Life on the Prairie is my informal, irregular BLOG, published to help my customers see and understand the daily adventures of raising pastured raised meats, on the Colorado Prairie. Miele Farms is 100% woman owned and although I do have help, I am the only full time employee, I hope my posts convey the incredible amount of joy, work and fun I have on the farm.
Cleo (short for Cleopatra) is one our many rescued working cats and although she is the youngest, she is the most aggressive and street-smart cat we have. Today she discovered how much fun piglets are. While I was watering some pigs, I heard some muffled grunts and went to investigate. What I found was Cleo siting on a fence post using her tail to attract the piglets and then when they got close, she would swat them on the head with her paw. It was like watching a cat play whack-a-mole, but with piglets. Her claws were retracted. Later in the day when I was walking by, I watched Cleo jump back on the fence post, lower her tail and start bonking piglets once again. I am glad our cat has her own arcade game!
Miele Farms is the achievement of my more than 15 years in agriculture. It is an awesome experience to be able to continually raise happy and healthy animals. There are a lot of days where you wake up before light, and work till dark moving animals and fixing fence. Then come home and realize the kids still need dinner, clean clothes for school and have not done their homework. Although I have a lot of help from people like Casey, our kids, friends, and customers, they all have their own life and Casey is not home all the time. The everyday aspects of being a mom and a sustainable farmer can be overwhelming. If it was not for the fact that each day my animals remind of how awesome my job is, I am not sure it would be worth it. There is nothing more pleasing and emotionally rewarding than going to move the pigs and see them rooting around for some tuber and watching their tails wag. As soon as they notice me, they run over and say hi with a cacophony of grunts and then run back to where they where searching for that tuber they smelled. If I do not follow them, they come running and grunting back to me. It is as if they want to show me what they found. Today they found a yucca root and once they got it out of the ground, they commenced to play a hilarious 10-minute game of keep away. When I moved the pigs to new pasture, they carried the yucca with them and continue to play with it till I left.
I never thought anybody would want to interview me because of my beliefs on sustainable agriculture. I had a great time being interviewed by Bonnie Simon. It was my first interview, weird... but cool. Bonnie is terrific and I love her energy.
Turkeys know people. We have some turkeys up by the house mowing the grass between our fruit trees and they have learned who, is who on the farm. This morning Casey got up before me and went out to work in the shop, the turkeys did not make a sound. Casey came back to the house at least twice for coffee; turkeys still did not make a sound. Yet when I went out to help Casey, the turkeys exploded in sound and chaos. As soon as I went back inside, they quieted down and stayed quiet till I came back out later to run to town. According to Casey they quieted down once I left, but once again exploded into sound when I got back. Casey says there is nothing more humiliating than turkeys telling you where you fit in on the farm!
Last night we moved some piglets to a new pasture next to the cows. Somebody forgot to turn the fence back on and this morning the pigs where not in their pasture and the cows did not come up to greet me. There where pig prints everywhere in the cow pasture. When I walked over the knoll to look for the pigs and cows, I found the cows herded up and the pigs running around with tails wagging. As soon as the cows saw me, they started running towards me, as if looking for help, with the pigs right behind them. The cows ran right by me while the pigs ran up to me and stopped. The cows then commenced with keeping me between them and the pigs. The pigs on the other hand could not decide if they wanted to have their heads scratched or chase the cows. Watching a 60-pound pig chase a 1200-pound cow is totally hilarious. The cows are obviously upset, and the pigs are obviously having way too much fun.
Pasture raised pigs and cows require a lot of daily interaction, and as I describe in What is Pasture Raised, we spend a lot of time with our animals. Over the 6 to 8 months it takes a pig to get butcher weight and condition, the pig itself has time to develop a unique personality and I can’t help but grow attached to them. Pasture raised pigs are incredibly fun to raise, smart and appreciative. Thus, butcher day is emotionally painful, because a part of me knows I will miss that pig in the future. I do take solace in the rational fact that butchering is a necessary evil in which the death of one pig benefits not only the herd, but the environment and the consumer. I take a lot of pride in knowing that my production model insures that my pigs have a longer and happier life than conventionally produced pigs and our pasture raised pork is healthier and tastier too. I am also proud of the fact that we do not butcher our brood sows once they are done having babies. Instead we retire them to pasture. In conventional farming they become sausage and hot dogs. To me this is unfair, this animal gave you the best it had every day, to help you raise and produce a product and the least it deserves is a dignified retirement and death. Even though I know the positive far outweighs the negative of raising pasture raised pork, butcher day is still emotional.
How come there is more mud in my house than outside? I swear I cleaned house yesterday. Where did all this mud come from? Oh, yea that’s right, it is spring and mother nature can’t decide if wants to be sunny or snowy. I can’t take a step outside without getting covered in mud. There must be two pounds of mud on each of my boots. Nala (my dog) is covered in mud and I gave her a bath two days ago. I keep telling myself mud equals grass and based on the amount of mud we have, we are going to have a lot of grass. Is it too much to ask for two days of sun in a row? Well at least the pigs are happy and there will be grass.
My truck is only so big, and I can’t fit all of my clothes in it just to make sure I dressed appropriately for the weather. What is this white stuff, it is freaking June and yesterday I was in a t-shirt getting a sun burn and today I am getting frostbite? I am about ready to curl up with some pigs to stay warm while the water tanks fill. The weather needs to make up its mind!
Today was beautiful and I was able to get all the chores done before noon, so I decided to take Mama for a walk. Mama is our oldest sow and the foundation for our brood stock. She is now in retirement and will live out her days eating grass and going for walks. Mama is at least 600 pounds so when you go walking with her, you’re just going where she wants to. Normally we walk around the yard and she grazes on weeds, grass and whatever else she finds. Today she decided she wanted to go back behind the barn and she was in a hurry. When I finally caught up to her, she was lying in a mud puddle next to a stock tank. No matter what I would say, or do she did not want to get up, so I left her. About an hour later, I had forgotten she was lying behind the stock tank and as I walked by, she jumped up and shook like a dog, covering me from head to toe in mud. Mama then grunted and walked back to her pasture and waited for me to put her away. It took a lot of scrubbing to get the mud and smell out of my hair.
Steve is our rooster he was great, he kept watch over our laying hens and constantly warned of impending trouble. Yesterday Steve decided I was trouble, the 7-inch scratches he left on both of my shins was not nice and they still hurt. Steve became tacos and according to the kids we need to raise some more Steve’s.
Badgers are scary insane! That is all.
Unlike our pastured raised chickens and turkeys our laying hens do free range around the barn yard. They are extremely helpful in keeping the fly levels down. We take a head count every night when we lock them up, to make sure none are left out for the foxes and owls at night. Three nights ago, we were missing one. We searched everywhere and eventually one of the kids found her in with Mama. She was cuddle up in between Mama’s legs and up next to her belly. When I went to get the chicken, Mama woke up and would not let me near the hen. I tried for at least 5 minutes, pushing Mama away while chasing the hen around the pasture. I even went and got Casey and the two of us together could not catch hen. Eventually we gave up. The next morning the hen was still alive and that night once again it was cuddle up with Mama. Mama now has a pet chicken.
The last year has been extremely demanding and challenging for raising pigs and cattle on pasture without moisture. The lack of moisture in late Winter and Spring really hurt the cool season growing periods and had a huge impact on grass regrowth. It took everything thing we had to manage our grasses and insure we did not overgraze or destroy any of the pasture. Yesterday when we went to look at our pastures, we really felt like our hard work paid off. Today I went to check out our pasture, and found it loaded with antelope. I am not sure if I should be complimented by the fact that what seems like all of the antelope in Colorado and Wyoming think our pastures are the best or pissed off that there is 800 antelope on my pasture, none on any of my neighbors and they are eating all of the grass we worked so hard to grow for our cows and pigs! UGHHH!
Billy the Kid is our herd bull and although he is a great breeder, he definitely has a personality disorder. A couple months ago while moving cows to a new pasture, he and I got in argument about what gate he was supposed to go through. A month later he and Casey got in to an “argument” over the water tank. Casey wanted to shut the tank off, and Billy did not want the tank turned off. Needless to say, we have been watching our back around him and making sure we always keep an eye on him since then. Today I was watering the cows and Billy was on one side of the fence and I was on the other side. The entire time I was watering Billy was grunting, pawing dirt and making a huge challenge scene. This went on for about five minutes until Billy was so close to the fence, I could touch him. For whatever reason I decided to reach out and try to scratch his head, as soon as I touched him, he lowered and moved his head, so I could scratch his ears. I scratched his ears to the point that both hands where tired. As soon as I stopped scratching, he would start up again and not stop till I reached out to scratch him again. I wish he would realize that I would be less reluctant to scratch his ears if he was not making such a racket. He reminded me of my children when they were two!
I spend a lot of time watching cows and pigs on pasture, there are many days where I talk more to animals than humans. One of the great things about animal friends is they are great listeners and often, they always agree with you! Animals are not constrained with the social expectations of makeup, weight, size, labels or so on. Animals are uniquely individualistic and yet herd dependent. I can never get over how pasture raised pigs and cows can be so quick to fight with each other within the herd, but even quicker to defend one of their own.
Mama is still here, she is still retired. We have temporarily moved her to the barn because her retirement home was in the way of the new septic system. She is enjoying daily walks (weather permitting) and eating her daily fill of garden scraps. Once the septic system is done, she will be back in her retirement home, causing major slowdowns on our road as travelers slow down to figure out what she is.