What a Boar!

Squeak the Boar

Squeak the Boar

Squeak the Boar, 18 months, of East Chatham, New York, died at home today, surrounded by friends and relatives.

He was born in West Swanzee, New Hampshire, and travelled to East Chatham at just six weeks of age.

He was married to Bubble the Pig and is survived by her and their 11 piglets.

Squeak loved life.  He enjoyed eating, rooting in the earth, taking mud baths, and sleeping.  His favorite spot was the decimated hay pile under the giant pine tree.

A giant of a boar, Squeak left this world weighing in at 809 pounds.  He will live on in our memories and on our plates, mainly in the form of bacon and sausage.

His legacy will be significant; he will be greatly missed.

He was a lover…

He was a lover…

… A father…

… A father…

… and a fantastic eater.

… and a fantastic eater.

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… And Then There Were Seven.

We sold four of the piglets yesterday.

Once piglets are at least six weeks old, it is generally fine to separate them from their mama.  Obviously, specifics need to be considered (e.g. we have one that is substantially smaller than the rest whom I wouldn’t sell until he grows a fair bit), but largely they have reached emancipation age by then.

Watching their behavior over the past month, it has been interesting to watch the mama go from Milk-Producing-Piglet-Feeding-Machine to Sure-I’ll-Nurse-You-But-There’s-A-Bucket-Of-Perfectly-Good-Food-Over-Here to Leave-Me-The-F*ck-Alone-You-Irritating-Little-Bastards-I’m-Trying-To-Eat.

The trajectory is fairly clear, even to the untrained eye.

So, when some lovely folks from a neighboring town expressed interest in three or four piglets, we were happy to oblige.

Hanging out, being devoured by piglets.

Hanging out, being devoured by piglets.

Knowing that yesterday would be the last day with ALL 11 piglets, I took some time to hang out with them in the afternoon.  I’d been gone all day and was happy to have returned home in time to sit with them for a bit.

Mostly, they just tried to eat my boots and pants.

But it was really nice to watch them and see how they are thriving.

Mmmm… Sticks.

Mmmm… Sticks.

Knowing the horrors of how the vast majority of pigs are raised and treated in this country, taking some time to watch our happy pigs and piglets in their bucolic enclosure rooting mud and eating sticks (and my boots) was quite happy-making.

So, when the folks came to pick up the four who would be rehomed, it was only with the slightest twinge of sadness that we had to say goodbye.

And, while there was MIGHTY SQUEALING among the selected piglets during the getting-into-the-travel-crate process, and although Mama Pig became EXTREMELY AGITATED because humans were taking her piglets, all was smoothed over in the end with a delicious bucket of compost.

Because as much as Mama loves her babies, fewer piglets really just means more food for her.

And THAT’S what being a pig is really all about.

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The Rest is Bacon

The First Piglet Outbreak was awful.

Mama Pig requesting the return of her babes

Mama Pig requesting the return of her babes

I came home, hoping to settle down and finally build the 16 beehive frames I urgently need before I can take honey this Monday.  I went out to check on all the animals to find two grown pigs, one of whom (Mama Pig) seemed unsettled and agitated, and ZERO piglets. They weren’t in the shed, they weren’t in the garden, they weren’t anywhere.  They were just GONE.

Papa Pig was snoozing unconcernedly on a pile of mulch hay, but Mama Pig was giving me an earnest and, to be honest, somewhat unsettling, look that clearly said, “Go find my babies, Human.  And be quick about it.”

So, Tatum and I started searching in every direction.  We must have walked over two miles through the woods around our property looking for them.

The main problem when searching for piglets is that, unlike dogs, you can’t really call for them.  They don’t know their names (largely because they don’t have names); they don’t listen for a whistle; they just are out somewhere in the wide world, being pigs.

Pig enclosure entirely uncontaminated by piglets.
Pig enclosure entirely uncontaminated by piglets.

I couldn’t imagine that they’d have gone very far from their mama, but there was just no hint of them anywhere.

Checking for the third time around the farm, I saw that they had wrecked a stunning level of havoc in both chicken coops.  Waterers were overturned and emptied, feeders were downright busted apart and strewn about, and even the earth was rooted up in a ravaged and obnoxious way.

So, I gave up looking for them long enough to reassemble the coops and convince the chickens that everything would be alright.  After a brief PTSD counseling session with the flock, I resumed my search.

Deciding that there was no way they would wander too far from their Mama’s milky teats, I worked my way back toward their enclosure and forced my way into some thick growth between them and the woods.  Turns out the whole Gang of Jerks (as they shall henceforth be known) was only about 25 yards from Mama Pig the whole time, sleeping in some deep growth that couldn’t be seen or reached without a machete.

The reinstated Gang of Jerks

The reinstated Gang of Jerks

We flushed them out of their bunker and back to Mama, but not without some choice words I never would have thought adorable little piglets would drive me to use.

Alas.

A friend of mine was surprised that I hadn’t been moved to massacre them right then and there.  As he put it, “you had the machete; the rest is bacon.”

And, after The Second Piglet Outbreak, I was starting to agree with him.

But it was The Third Piglet Outbreak that drove us to explore reinforcing our electric fencing situation.

While you might think that 8,000 volt electric wires strung at piglet-height around the entirety of the pig-designated area would suffice, it most clearly did not.  Why Mama and Papa pig squeal appropriately when touching it, but the piglets run right through it seemingly unmolested, remains an utter mystery.

But that’s how it seems to be.

Elaborate detour for piglets on their way to wreck the chicken coops.

Elaborate detour for piglets on their way to wreck the chicken coops.

So, Dave ran one length of full-size electric fencing along the chicken-coop side of things, hoping against hope that this might dissuade The Gang of Jerks from their jerky antics.

It did not.

All it did, really, was to provide an elaborate detour for the piglets on their way to wreck the chicken coops.

So, we are back to the drawing board.

Mmmm... Bacon.

Mmmm… Bacon.

And, I have to admit, my craving for bacon is increasing daily.

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Getting Sauced

Every year, our tomato crops are by far our most successful of everything we grow.

In the beginning

In the beginning

After planting our first garlic in the fall of 2011, the first structure we put up was our hoop house.  We filled it with five raised beds and started growing tomatoes as soon as spring rolled around.  Year after year, the tomato plants have been herculean and prolific, especially where cherry tomatoes are concerned.

We’ve had good luck with beefsteak-style tomatoes as well, having grown several different heirloom varieties.  But our Achilles’ heel has always been the romas.

For whatever reason, amid bed after bed of successful heirloom tomatoes, the bed of sauce tomatoes has always fared poorly.

Until this year.

This year, we had a truckload of a beautiful variety called Grandma Mary’s Paste Tomatoes.  They are, as are all our seeds, organic and GMO-free.  We will definitely be using these again for next year’s crop.

IMG_6856We collected them until we had enough for a good batch of sauce and then set to work.

The processing of tomatoes is super easy and doesn’t take particularly long.

Once they were all freed of their skin and seeds, we slow-simmered the sauce for much of the day, reducing it to a lovely saucy consistency.

Adding garlic and basil from our garden, we ended up with several quarts of finished sauce that will last us quite awhile.

The happy by-product

The happy by-product

There are still enough tomatoes in the hoop house to go through this exercise at least once more.

Plus, there’s the happy by-product that makes all the farm animals grunt and squeal and cluck with joy!

The leftover mess of skins and seeds is, quite possibly, one of the greatest gifts you can provide both chickens and piglets.  They adore this equally and we were hard-pressed to divvy it up fairly.

Piglets in the chicken coop eating the chickens' share of the tomato detritus

Piglets in the chicken coop eating the chickens’ share of the tomato detritus

Since the piglets have been escaping their not-so-enclosed-enclosure, anything we feed to the chickens is fair game to them as well.

We tried to be equitable but, ultimately, when it comes to food, it’s every creature for him/herself.

Until they learn to open jars, however, our lovely homemade sauce should be safe.

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Going to Seed

IMG_6770Our back garden is done for this growing season.

Due to the rapidly changing weather and extraordinary neglect on our part, the squash, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, herbs, and cucumbers simply became overrun with weeds and started to die off.

One of the many cool things about plants is that, even as they are dying, they continue to produce fruit, flower, and seeds.  I’ve written before about the bizarre produce martyrdom of tomato plants as they brown and wilt and fade, all the while offering a bounty of delicious fruit.

This end-of-life production is, ironically, what keeps the plants life cycle in motion.  This is where we get seeds for next year’s planting.

Now, if we are too busy with the other parts of life to weed the garden, then we are definitely too busy to start figuring out how to collect, treat, and save seeds.  This bums me out because, not only would it be a way to save money next spring, it would also be an amazing thing to be able to continue the cycle without outside help.  We would simply save our seeds and plant them in the spring.

Maybe someday.

IMG_6773In the meantime, there is one seed that’s sort of a no-brainer (read: even I can do it) and that’s coriander.

Almost 20 years ago, I saw a gardener let her cilantro plants go to flower and wait for the plump, little seeds to appear.  She cut them, bundled and bound them, and hung them upside-down.  As the seeds dried out, they would fall into a screened plate she’d put below them.  Voila!  Coriander.

So, that’s my singular nod to seed saving and it helps me to feel better about myself and life in general to do it.

IMG_6551As for everything else in the garden, there really couldn’t be a better edible playground for the chickens, piglets, goats, and bees.  All of these veggies exploding in a sea of flowers surrounded by weeds is about as good as it gets for the farm animals previously prevented from grazing this spot.

Since we have the World’s Fattest Goats, we probably shouldn’t leave them here for too long, but I’ve never really been good at saying no to these lovelies.

IMG_6564Obviously, the bees go wherever they please.

The broccoli flowers seem to hold a particular appeal this autumn.  While there is still an abundance of goldenrod and other wildflowers growing within feet of the hives, this latest arrival would appear to have a stronger pull.

When I snapped this shot, there were hundreds of honeybees feasting upon the surrounding broccoli blossoms.

But best of all are the piglets.

IMG_6733The piglets have started venturing away from their mama in increasingly audacious outings.

Because they are little enough to fit underneath the electric wire in some spots, they have started slipping out throughout the day to see what’s happening elsewhere on the farm.

About three days ago, a small gang of them found a gap under the fence to the back garden.  They have since been visiting the garden three, four, and five times per day, rooting around, and being generally adorable.

IMG_6759A pig learning to be a pig is a glorious and frolicsome affair.

And it involves a great deal of snout mud.

So, before we get out the tiller and turn over the back garden to prepare it for the fall, we will leave it for awhile to the browsing, rooting, scratching, and pollen-collecting of everyone else who lives here.

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Pig Cheese

Bubble’s piglets are thriving.

At a week and a half old, they’ve started to venture more bravely out and away from mama.  They’ve starting rooting gently with their little snouts, nibbling grass, and even drinking a little of the water that trickles down from the stream near their enclosure.

Five unseen piglets being stomped and poked and crushed while trying to have breakfast.

Five unseen piglets being stomped and poked and crushed while trying to have breakfast.

Largely, however, they are within a few feet of Bubble, either nursing or napping all in a heap.

The funny thing about when they nurse is the Stack Factor.  

When there are 12 teats and 11 piglets, there is a spot for everyone at mealtime.  The piglets, however, do not realize that they have access to this information.

So they scramble and and jockey for position to ensure that they get some milk before all the spots are taken.  There is significant squealing, nipping, and  wrestling involved before everyone settles in for a snack.

When the dust settles, at least five piglets are being squashed under the six that have succeeded in scoring a “top” teat.  

Which brings me to pig milk.

As a farmer and a food-service professional, I cannot help but look at Bubble’s teats, heavy with milk, and think, “I wonder what pig milk tastes like?”

And before you make THAT face; think about it.  

It’s the same as my long-held belief that penguin meat would be delicious (I mean, right? Nice layer of fat, precious little sinew…).  Just because humans haven’t integrated an animal or animal products into our diet yet shouldn’t make it unappetizing or unthinkable.

Now, I’m not suggesting we start milking pigs because, quite frankly, god help the poor bastard who tries to milk a pig.  I’m sure we don’t do it because no self-respecting sow would allow that sort of nonsense for a hot second.  I’m just saying, I’m curious about the flavor.

And speaking of flavor…

This past Saturday marked the opening day of Bimi’s Cheese Shop, a venture we embarked upon with two of our closest friends, Chris and Ellen.  We stock all kinds of lovely goodies at Bimi’s; charcuterie and jams, crackers and vinegars, a grilled cheese bar, and, of course, dozens of cheeses from around the world.

We do not have pig cheese.

But we DO have a bucket marked “pig cheese.”

This is for the little bits and pieces that get left on the cutting wires, knives, and boards throughout the day.  Rather than discard rinds and other unusable pieces, we simply fill the little bucket as we go along, knowing that Bubble and Squeak (and increasingly, the piglets) will find these tidbits a welcome addition to their usual treats of stale bread and compost.

Where are your teats, Dad?!?!

We can’t find your teats, Dad!!

Now, we just need to get the babies to stop trying to nurse on Papa.

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Pigging Out

Two days before we went on our annual Vacation On The Beach, our friend Bernie the Pig Farmer and his wife, Amie, stopped by for a visit.  They’d come all the way from New Hampshire, just to have a look at Bubble and see how she was doing.

We were immensely grateful for this because Bernie just knows so gosh darned much about pigs.  We thought for sure he’d be able to tell how soon she’d be pigging out and whether she looked good in every other way.

She didn’t.

Bubble, trying to deliver a ten-pound poohglet

Bubble, trying to deliver a ten-pound poohglet

Bernie looked her over and decided that all was well; until he got to her backside.

“What’s going on there?” he asked, pointing to a large, impacted collection of poop causing her rear to bulge horribly.

“Yeah, that’s been like that for about a week.”

“She hasn’t pooped in a week?”

“No, she has; but then it just goes back to looking like that.  Is that bad?”

“Yeah… that’s nawt good.  We gotta get that outta her.  Get a board and a bucket of warm, soapy water.”

Um.

And so we cornered her in the shed, where Bernie unceremoniously removed every last bit of that unwholly agglomeration.

Next, I got to chuck bucketfuls of soapy water at her butt.  

And THEN she was ready to pig out.

But Bernie and Amie felt certain that there was little chance she’d go while we were away.  Judging by her demeanor and her teats, they said, she likely had one to three weeks.  This was wonderful news!  We could go away for our annual Vacation On The Beach and not worry about a) missing the birth or b) not being there to handle any issues that might arise.

What a relief.

We left that Sunday and had prepped our caretakers with all the information we thought they would need to handle the pigs, goats, chickens, and gardens.  We’d stocked up on feed and hay and even posted notes here and there to make the process easier.  After all, these fine folks are also on vacation; animal care should be fun and simple, right?

Well…

Bubble and her brood

Bubble and her brood

They awoke Wednesday morning to find 11 pink and healthy piglets and one slightly blue, not so healthy one.

We couldn’t believe it.

Thankfully, our friends handled the situation like the pros that they most certainly aren’t and we didn’t even have to drive back home once.  They managed to separate the dying piglet (an emotionally Herculean task in and of itself), run a length of fencing to separate Squeak from Bubble and the babes, run another length of electric wire because Squeak continued to bust through the fencing, extend the hose for watering, compost the placenta, and, in the middle of it all, discard our long-suffering chicken who finally died after weeks of staring at the wall in the mud room all day.

Meanwhile, we were at the beach.

As a further boon to our particular good luck, Jeff Bush happens to know his way around a camera and, as a result, the rest of this post will be filled with adorable pictures of piglets.  Enjoy!

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