A little creativity in the barn.

Back in October, my wife took a week off from work to implement her creation, a water system with water that was always moving. You see every winter we struggle with water. We lug it, we thaw it, we curse it. Her idea was to have water moving through half inch pex piping and have a valve at each pen where we could just simply turn on the valve and water the animals in their water dishes. The kicker was the water had to be always moving. Why? Because it would not freeze if it were moving. Moving water does not freeze at the same temperature as water that isn’t moving. It took us the entire week, but the water system got installed.

Now how does it work in the dead of winter? I can tell you it works awesome. Only a couple times has it frozen (due to human error, my human error) and I was able to thaw it. A number of times the temperature has been well below zero and the water has worked. I have included a video of our homemade system.

Water System

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The ever changing market.

After an almost record setting summer with pig grain prices we have determined that we can not continue on this path of purchasing 8-10 tons of our custom mix grain for our pigs annually. Many small pig farmers are selling off their sows before the snows come. Pigs can eat other things besides grain however grain has been so cheap for so long and it is one of the fastest (and until now, cheapest) ways to grow a pig. I have researched and read for 3 years about different grains and the pros and cons that come with each grain. Just like heating oil and gas prices the price of grain is tied closely to the cost of fuel. Winter is the hardest time of the year as far as finding feed for your animals. No longer are prices cheap, for anything. The time has come to grow our own pig food starting in the spring. The kind of corn I have been looking at is open pollinated corn (you can save the seed becoming even more self sufficient ) Corn is the easiest of the grains to handle by hand and you get a better per acre yield.  It seems every time we get a storm, a drought, a terrorist attack, a strike or whatever the excuse, grain prices and gas prices seem to rise. Farmers are VERY susceptible to these variables. It is time to become independent of the grain market.
In winter we currently feed our pigs a diet of halege, foraging turnips, squash, pumpkins and Max Hog grain (a custom pig grain with 50% barley 50% oats) plus food waste from our house. Max hog prices has gone from approximately $16.60 for an 88 LBS bag to over $19.00 a 88 LBS in a season.
We have extra corn this year in which I will experiment with. I will cut the corn stalk and all  with ears of corn on the stalk. I will shock it (tie it up in a bundle) and store it in the barn and feed it or to the pigs. It is estimated that a grower pig (pig we intend to eat) needs 12 bushels of corn and approximately 200 LBS of protein supplement to get to 240 LBS. I do not grow many pigs for consumption anymore and our breeder pigs may not need as much food as grower pigs It is estimated that breeder pigs need half of what grower pigs need) It seems every year when we think we have figured something out, something changes and we go back to the drawing board.

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“I Will NEVER get cows”

“I will NEVER get cows”. These words I have uttered many times. The sheer amount of work that goes with cows I was not willing to partake in. More hay, more field, more fence. Another animal to take care of in the winter.  I have however learned I should never say never. I have said these words many times and like many times before I have eaten those words. I have eaten those words again.

In April an opportunity presented itself for 4 Irish Dexter cows. A unique breed of cow that is not as big as more popular breeds. Irish Dexter cows are smaller, can be milked and used as beef, and are adaptable to the cold harsh Maine winters. Here is more information on them here http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/dexter/index.htm

After my wife ran a “few” numbers by me it made more sense. We spend a $1000 a year on beef and $2500 a year on milk for a total of $3500. The cows are costing us $3200 to purchase. We would milk the cows and consume them as well. We would sell any extra calves we would have. In the long run we would save money and be in control of food. I do not like saying things are a no brainer but this purchase made sense. Here they are with a new calf that was born recently.

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The Road to Guilford…..


The Hog Highway

Today was a day of taking the road to Guilford to our butcher with a load of pigs and sheep. I am always asked if I feel sad when taking the animals to be processed. I can answer it easily, no.
Loading the pigs and the sheep take two very different techniques. First the pigs. The pigs will just about follow me anywhere especially if I have food with me. So I did not feed them dinner last night knowing they would be very hungry in the morning. I backed the trailer up to the old milk room (VoterVale Farm was a big dairy farm back in the 70’s) so the pigs could literally hop onto the trailer. Once they did that I shut the inner compartment door so I could leave the outer door open for the sheep to go in. Ah the sheep. Not as easy as the pigs. First sheep are very cautious animals and are very jumpy. They won’t follow me even if I have grain, so I tried to “push” them in the trailer by going behind them and they would run away from me but they would not go into the milk room and into the trailer. So I had to corner them, catch them and get a harness on them to lead them in. Sound easy? Not so much at least I was in the barn and couldn’t get outside but difficult still. After about 15 minutes and many a word uttered very loudly (good thing the kids were at school) the sheep were caught and put in the trailer.
The road to Guilford is a lonely road dotted with rural villages, old farms and general stores along the way. Only one, I say one, food chain store (or any kind of chain store) in the 70 mile one way trek and of coarse it is Dunkin Donuts in Madison. I am a sucker for a good cup of coffee. (I do not think a Starbucks would put in a store on this route)


Loading animals

The cell phone service is spotty at best and the radio stations do not always come in crystal clear. I have this road memorized and could drive it in my sleep. The road is very bumpy so the animals get entertained on their way there. During the trip I always brainstorm from the farm, to soccer teams,(by the way one of the butchers there is a huge soccer fan) to planting a new forage crop. Lots of time to think on this trip. When I get there I always and go inside and speak with Ellie the awesome receptionist and get the paperwork straightened away and then go for the unloading. This usually takes 10-15 minutes and we are off for home. I have dubbed this route the Hog Highway as I have taken many hogs over the last few years over this route.

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Getting our ducks in a row (QUACK!)

Winter is coming. At some point we will have snow, cold temperatures, and howling winds. We don’t let these mild temperature lull us into a sense of putting off getting our feed into place for our animals. For the first time we had 2 tons of grain “blown” in by a tractor trailer from the grain mill in Canada. ( The mill is 100 miles away) We have so many pigs now it is so much easier to have bulk grain here and ready and I hate messing with opening of grain bags when its cold in the barn. We found an old sap container at my parents house that dad didn’t use anymore for sapping. It holds roughly just over a ton. Then we found some old chest freezers by asking around. Those held the rest of the pelletized 50/50 barley and oat grain mixture. Purchasing grain this way is also significantly cheaper than buying a ton of sacks of grain. It is also easier on my back. (I was reminded again this week by one of my kids that I am getting

barley and oats

old and should not be lifting 100 LBS grain bags)
Grain for pigs however is not really where we want to be in the long haul. It is a short term solution to growing pigs. We want to be able to feed our animals with what we have here on the farm so in case at some point grain just becomes way too expensive to purchase anymore or (gulp) something catastrophic happens and the government doesn’t allow commerce to come over the border to deliver grain for the farmers. A possible solution is dairy. Dairy waste grows pigs well and currently we get some cheese whey from a creamery in Norridgewock. (around 40 gallons a month) Now if you have ever witnessed a pig when it realizes it has dairy on its menu, please do not get in the pigs way. They absolutely go oink over dairy. 40 gallons of dairy waste lasts 10 minutes with our pigs. Now with all being said, to become more self sufficient in regards with the pigs, we would need our own source of dairy which means we would need cows or goats. We have talked about getting cows but just a small number for our consumption with the beef and dairy. Our kids drink milk like their is no tomorrow. This week has been a gallon a day. 5 gallons in a week at $4.50 is $25 a week, 52 weeks in a year is over $1000 a year in milk. We will likely purchase cows in the future to feed our kids and what they do not eat, the pigs will get.
Feeding Katahdin sheep is easy. They eat grass and leafy shrubs (yes even pine trees) so becoming self sustaining with the sheep is easy. Now, haylege is where we draw the line. Some things are best done by others. Haying and having hay equipment is one of those things. Other farmers all around us have the equipment and its done right here locally. Why not barter or pay for haylege (marshmallows)? Cows eat it, pigs eat it, sheep eat it. All grass all the time. One bale roughly costs us $40. We figure currently we need 40 bales to get us through the winter with our pigs and sheep that we currently have. That is $1600. That is very achievable and it is local. With haylege (marshmallows) you can also get away from feeding lots of grain to the cows and sheep as it has a higher protein content then just plain unwrapped hay. This is our idea that we have for our future here with our animals and we will try it, see how well it works, tweak stuff if it needs tweaking and if it doesn’t work then we will try try again to see what works best when it come to try to be more self sustaining in feeding the animals.

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