Sunday, March 8, 2015

Herd in Flux

Our herd, otherwise known as a "drift," of pigs has gone through quite a few changes since January. In the end it is all positive, but there have been a couple bumps in the road - just enough to keep things interesting.
Suzy is a snuggler.
This all began with us physically trying to create change. A failed attempt at AI (artificial insemination) produced a bit of frustration, but hey, we wouldn't know until we tried, right? Expensive lesson learned. Enough about that.

With the ladies needing to be bred, and not wanting to rush a search for a boar, we shipped Vera, Suzy and Elsa off for a little romantic getaway with Buddy. They were away for nine days and it was so quiet! Dafney and PBJ soaked up the attention in their absence.

Elsa snoozing and Vera yawning - these two are really buddies.
When the girls came back it was clear that they had bonded and there was now a slight division between the two groups. Vera has always been the alpha female, but now she was picking on the other two a bit. Nothing horrible, they just weren't getting along the same the way they were before. So, we opened the other half of the barn and things settled down. The pigs then began sleeping in different pigs piles every single time they slept, alternating sides of the barn.

Suzy, PBJ and Dafney snoozing.
January passes into February with a hopefully successful breeding and an introduction of a new herd member on the horizon! The first task in selecting a boar was deciding on a breed and the Glouchestershire Old Spot (GOS) traits looked promising for what we are aiming for with our herd.

(Warning: Hog breed tangent, skip ahead to avoid the nerdiness, or read on!) 

Vera is a North American Guinea Hog/Ossabaw Island cross. Elsa and Suzy have those same genetics, with some GOS genetics, as well as a bit of Duroc and Hampshire. So basically they are lovely heritage mutts. You can see more Duroc in Suzy and a lot of Ossabaw in Elsa.

Two years ago we started with a Guinea Hog/Ossabaw cross and we really loved their temperament, size and foraging qualities. These breeds bring qualities of winter hardiness, efficiency of turning forage into meat, delicious fat, docility and the smaller size we are looking for. The Guinea Hog is a threatened species and the Ossabaw a critical species. They have a final weight of 150-200 lbs. Also, their darker skin removes the issue of sunburn, but we need to make sure they have a good wallow in the summer so they don't overheat.

We chose to introduce the GOS, to the Guinea Hog/Ossabaw cross, to produce a pig that would grow a little faster and larger, while maintaining a docile temperament and excellent foraging qualities. With a finishing weight of 275-300, GOS are excellent grazers and foragers. They are well known for their docility, intelligence and large liter size. They are also referred to as the "orchard pig" and are the royal pigs for the British Royal Family.

Side note: For further nerdery, check out the Mangalitsa, which is what the ladies were bred to - it's like a hairy dog-pig.

(End tangent...)

Sir Renfred, in his first few days with us.
Enter Sir Renfred - a pure GOS boar (intact male) who is now five months old. We specifically wanted a young boar, so we could socialize him ourselves. While the ladies are bred now, towards the end of the year Sir Renfred will begin his sire-ly duties. We chose a British name, for fun, and settled on Renfred for the meaning "mighty, but peaceful" as we surely hope, with a top weight of 600 lbs, that this sweet little guy will possess those qualities! Although, Abraham, meaning "father of many" was a close contender.

This was our first time introducing a new member to the drift (herd), which meant pig quarantine, a common practice. Shortly we will be introducing everyone to each other. For now, the ladies gaze longingly in his direction. The next step will be to meet across a fence, then finally everyone will get to hang out! In this time he is gaining a bit of size (just over 100 lbs now), it will be nice to have him a little larger come meet-and-greet time.

Dafney was a sweetheart from day one.
The next fluctuation was the hardest and it came in the form of harvest day. We both feel that it will be difficult each and every time. We care for these creatures, they are smart, amazing parts of our daily lives; we form bonds with them and are grateful to experience each of their unique personalities. The thing that was different about this time was raising them up from piglets and having to pick and choose which gilt (unbred female) to breed or eat. I had picked out Dafney as a keeper from day one, but in the end she was not the right fit for breeding.

"You gotta love the animals you are going to kill. If you don't there is a disconnect." Stefan Kobowiak

So I bawled a little, and I teared up a little writing this, but that is good - I am, we are, passionate about healthy, humanely raised animals, we care. We are fortunate to work with George's City Meats for excellent service and an understanding of our practices, and we are fortunate to have great pork-loving customers who appreciate the way we raise our animals. In the end, we are grateful for the delicious, healthy meat that feeds our family - we know how it was raised, what it was fed and that it did not harm the animal, nor the ecosystem.

Suzy, with her belly beginning to round.
On a final note, Vera, Suzy and Elsa are successfully bred. No, we didn't give them pregnancy tests, basically you determine this by watching for their next heat cycle. They will cycle every 18-23 days, 21 being typical. In addition to the physiological signs they also get whiny, and Vera gets real attached to John. There were no signs, as the last predicted cycle. Now the ladies are beginning to look just a little more round in the belly and their bellies feel just a little bit firmer. We certainly are looking forward to gaggles of piglets joining the farm come May!

Vera. Love those ears.