Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flying Pigs Farm

The second stop on the Peter and Ernie agricultural tour took us to Flying Pigs Farm located on the New York/Vermont border in Shushan, NY. The owners, Mike and Jennifer, started this farm after having moved into a house and renovated and while working their full time jobs, bought a couple pigs and raised them. A few years ago, they dove in to raise pigs and chickens full time. I will put in a plug for them and make sure to check out their website and if you are a lover of pork products, make and order and they'll get the goods out to you pronto.

I start with a shot of the morning sun over Vermont as seen from my tent.

I'll start with pigs. The process of raising pigs is pretty simple. You feed them to "fatten them up" and when they are large enough, it's off to the slaughter house. The pigs are separated into three different areas based on their size. The farm purchases the piglets from others who breed them, Flying Pigs raises them until they are marketable. While Pete and I were on the farm, two other workers drove to pickup a new set of piglets. Apparently, the handover took place in a Home Depot parking lot. That must have been a sight to behold.

Mike unloading a newly obtained pig into the small pigs area. Once you catch a pig, you can hold however you want but it will truly "squeal like a pig"

Pigs and chickens eat tons of feed. A two ton delivery of feed comes twice a week to fill up the feed truck.

The feed truck is then driven up the hill to the pig areas and feed is augured into the feeding units.

Myself after filling the pig feeders.

The pigs chowing down. As you can see they stick their entire faces under the plastic lid to get to the food. When the pigs pull themselves out, the door slaps down to make a distinctive sound. When all the pigs are eating, the collective shutting of doors is like a rhythmic drumbeat.

Daily chores include filling the pigs water jugs, making sure that the feeders were full and evenly balanced and making mud for the pigs. "Sweat like a pig" is an oxymoron. "Happy as a pig in mud" is a truism because pigs don't sweat. Therefore, rolling around in the mud is a way for them to cool off.

"Pig pile!!"

Sadly, one day during chores, we found that a medium sized pig had passed away. How did we know that it wasn't just sleeping? First off, it was laying down on the ground out in the open. If there isn't mud, pigs prefer to sleep under the cover of trees where it's cooler. Secondly, there were flies buzzing all around it. The other workers did an autopsy to try and determine what the cause was.

The smell was pretty horrendous, but the sight, fascinating.

The best guess was that the pig might have had a respiratory ailment as the lung was slightly discolored. Here I am with the lung zip-locked for Mike's inspection.

Instead of ending the section on pigs with death, instead there will be birth. When the farm takes delivery of new pigs, they are supposed all females (sows). However, a couple weeks ago, as Mike was rounding up pigs for slaughter, one of the sows was discovered to be pregnant. Apparently, one of the sows was a boar and had done his manly duty. The sow bore ten piglets and her life temporarily spared as she raises her offspring.

The joys/burdens of being a mother of 10.

Before moving onto chickens, I must mention that when Peter and I offered our services on the farms, we said anything was game. Therefore we were given other duties as assigned. One of them was to build a feed box for the chicken feed.

Peter nailing together the chicken feed box.

Before the box, Mike had to buy his two types of chicken feed (for the egg layer and the meat birds) in sacks. Buying it in ton form (as seen in pig feed truck above) cuts his costs by one third. In addition, because the feed is now located closer to the chickens, less labor is involved.

Chicken feed being loaded into the new box.

The farm currently stores all of it's pork and sausages in a freezer in town, a short drive away. Mike has decided to build a freezer building on his property and so Peter and I helped with that as well.

Here's the new freezer building as we left it.

Onto the chickens. Chickens are creatures of habit. Granted all of us are, but chickens especially. Chickens have been bred for two purposes, to provide us eggs and to provide us meat. They are kept separately based on their ultimate function.

This small white chick is a future meat chicken.

Mike and Peter laying out the electric fence to enclose a new area for the meat birds. Moving the birds to a new area is both an issue of sanitation and a source of new bugs for them to eat. The fence itself is more to keep predators out.

Kristy and Matt (the other workers who are on a vet school internship) helping set the fence.

Then it's time to lead the chickens to their new home.

Sometimes you do what you have to do. When you pick the chickens up and hold them upside down, they become docile.

The laying chickens are allowed to roam (free range, baby) during the day and of course they dug up the dead pig in the mulch pile.

A "hen-pecked" chicken. When the chickens get stressed or agitated they start plucking out each others' tail feathers. Those who are completely stripped of their hind feathers are lowest on the "pecking order".

The chickens only lay eggs during the day. The laying chickens have two buildings (on wheels of course to move between areas). One is their roost, where each evening when the sun goes down, the "chickens come home to roost". Their other building is the egg barn as I call it. Inside are metal boxes in which the chickens lay their eggs.

The egg barn

Due to bacteria and disease reasons, the sheels of the eggs must be sanitized before sale.

Then the eggs are sorted by size and color for sale at farmer's markets in NYC. Some of the eggs we sorted while working went to some specific high-end restaurants.

So you hopefully noticed that throughout this posting, I put certain sayings in quotes. One of the things Peter and I noticed is how many sayings we use today are rooted in agriculture. These quoted sayings are only the ones we found ourselves while at Flying Pigs. But there must be many more that we didn't notice.

A great shout of of thanks goes to both Richard and Holley as well as Mike and Jennifer for their great hospitality. We never ate poorly and had such an amazing education about both the workings of farm life as well as the struggles and joys. Although vegetables and animals require vastly different types of work, but the pride these two farms (as well all farms across this country) have in their product is what I found to be their ultimate appeal. Never will I again purchase my food without at least thinking about the work it took to grow the produce and meat. But also what happens to those natural products as they get processed into other forms.


Rich said...


Leah and I have been getting pork from there for a few years. We also get kidney leaf lard from the farm, and render it into useable lard. That's why Leah's pies are so good.


Chester said...

Another splendid photo story. We enjoyed your writings. You have had a memorable (also educational) summer this year - A China biking trip and two farm working sessions in NY.