Frank & Fern Feral

Barrow, Alaska
2000-2001 
In October 2016, a city referendum renamed the city from Barrow to its traditional Iñupiaq name, Utqiaġvik.

 The non-sunset in July, 2000. The sun just went around in a circle in the sky. This was around midnight. The ripple in the water in the foreground is a baby whale.




Coast Guard cutter in the background

Polar bear cage used for old movie prop, somewhere out on the tundra west of Barrow.

 Will Rogers, Wiley Post monument eleven miles west of Barrow.

I made my parka – northern opossum liner with wolf ruff and trim, denim cover.
 

Bowhead whale butchering by local Inupiaq Eskimo
 

The bones and scraps were all taken out to the point, away from town so the polar bears would gather there, away from the people.

 
Dogsled ride on the Arctic Ocean, May 28th, 2001

 

Point Barrow, May 2001

From the adventures of Frank & Fern
 

Fern, the Pig Trainer

Just typing the title for this article makes me laugh. If you’ve been reading here for long, you’ve read that I hate pigs. I’m afraid of pigs. I want to raise pigs for food, but don’t like them at all. I’m just not a pig person. Or wasn’t until recently, as recent as May 15, 2015, five and a half short months ago.
 

May 19, 2015


Well, after we decided to add pigs to our homestead for the benefits they will provide after the SHTF, I decided it was time to change my tune. So I did. Now we have pigs, and they’re decent enough animals. I’m not afraid they’re going to bite me all the time anymore. I’ve realized that their behavior can be shaped, similar to any other animal, whether it is a dog, or a goat, or a pig.

I admit, I do pay more attention to Lance, the boar, and Liberty, our gilt, than I do the barrows, our future dinner. We plan on having Lance and Liberty around for a very long time, so we want them to be relatively tame and easy to work with. This is very similar to the way I treat the goats. I pay a whole lot more attention to the does and very little to the buck or wethers. It’s just the nature of things. American Guinea Hogs are smaller pigs, 150 to 250 pounds full grown, and known to be slow growers. We originally thought about butchering the barrows in December when they will be nine months old, but there is just not a lot of meat on them yet. For now, the plan is to wait until February or March when they will be close to a year old.

barrow


We still feed the pigs very little grain. They get scraps from the kitchen, stuff out of the pantry we don’t eat anymore, like macaroni or cereal, old powdered milk mixed with water or the liquid from a jar of green beans or squash. Stuff like that. In the morning they get two small green bean cans of dairy goat ration. We don’t by pig feed specifically for them. They graze to their hearts content in their one to two acre pasture, and appear to be healthy, happy pigs.

We have been asking folks questions about pigs, their health and behavior, since we have never raised them before. The consensus appears to be that Liberty looks pregnant, which is good. We are hoping she is, and have a rough guesstimate of a January 10thish due date. With that in mind, seeing how she is low pig on the pecking order, um, make that oinking order, I wanted to make sure she is getting enough to eat so not only can she feed her growing babies, but continue to grow herself since she is not an adult, or sow yet. Thus the title of this article.

Pigs are strong, quick, scrappy creatures. Once the feed is poured out in the pan, it’s every pig for themselves. Since we haven’t raised pigs before, I’m not real sure how to think like a pig yet, but I’m learning. Lance is the largest of the four and can easily move the others out of his way to get the most food. I noticed this a month or so ago and started feeding in two pans instead of one. This resulted in Lance eating out of one pan, while Liberty and the two barrows ate out of the other. I used this observation to try to develop a way to feed Liberty by herself.

I moved the feed pans over by the pen we have set up. If I could get Liberty to go into the pen to eat, I could shut the gate, let her eat, then when she was finished, let her out. First I tried feeding everyone in there and running the boys out. That definitely didn’t work. Then I tried feeding everyone right outside the pen in one pan, and trying to get Liberty to go into the pen to eat. That didn’t work. I ended up waiting for her to be on the pen side of the feed pan, they always go around in a circle as they eat trying to get to the ‘good stuff’. At first I kind of lifted Liberty’s front end by the shoulders and aiming her at the pan in the pen. This didn’t work for a day or two, then all of a sudden it did. Yea!

Lance

The next day, Liberty walked right into the pen and I shut the gate, fed the boys, but when I opened the gate to feed her, out she came, not to go back in. Humphf. Now what? Keep trying. I did the lifting by the shoulder thing for several more days. Sometimes she was willing to go in and eat, and sometimes she wasn’t. After about 10 days there was around a 60% success rate. Not bad for a novice pig trainer, I thought. I realized that if I put food in the pan closest to the pen, then in the pan farthest from the pen, Lance would go to the far pan and the others, including Liberty would stay closer to the pen. I stayed consistent in this routine for a few days and it worked.

Liberty

For the last few days I have been pouring out some feed in pan #1 by the pen, then pan #2 for Lance, then pan #3 in Liberty’s pen. As I pour out Liberty’s feed, I tap the side of the bucket to draw her attention, then I walk out and pat her on the shoulders and tell her to come on. For three consecutive feedings it worked great. Then, this morning as I was tapping the side of the bucket, in walks Liberty to the pan at my feet and starts eating. Hallelujah!

Twirling barrows
Liberty

At first Liberty was fussy and anxious when she finished eating and found herself penned up alone. Now she just talks to me as I come back to let her out. Once I open the gate she walks right up to me waiting for more food or a pat on the back. Now that we’ve reached this point, I’m hoping she continues to trust us a little more. It will be very interesting to see how birthing and raising piglets works out. The docile nature of this breed of pig is well documented. Most folks don’t even separate the sows and boars during, or after the piglets are born. Since Liberty is getting used to eating alone, I should be able to continue this routine while she is nursing, insuring adequate nutrition for her and the piglets, at least that is my theory for now. Again, we’ll just have to see how it all works out.

Fern, the pig trainer. I never thought in a million years I would ever be doing anything like this, or writing about it either, for that matter. Just goes to show that you never know what life will bring you. Sometimes it something that will increase your chance of survival, and in that case, it’s a gift for which I am truly thankful.

Until next time – Fern

 

This is not Liberty.

This is not Liberty either.

This is Liberty.

Pig Tales, Volume 3

Even though Frank and I are still a little cautious around the pigs, they have become a welcome addition to our homestead. I am very pleased with the demeanor of our American Guinea Hogs. They have some little quirks that we are slowly trying to shape more to our liking, though. Like taking the end of our shoes in their mouth when we enter the pasture. I still haven’t figured out if it is a greeting or a taste test. Either way, I really don’t like it. I keep picturing Lance, full grown at around 200 pounds wanting to ‘taste test’ my shoe. With my foot in it. I really don’t relish that idea at all.
 

Lance


Then there is Liberty. She like to run right behind me when I am walking to the feed pan, and bump my back foot as I pick it up to take the next step. I also picture her full grown around 180 pounds. She could easily trip me and make me fall. On the ground is somewhere I do not want to be in a pig pen.

Liberty


Then this evening when Frank went in the pasture to feed the pigs, one of the barrows bit the back of this leg. That didn’t go over too well, and he received a correction with a shoe. This is one behavior that will not be tolerated. We need to be able to go into the pasture without the risk or fear of being bit. We don’t want to raise pigs with unacceptable behavior due to our ignorance of normal pig behavior since we haven’t raised them before. There is still a lot to learn.

When I went to the pig pasture to take pictures for this article, the pigs were down at the pond. I was hoping they would be. The first one surprised me by coming up over the pond bank. One by one they all came over to see me expecting to be fed, even though I have never fed them in this location. It’s just that most of the time when they see me it is feeding time. It took them a while to figure out that there was no food forthcoming.

 

What the pigs showed me were the trails they have created through the tall grass and weeds around the pond. Some are right at the edge of the water and some are farther out into the vegetation.

I was pleasantly surprised when one of the trails took me right past these beautiful flowers. Does anyone know what this is? All I know is that it is a three foot tall weed that I truly enjoyed. It is as close to blue as any flower I’ve seen.

After I made it around the pond to the far side the pigs lost interest in following me. That’s when they showed me where their wallow is located. I don’t think I would have ever figured it out if they hadn’t shown me.

At first, the pigs would wallow on the west side of the pond closest to the barn, but there wasn’t any shade. Now they have found shade on the south side of the pond in the form of these tall, grassy weeds. Pretty smart if you ask me. The water is shallow there, and the grass provides the shade they need. 

The pigs are now 4 1/2 months old, and growing nicely. Most pigs would be much bigger than these by now, but since our pigs will only reach about 200 pounds, they are doing well. According to everything we’ve read and the folks we’ve talked to, Liberty should be coming into heat in about a month and a half. I hope they all get along during that time since we are not planning on separating them until she is ready to farrow.

Our biggest fear in getting the pigs was that they would get out. That hasn’t happened and they don’t seem inclined to even try as far as we know. They are comfortable with their territory and seem to get around quite well. I don’t think they will ever run out of things to eat. This pasture could hold many more pigs, but we don’t plan on having more than one breeding pair, with two to four barrows on the hoof awaiting the dinner table. There will be piglets around from time to time, but we will sell the extras when they are eight weeks old and ready to wean.

Liberty


Lance


Having piglets will be the next big step for us. If that goes well, I guess we will officially call ourselves pig farmers. And goat farmers. And chicken farmers. And vegetable farmers. I guess that makes us homesteaders. It’s who we are. There’s no place like home.

Until next time – Fern

Canning the Garden & Other Stuff

It is HOT! Sorry to yell, but it really is hot here. There are some clouds forming and we might get some much needed rain, even though there’s not a great chance of it. We had record rainfall in the spring, but with these hot temperatures, we are definitely in need of more. Since the afternoons are way to hot to work outside, we have been canning up a storm, not everyday, but more often than not lately.

We finally finished canning the four bushels of peaches we bought. We broke about four or five jars by trying to put them into a hot water bath we had just taken a load out of. I was thinking that since we were putting boiling water over the peaches they would be fine. They were not. Room temperature peaches and boiling water isn’t really all that hot. The last batch of peaches we heated up and didn’t lose a jar. Lesson learned. 

Peach sauce on the left, then plums and garlic

We made a batch of peach sauce from a recommendation in one of the comments we received. Thank you! It was simple, it just took a few days of simmering to cook it down to the consistency we wanted. Wash the peaches, pit, cut out any bruises or bad spots, cut up and cook it down. That’s it. We did add some fruit fresh to prevent darkening, but the sauce does darken some naturally as you cook it down and run it through the water bath. From a half bushel of peaches we ended up with 11 pints. I like the idea of including the peels instead of taking them off. Has anyone canned peach slices with the peel on? I wonder if that would work? I know there are nutrients in the peel just like with apples and potatoes. I may try it next time.

We have continued to can our Cushaw and Buttercup winter squashes because the ones we’ve picked so far aren’t keeping well. They developed during the really wet weather and are getting soft spots or outright starting to rot already. 

We have one hill of yellow squash left alive that the squash bugs haven’t killed. I probably squished about 30 bugs this morning. I have also sprayed them with a water, baking soda, Dawn soap combination followed by a dose of diatomaceous earth. They have killed all of the Buttercup winter squash and are working on the Cushaw. This morning I planted more of all three kinds of squash in an attempt to grow a fall crop. We will see how they do.

 

We get enough cowpeas to can about once a week for now. Once the new patch of peas starts producing we will have many more. After we fill the shelf with all we want we will start drying them to use for winter feed for the goats, pigs and chickens. 

We haven’t canned very many green beans, and I was hoping for about 70 or 80 pints at least. The leaves on most of the plants look like lace from the beetles and worms. What a year for bugs. I will be planting more beans in an attempt to get a fall crop from them as well. We plan to disc up quite a bit of the garden tomorrow so I can start planting turnips, carrots, potatoes, green beans, beets and I’m not sure what else. Some of these crops will do well after a frost and some won’t. I will start some cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprout seedlings before long as well.

We tried our ‘new’ canner that we had problems with again, we found out it is a 2008 model, and it still leaks around the lid. After two calls to the factory the technician recommended we go over the seal with some ‘000’ steel wool and lubricate it with olive oil instead of Vaseline. When we started using our first All American the recommendation was Vaseline, now they are finding the lid sticks less with olive oil. We have yet to try this out, but will let you know how it goes when we do.

In the meantime we got out our tertiary All American and it works great. You know the saying, three is two, two is one, and one is none? That’s why we have three canners, two of which had never been out of the box until a few days ago. Since I have been very serious about filling our shelves with food this summer, it was time to get out a second canner so I can run both of them at the same time. It saves a lot of time. Like today.

We have some old pinto beans that are getting hard to cook. It takes a long time. So I decided to put a big batch on the stove last night and cook them for a while, let them soak overnight, cook them for a few hours this morning, then can them in pints. Well, there were a little more than 32 pints, so we will eat some for supper as well. Our model 921 All American canners hold 16 pints, and I would highly recommend them. As we were putting these beans in the canner, Frank made a great recommendation. The next time we are at the big box store, we’ll pick up a 50 lb. bag of pinto beans to can. Then, if the time comes that we need to eat these old beans, we will, but for now, we’ll use fresh ones. We can always grind the old beans into flour as another way of accessing the nutrition they contain.

So far, our canning efforts this summer have produced this yield.

  •  7 pints of green beans
  • 20 pints of yellow squash

  •  5 pints of beets
  • 10 pints of carrots
  • 12 pints of cowpeas
  • 11 pints of peach sauce
  •  7 pints of plums
  • 16 pints of minced garlic
  • 68 quarts of peaches
  • 34 quarts of winter squash

The canned minced garlic turned out fine even though it browned as we canned it. The texture is very soft, not really a minced texture anymore, but it smells fine and works well cooked into a dish. I look forward to using it and may do another batch, just to have it on the shelf. I have neglected to include enough garlic in our diets, and this has turned out to be a good option for me.

I’m glad we have put up this much food, but it really isn’t very much food if I stop and look at it. If we were to have to depend upon what we are stocking away as our sole source of nutrition, we would be in trouble. Big trouble. So, I will keep trying to add as many things to the shelves as I can. Before long our oldest baby chickens will be ready to butcher. We will freeze a few for

convenience and because we like fried chicken, but many of them will end up in a jar on the shelf along with some chicken broth. We still have wethers that should have been butchered long ago out grazing in the pasture. They will probably wait until fall. They’ve waited this long, what’s another month or two? Some of that meat will also end up in jars on the shelf. And then there are the two barrows, castrated pigs, that are wondering around in another pasture. In time, they will make their way into the freezer and into jars on the shelf. That will help with our preserved food supply. I still count them now even though they are still out there walking around. I call them meat on the hoof, or I guess in the case of the birds, meat on the foot.

It is a good summer. There is much to do everyday. Do we get it all done? No, not even close. But what we don’t get done one day waits for us the next day. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? Things just don’t get done by themselves. We find it hard to prioritize things sometimes since there are a number of things that need our attention. The squash bugs really got the upper hand while I was canning peaches. I noticed this morning that some of my elderberries have already ripened and disappeared, probably into the mouth of a bird. I want to make some elderberry syrup this summer since it’s so good for colds. Yet another thing to put on the list. Then I wanted to check on the apple tree next door, and then……..

This thing we all feel coming gets closer everyday, do all you can to be ready.

Until next time – Fern
 

Pig Tales, Volume 2

All the worry and dread about getting pigs has pretty much been laid to rest. Our pigs are doing very well. They are funny when they snort and squeal at us for their food. If you are walking around in the pasture with a bucket and don’t go directly to the feed pan, they follow behind and do this little squealing sound, especially Liberty, our gilt.

We told you about Liberty’s mother and the problems the breeder indicated happened to the litter. The sow had four piglets, but two of them were dead. Because of that we thought it would be wise to get a second gilt, just in case there are problems with Liberty’s genetics. We had a young gilt lined up that we were going to pick up around the 20th of June, but when I called to set up a day and time, the breeder indicated he needed them to be picked up right away. He had lowered his prices and advertised on Craigslist to move them out in a hurry. We had things lined up for several days and were not able to drop everything to make a fast trip that would take all day, so I called him back and declined. 

In some ways that really simplifies things. We already have these four pigs, and the new gilt would have been at least a month younger. We wondered if she would be able to get through the field fence that surrounds the pasture. Now we won’t have to worry about that. 

The pigs enjoy anything we bring them. They usually get some whey with a variety of other things. We are using up some of the older canned goods in our pantry as part of their feed. I appreciate being able to turn this older food into new food via the pigs’ stomachs. We fed them the dried corn and sunflowers we grew last summer, along with a variety of garden scraps. They get a little pasta, lentils or beans as well. 

 

The great thing about our pigs is that the vast majority of their feed comes from the pasture. They root around all over the place, even in some of the tall, overgrown areas. 

 

We keep a small water pan for them by the barn in the shade, but the pigs get most of their water from the pond. When I went down to the pond this afternoon to try and catch a catfish, the pigs followed me grunting and squealing. After they realized I was not there to feed them, they started rooting around for something to eat. Liberty took a nap and almost rolled into the pond. That was funny. They eventually wandered off to do what pigs do. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch any fish for supper, but I am not a fisherman either. I find it to be extremely boring and I am not a patient person. It probably would have helped if I had the right bait and hooks for the fish I wanted to catch, but that’s okay. We had this pond built after we moved here in 2008, then we stocked it with minnows, hybrid blue gill, sun perch and catfish. Neither Frank or I like to fish, so it’s something we really don’t do. But lately, fish has sounded really good, so I thought I would give it a try. Maybe next time.

We are very pleased with our pigs so far. They have been a great addition to our homestead. The next step will be to butcher one of the barrows when they get big enough. We are really looking forward to seeing how the meat tastes and the amount of lard we can get from one pig.

By the way, I have to tell on Frank. One evening while I was in the barn milking, Frank was just going into the pig pasture to feed. The pigs came over to meet him, and I heard the funniest sound. You remember when you were a kid and you tried to make that noise with your nose to sound like a pig? That is what Frank was doing. I laughed out loud so much the goats and dog were looking at me wondering what was wrong with me. When Frank came back in the barn, I asked him if he was snorting at the pigs. He said, “Yes. Don’t you do that?” I started laughing again and told him no, I had never done that. Now that was funny.

Until next time – Fern

Getting Ready For Pigs

We spent part of today getting ready for the arrival of our American Guinea Hog piglets. The original plans included doing some of this work yesterday while the sun shined, but a relative’s unscheduled hospital stay, changed our plans. We were glad we had the opportunity to visit him for a while. So today before the rains arrived again, we rearranged some of the goats, brush hogged down some wet, wet, tall grass and weeds, and got ready for the pigs. Well, not really before it rained, because we got some light showers shortly before dawn. Thus, the grass was extra wet, but sometimes these things just can’t be helped, and you make do with the circumstances you’ve been given.

American Guinea Hogs. I had never heard of them until I read an article from Leigh at 5 Acres and a Dream last June. I had no idea a pig could grow so small. That is what captured my attention and started a slow,

gradual bit of research that has landed us in the current predicament, the adventure of becoming not only goat herders and chicken cluckers, but pig farmers as well. We can only pray it is not the misadventures of becoming pig farmers. If you have read here very long you have probably run across a statement from me saying something like this. “I hate pigs.” And I did. I just hope I don’t anymore. Part of that sentiment is because I am afraid of pigs. I think they will bite me. It’s kind of like being afraid of dogs. It’s just a fear that I have decided I want to get over, because the benefits of raising American Guinea Hogs can far outweigh this fear.

I am including a number of links throughout this article so you can see where my research has taken me. The first thing that captured my attention when reading Leigh’s description of her new pig was that they only grow to be about 200 to 250 pounds full grown, even the boars. I was very surprised. I had never seen anything about pigs being less than 800 to 1000 pounds or more full grown, and I didn’t want anything to do with animals that large. So I read the link she provided and thought it was very interesting that these pigs are naturally small. They aren’t miniatures, dwarfs or midgets of any sort, they are just naturally smaller than most commercial pigs.

Then I started looking up more articles, and found that another characteristic of these pigs is their docile, friendly nature. Well now, how is

a person that is afraid a pig is going to bite them going to handle a pig that wants to run over and be petted and scratched? I’ve decided I’m going to treat them like a dog. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But if a dog does something that is unacceptable they get corrected and trained to exhibit behavior that is acceptable. I plan, or hope, to do the same things with the pigs. I’ve read that they may try to jump up on you like a dog, but are easily trained not to, so their friendly personalities are another plus.

The next major plus from my perspective is that these pigs thrive on pasture and do poorly if they are confined and only fed grain, or fed too much grain. That’s great! We have been trying to produce more and more of our animal feed, and if these pigs are healthier and happier grazing in

a pasture, then wonderful, we have plenty of room for them to graze and grow. Another example Leigh has given me is that she feeds very little grain, and what she does feed, she sprinkles on the ground for the pigs to forage and root. I thought that was a great idea and will be doing the same. I will also now have another bucket to take to the barn at feeding time. The pigs will get whey from our cheese making projects as well as garden scraps and other kitchen waste. For instance. Today at lunch I emptied a jar of beets, and told Frank that after the pigs arrive the water from the beet jar will go into the pig bucket instead of down the drain. They will get all of the scraps that don’t go to the chickens or dog, and that will be great.

When I realized how small these pigs grow, I like to think of them as small, even though a 200 pound animal isn’t really very small, I thought about having another source of meat on the hoof. That’s how I think of our

goat wethers. They are just meat walking around in the pasture waiting to make it into the freezer. Frank and I can handle butchering a 150 to 200 pound pig, and it would be another great source of meat. But not only that, Guinea Hogs are well known for the quality of their lard, like some old heritage breeds used to be. These hogs will not only provide us with meat and lard, they don’t require a lot of feed to do so. The lard will provide us with a natural cooking oil, and we hopefully will also be able to use it in our goat milk soap recipe. The smaller carcass of these pigs will mean less meat to preserve before spoilage if we live in a grid down situation, as well. Just like with our goats, I view a smaller carcass to be to our advantage.
 
The breeders in the area that I have talked to all agree that these pigs are healthy, friendly, easy to manage and very productive. They don’t require vaccinations or worming, even in our area that is known for wet years that are very conducive to the worm population, like this year. Guinea hogs will have litters of six to eight piglets about three times every two years on average, according to my research. This is yet another benefit to raising this small, heritage breed pig.

These are the reasons why we are embarking on the adventure of adding pigs to our homestead. These animals don’t grow very large, they thrive on pasture, they are naturally healthy, friendly and easy to manage, the meat and lard are well known to be of excellent quality and we will be able to butcher them ourselves. A concern I have, and will for a while, is if they will stay in their pasture. Our fencing should hold them just fine according to all I have read, but this is my biggest concern so far. We’ll see if more arise after their arrival.

Friday, if the weather cooperates, we will be bringing home two boars and one gilt. This is new vocabulary for us. I had this vague notion that a male pig was a boar because you hear of wild boars being hunted in these

parts, but that was about it for my pig vocabulary. One of these boars will become a barrow when we have it castrated to raise for meat. We will keep them both intact for a while until we decide which one we want to keep for a boar. The gilt, or young female, will become a sow when she has her first piglets. We have debated back and forth about whether to get one gilt or two, and actually thought we had been able to line up two boars and two gilts that we could pick up all in one trip from two different locations. Then when I called to make the arrangements, I found that one of the gilts had been injured, so there was only one available. I don’t know if you ever have these feelings, but I felt like that was an answer to our question. God answered our question by only having one available for us at this time. It’s interesting how things happen sometimes.

I hope to have a report for you Friday or Saturday, with pictures and hopefully no mishaps. I freely admit we are entering this adventure with a little trepidation and doubt, especially on Frank’s part, but entering it we are. Fear is a powerful thing. It can control nations, it can preclude success, it can tear down dreams. But only if you let it. There is a quote somewhere that says something like, courage is fear in action. Maybe that would be a good name for a pig…… I wonder what the goats and Pearl are going to think. That should be interesting.

Until next time – Fern