With all the news lately of the impending bacon shortage and the high prices of grain, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about whether or not we want to keep pigs here at our new place in Vermont.
At the New Hampshire place, we had fields full of stumps from recently cleared land and we had about 15 acres for them to roam about in. They loved it. They farrowed out next to big tree stumps that they’d recently turned over and the baby piglets just loved sucking on maple roots and find grubs galore. They completely ignored the sheds we built for them, preferring their own designs and devices.
Here in Vermont, the land is completely different. Open pastures and fields, very little tree cover, a heavy clay soil, and slate rather than granite. There are not as many stone walls surrounding fields, though there is a slate quarry near us. We hear the blasts all the time and the windows rattle. Boom! The land we are leasing has decent high tensile electric fences, mostly in good shape, and a very strong charger in the porch, under cover. (speaking of loud! click click click snap click click click)
The fields are hayed and managed very well. Beef and dairy cows are easily moved about using one electric strand. That makes me so jealous. We can’t keep our sheep behind very expensive, no climb fence. Hate. There are some areas that aren’t being used to hay or graze cows because it’s brushy and rocky. We wish we could use the sheep to graze it down and get it back into shape, but see above re: inability to contain our sheep.
We are thinking about Walter Jeffries‘ pastured pigs, and maybe getting a couple of gilts and a boar from him, maybe when they get cheaper this winter. I’m wondering if I can set up a route again of food for them. I know of one area cheese maker that is offering free whey, which would certainly be a start.
There is also a demand for meat rabbits, and I’ve been thinking about getting some of Joel Salatin’s son’s pastured rabbits, because I don’t want to have to feed much grain and want rabbits that will thrive on pasture. There are so many wild rabbits in our area that I think meat rabbits would thrive if we can contain them. We Pyrs are quite adept at grabbing a rabbit lunch. Several farmer’s markets in the area would love to have a meat rabbit farmer join, which is encouraging.
The predator pressure is high, and our Pyrs are really struggling to learn the area, understand what noises are normal. We are right on a fairly busy road, and they are fascinated with the joggers, the bikers, the farm equipment, the school buses. They caught a wild cat, much to the appreciation of neighbor farmers, too. That cat had been eating chickens up and down this road all year, making raising poultry very expensive.
There is a ton of overhead predator pressure, too. Hawks and ravens have shown up and are tormenting the birds and dogs alike. The Pyrs do not understand that they shouldn’t chase them across the busy road. I mean, they are used guarding a big circle around our farm, and having it stop suddenly at the road is confusing. What do you mean, don’t chase the raven across the street? Huh? Does not compute. We are making some progress convincing them of this reality, but it’s still slow going. The wildlife doesn’t respect the road and they don’t think they need to, either.
The hawks in the area are quite used to feasting on the rabbits and other small rodents in our fields and are just loving the additions we’ve added to the area. The geese have been quite handy to have around to help protect everyone, and have caught some small hawks twice and enjoyed the feast themselves. Man is that sort of horrifying to watch. It makes me proud of them and still cringe with how vicious they can be.
Speaking of geese, we don’t have a pond here. We’ve been making do with the little wading pool again, but that won’t work in the spring. They need water where they can float in order to mate or the eggs won’t be fertile. We’ve learned that from experience! We have a little while to figure that out, but not long. Will a horse trough be enough? Can we build them a platform to get in and out properly? Hmmm. Frank finally got the last four geese from the old place here, and watching the homecoming was something else. So sweet, entangled necks and grooming galore.
We are sure we want to continue to do birds of all sorts.
We’re pretty much committed to Icelandic chickens. We have a very pretty, self-sustaining flock, and they lay well. They’re kind of small, so some meat birds as well would be nice, but the Icies fly too well to keep them reliably separated.
We’re somewhat conflicted on the Midget White turkeys. They too fly better than we would wish and have no desire to stay where we want them. Also, the ones we bought in 2010 are not the mamas that our original crew from Murray McMurray were. We lose too many poults. We will be buying poults next year, and Frank is wondering about shifting to Bourbon Reds which are heavy enough not to fly. With the price of grain, we’re also wondering about slaughtering the entire flock for Thanksgiving and just starting over.
The Toulouse geese are a success. They lay, they hatch, they raise. They do need deep water to mate, and they don’t pay as well as turkeys, but they’re also cheaper to raise. They graze on pasture quite well, forage well, and love baylage in the winter, not just grain. I don’t know that we’ll buy anymore, but we’ll try to build the flock.
Ducks are another on-going issue. There is a market for them. We switched from Pekin to Saxony hoping that they would raise their own babies. The Saxony do set, unlike the Pekins, but we have yet to have a duck actually hatch an egg. We’ll continue with the Saxony flock, but, we’re considering buying Pekin ducklings to raise next summer as well. Pekins grow too fast to live on pasture alone, but they do forage for what they can get. The all-night bug bar definitely cuts down on the grain bill, but it requires bugs to work, which we won’t have in the winter.
So, this is obviously still a work in progress, we are definitely still thinking about it all. There’s so much to consider, but now is the perfect time for that. We’ve got plenty to do to get ready for winter here and to decide what to do in the spring, most likely.