March 2015

Riding Out a CSA with a Delay

. . . Mar 15, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Snow, ice and fridgid temps delay veggies

It has been a difficult winter to be a produce farmer.  Ice , snow and rain have turned fields and pastures into a swampy mucky mess.  Temperatures as much as 30 degrees below average have made it impossible to begin planting on schedule, and we are now nearly three weeks behind.  The cold weather has finally broken but with a solid week of rain.  We will not be able to begin planting until the field dries out.  UNFORTUNATELY, WE DO NOT EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO BEGIN DISTRIBUTING PRODUCE THE FIRST WEEK OF APRIL AS PLANNED.  At this point in time, we hope to start the spring CSA on April 22nd for Wednesday shareholders and April 25th for Saturday shareholders.  It could be earlier, and it may be later.  We simply will not know until we are able to get started in the field.

As farmers, we assume a lot of risk.  The greatest risk is always bad weather and this winter has been a perfect storm.  The CSA concept is designed to share that risk between us, the farmers, and you, our customers.  We will do our best to make it up to you in two ways.  First, we will try to boost the value of the remaining weekly spring share boxes to make up half of the value of the weeks we miss. 

The other half of the value of however many weeks are missed will be credited to your account.  This credit can be used towards your next CSA payment, for produce from our farmers market stand, or for whole broiler chickens.  The exact amount of the credit will depend on which week we are able to start the CSA.

We will save April eggs for egg share members and distribute extra eggs over the first few weeks of the CSA, so there will be no reduction in value for egg share members.  Broiler chicken share members will receive their April chicken on the first week of the CSA. 

Thank you for your support and understanding.   And one last thing, we could really use some help!  The delays caused by the weather mean that once we are able to start planting, we will have a month’s worth of work to accomplish in a week’s time!  If you are available to come lend a hand anytime starting the week of March 16th we would be happy to put you to work.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns, and we will keep you up to date on our progress.

Weather and Delaying the Start of our CSA

. . . Mar 13, 2015 | posted by randy
Snow& ice look beautiful but delays planting

UPDATED: It looks like our first CSA delivery will be 4/15 Wed CSA and 4/18 for Sat please read the the rest of this post for more details.

 

The weather. Some people make a living trying to predict it.  Others make a living protecting you from it.  As farmers our lives are determined by it.  Okra and sweet potatoes love our long hot summers while greens and carrots sweeten as fall slowly cools.  We can count on spring to be unpredictable. 

The early spring crops we depend on to fill CSA boxes and our farmers market table in April are planted in late February and early March, as are crops that mature later like onions, potatoes, broccoli and carrots.  While there are swings in temperatures usually during this time there are several warmer, dry days.  It is this time that field work is done and spring crops are planted.  This year, however, that has not happened.  Snow, ice and near record breaking cold set in and stayed a while.  Now that it has warmed we are having rain, and lots of it.

Our earliest spring crops have not yet been planted.  There is still time for spring crops to be planted and grown before it is too hot but not enough time to be ready for or usual harvests the first week of April.   We have had to make some changes to our Spring CSA to accommodate this fact.

At this point in time, we hope to start the spring CSA on April 22nd for Wednesday shareholders and April 25th for Saturday shareholders.  It could be earlier, and it may be later.  We simply will not know until we are able to get started in the field.

As farmers, we assume a lot of risk.  The greatest risk is always bad weather and this winter has been a perfect storm.  The CSA concept is designed to share that risk between us, the farmers, and you, our customers.  We will do our best to make it up to our CSA members in two ways.  First, we will try to boost the value of the remaining weekly spring share boxes to make up half of the value of the weeks we miss.  The other half of the value of however many weeks are missed will be credited to your account.  This credit can be used towards your next CSA payment, for produce from our farmers market stand, or for whole broiler chickens.  The exact amount of the credit will depend on which week we are able to start the CSA.

We will save April eggs for egg share members and distribute extra eggs over the first few weeks of the CSA, so there will be no reduction in value for egg share members.  Broiler chicken share members will receive their April chicken on the first week we deliver the CSA.

What about members who haven’t signed up yet?  We ask that you register and pay the listed amount on the registration.  That way all of our members will get treated the exact same way regardless of when they registered for our 2015 CSA.  Not only is this the most equitable way to proceed, but also much easier for us to manage.  We are not 100% certain which week in April we will have enough produce to start the CSA, and we don’t want to guess wrong.

Thank you for your support and understanding.

Finally, one last thing, we need your help!  The delays caused by the weather mean that once we are able to start planting, we will have a month’s worth of work to accomplish in a week’s time!  If you are available to come lend a hand anytime starting the week of March 16th we would be happy to put you to work.

To Cut or Not to Cut?

. . . Mar 10, 2015 | posted by Josephine
AGH pglets nursing

Should we castrate our pigs?  Ah, such a deceptively simple question.  Castrating baby pigs sounds like not much fun.  Especially since I would be the one wielding the knife.  Unlike calves, lambs and goat kids, which can be castrated bloodlessly, pigs require surgical castration.

All things being equal, I would prefer not to castrate.  It is our general philosophy that less intervention is better and animals should be allowed to express their natures.  We do not disbud (de-horn) our goats nor clip chickens beaks and wings nor ring our hogs to keep them from rooting.  We weigh that idea against our responsibility as stewards to ensure that our animals have a life as free of pain and suffering as possible.  We make sure our animals have clean water, food, shelter and protection from predators.  We treat animals that are sick.  They are not wild animals, but neither are they pets.  They are livestock, a category of animal that we are still learning how to think about.  In the tension created by these two conflicting philosophies is where important management decisions are made.   

But of course, there are complications.  American Guinea Hogs are a slow growing breed.  We plan to raise all our hogs to 18-24 months before they end up on your table.  To prevent fighting, unintentional breeding and all manner of chaos, the girls and the boys would need to be kept separately and far, far apart.  This is what we are doing now and with just 12 pigs, it is manageable.  Over the past year of keeping livestock, we have learned that our pasture isn’t super-fantastic.  We have a lot of work to do particularly improving the winter forage available, and until we do that, it is hard to justify further limiting our grazing options by spatially separating male and female feeder pigs. 

More groups of pigs also means more expensive fence infrastructure, more time moving pigs around and more time doing daily chores.  In short, more management.  Our farm is plenty complicated already with over 30 vegetable crops, a small orchard, laying hens, meat chickens, and goats demanding our attention.

And then there is the issue of boar taint.  I have studied many a heated discussion about taint on the two piggy Facebook groups that we are members of.  Boar taint is an off-flavor of meat caused by certain hormones that produce chemicals stored in fat.  Taint has the terrifying potential to turn valuable, gourmet meat into a lot of very expensive dog food.  About 75% of people can detect boar taint.  Reports of the prevalence of boar taint range from 1% to 30% of boars depending on the study. 

Both nature and nurture are responsible for the presence of taint.  Allegedly, pastured pigs are less likely to have taint than confinement animals.  Boars raised away from females are also less likely to have taint.  Some lines of pigs just don’t have it, and some breeds have a higher prevalence than others.  Guinea Hogs are supposed to be taint-free, but there are people who will tell you they have tasted taint in Guinea Hog pork.  Of particular concern for us is that we are raising our pigs twice to three times as long as is typical for pastured pork.  Some farmers are intentionally breeding taint-free lines of pigs by testing their boars for taint which is the direction we would like to head.

Fear of the unknown is powerful motivation.  Castration is cheap insurance against boar taint, which is one reason why so many people do it.  Until we have a better understanding of the genetics of our particular pigs I certainly like the idea of hedging our bets.  Better than losing $500-$600 on a full grown pig that is unfit to eat.

More important for us, however, is the management issue.  Keeping male and female pigs separate would be too complicated for us at this point in time.  Maybe in the future raising intact males will make more sense.  For now, we have decided to cut.

First Piglets Born on the Farm

. . . Mar 04, 2015 | posted by Josephine

Bon Bon with 2-day-old pigletsThis week the number of pigs on the farm nearly doubled from 12 to 23.  Our gilts Caitlan and Bon Bon had their piglets!  Three weeks ago we moved them to their own farrowing pasture with a roomy house built out of straw bales.  We elected to keep the girls together since they were due to farrow within two days of each other, they have lived together their whole lives, and two pigs are warmer than one and we have had some very cold nights. 

Caitlan was due on February 24th but she waited two days so she could have her babies in a snow storm.  It seems to be an accepted fact amoung many who raise animals that expecting moms prefer to give birth in terrible weather.  Is this an evolutionary adaptation to weed out the weak?  Perhaps it is to avoid predators less likely to be lurking in bad weather.  Or does is just seem like they choose bad weather to us, their custodians?

On the morning of the 26th I went out to take care of the girls and found Caitlan in the hut nursing five new babies.  There was a 6th piglet that had died before it was fully dried off.  We do not know whether it was stillborn of if it was crushed.  Crushing is a real hazard for baby pigs.  They are just tiny little things compared to their massive mothers, and even if she is careful she can accidently make a piggy pancake when laying down or rolling over.  Crushing is also more of a risk in cold weather when everyone is trying to snuggle up, and also for new pig moms like ours.  In conventional hog production, piglets are often born in special farrowing crates that hold mom in a chute just large enough for her to lie down while allowing the piglets to move around.  We'd rather let mom have her freedom and choose where to have her babies, even if that means we lose some to crushing.

The following morning one piglet was not doing well.  She was weak and unable to stand.  We brought her into the house and placed her in a laundry basket with a heat lamp, a.k.a. piglet NICU.  I was about to say this is the first livestock we have had in the house but this is not true.  A little over a year ago we revived a cold wet pullet under a heat lamp in the tub.  I had already been getting up in the night to feed and water the chicks in the brooder so what's getting up a couple more times to feed an infant pig? 

When Caitlan's babies were three days old and Bon Bon's babies three days overdue, I came walking up to the farrowing pasture to find Bon Bon crunching away with just a little piglet foot sticking out of her mouth.  Oh my god, I thought, she's eating Caitlan's piglets!  I hurried to check on the babies.  Four in the hut plus the one still in the house meant all Caitlan's little ones were accounted for.  Bon Bon's backside was clean and belly still full of squirmy babies, so it wasn't one of hers.  We concluded that Cailtan must have had another baby, bringing her total up to seven, that got crushed and buried in the hay bedding shortly after birth.  Bon Bon found it while "nesting", i.e. digging around in the hay and generally trying to tear down the shelter in preparation for having her babies.

Some folks say that it is bad for momma pigs to eat the dead babies because it will make them more likely to kill and eat the live ones.  I am pretty sure that a pig knows the difference between a dead baby and a live one.  And there are plenty of good reasons to eat a dead piglet.  It is good sanitation, it prevents luring predators and scavengers, and it reclaims nutrition that mom used up growing that baby.  Not all farm moms are good moms, and a pig that kills and eats piglets ends up on the dinner table herself.  A sow may also kill and eat her babies if there is something seriously wrong with her nutrition.

Because Bon Bon was nesting we knew her babies would be arriving soon!  That and it was starting to rain.  She went into labor that evening, and had delivered six squirming piglets and placenta (our cue that she was done) by 9 pm.  Some of the little ones went the wrong way around Bon Bon and found Caitlan's milk bar first.  I tried rearranging them but it was no use.  Co-parenting in action.

Caitlan with 6-day-old pigletsThe next morning I found Bon Bon nursing all ten babies - hers and her sister's.  Caitlan was not returning the favor, nursing only her own.  Bon Bon's newborns just could not compete with their older cousins, so we decided it was necessary to divide the litters so that the new piglets would get the colostrum and milk they needed.  As for the piglet in the house, she had gotten a lot stronger over her two days in NICU so we put her back with her siblings.  Still, she could not fight her way to a teat.  We put her in with Bon Bon's newborns and she seems to be doing fine.  Later that day Bon Bon found another previously unknown crushed piglet dead in the straw, brining her littler count to seven as well. 

At the moment, there are eleven new piglets on the farm.  Nine girls and two boys.  We hope everyone makes it through the nasty winter weather over the next few days.  I'd like to say it is a relief that both our girls farrowed successfully but I actually think I am more stressed out now that there are tiny baby piglets to worry about!