Thursday, March 31, 2011

A question I didn't get from email

A question I didn't get from email, but wished that I had: 

"Hey Bruce, your pig paddocks are pretty muddy, and there's a fair number of oranges that aren't eaten and appear to be rotting away, and I hate the smell of rotting fruits and vegetables.     I'll figure that there's some reasoning behind what you're doing -- want to fill me in?   Penny"

Glad that you asked, Penny; I'm going to do a summary here, and then give you a guided tour in picture form through the process, explaining why I do each thing I do.  I'm glad that you're interested in animal husbandry and welfare.  I am, too.  That's why I raise animals.  I want to make sure that they've got the best experience they can have while they're here, and I try my best to accommodate their needs, even when they are very different from the common perception.

Pig Diet
I feed my pigs a diet that consists of forage or forage equivalent (hay in the winter, grass in the summer), fruits and vegetables that are pre-consumer waste (Fruits and vegetables that are discarded from produce departments in various stores) and store-bought feed.    Your question is about the fruits and vegetable portion of their diet, so I'll go into depth on that.

This year has been very tough on my farm.  We've had a large amount of rain, in unusually heavy concentrations.  That means we've had days were we have had 5" of rain, followed by 2" of rain, followed by 3", and so on.  My farm is in the bottom of a river valley, and there is basically no drainage, so I've got mud.  Boy have I got mud.
Animal care
Having this sort of weather, and operating a pastured pig operation, means that I have had to work extra hard at offering a dry, warm place for pigs to sleep.  I do this is a couple of ways, and sometimes, especially when I've gotten 5" of rain in a 24 hour period, it's impossible.  But I keep plugging at it, and by and large I've kept the animals healthy and happy. 

The pigs diet
On a blog that I read, Farm Folly, wrote an entry earlier this month about the cost of raising his own pork, and reached several conclusions based on that experience.  One of them is that grain-fed pork is a luxury -- you feed 6 calories in feed for every calorie of pork consumed, and that it takes vast amounts of food to raise a pig to market weight.  (35,000 eggs!) .   You'll find the blog entry here.

I mention that here because my goal in operating a farm is to produce good food from what would otherwise be wasted.  That means I have animals like sheep that graze, and use the grass, and that I'd like to use as little grain as possible to raise my pigs.  That's where the produce comes in.   I use food that was originally for human consumption, but for one reason or the other was discarded before it was sold.

 I pick up trailer and truckloads of these fruits and vegetables every week, and I have Andrea unpack and inspect each container.  Here she's cutting open the sides of the boxes and using a rake to pull the fruits and vegetables out of the side.  As you can see, the produce is in pretty darned good condition when we get it. 
 We get basically everything you'll find in your average large supermarket.  In this load we got 3,000lbs of cantaloupes, 300lbs of grapes, 400lbs of citrus (grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, lemons) and another 4 tons of everything else. 
 We go through every box because we want to 1) make sure that we've removed anything harmful from the load (including plastic containers and bags) and 2) to inspect the food to make sure that it's appropriate for the pigs.  
Once the food is unpacked, we scoop it up with the tractor and feed it to the pigs by dumping it into their paddocks.  The pigs dig through it, mix what they don't eat with the mud, trample it, and generally work it into the ground.  What doesn't get eaten does get composted, and that composting action is faster because of the pigs activities., 

Once the pigs are done eating what they like, what's left over is what they will not eat:  They will not eat citrus fruits of any sort, nor will they eat raw potatoes or onions.   So the picture above is a mix of wood chips, mud, and the uneaten food.   You can't see the onions and potatoes, but believe me, they're in there.  Oranges and grapefruit float, potatoes and onions sink. 

Citrus, when it rots, has a particular odor.  If you've ever walked through a citrus grove during harvest time, you've smelled it.  It's a weird, sweet, rancid orange smell.  The pigs don't seem to mind the smell, and those oranges have to go somewhere, so they go into my soil. 

The smell
I understand that you don't like the smell, but lets take a minute and look at the alternative for this waste stream:  Cedar Grove Compost

Cedar grove is the company that handles the composting of organic materials for several cities in my area.   Over the years there have been many complaints about a nauseating odor in the north Everett and marysville area both, and recently this company was  fined $169,000 for odor violations, for a smell that could apparently be smelled miles away from their facility.   I think I'm a better choice. 

The county road goes along the front of my farm, and I'm feeding my pigs right there, within 30 feet of that county road.  If you walked a hundred feet away I'd guess that you'd have a hard time smelling anything, and certainly 500' away you'd smell nothing out of the ordinary, and you didn't complain about a manure or animal smell; that's because I use hundreds of cubic yards of wood chips every week to make a proper, balanced planting soil.  Manure is nitrogen, wood chips are carbon, and the combination makes great soil.   No manure smell, no ammonia smell, just the smell of plain old composting, and only if you're close.

Lets talk about farming smells for a couple of minutes
People have complained about farming smells before -- you're not the only one.  In fact, in snohomish county, they've finally made a law that says that anyone that buys property within 1300' of farmland must sign a waiver that spells out that you may indeed by offended by farming odors, and I quote: 

"Your real property is within, adjacent to, or within thirteen hundred feet of

designated farmland; therefore, you may be subject to inconveniences or
discomforts arising from agricultural activities, INCLUDING BUT NOT
 So one way to look at it is that if you're less than 1300' from my farm, well, sorry.  Go somewhere else.  Hate to be that blunt, but I can't raise pigs in your neighborhood, but you can sure walk your dog there, and maybe that's the best solution if you're offended by rotting oranges.

 And you can thank your lucky stars that you haven't run across one of these yet.  This would probably kill you:   (click on picture for larger version)

That is what is locally known as a "big gun" -- it's a high pressure hose and nozzle that is spraying liquid manure and urine out over a field.  You can smell these suckers from miles away, and if you look carefully, there's a pretty good spray coming off that baby!   Just the sort of thing you'd like to run through on a hot summer day, right?  Pure, concentrated manure.  Smells like an SOB.  This one is about a mile from my farm.   I took this picture from a half-mile away, and i could smell it. 

I'd have a much easier time farming if the ground froze up.  Snow is pretty, and ice isn't mud.  My mud season is from mid-october until late may every year, and during that 6 month span my life is really tough.  I actually hope for the ground to freeze because life gets so much easier when it does. 
  I provide mounds of fresh wood chips as they're delivered to the pigs, both in their shelters and in piles, so that they can choose to sleep inside or out.  Fresh wood chips compost, and that composting action provides quite a bit of heat for the pigs.  The piles steam,and  the pigs like laying on the warm chips. 
  The bigger the pig, the less interested they are in staying completely dry.  A big sow or boar has enough fat that they could lay on an iceberg and be comfortable. 
The picture above is a good example of what I'm talking about.  The smaller pigs, with less fat and a smaller surface to mass ratio (cool engineering term that basically means that they're not as thick as the bigger pigs) prefer fresh chips to sleep on.  The bigger sow is indifferent.  Her size gives her a rank in the herd higher than the smaller pigs to the left, but she's chosen to snooze in the shade of that calf dome that she's flipped on end.   
In the picture above it looks like there's streams on the left side.  Those are actually paths that the pigs make, and maintain, by walking to and from various points of interest in the pasture.  All of the pigs will use the precise same path for months, and this churns the dirt there into mud.  

Animal care
And that brings me to the final topic, animal care.  My goal in my operation is to allow the pigs to have all of the social, cultural and physical needs met.  In a practical sense, this means that it's my job to offer them an environment where they can choose for themselves what they want to do.    that means that I offer a dry spot, a wet spot, a spot with cover from the sun, and one without.  I allow them to eat what they prefer, or crave, figuring that if there is a deficiency in their diets that they can correct it, and I think I do all of that. 

What a pig wants, and what people think that a pig wants, can be completely different. I can offer a dry, warm shelter and be amazed that the entire herd of pigs will choose not to use it.  I've learned that the pigs do have preferences, and that those preferences often surprise people who don't raise pigs. 

I hope that covers the basics questions, and I'm happy to answer any questions you have about my practices. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Put yourself in my shoes

This is the text of a comment that I got on one of my recent postings.  I've thought about it for a while, and I'm curious.  How would you respond to this comment if you were me? 

"I was by today when I ran my animals and the stench was unbearable. I know you have pigs and pigs smell but the amount of rotten fruit in the knee high mud that the pigs are walking in is just rank. It never has smelled like that when I have been running the dogs before and I have been doing it for years. It seems like you have ALOT of animals (pigs, cows, goats, fowl AND dogs) in a small area. It's like a population explosion has happened or something! And the dogs are in quite a small area too... well hidden but still seen. I know I'm being nosey but I worry for them. They aren't yet meat on the table, so we all are responsible to question. "

Little background:   There's literally nothing around my farm for a half-mile in any direction.   I chose this property partly for that reason -- no neighbors is a good thing.  This person is walking her dog from wherever she lives to my fenceline, at least a half mile away. 

In addition, I got a visit from the snohomish county animal control yesterday.  Here's what went on. 

"Hi officer Barber!  What's up?"
"ah, it looks like your dogs need their licenses renewed on...  april 30th.  "
"oh.  Ok.  So i can do that anytime between now and may 1st and be fine? "
"Is that the reason you stopped by?"
"no, we recieved a complaint that your pigs are in the mud.  "
"oh.  Well, it's been pretty warm the last few days, and the sows have been mud bathing to keep cool and for sunscreen, so they don't get sunburnt.  They  have those shelters over there (gesturing) and we put in wood chips every week so that they can stay dry if they want"
"ok.  Well, they look fine.  "
"Thanks officer Barber.  See you soon"

I know this guy by first name because I talk to him several times a month.  Snohomish county animal control must respond to every complaint that they receive, and each time they contact me. 

So.  What would you do? 

Monday, March 28, 2011

The eagle tax

I've become much more aware of the local animals over the last few years; what the deer are doing, which birds are around, and what they're doing, and how the animals are acting.  I've been seeing a pair of eagles recently, much more than I have in the past, and finally spotted their nest on top of a cell-phone tower about a half-mile away from my farm. 

So when I saw an eagle land on my property, near a fence, I knew that something was up.  Eagles really don't land much, unless they're eating something.  It takes quite a bit of energy to get back up into the sky, and they'd much rather side on a tree somewhere and look than actually go. 
So I spent a bit of time sneaking up on this eagle while it ate something.  I'd take a few steps every time it would duck down to take a bite, and then hide behind a bunch of grass until it took another bite.  Doing this got me within about a hundred feet of the bird.  They're pretty big. 
The eagle finally decided I'd gotten close enough and flew off.  Juvenile eagles have brown heads; the white head on this one means that it's an adult, probably one of the eagles from the nearby nest.   I lose 5-10 birds a year to eagles, and this time I wasn't sure if it had gotten one of my birds, or a wild bird. 
Turns out that it was eating a white peking duck.  If you look carefully in the photo below, at the upper right corner you can see her egg.  My guess is that she found a place she liked to nest and was sitting on the egg when the eagle killed her.  This is a different sort of kill than a coyote -- the coyote takes the whole duck to some secluded place and eats it.   Raptors tend to eat their prey in place if it's too big to lift.  Basically the eagle ate the duck liver and heart and lungs.  hadn't gotten to the breast yet. 
RIP, duck.  Hope it was quick. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This is kicking the snot of out my gardening urges

At home I'm carefully planting trays of vegetables.  Putting individual lettuce seeds (they are REALLY TINY).  Trays go onto the heating pads, and under the lamps.  I really enjoy gardening -- until this year. 
Every week I'm handling tons of produce.  Nice looking stuff, too.  Nothing wrong with it.  I shop in the same stores I get this from.   Andrea and I were walking through one day, and I looked at a head of lettuce and pointed to it, and said to her:  "We'll see that soon!".  We probably did. 

Here's 500lbs of broccoli.   What kills me about this is that these are perfect in every respect.  They're crisp and green and...  well, I'm not going to plant any broccoli this year.  It's a little overwhelming. 

The tropical fruits are a little easier to deal with.  I can't grow pineapples, so I feel better about tossing a thousand pounds of it to the pigs.  Oranges, same, but the pigs don't like oranges.   The pigs love pineapples.   
Kiwi fruits...  small peppers.  Industrial quantities of every common fruit and vegetable. 

Blueberries are high in antioxidants.  Here's a mixed load of 500lbs.  A few lemons, some watermelons, grapes.   Click on that picture.  Can you see anything wrong with any of it? 
I chided another blog for raising fears of a food shortage.  I'm moving piles of surplus food every day.  Tons.   If you get hungry, come on by.   
I am feeding my pigs better produce than you'll find in most markets.   
I do find some small solace that using food as food is better than making compost out of it directly, or having it be completely wasted in a landfill somewhere, but I'm a little amazed at what we as a society discard, all to have the perfect display at your local market. 

How many hundreds of pints of jam were those blueberries?  Orange marmalade, anyone?  Lemon meringue pie...  that's what we used to do with produce that was a little past its prime. 

The geese

 I have four geese on my farm.  Two pairs, one white, the other embden.  I got these geese from a fellow whose farm was being foreclosed on; they had turkeys, and I bought those, but he had these geese too, and I was there and...
  The initial thought was to keep them until the holidays and then eat them for Christmas, but I got used to having them around, and they're a pretty good farm doorbell -- whenever someone they don't know comes down the driveway they're on it -- and they're pretty much self-feeding.  They eat a bit of the feed from the animal feeders, and some of the produce we feed to the hogs, and lots of grass.  So it's been pretty painless to have them around.   This time of year the two grey geese are both convinced that they should sit on eggs.  They're both females, so none of the eggs are fertile, but that doesn't stop them from trying to hatch them. 

 The top goose is pretty aggressive about her chosen nest, but this one is pretty shy.  "Please let me keep my eggs".  She doesn't want to make eye contact, and would prefer in fact to just put her head under her wing until I go away.  I slipped a couple of duck eggs under her that will hatch if she sits on them long enough.  The instinct to be a mother is very strong. 
 I'm a little curious to see what she'll do with the ducklings. 
 These are the white geese.  They don't really have a fixed nesting place that they defend, but they defend wherever they happen to be.  So they're both hissing at me and making goose faces at me, and when they see me walk away they cackle with joy and wiggle their tails and wave their necks, which is what the goose in the picture below is doing.  Goose victory!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

airedale pups

Got an email request for pics of the current litter of Airedale pups.  Here ya go!  Click on any picture for a bigger version

Friday, March 18, 2011

Goose egg Soufflé

 One of the seasonal treats that I get are goose eggs.  I've only got 4 geese, and they only lay in the spring.  The geese haven't been bothered at all by the rainy weather, and they've laid about 30 eggs.  So tonight it was Broccoli and cheese goose egg souffle!  (Full recipe at the bottom of this post)
 The goose eggs themselves are pretty darned big.  A normal souffle calls for a half-dozen eggs.  Two goose eggs are more than enough.  Here I've put the goose egg on the scale -- it weighs 205 grams (hiya, metric readers!)
 for comparison purposes, this is a fresh chicken egg, at around 1/3rd the weight of the goose egg. 
 I had some duck eggs, too, and so I put one on the scale to compare.  It's about half the size of a goose egg, and about 30% larger than a chicken egg.  All are yummy, by the way. 

 Putting them side by side, with a quarter and a penny for size purposes.  Chicken on the left, goose on the right, duck in the center. 
 A chicken egg white weighs 45 grams; the yolk about 15 grams.  Goose eggs are different. 
 Note the quarter for size.  A goose egg is about 50% yolk and 50% white.  For a souffle this is actually a bit of a problem; to compensate, I usually reduce the amount of cheese a little. 
 Yep, 90 grams of white in a goose egg.  The shell is pretty heavy, too.  Much thicker than a chicken or duck egg. 
 Whipping the whites of two goose eggs, a tablespoon of water and a teaspoon of cream of tartar. 
 meanwhile, over on the stove, tempering in the yolk with the rue...
 and then adding the cheese  and then folding the cheese sauce into the whipped egg whites.  Add the broccoli last.   
 I know, your souffle should rise over the edge, but I don't do it that way; here I'm putting the excess into a smaller ramekin.  You can see the broccoli in the mixture. 
 Pop into the oven -- note the oven thermometer.  When you're interested in good results, might as well check your temperatures.  This oven is consistently 30 degrees off at 375f, which is where the souffle wants to be. 
Golden and delicious. 

  4 tablespoons butter (greasing pan, making the roux)
  2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  3 tablespoons flour (roux)
  1 cup milk, heated.
  1 teaspoon dry mustard
  1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  2 goose egg yolks
  2 goose egg whites
  6 ounces sharp Cheddar (like tillamook)
  1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  1/2 cup chopped, cooked broccoli

  Preheat oven to 375

  Grease souffle pan with butter, dust with Parmesan.  Put the greased pan in the freezer.

  Grate the cheddar cheese, toss the broccoli into the microwave and cook it, along with the milk.  You want the milk warm for the next step. 

  In a small saucepan, put 3 tablespoons butter and clarify (cook until most of the water is out; it'll foam a little).  Add the flour and stir in.   You don't want to cook this too much.  A white roux is what you want. 

 Add in the mustard and garlic powder and a pinch of salt. 

Add the hot milk to the mixture, and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and add the cheddar.
  Temper in the yolks- bring some of the milk into the bowl holding the yolks and slowly mix the two together.  You want to bring up the temperature of the yolks slowly.  Pour the yolk/sauce back and forth a few times.  You'll end up with a smooth, yellow, cheesy sauce.  Yummy.

Add the broccoli to the cheese sauce. 

Set  sauce aside, and whip the whites until they're stiff. 

Using a spatula or a large spoon, fold the cheese sauce into the whipped egg whites.  you want to do this with deliberate speed, and you don't want to stir it.  Just enough mixing to get the two together, then pour into your pans and bake at 375 for 35 minutes or until the top is golden and delicious.