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new arrivals

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 2/24/2014 10:30am by Monique Russ.

 

I’m mad, really mad. My husband, Ben, and I are very upset and unbelievably disappointed in our postal system.  

Over a month ago we ordered nearly 60 heritage breed egg laying chicks to add to our existing flock. The chicks hatched Wednesday morning, and were supposed to arrive no later than Friday morning. On Friday morning when the Gold Bar Post Office didn’t call us at 5:30am like they usually do when our chicks arrive we thought it was a little weird. Ben went down to the P.O. around 6:30am, but they hadn’t received any chicks yet, however, it was possible they could be on another incoming truck which was due to arrive by Noon. By 3pm we still hadn’t received our chicks, so Ben called the Post Office; no chicks, and no more shipments expected.  

Saturday morning around 11am we got a call from the Gold Bar Post Office saying that our chicks had just arrived at the Snohomish Post Office (which is over 20 miles away from us) and we needed to pick them up at the Monroe Post Office. (Normally Gold Bar P.O. drives to Snohomish P.O. to pick them up because Snohomish won’t deliver them to Gold Bar, but because it was a Saturday they didn’t have anyone available to pick them up. Instead, Monroe P.O. transported them to their own facility where we picked them up. It’s a convoluted and ridiculous process.) We drove there as fast as we could, but knowing that chicks can’t survive a trip that long we expected the worst.  

So, here’s a quick lesson on baby chicks and the shipping process…Just before a chick completely hatches it absorbs the yolk in the egg, and it can survive for 3 days on the yolk alone. They don't have to have food or water within the first 72 hours which makes it possible for hatcheries to be able to ship live chicks. To combat cold weather conditions a certain number of chicks must be shipped together in order to provide enough heat to ensure their survival. Without enough chicks to keep each other warm they develop hypothermia and die. If too many chicks start dying during shipment the remaining chicks' ability to maintain adequate body heat is drastically affected which results in more deaths. By Saturday the chicks we ordered were already 4 days old, so they were long past the shipping “window of opportunity.”  

When we walked into the Monroe Post Office we could hear some chirping, but it was faint and far quieter than it should have been. Ben and I already knew the odds of these chicks surviving were remote, and sure enough when we peeked into the box we saw numerous dead chicks. Naturally I got mad and I lost my cool. (I didn’t yell at anyone – it wasn’t their fault – but I was livid with the way these chicks had been handled.) Some guy overheard me and said “what’s the shelf life on those things?” The shelf life? Are you kidding me?! These aren’t canned goods people! These are live animals; living, breathing, fluffy balls of cuteness who are helplessly dependent on human care without their mothers. Dumbass!  

We got in the car, cranked the heat, and Ben raced us home. These poor baby birds were ice cold, so I forced some heat into their box by manipulating the cars heater vents. If a chick is too cold or suffering from hypothermia its digestive system shuts down, and its instincts to eat and drink are suppressed. (Most chicks actually die from dehydration and starvation which is a direct result of decreased body temperature.) So as soon as we got into the house we put them under heat lamps and then started giving them a water based electrolyte/vitamin solution and boiled egg yolks. This will seem controversial to some, but giving a chick a hard boiled yolk is the best and fastest way to save a baby. A yolk has all the proper nutrition that a chick needs to survive (which is why they can survive their first 3 days without food and water), and because it’s soft, easily digestible, and palatable chicks will readily consume it. It gives them an energy boost, triggers hunger, and gets them to eat the chick feed much faster.  

We spent the day trying to save as many birds as we could; the stronger ones ate the egg and drank the water on their own but most needed help. About 10 of the birds were dead when we picked them up at the post office Saturday morning, and many more have died in the last couple of days. It’s been a valiant effort on our part, but as of this morning only about a dozen babies are still hanging on. Out of nearly 60 chicks only about 12 survived this catastrophe. I can’t tell you how sad and frustrated we both are. It's awful to watch animals die despite your best efforts to save them and knowing there's nothing more you can do for them doesn't make it easier.  

The really sad part is that it’s not uncommon for entire shipments of chicks to die in transit or shortly after arrival. It’s so common in fact that the hatcheries don’t even need photo’s to file a claim. Most of these deaths are attributed to someone making a “mistake” – a tragic mistake that costs innocent animals their lives. Chicks can be very annoying in a post office because they chirp loudly, and when people get tired of hearing them it’s common practice to put them in a broom closet or office where they get forgotten about.

In our case the birds were last scanned in St. Paul, MN Wednesday night, so they were either left unattended in St. Paul or at the Seattle distribution center. There’s no electronic record after the St. Paul scan, so they’re not exactly sure where the “mistake” occurred. I can’t help but wonder if postal employees would take the shipment of live animals more seriously if they were cute kittens or puppies. Regardless, this was tragic, senseless, beyond heartbreaking, and it could have all been avoided if someone would have done their job right and followed proper protocols.  

At least we were able to save some of them, but the whole experience has just proven how broken the mail system really is. Until we can afford to buy more incubators and master the art of hatching our own chicks we are forced to buy from hatcheries, and the danger of losing chicks in shipment is a threat our farm will continue to face. In the 3-4 years that we’ve been ordering chicks this is the first time we’ve ever experienced this type of loss, and hopefully it will be our last. Unfortunately, yesterday we heard that several other people have been experiencing the same situation we just went through.

Our end goal has always been to hatch our own chicks; some via an incubator and some the good old fashioned way - raised by momma herself. Unfortunately, not all hens have a deep desire to sit on a clutch of eggs. In the last year we’ve purchased two incubators, increased our parent stock, and started hatching some of our own chicks. It’ll likely be a few years, but we can’t wait for the day when we can say that all chicks we raised were born on our farm. In the meantime, these rugged, tough, and strong little girls who survived the odds will be given lots of love and they'll go on to live happy, healthy lives.

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