Spring may not officially be here yet, but ANS Farms already has several new arrivals and lots of activity to talk about! We are now on the brink of our busiest time of year. Tomorrow Andrew will be hauling our two Poland x Chester cross barrows to slaughter. They have been housed with our Poland China boar Boss Hog and Bacon, my parents' Poland x chester cross gilt. The four of them have spent the last several months in Garden #1 plowing and tilling up the ground. Their job is now complete, and once Pork Chop and Sausage have gone to the slaughter house tomorrow, Boss Hog and Bacon will head back to Garden #2 to clean up our winter garden mess. Here are Pork Chop and Sausage, two of the happiest little feeder pigs you will ever meet.
Our two young gilts, Ellie May (Poland China) and Daisy Duke (Poland x York), are now old enough to be in with Boss Hog. Once we get Boss and Bacon moved into Garden #2, the girls will join them. They have spent the last three months in our melon patch cleaning up. Hopefully, all three girls will deliver our first piglet litters sometime late spring/early summer. Here is Ellie May posing for the camera.
Here is a shot of Daisy Duke. When we first got her, her entire waist and bottom was grey and her body pink. She looked like she had pulled on a pair of Daisy Duke shorts, hence the name. Believe it or not, both of these girls were born the same week!
With the pigs moved into new quarters, we will be able to go in to plow and smooth out Garden #1 for our early spring garden. The melon patch will remain vacant until warmer weather. We have winter wheat, mangel beets, and turnips in Garden #2 for the pigs to enjoy.
Our weather has stayed so mild this winter that our fall crops are still growing strong! Two weeks ago we got our Mother Earth News magazine. While reading through it, I found a recipe for Watermelon Radish Pickles. The timing was perfect, as we had one remaining row of watermelon radishes alive and well in the garden. With the forecasters calling for snow showers and extended cold weather, we decided this was the perfect way to use up all those radishes! So off to the store I went for Champagne vinegar, which I couldn’t find. Instead, we substituted White Balsamic vinegar. The ingredient list is very simple using just water, sugar, vinegar and sea salt. After getting the radishes washed and sliced, our jars came together in no time. For those of you unfamiliar with watermelon radishes, they are a beautiful radish with a sweet mild flavor followed by a burst of spice. I do not usually like radishes, but love these used fresh in salads. Here you can see the amazing color of these radishes.
This recipe is for refrigerator pickles, they are not processed. So once they were packed in the jars and the liquid poured on top, we simply screwed on plastic lids and popped them in the fridge. Andrew and Macey loved them, William and I didn’t care so much for them. Perhaps if I had found the champagne vinegar I would have appreciated the results more. It is definitely worth trying again, since half our family did enjoy them. My dad even took a jar home with him tonight after trying them.
Spring time is also when we begin hatching out chicks. While we don’t usually start the incubator until March, this year we began a little early. Last spring, we purchased two breeding pairs of Narragansett turkeys as week-old poults. They had just begun laying eggs several weeks ago when tragedy struck. We had just lost both of our ducks and a chicken to hawk attacks. During an evening head count to ensure everyone had lived to see another day, Andrew found that our largest turkey hen was missing. He found her remains in our pig pen. We had gotten four turkey eggs so far that week and saved them to start an early run in the incubator. After her death, we waited a few days hoping our other hen would lay a few more, but she did not. So in they went, with six chicken eggs for company. Our best hatch rate for chickens was 96%, however, we were not very successful at hatching turkey eggs last year that we purchased from a turkey breeder, so we weren’t really sure what to expect.
Last week our chicks began hatching… 1,2,3,4,5...6! A 100% hatch rate for chickens! I was thrilled.
Chicken eggs hatch seven days sooner than turkey eggs. So after our success with them, we had to wait and see what the outcome would be on our four precious turkey eggs. Now, we start a few chicken eggs at the same time as turkeys. We were told when we first started with turkeys that they look for ways to die. That isn’t far from the truth! Turkey poults are not as eager to seek out food and water as chicks are. By hatching a few chicks ahead of the turkeys, the chicks will show those poults how to survive. We have had success doing this several times now, with no problems or injuries to our poults.
So day 28 rolls around and much to my dismay, no turkeys. I went to bed with a heavy heart, thinking how slow it would be to build a turkey flock with just one hen and two toms. The next morning, we had one lone turkey poult already dry and chirping in the incubator! Those other three eggs did not hatch, but we are thankful for our lone turkey.
It didn’t take this little one very long at all to become friends with his chicken brothers and sisters. By the end of the third day, the poult was the same size as the chicks and all were co-existing quite peacefully. Can you spot the little poult cuddled up with the chicks? I had just cleaned the box and changed their feed and water, all the commotion must have worn them out because they all went straight to sleep!
We have recently learned another important lesson here on the farm. Female guard donkeys get incredibly grouchy when they are bred! Our donkeys, Momma and Baby, came here in February 2011. They had a background protecting cattle, sheep, goats and chickens. When our sheep came in May, they took right to them and went straight to work. We had no problems at all with them until recently. Momma began acting out first. It started by her bending down long 20-foot sections of our four foot fencing down to about two foot by bending the wire with her neck and snapping the clips. She did this several times, and then began pushing the wire with her rump. Then Baby began pinning her ears back and biting at the sheep to protect the mineral blocks. While these were annoying new habits, they did not seem threatening at first. Then last week I witnessed Baby become very irritated at a neighbors dog across the fence. Instead of herding the flock away in her usual calm manner, she began chasing them and striking with her front feet. Now, having a guard donkey that attacks your sheep kind of defeats the purpose of a guard donkey! So Andrew moved Momma and Baby up the hill to the larger barn for “maternity leave.” We would like to hold on to the donkeys to use with cattle, but we won't be getting any cows until next year. So we have to do some more discussing on this matter.
Years ago when I lived with my parents, we purchased a pair of Great Pyrenees girls as guardians for our alpacas. Dixie and Chick spent 11 years guarding together without a single loss or predator making it into the pasture. Dixie died last year, but Chick continues on, now training a new recruit, Holly, as a livestock guardian to the alpacas. Andrew and I decided to go ahead and purchase a new team of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) for our sheep. This weekend we met a wonderful man who has raised Pyrenees litters crossed with komondor. Mr. Argo has goats, chickens and horses himself, so his pups are bred and raised to work. Andrew and I took the kids up there early Saturday morning on the coldest day of our winter so far. At 19 degrees with wind speeds at 20 to 30 mph, it was one cold trip to the barn with three kids! Once inside though, we were greeted by some of the most adorable puppies I have ever seen. We had agreed before going that we would start with a female pup and add another later. One particular female pup stood out to us, so we loaded her up and hit the road. A few miles out though, we were still talking about how striking a male pup had been. So we turned back around and went back for him! The little female is solid white.
The male is mostly white, with a badger marked face and two brown spots on his body. We have not decided for sure on their names. We have it narrowed down to three options:
1. Bonnie & Clyde
2. Sampson & Delilah
3. Jack & Jill
Let us know what your favorite name combo is! We are putting it to a vote on our Facebook farm page at “Ans Farms.”
The pups are settling in nicely so far, and the sheep seem to have accepted them already. I am nervous about the flock being vulnerable while the pups grow older, but do feel like they are safer without the donkeys in there right now with it being lambing season.
With spring nearly here, our lives are about to get much more chaotic as we deliver lambs, hatch chicks, plant the garden, continue our fencing expansion, as well as caring for our newborn and home-schooling the kids. Busy, busy… but I wouldn’t have it any other way!