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Thoughts from the home front

Here it is, the day after Christmas.  It seems like the holiday just snuck up on us.  I have a stack of Christmas letters on my desk waiting to be addressed and sent.  The stack of bills is overshadowing the letters.  I did my first shopping on the 20th.  I think we’ve had one day of sun the whole month of December and everyone is a bit tired and cranky, but almost maintaining.  Bring on the cod liver oil (or tuna oil, as is the case for most of my crowd)!!

Mark decided that this morning was the time to castrate the few little guys who slipped through before.  They aren’t so little anymore, so it’s a bit of a rodeo.  Actually, these heritage pigs are easier to handle once you get your hands on them than the newer breeds.  These guys don’t panic when their world is changed like the white pigs do–they are much steadier mentally and don’t stress as easily.  On the other hand, they do size up a situation quicker and have their own ideas about things.  I was watching Joe and Sam try to get all the weaner pigs into the barn.  This involves going up a ramp and through a little door.  The pigs do this constantly all day, so that part isn’t new.  What is new is all of them doing it at one time during the day.  Pigs universally have a penchant for stubbornly refusing to do the one thing you want, at any cost, and in defiance of any reverse psychology you may try.  Even with food inside the barn there was a group–mostly comprised of the intact males–who ran back and forth all over the outside corral and refused to go in.  The boys have done this countless times, so they had it pretty well coordinated to open the inner gate keeping the inside ones in and letting a few outside ones in each time they ran past.  They are amazing (Joe and Sam, that is) to watch work together like that.  A couple bigger ones that had to get inside they ended up having to tackle.  It’s reminiscent of school playground games like “Red Rover.”  Finally both boys landed on a 50 pound pig.  Grins signified success as they recovered from their aerobic workout and deposited him inside.  Then they came and unloaded the feed I brought home, tossing 50 lb. bags of grain around.  As three year old Jim practiced his jumping prowess off the straw bales, I realized what capable young men my little boys have become.  Gratifying and wistful all at the same time.

The pig situation deepens.  Mark was needing to process a group of our feeder hogs in January and decided to see if they would be OK through the USDA facility we’ve used before or if the vet would reject them.  The reason he did this is that the state rejected the health paperwork done for a friend of ours and threatened the license of the vet who certified the pigs as healthy.  Once an animal is in a USDA kill facility it can not be released back to the farm.  If it can’t go through for some reason (illness, injury, or a quality control issue), it must be disposed of or transferred directly to another USDA facility.  This place had done Mangalitsas for us before, but now that our name would flag because of the lawsuit, Mark wanted to be sure he wouldn’t have to pay a “disposal fee” because his pigs may be deemed “feral.”  Sure enough, the USDA inspector had a form listing the characteristics, with photos.  The processing plant owner said Mark’s pigs could be tagged on the kill floor, and so he’d rather not deal with the problem.  It would be a major problem for the plant and for Mark, and would cost them both considerable time and money.  The fellow wasn’t being mean or unreasonable–just practical.  In both cases the state is making our veterinarians the enforcers by threatening their license to practice if they break rank.  What is also disconcerting about both situations is they involve agencies other than the DNR, agencies that deal with farms that raise animals for USDA slaughter: the Michigan Dept. of Ag and the United States Dept. of Ag.  Wait a minute, you may say, the DNR simply wants to  stop the flow off the hunting preserves, they aren’t after traditional type farmers.  HA!  Only a farm such as ours uses a USDA processing facility.  Hunting operations use custom exempt shops that do animals for the owner’s use.  Farms such as ours sell live animals across state lines for other farms to use for food and breeding purposes.  Hunting operations do not sell or move live animals off the property.  So, this was all rather upsetting.  Our farm is basically embargoed.  We can raise all the pigs we want, but can not move them out to our market.  That cuts off cash flow, effectively starving the farm financially and the pigs practically.  In his last video, Mark compared this action to the Soviet blockade of Berlin post-WWII.  They attempted to gain control of the entire strategic city forcibly by controlling the food and fuel the people could have.  Bold American and British fliers provided about 4700 tons of food and fuel to the destitute inhabitants of the German capital and the Soviet hold was broken.  We, the citizens of this country must stand up and stand together.  The purposes of this government are in defiance of the people’s expressed will.  This administration seems to go that way more often than not (reference the Canada to Detroit bridge issue and the handling of the “right to work” legislation).  This has all sparked a lot of discussion about what to do with the pigs, examination of any possible options, and several sleepless nights for the feeder of the pigs.  Not exactly “holiday spirit” stuff.

Every year brings its challenges.  Last Christmas Mark had a broken leg and Keith had a broken arm.  This year we’re all healthy.  Today we’re enjoying some much needed sunshine.  For Christmas the big boys got a weightlifting set and a punching bag.  That kept everyone busy on Tuesday.  Yesterday the kids went dogsledding for the afternoon and downhill skiing for the night.  While they were away Jim and I started making cookies.  Unfortunately, I used all the eggs for scrambled eggs in the morning and the hens took a break for the day, so no eggs.  That’s part of farm life–the seasons.  This is the season for slowing down, resting, and preparing for the summer’s production.   Life’s not easy, but not all bad. The thought that is developing for me is that the world seems, on so many levels, to be getting exponentially more chaotic and potentially dangerous.  Fear is the byword.  Not only does it sell merchandise, but it can be used to manipulate individuals and groups.  It is an energy and health sapping force.  Yet it’s easy to be there.  It seems that the opposite is Peace.  Not roses and beautiful sunsets, but the little bird resting in a nook with a gale blowing around it.  It’s Peace that comes from something bigger than any of us and is loosly or not at all related to our actual circumstances.  It’s a good thing and a thing to be sought after in these times of ours.

We wish you, our readers far and wide, Peace in 2013.