Saturday, November 20, 2010

pig day

I blame Novella Carpenter. In her book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she creates a farm in the middle of the ghetto. In the middle of a Oakland she pulls off a giant garden, chickens, ducks, rabbits, geese, turkeys, bees and here's the kicker: pigs. Yup. She raised two pigs in a dog kennel in an abandoned lot. If you think you're limited with your quarter acre in Suburbia—take a lesson from Novella—farming can be done wherever a farmer decides it will be.

Ever since I read that book the idea of my own pig has been floating around in my mind. The idea that Novella raised these animals near a Freeway and learned how to make them into various Charcuterie with the help of a Bay Area chef...wow. What the hell was my excuse? I have six acres, a barn, a pickup truck, and a slaughterhouse just twenty minutes down the road and also love bacon. Time to suck it up and grab dinner by the cloven feet.

So during my lunchbreak yesterday (I wish I could tell you how many animals I have acquired on my lunchbreak...) I was scanning Craigslist for a free donkey/llama/mule/mini horse to be on Lamb Watch 2011 and I came across a post that really caught my eye. Piglets, sows, boars: Cambridge NY. Call Dylan. I really wanted to call. So I called.

Dylan explained he had feeder Yorkshires for 60 bucks a piece. I didn't have sixty bucks to spare, but I did make thirty dollars on pie and egg sales that week at the office, and had that cash in hand. In my head the farm had already covered half the cost. We chatted briefly and he said I could pick one up tonight if I wanted, since he was heading to his deer camp for the weekend. Time being short, I told him I'd see him in thirty minutes.

I stopped at his farm on the way home from work and picked out a chubby female shoat (young pigs between 30-50 pounds), called a gilt. (I realized when talking with pig farmers calling their young animals "piglets" was about as ignorant as walking onto the deck of the Titanic and asking where the row men sleep. No one who raises pigs seriously calls their little ones piglets.) I decided the only way I could do this would be if it was cheap and easy. To keep expenses down I would only raise a single swine and do it with as little financial resources as possible. I'd raise a small feeder pig and have it butchered and keep track of every expense, and if it turned out to be $19.99 a pound pork-chops then I wouldn't do it again and let the pros across the road at Flying Pig Farm be my pork source. So far it's been pretty impressive how little money I had to shell out. A fact I came to realize only existed because I already had all the little supplies that add up lying around from other endeavors. Things like heat lamps, buckets, extension cords, bedding and such. I had a five-dollar off coupon and was able to get fifty pounds of feed for 7.99 at Tractor Supply. Not too shabby so far. In fact, this was turning out to be the least-expensive project the farm had to date. Hell, bottling my beer cost more.

So this morning I woke up with the energy of a girl on a mission. I perked my scary-strong coffee and got to work. I moved things around the barn and made a proper pen. I used two barn walls (with metal roofing scraps from the farm's junk pile screwed into them as protection from chewing/escaping), and a $24.99 piece of hog panel I bought that morning with the fifty pounds of feed. A "panel" is about 16-feet long, so I bent it into a half circle and nailed it to the farm and made some clips near the barn door for human enterance. I liked the panel, but was still kinda pissed at it. I got a fat lip trying to load it into the back of my pickup. While loading it into my little pitpull of a farm truck it snapped out of its coil and smacked me in the face. It was behaving now. I lined my little pig pen with enough hay to feed my sheep for a week and recycled a barely used metal feeding tin I bought for the Vermont farm and forgot about in the chaos of the move. It was in storage with the stickers still on. I hooked up a chicken brooder heat lamp and clipped a clean flat-backed cwater bucket to the hog panel and there you have it. Cold Antler is in the bacon business.

Soon as the pen seemed to pass my crude inspections I headed with Gibson down to the farm on the other side of town. It only took a few minutes to grab the girl by the legs and put her in GIbson's crate in the bed of the truck. The ten-minute drive home was mostly spent watching her in the rear view and praying she wouldn't buck the thing onto Route 22.

When we got home I lifted her from the dog crate into her new living space and she instantly went from a shaking, dirty, animal to a calmer state of being. She had grown up in a dirt-lined horse stall and this posh little hotel with fresh straw and her own personal feeding trough and clean water seemed to comfort her immensely. I turned on the heat lamp and within moments she was rooting around with her snout and her once-straight tail started to curl, and dare I say it, wag? She seemed like a happy girl. I told her welcome and to please stay put and not escape and eat all she can. She gave me a little "Humph Wumpth" half-snort and I decided to call it a day. I was starving. Two scrambled eggs does not a pig day make.

I just went out to check on her and she wasn't in her pen! I panicked for a split second, and then remembered a comment a reader left earlier this week. I looked closely at the mounds of hay and upturned feeder and one pile was slowly heaving up and down. She had buried herself in a little mountain of hay and between that and the heat lamp I was certain she'd make it just fine through her first night.

I'm still going to go check on her every few hours though. I'm like that.

43 Comments:

Blogger kandy Gray said...

i know she is a girl, but how bout the name Jimmy Dean?

November 20, 2010 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Therese T. said...

Jenna, you inspire me and never cease to. Thank you!

November 20, 2010 at 8:20 PM  
Blogger GirlSavorsLife said...

I loved that book too-- very inspiration and gutsy!

November 20, 2010 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Boyles Family Farms said...

Here's the thing. You're going to eat the best bacon ever from this girl. And if it costs you $20 a pound, you aren't going to care. Believe me.

November 20, 2010 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Alright. How in the world are you getting eggs? My girls have diminished their egg laying steadily until this week and now we have none. (Of course we've had 16 degrees for the high this week, too. They are keeping warm instead of putting out energy laying, I guess.) And what kind of pies are you selling? I'd love to make a little extra cash. What a good idea. Thanks for the tip!

November 20, 2010 at 8:42 PM  
Blogger Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Sweet. Animals bring out the mom in me....

November 20, 2010 at 8:42 PM  
Blogger Me said...

whoo hoo, pork chops and pork tenderloin!

November 20, 2010 at 9:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Elizabeth, my girls still get 14 hours of light. The coop is on a Christmas light timer so they only get 10 hours of "dark" like in summer. That and some are fairly young. Though production has slowed. I don't get as much.

I sell apple pies at the office around thanksgiving, most economical and quickest!

November 20, 2010 at 10:04 PM  
Blogger panthercreekcottage said...

I have always thought of having a pig because man I love bacon. Your experience is really motivating me. I am the same nervous ninny with any livestock I am raising and always am checking up on their well-being. Sometimes I just get a feeling that I need to go check and make sure all is calm in the barn. But that contributes to the quality end product amen? Oh, I got a black eye once from stepping on a rake. They really can pop up and get you. Hog panels can have a mind of their own too.

November 20, 2010 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

Aye, enjoy your pig, we had 3 with us this year, from June - end of October, not sure on what starting weight was but at $50 a head and feeding them for the time we had them (not counting the things that will be used for future animal endeavors) all feed came from a bag other than the over-ripe peaches when I was canning they dressed out to almost 200lbs each, including processing they came out to be $1.50/lb and will be keeping me from having to buy meat for most of the winter at least if not longer.

Depends on how hog wild we go :)

I know I can't get pork at the grocers for that so I'm thrilled, and they were a blast to watch and listen to, they did a good job cleaning up lawn cuttings and any garden trimmings to. Awesome to have around.

But one suggestion is definitely look into the pig-waterer that's on my list for next year, the nipples are about $6 here and one serves way more than I'll have on site. Keeping an eye on water-tubs in the heat of summer when they want to have a wet wallow... much easier to keep their supply of drinking water clean and just give them a wallow.

November 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger Aisha said...

girlie you are inspiring me, I can't til I can start doing some of this, as I know live with about 1/2 acre and i already have a huge veggie garn i just have to figure out the winter storage issue and I think we will be in business. I'm getting this book can't wait.
YAY bacon
thanks for sharing

November 21, 2010 at 2:49 AM  
OpenID the-kitchenette.com said...

I'm super excited to read all about how it goes raising a pig!

PS. Our first brew of beer went into the primary fermenter today. We're doing a pecan porter. We'll see!

November 21, 2010 at 2:52 AM  
Blogger Thinkin' Out Loud said...

I am so excited about your new adventure! I can't wait to see all the pictures and read about it. I would really love to know if it will be cost effective!

November 21, 2010 at 3:57 AM  
Blogger Darren (Green Change) said...

That's really cool. I've got my first pigs at the moment too - 3 boys that are currently about 50 kg (100 lbs). So about half-way there.

http://green-change.com/2010/11/15/how-to-weigh-a-pig/

I've been following Novella too! Check out her video here:

http://green-change.com/2010/11/10/novella-carpenter-urban-farming/

She actually says she still can't believe that people write to her saying they read her book and have decided to get some pigs. "Did you not learn from my experience?!" She thought it was a step too far for her little city farm.

November 21, 2010 at 5:32 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

My husband used to raise pigs to bacon status when he was a teenager on the farm - it was good pocket money. His only advice to you is to not get too attached! Don't name her unless you're going to call her "Bacon". He remembers always feeling so sad when they were taken to the local market after he'd got them to a good size.

Good luck with this new challenge! You are an absolute inpiration!

November 21, 2010 at 6:05 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Did you know pigs like to sleep in? I went out this morning to feed the little girl and she was buried in a nest of straw. I poured her ration, corn, and gave her the leftovers from a pancake and hashbrown breakfast and she wouldn't budge from her warm little den. So I moved a bit of the hay and there was this goofy pink face, who looked at me, sighed dramatically, and then curled back up under the covers and went back to sleep. Far as I know my pancake breakfast I served her is still in her trough...

November 21, 2010 at 7:00 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Oh, and I used hay and straw interchangeably there because I used hay to make her bedding. When you make food, bedding, does that make it straw? Or does it have to be yellow/wheat/etc?

November 21, 2010 at 7:02 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

What a beaut! Pigs are just the sweetest. I met a few once who would come running to see a person and then flop over on their backs to be rubbed on their bellies. Good luck!

November 21, 2010 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Oh, and I'm no expert, but I'm fairly sure that 'hay' is hay as long as it has the grains attached (it has nothing to do with how they are utilized). 'Straw' is just the stalk. Someone correct me if I'm wrong?

November 21, 2010 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

So exciting!! I hope she will be happy all by her self-I've heard that pigs need another pig as a companion?? Friends of ours got one pig and she ended up listless and wouldn't eat because she was lonely. As soon as they bought a second pig for her companion, she was happy as a clam again-eating and lively. Just a thought.... All the best!

November 21, 2010 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Sarah, yep, that's right.

November 21, 2010 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'll play it by ear. So far she's surrounded by rabbits, me, chickens, and five roosters. She's got light, food, shelter, water and clean bedding. She certainly doesn't seem lonely, but unless she becomes a listless miserable thing I have no intention on doubling my pork.

November 21, 2010 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger farmgirljen said...

In our neck of the woods (Iowa) hay is made from clover and is used for feed, unless it's stubble clipping from the end of the year, then it's used for bedding. But straw is typically from the stubble left after oats have been harvested and is used primarily for bedding. Also, hay tends to be more expensive than straw, at least here. You might find some straw and put a little sawdust underneath to soak up moisture and keep the pen a bit dryer.

Here's the joke my husband wanted to pass along (but first you have to know what a barrow is - it's a former boar who has been fixed)
Two boars were chatting. One asked the other how his summer was.
"Oh it was great. I was on pasture, had 20 gilts with me, had fresh water and some trees to shade under. How was your summer?"
The other boar shook his head and replied, "Not quite so nice. I was penned in a shed, the feed wasn't so hot and the water was usually stale. And my roommate was an old barrow and all he could talk about was his operation."
I laughed for five minutes, but then I'm an old farm girl. Hope you got a chuckle.

November 21, 2010 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

Jenna, if you do have to get another pig, you just sell that one and there's your butchering and feed costs paid for you. I have done that before.

And I don't know if you anchor your water bucket, but pretty soon she will be knocking it over every time you fill it up. I have raised 6 pigs so far. I know.

Also I know that pigs like to eat. And I couldn't walk out the door without 2 (the first time) and 4 (the last time) pigs trying to get out and get to me for more food. I was constantly carrying 2 five gallon buckets of feed and scraps to them all day. Well, it sure seemed like it when they got bigger. And that happened SO fast. It seemed like they were only little 50 pound pigs for 3 days.

Those panels are just about the only thing that will hold a pig too. Besides electric. So she should stay put while she's there. But pigs are pretty darn smart when they wanna be.

Have fun!

November 21, 2010 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Single Serving Jack said...

You may find the cost of winter raising to be more expensive per pound versus summer when the hogs are able to graze.
Good luck! I am sure the bacon will be tasty.

November 21, 2010 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger E said...

Hay is grown for feed and is alfalfa/grass. Straw is the stalks of grain.

Straw is usually cheaper than hay. It has better bedding qualities, a higher carbon to nitrogen ratio, a less nutritional value, and fewer (weed) seeds than hay.

November 21, 2010 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Rural Revival said...

I loved Novella's book and would love to raise pigs for meat. My husband's not so sure about the idea, but then he wasn't sure about chickens and now he calls them 'his chickens' and we don't even have them yet.

November 21, 2010 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Anton said...

One suggestion regarding the positioning of the heat lamp. It shouldn't be attached to anything the pig can move because there's a chance it could be jostled enough to fall off and cause a barn fire. There was a barn fire last winter in my neck of the woods caused by this kind of set up. If you can, attach it to the barn itself and not the panel.

November 21, 2010 at 4:32 PM  
Blogger dc said...

That's some pig, she's terrific and radiant! :o)

November 21, 2010 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Very fire-worried here. It's clamped, tied down, and above the piglet. But I don't even think she needs it. I think it's more for me than her at this point. She buries herself in so much straw...

November 21, 2010 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Irma said...

On that far, far off day when I convince my husband I'm NOT crazy and get us a homestead...? A pig will be my second livestock purchase, right after my chickems. Good for you!

November 21, 2010 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

How cute is she?! Also, I love those panels, but they ARE scary when they're doubled-over and spring loaded like that. We've never been hit in the face, but I bet sooner or later it will happen.

November 22, 2010 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

hay and straw are not the same thing and serve very different roles. hay has nutritional value, is cut as a primary crop, and has grains/seeds on the plant. there are dozens of different types of hay depending on what types of grasses are cut/mixed. its probably worth taking a look around your area to see what types are offered at what prize and which your animals do the best on.

straw is used for bedding and if an animal has enough feed (hay/pasture/etc.) they should not be intersted in eating it. straw is cheaper than hay so i'd imagine you'd want to switch from using hay as bedding (use only as food) to straw (only use as bedding).

i was surprised to read this question, i thought you were a horse girl!?!?

November 22, 2010 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Bless your heart, meredith. I know the difference between hay and straw. I was asking if you used hay for straw-like purposes (i.e. pig bedding) does the name change based on the fact it is no longer food, but now being used "as straw".

November 22, 2010 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

haha, go it.

no, the name doesn't change depending on what its used for.

i would purchase straw for bedding though...much cheaper, and depending on the type of winter we are in for, you probably don't want to waste edible material by using it as bedding longterm.

November 22, 2010 at 10:31 AM  
OpenID gileadgoats said...

As to the hay/straw question....around here, straw is actually more expensive than hay, which I don't really understand. I pay $11-$12 for a bale of straw, and only about $3-$4 for a bale of hay. Now, I do use straw for bedding for my goats and sheep, but we go ahead and give our pigs hay to use to line their nests out in the pasture when it gets cold and wet. They love it.

November 22, 2010 at 4:26 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Dying to know how this experiment works and how cost effective it is. Although I'm a greenhorn, pigs seem fairly easy as livestock goes, and when we decide to raise our own meat, this is and broiler chickens are probably where we'd start.

November 23, 2010 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

I used hay for bedding because it was 4 dollars a bale and straw is 12. I did use the last year's crop though.

November 23, 2010 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Weaselll1 said...

Man, whatta cutie! So I know you haven't had her for very long, but do you feel yourself getting attached at all? I have been contemplating pigs lately, but am so afraid of ending up w/massive pink "dog" that eats A Lot. Don't get me wrong, I have slaughtered my own chickens, but I feel like a pig would be much more difficult. Do you think it will be hard for you?

December 1, 2010 at 12:17 AM  
Blogger pamela said...

I was thinking the same thing as weasell. A big pink dog, hmmm. When does a pet become 'food'. When does 'food' become a pet? For me personally there is no distinction, I don't eat animals. For people trying to be self-sufficient maybe it's a difficult choice. Maybe.
pamela x

December 1, 2010 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I pig is certainly not a pet. It lives in the barn and was bought for the sole purpose of being food. That doesn't mean I don't care for her, that I don't respect her, appreciate her, or that I don't want her to have the most comfortable and stress-free life that I am able to give her. She gets clean water, fresh bedding every few days, and plenty of good food but she isn't a pet to me at all. But like the chickens, rabbits, and male lambs on the way... she is a meat animal that will be harvested.

December 1, 2010 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger pamela said...

Love that you take such care down on Antler Farm. Enjoying your Blog Jenna, very engaging.
pamela x

December 1, 2010 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger TINA!! said...

Ha! I love it! :D You are great, Jenna! I love checking to see what you are up to in your coffee-fueled, pre-dawn mornings! Keep it up!--tina

December 2, 2010 at 5:59 PM  

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