Sunday, December 27, 2009

PIGLET mosh pit

With the days warmer temperatures, I thought you'd enjoy seeing pics of the piglets as they explore the barnyard under mom's watchful eye.

I call this one the piglet mosh pit - they are WILD and quite delicious-looking!

I'd expect 6 of these little guys (and gals) to be ready for processing just in time for our Wednesday afternoon farmer's market in Georgetown...yummy!

One will stay here and become a breeding sow and one is destined for new residence in New York State!

As many of your probably know, we raise Hereford Hogs and are looking to add Gloucester Old Spots to our farm operation come this springtime!

Check out our website for more info about the 'Old Spots'...thanks Rich for hooking us up with some really nice registered breeding stock.

Our unregistered Hereford's will continue on as an important part of our meat production operation in the future.

Winter wonderland

Well, this has been a very trying week for the sheep, goats and chickens, thanks to last weekend's blizzard which buried us in. For those of you from colder climes, let me just say that we DO NOT have winter storms very often and when we do, everything falls apart pretty quickly.

All those people sitting in their living rooms in front of fire saying, 'ooh, isn't it pretty!' ....well, just stop it! We were carving paths in the 3 foot drifts for the sheep to get to waterers, hand-carrying water to the chickens in their coops, and just generally getting very cold and wet tromping around the farm, thank-you very much!

Okay, so I'll admit...maybe it was a little pretty, but just a little! I'm sure the chicken I found 'only-because-I-could-still-see-his-head-above-the-snow-that-was-about-to-blow-over-his-head-like-quicksand' DID NOT find it pretty!

ANYways - the snow has started melting, I no longer need to wear my thigh-high wading boots, and normalcy has returned to the farm.

Thanks you for listening....Kent

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Honey - why r there pigs in the kitchen?

Honey, why are there pigs in the kitchen?

What has happened to my life? I never thought I would utter those words. Yet, I ask the question as if it is a perfectly normal question. Strangely enough, at this point in my life it is not jaw dropping at all. I knew one of the sows was pregnant. I knew it was cold outside and we were worried. I guess we just hoped for the best, back in August when we decided to breed her.

We do have warm streaks in December here in Maryland. After all, we have global warming.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. It's Sunday afternoon and 28 degrees outside.

Newborn baby piglets get cold very quickly. Pigs are strange creatures, very smart animals, but not as maternal as you would expect. Oh, don’t get me wrong. A sow will ferociously protect her young.

It’s just that, well they kind of push the baby out and just lay there. Now, I know it’s a several hour process and there are 10 or 11 more babies to come, but they expect the baby to tear out of its amniotic sac, cough out the fluid in its lungs, open its eyes, get up and walk over to one of her 12 nipples and know what to do. That’s a lot to expect of someone within minutes of being born.

If that doesn’t happen, and its 28 degrees outside, the core body temperature starts to drop and it becomes lethargic - fast! It’s a downward spiral from there with no hope of recovery without intervention. Mom doesn’t clean you off, she doesn’t gently nudge you to your target. Grant it, a pig couldn’t actually turn its head to its private parts, like a dog, if it wanted to. It’s physically impossible. But, she could stand up, walk in a circle and explore what just came out of her body. She had to know something out of the ordinary was going on back there.

No, she’s just going to lay there and wait for the rest to come. You’re on your own kiddo. Remind your kids of this next time they seem unappreciative. Humans take care of their young for 18 years before they are on their own, sometimes even longer with the boomerang generation.

Kent discovered the babies first. He was frantically pitching straw out of the stall I had put the pregnant sow in. Apparently I had overdone it and placed too much straw in the stall. The pigs were being born and getting lost in the straw. It seemed like a brilliant idea to me at the time. All the books I had read talked about sows building a nest shortly before farrowing (another word I never thought would be part of my vocabulary, it means having baby pigs, I use it in Scrabble all the time now). I thought a lot of bedding would help insulate them from the cold. Pigs love to bury themselves in straw!

Well, apparently too much straw interferes with that incredible journey to the teat (you’re going to have to look that one up). Kent found the babies that had already been born. He even managed to move Mom off of one she accidently sat on. Yep, you heard me right. Mom had to sit up and see what Kent was doing in her private room. Now, I know baby pigs are small, and Mom is pretty big, but still, she had to feel something under her rump. Shockingly, the baby was fine.

I was minding my own business, doing the afternoon rounds, collecting eggs, playing with the livestock guardian dogs, when I thought I heard someone calling my name. It sounded muffled. I guess all the excess hay I put in the barn was absorbing Kent’s call for help. I set the eggs down and walked in the barn.

I was excited when Kent told me the sow was having her babies. It was still daylight outside. What a treat. Usually they farrow in the middle of the night and if things don’t go well, you feel like crap the next day, full of remorse and guilt. Not that I’m talking from personal experience or anything. This is great I thought. We had even prepared a special heated box for the baby pigs to crawl into. You know, the red light from the heat lamp would draw them in. All species of farm animals are attracted to the warmth of the ubiquitous red heat lamp.

Well all barnyard animals except piglets apparently. In hindsight, the only way it would have worked is if Mom had coincidently laid her private parts up against the opening of the box. She was on the other side of the room.

The warm box is empty, the baby pigs are cold, and Kent is pitching straw out so we can find the baby pigs. I quickly have to figure out how I am going to raise the temperature of the barn and I start collecting heat lamps. Fortunately, we have a lot of those. They come in handy. Of course, I need to find chains and clips to secure them with. Heat lamps and copious straw bedding don’t go well together. Then, I need to find outlet expanders to accommodate multiple cords . . . tick-tock, tick-tock.

Meanwhile, the baby pigs are still coming. They come out at a surprising velocity. 'Ejected' actually describes it pretty well. Whenever another would come, Kent and I would stop what we were doing, dry the baby off and try to get it to nurse before it got too cold. Well, if you ever saw that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy is working on the assembly line at the chocolate factory and is having trouble keeping up....? Well, you get the picture.

The next thing you know, Kent looks pregnant because he has 4 chilled babies inside his coat and I’m holding two heat lamps in one hand and trying to line up 6 baby pigs on teats (did you look it up yet?) with my other hand. We start trading baby pigs. He would hand them to me warmed and active and I would hand him ones cold and sluggish.

As dismal as it sounds, we were actually starting to turn a corner and had more baby pigs nursing happily than Kent had inside his coat, the make shift ICU. In between new babies, I managed to get 4 heat lamps securely hung and located a heated floor mat.

We were feeling optimistic. All 10 baby pigs were in a pile, under the heat lamp, alongside Mom. Mom had expelled the afterbirth and stopped having contractions. We decided to break for dinner. Fortunately, Kent had prepared soup before he went out to check on the sow. The soup had been simmering nicely the whole time and was a perfect way to warm up after all the excitement in the barn, along with several glasses of wine of course.

After dinner, we went back out to the barn. Mom had come out of her labor coma and was much more alert. She was not happy to see us and really didn’t want us in the stall with her. She had moved away from the heat lamps. Six of the babies had followed her and were active and nursing. Four were still in the same spot we left them in and not active.

There are those moments in life where you need to make a decision and you’re not sure what the right thing to do is. Logic tells you that bottle babies are not profitable; let Mother Nature take its course. Your emotions tell you that these babies don’t have to die if you intervene. We manage to convince ourselves that we’ll just bring them in for the night, warm them up, get some milk replacer in them and give them back to Mom the next day. I manage to ignore that little voice in my head that reminds me that Mothers rarely take back babies that are removed from them during the critical bonding period after birth.

Kent has prepared a crate for the baby pigs, in front of the fireplace. His coat is draped over one half of the top to help trap the heat. All the babies are lined up in row, warm and content. Kent managed to milk out some colostrum from the Mom during the whole ordeal. He bottle fed the babies. The smallest of the four is a boy, the runt of the litter. He is half the size of the other piglets. I think we’ll call him Wilbur . . .

Written by Will Morrow, edited by Kent Ozkum December 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Guage and sheep backsides

This is a wonderful piece entitled 'Harriet' as created by our friend (John) Matthew Moore using a French technique called guage.

He came up with the idea of doing barnyard 'portraits' and to be honest, I was a little skeptical at first. I mean, what exactly is a sheep portrait?

After some comical efforts at getting the sheep to hold still and look at us, we were successful at getting some decent, very high-resolution photos. Matthew uses these photos to paint his portraits.

We came very close to doing a 'sheep backside' series, but in the end, we were triumphant!

I have to say that his portraits do a fine job in capturing the many subtleties that make each sheep as unique to the shepherd as the people we know.

His portraits hang in some very special homes around the world and are available as large paintings (Harriet was original about 4 x 4 feet) or as high quality reproductions.

Matthew sends his paintings to London for the very best reproduction quality available and they are available in custom sizes.

He is currently working on a cow series and a pig series, hopefully, to include our Hereford pig Gloria!

To contact him, visit his website at: