Friday, December 25, 2009

The origin of the Mulefoot is unclear. The breed is most likely to have descended from the Spanish hogs brought to the Americas beginning in the 1500s. It shares some attributes with the Choctaw hog, and the two breeds likely come from the same ancestral stock, which was loosely selected and managed until the late 1800s. In the early 1900s there were two Mulefoot breed associations and over 200 herds registering purebred stock. As of a few years ago their were less than 200 registered Mulefoots and most Mulefoots can be traced back to the Holliday family in Missouri. A few years ago Arie MacFarland in South Dakota bought the Holliday herd of Mulefoots and has continued the tradition of providing breeding stock and restoring the Mulefoots to their prominence. Arie runs an impressive outfit about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls, SD. She has most of the foundation stocks for Mulefoots and Guinea Hogs in the United States. She manages as many as 200 pigs on her farm of 80 acres. She also meticulously manages the genetics to provide as much diversity as possible. She has done an amazing job.

Last Friday I left to make the 2000 mile drive to Dell Rapids, South Dakota to pick up our new herd of Mulefoots from Arie MacFarland. We purchased 3 mature sows and a junior boar from Arie, as well as 5 young pigs that we will raise for butchering in the summer. Five days later and after many hours on the road I arrived home with the newest addition to our farm. Mulefoot hogs are the only pig on the Slow Food Ark of Taste list because of their origin in the U.S. They do not get as large as the Large Blacks that we already have, but will be a nice complement to the Large Blacks. Whereas the Large Blacks are leaner and longer, the Mulefoots will have a bit more fat and bigger hams.

Mulefoots are unique for a couple of reasons, the first is as their name implies, they have a mule foot instead of a cloven hoof that all other pigs have. Second, as you can see in the pictures, they have longer, thicker hair that in some Mulefoots is fairly straight and in others is more curly. They are taller, fatter, and shorter than the Large Blacks and are jet black in color versus a dull black of the Large Blacks.

Mulefoots have a similar disposition as the Large Blacks, both are very docile and easy to handle. They eat primarily eat grass and hay, with a little grain each day to supplement their diet and the occasional pumpkin. We look forward to introducing this amazing pig to Whatcom County.

The middle picture above provides a nice contrast between the Mulefoots and Large Blacks. The three pigs in the upper right hand corner of the picture our are litter of 3 Large Blacks. The pigs in the left hand side of the picture are the Mulefoot pigs. You can see the noticeable difference in hair and color.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Oberhasli goat is a dairy breed developed in Switzerland in the mountains around Bern and Freiburg. Oberhasli goats were first came to the United States in the early 1900s. Goats are generally brown, but can range from light tan to deep reddish brown and have black stripes down there back, on their belly, and their face. Oberhasli goats milk is the most similar to cows milk and one of the reasons that we got this breed, on top of the fact that it is about the only real dairy breed on the American Livestock Breeding Conservancy list.

Our goats came from Edelweiss Acres in Olympia, Washington. They use Oberhasli goats primarily has pack goats because of their disposition. We have two females, both of which are pregnant and expecting sometime at the end of February. We will use the milk for our own use, both to drink and to make cheese. We will get a pasteurizer sometime around the time they have their kids. This is not really a money making effort for us, but something that we thought would be fun to try, especially making cheese. We have made cheese before but it is more difficult using store bought milk that has been homogenized.

We currently have our goats with our two Southdown sheep and we got an Oxford sheep that I will talk about in our next post. The 5 animals are still trying to adjust and the Southdown sheep our exhibiting their shyness and keeping their distance from their new pen mates.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Three Sisters

The Iroquois Indians used to plant corn, beans and squash together as companion crops. They each provide nutrients that can be utilized by the others and each draws out different nutrients from the soil. The pole beans utilize the corn stalks to grow and the squash plants help keep down weeds between rows. We ran our own experiment this last year with mixed results. We planted corn like you normally would with about 10 rows of corn and then planted the beans next to the corn and the squash between the rows. This created a couple of problems. One it was very difficult getting around as the space between corn stalks was all taken (and then some) by the squash so harvesting was difficult. I am also not sure the beans got enough sunlight, or at least for some reason we did not get great yields on the beans, although we did on the corn. The other problem I realized is that we planted summer squash in the corn as well which was very difficult to find and we had some get too large before we realized they were there.

Next year we will do things a little bit different, firstly we will plant summer squash separately to easy the harvest of zucchini and other summer squash. We will also plant the corn and beans in squares or circles and leave 3-4 feet between the squares and plant squash in the rows so there is more room to get around. We will plant the beans along the outside 1 or 2 rows to make sure they have adequate sunlight and so we can track their progress more easily. We were able to get a good harvest in a relatively small space, next year we hope to do even better.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

1 Week

Our piglets are one week old today and the weather was a little warmer and less rainy so we took them out for a little while this afternoon so they could enjoy the sun. They are getting much bigger and starting to venture around their pen a little more. For the first few days the stayed close to the heat lamp and where Guinevere would sleep. Over the last two days they have started to wander a bit more and tonight was the first time they were over in the food area with their mother.

We are having troubles getting our Mulefoots at the moment. We had someone going that direction that agreed to pick them up, but they ended up sick before they got there and ultimately had to turn around and come home so our Mulefoots are still sitting in Dell Rapids waiting for plan b. Either we will find someone else buying pigs from them coming in this direction or worst case is Kelly and I will drive out there in March between quarters at WWU and pick them up then.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The New Piglets Have Arrived

After a very sleepless night, we have our first litter of pigs from Guinevere. Our first litter was 3 piglets, which is a little smaller than we had hoped, but we are also glad to have the first one out of the way. Normally a large black can have a litter of 10-12, although their first litter is always smaller. So far the mom and three piglets are doing well and we should be fine as long as the mom does not lay on one of the piglets, which almost happened once while we were out there. We will provide more updates and pictures over the next few days.

It is going to be a busy couple of weeks for Heritage Lane Farm as we are adding a number of new animals in the next 2 weeks. Our Oberhasli goats are ready to be picked up and we will do that as soon as the opportunity arises. We are also getting some Mulefoot Hogs from South Dakota which should arrive in about 10 days if everything goes as planned. This will pretty much get us to full capacity, except for maybe another sheep or two and then adding poultry next spring.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Dinner

Recently we invited a few friends over for dinner and made a meal almost entirely from the harvest from our farm. It was an enjoyable evening and the food was delightful. We had:

Leg of Lamb
Roast potatoes and squash (we used Rose Finn Apple French Fingerling and Purple Peruvian potatoes and Musquee de Provence and Blue Hubbard Squash)
Cucumber Salad (using Lemon and White Wonder cucumbers)
Sweet Corn (we had Hopi Purple which is one of the rare purple colored sweet corn)
Heritage Pumpkin Pie (using a mixture of pumpkin, Musquee de Provence and Blue Hubbard Squash)

It was a very simple meal and did not take much time to cook, but well worth the effort. Our long-term goal is to be able to do these types of events on a bigger and broader scale, but it was a delicious test run.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whatcom County Farm Tour

We had the opportunity this year to participate in the Whatcom County Farm Tour sponsored by Sustainable Connections. I have to admit I was a little nervous because this is our first year and I was wondering if we would really have that much to tell versus some other, more established farms, that were on the tour as well. We did a couple of displays, one on rare breed animals and the other on heirloom vegetables, which are the focus of our farm. I then conducted a 20+/- minute tour and talked about the different animals that we have, a little bit about their history and why we chose them over more commercial breeds. I also talked a little bit about heirloom vegetables and some of the experiments that we were running this year. I am not exactly sure how many people visited the farm, but it was somewhere in the 400-500 range. By the end of the day I was exhausted and a little horse from talking for 8 straight hours, but based on the feedback we were glad that we did it and hope to have the opportunity to do it again in the future.

I want to offer a special note of thanks to Sustainable Connections for giving us the opportunity to participate. They do amazing work for local agriculture and I look forward to working with them again in the future to promote local farms.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Toulouse Geese

The Toulouse Goose was originated near Toulouse, France. It is a large goose that weighs about 20 pounds. The grey colored breed has been recorded as far back as the 1500’s. Toulouse geese are fairly mellow and work well on small farms, but not with other more aggressive breeds of geese. They do not need a pond, although they will swim if given the opportunity. They geese also do not fly and will stay close to home, partly driven by the non-aggressive nature of the breed. Toulouse geese have been in the United States for at least 200 years and are also considered a colonial breed, having been part of the colonial farms in the 1700’s.

We got our 2 geese from the same place we got our Southdown Sheep. Gary Fisher at Camelot Downs Farm in Whidbey Island specializes in colonial breeds and has sheep and a number of types of fowl. We hopefully have a male and female and will have goslings next spring, but it is difficult to sex geese so it may be 2 years before we have goslings.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Southdown Sheep

The Southdown was developed in southeastern England in Sussex. The region has a mild climate, fertile soil, and good grass that make it excellent for raising sheep.

The Southdown originated from the native sheep of the region, which were improved beginning in the late 1700s and continuing through the 1830s. Southdown sheep were known as hardy and quick growing, and the quality of their meat was celebrated. The sheep are white with mouse colored faces. They have wool on their faces, ears, and legs. Both ewes and rams do not have any horns.

Our Southdown sheep come by way of Gary Fisher at Camelot Downs in Whidbey Island. Dr. Fisher is one of the foremost experts on colonial breeds. Colonial breeds are those that were present in Colonial times around the time of the U.S. Revolutionary War. Although there is not agreement when the first Southdown sheep came to America, it looks as if it was in the 1600’s.

We decided on Southdown sheep for a couple of reason. First, Southdown’s are primarily a meat sheep and grow more quickly and bigger than the Navajo-Churro. There wool is not as plentiful as the Navajo-Churro, but it is much softer and can be used for clothing, where the Navajo-Churro are used primarily for rugs. The second reason is for our children’s 4-H projects. Showing sheep in 4-H is much easier if you have a meat breed and Southdown’s are the rarest sheep that will do well in competition.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Navajo-Churro Sheep

The Churro sheep were brought from Spain in 1540 and became the first domestic sheep in America. By the 1800’s the Navajo-Churro sheep had become extremely popular in the Southwestern United States, especially amongst the Hispanic and Native American populations. The sheep were valued for both their meat the fleece, which soon became an important part of the textile production.

The United States government destroyed almost all of the Navajo-Churro sheep in the 1860s in at attempt to control the Native American Indians. By the 1930s there were very few purebred Navajo-Churros remaining. A professor from Utah State University began a program on 1977 to restore the Navajo-Churro sheep to the prominence. Over the last thirty years, the breed has grown from just a small flock to a few thousand sheep and although still considered threatened according to the American Livestock Breeding Conservancy, they are making gains in populations.

In the 1860s, the Navajo-Churro sheep population was nearly destroyed as part of the United States government’s efforts to subjugate the Navajo people. Churro stock was further diluted by continuing efforts to "improve" Native American flocks through introduction of other breeds. The government’s attempts to control rangeland erosion led to further slaughter of -Native American flocks. By the mid-1930s, very few "purebred" Navajo-Churros remained, and they were scattered across the Southwest.

Both ewes and rams may be polled or have two or four horns. Mature rams average 160–200 pounds and mature ewes about 100–120 pounds. The breed is noted for prolificacy. Lambs are easily born and vigorous, and the ewes are excellent mothers. The weaning rate is high, especially given the environment. Navajo-Churros have a double-coated fleece that weighs four to six pounds. The fine, soft inner coat provides insulation, and the long, coarse outer coat protects the inner coat from dust and dirt while repelling rain and snow. The fleece is low in grease, which makes it easy to process. Navajo-Churro sheep are found in several colors, including white, silver, blue, brown, red, black, and spotted. Patterns such as badger face are common. This range of hues is valued by wool crafters and sheep breeders alike. The wool of the Navajo-Churro is primarily considered a carpet wool and it is often used for rug weaving. Navajo-Churro sheep are part of the Ark of Taste sponsored by Slow Foods, USA, which is another reason that we wanted this breed.

Our flock was purchased from a farm in Montana who had purchased them from a breeder in the tri-cities. We started with 5 ewes, 3 rams and 2 whethers and since had 1 of our ewes die, which we replaced with a ewe from a farm in Monroe. We also have used to the sheep for our own food supply. This year we had 6 lambs and we will be selling those for meat later this year once they get close to 100 pounds.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Are Rare Breed Livestock

Many years ago a number of different breeds of livestock existed throughout the world. With the commercialization of livestock, breeders selected a small number of breeds that met their economic needs and production practices. These breeds were then bred to achieve specific traits and soon after every other breed began to disappear. This left a number of livestock breeds that had been around for hundreds of years close to extinction. Over the last few decades, organizations like the American Livestock Breeding Conservancy began working to restore these rare breeds and bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Unfortunately, the traits that worked for commercial farms are not well suited to small farmers who shun commercial practices. These rare breeds of livestock have valuable traits and we wanted to highlight the benefits of these breeds, and that is one of the primary reasons for starting Heritage Lane Farms.

We started with Large Black Pigs, which is an English breed that originated in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset in southwestern England. This breed was popular until the 1920's when it fell out of favor to more commercially accepted breeds like Yorkshire and Hampshire, which grow more quickly and are easily adaptable to confinement operations. By the 1960's Large Blacks were almost extinct, and even now they remain on the critical list of the American Livestock Breeding Conservancy with only a few hundred breeding pigs in the world. Our pigs came from Texas and there is only one other farm in Washington that we are aware of that raise Large Blacks.

Large Blacks are pasture raised and eat primarily grass, with only a small amount of grain (whereas commercial breeds eat a diet entirely of grain). Large Blacks grow more slowly and can take as long as a year to reach a weight where they can be butchered. The upside is that they are leaner and have a texture and taste that is very different from pork you buy in the store. The other upside is the Large Blacks are less aggressive (they act more like a family dog than a pig) and the boars are not aggressive and can remain with the piglets and sow. The downside of the commercial breeds and production practices is that boars are very aggressive and must be separated from the sow and litter at all times.

We currently have one boar (Lancelot) and one guilt (Guinevere) and our first litter of pigs is expected at the end of September. Both were born in May 2008 at a farm in Texas. They will be bred twice a year and each litter will have about 10 piglets, although the first litter will likely be smaller than that.

It was somewhat of a miracle that we were able to get them as there is a very short list of Large Black breeders and every one that I had contacted was sold out. Last October we contact Cathy Cox at Oleo Acres farm in Leonard Texas who happened to have a guilt and a boar left and it just happened that a person from Walla Walla was driving down in early November to pick up a number of pigs, so ours went along for the ride. At $300 a piece they are much more expensive then finding a local pig on Craigslist, but they have been well worth the extra money.

The Large Blacks were the unofficial start of Heritage Lane Farms and since then we have added Navajo-Churro Sheep and will soon be adding additional breeds of sheep, pigs, and poultry. Each of these will be highlighted in future posts as we work to educate the community on the benefits of rare breed livestock.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why Heritage Lane Farm

For a number of years Kelly and I have talked about having a small farm that would teach our children valuable life skills. When we lived in Portland we took initial steps to get a lavender farm, but through unforeseen events we ended up moving to Lynden and putting our dreams on hold. For many years we waited for the right time and opportunity before we finally were able to fulfill our dreams. We still have a number of obstacles that will need to be worked through, but we have at least gotten started, although not as gracefully as we would have liked.

As we thought about what we were passionate about one thing we came back to was unique breeds of livestock and heirloom vegetables. We bought a few chickens and turkeys when we moved to Lynden 5 years ago (we still have a few of the chickens left) and learned a lot about animals and fencing. Last year, two of our children participated in 4-H and raised lambs for the fair. We learned about raising sheep and enjoyed the challenges and new opportunities to learn.

Farming is tough work and it is competitive. There are a lot of small and large farms competing for customers and we had to find a way to stand out and try to provide a unique product. I have always done things a bit differently from the crowd (not many people would run for county council after only leaving in a community for a year)and focusing on rare breed livestock that only a few people (or in some cases no one) has in the area seemed like a good way to stand out from the crowd. This also provides us an opportunity to educate people and make a difference. Hopefully the things we grow and raise will be less rare in coming years, but in the meantime it has been educating, challenging and fun all at the same time.

Our other passion is for local food and having some measure of self-reliance. We wanted to raise food that we will eat and enjoy and hopefully have enough left over for others to enjoy along with us. I have my own concerns about the food supply and commercial production of food. I will skip the long editorial, but suffice it to say I do not want to be overly reliant on farmers in other parts of the country or world for a critical item like food. I am a strong advocate for local businesses and especially local food. I would just as soon not participate in corporate agriculture, where feasible, as I have ethical and economic concerns about their business model. My test for the farm is that if commercial agriculture is doing it then I do not want to, and if commercial agriculture is not doing it then it is worth investigating further.

In the end, it become obvious that heirloom vegetables and rare breed animals were something that we could get passionate about for a number of reasons. We are sharing our story as we learn and hopefully encourage others to think outside of the food box. We are not farmers in the traditional sense and we certainly have less knowledge about farming then other people, but we are also not tied down to certain ways of doing things and are willing to try something new. Welcome to Heritage Lane Farm, and welcome to what food was meant to be.