Our resident Berkshire gilts are outside and working the earth. Enjoy seeing their reaction to fresh pasture for the first time in this wonderful video.
Rooter and Till have been acclimating to their new home for a few weeks now. It is important when you bring newly weened piglets home, you stabilize them in a smaller space to adapt and bond with you. This forms a good relationship between handlers and the pigs. Imagine when these little guys are 200 pounds and all muscle. If they are not familiar with being around people and approachable, moving them, checking them for health, and personal safety would all be impossible.
Every time I go into the enclosure with the Berkshires, I am very aware of how I carry myself, and how polite the pigs are. If they crowd me too much, I give a correction with a cedar staff I carry to keep a clear boundary. When the pigs are big, if they come into my space and shove at my legs, I could fall. Corrections now while the pigs are small, will keep me safe later on when the pigs are much bigger than me. Horse people know what I’m talking about. And just like a frisky colt, you don’t want to stir up energetic pigs. 200lbs of chaotic charging around would be an accident waiting to happen. When I bring the pigs a treat, I wait till they are calm and polite before I give a reward.
The gilts are smart, trainable, like a pup, and eager to explore and learn. A pig’s eyes are very small, giving the animal poor site. Their smell is incredible, and they touch everything with their snout, feeling an object to identify it. It’s a pleasure to watch them turning over the sod with iron snouts, seeking the grubs and roots below. They also handle things in their mouth, using more touch to explore. This habit is fine with what they find in the field, but not ok with people. A pig does have teeth, and if they get a hold of your pant leg, they can shake you with enough force to bring you off your feet. Space and respect are crucial, along with calm demeanor and mindful handling.
Last week, Antigone was butchered in a one on one class. She was culled due to a lack of fertility, and too much nervous energy. A panicked animal of her size with such large horns was a liability. Leafhopper Farm handles all the kids with great care, so they will grow into well adjusted livestock which can be handled easily and, more importantly, safely. Branwen and Bran are thriving, and getting used to people being around them as they forage in the lush pastures here on the farm. They will keep their horns, as protection, because there is a serious threat of predation in this part of the world.
Sadly, we recently lost May Kid to a predator attack in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon. After studying the scene with Casey McFarland and Michelle Engler, two cat specialists who happened to be staying at Leafhopper Farm for a few days while running a Cyber Tracker Evaluation for Alderleaf Wilderness College up the road, they both agreed the goatling had been predated by a cat of some kind. Casey leaned towards young cougar and Michelle concurred, though I had seen a large bobcat looking animal crossing onto the property the evening of the day May Kid had been eaten. Now all the goats are being kept close to the house and in site at all times.
Rex will be culled in early May. He has been a champion buck at the farm, breeding a beautiful line of healthy kids by Brownie. She and the twins from this year’s kidding with stay on Leafhopper Farm to continue the management of blackberry.The plan right now is to phase goats out of the farm cycle for a while, bringing back sheep to keep the pastures open. However, Brownie is a great doe, and the chance to breed her to a smaller milking breed might produce a more manageable herd for the farm.
The Ayam Cemani chicks are thriving. We added a Buff Orpington and Ameraucana to the mix for added rejuvenation of our existing flock. A heat lamp is being used again, as the Ayam chicks need a lot of warmth.
The Delaware chicks were fine with a heat pad, and are now thriving in an outdoor setup. This pen rotates around the main house to keep weeds off the building. The chicks love being out, and roost happily under their orange tub at night. A blue tarp protects from arial predators and strong steel wire mesh keeps out raccoons and opossums. Indo, our farm dog, is also on patrol at night.
The rest of our hens are laying up a storm, and working to glean more insects out of the grasses around Leafhopper Farm. Alexander, our rooster, does not know what to think of the pigs yet, and often squawks at them if they are particularly active in the neighboring pasture pen. I’m excited to get the hens on the tilled up land that the pigs leave.
In the picture below, there are pigs, chickens, and goats all working on the land at the same time. This is the vision for Leafhopper Farm, holistic rotational management of livestock on the land. It’s happening! The animal lessons of the farm are great, and the benefit of having a diverse population of animals working the land shows as new diversity of plant species begin to establish and a healthier soil grows to support a thriving environment.