Monday, September 26, 2011

Farrowing Shelter

check out our first farrowing shelter, complete with inhabitant
As you can see, this shelter has a pretty simple design--the two corral panels anchor around the oak there to form a “V”, and a heavy-duty tarp (white to reflect the summer heat!) drapes overhead at such an angle so as to drain rainwater and prevent pooling.  Fun-fact: the tarp is actually a reclaimed billboard sign.  (Many modern billboards consist of a single tarp-like sheet with the sign’s ad material printed on it...who knew?) Anyways...the shelter also has great ventilation, and was easy to construct--Rancher Oliver and Lauren put it up in a jiffy (any farm work that involves preparing for piglets is a giddy type of work!)

As is outlined in our farrowing post, we were impressed with the work that Charlotte, herself, did on the shelter.  Two days before she gave birth, not only did she push a berm of straw (a couple bales' worth) against the open side of the shelter, but she added various branches from the pasture, buffing it up and making it her own.

soon-to-be-Mama beginning work on her nest
We’ve been extremely pleased with the simplicity and sturdiness of this shelter design. What a great feeling, to have rain showers come and go, all with the peace of mind that our Mama pig and her piglets are safe and comfortable in their pad.  And of course, we’re doubly happy that the shelter has contributed to our 100% piglet survival rate with this first farrowing (not all that common).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Farrowing Pasture

Here's Charlotte, our first "Mama pig" on farm, in her 3/4 acre farrowing pasture. The space is chock full of lush growth, is peppered with oaks, and is adjacent to, but separate from, her sisters' spread. It is fenced with a single live aluminum wire (about eight inches off of the ground).
shelter and pasture
Providing a separate paddock for the soon-to-be-Mama and co. did two things.  First, being fresh and as yet un-grazed, it ensured that our soon-to-be “Mama pig” would have access to all the supplemental nutrition in the lush forage that she would need, and sure enough, as soon as we let her in, she tucked her head right down and started grazing--that sight never gets old!
Secondly, having the separate paddock minimized the risk of other hogs unknowingly squishing piglets in the shelter (even at 1.5 years old, our gilts still love to snuggle, its quite charming, but in this scenario it could pose some negative side effects).  While this is often a major cause of piglet mortality, we are comforted by the fact that our hogs are rather strong animals, what with their romping around pasture all day, and are thus much less likely to collapse into a sedentary position in the way that an over-fed, under-exercised hog would...another plus to the pasture method!  So we have minimized the risk of a roll-over by keeping the other two gilts out of the paddock altogether (they have their own sweet paddock to graze in), and aren’t too worried by the remaining risk of the Mama rolling over, as she is more capable than most of controlling her weight.  With these precautions and a sound shelter, we’re overjoyed to say that we have a 100% piglet survival rate!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


With a 2-week-old litter (or "farrow", in hog-farmer jargon) of 11 healthy piglets currently scooting about the pasture, and occasionally making appearances here at the farm blog, we figured we might take the opportunity to rewind a bit, and to share some of the experiences we’ve had in preparing for these rambunctious critters.  While other expectant families might struggle to decide which color to paint the nursery, or whether or not to get a diaper genie, in this neck of the woods we were running fence, hoisting corral panels, and (I’ll just speak for myself here) watching the Mama's belly to see if any teensy hooves were kickin' just yet.
As it turns out, there wasn’t all that much people-work involved in preparing for our gilt’s first farrowing--we provided the necessities, and watched on as she contentedly went about her prepartum affairs.  As with so many other processes here at the farm, the animals know what to do, and do it best.  Our "Mama pig" has made this first farrowing a beautiful experience for all involved.

A hog's gestation is, I kid you not, approximately 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.  After being bred in mid-May to a Berkshire boar at our friend's farm, our freshly pregnant gilt, Charlotte, returned to her stomping grounds with ravenous cravings for pickles and ice cream.  Just kidding.  But she was greeted with excitement and curiosity by her four sisters, who, after initiating a brief confirmation of pecking order, welcomed her back to the foraging, wallowing, and contented snoozing of hog life here at the farm.

Four curious gilts greet their sister, Charlotte, out of the trailer and back to the farm
It was business as usual for Charlotte for the majority of her almost-four-month gestation period, until two days before she gave birth, when we gave her the key to her own personal farrowing pasture, adjacent to her sisters'.  At this point, we also began doubling her feed rations (we went back down to her typical daily ration shortly after she gave birth, as many believe that overfeeding a lactating sow is a no-no; addendum: we have since re-increased her ration to ensure that she is getting enough energy. As we continue to learn and observe we will transition to more self-sourced forage via the pasture & woodlot areas). A wonderful aspect to pasture / woodlot ranging is that in addition to her staple diet she sources what she needs from the land, just as her wild brethren do. This all helps to insure her health and that of her piglets.
An oak grove hosts Charlotte's farrowing pasture and shelter
Charlotte's spread is about ¾ of an acre of rich green growth peppered with oak trees, a water trough, and a shelter.  We threw in several bales worth of straw, with which we expected Charlotte to carve out a nest, and to our surprise, the next day we found that she had dragged additional twigs, branches & grasses into the shelter, the way a mother bird would, to make sure it was up to snuff.  It's incredible how well these animals' instincts guide them through new experiences. Without seeing another hog prepare for farrowing, our 1.5-year-old Mama pig knew just what to do.  This A+ mothering profile is also most likely attributable to Charlotte's genetics, being a heritage breed sow and all.

The day before she gave birth, we noticed that Charlotte’s teats had practically doubled in size from the day before, which had all of us giddy over the pressing reality that piglets were finally on short order.

2 days to go...
and sha-bam! ...1 day to go!  

Sure enough, the next morning, as we crested the hill approaching the farrowing shelter, we saw a soft bustle of activity behind the recumbent Mama pig.  It took a while to count them (as they are often heaped on top of one another, and often in motion), but we eventually confirmed that we had 6 new gilts and 5 new boars on farm, all looking quite healthy, with no major size discrepancies.  We're elated at the prospect of following these youngin's through their full life cycles, continuing to provide as near a hog heaven as we can here at the ranch.

Look for more posts from the pig pasture as we anticipate the next steps in the process, mainly weaning, and re-breeding Charlotte when she is ready! Also click through to our Pastured Pigs photo & video album.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Cow and her Moon

Archive Post: March 3rd, 2011

Trey, Meg 'n I headed up to feed the piggies and noticed Miss Bellina rather peculiarly straddling a fallen tree: 

Bellina stuck on fallen tree!

Patiently waiting for assistance

She was good 'n stuck! How she got there we don't know but it would seem her self-confidence in the high jump exceeded her reach...

After trying to coax her off the tree we retrieved the ax (used to chop ice from the water troughs) and proceeded to chop her out: 

Rancher Ollie chops to free Bellina

Wood chips coating Bellina's coat
At least there isn't a horse in this shot!
The thwacking and flying wood chips didn't faze Bellina

Once the tree was cut Bellina was able to amble out; a bit stiff legged but otherwise okay. Jake 'n Honey came down to see that she was okay as did Wookerina & Java: 

Youngins Wookerina & Java welcome Bellina back to the fold

Throughout the whole ordeal Bellina was completely calm and seemed to understand that we were helping her even whilst being pelted by flying wood chips from the ax. Hopefully she'll take the long way 'round hence forth! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Our first time berkshire mama pig farrowed a full litter of eleven piglets!

hours old piglets nurse

mama's well earned rest

space for everyone, barely...

It is quite amazing to see these little critters who are dwarfed by their mom (now a 450lbs+ sow). They are full of energy and inquisitive and go from full speed to fast asleep in the blink of an eye. It takes a while to figure out just how many piglets there are as they all pile on top of each other in a world of piglet snuggliness:


Mama had 6 gilts (girls) and 5 boars (boys). While they are small today at around 3 lbs each, they will rapidly grow and reach ~250 lbs in 8 months time!

This video taken scant hours after the last piglet was birthed gives you a sense of their world and our hushed excitement of the moment:

For more photos and videos of these magical first hours and days please head to our Mama Pig album


three little pigs

Monday, September 12, 2011

As it happens Posts...

In order to head off analysis paralysis we're going to use an As it happens post in addition to the regular fuller featured posts (one may have noticed that this has already commenced <g>). These As it happens posts will be quick entries typically accompanied by blurry mobile photos to report on events as they happen on ranch.

gratuitous blurry mobile photo

Also, a lot has happened in the past year or two and we'll periodically trot these posts out (ie: we're dog tired and slumping and need something to fill the white space). Confusingly we'll present them in the present so as to maintain their original flavor and immediacy. We'll tip ya off in the title with a Past Post qualifier or somesuch. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

As it happens: a Double!

Wow, two calves today! Just spotted Crazy Horns' calf who looks to be a few hours old. A sweet little red Hevon to join Gwendolen & Rosie's little ones.
Gotta beat feet as a thunder bumper is rolling in to water the pastures.

As it happens: Busy Heifers!

On the heels of Gwendolen, Rosie just had a beautiful little dun calf! Both first time mamas are doing well as are their youngins.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

As it happens: New Calf!

Today's herd move increased by one as we had our first Hevon calf! Gwendolen calved a beautiful little white calf who is ¾ Scottish Highlander & ¼ Devon:

Our Hevons are half Scottish Highlander (cow) & half Devon (bull) and are very robust young animals. The Devon cattle came across aboard the Mayflower way back when and complement the Scott Highs very nicely.

More as we have it!

First the ranch, then the blog...

We've been busy on-ranch, working with our animals, and stocking up on good stories.  Stay tuned so we can share 'em with youthe blog is now in process!