Farmer Brown's Pigs
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As you can see, it has once again been a while since my last post. We hit a bit of a snag once we got started. We had plenty of nice pigs on the ground, but no one to buy them. So, we kept marketing and feeding and before we knew it they were grown. We finally got some interest once they were finished pigs. I took one group to the butcher to have them custom processed for each buyer. Another group went to a farm north of here to finish out an order that they had. This left us with one nice gilt that we put back into the breeding herd. That gilt is now about to give birth at the first of March.
The one lesson that was once again reinforced, is that, you can produce the nicest breeding stock around, but if there are no buyers, you are dead in the water. That's really the first time that has happened to me. The takeaway message was not to panic, but be deliberate and have a contingency plan when things head in the wrong direction. I knew that we had to get our breeding dates adjusted to the needs of the local folks. That's one reason you haven't seen a lot of pigs available for the last few months. Everyone seems to want winter born pigs. So, that's what we are going to give them. If this works out, I can ramp up production and expand my market. If not, I will have to keep it a small herd. That's just one of the adjustments needed after moving the farm.
Well, it's been a while since I last posted. Things sure have changed since we moved here a little over a year ago. It was this time last year that our boar, Chocolate Gravy, won grand champion at the Arkansas State Fair. We then loaded up the sow and headed for Ohio. I had built a shed for her, but it wasn't quite ready. So, I put her in the goat barn. That didn't last long before she escaped and was cruising down the highway. She then stayed in the front yard with the dogs. All the time, I was diligently working to finish her house, It was now December and she was ready to get into her house. I finished it up just in time for the freezing weather. I piled in the straw and ran an extension cord out to her little house so that she could have a heat lamp. She knew just what to do. She chewed the straw and made sure that it was thoroughly soaked. This caused it to start composting and generated a good deal of heat. Some mornings is was down to -18o F, but she kept the place warm. Spring came and it was time to breed. I decided to go with Double Barrel from Shipley. It was soon July and time to farrow. Everything went well. Lost a couple in the process and we ended up with six little pigs. The race was on once again to build another shelter for mama when the piglets were weaned. Well, things went a little slower than planned and they were eight weeks old at weaning (just a few weeks late. Don't laugh pig guys.). Then, it was time to market the show and feeder pigs. That's when I found out, for the first time in my pig career, that no one needed any pigs. Nary a tweet, call or shrug. So, here I sit with 6 little pigs that may be shown in the winter show circuit here in Ohio by some willing kids. After that, I just hope that someone is hungry for some good Berkshire pork. Just don't let my wife know that I re-bred the good 'ol sow a couple of weeks ago or I may be staying in the little shed this winter.
I promised you the rest of the story about our move. Well, a few weeks ago it was Dark Chocolate's time of the month when a young sow's thoughts turn to good looking boars or at least ones that smell "good". As I mentioned in my previous post, she was residing in the fenced in front yard. Once the hormones kicked in, though, nothing was stopping her. She lifted up a fence panel and was out in the drive. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to contain her in the front yard anymore. So, I moved her to goat barn on the hill. It wasn't long before she pushed the gate panel out of the way and was out trying to find me. Back to the goat barn we went. This time I put two t-posts in the ground in front of the gate and wired the gate to the posts. Try as she might, she couldn't get out. The next day was Sunday. We woke up to a beautiful day and Dark Chocolate was secure in the barn. Off to church we went. We had a nice service and then a meal at the local KFC with our friends. As we were finishing, my mom received a call. My aunt Jo informed mom that the pig was out on the highway and the Highway Patrol was involved. This sounded like something I might want to check out. So, I finished my lunch and headed home. When we arrived, all was quiet. No one and no pig were around. The gate along with the t-post had been lifted out of the ground. We started to speculate. Maybe she was never on the highway. Maybe the neighbor was exaggerating. Maybe she was really just on the side road that went down into the valley. Mom went down the highway just to make sure. I walked across to the harvested corn field to she if she had found a tasty snack. No luck for either of us. Mom went to the house to call the Highway patrol as I headed up the valley road. I found a few tracks and mom returned with a report that indeed they had been there, corralled her and then left when it looked like she was headed home. I continued my walk as mom drove ahead. It was not long before she returned saying that she had spotted her. I got in the car and headed into the valley. There she was, in the woods, having a little Sunday walk. I got out with my feed bucket, coaxed her across the stream and started the walk home. She followed me all the way and went into the stock trailer as her new home until permanent quarters were completed.
Our speculation continued about where she had really gone and what the true story was. As I was checking my Facebook posts, I came across a re-post from someone on the Extension page. They had posted a picture they took of a pig walking down the highway. Among the humorous comments, there was speculation as to where the pig had come from and who it belonged to. I fessed up and had my visual proof of where she had really been. She is now in her new home and will once again be in heat this weekend. Now comes the next big decision. Who will I breed her to? I will let you know my decision in the next post.
The move is now complete but far from over. As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting to the blog lately. That's because I have been spending all of my spare time getting animal facilities ready. Although I am now living on a 250 acre farm, There was not a single fence or barn to hold in animals. I set out during the month of October to rectify the situation. The animals were still in Arkansas. The plan was that, I would return in late October to show the boar at the State Fair and get the animals and the family (they were finalizing work on our home that was to be sold). Well, the boar won grand champion, but the work on the house wasn't done and the kids were in no hurry to get here. So, I returned to Ohio with a U-Haul truck loaded with household goods (second load), one son and my mom in tow. This gave me more time to work on animal facilities. Things continued to drag on. A fenced area for the dogs was completed, a barn and small fenced area for the goats was mostly done and plans were underway for the pigs. Well, it was now almost Thanksgiving. Work at the old home was progressing slowly and a plaintive cry came for me to come help finish the house, tow the stock trailer and get the last household and barn items. So, I loaded up my construction crew (mom and son) and headed back to Arkansas for a fun filled Thanksgiving holiday. We hit the ground running, barely stopping for the festive meal, but still giving thanks. The plan was to rent a small trailer to carry the stuff back to Ohio while the other vehicle pulled the stock trailer. Well, I could tell that there was more stuff than I thought. So, we ended up renting another truck. By the end of the weekend, I had a completely full truck (third load) and animals loaded on the the trailer, but the house still needed some work. I knew then that I was going to have to leave a crew member behind (mom was selected for this duty). Me and the son ended up coming back with everything, except the rest of the family. It was then that I started on my portable pig barn while my sow hung out in the fenced in front yard with the dogs. And that's where I have been every night and weekend since.And so, as you are celebrating New Year's eve tonight, send up a special toast to the man who will be outside, diligently working on a nice home for his pig.
As a post script, my family finally arrived a couple of days before Christmas. In my next post, I will tell you about what happens when a sow in the front yard comes into heat (and other exciting adventures).
I thought that I would sit down and record my observations, trials and travails in raising Berkshire pigs. I have always enjoyed the pigs and off and on since the ninth grade I have been involved with pigs in one way or the other.I say the ninth grade, but it actually goes back to my grandfather. He was a farmer in southeast Ohio where our roots go way back. He was always trying something to make money on the farm. He heard that there was money to be made in hogs. So, he got him some Poland China pigs. He never went very big into anything, but kept a small herd for many years. Even though he died when I was three, I can still remember going down to the barn and looking through the fence at those pigs.
In a chance of fate, I ended up marrying a pig farmer's daughter from Missouri. She never helped out with the pigs or even had much interest in them. She thought that she was done with pigs once she left the farm. Little did she know that there were a few pigs in her future. I even got her a job working on a Smithfield pig farm with me in North Carolina right after we were married. Looking back, it still makes me chuckle to think of her working with those pigs.
In the months and years ahead I plan on sharing the pig raising process and hopefully the humorous side. If you have your own insights or humorous stories, feel free to leave a comment or email them to me.