Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rules of the Wrangle

Well, all but two of the piglets have made their way to new homes! Over the last two days, folks from as far away as Kentucky and North Carolina came to Ecotone to pick up these fine little hogs, some for breeding and some for feeding.
Of course, catching them in the field is easier said than done. After having several sessions of pure farm folly - picture us running around the pasture trying to catch them by hand - I came up with the idea of a trap constructed with T-posts and pallets. The first person to come by saw the trap function in all its glory. With one drop of the door, I caught all the piglets. The second attempt, however, did not go as well. Here are some rules for piglet wranglin' that I came up with in the hours after the first piglets left, trying to catch the rest.

1) Porcine Patience: Patience is the first rule for dealing with pigs. You cannot force pigs to do anything they do not want to do. Period. Pigs are intelligent. They understand what you're up to, especially if they've seen it before. Now I cannot speak to the capacity for long-term memory in pigs, but I do know that it lasts for at least several days. The second round of piglets were surely aware of what was going on, refusing to go into the trap and making themselves scarce in the bushes. By this time they had also had plenty to eat, and so were that much less inclined to cooperate.

2) Time of Day: If you must wrangle pigs, do so at dawn or dusk. Trying to convince them in the heat of the day, when it's not feeding time and when their preference is to wallow in the mud, is futile. Approach porcine when they're hungry and when it's cool.
3) Have a Plan: Do not simply start working with pigs without a plan. By the time our piglets left, they were a healthy 35 lbs. of pure muscle. If you grab one, have an idea about where you're going, and who's helping.

4) Do Not Attempt Alone: Following the previous rule, it is silly to try to work with piglets alone. The adult animals are slower, and know that you represent the Platonic forms of Corn and Soy. Piglets, however, see humans differently. To them we are unpredictable, strange, and scary. Though sometimes we show up with goodies too delicious to resist, often we show up with other, less pleasant, ends in view.

5) Respect the Sow: Most of these old-style pigs, raised outdoors on pasture, retain strong maternal instincts. Some even build elaborate nests of brush and sticks and whatnot. When attempting to retrieve piglets, treat the sows with the utmost respect. They weigh around 400 lbs. each, and are seriously committed to their piglets. Talk nicely, and try to explain what's going on. But if this doesn't work - and we all know reason has its limits - get the hell out of her way. No matter how sweet she is normally, liking her ears and belly scratched in the mud, when you're trying to get her babies, she's trying to get you. They go for your knees, and with a good bite could really do some damage. So respect her. Thank her. And you'll be back on her good side in a few days. With plenty of food.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Raised Jawbones

On the night of July 4th, Cletus went missing. He wasn't there to greet me at dawn, and he wasn't around to guard the hens at night. He was gone. We assumed he got spooked by all the fireworks, but I saw him late that night after much of the bang had already blown up all those bucks.

After not returning the first night, I began to walk the woods between our place and the interstate, crisscrossing my neighbor's place several times in several ways. Along the way, with Ozark in the lead, we came across a full bovine skeleton. My eye fell upon this bone, which I immediately recognized from a Billy Collins poem I'd read that morning.

This love for the petty things,
part natural from the slow eye of childhood,
part a literary affectation,

this attention to the morning flower
and later in the day to a fly
strolling along the rim of a wineglass -

are we just avoiding the one true destiny,
when we do that? averting our eyes from
Philip Larkin who waits for us in an undertaker's coat?

The leafless branches against the sky
will not save anyone from the infinity of death,
nor will the sugar bowl or the sugar spoon on the table.

So why bother with the checkerboard lighthouse?
Why waste time on the sparrow,
or the wildflowers along the roadside

when we should all be alone in our rooms
throwing ourselves against the wall of life
and the opposite wall of death,

the door locked behind us
as we hurl ourselves at the question of meaning,
and the enigma of our origins?

What good is the firefly,
the droplet running along the green leaf,
or even the bar of soap spinning around the bathtub

when ultimately we are meant to be
banging away on the mystery
as hard as we can and to hell with the neighbors?

banging way on nothingness itself,
some with their foreheads,
others with the maul of sense, the raised jawbone of

- "No Things," Balistics (2010)

I found Cletus a few days later through the vet's office. A very nice neighbor had found him on the morning of the 5th, scared and limping, and was taking very good care of him. Everyone, but especially Daisy, was happy to have him come home.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The 11th Commandment

Even though it's longer than all the others combined, I thought this suggestion for an 11th Commandment, quoted by David Montgomery in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (2007), was appropriate:

"Thou shalt inherit the Holy Earth as a faithful steward, conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation. Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from erosion...and protect thy hills from overgrazing by thy herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever. If any shall fail this stewardship of the land...thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from the face of the Earth."

- W.C. Lowdermilk, Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years, Agricultural Information Bulletin 99 (1953), U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Egg Count 7

The egg count for June stands at 179.5 dozen, or 2,154 eggs. That's an average of 5.98 dozen per day. With roughly 135 hens, eating about 50 pounds per day, that's 8.36 pounds of grain per dozen on average.

Even though we're in the midst of the longest days of the year, with rising temperatures the hens have slowed down laying considerably. It turns out that eggs are not simply dearer in the winter, but in the summer as well. Raising animals outside, on pasture and with the seasons, means following its cycles of activity and resource availability. Summer is slow. Take naps. Stay cool.
Some of you may have also noticed that the eggs are a bit smaller than normal, and that their color has lightened significantly. Interestingly, both of these changes are in response to the heat, and should vary throughout the season. I hope you find these variations charming, interesting, and perhaps even meaningful. Every egg is a unique gift from an individual hen, and for me their differences represent this utter specificity of the edible, the radical particularity of food. As Mr. Berry says, "when you quit living in the price and start living in the place, you're in a different line of succession."