Now that we’ve been pig owners for a few days, I thought I would share what we have learned so far:
Tag Archives: red wattles
It was a big day. We got our pigs today. Plus one. The original plan for adult 4-H was to get 3 pigs. One for each of us. Then I had a few friends ask if they could just avoid all the work, have me raise the pig for them so they could just buy a pig when its ready to slaughter. Ok, so then, I planned on buying four pigs, one for me and one for lazy friends (KIDDING, you guys) and Mahina and Kristen’s pigs. I figured I might be able to make a few bucks to invest into buying some more pig panels or a, *cough* *cough* sow. But somehow by the time we came home today, we had five pigs!
Mahina and Kristen met me bright and early, here on the Ranch. We borrowed my Mom’s truck, put a foam bed-liner and pine shavings in the back, opened the windows in the camper shell, and duct taped all the lighting wires up and off we went. After much searching the internets for heritage pig producers in Northern California we found Jamie at High Mountain Hogs. She is located out of Mad River, California, which is about a three and half hour (and a very curvy) drive from the Ranch.
My social media friend Amy Sipes is the person who first brought red wattles to my attention. She has a slaughterhouse in Kentucky and has taught me much about, well, meat and meat safety (thanks Amy!). Last year she kept posting these RED pork chops on her Facebook page. Like most of you, I am used to store pork, and while store pork is great, I missed having really wonderful, succulent, amazing homegrown pork. I haven’t raised our own pork since my 4-H days, which, let’s just say was at least over 10 years ago. I saw these beautiful pork chops Amy kept posting, and I found myself having major pork envy. If you know me in real life, once I get an idea in my head, I’m like a dog with a bone, good luck getting me to give it up (you’ll lose a finger!). My mission in life became getting red wattles, and today it happened.
We got on the road bright and early. Of course, a Starbuck’s and gas stop was made and maayyybeeee a short stop at Lucero when we got to Corning.
After that though, we made excellent time. The drive itself was a lot of fun, we saw a lot of agriculture and animals on our way there, including several does and fawns and a roadrunner!
We followed Jamie up to her hog barns and met all kinds of pigs! From red wattles to landraces to berkshires, we met sows, boars, piglets, guardian dogs and pig cats. It was glorious. I was in hog heaven (see what I did there?). Jamie was wonderfully patient as we pelted her with hundreds of hog related questions. We ended up buying red wattle/tamworth cross pigs. Since we are not breeding these pigs, we thought it was a great idea to use hybrid vigor to make some great pork. Red wattles are known for red meat and tamworths are know as the “bacon pig” – can you imagine a better melding of genetics? I can’t.
Jamie caught our barrows (castrated male pig), and taught us the correct way to handle them. And then she gave us a runt! We couldn’t help it you guys, he was super cute! The runt she gave us was from a different breed of pig, a hereford. We’re pretty excited to have a taste test of pork when we are done – hereford vs. red wattle/tamworth vs berkshire (our friends raise them) vs store pork. Yeah, that’s going to be a bbq you want to be invited to.
Unfortunately we had to leave High Mountain Hogs way before we wanted to because we were chasing daylight. We still had to get home, get the pigs situated, and fine tune our hog pen! The piglets were great passengers, despite my very best efforts of driving slowly and pulling over for rests, we had some car sickness from the little guys (and me!). When we got home it was a race to get the pigs in their new pen, set up the water system (Char was too small to use it), and clean the pig poo and puke out of my Mom’s new truck.
While we were gone, my Mom added sides to the pig’s house, which was a really good thing, because Char is soooooo little he could have slipped right out.
We safely unloaded our piglets into their new home. We had piglet chow and apples ready for them, they were pretty excited about that. Hoot dog supervised with intensity unmatched, we’re sure Hoot is ready to step up and be the piglet’s new guardian dog. It got dark and we had to let the pigs go to bed. I just did an 10:00 PM welfare check and the piglets had half their pen rooted up, but were happily asleep. I have my alarm set for daylight for another welfare check and Mahina and Kristen plan on being here tomorrow too. Adult 4-H has officially begun.
I had a rough week. Leo’s passing hit me a little harder than I had anticipated it would. My online persona/blog got attacked and ripped apart by the very people I am trying to share my life and culture with. And then to top that all off my asparagus patch and some of my cactus cuttings got destroyed while I was at work. I’m defeated.
The plant deaths were the final straw for my week, my Friday evening was spent sobbing and drinking wine because I just couldn’t do anything else. My plants are my happy. My cactus cuttings all have little back stories and memories that go with them. You see, whenever I take a road-trip or have a little adventure I take a cutting from a wild road cactus (there is a surprising amount of cacti in Northern California) or abandon homes. I plant that cutting behind my house and everyday I look out my bathroom window I see a garden of happy memories that the deer don’t destroy, a drought won’t kill and I can get fruit from. I know it is silly, but they are important to me, and it was heartbreaking to see my happy memories chopped up.
So Friday night I wanted to quit. I wanted to quit my blog, quit my plants, quit adult 4-H, quit talking about ag, and move to town. My passion had been shaken deeply. I know I can’t control death, I know I can’t control how some people perceive me or what I do, but generally I feel like its possible for me to have some control over my few cactus plants. I guess I needed another reminder that I have no control.
I spent Saturday away from the ranch. I went to champagne brunch, did some shopping and pretended like I was an urban person. It felt good. I needed it. And I still wanted to quit. It was nice not to care. I thought about taking up a new hobby that would be harder to destroy than plants and less controversial than agriculture. Maybe learn another chord on the guitar, or learn to paint or draw or something. The only reason I didn’t flat out say “fuck it” was because I had two very excited friends and I already paid my deposit on the pigs. I didn’t want my friends to feel how I felt.
I came home and cooked bacon. I mean if cooking bacon doesn’t make me happy, what could? I had an adult 4-H meeting planned the next day and really needed to figure out what I wanted to do before we fixed up the pig pen. Making bacon salad had no improvement on my mood, so I went to bed still ready to quit and dreading the next day.
My friend Kristen and her husband Ryan were the first to arrive this morning. I immediately felt better. I could see how excited they were to be here, to do manual labor, in the dirt and sun. Mahina and Daniel came next and they had beer! More betterness. After a few minutes of visiting with the girls, I felt a lot better. Their excitement was contagious.
After talking to them for a while I realized something pretty obvious, this is a huge deal. I forget that. I am slightly jaded because this is my normal, but my normal isn’t normal. I take my lifestyle for granted so often. Adult 4-H is a great reminder of how lucky I am.
I’m really excited about our pig project. I’m excited to work with people that were not raised in agriculture because after one day of working with them I can tell they are going to teach me more than I thought possible. I find myself falling into the pattern of “this is how we’ve always done it” with this pig project. It makes me want to slap myself, especially when I‘ve been yelling at my industry to stop doing that. I’m a big, ole, fat, hypocrite. Today was an excellent reminder that I have an opportunity to think outside the “this is how we’ve always done it” box. I have an incredible luxury raising some heritage pork, with some innovative and fun women.
I’ve started braiding Leo’s tail into necklaces and bracelets. I’ve always wanted to learn how to braid horsehair so it seems appropriate that Leo’s last gift to me, is forcing me to learn this art. For some reason it makes me feel better to make something from him to remember him by. I think he would like to know we’re still thinking about him, plus when I wash his hair to braid, it still smells like him, and that makes me happy, because his scent brings back a flood of good memories.
I was able to save a few cuttings from the “great mow of October 2012”. Hopefully I’ll stop being so hurt about it and start watering my yard and trees again. It’s just really hard when I deal with bad soil, heat, cold, turkeys, deer, dogs and cats, only to be foiled by man, when I make no secret how important my plants are to me.
As you recall my Parents gave me their blessing to get pigs. This has been a dream of mine for several years. The deal is, I promised my Parents that I would pay for and care for my pigs and they would not have to pay for or do anything for the pigs. I also promised I would get a heritage breed hog.
What is a heritage breed you ask? Generally they are breeds of animals that are not raised commercially. For that reason, the breeds can be rare. For example, the type of pig I want, Red Wattles, are considered critical. I kinda look at heritage breed animals, like heirloom vegetables, for some reason that analogy makes sense in my head.
I started thinking about this, a lot. I really enjoy raising my own food, it makes me happy and I know others enjoy it too. I’m also 30 kinds of stoked to be raising a heritage pig! I feel like I will be getting a superior pork product and bringing attention to neat breed. And in typical Megan fashion, I have a plan.
I was already planning on getting at least two pigs (so they wouldn’t be lonely. Happy pigs are healthy pigs!). But since I am so freaking passionate about agriculture and education – I thought this pig project would be a great opportunity not only for myself, but for some of my friends.
I am incredibly lucky to know a large group of people that want to be connected to their food. They buy local, know their farmers and do a fabulous job of educating themselves about current food issues, I am proud to call them my friends. I see a lot of these people looking for ways to get involved with production agriculture, but having little success, unless they want to pay dearly for the experience.
Light bulb! Adult 4-H. Many adults yearn to re-connect with their food and get their hands dirty, but there are still few opportunities for them to do that. Like I said above you can pay to intern on some farms, you can pay to work on a Dude Ranch, you can pay to be in a CSA (community supported ag), you can pay to go to school. Kids and teenagers at least have 4-H and FFA to learn from. But adults, especially ones with no or little ag background/training, can have it tough.
This is where I can help!!!!! I have the space, I have the knowledge (I raised pigs in 4-H and my Dad knows a lot!) and I have the drive. I want people to have the same opportunities that I had, so they can learn about their food, agriculture and animals. It is in my best interest to share my point of view with as many people as I can. Plus how awesome is it going to be to have two of my friends play on the ranch with me?
“Adult 4-H” has started. My friends Kristen and Mahina are joining my “4-H club” as founder members. With the help of The Intern (more about him later), we started fixing up our pig pen last weekend. I’m hunting down Red Wattle piglets to buy. I think this is one of the most exciting endeavors I have started recently. I think the potential to learn and teach is huge. Stay tuned!