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Day to day, week to week life at Blue Rooster.
Posted 7/14/2011 5:07am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Our farm is being overrun with addicts and juvenile gangs in little pigs clothing.   They look cute, with their dainty little feet and long lashes emphasizing clear, intelligent-looking eyes, but they are bad!

We first discovered the posse of juvie pigs this past weekend when we went out to feed the pigs in the morning.   In a pasture partitioned off for Bob to graze, seven little pig butts were bobbing in the air while they rooted for worms and grubs under some old hay.  They didn't see us so we just watched, rather amused at the sight.  Around that time Bob decided he too should head to the barn for a little social time.   More amusing still was watching the panic spread through this little troop when their heads came up for air and they realized a very large, long-legged creature was walking among then.   The tough bravado disappeared and they went sprinting for the comfort of mama's pen.   Problem is their little bottoms are growing quicker than they realize and finding places they can squeeze under or through the fence, especially in a state of panic, is getting harder.  There are two especially plump little piggies that just can't make it back in unless they run all the way around the barn to a larger hole;  it is a dash that could challenge a world class sprinter.   These little sneaks seem to enjoy a good bit of freedom when we are not watching.  Yesterday Charles and Jimmy stopped by to borrow our trailer.  Apparently they too had surprised the little delinquents.  As I was watching from the yard I saw two little piggies quickly and silently dash behind the men, who were totally unaware that they had broken up a little youth party.    We are hoping their stature increases before their total independence or we are truly in trouble. 

The feeder pigs are causing other sorts of trouble.   They have developed a serious milk addiction.   Every couple weeks, Charles has a cow that freshens (has a calf) and we get several days of bucket milk that cannot go into his bulk tank.   It is great for pigs.  Love is not a strong enough word for how they feel about cow milk.  They can hear our little wagon trundling down road carrying several five-gallon buckets as soon as we leave the Kline farm and they come running to line up along the fence waiting to attack.   Mind you, these pigs are no longer cute little piglets.   Most of them are nearing 200 lbs.  Their eyes look especially feral from the dust they have been rolling in.  The other day I pulled into the barn yard with my wagon and saw that line of pigs jostling about, squealing and nipping each other for a better position and I decided, even though I felt a bit like the Beatles,  this was really a job for Roy.   I parked the wagon out of sight and went on to other business.  

Actually the best way to handle the milk situation is with two people and Mac, although I'm not totally convinced Mac's energy is really helpful here, but he does create some distraction.  Last night Roy had a late meeting and I was feeling rather brave.   I poured the milk into three easy-to-manage buckets, sent Mac in to clear the way and made a mad dash for the trough with ten pigs squealing behind me.  I got half the milk poured before I was surrounded and jostled, spilling a good bit of the milk onto the backs of the crazed pigs.   That scene, more or less, repeated itself a couple more times before the milk was gone and the pigs were satiated.   Then Mac and I decide to have a little fun.  On these hot, dusty days I often take the hose from the water tank and spray the pigs.   They like the mud it makes and Mac loves the spray.   Ten now-calm pigs loll about shivering the water from their backs and rolling over to plaster themselves in cool mud while one crazed, super-hyper dog dashes about leaping in an attempt to catch every drop of water in his mouth.  The contrast in the nature of these creatures creates a comic scene that I enjoy.   I can forgive their bad, milk-crazed behavior if in the end they amuse, rather than eat, me.  

And... then there is Ebony the bottle pig.  Suffice it to say, she has issues, but who doesn't.   I'll save her for another week. 


Posted 7/8/2011 7:30am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

After several weeks of having thunderstorms and showers miss us by only a few miles, we finally received nearly an inch of rain yesterday.    Everything looks brighter this morning.   The feeder pigs that are out on pasture have resumed their mining of the earth for grubs and worms.    Bob has been lingering on pasture instead of heading for the coolness of the barn at the break of dawn.  A mere almost-inch of rain will not last long in mid-July, but it is a welcome reprieve from  the dust that had settled on the bristled grass.  

Over the last several years our market demand and animal numbers have begun to increase significantly.    This is mostly a good thing except the amount of time Roy has to put towards farming has actually decreased and my time... like yours I'm sure, does not magically increase even as our lives get busier.    Knowing we couldn't continue on this trajectory we began thinking of ways we can reduce our work load while continuing to supply our markets.   It was early this spring that we got a call from Jim Shenk.   He and his wife are crop farmers and their crop of choice is grass.    His offer to us, along with other cattle farmers, was that he supply grass for our feeders steers.   Knowing our time and grass supply would be more than maxed out this summer, we decided working with JimRay Farms was a great option for us.   We sent 19 feeder steers to their organically certified farm only 15 miles north of us.   They rotationally graze them and make a lot of hay on other organic or transitioning farms around the county.   Everytime I drive up to Village Acres I pass their farm and see our steers out on their pastures and am relieved that I am not the one moving fences for them!   We get to do what we enjoy most -- for me that's marketing and for Roy, building our registered herd by selecting from good genetics - basically choosing good mama cows, quality bulls, and being around to see the beautiful little calves that come as a result.  The wonderful part of this arrangement is Jim and Rachel get to do what they enjoy most too.   Growing good grass and providing a service to farmers like us who are marketing grassfed beef.   Building relationships with other like-minded farmers is really the only way we can grow and stay sane.   Actually even if we just want to maintain our current size it is the only way we can stay sane and farm with integrity.    

When we moved to Shade Valley twelve years ago one of my fears was that I would not develop a sense of community with the people around me.    In college and immediate years following,  that sense of being part of a shared community was so easy and felt so necessary.    What I've learned since living here is community comes in many forms and it is necessary, perhaps for different reasons.   It doesn't look like the homogeneous community of a college campus and it may not be built on easy friendship per se, but it is strong because it is built on the necessity of cooperation.    We've lucked out -- we been able to work closely with so many good farmers and supportive businesses.   It's not always perfect or easy, but it is very satisfying. 

Posted 7/1/2011 5:26am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We've laughed often at Jim Carrey's "dastardly Count Olaf" in the movie version of Lemony Snicketts A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I'm having some difficulty finding the humor in our own series. 

A couple nights ago I woke to the sound of voices on road outside our window.   It took a while for me to realize the voices were not coming from our clock radios and when my head cleared, I figured out that the couple talking outside were picking up fiberglass pieces of the front end their car.    I assumed they hit a deer, an all-to-frequent incident on Route 35, but the cows were bawling ominously so I woke Roy, worried that perhaps one of our cows had been hit.   We dressed quickly, our minds still as foggy as the valley outside, and stepped out on the porch just as the car turned in our driveway.   A middle-aged couple got out and told us what we dreaded hearing, " We think we hit one of your cows.   It was in the middle of the road and with this fog, we just couldn't stop in time."   The whole front left fender and mirror were broken off.   They were concerned about the cow, saying they have no idea where it went and of course, they were concerned for their late-model Saturn, which appeared to be totaled.   Roy grabbed one of our dim flashlights and went to look for the cow while I took down their information to pass along to our insurance company.   

The couple was getting ready to leave when Roy returned.  He found the "cow" that had been hit.  It was one of our few registered Angus heifer calves.   She would have become breeding stock but the impact from car killed her and she was lying in the pasture on the opposite side of the road from the herd of cows.   We checked the fences and they were shocking.  We checked the gates and they were closed.   It is a mystery how and why she got out on the road.   Roy remembers waking earlier and hearing a cow bawling, but that is not too unusual and he went to back to sleep without thinking about it.  Most likely the calf was out for a while, perhaps trying to get back but with hot fences, fog, and darkness, it was probably proving difficult.  But who knows.  I'm still baffled as to how she got out.

It's been a rough spring.   At 2 am we lay in bed wondering what else would be coming at us this summer.   First we lost Bud and a litter of pigs, then several poorly timed equipment breakdowns, we've had to replace a car, etc. etc.  But 2 am is a dark time to assess one's situation so we turned on the fan to drown out the sound of the distressed cow bawling for her calf to come home and tried to get back to sleep, knowing the morning light would impact our perspective.  

It's been several days and the mama cow still paces the fence, bawling occasionally for her lost calf.   It is truly heart wrenching.   The calf had not been weaned so no doubt the mamas tight udder was reminding her that her calf had not returned.    I've kept the fans turned on at night and  we've had time to assess our string of misfortunes in the light of day.   Sure much of it is just bum luck, but it is bum luck felt especially hard when our lives feel stretched too thin.   We know there are changes we can make to help us maintain our equilibrium and in time, we'll put them in place.   This morning the sun is bright, the dogs are playful, a string of fledging barn swallows are diving from the electric lines, and the world is alive with birdsong.  

Posted 6/13/2011 5:04am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Last week was one of those weeks where the days of my calendar were filled in hourly tasks.   Those kinds of weeks make the farmer in me a little nervous because keeping a tight schedule does not allow enough time for the unexpected events that eventually happen.  And the one thing you should always expect on a farm is the unexpected.   In this particular story, the unexpected event was totally my fault!  Ugh. Just when I think I've planned perfectly, I absent-mindedly do somehting that causes momentary chaos in the lives of a dozen or more folks.

Wednesday was the girls last day of school.  It was also the day that we had five lambs scheduled to go to the butcher and I had made some arrangements with customers in Lancaster to make a meat delivery.   My day was booked.  As soon as the girls were on the bus, I hopped into our pre-loaded pickup truck (Roy loaded the lambs before he left -- Roy is one of the many heroes in this story) and headed to Thompsontown to deliver the lambs.  Unloading went so smoothly.  I even took time to fill the water bucket in the pen and find a little hay for the lambs before I left.   I arrived home in time to get my orders together, pack a bag, and get a shower before picking the girls up at lunch from school.   From there we were off to Village Acres for a staff meeting and to pickup more meat that I had in their cooler before heading to Lancaster to meet my customers.   One the way to Village Acres I received a call from Dan the butcher man.

"Uh Julie, we've got a problem down here. Who was your hauler?"

"Oh no! Why? What's wrong?" panic, panic, finally admit it  "I was -- what did I do?"

"Well the gate wasn't closed properly and your five sheep are running around Thompsontown."

After a bit of reassurance, Dan tells me he will keep me posted and just continue on to my meeting.   But a heaviness has settled in to my gut.  How could I be so stupid!  I even read the sign and thought I had the gate secured.  I was actually quite pleased with myself in the morning ... thinking everything was going according to my very tight plan.   So much for that.

Halfway through the meeting Dan called again.  "We are not having much luck here.  Do you have any suggestions?  Do they come to you calling them?  Anything?"   I thought of Mac at home in his pen and told Dan I would, (gulp) call Roy at work.

By this time I was losing (or perhaps lost) my cool.   Sounding desperate I told Roy the situation, how horrible I felt, but that I had a car full of meat, customers to meet in Lancaster, and the only solution I could think of was if he could get out of work early,  pick up Mac, and rescue me from this humiliating experience.   He told me he had a meeting he would try to cancel and then he'd be on his way.   In the meantime, I started slinging heavy coolers into my in-laws mini-van, rushing the girls into the truck etc. basically just being a panicky idiot so that I could get to butcher shop and help round up the sheep or at least keep an eye on where they were till Roy and Mac arrived.  This was that week in early June with high humidity and temps in the high 90's.   I knew I did not have a lot of extra time until I would have to leave to make it to my delivery destination in Lancaster.   My father-in-law Roy and sister-in-law Deb offered to come along to keep an eye on the sheep till Roy arrived since there was no way I could wait around for him.   On the drive to the butcher shop with Deb, we were able to laugh at this fiasco and thankfully regain some perspective.  I was still feeling like such a heel.   I could just imagine all those burly butcher men thinking "geez, leave it to a woman..." etc.  etc.  Maybe they didn't go there, but in rural farmer world were men dominate the scene, I can't help but think some of them do. (of course in other contexts,  my mind has gone in the "leave it to man" direction too -- hmmm) 

We arrived at the butcher shop in time to see two of the panting lambs get loaded into their trailer.  Two down and three more ... nowhere in sight.    Dan and his two teenage sons were tracking / chasing them and Dan's father, who we met at the trailer, thought they were last seen heading into a 30 acre woodlot.   We paced along the woodlot listening, but heard nothing.  So we waited and worried, hoping to get  glimpse of them.   Finally Dan's father said he was heading back to the butcher shop to drop off the lamb and we should come too.   We could no longer reach Dan by cell phone so we headed back too.   When we pulled up, there was Dan and his sons, dripping with sweat, looking satisfied.   The lambs were captured.   Dan's boys are lean, tall, and athletic, and the three of them together eventually were able to get close enough to tackle the sheep.   So there I was, feeling the taste of humble pie in my mouth, unsure how to repay them for all the chaos I had caused, feeling incredibly indebted and Dan simply waved it off as though I should not to worry about it.... "next time,  just be sure to shut the gate!"    No doubt!  Quick "thank yous" all around and we had to leave for our delivery.  

We arrived in Lancaster just ten minutes late, all our customers remembered to pick up their orders, I dropped off the girls at my mothers, and finally... headed out to meet several of my very good woman friends for dinner.  First order -- ice cold mojito then a retelling of my day's events with much laughter and empathy, as only good friends can provide. 

Next day on my way home I stopped by the butcher shop with a dozen pastries.   Dan's father saw me and smiled,  "They aren't running any more!"   

Posted 6/6/2011 10:32am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

In two days summer begins in full force; the girls will be home from school!   I'm ready for relaxed mornings and the break from packing lunches.   I find food preparation to be a challenge this time of year, both for packing lunchboxes and for preparing meals.   This spring is especially difficult as the wet spring  and busyness of farm life kept us from getting our garden planted early.   Last year's stores are nearly gone and this season is off to a slow start.  Riley keeps complaining that she is tired of PB&J!  How can she be tired of PB&J, she's nine!! Her father routinely ends his day with a PB&J sandwich and a glass of milk and he is, well, a good deal beyond nine.   I think we are all ready for a bit of a change to our school-year routine, so summer, bring it on!!

Last Friday we had another litter of pigs.  Summer farrowing is far less stressful than winter.  The sow made a nest for her brood in the corner of cattle loafing pen rather than the pig hut were we wanted her to have them, but it has worked out quite well anyway.   This way we have a much better view of the litter.   We have seven plump, healthy little piglets and a very small runt, who depite eye-dropper intervention, died on Saturday.   We are enjoying watching these sleek little piglets root around each other and their mother.   I am amazed at the difference in size between sow and piglets; pigs may not seem like graceful animals, but a mama sow that can negotiate standing up and laying down in a nest full of piglets without squashing any deserves a tutu and Pointe shoes.

Our other piglet, Ebony, the bottle pig, is not so little anymore.   She continues to amuse me immensely.   She comes when we call, prefers dog food to pig chop, and, has claimed Mac's old dog pillow as her bed.  She is a very spoiled pig.   Babe she is not however.  You would be very mistaken if you assumed she quoted poetry at our lambs or befriended Mac with her courtesy.   She is more likely to chase the lambs and bite their tails and in general, is not intimidated by anything.  I've read Winston Churchill once quipped that, "Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, and pigs view us as their equals."  He was clearly a man with some farm experience. 

Ebony and Frances.                                                                    I just can't resist picking up our squalking, demanding, pig-headed pet.

We continue to adjust to not having a team of horses since the loss of Bud.   We thought about farming Bob out for a while till we find a suitable teammate for him, but a good friend advised us to keep him here and if need be, borrow a horse for the summer till we find another.  For now, Bob seems to have adjusted to not having Bud around.  It helps that he can be out on pasture, keeping company with our bull.    We'll certainly keep you posted when and if we decide on another horse. 

 

Posted 5/25/2011 10:00am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

This question can be paralyzing, (except on CSA days and the day or two after.) I'm talking about both the daily, "what am I going to make for dinner?" and the larger, "what is the healthiest, most appropriate diet for me and my family?"  The day to day question has become an increasingly fun, daily, "dilemma" for me to solve.  It gives me an excuse to sit down at breakfast or lunch and flip through a favorite cookbook, back issues of Saveur, or check out my favorite food blogs and get lost for a while But getting lost often adds to my dilemma as usually the recipe that grabs my attention takes more time than I've allowed or has ingredients I don't have on hand.  So most days we eat simply -- salads, burritos with left-over meat from a roast, or if I have planned ahead, curry or chicken pie.  We live with an abundance of food but a shortage of time.  In that context, I fall back habit, and my habit is a combination of what I was raised eating and what I've discovered in adulthood and feel competent cooking.  I generally like the combination, but I believe it may be time to change some of habits and so the question that is more daunting for me is the second, larger, "healthy and appropriate" question.

 

To answer this question I read a lot about food and health, not just human health, but global health.  It is all so connected that I think it is safe to talk about health without clarifying human vs. animal vs. environmental.  Simon Fairlie's book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance has been very informative and I've been sent several very interesting blog/websites from customers that also have prompted me to make changes.  Fairlie argues for meat in moderation while some of the other sites like Archevore and Tribe of Five advocate for diets that strongly rely on animal products.   I've always believed the old "everything in moderation" to be a pretty safe approach to food and life, but... then I recently read an article on refined sugar that convinced me I need to reduce our family's sugar intake.  (Notice I said reduce... it should be eliminate, but... how can I turn down my mother-in-laws shoofly pie or my mother's chocolate cake with peanut butter icing?   Family relationships are very important to me ...)  I am not convinced that there is a single, universal "best" diet out there, but the topic is endlessly fascinating to me and along the way, I have been convinced to make changes to my diet that, I believe, improved my health.  

I would like to hear what others have experienced in regard to their diet and health.  Are there books, websites, blogs, that you have found helpful in answering these questions?  If so, I would love to hear about them.  Please send the titles or links to me.   Food is a topic I am endlessly interested in. 

 



 

Posted 5/19/2011 4:37am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

The weather matches the mood on our farm this week; no doubt it has done its part to exacerbate it a bit as well.  We cancelled our Farm Picnic / Customer Appreciation Day on Saturday because the forecast was for rain and thunderstorms.  Then on Sunday morning when Roy went down to the barn to feed the animals, he found Bud, one of our two Belgium Geldings, lying on his side in obvious pain.  Draft horses, all horses I suppose, are susceptible to colic and intestinal problems.   Immediately Roy tried to get Bud to his feet to get him moving and thankfully Bud was very cooperative.  After walking him around for half an hour, Roy came in and called a vet.  It is not easy to get horse vets to come to our area. There are many vets who feel as comfortable treating a dog as they do a cow, but horses are another story. On top of that, it was Sunday morning.  Roy spoke on the phone to several friends who have horses and our neighbor just over the ridge to the south offered to come by and have a look.  Bob and Bud had not been out to pasture yet. It has been too wet and with their touchy intestinal systems it nees to be a gradual process -- just a little at a time.  We were all quite puzzled as to cause of Bud's distress, but regardless, it wasn't getting any better.   We took turns walking him and he was very cooperative.   He seemed to appreciate the company.   When left without a person to guide him around the barnyard, he'd go to the barn and lay down and sometimes roll.   It was clear he was in pain.   When Sharon arrived we gave him a shot of a muscle relaxant, but rather than increase the gurgling in his stomach, his intestines got increasingly quiet.   A quiet belly on a horse is not a good sign. 

From mid-morning till mid-afternoon we took turns walking Bud, waiting for the vet to arrive.   When he stopped walking, he'd occasionally hang his big head down to nuzzle my head and shoulders, but as the day wore on, his willingness to walk decreased.  By the time the vet arrived, we were walking in tight circles.   I am a novice to horses, which probably fed my optimism.  I expected the vet to arrive with tubing and mineral oil and we'd get this thing cleared up quickly.  Because of threatening skies and nervous girls, when the vet arrived, Roy came out to the barn and I went to the house to be Frances and Riley.   I was stunned when just ten minutes later Roy called me on my cell phone with the diagnosis and options:  Bud's intestines were indeed twisted and blocked.  Surgery was an expensive option that required travel to Penn State or the Bolton Center and the Doc gave that only a 30% chance of working.  The mineral flush was an option but that meant putting Bud through days of agony with only a 10% chance of recovery.  The vet was recommending he be put down.  My jaw dropped.  This was not what I expected.   So we had options, but not really, not options that we could afford or justify.  Bud had already been sedated for the examination and was relaxed, one more injection that he wouldn't feel and he was gone.  It was a quiet and shocking end to our day. 

 Bob, his teammate in harness, whinnied and searched for Bud all evening.  Every time I've been in the barn this week, Bob has come around, looking for company and hanging his head to be stroked.  

The question we are sitting with is "now what?"  Having draft horses has been an important interest and goal of Roy's for a long time, but it has been a bittersweet addition.  Our first team, Eddy and Andy, were sold in January because, while beautiful and spirited, they required a little more training time and experience than we had to offer.  Bud and Bob seemed the perfect team for us.  Strong, gentle, and already well trained.   A single draft horse is fine for some things, but pulling logs, spreading manure, these jobs require a team.  And Bob is lonely.  This week we are trying stay focused on our daily chores and giving ourselves a little time to regroup and figure out our next step.   Good draft horses are not cheap and some would say they are impractical.  Then again, look at the price of gas.  How practical is it to increase our dependence on fossil fuel.   And I've yet to have a tractor drive over to me and nuzzle me with its silky-soft grill. 

Posted 5/11/2011 9:32am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

It is so good to finally hear tractors in the fields.   I spent much of yesterday at Village Acres sanding and putting polyurethane on the floors of the Food Shed.   Through the open windows I could hear the tractor coming up to the greenhouse to load up with transplants.   At lunchtime, several interns were rubbing their forearms, sore from the repetitive motion of sticking onions into the ground.  This week of warm, breezy sunshine is a godsend for farmers.   Here at home, Charlie just passed in his tractor pulling a noisy disk; announcing "spring" to the country just as teens walking down the street with a huge "ghetto blaster" on their shoulders announced "spring" to the streets of NYC in the late eighties.   Every place I've lived has its seasonal sounds; although these days they astonish me with how quickly they return every year.  

This spring Roy had Pip sent away to be trained for sheep and cattle herding.  Since we first got Mac, some things in our lives have changed, namely Roy's job and we've gotten busier with farming.   Although Mac has done well for us, Roy felt he did not have the time needed to train Pip the same way, and John Fisher, at Otterbein Acres, had both time and more experience to work with Pip.   We've missed her and look forward to her return.  Last week Roy picked her up from work and brought her home for a day so that she could make her vet appointment.   It was like she had never left.  She and Mac got reacquainted and immediately dashed off to a game of chase and tackle.   

What I was quite curious about was how Pip would react to the newest member of our family, Ebony, the piglet.   Ebony, or Pig-pig, as I usually call her, has a temperament that is similar to Pip's.  Pip is a self-confident little pup, to the point of being difficult at times.   She takes commands but usually she stares at you for a while with an "are you serious?" look in her eye.   Surely she knows better than you what she should be doing with herself.   I expected that when she met Ebony, it could be a potentially dangerous combination; I just wasn't sure for whom it would be dangerous.  Of course when Pip first spotted Ebony, she was quite curious and went in for a closer look.   Ebony, as she does with every animal that is larger than her, turned around with her mouth open and ran grunting and rooting into Pip's leg.   I suspect her instinct tells her this might be her long-lost pig mother, but it is unclear, because the action seems pretty aggressive.  Then again, given that her pig-mom treated her like a doormat, it probably should be aggressive.  Where Mac usually backs off at this point and gives Ebony some space, treating her like a small animal that needs to be protected and herded, Pip moves in to investigate.  "This is an odd creature.  I wonder if she'll submit?" she seems to think as she takes her paw and tries to squash Ebony to the ground.  Of course Ebony will have none of that!  Been there, done that.  Her mouth opens wide and she runs right at Pip, making the guttural sound of an old Dodge trying to turnover.  At this point we intervene.  Pig is picked up, still irate and hollering about it, and Pip, ever buoyant, dashes off to join Mac in a game of chase.   What will really be interesting to watch is how this all plays out when Pip comes home for good and Ebony twice as large and just as easily riled.  Should be very entertaining. 

Posted 4/28/2011 8:03am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Farmers always talk about the weather; and for good reason.   Few other  vocations are as dependent on something so totally out of their control.   Okay,  yes of course there are large economic swings and shifts that affect many vocations and they too are out of the control of any single individual.   Perhaps it is not too difficult for anyone to imagine the stress farmers feel when the very thing that brings abundance can just as easily bring destruction.   We all live with the reality that much of life is beyond our control. 

This is a spring like I have never seen before.    The rain just doesn't stop.   We, at Blue Rooster Farm, are very fortunate among our farming friends.   We are not dependent on getting seeds in the ground or tractors in the fields.   Our pastures are saturated, but the grass is growing.  The cows and sheep won't get stuck in the mud or impact the sodden soil in a devastating way.   We are also fortunate to not be totally dependent on the farm income for our livlihood.   Roy's off-job farm can make for hurried evenings and weekends, but it also provides security against those unpredictable variables like crazy weather and broken-down skid steers.  We rub shoulders with a lot of farmers who are just scratching their heads, wondering when spring will give them a break.   For their sake, I hope it is soon.   Then again, one only has to turn on the news to realize that if saturated soil is our most vexing problem at the moment, we have a good deal to be thankful for.   Even as I write, the sun is brightening the sky.  Could be in a few weeks we'll actually be hoping for nice rain. 

Posted 4/22/2011 10:57am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

A week ago when Roy checked on the sow who was due to farrow he discovered she had given birth to a good-sized litter and all but one were dead.   It was a devastating blow.  Last winter this same sow had a small litter in bitterly cold conditions and when they all died over the course of a week, we blamed our inexperience and the cold, and had her re-bred.   She is a sow who seems especially sweet to us humans, but as it turns out, she neglects her young.   We left the single piglet with her mom and hoped for the best, but when she stepped on the little gilt and seemed oblivious to her squeals, she sealed her fate and we became the foster parents of a tiny, spunky, loud-mouthed Ebony, and we love her.

Piglets crave body heat and need warmth so Ebony likes to snuggle, if fact, she insists on it, emphatically!  While she gets passed around the open arms here at home, none of us has the luxury or patience to hold her constantly, so we keep a warm water bottle in her kitty-carrier to substitute for a warm body.   When she is hungry or feels cold, she rattles her cage door and grunts and squeals. ( I was tempted to tell the tele-marketer that called the other day to ignore the racket, it was just a salesperson who wanted out of his shackles, but I just let them wonder.)   When I open the door to let her out, it's like a bullet being shot from a gun.  She dashes out, squealing, shoveling her snout into your ankles, while her dainty little feet click around your legs.   She is fierce for a two-pound, six-inch tall troll. But after being fed and let out to pee, (yes, pigs don't like to go to the bathroom where they sleep so after she drinks we take her outside and she pees almost immediately) she calms down and likes to be held, close.   All baby animals are loveable, but of all the bottle babies we've raised, we never had one that seemed to want our affection as much as Ebony.   Nor have the other bottle babies been so comical.   That's what I really love about pigs.  They are confident animals and seem to assume that all their grunting and squealing should make perfect sense and when we humans are confused, its because we are ignorant, thank you very much.   Ebony is certainly all pig.   She doesn't cower, she explores, she demands, and when she wants to cuddle, darn it, you better get ready because she is headed for that warm space in the crook of your neck.   And when she settles in,  you'll find it is so nice to have her there. 

See "Spring Bottle Babies..." for more photos of Ebony.