It is starting to look and feel a lot like spring in our neck of the woods. Sure signs are the little rivers of water running everywhere, slushy driveways and daylight savings time.
We are very quickly approaching baby animal season. All the babies should start arriving next week.
Our pasture-raised Berkshire sow is all tucked into her large, comfortable, well-bedded stall in the log barn after spending all winter outside with the boar. We don’t farrow (that’s what it’s called when a pig has babies) outside because at this time of the year we can get predictably unpredictable blasts of winter. Having her in the barn allows us to put heat lamps in a blocked off corner of the stall for the piglets if the temperatures become frigid. The Berkshire breed is a heritage breed. They are well adapted to our climate of extremes. In the winter they have a thick coat of hair to protect them from the elements. Normally, they are very docile animals that are pleasant to be around. We raised our momma sow from a baby so she will follow me around just about anywhere I want to lead her. All I have to do is grab a pail of grain and head toward where we are taking her. I do say “I” because she won’t follow the guys like she will me. We do not push our animals to extreme production. Most pigs are capable of having three litters per year, but we only aim for two. One in the spring and another in the late fall. When we first started raising pigs we purchased a conventional sow from a confinement barn. She ended up birthing 21 piglets. That is way too many for one sow to raise. Our Berkshires only have approximately 8 babies per litter. This allows the mommas to provide ample nutrition to the piglets while they are suckling.
When the piglets are six weeks old we assess the body condition of the sow to determine if they can stay with her for a couple more weeks or graduate to being on their own. After weaning they are moved to portable shelters. Here we train them to respect an electric fence because once they outgrow the shelters they are moved to the pastures where the mature pigs are living.
Being a heritage breed the Berkshires grow much slower than conventional pigs. A conventional pig will be ready for butchering at 5 months of age, but our Berkshires can take up to eight months. In a conventionally raised pig this means that the meat is mushy and lacks any flavor. The meat from our Berkshires is firm, but tender and loaded with natural flavor. I had often wondered why so many pork recipes always had a sauce or were heavily seasoned, but now I understand that the age at butchering is the reason.
The Pekin ducks and Pilgrim geese have started building nests and laying eggs. We are anticipating new ducklings and goslings toward the end of April. I also have two large incubators (we’re talking one hundred twenty eggs apiece) with Khaki Campbell duck eggs that should start hatching late next week. Once the first incubator is empty I will refill it with fresh eggs and start all over again.
Shortly after Momma sow has her babies the sheep should start birthing their lambs. This is always such a fun time. All those little lambs frisky and bouncing around are such a joy to watch. We raised Dorper sheep which I will tell you about in another post.
Then, a week later the cows are due to start calving. We allow the cows to calve out on the pastures. This gives them plenty of clean ground to be on so they don’t get sick. This also gives all the horse lovers on the farm a reason to saddle up and take a ride through the herd checking for new calves. When new calves are discovered we give them each an ear tag labeled with their own personal number, their mother’s number and their birth date. This allows us to make the connection between mother and baby. Someone once asked, “Why do you ear tag your calves? After all, the mothers know whose calf is whose.” It is a good question. To us it is mostly for convenience. Because we keep a lot of the calves to finish for beef, we have multiple ages. So when we see their birth date we know when that animal will be old enough to butcher.
And, last but not least, we are expecting one foal this year. One of our work horses is expecting in late May again. I will keep you up dated when that one arrives.
Come on back next week for another visit. Maybe I will even have brand new baby piglet pictures to share with you all!
If you are interested in purchasing any of our farm raised products, check out “Our Products” page. Orders are now open for all meats. Click the link below to fill out and submit an order form.
Would you like to become a part of our family farm community and keep updated on the activities that make our farm tick?