Callywood Pigs! (Part I)

Hey everyone, Farmer B here.  We are quickly approaching processing day for our first ever round of pigs here at the farm, so it seemed like a good a time as any to start back at the beginning or our little porcine experiment and fill you in on everything related to our foray into pork.

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One of our Ossabaw Island Hogs,                      3 months old

This first part of this hog history will focus on the rationale behind raising pigs here at Callywoods and the initial construction.  Part II will touch on the type of pigs we raise, Ossabaw Island Hogs, our daily routines, and what we have learned through the process.  Part III will get to the meat of the matter: processing, consumption, and looking into the future as we take our next steps into the second generation of Callywood pork production.

A couple years ago, after many discussions about our progression in livestock beyond our lovely egg-laying flock, we decided that raising pigs for meat was the best choice for us.  We originally thought it would be dairy goats, as we crave fresh, local milk, but several factors occurred to us that made us change direction towards the other white meat:

  • We don’t have much proper pasture land.  Yes, goats aren’t exactly grazers like cows or sheep, but it didn’t seem ideal to have goats living on dirt (ie, mud)
  • Goats are a handful, require substantial fencing, and daily (if not twice daily) milking when kept as regular dairy animals.  This livestock conversation coincided with the then pending arrival of Farm Baby, and the huge time commitment with dairy goats didn’t exactly seem to jive with our soon to be changing energy & sleep patterns
  • We had recently discovered a fantastic local source of raw milk in the neighborhood, Harmony Diary and no longer had as urgent a need of milk source.  (Sidenote: we are fortunate enough in SC to be able to legally buy raw milk from local sources, a “luxury” that not all states afford their citizens…more on that in a future post)
  • We love pork!  It’s probably our favorite meat:  pulled pork, grilled tenderloin, carnitas, homemade sausage, smoked bacon…

We selected the location on the farm for our pigs between two small creeks where a section of land was naturally bounded in creating a small peninsula that we affectionately call the “Pig Pen” for short.  Yep, that’s the kind of clever stuff that keeps us going around here.  I opted for electric fencing.  It has worked wonderfully.  More on the details of our adventure of “training” the pigs to the electric fence in the next part of this discussion, but suffice to say that after a very rocky start to pig fencing, we haven’t had a single issue of note.  Our pigs are happy and healthy in their electric enclosure.  I use a DC powered charger run off a deep cycle marine battery.  It lasts 3-4 weeks on a charge depending on how often the pigs decide to bury the lowest of the 4 lines in mud while rooting.

Fence Charger & Battery by creek

For housing, I utilized a tradition “pig ark” design that is more popular in Europe, especially in the UK.  A separate floor and roof section make for easy cleaning and somewhat easier moving when need be.

Arc & Base

The roof fits directly over the floor for a seamless pig house!

The roof fits directly over the floor for a seamless pig house!

This particular 6’x8′ design is said to be ideal for 3-4 adult hogs or a mother and her litter of piglets.  So far I have no reason to disagree with that.  Our 3 adult pigs have plenty of room in the ark with ample wiggle room.

Base in Arc Side view

I used heavy duty flashing for the roof material with waterproof screws/washers to keep things high and dry.  It’s not as ideal as galvanized or aluminum would have been, but that’s very difficult and expensive to have set to this specific of a curved roofline, so I did what we do best around the farm and improvised!

Waterproof stain on exterior wood surfaces

Here is the final look at the Pig Ark in its home in the Pig Pen, surrounded by the electric fence (notice how wonderfully low profile and aesthetically simple the electric fence is).  You can see one small creek in the foreground and can picture the other creek behind coming from the pond dam in the background.

Finished Arc in Yard

All that’s left is to supply our new pig home with little porkers!  Stay tuned for Part II in this discussion when we learn about Ossabaw Island Hogs, bring our new piglets home, see them promptly escape and then return after a very stressful week on the farm, learn about their routine, and even see the pigs teach their naive farmers a thing or two along the way.

2013 Farm Goals

We have been in serious planning mode since, well, since we got this crazy idea and moved to SC. We don’t have much to hold us accountable, except for each other. So, we thought we might start sharing our annual plans on this space in hopes that the internet might do a better job than we’ve been doing at the accountability thing.

Hopefully, we can report back on our progress as we get things done and at the end of each year, cross some things off our list. As BJ says, the reason you make a list is to cross things off it. And here I was under the impression all these years that the point of a list was to make it look pretty…wait…that explains so much about my productivity…

Our main goals will pretty much always be the same, every year, as they should be for anyone planning a self-sustainable homestead/small farm: soil fertility, vegetable production, livestock, and water. The specific actions under each goals will be what changes from year to year. We added long-term planning as we need to keep some other things on our agenda too.

Without further adieu, here’s what 2013 has in store for us. I’d love to hear any comments and/or thoughts about what we put together. I added some comments and explanations so it might be easier to follow along.

1. Soil fertility

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     A. Build up compost production – We are thinking about adding worms. Anyone recommend/have experience with worms? We are also thinking about trying to source old hay from community members. We’ve read a lot from Elliott Coleman and his hay compost. Last thought we have on this is to try a kitchen scraps collection from the community.
     B. Seed a few different areas with good grasses – Building up good soil where we think we might add vegetable growing space and rotational grazing for livestock in the future.
     C. Fish – We have a bazillion fish in the small pond on the property. We really need to reduce the amount as they have started producing offspring. We’d love to figure out an easy, sustainable way to use this as an additive to our soil that so badly needs nutrients.

2. Vegetable production

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     A. More growing space – As you might have gotten the drift, our soil is not so good. In order to grow short-term, we have installed some raised beds. We are expanding our raised beds to have 5 that are approximately 6 feet wide and 30 feet long. We have some other areas that we grow in (potatoes, kitchen herbs) and we hope to continue expanding and finding good areas to grow.
     B. Keep better records – We need to be way better about keeping garden logs and records. Growing in the clay is not easy. The best way to up production is to figure out what grows best and eventually under what conditions. We started a great system with our hens a few months back and it has helped us better understand dips in production and hopefully be able to predict those dips in the future.
     C. Add mushroom logs – We have the ideal climate and landscape for growing mushrooms. Wet, hot, shady: wild not for eating mushrooms grow everywhere on our property. All we have to do is “knock up” some logs!
     D. Preserve – We didn’t do a great job of this last year. I think it was the bowling ball in my stomach and the thought of turning on the oven in the summer that deterred me. And after the bowling ball came out, forgettaboutit.

3. Livestock

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     A. Pigs! – Stay tuned for some awesome development in the category!
     B. Chickens – We already have 18 chickens (1 rooster, 17 laying hens) for eggs. We will be adding to that this year with another flock, mostly for meat production and a couple extra layers.

4. Water – We don’t have many goals under water this year. We will continue our rain water collection (with some new barrels!), but we recognize this is an essential piece of running our homestead.

The top ten since being back in SC!

5. Long-term planning
     A. Nut trees – We really wanted to plant a pecan tree to celebrate baby girl’s birth, but didn’t as we felt a little overwhelmed at picking a good spot and ensuring success. We’ve done some research and need to do more, but would really like to add a few nut trees on the land soon.
     B. Berry patch – I see some of these in the future. I need some of these. Soon. I can’t find non-sprayed strawberries in this area and it breaks my heart! This is under long term as we want to find a great, permanent spot.

Grilled Portobellos
     C. Pasture area – For those of you who might know us might be questioning why this next year we only plan to add chickens and pigs. It has been a long time desire to have goats. And while this might be a good decision down the road, it’s just not the right decision for us now. We don’t have an ideal spot, but the main reason is because they don’t fit into our lifestyle now. With both of us working and taking care of baby girl now, adding 2x day milkings just seems too much. In addition, we have an AMAZING dairy community here. We have access to raw milk ($5 gallon, whattt?), lots of goat farmers which means local cheese, so we really don’t need to add goats now. The price of pork however is rising and we love pork. So pigs for now and down the road we hope to build up some pasture areas and add goats/sheep and maybe even a cow. 
D. Building a house!