Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dairy Donkey # 2 in the making

Yesterday Leeba finally had her foal!
A tiny jennet! And I'm still amazed everytime I look at her. How can anything be this adorable...., 
So Leeba is on her way to being dairy donkey number 2 here!
She's right on the edge of mini at 36.5 in.
Few inches shorter than Rani who is definitely a small standard.
Rani's jack colt Eli is almost 8 weeks old and wow! He is a handful!!! 
We are up to him being off his mom for 3 1/2 hours now and she is giving me a pint of milk on that 3 1/2 hour fill!!!!
That's how much I got of some of my Nigerian dwarf dairy goats for a 12 hour fill. So this is good! Very!
Plus she milks so easy! Easier than many dairy goats and dairy sheep I had.
Donkeys on the homestead aren't for everyone... Certainly dairy donkeys aren't for everyone .. But they are working out so well here. 
I feel like all the other dairy animals I tried that failed here for some reason or another have lead me to being more prepared for this dairy donkey journey on our farm. 
It's hard to realize that sometimes your failures are really getting you ready for something that's better for you.
I enjoy working with donkeys better than sheep,, which I enjoyed working with better than goats!
 God does work in mysterious ways.., I can promise you if 6 years ago someone said ,'you will be milking donkeys' I would have said that's weird and no way!! 
Honestly When we first started the farm I would have said that's weird and no way to dairy sheep! I think my experience milking sheep really helped open my mind to milking donkeys. What a journey!
Wonder if my dairy animal journey will ever lead me to milking yaks???!!!??! Or camels !! Water buffalo?? 
πŸ˜‚husband says NO! πŸ˜‚
There are limits to our climate , land and finances!!! ( dairy camels are like $8,000! So...Not happening!) 
I've really considered Zebu cows but with my cow milk allergies I'm not sure they would be the way to go even though they  are said to have A2A2 milk as opposed to A1A1 that most domestic dairy cattle have.  
I'm good with donkeys!πŸ˜€ plus it just tastes better than any other milk I've drank!
Also on the farm... My husband has been working for months on fencing another four acres. This started out as an area for his pigs but it's going to be way easier for him to manage the pigs on the front half of the farm... 
Which means that four acres .. With pasture, brambles, a few shade trees and a creek will be mine to use for the donkeys and geese!!!!
I walked over to the new area yesterday while my husband was setting fence post  since I hadn't seen it in a while. 
These two followed me up the road.. They want in the new area too!!! This four acres is directly attached to the main areas I use for the donkeys and geese.. So very convenient for me!
This is the bramble half up on a hill..
The pasture and creek are below ..
He's only got four more posts to set!!!!!
And then we've got to try to get some people together to get the wire stretched.
My donkeys and geese ( Muscovies too!) aren't going to know what to do with all this new space!
I couldn't be more excited! New foal, new donkey to milk soon and new pasture!
We just keep moving right along building up the farm... Projects one right after another!
Failure or success , as always I'm thankful! 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Investment in a Lifestyle

When you buy a piece of undeveloped acreage you do not have a farm... You have a piece of land. You need to develop it into a farm.. You need Feed Buildings, barns, sheds, equipment , fencing and more fencing! 
Not to mention the cost of good livestock , building soil and possibly needing pasture improvements depending on what you want to raise. 
Depending on your vision , it may be a farm business or a subsistence farm or maybe a little hobby farm. Three entirely different things! With three very different paths and expectations. 

Year 1. Starting to build a herb garden up front no fencing anywhere

Year 6. The whole front is raised beds and fenced gardens. The entire house is also fenced now.

For us this investment in land was for a subsistence farm that would provide almost all our food and keep us out of the grocery store ( it does!) we want to grow our food, we enjoy growing our food (most days!) and we like living in the country. 
hopefully at some point, a part of it could be taken to the next level and create a viable small farm business. Yet, that business can't hinder us from our first priority. And it has to be run like a business not a homestead. That's another post altogether! 
Year 1 before we turned the land and started our first vegetable garden

Year 6. the same area is full of raised beds and the garden is extended about 4 times the original size and expands all around the house. Everything is fenced 

We often get asked about 'breaking even' on our investment in this farm.
Now I'm not saying for one minute it's not about the money... But with a subsistence farm model in mind it's more about not going broke building it for our choice of lifestyle. Kinda like building your dream house with a budget. 
Instead of home improvements like , a sauna or hot tub we use our money to develop the farm. We take No vacations..
Seriously a couple of thousand dollars for a week... Or a new fence that could last thirty years for donkeys & geese I can enjoy every day!! Our lifestyle improvements are different than most! 

When we purchased there was A little garage, no fencing or animal housing what so ever!

Year 6. The same garage area is the center of the livestock areas, barn, feed room, loads of fencing, multiple animal sheds all around. Tractor and other equipment.

Building and developing a piece of land into a farm does take a lot of money.. Even done on the hardscrabble hillbilly cheap ... It's not cheap.
No matter if it's just to produce your own food. Which sounds simple enough,, it's not and The investment in fencing , buildings and so many things that go into growing all your own food is no small task. After 6 years of solid working to develop our land we are still not done.
But that's fine, it's no different than some one who's lived in the same house for 10 years that's constantly upgrading it.

And Speaking of lifestyles ...Homesteaders get accused of being preppers all the time's not always one in the same thing!
Now maybe there's a little prepper in us but if it was all about that we'd been better off building a bunker and stocking it with 5 years worth of food!
 It would have been cheaper, a more practical plan for a prepper and not near as much work... Then we could have also put in a hot tub and took a vacation! Then the rest of our time would probably be spent collecting ammo and guns...learning krav maga and how to build fires without matches the real preppers lifestyle!
That actually doesn't sound bad ⚔
No break even there either , now....why do I need to break even on my chosen home and farm improvements??

Our farm is more about the lifestyle we are choosing to lead.. There's no  break even on how you choose to live.
You don't plan to break even when you buy a new car.. Or Break even when you buy the latest fashion statement handbag or shoes ....why would I break even on the new fencing we are building for my dairy donkeys? 
I was once asked by someone who just couldn't grasp why we chose this lifestyle (city gal). When talking about our daily routines on the farm she asks , "but when do you get to live your life?"
Really.... This is my chosen way to live my life.,.. That was a Weird question or maybe it's just me πŸ€”

Growing extra poultry or piglets to help you break even on the feed bill is an entirely different thing! You're trying to cut an ongoing cost here.. Much like clipping coupons. Selling extra livestock or excess produce. Selling extra hand made farm goods are really all part of a subsistence farm... Meant to cut ongoing costs. It's not a real farm business or top priority.
On the other hand , Investing in dairy equipment to start a real working dairy you expect at some point to break even and then make money. It's your job , not your lifestyle. 

See my point?? 

So to all you small subsistence farmers out there trying to provide your family with a nice country home and the best food possible ... 
If it's about the lifestyle you won't feel the need to break even..
You're simply living your life...
Your chosen way...
So give thanks to God in heaven for the opportunity and to all the men who died for America to be free so that you can live the way you want. 
Take nothing for granted ...enjoy this life you chose and built.
Always remember , you can not break even on a lifestyle. 

Also , if you don't like it.. Say, it's Not what you signed up for after all..
You can sell it all and maybe take up Krav Maga 😜

Be blessed beautiful people!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Homestead Happenings: Enjoying the Bounties now and later

I'm starting into that part of the season when gardening maintenance , harvesting and preserving start happening all at once. So about to get crazier around here!
One thing I'm thoroughly enjoying this year is our donkey milk many different ways. Last winter during a *treat yo'self* visit to the grocery store ( this is when we buy things we can't grow like coffee and chocolate! Or fruits I can't grow like sweet cherries) 
I notice over ripe bananas on sale crazy cheap! So I bought them ALL 4 bags of them! Chopped them into chunks , put into gallon bags for the freezer so I can add them to our melon sorbet when melons come in this year. Makes it more ice cream like.. But without being sugary and unhealthiness ...And in my case cow milk should be avoided really at all times!
It's been SO hot lately I decided to try a banana donkey milk smoothie.. 
Since over ripe bananas are sweet and donkey milk is naturally sweet too it was more like a banana milk shake!
I'm not complaining!!! But I really gotta start looking for more over ripe bananas on sale to stock pile! 
With it being so dry I was afraid we wouldn't get any wild blackberries but they are here!!!! If it doesn't rain they won't be here long though...
So it's that time of the year to go out , fight ticks , ants and torns all for this fabulous fruit! Which I really need since an evil fruit maggot destroyed ALL of our blueberries this year 😑
Blackberries are so easy to can.. Freeze.. Eat all in one sitting! Lol
Nothing quite like a hot blackberry cobbler in the winter though... So I'll try to restrain myself and not eat them all!
My first year growing spaghetti squash.., success!!!!!!!
Four plants have produced 11 squash! Some big some little but I am thrilled!!!
And planting more for a late crop since the seeds I have mature at 88 days I have time! Wonderful thing about winter squash... It's naturally preserved for months just the way it is! I don't have to do anything but pick it and put it in a dry area.
These are spring planted onions. They don't get near as big as my fall onions. But I needed to go ahead and pull them because the bed they were in didn't get mulched and was over run with weeds.. Weeding at this point would have pulled them up anyways.
One of our favorite soup seasonings is dehydrated onions so five trays later these were all chopped and drying out.
Early Cucumbers have been booming this year.. We've ate them alone, infused water, made cucumber and goat cheese sandwiches, cucumber salads.. Even cucumber humus dip and a cucumber avocado salsa.... All delicious. 
Feed quite a few to the animals too!
2 years I started juicing them and freezing them in ice cube trays so I could use the juice in specially soaps and lotions I made. Worked out well!
This year I'm freezing for that and because a cube of cucumber juice in a glass of water is really refreshing!
I'm also going to try to make cucumber jelly when I have more time this winter!
A quart of dehydrated onions and almost a gallon bag of ice cubes. Not bad for the days preserving!
I so enjoyed the bounties of goose eggs fall, winter and spring...
I miss them terribly .. Sure the chicken and ducks eggs are yummy .. But the goose eggs are like donkey milk... Just so darn extra good!
Speaking of chicken eggs.. Some are hatching under broody mommas this week!!! I love silkie chickens! If only all livestock was as easy as them! Lol
Extra Roos will be processed we do like our silkie chicken meat a lot!
So there will hopefully be plenty for us through the winter. 
Love this breed... Though I don't need for the typical silkie standard. More for utility .. My rooster is not a tiny foofoo guy! 
As usual we have so much to be thankful for on this farm.
The work is so hard and I do have to remind myself it's worth it...
Ok, I don't have to remind myself it's worth it when we are eating!! Lol

Be blessed πŸ˜„

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Organic Donkeys 😍

Maybe you think I'm crazy Because I milk donkeys ,, yes, you read that right , I milk them and I drink it!
It's light, sweet, refreshing .. Unlike any other milk I've tried.
Not only is it a really fantastic excuse to have lots of these awesome creatures on a subsistence farm like ours, 
It's a health food that's been used for centuries to nourish , heal and beautify. 
From this beast of burden comes such a wonderful gift...,
Donkeys fit in here better than any other dairy animal I tried... Though not trait bred here in the USA for dairy, I still refer to them as my dairy donkeys because that's what I will be trait breeding them for. 
They have such an easy way about them..the girls are such a joy to work with.
I look forward everyday getting up to see them!!
It's important that I keep them chemical free as possible since we drink the milk...
And I use the manure on my garden , which I prefer to keep organic. 
Compared to other dairy animals I've managed the donkey is easier to keep chemical free. 
But It's summer and equine in general draw flies which require sprays...that are full of chemicals...
Honestly the flies barely notice my traditional colored donkeys but 
They absolutely harass my spotted ass ..
So I came up with a fly repellent salve that also has skin healing agents for her and any other of my donkeys that are bothered ... My husband has also used it on some of his meishan pigs ears with great success! 
I have to apply it once or twice a week.
Works fantastic !!!! 
And if you'd like to try it , here's the formula :

Fly Repellent Salve 

8 oz. of comfrey infused olive oil
1 oz. bees wax
1 tsp. Cedar essential oil 

I melt the bees wax in the comfrey oil using a small crock pot.
Once melted remove from heat and add cedar oil.
Pour into tins or 4 oz. jelly jars work well. 

Having a fan in the barn also helps keep the bedding dry and not as attractive to the flies.. My little silkie chickens eat fly larvae and my Muscovy ducks chase and eat flies right out of the air! Very entertaining! Lol
All these things help keep the flies down to a minimum so I do not need to use chemical sprays. 
Little extra work but worth it since I'm depending on the milk as a healthy food source and the manure as nutrients for my organic garden. 
I also have to take into consideration my poultry and our honey bees which may be sensitive to the chemical sprays.
They are often in the same areas with the donkeys.
Hope you find this formula useful 
And have a very happy day!

Measures of success

Measuring success on a subsistence farm is different because money typically isn't how you keep score on a non-business type homestead, other than trying not to spend it!
At first we measured success by asking , Is the majority of the food on the table food the farm produced? Yes! 
But after a few years measuring success becomes more than just output..,it also becomes about how much input it took ( be it money , time, use of your lands natural resources) and how much output did it yield for that amount of input.
Nothing says success like high yield .. But if I spent tons of time and more money to produce it than to buy it ... Was it really and truly a success?
I've touched on that subject a lot when it comes to livestock. 
Our whole livestock profile revolves around low input , high output. And in some cases low input , low output because that low output item may be very nutrient dense ( like donkey milk) 
Or it may be something that makes use of natural land resources and doesn't cost much money to produce. Low output it fine in those cases for us.
But the garden...,
Hmmmm..., I don't tolerate low output in the garden because it's all pretty high input! Some more than others, but All vegetables require descent soil, some require excellent soil.. It's takes a lot of time , resources and sometimes money to build soil.
All vegetables require some amount of watering if it doesn't rain perfectly, everything requires weed control,, and even with crazy amounts of mulching weeds still creep in and must be dealt with. Mulching and weeding take a lot of time!
Many times the soil needs remineralizing to produce truly nutrient dense produce.  
There is so much time planning involved in producing enough vegetables that will actually feed a family all year...season extensions, succession planting, when to start seeds, hardening off, transplanting ,harvesting, preserving.
How much space does a particular plant take up.. And does its yield make it worth planting..How many will you need to plant .
See,,, and even if you just want a *simple* little summer garden.. It's still a lot of work. 
All the things pictured below I consider a success... No special treatment or extras.. These varieties are solid producers for me.

I've grown many many things that produced , so some might say , well, it produced , so it's a success!
I was successful this year at growing cauliflower .. Which was exciting ! But the amount of time I gave it and the amount of time it took up space in the garden compared to the low amount of actual food it produced was not a success in my mind. 
Cauliflower is nutritious but no more so than broccoli which produced as much or more food with less time taken up in my garden. Both required extra pest control time and inside seed starting.
Next year I'll probably just grow more broccoli! It was more of a success!
Same with fava beans.. They were pest free, but needed to be seeded extra early so extra time had to be taken to protect from frost. Much like snow peas to get a yield of any real amount. Neither are soil takers, they are both givers, neither attrack pest,,the favas required an extra month in the garden to produce though!
The snow peas give many harvest through out the cool spring and even my least productive variety of snow pea produced more than the favas.
Favas are healthy and good but snow peas are way yummier to us!
So yes, I was successful at growing fava beans... But favas weren't *really* a success.
If they had tasted better to us I might have called them a success.. Maybe...
Ofcourse sometimes a change of variety can be the answer... Sometimes a chance of location in the garden or growing method can make a huge difference. And sometimes it's still not worth the trouble ( artichokes ,, don't ask 😐)
I do grow some things like Seminole pumpkins that while they are very productive and very easy to grow,,, they take longer than say, butternut squash ... And they yield less edible squash meat per squash than butternuts...
Oh but the taste is so much better!!!
That's a success ! When it tastes better and it's like nothing you can buy. That's worth growing!
This Shark Fin melon below has been in my garden April.. I started it inside in March... It's a huge vine spanning 15 ft and still growing taking a huge amount of space.. For whatever reason the blooms weren't being pollinated so every chance I got I have hand pollenated and got 2 melons to take back in May. But since there haven't been any other female blooms.
I have another one planted in my main garden that's taking over my melon patch but hadn't bloomed at all!!!
So , yeah, I got 2 melons for a whole lotta time and garden space.
Not good! 
If this was a Dixie squash plant put In at the same time I would have been harvesting many squash for the last 3 weeks now.
Yeah, I got some melons ,, but this is no success!!!

That's how I measure success in my garden. When something is this much work.. It had better yield a reasonable amount for the time it took up space in my garden and better taste real good! And With so many options to preserve vegetables , the more the better!

Then, back on a livestock note, Sometimes when some thing is a bigger success than even you thought it would be it can be overwhelming ....
Kinda like the 80 geese I have on the farm this year! A few were my adults from last year Ofcourse, some I brought in because I wanted the bloodline but bottom line...
Over 40 geese were hatched here this year!!!! Some by the incubator some by broody geese...
Huge success! Lol! Huge!
Measuring success is such an individual thing. 
I think everyone can agree though, if you're feeding yourself and not going broke doing it .. It's a success!

Have a very blessed day πŸ˜€

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Today was a good day!

Days off the farm are a nice break ,, especially in the extra busy spring/summer season! And especially when it's in the mid nineties and so very very humid...
Even on day offs , there is work..
Everyday no matter what livestock has to be feed and watered.. Then I check in on the garden to see if anything absolutely has to be harvested or watered .. All other garden work can wait a day!
But it's always a pleasure to pick ripe veggies so, not a lot of work in that.
Just a lot of joy!
I wanted to look at a jennet donkey up in south Knoxville.. Since it was a smaller donkey we just took our animal hauling van so we could hang out for a hour or so while in the city.
First stop was K Brew.. The cold brew coffee was just what I needed! So good!
And such a nice building. We enjoyed our coffee and talked about the farm (Ofcourse!) for about an hour.. Very relaxing. 

Then off to Mckays used bookstore where I found this out of print 1980 book from the editors of The no longer published Organic Gardening.. 
I do love gardening books! Especially older ones..
And then off to meet a possible donkey to add to my growing dairy/guardian herd.
She's a mini donkey.. My focus is really on small standards,, a hard size to find.,,,but she's on the upper end and can be bred to my small standard jack.
Fine with wearing a halter but needs some lead work.. Gentle, friendly, young and beautiful!
Back of the van she goes!
Mini donkeys are so easy to transport!
Her name will be Bissela ( meaning very little) after an adjustment period she'll go in with Levi so hopefully she will foal around the same time as Shoko , who has been in heat this past week. 
Ofcourse livestock has their own ideals but that's my plan anyways!

Just a beautiful girl!

Just a beautiful day that I am so thankful to the Lord for!

Monday, June 6, 2016

I was just looking for one boar...An unusual detective story

Its her fault...Thats my story and I am sticking to it.

I look out on the fields of our farm and I see these rather odd pigs quietly grazing and sleeping. And everywhere I look it seems like I see them.This is way more pigs than any plan I had originally for our little farm. Its my wifes fault.

You see about 3 years ago she shows me this webpage on Chinese Meishan pigs. Now understand we had pigs at the time (too many to her thinking/liking). I was in the middle of building an American Guinea Hog herd that I had traveled to 7 different states to assemble. It was a nice little hog but my wife was concerned about their impact on our land. Because regardless of what some might say they do root(though much less than traditional commercial breeds). We had tried Gloucester Old Spots but after the piglets we brought in confirmed beyond a shadow of doubt that there was no secret deposits of oil on the property(as deep as they dug we would have hit a gusher by now) they moved quickly to the freezer. We dabbled with some Kune Kune and found whatever their differences to AGH a personality devoid of rooting wasnt one of them.
 So here comes my wife with this info on a wrinkly faced hyper productive pig from China. So I began to investigate. For about 8 months it was the usual web pages and Facebook groups.And the more I looked the more intrigued I was. The Facebook groups would have scared most folks off however.At the time there was a running feud between two or three breeders.And I dont mean your usual FB spat this was more like a lifetime movie script with pages and the "truth about" pages.It got pretty ugly.
 But the more I read about the pig the more I saw the  same  things I liked about my AGH but with larger size,faster growth, larger litters and if you were to believe the write ups even a more docile nature. So I contacted the two most polarized breeders to discuss the breed.I talked to the Hatfields and then I talked to the McCoys.

 And another year passed while my own AGH herd was growing and people seemed to support our concepts of breeding for traits to benefit a small holder (stronger hams and shoulder and faster growth rates).A customer would come from here and a customer would come from there and the next thing I knew we had our pigs in herds in twelve different states. But still we had hit what I call the "glass ceiling" that plagues AGH and KK. That is the limitations of the pig ( small size,very slow growth ,smaller litters, and a limited meat outlet) meant it had risen about as far as it could on my farm. It could pay for its feed and a little more but it had no real end game as a meat animal for individual customers or restaurants. So in December of 2015 I acquired a boar and two unrelated sister gilts  from the breeder that I had the highest confidence in at the time  and we were off. We fell in love with the pigs.Original plans to cross them with the AGH were scrapped as this was just a better pig for us .It had a lower pasture environmental impact , it was quiet bordering on silent and everything written about how docile it was absolutely true . This was a GREAT pig. And even my wife loved them.

But I needed at least another boar and another gilt would be great.Our farm model was always about enough genetic diversity to sell breeding pairs.So the search began in earnest.I found another breeder but honestly nobody seemed to know or was willing to tell where their stock came from. I had learned from my AGH that you could end up with liter mates even if you got pigs from two wildly separated states. So I sent the e-mails out. I sent e-mails to USDA Scientists . I sent e-mails to Iowa State. I sent e-mails to Illinois. Basically if you were remotely associated with the original study you got an e-mail from me. The responses ? It was the sounds of crickets,nothing,nada,zilch.
. Then one day just after Christmas someone  on the Facebook group  Meishan Pigs asked where they could find some Meishans.Someone commented back that "Ohio State had some Meishans for sale". A discussion broke out the fact that was not possible.I stayed out of the discussion.What I did do was fire off an e-mail to the Department of Animal Sciences at Ohio State. That was December 29th 2015.On New Years Eve one of the researchers there actually answered me. He said they didnt have nor ever had any pure or cross Meishans .But that he would "ask around" for me.We exchanged several more e-mails(he was in Ireland at the time). And the next thing I knew I was talking to the head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois. They only had a pair of 2 year old females left from the original research stock and had decided it was time to let them go.In February 2016 I drove from Niota TN to Champagne Illinois and loaded them in the back of a 2003 Chevy Astro van .Yes the two   350lb+ girls made the trip to our farm sprawled out in the back of a mini van.Soccer Moms have nothing on me .The picture above is them riding to TN.
 But I still needed a boar. 
That same kind soul (to whom I would be forever grateful to) at Ohio State gave me a specific name inside the USDA US Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Nebraska. By now my e-mail response track record wasnt the greatest so I searched online USDA websites until I got his number
And so I called him. 
I dont think that scientists (he was a swine reproductive geneticist) are used to getting out of the blue phone calls from no name small farmers from TN very often. Thats the impression I got at least.To my shock he told me that the decision had been made to designate the remaining Meishans as "excess" and that yes there may be a way to get them I asked how many what sexes? But he did not know.He only said he would check with he facility director. Four days later (the minimum time in my estimation to be persistent without being annoying) I called him back.He said that he had now heard all the sows had been "designated for slaughter".My knees actually buckled a bit when I heard this.When he said that I asked if I might call the facility director he said that was fine with him.
So I called the facility director.

  During that conversation I learned five boars remained but the last sows were going to be slaughtered for a specific cell to be harvested. A final experiment after 26 years of experiments on the breed. We worked out the details  on the boars and in a followup e-mail I made a case for ,if at all possible ,could I get a sow or two.  I had spoken with him how small land holders had an excellent record as genetic reservoirs. And that it was only through the efforts of small land holders that swine breeds like American Guinea Hog,Mulefoot,Large Black and Red Wattle, to name only a few, even existed today. It must have worked.Soon I was contacted by the swine manager at US MARC and I was told that five boars and two sows were available if I wanted them. I know that decision must have come from the heart as much as the head..Even in a research facility the Meishans had made friends.
Five boars??

 When I told my wife I was buying five boars sight unseen (It violates USDA policy to distribute pictures of stock in the USMARC Facility) she looked at me like I was a madman. That meant we would have six Meishan boars and six Meishan breeding sows on the property along with our AGH pigs. But when we talked about it we realized we might be buying the last five passenger pigeons. What we didnt take would be quite literally lost.When the swine manager at USMARC sent me the breeding records and it was apparent that these were five genetically distinct boars and two unrelated and genetically distinct sows it was the all in or all out bet at the poker table.And we decided to go all in.And by mean all in I mean not just buy these seven hogs but keep them and the other meishan genetics we had collected. Because it wouldnt have been any problem to have sold off any or all of these pigs. They are quite literally the rarest Meishans outside of China. But then once again the breeds genetics would be scattered into a community that didnt have the best track record of cooperation. The genetic death spiral of the Meishan might be delayed but it couldn't be forestalled. No if we kept all of these pigs it would have to take a commitment to maintain the most genetically diverse herd outside of China.A herd that could be used to supply fresh genetics to every current and future Meishan owner. With that decision came other realizations.Our other pigs could not stay.We could not serve two breeds.After a year on the American Guinea Hog Association Board of Directors I knew the breed was well on its way to recovery. So my breeding efforts of the last six years were now over.The herd I had obtained from seven different states had to be dispersed.It was a hard decision.I was beginning to see the fruits of our efforts.The qualities we culled so aggressively for were beginning to shine through. But the Meishan is an amazing hog.It wasnt just a cause it was a better hog for us.It is probably the most studied swine breed ever in the US. But is it a stand alone homestead livestock breed?Is it an excellent breed to cross into other breeds to replicate its many positive qualities? Is it a pasture ornament,or an exotic a pet breed? I think it has a role in all of those niches.But most of I all I believe it has to find a role in the craft pork movement.Either as a stand alone or a cross. Because that gives it sustainable value to those who choose to breed it.
 So here we are three road trips,4,595 actual driving miles and seven travel days later. I look out on the fields of our farm and I see these rather odd pigs quietly grazing and sleeping. And everywhere I look it seems like I see them. And now you can see them here 
Its her fault .Thats my story and I am sticking to it.

May the Lord bless you and yours

Post script.Though I doubt they will ever read this I want to thank the people who were instrumental in this journey.People who have helped and are helping us peel back the "onion" that is the Meishan story.People who put up with that annoyingly persistent small farmer from Tennessee. In order of contact:

  • Steven Moeller Department of Animal Sciences Ohio State University
  • Dr. Steven Loerch Head of the Department of Animal Sciences University of Illinois
  • Jonathan Forrest Mosely Swine Herd Manager University of Illinois
  • Jeffrey Valet  Geneticist USDA  US Meat Animal Research Center Clay Center NE.
  • Dr E John Pollak Facility Director USDA US Meat Animal Research Center Clay Center NE
  • Troy McCain Swine Herd Manager USDA US Meat Animal Research Center Clay Center NE
  • Gary Rohrer  Swine Geneticist USDA US Meat Animal Research Center Clay Center NE
  • Dr Max Rothschild Department of Animal Sciences Iowa State University
  • Harvey Blackburn Senior Animal Geneticist   USDA Genetic Resource  Preservation Sevice Fort Collins CO.

Friday, June 3, 2016

And then there were none.......

The three herds...

In 1989 after years of contentious negotiations the USDA ,The University of Illinois and Iowa State University received the only direct importation of Chinese Meishan hogs( along with a small group of Fenging and Minzhu hogs) to ever reach the United States. Under agreement with the Chinese these hogs were for research purposes only.None would be released into commercial or private breeding stock until the experiments were concluded. The actual number of pure Meishan pigs was very small. Here is an excerpt from the Illinois Extension web page

"The University of Illinois Imported Swine Research Laboratory received 21 Meishan (Ms) females in July 1989, as part of a joint University of Illinois - Iowa State University - USDA-ARS importation of 65 Ms gilts and 30 Ms, 24 Fengjing (F) and 21 Minzhu boars from the Peoples' Republic of China. The Ms pigs represented 10 distinct families which were unrelated back to their grandparents "
In talking with some of the actual researchers every care was made to divide the genetics equally. If three pigs came from one liter each research facility got one pig each. Once divided the herds would never genetically interact again. Different experiments,natural inter group rivalries and the simple disconnect of physical difference sent each herd along its own path.I know for a fact that in at least two cases the Fengjing and Minzhu genetics were never interbred with the Meishan Genetics. Everyone I talked to assumed that was the case for all three research herds.The Meishan was selected because at the time plummeting US pork prices had slammed hard against a need for higher breeding efficiency. And the Meishan was one of the most prolific pigs in the world.Averaging 15-18 piglets per liter when US breeds at the time were mired in the 10-12 range at best. And Meishans reached sexual maturity faster.On average 105 days(over 3 months) faster than a common Yorkshire or Duroc. Meishans were also great mothers featuring 16-18 teats or more and exhibiting a higher wean to farrow ratio than the typical commercial piglet squasher. So here was a pig that could breed sooner,have more piglets,have more milk and raise more to weanling size Studies would show that with as little as 25% Meishan in a cross all of those benefits would at least partially transfer to the progeny. The "super pig" had arrived. Or had it?At just about the same time the Pork Industry was adjusting to new American consumer demands. One might argue those changing demands were driven by false premises on pasture raised fats but thats another blog post. In any case pork was well on its way to becoming "the new white meat". And that is where the Meishan fell short.Because the red, highly prized in the Orient , meat of the Meishan was fatty.Why not? Most heritage breeds had a higher fat content. But alas USDA pork grading was changing literally every few months to place the highest grading (and therefore the highest per pound price for producers) on the meat with the LEAST fat in it.And since every benefit of meishan Genetics also brought with it higher fat content the economic advantages of  prolific liters was offset buy lower pork grading standards.
    Picture of some of the original imported hogs. From top left to right and then bottom left to right. Meishan, Fengjing, Minzhu and a USDA Duroc cross (control comparison). Photo courtesy of Gary Rohrer Geneticist USDA ARS US Meat Animal Research Center Clay Nebraska
  So the Meishan began a long journey as probably the most experimented on, dissected and observed breed of hog that nobody had. And at the rate it was going nobody was going to have.The pork industry recovered from the disappointment of the Meishan. Confinement systems cured the piglet crushing issue. As predicted over 25 years of selective breeding raised the liter sizes.America learned to happily munch down on dry tasteless wallboard pork(excuse the authors bias here) . And what happened to the Meishan? Well the Meishan languished in obscurity a few leaking out to zoos but the rest became pudgy anachronisms in their respective research herds. Then sometime between 2008 and 2010 the Department of Animal Sciences at Iowa State determined the benefit of the pudgy pig no longer outweighed the cost . They began to disperse their herd. A few got  out to exotic animal dealers who saw potential in this unique docile "foldy face" pig., A few went to small independent breeders intrigued by the potential to return flavor to American pork . The boars found a unique niche as "heat check boars". Their docile nature made them the perfect candidates to alert confinement operators which sows were ready for artificial insemination. Anachronism, pasture ornament and confinement "fluffer" it was an ignominious stage for one of the oldest domesticated breeds of swine in the world.
Probably the most published Meishan picture ever. Gary Rohrer from US MARC with two USDA Mesihans in the early 90's.
But it really was such a good pig. People coveted the few that were out there.Cooperation was not the hallmark of the breed owners.Livestock people and pet people dont often mix. Hoarding genetics to keep a revenue stream probably played a role in the prevailing attitudes. I am not here to judge.The Iowa State herd was gone and the genetic pool was incredibly thin. But there were still the pigs at USDA and Illinois. So breeders asked.Exotic animal dealers asked. And yes even I asked.Requests were ignored or simply declined. The breed was in a genetic death spiral outside of the research herds. 
And then there were two.
In February 2016 the last two gilts(two year old sisters) left the University of Illinois . The Illinois research herd had succumbed to the same budget pressures that Iowa State suffered over six years earlier. Twenty seven years of Meishan genetics were ended.
And then there were none
In early 2016 the last great reservoir of US Meishan genetics fell to the budget ax. The US Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Nebraska determined their Meishan herd was excess inventory.All the remaining females would be slaughtered in a final experiment in which some cell or another would be harvested,analyzed and cataloged. The last five boars would be euthanized. 
Sounds like a bad ending for a good pig in the US. Without these genetics the sustainability of the remaining Iowa State pigs was questionable at best. Lets toast the Meishan long live the next hot pig breed.
 But maybe there is a different future for the Meishan in America. By one of the most fortuitous/ridiculous/ blessed series of eventsI found myself standing at the back door of both facilities as someone was reaching for the Meishan light switch. So instead of going to a meat locker or a  animal compost site the two girls from Illinois and  five boars and two gilts (all unrelated) from the USDA ended up in the back of my van and the back of a borrowed livestock trailer respectively  headed for my farm with me at the wheel. 4000 round trip driving miles later they are here. The detective story that tells that tale is another blog post.
Just in case somebody ever asks you "How many adult Meishans can you fit in the back of a 2003 Chevy Astro Van?"  now you know
 I went looking for one more boar to go with my Iowa State breeding trio. I ended up with the most genetically diverse Meishan herd outside of China. I wasnt ready for that. It was the all in or all out poker hand.I am now all in.And now I have to make decisions about them. I have had these pigs long enough to firmly believe  there is a real niche for them in the US.Not just as a pasture ornament,not just as a beginner pig, not just  the next get rich quick LLama/Alpaca flash in the pan. I just resigned from the board of directors of another endangered heritage pig registry to focus on this project. I know that once that breed had only seven boars(some related) and I have 6 unrelated Meishan boars. And that doesnt count what is still pure out there in the meishan community.Last year the breed  registry I served on registered over 1100 pigs. I believe that if the Meishan can find a legitimate role as meat animal in the US craft pork movement it can flourish.I believe if raising Meishans is profitable for small land holders it can flourish. I also believe if it is pimped out like the pot belly pig or the Alpaca it will collapse under the weight of its own prolific nature. So there will be decisions I will have to make be they  popular or otherwise. And probably some people will disagree and get angry. I thank those in the scientific community at USDA and elsewhere who have given me words on encouragement. My greatest hope is that nobody will ver say this about the Meishan breed in the US. And then there were none. Be blessed all prayers appreciated feel free to come along for the journey.
You can learn more about our herd at

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Garden and Meishan Love

With sadness the spring veggies are gone... This is the last Little broccoli and my purple cauliflower...
But with great happiness the summer veggies are coming!!!!!
Zucchini and yellow squash.. Many More cucumbers!! 
All the extra work for the early tomatoes is paying off because I've been getting 2 or 3 everyday for about a week now!! With loads about to turn red!!
And what an exciting feeling to see Dragon Tongue beans again!!! Quite possibly the best tasting fresh bean on the planet ! They are on the menu for tonight and I Can't wait!
This also means the garden work is about to get even crazier... So my to do lists need to get better . It's so easy to forget little things that need to be done when there's so many things piling up. 
I still have new beds to mulch... Things to fertilize... Still have a few things to get in the ground And secession planting needs to begin.
 Along with a couple weeks of light harvest then ,boom!! Having to harvest every other day! And .. Yes.. Preserving!
Oh time consuming food preservation has to be done.
Next month I have to start fall veggies!

The last of the lettuce.. The lettuce on the right is an old variety called Gramma Hadley's .. Looking forward to trying it with bacon grease dressing!!
The 5 USDA Meishan boars and 2 Meishan gilts are settling in. These two girls are getting especially friendly! 
We named them Xishi and Minghou after 2 of ancient China's most beautiful women. 
I know some may think they aren't very pretty .. But I think they are adorable!! And so different from other swine it's fascinating to watch them. 

Yep... Just adorable!!!

Y'all have a blessed day πŸ˜€