“MOM- The Pigs are GONE”

I recently had the pleasure of having the house full of my family! My parents came from Sweden and my son and his sweet girlfriend arrived from Colorado. We had a lovely time with dinners and friends and of course some very unexpected events.

Having already seen the pigs in their pasture from the deck of the house, my parents soon wanted to walk down to see them close up. We took our time walking the path down the hill as it’s rather steep at a few places. My 21 year old son Gus went ahead, but then came bounding up the hill, shouting “Mom, the pigs are GONE”. I quickly joined him assuring him that they most likely just had nestled deep into the straw for a morning nap. These little darlings nap long and often, but usually stick their heads up once they hear my voice since that is equivalent to treats treats and they have taken to protest loudly if I’m too slow in handing out the goodies. Alas, there were no little faces, no happy squeals, and definitely no pigs coming galloping towards us. The pen was empty and very quiet. I looked around the field, up the hill and down towards the pond- not a pig in site.

Just two weeks prior, my daughter had yelled to us that “the pigs are out” but at that time they were on the path steps away from the pen just munching away on fresh grass and were easily lured back into their pen by tempting them with a few apples. After that incident I told my softhearted husband that electric fencing was a must. He had been against it thinking the fence was enough and was quite insistent over the fact that there were no signs of attempted porcine jailbreak. My reply had been that the sign of them “trying to get out” would be that they WERE out. However, I still yielded to his wishes and instead got boards to screw in all around the bottom of the fence line. Their last escape had proved that if their snouts got under the fence while rooting and they noticed that they could lift it up they would be out in a blink! Pigs are said to be as intelligent as dogs. Dogs figure things out, and I’m now wondering if pigs actually are smarter than dogs…. hmmm.

This little girl is thinking for sure!!

Gus and I split up searching and after 10 very long minutes he called me- he had found the pigs WAY back on our property heading up a hill. He said that he called to them, and Otto, our boar, had turned to look at him but decided to ignore him and instead turned back in the direction he was heading until he heard my voice. Luckily my voice and the sound of a food bucket filled with treats made the difference and all of the sudden he was trotting downhill with the 2 little girls in tow. Otto, being older and BIGGER most definitely is the ringleader. He was immediately rewarded by a piece of apple and then all three of them trotted along the path with me all the way back home, where they got the rest of the apples. They in fact stayed closer to me than our three dogs do when we are out walking.

With the pigs safely returned to their pen we turned our attention to figuring out how they had gotten out. We, that is Scott, was in the process of building them a shelter, or as he called it, the Shig Shack. You see, the shelter would be shared by both sheep and pigs for the winter months until the pigs were bigger and needed more room and we had gotten the sheep shelter in order. He had temporarily sectioned off that part of their enclosure, with emphasis on the word temporarily, and had also removed a fence post behind the structure to be able to get more room to work. He had worked on their shelter long after dark, and then forgotten about how the fence had been compromised at those spots. The pigs must have been thrilled when they the following morning discovered that they were able to go exploring.

When he heard about the escape, Scott stated that an electric fence sounded better and better. I have since read that pigs are every bit as good at getting out of their fenced-in areas as are goats, which are quite notorious escape artists! I guess the difference would be that where goats jump, pigs simply use their weight and snouts to push through!

I am still amazed about how they just followed me back home. I had no idea that pigs were that tame, or that sweet. But I have to admit that I have never looked deeply into a pigs’ eyes before, and never really realized how mindful they are of you. Now that I have, I can tell you that there is a LOT of thinking going on.

I can at this time not decide what I enjoy the most: seeing my pigs come running towards me when they see me or hearing the sheep baaing as I approach while sticking their noses out through fence to sniff me and give me kisses- well that’s what I tell myself- most likely they are looking for treats! I did not know that the pigs play as much as they do. Otto and my little Cockapoo enjoy running back and forth on each side of the fence, chasing each other back and forth, with short stops of coming nose to nose. The two little girls, who I think are growing quickly for being a slow-growing breed, often play with each other as well, pushing and nuzzling each other, running around in circles and throwing themselves down. When rubbed, they all lean into my hand and slowly sink down, laying on their side with their eyes closed. And if you really want to see a pig smile, provide them with a hole filled with water for them to roll around and splash in!!

We Have Chickens!

When the message that the chicks had been delivered to our post office came as the clock struck 5 pm I literally RAN up our hill to see if by chance postmaster Steve was staying open late waiting for me. He did better than that, he arrived at my driveway at the same time I was getting into my car. He carefully handed over a box and I was delighted when I heard the faint peeps from inside- there were at least several that had made the trip. My daughter noticed the commotion from upstairs and opened the window shouting “wait for me- don’t open it without me!”  (Our dedicated postmaster did receive a well deserved plate with cookies for his efforts the following week!)

My Pet Chicken, the online site I got my chickens from, again came through with flying colors just as they had in the past; ALL 8 made it in good health, nestled in lots of “stuffing” with a heating block to keep them warm. 

Naturally they were all completely adorable, and the “name game” immediately started. The Australorp is Toothless (after “How to Train Your Dragon”- the movie), my Buff Orpington is Sunshine, the Silver Laced Wyandotte is Lacy, and we also have Spaz, Eagle, Peckers, Waffles  and Tweety. I had decided to keep the price per chicken in the “normal range” but after having read about the Cream Legbar I ended up calling to have her added on to the original order of 7! This rather rare breed lays blue eggs, and since most of mine are brown egg layers – except for Eagle who is an Easter Egger and lays green eggs – I just “had to” get her! I’m actually able to show much more restraint when it comes to clothes shopping than chicken and other animal shopping 🙂 

It’s quite amazing watching them after you put them into their new home; they immediately start acting like real chicken, scratching for food, finding it and eating! I got second thoughts about my waterer though, a nipple drinker, and became very nervous thinking they might get dehydrated while while learning how to to use it. I quickly made a trip to our local feed store to buy a “regular”chicken waterer and found a laughing daughter when I came back home –  the chicks had already figured out how to drink from the nipple while I was gone. Clever girls. 

The only negative thing I can say about our girls is that they grow way too fast. We notice changes in them almost daily, and now they are in what I call their teenage stage. They are half grown, with a mix of feathers and fuzz making them look very weird, just like lanky and awkward teenage boys. They spent all of 3 days in the garage before the nights got colder and I worried about them not being warm enough to get out from under the heater to run around. My surprised family came home that day to find our little flock living very happily in our sun room. They do create a ton of dust by running around chasing each other, hopping up and down from their log and by pretend flying, aka flapping their little wings! I do have to say that the dust is outweighed by far by us being able to sit at our table and listen to their happy chirpings. They do outgrow this baby chick-talk eventually so I’m enjoying it for as long as it lasts. Our little farm is feeling more like a farm now that we have chicks (even if they are in our house)!

Starting a Valais Blacknose Sheep Breed Up Program

Many years ago I saw a picture on face book of a Valais Blacknose Sheep, or VBS, and I fell in love instantly. Back then, the breed did not exist in the US- it originates in Switzerland, the Valais region, so I looked at import rules, and there were no imports allowed of these adorable little sheep. The reason they have been dubbed the cutest sheep in the world is quite apparent when you see them. Add a calm and almost dog like temperament and you might just be looking at the perfect sheep.

(I’m unable to give credit to whomever took these adorable pictures so I’m hoping I’m not breaking any blogging rules by posting it!)

While browsing the internet in search of my perfect 4-legged lawnmower I happened to stumble on the breed up program that is taking place. Sheep breeders have diligently been working to be allowed to import semen, and by using AI (Artificial Insemination) you can inseminate a foundation ewe with Valais Blacknose semen. The resulting lamb (called an F1) will be 50 % Valais Blacknose. When the F1 is inseminated with VBS semen, her offspring will now be 75% Valais (F2) and so forth until the 5th generation is almost 97% which then is considered pure bred!

There seem to be a few different thoughts on how to chose your foundation ewe; many prefer to start with Scottish Blackface Sheep, others have bred to crosses, Lincolns, Teeswaters, Gotland Sheep, Finn Sheep, Babydoll sheep and so forth. I visited several farms and took notes on what they did and what their F1’s and F2’s looked like. I went to a Sheep and wool festival and saw even more sheep! I finally decided to to breed to a Corriedale, since I liked that particular sheep and its fleece. Unfortunately the once I picked out ended up having foot rot, not something I wanted to start out with, so back to the drawing board I went. I was disappointed to say the least, everyone with breeding age ewes had already started their fall breedings in my area. Many sheep are seasonal breeders, and only breed in the fall, another reasons I had like the Corriedales since they were able to breed fall and spring and although too young to breed this fall, I could have bred them in the spring. But now it looked like I wouldn’t be able to start my adventure for another year.

While visiting Mary Jean at Laurel Highland Farms, another breeder of VBS she happened to mention that the Cotswold sheep was one of her favorites. I went home, googled the breed and instantly knew this was the sheep for me. I loved everything about it and it seemed very compatible to the Valais Blacknose Sheep. But even better than that was that I liked the breed as I didn’t want to just dispose of these ewes ones I had my F1’s. It might be hard to keep them all on my small farm, but I feel they deserve better. I haven’t even started yet, so who know’s if I’m making the right or the wrong decisions! What I do know, is that I’m embarking on an adventure and am looking forward to seeing how my instincts will pan out.

Sometimes after everything goes wrong, you are pointed in another direction and I recently I finally found my Cotswalds, 4 mature ewes that have all been moms before, ready to breed this fall. And this wonderful breeder, Heather from Blue Springs Farm is even putting them on her trailer since she’s going from her place in Vincent Alabama to the Sheep and wool festival in Rhinebeck NY and is passing me on the way. I’m unbelievable grateful for everyone who has answered questions, had me visit their farms and befriended me. So many people with sheep are just incredibly nice and go out of their way to help out.

At this moment, I can hear my very fast growing baby chicks chirping in the sun room next to where I’m sitting, my shoulders and arms are dead weight after having been outside until dark digging fence post holes, while chatting to dogs and pigs and I can’t help just feeling such gratitude over being so blessed!

We are busily engaged building shelters and putting in fences for both pigs and sheep. The sheep will be here in a week- woohoo!

Baby Chicks in the Mail!

This is not the first time I have ordered baby chicks on line, but it’s just as exciting. Today was hatching day, and I received my notice that they are in the mail. Their pen (brooder) is set up in the garage and awaiting our new 8 little baby chicks, all of them a different breed. I’m hoping they are doing alright and am anxiously tracking them. According to the latest text from USPS they left the Cleveland Ohio distribution center at 5:31 pm today. I do feel sorry for them for the rough start they are getting… they get hatched, packed in a box with 7 other little ones and shipped off., but I will make it up to them once they are here.

For the first three days of their lives little chicks are provided with enough nutrients from the egg so they don’t need any water or food during this time. They are shipped together and this keeps them warm and hopefully less afraid.

Instead of the regular heat lamp to keep them warm, I found a heating pad that stands on legs, mimicking the mother hen so the little chicks can cozy up underneath it. Less fire risk than the regular heating lamp and more true to their natural instincts than a heat bulb. I’m excited and hopeful they will arrive tomorrow and have notified our terrific postmaster about their arrival to his office.

A quick note about our postmaster Steve. A few weeks after Mother’s Day I get a visit; Steve had driven up from his office to see if the card he had in his hand might be for me. It had no stamp and could not be returned to the sender since the return address was missing as well. The front simply read: “Mama” with our street address, Spring City PA and no zip code. The Spring City post office had sent it on to the Birchrunville post office, and Steve took it upon himself to hand deliver it to me. It totally made my day, and I laughingly admitted it HAD to be from my son. When I asked him about it, he simply said he was in a hurry mailing it so it would get to me on time for Mother’s Day. It arrived three weeks late. My suggestion to him was to simply take a picture of the chosen card and text it to me next time.

Fortunately for the baby chicks, my son is not in charge of mailing them!!

Large Pigs Should Not Ride In Your Subaru

I thought I had planned the pick up of our new Mangalitsa pigs so well; I had even checked with the seller who assured me my 4 month old boar and the two female piglets all could ride together in the back of a Subaru. After a very pleasant 3 hour drive through scenic vistas I arrived to the pig farm, and was told to drive around to the back of the barn. The excitement had built steadily and I eagerly jumped out of the car so I could see our new additions for the very first time.

I first saw the male, and boy was he big for being a 4 month old. I had been told he would weigh about 70 lbs, and since I have an 80 lbs dog I didn’t think twice about handling him. I was wrong. He looked like the biggest guy in his pen. And he was dirty.. like in absolutely filthy dirty. I moved on to the next pen and there they were, the 8 week olds! Cutest little things ever! On the other hand, they looked a lot smaller than they appeared in the pictures I was sent. The farmer’s wife, a very nice lady, directed her helper to put the two piglets in crates so the big pig would not trample them. Instead, I strapped their crates into the back seat while the helper wrangled the boar. He was NOT leash trained -duh- and protested loudly and with all 4 feet. Finally he was hoisted into the back, where Scott had installed dog barrier to keep everyone where they should be. The wife smiled sweetly and said that he (the boar) would lay down and settle in once I started driving.

20 minutes into my trip the boar still hadn’t settled down and now decided to see if he could make his way into the passenger seat. I shouted a “no piggy” and he backed up, but not for long. Another 10 minutes, and there he was again, trying to shove himself through the tiny space- that now was decidedly wider- and my “no piggy- go back piggy” seemed much less effective. I looked at the clock, 2.5 hours to home.. yikes, well, he should settle down eventually, right? WRONG. How could 3 hrs all of a sudden feel like 3 days?? And the smell.. I promised myself I would offer Scott my car until the smell was gone from his.

Suddenly the boar charged the tiny space he had made and was now hanging half way over to the back seat. I made a very hasty bee line to the side of the highway. The piglet who’s crate he continually tried to heave into the air with his snout – I’m assuming to make room for himself – was screaming bloody murder. I was pushing on the shoulders of the boar as hard as I could, trying to get him into the back again. He did not budge. Let me assure you, this was in no way equal to handling a 70 lbs dog. This felt more like 150 lb pure muscle. I briefly contemplated if he would bite me, but then the squealing piglet got out of her crate at the same moment a big tractor-trailer thundered by, shaking the car as it passed. I stuck the piglet under my arm at the same moment my boar made it fully into the passenger seat. I slammed the door shut, quickly heaved the piglet into the back where she was now safe, and ran to the other side to rescue piglet number two.

This is when Scott received his probably fourth call – I was in full panic mode. What if the boar decided to get into the front? I would surely crash. Was it even legal to drive with a pig lose in the car? I declared to my always calm husband that unless he dropped what he was doing and came to help me I would leave the car and WALK home. Long story short, Scottie came to my rescue, we swapped cars, and I was finally able to exhale… did I mention the smell?? Poor Scottie, he lost the battle for the front seat by the way… (along with his cup holder) but he said he did some bonding and named the boar “Otto” in the process.

We at last made it home and got the pigs into their pen where Otto did what any clever pig does, he made himself a mud bath so he could cool down and practice some stress relief!

Lessons learned:

  • Pigs are NOT dogs, don’t share your car with them (2 hrs of cleaning the car and even if it looks clean, it still reeks!)
  • Pigs are stubborn, now I know where the term “pig headed” came from.
  • When a farmer tells you “he will settle in and lay down” don’t believe a word of it.
  • Pictures lie- I’m convinced our guy MUST be older than 4 months!! And he’s most definitely NOT weighing 70 lbs.

Once settled in, I was able to sit and enjoy them, so here are some pictures of our new family members- who apparently did not read the book that said that pigs often don’t eat after transport. Once Otto had chilled for about 30 minutes, he was checking out the rest of his pen, eating up a storm with the piglets doing the same right next to him. Peace reigns at Gratitude Acres, and I’m finally heading to the shower!

The Mangalitsa pigs are coming!!

Looking like a sheep and acting like a dog- meet the Mangalitsa pig!

“A pig resembles a saint in that he is more honored after death than during his lifetime”.

Irma S Rombauer

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Ever heard about Mangalitsas? I certainly had not! But then I had never envisioned myself as a pig owner either.

After Scott suggested that we get pigs I answered with a flat out “no”. This suggestion came after we (well me) had decided to get chickens and sheep. Scott will be the bee keeper, so I thought we had plenty to do already. However, one night I found myself looking at the different pig breeds (who knew there were so many?) mostly to joke with Scott, stating pig facts and spouting comments like “well this one ONLY grows up to about 900 lbs.” My eyes landed on a picture of a really weird sheepish looking woolly pig. I laughingly told Scott that if he wanted pigs he could get one of those!

Being curious by nature I continued to read, finding out more about these strange pigs and the more I read about them, the more interested I became. The Mangalitsa pig, or Mangelica which they are also called, is an old Hungarian breed that like many other old breeds almost went extinct when the big commercial pig farms entered the picture., but that are now gaining in popularity, especially among small farms and homesteaders. They have amazing marbled red meat, and the Mangalitsa pork is described as being the KOBE beef of pork! This was something I had to try for myself.

Check this out! We got the best pork chop the butcher at Giant had so we could do a taste test with the Mangalitsa pork chops I got… Thumbs up for the Mangalitsa pig!!

After having actually tasted this incredibly good pork and hearing how dog like and docile these pigs are, on top of being wonderful mothers, easy keepers and great foragers- we happen to have a lot of woody areas which is their native environment- my decision was made.. we are getting Mangalitsas!! I am going to pick them up tomorrow morning and I am so excited and also a little nervous. The closest I’ve come to a pig was at the petting zoo at Davis Farmland! Good or bad- I’m in for another experience of a lifetime! Stay tuned, and don’t forget to subscribe so you can get the next chapter of this adventure. I promise to post pictures tomorrow.

Why I decided to become a midlife farmer and blogger

I was finally where I “should” be in life. Happily married at last (after 2 failed marriages) to the most amazing man (yes, I am lucky and blessed), a nursing job I enjoyed, great kids and family, good friends and we were closing on our dream house on 5 acres in a few weeks so life was looking pretty close to perfect to me. And then – WHAM- I was laid off. To make it worse; it turns out that my MA nursing licence that should convert easily to a PA nursing licence (after having relocated to PA when I got married) ran into a snag. Since I was educated in my native beautiful country of Sweden, a complete review of my education was needed. I discovered that the schools I had attended were closed and that the city archive only had half of my transcripts.

What now? My first reaction was to get angry – how dared they say that I couldn’t be a nurse anymore? I had worked as a school nurse, correctional nurse, OR nurse, Labor & Delivery nurse, med/surg nurse and more for over 20 years. Then came the sad and depressed phase. I was a nurse but now I was not. So I felt like I was a nobody. Lots of ice cream entered the picture along with heavy duty binge watching of Netflix. All while trying to figure out what I could possibly do. Go back to school? I felt too old, and what would I study anyway? What was I interested in?

After months of asking God to point me in ANY direction, some attempts to online studying and of course more Netflix I half jokingly suggested Scott that we get some four legged lawnmowers for our out of control weeds on the steep slope down to the pond. To my surprise he was not against it! I happily threw myself into researching all about the most suitable sheep for this purpose. To my surprise I found that the absolute cutest sheep in the world – the Valais Blacknose Sheep – now were available as a breed up program. I had originally seen these sheep years ago and had fallen in love with them but at that time they were not allowed to be imported into the US. I enthusiastically exclaimed that THESE ARE THE ONES! Fast forward and we are now in the process of welcoming bees, baby chicks, Mangalitsa pigs and Valais Blacknose Sheep (through the breed up program) to our 5 acre property in eastern PA. Gratitude Acres is about to be born – and I decided to start blogging about my crazy life and decision to start a sustainable, bio-diverse micro farm in harmony with nature.