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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.

Posted 9/18/2013 4:04pm by Monique Russ.

Us & FionaOn Saturday, August 24th, 2013 my husband and I went to the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe to watch Fiona Lyle show 2 of Miss Pig Pig’s babies. Fiona purchased these pigs from us earlier this spring for her 4H and FFA programs, and she’s been raising and showing her pigs with the hope of getting to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. Since we support both programs we went to watch her compete in the Fit & Show Class for both 4H and FFA. This competition demonstrates the qualities of the hog, but also the showmanship and abilities of their handler.

Ben and I have never been to a pig show before – we’ve walked thru the barns, sure, but we’ve never actually watched people show their pigs, so this was a treat for us. This is also the first year we’ve ever sold weanlings for a 4H or FFA project (not for lack of trying), so it was definitely exciting to see pigs produced by our farm at the fair. These are ¾ Berkshire and ¼ Chester White pigs out of our beloved Miss Pig Pig who produces friendly, very nicely built pigs, and Fiona has done a great job in raising and training them.

Pigs are highly intelligent animals and they're easily trained, so I was eager to see how well the pigs would react and listen in the show pen. With all the commotion going on around them these kids had to control their pigs around the show ring, demonstrate what they thought were their animals best qualities, and get these pigs to show their bodies in a certain way to the judge. It was easy to tell which handlers didn’t spend enough time with their pigs, and some kids had pigs that were too young to be shown (in my opinion) because they weren’t able to control them effectively. Most of the handlers were able to control them (as much as you can expect anyway), but it was frustrating to see how many of these kids were actually afraid of them! Having the judge shout out that the kids needed to be careful with the pigs interracting with another for fear "they'll eat one another" blew us away. This judge says he's been in the business for years - well why in the world would you make such outrageous claims!?

There’s no doubt pigs are large animals and to someone that doesn’t know their wonderful personalities and calm dispositions they can be very intimidating just because of their sheer size. Take Miss Pig Pig for example –she’s about 750lbs, taller than my waist, and she’s got a lot of power in her, but she's a big baby. Pigs are gentle giants in most cases. Just like dogs it all depends on how they’re raised, treated, and whether or not you respect them.

Now, on to Fiona and her pigs…she did an outstanding job in the show ring! Seriously, she’s got talent!! There were quite a few good competitors, but I honestly have to say we thought she was the best presenter and handler because she was listening to what the judges were telling her, she was able to move her pigs and display them as asked, and she was always focused on the judge and getting her pigs out in view of him. I’ll be honest in that I don’t know anything about showing pigs, but I’ve been told that one of the biggest objectives while you’re in the show ring is to get your pig noticed.

While pigs are easy to handle and train on the farm it’s a little more difficult when you have a show ring full of rambunctious and excited pigs. They’ve been cooped up all night and they’re excited and nervous by their new surroundings and all their new playmates. (One of the best parts was watching the pigs bolt into the show ring and start running around and barking.) Fiona did a fantastic job of keeping her pigs under control, and despite having some little pigs interfering with her own she was able to keep her pigs' attention and focus on her and what she was asking of it.

Fiona did an exceptional job with her pigs and watching her was exciting. Her best quality as far as my husband and I are concerned was her willingness to get in between the pigs when needed. Pigs are curious by nature and these guys often wanted to play or check each other out, but Fiona wasn’t afraid to put herself between two pigs to break them up. If a bigger pig was trying to push hers, she stepped in and moved the pigs apart. Unfortunately, she was the ONLY handler there that wasn’t afraid to do this. When raising animals you can’t be afraid of them or to get involved when it’s needed, and this trait will carry her far in her dreams of becoming a vet. We had a great time watching the show and it was fun to be a part of it. We were so happy for her when both her pigs won Grand Champion in Fit and Show at the Evergreen State Fair in both the FFA and 4H division! Congrats to Fiona!!  She definitely deserved it, she worked hard for it, and we were proud that she was the one showing pigs born and bred on our small farm.

Fiona went on to show at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup on September 16th, and she won blue ribbons for both her hogs. She was competing against 14 of the best competitors and farms in the State, and even though she didn’t win grand champion we’re extremely proud of her. She stole the show at Evergreen! She is an energetic and remarkable young lady and she has a gift and natural ability around animals, and we have no doubt that if she chooses to she’ll go on to make a wonderful vet. I wish there were more kids like her that were passionate about animals and involved in FFA.

 

Posted 4/9/2013 4:17pm by Monique Russ.

Ben @ Whole Foods

Yesterday my husband, Ben, joined Cascade Harvest Coalition at the Lynnwood Whole Foods Market to help promote our farm and the work of Cascade Harvest Coalition (CHC). Ben spent his time discussing our farm, the Puget Sound Farm Guide, and the fantastic work CHC does for our region.

Sheryl Wiser at Cascade Harvest Coalition has been instrumental in helping us get our name “out there.” She’s given me advice on social networking, how to present our farm and products, provided us with networking opportunities, public exposure via special events, and has passed on program information to help make our farm more successful. This is what CHC is all about – helping farmers succeed by providing them with the tools to do so, and by connecting "farmers to farmers, farmers to markets, and farmers to eaters.”

CHC is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to “re-localizing”food by connecting consumers and producers. Many people are not aware how easy it is to buy local farm fresh food, and CHC does a great job of educating the public thru various means. One way they do this is via the Puget Sound Farm Guide which is a treasure trove unto itself if you are looking for farms to buy from. This pamphlet has an extensive list of farms in the Puget Sound area. It summarizes the products they sell, provides information and descriptions of these farms, harvest celebrations and special events, and contains information on all of our local Farmer’s Markets. The 2013 guide should be out in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes out for it. (You can also find it at http://www.pugetsoundfresh.org/farm-guide-news.asp or contact CHC for more information.) Another great tool for consumer education is one of their programs called Puget Sound Fresh which has searchable listings of local farms and farm products, what’s in season, recipes, etc. Check it out at www.pugetsoundfresh.org

Cascade Harvest Coalition has other programs devoted to getting local farm fresh food to consumers, and even a program to help preserve farmland by keeping it in the hands of farmers and providing farmers with a solution to owning their own land. I would highly encourage you to check out their website to learn more www.cascadeharvest.org Educating yourself on why, how, and where to buy food produced from local farmers is invaluable and it’s an important step in eating healthier foods. 

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