Monday, December 29, 2008

This is a problem ....

(Note, I will put up my Christmas post soon, before the Epiphany).

We raise our pigs in "dry lots". We don't have enough pasture to raise them as we like. Our dry lots are not so dry with all the rain we have been getting these past few weeks. It hasn't been cold enough to suck the moisture out or hot enough to dry it out. Dry lots are supposed to be gently sloping so that rain can drain off. Most of our land is flat, real flat. Today we are going to be working on this problem before something bad happens.

Oremus pro invicem!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cows, Colonialism, and Christmas prep

Okay, it's been a few days since I've hung around here, and it will be a few more before I stop in again. So here's the catch up.

First a few pictures of our cow(s) and cowboys. These are all during the first week we had the calves. Of course one didn't make it. Pictures speak for themselves-no comment necessary.


For many years, I think, the people of rural America have been struggling with the realization that we are living in a colony. It is an irony especially bitter for Americans that, having cast off the colonialism of England, we have proceeded to impose a domestic colonialism on our own land and people ...The economy of a colony exports only "raw material" and imports only finished goods. It buys and sells on markets over which it has no control; thus both markets drain value from the colony. ... Thus, local life becomes the dependent-indeed, the victim-not just of the food industry, the transportation industry, the power industries, the various agribusiness industries, and so on, but also of the entertainment, the education, and the religion industries-all involving change fro goods once cheap or free to expensive goods having to be bought. - Does Community Have Value, Wendall Berry 1986

This comes towards the end of the essay. The beginning, defines community and gives a practical example is worth including in its entirety-but due to space limitations, you will just have to find it yourself.

Mrs. Curley and I have had an ongoing conversation (for years) about what (in terms of consumer goods and technology) we need, what we want, and what we get sucked into and need to purge.

The goal isn't self-sufficiency by yourself. It is a self-sufficient (or largely self-sufficient) community. Your neighbors are your insurance.

I have one anti-technology son. He is only 8, but he is dogged about it. Every time the car breaks he lets me know this wouldn't have happened if we used a horse and wagon. The other day in the shop he was watching as I built some boxes. On these I have to cut a rabbet (rebate or recess in the box sides to accept the bottom of the box). I can do it with the tablesaw (the second cut can be dangerous without the proper jig, which I haven't made, but I often do it), or I have a rabbet plane. In honor of mr. anti-technology, I took out the rabbet plane. I forgot how much I love using it. Funny thing is, it is an expensive tool (not quite as much as my old and inexpensive tablesaw) but it doesn't require electricity.


I got in the shop late this year, but still have accomplished a couple things. All the shopping is done (except we forgot to get white candles but think we can pick some up down town.) We bought our tree earlier than ever this year, but decorated it with purple and pink ribbon until the 4th Sunday of Advent. The ribbon came off and the lights went on. (I must say we have a pretty tree. Icicles are a must!).

Today, as in the past, I get my phonograph out and play records while I conduct the wrapping marathon.

Christmas cards... well we haven't got to them yet. For many years it was an every other year accomplishment. The past few we've done okay. This year...well the Christmas season is just starting....

This evening we will go caroling. The location is still undetermined. The past 4 years we have carolled at the Dollar General or Exxon across the street from DG in Bethune.

The Lord is Coming! Oremus pro invicem!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

.... William Safire in a recent column .... declared that our economy is driven by greed and that greed, therefore, should no longer be considered one of the seven deadly sins. "Greed," he said, "is finally being recognized as a virtue ... the best engine of betterment known man." It is, moreover, an agricultural virtue: "The cure for world hunger is the driving force of Greed." Such statements would be possible only to someone who sees the industrial economy as the ultimate reality. Mr. Safire attempts a disclaimer, perhaps to maintain his status as a conservative: "I hold no brief for Anger, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Pride or Sloth." But this is not a cat that can be let only partly out of the bag. In fact, all seven of the deadly sins are "driving forces" of this economy, as its advertisements and commercials plainly show. - A Defence of the Family Farm 1986, Wendall Berry

The last can be seen even more so 20 years later.


Funny story...not for the squeamish. Number 2 daughter comes in the house from the goat pen practically in tears. She hands Mrs. Curley a piece of unidentified goat fur and flesh.

She tells Mrs. Curley that one of the goats must have bitten it off another goat. Daughter thought is was a goat beard or the (I forget their names) thing-a-ma-jigs which hang off some, but not all goats necks.

Mrs. Curley looks at it in her hand, smells it, and then calls Number 2 Son over. "What is this?"

Number 2 Son: "Uh Ma, you know when we banded little Johnny? That's what came off!"



Picking up some chicks on Monday. Have to get my chicken tractor and a new chicken house built today.

Oremus pro invicem!

Friday, December 19, 2008

We don't have the pasture (or forest) I would like to have to slowly fatten our pigs. Thus we feed them commercial feed and corn, supplemented by generous friends who donate acorns, boiled scraps, and (at least this past summer) over-ripe watermelon from the neighbors.

Now we don't feed our breeding pigs corn, just the pigs we are raising for slaughter. And even then, the percentage of corn is low when young and really only becomes up to 50% of their ration when they hit 175-180 pounds.

I was reading in the 1920 Pork-Production by William Smith that hogs fatten better/faster (5-10%) if you feed them wet ground or crushed corn as opposed to whole corn. (From observing their manure, I am guessing the crush corn is digest better and thus converted to flesh more efficiently.)

It is interesting all the research done in this field.

Still, I would like to pasture my pigs and raise them more naturally. I have an idea ....

Oremus pro invicem!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who knew ...

that he was still alive until now? I am talking about "Slingin" Sammy Baugh who died this week at the age of 94. He still holds some passing records for the Redskins. I remember seeing his picture in a football hero book as a child. In the picture the Redskins were still in Boston-my old hometown

How did he get the nickname? It wasn't for his prolific (for the time) passing on the gridiron (from the Fox News story):

Baugh's reputation blossomed as a star high school athlete in football, baseball and basketball in Sweetwater. It began to grow during his college days at TCU.

It was there that he picked up the nickname "Slingin' Sammy" — but it wasn't for his passing. It was for the rockets he fired to first base as a shortstop and third baseman.

May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.

In case you missed it, the case (very persuasive) is made against the Big Box stores at the Distributist Review . I have to admit that while I don't like shopping at Walmart or the other big boxes, in fact, I do. I am faithful in patronizing the hardware store in town, but after that I don't have many choices.


Somewhat related, more from Wendell Berry:

We can only find it wonderful, when we put our minds to it, that many people now seem willing to mount an emergency effort to "save the family farm" who have not yet thought to save the family or the community, the neighborhood schools or the small local businesses, the domestic arts of household and homestead, or cultural and moral tradition-all of which are also failing, and on all of which the survival of the family farm depends.

This, written in 1986, may no longer be valid, that is I am not sure there is an effort any more to "save the family farm" except by those trying to make a go of it. Oh yes, there is a recent revival of people wanting to eat local and natural, etc. (I wonder how long this will last as the economy spirals), but it is amazing to me, after raising some pigs and seeing the market, and comparing the appearance and taste of supermarket pork and our pork, that anyone would buy pork in a supermarket again at all (not to mention other meat).

Yet, there are plenty of ordinary folks who don't want to eat something raised by someone they know, because the government wasn't involved. Huh-they are the problem!

Be forewarned, if you eat at my house the meat on the table (with the exception of turkey, and that will be changing) comes from our homestead.


Okay on to other stuff. Here's a picture of our outdoor dog, Duchess. She should be in with the goats. Her herding instinct (part collie, part spaniel) is evident every time she gets in with them. I don't know if I posted about it (too lazy to check), but 15 months ago our (former) vet told us she had Parvo and needed thousands of $$$ of treatment. The shelter where we got her disagreed. As you can see, she is alive and well.

TS inquired whether I was the trim bald guy in yesterday's photo gallery. Alas, I am not so trim, but am certainly much trimmer than a year ago today. I offer you an "after photo". You can search the archives yourself for a "before photo" if they actually exist. Clothes are falling off me because I am too cheap to buy new clothes if they still have wear left.

Finally, in this same vein, Number 3 Son presented me with this picture that he took. Perhaps I am trying out for the part of scrooge?
Now really finally, in my "new" book, Pork Production (1920) we find a picture of a prize-winning Hampshire Sow (on the right and below, and note, she is NOT pregnant). Compare her to my "best of class" Hampshire Boar, Tarzan. A lot has changed! Leanness is in.

Oremus pro invicem!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

With industrialization has come a general depreciation of work. As the price of work has gone up, the value of it has gone down, until it is now so depressed that people simply do not want to do it anymore. We can say without exaggeration that the present national ambition of the United States is unemployment. People live for quitting time, for weekends, for vacations, and for retirement; moreover, this ambition seems to be classless, as true in the executive suites as on the assembly line. One works, not because work is necessary, valuable, useful to a desirable end, or because one loves to do it, but only to be able to quit-a condition that a saner time would regard as infernal, a condemnation. This is explained, of course, by the dullness of the work, by the loss of responsibility for, or credit for, or knowledge of the thing made. What can be the status of the working small farmer in a nation whose motto is a sigh of relief: "Thank God it's Friday"? - Wendall Berry from A Defense of the Family Farm 1986

Not only do I agree with Mr. Berry in this essay, I have seen a difference in my attitude towards work in the past 4+ years. I used to be the guy who worked for the weekends-but now I know no difference and long for no difference (in general), when it comes to homestead work at least. I use every part of my mind and body in the process: design, build, fill, nurture, repair. Now I just have to make the homestead worthy of all the attention and investment.


More pictures.... this time from the Duroc slaughter of a week or so ago. First up is a pre-slaughter picture. Duroc is the large brown pig on the right. This is within 2 weeks of the slaughter. (Make careful note to compare Duroc here, the brown pig, with the last picture below.)

Next we have a shot of the men butchering a side.

Finally we have the boys scraping the hair from some pigs feet, with a few onlookers.

Now here is the interesting part. As mentioned yesterday, I picked up a book on swine production circa 1920's yesterday. Below is a champion Duroc sow. A lot more fat than the way hogs are bred for length and leanness today.

Oremus pro invicem!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Little Big Guy Redux

Turns out Number 2 Daughter took more and better pictures of the Little Big Guy slaughter in October. I guess she is not squeamish-if you are, the last picture may be a little rough for you (and this wasn't even the most gory of the pics.)

The first is self-explanatory. Jim Dorchak (Jim-I will send a few of these pics) and myself (in the hat) are skinning Little Big Guy.

I really like this second shot which is taken from the other side of the goat pen. You see the goats in the foreground. You see some little pigs to the left. And then you see Little Big Guy hanging there with a couple of the boys hanging around as Jim and I (barely visible) work.

Here's Number 1 Son working on the hide. He has several hides in progress now and has read up on various ways on tanning hides.

Lastly is Little Big Guy's head. Number 2 Son diligently scalded and scraped the head for Dr. C who wasn't present for this slaughter. Number 2 Son kept complaining that the hair kept growing back. By the way, this was a huge head.

Oh yes and what luck. We have an "antique shop" in town. I found two books on swine production from the earlier part of the 2oth century there. They are not in great condition, but stay tuned. It is amazing how attitudes on pork have changed. I will show you pictorially in the next few days.

Oremus pro invicem!

Have been swamped with both work and car know that thermostat? Was taking off the thermostat housing on Saturday and the bolt broke off. Fortunately it left about a 1/4 inch above the surface. Best bet is to heat it up and release it-anyone got an oxy-acetylene torch? Checked one out at NAPA on the way home from Mass this morning: $800 to get me started.

There is a machine shop/welder right outside of town who should have a torch...but I can't get it touch with him. So I talked to the one-man shop down town. I've only been to him for advice before-he stopped by the house a couple times too (Jehovah Witness). He doesn't have a torch but thinks he can get the bolt out.

We have pictures (some older) as the kids got some film developed too. Later tonight (Number 2 son's birthday today) I may have time to put some up.

Oremus pro invicem!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Name that tool

Picked this tool up at a yard sale in early November. What you can't see in the picture is the tip of the tool which has a notch or recess, much like the notch on a regular screw into which you would insert a flathead screw driver.

Obviously, I would think this tool is made to tighten or loosen (or simply turn) something fitting that notch-but what?

Oremus pro invicem!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Please pray for my good friend Jeff Culbreath and his family.

Oremus pro invicem!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Books and Shooting Pigs

Got Second Coming by Walter Percy out of the library last week. I don't know if I can finish it. He reminds too much of Flannery O'Connor (as posted in past years, I tried, but can't read her.)

Two books by Wendall Berry arrived from the main branch yesterday. One is a book of essays (Home Economics) and the other a novel, A Place on Earth. Looking forward to both. I have never read anything by WB.


In thinking about the two bullets it took on Monday to bring down Duroc, I am convinced it is the angle which counts. (Recall my 2 shots were textbook as to placement, but it still took 2 shots.)

When the pigs head is down (as in eating), unless you crouch to aim, the bullet impacts at a vastly different angle. Note that the usual spot is at the vertex of the X between the ears and the eyes-see illustration-but this is only when the pig is looking up at you. Note the angle of entry difference in profile view illustrations. Thus, if the pig's head is down, you have to aim high to actually have the same penetration effect-that is into the brain. (Another thing the book's don't tell you.)

In practice, I have only shot two pigs with their heads up. Both were textbook on my part and the pig's part. The other times, the pig's head was down. I have, by chance (or bad marksmanship) shot high and brought them down with one shot. (The other 2-shot pig, my first, proves the theory again, by the way.)

Oremus pro invicem!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Folk Art festival on Saturday...boys were a hit. I am proud of each and every one. I won a handmade knife (coveted by each of my boys) at the silent auction.

A little break on Sunday, but Monday it was Mass for the great feast, and then late in the afternoon, Duroc was slaughtered. My aim was true and hand steady...twice. For some reason the first one-perfectly placed-did not bring him down. The second-almost on top of the first did. The rest was smoooooooth. Much help from Dr. C. and Jim Dorchak , both of whom brought helpful sons.

We hung Duroc in the garage overnight (it was just barely cold enough) and butchered today. I ground and spiced the sausage meat this afternoon and we all cleaned the house.

Now I have to get ready for a course I am teaching later in the week.

I have two trips into the city left to go this week. Don't expect too much here. I am tired, but very happy. God is great. We have great friends and many, many blessings.

Oremus pro invicem!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

So, we changed the idle pulley and tensioner pulley in the S10, but I left the old belt on as I wanted to observe the failure if indeed we hadn't fixed it. Sure enough. We ran the car for 15 minutes or so while I just stood by. Number 2 son noted the engine temp was climbing. Then as it dropped, I saw the overhead radiator hose collapse in on itself and then sink, hitting the idle pulley, causing the belt to come off! So it wasn't a belt or pulley problem at all! The only indication on the hose was a shiny mark on the right underside.

I opted for the easiest and least expensive solution-new hose and new radiator cap. Changed them out today and preliminary indications look good. I'll have to take it on a few short trips before heading to the city with it.

God is good!

I do note that the economy collapse is beginning to affect people I know adversely. I pray that God helps these good people land on their feet.

Oremus pro invicem!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cold one this morning. I was in town yesterday earning some keep, which means manure collection this morning took twice as long and had almost 3X the yield. (I manure the pens both morning and evening. The longer you leave the manure uncollected, the greater the chance it will be ground into dirt.) With our sandy, sandy soil, manure is the key to gardening.

Confirmed the Golden Comets to hatch for early January from a local farmer. Golden Comets are crosses between RI Reds and White Leghorns and .... I forget. They are supposed to be most reliable layers-which need after this years sporadic laying come August. These Comets, paired with our RI Reds (and last years layovers), should gives us good egg yield.

Wood shop work gets delayed again. The belt on the '87 S10 has been slipping off. Based on my investigation, I think (and am hoping) it is the tensioner pulley and the idle pulley. Will change them out this morning once it warms enough to work without gloves. This should be a short job-God-willing.

Jeff Culbreath writes this morning (so who won the pool?) on music in his family. I too am amazed at how my children have picked up musical instruments and become proficient. In hopes to join them, I have learned a song or two on the harmonica. In the meantime, they have picked up the banjo, guitar, and harmonica themselves. When I join them, I feel like a fifth wheel. I can't sing (yes family of my youth, I finally admit it.) and can barely play. But I love the music in the house.

Oremus pro invicem!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

First a little advertising and shameless self-promotion this morning, from the press release:

Folk Art Show & Sale • Dec. 6th, 9AM-5PM • Held at the University of South Carolina, Lancaster. Dedicated to Southern Folk Art. They will have good provided by the Bo Thai Restaurant and live music will be provided by the Curly Family of Bethune. They are calling fold, outsider, avant-garde and self taught artists to join in. For an artist application, or more information, contact Robert Smith email or call 803-329-7471.

Yes that is us-but really not all of us. The boys mostly will be playing and singing. They have a little country band with banjo, guitar, harmonica, and sometimes slide whistle and auto harp. (I may put in a guest appearance for one song-but it is the boys' show.) If I get my act together, I will put some boxes and other wooden creations for sale at the show too.

Speaking of music and wood ... another tradition of our Thanksgiving day has been to sing and play music. This year I escaped without performing my rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man", but we still had loads of fun.

And Santa's shop is officially open, if a bit late. I was neatening the shop yesterday in anticipation of getting down to serious work on Wednesday. A lot to do with little time...

It's funny how things crop up when you are neatening up. I had found in the basement of our first house in Uxbridge, MA a metal door handle in which was stamped "Eat Dairy Maid Ice Cream". It has hung on my shop wall everywhere we've lived. I came across it yesterday just before I was heading to the hardware store to buy a door handle for our small barn.

I have discovered craigslist. I am sure I am a latecomer to the party, but what a resource! Found a possible source for some Comet laying hens for next season. (We have some RI Reds and will carry over some Golden Buff Orpingtons, but are still short a dozen or so hens.)

And in other farm news, the young gilts we brought home a week or two ago are really coming along. The biggest is certainly looking like a good possibility for a breeding sow. We'll see on the others.

Oremus pro invicem!

Monday, December 01, 2008

The time is coming

My sister an author/illustrator of Requiem Press' The Story of Our Lady of Victory (and a couple books from TAN) has a very timely and strong piece today at Catholic Exchange. Read it here .

And, I almost missed this: Greencastle's comments on Eric Brende's Better Off-Flipping the Switch on Technology, reviewed here a couple weeks ago.

Here's the lines I liked best (she is commenting on the quote from the book "Many hands make light work" and the thesis that part of that wasn't the physical help, but the friendship and camaraderie of working together makes work not seem so):

What struck me, is that this is the exact opposite of life as a suburban housewife. Perhaps the reason the feminist movement was able to be so persuasive, even, with all it’s talk of home life being lonely and unfulfilling. Here I am at home, the only adult around. I’ve got a few retired neighbors in the immediate neighborhood, and I’ve recently spied another stay-at-home mom who lives a couple blocks from me, but we don’t get together. It’s me and my mechanical servants (washing machine, plumbing, heat, stove, oven . . .) running the household.

But read the whole thing.

Oremus pro invicem!

"May He find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer ...."

and so begins this season of Advent.

One problem with long weekends without posting is that when I get back, there is so much to report on. However, this will not be a mega-post. I will try to spread things out over the week.

First up....the Turkey Bowl!!!!. For the first year we played it on Friday, and for the first year it wasn't a timed game (we played first team to 10 scores). And for the first time in a couple years, the game was close-due to the charity and understanding of number 1 & 2 sons (to be explained). Number 3 & 4 sons teamed with yours truly. My older two sons are now faster than I and more agile. Even so, with a 3 on 2 game, the team with 3 players wouldn't normally be allowed to have their quarterback run the ball. However, Number 1 & 2 sons graciously did allow for it. The result was that we were led by one at half-time, but ended up losing the game by 1 touchdown. It was fun and relaxed-more so than some of our timed games.


Over the weekend, a friend gave me the book Backyard Livestock by Steven Thomas, revised by Dr. George Looby. Interestingly, no matter how many books you have on livestock-specialized or generalized, you always find new information that the other guy left out. This book is no exception, and in addition, Mr. Thomas has his own unique way of putting things at times.

I remember before our first pig slaughter I consulted four books: 2 specializing in raising pigs, one specializing in slaughtering animals, and the final one a general book on homesteading (by John Seymour). Only the last mentioned that a pig will thrash after sticking even if knocked out by the .22-so watch out. Sure enough, the pig thrashes and you have to watch out.

But back to Mr. Thomas, here are a couple quotes:

Plucking is hardly fun, and after doing a few birds, you may be ready to switch to rabbits for your source of meat, and just raise chicken for eggs.

... If you've ever tried to take your pig for a walk, you'll know why this section (Handling Pigs) is here. A pig has a tendency to go everywhere but where you want it to go and often great distances in the wrong direction. For young pigs, as in picking your young shoat from a litter, corner it, grab one of the hind legs, and corral it in your arms. Holding it upside down by both hind legs often servers to quiet a shrieking piglet. As with most things, this is not guaranteed.

More later... breakfast calls.

May He find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer ... Oremus pro invicem!