig Containment and Shelter

•May 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Nothing says a hot summer day like watering the pigs… They love it. They try to drink the water as it comes out of the hose, they play in it and love to have it hit their ears. If you’ve never seen a pig wallowing in a mud, you’re missing out on one of the simplest joys in life.

The pigs on our farm are outside on pasture for the duration of their lives on the farm with us. We move them every week after they have rooted up everything, eaten it all and trodden their waste into the soil.

The section of pasture we had them on, was an area that had been garden, but was in a rest year. Our hope being that they would nibble on all of the twitch, vetch and thistle roots, providing us with a better weeded patch of land for future gardening use.

Our pigs are generally York and Berkshire, but this year we also had a Red Wattle, which I am now completely sold on as a breed.

We keep our pigs in their outside pasture by using electric fencing. Initially we had the electric netting with an interior wire to keep them from rooting dirt up onto the bottom of the electric netting and shorting it out, but after a few weeks they were well enough trained that we didn’t need to put in the interior wire.

You might not think of it but pigs, especially York pigs, are susceptible to sunburns. So, in order to keep them cool, shaded and happy, we build this awesome pig shelter. In order to bend the poles, we had to get a new toy (shucks) called a poll bender, that you can use to bend polls for mini-hoop houses and shelters.

The pigs loved theirs, really roughly, and so occasionally we had to reinforce or replace the polls to keep it going. But… it was light weight so that we could just pick it up with 2 people and move it each time we gave them a new section of pasture.

Barn Cats

•May 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Barn cats are not your typical house cat. I don’t mean that the are feral, more that they are smarter, leaner and more starved for affection. As a child, I LOVED our barn cats. I mean, adored them. They all had names, and personalities. And, whenever possible; they were dressed up in dolls clothes and toted around in a pram. You may not be chuckling yet, but picture this. A grubby, dark haired-bowl cut 5 year old in black wellies pushing a pram with angry barn cats that have been stuffed into her cabbage patch dolls clothing. I remember it. I don’t have to picture it.

The purpose of a barn cat is to keep the barn free of mice and other vermin. For many years, ours have been incredible mousers and successfully earned their keep. However, the 3 that currently inhabit the bank barn have a couple faults.

  1. They are over fed. And over fed barn cats have no motivation to mouse.
  2. They are male. Male barn cats don’t get pregnant and don’t have the same drive to feed their darling little kittens.
  3. They think they are house cats. They want affection so badly that they spend their day following you around mewing or rubbing up against the chickens to emulate being petted.
  4. As males, they also feel the need to spread their wild oats, so to speak, so frequently are off on quests that keep them from taking proper care of their home territory.

To solve the mouse problem at the farm, we had to come up with a solution. We’re a practical type of people. So. When we were visiting our friends with the Elk Farm. They had quite the plethora of adorable, cute kittens who were at the perfect age to find a new home. The interns and I were told “ONLY 2” and had a great debate about whether my mom would really notice if we hid a third kitten in the box we were bringing them home in. We made it all the way down the driveway before deciding we should obey and returned the 3rd to its mamma.

We had picked out a tortoise shell and an orange kitten. Both ladies and total heart melters. However. They were selected to be barn cats, not house kittens, so they were taken out and put in the barn immediately so as to keep us from changing their purpose. We had to rig up a have-a-heart trap to feed them in so that the larger barn cats couldn’t steal their enriched kitten kibble. The tortoise shell was obviously named PATCHES, and the orange one ELLIE.

Patches is more aloof and wild. She’s totally friendly but in a very “I don’t NEED you” type of way. Ellie, well. Ellie she’s my favourite. She’s got spunk. Here is an example.

Ellie and Patches had probably only been with us for a couple days at this point. We were in the Lodge (aka our residence) getting ready for dinner or something after a particularly long day when I heard something outside. I wasn’t sure if it was a knock on the door or someone going into the shed, but… alerted, I opened the door and stuck my head out. I looked all around, but nothing. Weird. I shut the door and there- on the screen door at about chest height is Ellie. She was tiny at the time, probably only the size of my fist. And she was not impressed. I had forgotten to feed them dinner and she was there to let me know. So, I detached her from the screen door, snuggled her into my shoulder and headed off to the barn to make amends.

I think I’ve been forgiven, but with cats, you never know.

Feelings of Spring

•February 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The start of the new year always makes me think of seed catalogues (which some of us refer to as “seed porn”) starting plants and the excitement that is getting back outside after the long winter. This year, I’ve decided to take a break from the farm. Not because I don’t think I want to be farming, but after taking a longer term look, it makes sense for me to be out there in the world, amassing my fortune and getting social stimulation for the next few years so that when I go back to the farm I am in a more financially secure place.

That doesn’t stop me from thinking that I should be planting my onion and leek seeds right now so that they will grow into happy little plants that can be transplanted out into the garden using the new grid invention I came up with last summer.

The early spring is also an ideal time to do pruning. We have apple trees, grapes, currant bushes, raspberries and a number of other random fruit trees (plums, pears, and cherries) that require our love and attention if we want them to continue their fabulous fruit production. There are lots of opinions on when to prune depending on what you are aiming for, and perhaps fall pruning would be better, but in my experience, sometimes you have to prune when you have the time to do it (read spring) rather than when is ideal.

Being on a beach in Barbados does make me miss the grind of feeding the cattle and horses while trudging through snow, especially now that my father has creating the most incredible round-bale unrolling horse-drawn contraption. I miss Shasta and her belly rubbing antics, our barn kittens: Ellie and Patches, mom’s house cat and even the Lodge. I miss being able to gather the eggs from our laying hens and eating food that I helped put away and grow/raise.

This year, I missed the Guelph Organic Conference (and my friend Grayden’s birthday) to appease friends and get my fill of vitamin-D. Though I still struggle with the idea that I chose to write ‘Farmer’ on customs forms as my profession, I miss the community that I am slowly starting to feel a part of.

Shasta

•May 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Shasta arrives on the farm

I firmly believe that every farm should have a farm-dog, so when our dog Abby was hit by a car, though I was crushed I thought we should get a new one. My parents disagreed. They were done having their hearts broken every time our farm dog passed away. We spent 11 years without a dog on the farm.

In March I was working in the hoop house with a visiting friend and my mom. We were prepping the beds for our first planting of mitzuna, arugula and spinach. Yum right? Well, there I am kneeling on the dirt, focused on the complete anhiliation of the twitch grass when this big, golden, furry thing comes flying through the un-patched hole in the hoop house wall at me. I shrieked in terror; my friend almost died of shock and my mother greeted the excited puppy with some calming words.

That completely ended our otherwise productive day. We had to figure out what to do with her, where to keep her so that she wouldn’t run off, call all the neighbours to find out if she happened to belong to anyone they knew and to pay her as much attention as possible seeing as there was NO WAY we were going to KEEP HER!!!

Fast forward a month and a half. We’ve named her, gotten her a collar and have become totally attached. Our best guess is that someone from an urban area abandoned her in the country. She spent her first couple weeks here being totally amazing about the big animals, the woods, all the space and the smells.

Shasta catches a ride on the forcart

She has already had many adventures. The biggest of which was when the local Amish school children saw her wandering around the end of our laneway and thought she was one of our neighbour’s dogs… so they used string to make a leash and took her to school with them. She spent the whole day tied up outside of school, being played with at recess and I’m sure fed all sorts of lunch scraps until they were headed home. They were taking her with them to drop off at this neighbour’s house when my dad saw them. He caught up to them and rescued our dog-napped pet. She was utterly exhausted and happy to find the solitude of her spot in the woodshed.

Shasta is absolutely beautiful. She is mostly Golden Retriever and we think mixed in with some Collie. She has the most pleasant disposition and loves behind the ear scratches and belly rubs. We have no idea how old she is. Her energy level says puppy to 4 or 5 years, so that is our best guess. She usually comes when called but will some times fake you out. You’ll call her, you’ll see her head pop up and she’ll look at you. Then she’ll take two steps towards you before running in completely the opposite direction!

I’m glad she found and has decided to adopt us!

Piggums

•May 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Piggums, our red wattle pig

Piggums

Piggums is a Red Wattle and Old Black English pig cross. She arrived at Meeting Place on April 1st, 2010 from Glencolton Farms. Nathan interned there for 3 months and every time I saw him I would ask if they could sell us a pig or two. I loved the wattles* and their red colour. Nathan kept telling me that he’d forgotten to ask or that he was sure they wouldn’t part with one… so it was with great surprise that I arrived home after a particularly exhausting day away to find Piggums in the barn!!!

She is stunningly beautiful, incredibly smart and completely loveable. She is a very social pig and since she was our only pig for a month and a half, she has developed a mutual adoration with all of the people here. We love to give her the scrap bucket, feed her the weeds from the garden and give her scratches on the back and behind her ears. She puts her snout into everything and will nibble your fingers, pants or muck boots when feeling especially playful. When she has straw or bedding she will create a little nest out of it and there is nothing cuter than seeing her snuggled down and softly snoring.

*Though she is a Red Wattle pig, she is lacking the wattles. Of her littler, there were 3 red with wattles, 3 black with wattles and Piggums. A wattle is a flap of skin that hangs down from the pig’s neck. Here is an example of a wattle:

Red Wattle Pig

The flap hanging down is a "Wattle"

I have borrowed this picture from: http://showcase.netins.net/web/robinsnest/redwattles.html

Piggums is going to be the leader of our pack of pigs. Since she is much bigger and her breed is one that loves to forage we are hoping that she will teach our Berkshires and Yorks about foraging once they are out on pasture in our neat pig enclosure with moveable pig hut.

But more on that later.

Jesus II and Hay-Zeus

•May 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Chickens in the barn

Barn Cat and the chickens

Jesus II and Hay-Zeus have quite the story. First we have to start with the story of Jesus the first.

When our chickens are butchered we move them out of their chicken tractors a cart load at a time. Summer 2009 we did this on a Friday. We thought we’d gotten all of the chickens out of the moveable cages, so we went to the farmer’s market on Saturday, Sunday was our day off and it wasn’t until Monday that we got around to going to clean up the tractors- bring in the feeders and turn off the water lines.

Imagine our surprise when Chris came in saying that there was a little chicken out there in one of the cages- all alone, just clucking to herself, wondering where the party had gone. Since she had showed up 3 days after presumably dieing, we started calling her Jesus. Since she had missed the boat, we put her in with the laying hens. She adjusted slowly to her new life. She loved being fed lots more grain and put on quite a bit of weight which made her waddle quite pronounced.

Jesus with the laying hens

Jesus’ new life lasted until our second batch of chickens was ready to butcher. Then we needed one more chicken to round out the first batch and so Jesus was volunteered. It was incredibly sad to see her go. She had become quite the landmark in the barn since she didn’t like to venture too far from the safety of the hen house.

our chicken named Jesus

Jesus adapts to the hen house

Now starts the story of Jesus II and Hay-Zeus.

There was a chicken that had not been doing well at all. She had never really feathered out, she hadn’t been putting on any weight and she still fit into my hands when cupped together. We were calling her Runty because of this.  I told a friend that they could have Runty for their new chicken run in their backyard and asked dad to leave Runty in the pen since she wasn’t going to make a very good meat bird. Dad agreed and when he came back from emptying out the chicken tractors he said that he’d also left a rooster with Runty because the rooster wasn’t that big and that way she could have company.

She's been molting for 4 months now...

When I went out to check on Runty and her new rooster companion I found THREE (3!) birds. Runty was so small and downtrodden that my dad hadn’t even noticed her. He had left a small hen and a small rooster as well as Runty! But, there they were. Now that there were so few chickens, we were able to give Runty more individualized care… which I guess ultimately led to her demise. Because she couldn’t really move, we had usually taken the automatic waterer off of it’s line and put it down beside her to allow her to drink for a few minutes and would put a handful of food next to her as well. With no one to tip the waterer over, we could leave it beside her for an extended period of time. How were we to know that she would guzzle too much water? Rest in peace Runty.

chickens

Living it large in the barn

The remaining birds became called Jesus II and Hay-Zeus. They lived out side for a while longer in the chicken tractor, just the two of them and caused me some alarm. I woke up one morning to the sound of a chicken being strangled. (Not a pleasant way to awake) And so before I was even completely conscious, I was running out of the Lodge to rescue my birds from whatever was attacking them- probably a skunk or weasel. Nathan yelled after me before I made it out the door- that it was just Hay-Zeus learning how to crow. I’d never really heard a chicken learning how to crow before, and sure enough… that is what it was. He serenaded us for a number of mornings with various versions of “cock-a-dughghghghg” and “cock-a-doodle-a;fkldjflksgjsdlkj” before he mastered his “cock-a-doodle-do”.

Jesus II and Hay-Zeus adapted to being in the barn and hen house with our 4 laying hens quite remarkably. They did some serious physical training and have managed to make it up to roost with the laying hens. The barn echos each morning with Hay-Zeus’ cock-a-doodle-do.