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, December 31, 2010

We Found Nibbles: Part 2 of The Real Story about Nibbles

Editors Note: Really.. this will be the end of the silliness... tomorrow we'll return to your regularly scheduled programing. But for now, Part 2 of The Real Story about Nibbles.

Don't ask me how, but I have it on good authority that after her mysterious disappearance, Nibbles was found under dubious circumstances. The apparent target of murderous rage by a highly irritated goatherd, an unnamed employee verily threw himself over Nibbles, pleaded for her life, and saved her from The Grill. She disappeared shortly thereafter. The “Company” was said to have sent in a henchmen to interrogate barnyard employees as to her whereabouts.

It was heavily rumored that while questioning was conducted " in full accord of the Geneva Convention" we doubt that the information was provided willingly. Reports confirmed that the agents in charge, the guineas (agents known as Bob and Roy) said that the the turkey hen, designation Chirper., "sung like a canary." Regardless of how it was provided we found out that Nibbles was placed in the witness protection program.

However, with budget cuts as they are, apparently Witness Protection just isn't what it used to be.

After 36 hours in a seclusion with only a roll of scotch tape and a bag of shredded paper the mystery has been solved... the following was just posted on wikileaks. But we don't know who posted it, right?

Nibbles Retrieval Mission Notes
Commander, SWAT

Acting on intel provided by The Snitch.. aka, Chirper the turkey hen, the dogs and I donned our Barnyard SWAT gear and prepared to storm the target. We were "coms live and five by five" as we repelled down the side of the house and into the turkey yard.

We neutralized the guards and executed a grid search for our target. Crouched low and hidden in the poison ivy, we belly-crawled to a secure position. We then observed the turkey herd to see if we could confirm ID of the target.

Initially we thought our target had been tipped off – there was talk of a mole in the organization. But then the news came over the com that Shine, the barncat, had "taken out" the mole and was eating it in the barn.

We switched to infrared to get a visual... and there she was! Nibbles was casually trying to blend in with the turkey hens and was making some kind of "gob-baaa-boogle gob-baaa-boogle gob-baaa-boogle gob-baaa-boogle noises. Her bad gobbling technique and accent was the give away.

Otherwise we wouldn't have seen her. The disguise was good. Someone had stuck a red glove on her head and duct taped some turkey feathers on her back.

We shot our way in, secured the target, and it was a running battle to our rendezvous point where we were helo'd out.

After the debriefing and subsequent psych evals we determined that she could return to her position. But just in case we have the goat shed bugged and placed a GPS tracker in her phone.

There was no additional information provided on whoever was assisting her. She would not give up her accomplices.We continue to monitor the situation and we are surveilling an area known as the "man cave."

Barnyard status: as normal as it ever is.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Real Story About Nibbles. I'm not kidding.

Since I'm in a confessing mood, and I got my drink on, I thought I'd tell you about the real story of Nibbles and her first kidding. And the ensuing scandal. There are even some previously unreleased excerpts from her HR Employee File which detail the events surrounding her kidding and her sudden disappearance. There were wild rumors that she did a stint in the Witness Protection Program. I'm not kidding.

 The Big Man with an arm load of little goat babies!

But before we get into all of that, here's what happened.  On a late Monday afternoon the Good Neighbor Mom and the oldest Good Neighbor kid, R, just happened to come over. I have to tell you, the Good Neighbor Mom has a knack for knowing when a goat is about to kid. And she's really great about the whole thing. She and I laugh that she's on birthing and I'm on butchering. We make a great team in that regard. Anyway, she and R moseyed over just in time to take one look at Nibble and declare that the babies were on their way. Right then. Of course I had no idea.

I ran and hid and they took care of Nibbles. And a good thing too. Both of Nibbles' babies were breach and it was no problem for R to get them turned and then bring them into daylight. Everyone cheered while the dog and I hung over the fence and puked.

The Big Man even got into the act and he held the babies while we made sure Nibbles was OK. She was.

In fact everything was OK.  The babies were up, lively, and they were nursing so we didn't think too much about it. But then after a couple days we noticed one of the babies was poorly. I checked around to find out what to do and then and sprang to action.

And we figured out the problem. Nibbles. She was not letting the babies nurse. In fact, she was trying to kill them!  Then it was Debbie to the rescue. Debbie heroically let the babies nurse off her and they were saved. We immediately found an excellent home for the babies with a woman who was experienced in bottle feeding – and who's best friend was a large animal vet. Such a blessing!

Then my attention turned to Nibbles. I tell you I was so mad I coulda grilled.. I mean.. killed her. And around here that means something – just ask the pigs!

We don't have any time for a momma who doesn't take care of her babies. So when Nibbles tried to stomp and bite the babies I very nearly posted her on craigslist that day. But the problem was... Nibbles is one of the few creatures we keep around her just cuz we like her (unlike everyone else who has to produce something – like bacon).

Because of this Management decided to work with her to see if her performance could be improved or if there was another position to move her into. Clearly she got an “F-” in being a mommy. I found some notes from Management (the HR VP) and am publishing them with the understanding that you...ahem..didn't get any of this from me, right?

April 21th  File notes, HR VP:
Employee Nibbles, Junior Goat Level 1

Employee seem lax in her duties. Concern has been raised that she may not be effectively nurturing the newest Interns, designation Goat Baby#1 and  Goat Baby#2. Her immediate supervisor has recommended Nibbles for Termination.

After holding a peer review, putting Nibbles on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), signing her up to attend an offsite team building workshop, and making her wear a sign that says "This is what losers look like" at the department meeting.... Nibble will not get a pink slip.  For now.

Milking status: Meets expectations (barely)

April 22th  File notes, HR VP:
Employee Nibbles, Junior Goat Level 1

IT has intercepted personal emails from Nibbles complaining to her friends that she should not be burdened by the Interns (Goat baby #1 and #2) and she is looking at “other opportunities.” And there was a lot of grumbling about how the Interns are the new "golden girls" here on staff - but they were really just puppets for Management. We can't stand for this kind of dissension.

Vita, who is SVP of the Goat Division, and I are having a working lunch tomorrow to discuss this security breach and general poor performance.  Vita has assured me that she is going to take action.  Heads may roll -  just ask those tom turkeys who were causing the ruckus last week.

As punishment for these leaks Nibbles was placed on probation and tied out by the road with a sign that read “Free to a BAD home.”  There were no takers.

Milking status: Meets expectations

April 24th  File notes, HR VP:
Employee Nibbles, Junior Goat Level 1

This draft PR has been sent to legal (the ducks) for approval to release to all major news outlets.
Press Release:
Dateline: 4/24/2010

Ohiofarmgirl's Farm is happy to announce that Nibbles, former mommy and valued team member, is moving on to greener pastures. Nibbles will be leaving the organization to pursue other interests. We thank her for all her years of service (for which she will get a lovely desk set) and wish her well in her new endeavors.

Addend: We just received notice that the Interns have accepted positions with another farm! The loss of these cuties has been directly attributed to the failure of Nibbles to provide proper management. Her tenure here has most assuredly come to an end.

Milking status: Meets expectations, may exceed forecast if production continues on current trajectory. Its too bad she isn't a team player. She need to know that Together Everyone Accomplishes More! I'll order her a motivational poster as a reminder.

April 25th  File notes, HR VP:
Employee Nibbles, Junior Goat Level 1

Leaving shortly to to meet security. Technically she has until tomorrow but we are cleaning out Nibble's desk today and she has to hand in her badge. Now.  There won't be any severance package or placement assistance because she has been fired with cause. Some of the other employees took up a collection so she will get $20 and a bus ticket.

Milking status: To be fair, she did milk really well this morning...but her poor performance in other areas overshadows any hope of her staying with this organization.

April 26th  File notes, HR VP:
Employee Nibbles, Junior Goat Level 1

Just my luck that no-good-nick Nibbles would threaten a law suit! I'll rally the legal team.  In the meantime she is returning to her probationary status.  I'm determined to get her out. So I'll try treating her badly and hopefully she'll just leave. First, a demotion, then I'll move her office over by the pigs, and then give her the worst parking spot. After a while she'll be happy to sign a separation agreement including our boilerplate non-disclosures and non-competes. Ha!

Milking status: Dang! She milked really well again. Other department heads are calling for a review of her probationary status.

April 29th  File notes, HR VP:
Employee Nibbles, Junior Goat, Trainee

My spies, the chickens, have reported suspicious activity out there in the barnyard. And I can't seem to find Nibbles.... every time I ask Employee #42 (The Big Man) he avoids my gaze and mumbles something about "Maybe it was because you were so mean to her... "

I need to get my informants on this. I'm sending my henchmen, the guineas, out to interrogate...I mean.... question... I mean "make casual inquiries" with the rest of the malcontents.  The drums of a coup d'├ętat are starting to beat. I fear drastic action may be taken.

Adden:  The guineas have let me know that Chirper, the currently incarcerated turkey hen, is willing to "make a deal" in exchange for her freedom.  Apparently she has some information where they are hiding Nibbles.  I'm taking the brute squad (the dogs) out to "question" Chirper. We must get to the bottom of this rebellion by the plebs!

Those are the final notes from the former HR VP.  Rumor had it that the Board of Directors arranged a hasty exit for the HR VP that included a fat severance package in exchange for her immediate departure. Exactly 2 minutes after she was escorted from the building the nearby employees went thru her desk to collect loose change which amount to $4.37.

Somehow word got to the Board that Nibbles was a great milker and her under-performance as a mommy could be overlooked by her luscious and rich milk. The HR VP was accused of being short sighted in her evaluation of a valuable employee.

I'm waiting on the notes from the SWAT mission to recover Nibbles.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I'm not kidding.

About this time of year the goat world gets all a-twitter in eager expectation of the kidding season. Of course, “kidding” is goat speak for having goat babies. Goat people love this and many many goat websites have tons of clinical descriptions – and videos – of the joyful arrival of baby goats.

This is not one of those sites.

Fattie, not having goat babies
My pal, Freemotion, reminded me recently that while I can “gut anything that ain't smilin' at me” I cannot birth a goat worth a darn. Its true.  My entire “birthing kit” consists of the Good Neighbor's 4H kid's phone number on speed dial and a bottle of tequila.

Last year I kinda glossed over the details of the whole kidding thing mostly because my therapist told me that rehashing the details wouldn't do me any good. Now, with the blessed event so many months in the rear view, I think I can finally talk about it without getting a twitch in my eye. So here is the whole unvarnished truth about kidding. I'm not kidding.

I spent most of last spring anxiously pacing around and wringing my hands. You'll remember that Debbie's most famous “here hold my beer and watch this” moment was when I found her hanging from the feeder. We were very nervous that she would have the babies early because of the trauma. That, and because she spent three weeks with The Good Neighbor's buck, we didn't know exactly when she would kid. So it gave us a good long time to stand around and wonder if there was going to be any new goats that day. Every day for about six weeks. We paced. We wrung our hands. We stared at her hoo-hoo wondering if it looked different. Nothing happened.

I reverted back to management techniques I learned in my years as a corporate monkey. I scheduled One on One meetings with her to review her job description. We talked about her Goals and Objectives. We wrote a mission statement that said something like “Have the dang goat babies already.”  Nothing.

I started docking her pay, threatened to take away her parking pass, and even showed her a picture of a goat momma with babies and told her,  “That's what a winner looks like.” I even started rumors that her job had been listed and began running an ad on Monster.com for a GOOD dairy goat. Nothing worked.

Then I came up with a new strategy for dealing with that stubborn old goat which was to ignore her entirely. That's right, I took a lesson from the cats and employed casual disregard.  Actually its more like spiteful disregard. The last thing I said to her one night when I closed (slammed) the door was, 

"Hey Fattie, have the baby, don't have the baby - I dont care!  But just you remember that an unproductive goat has no value to this organization. And one more thing...corn is for closers! None for you!"

And then I stomped off swearing that the next step was to use Klingon Management Techniques and that wasn't going to be pretty.

Still nothing.

The Good Neighbor's had been watching these goings on and as the moon started to wax full they called to inform me that the 'alert level'  should be raised to "holy cow she's gonna blow!"  and that everyone should man their battle stations. Mine was under the kitchen table. I came up with an ingenious idea to strap a critter cam on Dog#1 so he, not me, could go out there and check on dear Debbie from time to time. Still nothing.

Then one day I kissed The Big Man goodbye as he was heading off and would be gone the entire day. The Good Neighbor Mom called and said Debbie would probably have her baby just to spite me because I was going to be there alone. The Big Man laughed as he drove off and said it was all part of the plan. There I was. Alone. With a goat that was about to pop.

After doing everything else I finally had no choice but to gird up my loins and march out there to check on the momma-to-be. And there she was. Laying down. And something too horrible to describe was happening.

I turned and ran away.

Eventually I stopped hyperventilating enough to call the Good Neighbor Mom at work.

Now, in our county "I gotta go home and birth that goat" is a legitimate excuse to get out of school. The plan had been that the oldest kid, R, would be on call and come rushing in to save the day. However, it was late enough in the day that the kids wouldn't get that free day from school.  But they weren't home yet either - and there was no way I was going anywhere near whatever was happening in the goat house. I needed reinforcements and fast.

My phone call to the Good Neighbor Mom kinda went like this:

Me: Ohmigoshsomehorriblethingiscomingoutofthegoatandi'mgonnapassoutandwhatamisup
She: Ohiofarmgirl is that you?
Me: (hyperventilating noises)
She: OK, relax. I'll call the kids - they are on their way home and should be there soon.
Me: Soon? Soon? How soon? Ohmigoshitsohorribleithinkthereisafoot
She: That's supposed to happen so that's good. Now go and get paper towels, blukote.... ..blahblahblah and dental floss.
Me: Dental floss? Mint or Regular? Wait! How can you think of flossing at a time like this?
She: For heavens sakes, its for tying off the cord.
Me: (stunned silence)
She: OFG? Are you there?
Me: Huh? What? Just tell me truthfully, do I need to bring the gun?
She: For heavens sakes, no. Now go and stand outside until the children get there.
(Sound of phone dropping on the floor and footsteps running away.)

I went and stood outside willing their truck to materialize. It did. And then.. and then... oh golly... the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen....

...two of the Good Neighbor kids busted out of that truck and ran toward me. I'm telling you they RAN.

Immediately they sprang to action. R had the situation handled before I could even say anything but, "Ohmigosh I think I'm gonna barf!"  And the youngest Good Neighbor kid was Johnny On The Spot – talking calmly to me and handing implements and whatnot to his sister. I stood there ineffectually and confused.

Then, before I could actually pass out....there they were. Two little bundles of joy.  I was shocked. I was awed. I was shocked and awed.

And that's what happened. Most of it was a blur but what I remember most were my two heroes barreling over the hill to my rescue. Thank heaven for the Good Neighbors! Especially for the Good Neighbor kids!

I was so relieved that it turned out so well. And I was especially relieved that there was NOT the following news story in our local paper:

Dateline: A small Amish town, Ohio

Local officials are calling two hard workin' farm dogs 'heros' today after they pulled their owner to safety during a live goat birth. Town leaders say that Titan and Lucky were able to call 911 and bark, in Morse code, the message:

"My momma passed out in the goat barn because she don't know nothing 'bout birthin' no babies.  Please come and help her."

When EMTs arrived they found the woman passed out in a heap in the barnyard and two neighbor kids successfully delivering two little bundles of goat joy.

The woman was later identified as Ohiofarmgirl. She was revived at the scene and muttered something about "how Klingon management tactics work" and needing a bottle of tequila. She was taken in for observation as anonymous source called her  a "whack job."  That gander was later also taken into custody for allegedly attacking one of the attending officers.

How I like my goat babies... ready for action!

So now I'm preparing for this upcoming spring's kidding season. Got the Good Neighbor kid's phone number on speed dial? Check. Bottle of tequila? Check.

OK I'm ready! Bring on them goat babies!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On taking the puppy out

My pal, FC, just got a little ankle biter pup for the family. She isn't thrilled with the whole dog thing.. but I know he's growing on her. For the last couple days we've been sharing the morning 'pup-pee' report and several of us have been sharing house breaking tips. So, lemme tell you how it works around here.

"You mean I have to go back inside? Really?

As a reminder, we got Kai when she was very young. Probably too young for a 'regular' family but since we were experienced and we are home all day it worked out for us. The first thing we worked on, besides her name, was that all dogs pee outside. I think its easier if you already have dogs to train a new pup.

When Lucky came to us at almost a year old, the family said he wasn't house broken. He peed in our house exactly once. Dogs are normally pretty clean - or rather - they don't usually like to toilet in their sleeping area. So when Lucky went on the floor - the other dogs and all the cats made fun of him. Apparently he was told that only..er.. um... that is.. "cats".. ahem... pee in the house. And that was the only incident we ever had. Ti was a cinch to train so we used the same methods with Kai.

My very scientific method to determine when Kai has to go is.... if I have to go.. she probably does too. So when she was littler I just drank a lot of water and we went out a lot. For about the first two weeks I made sure I got awake at night to take her out. She was so young there really wasn't any way she'd last the whole nite. We were a sight, the two of us stumbling around out there - both half asleep. But then we went to a schedule where The Big Man stayed awake until midnight and took her out, and I'd get up about 6am or earlier. And now she's good the whole night.

Plus we usually take her out about an hour after she eats. She's an old pro now and the only accidents we've had was the other morning when the big dogs were howling and she got over excited.

Notice we don't crate train. For lots of reasons we don't use a crate for any of our dogs. We have a designated "dog area" in our kitchen. Its tiled and has scrubbable paint so I can just hose the whole thing out when it gets over-doggy. Its big enough (it used to be the dining area of the kitchen) so that all dogs have a full sized dog bed, I can store their food out there in a big garbage can, has direct access to the door, and they have plenty of room to goof around. Its also easily gated and we installed a swing gate (the baby kind) to keep them from roaming around the house.

I'm not a fan of letting dogs roam around the house at all. And forget about letting them sleep with us. All that paw licking, collar jingling, ear flapping, big dog sighing... and big dog farts.. no thank you. Having the entire Insane Cat Posse sleeping with us is enough of a circus. Throw in a couple hundred pounds of dogs... I'd end up bunking with the chickens for sure.

So in addition to making it less likely that they'd mess in their "dog area," keeping some semblance of order in the house (Nicholas! Get down off that ceiling fan!), instilling in the dogs that they should hold a proximity to me (my "command center" is in the kitchen and where I spend most of my time), it also reminds the dogs that we are the Boss Dogs and they do what we tell them. Now if you have just a family dog, then thats fine. But remember that ours are hard workin' farm dogs and its necessary for us to maintain discipline and a chain of command. Because you know, "I can't afford to make exceptions. Once word leaks out that a 'Boss Dog' has gone soft, people begin to disobey you, and then it's nothing but work, work, work, all the time." (Chai Chai - that ones for you. Any one else?)


So we have little Kai on a schedule, we have the dog area set up, and the next part of house training is... make it fun.

The biggest mistake I see people make is that they make the whole house breaking combative. Remember your puppy is a baby and she's gonna make mistakes. We never punish for housebreaking mistakes and in fact, I feel the responsibility is on me, not her. I'm the grown up - I should be vigilant, I should look for pacing or pawing or snuffing around behaviors... and frankly, she might not have control over her little body yet. When she was really little she'd 'go' a couple times on a single trip outside. So I'd have to make sure she was really "empty." And not distracted which took some patience.  So I'm the one that should cover all the bases.

The next part of making it fun is to cheer her on. Talk in an animated voice, clap your hands, give her lots of "Good dog! That's the way!" Get down to her level and hold your arms wide when she runs to you and give snuggles. I have to say at 6am in a 4* wind chill... this can be hard but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. Its all worth it to have a well house trained dog.

One of the problems I see with housebreaking the family dog is the parents try and make the kids take the pup out. Sometimes it goes like this:

Parent1: Hey! Someone has to take that dog out!
Parent2: Not me! Make one of them kids do it.
Parent1: Hey one of you kids! Get out there and take that dog out.
Kid1: *no answer because Kid1 is a teen-anger*
Kid2: Not me!
Kid2: Man! OK stupid puppy let go *stomps out dragging pup*

I gotta tell you.. if I were that pup I wouldn't want to go out either.  So I'd pee on the floor and try and blame one of the cats. This never works and you can see how the hostility had already risen before the pup even got outside. Kids don't have the maturity to provide positive feedback if they are forced to take the pup out. Remember that dogs can read your body language so you really need to "sell" the "good dog! great job!" to encourage them...even if the windchill is 4*.

Some folks train their dog to use a bell on the door or whatever to say when it has to go out. You can imagine we don't do that around here. Again, we are the bosses of the dogs and they don't ask for anything. If they want out they can go and sit quietly by the door and wait for me. Sometimes when little Kai wants out she starts woofing around and pacing. But the pacing happens first so that's when we hustle her right out.

So that's what we do. So far so good. And if you will pardon me... its about time for me to take that pup out. So I'm gonna pull on my hat and find a happy voice and tell her what a good dog she is.

Happy housebreaking everyone!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Three Mush-keteers

Dogs in snow.. they just love it.

Titan, Kai, and Lucky mushing thru the snow

And we are getting more snow today... regards to all your folks out East who are fixin' to get a pounding today. Can you believe the snow season is just getting started? Well its plenty of fun for these goofballs...

Little Kai is a snow girl for sure. Her little all black face is adorable. At least I can find her in the snow!

Happy Monday everyone! Stay warm!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Duck discussion - what they say

What ducks say the day after Christmas:

"What did you get?"

"Snow! What did you get?"


Happy Sunday everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Moose-mas!

Our big cat, Moose, says...

...Merry Christmas!

And then he sang a chorus of "Fa la la la la, la la la la."  Or something like that. Anyway.

From all of us here, Happy Holidays and Merry Moose-mas everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Footie prints

The secret life of our frozen pond...

... there seems to be a lot of going's on here.  Makes you wonder what happens all night.

Happy First (full) Day of Winter - just think.. we are one day closer to spring!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Light and Shade

A view at dusk....


With a heavy heart I come to you again with news of another passing. Our good old dog, Shady, went to her final rest today. We praise God for all her years of friendship and find comfort knowing she has gone to run with her old pack -- Bo, Friendly, and the others -- in green fields and sunshine.

She left us on an auspicious day - this eve before the full moon, the winter solstice, and on this crazy lunar eclipse. It reminds us of our trust in The Way of Things. That this turning of the season is a time to bury the grief from our recent hard losses and turn toward the light and spring. It reminds of the cycle of life - that Kai and her puppyness is our joy as much as loosing Shady is our sorrow.

Perhaps it was "just coincidence" that today I received some very kind comments about the work we do here on our little farm and our funny little life. So I wanted to say thanks to everyone for their well wishes, comments, and just plain good ol' times we have here. Thanks for stopping by and just saying hello. Life can be hard but its better when you know we are all in it together.

Now come on everybody, I think if we all go outside and jump up and down really hard we can get this old earth tilted back the other way toward the light..and get it moving toward longer days, warmer nights, and the first greening of spring.

Who's with me?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to grow out feeder pigs: Part 2 Feed 'em on the cheap

This is for poor Goodwife who's about the throw herself down with anticipation... hang in there baby! Here's how to get 'er done.

As I mentioned yesterday in How to grow out feeder pigs - on the cheap. Part One there are lots of ways to feed out hogs. And my pal JHM, a real farmer, as well as FarmerChick who grows out hogs to 500 lbs to sell as whole hog sausage, will just tell ya to feed 'em hog chow and quick monkeying around. And many 4H programs have a right and prescribed method of feeding exact amounts to keep growth rates steady by using bagged food.

We thought we'd probably do the same until we happily marched down to our local feed store and asked for a bag of starter hog food for our shiny new pigs that Bourbon Red suckered me into buying. To tell the truth he called me a varity of unseemly names doubting I was man enough to get pigs. Of course that spurred me to action and 2 pigs were delivered a couple days later, much to the surprise of The Big Man ("WHAT is coming? TODAY?"). Anyway.

"That will be $17." Said our able feed store guy. I balked, "How much? Is that in US dollars?" He nodded. The Big Man glared at me. Now $17 is a lot for a bag of feed. Heck - that's alot for a bag of cat food and we love the cats, unlike the hated pigs.

We bought it and fed it to the not-so-shiny-anymore pigs. They ate it. All of it. In a week. I called up Bourbon Red and asked him what he got me into. Luckily he had a great solution. Later that day The Big Man and I were standing in the feed aisle of Tractor Supply arguing and trying to do math in our heads.

BR's solution was to buy a bag of Calf Manna and use this to supplement the regular hog chow. The problem is... Calf Manna is about $20 a bag. We balked and asked "Is that in US dollars!?" It was. Hence the arguing - we did not think this would work.

The theory is that you could feed the lower protein, lower priced, regular "hog grower" and add Calf Manna while the pigs are young instead of the usual (and much more expensive) "hog starter." Our young pigs normally go thru a 50 pound bag of feed a week. $17 a week would quickly double to $34 a week and heck at that point it would be some expensive pork.

We finally figured out the math and it looks like this:

So if:
One bag of Calf Manna = $20
Hog starter (high protein feed) = $17/bag
Hog grower (11 - 14% protein feed) = $7/bag

We only need one bag of Calf Manna for 2 pigs for the season.  Of course, if your pigs are big enough to go directly to hog grower then it isnt worth it, but even if you need grower for a month it makes sense (for us).

Hog starter only: $17 * 4 weeks = $68
Calf Manna + hog grower: $20 (one time purchase) +  $7 * 4 weeks = $48

So by the 3rd week then you've pretty much got your money back. But then a bag of Calf Manna lasts us more than a month - it lasts the whole season.  And we can use it for other things as well as to supplement the "corn only" feeding segment until the bag is gone.

As with most animals, pigs need more protein when they are younger (up to 18%) but then need less the bigger they get (14% to finish). The trick with this method is to use Calf Manna to make up the difference if using a lower protein feed (the grower or just corn). And then supplement with milk and eggs and whatever else you have to provide a balanced diet.

Now the magnificent Kelly Klober who wrote the Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs (which everyone should run right out and get if you are considering pigs) will quote you chapter and verse about what to feed pigs at what age. We base our feed schedule by closely observing our pigs and feeding for a continuous growth rate.

You can feed a hog regular grower until "market weight" or until its big enough to butcher... but that's not really in line with our "raise 'em naturally" thing. We prefer to use whats available because we are cheap...and as it turns out, this works with what is seasonally available in the barn yard. Also high soy meal (hog chow) really doesn't seem all that natural to us and for lots of reasons we prefer to finish them on corn (mostly because I like a lot of lard and we feel the meat is better quality).

Our seasonal feeding schedule goes like this:

New/young pigs (8 to 12 weeks): hog chow + Calf Manna + goat milk + hard cooked eggs

Middle of summer (pigs are about 100 - 150 or so pounds): gradually mix half and half cracked corn and hog chow + Calf Manna + goat milk + hard cooked eggs.... and by this time we should have some fruit available.

Two weeks or so later: switch entirely to corn + goat milk + hard cooked eggs and by this time we should have some fruit available.  And finish up the remainder of the bag of Calf Manna

For the rest of the season we pour on the corn, hard cooked eggs, whatever weeds and leftover garden stuff we have, and we start hitting up our friends who have farm market stands. Pumpkins, apples, whatever they have that is "too ugly to sell" and especially we like to mix corn + the apple pulp/pressings from cider making. Pigs think this is great and if you let it ferment for a couple days, they love it.

A couple things I know you are about to ask...

Why should I monkey around with all this extra work?
If its not your thing, then don't. There is a whole industry based on raising pigs on commercial hog chow. But then... you're kinda raising a commercially grown pig.

How much Calf Manna?
Depends. I know that's vague but it depends on the protein level of your feed and how big the pigs are. Roughly if we provide a scoop of hog chow, about a cup of it is Calf Manna. And it depends on if we have eggs for that feeding, and how much milk we have. Less eggs and milks = more Calf Manna.

But they won't get the right, nutritionally balanced diet!
We don't worry about nutrition too much because they are "one season" pigs. We strive for a constant growth rate and adjust as needed.  And because we spend so much time with our pigs we feel like we have a good handle on their health. We take time to observe them daily and constantly evaluate their conformation and overall health.  And since we raise them on pasture - and provide a varied diet - we feel they get great nutrition. And this method is in line with the old timey way of doing things. Chances are your great-grandpa raised his hogs the exact same way.

How much to feed?
Depends. The old timers say to feed as much as they will eat in 20 minutes, two or three times a day.  So feed them appropriate for their age. Start small and watch to see how much and how fast they eat. If there is still food in their feeders when you go out the next time - feed less. If they push each other down and fight over the food, give them more. And better yet, at some point feed them in separate feeders. Also, the "two or three times" depends on the weather and their age. We feed 3x a day in extreme cold weather or when they are young (young animals of all kinds do better with smaller meals, more often).  Twice a day is fine for the summer. Some folks use those self feeders. We don't. Not only are we already out there in the barnyard... but it gives us  an opportunity to spend time observing them. Never underestimate the value of spending time with your livestock. Develop the ability to note changes in behavior or body conformation.

Whatcha feed them in?
We like those rubber, black, bendy tub things - we have a couple different sizes to accommodate their growth.  They quickly grow out of the smaller ones, so we then use those feeders for the poultry.

How much goat milk?
Pretty much they will drink as much as you have. Almost all of Vita's milk goes to the pigs - she easily milks about a gallon a day. If you don't have goats, please consider a dairy cow. Or ask around. Chances are there is a goat breeder somewhere who is dumping perfectly good milk - especially in states where the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal.

How many eggs?
They will eat as many as you have. But try and provide consistency - for instance, don't feed them 2 dozen eggs one day and then one egg the next. Strive for a consistent level of protein from day to day.  By the end of summer I have 8 or 10 extra eggs several times a week. The most important thing is to feed them HARD COOKED eggs - never raw. Sure they will eat raw eggs... but raw eggs have a protein an inhibitor and the whole point is to feed them nutrient rich food, not something that will slow their growth. And you don't need any of that fancy stuff for cooking the eggs, just toss them in a pan of cold water, boil/simmer for 15 minutes, and let them cool. No need for exact timing or cooling them immediately. Just throw the eggs at the pigs... I mean to the pigs shell and all.

What about dumpster diving?
You want to be careful with this. While its OK to feed "ugly" fruit you don't want to feed your pigs garbage. In some states this is actually illegal and there are regulations about cooking "waste food" to a certain temperature before feeding it to hogs. We pretty much avoid giving them leftovers, anything that is destined for the garbage, any meat, fat, or weird stuff. Remember the pigs are what you're gonna eat, so you want to feed them quality food. That being said, some folks I know get "day old bread" from bakeries or can convince local grocery stores to give them 'old' produce. But you don't really want to feed your food junk. If whatcha got is headed for the compost pile then send it there. But got a bucket of tomatoes that you just can't use? Toss 'em to the pigs.

But if pigs will eat anything why not feed meat?
Because this freaks me out, man. But really, you don't want to encourage cannibalism or for them to go after your chickens. And while I take my hat off the to the old timer who routinely threw dead raccoons to his hogs... I ain't eatin' that bacon, if you know what I mean.

So pretty much, except for the one bag of Calf Manna and a couple of bags of regular hog chow... everything else is free (but the cracked corn but we use this for almost everyone so it folds into our budget). By the end of the season we were easily feeding 2 (or slightly more) bags of cracked corn per week which is $10 or less. Our eggs, our goat milk, our fruit, and free stuff from our farm market friends provide the bulk of what we feed the hogs. Free is a great price.

And if you get out and hustle you can find lots of free stuff. Ask the local farmers if you can glean in their fields after they take up the corn.  Or does your neighbor have an oak tree dropping acorns or black walnuts?  Got a lead on someone who is overrun with zucchinis or tomatoes? Is there someone who has an apple tree who doens't use the fruit? Folks love to help out - and if you can take their stuff so they don't have to compost it, rake it up, or throw it out - they will call you again next year. Take time to stick our your hand and say hello... and tell stories about your barnyard. Pretty soon you'll develop a network of folks who are very happy to fill up your truck. 

Or look closer to home - do you have some clearing to do on your property and have a buncha brambles, leaves, or branches? Toss them all over the fence.  If you have your hogs on pasture not only will they eat everything green - including poison ivy and that stupid wild rose and blackberries - they will also root up the place. Have stumps you need to dig out? Start throwing whole corn in that area - or use the old farmers trick and drill holes in the stumps and fill them with corn.

There's all kinds of creative things you can do. One guy I know got into hogs because he worked for a trucking company who had a dog food producer for a customer. One day they had a load of bagged dog food that could not be sold in retail because of a labeling mistake. He asked, and got, the entire truckload for free. And he used it to start a hog growing operation. It worked out great for him.

And it can work out great for you too. Take a look around at what you have and what you can use. Do you have extra garden space to grow extra produce? Have friends who have too many eggs from their hens? Can you get a few extra laying hens while you have pigs? Do you grow your own lush, legume hay? Have an orchard?

For our money, raising pigs on the cheap is the way to go. For less than half a year of work we get a whole year's worth of meat for us. And the leavin's for the dogs. And lard. And the cracklin's from the lard for the pigs. And not to mention the awesome burn pile we have whenever I find where I put those hogs heads...

Anyway. That's the way of it. Use the perfect circle of life in your barnyard to make your life better. The chickens and goats feed the pigs who feed us.

Now get out there and come up with a plan to feed your hogs!

Editor's note: This post has some affiliate links to my Amazon store. You can see all my favorite books and tools here. If you order something thru my Amazon store, from one of the links on this page, or the black Amazon search box on the right side of this page I'll get a tiny percentage of the sale. If you like this blog, or if I've helped you at all in your farming efforts, just make a purchase from Amazon to show your support. Thanks!

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to grow out feeder pigs - on the cheap. Part One

A couple of folks have wondered if growing out your own pigs is worth it - financially that is. So lets talk turkey.. er.. pigs and show everyone how to get 'er done. Now, this way isn't for everyone and my friend and real farmer, JHM, will tell you to quit all the monkeying around and just feed 'em hog chow. But lets face it, I'm cheap and have the time so this works for us.

Isn't he adorable? Um.. No.

Aside from Grandpa's wild boars I think we grow out our pigs cheaper than just about anybody. To be sure my pal, Freemotion, is the queen of foraged and gleaned food for pigs, but we do OK.  But before we get to feeding them, lets make sure you've got your pig set up ready before you bring in the porkers.  So we'll start with some basics.  We'll call this Part One.

The first thing you need to grow your own pork is.. pigs. Check out craigslist or your local paper for someone selling "feeder pigs" or "weaner pigs." Note this isn't "wiener" pigs - you don't want hot dogs you want pigs that have been weaned. And castrated (if they are males). There is some debate but it seems that having castrated males is better than taking a chance at "boar tainted" meat. Also, only a fool or a professional hog raiser would have a boar. Do not get a fully intact male hog.

We'll park here for a minute. Lets be clear, forget all that stuff you learned from Charlotte's Web and Disney. Pigs are big, mean, destructive, and can be very, very dangerous. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting into before you run right out and start up a hog growing operation.

Got kids, grandkids, or neighbor kids? Think long and hard before you get pigs. The old timers will not let their kids get near the hogs without supervision and rightly so. Sure there are always some folks who let their kids get in the pen with their hogs... and either they don't really like their kids.. or they learn the hard way that its all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Most hog farmers have a horror story to two and the scars to go with them.

Hogs can move two to three times their body weight without even thinking about it.  Do you have the ability and the set up to keep a 200 pound animal contained that can move 400 pounds without batting an eye? Or that can walk over a hog panel like it wasn't even there? Or climb out of field fence like a monkey? What if they get out? Do you have the fortitude to march out there and chase them pigs back in? Can you defend yourself if they get sideways with you?

There are a couple of rules that real hog folks use if they have to get in the pen with their pigs. For instance, they make sure they never turn their backs on their hogs, always have an unobstructed path to an exit, and always have something in their hand to defend themselves. I have two hard workin' farm dogs, a hickory stock cane, and a bad attitude....and I still don't get in with them.  One my buddies uses an axe handle. Our grandpa had a shock stick - but he had hundreds of hogs at a time so you probably don't need to go that far. Some folks I know weren't convinced they needed to have any of this - but then got a rude awakening when they realized that them pigs weren't fooling around. Make sure you have a strategy to handle a big animal that can throw its weight around.

Still with me on this?  Not scared off? OK lets move on.

What kind of pigs should you get? Really... it kinda doesn't matter for "one season" pigs. We loved our Tamworth for the bacon, and the Hereford cross for the stupendous marbling, and the blue butts we had provided amazing hams (and it was fun to say "blue butt"). But really, whatever is locally available is probably what works for your area. Around here $50 - $75 is about the right price. Usually feeder pigs are about 50 pounds or less.

Then you gotta get them home - we just tossed our feeder pigs in the back of my hubby's crappy Ford Ranger truck (with the cap on - locked so they couldn't get out). I've also moved them in a king sized dog cage in the back of our big truck. Its easy enough to get them home when they are this size... but have a plan to get them to a processor at the end of the season unless you're going to butcher them yourself. There are "livestock haulers" or maybe your butcher can provide transport. Or your 4H neighbors might have a stock trailer to borrow. There are folks that will come to your place and do the butchering on site, which is a great option also. But if you've read this far - just get up the gumption and do it yourself. 

Hog hut is good enough. And check out the super reinforced hog panels. Didnt keep 'em in.

What kind of housing do they need? Nothing deluxe. You just have to keep them out of the sun, wind, and cold - a three sided shed is fine.  I built the 'Hog Hut 2008' with 3 pallets for sides and a hillbillied together roof with asphalt tiles I dug out of the ground.  Despite the teasing, disbelief, and mocking from my hubby - its still bone dry and we are still using it. Remember that you will probably slaughter in the fall so it doesnt need to be perfect. But they do need shade and somewhere to get out of the sun. This is why we put our pigs under trees.

And you have to keep them contained. Don't waste your time with anything but electric fencing. Hogs are worse than goats at getting out. But they won't just lollygag around eating a leaf here or there like goats... they'll tear up everything they can smell. So keep them in with electric fence or tightly pulled field fence with a couple of hot wires on the inside set at nose height.  Be sure to set it up so that you can easily feed them without having to get into their pen.

Pasture and mud - makes 'em happy

We raise our pigs on pasture and in the mud. Don't fool yourself that "on pasture" means they will loll about all day grazing neatly like sheep. HA! They will turn a lush pasture into a moon-like muddy scape in no time. But make this work for you and use their natural rototilling ability to turn under a spot where you'll put in a garden the next year. We used ours to "hog down" a poison ivy infested bramble patch. They defoliated it down to the last blade. Part of this plays to raising them cheaply - all that bramble is free food! They will eat branches, leaves, bark, heck ... I'm pretty sure ours ate some trees.

When we first put them in a new area. Every shred of vegetation is now gone

They will also create a wallow - or a mud pit in their yard. But the destruction doens't end there. After they dig an Olympic sized mud pit they will dig to China. And beyond. Pigs do a lot of digging. Its amazing.

Make sure you have a water source close to where you put your pig pasture. Run a hose - or a buncha hoses put together down to their yard. Carrying a bucket of water just isn't going to cut it. Pigs need a lot of water and like to kick over their drinker every chance they can. Usually shortly after you've just filled it and started walking back up the hill. Also in the summer we use the hose to fill the wallow and spray down the pigs to keep them cool. They love it and run thru the spray like kids thru a sprinkler.

Another reason to use multiple hoses is to run them pigs as far away from the house as possible. I'm not kidding. Pigs stink. Bad. Sure some folks say it isn't so bad if you keep it strawed. Phooey. Pigs stink and nothing is worse than sitting in your chair in the sun and the wind shifts and all you can smell is pig. Ugh! I think Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs says to have them 200 yards away from your house. And your neighbors. Unless they are the Bad Neighbors then all bets are off.

Altho it may be tempting, do not run your hogs with any other critters. And keep the darn ducks and clucks out of their pen. Yes, eventually they will figure out those feathered things taste just like chicken. Our buckeyes were pretty fast so they didn't get munched, but talk to a guy who's lost his favorite runner duck to pigs... oh golly... that's just plain sad.

Pigs will eat anything they can smell so keep the rest of the critters safely away. And for heavens sakes don't try and run your goats or horses or whatever with them. Just pen the pigs up alone. Eventually your ducks will figure out you are feeding corn to the pigs and will start to hang around - which is another good reason to have electric fencing. Keep them all out or you too may find just the sad flippity-floppy feet of your favorite duck.

How many pigs should you get? One pig? Two pigs? Being herd animals they do better in pairs or more.. but really. If your pig develops psychological problems from being alone.. well.. it won't last longer than a cold fall day, if you know what I mean. But just like cats - two is a good number.  They will play with each other and not demolish everything in sight. If you don't think you'll eat that much pork, more than likely someone you know will run not walk to you with cash in hand for a naturally raised half a side of pork. Between the two of us and the dogs we plow thru 2 pigs without even trying. We are talking about ham and bacon here, people!

What about wormers? Shots? Docking their tails? Needle teeth? We don't do any of this. Typically all of these things are done before the pigs are weaned. However, we still wouldn't dock their tails or clip their teeth. Since we only have two pigs at a time we have never had the fighting and such that can cause problems. Also, unless we have cause for concern, we feed our pigs pumpkin, which is a natural wormer, rather than a chemical wormer 'cuz that's just how we roll.

What about locking them up at night? Nope. One time we had very small, just weaned pigs and we kept them up by the house so coyotes wouldn't get them. But having them safely behind electric is good enough. And honestly, they will quickly get big enough that only a really big predator will take them down. Now if you've got wolves and bears you might want to check around locally to see what others do.  But for most of us, them pigs can hold their own.

OK so you've spent all your foldin' money on getting them pigs, setting up electric fencing, buying drinkers, feed bowls...and now what? Where's the savings!?  We'll.. you'll have to tune in tomorrow. Sorry friends but this is getting kind long and the pup needs to be taken out. But I'm telling you, feeding them is the cheapest part of this whole thing.

Stay tuned for Part Two: What to feed them oinkers.

In the meantime, if you don't have it already be sure to check out my go-to guide for all things pig. Kelly Kobler's magnificent Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs.

Editor's note: This post has some affiliate links to my Amazon store. You can see all my favorite books and tools here. If you order something thru my Amazon store, from one of the links on this page, or the black Amazon search box on the right side of this page I'll get a tiny percentage of the sale. If you like this blog, or if I've helped you at all in your farming efforts, just make a purchase from Amazon to show your support. Thanks!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy snaps from yesterday

Yesterday was beautiful - cold.. but beautiful.  Here's a couple of happy snaps to show you how the day went...

First the hen yard erupted in cackles, quacks, hisses, and honks....

then the big gaggle of geese marched out to scream at everything and honk around...

and Fat Deb took two small steps for goat kind, sniffed the snow.. then went back inside...

..and finally when we went out for chores.. it was snowing in the sunlight of the sun set.. it looked like a magical fairy kingdom.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is it worth it? Um.. yeah

And this is why....
Behold. Pork

... stand and weep with joy over these chops....

Would just LOOK at them!?!

and this roast....

Our roast and our sauerkraut. Served with our potatoes, of course

I hates them pigz.. but I love the pork. Go meat!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Its an adorable puppy!

Quick! Look! Its an adorable puppy!

Little Kai just loves the snow!

Has everyone recovered from the How To Hog Harvest? Did you look? Oh golly.. I told you that was the business, the real McCoy, the shizzle.

A million thanks to Bourbon Red who took the time last winter to provide a detailed "how to." We would have never made it without those instructions.  There are some pretty good references out there - but most seem to feature the same two guys from back in the 50's, tho. And when I read thru their instructions I thought, but I don't have this or that piece of equipment... Aside from the gun (and the axe) pretty much we used a $30 meat saw from Gander Mountain, a couple of good kitchen knives, and some gumption.

One of the reasons I wanted to post the "how to's" is that there doesn't seem to be a great, "real" reference that proves a couple of determined (or crazy) people really can get out there and get the job done. As always, with butchering, the problem is that the words used to describe it are pretty gruesome and even if you say it with a smile, it still sounds kinda awful.

So hopefully, BR's easy to follow and approachable style helped you think, "Golly, maybe I CAN do this." I mean, for heavens sakes if my hubby and I can get out there - so can you. We are just regular people with no particular skills other than we are willing to work hard.

I tend to get the same questions so we'll do a super-quick, super basic FAQ:

Q: Is it worth it?
A: Yep. We raise the pigs cheaply, naturally, on pasture using "free" food from our goats, chickens and garden... as well as locally produced corn, fruits, and vegetables. And we save a buncha money doing the butchering ourselves.

Q: Did you puke?
A: Nope. Actually once you start getting into it you really don't have a choice and have to keep going. I think its interesting and have seen much worse on prime time TV (regular network - not even cable).

Q: Did you cry?
A: No.. but I did weep with joy when I saw the how beautiful how the chops were...

Q: Were you scared?
A: Only that an enraged 300 lbs pig would turn and try and kill me. But I had the dog. And the axe. Otherwise, I just don't find it very upsetting. I'm good in a crisis so I tend to just concentrate on the business at hand.

Q: But what about that poor widdle-piggy-wiggy-woo?
A: I hate them pigz. They are not cuddly, they are not cute, they are big, mean, and destructive. They had a great life right up until they walked out of their pen and into the line of fire. It was over for them in a matter of minutes and they never knew what hit them. I do not debate the merits of meat vs not. We do whats best for our family in the most responsible and practical way we know how.

Q: But you're touching raw meat!  Eeeewwwwuueeeeeeeeeeee!!! (I got that one twice today)
A: Um... I don't even know how to respond to that.

Q: We want to raise pigs! What do we do?
A: Do it! First thing - run right out and get good fencing, electric will save you a lot of time and hassle. Then get yer pigz - try craigslist. Then just sit back, bide your time, feed 'em good and wait for the bacon.  Then double dog dare each other to get out there and take care of business.

I'll be spending the next couple days doing the cutting - that is, processing the big pork sides into the kinds of cuts you'd get at the store. Today we did two halves. The ribs and chops are amazing. We ground most of the shoulders for sausage and to have in bulk. We like to use ground pork like you'd use like ground beef. I have a recipe for a slow cooked, 3 meat tomato sauce that would bring a tear to your eye.. been waiting to make that for months.  And we are gonna eat pork chops until we are meat drunk!

Happy Monday Everyone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Hog Harvest - Step by Step

Ok folks... this is it. This is where the rubber hits the road. The real McCoy. The business. The shizzle.... I'm intentionally posting this at nite and will follow with another post promptly after midnight my time. We've got some detailed pix here of "how to hog harvest" and sometimes you can't choose which pix will be posted on other sites that link to mine... so hopefully some casual reader won't get an eyeful, if you know what I mean.

So. Lets get to it.  And now the warning... (and I'm not kidding this time. No foolin' around) 

Gentle Readers, due to the mature content of today's post,  the very young, vegetarians, and folks who don't want to know where their food comes from should look away. There are LOTS of pictures! Detailed, up close pictures of pigs in various states of being disassembled. This is a detailed, technical explanation of the hog butchering process .  There will be shooting, blood, guts, and meat flying everywhere.  Don't read it if you don't want to know. Honest. This separates the men from the boys, the farm from the posers, the real from the detached. Got it? Ready?

But first I have to give blame.. I mean.. credit where its due. Today's post is by our guest speaker, Bourbon Red.  He is the Farm Master. He used to be a hi-tech-corporate monkey like me... but gave the industry and the city the finger and moved out here to start a farm. This was our only reference for our hog harvest on Friday. Nothing else. If you get past step one, you're golden. Just so's ya know.. I was gonna be the one with the hammer but it was to heavy...so I had the full sized axe. Hu-rah.  Anyway...

Fire it up, Bourbon Red.. take it away......

Harvesting your own hogs at home is much easier than you might think. You don't need a lot of fancy tools or front end loaders or special facilities. All you need is two moderately strong people, a few tools and a pig.

The first thing is, of course, to kill the pig. I was unable to get actual pictures of this since it's a little hard to take photographs and plunge a knife into 300 lbs of kicking, thrashing hog. You've all read about making an 'x' from the pig's eyes to his ears and aiming for slightly higher than the interces of the two lines. That's what you're aiming for. The desired outcome is a stunned, but not totally blown away pig, ready for the next step which is sticking. You want the pig to actually die from loss of blood from the severed arteries in its neck. An alternative is to shoot the pig from behind. Aim right behind the ear towards the opposite eye. This is handy if you have a pig that for some reason doesn't want to come right up and face you.

Pig's brains aren't all that large - so sometimes it can be pretty tricky to get the shot placed correctly. We shot these pigs from the front with a .410 shotgun at point blank range. We usually use a .22 long rifle with hollow points - the .410 did a nice job without being to crazy. The .22 sometimes requires some back-up from a sledge hammer kept handy to the kill pen. The angle of the shot is also critical.
The tendency, when you're standing that close to the pig, is to want to shoot down at the pig. At that angle, even if you hit in the 'x' there's a very good chance that the bullet will go down through the pig's sinus cavity missing the brain entirely. This is not a good thing. Number one, you've hurt your animal - which, of course, is something that we're trying to avoid at every stage of the game. Number two - now you have a hurt, angry pig that you still have to finish off somehow (this is now not something he's going to recover from and live out his days rooting contentedly in the back pasture....). The important thing is to get down and shoot 'into' the pig - so the bullet goes in towards the pig's back and not down through the roof of his mouth.
What happens if you do just wound him? This happens. STAY CALM. If at all possible - without endangering any human bystanders - carefully take better aim and shoot again. If not - and this is not for the squeamish - have a sledge hammer ready to deliver the coup de grace. Stand square to the pig. DO NOT HESITATE. You've caused a problem you have to solve - right now. Hit him with everything you've got right in the forehead. Get ready to do it again if you have to - once should be enough though.

Make no mistake this is by far the worse part of the whole process. 99% of the time the pig will go right down and there won't be any problems - but if you do enough you'll have one that ain't so pretty. Getting taken down by a pride of lions out on the plains probably ain't so pretty either - but ...

So - you've shot your pig. With luck he's fallen right over on his side - or kneeled down on his front knees. He'll still be moving - shaking - maybe letting loose with a scream like all the demons of hell coming at you whatever. This is fine. Immediately, you need to get in there with a knife and stick the pig. Roll the pig onto his back and plunge the knife in slightly forward of the collar bone as close to the center as you can manage. Be careful - the pig may be kicking around by now. Stick the knife in and work it back and forth a little until the blood gushes out - not just bleeds but comes out in gouts. Usually you have 5-10 seconds after they're shot before they start the major flopping and kicking. That's the time to stick - for your own sake so that you can get out of the way. For this reason it's always best to have two people - one to shoot and take care of the gun and one to get in and stick. You can do both - just make sure you have someplace secure you can put the gun right away and get in there (safely) and stick the pig.

There are hundreds of pictures and videos of this out there - try a youtube search. It sounds much harder than it actually is. If you can't go watch someone first - you'll be fine. Just do it - afterwards you'll be amazed how easy (and fast) it really goes.

After you've stuck the pig and it's really bleeding well, step back. Get outta the way and let it do its thing. It might take it a little while. If it's still bleeding and kicking after a minute or so - try sticking it again - you may not have cut well enough. Chances are you'll be fine though. Go - right now and put the gun away. Have a little bourbon to calm you nerves and catch your breath - you'll need it.

OK - you've done it - you've killed and bled a hog! Congratulations. The rest is child's play by comparison.

Next step. Drag that hog out on to a clean('ish) surface - gravel is nice - clean concrete is nicer. Now grab a scrub brush and hose off the blood, mud and poo that might have gotten smeared all over during the death-throes. Go over the whole hog scrubbing and rinsing till you get him nice and clean. This will help immensely keeping the meat clean when you skin - why bother with all that nastyness when you can wash it all off in 5 minutes and know you've got a nice clean carcass to work with.

OK - now you've got some options. Traditionally, pigs were scalded and scraped to get the bristles and gunk off them. This left the hide on the pig - which was helpful if you were going to salt it down and hang it up to dry. Many traditional cultures would alternatively scorch the bristles by mounding straw over the clean dry pig and setting the pile alight. This works very well too and was preferred by many as they thought it closed up the pores better and made the bacon keep better (see Cobbett's Cottage Economy for example). A modernized form of this is to use a propane roofer's torch to burn off the bristles. We do this in the fall when we kill 7-10 pigs at a time simply because we don't have anywhere to hang that many hogs. The skin still really helps keep the meat clean - we scorch them, scrub them really well, gut and halve them and lay them out on a sheet of plastic on a concrete floor which really helps chill them down nicely. Either way you still have the skin on the pig and have to cut it off when you got to butcher the next day. Some like the 'cracklin' left on roasts, etc. I could never see the point personally - but to each his own.

The best and easiest thing (in my opinion) is to skin the pig right away. Then it's ready to go when you're ready to cut it - no fuss - no muss. There are, I am sure, a thousand ways to skin a pig. What we do is to make a skinning cradle out of 5 2x4's set on a couple of saw horses. Cheap and easy. Pigs skin most easily from the head back - rather than from the hind-end forward like one would normally skin sheep or cattle or deer. You can hang them by the jaw or by the back trotters - whatever. If you're just doing a few though a cradle really make it nice.

Now, with your clean pig on his back, take your knife and cut straight down through the throat just behind the jaws until you get down to the bone. Saw through this and continue to cut with the knife until you've severed the pig's head. Set aside.

Now you have a headless hog laying on his back.

Starting at the neck of the pig, cut down the centerline through the skin to the breastbone. Cut through the skin, fat and muscle to the bone. Careful when you get to the back end of the sternum - the guts start there. After you've exposed the sternum take your saw and cut through it - starting at the head-end of the pig. This will open the chest cavity with the heart, lungs, etc.

Now stick your fingers under the meat/skin and start to cut towards the back of the pig being very careful not to nick a gut. They're right there and it's pretty easy to get one. Don't. Take your time - the pig is dead now and it's a nice cold day. Relax.

On male pigs you'll need to trim around the penis. Cut down on either side and locate the urethra. Cut back till you've exposed enough to tie off. Tie it off with a bit of twine and drape it over to one side - just in case - so as not to spill urine on the meat. If some squirts out - wipe it off - it isn't the end of the world. You might need to trip off any meat it got on - just be careful.

Continue to cut down to the pelvis - the urethra runs down, around the pelvis and back up through the hole where the colon is - watch out for it as you cut down through there dissecting it loose and keeping it off to one side. (Female pigs you can just cut down to the anus.) Now, carefully cut down between the two back legs (hams) through the muscle and connective tissue till you hit the pelvis. Immediately in front of the pelvis you'll find the bladder - don't cut this. You can see the bladder in these pictures - the whitish thing on the right-hand side. Take the saw and holding you fingers as in the pictures, using tiny short strokes, saw through the pelvis. It won't take long - don't tear open the bladder - or the guts which may be poking out at you.

Once you've sawn through, push the legs apart to open up the back end of the pig. On males, loosen the urethra from the ham and keep it out of the way. Now, you can get your fingers down in around the colon, etc. work it loose towards the back and then cut around the anus. Tie this off to prevent spillage....

Now - back to the front end of the pig. Cut down through the neck to loosen up the windpipe and esophagus.
Also take a short knife and cut down the diaphragm on both sides.

Grasping the trachea and esophagus, pull towards the back of the pig.

You should be able to pull the guts right out towards the back. Pull gently but firmly - if you need to - flop them over the side and work free with your fingers - or knife. Be careful - you can cut yourself pretty badly on the ligaments, etc. that are holding the pieces parts in!

Now, spread out your guts in a tub (or on the snow!) and pick out the caul fat, liver, heart, spleen, kidneys - whatever you want to save from the tasty bits. Carefully pull the gall bladder off the liver - rinse everything off with cold water and set aside.
Now you're ready to skin your pig. With your helper, hoist the hog onto the skinning cradle and set his back between the middle two 2x4's.

Saw off the back trotters halfway between the knee and the hoof. Don't cut too closely to the knee (hock) because you won't be able to hang the meat by the tendon.

Saw off (cut off) the front trotters at the knee.

Skin the pig. Skin from the head end towards the back end. Keep the skin pulled tight and skim the knife down towards the skin leacing as much fat, etc. on the carcass.  Pig skins adhere rather firmly to the pig – this isn’t like skinning deer, steers, sheep, etc. – you can’t just shuck the hide off a pig.  Skin down as far as you can on both sides. Lay the skin over the outer two 2x4's and roll the pig to one side or the other to finish skinning across the back.

Now - starting at one end or the other start sawing the pig in half. Cut the meaty bits as you go with a knife so you only have to 'saw' the bone. Get someone ready to balance the two halves on the skinning cradle.

Poke a knife through the tendon on the back legs and run a length of rope/heavy twine through and tie in a loop.

Hang up the pig and rinse out the body cavity with cold water.

Go eat liver and onions. Make sure you fry apples with the onions and serve with plenty of red wine and mashed potatoes! Enjoy. Leave your pigs to chill well - overnight if you can. Over two nights won't hurt as long as it’s cold-but-not-quite-freezing where you have them hung.   

Don’t have someplace to hang them? No problem – lay them on a clean table, sheep of plastic on the floor – whatever. Just kind of stretch them out so that when the go into rigor mortis they’re not all curled up in a heap – that makes cutting them a little tricky.... (voice of experience....).  How cold? Well- mid thirties is nice.  Frozen pigs are frozen pigs and will require a chainsaw to cut.  Warm pigs are rotten pigs. Use your common sense.

Thanks Bourbon Red! Now you know how to harvest hogs. What are you waiting for? Get out there and give them pigz the business!

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