Winter Waiting

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Country Style Ribs and Accompanying Spices

Winter in a farmers life is a thing of beauty. While the Spring, Summer, and Fall are full of ago-go-GO! momemts, Winter (in most cases) forces the farmer to slow down a bit. We eat..a lot. We relax. Over the past two weeks I think Kelsey has read 7 or 8 books. This is not to say that winter doesn’t have its challenges. As many of you have experienced, the Polar Vortex that descended upon us in Vermont, as well as the rest of the country was a thing of beauty and fear. We lost power, we struggled with our water supply, we feared for our pigs (well not really, it was just a little cold). Everything ended up being fine but it lead to plenty of work. Lots of bucketing of water, lots of bedding spreading.

1524838_690409935937_424900582_nI believe one thing that this winter has taught us already is the beauty of a place. I was looking through pictures from the summer of 2013 and was amazed about how stark the difference can be between seasons. Trees that flourished and provided shade for us now stand broken and cut by the ice. It will a different landscape come spring but one we look forward to rediscovering.

A Quick Update

Time is a precious commodity and it seems like the Summertime is already passing by at an extraordinary pace. In the past month and a half, we have had two piglet litters, acquired 23 rabbits for meat and breeding (yes, we now raise rabbit meat!), started selling at the Downtown Winooski Farmers market, and have had many successes and frustrations. Its taken a while for this blog post to come to fruition but fortunately, that sets us up to have plenty to catch everyone up on! This post is mostly pictures, ones that can show a little bit of what has been happening lately, while giving room for more in depth discussions later on. If you see something of particular interest to you, let us know! We would be glad to talk about it and to post more pictures of what is happening with a particular project!

 

Best,

Kelsey and Phelan

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Beyonce nursing hers and Gilda’s Piglets!

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Henry I on the hunt for some chow. We decided to call the biggest grower in all of our groups Henry.

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Lop-ear Piglets!

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Emily came to visit! Here she is checking out Xena, Lady Butterball, and Boy George

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Beyonce’s small but healthy litter

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Proud American Farmers

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Beyonce foraging in the Lactating Sow paddock

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Kelsey bringing grain out to the herd. Two buckets of cheese require a lot of strength!

A Blogging Revival

Wow, the past few weeks or so seem like a blur. First off, apologies for not having posted anything new in a while. We try and post at least once a week, but the blog has gotten left in the dust the past couple of days (or should I say weeks!). Not many weather changes have occurred since the last post, rain continues to fall in our area as other parts of the country are starved for water. It seems to be the trend that when you are a farmer, you either need rain or you can’t wait for it to stop. There is definitely a happy medium but we are still waiting for it this season!

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Fab Five laying down some impact

The pigs are getting along well and are continuing to make a fair amount of impact to the existing beech stand. Our oldest group of eight growers (affectionately called the Gremlins), have taken a positive turn in their health. They weren’t gaining like we thought they should be and were looking a bit ragged, traits we attributed to worms. We dewormed them for a second time, upped their feed ration, and became more conscious of their paddock condition. Their paddock moves became more frequent and Kelsey and I have both noticed quite the change in their health. They are now gaining weight like we would like them to be and are looking incredible!

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Kelsey leading Beyonce and Gilda in true pig whisperer fashion

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Gilda(L) and Beyonce(R) inspecting the fence around their temporary paddock

Our sows are continuing their destructive path through the woods but will be slowing down a bit in their pace due to the main destruco group being two animals smaller. We separated Beyonce and Glida out today due to their approaching farrowing dates. This way we can closely monitor their health and condition as they are set to deliver piglets into this world! Gilda is due first and is showing quite nicely. Neither sow has started bagging yet but we believe it won’t be long now. Through the use of Kelsey’s incredible pig whispering skills we were able to move them down a simple lane to a separate staging paddock. Over the next couple of days, we hope to get them moved into their larger, more permanent paddock to farrow in.

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Jenny loves Burgers!

Burgers from one of Tyler and Melanie’s cows is on the menu tonight and we are excited! If you ever swing by the Burlington Farmers Market, pick up a burger from him and say hello. No pork available yet but maybe as soon as September we will have a few ready…we will just have to see!

Love,

Phelan

Rainy Daze

Aside

There has been some pretty incredible weather up here the past couple of days. A little under 2.5″ of rain from last night to today at 7pm in the rain gauge and up to another 1″ of rain tonight. Its definitely swampy in Pig Land but the herd is making due with lots of bedding and full bellies of cheese!

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Whey to Go!

IMG_1471As I mentioned in our last post, one of our biggest challenges so far has been the acquisition of alternative feed sources for our hogs. Most larger domesticated livestock in the world are ruminants. Ruminants have been blessed with the miraculous ability to process forages due to a four chambered stomach in which forages are broken down in the rumen. The rumen is basically a giant fermentation tank that uses anaerobic bacteria to break down plant cell structure, allowing for the absorption of nutrients and minerals by the animal. Pigs however did not develop a rumen in their evolutionary journey. Instead, pigs and other animals (such as horses) utilize an organ pouch called the cecum to break down plant cellular structure . This pouch contains a large number of aerobic bacteria, which help the animal utilize forages much more efficiently.

While all of this is exciting in terms of pasturing pigs, full forage utilization by a pig is really only feasible in older animals with a fully developed digestive tract. This means that for smaller growers finding an alternative feed source that provides the right amount of protein and energy that will keep a young hog growing. Since one of the largest ventures in Vermont is milking cows and cheese production, many producers turn to whey as an alternative feed source.

We have been lucky enough to find a source, though small, is working for our current herd size. Twig Farm (www.twigfarm.com) is a goat dairy and creamery owned by Michael Lee and Emily Sunderman. While it is a haul to get there (1.5 hours) and the supply is not huge (100 gallons a week), it is still enough to keep our piglets growing, fed, and content.

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Henry attempting to glean every last drop.

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Hungry Piggies!

After a few times of us bringing the feed out in five gallon buckets, the pigs go a bit crazy when they see us walking up and will at times jump into the buckets themselves to try and get at the whey goodness. As we keep searching, we will hopefully find a larger and more time efficient source of whey for our pigs. For now, Michael and his goats keep our pigs quite happy and growing well!

In other exciting news on the farm, the sow and boar group have continued their lovely destruction of some pretty marginal birch infested land. Check out the sapling Kelsey is holding, one of many that have been pig-dozed!IMG_1475

Until Next Time,

Phelan

The Beginning

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The sun is setting on another day at Pigasus Meats as I finally get the chance to sit down at the computer to begin our blog. We had planned to be updating this as soon as we started our operation but as it turns out, at the end of various 12 hour days involving milking, paddock building, shade structure construction, pig wrangling, calf tackling, and all other tasks that are involved in a start-up farm you just really aren’t inclined to sit down for a little bit longer to type on a computer. However, this evening pig chores were short and Kelsey is finishing up milking, so I figured it was time to sit down, bite the bullet, and get the blog started.

I guess one of the first things I should address is how we ended up starting a pastured livestock farm co-operative in Northern Vermont. Two years ago, Kelsey worked for two incredible farmers, Tyler and Melanie Webb of Stony Pond Farm (www.stonypondfarm.com).

IMG_1441 Phelan in tye-stall barn

They operate a certified organic dairy, milking 46 Jersey/ Jersey cross milk cows for the Organic Valley CROPP Co-operative. In addition to their milking herd, they also raise a small grass finished beef herd. Tyler has worked the land for 11 years but at 38 is still a young farmer by todays standards (which I guess makes us infant farmers!). This past October he emailed us to let us know about an opportunity on a chunk of new land he had purchased. It was a parcel of about 35 acres that had been previously clear-cut and had since regrown into a birch/blackberry/sedge-y clump of relatively ungrazeable land. He wanted animal impact to help restore the pasture into possible beef cattle grazing land and perhaps (in 10-15 years) hay land. He knew Kelsey had a large amount of experience with hogs from managing the Warren Wilson pastured hog operation and knew that we were both wanting to pursue livestock farming as a career. He proposed a co-operative venture in which we would manage a pastured hog operation for Stony Pond Farm and begin to develop our own business. Now, we are living in Fairfield, starting a pastured hog operation, and building a business!

Our herd is small at this point, but there is no point in rushing into these things too quickly and drowning ourselves in work. We have 1 boar (Boar George), 4 sows( Beyonce, Lady Butterball, Xena, and Gilda) and 13 grower hogs with two young breeding gilts on the way June 10th. All of our sows are bred and are due June/July (GIlda,Beyonce) and September/October (Lady Butterball,Xena).

IMG_1438 L to R: Gilda, Xena, Beyonce,Boar George

We are keeping our herd at this size for right now, with no plans to incorporate more animals at this time. We will sell some of our piglets to help compensate for the cost of buying bred sows and as time goes on, we may cycle some breeding animals that aren’t working in our system to accommodate for others that will better suit our needs.

Pastured pork is a management practice that is quickly catching on in smaller sectors of agriculture as well as with larger industrial operations to some extent. Hog farming is typically an energy intensive farming system with most of that energy expenditure coming in the form of feed. By pasturing our livestock, we are able to cut down on feed costs by providing forages and anything they root up as feed. However, this still leaves a gap in porcine nutrition, mainly in protein components that allow the animal to grow quickly. We are hoping to supplement with dairy products and brewers/distillers grains. Unfortunately, many of these alternative feed sources are already spoken for. It has been difficult but we have been able to get in with a new brewery opening in Burlington, Queen City Brewing, as well as a small goat dairy/creamery in West Cornwall, Twig Farm. These are small sources at the moment and certainly aren’t a silver bullet for our feed issues. With prices of conventional grain running at about $400-500 a ton, we will definitely keep looking and trying to think of innovative ways to feed our animals. Otherwise, these hogs will eat us out of house and home!

I hope that this has been a good introduction to our farm. With future posts, we will give more details of successes and failures, practices that have worked for us, and lots of pictures. In the meantime, thanks for checking out Pigasus Meats and thank you for the monumental support we have been given and are continuing to receive every day!

Love,

Phelan

IMG_1435 Before walking out to the pig fields