Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yin Yang

Charming Large Black Hog gilt Prudence is very curious about my hog wand.  This used to be a horse wand, you know, the kind of thing with which one would teach the Spanish Walk, etc., but now it has become my teaching-my-Large-Black-Hog-boar-Tater-about-boundaries wand.  I've had to run him off with it a couple of times, growling, kind of like Prudence would chase him off, when he's come around chortling at me and trying to nudge me with that big cast iron snout of his.   

Well, actually, I think what he's been singing to me is the chant de coeur.  


Status seems to be an issue with boars, that is, being The Big Pig, Top Dog Pig, King Pig, etc.  This is the way boars are made apparently.  I wish that one of the folks who had written one of those many hog farming/homesteading books I bought had been more forthcoming with information about boars.  Luckily, this one likes me, quite a lot!  And he is receptive to my telling him, "No, sorry, but I am the top hog around here, my friend."

So I have taken to treating Tater the Large Black Hog boar kind of like a mini stallion.  Luckily, I did spend some time many years ago around an Andalusian stallion, my mare's sire, and had some lovely rides down the Pojoaque creek to the Rio Grande on that handsome fellow.  But as I recall, Caprichoso would nip if you weren't watching yourself and being in charge was kind of an issue with that stud certainly.  (Fortunately, Tater has never once nipped me or even threatened, he is at the core, a gentle creature, albeit one who is terribly concerned with the pecking order.)  I've been around horses so long, I think I kind of took how I needed to be with that horse for granted, because that's one language I do speak well and what I needed to do/how I needed to be with that stallion just came naturally.

Anyone with a lick of sense will have a respect for all of that life force.  And I do.  In fact, when I think of it, I am in awe of the energy that perpetuates a species.

Andalusian and Large Black Hogs

I had heard somewhere that horses are supposed to be afraid of pigs.

We had to reinforce the corner of the horse pasture that touches the pig paddock because our five horses find these porcines quite intriguing.  And then again my retired Andalusian mare Caprichosa, with her very big heart, isn't afraid of anything, not even Large Black Hog boar Tater, who seems equally unconcerned about her.

Cap isn't even worried about a herd of these winter wooly black hogs.

 Although I think she finds them to smell rather ... well ... pungent.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Large Black Hog Impasse

Step 1.  Woman pitchforks loads of hay out of Large Black Hog house, because level of nest is reaching epic depth, and soon hogs will be able to step over stall wall and escape into wilderness.

Step 2.  Large Black Hog Prudence stuffs jaws with as much hay as piggily possible.

And carries it to stall. 

Don't even think about stopping this freight train ...

While poor tuckered out stall clearing woman looks on in disbelief.

Step 3.  Repeat.

Tenacious pig.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

So Big Pig

I have had a learning curve with my Large Black Boar Tater. 

Right now, I'd guess he's 250 pounds, give or take.  He has become rather frisky as of late, and I've had to draw boundaries with his friendly play, which is due to a couple of things:  1) the fact that he's always been treated kindly and does see me in a very friendly light and 2)  he's a boar, an intact male creature of a species that isn't exactly a lap dog, and as such there's a game he's playing with me about who will be the dominant one of the friendship, and I have to put and end to that question very quickly and establish myself in the leadership position, which is what one must do when dealing with an animal that is larger and stronger than you, and with firm kindness, of course.

I've always tried to treat this boar as if he already weighs in at a cool 600 pounds, because as a lifelong horsewoman this of course isn't the first large animal I've handled/had a relationship with,

but had some good advice recently that gave me more of an insight into this big boy's nature.  This Large Black Hog Boar has to know that he must respect my space, and we've made some really big strides in a very short period of time once I've changed my attitude and understood a little more about boar psychology.  He is such an intelligent and kind critter, but he is what god made him, and there's a boar wildness and a boar wooliness there that's also tempered with the superb Large Black Hog temperament.

It's up to me to keep him safe for the long run, and that involves helping him understand that he must mind his Ps and Qs, so I can keep him around, and he can pass those good genes along.  Even after some correcting today and some work on his manners, he's up for a good ear scratching, and I always aim to be fair, whether with horses or hogs or any of god's creatures, but also with the goal of staying in one piece.

There is certainly a lot to learn when working with a species with which you have limited experience, and I may possibly become a hog whisperer after all, thanks to the support and wisdom of those more experienced than I am certainly.  I can't say enough good things about the folks over at the Large Black Hog Association.

Raising a boar is a much more daunting task than having a couple of feeder pigs, which is what started us on this whole journey, but I am really enjoying it.  If you ask the right questions, you can gain the insights you need and make it all work to the benefit of hog and human.

To me, understanding and raising hogs is as much of an art as beekeeping or becoming a wonderful horsewoman or even having your artwork hung in a gallery or writing a really good book.

These days, when they are discussing such ridiculous and entirely unnecessary things as creating pork in a laboratory, I am endeavoring to paint on the canvas in Large Black Hog strokes.

Admirable pig

I do admire the stout, self-contained-ness of Large Black Hog Prudence.  Never thought I'd be saying this about a pig, but ... isn't she a pretty thing?  Just look at the saucy curlicue of her tail.

Now that I think of it, I admire the stoutness of Percheron Tobias as well ...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


We've got over a hundred of these.

Trees ... not ganders ... thank the gods.  (This gander just gets in a following frame of mind sometimes and decided he'd pose for a photo last night.)

Planted in March when they were essentially 12-inch-tall sticks with a few wispy roots, some of these Plains Cottonwoods are now over 5 feet tall.  That's an enormous amount of growth in less than a year.

I like the idea that a while ago we imagined small groves of cottonwood trees on our property, walked around and envisioned where they'd go and what they would look like and how much we'd enjoy them.  And then with some digging, shoveling, planting and watering from our excellent well, well, here you go.  Guess I can't quite call them groves yet, but with a little more imagining and a little more time and a little more tender loving care, I imagine we can.

When we enlarge the pasture for the Large Black Hogs this Spring, they will be the lucky recipients of shade and the delicious cool from some of the more mature cottonwoods we planted several years ago.  Just have to figure out how to keep them from eating those precious cottonwoods up, which I imagine those pigs will do unless we think up something.

And, really, that's half the fun.

So Big Pig

Large Black Hog boar Tater at 7+ months.

So Big Large Black Pig.

I can best describe him as enthusiastically friendly, and kind, although occasionally brimming to the eyeballs with bull.  He sounds kind of like a pony car when he really gets to talking, all throaty and growly rumbling grumbling full throttle boar speak.  The Harley Davidson of the barn.   

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Future Site of Greenhouse and Winter Farrowing House

This is the site of our future greenhouse and winter farrowing house.  Also for the garden, which will be next door.  
Initially, the idea was just for a greenhouse, approximately 24 X 60 feet, with the idea that we'd be able to store the tractor inside the structure and move it out of the barn to make more room for hay storage.  But around here, ideas tend to take on a wild and wooly life of their own, and now we've decided that we can also use one end of the greenhouse/hoophouse structure as a winter farrowing house for our Large Black Hogs.  
Check out this hog hoop house operation in Iowa and you'll see what I mean.  Also, here's an excellent article from SARE on the Swedish System with a nice description of hoop houses for hogs.  
It's fun to innovate, and sometimes we surprise ourselves.  Seems to me that we are developing our own Rowe, New Mexico System of raising Large Black Hogs, among other things.  We'll have an opening out the back of the farrowing area of our greenhouse for the hogs to access a pasture.

We've been clearing since Christmas, and rented a chipper shredder this weekend to get rid of the gigantic brush pile we've been accumulating these last few weeks and over the last year.  This entire operation is a family affair, with all four of us chipping and shredding yesterday and then mulching the over 100 Plains Cottonwood Trees we've planted this year with the results of all that chipping and shredding. 

You have to begin somewhere, and this bit of cleared land is our small start in the dead of the winter.  Bit by bit you find that you get there, to the place where you are growing your own food, extending the growing season, with maybe some extra to feed the hogs, having a good place for sows and piglets in the cold of winter.  And the journey is exciting, along with making you sweaty and tired and acutely aware of your middle age status.
Last night, I was combing the pine needles out of my hair.  It smelled wonderful.  And I'm thinking that it's kind of funny that one of my favorite lotions is made locally out of New Mexico cedar.

Boy and Large Black Hog

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Mahatma Gandhi

 My 12-year-old farmer to be.  Well, he tells me that he wants to be a computer engineer and a farmer. I think finding a balance between technology and the natural world is a good thing.  Seems to me there's plenty of room for both.  Maybe he'll be one of the people who helps create that kind of world.

Large Black Hog Prudence really likes the kids.  In fact, she likes the kids better than she likes me.  She is usually a very busy pig, but will actually sit still for a good head and back scratching, especially from a kiddo.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Madness of the Guineas

The guineas greet me dressed up in their everyday goth, Edwardian frock coats, ruffles of lace at their skinny throats.

They are an edgy bunch,

screeching Buckwheat Buckwheat at the top of their lungs.

 Encouraging each other to jumpSometimes scaring poor Large Black Hogs.

I always feel that I am in the presence of a special brand of lunacy when in the company of Guinea Fowl.  They are proof positive that god has an excellent sense of humor.

Miss Manners

Miss Manners Large Black Hog Prudence is not ...

But just look at that nice, soft eye.

She Eats Like a Pig

Eggs are the food of the gods Large Black Hogs.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pig Ark

The Lord said to Noah, you'd better build an arky arky
The Lord said to Noah, you'd better build an arky arky
Build it out of hickory barky barky
Children of the Lord.
Church Camp.  4th grade.  Southern Ohio.   It's the only camp I've ever been to, and in retrospect, it's probably the only one I will ever go to (unless I take up summer camping in my late 40s), and I'm there at the invite of two neighbor girls.   Each evening after a dinner where things like grilled cheese sandwiches and crinkle cut french fries slathered with Heinz ketchup never tasted so delicious, we campers gather and sing songs around a blazing bonfire on a grassy hill.

Four decades later, I can still hear all of the verses of that silly song we sang about Noah's ark, each one of those lightning bug sparked nights beneath a million stars, because it was a camp favorite that campers had probably been singing since 1950.  The piping voices of something like a hundred kids from nearly as many urban and tract home neighborhoods offered these words up to whatever gods happened to be listening in.
The animals, they came on board by twos, by twosies twosies
Elephants and kangaroosies roosies

And I'm mildly amused when searching online today for pig shelter designs to find that in the U.K. they are called "pig arks". (Google image search results here.)

But in light of what I just read in an excellent article in the Winter 2009 issue of Edible Santa Fe by Kate Manchester, where she writes,  "More than two thirds of the distinctive seeds and breeds that once fed America have vanished," I guess it's not so funny.
It rained, it poured for forty daysies daysies
Never thought I'd feel like old Noah from a Church Camp song, not even momentarily, as I haven't been to church in years, and especially in relation to two Large Black Hogs that are, as I'm writing, no doubt snoozing away the frigid winter afternoon in the deep hay in their corner of the barn.  The bitter January wind rattles against the window pane, and all I can think of is that before I know it, there'll be piglets.  Well, in the Autumn.  A whole horde of little Taters and Prudences with their jet black ears flopping all over the place.  And I can hardly wait.

Guess I am building a pig ark after all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hot Pursuit II

Although she's smaller than Large Black Hog Tater, sturdy, no-nonsense Prudence can put this rascal of a boar in his place when she's had enough of his rather clumsy attentions.

What Rooster Lurks

Large Black Hog Prudence seems blissfully unaware of the two beady eyes that the ubiquitous banty rooster Pot Pie (upper right-hand corner) has trained upon her.

Or is it ... gulp ... me the photographer he's after?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

She Eats Like a Pig

This morning Large Black Hog Prudence had alfalfa with a little corn on the side.  Then she had some eggs that I stole from the hens in the hen house, and that somehow Tater, who has a few pounds on this stout gilt, didn't manage to hog up all for himself. 

And now, for dessert, she is dining, with great relish, I might add, on bananas, peel and all.

These Large Black Hogs really love their fruit.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Heritage Meats: The Resurrection of America's Endangered Breeds

Thanks to a good amount of intra muscular fat, the Large Black hog is extremely moist, juicy and flavorful. It has a strong texture in the mouth yet is soft and delicate to chew it. The Black produces smallish shoulders—hence not selected by Big Agriculture—but tasty lean hams.   The Nibble. Great Food Finds. The Magazine About Specialty Foods.
Only fifty years ago, when a chef called for the finest meats to prepare meals for discriminating gourmets, he could count on his purveyors to bring him Standard American Bronze and Bourbon Red turkeys...Red Wattle and Tamworth pigs...Katahdin and Tunis lamb. These breeds of fowl, pig, lamb and beef with distinctive, succulent meat were common on family farms.

But as with the rest of our agricultural heritage, the post-World War II industrial boom turned family farm business into big AgriBusiness. The same thing we’ve seen happen to our fruits has happened to our meats.

Fine flocks and herds died out. What few animals remained did so on family farms, for the family’s own consumption. These numbers from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy tell the sorry tale:

Fifteen different breeds of pigs were raised for market in the 1930s. Today, six of them are extinct. Three varieties of pig (Hampshire, Yorkshire and Duroc) account for 75% of U.S. production, limiting the flavor portfolio.

In the 1920s, more than 60 breeds of chickens were raised in America. Today one hybrid, the Cornish Rock cross, is the one breed found in most supermarkets.

A single breed turkey has been bred for the American table: the Broad Breasted White. It is a commercially-engineered bird with such a huge breast and short legs that it is unable to mate naturally.

Yes, AgriBusiness is Big Business, and its goal is to maximize margins in a competitive market. Large corporations have bought up the family farms, and they develop products that can be mass-marketed: the duck or turkey with the larger breast is what the majority of Americans prefer over the smaller-breasted but tastier bird.

Unfortunately, catering to the mass market has two consequences:

Narrowing the genetics to emphasize some traits means losing others. As we’ve seen with our fruit supply, it caters to the lowest common denominator of palatability: in order to achieve a beautiful red apple or tomato with long shelf life that’s durable in transit, the flavor is sacrificed.

Read the rest of the article here.

In Hot Pursuit I

Large Black Hog Prudence has a shadow named Tater.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Good Ear Scratching

Six-month-old Large Black Hog Tater loves a good ear scratching.  Start scratching his head, and you'd better watch out, because he will unceremoniously flop onto his side for a full body scratching.

I'm glad I'm making good friends with this er ... little ... 200+ pound ... boar now, because, one of these days here, sooner than later, I'm going to have one of these following me around.  (Not that it's been on my mind or anything.)

Portrait of a Large Black Hog

A Large Black Hog boar really shouldn't be this cute.  I tell you what, he is one good listener, and, as you can see, quite polite.  Perks right up whenever I start talking and telling him what a good looking fellow he is.

Tater has got to be at 200+ pounds now.  I've got to get out the tape measure and weigh this big boy.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Pot Pie lurks in the bushes first thing this morning, waiting to wail on me with his full three pounds of banty rooster kung fu as I go about my chores.

Am I concerned?

Darned straight I am.  The wrath of Pot Pie

casts a long shadow.

Large Black Hog Alert Mode

When the guineas go marching across the top of the metal roof of the barn, making an unholy racket, Large Black Hog Prudence goes into alert mode, stretching on her tippie toes, snout seeking, black bristles nearly bursting out of their follicles, trying to brush those big Large Black Hog ears out of her eyes so she can see what the heck is going on.