Pursuing a(nother) dream; Pastore della Sila, the Italian Sila Shepherd.

About 4 years ago we got our little Gracie, a cockapoo. Scott was working from home at the time and she became his “first” real dog. I say first with quotation marks, as he had had several dogs in his life before me and Gracie, but none by his choice. He once told me that although he liked the other dogs it was purely out of duty that he cared for them- or found them new homes when he was told that they did not work out. He never chose them and ended up with them anyway, so he accepted them. Gracie however was totally Scott’s idea, and it was love at first sight.

She lay at his feet or slept curled up inside his vest while he was working. In Scott’s eyes she was perfect, and he suggested we should let her have puppies. For once in my life, I said no. A firm no, and Gracie ended up getting spayed.

After having lost too many chickens we decided to get our Freja, a Colorado Mountain Dog (CMD). CMDs by design are a crossbreed of other livestock guardian dogs, bred for friendly temperament towards people as opposed to being bred for size or color markings. We needed Freja to help keep our chickens and livestock safe from predators. Freja is beautiful with the perfect disposition. Freja is instantly loved by everyone who meets her, and she loves them right back- or maybe it is the reverse… she instantly loves all and makes everyone feel good, so they can’t help but to love her back?

Freja is the most patient dog ever and even lets little Gracie boss her around. She is great with all the animals and doesn’t like any fighting amongst them. Not a chicken has been lost to a predator since Freja came on duty.

History repeated itself and Scott again wanted puppies. A livestock guardian dog is part of many working farms, many households with chickens and livestock that the farmers can’t keep safe by themself “employ” these amazing dogs. They are independent thinkers and after thousands of years of watching out for predators they are dispositioned to listen more to what they hear (which may be a predator) than to what I might say like, “Come here,” for example! With many hobby farms or small acreage farms like our own increasing in numbers I felt that there would be many good working homes waiting for dogs with the traits for which we would breed: a more people friendly disposition, less barking, less roaming but still every bit a guard dog. Enjoying the research, I instantly threw myself into the many different questions that arise once you decide you are breeding dogs. The “who do we breed her to?” seemed like a relatively easy question. It was not. Every breed has its own good traits – and some that are on our list of undesirable ones.

Never had I previously known that there were so many different LGD breeds. I kept ruling breeds out, almost settling on a certain puppy only to realize that it might develop more fierceness and a potential level of danger to others than I wanted to see in our puppies. One day a post about a Pastore della Sila caught my eye. A what? A Sila? Never heard of it. I took to Google and immediately found several articles about this breed. All in Italian. I realized two things very quickly. A) I needed an Italian translator and B) which was maybe more important: this breed was not available in the US.

I was able to finally find some reading material in English and this only piqued my interest even more. After communicating with owners of Sila Shepherds and reading as much as I could there was only one thing left. To meet them in person. While in Sweden, I took the opportunity to travel to Italy to visit a breeder. From all I had read both Scott and I were fairly certain that we had found our perfect-for-us livestock guardian dog. With bated breath and butterflies in my stomach I finally came nose to nose with Silas in every age and color! What a remarkable experience. I was sold. They were every bit what we were led to believe and exactly what we were looking for.

Almost a year after our original decision to breed Freja we are now mere weeks away from traveling to Italy to bring our first two Sila Shepherds home, a gorgeous male, Apelle and and equally fabulous looking female, Calabria (named after the region this breed originates from and where she was born. I have my ticket in hand and I have the dogs booked onto my return flight. And since all good things come in threes; After our Christmas visit to Sweden, we’re again returning to Italy to pick up Sila number three before flying back to the US: the stunning Regina, a 4-year-old female. Apelle will be a busy boy!

We feel incredibly blessed and full of gratitude to be able to bring this wonderful breed to the USA!

From Left to Right: Apelle, Calabria and Regina!

Quitting is not giving up!

In all honesty, I do I say my fair share of “I quit!”, “I’ve HAD it” and “I’m not doing this anymore”. Especially when I find myself trying to wrangle some creature more stubborn than I – and faster and sometimes much bigger! Or when it’s hot and humid and I’m outside sweating. Or whenever things are just not going my way. The title above should probably say ” quitting is not ALWAYS giving up” because sometimes it’s a smart decision.

When we had just begun to think about starting our little farm we happened to rent “The Biggest Little Farm” (click for the preview!) a truly inspiring documentary about a couple setting out to start a sustainable farm on 200 acres in CA -and doing it all in harmony with nature and wildlife. I was inspired and it certainly gave Scott the final push he needed to jump into farming!

I of course had visions of grandeur, seeing myself tending to our animals, looking out over our immaculate and very productive gardens, growing fruit, veggies and berries. I researched and bought seeds of 7 different types of tomatoes among other things. Who knew tomatoes came in so many different colors? I planted, saw the seedlings sprout, repotted them as they grew and finally planted them in my newly made strawbale garden I had decided on while I was improving our soil by using the cardboard method. We planted several types of apple trees, peach trees and cherry trees. Raspberries, Blueberries, Strawberries and Gooseberries. Pumpkins, beans, squash, garlic, potatoes. I wanted to start small. (Can you see where this is going? LOL)

Then came the summer and it got very hot. And very humid. I blame my intolerance to these conditions to me being a native Swede- whether that is true or not- I just can’t seem to function well in heat. After taking care of the farm animals I inevitably flee into air conditioning. My neglected gardens just seem to explode with weeds. Weeds like heat. And droughts. Amazing.

The sheep became experts in raiding what was left of our gardens; they also went for flowers if there were no veggies. I often wonder about what our neighbors think when they hear me loudly yelling at them to get OUT!! My daughter’s potbelly pigs broke OUT of their pen and IN to my gardens, trampling and rooting and eating their way through the rest of it.

Our newly planted fruit trees got their bark rubbed off, branches broken and some were snapped by visiting deer with antlers in the fall. Next spring a pig we were trying to load unto the trailer backed into another tree and broke it in half. As if it was no bigger than a toothpick.

Currently one apple tree is large, another two not much bigger than when they were planted. The peach trees all have grown very big. As you can see in the picture. The apple trees have the red rings around them. But we got flowers this spring, so fingers crossed for peaches. I did buy nets to put over them, so birds and squirrels won’t abscond with them – again! My one cherry seems to want to live- in spite of my sheep trying to eat all its leaves. They even climbed the fence we put up around it and bent the lightweight t-posts holding it up. Time for heavy duty fence posts.

I did have a few results over the years. Like ONE insanely good peach (The other 3 disappeared just as they were ripe). I saw lots of gooseberries being almost ripe. A couple of days later they were all gone. Scott’s pumpkins looked fabulous- and then there were nothing but stems. Other pumpkins that had self-seeded where the sheep and pigs had eaten them the previous year actually made it into pumpkins before they too were devoured. I still have some gooseberry bushes growing. We’re calling a “fruit tree guy” for advice on our trees as there is obviously more to it than we know. I keep buying plants. Like a pollinator garden for the bees I’m getting next spring (It too got eaten by our sheep). The temporary fencing keeps failing.

I tell myself success is still obtainable, so I ask Scott for more – and better- fencing. I also make friends with gardeners who know what they are doing. Maybe their green thumbs and knowledge will rub off on me. My brain tells me to quit- but then I look at all the produce so many of my friends are getting, and totally jealous of their successes I decide to try one more time!

The first year of farming, I started a mealworm farm. (Read about it here) I wanted to be able to feed my chickens a lovely, yummy and nutritious treat. I saw myself surrounded by my girls who happily pranced around my feet, waiting for their treats. I was very successful and had literally thousands of mealworms. I found myself spending more and more time caring for them, separating worms from the beetles, feeding them and cleaning their boxes. Maybe my system was flawed- it seemed to take much too long than it was worth. I decided to quit. I did not find that the time I spent on them was a fair trade for some yummy chicken treats, and my girls are back to finding their own bugs while foraging. Except for when I find worms gardening- then I’m very happy to share!

I got Swedish Flowerhens and an incubator. I was set on breeding lots of beautiful chicks. But the foxes kept taking my hens. So I did give up on that project. Of course- the constant heartbreak of losing our favorite birds made us invest in a Colorado Mountain Dog- our Freja for protection. She is so wonderful that Scott decided to breed her. Doing research to find a suitable male led me to the “discovery” of the Italian Sila. And now we are waiting for our beautiful Sila breeding pair that we’re picking up in Italy this fall when it’s no longer too hot for them to fly. In the pictures you can see Freja with our sheep; Calabria, the female as a puppy; and Scott getting his cuddles in with Appelle, our male.

We started out breeding Mangalitsa pigs. Today we don’t have one single Mangalitsa on our farm. The Mangalitsas were too hard. They rooted too much. Were hard to handle. The boars were not always safe. We had to work a lot harder making sure our fencing didn’t get destroyed by them and kept filling in holes and reseeding pastures that looked like moonscapes due to all the craters they made. Now we have Meishans, and Meishan mixes, and life got a LOT easier!

My point is this; Quitting what doesn’t work for you is not necessarily the same as giving up. It can be the consequence of evaluating what you do. Quitting can free you up to do something new and different.

If I still fail at gardening after we have good fences, drip irrigation in place and a lot of mulch to suppress the weeds, THEN I will give up on gardening. Happily. But I have a few more things to try! Maybe when my farm starts making money, I’ll hire a gardener!

The quest for purebred Valais Blacknose Sheep!

Let’s not pretend. The Valais Blacknose Sheep are the M&M’s of the sheep world. You can’t just get one. You want perfection on 4 legs of incredible cuteness. You constantly want to breed up to get as close to 100% as possible. Which now is completely possible due to us being allowed to import embryos from NZ. We did take the plunge and bought 2 embryos. One took, and we now have our own purebred ram. It’s a great feeling to have reached a point in our breeding program where we do not HAVE to buy frozen semen but can use our own ram. Yay! Check out the difference a little more than 4 months can make!

Our big question for this breeding season is not about our ram but instead; Do we buy another embryo and cross our fingers that it’s a) a successful embryo transfer and b) a girl? Or do we wait another season? Depending on which day- or even hour- you ask me you will get a different answer. I can make a case for either. Deciding and choosing makes me nervous. I get anxious. I want it to be “right”. I want to be successful in what I do. Truthfully, I want it all. And I want it now. Preferably with a guarantee not to lose money, time or effort. So maybe now is a good time to look at what I HAVE and take a minute to remind myself of all I have to be grateful for.

We got our purebred Ram. We got 7 more lambs this year. All our ewes, lambs, pigs, piglets and chickens are doing great. Freja’s presence have halted the fox in his pursuits of our chickens, and she’s also a great nanny to the lambs -as you can see below. We are bringing home 2 Sila Shepherds from Italy in the fall and will eventually breed them (and at least one litter of Colorado Mountain Dogs). Pictured below is Scott with our new Sila male. There’s also Freja and Desmond and our new female Sila puppy Calabria. She will be much bigger by the time she comes home (All this waiting hopefully will bring me some much-needed patience). Scott and I are good, kids and family too. We all miss my dad and Scott’s mom but know they are at peace and in a much better place. That’s a LOT to be thankful for.

The hardest choices in life are not the ones between good and bad. It’s a lot harder to choose between good, better and best. The difference between good and bad is usually pretty clear. I find picking the best option out of several good ones nerve wracking. If they are all good, can then one still be wrong if another option is better? I think so. It may be wiser to just stay the course and evaluate where you are in order to get a clearer sense of your future path. I’ve never had much patience for waiting. I will research genetics and breeding and then choose. Either way, it’s a good problem to have. This fall we will breed our ewes again. If all goes according to plan, this spring we will welcome our first F3’s along with other happy little lambs, some sired by our own ram. And maybe also another little purebred Valais Blacknose lamb. Maybe. Life really is pretty wonderful here at Gratitude Acres!

Slightly Crazy

I don’t think it matters who you are, life will inevitably turn crazy at some times. At the present, I think much of the world is crazy in it’s own way. I’m heart broken over the war Putin is waging, and scared about how it could escalate. Still, life is pretty normal for at least me who am not immediately affected.

I take that back, my “normal” is most definitely someone else’s crazy- haha! I just spoke to my cousin who lives outside Florence, Italy. She laughed when I told her I was taking a quick overnight trip to Italy to check out some dogs we’re contemplating importing to the US. And before you think I’m certifiably nuts- I’m already in Sweden. Travelling in Europe is really just like traveling between states in the US. I just booked a plane ticket to Milano for me and my sister who will tag along; it was about $40. For the two of us. Both ways. Travelling within Europe is easy and fun! And since I haven’t seen my cousin in at least 20 years and she’s only 3 hours away from our destination we naturally invited ourselves over! She lives outside of Florence which is an absolutely beautiful city. I’m sure every city in Italy looks beautiful to me! And just to clarify: She didn’t think traveling to Italy was the crazy part, it was going to look at dogs In Italy that sounded c r a z y to her!

Florence, Italy.

I’ve been here before but it was so very many years ago. I look forward to seeing this beautiful city again!

I mentioned I was going to look at dogs in Italy. I’m going to visit the Il Pastore transumante kennel directed by Dario Capogrosso in Sarazzano, about an hour south of Milano. He breeds the Sila Shepherd, or Sila Sheepdog. From the very first time we saw this beautiful breed, we were impressed by it’s strength, beauty and by all we could read about it’s character and traits. But reading is one thing and experiencing it another. I’m not crazy enough to jump into a dog breed that I have not thoroughly investigated! I have to make sure it’s a good fit for us, our farm and our neighbors and community. I have to admit, going to Italy right now was not my idea, it was Scott’s, but I’m just crazy enough to love it and set it all up in one day- lol!

Talking about Scott, he has crazy energy. He supported me immediately, wholeheartedly and without any reservations when we first heard that my dad had pancreatic cancer and we realized I would have to go back for long times to be with my parents in Sweden. Working a demanding full time job, while juggling escaped pigs, runaway dogs and being on baby lamb watch takes a lot. He was there to do all the work when our very first 100% pure Valais Blacknose Lamb was born -yay! Our little ram lamb, whom we named Dawson, is fantastic and cute and absolutely perfect. My heart is actually breaking a little bit knowing I won’t see him until he’s much bigger.

Here he is: Dawson, our 100% purebred Valais Blacknose lamb. Surrogate mom is very proud and has no idea he is not hers!

Scott had just finished building a little creep heater for our new little lamb as the PA weather changes from 65 degrees one day to freezing the next. Dawson loves it and Scott says he often finds him curled up inside his cubby, and mom is happy to be right next to him outside where it’s nice and cold!

That’s enough for today when it comes to the craziness that is my life. I love it and am grateful for every person and animal in it. Grateful for all the experiences and grateful to still have peace in the lands I’m in.

Taking the plunge, again and again!

Starting a farm is hard. Starting a Valais Blacknose Breed Up Program AND a farm is even harder! There is a steep learning curve to go from non-farmers to having sheep, pigs and chickens. And there are a LOT of things you need to learn and learn fast to make 5 acres into fields, pens and shelters, and to be able to breed healthy, happy lambs, piglets and chicks.

For the 2021 breeding season we took another plunge and bought two Valais Blacknose Sheep embryos, imported from New Zealand. We are happy to announce that one embryo survived the procedure, so Gratitude Acres will, if all goes right, have its first 100% Valais Blacknose Lamb born in March.

There are days when I feel that I’m just treading water, and then there are days where I just stand looking at what we have accomplished and feel so very privileged. The hills that once were covered in stickly prickly thorny brambles are now lush green pasture. The little run-in shed that served as our sheep shed for the first 2.5 years has given way to a barn 4 times the size and a separate little shelter for our breeding season visiting ram. Our one little pig house has turned into 5, all surrounded by their own pens and fencing. Our one chicken coop has turned into 4. All my animals are happy and content and growing. They all act like pets. Spoiled pets wanting treats every time they see us 🙂

I love this winter picture of our farm. Although you can’t really see any of the animals in it, it is so silvery and serene and depicts one of those moments when I’m just happy to be part of it all.

When things go wrong you cry and adapt. When the numbers of chickens lost went over the count of 50 we bought a Livestock Guardian Dog. Freja is an absolute love, we are in awe over the Colorado Mountain Dogs- who were specifically bred for farmers like us: farmers with smaller acreage who live with neighbors and friends but who still need to keep birds and livestock safe. With our little purebred Valais lamb on its way, we are very happy to have Freja as an extra security measure. We are so in love with her that we have decided to breed her and have found a very handsome Tornjak, another LGD breed to be the dad of her future pups. I really do feel like there was lemonade made from all those losses.

The year of 2022 is just filled with exciting projects. The Philadelphia Handweaver’s Guild who closed due to Covid after I had my first weaving lesson has started again and I’m feeling quite hopeful about the prospect of using my own wool for my weaving this year. I also finally took a class in how to make lotions and creams- I have been playing around with body butters for a while, but don’t always want to be as greasy as the body butters make you feel. I’m thrilled to be using both lard and lanolin in honor of my pigs and sheep in my lotions, not to mention how happy my dry skin is!

There are bumps and sadness in everyone’s lives, my mother-in-law is in hospice after a 4-year-long battle with cancer, and my beloved dad — whom I can’t even fathom life without — is losing his fight against pancreatic cancer. I’m sharing this only to point out that life is hard for everyone, in different ways and at different times. I recently read a study made on rats. The study (which I don’t like because I feel it was abusive and which I shorten extensively to get to my point) put rats into water. They all swam for about 40 minutes before they gave up trying and drowned. 4 new rats were put into the water, but these were picked up, dried off and given a short period of rest right before they gave up, and were then put back into the water again. This time the rats kept swimming… for 60 HOURS. They went from 40 minutes to 60 hours. The study wanted to highlight the effects hope has on us. My thoughts couldn’t help but to go to my Savior, Jesus Christ and His role in my life. He is that hand that lifts me up, who gives me hope and my life meaning. And He does that for all of us. It’s when we see it and feel it that we go from fighting for 40 minutes to being able to face all the hardships we face for as long as it takes.

I have so much to feel grateful for. On my very muddy wet and cold days I have hope of spring. I just saw that my Daffodils are showing their greens in my gardens, so spring is on its way even if I can’t feel it. There is hope all around us, we just have to notice it. It is with gratitude and a hopeful heart I look forward to the lambing season, to our 3 litters of expected piglets, to hatching more chicks and of course our very first litter of Colorado Mountain Dog Puppies in the fall. Keep swimming!

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 Skåne/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.