The Peaceable Kingdom: Raising Goats and Pigs

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Goats in the pasture on the farm.

The fence around one corner of our Peaceable Kingdom sags a little and the gate is made of an old screen door and pieces of lath saved from repairing the kitchen. Elegant, it’s not. But then elegance never really was one of our things. It keeps the goat people in what we think of as their place.

Their idea of their place has more to do with pruning the orchard and browsing along the hedgerow. Still, they seem happy here and we tell them they’re lucky to have a cozy shed that the sun shines in, with manger space for all and the option of going out into their own yard at will.

We’ve noticed that larger, more professional herds are often, necessarily, very closely confined. That doesn’t prevent us, though from dreaming of a big capacious barn with room for cats and broody hens and hay and all the goats we could name. And we could name quite a few! Each goat we meet seems to be like no other and we’re already looking forward to next kidding time and speculating on what we’ll get.

In the other corner of the Peaceable Kingdom we have . . . pigs. Got them in the spring as feeder pigs. Funny fellows. We haven’t named them, since we intend to eat them and know the parting will be tough enough as is. Mike says “Man is the only creature who makes friends with the animals he intends to eat.” How will our OWN ham taste? I hope we’ll be able to enjoy it! We talk about butchering them ourselves but we really haven’t the equipment, much less the whole idea of how to proceed. It would be good to do it cooperatively, if only we knew some other amateur pig raising cooperators!

The pigs are fenced in adequately for now, away from the goats. But we know the fencing won’t last when they’re stronger and rooting more. We’ve been advised to either ring their noses or to put in a low strand of electric wire. We lean toward the wire and someday soon–however reluctantly–we’ll get one strung.

We hope that as much as possible the pork will be OUR pork. That is, fed as many home-grown meals as we can provide, as unchemicalized as we can get it and positively without hormones and antibiotics. We bought a bag of hog feed, but give the pigs only a canful a day, often mixed with skim milk. The rest of their chow is dandelion plants–greens, flowers, root and all–and table and garden scraps. They’ve learned to like these and they do seem to be growing! Also, they’re pigs for comfrey and will eat all we give them.

I had never felt a pig before. The goats are bony, but they do have some give to them. But the pigs have no give at all . . . they’re so solid that it’s really funny.

The goat kids still get their three bottles a day and their little noses poke out between the slats of the gate to remind me when it’s time. They really could be weaned but since we have plenty of milk, we figure we’ll give them a good start. We’d like to breed them early, at 9 or 10 months, and the milk will help them to develop a sturdy frame to carry the early pregnancy.

The kids eat hay, weeds, spent flowers and goat chow. When the sun is hot they curl up together in the shade, chewing their small cud. They look so solemn then . . . and peaceful too. And when we fork out the bedding from the goat shed, they play “King of the Mountain” on the pile, full of wild leaps and springy jumps. Goats are such fun.

Visitors sometimes wonder how (and why!) we get it all done . . . the manure spreading, hay making, yogurt incubating, canning, animal feeding . . , How can we tell them? Anyway, if we weren’t doing this, we’d be going to some inane meeting to make ourselves feel useful. As it is, we feel that caring well for our own corner of the earth makes sense, and we’d rather DO it than sit and talk about what should be done.

Meanwhile the borage is blossoming and we think again . . . we really should have bees. Could they buck our strong west wind?

Weeds are at the stage now that we just couldn’t believe back in April and May. Slabs of spoiled baled hay between garden rows has helped a lot, but there’s still plenty of fox thistle, amaranth, mallow and smartweed punctuating the rows. It’s some consolation, though, that the goats relish most of this volunteer growth. Adds another dimension to the chore of weeding. We wrench off the roots as we weed and gather basketsfull of tossed salad for the goat people.

We put in about twice as many peas this season as we did last year since we think they lose less flavor in freezing than beans do. We eat lots of peas fresh at meals in June and July too and don’t even count the quarts we enjoy straight from the pod out in the patch. Picker’s reward! Those are the sweetest of all.

July barrels on, hot and full of growth. We’ve just stopped cutting rhubarb. For the first time ever, this year, we had enough rhubarb. One of the ways we like it best is cooked briefly with honey and served cold over yogurt. Much more refreshing than ice cream . . . also cheaper and far more nutritious.

Soon we’ll go camping for a week or two and we want to explore the wilds of West Virginia. Twelve year old Mary Grace developed an interest in folk remedies last year when we camped in the Blue Ridge mountains, so she’ll be collecting and drying herbs as we roll along. All the window locks will be festooned with leafy bundles. Must remember to pack some string.

Peace, sun, shade and wild things to you all . . .

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