Outdoor Wood Burner/Wood Pig

March 3, 2014

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It’s been a long winter.  As I write this on March 3rd, it’s 11 degrees below zero F.  I’m tired.

I’m back to hand-to-mouth wood cutting.  Everyone who burns wood says they’ve burnt way more than normal.  I need a bigger pile next year though, because the crusted snow in the woods makes it nearly impossible to drag in logs.

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In a bit of serendipity, I met an old schoolmate who burns wood also.  I told him I had an outdoor wood burner.

“Oh, you’ve got one of those wood pigs, too!”

“What’s that?” I said.

“It really goes through the wood, doesn’t it?”

He’s right.  I’ve finally realized that an outdoor wood burner is not a very efficient way to heat a house.  However, it is a safe way to heat a house and I’m stuck with it for now.

He told me about a lumber yard that sells scrap lumber for twenty bucks a bundle.  They’re good-sized, eight to ten feet long, dry wood.  He burns it in his burner.

Not being a fast thinker, I had to let the idea germinate for a few days.  I think I gave myself permission to buy wood when I nearly got the tractor stuck for the umpteenth time.

I called him up and asked him to bring me a load and he delivered eight bundles.  If I’m not reading the calendar wrong, that should be enough wood to get me to the point where it’s hot enough I’m forgetting how cold it’s been!

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King of the Hill

February 11, 2014

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I noticed my boys playing on the pile of snow I made from scraping up the driveway.  So it became a game for me to see how awesome of a hill I could make.

This latest hill is 9 feet tall with super-steep sides.  After struggling to climb to the top, Shepherd actually requested a not-so-awesome hill next time.


Dickies Insulated Bib Overall, Review

February 1, 2014

Dickies Insulated Bib Overalls

Restrictive, but warm!  I normally wear something like the ensemble pictured below.  But when the temps drop below zero F, I throw on these insulated bibs and am able to get my chores done without discomfort.

My Dad is a big fan of insulated coveralls.  He usually puts them on in October and doesn’t take them off until May.  But I’ve found them too restrictive.  I like to move when I’m outside.

That being said, I was too cold when the weather turned brutal.  So when Country Outfitters offered me clothes for free, I jumped at the chance to try these insulated bibs.

And I learned something.  I used to think when my toes and fingers got cold I had a cold toes and fingers problem.  So I would put on a second pair of socks and gloves to combat the problem with limited success.

Now I see when I put on these insulated bibs, it ties everything together and warms up my core.  This warmth radiates to my toes and fingers and I don’t need more socks or gloves.  Amazing!

Winter Farm Clothing


Evergreen Windbreak

January 22, 2014

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I’ve never liked evergreens.  I think it’s because I distrust their green when the rest of the world is white and brown.  Something about their green is off, even in August when this photo was taken.

That being said, I planted this small windbreak late last summer when they were purchased for the corner of our yard.  I read the tags before planting and realized they need more space.  So I recommisoned them for a small windbreak in the pasture.

Fast-forward to now and we’ve been experiencing one of the worst winters in memory, with arctic blasts of wind dropping the windchill well below zero for days.  I feel more exposed on top of this hill and am thinking I need more windbreaks.  So I ordered 25 Colorada Blue Spruce from our county agency and may double or triple the order before this winter is through.


Outdoor Farrowing, 2013 Summary

December 4, 2013

I had great expectations to improve over 2012′s average weaned per litter of 7.8 piglets.  8 piglets weaned per litter isn’t much of an improvement, but I’ll take it, especially considering the way 2013 farrowing started in a blizzard.  But an average of 8 doesn’t tell the full story as this is a tale of two seasons, difficult spring and easy summer.

2012 was difficult because we started farrowing in January in a hoop barn and lost several piglets when the temperature dropped below zero F.  I thought I could avoid that problem in 2013 by waiting until March to start farrowing.  March 2012 was 80 F and dry, a bad precursor to the drought which would follow, but ideal weather for farrowing.  March 2013 was the opposite, cold and wet, snow, rain, plummeting temps.

I had an idea about how much bedding would be needed in each farrowing hut.  Boy was I wrong.  I didn’t think about the ground under the hut being frozen, so it was extremely cold for the pigs and when the body heat of the sow warmed the ground it became wet.  The first two sows farrowed and 17 of the first 22 piglets froze.  I felt desperate and depressed.

Well, I remembered what Professor Freeman taught me.  Environmental factors are greater for plants than animals for a simple reason: animals can move, animals can modify their environment.  I knew the sows’ instinct to save their piglets was strong, I just needed to give them a chance.

So I started buying truckloads of wood shavings.  I had them slide whole pallets of bagged wood shavings into the back of  my trailer.  I trudged through the snow with a bag on my shoulder and started with two bags for each hut to soak up the wet and cold.  And the sows responded, making dry nests for their piglets.

17 spring litters farrowed 193 live piglets for an average of 11.4 per litter.  They weaned 119 piglets, an average of 7 piglets per litter.  So the preweaning mortality was 38.3%.  Considering how badly they started, I considered it a success to save only 2 out of every 3 piglets born alive.

I let the sows have a long lactation and then weaned all the piglets at once.  Since I didn’t have enough boar power to breed 17 sows, I decided to artificially inseminate, AI.  I was successful the previous fall with AI, settling nearly all the sows, which resulted in these spring litters.  But the spring was a different story as  some of the sows had already started cycling and I was busy with spring work, spending not nearly enough time watching for signs of estrus.  I got exactly 0% of the sows settled with AI.

At this point, I think anyone would say I was in a major swine-farming slump.  A beginning farmer may be thinking swine-farming is not for them.  But my years of experience has taught me that perseverance is what is required, and since I’m my own boss no one gets to decide I fail except for me.

Luckily I had some young boars and gilts which could be used for breeding.  So I put the boars in with the gilts and sold the sows as culls.

The gilts farrowed in July, August, and September.  The first gilt had 14 weak piglets with all but 5 dying quickly and I thought, “oh no, my slump continues,” but thankfully, the next litters were strong and healthy.

The weather was warm and dry.  Many of the gilts farrowed in huts, but some picked their own spots in the woods.  I used very little bedding and did very little work.  It was a joy to experience.

15 gilts farrowed 158 live piglets for an average of 10.5 per litter.  They weaned 138 piglets for an average of 9.2 per litter.  The preweaning mortality on this group was only 12.7%.

The final statistics are 32 sows and gilts farrowed 351 live piglets for an average of 11 per litter.  They weaned 257 piglets for an average of 8 piglets per litter.  Preweaning mortality averaged 27%.

I’m modifying again for 2014.  Sows will start farrowing at the end of February.  I plan on putting huts into a bedded hoop barn and farrowing there for the spring litters.  For the summer litters I’ll continue to just stand back and let them do their thing.


First Snow, Fall 2013

November 11, 2013

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November 11th, 2013.  Here is another photo of the rye, now at six weeks.  It hasn’t grown much since it was two weeks old.

In the background you can see my fall-calving cows with calves.  I moved them home from the summer pasture and now they’re grazing hay fields on the south side of my farm.  The bull in the photo has been with the cows for a week, which will give us August and September calves next year.


Lightning Starts Fire

September 22, 2013

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A huge crack of thunder jumped me out of bed in time to see the lightning strike.  That afternoon I saw a ton of white smoke coming from what looked like my pasture, but I knew it couldn’t be my pasture as I hadn’t started a fire and my boys don’t start fires on their own.  It started to rain again before I had a chance to check it out.  The next day I finally had a chance to check it out and to my surprise I found most of an old dead elm tree burnt up.

I have a healthy respect, (fear), for lightning.  My Dad taught me to seek shelter whenever a thunderstorm approached.  One time, shortly after sitting down in the kitchen, we jumped as lightning struck and killed a cow in the front pasture.

Examining the cow shortly after the storm passed showed signs of electrocution.  The hair was burnt off the insides of her legs and her udder.  Her rumen was distended and hard.  And most amazing to me, she was already hard with rigor mortis.

Rigor mortis is caused by the depletion of adenosine triphosphate, (ATP).  ATP is how energy is transferred within cells.  When an animal dies, ATP is depleted and results in muscles contracting and staying contracted until the carcass begins to break down.  Rigor mortis usually begins after three or four hours and peaks at about twelve hours.  The difference in the case of electrocution by lightning is ATP is burned up by electricity, so rigor mortis occurs immediately.

I’d also like to put to rest the fallacy that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.  The gates into my parents’ yard were hung on two large wooden posts.  One of the posts was struck once, the other post was struck twice by lightning in about twenty years.

We think have an idea why lightning was attracted to the area as under the gravel of the road was a metal grate which ran from one post to the other.  Fifteen years ago they removed the metal grating, and the posts haven’t been struck since.  It’s still invigorating to open the gates as a storm approaches, though.


2013 Spring Farrowing Update

March 19, 2013

Sow at Farrowing Hut

Spring starts at 7:02 AM tomorrow and 10 F is predicted with 16 MPH winds putting the wind chill below zero.  Last year it was 80 F.  With so much of my life revolving around it, the Weather is never boring.

The litters are doing well.  Less than a handful of piglets have died after the first trouble.  I’m using more straw now instead of wood shavings for warmth and adding a couple of slices daily.

In the photo below you can see scabbing on some of the piglets faces.  This is caused by fighting among the littermates.  Piglets are born with eight very sharp “needle” teeth.  It’s common in the industry to clip the tip of each tooth off with a sidecut pliers.  Sometimes the open wounds can lead to an infection.  I don’t clip the teeth and it doesn’t seem to be a problem other than the scabbing.

Piglets in Farrowing Hut


Trouble-Spring Farrowing 2013

March 10, 2013

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17 of the first 22 piglets born to my spring litters.  I guess labeling them as spring litters alludes you to my delusions, which the past six days have exposed.

I thought farrowing in a hoop building in January would be the most difficult farrowing I would ever experience.  Farrowing in huts in 30ish F weather in a blizzard followed by over an inch of rain has proven more difficult.  I guess Jude Becker purchased insulated farrowing huts for a reason.

I put one bag of wood shavings in each shelter along with a couple slices of straw.  I thought I could add straw for warmth as needed.  What I didn’t think about was the frozen ground underneath.  Last year farrowing in the hoop building I had the advantage of a bedding pack for warmth, not frozen ground.

On Tuesday a couple of sows acted like they were ready to farrow.  A blizzard was forecast for that night.  I locked one sow up in a shelter and for some reason I can’t remember did not lock up the other one.  At first light I checked on the sows.  The sow who was locked up had four out of twelve piglets alive.  The other sow had one out of ten alive.  The problem was moisture along with cold.  Snow had blown into the shelters, especially the open-door one.  I transferred the lone piglet to the litter with four.  All five piglets are still alive.

I realized I needed more bedding and it needed to be absorbent.  So I started buying wood shavings and have probably put at least four bags of wood shavings in each shelter over the past five days.  I knew the piglets needed to get dry if they were going to resist the cold.

It has been raining the past two days.  Below is a picture of a shelter I abandoned because I didn’t need it.  The rain is not soaking into the frozen ground so instead is pooling.

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So I keep adding wood shavings trying to build a little dry hill for the sow and piglets.  It seems to be working.  If a piglet lives the first day, really the first couple of hours, it is staying alive.

This has been another learning experience for me.  Yesterday as the rain fell I despaired, but today I’m back to my optimistic self.  Below is probably the best litter so far.  I’ll let you know how many piglets are weaned from this difficult farrowing group.

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Spring Farrowing 2013

March 1, 2013

Spring Farrowing 2013


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