Thursday, July 23, 2009

SOMEbody's Got to Do It.

Luka, our little Icelandic sheepdog, has taken on a new role around the farm. She is The Enforcer, with an ego the size of Texas (or perhaps Iceland) and a zero tolerance policy for extraneous critters... and there have been quite a few extraneous critters of late.

You see, it all started with pigs.

Ever since "The Daves" squealed into our lives we've had a varmint issue. It's not their fault, but pigs are, well... pigs. And they eat. They eat quite a lot. To feed the pig guys, we collect left over produce (almost all organic!) and other tasty items from a local grocery store, and all these goodies have to be stored. Plastic tubs are hardly a deterrant.

The Daves have attracted a following. We've found the footprints-- all sorts of footprints all over the broad surface of the storage tubs. We've also found bitten milk containers and gallons of spilled milk.

As so often happens in farming, one thing (pigs) begets another (pig food storage issues), begets another (varmints!). Hopefully, this will not beget the deaths of many well-loved hens. So far (Knock on wood) the poultry have been left alone. But we worry about them come fall, when the the Daves have "moved on" (Yes, another Maggie's Farm euphemism for slaughter). We also worry about bears, which stop by from time to time even without the added lure of pig food.

Luka has no use for worry. She's decided to take matters into her own paws when it comes to the varmint issue. In the last few weeks, she's cornered a possum (Dan snapped this picture of the event)
treed a large and very noisy racoon (Who knew they could screech like that???) and killed two snakes and a young skunk.

Now, we know we are supposed to be tough and unemotional when it comes to the bottom line. Farmers have little sympathy for harmful hangers-on, but the dead skunk got to me. It was adolescent at best and left belly-up beside the barn, its pointy little teeth bared.

Here's another thing about the skunk: It got a bit of revenge on Luka and the rest of us. we've had a pretty ripe few days here on Maggie's Farm.

Luka, however, wears her new perfume like a badge of honor. Here she is looking just a bit too proud of herself...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Drac and Dodge

I promised to put up a picture of Dracula, Leela's humongous lamb, and here it is. He's the one on the right. Pretty ginormous boy, eh? Leela has the most wonderful fleece, and Drac shares this trait. He really did end up looking a bit like his namesake monster with and enormous rough of fleece around his neck and those arching "eyebrows".

He's a tough one to photograph. Here he is walking away from the camera:

And because the shot of Dodge was so, well, dodgy, I thought I'd put another one out there. Dodge is also honkin' HUGE. With a gingery moorit gray fleece.

One of these boys will go to a new home. one will likely stay. Let us know if you are interested.

Poultry Outtage

Around here, the arrival of turkey poults can only mean one thing: a power outage. Last year, as you may possibly recall, the arrival coincided with a 4 hour outage, visit from cousins, and two lambings. Now THAT was tough.

This time around, the poults arrived later in the year. (Love those "COME GET YOUR BIRDS OUT OF HERE!" calls from the post office.) We set them up in the brooder (They need close to 100 constant degrees) and, right on schedule, the power went out. Oh, and it was 60 degrees and rainy.

The power is pretty steady here in Colrain, which makes these poultry outages all the more baffling. We usually have only two or three over the course of en entire year. But their timing is impeccable (ImPECKable???).

Anyway, I knew what to do this time around-- fill as many vessels as I could before the water from our well seeped irretrievably back to earth, and get busy making snuggly water bottles out of every spare container on hand. (I didn't get pictures this time around, but the poults snuggled up to those milk jugs and muddle through.)

I spent a couple hours warming the poults this way before order-- and power-- was restored. Luckily, reports of poult frailty (in relation to chicks) seem greatly exaggerated.
All of them made it through and they are doing just fine, thank you.

For those who like to have their goofy story with a side of useful information: The batch is 1/3 Giant White, 1/3 Bronze, and 1/3 Narragansett. We also have one "Chocolate Turkey" (for dessert. Well, not really for dessert.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Hog Habitat

After a crazy lot of effort (on Dan's part) and kibbitzing (on my part) the pigs are finally out on the range.

Pigs are still pretty new to us-- new, but cool. Really cool. We are enjoying our swine venture tremendously. These guys are so friendly and personable. A whole lot easier to keep than sheep-- though not half as elegant. It is a challenge to keep the food aspect in the foreground. But we are working on that...

"The Daves" (as we call them) started out as smallish piglets in a seemingly ample sheep stall. The idea was that they would churn the stall into compost, saving us a lot of time and effort. I'd seen this in action at West Elm Farm a few years back-- when pigs were just a sparkle in this shepherd's eye-- so I knew it was possible. But after a couple of weeks, the pigs were still trotting around on a foot an a half of used hay.

Then we met an old-time pig farmer on the loading bay of a local grocery store (As "pig farmers", ourselves, we've discovered the joys of raiding the unwanted food--with permission of course. The Daves have feasted on everything chocolate milk to organic spinach, tubs of potato salad to fancy Greek yogurt... but that's another story.) Anyway, this old time farmer, told us to bury kernels of corn in the hay and this did the trick. The Daves spent countless hours bulldozing out kernels with their crazy-accurate noses.

In a few weeks our pigs were twice as big and the "more than ample" stall was small, stinky and mucky as all get-out. I doubt the Daves lost any sleep over this, but I did. We'd started this pig thing to supply ourselves with ethically raised, well-treated meat and the pen, while palatial by factory farm standards, started to feel pretty lousy to me.

The new pasture was taking a loooong time-- owing to our busy work schedules and a slew of baseball games, social events and kids birthday parties. And while the postholes were dug and fenceposts set in concrete, while Dan strung woven wire and I detangled our (terribly annoying) electric tape and ran it along the bottom of the pig enclosure-- all in a month of constant, drenching rain punctuated by moments of sun(shower) and cataclysmic storm-- I fretted.

But yesterday, the Daves had an Independence Day of their own. We'd created an alley of fences and plastic bins and eased them out of "old stinky". Dan and I expected they'd trot along in a group, ending up in their new area.
And yes, this is the way it would have happened... if they were sheep. But they were not sheep; they were pigs. And they didn't much care to hurry anywhere. Our drove split up and snuffled along in whatever direction their noses led them. No amount of pushing or shouting deterred them. They had grass under their trotters and they were not going to be hurried. This incensed little Luka (super herding dog, extraodinaire) who set about barking and pushing at the fence. If Dan and I were going to be the "good Cops", she was fine and dandy with the bad cop role. But the Daves paid no attention to psycho herding dog either. (Again, we are all used to SHEEP. Sheep pretty much flow together and run away from humans and maniacal herding dogs.)
Pointy and Stubby Dave eventually strolled into the new pen-- mostly because they wanted to go in that direction anyway. But Scratchy Dave thought the inside of the barn looked pretty interesting, and he did NOT like it when I tackled him around the middle to keep him from busting out into the open. (Note to self: Pigs are really, REALLY loud when you tackle them.) Dan hurried over as I lay on the ground with my arms around Scratchy's back legs and Luka barked and Dave screamed bloody murder, and finally we got him turned around and eased into the new pen. An adventure and a half it was.
Luka thinks this pig thing is crazy...

Once inside, the Daves were more than happy to lend a helping snout in the construction of their new hang out.

The end result is a great place. I keep wanting to call it a "habitat" as if we are some sort of farm animal zoo. It has wallows and high points, weeds and brush. And we are hoping the Daves will set to work turning the place upside down so that we can ready it for the sheep next spring, a sort of "pig tractor". Another amazing thing about pigs (or at least our pigs) is that they took to the wide open, leafy space as if it was exactly what they expected.

The Daves are happy as pigs in a brand new, cool and fun pig habitat.

(Yes, that's genuine Icelandic wool-- part of their cool new bedding material-- they are snuffling in the picture.)