"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, February 26, 2018

Porksicles (Deep Bedding)

After a prolonged, unseasonable warm spell in January, we experienced a brief, seasonable cold snap last week. Five or six days of temperatures in the high teens and low twenties, accompanied by small hard snow and high winds. 
Our pigs, which were very close to their butchering date, had only the three-sided field structure for shelter, and it was inadequate.

On a particularly cold night I asked Homero to go open a bale of hay for them to use as fresh bedding. He was outside a long time, and when he came back I asked what took him so long. 

“Amor, the pigs were freezing,” he said. “They didn’t even want to come out for food, and when they did come out they could hardly stand up they were trembling so hard.” 

“Oh no! Poor piggies! What did you do? Did you give them hay?” 

“Hay would not be enough, I moved them into the big barn with the goats.” 

The “big barn” is a 12x16’ barn from Home Depot which we have had since we first moved here. Every winter we use a deep bedding system; basically just throwing more and more dry straw down on top of the old, wet straw until it is a good eighteen inches thick. A couple weeks ago I dug down with my hand into the bedding and felt the heat from the natural composting. It was quite hot about six inches down - almost uncomfortably hot. The goats have been benefitting from this heat all winter long. 

Moving the pigs into the barn served a secondary purpose besides keeping them from freezing to death. As you might imagine (or might not, if you have no farm experience), removing a winter’s worth of deep litter is a back-breaking task. Even from a barn as small as ours is - the litter packs down tight and it takes a strong man (my husband) several hours to pitch it all out with a pitchfork, and then he needs a hot bath, a massage, and a shitload of Ibuprofen. Pigs, however, can plow through deep litter effortlessly with their snouts, like little biological diesel tractors. 

The pigs stayed in the barn for four days before the butchers came, and during that time they rooted through the compacted litter like badgers on steroids. The barn is now full of fluffy, relatively easy to shovel compost, which will greatly enhance our garden come spring. 

And the pigs themselves have now been removed to the deep freezers of Lynden Meats; soon to be dispersed to our customers, neighbors, family, and friends in the form of chops, ribs, bacon, and sausage, fuel for many a family feast. The pigs are dead, long live the pigs! 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Going Down in a Hail of Gory

It's February in the far northwest, which means it is the time of year that otherwise ordinary, well-adjusted people begin to contemplate going on a tri-state killing spree just for a fucking change of scenery. 

This is the greyest, wettest month - or maybe not, maybe it’s November but in November this had all just started and you could still feel a sort of relief because you could still remember red leaves against the blue October sky. You could still console yourself by recalling how hot and awful it was in August. In February it’s been grey and cold and wet for four months straight and August is just a dream, just a murmur, just a rumor, not something anyone sensible can actually believe in. Manifestly, February is all there is. 

Mud is all there is. Mud in the barnyard, mud seeping into your socks through the cracks in your gumboots, mud up to the dog’s belly, mud on your sheets, mud in your breakfast, mud in your mood, mud in your soul. 

This morning, it was raining when I went out to feed the animals. Driving rain, actually, sideways rain in a brisk wind that made my hair fly into my face and blind me. Feeding the animals isn’t easy now because the pigs are about as big as they are going to get (butcher is scheduled for two weeks from now) and they - in cohort with the incessant rain - have turned their yard into a sea of brown soup. It’s absolutely impossible to go into their yard for any reason. Besides the mud, the pigs are desperate with hunger. They hurl themselves against the fence as soon as they see me coming and emit high pitched shrieks. 

The pig buckets are tied to the fence with twine, and I have to haul them up over the fence to my side to fill them with grain and slops. Then as soon as I lower them down on the inside, the pigs go into an absolute feeding frenzy and fight and wrangle and wrestle until they inevitably spill the buckets into the liquid mud. The grain disappears. The pigs grunt with frustration and begin whuffling through the mud, presumably searching for the drowned grain. I sigh, and start lobbing apples and chunks of stale baguette over the fence, aiming for higher ground. Soon this will all be over, soon the pigs will cease to be annoying animals who must be catered to at my peril and instead will be delicious cuts of meat that lie passively, quisently in the freezer, waiting for me to use them as I choose. To slather them with flavor, to lay them in a sizzling pan, to inhale their savory aroma and to eat them. The sooner the better.

As I am giving the goats their hay (and beating them off me and swearing as they leap up and stand on my chest), I look through the window of the barn into the chicken coop and see that there is a sizeable nest of eggs. Getting to them isn’t easy - the chicken coop is the goopiest, grossest part of the whole barnyard and my feet sink in alarmingly. But I make it, and I extract fifteen eggs from the nest, and place them in the bucket to bring them inside. I will have to wash them carefully, because of course they are pretty disgusting - covered in chicken shit and ordure, with bits of hay stuck to them. People without chickens, or people who do have chickens but live in dry climates do not know - thankfully - how gross eggs laid in winter are before they are cleaned up. 

Chores finished, I trudge back towards the house - in the driving rain. I keep my head tucked down and face turned out of the wind. As I step onto the slimy porch in my slippery gumboots, I instantly execute an inadvertent splits. My front foot slides out ahead of me, my back foot goes out behind. I go down and the bucket full of eggs goes up. Next thing I know I am aspraddle on the ground, and a hail of shitty eggs is raining down on me. Fifteen of them. All of them broke except two; and almost all of those broke somewhere on ME. 

Between the rain and the mildewy deck planks and the thirteen broken eggs and the gumboots, I spent a half a minute scrabbling around on my hands and knees before I was able to get upright. My clothes were such a ghastly mess that I stripped off in the playroom and left them in heap, to spray down with the hose later before bringing them in to the laundry room. 

One long hot shower later, nursing a steaming black coffee, I am trying to decide if August in Cascadia, lovely as it is, is worth enduring the horrors of February. No decisions have been made. I’m going to have to wait for neutral April to help me decide. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Imbolc 2018

Seen on a walk today: