Archive for the ‘Farm Animals’ Category

Pig Sex

August 20, 2010

Updated to add that Deborah at Antiquity Oaks added a post about how her goats breed the old-fashioned way. You can read her post, We do everything the old-fashioned way, at her blog. Also, be sure to read the comment left by Cody. I hope others will continue to comment!

The other day the kids put on an episode of Dirty Jobs called “Pig Farmer.” In this episode, Mike Rowe visits a pig farm. You can see a clip here, but it doesn’t show any of the parts I am about to mention, except for the pigs in cages. I missed the part where it said how many pigs the farm had, but it was a lot. He had to help get tons of pig manure out of the building with the cages with the young pigs. TONS of manure. He had to clip the teeth of the piglets, clip their tails, and give them two injections. An antibiotic was needed because of the tail and teeth clipping to prevent infection. I’m sure that all of that is standard practice. And as much as I was sitting there feeling a bit horrified by all this, I was even more horrified by the breeding part.

The breeding part of the show was so weird. Now, to be fair, perhaps there are things I do not know or realize about animal breeding. I do know that most breeders don’t let their animals breed willy nilly. They breed for certain qualities, such as higher milk production, certain patterns of wool, fat/muscle ratio, etc. I do realize that. What I don’t know is how they go about ensuring that happens. When my farmer tells me that our heifers are probably pregnant because they are running with cows that belong to someone else, I get the idea that there is a bull that has some good qualities and they just let him run with the cows when it’s breeding time. They aren’t sure which heifers got pregnant and which didn’t, at least not for a while. That makes sense to me.

I realize that animal breeders don’t just let any male breed with any female. But how they ensure that seems to vary. In the Dirty Jobs episode, the breeding was so far removed from sex it was almost laughable. It was not “natural” in any way. The boar was allowed to walk near the pigs in heat. Then they took him back to this contraption. It was a big, heavy, long metal thing (from my web searching, I think it is called a “dummy”) that the boar could “mount” so he could do his humping thing. Then the farmer and Mike collected the semen in a plastic bag so they could inseminate the female pigs (They are called gilts if they’ve never been pregnant, sows if they have). In this case, the female pig had teats and looked like she had nursed her young before. I’m only guessing, but I will call her a sow based on this guess.

Then Mike Rowe takes a really long plastic tube with a bulb at the end. The semen is in the bulb. First, they let the boar walk by the sow so she will be ready for breeding. Then Mike inserts the tube in the sow, pointing it up towards her spine, otherwise it can end up in her bladder (and really, who wants semen in their bladder?). Then he has to sit on top of her so that she feels like the boar is on her and, well, somehow that gets her ready.

Anyway, it looked nothing like sex (or reproduction if you prefer a word that is a little less loaded with cultural meaning). I can kind of understand why it’s done that way. If the boar shot his one load in that sow, it would be more sperm than needed to breed and is a waste. And when you have a factory farm or breeding animals is your job, that is important. Plus, many breeders make money selling semen. So I get it. And yet I don’t. It just seems wrong somehow.

I realize that animal sex is not the same as human sex. I doubt most animals get much enjoyment out of it. I’m pretty sure the hens don’t enjoy it, for example. It doesn’t look like it would be fun to be a hen. They do get other things in exchange, though, such as protection and warning of predators or the roosters telling them where the good food is. Even though it doesn’t look like animal sex is fun, it still seems that the animals should get to do it the way nature intended. Doesn’t it? I mean, human beings controlling which animals breed with which seems fine to me and has been done for a long time. But the pig sex in this episode was completely modern, industrialized, unnatural. I guess it was better than this (image from University of Illinois Extension, The Optimal Time for Breeding Swine):

Picture of assembly line swine breeding

What I’d like to know more about is how smaller scale farmers and breeders do this. How do you ensure your breeding stock is good and is the way you want it without resorting to industrialized, modern breeding that basically removes the animal from the equation? I think the way my farmer breeds his cows, which is by letting a bull loose with the heifers and letting them do it themselves, is almost the opposite extreme from this espisode or the picture of assembly line breeding. So what I’d like to know is about the in between, the middle ground. Where technology is useful, but is not the only way to do it. Because this type of reproduction just seems weird to me.

Note: While I see that a comparison could be made to modern reproductive technologies for human beings, I think that is completely different for many reasons.



April 1, 2010


ca·coph·o·ny   [kuh-kof-uh-nee]
1. harsh discordance of sound; dissonance: a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails.
2. a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds: the cacophony produced by city traffic at midday.
3. Music. frequent use of discords of a harshness and relationship difficult to understand.

I’d like to add another definition:

4. The sound a flock of chickens make early in the morning when they sense a predator, whether real or perceived.

Spring has arrived

March 30, 2010

Spring has arrived. There are birds and other animals that return or that you start seeing again. There are the sound of frogs. There are lots of baby animals, like calves and piglets and kittens. The grass starts getting green and it’s warm out. Those are pretty obvious. I know it’s spring here when I see someone mowing, though. It seems early for mowing, but I saw someone in town mowing a small side yard (next to a business, I think). Soon the Farmer’s Market will start again.

A New Hampshire rooster and an Orpington hen free ranging

Free range birds

I don’t know if it is because it’s spring time, but we have a few hens who think that roosting outside on our big pile of branches is a good idea. I think these hens are the ones that the roosters gang up on, as evidenced by the lack of feathers on their backs and behind their combs. I can understand why they don’t really want to go into the coop. But the roosters are definitely better than whatever else might come around in the middle of the night. Tim is pretty good at getting them in because he will just pick them up. I’m not willing to do that, so I try to convince them. I touch them, pet them, shake the sticks they are stepping on, and basically annoy them until they decide to go in.

A flock of chickens in my backyard

Happy chickens

Moira is also growing. She seems to be going through a pretty good growth spurt. She is hungry, tired, moody, and clumsy. It’s not really a list that I can make and say for sure she is having a growth spurt. There are days that I feel that way or Aidan does and it doesn’t mean a thing. But I just have this intuition that she is going through something big, some big brain growth and physical growth, most likely. Either that or she’s been eating way too much Easter candy and sugar and that is making her moody. But that wouldn’t necessarily explain the clumsiness, would it?

Moira's bare feet

Moira is a barefoot country girl

I have worked on the garden, but just barely. But when I look at last year’s gardening journal, I see that I hadn’t done much by this time last year, so I guess I’m doing OK. I need to start some seeds soon, maybe order some heirloom seeds. I did weed a gardening bed that has carrots growing, but that’s really all I’ve done. I’ll do more soon and I’ll blog about it, of course.

Confessions of a Chicken Keeper

January 20, 2010

I have learned a lot about chickens. There is no doubt about that. However, I have much to learn, as I’m sure many beginner chicken keepers do. So here are some confessions (and yes, it’s another list because this is on my mind but I really don’t have the time or energy at the moment to flesh it out more).

  • Our chicken coop is not sufficient for Illinois winters.
  • Or, at least it isn’t sufficient for roosters.
  • My roosters have frostbitten combs and wattles.
  • We had a bunch of eggs freeze because only the kids could get to the nesting box (Tim fixed that so that we can now get eggs, too)
  • I had a sick hen and I don’t know what was wrong with her.
  • She got over it, whatever it was, despite a lack of intervention on my part.
  • I can’t really tell the hens apart, except for:
    1. Miss Ducky, an orpington with oranger legs than the others
    2. Lula Mae, the only New Hampshire hen we have left
    3. Chicken Joe, our New Hampshire rooster
  • I have too many roosters.
  • My 3 Orpington roosters are all named Chuck Norris, even though I could probably tell them apart by now if I tried harder.
  • They really don’t have enough roost space.
  • They are roosting on the roosts Tim made, but those roosts are hooked up to a ladder and they roost on the ladder, which means they also poop on each other.
  • We actually forgot to close them in one night. Tim and I went out to close them in but they weren’t in. So it was actually a miscommunication and neither of us took care of it.
  • I didn’t realize we forgot to shut them in until the next morning when the roosters were crowing right near the house quite early in the morning.
  • They are all unharmed, amazingly enough.
  • They are eating feed from the farm supply store instead of the more natural, healthier feed Scott the Farmer was bringing me.
  • I want him to bring me that feed, but he thought I didn’t because I kept buying the feed from the store because I kept running out.
  • I haven’t talked to him about this yet, despite the fact that it’s been a month or longer that I’ve been using the feed from the store.
  • I am totally getting more chicks next spring so that we have eggs in the winter again.
  • Yes, I realize we are totally lucky to have eggs in January.
  • Lula Mae is finally moulting.
  • She doesn’t look very pretty.
  • She’s still my favorite, but please don’t tell the other hens.

Winter Highlights

January 19, 2010

This seems to be the time of year where everyone is thinking of spring, of the warmth, the sunshine, the new growth. I am pining away for that just as everyone else is. But I thought it might be nice to write something about the best parts of winter. Some of these are not specifically winter-time activities, but are things we are doing lately. It can be hard to find ways to pass the time, especially for Aidan, who is very much an outdoor kid! So here is a list of what I am enjoying about winter:

  • Freshly fallen snow
  • Ice on tree limbs
  • Deer trails
  • Chicken tracks in snow
  • Chickens standing on one leg
  • Sledding
  • Snuggling under blankets
  • Playing board games and card games with the kids
  • Dressing up barbies
  • Sitting by the fireplace, getting warm
  • Kitty prints everywhere
  • Hot tea
  • Chili and cornbread, soups, and other cold weather foods we barely made in Phoenix
  • Vacuuming to warm up
  • Baking
  • Making hot cocoa for the kids
  • Having cats all over me, keeping me warm

What are your favorite things about winter? Or are you wishing spring would just show up already? 🙂

Like boxes of poop in your house? Get a cat!

January 11, 2010

Yesterday there were 12 cats living in our garage where they were safe and warm. Now they will be sleeping in the shed, hopefully, so they will stay somewhat warm. The garage was OK but they pooped everywhere. And I mean everywhere! They pooped on top of Tim’s tools, under the mower, in any box that was halfway open, on any cloth or container that looked interesting. Tim is finally sick of it since they are his tools, and he does live right above the garage. So he threw them out today and cleaned up a bunch of poop. Anyway, here are the cats that are currently outdoor only cats:

  • Mama Cat*
  • Scotchy and Little Gray* from Mama Cat’s first litter
  • Stinky* from Mama Cat’s second litter
  • Toby, Butch, Hannah Montana*, and Big Eyes* from Mama Cat’s third litter
  • Swirly Junior from Little Gray’s first litter
  • Goose, Oscar, and Gunny* from Little Gray’s second litter

The following cats are indoor/outdoor cats. They are mostly indoors at the moment because it is so cold.

  • Vicious from Mama Cat’s second litter (obviously he’s turned out to be a sweetie or he would not be in the house!)
  • Tubby Boat* and Captain Gray from Little Gray’s first litter
  • A picture of a cat named Miss Tubby Boat

    Miss Tubby Boat

The following cats are indoor only cats, including the two we brought with us from Phoenix.

  • Riley
  • Cleo*
  • Booter from Little Gray’s second litter

The asterisks indicate the female cats. Only Cleo is fixed. It is possible that Goose and/or Oscar are female, but I can’t remember as the last time I checked they were tiny and I wasn’t really sure if they were female or not. We should get some fixed, I know. I’d like to get Mama Cat fixed as she’s already had 3 litters (that we know of) and she is not the nicest cat. She can be sweet to us, but she is a bitch to the other cats. She is a pretty good mama cat, at least until her kittens reach a certain age and then she is mean to them. Her kittens are not the friendliest either. Some of them are OK and some of them are mean like she is. Little Gray’s kittens have been really nice so far, but her second litter hasn’t been around us much so I have a feeling they will not be quite as friendly. So I think if I had to choose, I would get Mama Cat and all of her female kittens fixed. I might leave Little Gray and Tubby Boat unfixed as they are both pretty sweet cats. And then, if we need more cats someday I will just take all the cats offered on Freecycle. 🙂

Catching up

November 3, 2009

We’ve been busy lately, where lately means the last month. Tom was in Puerto Rico for 2 weeks before we joined him there for another week. Now we are back and trying to catch up on life and housework while also fighting a cold.

I have a ton of things I would like to write about: new kittens (they are about a month old already!), another dead hen, more hens laying eggs, roosters not turning out as gentle as you had hoped, painting and redoing the floor of our half bathroom, Puerto Rico, our neighbor not wanting us to have livestock, how we are trying to prevent and combat illness naturally, etc.

But it will all have to wait because first I have to catch up on life before I can catch up on my blog. Plus, I need to catch up on reading some blogs.

Letter to a coyote

October 1, 2009

Dear Coyote,

Do not mess with a woman with PMS and a gun, even if it is a bb gun. Just some advice from a cranky mama who had a bad day. Please pass this on to any other predators of chickens and/or cats.

Cranky Mama

Snakes – some background

September 19, 2009

Recently I posted a picture of a snake that Tim had accidentally run over with the mower. In this post I asked for help identifying the snake. I received some really helpful comments, but also heard from one angry commenter. The person was angry because he/she thought that we had deliberately killed the snake. The issue was resolved, but I would still like to give a little background into the snakes on our farm, as well as sharing what I have learned about snakes in the process. I want to do this both to clarify my stance and to possibly educate others about the benefits of snakes.

First, I have to confess that I never thought about snakes in Illinois before we moved. I knew there were harmless garter snakes here, but I honestly thought that when we left Arizona we left snakes and coyotes behind. How wrong I was! I’ve written about the snake Aidan found and in that post talked a little about the snake that Farmer Clayton found. Farmer Clayton’s opinion was is, “the only good snake is a dead snake.” I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I was nervous about the possibility of poisonous snakes being in our yard, especially with barefoot country kids running around.

A couple of days after Farmer Clayton found the snake under the stump, Scott the Farmer asked me if we wanted to kill snakes. He said he usually just moves them. At that point I didn’t know what to think or to say. I knew that I didn’t want to be worried about poisonous snakes, but I’m not really into killing things just to kill them (except maybe ticks). Plus, I really trust Scott the Farmer and I figured he knew more about snakes than I did, since I barely knew anything at the time. I didn’t really answer Scott the Farmer and I didn’t think much about snakes for a while.

Then a couple weeks later, Aidan found another snake. That’s when I wrote the post Aidan finds a snake. Tim caught the snake and gave it to Scott the Farmer to relocate it. We thought that one was a copperhead, but now I doubt that it was. We’ve seen other snakes, too, such as garter snakes and some kind of silvery snake near the garden. One of the silvery looking snakes got in the chicken coop once. Needless to say, that didn’t end well for the snake.

Anyway, fast forward a month or two and we went to the local library to see the Snakeman, aka Gary Liesen, of Quincy, Illinois. I learned a lot about snakes that day, and more importantly, so did Moira, who was fascinated by them! She kept “going to the bathroom” because in order to get to the bathroom, she had to climb under the table where the snakes were (some preserved in bottles). It was really cute. A few weeks later we found a snake book at the library. It’s for kindergarteners and has a few words, plus pictures and labels at the end. Moira loves that book. She loves it so much that when we were in Phoenix and she wasn’t feeling well, she would plead for me to read that book to her. In fact, it’s way overdue and we should probably just buy a new one to replace the library’s copy.

Anyway, that book has been terrific. We know what a lot of snakes look like now, plus it inspired us to look up more information about snakes. We’ve read and watched videos about flying snakes, anacondas, boomslangs, sidewinders, and more. What we’ve learned in the process is another post entirely, but suffice it to say that my initial worry is pretty much unfounded and we definitely will not be killing snakes on this farm, unless we are in imminent danger. I will write more about snakes, but in the meantime I leave you with this really cool video about flying snakes (which are not found in Illinois in case you were wondering!).


September 18, 2009

Ever since I posted something last Friday for Fight Back Friday, I couldn’t wait for this Friday to arrive so I could write a new post and read posts by others. However, last Friday inspired me so much that I spent a lot of the weekend and early part of the week cooking and blogging about what we made. Now I don’t feel that I have much to write. I can tell you that in the last week we’ve made two batches of tomato sauce, chicken noodle soup, curried butternut squash soup, “hambuger helper,” grilled cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, pancakes, and salad dressing. There’s probably something I’m forgetting, but once you start cooking at home it becomes so natural that you don’t think much about it. Or at least it seems so in our case. We’ve always cooked a few times a week, but honestly we went out or got carryout once or twice a week and ate convenience meals at home, plus all the Starbucks we used to enjoy! So now we are barely going out to eat and are seriously avoiding fast food and it feels really good.

By the way, the “hamburger helper” is just browned beef and whatever veggies and leftovers we have. Tom has made this twice now and it was really yummy both times. It doesn’t always look yummy, but it is. He’s used homemade tomato sauce and/or broth to keep it from getting too dry. I think the next leftover surprise will be a quiche, assuming we get enough eggs from our chickies in the next few days. Also, the meatballs I made included one of our own chicken’s eggs, bread crumbs from bread I bought at the farmer’s market, and beef from grass-fed, locally raised cows. Our freezer is full of beef right now.

And yet, let me make some confessions.

  • Confession 1: On Tuesday or Wednesday we took the kids to Granny’s house and ordered pizza while Tom and I went out to dinner. We did go to a local restaurant rather than a chain (not that there are a lot of chains in Macomb). We were both tired and needed some time to talk, so going out to dinner seemed perfect.
  • Confession 2: On the way to Peoria last week, we purchased cookies at the gas station. I love cookies, but these cookies were god-awful sweet. It made me want to make cookies at home more often.

So, while we aren’t perfect in our quest for local, organic, sustainable food I feel we are doing great. We are doing better than we did a year ago and that counts for something. I suspect that a year from now we will be doing even better and I hope to hardly go to the grocery store at all and only go out to dinner every once in an while. Sometimes I wish we could make big changes all at once or go cold turkey, but baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

This post is part of Fight back Friday. Click on the link to find other interesting posts!