Monthly Archives: May 2012

Canada has scrapped it's "Enviropig" program, the first genetically modified pigs.  Genes from mice and e-coli, among others, were introduced into their DNA.  Theses pigs were designed to process food differently, creating  more environmentally friendly hog manure. The University of Guelph, which developed the GM pig announced the programs cancellation. A lack of funding and interest is blamed.  Peter Phillips, a professor of public policy at University of Saskatchewan said, "Enviropig has not managed to attract funding from a food company that would ultimately seek to commercialize the pigs, possibly because environmental benefit doesn't necessarily translate into more profit". Unless additional funding into this project is secured the pigs will be destroyed, their genetic material will be preserved in cold storage for possible future research.

One of the problems with pigs is that they're extremely adaptable. Not far back in farm history hogs were raised on pasture. Sows spent their gestation outdoors and were brought in for farrowing. Sometimes crates were used, minimally. Occasionally  sows will lay on a piglet. This happens with gilts, first time moms, more often than with sows. A solution is to have a creep for the piglets. A creep, built into the corner of your farrowing area, has a lamp for warmth and is open in the front. Sows can interact with piglets but can't fit inside the creep. Piglets come and go as they please, interacting with mom at any time. On cool nights our sows will pack straw in front of the creep, leaving a small opening, to keep her piglets warm.

Again, because pigs are adaptable they were easily turned into factory production animals. In confinement sows move from gestation crates, where their spend 3 months, 3-weeks, and 3 days, into farrowing crates. Unable to interact with her piglets, and incapable of instinctive behavior, she becomes a milking machine. Sows are driven insane. This isn't animal husbandry or farming. It's  inhumane and it needs to stop! Here are some images of different methods of animal production found on Google images  Below are images of our farms farrowing system.

We Raise Texel and Ramboulet cross sheep. They produce quality meat and have thick fleece. Shearing is usually done six weeks before lambing but this year we had a ram get out with the ewes early, oops. This surprise caught us off guard and the shearing was delayed until after lambing season.

Spring planting also added to the delay.  We saved a fleece for a customer's   spinners group.  She sent us lovely photos of the wool in process of becoming yarn, and the final skeins or hanks, I am not sure the proper term. Anyway, the wool is beautiful and we appreciate her sharing them with us.

Here's how shearing day works...

1.  Gather the sheep.

2. Separate the lambs from the ewes

3. Hold your ears or wear ear protection, there's loud complaining amongst the sheep, mostly the lambs. The ewes seem to enjoy the break.

4. Set up the wool sack, which holds around 300 ponds of fleece. (we filled nearly 2 sacks from 34 ewes and 1 ram). The wool sack hangs from a steel frame. Someone in the crew, in our case it was Garrett, has to climb into the bag and pack the fleece.

5. A clean tarp or canvas is laid on the ground to keep the area clean.

5. The sheep are caught. Held loosely while being shorn. Released, naked and clean, to go and eat. When all the sheep are finished they rejoin their lambs. There's peace again, it's so quiet.

6.The wool is weighed, we pay for the shearing, and the wool buyer pays for the fleece. We came out $67.00 dollars ahead this year. On large scale sheep operations, when wool prices are low, the USDA  assists with the shearing costs. The current price for wool is high so there isn't any assistance program this year. The shearer is also a wool buyer, representing a wool or fur company. He's paid for his time shearing and also makes a profit from selling the wool.

7. The area is cleaned, shearing items are packed and the day's complete. Happily, one more item is crossed off the "to do" list. The ewe lambs will be shorn this fall.

The Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival is June 9-10, in Adel, Iowa. Here's more information.




Every afternoon the piglets sneak up to harass Hobo. Their electric fence is set higher because the tall grass shorts out the fence.  Consequently, the piglets can scoot under without getting a shock. In a couple of weeks they’ll be big enough that it will stop them. But for now, they’re regular visitors to the garden and Hobo’s napping spot.

Hobo's been a frequent visitor at our house over the past few years. In February it became official, we adopted him. Our neighbors placed an ad in the paper, “Free to good home. 12 year old farm dog." Not too many  people are looking for an older dog. He's a gentle, affectionate, ancient chocolate lab who gets along with everyone.  In all these years Hobo has never been to the vet’s office, had a vaccination, or an exam of any kind, for that matter. We always assumed that because of his age he was arthritic (he's also obese). On our daily walks he has to rest every few yards. The vet ran a quick blood test. Hobo has Lyme Disease. Now, after completing his first course of antibiotics, he’s moving much better. He’s relatively fast for a fat old dog.  You should see how high he can  jump, especially when he's goosed by a piglet.

Saving Bees

Bee Keepers in Warsaw dumped thousands of dead bees on the steps of the Poland Ministry of Agriculture in protest against genetically modified crops and pesticides. Specifically targeting Monsanto’s MON810 GM corn variety.  This variety was approved by the European Union in 1998. GMWatch says that this variety has been linked to millions of acres of pesticide resistant super weeds in the United States. The Polish Parliament had adopted a law in 2006 prohibiting the production, use, and importation of GM animal feed. However, implementation of the law doesn't begin until 2013.


Plant diversity is a boost to the health of bee colonies. Pollinating multi-plant species improves nutrition and plant diversity provides a variety of beneficial bacteria and probiotics. This is critical in fending off diseases like Colony Collapse disorder.

Bee loss is attributed to the use of Neonicotinoids, a new class of chemicals, to control insects. Neonicotinoids are used to treat seeds before planting and most field crops in Iowa have had this seed treatment. It's extremely toxic to bees; a single kernel of corn with a 1250 rate of neonicotinoid treatment contains enough active ingredient to kill over 80,000 honey bees.

Other contributing factors to their decline include; Varroa mites, pathogens, habitat loss, pesticides, and possibly GM crops (the studies are still being conducted).

Field entomologist specialist's with Perdue University, Christian Krupke and Iowa State entomologist, Erin Hodgson have taken a closer look at how the bees might be interacting with the neonicotinoids. Read the study here

On a related note...

Victory in Europe...BASF is leaving Europe. The company hasn’t found European’s to be GMO friendly. Instead the company will concentrate on plant biotechnology activities in North and South America. BASF Plant Science headquarters will move from Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina. Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF, responsible for plant biotechnology stated, “We are convinced that plant biotechnology is a key technology for the 21st century. However, there is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe - from the majority of consumers, farmers, and politicians. Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.”

Congratulations, and kudos to the consumers, farmers and politicians of Europe, Way to go!

Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly concerned about genetically modified (GMO) foods. 1 million Americans have signed the “Just Label It” campaign’s petition demanding that the FDA require GM food labeling. The Mellman Group released a new poll showing that 90 percent of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike are in favor of labeling. The fact that these groups all agree on any issue is significant. When was the last time they agreed on anything?  I think a pig just flew past my window. Yep, this could be the day that pigs fly.

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Forest Hill Farm Piglets

Heritage Hogs At Risk

A new Michigan law is targeting heritage breed hogs. In an effort to control the feral hog population the State's Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is removing heritage breed hogs from privately owned farms.  Forest Hill Farm raises Gloucestershire Old Spot and Berkshire hogs. If Iowa passed a similar law our hogs could be destroyed. Our hogs graze and live outdoors. They are social, productive, and domesticated. Their outdoor areas are rotated to keep them clean, healthy, offer a variety of forages, and prevent overgrazing. A confinement hog, who escapes into the countryside, has the same opportunity to become feral as a heritage breed. Actually, because our hogs are always outdoors, and very friendly, if they did get out of their fence line they could easily be coaxed back with the bribe of raw milk and a back scratch. One of the problems with the Michigan law, and there are many issues with it, is that the Invasive Species Order (ISO) outlaws the possession of wild swine, hogs, boars, and pigs, aside from domestic hog production. They haven't defined an exception so farmers won't know if their livestock is prohibited until the ISO goes into effect and the DNRE begins their inspections. Is anyone surprised that the Michigan Pork Producer Association supports the measure?  Aren't both heritage breed farmers and confinement owners pork producers? Four lawsuits have been filed against the ISO, heritage hog farmers are asking if the DNRE has jurisdiction.

Just more food for thought!


Farming is stressful.  There are so many variables, the probability of failure is great.

Will we get enough rain this spring to make up for last fall’s drought?
It’s a worry.
Will the summer rain come at just the right time?
It’s a worry.
Will the summer heat be excessive and cause breeding trouble for our cattle?
It’s a worry.

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”  Dalai Lama XIV

We spent an enjoyable afternoon with a fellow farmer, John Henry.  John Henry has a relaxed and pleasant demeanor. He use to worry constantly about his farming practices, family life, and success. Today he doesn’t have any worries.

John Henry used to walk through his fields worrying about his crops.  Would rain bless his fields at opportune time and was his soil condition capable of producing high yields?  At night he’d stare at the ceiling worrying about his equipment.  Some of it was older, would it make it through another season?

He worried about his family.  Was he balancing family life and work obligations successfully?  John Henry started to have chest pains.  He went to the doctor.

After the exam the doctor said John Henry’s heart was fine but he was worrying too much.  “Rather than worry,” suggested the doctor, “why don’t you hire some help?”

John Henry went home and added the doctor’s advice to his list of worries. Who could he hire? How could he afford to hire help? What if the help slacked off?  What if, during the busy season, his hired man failed to come to work?  John Henry felt doomed.  How could he possibly relax when he had all these worries?

One night, as he stared at the ceiling, thoughts raced through his head. “I have to stop worrying!”  Suddenly, a brilliant idea struck him.  “Eureka!  I’ll hire someone to worry for me!  Each week I’ll give a list of worries to a hired man.”
So, he hired a man. Every week he gave a list of equipment, crop, and family concerns to his helper.  Now John Henry slept like a baby.  He became jovial, laughed, and had a renewed twinkle in his eyes.

A few weeks later he want back to the doctors office.  The doctor was impressed, he asked about the dramatic change.  “You’re in great health! Tell me, what changed?”

“Well, I followed your advice. I hired a man who takes care of all my worries.”

“Fantastic! Is he repairing your equipment and fences? Does he care for your crops and animals?”

“No.  I hired someone to worry for me.”

“What? You hired someone to worry! Do you pay for this?” asked the doctor

“I certainly do.  I pay him $10,000.00 each month.”

“$10,000.00 every month!  How can you afford this?”

John Henry shook his head, “Doesn’t matter, It’s not my worry!”

The greatest object in the universe, says a certain philosopher, is a good man struggling with adversity; yet there is still greater, which is the good man that comes to relieve it.  –Oliver Goldsmith

Farming is joyful, there are so many variables, the probability of success is great. What does the future hold?  Not my worry!
© Forest Hill Farm