Three little pigs who weren't. Pt. 1

I had been feeling down & not really in the mood to write for a few weeks. In large part, it was because it felt like we were having some pretty awful luck with our animals. And that just takes the wind out of your sails, and any creative urge drained away. 

Not too long after I wrote the post about settling in our little piglets, I had taken the youngest & gentlest of the pigs, Tocino, to the Boy's school along with one of our chickens for a story time show & tell. ("What does Tocino mean in Spanish kids? That's right - Bacon!!") 

The first graders all paraded out to the school yard where we set up a smallish pen, and gave them an introduction to some of the basics of keeping animals, how we protect them, why we enjoy them, and then finished off by telling one of my favorite stories, The Old Woman & Her Pig

A few days later, the pigs vanished. 

As they get older, they get trained to the electric fence - a few shocks on the snout, and you wouldn't go near that thing either. In reality, it's not much of a barrier, but pigs are smart, and given the choice, they'll stay inside it just fine. This lets me expand their pen to a larger and larger run, and gives them plenty of room to roam and root, and enjoy. The three little pigs, Rocky, Tocino & The Spare, all seemed content and happy in the space, and all was well. 

Then one evening, they got spooked. Hard. Bad enough to rush and burst through the fence despite the electric shock, and to completely disappear into the woods. I was out meeting a colleague for an early dinner, and my Bride and the kids did an initial search, walking the woods, hoping for some sign of the little guys. Nothing.

By the time I got home, it was late, and full dark. I walked the woods, but couldn't see a thing. The next morning, and the morning after that, I was up in the pre-dawn twilights, fending off ticks and walking the woods in widening circles, rattling a bucket full of peanuts, hoping to see some sign of them. 

A pig will range about a 1/4 mile a day, if not bothered. And usually you might find sign of them rooting or bedding down. They're not exactly tidy creatures, and can make quite a mess when they're snuffling through the underbrush for food. But I didn't see a thing. These little guys were gone. I was pretty sure coyotes would get them - or had already. We have plenty around here, and the pigs were relatively tiny still - less than 15 weeks old. After a few days, I had to give up hope. The kids (and I) got another lesson about life on a farm, however small. 

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A couple of weeks later, I came home to hear from the Critter that a chicken had died. It was one of our younger ones (~ 16 months). No real indication as to why - but that's often the case with chickens. They're not meant for long lives to begin with, and a hen that's more than 3 is in her golden years. The corpse was stretched out in the pen, and the other chickens were avoiding it. No sign of predators. It was just that chicken's day to die. 

The Critter takes care of the chickens - feeds & waters them, and collects the eggs to sell. But it's still somehow my job to take care of the dead ones, when they occur. I walked out, collected the carcass and disposed of it in the woods.

A day or two more went by, and I started to smell something obnoxious. It was stronger outside on the back patio. It took me two days to figure it out. Turns out, a few peanuts had been left in the bottom of the pig bucket, which was sitting up next to the back porch. A rat had gotten into the bucket and couldn't get back out. The rat had at least had a final meal, which I assume it enjoyed. But then the rains came, and it's carcass was swollen and smelling by the time I found it. 

The Boy said "Yes. I saw that a few days ago."

Really? For future reference, there are things you need to tell your father, kid. "I saw a dead animal on the back porch" is on that list. 

Then our dog, Maggie, pulled up lame, and had to be taken to the vet. That's a longer story, but I was beginning to think that - were I a suspicious fellow - all these animals dropping around us would have to have been some kind of sign. 

When the pigs disappeared, I sent out word to our local town chicken-raisers email group.  (What, you don't have one of those?)  And I called our town police department to let them know. Just in case anyone called in a sighting of little curled tails fleeing down the trail. 

"Sure, Mr. Grady. You bet we'll keep an eye out. But you know, there are a lot of coyotes in Carlisle..." 

There was no word, and no sighting over the weeks that passed. And while I occasionally looked into the woods along the side of the road as I drove by, hoping to see some little spotted piglets, I was pretty sure that the they had already made some pack of predators a perfect late spring meal. 

Little did I know. 

...

This year's bacon seedlings

Even though last year's pigs were such good fun to raise, I wasn't sure if I was going to take it on again this year.  

All animals are a responsibility. We already have 20-something chickens (only one hen died over the winter - a practical miracle in our flock. But I do tend to lose count. 23? 24?)  Plus the dog. And the two kids, of course, who are increasingly needy. (They want to be fed every single day. Sheesh).  There's plenty going on around here. 

But I found after a while that I missed my morning summer routine. Unlike the chickens (or the kids), the pigs were always grateful when I went out before work to say hello, and make sure they had an extra scoop of peanuts. And then there's all that beautiful pork in my freezer. 

So I decided to get a couple more this year. 

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This is the momma pig and a few from her litter, out at the farm in central Mass. where I got my piglets last year. The farmer is a really good guy, and was glad to reserve a few beautiful little piglets from February litter for us. The Gloucester Old Spot is a heritage breed - gentle & easy going. It makes a great ham, and puts on a good layer of fat. It's more or less a well-rounded pig for a smallholder farm.  Considering I have exactly one season's experience with this, it's the perfect pig for us. 

I picked up three this year. Two we'll raise at our house again, using the same diet we did last year - a mix of hog/sow feeder grain (you can buy it in bulk from your local Agway or Tractor Supply Co.) and peanuts in the shell.  The theory being that peanuts are a pretty good protein & fat stand-in for the rich acorn diet that creates those beautiful Iberico hams from the oaky grassland of northern spain. 

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The third one will go just down the road to be raised with a few other pigs at the fantastic, Sweet Autumn Farm. We're good friends with the farmers, Leslie & Katherine, who raise all their animals & veg certified organic - the pigs on mostly grain, vegetable scraps and whey. But no peanuts.  Last year, they raised another group of pigs - a red Duroc cross. Durocs are a long, low pig. Long pigs make for long bellies. Long bellies make for extra bacon. But they're not quite as sweet as our Gloucesters, and we're in it for those fantastic prosciutto hams, and thick layer of fat. 

This year, if we coordinate everything correctly, we'll take all our pigs to slaughter together, and we'll be able to do a slightly more scientific  comparison of our peanut-raised pigs with a non-peanut fed, and see if it really made a difference. I was so happy with the way they turned out last year, that I've already determined I'll be raising them more or less the same. But it'll be nice to have a control to compare it to. 

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Our three this year are a male and two girls. Last year's pigs - Chorizo (male) and Honeydew (female) were named by my daughter and I. So this year it was the Boy's turn to name one, and the other keeper would be named by my Bride. 

The boy is the one in the middle above, with the most spots. The Boy picked 'Rocky'. Which, in addition to being a perfect name for a pig, proves that we're giving our 6 year old the right kind of movie education. 

We haven't decided which of the girls we're keeping. One of them is definitely the calmer of the two, and the Critter says that one of them likes her already. But I can't really tell which is which yet. Whichever we keep, its name will be 'Tocino' (which is a kind of sweet-cured Filipino bacon

I just call the third one 'the Spare'. 

We got them settled into their little pen above last night. They were exhausted from the drive down, and exploring their new home. I created a smaller enclosure within the larger pig pen, which is electrified fencing. These little guys are at least a week or two younger than the ones we got last year, so they're really small. The Critter and I sat with them for a half hour or so, just to make sure they were settled in, and then we went in to eat a joint of neck from last year's pigs that I had smoked for ten hours. to form a beautiful bark.  I think this one was Honeydew. She was delicious.

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Maybe I was a little too gleeful with my pulled pork sandwich the night before. When I went out to check the little guys in the morning at 6:15, they were gone. 

Holy shit.

Gone. 

I walked around the woods for twenty minutes, with slim hope to find the tiny little boogers. They're small. The leaf litter and fallen trees gave plenty of room for them to hide. And I wasn't really certain how long they had been gone - but there was no sign of them. And they wouldn't make much of a meal for a coyote or two. All I could think was that 1) I was an idiot to think the fencing that I had was sufficient. The little piglets are just so small at this stage that they can slip out of it. 2) it wasn't even the money I was kicking myself for - it was the lost morning ritual for this summer. There wouldn't be a day that I got up that I didn't look out at the barn and miss the few minutes of quiet friendship and care that I shared with the pigs each day. 

I had more or less given up, and was walking back up to the house. And there they were. 

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They had had a good root through the leaves - I found their trace afterwards. They had clearly been out for a few hours this morning. They were a few hundred feet from their pen, but only about 100 feet from the stone wall at the edge of our lawn.  They had made themselves a little nest in a hollow in the leaf litter and stretched out in a pile to catch up on some sleep. 

Honestly, if I hadn't just happened to walk that direction, I would have completely missed them. 

I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and called the house. "Send the girl out!" 

Between us (and my Bride joined a few minutes later in her pajamas), we managed to get them corralled into their temporary pen, looking a trifle guilty, but not really any worse for their little adventure. 

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My farming learning curve is pretty steep. But I do learn. I will be creating a more piglet-proof pen this evening.  

And more memories, no doubt, for the kids  - who will be able to tell their own children someday: "Oh yeah? You think you have it tough with your Google-bike and your robot toothbrush?  Your grandfather used to make me go wrangle the pigs back into their pen before school in the morning." 

Sheesh.

Mondays. 

My cold frame & I shake our metaphorical fist at The Winter That Will Not End

It's the middle of March, and here in Massachusetts, we've seen a few handful of welcome but rare days peak out at 50 degrees.  Mostly. we're still struggling to stay consistently above freezing.

It means there's still plenty of that gross, brownish-grey piles of snow piled everywhere, a generous blanket of snow & ice covering most of the lawn, and my maple taps are performing rather poorly (they need warm days and cold nights). And my garden beds are sitting there, blanketed in white and pretty forlorn, despite the first shipments of seeds showing up from my mail order catalogs.  I'll detail my garden plans in another post, when I don't feel like Spring is quite so far away. 

However, after walking back and forth to check in on the chickens a few times, I took a peek into the cold frame that I built last year

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I built it out of reclaimed wooden-framed windows, on the end of one of the raised beds to allow the soil to warm up quicker. And to hopefully give me a place to start a few early crops. It had been covered by snow for weeks and months, but the few recent sunny days had left it clear. 

And unlike the rest of my garden or beds, I could see the soil underneath it, teasing me with what Spring might look like. 

I lifted open the top windows (they're all hinged at the top) to take my first peek inside. 

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The soil is cold and damp. But holy shit!  Look you guys. That's some green stuff growing in there.

OK. So they're weeds. And they look pretty spindly & pathetic. But clearly there is hope for warmer days ahead, despite the weatherman doing his best to convince me that a new glacier is has probably formed just outside of Boston.  

That's good enough for me.  I ran back inside and ripped open one of the boxes from Territorial Seed that had been sitting tucked forlorn next to my desk for several weeks. I rooted around the rustling, promising packs filled with so much hope & seeds of vegetables I shall one day harvest in a distant, summery dream. I found a pack of arugula seeds, and a pack of early spinach seeds. Both amongst the earliest crops I always hope to gather from a spring garden.

I scooted back out across the ice, and raised the windows of the cold frame again. With a trowel that hasn't been touched in months, I cleared the remnants of last winter's greens, dug four neat little furrows on each side, and dropped the seeds into the soil, before scooping the loose soil back down lightly, and closed the windows again to keep the cold frame snug. 

There's no doubt that I should really wait at least another week (or probably two) before I bother planting even this - putting my hands down into the soil left my fingertips more than moderately chilled.  But the two packs of seeds cost me about three bucks, so worst case, I'm not out a lot of money, and I might get a few extra salads a little earlier than I would have otherwise for my gamble. And the little glimmer of hope I got out of seeing a few green weedy shoots promising how vibrant my garden might be?  

That's without price. 

Charcuterie & fromage

My Bride's mother & father came and stayed with us for a few weeks this month, and our house has been full of food, and hugs, and love. The kids especially love seeing their grandparents (of course). And with the weather being mostly so frigid, we've stayed in doors and around the kitchen and fireplace quite a lot. 

Last weekend, we decided we'd go into our freezer full of pig, and do a little charcuterie. I was also inspired by our recent trip up to Vermont to make a bit more cheese.  We figured we'd have a whole shut-in weekend of old-time preserving. 

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We started out making Longanisa - a Filipino sausage much like a Portuguese linguiça - sweet and tart and well seasoned.  Grinding and stuffing the sausage was a whole family event, and took most of an afternoon, and many, many sausage jokes. 

My Bride's people are not tall, and needed proper sausage stuffing leverage. Fortunately, we were prepared. 

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The pork was really beautiful - a great ratio of fat to meat. With the leftovers, I was able to put up a few pounds of chorizo. (Made from our pig, Honeydew, not Chorizo. Which made the Critter laugh. We had asked the butcher to label all of the meat so we'd be able to keep track of which pig we were eating. Honeydew's packages are all written in blue, and Chorizo's all in red.) 

I used the same chorizo recipe that I've used in the past. I love this recipe - it's easy to bag & freeze pre-portioned amounts of meat. I don't bother casing it - I always use this for burritos or huevos rancheros anyway.  One of my favorite breakfasts in the word. 

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I also had pulled out two beautiful joints that the butcher had set aside for coppa. I've never made coppa before, but after describing the basic cuts I wanted to make sure we got (plenty of back bacon, three prosciuttos, etc), I told Maureen, the awesome partner at our butcher to just cut the pig how she felt best. 

When I pulled these boneless joints out - cut from the meaty part of the back of the neck on the pig, the marbling was absolutely gorgeous. That's right - marbling on a cut of pork. The peanut-rich diet for our pigs - along with the forage from the forested run they had - clearly had turned into some beautiful meat. 

I laid the joints out and rubbed them down with a combination of salt, pepper, fennel, garlic, and a few crushed juniper berries.  

Well actually, I employed child labor to do the hard part.

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Nothing like a little handling a little raw meat in your superhero pajamas, ammiright?

(Note, that's a bowl of chorizo in the foreground, waiting to be bagged) 

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Coppa is cured by letting it rest for a bit (I gave it 24 hours post-rub in the refrigerator) and then casing it in a beef bung and hanging it to finish. This will take about 4-6 weeks, and it'll lose about a third of its weight as the meat dries & cures, and the fat becomes silky. 

I'd never worked with a beef bung before. When you order one on Amazon, it comes in a plastic tube as a hardened, salty, fairly smelly little ball. An hour or so of soaking later, and you end up with a pliable, stretchy & tough natural casing that will wrap around a 6" diameter piece of meat. With a bit of love and effort. 

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I've hung these in my cellar which is a constant 55 degrees or so, and steady humidity. I keep going downstairs in the evening to check on them. They're tightening up already, and I can smell the faintly peppery smell of the cure. 

I can not wait to get these onto my slicer. 

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While I had the components (and chil-dout, I pulled out a large piece of Honeydew's belly as well. (See? Using their names to talk about eating them stops getting weird after a few times, doesn't it? Or maybe it gets weirder. I'm not sure.) 

This meat just continues to amaze me. Absolutely beautiful. We've had good pork in the past, but nothing to compare to this.  I had to cut this piece of belly in half to work with it. 

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I used my butcher's recipe - he charges about $30 per pound for his cured pancetta, but he gave me the recipe for free. Probably figuring not to many of his customers are daft enough to do this. Plus, he's just cool that way. 

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These get sealed in a food-saver vacuum bag with salt, a little brown sugar, garlic, rosemary, and pepper, and a couple of those crushed juniper berries and put into the fridge for a week or so before I'll roll them and hang them. to cure. Again - 6 or 7 weeks, and I'll end up with pancetta that'll blow your mind. 

Cheese

The next day, we moved on to cheese. 

I had been running through my cheddar a bit lately, and hadn't put any up to cure lately. What I found from our first attempts is that it takes a year or so to really cure to the point you're going to enjoy eating it. Before that, it tasted young and curdy. More time = more sharpness. 

So I knew I wanted to put up a couple more wheels. I also wanted to try out a new recipe, though, and expand our repertoire a little further. 

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The larger pot is my cheddar, resting and waiting to curdle. In the smaller, white pot is goat's milk. The first batch of chèvre I made is hanging on the rack in the background.

Goat's milk chèvre is incredibly easy to make, it turns out. There are only 3 ingredients: 

  • Goat's milk (well, duh). 
  • Citric acid
  • Salt

Our local Whole Foods carries goat's milk, and the rest I got on the internet. Within an hour, I had a really excellent cheese that was declared acceptable & quickly devoured by the family.

I spread mine on a toasted bread with a little drizzle of honey. Excellent. 

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Yeah. Winter days like these are pretty much my favorite. 

These little piggies went to market

Since I got the two little bacon seeds back in early May, having a couple of other animals in our little menagerie has been a fun part of the daily routine around our house. 

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Mostly, it was just a part of my morning ritual to walk out, feed the pigs and check their water. Maybe give them a good morning scratch on the head, and that'd be about it. But they'd squeal and snort anytime we walked towards the barn to say hello, and we all got used to the antics of Chorizo & Honeydew.  

As they got bigger, I expanded their range a couple of times. A good quarter acre or more of our property is wooded fringe behind our barn, and it was perfect for the two Gloucester Old Spot pigs to range and root and explore. They were so well trained to the electric fence that I'd have to entice them over where the line used to be each time I expanded the area. A bag or two of peanuts in the shell or a few apples usually did the trick. They did a great job of clearing out a lot of the scrubby undergrowth I'd been meaning to get to.  

 

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Mostly, they ate pig feed. It's pressed grain, and they liked it. I was surprised at how picky they were - they wouldn't eat just any scraps. They loved any fruit. And I was lucky enough to score whey from a cheesemaking friend-of-a-friend, which they really dug into.  

But vegetable scraps from the garden were a hit or miss. When some of my radish crop got too big and woody, I tossed in a bucket full, with the greens. They turned their nose up. Potatoes were kind of blah for them. But when I brought out wheelbarrows full of apple pumice leftovers from this year's cider pressing party, they loved it. 

 

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To balance everything out, I mixed in peanuts with their feed. About 15% or so of what they ate were either raw or roasted in-the-shell peanuts. They didn't eat the shells. They'd crack them, eat the nuts, and spit the shells back out.   

I had read Pig Perfect  last winter in preparation for our pig-rearing adventure. The author had chased down the best hams in the world, and then traced back to the pigs they came from. They all start with the black pigs raised on the oak scrub pastures of northern Spain, eating acorns and other findings.  I don't have enough acorns to make that workable. But peanuts, that I can do. 

For a while, I was buying big fifty pound bags of peanuts in the shell at the feed store. They were about $2/lb, and I figured I may have to sacrifice a bit of the children's college tuition savings to keep the pigs in feed over the course of the summer, but at least we'd have some good tasting bacon. 

Then one day I spotted 5 lb bags of roasted, in the shell peanuts at our local grocery store for less than $6/lb. I did the math in my head. That was way cheaper. And I didn't figure the pigs would mind if the peanuts had been roasted. 

I went and grabbed another cart and filled it completely with every bag the store had. And a diet coke. When I got up to the cash register, I got a couple of strange looks. I just said "Pigs" and left it at that. They hurried me out. 

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Our friends kept saying to us, "Oh, you're going to have such a hard time when it comes time to... slaughter... them."

The word slaughter was always said in a bit of a whisper. 

I'd just shake my head. "No. The pigs are livestock. Not pets. There's never been any doubt as to what their destiny was."  

I like the pigs. We made sure they had a good, low-stress life wand were healthy and well taken care of. But let's remember: we're only a generation or two from a time when nearly everybody had some meat in their backyard. Pigs are easy going and personable. They'd sprawl out at my feet and let me scratch their belly ('Who's got the good little bacon? You've got the good little bacon!')   But that didn't change what they were there for.  We just enjoyed them while they were around. 

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I asked a buddy in town with a trailer if he'd help me taxi them up to the slaughterhouse. I sweetened the deal with a promise of some prosciutto in trade for his time and service.  

He brought his trailer over the day before we were transporting the pigs. I cut an area out of the fence, and put up a temporary chute onto the trailer. I moved their food up into the back of the trailer, and left them to it.   

Since the pigs are so well trained to the fence, I wasn't worried about shutting off the electricity. They only ever got out of their area one time when they were very young (and small enough to slip under the bottom line of the fence). And I think they were more surprised than anyone to be on the wrong side of the line.  

But since they are so well trained to where the line is, I had to drop a line of tempting peanuts and apple bits up into the trailer so they'd know where things were.  They were a little nervous of the big metal & wood box. But when I walked out a couple of hours later, they had clearly been in and eaten. Each of them followed me up into it individually, but they weren't in it together, so I let them have one more night in their pen.  

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In the morning, we all got up to see the pigs off. I walked into the trailer and poured a last bag of peanuts into a bucket for them, and they followed me right in. When I shut the gate, they munched happily, and we all got a last scratch and a 'thanks for being good pigs'. 

The Boy definitely had a little bit more mixed feelings about things, and we had a good conversation about happy livestock and how we treat our animals. And how much we appreciate what they do for us.  He still was a bit wistful, but he said he was happy to know where his food came from. And I promised we'd throw a mini party when we made our first bacon sandwich, in honor of the pigs. 

 

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This year, I was trying a new slaughterhouse. The small one a few towns west of us in Massachusetts was always super busy this time of year, and I just hadn't felt as good about the interaction last year as I might have. Especially not when I had put all the care into raising pigs of my own this year.  

The process at LeMays up in Goffstown, NH was good - each pig was ear tagged as they came in. This ensured that the pigs didn't get mixed up (which was good - there was a trailer behind us with two pigs of the exact same breed. But they were a good 20% smaller than mine. I wouldn't want them to get confused!)  

I always go in for kill-only, as I was planning on picking the carcasses up and taking them to the butcher I've been working with for years.  

I helped unload the pigs, gave them a final pat and headed out, already looking forward to seeing them split a couple of days later.  

 

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I wasn't disappointed.  

Chorizo's hanging weight surprised me. He was 265 lbs. Which meant that on the hoof, he was almost 300 lbs (they lose 30 lbs or more of blood and offal in the cleaning process.)  

Honeydew was about 25 lbs smaller. But both exceeded my expectations. I'd have been happy with anything approaching 250.  

I took the Critter with me again - we loaded the pigs up in the back of my truck and headed down to a guy I think is probably the best butcher in the Boston area.  He and I have been dealing in whole animals since we moved to the area, more or less. He knows how I want them cut, and always helps me come up with new ideas to try. 

This tradition of father-daughter slaughterhouse day may have to change a little next year, as I've promised the Boy he can come along.  

I have to make sure he has his share of good stories to tell his therapist later in life as well, after all.

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Driving down the highway with a bunch of pink, meaty carcasses wrapped in plastic in the bed of my truck is always a bit of a treat.  I always worry a little about what passing motorists might thing. On the other hand, they tend not to cut me off. So there's that. 

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It was a beautiful day - we're wrapping up a perfect autumn here in New England. And taking the animals to the butcher is as much a part of that for us as watching the leaves change.

It's a part of the rhythm of things in our house. The freezers are mostly empty, and the prosciutto boxes are waiting to be filled.   And knowing this year we have pigs of our own makes it even more enjoyable to know we'll soon be filling them up with meat for the coming year. 

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I didn't snap the best pictures when I dropped them off in the shop. But you can see the carcasses here, split and ready.  

(What did you expect to see when you read this far? Pictures of puppy dogs and rainbows?) 

They looked good - I walked through the cuts that were most important to me. 3 prosciuttos, and one dress ham. 3 bellies without skin for pancetta. One with skin for other dishes. One dressed crown roast for Christmas. I like English-style back bacon, so I sacrifice pork chops for more loin & ready-to-cure cuts.  

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After that, I get less choosy.   However, you can see that huge strip of fat across the back of the pig - I did ask to keep as much of that intact as I can. I'll be making lardo again with that - I've never had a pig with such a good layer of fat, and I can't let it go to waste!

The rest of the meat will come more or less as it speaks to Mike & Maureen (the butchers). Plenty of meat to make sausage, guanciale, or whatever else strikes my fancy.  Ribs of various cuts to cook or give away. I've no doubt we'll be enjoying our two piggy friends for many months to come. 

They've got this picture below on the wall above the counter. 

I trust them. 

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Would I do it again next year?  I don't know. I'm still thinking about it.  

I enjoyed the routine and the care for the animals. And I can't say it's a lot of work, really. Especially now that I know what I'd be getting into. But it's a commitment, and I have other projects I want to try my hand at.  

For now, I'll enjoy my Christmas ham and plan out what kinds of sausage we're going to try, and we will celebrate our friends, Chorizo and Honeydew each time we sit down together to a good, home-raised meal.  

Cold frame gardening

Here in my little town, we don't get our garbage picked up. 

Instead, you get to pay $25 for a sticker, and you can take anything you want to the transfer station and drop it off yourself. As long as you've separated out your recyclables. Don't mix aluminum and steel. Your plastic goes over here. And if you put a colored glass bottle into the clear glass container, you most certainly will get the evil eye and a "Elizabeth Warren Disapproves" bumper sticker slapped on your car while you're not looking by one of the Boy Scout/High School Volleyball Team/Middle School Band/League of Conservationists who are staked out near the gently-used motor oil drop off selling Oranges/Wrapping Paper/Cookies/Just Put Your Money In This Bucket Mister.  

Despite the gauntlet of disapproval-potential that I run every time, I enjoy my trips up to the transfer station. I throw the week's garbage, cans and bottles into the back of my old truck, and I head up. It's a bit of a social scene, and you never know who you're going to run into. Forget the garbage. It's all about the Swap Shed. 

Despite having dropped off some pretty good, perfectly usable stuff that I really needed to get out of my basement (including a small-ish table saw, a full component stereo system and speakers, lots of clean kids toys, and multiple sets of breakfast room chairs) I don't have great Swap Shed luck.  Friends of ours will find antique glass brewing carboys, new skis, and other treasures. Mostly, I find old push mowers, a warped particle board bathroom vanity, and maybe a wobbly office chair with a suspicious stain. 

Earlier this spring, though, I spotted a few old 8-light wooden framed windows. I snatched them up before others saw them, and tucked them away in my barn over the summer. They were the perfect ingredient to build a cold frame for my garden. 

 

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I picked up a couple of pair of long, dual pane windows to make the sides later in the summer from an architectural salvage place, and with summer winding down, I cleaned up one side of the sunniest of my raised beds, and started putting together my cold frame.  

A cold frame is just a mini-green house. I wanted to hinge the windows both for access and to be able to adjust how much air & heat the plants got. The windows were framed to tilt up on either end, and spaced so that the whole frame covered about a third of my 8' x 16' garden, and let me extend the growing season into the cooler months approaching, plus start some of my plants a bit earlier in the spring time.

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The windows tilt up from the outside, and let the air circulate. I took a break and my Bride wandered out to check up on me.  

"That looks great, sweetheart. But why did you do it wrong?"

"Than- Wait. What?" 

"I mean. Shouldn't it be tilted to let the snow and rain slide off better?" 

"Well. Yeah. You could  do it that way."

"And wouldn't it be easier to access things on the inside if the hinges were in the middle, so you weren't reaching across the whole thing?" 

"..." 

"But it looks good. For being wrong." 

I'd write the rest of that conversation, but it mostly consisted of some single-digit hand gestures and muttered swearing. 

 

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OK. This was better, I admit. 

The angle isn't too huge, but it's easy enough now to walk around and reach in. And the windows capture and retain the heat enough to keep it a nice balmy temp on the inside and keep the frost out, even as we experience the first frosty days of autumn. (I left a couple of pepper plants limping along inside, just to judge how it held up. 

I gave the whole thing a coat of white exterior paint to protect it a bit, and filled in the gaps with a thick 0.7 mil plastic. The pairs of windows aren't really all the same size, so there's a little bit of tilt and step-angling in I had to do to make the whole thing square, but it rests on some 1" x 6" pressure treated lumber, and is remarkably rigid, considering. 

 

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The whole thing is mobile - in the spring, I'll start plants in here, and then move it aside or up to the loft in the barn as the weather warms. But this will let me get a last crop of salad greens in through November or even the first part of December, depending on how the weather holds.  

I have started some late arugula and spinach inside, and things are looking good for a fall bounty of greens

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So bring it on, winter. We're ready for you.  

Best swap shed find yet, I'm telling you. 

 

The sweet, final gasps of summer

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Our tomatoes had been ravished by deer earlier this year. I walked out in early July, only to find them all cropped neatly off about a foot or eighteen inches off the ground. It was devastating. Most of my garden is only there so I have an excuse to plant tomatoes - nothing is so satisfying as slicing up a brandywine that you just picked and putting it on the plate. 

I was disheartened, but I tied up the fragile, abused stems to stakes anyway, and sort of forgot about it. I let the weeds grow around the tomatoes as an unintentional camouflage. I got on with things. And my garden got on with itself.  

The one thing that has performed exceptionally, insanely well were our fruit trees. We had already harvested pears and apples. And our peach trees have been flush with fruit for weeks.  Oddly, our apples were ready to pick weeks ago (early), but our peaches have taken some time to fully ripen (late).  In part, I think this is because we didn't thin the fruit at all - meaning the trees had to work a bit extra to bring them to full sweetness.  But oh, how sweet they are. 

We ended up picking more than a bushel (50lbs) worth of peaches off of three trees. Not counting the dozens of drops that we threw out to the pigs and the chickens. Peach cobbler. Peach pie. Peach ice cream (made by our neighbors, who shared our bounty).  As a Georgia boy, born and raised, I continue to marvel that we've gotten such great peaches up here in the frozen wastes of Yankee land. 

And meanwhile, our tomatoes had gotten on with things.  

I was picking peaches, and looked over into the scrubby, neglected tomato patch, and spied something red. Sure enough, the tomatoes had made a full recovery, and were heavy with fruit. Brandywines, sungolds, mortgage lifters - they're late to the party, but they're making a good showing in the last gasp of summer. And I'm not about to let them go to waste!  

An afternoon in the garden, dirty but happier for it, and with a peach cobbler in the oven, the Boy and I took a much enjoyed celebration on the porch, and had ourselves a little ukulele lesson.  

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What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?  

 

Pickled Pears

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We inherited an ancient, 25' pear tree in the yard when we bought the house. It's clearly lost some major branches/trunk lines, is lopsided, and clearly past its prime. It sits over in one corner of the yard next to an equally-old and gnarled apple tree of unidentified variety. 

Every year, a few pears grow high in the branches, well out of reach of everyone but some brave squirrels. In the fall, the ones that have been missed will occasionally fall out of the branches to splatter down. Literally splatter. By the time they fall out of the tree, they're so grainy and gone that they burst into inedible little smears on the grass. 

However, for some unexplained reason, the tree put on a burst of youthful, showy production this year. I looked out and saw a tall, 6 point whitetail buck munching nonchalantly on something in the tree the other evening. When I walked out, I saw a huge number of small, perfect pears in the lower branches.  

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I'm not sure of the variety. They're as small as a Seckel. But they're green turning russet like a Bosc. Not that it matters. I was so excited to see both this and the apple tree producing that we got to picking. 

Pears are only ripe for a few milliseconds. Then they go grainy and awful.   If you let them ripen on the tree, they're not worth eating. You pick them when they come off easily, and set them in a cool place on your counter. But not too long for these - they were destined to be pickled, so we still wanted them a bit firm.   

My Bride put these up (the picture at the top) using a combination of a recipe from the BBC Food website and a recipe in one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage episodes (the Christmas one, I think).  

Here's more less the adjusted recipe used:  

  • 1 lemon
  • 10 cloves
  • 2.5 tsp black peppercorns, lighltly crushed
  • 1 small chili, halved, diced fine, seeds removed
  • 1 tsp allspice berries, lightly crushed
  • A bit of ginger, sliced thin
  • 2 pints cider vinegar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2.5 lbs sugar
  • 2.5 lbs pears
  1. Zest the lemon and put in a pan with all the spices, sugar & vinegar over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves.
  2. Peel, quarter and core the pears.  (If this takes a while, toss the peeled pears with a little diluted lemon juice to keep them from browning).  
  3. Add the pears to the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Pack the fruit into sterilized canning jars, and pour over the warm syrup from the pan. Seal and put aside to finish.  

They'll be ready to eat in a few days, but even better if left to sit for a month or so before you crack open the jar.  

Pickled pears are a great side with pork tenderloin or other meats. Or just serve them in a small bowl along with a really nice set of cheeses. 

We'll set these aside to serve along with a nice glass of wine or four to our Christmas guests.  If we don't get tempted and dive into them sooner. 

 

Things we tell our children

Recently, a friend (whom we love dearly) posted an article on child-raising called 'The Secret Cost of Shame' .  The authors of the article suggest that many parents are creating thick ridges of emotional scar tissue in their children by using words like 'naughty' or using 'moralizing' statements such as 'Good little children don't act that way'.  Or my favorite example: 

A three-year-old who defies her mother by refusing to pack up her toys - after being told to do so repeatedly - may be attempting to forge a separate and distinct self-identity.

OK. But the new self-identity is headed for a sore butt. 

Now, I remember from the parenting manual you get when you take the baby home from the hospital that there are lines you don't cross. It's inappropriate, for example, to scream 'OH MY GOD YOU GOT IT WRONG, YOU LITTLE SATAN MONKEY' in the grocery store when your child fetches the 1% milk instead of the 2% you had clearly  asked for. What? You didn't get a manual? You have to ask before you leave, you know. They don't hand them out, otherwise. 

But these authors would be horrified if they heard some of the age-based, moralizing, competency-expectations that are uttered in our house. No doubt they would want to lead me through a firm-but-non-shaming conversation.

Here are a few things we've told our kids: 

  • I didn't call you 'turtle.' I called you 'turd-le.' As in: 'a small turd.'  
  • You can pay the electric bill, or you can pick the dog crap up from the yard. Your choice.
  • No, I won't buy you a horse. 
  • It's slightly more awkward to make fun of  you when you're in the room. 
  • Moving cinderblocks builds character.  
  • One of you is our favorite. You have to guess.
  • No, I won't buy you a horse. 
  • Popcorn comes from chicken poop. You can ask your teacher
  • We can't miss you 'til you leave. 
  • We had them remove the monkey tail before we took you home from the hospital. The doctor said the scar should be 'hardly noticeable' 
  • It's lucky to eat the pig skin with a hair still in it.  
  • I didn't ask who started it. I'm telling you how it will end. 
  • No, I won't buy you a horse. 
  • That's a great story. You should save that story up. Never tell it again. Wait until you have children of your own. Then pass it on.  
  • Yes. I will buy you a horse. ... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That was a good one. Did you see what I just did there? No, I will not buy you a horse. 
  • Stacking firewood is old-timey fun. It is now mandatory fun time.  

As parents, it's our responsibility to make sure that they have really good stories to tell when they get to therapy. 

 

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Right now, we've got another two chords worth of stories waiting for in the back yard. 

Unexpected visitors

The Critter came in this afternoon from her trip to take care of the chickens.  

"There are two birds out there that look like young turkeys or maybe those guinea things we used to have."  

Huh? We had a couple of guinea hens about four or five years ago. They lasted about three weeks before they wandered off into the woods and hadn't been seen since 

I went and took a look.  

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Sure enough. There were two guinea fowl stopping by for a visit.   I love the clucking chirp they make as they bob through the grass picking out bugs. They have a bare head and an almost prehistorically ugly look to them that I find fascinating to watch. 

I've no idea where they could've come from. The only other guy I know who has guineas lives on the other side of town, about 5 or 6 miles away.  

It's not possible that ours survived this long. They wouldn't let me get too close, but, I know ours didn't have the white splash on their breasts that one of these had.

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They hung out for a while, visiting with the chickens behind their fence, who really didn't know what to make of these strange looking birds.  The two were still in our yard when the sun went down, wandering around and searching out whatever ticks or bugs they could find. 

I don't expect we'll see them again, but it was nice to have these two stop by.  

Morning routines

I have a summer morning routine. 

I get up a little before 6, shower, and dress for work. I walk down stairs and step over the Saint Bernard, who usually sleeps on the stairway landing. She might thump her tail a couple of times to acknowledge my presence, but rarely gets up until the rest of the family arises sometime later.

I throw my L.L. Bean boots on, and walk out to water the pigs and check their food and give them a scratch. I usually give them a small bucket of raw peanuts for a good morning treat. They love them, and happily munch away. 

 

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 I throw a cabbage or some scrap greens & weeds out to the chickens. They are up with the dawn and usually greet me with curious clucks and squawks.

After I talk to the hens for a few minutes, I'll walk through one of the garden beds to see how things are fairing. 

 

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This morning, I noticed my squash have a riot of blossoms under those big, itchy leaves. 

I have 3 different kinds of squash planted in this raised bed - the near rows are zucchini, and the back two rows are an acorn and hubbard squash. I always end up planting 2 or 3 more plants than I really should, forgetting how aggressively these things grow. But who cares. The chickens will eat anything we don't, and I always give in to the temptation to pinch off some of the blossoms as they show up to stuff and fry and eat. One of my favorite treats, and a rarity unless you grow your own squash, as the blossoms wilt so quickly. 

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Then I change out of my Bean boots and into my dress shoes, grab two Diet Cokes and head out into the morning traffic and throw on whatever podcast I am listening to on the radio, and am at peace with the world. 

Young hen move-up day.

The first time I integrated new birds into my older flock of hens, it was a mess. "Just slip them in at night," an old farmer told me. "Chickens are so stupid, when they wake up in the morning, they'll think they were always there." 

Chickens aren't the brightest animals around. But they're not quite as slow as that. And besides, they have a very determined pecking order - literally. The youngest and smallest of the birds can become victims of some pretty heinous pecking of older, bully birds if they cross them and aren't able or willing to stand up for themselves. One of the young pullets in that first lot was pecked until she was bloody shreds. The only thing I could do at that point was to dispose of her mercifully. 

That was several years ago now, and fortunately, I've since learned a trick or two and we now have integration down to a pretty successful science. 

These young ladies moved in a couple of weeks ago - I bought a beautiful batch of pullets off of my nearby neighbor of Hencam.com fame. 

 

 

Preparation for integration begins by segregating the run. I split off a bit more than a third of the run for the young ones, and install temporary t-posts and fencing. The older hens are always curious, and several of them usually end up on the wrong side. I lift them back out a couple of times until I'm done, and install a waterer and feeder in the newly separate area, in readiness for its new inhabitants. 

One of the most useful small livestock accessories I have is the large, plastic dog crate. I haven't needed it for our St. Bernard since she was a (rather big) pup, and besides - she's outgrown it now. But I've used it for transporting the young piglets, a dozen or more chickens at a time, and every flock-integration season, it becomes temporary housing for the young pullets. 

I split the crate in half, and turn them both over to provide a small shelter for them outside. Chickens like to retreat to sheltered spaces - it's instinctual later when they start laying, and they're more comfortable having ready access to that kind of shelter as they mature, I've found. 

I also make sure the feeder has a cover, since it's outside. A small sheet of plywood or tin held to the fence on one side and tilted over the feeder works just fine to protect the feed from being ruined by rain. 

The pullets live in this area for two weeks., separated only slightly from the older hens. They can see each other, and interact with each other through the fence. This gives them the opportunity to get accustomed to one another and not feel threatened. I also make sure to give the older ones plenty of distractions to keep them content during this time. A couple of extra cabbages, juicy watermelon rinds, a spaghetti squash. That kind of thing. 

When I feel they're ready, I roll back the fence and let them start to mingle. 

 

 

Big hens and little get their first chance to walk around each other. But by this point, it's not really a big deal for either.  It's always fun to sit and watch them get their first chance to rub shoulder feathers, so to speak. My Bride is feeding them some fresh arugula from the garden here, picking out the more curious and friendly ones.  

I won't take out the extra waterer, feeder or shelters for another week or so. Again - this allows the individuals to mingle without threat, and shake themselves out in a new order.  The hay bales are leftover from the winter snow-shelters, and serve as shelters for grubs and bugs that the hens love to scatch and pick for. The timing of them turning from "hay" to "mulch" always works out perfectly for the incoming pullets. 

Until the young birds are fully grown and laying, we usually see them sort of congregate in their "young" and "old" cliques. But it happens without any bad feelings between the birds, and they mingle happily in the coop and run. 

It's still another 10 or 11weeks or so until they start laying and earning their keep. But I'm glad to have them well settled in. 

They're getting bigger and multiplying

Chorizo & Honeydew - our two Gloucester Old Spot piglets - are not such piglets any more. They're three months old, and on a diet of grain, peanuts and forage. 

They've been with us a couple of weeks now, and I swear you can almost watch them grow. They arrived weighing maybe a bit over 35 pounds apiece, and have got to be approaching 50 now. 

 

 

It took a little bit of work, and a couple of escapes, but I think I figured out the electric fence. Fortunately for me, 1) the pigs will follow me anywhere if I'm carrying a bucket of raw peanuts, and 2) the electric fence hurts like hell, but doesn't seem to do any permanent damage when I shock myself. 

(The secret is in having sufficient ground. The first ground rod I put in was a 4 ft length of re-bar that I happened to have plenty of from our annual pig roast set-up. That was not nearly enough to produce more than a little tingle. So I went and bought an 8 ft. copper ground rod to pound into the soil.  

There's a story my step-father, the Carpenter, told me once, about working with his father to build some fishing cabins up in the woodsy wilderness of Northwest Ontario. His father produced a similar giant copper cylinder, and pointed up a ladder. "Beat this into the ground, boy."  And my step-father climbed up to the upper rungs with a sledge hammer to beat the thing down far enough to get sufficient ground for the circuit. 

Eventually it dawned on him. The rules don't say it has to be vertical. 

I laughed when I pulled my own giant rod of copper out of the bed of my truck and went hunting for my hammer. If it hadn't been for him telling me that story, I would have been on the roof of my barn, trying to get sufficient leverage to pound that thing down far enough to wrap my ground wire around it. Instead, I stood safely on the dirt, angled the rod low enough to get a good whack at it, and knocked it in diagonally, and perfectly adequate to provide the ground connection I needed). 

Chorizo and Honeydew learned pretty quickly that the fence was no longer just a mild tingle, and was to be avoided.  I admit that I learned the hard way to avoid accidental brushes with the fence as well. 

 

 

Ever since we did battle with the neighborhood weasel, I had been thinking that we needed to bring in a few new pullets.  I had been hopeful that we wouldn't have to get more chicks this year - we had 24 birds, most of which were still in their 2nd or early 3rd year, and productive enough. But the weasel had cut the population in half in the weeks before we trapped and killed him.  But with the pigs, I just hadn't felt like dealing with the additional effort that baby chicks requires. Brooder. Hardening off. Integrating with an existing flock. Meh.  I just wasn't really looking forward to telling my daughter (the Critter, as we still call her around here), that she was going to be a little low on eggs to sell this year. 

So I had sort of half-heartedly begun thinking about pullets. A couple of times, I've been able to find somone who had young pre-lay hens in the area. The biggest drawback being that you usually end up with a very limited breed selection. But that's how I got our first batch of Araucanas (which lay the easter-egg pale blue or green eggs).

Then, by a stroke of luck, our good friend and nearby neighbor, Terry (of Hencam.com) was ready to sell a dozen of her new young pullets. She had been engaged to find and ready a few hens for an area nursing home, and added on some other hens both to supplement her own flock, and ensure she got a good variety to choose from. That left her with an extra dozen - which was truly serendipitous. 

Terry and her husband were the just about the first peopple I met when I moved to the area, and I knew that she chose birds for variety, health and interest, and that she takes terrific care of all of her animals. 

And as you can see - these young lady hens are gentle and curious, and have settled in to their new homes quite well. 

 

 

At this point, we've got the flock integration routine down to a pretty good routine, with a segregated run and temporary shelters. Over the next ten days or so, the two flocks of older and younger birds will live side by side, and get used to interacting through the fence.  I'll keep the older hens active and interested with cabbage, bugs and lawn clippings, to give them plenty of reason to be content despite these new young interlopers in their space. 

And by the end of summer, we'll be back up to the regular production levels to keep the Critter's egg business going. 

Meet our latest project: backyard pigs

If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would've told you that we don't really eat that much pork. I mean, sure we have the occasional whole pig roast in our backyard. And lord knows, I am a fan of good bacon. But otherwise, I'd have told you that we eat way less pork than most. We don't even eat that much beef. We're mostly chicken kind of people. That's what I would've said. 

Somehow, however, we manage to put up, cure, and otherwise consume two pigs a year. Every year. So last fall, I traded in my amateur card for whatever the next level is, and announced to my family that we would be raising our own pigs in our backyard this year. 

My family looked at one another and then my Bride tentatively asked, "Sure, honey. But where will you put them?" 

"Behind the barn. I've got it all worked out in my head." 

To her credit, she didn't laugh at this. 

"Where will you get them?"

"In the spring. They will be small. And then we will feed them, and take them to slaughter, and we will have the pride of knowing we took care of our own food. It'll be a Good Experience™."

"OK. But I asked where you would get them." 

"..."

"..."

"Oh."

I didn't know. So I started looking on the internet, just like the settlers did.

Turns out, it's a lot easier to get a pig if you live in, say central Texas, than if you live in a suburb of Boston. Still, I did find a few places within reasonable striking distance. I knew I wasn't going to be happy with just any pig. I was doing my homework. I read Peter Kaminsky's Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them over the holidays.  I started looking at the snow that blanketed the area I had mentally set aside for my walking bacon and kept me from moving my plans into action like an enemy. I started refining my search to some older breeds, and thinking about ways to get that flavorful ham and nice layer of fat. I dreamed of bags of peanuts, and rosy flesh.  I was in search of a rarified pig. 

My initial searches turned up empty. The few farmers I knew didn't have many leads, and those were limited to your standard other-white-meat porkers. I was pretty convinced that I could still end up with a great flavored product with good care and feed, but I didn't want to give up looking. 

I ended up meeting Sean Maki of Christian Hill Farms through Facebook. Sort of randomly. We both know Mike, the same great butcher. He posted pictures of his new litter of Gloucester Old Spot piglets. Perfect!  Sean's set up is terrific, and soon enough, I was headed out to central Mass. with my daughter to pig up our two little projects. 

Meet our newest additions: Chorizo & Honeydew

 

 

I named one, and my daughter named the other. I'll let you guess which is which.  

Cute little bacon, aren't they? 

I set aside an area in the woodline about 50x75 feet for their pen, and set up an electric fence. Pigs are smart, and very trainable. A couple of lines of good electric fence, and they'll stay put. I'd never put an electric fence together before, but I picked up a few bits and a 20 acre charger from my local Agway, and figured it should be fairly straigtforward. 

Four days of effort and with the pigs all set to arrive and take up residence, I still hadn't figured it out. I called my neighbors - both of whom are electrical engineers - and they didn't know either. I painstakingly worked through every component and junction, and finally went back to the store for the biggest charger they had (a 50 mile jobber), took it home and swapped out my little one, went back outside and put my finger to the wire. It worked. 

 

 

I had restricted them to a smaller area for the first day with some temporary wire panel fencing, but once I had the electric fence up and working, they had the run of their area, and I could see how much they enjoyed rooting through the humuus and around the trees - I'm actually hoping they end up rooting up a bunch of the small white pine scrub that's grown up back there, providing an extra benefit.

They'll be fed mostly grain, but I'm going to add about 10-15% peanuts to their diet along with some scraps and such from our garden or kitchen. The mix should give them plenty of protein and fat - I don't have a lot of oaks (and therefore acorns) to feed them, as their distant cousins on the Spanish plains might get. But raw peanuts in the shell seem like a reasonable American substitute. And the pigs seem to enjoy it so far. 

I was impressed at the amount of personality these guys have. (Actually, Honeydew is a female). Unlike the chickens, the pigs come right up to you when you go out, and look for a handout and a scratch. Once I had the pen set up, I sat for a while on a haybale inside and Chorizo stretched across my feet and rolled over to let me rub his belly. Which makes taking care of these animals a real joy. 

 

 

Honeydew is a little more easily startled. Chorizo is a bit more curious. They have personalities. The kids are loving the chance to interact with them, and both volunteered to help me feed them peanuts or spread their bedding.  I can see already that the parting with these guys will be a little more difficult than losing a chicken. Still, there's no mystery about the eventual fate of our new guests.  

They're both going to live a full, happy life, and then be bound for my cellar, much appreciated for what they've provided.  And we'll get to enjoy their company through the summer and fall. 

Farmer: 0 - Weasel: 1

This morning - as has become my habit this week - I rolled out of bed and went and checked the weasel trap next to the hen house. 
I was pretty confident we had a weasel problem. I was finding 1-2 dead hens in the hen house once or twice a week. Weasels kill for sport. Before I set the trap, I'd walk into the chicken house to find mutilated hens that hadn't been eaten. Or chickens without heads. There's something about the brains and head bits that they especially relish. Like little zombie vermin. They're nasty little creatures.  They can squirm their way into a hole an inch wide, and wreak havoc. 
For three nights, I sealed up the chicken house and set the weasel trap before I went to bed. For three mornings, I went out to discover the bait gone, and no weasel. 
This morning - weasel! 
Here's what I've learned:
  1. Weasels smell. 
  2. Really bad.
  3. Weasels are seriously cunning. Capable of sneaking off with the bait without springing the trap.
  4. When a weasel shrieks at me unexpectedly, I jump like a little girl. 

I was filled with satisfactory glee this morning when I found I had finally caught the little murderer who's killed more than a dozen of my hens in the last weeks.  I triumphantly carried him up to the porch and showed him off to my Bride with the righteous satisfaction of Lady Justice. Through the window. It is still cold out, and she was still in her pajamas. (My Bride, that is. I have no idea if Lady Justice wears pajamas). 

I had spoken quietly to the animal control officer at the police station and a few farmers I know about what to do with the vermin after you catch them. I'm not going to just go release them happily into the woods, to see them come back to their old stomping grounds, or find some other person to bother.  Most farmers find a way to quickly kill off the vermin - raccoons, weasels, etc. - that are a constant plague to their livelihood. The most recommended course? A quick shot with a .22 (which I don't own), or drop them into a water-filled garbage can to drown them. 

Because winter hasn't quite breathed it's last frigid gasp up here in the great white land of Yankees, we haven't turned on the outside water yet. So I filled an empty 6 gallon bucket with water, and went out to help the weasel shuffle off his coil. 

I gave the weasel a knowing look, and he showed me his teeth. (That's when I learned #4 above).  I decided I'd reveled enough, and hurried on to the final bit. I was a little bit uncomfortable with this part, but not terribly so. Dealing with life & death of predators and the animals I've taken on to care for is part of the deal. 

I tipped the trap up vertical and dropped it into the bucket. 

Unfortunately for me, I hadn't noticed that the trap doors are held down by gravity. As soon as I tipped it up vertical, the weasel was able to push his way out and jump from the bucket. He left nothing but a blur and a cloud of mocking musk behind him as he dashed across my lawn and disappeared back into the woods. 

This is not over, Mr. Weasel