We’re Expecting…

Well, we’re not expecting…not a baby anyways.

But Lilac is! The vet confirmed, late last week, that she is pregnant. We should be welcoming a new little calf sometime late November, early December. Honestly, this feels like the first major thing that has gone according to plan here on the farm. We are all very excited but feel the impending pressure that accompanies such a major event. Not to mention the massive increase in farm chores, possibly two milkings a day and processing gallons upon gallons of milk. All summer long, when going out to do our nighttime chores, we would stop to give Lilac her snack and speculate as to whether she was looking rounder and then remind each other not to get our hopes up. While having a calf arrive during winter is far from ideal, it is better than no calf and, in turn, no clean milk at all. Indeed, it all seems overwhelming at the moment when you consider all the added work but this is what we dreamed of doing for so long. Now we are another step closer to self-reliance.

And now I must go…no more time to talk…I have to go watch You Tube videos of calves being born and cows being milked!

Missing in action

So, thanks to a combination of being at the height of harvest, and in turn preserving season, and what little creative juices I have left channeled into a few household and craft projects that desperately need finishing before winter sets in, this here blog has seemingly been abandoned. From the end of August to the beginning of October we hit our busiest time of the year. Kicking off with my birthday we then have 6 birthdays, usually a wedding or two to attend, throw in some other assorted autumn festivities such as harvest festival, local fiber festival, grape and apple picking…and holy crap we have 7 straight weekends completely booked.

In the madness of it all I have a lot of posts written in my head but have yet to find time to sit down and type them out. In the mean time, I have been working on a little time-lapse photography, of sorts, to help demonstrate what we do with our feeder pigs while waiting for them to reach market weight.

When we decided to homestead, a huge driving force was the astonishing cost of clean, grass-fed meat, not to mention the astronomical pricing of anything labeled certified organic. Vegetarians we are not, with the exception of PJ, who declares meat to be “yucky tasting and bad smelling,” so we knew that our ideal of wanting to know where our food comes from meant that we would most likely raise our own pork, beef and poultry. It was the logical next step, after Kevin began to hunt, and a responsibility that we treat with great reverence and, in turn, do not take lightly. So, we aim to give them a good life, filled with lots of fresh air, sunshine and the food they are meant to eat and in return they will, eventually, sustain us.

Our pigs are Gloucestershire Old Spot crosses, a heritage breed, like all the other livestock residing here on the farm. Tamworths were our first choice, owning to the fact that they are referred to as the “bacon breed” and everyone here, including the otherwise self proclaimed-vegetarian 4 year old, really, really loves bacon. But alas, there are no Tamworths to be found around here and ones about a 3 hour drive away have a waiting list two years in advance and 10 people deep. So GSDs it was! We also chose a heritage breed because of their superior rooting capabilities and their ability to thrive on pasture. While they still receive a large helping of local, organic grain every evening to speed up weight gain (mostly because we got them so late in the year and this crew has no interest in over-wintering our porcine friends) we want them to be mostly grass-fed. Since their arrival, our compost pile has been void of any green matter or food scraps, all of which finds its way into the slop bucket and then out to the pigs. They have also been the beneficiaries of any of mishaps resulting from my initial foray into cheese making, which thankfully takes the sting out of failure…no milk wasted during my learning curve!

We picked this group up just after they were weaned, back in late spring, and quickly sent them to work tilling the barnyard after a short quarantine in the barn. When moving day rolled around we decided to set them out on a bit of pasture reserved for garlic planting later this fall. With the help of a portable solar charger and some electronet pig fencing we have our own rototilling crew. We broke the area up into three sections and here is an example of what happened in each section in the span of four to six days, depending on rainfall…

Here is Day 1 about 10 minutes after we moved them onto a new section:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

As we move through fall and into winter we will turn them out onto each garden row after we pull the final harvest and allow them to turn over the soil and winterize for us, a job that would take Kevin and I the better part of a week to accomplish on our own. Many people have said to me, when they find out we are homesteading and striving to raise all of our own food, that they could never raise an animal and then send them off to the butcher, not to mention eating them for dinner. I, however, find great peace and solace in knowing the life that my dinner lived and being assured that it was a good one and that it had minimal impact upon the earth.I also know that sometime late this winter, over a dinner of pork chops, roasted garden potatoes, sugared carrots and homemade applesauce we will give thanks and marvel at how these pigs are not only feeding us but also, tilled, weeded and fertilized our garden, provided lard for soap making and entertained us daily with their antics. For as hard as it is to raise an animal from birth to table, I wouldn’t trade those blessings and assurances of traditional living for a shrink-wrapped grocery store package of unknowing any day!