Tag Archives: hogs

Wordless Wednesday: Best Friends Forever 

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Artificial Insemination: The Swine Version

Awwww…..spring on a working ranch. It’s a busy time. Hence my absence from this blog (so sorry!). But I promise I will make it up to you. I have some exciting news!
As I may or may not shared here, I kept one of the gilts (that is a young female pig) that I was going to eat this year. M (the pig) was special from the beginning. First off, she is pretty, she is half red wattle, and half old spot – a wonderful mixture of heritage hog breeds. You guys know how I feel about crossbreeds (hybrid vigor is our friend).

M as a piglet last Fall

M as a piglet last Fall

When I got her home she immediately established dominance over the rest of the pigs. She went up to any piglet pen-mates that looked at her funny, and pushed them. She was the head hog after that. Something I respected.
As she grew it became more and more apparent that M was indeed a special hog. She was sweet and gentle to the people that would visit this winter. She always met me at her trough at feeding times. She absolutely loved to be forked, scratched and walked around the ranch. And would often hold conversations with me when we hung out (come on, you’d hang out with your pigs if you had them too).

She is population with visitors!

She is popular with visitors!

When I finally started thinking about keeping a sow, my pig expert friends offered advice such as “look for evenly spaced nipples”, “know her mom”, “a good attitude counts”, and “make sure she has at least 14 teats”. M fulfilled all these requirements. I decided to keep her and use her for my foundation sow.
Now this meant I’d either have to get a boar or artificially inseminate (AI) her. I know I’m not ready for a boar yet, and I do have a really awesome, supportive veterinarian! He helped me find some semen and came over and AI’ed M last month. While he was here, he also taught me how to AI a hog. It was easier than I had expected.

AI'ing is pretty simple, actually.

AI’ing is pretty simple, actually.

Unfortunately M didn’t take last month. I can’t say I am surprised though, it was rather a stressful day, as the pigs next to her had their “appointment”. Just like people, stress doesn’t help with conception rates. However, this month I did it again. I bought York semen from CSU Chico. I am an Agriculture alumni, so I do love to support them, and that is where a lot of my swine knowledge comes from in the first place.

She loves hog walks!

She loves hog walks!

I was able to AI M three different times this heat. I’m so proud of myself that I was able to learn this skill and perform it without fear, all by myself. The last session felt really good, so I have super high hopes! A pig’s gestation time is three months, three weeks and three days and her heat is every 21 days, so I will know soon if I am gonna be a Daddy!

Yes, the pipette used looks like a pig penis. And yes I did laugh like a 12 year old boy when I saw that.

Yes, the pipette used looks like a pig penis. And yes I did laugh like a 12 year old boy when I saw that.

I am enjoying and learning so much from my hog endeavor. It has become a great source of pride and confidence for me. When I started years ago I never really planned on loving it this much and certainly didn’t think that I would ever have a sow or AI! I’m excited to see where this chapter takes me!

We were having a chat.

We were having a chat.

Check out these other hog farmers:

The Foodie Farmer: Pigs of Different Colors 

3 Kids and lots of pigs: Farmer Fridays – It can be a stressful time for the momma 

ChrisChinn: There is No Health Insurance for Pigs 

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I’ve Gone Hog Wild

My dream of being a real pig farmer is slowly coming true. Tomorrow I get to pick up my second load of hogs to finish, for a grand total of 18. As many of my longtime readers know, raising hogs has been quite the journey.

My new pig pen is two pens like this.

My new pig pen is two pens like this.

I had to ease my Parents into the idea of raising hogs again. I did it as a child in 4-H for many, many years. I was too petite to raise steer, I wouldn’t be caught dead with a lamb or goat, so hogs it was! I have many fond memories of raising and showing my hogs and the sense of pride I had providing meat for my family, still makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

I built these pens by throwing brunch! I invited my friends to come build fence as I plied them with booze. If you look on the right you'll notice our measuring is just a WHISPER off after brunch. LOL

I built these pens by throwing brunch! I invited my friends to come build fence as I plied them with booze. If you look on the right you’ll notice our measuring is just a WHISPER off after brunch. LOL

As a child, my Dad raised hogs. Back then, the ranch was more of a farm, complete with dairy cows and grain crops. The leftover milk from the dairy would be combined with the grain from the fields for the hog feed. My Dad swears the pork was different back then, and I believed him. I knew the key to raising hogs again would be producing a pork product that was like Dad remembered.

See the deer in the pipe? Know what else these old, junked pipes would be good for? Yep! A pig house!

See the deer in the pipe? Know what else these old, junked pipes would be good for? Yep! A pig house!

I knew that if I raised heritage hogs, and tweaked their diet just a whisper, I could create some pork like my Dad remembered. I managed to convince my Parents into letting me get a couple heritage hogs, just to see. Well, that turned into five hogs and Adult 4-H. And that turned into me quitting my full-time job in town and ten hogs. Now we are here.

Heritage red wattle hogs eating cookies out of the new feeder my family built.

Heritage red wattle hogs eating cookies out of the new feeder my family built.

When I started pestering my Parents about getting hogs again, I never thought I would get to where I am now and where I am thinking of going. I didn’t plan on enjoying hogs so much. I didn’t plan on the meat being so very different and very good. I have quickly accepted the fact that there is no going back now, I like pigs too much!

Yes, I stole the rats with horn's house to make an upcycled pig house! Ingenious and 'sustainable'.

Yes, I stole the rats with horn’s house to make an upcycled pig house! Ingenious and ‘sustainable’.

Since I have doubled in size every year (and don’t plan on stopping!), I needed a new pig pen. The old pen I was using was older than I am by several decades and was not doing a good job of keeping the pigs where they needed to be. This caused several problems when the pigs ate my Dad’s cable to his TV, and my Mom’s flower bed. However, moving my pen meant drilling a well since I did not have a dependable water source and that was just not something I could afford. But then something magical happened. 

In an effort to be 'sustainable' this pig feeder is made out of old boards from out barn that blew down!

In an effort to be ‘sustainable’ we made this pig feeder out of old boards from our barn that blew down!

The most important thing to me, as I grow, is to be “sustainable”. Yes, I know that is an ag buzz word, but for, me it means doing this project in a way that meets my needs the best way it can. It means, not getting a loan from the bank (I learned from my student loan!), it means recycling materials when I can (but not super old materials that break all the time, so I waste all my time fixing them), it means doing things just a whisper different (outside the box is good!).

Part of thinking outside the box is getting free labor from my friend's kids.

Part of thinking outside the box is getting free labor from my friend’s kids (Just kidding, kinda!).

I am so excited to have this opportunity to do my own thing. I love working and being with the cattle, but I love having some independence on the ranch. My Mom made sure to instill in me growing up two “rules”: 1) always have financial independence and 2) develop as many marketable skills as you can. I feel like my pig operation is fulfilling both those “rules” and providing food for my family and friends – it feels so good!

If you get a moment please check out these awesome “real pig farmers”. Remember every farmer does what they think is best for their land and pigs. I urge you to ask them questions – the why’s and how’s are so important!

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Wordless Wednesday: New Pigs!

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Wordless Wednesday: Ride ’em Pigirl!

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Cookies?

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April 2, 2014 · 7:39 pm

Wordless Wednesday: Oink

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Giveaway: Lard Soap

The real deal, homemade lard soap.

The real deal, homemade lard soap. It’s named after my cat, Jack.

It’s my birthday week, and since I had such a fabulous birthday week, I want to give back in the form of soap! This is extra special soap. Not only did my Mom make it, the old fashioned way, with lye. I raised the pigs and rendered the lard it was made with (yes, this is really, truly, old-timey soap).

After we slaughtered them I saved almost everything I could from the hogs. It was a lot of work to raise them, I wanted to use everything I could.

My fat. I was strangely proud of this hog fat. It was glorious.

My fat. I was strangely proud of this hog fat. It was glorious.

It took me days to render all my lard. I seriously cannot imagine doing this before crock-pots, the work and labor that my few pounds required was not even funny. I have a huge respect for the generations of women that HAD to do this to survive, I am so lucky.

My house smelled like rendering bacon for weeks!!!! Next time I will do this part outside.

My house smelled like rendering bacon for weeks!!!! Next time I will do this part outside.

It did make for some pretty pictures though!

It did make for some pretty pictures though!

The giveaway is for one bar of this special soap. It is by far, one of the most unique soaps I have ever had the pleasure of using. I can’t wait to share! I will use random.org to select a winner next week, September 27, 2013.  Just leave a comment below. Good luck!

I love this soap!

I love this soap!

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Guest Post: The City Girl That Dreams of Being a Country Girl

Those of you that have been following my blog for a while remember my adult 4-H program. I asked the Ladies to write a guest post for me if they felt like it. Again, I have a tendency to take my life for granted, cows and pigs and horses are my daily life. I love when I can get into someone’s head and see my life from their point of view, it helps me understand what and how I need to speak to people.

Shannon was not an original 4-H member. At the beginning of this project she was busy! She was in law school (!), has a family and a fulltime job, (having dropped out of law school, I know what that stress was like (OH SO SCARY! Run away, run away!)), anyway, Shannon wanted to raise a pig, but couldn’t. So I told her I would do it for her and she could come out as much or as little as she could.

Well she ended up coming out a lot, helping with the hogs and cattle. And she was darn good help! I’ve noticed some people have a natural knack for working around animals, she is one of those people. I got to know her and her daughter Olive, better as well, and I’m really glad I did. I’m looking forward to many, many  more fun adventures with both of them (also: keep your eyes open for a pony for Olive, she needs one out here)!

I am super stoked to share with you Shannon’s guest post, enjoy!

Disclaimer: Megan called me up and asked if I’d be willing to write something for her blog. I was hesitant at first; I’m not much of a writer. In fact I’d rather be doing calculus problems then writing. But with the advent of the internet and everyone else thinking they are writers, how bad can it be?

I had the pleasure of helping Megan out with her Adult 4H pig project. She pretty much adopted me into the program. I work fulltime, was in law school at nights, and I have a family at home. So I initially told her I’d pass on the project as I had no more time to give to anyone else. But I ended up taking my daughter out to see the pigs on a number of occasions and helped Megan make them food. I found Megan, her Ranch, and the pigs to be so relaxing that I had to keep coming back to escape the crazy, hectic life I had made for myself.
Some background about me: I grew up in a suburb of San Diego in a basic 3 bedroom, 2 bath house. I loved gardening and my family had a variety of pets from dogs, rabbits, birds, and fish. Each year we’d go to the Del Mar Fair (now called the San Diego County Fair) and I’d marvel at the cows, pigs, sheep, and goats and all the young kids rising and taking care of them. But I never had to chance to do anything like that. I am thankful to Megan for giving me that opportunity.

Me, circa 1990

Me, circa 1990

I met Megan about 5 years ago at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She brought meat cupcakes. We talked grass-fed beef. And eventually I bought a half-cow from her.
It has become more important to me over the years for my family to eat healthy food. And a big part of that is knowing where our food comes from. I like knowing what goes into making my food. We grow most of our vegetables, we eat very little breads, starches, and sugars, and I like knowing that the meat we eat was raised humanely and fed well because what the animal eats, my family will eventually be eating. It just gives me peace of mind in this crazy world.
Side story… On one of our trips to visit the pigs Megan let my daughter and I herd cattle. Oh…my…gosh…I LOVED it. Basically the cattle already knew what to do. They’ve been walking from one huge field to the next for the fresh, better grass for years. There was one older cow and you could tell by her body language that she wasn’t too interested in moving. She walked slow and was unimpressed by the 4 wheelers coming her way. She was the last cow we needed to get into the neighboring field. So what did she do? She crossed a rather large creek to avoid us. It felt like she just gave us a cow’s version of, “F-you”. Megan got out of the vehicle and convinced her to cross back over the creek and into the adjacent field. I have 100% respect for that cow and Megan!
Back to the pigs… The first time we visited the piglets, I brought the whole family: my significant other, Jason, and our daughter, Olive. We had a great time and Olive got to feed the pigs and pet them. When we came out additional times, Jason didn’t want to come. I finally asked why. He grew up on a ranch where they raised pigs, chickens, and goats for his family’s food. He’d been through the raising of the animals, helped with the slaughter, and helped put the food on the table. (His grandma actually did most of the work, killing the animals and all. She’s currently 99 and a half. She told me you get to count the half’s when you get to be that old.) Although Jason is thoroughly enjoying the pork, he didn’t want to get attached to the animal that he would eventually be eating. I can respect that. Ranch life isn’t for everyone. And he’s been there, so he knows. In fact I would say it isn’t for most people. It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and buy the attractively wrapped meat that doesn’t have a face. It’s much more difficult to feed and care for these animals every day without a vacation, and then eat them. That takes a different type of person to do that day in and day out.
So Olive and I would still come out and bring the pigs treats. We’d also help Megan with cooking all the food. She would spend all weekend cooking up vats and vats of food for the pigs to eat for the week. I really don’t know how she did that all especially with her full-time job during the week. What a crazy time commitment. And also why I’d make a bad rancher…I like my vacations!

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Slaughter day… I left Olive home for this one. She is only 2 years old. Although I think it’s important for her to know where her food comes from, this wasn’t the right time.
We waited around for the slaughter truck to show up. I wondered how I would feel about this. I’ve fed and petted these pigs too; will I feel bad or sad? I wasn’t there every day like Megan was so my attachment is much less. I was more nervous about my reaction then the actual event.
The truck showed up and the butchers got ready. A small caliber rifle was brought out. The butcher walked into the pig pen with some food. A pig came up and BANG, the deed was done. The butcher quickly cut a small hole in the pig’s jugular and the pig bled out. I was surprised how fast it was. There was some shaking as the body released its energy. But it was all pretty tame under the circumstances. If I had to choose a way to go, that would be it. Quick and painless. Then what surprised me more was the next pig that walked up to get food, completely unaware and uncaring that his buddy no longer existed and was laying there right next to him. BANG! And repeat the quick jugular cutting.
The two pigs were brought out of the pen and were put onto tables so the cutting process could begin. They were washed and cleaned up. Their hooves were removed and they were skinned. Then the organs were removed. The butchers walked us through the process and showed us everything. It was all quite fascinating. I looked over at the other pigs while all of this is happening and they are milling about in the pen like nothing occurred. Like it was any old day. I don’t know if they were oblivious or just didn’t give a shit, maybe a little of both. Pigs aren’t the nicest of animals.
So how did I feel? I felt honored to be a part of this process. The butchers respected these animals. There was no malice or disregard that these were living beings. These pigs were treated with respect and kindness the whole time. These pigs were here for us to eat and this is just part of their life and they had a great life. I feel that their happy, joyful lives gave me better meat. If an animal is stressed, that goes into their muscles and tissues. Just like humans have adverse health effects from stress, so does an animal.

Olive and her piggies

Olive and her piggies

I really enjoyed the process of helping to raise my own animal for food. I liked knowing what it ate and that they got exercise and rooted about and dug things up and were basically being pigs. Thanks Megan for giving me this opportunity to help you, and I look forward to our next venture together.

Yummy pork chop

Yummy pork chop

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13 Thursday – My Answers

Sometimes I don’t understand when people are asking me questions about the Ranch. Because this is all I have known, I assume (I know assuming only makes an ass out of you and me) everyone knows what I know. One of the best things I ever did for myself was disconnect from the Ranch for a few years in my mid-20’s. It gave me perspective, and made me realize that sometimes farmers and ranchers live in our own little bubble and speak our own little language of sorts. I am constantly working at bettering my communication with non-aggie people because I feel like that is the only way our industry will be able to continue. Because I am so passionate, and this way of life is such a huge part of who I am, and how I identify myself, I can become defensive very quickly when people question our Ranch’s practices or my motives. It took me a very long time to realize that often these people are not trying to insult me, they just don’t know! Because of the disconnect between farm to fork and the certain people/movements taking advantage of that fact.
I made it my business to openly share what I do, the good, the bad and the ugly. Surprisingly, this has cause a lot of drama and hurt feelings in my life. But the longer I do it, the better I handle the positives and negatives this blog has created for me. However if not for a certain core group of people I probably would have abandoned this blog long ago. Instead with their kind words, encouragement and support, I continued and will continue. One of those people is Ian from the An Irish Male In America. People like Ian are starting to make a huge impact on farmers and ranchers, they reach out to us when they have a question, they want to know! Ian continues to amaze me, but now he’s made it super easy for me to share about what I do! I mean, he gave me a list of questions! I totally stole these questions from his blog, thanks again Ian for everything you do! Please keep it up.

Ian sent me this t-shirt for St. Patrick's Day (so I could properly celebrate my heritage).

Ian sent me this t-shirt for St. Patrick’s Day (so I could properly celebrate my heritage). Also this is me with no make-up (full transparency here people!).

13 Questions I want farmers/ranchers/AG people to answer (or even blog about!)

1: What is the worst time of year for you?
The worst time of year is the middle of the summer, because it is obnoxiously hot and there are bugs and stickers here and fire danger. Fire scares me. It seems like once a year, we have a fire scare, and it just really sucks because there is nothing you can do. I hate the feeling of being helpless while the ranch burns.
2: What is your favorite farm job?
My favorite farm job is anything outside. I like feeding hay, actually because the cows are really happy to see you and they buck and dance. It’s fun to watch. I also like feeding the pigs, pretty much for the same reason. I like happy animals and just like me, they are happiest when someone puts food in front of them. I love working on the Ranch because everyday is different and challenging.

3: What is your least favorite farm job?

Anything that involves illness or premature loss of an animal. I feel like I failed them. I really hate it when you pull a calf and it is dead or dies, and the cow dies too. That is just the worst feeling ever. Even if you KNOW you did everything you possibly could for them, I still feel tremendous guilt. But honestly, any job can become my least favorite, it depends on who I am working with. There are certainly some people that rush jobs, or are mean to me or the animals. At this point in my life, for my mental health and physical safety I will refuse to work with those people.
4: What type of truck do you drive (on the job) and why did you choose it?
I drive a Toyota Corolla because I drive so much it made more sense than buying a truck. I commute to my town job and in between the two Ranches (we summer in the mountains and winter in the valley). Whenever I need a truck I can use my Dad’s full-sized Dodge or my Mom’s Tacoma. My Dad has a Dodge because I guess Ford changed something and he thought the Dodge was better. I miss his Fords though, I liked them. The Dodge is all fancy and stuff, and I’m afraid I’m going to break something. My Mom has a Tacoma because we need a little truck around the Ranch and we needed it for our kayaks because both of them won’t fit on top of my car!
5: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your line of work?
Life isn’t fair. Not even a little bit. And like Dr. Grandin says, Mother-nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.
6: What do you think is the most valuable tool you have, the one you probably couldn’t live without?
The internet. It has given me access to so much knowledge. If I have a question about anything I can find an answer, if I need a random part for a tractor, I can find it! It also shortens the distance from farm to fork, I am able to directly speak to thousands of my consumers. They can ask me questions and I can ask them questions, it’s a win/win! I’m trying to develop new markets, so I can hopefully work on the Ranch full-time within the next few years.
I remember pre-internet, while it was certainly nice to not be connected 24/7, access to information and knowledge was severely limited, especially in rural areas. I like knowing and learning!
7: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business?
That we are just a bunch of dumb hicks that get all kinds of government money. Actually that is tied with we all all corporate slaves, or huge corporations. Both of those I get a lot. Some of us are very tech savvy, something like 98% of farms are family owned, and despite what you have heard, it’s still a free market and farmers and ranchers can choose what we raise.
8: If you could invest in a new piece of farm equipment tomorrow, what would it be?
A pig set up! I would love to raise hogs on a larger scale. I would love to have a barn, fencing and a water system. These are the things that are holding me back. Mainly the water situation. I could build fence and a shelter fairly easily compared with drilling a well or fixing our spring. I want to raise heritage hogs because I am in love with the pork I raised this year. It’s sooooo good and I want more people to have access to it. Plus if I had a hog set up I could probably retire from my office job, which the older I get, the better that sounds. I’m meant to be on the Ranch.
9: What was the most serious injury you ever suffered in the line of work?
I fell off my pony when I was 4 and broke my wrist but didn’t know it until a couple weeks later, it was a glorious temper tantrum in the hospital (ask my Mom). Other than that just your average bumps, bruises, cuts, broken toes, and sprained things. Oh, actually I got walking pneumonia when I was on a cattle drive when I was like 10. That sucked big time, mainly because I got sent home, and ended up being allergic to the antibiotics they gave me. And I was certain someone else rode my horse (grumble, grumble).
10: Least favorite animal to deal with?
F**king, damned dirty, goats. And mean roosters.
11: (excluding all of the above) What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?
Leather comes from cows?
12: Favorite beer? (come on, out with it!)
I’m having a love affair with Sierra Nevada right now. I really like the Snow Cap.
13: Thing you’d most like the public to know about what you do!
That I have nothing to hide, I want to share what I do. I love my way of life. And just like everything in life agriculture is not as simple as black versus white, big versus little, good versus bad. Talk to us! Ask us questions! (Seriously!)

Go check out J.D.L. Photograph’s answers here! I’ll try and add more links as more farmers and ranchers (ahem!) do this!

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