2015 Calendar Front Cover
Sows & Hens on South Field
It’s a new year and calendar time! The image above is the front cover of our latest creation. Calendars are a wonderful pictorial tour of life in all the seasons on Sugar Mountain Farm. Building the calendar is an event in our household where we collect together our best photos of the year, many of which appeared here on my blog. We categorize them and vote them up or down, reducing the pile to just a few that represented the past season.
The cover photo above shows sows and hens grazing in the top paddock of the south field. There is an Easter egg hidden in the photo. Hover over this word ‘clue‘ for a hint or look at the bottom of the page.†
The Jeffries Family in On-Farm Butcher Shop
We’re the farmers at Sugar Mountain Farm and soon to be butchers as well. Each of us does many things from farming to construction to marketing to distribution. Some of us have special things we tend such as doing deliveries each week. Together we make it all happen.
This photo for January shows inside the brand new meat cutting room in our butcher shop. As I write this I’m finishing up electric, building the desk and shelves for the inspector’s office and have just a few other small things to do before we’ll be ready to apply for our Vermont state license to cut meat and make sausage.
Peanut Butter on Snow
Peanut Butter is one of our Blackieline sows who has produced many fine piglets over the years. She maintains her condition well through the winter, is a superior mother and thrives on pasture/hay without the need for commercial corn/soy based hog feeds.
Sow Chewing Her Cud
Do pigs chew their cud? Well, they’re not technically ruminants according to all the books because they lack four stomachs but there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Pigs do chew their cud. They’ll eat hay and then bring it backup and re-chew it. That is chewing cud. The fact that they do it a little differently and with fewer stomachs than a cow is not really the point at issue. The real question is, can pigs get nutrition out of the pasture and the hay. The answer is they do. Pigs eat pasture. More importantly, pasture and hay are not just grass but also legumes like alfalfa, clovers and trefoil as well as other forages like brassicas, chicory and such which are high in protein. We plant pig pastures with forages they can graze more easily but in the winter they’re eating the same hay as cows, sheep, goats and horses.
Pigs also have a few tricks up their, er, sleeve. One is the hay ferments in the round bales over the summer, fall and winter as it waits for the pigs to eat it. The hay bales smell slightly alcohol and sweet as a result. Cows and sheep likewise benefit from this type of fermenting of their hay. It’s a form of predigestion from beneficial bacteria just like with yogurt.
Second is much of the hay we put out goes into bedding packs that the pigs sleep on as it composts. The decomposition produces a much more digestible form of food just like the humus on the floor of the forests that wild pigs root up. It’s a form of cooking that frees up nutrients so they are more accessible.
Lastly, there is some theorization that pastured pigs have been selected for those with longer digestive tracts, perhaps more like their wild ancestors, and are thus better able to make use of fibrous vegetable matter like hay and pasture.
So while pigs may not have four stomachs like a cow they do have ways of extracting nutrients from pasture and hay. They can simply eat a bit more to make up the difference when compared with a high calorie commercial feed. It works.
Young Sows Group Nursing
Sows tend to seek out a private place to farrow, to give birth but then a few days later they join into cohorts with other sows to group nurse their piglets like this set of sows in a grove of saplings in the south fields. As the piglets become more mobile the sows take them further afield across the mountain and leave the birthing nests.
Piglets on Pasture
These new piglets are exploring the pastures of Sugar Mountain where they were born. Initially they thrive on the rich 8.5% butter fat milk of their mother. Within a week they begin nibbling on clovers and soft grasses as they learn what to eat at the snout of their sow.
Geese and Goslings
Who knows what the geese do at Sugar Mountain Farm. We sell pastured pork from our herds of pigs but we also have support staff. Like with the chickens and ducks, we don’t sell geese. Geese don’t hunt pest insects like the chickens or stir up the ponds like the ducks. Contrary to popular imagery the geese don’t spend much time in the water. But the geese part of the support system that delivers pork to our customer’s fork. We just don’t know what they do specifically. When I ask, they just honk at me. Perhaps that’s what geese do…
Ben Training Pigs in North Field
After weaning we tame young pigs so that they are used to handling. This training continues through out their life with walks through the fields. In the photo above Ben has a bit of bread crumbs that he was using to hold their attention.
Chicory is a flowering plant that grows well in our pastures. There are blue, pink, violet and white flowering plants and the flowers change color over their life cycle. Research has shown that feeding chicory helps to reduce boar taint. A plant that is both functional and beautiful. One of the great things about chicory is that it has such a long season, growing late into the fall.
Herding Young Boars
Sorting boards can be easily and inexpensively made from plastic food grade barrels. These are light weight and work well both out in the fields for gathering pigs and in the sorting corrals for cutting the group to select which pigs need to go to market, be moved to gestating pastures or selecting sows to send to the boar herds for breeding
Ben, Will and Hope in Halloween Costumes
Halloween is a big event that inspires a great deal of creativity and planning each year. Will, Ben and Hope sewed and sculpted these costumes – a process that takes up most of October after planning all year.
Sows Grazing in North Field
Our pastures are a mix of trees, brush and open areas with soft grasses, legumes, brassicas, millets, amaranth, chicory and other forages. These mixed habitats have greater biodiversity of plants, wildlife and livestock than one would find in a monoculture lawn like pasture.
Our Tiny Cottage in Snow
In the winter the livestock pull in closer to our center fields which become winter paddocks. We are snug as bugs in a rug in our tiny cottage overlooking the snow covered fields. Although we’re still outside a lot every day, the cold months are a time to read, do more indoor projects and plan for the coming year.
Also check out the calendars from other years each with their own little tour of our farm here on Sugar Mountain.
Happy New Year!
Outdoors: 18°F/9°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/59°F
Daily Spark: One of the things to keep in mind about government is that it is completely and utterly schizophrenic. Government is out of touch with reality precisely because it is made up of a lot of different people who have different agendas and different approaches to things. Realize that government has departments for undoing and preventing what other departments are doing. This is simply the nature of large organizations. Some of the people are on the same page as you. Find those people. This little ah-ha can save a lot of grief.
†Front Cover Easter Egg Clue: Two of these things are just like each other…