Making Bacon & Loving It!
Our feeder pigs have gone to the butcher and I’m flooded with relief and sadness. These pigs have spent the last 7 months here at Iron Side Ranch, growing and growing and growing. (And thereby eating and eating and eating) Pigs are really fascinating creatures with much more personality than I would have ever expected. Yes, I’ve heard of people having pigs as pets but never took them seriously. In a way, I can sorta find the appeal in a pet pig. No, I’m not going to go tame one of our super sweet Kune Kune piglets but I will take the time to appreciate each pig’s uniqueness.
The feeder pigs had a love-hate relationship with us. These are the first of many of who did not receive a name other than “feeder pig”. (One really should not name supper, right?.) These particular pigs are night and day different from Kune Kune’s. I could go on and on about how wonderful Kune Kune’s are - how sweet, docile and friendly they can be. Feeder pigs? They seem to have hit the terrible two’s stage and never left! Our Kune Kune’s never tested the fences or broke out of a pasture until the feeder pigs came along. These feeder pigs grounded out the electric fences, ran through or over temporary electric fences, broke chain link fences and would knock you over in order to get to whatever you had in your hands if you didn’t race past them fast enough to their food bowl. They are smart - testing gates, posts, checking to see if there is a way out of their current pasture into the next. I was surprised at to what they would do in order to be the bigger herd of pigs which included all the ‘studly’ bores. Those feeder pig girls love the boys in the herd and didn’t seem to care one bit about the other females. The Kune Kune girls tolerate the boys but seem to pay them little mind.
We are expecting another much larger set of feeder pigs at the beginning of January and again mid-summer which will be raised from womb to table on pasture and NonGMO feed supplement. We are growing! We have sold some of our livestock (piglets, chickens, eggs, goats and feeder pigs) on a small scale to friends and family and are finally taking the leap of growing large-scale for consumers and restaurants. A little nerve-wracking but exciting at the same time! Our first feeder pigs taught us the importance of having an initial quarantine area for the new arrivals, sturdier electric fencing and the necessity for frequent pasture rotation. Fencing seems to be the biggest hinderance of growing at the moment. The animals need a lot of land to rotate through frequently in order to keep the land in balance and not over-graze. Once we have more fencing up, we plan on expanding into sheep and cow - who doesn't love lamb-shanks and a tender steak? (Shameless plug, we are taking pre-orders on pork now! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.)
However, the biggest lesson I personally learned from the feeder pigs was this…
Don’t go say good-bye at the butcher. I love bacon and sausage, ham, steaks, ground beef, chicken, lamb shanks and everything meat. I love watching the baby animals grow, explore and learn about the world. We give all of our animals a really good life - fresh air, sunshine, warm bedding, lots of grass and pasture, Non GMO feed, friendly ear-scratches - they want for nothing and are happy. But at some point, most of them do become dinner and provide physical nourishment if not for us, someone’s family. But I will never forget going back to scale area at the butcher to comfort the feeder pigs and say a good-bye of sorts and seeing the fear and confusion in their eyes. My heart broke for them. (Our butcher is very humane and the animals fall asleep before butchering - Reed’s Processing in Clanton, AL.) Animals have feelings and should be treated with respect and care while in our charge. They deserve the best life possible before becoming ‘life’ for us. I will admit, during the course of those feeder pigs lifetime, I had told them how much I was looking forward to their sausage when they’d escape, break something or run into me. (And I’m still looking forward to their sausage.) But when I do eat that delicious sausage or bacon, I will stop and give thanks for those feeder pigs. Looking forward to many, many meals of home-grown, pasture raised pork in the years to come. Never thought I'd be a pig farmer or rancher in general but it's one of the best decisions I have ever made... Thank you feeder pigs! You are a blessing in more ways than you'll ever know!
Mud Slides and Tractors
Summer is in full throttle, stifling heat but the gentle drone of kids laughter waxing and waning is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face. We have wildflowers growing, dandelions abound and grass up to our knees. Wildflowers make beautiful impromptu hair adornments and sometimes land in mason jars of water. Most of the time though, we admire them and leave them for the bees. Long stems of grass become nature’s toothpicks. Potholes in our gravel driveway become the perfect place for making mud balls just in case a sibling makes a sneak attack with the nerf gun. And perhaps the favorite spot in the yard is our one of a kind mud slip and slide. Hours of fun by the kids and their friends running, yelling and slipping down the hill on a slide of mud. They're building their immune systems, using their imaginations and having a blast!
I have the perfect vantage point of watching this slip and slide of summer fun right from my kitchen table. The water sprinkler goes up and shortly after, the dry patch of earth becomes the best free toy the kids could want. Some say the world is in chaos now and maybe it is. But for now, summer holds these kids captive with sunshine, water fights, mud ball fights, nerf gun attacks and bike rides. This is how summer should be for kids. No worries but what to have for their next snack or which book to reread while waiting for the libraries to reopen.
The goats look on and call out to play and beg for food when we walk by. The pigs grunt along happily under the trees looking for grass to nibble on or root around in the cool earth. Piglets weave in and out of the grass playing their own game of impromptu hide and seek with each other. Chickens flutter about looking for delectable bugs and insects. They seem happier now that they are a ladies-only bunch yet I find myself secretly longing for the rooster crow.
Our human son Gatling ("Gator") was born this past December (2019) and is about 7 months old now. Everything is so new and fascinating for him as his eyes grow big and wide with wonder. He adores his big sister and brother and rewards them with frequent squeals and the biggest smiles. His favorite place to be is with them when he isn’t snuggling with his momma. His second favorite place is to be outside watching all the animals and with his dad. Gator is content to let me hold him in the shade as long as he can go back and forth from watching all the livestock and Mackay. Every tool, shelter built, pile of dirt moved is new and intriguing for him. We often wonder what is going on in his little mind. In some ways I’m envious of him. He will grow up learning how to care for animals with dogs as his constant companions, how to drive a tractor, grow fruits and vegetables, move pigs and sheep from pasture to pasture. He will learn to can excess produce preparing for winter. Camping, hunting, shooting, archery, climbing trees with a big brother and sister cheering him on with every scraped knee or elbow. The world is before him with so many possibilities and exciting adventures if he learns to make good decisions.
Summers are for extreme heat and then sudden rain showers and thunder storms. Fresh grass, sweat, sunburns, dogs barking, pulling weeds, sweet tea or a cold beer are all reminders that summer is here for a season all too soon to be replaced by the coming fall. As I reflect on the chaos of the world, I can’t help but be grateful for the here and now of the ranch in the summer; safe, predictable and steady but fresh and new every day.
I'm a wife, mom of 3 wonderful children, homeschool teacher and loving ranching. After Mackay and I married, we've been steadily pursing our goals of having a self sufficient life and teaching others along the way.