Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hot Water!!

So what could be more fun than hauling 30 gallons of hot water around the farm at 4AM? Nothing! LOL. Sigh. It's a bit chilly again (17F this AM on the farm) and the critters need their warm H2o. Unfortunately our system is still quite manual. We fill a series of 5 gallon buckets with hot tap water using the sink in the mud room, and then load it into the truck for the trip down to the animals. We also fill a couple of smaller buckets for the chickens. They need iceless water too.

But we have a crafty plan for next year. We'll be installing a tankless heater in the house and recycling the "super good cents" (very well insulated) hot water heater down to the machine shop for the critters. This will greatly reduce the distance we have to haul it. It will be practical to provide hot water at each check-in (morning milking run and evening feedings) where it's a "once-a-day" chore right now. I can also use the hot water to mix the afternoon hog snacks (I add water to the grain). Anything that helps reduce the animals need to generate their own heat is a good thing in my book.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Goats are cool too

Alas with all of the piggie drama of late, I feel I have neglected to mention the other (and more numerous) residents of the farm. That would be the Goats. But how did we become Goat farmers? Can you tell another picture loaded adventure is about to be written? LOL. I'll keep this one shorter than the Hog story.
So in 2008 we bought the farm. In this case literally. It had been unoccupied for about a year and lets just say the level of maintenance had slipped a little in the previous couple of years. The house, garage and machine shop were in fine shape to be sure. Irrigation system worked great (ton of water, nice buried lines, piles of pipe). But the fields? Ummm...well you can see below what it looked like when we got there. And I did have to upgrade the old tractor from the 1947 Fergusson seen below to a newer (and more powerful) Kubota.

Wild America!How's this thing work again?What is that in the distance?
So first order of business once the wilds were properly tamed was to get some animals. The Mrs. wanted Goats. You can milk them to make cool stuff like soap, cheese and (of course) drinking milk. She REALLY wanted to make cheese. In fact today, as of this writing, she is bringing me some of the first batch of home-made-goats-milk motzarella. She says it's amazing. Where was I again...oh yeah, getting goats. So the Mrs. knew this lady (Kim) who made goats milk soap at the Midnight Oil Soap Company who was in the market to get rid of some surplus dairy goats. Kim makes great soap, I highly reccomend it. I use it on a daily basis. Good stuff.

Well we went out to Kims place and made off with Miracle and Lily, a mother-daughter pair of pureblood Nubians. With some top-notch dairy goats, our herd began. We also managed to abscond with some three wethers ("fixed" male) Nubians as well. Well I am not one to be out done, and surely two goats were not enough, so I went on the hunt for some meat goats. I scared up a couple of Boer ladies, Madras and Blanca. Dissapointingly, Blanca is destined for the freezer and not the breeding herd. Madras was the one I originally selected (she is a massive girl) and in hind sight I should have stuck with my first impulse and not picked up that second critter just because it "seemed like a deal." *sigh*

But not to be deterred, and seeing another screaming deal of a herd reduction sale in the paper (how many goats do we need?) The Mrs and I were off in search of more goats. Well we picked up some more Boers to breed. We need to stock our freezer and there is something of a growing market for grass fed goats. Enter Swiss Miss, her kids and the very pregnant Frosty (who has kidded Jack Frost and St. Nicholas since we bought her).

The Swiss Miss

So that's it. Well, almost. We're shopping for a buck this weekend. We have bred the Nubians to a local fullblood/pureblood buck and should have more kids this spring. Lily is getting quite large. Once we have our own buck, the herd will close. We'll probably pickup another buck so that we have a couple of crossable lines, but from then on the flow will only be animals out of the herd, primarily as food. We'll see what Lily and Miracle produce as we may have some marketable bucks. And that's how we became goat people.

Now for a pointless shot of my last trip to Puerto Rico. The Mrs and I had a great time. First went there for work, and had to go back for fun. Old San Juan is amazing. Sunday brunch at The Cafe Berlin. I highly reccomend it. I could trade today's 32F and clouds for this any time. Hope it makes you warm inside :)
Nice, eh?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back to normal...whatever that is.

Well Daph is back to her old self. She is certainly skinny compared to a week ago. No wonder scours wipes out piglets so fast. Daph is "merely large" and I think another week of this would have wiped her out, fluids or no fluids.

In any even she came out to the trough last night with the other pigs. And gobbled up food. Since the slop has lots of liquid, she'll get plenty of fluids at the same time. I use a secret mix of 16% protein chow, salad oil ($20 for 35 pounds was a deal) and water. Makes them all crazy and is doing quite well at (1) packing on the pounds a little faster and (2) helping with the dry skin the big pigs got this winter.

As of this AM Daph was at the hay feeder nibbling away just like her old self.

But the Dalan Farm is not all about sick pigs! There is a lot of other fun stuff to do this weekend! Like clean the chicken house (yesterday...10 wheel barrows full of compact doody and straw for the compost pile), cleaning the hog huts today and the goat barn tomorrow. This stuff will likely be used in the garden next year. Green chicken poo, even cut with straw, is REALLY hot (high in nitrogen) and would likely turn everything brown this year.

Chickens are making eggs like mad. And so are the ducks. Funny thing those ducks. The boys (we have two male and three female) have been harassing our rooster and one of my hens. So much so I finally proclaimed that on the first warm day, I would be moving them from the pen to the freezer. Heather proclaimed the same for the females. We decided they are basically useless, and they were free.

First warm day came (we actually had a 65F day after weeks of -6F at night and 10F during the day) and you know what? Duck eggs everywhere. And it's been the same ever since. So they have earned a reprieve. Now that it is cold again, the boys are off the hook as well. Come spring, I make no promises. I'm thinking duck stuffed with Goat (Chevon) sausage and sage.

Sounds yummy to me .

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hope Springs

At lunch today Daphne was on here feet again when I checked on her. When I left three of the four trotted out (as usual). Daphne came out shortly after. She still looked like junk, with he head covered in straw rubble, but she was out and about.

I threw in some food (wrong time of day, but I was excited), Alfalfa and filled the extra water pan. Daph didn't approach the regular feed, but did drink from the water pan and nose around the alfalfa. Seems like she is finally on the mend.

First the people, then the pigs

After a winter of sick children, spouse and a month of fun myself (including a brief bout with pneumonia) no I have a pig who's sick. Oh joy. Daphne showed up with what looked like a stomach bug a few days ago. A flurry of research, calls to the vet and more research led me to conclude that she has...a stomach bug.

There is not a ton of diagnostic information about GI issues in pigs. Most of the literature I have found is focused on nursing or recently weaned piglets, who can expire rapidly from scours. Scours is just a fancy farm name for the "green-apple-quick-steps." Well Daph is not little anymore, she's about 130lbs.

So I sent the Mrs. down to check her temp (I was at work, or I would have done it myself) the day after symptoms arose. She trucked down, did the deed and the result was103F. For a pig her size this is no great shakes. And she's still moving around and is not "lame" as the farmers say. Still, Tuesday was the last time she trotted out to the trough for the evening meal. Heather saw what looked like some vomit in the hut that evening. Never good news. Not at 3 AM with my kids, and not at 4 PM with my pigs.

As of Thursday morning she did not appear to be losing fluids anymore. So at this point I think re-hydration is the important (only?) task. After some fiddling around I have found a way to get her to take fluids with a Turkey baster. Works like a champ. First we tried a mix of things (Molasses, Apple Juice, Salt, etc.) but she didn't seem interested. My technique was probably the problem. I tried using a baster to get the stuff in her mouth. Next I tried mixing it with feed in a pan. Daph actually tried nosing the mix out of the hut. Strike one. But I'm not one to quit easily.

Next, I fed Daph about a pint of apple juice Thursday AM, as my basting technique improved. This morning I came down with fruit flavored Pedialyte. She drank almost the whole bottle. I will repeat the Pedialyte dosing until she is up and around again.

On the whole...Thursday was the scary day. Daph was laying like a lump in the rear of the hut at lunch time and I honestly expected to find out she had expired. However, she was warm and breathing. I think she just feels like junk. That time she never even picked up her head. Thursday night was not much better. She had moved to the front of the hut, but still did not acknowledge my presence. I was not hopeful.

My worry is two fold. She is a somewhat pricey pig. Lots of time and effort went into getting her home. More importantly, I am quite attached to my swine at this point. I realized how much I appreciate them coming up the get pets and belly scratches after the evening meal. In fact all of the members of both hers whine and grunt untile they get the old post feed loving.

So what next? When my oldest and I went down to try some Pedialyte, I warned her that Daph might be dead. Even with fluids, I figured it was 50/50 at best. We were pleasantly surprised!Not only did Daph take fluids from the baster greedily, but she picked up her head when we came into the hut. And when I scratched and rubbed her belly, she rolled over immediately.

I think Thursday was "turning the corner" for Daph. Well see. Hopefully she gets better, and I am preparing myself for the other ones to come down with the bug, as I have not isolated them from Daph. Why? Am I crazy?

I don't think so, I think keeping these hogs together is the best strategy. All of the pigs have been huddling together, Daph on her own might get cold on top of being sick. Moving pigs is stressful on them when they are healthy, doing it when they are sick is an even worse idea. Finally I think the most likely candidate for diagnosis (other than a random GI bug) is TGE (Transmissible Gastro Enteritis). Several papers I have read mention that exposing the other pigs to the infected animals (helping them develop resistance to TGE) can help prevent TGE from becoming Chronic in a herd. Here are a few useful links about TGE. You'll notice that most of the concern is related to little ones.

TGE on thepigsite
TGE on Prairie Swine Center (PDF)

In any event scours (regardless of cause) appears to generally non-fatal in larger pigs. I have consulted a vet, but have yet to receive a call back. Local swine knowledge is limited but I have an ace in the hole (buddy of mine) if I think I am over my head. No matter where the scours comes from, the treatment recommendation seems to be hydration. Fluids and rest, just like people.

Hopefully Daph will be up on her feet and messing with Maggie (gilt from our other herd of 4) at the fence line again...soon. When I look Daph in her eyes, she has the same look my kids did when they were sick. I think she just feels like crap.

Breaks my heart.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Flip a U-Turn at Leonard, TX -- Black Hogs Part 3

So on from KS to TX. More toll roads, flat country and sunshine. Oh yeah, I never mentioned the weather did I? Well what would you expect for the first of November in ID, UT, WY, KS, OK and TX? Why 70-80 degrees and sunny right? Well that's what we got. I was sure the weather would be foul. But if I wanted pigs in 2008, the end of October was as good as it was going to get. Well, it was like some big hand parted the sky just for us. Just so you know this is not entirely hyperbole, on Halloween in Fort Collins the news said it was the warmest it had been in 20 years.

But I digress...again. On to Texas. TEXAS. Fortunately the toll road in KS (35 South I think) was cheap and fast. We blinked and missed most of OK. Well not exactly, we did get to stop at a well vandalized road side marker for some of the local geology.

At this point I began to depend on my questionable Map Quest directions again and Uncle Chris and I wandered off into the hinterlands of TX and OK. Having decided that enough is enough, I called Cathy, at Oleo Acres, to get much needed instructions for finding the farm. I had learned by now not to depend on my Map Quest directions for the "last mile."

After a short chat (with Cathy digging through an atlas) we figured out where we were was and where we needed to go. A while later Cathy met us at a gas station in Leonard. We trailed her out to the farm and settled in with some fresh Jo (Coffee) and warm little conversation. It was here I met John and Bobbie as well as Mr. Cox (Tim). At the time I arrived Tim was laying waste to some brush with the tractor and mower. I'm told this is one of his favorite activites. I completely understand. One of the benefits of being a farmer (for me) is snarling powerful equipment. Makes me do my best Tim Allen impersonation. I was lucy to discover that Bobbie makes some mean cheese (thanks again for the supply) and John was sure (after watching me snatch our intended pigs) that I had previous experience stealing pigs. I took it as quite a compliment :) These folks are into their operation, love their beasts and have a vision for what they want to accomplish. And they have a good sense of humor.

We had been invited to stay the night in the "half way house", eat some dinner and generally loaf about the farm. Two out of three ain't bad. I made the executive decision that I would rather get home late Sunday, and have all Monday off to sort out matters before returning to my real job on Tuesday. This meant driving all night. The decision was not well received by Uncle Chris...but he was getting to sleep either way. So after a load up of critters, some excellent dinner (I never knew I liked Motzaball soup) at about 8 PM local time...we bid farewell to Oleo Acres and headed home.

West, then North. I think. I swear the skyline seemed to never change at night. Oil rigs? Could be...I was groggy and it was dark. Hauled on up to Amarillo (something to see at night) and then slept in a parking lot in either North Texas or the sliver of OK we passed through. We saw a lot of empty places in south Colorado. It wasn't till I collided with I-70 that I saw anything familiar. Daytime was travelling through CO, WY and into UT. Not much had changed in a week. Just as we hit UT the rain started. Even though Ogden is 550 miles from home, I felt like we were almost there. Onward and up on through the emptiness of Northern UT and Southern ID. Mind plays games when it is to tired to work anymore. In the dark I would have sworn there were big fir trees all along the way. I know full well there weren't any...but I thought I could see them. I kept seeing lakes too. That could have been rain on the ground. Or hallucinations.

Anyway...ID kept on coming and it was getting cold. We stopped for a rest (so we could trade drivers) and I thought I was going to freeze. I also noticed that by Boise we had lost most of the truck traffic. Granted this was the first night driving we did, but the highway was positively empty. This was alright as the headlights of my truck were tilted up (weight of the trailer) and I was getting flashed by every oncoming car and truck all night long. Into LaGrande, Pendleton and along the back roads from Milton-Freewater to our home.

Anyway...sometime around 4:30 AM we arrived back at the farm. I think Uncle Chris drove home, but for all I know he rode a Chariot. I was pretty rummy by then (1 hour of sleep in 32 hours) and I don't recall things real clearly. I left the piggies in the trailer and moved them into their long term housing in the morning.

I was delighted. The kids and the Mrs fell in love with the floppy ears and willingness to have their belly scratched. Here they are adapting to their new home (spending winter in what will be Farrow pens next summer...while these are out on the pasture) and you can also see the initial reaction of our Llama. He went NUTS. Much better now. And that's how we became pig farmers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Water, Water everywhere...

I find it completely ironic that after spending a year debating with the State about the status of my water right (it all worked out in the end) I got all the free water last week I could ever want. And then some.

This was in the evening when I got home. The water in the foreground is actively flowing towards the base of the hill where our house sits. No biggie, as nothing short of another biblical flood would reach the house, septic or the well. By 9:00 at night everything in the foreground was under a couple of feet of water and it was high enough to reach the margins of the hog hut in the upper-right hand corner.

Right before this picture was taken the kids were driving by and saw a Heron successfully fishing in the Goat pasture. Now I guess I'm into aquaculture too! But that's not all you see when the water is high, Roberta showed up and I managed to get a fleeting snapshot of her. She sure is furry this time of the year.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Large Black Hogs Part Two

So how does my story end? Well it continued the day be before Halloween, 2008. Having procured a new (different) truck and a borrowed horse trailer, we (Uncle Chris, pictured right and myself) left the house at 4 in the morning.

Our route would roughly take us through Milton-Freewater and LaGrande OR, Boise, and Twin Falls ID then through Ogden, UT and across the belly of WY turning South at Laramie. Next up was Fort Collins, CO and Wichita, KS before skipping through Oklahoma and into TX. We would skip KS on the return trip.

One of the best days was day 1 in southern Idaho. Great far country as the sun came up. The Southernmost portions of ID and Northern UT were...empty. Seems like a bad place to break down if you get off the beaten path. But we found a rest stop with some interesting geological information. I could share that, but why? Rather check out the pictures below of our travels through this American wasteland! First up is a an early AM ID wasteland shots. A little country, a very old and abandoned farmstead and a not so useful fire hydrant just across the border in UT.

Not real exciting, but How about this one? Bet you didn't know UT has Sasquatch? Or is that me...sometimes it's hard to tell :)

So anyhow, on we travelled. I'd tell you about UT and WY, but there isn't much to say. UT was brief and WY was empty. We stopped at "Little America" (the biggest truck stop I've ever seen) in what appeared to be the surface of the moon. Seriously, the only thing around for 100 miles in any direction is nothing and then BLAM! Mini-Mart-City. After that we hit a very "where-is-the-guy-with-a-leather-mask-and-chainsaw" gas station (at night of course) and then one more stop in Laramie, WY. Did I mention a 2005 Crew Cab Silverado gets lousy gas mileage while hauling a four horse trailer at 85MPH?

Our last stop on day one was Fort Collins, CO. I have to admit that we got there pretty late and when the highway disappeared onto a city street, I thought I was completely lost. Center Ave. I think it was. Well, we found our hotel and it was great. The lady (girl really) behind the counter had recently hauled her horses on a 36 hour straight drive from somewhere in CA to Fort Collins so (along with directions for dinner) she was full of much appreciated sympathy for our sore butts.

The next morning it was on to KS. After finding Starbucks and some snacks (and cold medicine, I came down with something just as we left...nice eh?) we proceeded to get bled to death by the most expensive toll road in all creation. That would be the E470. Small, crowded and cost was something like $450 per gate (and I swear there are 15 of them in 2 miles) all for the pleasure of driving around Denver. Traffic in Denver isn't that bad, I'd strongly recommend driving through Denver. It has more interesting scenery anyway.

So off we went through CO, but there ain't much to see in Eastern Colorado. Check out the ID pictures and that will about cover it. KS, now those people know how to truck stop. Lots of...creativity. My favorite? Giant metal palm trees...

But that is not all that a set of nasty MapQuest directions and the state of KS have to offer. Not by a long shot. There is the great and wondrous Mushroom Rock State Park. It holds such treasures including the actual Mushroom rocks (really kind of cool) and the WORST SMELLING OUTHOUSE IN CREATION. I grew up camping Eastern WA using outhouses that were cleaned using some kind of "when it runs out the top" scheduling and they were rose gardens compared to this hole of doom. I'd have used the back seat of my truck before using this "restroom." Fortunately there were plenty of bushes. And no people. I suspect the only visitors this place gets is local teenagers on the weekend looking for a bit of privacy to to partake of some oat soda. Anyway, here are some snaps.

But what about the pigs? Well our first pickup was in KS, not far from "The 'Shroom." Underhill Farms was the first stop. I had to run Lynn off the tractor (seeding wheat if I recall) and they were more than accommodating. We sorted three gals from one litter and a boar-ito from the other one. Here they are all snug in the trailer. These were September babies and this was the 1st of November.

In the next installment, I'll chat about our time with the folks at Oleo Acres in Leonard, TX. Cathy and Tim (and Company) were a real blast. Definitely a high point of the trip.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

How we became Large Black Pig People

I grew up in "The City." So every once in a while it occurs to me how far I have wandered away from where I started. Not geographically, but culturally. Just so I am disclosing everything, my Dad came from the old country (Norway) and my Mom's family spent a large portion of their lives being quite rural. Grandpa worked in the outside as a logger and later as a Fisheries Biologist. Mom spent lots of time in rural, coastal OR and WA. So I don't really come from a long line of City Slickers, after all.

But I digress...in my world view, up to this point, I was a "City Boy." I met my future wife, we got hitched, and moved to her home town. There's a lot to that, but that's a long story for a different time. The long and the short of it is that 10 years after we were married, my "Farmification" was complete. Well...almost. Then I saw something about Large Black Pigs on the History channel.

The show was on the history of swine, I think. I saw pictures of trotting Large Blacks and heard about how they grazed on grass, were weather hardy, didn't sun burn, were mellow enough to let your kids hang around with them and they had big floppy ears. Great small farm pig they said. Yep. My inner farmer proclaimed: "Them are the pigs fer me!" Being a rather impulsive fellow I decided then and there I had to have them. So off to to the Internet I went to find some sellers. Turns out the Large Black is farily rare, and was probably never that common in North America. Main breeders are in the UK, here is the breeders club. The nearest folks with any stock I could find were a 4000 mile round trip away in Kansas and Texas.

Inner farmer says: "Sounds good."

Deposits were paid, time scheduled off, trailer borrowed and driving buddy located (my brother...who I also kidnapped and dragged out to the country).

Next time I'll give you the tale of 4 days of roads, hotels, LOUSY map quest directions and really nice folks in different states.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Snow Pigs

Black pigs on white snow. To be precise these are some of our Large Black Pigs. Seriously that's the breed name. Kind of a no frills name that doesn't do much justice to how cool these pigs are. Hardy, grazes on grass, no rooting (if given a bit of space to roam) and very friendly. The critter on the right is Sir Francis Bacon. He's my big boar. Scratch his belly and he'll flop right on your feet. All of them (even my unruly younger group) are all very acclimated to people. They love our kids, us and other critters.

Funny thing...when I feed them at night (they need some grains to supplement the hay) they all make a lot of noise even after I have given them feed. Why? They are waiting for me to come over, scratch bellies, rub jowls and give their dry rears a bit of attention. After a few minutes they wander of and either bed down, or eat some hay.

Is Winter Over Yet?

OK, I confess that I'm not much for winter wonder lands. We had a White Christmas, and that was great, but -10F and three weeks of snow has been quite enough. It's 40F now and I'm just hoping the lower pasture doesn't flood any worse. It's been really minor so far.

Pigs are growing fast, and I have moved the small herd from their temporary shelter near the chickens the one of the two current farrow pens. Eventually these will be four farrow pens (with some cross fencing, but later...). Everyone seems to be adapting quite well. Heather is milking Swiss Miss (our Alpine/Boer Goat). She is getting very proficient and I cannot wait to see what the production is like with one of our actual Dairy goats. Lilly and Miracle (Full Blood Nubian's) should have kids this spring (March I think) and the Milk show be flowing like mad. Kids (and I) love it.