Wacky Wanderers

exploring on the road as a family

More fun with Crow Farm projects

A farm has never ending projects most of which we were fairly clueless of their execution prior to our research. However, it has been a wonderful opportunity for us to get our hands dirty, well actually our whole bodies dirty, and learn something new! It’s a bonus when we can do these things as a family.

Fence:

So, prior to getting our sweet piggies we had to create a fence to complete the one side of the hayfield they would be living in. Justin did his research, which he is so good at, came up with an action plan and bought the supplies. In the project we would be digging 8 fence posts, tensioning wire fencing, bracing the poles and putting in 2 gates. I contacted all our neighbors asking if anyone had a pole digging tool we could borrow figuring that at least one would have it. Well, don’t ever underestimate the handy country folk. ALL of our neighbors had one! Ha! Very smart to have such a handy tool.

As many of you know Oregon gets LOTS of rain over the winter therefore, as you can guess, we worked many days in the rain while making this fence. Messy, messy, messy!! Just 4-6″ down from the surface our soil becomes clay. Clay is not only difficult to dig through but extremely sticky and oh so very messy. Due to the soaked earth our holes quickly became muddy wells which would splash and slosh as we jammed our digging tool in. By the time we had finished our first fence pole we all looked like Dalmatians! It was hard slow work.

When putting up the fencing we soon fell into a rhythm of tensioning and stapling. We found a great technique that allowed us to keep the tension while we pounded in our staples. This was after we tried a couple different methods that ended in failure. You live, you learn, right? We chose to make the gates big enough that our tractor or a large truck could fit through if needed to access the septic or hayfield.

Pig Pen:

We weren’t exactly sure how large we ultimately wanted the piggies sleeping area to be inside the barn. We came up with multiple designs but all involved some major work. While we were figuring things out with the pigs we decided to create a semi-temporary structure that could be easily altered if it needed to be.

Before we could start any of these plans we had to pull up an existing wood platform that was in that area of the barn. In doing so we found that there had been multiple animals living under there at different times. I found the skeleton of an opossum and I’m pretty sure semi-recent cat poo. This makes sense because we have a volunteer barn cat who’s named Clover and roams our place. Don’t worry, she has a couple other shelter spots here on Crow Farm.

Justin built a pen with pallets which leads out the door of the barn to their outdoor pen. It worked out great and seems to be a good size! I’d say my only wish would be that a gate be added in the future. Right now we climb up and over the pallet wall to tend to the piggies. Eventually I’d like this pallet wall to be higher to make it predator-proof. When we do this we will definitely need a gate! When friends came over with their dog, the dog showed us how easy it was to hop over their pallet pen and chase them down! It was scary and gave us good information about how easy it was to get in.

Digging Ditches:

Part of Justin’s internet plan for Crow Farm involved hooking the main buildings up to ethernet (wired internet). This means digging ditches to all those buildings! Luckily we had bought the correct digging tools for the first ditch we dug so the following ditches were easier.

Justin took the lead on this project. First he strung a string and marked the path with a shovel cut. The sod was cut out and set aside and the hole was dug with a pick ax and skinny shovel. Super handy! One of the ditches went from the granny shack to the carport and another from the annex to the barn. Why do we need fast internet at an open air pole barn you may be asking yourself? Well, we wanted to be sure our guests with campers had internet and we could spy on our animals with security cameras. :). Good to know that they are safe and behaving themselves.

Camper Pad:

Because we traveled on the road for 6 month chunks 2 years in a row we were lucky enough to meet some really great folks who are on the road with their families full time. When we were looking at homes to buy we wanted to be sure we had a place for campers to park and be comfortable while they visit.

Crow Farm definitely had the potential for this but it wasn’t quite practical for the big rigs to have space to get in and out with ease. There were two “driveways” at different levels leading to two of the three bays of the barn. This was super handy for moving vehicles in and out of the barn but tricky for a camper to have room to park on the narrow path. It also dropped off quite abruptly to the edge of the north hayfield leaving no room for a big rig to turn around. In an effort to make our place more inviting for our on-the-road friends we decided to widen and level this pad.

This was no small task! The first truck FULL of gravel we got was 15 tons, which sounded like a lot! Well, we learned that it’s not a lot. Not at all. It was kind of like seeing a little ant hill on a beach. Haha. We laughed so hard at us being so naive. Justin calculated out how many tons he estimated us needing and, yikes! It was a lot!! So far we have had 250 tons of fill dirt (which is non-clay dirt mixed with rocks of various sizes; some the size of Butternut!). Justin scooped the dirt piles with the tractor and after he dumped them I spread them out evenly. He then attached a grading tool to the back of the tractor and as I shouted commands (the tractor is loud) we slowly leveled the camping pad. We learned that this is not such an easy task. We have spent many afternoons looking at the pad from different angles and adding or removing dirt here and there. It was a bit trickier because we were not only grading it away from the barn in one direction but also angling it away from the hayfield in another direction. It felt like we were little tiny ants moving the dirt around. Progress was slow to be seen when moving such heavy materials. The last step will be to add a final layer of gravel to the top after the dirt has experienced some more rain and had time to settle. Lucky for us, it rains a lot here!

Pig Pen Mess!

Speaking of rain, in the winter rains our outdoor pig pen quickly turned into a mud hole! A really, really big mud hole that was swallowing us all up alive every time we walked on it. The piggies didn’t seem to mind but we didn’t want them to get hoof rot and thought they deserved a space that was comfortable to lay on and play without slipping and sliding about.

We debated lots of different solutions to this problem but what we ended up settling on was to buy 5 yards of “hog fuel” or “walk-on mulch”. Walk-on mulch is basically just big chunked mulch. We actually used the same stuff on the walking path we made through the woods. There were some down sides to this option: One; we knew after we had put the mulch down it meant that we wouldn’t be growing grass there anytime soon without some major work. Two; the mulch would eventually get mushed down into the mud and we would have to add more to the top to keep the desired effect. The reason why we went with it anyway was because it was a relatively cheap option and would be a comfortable and safe material for the piggies to walk and lay on.

We tractored the mulch into the outdoor pig pen and shoveled it around to create a little island of bliss leading into their indoor pig pen, the gate leading into their outdoor pen and encompassing their eating and drinking area. Since we had some extra hay, we sprinkled that too on some of the muddy mess. For this one day the pigs were in heaven with their clean hay lining the ground. Curly was especially playful doing periodic little jumps, wiggles and dashes into and out of the hay. They all even enjoyed an outdoor nap on it. Within a week it looked like a muddy mess again where the hay had been, but it was fun while it lasted. I figure it probably helped the mud situation a little after it mixed in. So far, the mulch island still stands even with the piggies occasional rooting. I’m hopeful it will last us through the rest of the winter.

One thing I would do differently if we did it again would be to bring the mulch in bucket by bucket. The wheel barrow wouldn’t have worked because the mud was so deep but bringing the tractor in REALLY made the pen muddy. The pigs root up the top soil layer looking for roots of weeds but the tractor dug up much bigger ruts due to its size.

More Secure Enclosure for Animals:

We plan to get ducks sometime soon so we’ve been planning and drafting designs and setups for what this might look like. Justin and I spent many nights debating where our feathered friends would live and how they would live. We finally decided that it would be nice for the pigs and ducks to semi-share a space down by the barn. The enclosure would have a duck house and food/drinking area where the pigs could not get in yet the main living space would be shared between pigs and ducks.

I follow many of the local community networks and there are often people posting stories about their outdoor animals getting eaten by frequenting mountain lions, coyote packs and raccoons. This made us nervous for our pigs and our future ducks. A raccoon or other small to medium animal is unlikely to bother with a pig, but a duck? Mmm, dinner! Once that predator gets a taste of delicious duck we figured it would come back for more and may even be bold enough to go after the piglets. Because of this, we are in the process of creating a tall fenced structure that our pigs and ducks will be in during the winter months full time and at night or when we are away, during the summer months. The ducks will be closed inside their little hut, which is within the outer fencing, at night. The enclosure will have 8′ no-climb fencing all around which we hope will deter most predators.

Back to pole digging we went!! This time things got even messier. The ground had not only had a lot more time to take on water but we were working within an actual pig pen. And guess what? Our fence line goes right along the existing temporary T post and hog wire fence which just so happens to be the piggies poop spot. Just lovely. It went something like this: shovel poop, dig, splash, slip, shovel poop, rinse off boots, dig, splash and slip!

It seemed funny that we thought our first pole digging experience was messy!! Haha. Now our task was to dig holes for 12 fence poles, do a stacked layer of wire fencing and add 2 more gates.

Justin used our trailer to pick up 1 yard of wet gravel, fencing and 15 poles along with some other things in our van. He quickly realized that the trailer was bottomed out and had to move most of the poles and fencing into the van. Even then, when he rolled up the road and hit a small bump I could hear the tire on the trailer rubbing on the wheel well. Next time we’ll have the gravel delivered via a honkin’ dump truck.

When poor Justin was out picking up all the supplies to build this enclosure he ended up lifting something in the wrong way while his knee was bent sideways and ended up ripping his meniscus (we think)!! He heard a crunching sound and…ouch!! We got him a brace which seems to help a bit and he has been healing pretty well. So, between my hurt wrist and Justin’s hurt knee together we made for one useful human! Justin did the ramming of the digging rod to loosen the soil because that hurt my wrist and I did the lifting of dirt, gravel and poles. It poured on us one day during our last pole of the day but for the next it was sunshine. The bright side of working in the rain is that you sometimes get to see a rainbow which we did! There’s always an upside folks!

Lots of work to go on this project but we have lots of time before our ducklings come.

Piggy Saga

How it all started:

Once upon a time there lived a little girl who grew up with a pig. Granted it was only a small portion of her growing up that she was with this 750 lb gentle giant but it was enough to make an impact. This little girl dreamed of growing up and once again owning a pig. Well, 30 years later, this dream came true! Yes, we now have pigs at Crow Farm!! How in the world did I talk Justin into this you might be wondering? Well, I’ll tell you. And this is how it begins…

Justin knew that this day was coming ever since he agreed to buy Crow Farm. We have had the city chapter in our life as well as the travel chapter and here is our farm chapter!

We started by researching different breads choosing breads that were low maintenance, grew to a smaller size and were friendly. This proved to be way too broad. I had never thought about it until then but, I didn’t have the foggiest idea where one goes to purchase animals. I suppose somewhere there are livestock auctions but how do you find out about those?? We turned to something we knew and looked on Craigslist to see what was for sale. There are in fact animals for sale!

One of the pig breads that came up was a Kunekune pig. They are one of the smaller breads with their max weight around 240 lbs, they have hair which makes them able to handle the cold better (it’s not like it is that cold around here but I am always worried of people and animals getting too cold) and protects against sunburn, they are said to be grazing pigs rather than rooters and come up on the top of the list for family friendly pigs. Sounded good to us! We agreed that we wanted 2 pigs so they could keep each other company and stay warm. Well, we found a woman selling 2 Kunekune one-year old sows and 2 piglets. We didn’t want all 4 of them but decided it would be a good idea to go meet them so we could better pick which ones we wanted. This is where it got complicated.

Meet and Greet:

Upon our visit we found that the Mama sow was very skittish and wouldn’t let us get near her, the 2 piglets were about the same and the other sow was overweight but docile as can be. What we really wanted was to get the 2 piglets but when the owner told us they were in a dangerous situation due to her horse trying to kick them, we caved and got all 4! It also made sense to keep the sows around throughout the winter to keep the piglets safe while they were little and warm at night. On top of that, the 4 week old piglets were still nursing some.

After we had agreed to buy all 4 piggies we had to move our little buns to get a space set up for them. We asked for a week to get things ready. We had to repair some existing fencing around the part of the hayfield we planned to keep them as well as build 130ft of new fencing with 2 gates to fully enclose the space. Let me tell you, it was hard, messy work and we learned a lot! Pretty fun experience. We also had to create a pig pen within the barn for the piggies to sleep at night.

We did it and were ready for the piggies! We named the overweight docile sow, Butternut, the Mama sow, Muffin, the auburn with black spotted runt piglet, Curly and the strawberry blond with strips piglet, Mercy.

Escape Artists:

The owner had been using a horse trailer with hay in it as their bed so it was an easy transport as all she had to do was close the door and hitch up. We were so excited! The travel trailer was opened and one by one with a little hesitancy they all proceeded to jump out of the trailer, across our hayfield and out the closed gate on the far side of the field! Haha!! Okay. Lesson number one: Gate ground clearance needs to be altered. It worked to our advantage that the pigs were scared of us so we were semi-easily able to get them back into the field with a herding method. It was hilarious!

We knew we had to change something and fast unless one of us wanted to have a full-time job guarding for pig escapes. The previous pig owner said what she would and has used is electric wire around the bottom of the fence line. Our neighbor who had raised pigs for over 10 years said he uses electric fowl fencing and let us borrow his to try it out until we could get one or figured out what we wanted to use.

Electric Fence?:

There were several more escapes that day which were from under the old existing fencing. Our options were: buy a significant amount of wire and hardware to electrify the bottom of our fences, use our neighbor’s electric fowl fencing or to unstaple all previously existing fences and pound in new staples after lowering and retensioning the fence. We decided to try the electric fence our neighbor let us borrow since we had it. We were against using electric fencing for 2 main reasons: we didn’t want our girls or other kids to get hurt on it and we felt like it went against gaining these piggies trust in us. Previously they had been allowed to roam free with no fences whatsoever so to go from nothing to electric seemed extreme. We were wary but all sources pointed us in this direction.

I won’t go into detail about how horrible it was but sweet Butternut ended up getting stuck in the fence while we fumbled to turn off the power. It was so very sad and traumatic for both the pigs and our 7 year old. Our oldest sat crying in a corner for the better part of an hour because of the experience. We made a mistake. We immediately took down the electric fence and started unstapling the existing fence. We all strongly agreed that there would not be an electric fence around these piggies. It was an all day/night and next day job but we powered through with Justin in the lead. Since my wrist has been giving me such circulation issues he has been picking up my slack where my wrist stops me. As we tightened and restapled the fence the piglets showed us where to fix next. 🙂 Luckily we know the key to a piggies heart is food and thank goodness I had stored away some of our fall apples which are quite the treat for those cuties. I have to say though, when they want to run, they can RUN!

Mama Muffin:

So, within the first day, Mama Muffin with some help from her piglets pealed back a good portion of the top soil in our field to root for weed roots. Justin was beside himself! We chose this breed because they were “grazers” meaning they get most of their food from the grass they eat and yet they were tearing up that very grass. We later read that in the winter the nutrients from the grass and weeds go to the roots as appose to the summer when it is stored in the top greens. Oh dear. Also, what progress we had made in getting the piggies to trust us and let us get near them without fear was reversed after the electric fence incident.

As we got to know these piggies a bit better we realized that Mama Muffin wasn’t as scared of us as she was suspicious. Any time she saw us she would trot over and stair us down in a menacing way. She was extra intimidating when it came to feeding her or being around her piglets. Instead of backing away or scurrying off when we would come near, she was starting to advance forward in a lung-like way. Her unpredictable and threatening behavior made me nervous to have my girls around them. Our cautious oldest refused to go into the pig field unless she was on my back and I always had my youngest at my side with me in between her and Mama Muffin. That pig was too much of a risk so I put her up for sale. By then the piglets were weaned and Butternut could fill the roll of warmth and companionship for the littles.

The prospect of selling Muffin got us thinking about our original plan to only have 2 pigs. After all, we are raising them as pets, not meat so it didn’t make sense to keep more than that. We thought maybe we should sell one of the piglets with their Mama but couldn’t decide. And, if we DID sell a piglet, which one?? I begrudgingly updated my post for Mama Muffin with piglet but didn’t specify which one.

A couple days passed before I had a solid inquiry on the pigs. “Finally!” we thought. We were eager to see Muffin gone. I set up a time and date for the woman. Then we had to decide which piglet to sell! Such a tough decision. After much debate, our family decided not to sell the piglets, only Muffin. The next day I called the potential buyer back and asked if she would still take just Muffin and not the piglet. She did! Hurray! It was settled. We had one more half day with Muffin. That’s what we thought anyway.

The next day something very odd happened which I can only explain by the idea that pigs are smart creatures. I went out to feed the piggies their breakfast at 8am sharp and as usual the pigs were all very eager. However, after Muffin took her first couple bites she tilted her head up, pricked her ears and stood stark still. She refused to eat and even walked away from her food where in the past she would be tossing her babies into the air and plowing down Butternut to get the most. This continues for some time so I called Justin over. Was she sick? We brought her over special grains that she loved and a fresh bowl of water as she stood in a trance. She stood there and let us PET her! Muffin, the previously semi-aggressive pig. What?! All morning it continued like this. She would snort happy snorts to us and trot over and let us rub her face, neck, cheeks, back, tummy, you name it. What had happened? Were the hormones from having her babies calming down? Whatever it was, it pulled at Justin’s heart strings.

Justin agonized over the thought of giving Muffin away that very afternoon! When it was a mere hour before the buyer was supposed to come and take her, Justin could take no more. Sounding like a total crazy, I again called the buyer and this time told her we had seen the soft side of Muffin and we decided to keep her. Good heavens! Maybe we would have 4 pigs forever more.

Well, the next day at breakfast time, do you know who was back? The old aggressive Muffin!! Man, what a smart pig. She played us with a mere hour to spare. Now I felt like she was even more dangerous changing her personality so dramatically like that. So, Justin (I refused to at this point) called back that poor buyer once again and set up a time for them to pick Muffin up. This time, free of charge. After giving them such a run around we didn’t feel like it was right to charge them anything. Ha!

That afternoon/night we set up a fenced in pen within the broader field figuring that having such a large space to run from us in, we’d never catch her. The smaller pen consisted of stiff, ridged hogwire and green T posts. We thought this was also come in handy to give the piggies a more limited space to destroy in the winter and give the field time to recover and grow for summer feed.

The Rodeo:

The next day about the time the buyers were scheduled to arrive a little new Subaro car came rolling into our driveway. “Okay” we thought, “must be one of them rode up ahead and the piggy trailer is on its way. Well, we were wrong! A sweet older couple stepped out of their car in dress shoes and the wife wearing tights, a skirt with a blouse, a dressy trench coat and her hair curled and pinned up into a bun in the back. It looked like she just came from church. The hatch popped open and there stood a large plastic dog crate. “Hmmm, I don’t think she’ll fit in there” I told her. “We make it work” she said. “Eek! It will be really tricky to say to least” I warned. “We do tricky before. It okay.” Okay. She was bound to know more about catching pigs than me so we rolled with it.

The buyers popped on their barn boots and set to luring Muffin into the cage with little luck. They tried bread, we tried cornering her, we tried a funnel trick. Nothing! And let me tell you, this girl was getting amped up as would be expected but boy, she was powerful. Throughout the entire rodeo Muffin wasn’t getting hurt, she was just nervous and kept running away without regard to what was in her way. Though, Muffin never ran AT anyone which was what I feared she would do. The buyers were so calm and confident about the whole thing but, to be honest, I was a bit shaken! I had seen Muffin bust through the barn door from her bed as well as through our various barricades of pallets or plywood. I helped out regardless in the outdoor pen but was hands off during the final capture. The technique that finally ended up working was closing her into the small pallet walled pig pen in the barn and slowly walking toward her with a pallet in hand. When there was just a little space left the cage was put at the opening of the pallet “wall.” At that point she must have accepted defeat or was too exhausted to run anymore because she walked right into the cage in the end and didn’t put up a fight. The buyers then loaded big old Mama Muffin into the back of their car!! It was unbelievable! There is no way someone could convince me to ride in a car with a large wild sow in a plastic dog cage. What if she got out while they were driving??! How scary! I have texted the buyer a couple times to be sure they made it home safely but haven’t heard back. I’m sure they are fine, they were very experienced. Oh dear! What an ordeal.

Settling in:

The 6 week old piglets are getting to know us better and are becoming more and more brave and tolerant of us. It may sound silly but I think singing to them helps. 🙂 Either that or it makes me more relaxed and they pick up on that. Butternut is her same docile self and she let me really take a good look at her. She is visibly overweight and has trouble walking probably partly because of weight and possibly partly because of age. It is unclear how old she really is. But, when I held her face in my hands as I was thoroughly checking her over I discovered something. She has NO eyes! I always joked and said, “Butternut, I can’t even see your eyes. Do you even have eyes?” The answer is, “no!” There is just skin over where her eyeballs should be. This explains so much; why she stays close to the barn, why she is overweight and why she is more docile. She does so well being blind! It is very rare that I see her bump into things. Her sense of smell and hearing make up for her sight. I contacted the previous owner who was free-ranging the pigs and told her about my discovery. She was just as flabbergasted as us!

We will probably stick to our original plan and keep the 2 piglets and sell sweet Butternut in the spring when the piglets are a bit bigger and nights are warmer. It seems like Butternut is on the verge of suffering and that isn’t right but, we’ll see. They are all happy here at Crow Farm for the time being.