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Pigs

Posted 11/11/2014 11:09am by R Heritage Farm.
     

Meet Bella and Bryna – the new purebred registered Gloucestershire Old Spot sows that were gifted to us recently. Both were born in 2011 and come from the same litter so they are full sisters (they are about a year younger than Pig Pig) and they’ve each had 4 litters of pigs. Bella has more spots on her than her sister Bryna; in the photo of them standing up Bella is on the left and in the photo of them laying together Bella is closest to me.

Bella is more laid back and friendlier than Bryna, but neither are nearly as friendly as our other sows (Miss Pig Pig, Tinkerbelle, or Annabelle), but we raised those girls from the time they were babies. Bella and Bryna aren’t really sure what to make of us yet because I keep bothering them by trying to give them belly rubs which they clearly aren’t used to. Both kind of growl at me when I touch their bellies, so that’s something we’ll have to work on. It’s important to be able to touch them and gain their trust (it’s a two way street by the way) because sows can move like lightening, have big teeth, and enough weight and power to inflict a lot of damage if they’re scared or feel threatened. You have no idea how fast they are!

Both are due to deliver babies in December/January but we don’t know who’s due first or the exact date. (I’m guessing Bella is first.) I’m not comfortable sitting in with them yet because they haven’t earned my trust. I’ve never seen a pig have a tantrum before but the other night Bryna had a major fit. Long story short she got so upset she started growling and grabbed Bella’s feed bowl and started shaking it like a dog does with a toy. (It all started because she spilled her own food.) She grabbed that feed bowl with so much force she flung the food all the way out to their water trough in the outside paddock and it was raining feed in their stall. Ben and I just looked at each other like “wtf was that!?” A few minutes later she was fine, but I don’t do temper tantrums (only I can have those ;)) NEVER experienced that before, so she definitely needs some more time to settle in. Will keep you posted!

Posted 11/7/2014 2:46pm by Monique Russ.

It’s not every day you get a call from a farmer who is retiring and get told they have a herd of pigs they want to donate to your farm, but it just so happened to us a few weeks ago! Whaaat?? No waay! You’re serious? What an amazing opportunity for us! A retiring farmer just graciously gave us some free pigs to help grow our small farm…and not just any pigs either... Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs!!

Gloucestershire Old Spots (pronounced Gloss-ter-sheer) aka Old Spots aka GOS are another heritage breed of pig, but they are considerably more rare in America than Berkshire pigs.They are listed as Critical on the The Livestock Conservancy's Priority Status List which means there are fewer than 2,000 GOS pigs worldwide. (Berkshire's aren't as rare in the U.S. as the GOS is, but in most other countries the Berkshire is listed as critical on that country's conservation list.) GOS pigs nearly went extinct globally in the 1960's, but a recovery effort has slowly increased their numbers.

Among the numerous pigs donated we were given two pregnant sows which are due to have babies in the next couple of months. (exciting!) These pigs have only been on our farm for less than a week but already Ben and I really like this breed because they are quiet (so far) and are very docile and relaxed. They are absolutely adorable to look at too because they are white pigs with big black spots and giant floppy ears. We love our Berkshires though so we have no intention of switching breeds – we will offer the GOS pork in addition to the Berkshire pork.

We haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this pork yet, but we do know a few people who have and they said it was fantastic. Many chefs say it rivals Berkshire because it has many of the same qualities; beautiful marbling, tenderness, moisture, texture, deep color, etc. Not only are we adding another wonderfully flavorful type of pork to the menu we’re also helping to conserve another rare breed and help bring the GOS back from the brink of extinction.

In early 2015 we will offer wholes and halves of the Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, and add it to our CSA Program. Once the farmers markets start back up we’ll begin selling it at the markets too. (We love our Berkshires so we are not switching breeds - just introducing another one.) Having never raised this breed before we’re not sure how long it will take to raise the GOS pigs to market weight. Our purebred Berkshires take about 8 -9 months on average and from what I’ve found the GOS are similar but only time will tell. Back in the day in the UK these pigs were known as the ‘Orchard Pig’ because they were used to clean up windfall apples in the orchards and they were easily fattened on the fruit and dairy products. They are supposed to be excellent foragers and fantastic pigs to raise on pasture as their caloric needs are supposed to be less than most other breeds. The Gloucestershire Old Spot is also said to be a smaller pig so there will likely be a learning curve in determining when they’ve reached a desired butcher weight.

For now the GOS sows are housed separately from our Berkshire sows as we have some pretty large girls who could easily inflict injury if they all didn’t play well together. We also maintain a closed herd to prevent disease on our farm so all new pigs are quarantined from the existing herd for a minimum of 30 days to observe them. This period of separation will also allow us to get to know the sows and build a foundation with them without the existing sows getting jealous and chasing them away from getting pets. I can say we have a lot of work to do with these sows – it doesn’t appear they’ve really been trained to respect personal space and they also don’t seem to understand what belly rubs are yet. They’re still learning our routines and trying to figure out who we are and why they’re on our farm, so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.      

Stay tuned!

 

Posted 7/29/2014 9:16pm by Monique Russ.

I love pigs, and they’re by far my most favorite animal. They’re affectionate, playful, emotional, fun, and they each have their own unforgettable personalities. Because these misunderstood animals are so much like dogs it makes what we do incredibly difficult, but we can’t keep every pig we raise as a pet.

From birth these animals are played with, pet, cuddled, and given a wonderful life where they’re allowed to just be themselves; free to do whatever it is they want when they want to do it. We could be like many farms and just put them in a pen and ignore them aside from feeding and watering them, but we don’t know how to do that. That’s not who we are. Instead, we interact with them every day and when their end comes it’s always a very difficult day for us. There isn’t a day that I haven’t cried when we’ve had pigs slaughtered and I expect it will always be this way.

Generally we do not name the pigs that are intended for slaughter, but last December we decided to keep three of Tinkerbelle’s babies who became known as the Three Stooges. We later renamed them because we couldn’t help ourselves; Potter reminded me of Harry Potter because as a baby he had a similar lighting strike of white on his face, Spaz, who had identical markings of his momma, was always the one to dance and twirl around, and Tenacity, well, I think her name explains how she ended up with that name. They were goofy, mischievous, curious, and just downright adorable and irresistible to play with. Because we only kept three out of Tinkerbelle’s litter (sold the rest) we let them stay in the barn for a couple months and every day we’d go out and romp around with them in the straw; they’d crawl all over us and give us piggy kisses, they’d untie our shoes, grab our pant legs to rouse us, etc. I knew back then I was way too attached to them, but I figured I’d have some time to distance myself before their day came. 

When they went back to the woodlands for the spring months I started distancing myself and stopped visiting them as often in an attempt to sever my emotional ties with them. However, I’m still attached to them, and even just a few days ago I was out in the pasture playing tag with them. (Yes, pigs play tag) They’d follow me everywhere I went and Potter, the smallest of the three, still attempted to walk between my legs and none of them would leave my shoes alone.

(Potter - Tenactiy - Spaz)

Of all the pigs we’ve ever raised these are the boys I might have kept as pets if we had the land for it. I always seem to fall in love with the barrows (castrated boys), but on our small farm aside from being farm mascots and pets to play with they’re not useful in the continued production of our pork. It sounds terrible, but it’s a cold hard fact. These animals have a purpose on our farm; to provide our family with food and pork to sell to our customers. As crappy as it is their destiny is to become food, but that’s not to say we aren’t remorseful.

Friday was Potter and Spaz’s last day on the farm, and even as I write this my heart aches for them. I’ve bawled my fool head off over them, as I do every time we process hogs, but because we made emotional connections with these hogs it’s been harder on Ben and I. My mind is filled with memories of when they were babies, of their sweet faces, and their lovable personalities.

(Potter)

(Spaz)

Every time we process hogs I wonder why in the hell do we subject ourselves to this? Why do we put ourselves through this heartache? Why do we raise animals just so they can be slaughtered? It’s an emotional battle, and I always have to remind myself why we do what we do. The answer is very simple. Humanely and ethically raised food.

I NEED to know the meat I eat comes from animals that lived happy, playful, and relaxing lives. I need to know they weren’t fed garbage or chemical laden feed, that they weren’t given hormones, antibiotics, or raised in confinement. I need to know they lived the best life possible, but just as importantly I need to know they were humanely slaughtered. I have zero tolerance for inhumane practices or practices that don’t meet my strict guidelines because there is absolutely no way in hell I could stand the thought of my food dying in fear, a state of anxiety, or otherwise. Absolutely zero tolerance. We can’t devote so much to these animals, and do what we do so they can have a bad end. We pray for every animal we have slaughtered and we make sure their end is peaceful and calm because we monitor it.

I can't tell you how hard it is (on many different levels) to do what we do because taking the life of an animal is never easy. Ben and I firmly believe that just because an animal is raised for food it should never be made to feel that way which is why we pet and play with them. I would rather go through this heartache every time than give it up just because it’s tough and to be honest, as difficult as it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way because I just don’t trust anyone else to do it. 

Tenacity, the only female (gilt) of the three, will remain on our farm and go on to become one of our sows if she proves herself to be a good momma. Tinkerbelle (her momma) is a fantastic mother and we’re hopeful Tenacity will have the same wonderful mothering abilities as her mom. We need another gilt to grow our farm, and who better to take on that role than her?! Will I stop getting attached to our market animals – never. My mantra has always been “for every animal I can raise and sell its one less commercial animal raised in confinement and the horrible living conditions of those raised commercially.” I hope that’s true, but loving all these animals gives me peace and it enriches their lives as well as ours.

(Tenactiy)

 

 

Posted 10/27/2012 4:30pm by Monique Russ.

Tinks first delivery

Tinkerbelle (Tinks) had her babies on Monday. YEA!! She delivered on day 117 which is right on target for a Berkshire. She started active labor around 9:45pm and finished just after 3am. It was a long and exhausting night! While it’s exciting now it was quite stressful for a little while because it was an awfully difficult delivery for her. If we hadn’t been there observing she could have certainly died had we not intervened and provided assistance. (This is why we are always present during farrowing .)

She had a normal pre-labor, but after about 20 minutes of active labor I knew something wasn’t right because she was grunting in pain, and there didn’t seem to be any progress. Long story short – it turns out somehow the first baby had opened its mouth in the birth canal and its bottom jaw was trapped behind her anus and Tinks wasn’t able to get the baby out. It was obvious she was in great pain and distress and that she needed help. I had just put my O.B. gloves on when I saw this little nose trying to come out, and when I reached in to grab it I only felt the top portion of its mouth and I panicked. Thankfully my husband didn’t hesitate and jumped right in and provided the assistance that was needed. (Unfortunately this little baby died later, and I bawled my fool head off.)

The rest of the delivery wasn’t easy on Tinks, and we had to provide birthing assistance to several other babies as well. That first baby badly tore her and she was so exhausted she was having difficulty pushing the rest of her babies out. It was an awful delivery – the worst one we’ve experienced – and it’s upsetting her first delivery was so rough on her. I have no doubt that she could have quite possibly died during delivery because of the severity of the situation, but I’m happy to report that she is healing well and her and her babies are doing great.

Tinks delivered a total of 10 babies, and 9 survived the delivery, and I have no doubt she will raise all of them successfully to weaning age. Some sows “savage” or turn on their young. In most instances it’s the first born that is killed. Typically a sow savages because of fear, anxiety, pain, distress, or a combo of all of these, and some believe this “trait” can actually be passed on genetically. We haven’t had a sow that has turned on her young, but one of our sows, Pig Pig, is pretty rough on her first born pigs. (In her defense she’s only rough when they start climbing on her face while she’s still delivering. I don’t know about you, but that would irritate me too.) Tinks on the other hand seems to be gentler, and she actively kisses and nuzzles her pigs. We knew she was going to be a good momma, but she has proven to be an outstanding mother. We’ve never seen a sow walk so softly or maneuver so carefully around her young. She is very aware of where they are, she’s very vocal and affectionate, and a couple of days ago we saw her trying to play with them. We laughed so hard watching her! She would spin around, bark and then quickly drop to the ground, so she didn’t actually knock a baby down. I didn’t get a video of that, but I did get some cute pics…Tinks nursing her first litterTinks' first litter

Posted 10/17/2012 4:44pm by Monique Russ.

TinksTinkerbelle (Tinks) is about to farrow her very first litter later this week!!! Yea!

Pigs gestate for 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days - almost always on the nose. The average gestation period is 113-116 days with purebred Berkshires being right around 116 days. (Miss Pig Pig who is only 1/2 Berkshire farrows on day 116 every time and she's always farrowed during the day - typically right around 4:30pm.) Since Tinks is our first purebred Berkshire we're assuming she'll deliver on day 116 too which will be this Sunday.

We've learned that our sows like company during farrowing - especially when it's their first time. Who doesn't want reassurance during their first delivery? They like it quiet, and they like knowing someone's there. I'm assuming they find it comforting just like most people do because they don't know what to expect. They know they're going to have babies - but I'm sure just like any first time mom they're a little nervous. Tinks seems to be a little needy, and for the past few days has been wanting more and more attention, so beginning tonight I'll spend an hour or two a night with her just hanging out. I enjoy it, and like I said, it's comforting for them.

We like to be there just in case the sow needs some birthing assistance too. Sometimes they get so nervous or they're in so much pain from the contractions and delivering so many babies that they are agitated way more than usual (who wouldn't be!?), so they can be a little rough with the first couple of babies. New mothers sometimes aren't as aware as more seasoned sows, so the chance is higher for a baby pig to get hurt too. For example, Miss Pig Pig doesn't like it when they climb on her snout while she's still delivering, so she's been known to fling them off. By being there we can help to monitor the sows health, assist in difficult deliveries, and keep the sow more comfortable by helping to "babysit" if needed. I also get a little radical and go so far as to keep the sow's backside clean by periodically washing them (if there's time) and I'm also diligent about keeping the stall as clean as possible too. (Once the delivery mess dries on a sow it's near impossible to get them clean, so it helps make my job easier, and so far they all seem to appreciate it.)

Some people bed down their sows at night and never check on them again until morning, but that's not how we operate our farm. We believe it's important for us to be there whenever possible especially for a first time mom, so we'll start checking in on her at night beginning tomorrow night if she's showing signs. With my luck she'll be a nighttime farrower like one of our other sows, and I'll walk out at 2am to find she's already delivering. It can take several hours for them to deliver all their babies, so that's a night without sleep. Huge bummer! I can't help but get excited when babies are coming because they're just so dang cute and fun to be around.

Check back for updates!!

Posted 10/13/2012 4:48pm by Monique Russ.

This past Saturday was Sultan’s annual Sky Valley Farm Festival, and our first year as a participating farm. This festival is held the second weekend in October and showcases the 3 main operating farms in Sultan – River’s End Cattle Ranch, Groeneveld’s Dairy, and Stocking’s Garden & Nursery.

Because our farm is so far away from the main event River’s End Cattle Ranch was kind enough to allow us to participate by letting us “bring our farm to them.” They're wonderful people, and they provided us with a fantastic spot which allowed us to setup an educational booth and a big enough area to showcase our farm’s mascot and beloved pet “Miss Pig Pig” along with her 12 babies. She was fantastic as always, and was a huge hit with the all the kids and even the adults.

Our educational booth was overflowing with educational material, pictures of our farm, free recipes, and more. We created and handed out our very own kid’s activity pack which included a word search with definitions, and pictures of our farm converted into coloring pages. Balloons…we handed out a ton of free balloons to all the kids that visited us, and they could be seen all over the participating farms. Yea!

Miss Pig Pig and her babies were showered with attention, and all the kids loved feeding her strawberries and apples. Poor girl ended up with a tummy ache which thankfully was quickly relieved with fresh cut corn stalks and her supplemental grain. Parents were amazed that such a giant pig (615 lbs) could be fed by their one year old babies, and many were quickly relieved and surprised when they saw how delicate she was with their kids. She is so calm and patient, and has such a wonderful temperament (as do all of our pigs) that she was eager to be pet by everyone and was very engaging with her audience.

The Sky Valley Farm Festival has only been going on for about 4 years now, but it’s a great event where people can learn about farms and where their food comes from. It’s a fun way to spend the day with family and friends touring real working farms, watching demonstrations, browsing the concessions and vendor booths with lots of opportunities for kids to partake in different activities. Personally, my husband and I enjoyed being a part of it by sharing our farm, meeting people, and educating everyone that braved the rain to visit us. We’ll be back next year, and we’re looking forward to it. It’s a year away, but we hope you’ll come out and meet us and Miss Pig Pig at next year’s festival.

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