The big push to get caught up and get the gardens in has commenced. This is when Zina and I take time off of work as a spring break and spend the time many people take to go to some pretty beach, digging in the dirt. Today began that effort.
We discovered that big pigs aren’t as willing to do what you want as little ones. Our most recent freezer dwellers were about 270 lbs when we took them to the processor. As I had mentioned previously, we discovered that we are not ready with the right infrastructure to breed pigs yet. We will be, but not yet. There are a couple of pens we need to build and we need to have some way of getting electricity to at least one of the huts to run a heat lamp when the babies are born. One of my pig gurus also said that our girls are likely too big to be bred as first timers. Ideal I guess, is under 300 lbs. Ruby is closer to 400 and a force to be reckoned with. As a result, we decided to make them additions to the freezer. Well folks, not only are we not really set up for breeding, until today, we weren’t set up for getting a small VW Beetle replica on the horse trailer either! Yesterday was quite a site. I’m a big lineman looking sorta dude and I was physically bested by these ladies.
We didn’t really care which of the big girls got to go for a ride. Whomever got on the trailer first was the winner! But there were no winners. They decided that getting on that trailer, even if there were tasty treats, was not on their agenda. We chased them around the pen until both we and they were exhausted and panting. You can’t just get in their way and hope to turn these beasties. They have a low center of gravity and when Ada decided that going between my legs was a good escape route she damned near upended me!
So we called the processor and made our apologies and off I went to the stockman supply store to consult about a loading pen. A bruised ego, pulled groin muscle, and $450.00 later I am back on the road home with ranch panels and a plan. This morning I got up and assembled the whole caboodle and now we have a fair idea how to get this done at our next attempt next month. As you can see from the photos below, it is a “sub-pen” The pigs come in to get their food and the first gate is closed behind them. They stay there for about a day without food so their bellies get grumbling. The trailer is backed up to the second gate and the doors opened revealing…. food! The theory is they should simply self-load onto the trailer. They can’t escape back into the larger pen because gate one is closed behind them, so while it can get a bit dangerous with half a ton of pork dancing around, it becomes a more manageable feat. My old fart of a man ticker can’t handle all of that football preseason drilling anymore! The direction changes and doubling back on us would have made Barry Sanders very proud! I remember doing this with cows up in Walden a hundred years ago. Worked on cows. Should work on pigs. If not, thats what rifles are for. I’ve cleaned deer and elk… why not pork beasts!
Next on the agenda was getting the “chicken tractor” built for the meat chickens. The process we were using for them in previous years was pretty messy. After being in the brooder for about 4 weeks they go outside into some kind of pen and are grown out to adulthood – which is about another 5 weeks. Then we process them and they become freezer dwellers. The problem we had was that these fast growing little critters are eating and pooping machines! Cleaning up after them was quite a chore and if one doesn’t keep up on it they can get sick. Because they grow so fast they don’t move around much. So in order to give them fresh pasture, keep them from sitting in their own poop, and also being able to supplement their food by letting them have bugs and grass and weeds, the chicken tractor was invented. There are zillions of plans for them on the internet but schedules being what they are having the farmers both working full time jobs, we ordered a pre-fabricated one. Aaron volunteered to come out and assemble the thing and we are one step closer to much easier broiler raising. The thing is fairly light weight aluminum so it can be moved easily every day to new grass. It has a built in feeder. The only thing we need to add is a waterer and we are set to go. Because we have predators both from above (hawks, falcons, owls, eagles) and from below (coyotes, foxes, skunks, snakes and raccoons) this will keep them protected. As a double insurance we will be enclosing it in a 40×40 electric net. This will give us pasture raised chicken and if it is anything like the ones we have raised before, there is never a reason to go out to eat! This will hold thirty birds pretty comfortably so we will probably put a couple of runs of them through it every year.
Now remember, this is all one day’s work. In addition, I needed a bunch more dirt in order to fill in the raised bed boxes I made around the greenhouse. The 35 yards of that also arrived today and as of this writing they are filled. Tomorrow starts the assembly of the drip irrigation and using what is left of the semi-load of dirt to fill in the gaps inside the greenhouse. Anything left after that will go out into the big garden along with the chicken compost. Nothing ever seems to happen spread out evenly over time, nor does it ever seem to exist on a small scale. Construction and planting….. the ever consuming activities that render us with very little free time to navel gaze. We are getting there though. My mother arrives next Thursday to join in the fray and my sister arrives about a week and a half after that. Let the planting party begin!!