I am a farmer, so worrying about the weather is a stock in trade. This time of year, we usually have a fair bit of rain, which is timely, given that we sow the seeds for the winter forages right now. Except there isn't much rain to be had. The last round of storms, predicted to give us three days of rain on and off, did not amount to much. And I had sown seeds. What's a farmer to do?
Here's some of our seed mix - winter peas, swiss chard, mangel beets, clover, beans, daikon radish, hairy vetch. I added a lot of oats, forage wheat, and buckwheat to that, and the turnips and rye that we let go to seed this past spring are already sown, courtesy of the pigs. If the seeds germinate and take hold now, the pigs will all get forage that should give them nutritious greens through the winter and early spring. It's a big deal. All of these good things bring health, wellness and vitality to the hogs during the winter, as well as contributing to the feed options. It is also one of the reasons our pork tastes so good. So I did what needed to be done. I gathered up every hose I've got, grabbed a sprinkler, and turned on the water. A good, deep watering at each spot has been just the ticket. Thank goodness for well water, and that the hoses reach out in the feeder pig pastures. The sows still need to pray for rain; I don't have that much hose. Here's a look at our current rotation: Here's paddock #1 right after we moved Big Lil and the babies a couple of weeks ago. Looks pretty stark.
Lil does a great job of utilizing her forage, and her babies are following in her footsteps. After a few days of rest and the bit of rain a week ago, this area was rebounding.
I am always surprised by the clover. It rebounds well as long as the rotations are of a duration of no more than 4 weeks. Here's the paddock after a bit of reseeding and watering.
Meanwhile, here's a look at paddock #2 when we opened it up for Lil and her pigs. Pretty lush and plush with summer growth, lots of squash and pumpkin.
Now, almost 2 weeks later, this same area looks like this. Lil and her industrious piglets have eaten and rooted and cleaned this area up pretty well, too. We'll move them today or tomorrow.
When they leave this area, they will have made contributions to the reseeding project. They have been getting whole bob oats and forage wheat added to their daily ration. Utilizing only 20%, they have deposited the rest of the intact seed in a handy pile of fertilizer. I'll add more of the seed mix, and move the hoses and sprinkler again. And they will be heading to this spot, to repeat the cycle.
In the meantime, I'll be sowing, repairing hot fence, and hauling water around. And praying for rain.
I love this goofy sow, and I love looking at her goofy, friendly face. And I hate that we have to let her go. I know Pistachio has many fans. What's not to love about a sow that enjoys soap bubbles as much as she does? But she really struggled with this pregnancy, and the lameness that afflicted her in mid-pregnancy has not resolved, despite poultices, biotin supplementation, or anti-inflammation injections post-weaning. The loss of weight did not help, either.
A hog being lame is a serious condition. If it is unable to heal, the weight that is shifted to three legs begins to break down the structure of the healthy legs. A hog is meant to stand four-square and strong on all legs. Everything was so hard for her because of it. Hard to move quickly enough not to step on her babies. Hard to move from the barn to the wallow to cool off and then back again. Hard to even stand long enough to eat and nurse.
I would have probably had to make the same decision based on her less than stellar performance - only 9 piglets born in her second litter and two of those stepped on or rolled on and lost, the uneven udders that did not uniformly feed her babies, even the false pregnancy last year. But the lameness is not something we can put aside. I cannot see her in pain just so we can get another litter, nor can I keep her just because I love her so much. I can't let her struggle and break down slowly with ever-increasing levels of pain.
So she has been weaned from her piglets and, now that her udders have dried up, she is being fed like a queen: pumpkins, apples, walnuts, acorns, oats. And Monday, I will say my prayers of gratitude to her and load her up for her last trip down the road. It was pretty easy to take the mean sow to the processor; it is unbearably difficult to do so with the sweet one. But that is my duty to her, to make sure she doesn't suffer and that her life is not wasted. She will feed many others, including patrons of our local food bank. And somehow, I think she would be understand feeding little ones who are hungry. She was a great mom that way.
I could have made this decision and taken this trip with Pistachio and not said anything. It's more comfortable that way, I guess. But all of you are on this journey with me and the hogs and the farm, and I trust that you will understand the transparency and honesty of this post.
Pistachio's legacy will live on at our farm, and that makes me happier. Her daughter, Amaretto, will be staying with us. She is healthy, inquisitive, a natural forager, and has 14 evenly spaced teats, indicating good mothering ability. In a year, we will be watching her babies come into this world and onto our farm.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.