July’s article in the local paper brought the biggest influx of emails, face-to-face stories and phone calls I have received to date.
Another local pig farmer called to say that he always enjoys reading my articles and this one actually brought tears to his eyes.
When Olivia died last month, it was very difficult. I think about her each day when I feed my other pigs and am glad that she is suffering no longer.
In case you missed it: here is the article written in its unedited form.
Starting From Scratch
When we first started our farm four years ago, we bought one pig, Olivia. She was so kind and gentle our children could go into her pen and scratch her behind her ears. She would always grunt her approval.
Pigs in general, are such vibrant characters. Each pig has a different personality. Some are meek and shy while some are more curious or more aggressive. Because of this, it is very important to me to spend time with my pigs so that I know how to manage them and take care of their needs.
I know, for example that Olivia is extremely aware of the electric fencing that keeps her and the other pigs in their pen and out of the neighbors yard. When it comes time to move the pigs into a pasture, it is necessary to have a bucket of grain for the pigs, and bread for Olivia. She only moves past an old electric fence line if a piece of bread is dangled over her nose while the others will venture anywhere towards the sound of grain rattling in a bucket. Some times it may take fifteen minutes or more for her to realize it is safe to venture across the old threshold.
I remember this past fall she was being extremely stubborn and after trying and trying to coax her into the new pen, I gave up. So I secured her in the original fencing and continued moving the other pigs. I’m not sure if the other pigs missed Olivia for those few days that she was by herself, but every once in a while, they would look up from the fresh earth that they were turning over to see her standing pathetically alone in a pile of dirt. Eventually she figured it was better to go with her friends and quickly made the dash to the new area when I opened the gate.
About two months ago I noticed that Olivia’s naturally large belly was becoming more bloated than usual. It was impeding her ability to walk and the other pigs, realizing she was not feeling well made the collective decision that she was the lowest ranking pig in the group and thus would only let her eat when everyone else was finished. After a few weeks of this, I decided to move her to her own stall where she would get lots of human love and her own food. I called a vet who came out to the farm to see if she could figure out what was wrong. At first glance, she looked fine and her heart rate was normal as was her eating and drinking. There was a possibility that she was pregnant so we decided to monitor her health for a few weeks.
Shortly after that, it became apparent that she wasn’t pregnant and her health was getting worse. I noticed her bowel movements were pretty irregular, if at all. Then she began to have trouble standing to eat so we needed to help her up. Then shortly after that it was impossible for her to stand and the only way she could move around to eat and drink was to pull herself along with her front lets. Because she was still eating and drinking and generally in good spirits, I kept hoping that she would get better.
Two weeks ago I realized she was not, in fact, getting better. I had two choices, I could call the vet to put her down, or we could do it ourselves. I called the vet and asked her to come and put her down but I also asked her if she would be willing to perform an autopsy to finally figure out what was making her so sick.
The day before the vet was scheduled to come to the farm, my daughter ran up from the barn saying “Olivia may be dying because she is making a really bad noise.” When I got to her stall she was only able to move head. She kept trying to get up and she was getting frustrated and scared. I could almost see the panic in her eyes. I knew right then that we would have to cancel our plans to pick strawberries and spend the day trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
I sat beside her, and said a little prayer. I was stroking her head and talking to her like I always had, calling her a good pig and a sweet girl. I could tell by her eyes that she knew I was there with her. She would give little grunts in response.
After almost an hour, she stopped straining to get up, she was having trouble breathing and I could tell by her eyes that she no longer knew I was there talking to her and stroking her.
For the entire time I sat with her I cried like a baby. I was sorry that I couldn’t fix what was wrong and I was sorry that I couldn’t ease her pain. I was sad that she was dying as she had been both my first pig and my favorite.
She died shortly thereafter.
I accepted her death and the difficult task of burying her came next. Like most farmers, my farm-hand and I dug a hole in an unused section of our property to bury her along with lots of lime and dirt on top in the hopes of keeping other animals away from her grave. Before we buried her completely we did decide to see what was wrong with her.
Olivia had a huge growth in her stomach, which caused her large intestine to become severely inflamed. This growth must have gotten bigger quickly which is why her belly looked so bloated and why she was having irregular bowel movements. Was it a tumor? Was it causing nerve damage so that she could not walk? Had she always had this problem? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I do know however that I tried my best and I will miss her as a founding member of Oxbow Farm.
In the past (when it seemed like I had more time), I posted photos of my fridge and all the food that I wasted. You can search “Food Waste Friday” and see the various blog posts on the subject.
Rest assured that just because I am not posting pictures in that format each week, I am still trying to be less wasteful with my food. I really try and buy just what we need for the week, besides bulk items for baking.
Last week was Farmer Jim’s birthday and instead of baking a cake, my daughter wanted to make him a lemon merainge pie which is his favorite. Being short on time, we bought a lemon cake at the grocery store…shudder.
Because it was close to bed time, we cut small slivers for the gang and then actually never cut into it again. Lauren spied it on the counter yesterday and asked if she could have a piece. I told her no because it had been sitting on the counter, waiting to go out to the pigs for FOUR DAYS!!
It looks pretty good for being unrefrigerated for 4 days…
I should have known better. I honestly think that if I had have looked at the list of ingredients, then this piece of fabricated food would not have ventured into my house and Jim would have had to settle for something else.
I wonder if it is made with the same stuff as Walmart Ice Cream Sandwiches.
I didn’t even feed it to the pigs. blah.
Take a moment with your mid-day snack to read our June Newsletter.
I am known in these parts as The Egg Lady when I deliver my eggs around town. Not to mention that my license plate indicates my choice of profession.
People sometimes apologize quickly after they refer to me in this way, but I tell them not to worry-that is who I am. I own loads of chickens and I deliver eggs.
However, I don’t think every profession has the same “ring” to it. Police Lady, Massage Lady and Funeral Home Lady just sounds bizarre.
Some people also call me The Pig Lady which, again doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I will let them call me whatever they want because with that comes free food for the piggies, piled neatly beside my car waiting for me to return from the weekly egg delivery.
… I know you have been waiting
We were recently asked to write a food article for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s special Heath First publication which focuses on healthy living. I have been wanting to make my own yogurt for a while and so I decided to make a batch and write about how easy it is.
My first attempt at home-made yogurt.
As my editor’s deadline approached I made my first batch, which was a flop. It didn’t smell good and it was very, very runny. There was no way that I could write about making my own yogurt now, unless I wanted to teach everyone how to do it incorrectly. I quickly had to change gears and instead wrote about how we purchase locally made yogurt from farms that do know how to make it correctly. Someday I hope to be able to successfully write about making my own yogurt at home.
The article ran last week but if you missed it, here it is!
My family loves yogurt. My children, aged ten and six love to eat it with maple syrup drizzled on top. I dish some out into reusable containers and pack it in their school lunch boxes. It is really expensive to purchase individual cups or tubes and it is less wasteful. I personally enjoy my yogurt and maple syrup with some berries such as strawberries or blueberries. My husband likes to eat it plain.
We have experimented with different flavors and the majority of the time I will buy unflavored yogurt, that way I can use it in other situations such as with baking or as a substitute for sour cream. Yes, you can use yogurt as a substitute for sour cream-it really does taste good. It just takes a few times to get used to the difference in taste and consistency. Yogurt is not as thick as sour cream and therefore it can be a bit runny on the top of spicy chili.
We have just recently made the switch to purchasing locally made yogurt. This is not something that my children are happy with. They, of course like the sugary, processed yogurt that didn’t taste “like a cow”. But I did stop them cold turkey and it was pretty traumatic for them. Again it has a different taste- it is very tangy and the brand that I buy is very runny compared to the “Greek” type we used to consume.
But never fear, with some time and a strainer you can change thin, more liquid yogurt into thick, creamy goopy goodness that is perfect for dips and will not slide as easily off of the top of your bowl of chili. It really is a great replacement for sour cream when it comes to consistency.
All you need to do is place a coffee filter in a strainer hanging over a bowl and pour some yogurt in the filter. All the liquid will drip through the filter and strainer and leave you with thick, tangy yogurt. If you leave the yogurt in the fridge overnight, it will be thicker than if you leave it on the counter. You can use the liquid that has collected in your scrambled eggs the next morning. It is edible after all.
The longer you leave in the strainer, it the thicker it will become. Add some dried herbs, a tiny squirt of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and spread it on toast or crackers, almost like cream cheese. You can also add some spices and some mayonnaise and you instantly have a great dip for veggies or corn chips.
Straining yogurt to get a thicker consistency.
The large container of yogurt that I buy contains one quart of yogurt, which is four cups. The price at the local market is anywhere between six and eight dollars, depending if there is a deposit for the glass bottle, which would be given back to you when you return your bottle. The sticker price may cause some hesitation at the checkout line but it does have many uses. In actuality a serving size for breakfast in the morning is about half or three quarters of a cup. That would equal a little less than two dollars for your breakfast. Add some granola or some fruit and the cost is similar to that of a breakfast sandwich at the local deli or coffee shop. This choice however is packed with natural protein and vital probiotics. Not to mention the fact that it is made locally and you can recognize and pronounce the ingredient-milk.
Recently we ventured to Wellscroft Fence Systems in nearby Harrisville, NH to get a close up look at their moveable chicken coop. While we were there Lauren decided to play with the dogs…for an hour.
I asked her why she never plays with our dogs like that. She said it was because our dogs were not “trained” like these dogs.
Our dogs love to play fetch.
I really shouldn’t complain because she was amused and the dogs got some exercise.
Find more info on Wellscroft Fence Systems here. They are EXPERTS on fencing. This coming weekend, they are hosting their once a year “Free Fence Building Clinic”. It is very informative. If you are looking for fencing to keep things inside an area or out of an area, like a garden this is the place to go.
This past week we were invited to take part in one of the many Earth Week events at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge (a few towns away). The story ran as the feature article in Tuesday’s Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.
The day was organized by Jess Gerrior, the Sustainability Coordinator for the University and there was a time for students to mingle with the vendors and listen to a feature presentation.
Andy Pressman from Foggy Hill Farm in Jaffrey spoke at length about Sustainability. It was awesome on so many levels.
There were only a handfull of other vendors set up for the presentation and Oxbow Farm was the only family farm.
Snowball, our white hen came along for the event and she was the star of the show. She had her picture taken a number of times by the students and she loved all the attention. By the end of the day she was hot and restless from being cooped up inside, but then again, so were the adults.
It was truly amazing to talk to all the students that had never touched a chicken before. Their questions were basic but extremely necessary when understanding where their food comes from. We talked to a few students who had worked on their own family farms before they moved away to school. Our hen seemed to bring them a little taste of home.
The best part of my day was when I talked to a group of three male students who approached Snowball with hesitation. I asked them if they wanted to pet her and they said, no they were all set. I told them to man-up, that was why she was there. After that they relaxed a little bit and we had a great conversation. They asked how old she was and what she was being raised for and what we would do with her after she was finished producing eggs. That lead to a conversation and description of how we process chickens. The last thing I asked them to do was to think about the number of chickens it would take to make a basket of chicken wings that they would inevitably eat the next time they went out for a night with the boys.
I think that left a lasting impression.
Some of the sustainability certificate students had created their own projects but the one activity that really impressed me was the chance to make a choice on how to make the Campus a more sustainable, earth friendly place to be.
It was really interesting to see, on such a concrete level, what their priorities are:
Our bee hive was tampered with recently and we are not sure if it was a bear.
I would think that if it was a bear then the whole hive would be destroyed. Also there was honey and honey comb left over in the hive. Wouldn’t a bear take all he could, or at least come back again to make sure it was all gone?
What other animal would tamper with a beehive? A raccoon? A fishercat?
We purchased bees and a hive two years ago but ever since then we have not done much with them. We never even collected any honey. Bees can survive on their own, they don’t need any extra help from humans so we just kind of let them do their thing out in the field. We didn’t even know if they were producing. It turns out that they were producing and producing a lot.
They had outgrown the hive and began to create honeycomb underneath the hive and under the pallet on which the hive was resting on to keep it off the ground.
We think we will wait until next year before we get new bees for the hive. Next time we will make sure there is a secure electric fence surrounding the hive to keep it safe from intruders.
Today is the day to celebrate the earth… and healthy living… and being green… and living sustainably and any other popular “it” word of the day.
More simply, this is a day to take stock of your life and how to live it as simply as possible, in harmony with how nature intended us to live.
Sometimes it is difficult to keep up with all of the catch phrases used to describe what I stated in simple terms above.
What does sustainability really mean anyway? I don’t really have a definition but perhaps the word has different meanings to different people in different situations.
For me personally, I sometimes feel inadequate with my striving to live sustainably because I am not sure what I am striving for.
Perhaps I need to actually sit down and create my own definition? I guess there is no better day than today to do that!