Ramble On

Friday, December 28, 2012

Swine Song

Pig pile.  With a goat as observer.

Here’s a close-out post for the month, about the swine again.  In the issue of Mother Earth News I’ve been reading, there is a brief discussion of the economics of raising your own, so I can nerd out for a post about costs – that’s a treat for me, you know, as an economist. 

Speaking of which – there’s an old joke about economists…
How do you know which one's the extrovert in an elevator full of economists?
He’ll be the one looking at everyone else’s shoes.

Now back to the costs of "home growing" pork.

If you’re starting with a fifty pound weaner pig, the estimate is 585 pounds of ration to get the animal up to 250 pounds.  While this sounds somewhat inefficient, apparently it is better than what you get with beef but not as good as with chickens.  But then pigs are so much more fun, so you have that going for you…it’s got to be worth something.

Now, the article estimates the cost of the feed at between $155 and $250, depending on whether you’re going conventional or organic.  There are offsets – if you have good pasture, for example, or if, like Michael Perry described in “Coop,” you’re able to supplement with stale backed goods or old produce (I know David usually has veggies that aren’t in market condition that he’ll toss to the livestock), then you'll see some savings.

All totaled, once you’ve gotten the pig (technically, it's a hog once it passes 120 pounds, as we learned in yesterday's post) up to market weight, you’re looking at around $1.50 to $3.00 per pound, depending on your region.  That includes butchering, which we do ourselves…but then, David takes them up well past 250 pounds.  So all said and done, where probably doing better than the Mother Earth News article estimates.

And it is very worth it, even if it might come out a bit higher due to market conditions for the feed.  I can’t say I’ve tasted better pork than we were enjoying last year – and the experimentation with grilling the various cuts was well worthwhile…

You can check out my pork cooking adventures under the label “pork diaries” in the right hand column.

Here's to a Happy New Year.  Thanks for reading this year, see you in 2013!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Talking Pork

Pending bacon.
(Update on yesterday's post:  I had mentioned that we didn't stick around to see if the pigs had eaten the spent grain I'd brought.  David sent me a note letting me know that the swine had indeed gone out and sampled the offering I left...Jim, I just wanted you to know that shortly after you left the farm the pigs enjoyed their Christmas treat.  I was going to snap a photo for you but I did not have my phone with me.  Anyhow, between the pigs and chickens, the spent grain was gone in short order.)

Speaking of visiting the pigs, and by pigs, I mean the gilts and barrows…there is a fine article about raising your own pigs in the most recent issue of Mother Earth News.  The byline is credited to Oscar H. Will III, but I thought I might quote a few highlights here – today, specifically, some of the technical names used for these animals…although I will continue to use the terms pigs and hogs interchangeably.

  • Piglet – a term for baby swine that is rarely used by folks who raise pigs (although I like to use it and frequently have with my younger siblings)
  • Pig – a young swine, something you might be tempted to call a piglet - but that's what I call them most of the time
  • Shoat – an adolescent pig that has been weaned but weighs less than 120 pounds
  • Hog – a maturing swine that has passed the 120-pound mark
  • Boar – an intact male
  • Barrow – a castrated male
  • Gilt – a young female before her first litter
  • Sow – a mature female hog after her first litter
  • Weanling or Weaner – 8- to 12-week-old pig tht has just been removed from its mother
  • Feeder Pig – a young animal (generally less than 70 pounds) you might purchase to raise for pork

Now that I am in my second year of having a pork share with Public House Produce, I’ve seen just about the complete life-cycle for swine…with the exception of the breeders- the boar and the sow.  

But at least I know what to call them now.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pig Stop

Two of this year's pigs.
(And goats and chickens.)

For the last couple of weekends I’ve been able to make stops by Public House Produce with ulterior motives – David had a late broccoli crop, for one thing, and then with school out he had some spare eggs that filled out the second plan.  But the main reason I wanted to get by there was to check in on the pigs.

Chris and I have gone in again on shares of one of the hogs.  We’ll split a pork when the time comes. 

Working with David, that means you do your own butchering – likely in early February this year, judging from how the porkers are coming along – and I’m hoping that Chris will be able to join me for the upcoming event this year.  It’s quite a thing to be a part of and I’m looking forward to it.

(I posted about the experience last year under the “butchering” label, in the right hand column – although I’ve spared you any photos of the animals during the process out of respect for them.) 

Each year, David gets four feeder pigs – weaned youngsters that weigh 35 to 50 pounds, and raises them to a respectable weight.  Last year the bunch got to around 400 pounds on average – typically, industrially raised hogs are taken to around 250 pounds.  There is quite a harvest of meat from these guys, and even with only a half share, Mary and I are still working on some of the cuts, while Chris told me that he finished the last of their ham earlier this week.

I’ve been trying to find some kind of pig treat that I might be able to give these guys this year.  See, last year we had a great acorn crop here at Hawksbill Cabin – we have a stand of a dozen or so white oaks in the yard, and I collected around 10 pounds of acorns for the swine.  Later, when the red oaks in the Alexandria neighborhood were ripe, I got another three or four pounds together for them.

David told me about he and his daughter feeding the acorns to the pigs.  They’re very gentle with this particular pig delicacy, and snort around for them, picking them up gently in their mouths, lips almost pursed, to savor them.  A gentle munch to crack off the hull, and another to break the nut open…then a ginger chewing as if to enjoy every last crunch.

They’re typically nowhere near this careful with the rest of their food, he tells me.

Well, there were no acorns this year, so I decided to try and give the swine some spent grain from the big brewing enterprise brewer Dan put on Christmas weekend (I’ll post on that topic next week).  I collected all the grain in a five gallon bucket and hauled it over to the pigs.

When Mary and I got to the farm, the weather was a wintry mix, and the pigs were all snuggled together in a pig pile.  They woke up at my approach and were curious about what sort of treat a human might be bringing them.  They milled about at the door and finally ventured out into their pasture. 

But there was a light rain and some sleet mixed into the weather just then.  Even though they watched me slop out the grain bucket, they only made it a few feet out of the barn before they turned back inside.

So I don’t know if they like the spent grain or not…but  David assures me that even if they don’t, the laying hens that share that pasture with the pigs will.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Local Brews

I didn’t know it at the time, but my search for local – Luray and Page County local, that is – ingredients for my White House Honey Porter wasn’t quite finished after I picked up the honey from Jay and Ryanne.  I’d agreed to meet neighbor Dan (he of Beaver Run Brewery fame) in the afternoon, so he could try my Fingers Crossed IPA and give me some feedback (he liked it).  Once he knew I had a porter planned for the next batch, he shared with me a 2 oz package of dried Fuggles hops, grown in Luray.

I should write a short bit about why he was apprised of the suitability of Fuggles hops for the porter:  it turns out that several of the brewers have porters on the way – the next meeting of the Blue Ridge Brewers Association will feature three of them, as a matter of fact.  After we’d finished off my IPA, Dan shared a pint or two of his “Smokey Tale Porter.”

I’ll digress for a moment – this variety was totally local.  The grain was grown and malted in Sperryville, and the hops are from Luray.  This is a pretty big achievement – and to think that all three of the porters coming up will be substantially local is even more significant.  I’m looking forward to the next meeting and hope that I am out in Luray for it.

Back to my plans…Santa has indeed given me the White House Honey Porter kit.  Although it included a pound of honey (the kit is from Northern Brewer – the honey is from Minnesota), I’m substituting the Luray honey and then will add a dry hop touch with the Fuggles hops (the kit includes a couple of pouches of Willamette).

That will be good.  I may just call it "White House Ferry Honey Porter" after one of our landmarks.

Off to more brewing adventures.

In Search of Local Brewing Ingredients...

With the “Fingers Crossed” IPA coming out as a success, I got a second batch started – a seasonal brew I got from Northern Brewer called Saison Noel. This will be a Belgian style ale and won’t be ready for a few weeks. 

So I got interested in my next batch, and decided I might try the White House Honey Porter recipe.  This is one of two beers that are being brewed in the Obama White House using the honey that they collect from the hives on-site.  I got wind of Santa’s plan to give me a kit to brew the porter, and I wanted to add local honey to my batch just like they do at the White House.

I remembered that my friends Jay and Rianne, whom I met during the Fibrowatt episode a few years back, kept a small hive in their backyard, and asked if I could get the pound of honey I needed for this recipe from them.  Jay said they had plenty, so I made a plan to stop by on Sunday.

We had a great time catching up, and then Jay started dishing out the honey.  They get around five gallons a year from their backyard hive, which they showed me later.  Honey is sold by weight, not volume – so the two pounds Jay actually gave me hardly made a dent in their stash – and it’s a good thing that it never goes bad, either, Jay confided.

In exchange for this key ingredient, I gave them a bottle of the Fingers Crossed, and I will share two bottles of the White House Honey Porter when it’s ready.

We call this a local food system, y’all!
Thanks guys!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Apocalypse is Upon Us - or not

When I was out and about last weekend, I found this
pig and goat living together.  A sure sign of the
end of the world.
I'll be the first to admit that with the crushing deadline I'm facing at work this week, it might be a relief if the world ended as some claim the Mayans predicted.  Then I checked my calendar, and that's supposed to happen Friday, while my deadline is Thursday.  So there's that.

I've been keeping my eyes open for other signs that this one will be the big one, and I think I found something on Sunday, when I found out that David Sours at Public House Produce allows his livestock to mingle in one of the pastures.

Since then, however, I have come to my senses.  I remembered reading a while back that the Mayans actually had calculated the anticipated occurrence of some of their high holiday days up to 7,000 years in advance.

There's a link to some of these references in this Huffington Post article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joshua-berman/maya-calendar-101-what-do_b_2311729.html

As far as my personal plan is concerned...I'm going to buckle down on the deadline at work.  As Friday dawns - the day the thing is supposed to happen - I will probably stick to my usual routine.  All the while wishing I could sleep late.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Episode 1,364: In Which We Adopt a Cat

I have been away a little longer than usual.  I want to get back to the Luray Cyclocross results from my last post, and hope to be able to share a few photos as highlights.

But I suppose the big news is that we adopted a cat.  This has been in the works for a few months - readers may recall that there were two mom cats in the Hawksbill Cabin neighborhood and there were two litters of four kittens.  It turned out that seven of the eight kittens were females, by the way...and in any case 10 is a good start on 200, so something had to be done.

Mary researched it and found a non-profit called Cat's Cradle that could help with getting them spayed, and then re-released back where they came from.  I posted on this before:


(Our local Cat's Cradle's website is here:

So we got the cats back, and started planning for when the younger batch would go get the operation.  And that all happened today.

In the meantime, this one had seemed to link up with Mary.  Things have been building up to the situation we have now:  she'd bought a cat box without telling me; she had some cat toys stashed away; we were buying cat food from time to time...

In any case today we brought the cat home.  I've been calling it Sassafrass, but that's a working title.  Mary is going to be in charge of that, and I say it's all fine.

Plus, I worked out a deal with Mary back in October.  If she got a cat, I get to buy a farm.  So guess what?

...more to follow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This Weekend's Bike Race: The Luray Caverns CX

Yesterday I got in touch with Hawksbill Bicycles/Page County Cycling’s Chris Gould, who reminded me that the Luray Caverns CX “Cyclo-cross” bike race returns to Page County this weekend on Sunday December 9.  

It takes place on the grounds of the Luray Valley Museum at the Caverns – check out the Google Earth image of the route to the left, and the Vimeo link to video highlights of last year’s race below.

Here’s the video link:  http://vimeo.com/33513568

And a link to the Page County Cycling event page:  http://www.pagevalleycycling.com/Luray_Caverns_CX.html

Spectating is free, and they have a beer garden(appropriately featuring “Face Plant” ale from Rhino).  But if you want to participate in the race, you’ll need to register.  Here’s a link to a site where you can register on-line:  https://www.bikereg.com/Net/11804

Now, I’m just learning about the sport myself (and for now, I'm going to focus on how to spectate properly), but I found the following description of the event on the Luray Caverns page:

“Cyclo-cross is an exciting and spectator-friendly discipline of cycling which involves a variety of surfaces (grass, asphalt, gravel and mud) and which includes barriers that require participants to dismount and carry their bikes. It was originally developed in Belgium as a way of keeping road racers in shape during the off-season, but has developed a strong following in Europe and in the United States, with crowds at some events rivaling those at football games.

“Traditionally, cyclo-cross courses wind around a central viewing area and often involve a festival-like atmosphere that includes live entertainment, food, and drink. Luray Caverns CX will carry on this tradition, with local vendors selling food, as well as a beer garden. We will also feature a “dueling drum lines” competition between Page County High School and Luray High School, and a short and safe free-entry “Lil’ Belgians” race refereed by Santa Claus for the young children.”

I put up a post about the even last year – there’s a link here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/12/luray-caverns-cx-cyclo-cross.html

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Catching Up with Beaver Run Brewery

A few weeks back, just after the Chocolate Maple Porter had finished bottle-conditioning, I took a sample over to Dan's and had a little visit.  Besides the serious matter at hand of evaluating how the homebrew had come out, I knew he had been working on some upgrades to his brewing set up that I wanted to check out.

So before we even cracked open the offering of the day, we went out for a site visit to the basement of his barn, where he is clearing out some old equipment and siding so that he can move a much larger operation outside of the house.

The first photo here is of a subterranean room that used to house a walk-in refrigerator when the place was first built in the 1930's.  It had been inoperable since Sally and Dan moved in, mainly used for storage.  Now Dan hopes to take advantage of the consistent cellar temperatures to establish a lagering room.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Dan is one of my mentors in the homebrew hobby.  That all started with a taste of his Beaver Run Flat Tale Ale, in October 2009 - photo here from the patio in his side yard.  He shared with me how the brew had evolved since he started doing it - and he had a tasty product there.  Eventually I've gotten started too, although I am not far enough along to have my own recipes!

After taking a look at the project out in the barn, we walked over to the hopyard, where things have gone idle for the winter.   The dead vines have been pruned back to the rhizomes, and all the rope and twine taken down to over winter.

Finally, we needed to decide whether we would try his latest batch as well.  That took us down into the basement, where he stores some of his brewing equipment.

He's added a propane set-up for future batches, and recently moved up to a 15-gallon copper so that he can do all grain batches.  It's quite the thing.

I don't see myself getting that far along.  Not for now, anyway.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hazel Mountain, a 75@75 Hike

I’m overdue for a post on the status of my “75@75” project – this was the effort I’d planned where I hoped to hike 75 miles to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park.  I was going to get this done by May 2012, but I’m still working on completing it. 

Late summer of this year, Chris and I got together for a hike and he agreed we could try to take on one from the 75@75 list – Hazel Mountain.  Here’s the entry I wrote about this hike as I began to plan this project:

·         Hike 4 - Hazel Mountain, mile post 33.5, distance 5.3 miles and elevation change 1,070 feet (the easiest on this list!).  No summit here, but it is interesting for a combination of a falls, cascade, and a small cave.  Depending on when we go, maybe no spelunking – the snake scene in True Grit still creeps me out.

The day Chris and I took this one on, in September, I’d forgotten my Heatwole guide and other materials related to the hike.  So, what we did was a hike that was actually longer in distance – I’m estimating that we did about 6.5 miles on the route, but the elevation achievement was more on the order of 660 feet, just taken from the readings on my Casio Pathfinder.  Also, although there was a stream crossing, and it was clear we were moving through an area of second growth forest that had previously been settled and farmed, we didn’t see a waterfall and didn’t come close to anything resembling a small cave.

We used the map provided by rangers at the entry station to devise a hike. Of course, the map didn’t include the kind of detail that you find in the Heatwole guide.  Still, we had a nice day of it out there, and found the break from some of the more rigorous hikes we’ve done in this series to be very welcome.

Heatwole’s guide suggests that we may have passed the site of the old Hazel School somewhere along the way – he describes an overgrown area that I remember passing by and making a note of it to Chris on our hike.   It was one of several areas that we passed that had this appearance, as I recall; Heatwole says this area was one of the more heavily populated areas in the Park.

It was definitely a good time of year to be out on a hike – the forest was still very much a greenscape, and there were butterflies out all along the drive.  I’ve got a photo here of a yellow swallowtail we saw at the trailhead.  The hike qualifies on distance and elevation as moderate, by my standards – requiring five miles in distance and at least 500 feet of elevation change – but it is not particularly noteworthy as a physical challenge.  Instead, I’d give it high marks simply for the experience of being outside in the Shenandoah National Park, which is a kind of therapy in itself, and a part of what I’m seeking with all of these hikes in the first place.

On the way back, I made a point of taking a photo of Old Rag from the Pinnacles area where there is an overlook that provides a good view.  Seems a long time now since I’ve been on that mountain, but a summit from August 2011 is included in the 75@75 project.  As a note, here’s my progress chart on the project:

I’m posting this today to start the month of December – to date I have completed 54.8 miles out of my originally planned 75 miles.   Chris and I are tentatively planned to get in the Buck Hollow trail later this month – that’s 6+ miles; and if we have enough daylight we may summit Mary’s Rock from the Meadow Spring Trailhead, for a total of 9.1 miles.

If we are successful, this approach to the Mary’s Rock summit would check off another list for me – the 4th edition of Best Easy Day Hikes includes the southern approach as one of the routes, and it is one I haven’t been on yet.  If we complete that whole hike, which is admittedly aggressive, I will still need to complete more than 11 miles to be able to report the completion of my project.  

I’ll keep working on it, even though in the end it is probably going to have taken me almost two years to complete!