Day Lily

West Topsham Post Office Day Lily

It has been quite a week. June was very dry and the first half of July more than made up for it. We got so much rain that our road got washed out to a large degree twice – thank you to Johnny & Wally on the town crew for fixing it back up! Far worse was in Barre, Vermont where they had major road wash outs and much of the town was flooded. We didn’t see it in person, having avoided going in town during that time, but the photos looked quite bad. Apparently someone’s home got lifted away and 1,600 feet of road and town sewer lines got washed out. Yuck!

The blessing of the rain is that the gardens and fields needed it – they’re lush green now and the ponds are full again.

Past week: Outdoors: 85°F/59°F 9″+3″+6″+1″ Rain over the week mixed with sun
Farm House: 77°F/61°F
Tiny Cottage: 72/68°F Tank wall granite all placed, doorway arch forming

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New Little One on Her Knee

I hadn’t realized Holly was with child and then all of a sudden, there I saw on her knee a new baby. Hope has a new little brother! A double take no less. It looked like a baby. Just for a moment. So I drew eyes, nose, mouth and hair. Ah, that was better. Holly Kneeded that. :)

For a another view of this funny visit Ben’s blog.

Aye, we’re silly people!

Outdoors: 83°F/53°F Mostly Sunny, 1″ Rain Thunder Storm
Farm House: 70°F/77°F
Tiny Cottage: 71°F/66°F planning, modeling, curing

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A Week of Food

1 Week Food

United States: The Jeffries family of Vermont
Food expenditure for one week: $65
Favorite foods: chili, soup, pork, eggs, spaghetti
Click for larger view.

Above is a weeks worth of food. Sort of. Some of the items like the flour, rice and spices are in too great a quantity but I didn’t see a good way to display them as recognizable things in the actual quantity we use in a week.

Presenting a weeks worth of food was an interesting challenge because we actually only go shopping about once every three months and buy a lot of things in bulk. There are some things we buy at a shopping trip, like one pound of fish which get eaten right away but are so small when figured weekly (1 lb / 10 weeks = 1/10th lb) that they don’t show on a table spread very well – I used a few shrimp to represent the fish. Another stumbling block is that what we eat is highly seasonal. In the winter we eat hot foods to warm us including a lot of soups, stews, chili and such that we canned in the fall and early winter, cabbage, meat, potatoes, hot cocoa, hot mint tea, etc. In the summer months we eat cooler meals including a lot of fresh veggies from our gardens, foraged berries, eggs, cold mint tea, etc. In the spring and fall it is also different.

This project was inspired by the Time Magazine article “What the World Eats” which was based on the book “Hungry Planet“. The article showed pictures from fifteen families in various countries around the world. Each picture show the family as well as all the foods they ate in a week and gave their weekly food budget.

The average weekly food expense was $180 with many of them falling in the $300 to $500 range. The variance in budgets was extradinary. That average is biased downward by two families that spend $5 and $1 per week – one of whom is in a refuge camp. Unfortunately the article did not correct for variations in local economies and buying power so the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. It would have been interesting to have a number showing how the spending relates as a percent of income. Also, prices for things vary greatly between countries as well as between urban and rural areas. Additionally, the families they chose may or may not really be representative – the other two USA families [1, 2] eat very differently from each other and very differently than our family. Diversity is beautiful.

Still, it was a great photo essay and not meant as a scientific study. Our family had fun studying the photos in Time as well as making our own list and photo.

Our weekly food budget is $65 for a family of five. That comes to $1.85 per person per day or 62¢ per meal per person per day – there is some variation with a summer low of about $50/wk and a late winter and early spring high of about $80/wk as we get low on foods we’ve grown. The budget includes seed we buy to grow much of our veggies. Almost all of our meat, a big expense, as well as our eggs come from animals we raise ourselves at almost no cost since we pasture raise them. I included an allotment in our budget for winter hay for the animals. Prior to raising our own animals we ate very little meat due to the cost and health concerns with factory raised meats. We also forage for berries much of the summer, canning and freezing them for the rest of the year. Dairy is our single largest expense as we drink a lot of milk, eat quite a bit of cheese and use butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc. Gotta get a cow – or goats!

One of the things that struck me from the photos was not how different the foods were but how similar they were from country to country. Looking through the photos in the article we noticed that it seemed most of the families were living in urban areas so that in and of itself may account for some of the uniformity of foods. I was also surprised at how many people bought water. The family from the Time article that was the closest to our family was the Batsuuri family of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Ironically their budget also came close to ours at $40/week.

Since it is rather hard to see from a photo what is there, even when clicking on the image above to the larger version, I have made a list of everything:

Item Quantity Notes
Milk 4 gallons Gotta get a cow!
Yogurt 1 quart More in summer
Butter 1 lb
Cream 2 oz
Sour Cream 4 oz
Cream Cheese 4 oz
Cottage Cheese 1 lb
Cheese 2 lbs Cheddar, Blue, Swiss, Goat, Mozzarella, etc
Eggs 48 Less in winter when hens don’t lay less
Bread 2 loaves
Corn Muffins 20
Biscuits 20
Cereal 1 lb Hot in winter, cold in summer
Spaghetti 2 lbs
Egg Noodles 2 lbs
Crackers 1/2 lb
Graham Crackers 1/8 lb Bonfire cookout smores!
Rice 8 cups
Barley 3 cups Lamb or mutton soup
Couscous 2 cups
Lentils 2 cups
Beans 4 cups Fresh in season, Dry in winter in chili or soup
Peas Dried 2 cups In soups
Bacon/Sausage 2 lbs Breakfast with eggs
Ground Pork 2 lbs Sausage, chili, stew, etc
Pork Cuts 5 lbs Ham, Loin, Ribs, etc
Chicken/Duck 1 lb Generally soup or stewed
Lamb 1 lb Leg, rack, loin, soup or stew
Bones 3 lb Soup and broth
Beef 1/4 lb Bought
Pepperoni 1/10 lb Mostly as topping on pizza
Shrimp/Squid/Fish 1/10 lb Few times a year
Berries 2 quarts Seasonal types, canned, jammed, jellied, sauced or frozen in winter
Melon 1 Seasonal type and availability
Bananas 3 Seasonal
Apples 9 Some Seasonality
Pears 2 Some Seasonality
Orange/Grapefruit 1 Seasonal
Grapes 1/4 lb Seasonal
Raisins 1/2 lb On salad, cereal or yogurt mostly
Canned Fruit 1/4 lb Winter replacement
Basil 1 cup Mostly as fresh spice or pesto
Cabbage 1 head Winter salad greens, sauerkraut, slaw
Lettuce 2 heads Seasonal
Broccoli 2 head Seasonal
Carrots 8
Beets 3 Fresh in summer, canned or soup in winter
Radishes 5 Highly seasonal
Cucumber 1 Seasonal
Onion 6
Leeks 1 Seasonal
Chives 1/8 cup Seasonal
Tomatoes 8 Fresh in season and from store or canned
Peas 2 cups Seasonal fresh, canned in soup or frozen
Corn 2 cups Seasonal fresh, canned in soup or frozen, corn bread
Squash 2 cups Seasonal – Zucchini, Summer, Pumpkin, Winter, Acorn, Butternut
Mushrooms 1/4 cup canned from store
Celery 3 stalks
Potatoes 20 Soup, Fried, Mashed, Refried, Stew, Thickener
Waterchestnuts/Bamboo 1/10 cup
Garlic 18 cloves Vampires beware
Pickles 5 Winter mostly
Relish 3 oz
Olives 1 cup
Olive Oil 2 quarts
Salt
Pepper
Cayenne
Cinnamon
Ginger
Curry
Coriander
Bay Leaves
Black Pepper Corns
Red Pepper
Rosemary
Cloves
Thyme
Dill
Parsley
Chili Peppers
Ketchup
Mustard
Hot Mustard
Mayonnaise
Horseradish
Worcestershire Sauce
Soy Sauce
Tabasco Sauce
Chili Pepper Sauce
Rhubarb
Strawberry Sauce 1 cup
Strawberry Jam 1 cup
Peanut Butter 1 cup
Nuts 1 lb
Sunflower Seeds 1/4 cup
Maple Syrup 1 cup
Honey 1/2 cup
Sugar 4 cups Baking and cooking
Molasses Baking and cooking
Baking Soda
Baking Powder
Wheat Flour 10 lbs Baking and cooking
Corn Flour 5 lbs Baking and cooking
Other Flour 2 lbs Baking and cooking
Chili 3 quarts Canned in fall and winter mostly
Soup 6 quarts Canned in fall and winter mostly
Bullion 6 cubes
Ramen 1
Jello 1
Taco Corn Chips 8 oz
Black Tea 8 cups Hot in winter or cold summer mornings
Mint Tea 3 gallons 2.5 oz dry leaves. Hot in winter, cold in summer
Lemon Aid 2 gallons (Lemon Juice) Hot in winter, cold in summer
Cocoa Powder 8 oz Winter Hot Chocolate
Coffee Powder 2 oz Winter Hot Chocolate
Juice 1/2 gallon Mostly summer
Soda 2 liters
Candy Bar 4 oz
Chocolate Chips 1 oz
Ice Cream 1/4 gallon
Smoked Oysters 1/4 tin
Marshmallows 5 Bonfire Cookouts

If you missed it see the “Kitchenwares for a Week” post which I had done just before the Time article came out. That was part of why I found their article so fascinating. If you haven’t seen the Time article do go check it out and possibly the book as well. A great homeschool session for all ages.

So, what is one week of food for your family?

Outdoors: 70°F/54°F Overcast, 5″ Rain, Thunder Storms
Farm House: 71°F/68°F
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/68°F bathroom planning

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First Stones in Place

Cutting Granite Tank Header Beam

This week we began placing the first stone of the tiny cottage. Up until now we have been doing poured concrete walls, poured concrete slab, concrete block and ferro cement work. Placing our first pieces of granite is a milestone as those are the first pieces of finish material that will be visible in the final house. Everything else we have done to date, aside from the door and windows, will vanish as the house matures.

Note the hand held pressurized water sprayer will is using to wet the saw as we cut the granite using a diamond blade on a skill saw. The water lubricates and cools the blade as well as keeping down the dust and cleaning the work area so we can see the cut line. We have done the wetting a number of different ways. The garden sprayer is by far the best portable method we’ve found to date. Also of note is the garden cart works great for transporting the heavy stone and as a handy height for a work bench.

All of our stone is either field stone or scrap we’ve gleaned from the local granite quarry and stone shed waste piles. As we built terraces and pond dams with the waste granite over the past six years I have been pulling out the best pieces, those that would make good fence posts, steps, sills, shelves, are of spectacular color or just interesting. Some of these are going into the house. This means the free granite and marble literally fell of the truck. As such it has incurred some nicks and scratches which would make it unacceptable to some people. Martha Stewart or Fine Home Building might be appalled with some of the nicks in edges. But they give the cottage instant character and age. It is also fun to have stone that is from our own land and local quarries – especially at this bargain basement price, e.g., free.

So I work with the material at hand, cutting out bad flaws, finding the pieces that are just right for each place in the house. It is a very hand crafted cottage. I enjoy the process and am certainly getting my daily workout sorting through all the stone. No need for a gym membership or weight machine when you have granite piles to move!

Weight Bench for Granite Beams

The view above in the tiny cottage looks into the master bedroom from the common room. When I say bedroom, I mean bed room. It is just big enough to hold our queen size futon with storage below, book shelves on the wall and a small desk ledge along the west side – to the left in the photo above. My desk chair is the bed. There is room for the door to swing inward which also gives room for standing and dressing by the built in closet behind the door. In order to get storage space below the bed and duct work for fresh air exchange below the floor the bedroom floor is elevated from the commons room. It is two steps up which gives about 15″ of space below the floor and about 30″ of space below the bed. A friend compared our tiny cottage to living on a small yacht at sea. Each space is finely crafted for functionality. Each move and position thought out. My sons compare it to building a space ship since they have no experience with yachts. Some how I don’t think this space ship will get off the ground!

The blocks on the raised floor form a weight bench of sorts to hold the granite beams for sills and shelves. This allows me to lift the granite part way into place and then do one final lift of the 200 to 300 pound beams from knee to should or head level while Will spots me. For any larger beam and I would build a gradual step up so I need only lift it 8″ or 16″ up at a time but that would take extra space on the limited platform. The slab shown on the weight bench in the pictures is the first shelf below the aquarium. That’s the lightest piece at about 150 lbs and the bench wasn’t really necessary for it but it gave me a good practice to see how it would work when I do the heavier stones.

Behind the stove firebox on the left is the air ducts for incoming air heater. Behind that is bedroom cloths closet and then the wall of my marine aquarium that sits between the bathroom and the bedroom. As of this writing the granite shelf sitting on the weight bench is now mortared in place along with the side walls to the tank shroud which will support the middle of the ceiling and attic floor. That shelf is a sawn but not polished piece of grey granite. This means it has a smooth top finish but is not highly polished.

Amazingly, on the first try I got the shelf perfectly level left to right with just a hair of tilt back towards the tank front to back just as I wanted it to be. Maybe this isn’t so amazing because I did mock the whole thing up dry stacked before disassembling it and then rebuilding it with mortar. Still, I was surprised I didn’t have to spend a lot of time shimming. It did take a lot of work putting all those blocks and granite up and down to model the whole thing and get the cuts right but it was well worth it.

The reason the slight tilt of the shelf back towards the tank is important is that if there is any small leakage it will go towards the tank and drain into the bathroom drain rather than towards my desk and the bedroom. The bathroom is our wet space – the bedroom is a dry space. The tank will be siliconed into place along the top and sides when done to minimize any water or humidity coming from the bathroom and tank towards my desk and the bedroom.

The reef aquarium that will sit in that wall will light both the bedroom and bathroom. It helps having bright light during the long dark days of winter. The aquarium area great way to have a functional anti-SAD station by my desk. A person will be able to see into the tank from both sides but because of careful aqua-scaping they will appear to be two very different tanks and it isn’t possible to see through from one room into the other.

The wooden scaffolding above is to support the ceiling pour which we’ll be doing soon. After having played with plaster, white concrete and sandwich combinations of the two I have decided to go with simply a white concrete pour for the ceiling. The finish is excellent and the concrete is much more durable than the plaster. There is the idea in our minds that we might occasionally move all our possessions out of the house for a spring cleaning and pressure wash the walls, ceilings, etc. With that in mind I designed the floor to have a very small slope to the floor drains we installed when we poured the concrete slab last November. Likewise the attic and loft will be washable. Plaster would not be so rugged as to survive this sort of annual spring cleaning.

Tank Wall to Lower Shelf

The photo above shows the first shelf in place. The concrete blocks have had their initial surface parge and have had their cores filled – both done with PVA fiber reinforced concrete. The surface of the concrete is rough so that the next coat will bond properly – thus the score marks on the walls.

Above the shelf will be an 18″ high window space into the tank. That is my window to the sea. I don’t travel and I’ll probably never visit Fiji or other far away tropical islands where the dizens of my coral tank originated. I do love studying marine biology here in my sea on the mount. And frankly, one trip to Fiji would cost far more, both in dollars and environmental impact, than I’ll ever spend on the aquarium.

Above the window into the tank there will be a thick beam of granite and then a granite shelf above that for books. That beam will sit on the notches in the concrete partition block on either side of the window. We’re waiting for the mortar and concrete on the first section to cure before we put the 500 lbs of the beam and shelf in place. Sitting behind the granite shelves and beams are concrete blocks to spot the stone. The wood scaffolding in front of the wall is to retain the shelves and beam as they cure. Each granite piece is balanced and interlocked so that if left alone it would actually stay in place without mortar but the very thought of it possibly falling, especially onto someone, makes me build in plenty of safeties.

If you look past the tank window you can see a vertical white pillar in the middle of the bathroom. That is an 88″ high by 4″ by 5″ piece of white marble. That post divides the room into the three areas: toilet stall, bathtub and sink. The theme colors of the bathroom are marble and black granite with occasional carefully placed pieces of green black granite and field stone. While the front room and commons have dark floors and medium buff walls to collect solar energy the bathroom, which is in the back and darker, is dominated by lighter colors with striking contrasts on horizontal surfaces. This will make the small, darker space feel larger and brighter.

Sawing Pillar Cap Stone

The bottom of the pillar sets in a pre-prepared hole in the bathroom floor. The top of the pillar is keyed into a hole in the octagonal white marble cap stone. The purpose of the cap stone is to distribute the upward thrust of the pillar across a broader area of ceiling so that the pointy part of the pillar does not pierce the drum like arched center of the ceiling like a needle through a balloon. The cap stone will actually be half embedded into the concrete of the poured bathroom ceiling. The bathroom ceiling must be especially strong since above it is the wet utility room which will house the water heater, water storage, additional aquaria, refungium, grow out tanks and surge devices for the reef tank.

Sawn Out Key Hole

After cutting the cap stone from a larger piece of white marble we plunge cut the edges of the key hole and then scored the middle to make it easier to remove the key hole material. Diamond blades can do amazing things on stone! Don’t try this at home kiddies – she’s a trained professional carpenter.

Chipping Key Hole in Cap Stone

The outer line of the key hole cut markings is the size of the post. The top is bevelled to fit into the key hole. When we were done I chipped out the key hole and beveled the hole to the edges of the line. This way it will lock onto the top of the bathroom pillar. Add a little bit of cement between the two and nothing’s moving these babies.

Splitting Corners of Cap Stone

This part of the job is purely for aesthetic reasons. A square cap is boring. An octagonal cap is elegant. It is amazing how chopping off the corners improved the piece, transforming it into a beautiful stone to receive the up-thrusting force of the bathroom pillar.

Finished White Marble Octagonal Pillar Cap Stone

At this point it started to rain hard so we quit for the day. Another day we’ll wash down the marble, possibly lightly grind the surface and set the cap stone in place above the ceiling scaffolding where it will fit into a hole in the ceiling mold. After we pour the white concrete for the bathroom ceiling only the bottom couple of inches of the octagon cap stone will be visible. The rest, including the rough surfaces, will bond with the concrete of the ceiling.

Outdoors: 60°F/53°F Overcast, 1.5″ Rain
Farm House: 72°F/63°F
Tiny Cottage: 71°F/68°F

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Tiny Cottage Temperature Stability


Saturday, June 30th we finished up the last of the major fencing projects. The major planting was done except the occasional succession planting. Home school reports were completed and ready to send to the department of education. I’m making good progress on the wholesale/retail pastured pork sales. All on schedule. That meant that July 1st, after months of only small labors while we planted and got ready for summer, we were finally able to turn our attention back to the tiny cottage we are building up on the hill by the upper pond. This will become our new house this fall as I have no intention of living in this old house another winter.

It isn’t that the old house is too small for our growing family – far from it. The new cottage is a quarter the size of the winter portion of the old farm house. I realize most think bigger is better and the mere idea of five people living in 252 sq-ft is enough to drive some over the edge into insanity. But the reality is we spend much of our time outdoors year round and in the winter we already close our old farm house down to a core of about 1,000 sq-ft for about five months. Even that small winter portion is hard to heat and the whole requires a lot of maintenance. The new tiny cottage will be self maintaining and heating. It will be easier to live in – everything in the cottage has meaning and function.

Even now, although unheated other than the sun, sealed tight with no opening windows yet, single pane glass and with no ventilation the tiny cottage is keeping itself at an even and comfortable temperature varying by only a couple of degrees night to day. The secret is the enormous amount of thermal mass in the small space. The concrete and stone are soaking up the daily dose of passive solar gain without letting the cottage overheat and then keeping it warm at night by releasing a some of that heat back to the room.

According to everything I had ever read about passive solar heating I’m doing it wrong. The writers stress that it is important not to have too much glazing area, especially in small areas because it will cause overheating. The recommendations I’ve read over the years talk about recommended glazing of 8% or 9% generally to a maximum of about 20% with dire predictions of overheating if you go beyond that. We have 162 sq-ft of windows and only 252 sq-ft of floor space. That’s a window to floor area ratio of 64%. What they don’t take into account is having a very large amount thermal mass. Most construction is stick built and it’s hard to get 100,000 lbs of stone and concrete in 252 sq-ft house when you’re building with wood. Since the tiny cottage does already have almost 100,000 lbs of concrete and stone the high window to floor ratio works. In the end we’ll have a little bit more mass, be living in the house and cooking to warm it as well.

Years ago I build a greenhouse, with little thermal mass, off the south side of our farm house years ago and yes, it did overheat during the day in the winter often getting over 100°F – the trick was we blew that heat into our house to heat it. Then at night in the winter it would drop down to the low 40’s – we didn’t heat it and closed it off from the house at night. That greenhouse had some thermal mass, a few hundred gallons of water and a few thousand pounds of soil in the planters. This worked very well – that temporary structure served us well for a great many years until the ice storm of 1998 ripped it down. While it was there I used it to experiment and develop many of the ideas that we’re implementing now. With the tiny cottage the house itself is the solar collector since we have such massive windows wrapping around the east, south and west sides of the house. Keeping everything passive means there is less to fail, less to maintain and more time to invent new things. I don’t like doing maintenance.

Interestingly the mass within the tiny cottage feels pleasantly cool during the day and slightly warm at night. This is because the thermal mass is a little below the day time air temperature, shown below as daily high/low, and then a little above the air temperature at night. In the cottage the daily variation in temperature is around three or four degrees Fahrenheit. The outdoor temperature varies much more greatly over almost a 30°F range and the daily swing in the post and beam wood framed farm house is about 10°F.

For a while I was measuring the temperature inside the living room walls to compare the thermal mass to the air temperature. Fortunately my wife is very understanding about me drilling holes in the walls – she knows they’ll get covered by the final stucco parge. In a nutshell, as is to be expected, the day temperature change of the wall lags a little on the rise and then the night temperature change lags a little on the drop with the thermal mass staying about a degree off the extremes of the air temperature. At this point the sun isn’t actually hitting the interior walls that much during the mid-day because of the angles of the overhang. I did that to avoid over heating the house in the summer although in retrospect it wasn’t as necessary as I anticipated. During the the winter the sun is low on the horizon so it reaches all the way to the north wall of the house directly heating the mass.

If I had the money I would implant thermal probes, light probes and such all over the house and hook them up to a mux and computer. Then I would be able to actually log the real time temperatures so I could analyze and graph them. It would be very interesting but not likely given the high cost. I get a good enough approximation using my two min/max indoor/door thermometers. The good news is that the data I have collected fully supports the theoretical models I made so collecting a lot more data wouldn’t give me more real answers. It’s a case of diminishing returns. Perhaps I can thank the lack of cash for avoiding wasting time on such fun projects – Still, it would be fascinating…

It is very interesting to look back over the log of temperatures since the tiny cottage was closed in. We used only a little electric heat to warm the cottage during the very coldest period of the winter when it was extremely windy and -20°F. Other than that the cottage has kept itself above freezing and even reasonably comfortable through the winter, spring and now summer. An important thing to understand is that the thermal mass started out cold in January because we did not close the cottage in until the very last days of 2006.

After having gone through the summer to warm the mass the house will be that much warmer and stabler this coming winter. My goal is a house that will keep itself warm in the winters and cool in the summer. I’m watching the daily temperature readings with fascination to see how all my theory and calculations play out in the real world – It appears to be working as I anticipated. It is always nice to be proven right – especially when the project is cast in concrete…

Outdoors: 82°F/53°F Sunny, 2″ Rain in three days
Farm House: 73°F/63°F
Tiny Cottage: 71°F/68°F

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Mask’s Piglets


Mask of Patches of Saddle and Archimedes had twelve piglets at the top if the south field. They are mostly white with one ‘cow’ pig with a tinge of fawn.

Outdoors: 80°F/52°F Mostly Sunny, 1″ Rain
Farm House: 77°F/64°F
Tiny Cottage: 73°F/69°F Tank wall work

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Montpelier Fireworks July 2007


Montpelier Fireworks

Outdoors: 76°F/45°F Mostly sunny, light evening rain 1″ last night plus 1″ tonight
Farm House: 70°F/57°F finished succession planting plus replanting of squash
Tiny Cottage: 71°F/69°F split granite beam for above reef tank, scaffold, block cuts, prep

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Animal Roll Call

Two of the animals on our farm

Karl over at Pile of Omleys blog suggested a animal roll call in the comments on yesterday’s post here about Petra’s new piglets.

  • 5 boar pigs
  • 44 sow pigs
  • 13 grower pigs
  • ~50 piglets
  • 2 sheep
  • 1 rooster
  • ~30 laying hens
  • 1 goose
  • 1 pack livestock guardian dogs
  • 3 kids
  • 2 adults

So what do you have on your place? Write a post and include a link to this post. Then in the comments here leave a link here back to your list as well as leaving a link in the comments on Pile of Omleys.

Outdoors: 79°F/45°F Sunny, Breezy
Farm House: 68°F/60°F Succession planting, finished up last bits of perimeter fencing
Tiny Cottage: 77°F/71°F Still sealed up and comfy

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Petra Pig’s Pastured Piglets


This morning Petra Pig farrowed ten fine piglets on the west edge of the far end of the fourth section of the south field. She made a nest in the dirt along the fence line under the shade of a small evergreen tree. Will and Kita found them while checking the perimeter fencing.

During the warm months the farrowing mothers are simply out on pasture with the herd. We don’t confine, stall or grate our sows. When sows are ready to farrow they go down to the far ends of the paddocks and make nests in the brush, typically along the edges of the paddocks. Occasionally they’ve found a hole in the fence and gone a few yards into the woods. The fact that they only go that far tells me our paddocks are a good siz. When the sows are ready, in about four days to a week, they return with their piglets in tow and rejoin the herd.

To have this work it is important to have enough space. Each of our paddocks is about 2 acres or so and there are 44 sows plus the boars. Having some brush in the paddock is good. Pigs enjoy spots of shade. Lawn like pastures are not nearly as nice from the pig’s point of view. The farrowing sow likes a little cover, a little privacy.

During the winter they don’t have as much space so when I can I move soon to farrow mothers into auxiliary garden spaces with open sheds and plenty of hay. There they farrow with several other sows who are in about the same part of their cycle. In a 24’x8′ open shed there were typically four farrowing and nursing sows this winter. That’s typical of the amount of space they like. They still are not confined – they can get up and go out of the shed any time they want although they are separated by a fence from the main herd.

I think that if I had enough winter sheds it would work in the winter much like it does in the summer with the sows picking the spaces themselves. I would have less work to do of monitoring them and having to separate them by hand from the main herd. Someday.

Thursday-Friday Outdoors: 84°F/49°F Sunny, Breezy
Farm House: 79°F/62°F Finished high pasture fence, retightened south field perimeter
Tiny Cottage: 77°F/72°F

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Naming Animals

Blowing Milk Bubbles

In the photo above Archimedes, our main boar, is blowing bubbles in the whey tub. He can be a very silly pig. Everyone else stands back respectfully while he has his fun, after all, would you mess with 800 lbs of boar even if he is good natured?!? Behind him is his son Little’un. In the lower left is Patches. The gilt between them has no name known to me. Although I know her by sight, she has not made herself remarkable.

There is an interesting article on Slate “That’s What I Like About Ewe” regarding the naming and numbering of farm animals. In part the writer, Jon Katz, says:

The sheep epitomize the names-vs.-numbers cultures of animal care. When I call the large-animal vets, the dispatcher often asks if my animals have names or numbers. The question puzzled me, until experience and observation clarified it. People who name their animals see them as individual personalities and are much more likely to attribute humanlike emotions to them. I would never put a tag in Pearl’s ear and call her No. 12. But most farmers can’t afford to personify animals, so they give them numbers.

Vets know that animals with numbers are apt to be “production animals”—headed for market. Farmers won’t spend more on their care than the animal is worth: If the treatment cost exceeds the market price, the animal is likely to be euthanized. Whereas animals with names—not only dogs and horses but some sheep, goats, and alpacas—are seen as individuals, even family members. Their owners are far more likely to spend what it takes to make them well. Some vets treat only animals with numbers, others only animals with names.
Slate

I name many of our livestock, especially those who are around for a long time like the sows and boars in the breeding herd who we will need to discuss as in “Out’s back in with her newly farrowed piglets – saw her down to the far end of the south field this morning.” Out’s the name of the sow. She’s back in the pasture. Ergo, Out is in.

Names tend to have something to do with the animal. A physical or behavioral characteristic that is distinctive. The sow mentioned above is named Out because she slipped out through a very small hole in the fence and farrowed in the forest. Her aunt Flop is named for her particularly floppy ears. The boar Archimedes is named because he always seems to be peering studiously over his non-existant glasses. Big Pig is named for, well, you can guess on that one.

Normally I don’t name animals initially. On the breeders it is generally after about six months or so of age that they ‘tell me’ their names. That’s when we start to need to differentiate them from the run of the mill finisher pigs who are going to market as in “My, that Longson is a particularly long and fine looking pig and he grew sooo fast. Perhaps we should keep him for breeding.” Longson is the great-grandson of Longfellow making his name doubly appropriate.

Sometimes it is a pattern in their coloring. For example there is Cookie who looks like she has chocolate chips on her and Soviet who had the soviet flag on her butt. Mouse got her name because she has a rather famous Disney logo on her shoulder. The birthmark looks just like Mickey Mouse – the two of them will have to squabble over the intellectual property rights on that one as I’m not getting involved. With a name like Mouse you might think she’s small but she’s probably 700 lbs at this point and still growing. There’s nothing small about Mouse despite her name.

Abigail’s Unloading

Sometimes they remind me of famous people like Archimedes did as mentioned above. Another one like that is Abigail. She is a sow who was named when she was a gilt because she was on her way up the ramp to load for the trip to market when I realized that she was pregnant. Her pregnancy saved her just like pregnancy saved her namesake and my ancestor Abigail Faulkner from being burned as a witch back in Salem. What may keep Abigail around for a long time to come is like Longson she grew remarkably fast on pasture, has a wonderful temperament and throws beautiful piglets. Having a name for yourself isn’t enough.

On the topic of spending excessive money on vet bills for named animals – doesn’t happen here. Not even close. Name vs number makes no difference. Can’t afford it for one thing. Dogs don’t get it either. I do what doctoring I can as needed. Mostly we just try to avoid injury and illness. I research what I can on the web using Google, The Merck Manual and ThePigSite. Other folks help from discussion lists. I do occasionally phone consult with the local large animal vet who provides us with assistance but actual vet visits alone are far to expensive to justify. Heck, I don’t even spend much on myself or my wife. Admittedly the kids are another matter, but then they’re pets and I’m a bit emotionally attached to them. :)

Outdoors: 88°F/65°F Sunny – NEW RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE SINCE 1991
Farm House: 75°F/68°F Picked strawberries at PYO farm, fan placed in window
Tiny Cottage: 76°F/69°F Scored more free thermopane glass doors and windows

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