Saturday, July 5, 2008

Teach Your Children Well

And your pigs to be patient

As I said to Trent today, I never thought the learning curve for raising pigs was going to be so steep. These animals are vexing. They show no circumspection whatsoever. They hurtle everywhere. They dive into the feed trough. They hurtle from one end of the pasture to another. Mom's in the lead while the piglets tread incautiously beneath her teats hoping to get a suck in during the rare moment when she isn't racing somewhere. Obviously they are oblivoious of the fact that if they falter, Mom will crush their skull with her hind feet.

The pigs even hurtle to sleep. A 200 pund pig gets tired, she falls over like a tree and she falls asleep. And when she is asleep, she rushes through that too.

Not so comfortable on this side? Fine. I'll slam myself over onto this side. Never mind that I have 10 piglets sleeping next to me. F--k that. I must be comfortable!

Then BAM! Two piglets are dead. Blivet. Gone. Into the compost pile or the wood furnace that takes care of all of the dairy's heating and hot water needs.

Feeding time is always a trip. The pigs go hog-wild when they think they can get a lot of food without having to do any work. I've grown used to seeing them stampede the slop trough when they see me walking over from the kitchen with a bucket of scraps. (Frankly, this makes perfect sense to me as there is rarely anything in that bucket that I would not eat myself if I was hungry enough. It's usually bristling with skimmed fat and meat from the stock pot, scraps of bread, cheese rinds, broken eggs not fit for sale. You know, really wonderful stuff.) They are like a bunch of kids racing up to touch Bozo's hair: frantic.

In short, pigs are not like most humans. They are the Jim Morrisons and Janis Joplins of farm animals. I saw Janis perform once. Believe me, I love her, but she was hitting on a bottle of Southern Comfort the whole time and running around the stage and falling down like a sow cutting through a pile of sour mash. After 30 minutes She was banging into everything, turning over amps, knocking known her mike stand, slurring lyrics. She was stampeding the stage like a hog at slopping time.

This morning at about 9 o'clock during a fervid attempt to engorge herself on grain, a Janis among our Duroc sows knocked over the feed box killing one of 10 day old piglets and injuring another. Of course the kids found out about what happened first and came running up to tell us that the injured pig had a broken leg and the other piglet was dead and somebody needed to do do something.

So Trent tells them to go down and bring up the hurt pig so he can fix her leg. The piglet was trembling the entire time. Her skin was cool to the touch and I was afraid she was in shock. But then while I was watching Trent move the leg around I noticed that the bones seemed fine. There did not appear to be a break. Later, after the piglet had been returned to the pasture I said to Trent "That pig didn't have a broken leg. did it?"

Trying not to look me in the eyes he said " Sometimes the lesson learned from something is more important than knowing the truth of what happened."


Jennie/Tikka said...

Wow, and here I was getting all freaked out about my dog eating out of the cat's litter box....I guess it does get worse!

blondee47 said...

"In short, pigs are not like most humans"

you obviously have never been to the Sztern house at dinner time:

if that piglet could stay that small i would own two...of course i said that 26 and 22 years ago too....LOL

i once wanted to be a vet...i luv all animals....

lectric lady said...

I hope you are proud of yourself.

Yesterday, I purchased 2 Berkshire hogs, all because of your blogging about them. They will be staying out their days at the farm where they now live, and we have picked out a processor who makes great stuff with the "product."

I do have a few questions for you. They do not make head cheese, and that is the one thing my husband really, really wants. I guess I will have to try making it myself (I do know why it is called "head" cheese).

Do you have any helpful words of wisdom? The "best head cheese in the world" recipe? I'm quite sure I am nuts, but if I can pull this off, I think I can move on to other cuts.

Cameron S said...

There is a classic headcheese (fromage de tĂȘte) recipe on page 239 in Jane Grigson's superlative 'Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery' book. I got the book on used, I think it has been out of print for a bit now. Well worth the effort if you don't have it.

There is also a good one on 253-254 of Michael Ruhlman's and Brian Polcyn's excellent 'Charcuterie' book.

I also enjoyed working through this one:

I did it one week, was fun.

Cameron S said...

I gently curse that extra apostrophe on Ruhlmann.

Sigh. :)

Bob del Grosso said...

lectric lady

I'm humbled, jeeze. I inspired you to buy pigs? Wow. (Are they mature enough to slaughter?)

I have not made head cheese in a very long time, which is a shame that I will correct soon. But I think that Cameron's advice is pretty solid. I've got Jane Grigson's book in front of me now and the recipe looks really good. Like most cookbooks, there is too much detail but the basic formula is sound.
When I made it in 1981 the recipe I used was very similar to the one in Ruhlman and Polcyn. I especially like the fact that they use nitrate which brightens up the dish a lot.

If you have any specific questions email them to me at my gmail address. It's not as hard to do as it sounds. Mostly it's tedious, but the results will be worth it.

lectric lady said...

The pigs will be taken to the butcher on Oct. 14, so we have quite a bit of time to learn. They are being fed transitional-organic feed, are pastured and will be finished with acorns and apples. I'm going to go visit them this weekend.

What a hoot!

lectric lady said...

Oh, I almost forgot-

Many thanks to Cameron and Bob for sending me off in the right direction.

Cameron S. said...

I am hoping to buy a farm myself for my next phase in life as I am 3 years from 40.... (I come from a farming background on my mother's side) and know how much work it can be, but I am in the software business and find the 80+ hour weeks interesting but a bit lacking in physical contact with the world :)

I also think that with arable land declining around the world from over population, climate change, and pollution that the food business will be a good one to be in.

One of my earliest memories of headcheese is going to a friends farm at around age 6 and eating some headcheese on a brick oven fired loaf of home made bread.

Anyways - best of luck with your porcine adventures. I wish I had pigs fattening up on apples/nuts.

So tasty. Happy to share any info I know of with you.

ntsc said...

A friend sent me Grison, but I haven't gotten that far into it yet. Something to look forward to

Deborah Dowd said...

I guess that this is just part of the cycle of life on a farm. And as a farmer you have to think not "Oh those cute little piglets!" but "How much ham and pork chops have I lost."