Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gilts, Super Vet and Other Pig News

A couple weeks ago, we added two gilts (young, female pigs) to our two males.  They're sisters (Blondie and Martha) and sweet as can be.  We've learned (in our very short time as pig owners) that females are less complicated than males.  Or, at least less complicated than un-castrated and hernia-inflicted males.

Due to our inability to get proper information on the two males we bought at auction (it may be their fault and it maybe ours) we came home with a small male with a hernia on his rear end and a larger male that was still "intact".

Usually male pigs are castrated when they are very young but Spock wasn't and while Jamey watched a few youtube videos on how to do it yourself, we thought it may be too traumatic to do it ourselves (and ask friends to help).

Since we're not up for raising piglets this year, we don't need an intact male. We also learned about boar taint.  If a male pig isn't castrated in good time before being butchered, his hormones taint the meat.  Some butchers (including the one we used to butcher Princess last year) won't butcher boars at all because of this concern (and USDA inspectors that come down hard on evidence of boar taint).

Boar taint is the offensive odor or taste that can be evident during the cooking or eating of pork or pork products derived from non-castrated male pigs once they reach puberty.

Much to our delight, an amazing local veterinarian was willing to make a house call and take a look at both pigs and charge us a very reasonable price for his services ($41.50 to be exact).  First, the vet took a look at little Wesley.  Apparently, the hernia issue he has is hereditary.  It could have been remedied when they castrated him but they (whoever "they" are) didn't.  At this point, it would have been too traumatic for all involved to repair it so we're leaving it be.  It's possible it will cause no troubles.  If it does, it will be obvious and he'll just need to be butchered early.

Jamey had talked to the vet on the phone prior to the visit and thought that Jamey would be able to hold Spock while he preformed the castration procedure.  Just to be sure, Jamey had lined up for a neighbor to come help.  Once the vet saw Spock, he thought for sure Jamey could handle it on his own and Jamey says he likely could have but he was SO happy (as was I!) when our neighbor entered the barn at just the right moment!

GORY DETAILS (in case you're interested):  Our super-hero vet chased Spock around the small stall and grabbed him by the back legs.  Once he had a good grip, he handed the legs to Jamey. While Jamey was getting a good grip, in walked our neighbor and took one of the legs from Jamey. Spock was doing a handstand-of-sorts with his belly facing the vet.  The vet disinfected the area with a special wash he brought along.  Then, in literally 5 seconds flat, the vet used a special little razor blade to make 2-inch slits in each sac and the testicles popped right out. He then quickly cut the membrane that they were attached to and dropped them on the ground.  Then, he used some sort of anapestic spray on the cuts and Spock was set back on the ground.

Spock stood oddly (for him) still and quiet while the vet proceeded to give me detailed instructions on how I could prepare the testicles for eating.  He said they are the most tender cut of a hog.  I stood there, trying not to let my semi-horror show, and listened politely.  Sadie fetched me a container and I stood, making polite conversation with the vet, our neighbor, husband and children- all the while holding testicles in my hand.  It's apparent that my 'firsts' will never end.

Our children all watched the procedure. It was a serious event.  Keeping animals for meat carries somber overtones all the way along. There's a balance you hold in your mind- developing a relationship with the animal, genuinely appreciating it and yet ultimately knowing they will one day die.  For us.

On a side note, have you all watched The Incredible Dr. Pol yet? Our whole family watches it on Netflix and loves it.  If you haven't watched it, you really must.

Little Wesley isn't so little anymore- he's almost the size of the girls and it's a little hard to tell apart initially.  He's still spoiled, though.  We weaned him off the formula but he still remembers it and squeals and fusses his little head off when we come into the barn and don't produce a dog bowl full of milk.  Once weaned off the milk, he remained stubborn for awhile and refused to go outside and root with the others.  Now, he's like one of the big kids- rooting about, laying in the sun and enjoying the great outdoors.

Wesley- actively whining and fussing at me

We're pleasantly surprised at how quiet they are.  Yes, Wesley fusses for milk, and there were the occasional piggy-yelps as they learned where the electric fences are but otherwise, there is only a low-level of happy, contented grunting while they root.

Occasionally during the day, they bed down together in the barn on top of the leaves if it's warm and under them if it's cool.  Sometimes they sleep outside.

their barn space

We've had to place a large tire around their water pail because Spock, especially, likes to get in the water and roll around a bit.  He still can, but the tire keeps all the water from spilling out.

I'm currently reading this recently released book about pigs and find it fascinating.  It's funny- before we got bees, I did a TON of reading and preparing.  With the pigs, there was some preliminary reading but now that they're HERE?! I must learn more!

I just might love them as much as our bees:-).

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May Bees

After dinner the other night, we left the dishes piled high and leftovers sitting on the counter so we could sneak out back to look at our bees.  It was a beautiful, sunny evening with very little breeze- a perfect evening for taking a peek. Jamey and I donned our bee-protection- a hat with veil for me, a long-sleeved shirt with hood and veil for Jamey, and a smoker for us all.

Sam helping to get the smoker going 

 top bar hive

Langstroth hive 

 inside the top super of the Langstroth hive

 honey bees on fresh white comb

We already knew that both packages were doing well.  The queens were laying eggs and both colonies were already given more room to build comb so they could store their pollen and nectar. This evening we wanted to see if they had taken all the sugar syrup we made available and if they needed additional room.

Both hives drained their syrup so we added more.  If there is plenty of nectar available in nature, bees prefer the real stuff and will ignore the syrup.  The fact that they took it all told us that they were glad for the extra stores.  We'd prefer that we didn't need to supplement in this way but after losing so many bees this past winter, we're apt to spoil them.

We saw plenty of brood, pollen and nectar in both hives.

capped brood- soon adult bees will emerge

nectar- when enough water has evaporated off, the bees will cap the finished honey

more capped brood and several cells of pollen (yellow)

Both hives were building new comb but the top bar colony built more.  We added several empty bars to the top bar hive to let them continue building out.  The Langstroth colony built a little but still has plenty of room in the top super so nothing was added to this hive.

new comb

Sometimes bees build comb in places that are inconvenient for us- like between frames, making it hard for us to do inspections. The comb needs scraping off with a hive tool.

Our hives are at the edge of a small wooded area with several black locust trees.  This particular evening, the scent of their blooms was intoxicating.  Honey bees love black locust nectar- something we didn't put together when we placed our hives.

They (and other native pollinators) also love clover.  I wish we had fields and fields of these beautiful flowers.

It will be another couple busy weeks until we can check in on the bees again.  Hopefully the extra space and food we gave them will keep them happy until the next time we can sneak out to the bee yard. Pin It

Monday, May 18, 2015

Asparagus and Ham Spring Crepes

A good while ago I shared about these Spinach and Three Cheese Crepes.  They will forever be one of my most favorite things to eat.

This spring, I decided to change things up a bit and make an asparagus and ham version and they were (dare I say?) just as yummy as the spinach version.  If you find yourself swimming in eggs and asparagus, you should give these a try.

Asparagus and Ham Spring Crepes
This recipes will make enough crepes to fill two 9 x 13 pans.  Serve one pan for dinner and freeze the other (or eat them for breakfast and/or lunch throughout the week).

3 cups asparagus, diced small
2 tbsp. butter
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups cooked ham, diced small
3/4 cups feta cheese
1 cup Swiss cheese (or mozzarella or Monterray jack)
1/2 tsp. salt

12 eggs, divided (see below)
2 1/4 cup flour, divided
3 cup milk, divided
1 tsp. salt, divided

4 tbsp. butter for cooking the crepes

To make the filling, saute the asparagus and garlic in 2 tbsp. butter and a few tablespoons of water until the asparagus is tender.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the ham, cheeses and salt.  Mix gently and set aside.

To make the crepes (also know as Russian pancakes), you'll need to make two batches in your blender.  To make the first batch put 6 eggs, 1 1/8 cup flour, 1 1/2 cups milk and 1/2 tsp. salt in your blender.  Mix, then scrape down the sides then liquefy.  Cook the first batch by heating your skillet to medium high heat.  I peel back the end of a stick of butter and butter the hot pan with the end.  Pour crepe batter into your pan.  When tiny bubbles form and the bottom of the crepe is light brown, flip. The other side won't take nearly as long to brown so watch closely.  Set on a plate, re-butter your pan and repeat until all the batter is gone.  Next, blender-up your second batch and cook-up (I use fancy cooking talk) the rest of the crepes.

To assemble, place a crepe on a plate and place about 2-3 tbsp. of asparagus mixture down the center. Roll up and place seam side down in greased 9 x 13 inch baking dishes.  Just prior to baking, brush a little olive oil on the tops of the crepes.  These keep very nicely in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to bake them.

Enjoy! Pin It

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Electric Fence

Toward the beginning of our serious-about-getting-pigs talks, I expressed concerns about them getting out of whatever yard we'd construct for them.  When Princess and her friends lived at our neighbor's last summer, they occasionally broke through their fencing.  They didn't cause much trouble when they were out but I knew how I hated it when a chicken or two of ours gets out and meanders into our neighbors' yards.  I know they say they don't mind but *I* mind.  And, I didn't like imagining a giant pig roaming the neighborhood with me chasing it with my broom and a bucket of scraps.

Jamey told me we'd solve that problem with electric fencing.  Electric?  This relieved my broom-wielding, pig-chasing fears but what about our kids and all the other kids that come to play at our house?  Would they accidentally get shocked?

Well, I didn't quite have the right picture in my head of how it would be set up.  Jamey installed real fencing and, then, using re-bar and these nifty yellow extender things, attached the electric fencing several inches inside the real (post and wire) fencing.  For a child (or adult, for that matter) to get shocked, they'd have to deliberately reach through the regular fencing and touch the electrified wire.

The current on the kind we purchased is pretty low (and cheap) - intended for smaller animals, like chickens even. The pigs don't like it either. We felt so bad for Spock the first day we turned it on. He was already a jumpy and nervous pig but once he touched it a few times, he went a bit crazy- running all over the yard, accidentally bumping into it in other places only to yelp and run again.  Thankfully, it only took him (and the other pigs) a day to learn to stay away.  When they see us approach the fences now, they first get excited- thinking we've brought scraps- but they stop when they see that yellow wire and come no further.  We are able to feed them scraps and have easy access to them through the barn.

Another benefit of using electric fencing is that we can section off the pig yard easily with it by repositioning the re-bar stakes.  This allows us to limit their access to one part of the yard so the rest will grow up. The idea is to transfer them to a new section once they've depleted the first section's food supply. Imagine a funnel with the narrowest part being where the pig yard meets the barn. They'll always have access to the barn and water at the narrowest part but the upper, larger part of the funnel (pig yard) is what is being divided.

In the picture below, I'm standing inside the barn looking out.  Just beyond the large tree to the right, the electric fence cuts straight across to the left (hard to see), sectioning off part of the back of the pig yard.

Jamey has tried out the fence- a couple times on purpose and a couple not.  It gives a nice little jolt but nothing too terrible.  So he says.  I've decided to take his word for it and always make a point to tell our guests not to touch the pretty yellow wire inside the pig yard.  That's a mild trade off for not having to chase after pigs so I'll take it.
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Friday, May 8, 2015

Glorious Spring

I could spend an entire day outside taking pictures.  I don't seem to pay as much attention to detail without my camera.  I need to work on that.  Since it isn't possible right now I settle for short stints outside between teaching and lunch, between loads of laundry and sweeping, between checking math and assigning chores.

In a few short weeks, we'll be wrapping up the end of the school year and my days will open up.  I can't wait.  For now, I inhale the Lily of the Valley and lilac and head back inside.

Our lettuces reseeded themselves nicely and are waiting to be thinned and weeded.  We've been enjoying asparagus and even found the first mushroom of the year on our logs.

Our blueberries are in bloom (above).  We lost one of our bushes over the winter and hope to replace it with another soon.  Our two honey bee colonies are doing splendidly.  Last week Jamey added more bars to the top bar hive and a super to the Langstroth (below) to give them the room they need. Both queens took their mating flights, were fertilized and are laying eggs.

I pruned our red raspberries on the late side this year but they seem to be thriving anyway.

Flocks of barn swallows have made their homes in our barns this spring.  They flit in and out all day long.  Every time I walk down to the barn, they swoop in and out right over my head and I can't help but giggle with delight.

I'm even excited about blooming weeds.  They feed our bees, you see:-).

And these two sisters?  They're making everyone smile.  Especially Spock.  He went from being nervous, jumpy and preferring the inside of the barn to rooting-beside, skipping-around, and sleeping-outside-three-wide with these two.

Right now, this is my favorite season EVER.
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