Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.


Friday, January 30, 2015

What REALLY happened to those pig headz....

You may remember that there was some question about what happened to the pig headz when we had our last butcher day. There was, in fact, a scandal. I had been sworn to secrecy but let's face it. We are all stuck in the house and the snow madness has given me fits. I can't keep this secret anymore so I'm blowing the story wide open. Get yourself a drink and read on....

So.

It is a fact that my husband lives only to torment me. There is proof in that pudding. His new thing is to throw icky stuff into the pond. His big idea is to feed all our gross stuff (from butchering) to the catfish. He does it just to get my goat. Seriously. It is a fact that I am terrified to the stupid catfish. Oh sure maybe you love them, love to fish for them, fry them up in a pan, or heaven forbid... to engage in "noodling." But I don't. I wont even let them in the house.

My terror is such that I honestly don't even even know if there really are catfish in the pond. For all I know this is just some kind of lie he concocted to keep me away from the pond so he can have some peace and quiet well away from my ever growing list of farm chores. But it worked. I won't go down to the pond now.

From time to time he goes down to the pond to "check on the catfish" but I really don't know what he's doing because I won't go anywhere near the it. At nite I lay awake wondering if those horrible catfish with their wiggly whiskers and horrible gaping mouths are walking their way up the hill to kill me in my sleep. Catfish. The horror is real.

Anyway.

The other day one of my husband's appointed farm chores was go and get rid of those damn pig headz. They had been frozen solid in the garage. I instructed him to double bag those big ol' pig headz and put them out with the garbage. This is how it went:

He: We can't throw them in the garbage - they are too heavy. I know! I'll throw them in the pond!
Me: No. The pond is frozen.
He: They are so heavy they will break thru the ice....
Me: No. That is stupid and it wont work.
He: It will TOTALLY work!

Then he ran off toward the pond carrying the pig headz, one in each hand, yelling "YIPEEEE!"

I went and got my camera and the dog.

From the safety of the porch I could see him hurl the first frozen head with all his cave troll like strength. It sailed valiantly thru the air and landed with a thud and a wwwwooooowwwwwnnnnnnng noise...and then skidded way out in the middle of the entirely frozen pond.

I visibly saw him exhale, thinking "This couldn't POSSIBLY be happening."

So in a fit of brilliance he takes the OTHER totally frozen head.. and chucks that one too. A thud, a reverberating noise, skidding.

He actually scratched his head as he watched the second pig head come to rest in the middle of the frozen pond. It was like watching some kind of horrible game of curling. Both headz sat out there mocking him. I knew that he would never let this go. He's a determined fellow.

So then me and the dogs took up comfortable positions and watched him hurl a variety of heavy objects onto the pond - he threw each one more hopeful than the last that it would break thru the ice thereby sinking the horrible pig headz into the deep.

Nope.

After a while I started shouting helpful and supportive comments to him such as:

"I TOLD YOU!"

"F-"

"STOP EMBARRASSING ME!"

Eventually he lumbered up the hill in utter defeat.

"Now what, smart guy?" I asked helpfully. He had no immediate reply other than to look at me for support which he did not receive. I gave up being a right fighter a while ago but all of that came flooding back as I smirked at my dear husband's failure. No one was more right than me about the pond being too frozen for pig headz.

As it was, we did not think we could just leave them out there...but neither of us was going to walk out on that frozen pond. No way. We needed some kind of solution to either get them off the pond or break the ice so the pig headz would sink to their utter doom as catfish food.

We bandied around a variety of ideas for a while including:

1. Using a cannon to break the ice.
2. Cutting down one of the pond-side trees so that it would fall on the pond thusly breaking the ice.
3. Him shootin' at the pig headz until they skittered across to the other side.
4. Hooking Dog#1 up in Zander's harness, tying a rope to him, and having him "get it."

Eventually we settled on a grappling hook. I made popcorn for me and the dogs. We watched as time and time again my poor husband threw that hook out onto the frozen pond and narrowly missed pulling the pig heads to safety.

Me:  JUST GIVE UP! ACCEPT YOUR FAILURE AND LEARN TO LIVE WITH IT!
He: (huffs)

You should bear in mind that this was one of the coldest days this entire winter. I went in the house after awhile because it was too cold to stand out there. Zander and Kai lasted longer than I did but soon after woofed for me to let them in.

Eventually my husband gave up and came inside. To be more precise, I wouldn't let him in the house until he told me I was right. He choked the words out. I made him lunch. It was serve cold. Like his defeat.

The working theory became that a raccoon or whatnot would march itself out there and pull the pig headz to the side of the pond. Then my husband could safely go and get the pig headz... and throw them in the trash like I told asked him.

It turns out that you just can't get good help in the form of varmints these days. No hardworking raccoon showed up. The pig headz sat out there day after day, their lifeless eyes staring blankly at the sky... waiting for the eventual spring thaw.

Pretty much every day I went down to the fenceline and looked to see if the pig headz were still there. They were. Every day I gave my husband a report on their status to which he would reply by huffing and lumbering off.

Eventually the pond finally thawed out enough and the pig headz did in fact sink to their doom as catfish food.

And that is what really happened to those pig headz. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Seriously.

Happy Friday everyone! Whatcha got on your frozen pond?


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It really is coming....

It might not feel like it... but spring really is coming. Yesterday I went and looked at my peach tree and this is what I found...

Peach buds with little snow flakes.

Hopefully I'll have another banner year for peaches. Those tiny buds just might make it thru the cold. I talked to my orchard friends and they said we still have a long way to go. Here's to hoping.

In the meantime, we are in The Long Stretch.... it seems so far away and all I want to do is go outside. But it was 7* this morning... and I have a feeling it's going to get worse before it gets better. There could be freezing rain tomorrow followed by even more cold.

So what can you do? Keep busy. I have a lot of garden planning to do so that is fun. I'm also working on a 'clean out the basement' project. I received a fabulous gift of new shelves - and so I got those set up. Now comes the shuffling, sorting, and tossing. I got thru the first wave now I really need to get it finished up.

Happy Wednesday everyone! Are you keeping busy?


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Dogs and Fire Sale!

I know a lot of folks have it worse that us but wow I am not pleased with the snow-that-was-supposed-to-be-rain out there. The dogs love it.

We headed down to the woods this morning.

Everyone loved it.

So much snow and so many many things to see.

These two were the branch managers.

My Dog#1 just wanted me to throw the stick.


Zander's famous battle move is the "Bubby-gator"... he lies in wait. Kai usually comes back around but this time he sprang to action. They were like this the whole morning.

I'm sneaking this great sale in here at the bottom of the post - I just saw that the Amazon's Fire TV is on sale for just $84. That's $15 off the normal $99 price. It's not as good as when we got it for $79 in December... but still a pretty great deal. I'll have to do a post soon on how much we love it...but if you are over on 'the facebook' then you know it's my new favorite thing. I don't know how long the sale will last - they are promo-ing because of the awards Amazon's shows are winning. Check it out!

Happy Snow Day everyone!!! Are you Netflixin' on the Amazon TV or running thru the woods with your dogs?



Editors note: Check it out - affiliate links! Blah blah blah... these are ads for Amazon. I love Fire TV and I'm not ashamed to show it. If you click on a link and buy something then yay! I get a small percentage of the sale. I have to tell you this so you don't think I'm pulling the wool over your eyes. Consider yourself so advised. If you like this blog, or if I've helped you at all in your farming efforts, just make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links, my store, or the black Amazon search box on the right side of this page. I can't see who purchases what or any of the details. But whoever bought that stuff the other day - THANK YOU!! I really appreciate your support!

Monday, January 26, 2015

How to prepare for butchering pigs. And the worst thing that could happen.

One of my friends is about to butcher pigs for the first time. They were asking me questions about tools and such...and admitted they were a little nervous. That is just fine. One of the hard things about butchering is that most folks don't know what to expect. If you have an idea about how it's going to go then it will be much easier. Are you trying to figure out if you should take your pigs in for processing or butcher at home?

 Growing bacon.

Let's talk about how to prepare for butchering and about what the worst thing that could happen.

But first, let's put a disclaimer here that we are going to have a hard farm talk. If you think you are going to be upset then look here at Nicholas and Bitty. You might want to click around on cat links and stuff and then tomorrow we'll have a funny post or something. But let's be clear - if you think you are going to be upset then just look away. I always said I would tell you the truth about farming and we do not paint false picture here. And you should know by now that if you have something terrible to say then I will not publish your comment. Questions? Sure. But we don't fight here or make fun of anyone.

Ready?

It helps to have some idea of what the butchering day will look like. So click around and read up, check out videos, ask friends, and do your research. I have a bunch of links for our butcher days so you can learn exactly what will happen as our Hog Harvest day goes along. Most recently this is what happened when we butchered about a month ago.

You also need a good set of step by step instructions. This is the only reference that we use. Just like the rest of life, everyone has "their" way of doing things. It turns out that there is no "right" way - it's just what works best for you. Some traditional methods, for instance hanging the hog to gut it or scalding it, do not work at all for us. So we don't do those things. Do what works for you.

Now you need to have your tools in order. Here is my best link for our hog processing tools. You would think that you might need a bunch of fancy equipment but not really. Remember too that it was not so long ago that just about everyone had to do some kind of butchering - so technically it is not difficult. A couple of good knives, a meat saw, and two reasonably strong people is all you really need.

Then you need somewhere to chill the meat. This is the main reason that folks butcher in fall/winter. We like to butcher at about 20* but really you just need to be able to chill to meat below 40* as quickly as possible. An unheated garage, barn, or heck just hanging it from a tree in freezing weather is a great place to chill a big carcass. If you really don't have any good options then you can cut up the carcass halves into thirds (hams, sides, shoulders) and put it in a fridge. So either take everything out of your fridge or get a fridge just for butchering. Put it at the lowest/coldest setting and shove the huge chunks of meat in there. In a pinch you can get a couple of huge coolers and put the meat on ice... but I would not rely on this entirely.

Unlike other meat, pork does not benefit from hanging or aging. Mostly you just want to hang it overnite so that it is easier to work with when you part it up. You really don't want to ruin all that meat so make sure you have a good set up for chilling.

Now the hard part. Someone has to march out there and shoot that pig.

This is where the shuffling of shoes and the avoiding of eyes starts. From what I can tell this is main reason that folks do want to butcher at home. If one of you is a hunter then this is no big deal and you just get out there and get the job done. However, if no one in your group has ever slaughtered before, or killed anything as big as a pig, you might want to look around for help.

Almost everyone knows someone who hunts.  Or just about everyone knows an old timer who is willing to help. Check around for extended family members, folks you know at church, or an older farmer who is happy to get you started.

Even if you find someone to do the deed then you still have to march out there and maybe you aren't sure how you will react.

So let's pick this apart.

I've really been enjoying the series, "A Chef's Life" on PBS so I was glad to see their Christmas special included butchering a hog. This video is a pretty good demonstration of how folks react to the slaughtering part of the business. They start the hog butchering segment at about 32:46 with an introduction to the farm, preparing for the process, and then the actual shooting at 35:21. They show the farmer shooting the gun but they do not show the pig.  Watch this a couple times to see how folks are reacting. Maybe you'll get a better sense of what happens so you can get an idea of how you will react if you are not sure.

The thing I loved best about this was that the farmer was absolutely calm and was in complete control. Based on what he was saying, I believe the production people were trying to get the 'best shot' as in... the best camera view... but the farmer wanted the 'best shot' for the pig. He said something like, "No, I can't wait. If I get the shot I have to take it."

This farmer knew that the most important thing was to drop that pig on the first shot. From what I can tell it went perfectly. The other people's reactions are about what I'd expect. Some people seemed relieved, some seemed to think, "So.. that's it?" (And yep, that is it.) But I was pretty disappointed that the gal (Vivian Howard) kind of squirmed away, covered her eyes, and wouldn't watch.

I really wanted her to be the hero here. I really wanted her to show that real people can get out there and get the job done. I really wanted her to stand steadfastly and be interested instead of having an emotional reaction. I really wanted these things because I really want folks not to be afraid of butchering. I feel like this was an opportunity to give courage to folks instead of keeping that gap between food production and regular people.

I think it's a "thing" for people to think the only way to honor the process is to stand there and cry. I think there is an expectation that you need to have some kind of outburst or you are not a good person. But that does not have to be the case and I think promoting this idea keeps people from doing their own butchering.

So if I was to edit this video to encourage people to butcher, I would take that gal out and put in an unkempt, ill-dressed gal with a bad pony tail and a dirty shirt holding a full sized axe, with at least two dogs standing behind her. A big man would shoot the pig, it would go down, and that short, sturdy gal would say "Good work, honey" and then release the dogs to go and sniff around. That's what happens here. There is no crying or dramatic faces.

That's not to say that you shouldn't cry. That is entirely up to you. But you do need to control yourself and not become a distraction from the folks who are doing the job.  The fact is there are a lot of uncertainty during the shooting part of butchering and everyone needs to focus on getting the job done.

There is always the possibility that their might be a "bad kill."  What is that? Exactly what it sounds like. Some people think this is the worst thing that could happen. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you are shooting a large animal. One of them is that the first shot does not work. If that pig does not drop to his knees then you have a situation on your hands.

Fortunately for us we've only had a few bad shots and none of them were dangerous. The best situation is that you can fire another shot and drop the pig. The worst is that the first shot will only make him mad, or that he will be scared and run, and even worse that pig will turn on you. You need to be prepared for any of these situations.

Having a "kill pen" set up is an easy way to better control the situation. Unless that pig just steps right over the hog panel like it was a spider web. So mostly your best hope is to control the situation using food to get the pigs attention, taking your time, and remaining very very calm until you get the perfect shot.

We did not have the perfect kill for our last butcher day. The first pig shifted and the bullet did not hit its mark. Fortunately the pig did not run and he did not turn on my husband....but the pig did walk away. We both stood back to see if the pig would go down or if my husband could get into a better position for a second shot. It took a few minutes and the pig wandered into the worst of the mud. Eventually the pig went down to his knees and my husband was able to safely get close and take a second shot.

This was not optimal at all because the pig was in the deep mud - which is why we had to get the pulleys and such to drag the carcasses out of the mud. Fortunately, the second pig went down perfectly with one shot.

What do you do if you have a "bad kill?" You do the best you can. You realize that the worst thing to happen isn't a bad kill - let's face it it's over for that pig as soon as you walk out there - but the worst thing is that someone gets hurt. By "someone" I mean a person...you, whoever is helping you, or any onlookers. This is why you need to be very careful, be prepared, and practice good gun safety.

One thing that can be very upsetting is that the pig could do a lot of screaming. This can sound horrible. However, you need to keep in mind that even carrying a small pig to it's new pen results in a lot of screaming. Pigs, even in good circumstances, can be loud. An enraged, wounded, or scared hog can be extremely loud.

At this point sometimes folks are over whelmed and the possibility of a bad kill has just scared them off. Maybe they think that maybe they should just hitch up the stock trailer and take their hogs into the butcher. It might seem like a better idea since a professional will do a better job, right? Maybe. I dunno. If the butcher has a bad kill then how would you know? It's a tough thing to think about but if you want to grow out your own hogs then you need to decide how you will handle it.

How do you prepare yourself mentally? To figure out how to think about butchering? Trying to figure out how to not hurt something you are about to kill?

By realizing that this is not a new thing. Slaughter and butchering are only new to you if you haven't done it before. This is the way people have lived for most of the entirety of our time on this earth. If you want to quibble it's kind of like "hunting and gathering" but in a really small and contained space. Regular people have gathered their tools, and their courage, and marched out there to get the job done. Pray for courage. If you need someone to cheer you on then I'll be that person. If you are scared then acknowledge it, think about it, talk to folks, do your research.

But don't believe the lie that butchering is just some weird ancient tradition that only some people are able to do. Regular people just like you can do this. If we can do it, then you can do it. Can you butcher your own pig that you raised? Yes, you can.

Now who is going to get pigz this year? We are already thinking about our next batch!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

And then it snowed...

Today we were expecting mild temperatures and our big idea was to go on down and get a load of gravel to fill the big hole developing at the end of our driveway. But then this happened....

So much for that big winter storm missing us. 

Looks like today is going to be about sloth and fire.

Happy Saturday everyone! Are you hanging out by the fire today?


Friday, January 23, 2015

Prepping for pigs

It seemed like just yesterday we were prepping for hog harvest day and how we are about to start getting ready for having pigz in the spring. Well, things move pretty fast around here.

 Pigz. Not horrible when they are kind of small. Then stuff like this happens.

The dogs and I have been out scouting the property for where we will put the next pigz. The last pigz did such a great job of clearing that I want to be able to use those lots for production. As the spring progresses we'll be doing burning, clearing, tilling, and planting cover crops.

They end up being big. Real big. So much bacon.....

When finding a good location for pigz I need to keep a few things in mind:

1. Have them as far away from the house as possible. Pigz stink. They just do. For everyone who is about to say, "Well's all's you gotta do to keep them from stinkin' is..... " Just stop. I do not like the smell of pigz. At all. In any form. I can smell them a long way off and they stink. Bad.

2. But they can't be so far away that the hose doesn't reach. They need a lot of water and hauling it by the bucket is difficult and annoying.

3. We need to make sure they are well fenced in. You know us, we can whack up fencing anywhere but we need to make sure the lay of the land is fenceable.

4. They need cover - specifically they need to be in the woods. It's cooler and they like the shade - the woods also provide protecting from wind and rain.

5. I need to build a new Hog Hut. The indomitable Hog Hut 2008 finally fell to shambles. That structure was entirely free and included roofing tiles I literally dug out of the ground. It was subject to much mocking but it kept all those pigs bone dry all of those years.

Pigz are best on pasture where they can get out there and pig around. 

We don't need many supplies but I do need to go around and find all those feeders and waterers. We'll use the big tub for the waterfowl until the next pigz are big enough to use it. 

I won't need to think about feeding and chow until the pigz arrive but we'll use the strategy that has always worked for us. Of course, one of my goals is to plant even more crops for them including beets, turnips, beans, and whatever else I can get going. I'll be working on my planting strategy as we go along.

One thing that we will do better this year is to manage all the "spring rush" eggs... our hennies will start laying up a storm soon. I need to make sure I stay on top of taking them up, hard cooking them, and putting them into the freezer for the pigz this summer. Last year I could have done a better job at that.

Let's face it. The only reason I put up with them is because of the chops. Yes. That is a dinner plate.

I'll also put in a call to the guy we got the pigz from last year. Maybe we'll get lucky and find a new source for Tamworths. The problem is that this heritage breed are now so popular that they are expensive. So we'll see what we can work out.

You can check out more about raising pigz here - on my What I Know About Pigs page.

Happy Friday everyone! Are you prepping for pigz?


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fixing up the greenhouse

Even tho there was some damage, I was surprised at how well my greenhouse did over the winter. We had a couple really windy storms that ripped one of the plastic sections.

The first section of plastic had entirely ripped off. I stored a lot of stuff in there and needed to get it covered back up. Mostly it was tools but I had a lot of potted up plants I wanted to protect also.

While we were in the worst of the weather we just took some used plastic we had laying around and tacked it into place...but then one more storm came along and that got ripped off also. Yesterday I went and got some new plastic and fixed it for good (you can see the more detailed 'how to' here).

When I say "for good" I mean... for now. I still want to get some commercial growers quality "greenhouse film" but that will take a while to get here and it's pretty expensive. My $25 fix was fine for now.

You can see how there is not a lot of area on the top to secure the plastic.

All I needed to do was to remove the ripped plastic and replace it with the new stuff. It only took a few minutes and most of that time was me wandering around trying to find my tools.

I loosely fitted the plastic before stapling into place. Hey look! There's me!

It's actually an easy project even for one person. I unrolled the plastic a little and ally-ooped the rest of the roll over the top of the greenhouse, cut to fit (generously), and stapled it all into place.

Probably not the most elegant job but it worked! And the door is back on it's hinges too.

The only difficult part was folding the plastic to fit around the door-end of the greenhouse. I pleated it the best I could and tacked it into place. I also had to put the door back on it's hinges - the wind ripped it right off.

So now I'm ready for action. We keep wondering if that was it for winter and now we are just going to have a mild stretch until the real spring shows up. Yesterday was glorious. I was outside with the dogs working on some clearing in the upper garden.  I was also trying to kill "Cousin It" which is a wisteria that is completely out of control. I have a feeling that fight will be ongoing.

I'm glad I got the greenhouse fixed up because we had some rain earlier and we'll have some again over the next couple of days. But for now it's (mostly) dry so I'm going to see what I can get done outside. Mostly just clearing but I'll take it.

Happy Wednesday everyone! Are you fixing your greenhouse or working outside?


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