Pigs + Egg Report
This week, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a rather frightening article on the current state of our pig farms. Though Kristof isolated a specific farm in Indiana there is sadly, a growing reaction in our bodies of how we have been consuming genetically modified animals and their hormones. The article has been widely circulated Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health (March 11, 2009). Link here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/opinion/12kristof.html?em
Addendum: March 14, 2009 - Kristof writes his second piece on the pork problem: Pathogens in Our Pork.
I corresponded with the Fiedler Family who actually has their farm in Indiana as well about the article. Becky and Jim and their wonderful pig farm reminds us how cultivating livestock should be. Here's their latest Egg Report:
“Pigs, Pigs, Pigs”
“Pigs are pigs!” is what I say when they do something piggy whether it is acting like a pig, eating like a pig, living in a pigsty or just being a hog about something. We have pigs everywhere. They are on top of the hill, under the hill and in the maternity ward in front of Kenneth’s house. Noble Sam is with Big Mama and other sows doing his pig thing in front of our house. The fat boys are eating like pigs in the “bull pen” which is a 12 acre field where they run, eat and literally kick up their heels with their freedom beside the bulls who tolerate them.
Sane farrowing in the pasture with 10 sows becomes a mad house with thirty or more that many. The more comes from 21 gilts that were in the fat pen getting ready for market when a raid by some young boars created the “maternity ward” field where they have 25 plus acres to roam and explorer. Larry the bulldozer guy asked, “How does a one wire gate keep them in?” I could only reply, “Why would they want out?” Larry was even more shocked when he pushed over a tree in the way of our new fence line and a tiger striped baby ran out. Who knows who the father was of the one! All Larry could think was, “It’s a skunk!” He has a track record of turning up skunks with trees which is not pretty when you are stuck on the track hole the rest of the day. Rebekah came to the rescue and put it with a mother.
Pigs are communal animals in the wild and often share nursing all the babies. Spray some cheap perfume on an orphan pig and any sow will pretty much accept it as her own if you spray her own babies with the same cheap perfume. Baby pigs are also pigs and will accept any mother who is blessed with abundant milk. Apparently age does not make a difference. We found that out last week with two sows who were new mothers up on top of the hill. One had 9 piglets in a dip in the hill underneath a fallen cedar tree. She rooted out a perfect nest which we improved with a half bale of straw when we found her and her babies. She was gentle and yet protective even though she would run to the top of the hill every time we stopped the RTV when driving pass. She was still a pig when food was a possibility!
The other mother made a nice nest not far away under the hill below a tree. She had 8 or 9 babies plus three older piglets that apparently left their own mother to share the colosterum of the new mother who seemed to accept all comers. This is a real problem if the older pigs keep the new ones from getting the colosterum needed for their little immunity system. It was easy for me to sneak up and grab one of the older nursing pigs by the ankle and run away with it before the mother knew. Rebekah got the next one but it was a squealer and the mother jumped up and looked for something to bite. Instead she stepped on a piglet which of course squealed loudly since that is what pigs do. Now she turned to see who made the pig squeal that she had stepped on and in the process stepped on another baby and now they all squealed. The mom was now turning every which way and it was a mad house. We backed off, she settled down, we had two of the three raiders and one of her litter laid dead. That is why I don’t like to disturb mothers with newly born young.
The next day Kyle and Rebekah caught the other marauder and we have three 8 week old now weaned pigs in our front yard. That is an opportunity rather than a problem since we need a pig for Maisie to show in 4-H this summer. Three is perfect since she can choose the best for showing. We plan to find a great pig tee shirt for her to wear at the fair and may let her paint the large black pig’s toe nails red! Since she is only an Explorer 4-H’er as a 1st grader, she can’t win a prize anyway. Meanwhile her 3 Little Pigs are showing Maisie the origin of the phases “pig piling” and “piggy back riding” as they climb on each other to sleep.
As luck would have it, another gilt mother in the maternity ward deserted her litter of four babies the same day. Pigs are pigs and she skipped the one wire fence to join her sisters when we were late with the feeding. One encounter with an electric fence wire was more than enough and she did not return so we now had four very hungry and unhappy 3 day old baby pigs in a box in our living room. They demanded being fed every hour instead of once before bedtime as we intended and crawled out of the box if we did not conform to there schedule. They squealed so loudly that I had to leave the same room to talk on the phone and explain that we were not butchering pigs in our living room. By morning Rebekah had the perfume bottle in her hand and was headed out to find a new mother for them.
The nervous mom had lost a couple of her own young as well as the three marauders so she had teats to spare even with 8 piglets of her own and was a perfect candidate. I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Rebekah approached the momma with a loaded perfume bottle blasting everything in sight. The mom jumped, grunted and danced but was blinded by the smell while the squealing but good smelling babies huddled safely out of harms way. Rebekah had only to throw our 4 well soaked in perfume piglets in with the others and run for her life before the smell wore off. Pigs are smart but that smart. They can’t count and the now old new mom has a dozen babies hanging on her.
Meanwhile there is the bummed legged sow who is going to meet her maker on three legs and eleven 10 week old pre-teens sucking on a very young gilt in the same pen to worry about. Pigs are pigs and these older piglets would be a danger to the younger babies if there long enough. This young first time mom may get the mother of the year here on the farm anyway for what she has accomplished in mothering a group of teenagers many of which she doesn’t even know are not hers since pigs can’t count. So to the rescue came the hydraulic pig hauler filled with pig feed and equipped with an open gate policy for the three legged sow, the mother of the year and the 11 brats (or soon to be brats). Kyle failed alone and again with JR to get them loaded perhaps…because he fed them before trying? But yesterday afternoon pigs became just pigs again. A little pig feed here, a little open door policy there, a few piglets tossed over the panel by the three legged sow and soon I had them loaded, squealing and eating all by myself. I can’t wait to tell Kyle! Heck, maybe even one of these eleven may become Maisie’s fair hog. Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then!
Your Farmer & Agrarian Philosopher,
Selected "Egg Reports" from the Fiedler Family Pig Farm will be
coming fresh from Bloomington, Indiana.The weekly “Egg Report” is about
life on the Fiedler Family Farm. Jim sells at the farmers’ market in
Louisville, Kentucky. Rebekah goes to the farmers market in