Winter is just gearing up and already I’m feeling somewhat defeated.
This is our first winter with more than just a hoop house and chickens. We have added the goats and pigs to the mix and it’s no small change.
Last winter, we finished our three pigs at the very beginning of November. We hadn’t yet built a structure that would be dry enough or warm enough to make it through the coldest months. We also weren’t ready to entertain the idea of breeding, which is what we seem to have done now (entertained the idea… not yet bred). Our current collection of five pigs includes three that are destined for the plate, one breeding sow, and one boar. And they are getting pretty big.
We will need to finish the three “eaters” before the beginning of February. They are only going to get bigger and feeding them has become expensive, as well as an exercise in taking my life into my own hands. When they hear me approach with the feed bucket, they gather, shoulder to shoulder at the fence like fat, naked linebackers. Like any good quarterback, I have taken to jumping the low fence, running the outside of the field, dumping half the feed into one bucket as quickly as possible and, without breaking my stride, racing to dump the remaining feed into the other bucket, and making my exit on the other side of the fence. It might not be a touchdown, but it’s definitely a first down if I make it out untackled by pigs. I almost always do. Add to this twice-daily fun the fact that the muddy pen is trying suck my boots off when I’m in there, and you’ve got yourself some high comedy (assuming you are watching, and not participating). Maybe I’ll make a video.
The soundtrack here is not just pigs grunting with the occasional rooster call in the background, but also the bleating of the goats who are watching the pigs from their nearby enclosure. They always get fed last and since goats are perennially hungry (I think they cry for food even WHILE they are eating food), they cannot abide watching everyone else fed before them. This bums me out because I hate for anyone to be hungry ever for any amount of time and because there is so much less material available for the goats to browse during the winter months. Note to self: Stop acquiring animals who are going to bum you out.
I am madly in love with the goats, though. They are very close to dogs in their constant need for attention and love of affection, but are way more independent. And they’re beautiful. They’re kind of perfect. Except for the perpetually hungry thing.
Once everyone is fed, there is the issue of the frozen pig water to attend to. We have run a heavy duty extension cord from the house to the chicken coop to power the water heaters that keep their water from freezing. A second cord runs from the coop to the goat shed for the same purpose. The pigs, however, would eat an extension cord in about -10 seconds and so their water is frozen almost every day now.
Our solution to this is the hot water hose.
Since the entrance to our cellar faces the animals, we have developed a system (not a great one, mind you, but a system nonetheless) that helps us provide water to all the animals daily. In our cellar is a slop sink we installed for my pottery studio. To this sink, we have attached one end of our 200 foot length of hose. We keep the hot water turned on and store the hose in the cellar when we aren’t using it and the temperatures will drop below 40 degrees. Everyday, we open up the cellar doors, drag the hose out, remove all the kinks, and shlep it down to the pigs, down to the goats, over to the hoop house, up to the chickens… wherever water is needed at the time. Because we can pour hot water directly from the hose, that gives the pigs a real treat and buys us all some time before their water is likely to freeze over again. Also, they like to climb into it and have a little bath. But who wouldn’t?
So, why am I feeling defeated?
Well, it’s cold and it’s muddy and there’s nothing good to forage. I’m a grade-A anthropomorphizer and I’ve made all sorts of decisions about how the animals feel about this. I can’t imagine that they aren’t hungry/bored/cold at any given moment and it’s totally stressing me out. I’m fairly positive I would have the rabbit, all the chickens, both goats, and the entire drift of pigs in our living room by the wood stove eating a lovely root vegetable stew if I lived alone.
I understand where you are coming from. One thing folks don’t realize when the begin down the path of farming is that never again will you listen to a thunderstorm, a snow fall, or a blustery gale and simply enjoy it. No, you will constantly be concerned that one or more of the animals is “uncomfortable” while you are cozy in the warm house. And you will feel guilty if you are comfortable.
I have to constantly tell myself, “God gave them fur coats for a reason- now go to sleep!”
I’m right there with you! We’ve got a sick yearling calf and all I want to do is bring her inside…along with everyone else! If it makes you feel better, I run a similar feed play with our pigs every morning, too. If I can get in and out without getting stuck/tackled I’m happy.
It DOES make me feel better! Good luck with the calf. It’s hard enough with the weather… Sick on top of it is just awful.
I really enjoyed this post, as usual. I have essentially the exact same method for feeding the pigs. Race to one bowl and dump some feed, then while they’re all crowding into that bowl, pour the rest into another bowl and try to escape. Even then muddy pig kisses on my legs are inevitable. My goal is just to avoid being bowled over.
I worry about our goats’ comfort too. I’m worried about them as I type this. But, as I think I’ve mentioned before, it’s pretty exasperating to go out and find a few of the older goats standing in the stall doors denying entry to all the others, who are left out in the cold and rain. If I put the offender into another stall, then the next ranking goat (who had just previously been left out in the rain) will do the same thing. I think I’d need 70 shelters to make sure they all always have a warm dry place to stay.
Our pasture waterers are heated but the chickens’ water freezes nearly every night. A few years ago my wife said one way she knew her life had changed dramatically when she found herself envying a friend with a heated chicken waterer. She also once told me that she’d probably let the goats come stay in the house if she lived alone. Except for our billy Johnny. I’m sure she wouldn’t let him in.
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Just saw this entry and coincidentally my cousin, who came to visit us yesterday, remembered visiting us and seeing our wonderful nubian in the back living room, which led directly to the attached shed and their real home. She would periodically escape her stall and dope out how to open the back door, where we’d find her standing on our couch. My mother, however, was very strict about letting her past the back room into the dinning room and rest of the house.