First comes pigs, then comes……RATS!!!

The saying that someone “eats like a pig” makes perfect sense once you have heard a pig munch on something. They smack.. loudly! Although it’s adorable in the pig pen, it’s not quite as adorable at the dinner table. They also make a mess when they eat, rooting for the best pieces. Even if they are fed their food in pellet form and it’s pretty much all the same, they still root for the best pieces and it’s inevitable that there are lots of crumbs and pieces left all over the place. Unfortunately it’s not left over for long. The rats that live in the woods suddenly realized that it’s near perfect living around the pigs. They provide food. They provide shelter (the rats burry under their thick stall mats) and lastly, the pigs are too slow to catch them as they scurry through their pens.

I am not particularly afraid of rodents, just weary of the potential diseases they can transmit. And of course, I do NOT like them running over my toes at twilight when I’m standing still filling up the water tanks. They actually don’t just transmit disease, they attract predators who like to eat rats, such as racoons and fox. Neither of these are welcome here especially when we are – like now- expecting more little piglets. Although the racoons look sweet enough, they have long and sharp claws (they are well known for ripping the head of chickens by sticking their hands through the opening of the chicken wire) and they are often infected with rabies.

I brought the issue up to my sweet hubby who dutifully started setting up the traps.

Since I try to avoid killing animals that are only doing what they are meant to do we used the live traps to catch a mother and her two kits. We then drove (we as in the royal we.. it really was Scott!) to a state game land preserve where we released them. Well, with the racoons gone, the rats now felt free to take over completely. And they apparently are a lot smarter than the racoons. And us. They consistently were able to eat the bait without springing the traps, whether they were live traps or the killing ones I eventually resorted to. We even found traps kicked down the hill- but still empty. So what do you do if you can’t catch them, and don’t want to put out poison? (Birds and other animals may eat the poisoned rodent, who then get poisoned in turn. It’s really bad for our birds of prey, but I also wouldn’t want one of my pigs to find it and eat it.

Having had this rat issue many years ago in MA when I had the alpacas, I knew what to do. I was reluctant… it’s rather time consuming.. but after searching the web for better and quicker alternatives and coming up empty handed I almost gave in. Reading that one pair of rats can multiply to over one THOUSAND rats in a year pushed me over the edge.. or in this case.. pushed me to search for some adoptable ferrets. And we found them, a brother and sister, 3 years old in search of a new home.

Meet Fiona and Shrek! (He used to be called Banjo- but Annika renamed him!) Sweetest little things ever. They love sleeping, and pretty much sleep 22 hours a day- no matter if they are held or in the middle of playing!!

Ferrets are natural predators to rodents. The smell of them got all the rats that I had in my MA barn fleeing just by the mere scent of them. At a later time we had mice in our basement- an old stone foundation, sigh- and instead of getting the ferrets I got some ferret poop from a friend. It worked like a charm. We were completely mice free. So Miss Fiona and big boy Shrek are ferrets with a job. We collect their poop and place it outside where the rats are living, and inside our new friends are patrolling the garage and mudroom in their new harnesses. I’m excited that we could adopt these adorable little fur balls- they play like cats but without the claws, and are afraid of absolutely nothing.

In the end we are hoping for a rat free, racoon and fox free healthy environment for our pigs, sheep and chickens! And now I’m a lot less nervous about welcoming our next batch of piglets- Miss Olivia is due with her first litter of piglets around Thanksgiving! Stay tuned!

PS If you by chance have an issue with mice or rats and want to try a more gentle way of getting rid of them- contact us!

Lambing season

I should probably call it lambing weekend, not season, but since I had one that was bread almost 2 months later I’m still calling it season! Since we are AI:ing (artificially inseminating) we have the luxury of being able to pretty much pinpoint when our ewes are due. In spite of that, the official due date came… and went. As did the next day. My poor little ewe who had had a vaginal prolapse a month before was being watched over in hawk-like manner so we could remove the stich (more of like a 5mm band) that was put in to prevent her from prolapsing again. The same stitch would also would prevent her from lambing if it wasn’t taken out when needed. Our vet had painted a horror picture if we weren’t able to remove it in time. If we took it out too late, or missed her labor she could be ripping everything apart damaging herself severely and potentially lose the lamb. If it was taken out too early she risked prolapsing again prior to delivering. If that happened the prolapse would prevent the lamb from being born and she would need to get to the animal hospital an hour away for an emergency c-section. There was also risk of her uterus prolapsing after the lamb was born. Non of these scenarios were ok with me, and I was “a little” frantic. In order to be able to monitor properly the sheep were all moved up top to temporary lambing pens under our deck over nights. I spent the nights on the couch checking the ewes every or every other hour. Thankfully Scott is a master at whipping up necessary shelters as we need them. They ended up with roomy and large lambing pens! In the pictures you can see the pens as they are getting built, with the door in the middle. This set up gave us 3 areas, so they could see each other and / or be separated as needed.

FINALLY the moment arrived- I spent all day Saturday watching Alma (the prolapse ewe), and was relieved to see her going into labor Saturday afternoon. Boy was I happy she was the first one to go into labor. We removed the stitch once she started pushing in earnest. Everything went like textbook and she had a set of beautiful twins, one girl, one boy. No additional prolapse, big – no HUGE sigh of relief. These are her last babies since we can’t breed her again as she most definitely will prolapse again. What a way to finish! Cici and Cotton, welcome to Gratitude Acres. I’m thrilled to say that Alma, along with Cotton and two other of our boys are going to their new forever home together. 16 acres of grass… shhhh… don’t tell the others!!

Cici and Cotton within an hour of being born. Mom is still cleaning them up.

No additional babies came over night, but the following morning Anna did a repeat sneak birth- same as she did last year. Seems like she wants her privacy and she obviously is very capable. In the 2 hours between Scott checking and me coming back down Anna was laying there with a big strong boy by her side. Cheston was born!

I love the way Cheston is looking at Annika.. only a couple of hours old and already trying to figure everything out!

Lunch time came and so did Scott’s mom and Don. Due to COVID this was our first visit since before Thanksgiving, and it was SO nice to see their smiling faces. They ooh:d and aah:d over our our twins and of course Astrid decided it was time for her to go into labor and spoil the party. This was her first time becoming a mama and I wasn’t sure how she would do. Astrid who didn’t get pregnant last year, ended up delivering the cutest set of twin boys! Yay Astrid, way to make up for last year!! She is also a wonderful mom while still being patient with all the other lambs.

After 5 nights on the couch Scott rode in on his white horse and took the night shift which was a welcome relief. Still no lambs, and Allie looked as comfortable as ever in spite of some huffing and puffing and being huge. After taking almost a week off work, it was time to go back, so I sternly instructed her to hold on while I was at work- which she did. That evening she finally went into labor and had a first a boy and wohoo- another girl was born! Bookend girls, the first and the last of that group! The boy was named Casper-not a ghost, but SOOO friendly! And the little girl? Coco Chanel since she likes to accessorize. At our last night check, she was found walking around with mom’s placenta draped evenly over her neck. Not my choice of jewelry, but Scott liked Coco so she was named Coco Chanel. The March batch of lambs were done.

Allie is so in love with her little ones; here she is with Coco. Check those black legs out… she’s adorable!

Then May FINALLY came and our very own Buttecrup was up. She held on a few extra days so she could deliver on Mother’s Day! Buttercup seemed a little confused and didn’t want any of us close, but she also did have no idea what was happening. In spite of that, she did what all the other mamas had done. She got up and down. She pawed the ground. She walked in circles. She baahd. And then she finally started pushing. After 30 minutes she delivered Gratitude Acres’ FIRST F2. A little girl my daughter promptly named Carolina. An F2 means it’s a second generation breed up lamb, 75% Valais Blacknose Sheep. And…lambing season is OVER for this year! And already my head is spinning trying to plan for the fall and next year’s lambing results.

I’m so amazed over the difference between the markings of an F1 versus an F2. She’s a cutie for sure and the other lambs have already lined up to greet her!

Going from 2 little Blacknose lambs last year to EIGHT this year was nothing less but amazing. To see them running around with each other, jumping, playing… my heart is full!

constant change

I have found that farming basically means “figure it out”. There is always things that happen that you need to fix or change, and I frequently find myself questioning my choices. Scott and I were driving home together and were discussing and prioritizing the “farm – to – do – list”. One of the big things is to decide on a sheep barn. I was certain we would have had that barn by last fall, and then at least before lambing, but things happened, we adjusted and postponed since we couldn’t quite figure out exactly what we wanted, and here we are, still without a “proper” barn. Just to be clear, the barn is for us and for our convenience, not for the wellfare of the sheep. They do really well in their run in. In the winter I covered most of the opening with a tarp to cut down the wind. Worked great, but I can’t say I like the look. I like the barn look!

Another thing we decided to change is in which direction we want to take our “pig farm”. We love the Mangalitsas. They are sweet and friendly and have excellent meat. What I don’t love about them is the time they take to mature and their excessive rooting. Well I happen to think it’s excessive. They probably don’t agree and are just being Mangas. The fact that they can take a large area and make it look like a construction site in a very short time does mean that we have to re-seed their fields and pens every time we move them. And of course, it increases the amount of mud in wet or snowy conditions. Which tells me – and Scott sighs when I tell him- that we need more pens for them. OR …. we can switch breeds. Or both!! We looked at all the traits of other pigs out there, and decided that we thought the Tamworth pig could be a good compliment to our lard pigs. Fast growing, the optimal bacon pig, a pig that thrives outdoors and is sweet and friendly. Last week we welcomed Rosie the Tamworth! She is a sweet giant and will be turning 1 year old in June. We love her red color and we look forward to her and Oliver’s babies when she’s ready!

When Rosie arrived to our farm, she walked by every other pig we have- and it seemed like she was sweetly saying “hello” to every one. Here she is greeting Oliver.

I recently asked Scott how many hours he has spent on fixing the Meishan’s pasture vs the Mangalitsa’s. He’s a staunch Mangalitsa supporter, but he finally admitted that I had a point! He spends HOURS on the Manga pens, clearing the electric from dirt mounds, fixing holes and reseeding where as we spend zero time on those things with our Meishans. So we now have “Meishalitsas” coming in July… a mix between Meishans and Mangalitsas that supposedly will be awesome and actually faster growing than the two are separately. AND we got two more little Meishan piglets. They don’t even act like piglets, they act exactly like puppies, and they talk with me constantly!! They sit in my lap, crawl over my legs, stretch out next to me, and flop over for belly rubs. I love all my pigs, but the Meishans have a special place, and it will be exciting to see how it all works out! The one thing I know is that when it comes to preserving heritage breeds, you “eat them to save them”. If there is no use for them, people will turn away from them, and when it comes to the Meishans, they deserve to be both saved and appreciated!

Change can be exciting, but it’s also makes me a little nervous… are we making the right decisons, will we get the “perfect” tasting meat, while also getting the kind of pigs that will do the best on our limited amount of acreage? You can technically put 8-10 sows on an acre, but does that mean that you should? I know that if we did, we would have no green areas left, so we are trying to be wise stewards of both our land and our critters. I am so very grateful for this chance of learning, and of working side by side with my husband striving for the same goals. Often when I stand and watch the pigs, chickens or sheep I’m filled with this deep sense of thankfulness. I am truly blessed to be able to live this life.

Easter Chicks and miracles!

Easter is a time of renewal and of life. Spring has arrived with daffodils and other spring flowers, the lawns and pastures are slowly turning greener, the leaves are budding on the trees, and in my incubator lay 21 eggs ready to hatch. There was 22 but one just never developed and I took it out to make more room for those progressing.

Olof, our Swedish Flower Hen Rooster

The whole process of hatching eggs is inspiring. The development of the chick can be followed in part by candling, a process where you shine a bright light through the shell which allows you to see the shadow of what is happening on the inside. Through candling I can determine if the egg has been turned properly and if the humidity in the incubator is correct. If it’s too high or low, it affects the air sac which is separated by a membrane from the chick. The chick breaks through this membrane at the end of its development, and if the humidity has been correct, the chick will take its first breath — still inside the egg! You can even hear it peep from inside! If the humidity hasn’t been right, the sac will either be too small to fill its purpose or filled with water, drowning the chick.

The unborn chick actually has a special egg tooth, a sharp attachment on top of it’s little beak that dries up and falls off after it’s born. It uses the tooth to make a hole in the egg, so it now has fresh air. But it can still take up to 24 more hours for it to hatch completely. The chick uses its tooth, and while turning, scores the inside of the shell to weaken it. Then it has to kick its way out, and if the chick did the scoring right, and is strong enough, it will break free.

You can see the egg tooth on the tip of this chick’s beak

It’s a complete miracle. I believe in miracles, how can I not when I see them happening around me all the time? I interpret a miracle to be when God fills in the gap between what we can do ourselves and what we need. It also seems to me that miracles most often happen after much and often hard work and, we have to want it and ask for it. For people, faith is needed before you receive your miracle, but by witnessing a miracle, faith also gets strengthened and grows. Ronald A Rasband in his talk about miracles* said that “Miracles are a lifeline from heaven to earth…The Lord performs miracles to remind us of His power, His love for us, His reach from heaven to our mortal experience and His desire to teach of that which is of most worth.” Miracles do happen. They are not always huge and often we call them a coincidence. They don’t always happen on our time schedule, or when we want them to, but I am thankful when I notice them and know that God’s hand is in all things, both big and small.

My eggs are now in “lock down” mode and the egg rotator is off. For their last 3 days in the incubator, the chicks need to position themselves correctly inside the egg to be able to break out of their shell. I can not help by cracking it for them, or removing pieces. I can’t even take the hatched chicks out as it would change the temperature and humidity inside the incubator and put the ones still to hatch at risk. Personally, I always think doing nothing is the hardest thing to do. Raising children, chicks or anything else, the principle is the same; I have learned to sit on my hands and let them do the work that’s needed themselves. As with butterflies that only gain the strength to fly by their work to break out of their cocoon, if we don’t give them the chance to work, they might never be able to fly. My job is to provide the right environment for growth, and I hope I have done all the right things to give these unhatched chicks a chance.

Three little Black Majestic Marans

In 3 days I will watch the miracle of birth. It only takes 21 days for a chick to hatch. I can’t make this happen, no matter how good my incubator is, or how much I read and learn about the process, or how much I want it. This is up to the chick and God. I’m so grateful for every day miracles.

Cap of my childhood’s Swedish Easter egg

*Talk given by Ronald A. Rasband during the Sunday afternoon 2021 General Conference of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Sunday Afternoon Session (churchofjesuschrist.org)

The chicken… then the Egg!

The old question actually goes; “What came first? The chicken or the egg?” In my case, it’s the chicken. Baby chicks, grown up hens, all kinds, breeds and sizes. And not until now have I actually attempted to hatch out eggs in an incubator!

Swedish Flower Hens come from SkÃ¥ne/Sweden which is exactly where I grew up. If you take an absolutely stunning looking multicolored bird and wrap it into a super friendly package plus mix in a little bit of home… you end up with a Swedish Flower Hen. So how could I NOT want to get these wonderful birds??!! They were a little bit of a challenge to find since I decided against having them shipped or bought from large hatcheries (besides, not many carry them), but I was lucky to find a woman who runs a micro hatchery of rare breeds out of her home in MA who raises them. She picked out 4 beautiful hens in different colors and one very handsome rooster. They were about 3.5 months old when I got them and I was looking forward to them starting to lay eggs so I could try my hand at hatching. Always fun to try something new.

In the meantime I decided my “egg basket” needed more colors! The Swedish Flower Hens (SFH) lay a large to extra large egg, but it’s cream to light brown so it doesn’t add the color I was looking for. I found two sweet Easter Egger pullets- 4 months old (who will lay green eggs) at my feed store, and contacted “my” micro hatchery in MA regarding getting some Cream Legbars sine they lay beautiful blue eggs. We had one of this breed before, Waffles a family favorite because of her quirky personality but sadly lost her to a hawk. It’s almost spring time, which equals “fox season” meaning they have their babies and are hungry and hunting 24/7. Unfortunately chicken is everybody’s favorite meal. I probably go a bit overboard wanting to maintain my flock, maybe? Anyway, I sent in the down payment for the 3 I wanted, got a visit from my Swedish friend and somehow ended up buying an incubator and 22 fertilized eggs to try to hatch. My daughter is visiting MA for a long weekend and is coming home today with the eggs.

Meet Tafitti and Moana, our two new Easter Eggers- and yes, the daughter got naming rights!

There is a lot more to hatching eggs than just putting them into the incubator. Naturally there’s the temperature, but there is also egg turning (the hen moves the eggs all the time to prevent the chick to grow attached to one side of the shell), humidity (too little makes the hatchling die, too much at the wrong time will either drown the chick or make it grow too big and too weak and it will die) and of course making sure its the right humidity at the right time, candling the eggs at the he right times, which basically means that you are shining a bright light through the egg to determine if the hatchling is still growing The goal is to cull all the eggs that are not viable- preventing them from exploding and contaminating the whole incubator. (Can’t imaging what THAT would smell like- yuck)

Look at these beautiful eggs- can’t wait to see the little chicks!!

But before the 21 days that it takes to hatch a chicken egg are up, we are expecting LAMBS!! Bouncy fluffy little baby lambs! The official due date is March 18th, so any day now, woohoo. It’s both stressful and exciting. Unfortunately one ewe developed a vaginal prolapse and the vet had to come and stitch her closed so all her parts would stay where they are supposed to stay until she lambs. Because nothing, not even the lamb can come out now, we have to watch her closely so we can intervene and remove the suture in time. To make this easier on us, we built lambing pens under our deck – lol- so we can walk right out from our family room in the basement straight into their pen to check on them. I have a feeling I will be sleeping on the couch so I won’t wake Scott and the dogs with my frequent baby checks. The girls have quickly adapted to life under the deck and after a day out they all stand in front of their new “pens” calling me loudly at dinner time! I swear they can tell time! Fingers crossed for uneventful lambing and for 4 healthy bouncing little ewe-lambs- actually, in truth, as long as they all do good and give me healthy little lambs I will be ecstatic!

BEing a (hobby) farmer

It’s the strangest of things.. how easy it is to fall in love with a goat, or a sheep, a little pig and some chickens. The idea gets set in your mind that it would be so much fun to have some livestock. Chickens- easy to raise, inexpensive to purchase – small fluffy little chicks chirping happily. You envision yourself collecting farm fresh eggs every day and see sheep grazing your hills- helping out with weed control and eliminating having to mow the lawn every week. It all seems so easy and sweet, your own little farm with a few pigs raised for meat.

A doctor I once worked with wanted chickens… she loved fresh eggs. She got some chickens and a coop. She realized that she was surrounded by hawks and four legged predators. So she decided to get some guard llamas for protection. Needless to say, the llamas didn’t fit the coop, so a barn was built and fencing erected to create pasture space. Hay storage was needed and acquired. She worried about having to take the llamas to the vet if they got sick so she bought a horse trailer. Her Subaru was not big enough to trailer it, so she purchased a truck. It was fascinating to watch and I jokingly but in full seriousness told her she probably had the worlds most expensive fresh eggs by that point.

But back to my vision of me happily gazing out over my little farm.. how hard can farming really be? If you don’t already live on a farm with barns, outbuildings, storage and fencing already in place the answer to that question is; Hard. Very hard. Even with all the infrastructure of a farm in place it’s still hard. But you get swept away, so while you are busy bringing the first pigs home to your new farm, your husband is equally busy trying to finish their pen and makeshift shelter- since their house wasn’t quite done being built! Building your farm around your animals as they arrive is definitely the hard way! Come to think of it, even Noah had the arch built before the animals arrived.

Farming isn’t just hard, It’s also heart ache. Last week was especially tough, we lost 3 piglets and one of our new Swedish Flower Hens. You try your hardest to keep all your animals safe and sound, but they can get sick,. We had a runt that was too weak to nurse, one got stuck under mom and sometimes it’s just life and you don’t know what happened. It was also the first time we took one of our pigs to the butcher. I did it, but had a sleepless night full of visions of her looking at me with sad eyes wondering why I left her.

Farming is sacrifice. You sacrifice your comfort, time and to an extent social life. The weather is either too hot or too cold, or too wet or too dry. On the day prior to Christmas Eve this year we prepared all the animal houses with clean bedding and had all the pens thoroughly cleaned so that we could spend Christmas doing the bare minimum while knowing the animals had Christmas too. I kept waking up Christmas Eve night because the wind was howling and the rain was pounding on the roof. I woke up to flooding and trees having fallen, unfortunately on top of our fencing. Posts were broken and fences down. Our Meishans were looking quite bewildered by having a large tree having fallen across their fence into their pen. Scott, Annika and I spent most of Christmas Day cleaning up trees, branches and debris and also working hard digging channels to drain the mud and getting now all the wet bedding out of each house and replacing it with dry nice and warm bedding. Not exactly the Christmas Day we had envisioned.

It’s hard work. Lots of hard work- hauling feed, hay, water, wood chips, dirt, manure, gravel and rocks. Fixing things and building, adding fencing, and still never having enough. Cleaning, painting, wrestling piglets and sheep, chasing chickens that refuse to go inside when you want them to.

It’s expensive. Any animal you have will cost you money if you intend to care for it the right way. Feed, fencing, housing, treats and vet bills.

Farming is also pure joy. When you see sows farrow, and sheep lamb it brings you such amazements. Seeing how they are such good mothers. Watching in amazement how a newborn piglet gets right up and walks around mom to find the siblings and a teat. Seeing a ewe clean off her baby lamb and watch how it tries to stand within minutes- it’s simply precious.

It’s moments of feeling such inner peace just standing watching happy content animals. Or sitting down in the pasture only to feel the soft muzzles of the sheep in your hair and by your face while they lean over your shoulder just to get some love. Its pulling into an empty drive way only to find yourself surrounded by running chickens; they heard you coming and come greet you in the hopes of getting some treats.

There’s nothing quite like earning the trust and love of your sheep

It’s having family and friends come visit and being able to share all these wonders with them. Seeing how it makes others happy too. Watching the faces of children while they throw corn to the piggies or chickens. Not much beats the excitement of a child. It’s just plain good for the soul!

It’s the beauty of a sunrise or of a sunset with all its colors. Because you get to be outside every day instead of sitting on the couch in front of the TV. You revel in trees being covered in ice which makes everything look like a fairy tale. It’s birds singing, it’s the sound of a fox, and it’s feeling constant gratitude to God for having created all these amazing things you love and adore. It’s walking up the path after chores are done in the dark wondering what light Scott turned on to make it so bright all of a sudden, only to realize it is the full moon coming up throwing its reflective light all over. Which of course makes you hum “I’m being followed by a moon shadow” – at least if you are my generation!

Farming is spending hours planning lay outs, finding just the right animal, doing research and finding out how to do things better- every time! It’s a bone deep feeling of contentment and satisfaction. It’s seeing hard work paying off and feeling blessed that you are able to witness the circle of life up close and personal. In spite of hard work, heart aches and sacrifices having a farm is more than worth it . As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most rewarding thing we have ever done, and more, we’re doing it together.

Happy New 2021!

All the animals were settled with new bedding and clean pens in time for Christmas Eve so we would be able to have a relaxing Christmas Day. HA. How does that saying go? Fate laughs when you plan? Or something along those lines. Christmas Eve came and so did the rain storm and winds. When I looked outside on Christmas Day morning I felt my heart sink while wondering if the Meishans were actually still in their pen- the winds had brought down several trees and broken several fence posts and crushed fencing in many places, one being their pen. Oh well.. We spent most of the day clearing out mud and fixing fences. But we did it together and all the animals were fine which was the most important part.

One very special Christmas gift: We have welcomed 6 Swedish Flower Hens to our farm. Not only are they a Swedish breed, but they stem from my part of the country! Granted, when I lived in Sweden I never once knew that there were different kinds of chicken breeds. I was a typical city girl in spite of my love for animals. Apparently you are never so Swedish as when you live abroad! It helps that they fit in well with our little farm; the breed is rather rare still, are incredibly pretty and lay extra large eggs. They are what is called a land race which means they developed by them selves simply from the strongest ones continuing on. They are intelligent, calm and friendly birds.. and I’m crossing my fingers (and toes) that the two young cockerels we got turn into very friendly roosters. If you read my last post- our Oreo tuned into a bit of a night mare (and has found a new home!). I’m told the Swedish Flower Hen roosters ( they are called Flower Hens even if they are male simply because of the pattern of their feathers which resembles flower petals) usually co-exist well in a flock, and with Oreo gone there are definitely more than enough hens around for both of them. I’m already excited for eggs to hatch and new little chicks to welcome.

Seasons

With the changing seasons come different tasks on our little farm. We’ve been owning livestock for over a year now and have experienced farming in every season including my least favorite one, the mud-season (which frankly covers much of fall, winter and spring).

Mud makes everything just awful and well, muddy. Pigs naturally churn the ground with their little hoofs, or trotters, and when you add a lot of rain you get several inches deep or what feels more like feet deep of just mud. Even the high traffic areas of the sheep tend to get wet and muddy. All this mud is bad for their feet, so lots of work is done hauling wheel barrels down our hill filled with stone and wood chips. Farming down hill is SUCH a labor intensive choice, ugh. Conquering mud is an ongoing war we intend to win!

The only “good” mud I know of is the mud we help them make!!

After having gone through the seasons and their different tasks once already, we have been able to approach events with a lot less panic! We recently got our 4 Cotswold ewes inseminated (AI) for the second time. The time leading up to the big day includes flushing the ewes (which simply means that you feed them more nutrients so that their bodies gets the “message” that there is enough food around to carry more than one baby- fingers crossed), inserting CIDR’s and giving hormone shots. Last year I had sleepless nights wondering how it all would work out but this year it all seemed like a walk in the park. On the way home from the fertility vet we stopped again at our lunch place from last year (fabulous sandwiches, great fries and fantastic ice cream creations. Who knew sweet potato would compliment ice cream? Yum!!). The girls had to stick to eating hay while we enjoyed our food – outside this year. New for this year’s breeding protocol is a ram on loan from my friend Kikki at Tamarack Farm Gotlands. Seb is a white Gotland ram, a Swedish breed of sheep, and Kikki who has been doing a breed up program for Gotlands has achieved the goal of getting purebred Gotland sheep. Seb’s job is to help the girls get “in the mood” for babies.. by frankly smelling like a ram, and courting them. He will be on duty should the AI procedure be unsuccessful for any of them. With the help of science and Seb we are hoping for many bouncing baby lambs come next spring!

Hopefully our new mini barn will be ready in time for lambing. So far only the foundation has been started. In order not to feel too stressed about where my girls will lamb I’ve told Scott that I’ll just move all the ladies into his garage for lambing if their barn isn’t ready. It seemed to motivate him to make sure to finish the barn. 🙂

Breeding pigs and knowing when to expect piglets has also gotten easier since we now know more of what to look for! Two days prior to Thanksgiving we had our second group of piglets, this time from our new pig Olivia. Olivia has the sweetest personality of all the Mangalitsas on the farm, and we’re in awe over her mothering skills. She constantly works on making her house comfortable by rearranging the bedding. She throws straw over her babies to keep them warm and lets them sleep between her legs, as if she’s hugging them.

She is calm and protective and she constantly talks to her piglets and doesn’t mind the way they crawl all over her.

The piglets are adorably sweet, and now at 2 weeks old they are getting quite rambunctious and entertaining to watch with all their antics. Olivia and our new boar Oliver were both additions to the farm after we sent our first boar Otto (remember Otto– the one I picked up in Scott’s Subaru?) to greener pastures because he was too aggressive.

The summer madness of getting 17 new baby chicks (chicken math) and housing them all over the sunroom and garage has now made way for a much more comfortable routine. All grown up chickens means less pecking at each other and more getting along. They know which coop they belong to (we have two coops) and they are happy to go back inside once we ask them to at dusk. They all have started laying eggs in mostly various shades of brown, from light to dark chocolate brown, but also blue, cream and olive green. Currently 4 of the “old timers” (older by 6-10 months) have started molting. The coop and run are covered in feathers and the hens look truly bedraggled and sad. It’s cold for them without their feathers, so on windy days they tend to want to stay inside and watch TV….just kidding- that’s the family joke as their heaters look like black screen TV’s.

The only one to disturb my chicken bliss is Oreo, the rooster who was supposed to be a hen. He is a big boy and proudly crows and struts around, keeping a watchful eye over all 18 girls. A nice rooster is worth his weight in gold.. well almost. His job is to protect the hens and put himself between them and any dangers. And he’s supposed to know that his humans are the bosses, not the other way around. Oreo never got that memo. Roosters are experts at surprise attacks… One moment you walk peacefully through your yard and the next you are being attacked by a crazy ball of flapping feathers. There is true fear once you have experienced an angry rooster. Just check it out YouTube.. it may look funny, but it’s not when you are the one running! After the first two times it happened to me refused to leave the house without a stick or some kind of a weapon to defend myself with. Annika laughingly told me that “he only does it to you mom”, to which I responded: “give it time, He will come after you too…. ” and sure enough. Now it’s Annika who is afraid to leave the house when she spots Oreo in close vicinity to our front door. I on the other hand have gotten braver, especially after reading that you simply can’t back down. Although easier said than done… I now stand my ground and if he still goes after me I turn the tables and run after him until he runs from me. It’s quite the undignified display; me, an adult middle age woman running after a rooster yelling either that “I’m the boss” or “I’m going to kill you” – depending on the situation. Like I said, intact males!

All in all, we have gotten into a very comfortable rhythm on our little farm. Due to the pandemic Scott no longer has to commute an hour to work. He also does not go to the gym as farm work provides a fantastic work out! He averages 11,000 steps a day (of course he keeps track!) — most if it with tools or something heavy in his arms — and that keeps him in shape! Since he wakes up long before dawn he has taken over all the morning chores on the farm, something I’m VERY thankful for since I now get a huge break in the am before going to work. We are busy, happy and content. We constantly feel we have so much to be grateful for here at Gratitude Acres.

Interacting with our sheep and other animals makes us remember many of the lessons taught by Jesus Christ. Now in December the farm also gets decorated with lights which adds to the feelings of joy leading up to this wonderful Christmas Season! We wish you all peace in these times of troubles, and weather you are a farmer or not, there is peace to find in Christ. I learned that through missionaries that I met in my 20’s back in Sweden. Please reach out to these wonderful young women and men if you want to learn more about Jesus Christ or if you feel troubled. They are found in almost every country sharing the happy message of peace and love. I’m adding a link here to “Meet the Missionaries” where you can find out who they are and how you can get in touch with them (via voice or video call now during Covid times). We wish you a wonderful peaceful December!

” To eat or not to eat… meat… that is a question”

I’ve been asked more than once if I’m really going to eat any of the animals we have or will raise. It’s an interesting question.

Last fall my daughter Annika, my mom and I drove to southern Virginia to visit SVU, one of the schools on Annika’s college-list. The trip was fun, the area amazing, the foliage beautiful and the school fantastic. While stopping for a bathroom break Annika and I observed a big truck waiting at a red light. It had lots of wire cages stacked one on the other reaching high, and in these open to whatever-the-weather-is-for-the-day were turkeys crammed in. It was cold outside and these poor creatures did not have any shelter for the winds when the truck was moving, nor did they have any room to move.

The turkeys were all laying at the bottom of the cages, no doubt cold, windblown and scared out of their minds.

This is no doubt how those turkeys on that truck started out.

We are getting close to Thanksgiving again, and these trucks are not an unusual sight. I hope you will consider buying this year’s turkey from a local farmer. They need your support, and you deserve a really great alternative to the common store bought meat.

I love this picture!! It is true that a picture says more than a thousand words. This is Kim and her daughter Natalie. Together they own and operate Ironstone Farm in Pottstown, PA where they raise pastured happy turkeys, chicken, cattle and pigs. Click here for a link to their website.

Commercial meat chickens live a short miserable life as well. When in the process of getting the feathers off (after they are killed) they are dunked in scalding water. The water they are dunked in is so dirty and gross, full of feces and grime. No wonder we have to basically overcook our chicken to make sure we don’t get salmonella. Check they labels of the chicken you buy.. most of it states “no more than x% of water added”. I do wonder about the quality of the meat. A friend who has in-laws in the poultry business told me it actually takes longer sanitizing the building where the birds are kept and raised (they are usually ready to be processed after 6-8 weeks) than it takes to raise them.

While getting ready for our pigs, I researched different housing options and how to best shelter mom and piglets when farrowing (having babies). I mostly found ads and articles about farrowing crates. These crates are not much bigger than the sow, they are so narrow that she can’t turn around in them. She can lay down or stand up, and in order to decrease the 30% mortality rate for the piglets (no wonder), there are bars between the sow and her piglets so all the babies nurse though bars. Mom can’t even turn to check on them. The pictures I saw were awful. The commercial sows spend most of their short lives in these small confined areas so that they will be easier to manage. The piglets are taken from mom sometimes as early as 3 weeks so she can get pregnant with the next litter fast. When I saw the pictures I studied their eyes and were struck by how desperate and sad they all looked. Pigs are the fifth smartest mammal in the world which means they are smarter than a dog. When we hear about dogs being treated like this we react. Click here for a link to an article by the humane society regarding farrowing crates. I do encourage you to read it.

The difference in how those pigs looked and ours is amazing. My pigs run and jump. They PLAY. They nestle in close to each other when napping. They are social and sweet and tough all at the same time. They are curious, they come running when they see us. They beg for treats (and get them). They dig big holes in the ground, they wallow in mud baths and wander amongst the trees- which they often use as a scratching post.

These two “kiss” and snuggle. Pigs are happiest when they are together and hate being alone.

This is Peppa Pig and her first litter of piglets. They have fresh air, mud and green grass. Just what a pig loves.

I have spoken to many who have chosen to become vegetarians and vegans as a result of how the commercially raised livestock is treated. I respect them for their will power, but their path is not mine. I like meat, so now that I’m aware of it, I’m changing how I buy it instead. Last year’s turkey came from Kim, and it was delicious.

I recently spoke to the butcher about having our first pigs sent to market. Is it easy to do? Absolutely not. My pigs have names. They have different personalities and since we don’t have many, so we know each and every one. I know they have had the best lives we could give them, and they are healthy and happy. They are not stressed, they breathe fresh air and not the toxic fumes of manure that causes them to get pneumonia (which then gets treated with antibiotics). I feel that being sad to see them go is a fitting tribute to their life, they deserve to be mourned as a thank you for their sacrifice. I can live in peace with my conscience knowing I’m eating “happy” meat. After all, it is said that we are what we eat!

Mother’s Day!!

It’s the end of Mother’s Day and my heart is full of gratitude! Walking out I am surrounded by my ewes who are proving to be wonderful mothers. When I look at how the sheep love and care for their lambs it makes me think of my mother, and her love for me. I have many laughs at how many things they do that remind me of all human mothers, not necessarily just mine!!!

Having had a whopping 3 (!!) lambs born on our farm to date, I have been able to observe three very distinct types of mothering. I was not prepared for seeing such differences, and it’s been great fun!

Allie was first to have Daisy back in March. Unfortunately for Daisy she arrived without a sibling and with no other lambs born around her time. Her three aunts were all very sweet to her- which caused some angry headbutting from Allie, her very overprotective mother. After giving birth Allie tolerated me, but just barely. She stomped her foot when she spotted Scott and Annika and very clearly showed us that she’d rather have us not be there at all. When Annika was putting a coat on Daisy, Alma did in fact jump up on her… which didn’t endear her much to Annika- LOL! Her Daisy has taken the longest to become really friendly with us as she picked up on mom’s cues…clearly we were not to be trusted! As she grew she eventually made her own discoveries and realized that our hands often held treats, and she is now – at 2 months- getting to be quite sweet and often comes up for some attention.

Then we have Anna whom we call our “Power Flower Mom”. She had her baby without us there but she had no issues with any of us touching her little boy whom we named Bamse. His name means Teddy Bear in Swedish and he’s certainly living up to it. The reason I call Anna my Flower Power mom is because she has this “que sera sera” attitude about her offspring. A day after giving birth I let Anna and Bamse out for a bit of air.. and she happily just walked right up the hill to a grassy patch, not looking back once to see if her little lamb was able to follow or not. Luckily he was. Anna loves food so when she is out grassing she will simply just keep moving on- leaving her little Bamse napping in a field or next to a tree.

Bamse seems to prefer hanging around us and get cuddles. He is SUCH a charmer!

My third mom is Alma. She is my “Helicopter Mom.” Her little Buttercup can’t be more than a few steps behind her without her either calling for her or turning around to check on her. The first week she angrily pushed little Bamse away when he came too close to Buttercup but now seem to realize that his mom is abandoning him far too much (in her opinion), so she has stepped into active baby sitting duty! Buttercup and Bamse are basically inseparable. Where you find one, you find the other- and Alma!!

Buttercup is much more careful; she keeps her distance more than Bamse, but much less than Daisy. She is full of jumps and personality and stays close to mom, straying only when Bamse is getting her in trouble, but is always quick to answers mom’s calls!

The one thing they all have in common is that they all love their babies unconditionally- even when some come out looking like a different breed with their black little noses! Our own children are not always like us either, which can prove hard when we don’t understand why or how our kids- or our moms- can react so differently than what we expect. That is when we need that unconditional love.

I am very grateful for my mother who does love me unconditionally- even through-out my teenage years of which she said; “You were 15 for 5 years!!” She supports me, pushes me to do and give my best (annoying at times), gives me her honest opinion (which of course I didn’t want as a teenager trying on a new outfit but that I value now), she counsels with me and sets an example for me in a million different ways. Many of the things she did, I didn’t even realize until I had my own children. I continuously learn from her example and wisdom. When I was discussing my upcoming marriage to Scott with her and I wondered aloud how it would be to have him travelling for work, and for him to divide his time between 3 states on top of that. (At the time he worked in CT, had most of his children in PA and was planning on living with me in MA. My mom’s immediate response was to express her support. My dad travelled all the time, every week for many years when we were young kids. My mother expressed her gratitude for him working so hard, and his sacrifice of being away from his family all the time for work. She told me that she made certain that all the trivial things of housekeeping were done so that when he came home the weekends were easy and fun and friction free. She told me how much she admired my dad for always being willing to go do things with us all on the weekends in spite of probably being travel wary after a week away and how she learned to like doing things her own way while he was gone. She said she looked forward to every weekend when he came home- it was like a mini vacation.

I realized how much my mother’s chosen attitude to her circumstance has benefitted not only my dad but me and my sister as well. A more selfish woman could complain about being left alone all the time, resenting having to be the sole caregiver of the children week after week. No one is saying it’s easy or not justified to feel like that, but that attitude would have harmed their relationship and it would have harmed my and my sister’s relationship with our dad. Mothers and children are so tightly connected most of the time, and if mom is not happy with dad and complains of him being absent… I am forever grateful for a mother who made life seem so easy, fun and magical. Who always knew what to do, and how to fix everything.

A couple of turkeys! Me and my mom.

I know celebrating Mother’s Day is hard for many. For those of you who are troubled and hurting, I wish you peace. “Mother” is a title that belongs to all women, whether we have lost a child, a mother or are unable to conceive our own child. Not all are fortunate to have good mothers as examples. There are many mothering styles, but we are all important, we all have worth, no matter what. On Mother’s Day I not only think of my mom but of all the many women in my life for whom I’m grateful and thankful: mothers and mothers-in-law, sisters and sisters-in-law, daughters, my many good friends, women I haven’t met but that I’ve read about and that inspire me, even women I don’t actually care much for or even like, but who make me think, grow and question the way I see things. You all have a place of gratitude and love.