The second year of the CSA is set to begin in May of this year. You might think it’s a little early to be thinking about that sort of thing, but when it is time to order seeds and in a couple weeks, seedlings will be getting started! In mid-March, the early crops will go out and by the time the CSA begins, the late crops will be planted as well! The garden is already planned out and the pigs are hard at work tilling it up for me.
This Summer’s CSA will unfortunately not feature any beef. The cattle are doing great and growing well, but will not be headed to the butcher until the fall. You can look forward to beef again in the Winter ’20/’21 CSA! This season’s CSA will again include pork, chicken, lamb, and rabbit. I will be providing pork from two different breeds of hog this season and will be looking to hear your feedback about the taste of the two kinds of pork. I will also hopefully be trying a couple new pork products this year.
The pricing for the Summer 2020 CSA is as follows:
2 Person Shares Meat, Vegetable, and Eggs: $750 Vegetable and Meat: $700 Vegetable and Egg: $500 Vegetable Only: $450
4 Person Shares Meat, Vegetable, and Eggs: $1,400 Vegetable and Meat: $1,300 Vegetable and Eggs: $950 Vegetable Only: $850
Let me know if you would like to sign up for the Summer 2020 CSA and which size and kind of share you are interested in buying:
I don’t usually recap the year, but this past year has been an a bit different and I thought you might enjoy going back through it with me. I’m going to go month by month and remember all the wild, wonderful, and wobbly moments bit by bit.
January: I started the month off by getting my final few farm items moved over to the new farm. I’d spent December of 2018 building structures, moving animals, and getting heavy stuff loaded onto a trailer and brought over thanks to the help of some friends. Every day before work I went to the farm and took care of the sheep, chickens, and pigs in my work clothes. After work, I’d change and head back to the farm to care for everyone and then drive home. At the very end of the month, I finally joined all the animals and made the move to the new farm as well. After five years, this was the first time I actually got to live ON the farm, so it was a very exciting move!
February: I got my hay delivered for my sheep and made friends with a neighbor with a tractor to stack the 600lb bales for me. I got it covered and was pretty satisfied with my beautiful stock of hay. I’d later come to find out that I knew very little about hay tarps and spend one hour every other month recovering the hay once the wind found its way under it. This was a super exciting month though as my three ewes had five gorgeous lambs and none of them had a single issue! They were all born just before 6:00am within two weeks of each other; two girls from Cindy, two boys from Fawn, and a single for Yin’s first time.
March: I got my layer chicks in the mail and put them on the back porch under heat lamps. This worked well for a while until I found out how oddly my house was wired and lost half of them when the breaker flipped in the middle of the night during a stretch of cold weather. Seedlings were planted in the basement and eventually moved onto my balcony-turned-greenhouse. Broiler chicks also started getting delivered at the end of March and my two heifer calves were brought home! A fox also decided to check out the new neighbors and found that I had brought him dinner. After making a meal of a rabbit and a few roosters, I finally sured things up enough that he left everyone alone.
The pigs demolished their first hut, so I built another. The wind blew down the original plastic sheeting for the balcony greenhouse, so I replaced that with clear plastic roofing panels. The pigs had tilled a majority of the garden and I had planted it with all the early spring vegetables I could find!
April: The cows were growing amazingly well. The plants were doing well. All the sheep and lambs were doing well! Overall, April was a decent month. Lots of garden prep got accomplished and I got some tan lines from wearing gloves while working outside! The end of the month was sad as I had to say goodbye to my pal Sam the Ram who had turned into a monster making attempts on my life. After laying me out twice and making multiple other efforts, he had to leave the farm.
May: On May Day, I took the pigs to the butcher. For the first time in my pig raising career, they loaded themselves. It was a miracle moment! I could have danced. I was just in awe of what happened. No fighting, pushing, shoving, yelling, stomping through calf deep mud…they…just…got in…on their own! This was probably the most well behaved batch of pigs I’d ever raised. Not only did they load themselves into the trailer, but they had never escaped out of their enclosure and they grew spectacularly well!
I spent the middle of the month tilling, hoeing, and planting summer crops. Then my CSA deliveries began! This was my first year doing a CSA and it was nerve wracking! Making sure everything was growing well and packing it perfectly! In late May chicken butchering started. I got ducks and a new turkey since the fox made one last kill and took my turkey hen, leaving my tom all alone. Found the lambs snacking on chicken feed and accidentally shut one inside the coop for the night. I heard him having a fit that sounded a touch odd, so I went and opened the door. He came bolting out!
Got my new ram this month too! I named him Cork after the last name of the people I got him from. He’s an odd little fella…everyone kept pushing him around though! Cindy was the meanest of all! May was a busy and interesting month!
June: The CSA was in full swing and the summer was going well. Daily harvests were my main concern along with making sure the plants were weeded and watered. Weeds and grasses were growing as well as my plants being that this was newly planted ground. I was finding snakes everywhere, including in my house and in the trees. Thankfully they were rat snakes and do quite a service around the farm, so I left them to do their work. June was a busy, but mostly uneventful month.
July: Tomato season began with a vengeance in July! It’s always exciting at first, but as the tomatoes begin to fill every vessel in the house, it can get a little overwhelming! This was a very hot month, so it’s a good thing tomatoes like it pretty hot! The animals, on the other hand, find any sort of heat to be nothing short of unbearable. Everyone was panting, one rabbit didn’t make it through the heat, but all of the broilers survived with some strategic moves to get them in the shade at the right times. July also included some fall planting while praying for rain and attempting to “quiet wean” the calves. I got my rain, but not a quiet weaning; they still bawled their faces off for more milk!
August: Fall harvest was just beginning, but the season was still a long way from being finished. Two months of butchering broilers remained and the CSA continued at full speed. This was the month when I got my act together and started an instagram account and bought a true website so everyone could see just what I was up to around the farm. I started writing blogs and telling the farm stories. With the onslaught of tomatoes not ceasing, I was canning up a storm! This means, cooking them down, extracting just the pulp and juice, and then getting them into jars and into the canner to save for turning into soup in the winter.
September: More fall planted was slated for September along with pretty much giving up on weeding. I bought a cheap push mower to make some food for the hungry herbivores and to make mulch for the garden. I started adding recipes to my website and reactivated my twitter account. My garlic arrived this month ahead of the late October planting. Best of all, Cork had his apron removed to get to work so lambs could be born in the spring.
October: At the beginning of October, I had my lambs scheduled for the butcher. It’s always a difficult day, butchering day, but more so for the creatures who spend more time on the farm like the lambs. They spend nine months frolicking through the pasture before they leave. I know they have lived a wonderful and care free existence, having every need fulfilled.
Newsletters started at long last in October and I was rolling blog posts out pretty frequently! Spiders were getting huge and the CSA was winding down as I loaded bags full of fall crops of leafy greens and root vegetables. I was digging potatoes like mad to try to get them all out of the ground before the freeze (hint-I didn’t make it). I got the garlic in the ground and mulched and transplanted some berry bushes.
At the end of the month, my one heifer scared me nearly to death when I thought she had died! I posted about that in a previous blog. It was not a fun experience, but I was glad to get her off the ground and see her limp back to the flerd without much trouble. They say sheep look for ways to die, but my cattle must have been learning a thing or two from that book!
November: The summer CSA finally ended and the winter CSA got started. In addition to my two little Khaki Campbell ducks, three Pekin ducks joined the flock! It’s amazing how squishy ducks are…not bony and sturdy like a chicken or rock solid like a turkey. They are like stuffed animals! Two new pigs came home for their winter work of tilling the garden. This was a new breed for me: Idaho Pasture Pigs (IPPs). They were apparently grazers and liked to eat grass. Odd, but okay, I figured I’d give it a try. They were stocky creatures with stubby noses and no definition.
December: The final month of the year brought ice storms and wind to the farm. (There’s wind storms all year, but mix that with ice and it’s not fun.) However, in November, I had brace the chicken coop so that the ice wouldn’t wreak havoc on it again this year. But December was a pretty good month to wrap up the year. I rendered some lard from the pigs I had butchered in May, made tomato soup, and even found a brewer who needed a farmer to haul away his spent grains! For Christmas, I received 10 new farming books to continue to increase my knowledge and hone my skills. One the final day of the year, I found two more pigs to round out my group and scheduled a pick up on January 1st. It was quite a wild start to the new year, but that was in 2020, so you’ll have to read about that another time!
It comes in like a tickle from a gentle breeze. Softly fluttering into the heart. The sunshine an warmth causes a stirring. Much like the confused insects that come crawling out of the earth, out of their hiding places, and into the sunlight, so does the itch work on waking up the spirit of the farmer.
You see, farmers may not hibernate like the bears, or crawl into a nest to slumber the winter away, but, in a way, farmers rest in the winter. We make do with the little daylight we have, only turning on our headlamps when truly necessary, perhaps to check on ewes who are lambing, or to get one more chore completed. We drink a little more tea or whisky, settle in with our books, charts, and maps and stare into the future on the cold, quiet evenings.
Nearly every winter, though, comes those warm days. They spring up and like waking a napping cat, we pop one eye open. Our spirits stir and we long for spring. The seed catalogs, which frequently arrive even before Christmas, don’t help in preventing this longing, the ache for spring, the itch to get out and work the soil, solidify fences, open up the pasture for our ruminants, and feel the hot sun on our faces. The future plans we have been making in the dark of the evening stand at the forefront of our minds, making that itch ever so strong as the urge grows to make those thoughts reality.
Then Mother Nature gets Jack Frost back to work and we are again cast into the cold of winter. The itch dies down for another month as we endure January and inch our way through February. February again gives us a glimmer of hope of warmer days, softer ground, gentler weather. But we know, around here, we wait until March 15th. Until then, winter is still upon us and Jack Frost can still throw one more winter storm our way. That doesn’t mean the itch doesn’t drive us outside after every thaw to work on anything we can!
Beer?! For farming? Yes, well, not quite. There’s a major by-product of beer that is considered a waste product: Spent brewer’s grains. You see, to make beer, grains like barley and wheat need to be soaked in hot water first. These grains are typically discarded after this soaking process. However, these grains are still chock-full of nutrients and protein. Even better is that the soaking process unlocks more nutrients and even begins beneficial bacteria to gain a foothold.
Livestock like cattle and sheep are actually the best at completing this unlocking process. Sheep and cattle, being ruminants, have multiple stomach chambers made for breaking down plant matter with the help of beneficial stomach bacteria. Pigs and chickens only have one stomach and aren’t as efficient at this process of breaking down plant cells into energy. That being said, all the livestock enjoy a little spent grain from time to time.
Feeding spent grains to animals is a practice nearly as old as farming. Monasteries would brew beer and then feed the spent grains to their livestock. It only makes sense that since the product came from the farm, it should return to a farm, right? Since the malting process only extracts the sugars and starches from the grain, there is so much left in the grain that can be used for feeding livestock or improving soil through means of composting or mulching. Feeding it to livestock is probably the most beneficial use of the product though!
As I’ve said in previous posts, the sheep and cattle get some grain in the winter. This grain helps give them the necessary energy to keep warm during the winter. Spent grains are an even more nutritious method of providing this grain in a more natural way. Spent grain is high in protein and fiber, but is also high in moisture as it is only drained, not dried after being soaked. Ruminants can access the high protein content far better than other livestock, so for pigs and chickens, it is a good energy source, but not a very high protein source.
Spent grains are high in digestible fiber as the malting process removes starches, which allow the grain to be more digestible. In addition to having high fiber and protein content, spent grain also contain a number of phenolic compounds. These compounds have many positive qualities such as being antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic. It also has many essential and non-essential amino acids and many vitamins and mineral such as biotin, choline, niacin, folic acid, and vitamin E, among many others. All of these qualities of the spent grains are often transferred into the meat and fat of the animal, improving the beneficial qualities of the end product!
When there is too much grain and not even mouths though, the earth gets her fair share too. Spent grain makes an excellent addition to compost. It encourages the pile to rapidly break down and turn into the beautiful soil supplement that nourishes plants and enriches the soil. During hot, dry days it can be used as mulch. The top layer of spent grains dries quickly, preventing it from becoming a disgusting mess and bring about flies while retaining moisture at soil level and providing a wonderful habitat for earthworms and other beneficial creatures.
All in all, spent brewers grains are a massive gain on any farm! I’m still learning all the ways spent grains can be a benefit, but the mooing and baaing from the sheep and cattle is a definite sign that these grains are going to good use! They love their nightly snack and it’s a blast watching the chickens scratch through the dropped hay to find the spent grains I’ve scattered for them!
I’m sure the title of this post brought about at least one raised eye brow and perhaps even a double-take! But it’s true. I’m not lying to you about this! For so long, the myth that animal fats are bad for you has been flying around and increasing heart problems around the country. The thing is…animal fats from healthy animals raised in more natural environments and eating foods that are healthier for them are healthier for us!
You know the old adage: You are what you eat. Pigs and cows that eat from the salad bar called “the pasture” build a healthy layer of fat. This fat from pigs, once rendered, is called “lard.” When the fat comes from cattle, it’s called “tallow.” Tallow from healthy cattle shares many of the positive qualities of lard, but tallow isn’t as easy to come by since pigs have quite the layer of fat compared to cattle.
Lard is a traditional fat used for cooking and baking that has very little flavor compared to other fats. For instance, coconut oil will impart a coconut flavor to many foods, but correctly rendered lard (that hasn’t been burnt) will have a “neutral” flavor. This is what can make it so great for baking. The best lard for baking is from “leaf fat” which comes from around the organs, but back fat makes great lard as well. Lard makes the absolute best pie crusts!
In addition to being a traditional fat used for centuries, lard doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. It’s less costly than many of the so-called “healthier” plant-based fats and oils. You can also find lard from your local butchers and farmers, so you’ll know exactly how that hog was raised and what it was fed! This is important, because pigs can be part of sustainable and regenerative agriculture, or simply another drain on our soil and air quality. Unlike their cousins in the CAFO’s, living on slatted floors eating a diet of mostly corn and soy, pastured pigs turn topsoil, fertilize the ground, and eat pests and roots.
Going back to the healthy part of lard, though…the part about WHY you should return to incorporating lard into your diet! Lard is a heat stable fat. The saturated fats protect the unsaturated fats from oxidizing and creating free radicals that damage cells. It’ll also be nice to know that there is no evidence linking saturated fats with poor heart health. What does worsen heart health is a low fat diet, which increases triglycerides. So while lard is full of saturated fat and cholesterol, it actually improves HDL and lowers your risk of heart disease!
Lard contains that kinds of fat the improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and improve HDL cholesterol. But in addition to that, what many Americans are lacking these days is vitamin D! Lard contains an amazing amount of it! Lard is only beat by cod liver oil! Wouldn’t you rather bake a nice pie and revel in the fact that you are improving your health instead of sucking down a tablespoon of that foul tasting cod liver oil?! Again though, if you get your lard from pigs raised in a CAFO, who don’t have access to sunlight, you won’t get this benefit! The hogs need to be out on pasture, soaking up the sun’s rays and imparting that glorious vitamin D into their fat cells.
So go make some pie or fry up some donuts and know that you are doing your body good!
Pigs come to my farm once they’ve been weaned, at one to two months old. At this age, they are called “feeder pigs.” It’s a bit self-explanatory: You feed them to butchering size, so they’re “feeders.” These young pigs, usually a cross of a number of common breeds such as Yorkshire, Berkshire, or Hampshire, grow well in an outdoor setting so long as they have plenty of high protein feed available.
Pigs love to root around in the dirt. It’s what they’re known for, right?! They plow up the dirt with their sturdy noses, flipping rocks with their thickly muscled necks, and hunt for delicious and tasty underground morsels. They are in search of grubs, worms, and roots. I like to plant beets for them to find, specifically sugar or mangel beets. Sugar beets, as the name says, are high in sugar. Mangel beets are considered livestock beets as they are gnarly, huge beets that can get to 10 pounds or more!
Since they are such diggers and can turn so much earth so quickly, the pigs never stay in one spot for too long. When they first arrive to the farm, they are given a cozy place to hang out and get to learn the ropes…the electric ropes that is. Freshly weaned pigs have not yet had to deal with an electric fence, so they need to be trained. It doesn’t take much to train them, but to do so correctly takes a lot of juice and the right set up.
Pigs are placed in a small area in which they are contained by two strands of electric wire, the first a few inches from the ground and the second about six inches about the first. Beyond that is an electric net fence, which is more visible and built more like a standard fence, but it also electrified. Finally, outside of the electrified netting is a solid fence such as field fence or a chicken wire fence. Animals tend to run forward when shocked, so having a physical barrier in front of them ensures that they back up since they are almost always shocked in the nose as they explore.
One or two strong shocks is often all it takes for a young pig to learn that they never want to touch the wire again. I can’t blame them! I’ve been shocked more times than I have fingers and it has never left me with a desire to touch the fence ever again! Once they’ve learned the ropes, the exterior fencing comes down and before long, the pigs are contained with two measly little metal wires. In the past, I’ve even had people stop to tell me my pigs are out because the wire is practically invisible!
Having only these two wires containing the pigs makes moving them to a fresh area super easy. And they need frequent moves, because, as I said, they are quite the diggers! in the first month or so, their little noses don’t turn much earth, but once they start packing on the pounds, ground goes flying! They get moved only about 7 or 8 times while they are here, but if I had more room to move them, and a different set up, they could get moved as often as every few days.
For now, while I’m at this farm, they are my garden tillers. I mark out the area of my garden with the electric fence posts, and they turn the earth and eat the roots of grasses and other weeds like burdock that make life hard for my crops. The efficiently till for me and find rocks which they toss as though they were pebbles! I think pound for pound, pigs are the strongest creatures on the planet. They can flip rocks that I can barely roll…and for those that have seen more work, you know I’m not a weakling.
So the pigs find a lot of their food, and I give them a pelleted feed designed for them from the mill. But beyond that, I try to give them all the best natural foods I can round up. The pigs get all the extra eggs and they slurp them down and crunch on the shells too! An apple producer nearby sells his bruised apples to me cheaply and the pigs love to chow down on them! Of course, since I raise pigs almost always starting in the fall, pumpkins are a big favorite! I also supplement them with spent grain from a local brewery. They get veggie scraps from the garden and if I can find a dairy that has extra whey or milk, maybe one day they will get that too!
When the pigs have been at the farm for about five months and are 250-300 pounds, it’s time to head to the butcher. It’s a sad day for the farm, but the pigs don’t realize this. They are lured into the trailer with their favorite treats: apples and eggs. If they are good and hungry and have time to explore the trailer before they must be loaded, it’s an easy task. They ride to the butcher and have a short day. While it’s not a fun day like all the others, I take comfort in knowing that they were able to live their lives as pigs ought to live: Outside digging in the dirt eating their favorite foods and sunbathing on warm spring days, being able to run laps and chase each other, living carefree and happy just as they should.
This year’s CSA was a great first year! Some things didn’t always go as planned and some things went better than expected! Not only was 2019 the first season of the CSA, but I was on fresh ground as well! This presented me with unexpected issues and awesome new changes. The fertility of this ground still needs a lot of work, so I’ll be running pigs through the garden areas again to hopefully bring more nutrients to the ground, reduce the seed load from the weeds a bit more, and get some of those larva hiding in the ground OUT.
The 2020 CSA is already being planned. I know, the year isn’t even over! Regardless, you can never get started too early and I’m too excited to not share what new things I’m hoping to add to the CSA next year. This year, I started with mostly the staples that many people expect. I had some trouble with the cabbage moths taking bites out of my cabbage, broccoli, and kale, but not to worry, I’ve got solutions to that problem for next year! You may have also found the corn a touch on the tiny side. Again, fertility is first on my list of things to address as it makes a big difference for some of those heavy feeders like corn.
Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re just here to see what’s on the list for next season. I’m not about to disappoint! Here’s the list of what you found in the CSA in 2019:
For next year, I don’t plan to change the cost of the CSA. I am, however, going to plant some new and exciting vegetables. Some of these items were planted last year, but didn’t quite make it out of the field, so we are trying again in 2020! With some row cover and more companion cropping, I hope to get you an even better bounty of goodies.
Next year, there will be NINE different tomato varieties, SIX different pepper varieties, and SEVEN different carrot varieties. One member suggested more varieties of beets that don’t stain, so in addition to the chioggia and bull’s blood beets, there will also be golden and albino beets in the mix! Another member requested more types of greens. This year you will see asian greens such as pak choy and mizuna along with others and a little less kale! You’ll be getting the same great mix of potatoes with the addition of German Butterball and Dakota Rose (a red skinned variety).
So here’s the quick list of some of the new things you can expect:
Garlic and garlic scapes
More Herbs such as chives and dill
I hope to keep up that variety and provide the most value for your summer CSA! You’ll continue to see staples like lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, but some things a little crazier like the blue potatoes and red carrots. As always, every season has its ups and downs and nothing in life is guaranteed, so I can’t say for certain that everything I plant will make it to your dinner table. It’s my goal, though, to fill your fridge and reduce your shopping trips so you can enjoy more all natural and awesomely delicious fresh veggies.
Researchers have been arguing over the health benefits and risks of eating eggs for decades. It seems that nearly ever other year someone is yelling “Eggs are bad for you!” But then the next year, you hear “Eat more eggs!” So, which is it? It sounds like we need some straight answers around here, so I’m going to lay out the facts for you.
Eggs, specifically the yolks, are high in cholesterol. However, there isn’t just one kind of cholesterol. There is LDL, which is considered the “bad” cholesterol and HDL, which is considered as “good” cholesterol. Eggs from hens raised in CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) do not have the important ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Eggs from pastured poultry have shown to increase HDL and improve its composition, leading to better heart-health overall. These eggs also have half as much cholesterol anyway!
But eggs from pastured poultry have a multitude of additional benefits! Hens that are able to forage for fresh greens, insects, and wild seeds have also been found to have a ton more vitamins and minerals. These eggs have more Vitamin A, E, K, and B’s. Additionally, since the hens are out in the sun, their eggs also have up to four times the amount of vitamin D. This is hugely important in a society where it seems nearly everyone is lacking in vitamin D.
The amount of additional minerals that eggs from pastured hens may have can vary since their diet is constantly changing based upon what natural foods are available, but the difference is still significant. Eggs contain manganese, magnesium, selenium, biotin, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, choline, and carotenoids. All of these are necessary for overall health and good body function. Eggs manage to cover a lot of ground when it comes to providing the nutrients our bodies need to function.
Here’s the rub though: Many of these nutrients are contained predominantly or entirely in the yolk. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, for instance, are only stored in the yolk. If you want the full health benefits of eggs, you can’t just skip the yolk out of fear of cholesterol. All of those wonderful nutrients that power the body and improve coronary function can’t just be ignored!
So there’s the straight answer. Eggs from pasture-raised hens ARE good for you. Researchers from Penn State have determined that the cholesterol in eggs from pastured poultry has a positive effect on heart health. Plus, with all those other vitamins and minerals and the slew of other micronutrients, eggs can be included as part of your daily diet, knowing that they are doing the body good.
Starting with calves has been an interesting experience. Every species is unique and within each species, each member has their own quirks. I’ve heard “sheep are dumb” and “cows are dumb.” Let me just tell you, that’s a lie. Animals are instinctual, but they sure aren’t stupid. Cattle are some darn smart creatures and it gets them (and/or their owner!) into loads of trouble at times. Despite being on only my second pair of cattle, they have taught me so much about their species, so much so that I won’t do much more than only begin to help you understand these awesome giants. But I’ll at least start with how I raise cattle from bottle babies to half-ton toe-crushers.
Cattle raised on the WPP farm are bought as calves. The first two were holstein/hereford crosses that arrived after they were about a month old. The second two are holstein/angus crosses. Holstein is a milking breed and both Hereford and Angus are meat breeds. The first ones looked like dairy cows, but the second pair, twin girls, look like beef cattle. They were brought to the farm on their second day of life, after receiving their mother’s colostrum, which is a vital component of milk during the first 24 hours that provides antibodies to help the calves fight off bacteria and viruses.
Once the calves arrive here, they are bottle fed milk replacer for about 3-5 months. It’s not as ideal as having them with their mother who, naturally, would provide milk for the calf for nearly its entire first year of life. The calves are fed a little grain early on as they transition from milk to pasture to help their stomach turn from a milk-digesting stomach to a solid-food digesting stomach. Grain helps to jump start this process so that the calves are able to get the most nutrients out of the grass as possible.
But the yummy nightly snacks don’t stop there. Since it is usually the end of spring when the calves are coming off milk replacer, the sheep are also coming off their winter grain ration as they no longer need the extra sugars and proteins to stay warm and make milk for their lambs. Everyone transitions together onto alfalfa pellets. These are soaked to prevent them from choking on the dry pellets. Alfalfa is a high protein plant that herbivores love. It gives them a small boost of protein and encourages them to come when I call for them! This makes for retrieving wayward bovines a breeze! When I call “come on big cows” and shake the grain bucket, it’s a lovely sight as they come raising towards me kicking up their heels in excitement!
For the summer, the cattle enjoy the fresh green grass of the pasture and their nightly snack of alfalfa pellets, but once winter rolls around, grain and hay are on the menu. Around late October, early November, when nights start getting nippy and the daylight starts fading fast, they start eating almost entirely stored forage and a few pounds of grain. The grain helps the calves continue to grow well through winter and stay warm with the added sugars that the hay may not be able to provide. By this point, the calves are around 7 months old and well over 500lbs.
As yearlings entering their second spring, they again are switched back to alfalfa pellets and released back onto the pasture. During winter, they are stuck with the “sacrifice paddock,” that is to say, an area of the pasture that is sacrificed for the winter so that the rest of the pasture can have a rest and begin to regrow in the early spring. This sacrificial area will then be fenced off to hopefully give it some time to rest as well before the next winter. The cattle enjoy their second summer as they push past 1,000lbs each.
Once the cattle reach their second winter and before they again need to start eating hay and grain, they will go to the butcher. By this point, the goal is for each heifer or steer to weigh around 1,200lbs. They will have eaten minimal grain and been provided with 99% of the food coming in the form of fresh or stored forages by way of pasture plants, alfalfa, hay, or cut grass. By keeping grain feeding to a minimum, the beef from these grass-fed cattle is heart-healthy and provides a number of other health and taste benefits.
The best part for me, though, as the farmer, is being able to provide as close to natural of an environment for the cattle as possible with the current resources available. While it may not be natural for cattle to receive chin scratches and tummy rubs or be saved from getting stuck somewhere, they sure do seem to appreciate it. Cattle seem to be just as intrigued by humans as humans are by them, and while I don’t always appreciate a giant, slimy cat tongue lick from a cow, I know that’s just one way that they let me know I’ve been accepted as part of the herd.
Sounds neat, doesn’t it? Idaho pasture pigs or Ipps for short. They are some fancy creatures; new to the scene. Ipps were only bred into existence around 2006. They were bred from a combination of standard size pigs that you are more familiar with and KuneKune pigs, which are small, slow growing pigs that prefer to eat grass. KuneKune’s will graze like a cow and spend less time rooting and tearing up the ground due to their short, upturned snout. Their nose simply isn’t made for the hard-core rooting that standard pig breeds are wont to do.
I’ve seen Ipps for sale in the past, but not close enough to make the excursion to find some. This year, I found some close by to check out. I went to see them and was surprised by their size. They were rather close in size to standard size pigs of the same age. But a lot more colorful! Ipps can be a variety of colors, but these were black with spots of gold and white. Their hair was long and fuller than pigs I’d had in the past. They were also rather calm and content enough to eat while I stood nearby.
I left with two of them in the back of my truck full of feed. Upon arriving home, I found them nestled down together, giving me the side eye. They were nervous and tired, so I gave them one last scare and carried them to their new home. I set them gently in their shelter loaded full of shredded paper as bedding. I gave them water and food before piling straw bales in front of the door to keep them warm. Prior to turning in for the night, I checked on them one last time to find them side-by-side cuddling in the paper bedding.
The next morning, I found them cozy under their bedding and let them out to explore. It took them a moment to find the electric wire as they nibbled on leaves and grasses. The one lifted his head for a sniff of the wire and got startled by a strong ZAP. He screamed and the two of them took off for the safety of the shelter. Satisfied that they would stay safe and sound within their enclosure now that they had learned the terror of the electric fence, I left them with some pumpkins.
While Ipps tend to be grazers, they will still root at least a little, but not enough to accomplish the necessary task of preparing the garden bed for next year’s planting. To accomplish this, two standard pigs will be brought in to run with the Ipps once the two Ipps are a bit larger so that they will be ready for the butcher together since the Ipps grow slower. The Ipps will graze the leaves while the other pigs root up the roots of the weeds, together fertilizing the garden and removing both weeds and weed seeds.