How did we get here? Starting a Ranch when we didn't know we wanted a ranch - Oink Oink
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8/17/2022, By Julie Van Hise
And...as we would soon find out, animals were literally falling from the sky...2 days after the horses fell into our lives, we picked up three piglets!!!
Hi! I'm Julie Van Hise. My husband, Chris, and I are 1st generation ranchers and owners of 4 Bear Ranch - a ranch that not only provides for our family but provides for the local community as well. In 2017, we bought our home unknowing of what it would transform into in 4 short years. From mountain wilderness to mountain ranch wilderness - we have lovingly worked hard in building our dream! How did we get here? Starting a Ranch when we didn't know we wanted a ranch? It's actually kind of strange really...At this point we had our chickens, ponies, and horses and didn't even get settled with these critters yet…and then it happened - a post appeared...piglets for sale! And best of all...they were just down the road a bit!!
Yup...I'm not really sure what started the avalanche of animals that began to fall upon us! Yes, we bought them...but yes, they were too good to pass up! There are lots of local pigs for sale in the area - they are great pigs - but they are BIG pigs! We have never had pigs before, and other than watching Charlotte's Web, we really knew nothing about pigs, other than they can be quite destructive! Then I saw these little pigs for sale - American Guinea Hog (AGH) Crosses. I did the research, I messaged my husband, and a couple hours later, I messaged the seller, and a couple days later, I picked up 3 little piglets! We named them Sausage Patty, Bacon Bits, and Pork Chop - 1 girl and 2 males, castrated of course.
Like everything else we had gotten up to this point - we yet again did not have a place set-up to hold them. Braeden and I hurried over to the local farm and ranch store, once again, to buy needed supplies. This time we bought electric chicken netting fence and a solar charger. We brought the netting home and set it up around the dog kennel and a makeshift shade shelter. Connected the solar charger and voila - we had a pig home! or so we thought...not more than a week later and those piglets had figured out how to bury their nose in the dirt and run under the fence - avoiding all shock...
Off to the garage they went. We converted one of the car stalls into a semi-barn area and made a home for the pigs. They slept happily in the garage at night, and mostly stayed in the chicken fence during the day...until they got older and would go in the fence, let us close it up, and then just walk out the other side - yup, we had the ultimate in free range pigs! They were happy pigs!
They walked the land and rooted up around tree stumps and ate down weeds - they really did quite a great job. Mostly a great job - the front yard was left with quite a few lumps...but the grass was revived and grew in better the next year.
And then it came time to process the pigs - we processed two of them for the freezer. It was our first larger than a chicken or turkey livestock that we had processed. It certainly was a learning curve - but, oh my goodness...they are absolutely delicious! The American Guinea Hog is a heritage breed of hog. It grows slow, but does not require a whole lot in terms of extra feed. They are fantastic foragers and love to munch on grasses. They do have quite a bit of fat - though it is the fantastically light and non-greasy fat that makes the pork taste absolutely divine! The extra fat we acquired was rendered to lard and used to make our ground venison and ground turkey. We were hooked.
Now, we thought long and hard about the third pig - her siblings were delicious!! Then another ad popped up for more piglets for sale from the same seller! We of course bought three more and learned that they were taking a break from the pigs for now...decision made. That third pig was a keeper, we renamed her from Sausage Patty to Miss Patty Piggy!
We made the decision to go pure breed AGH in January of 2021, and by June 2021 we had picked up our 4 pure AGHs from Cascade Meadows Farm in Oregon! They arrived all healthy and hungry! They are the sweetest breed of pig - the boars included!
Now, I will say, our hog raising journey hasn't been all successful! Our first batch of 3 piggies were easy - they plumped up great and did quite well! Our second batch of hogs however have grown much, much, much slower and are finally just catching up in size to what that first batch was. Our Pure Breads have had growth spurts and then slow growth, and then spurts, and then slow. One of our pure bred AGH was squished in the depths of winter. She was so skinny...but showed no signs of illness. Then the second pure bred female started to get skinny as well - we moved her in with Ernie, and she is now good. Then the male from the 2nd batch was getting skinny - we pin pointed the issue. No these little pigs aren't sick - its just that 2 of the females in that enclosure really are pigs and were hogging all the food!!! Literally!!! They were eating everything before these other little pigs were getting their fill!! We put the AGH female with the smaller of the 2 AGH males - and she is gaining weight and as happy as can be. You see, they both eat slow! And when there is no one taking all your food you can eat all day long! That little male cross - he is gaining again, we feed him separately to make sure he gets what he needs...its okay little dude...these 2nd batch females won't be stealing your food much longer!...OR so I thought, when I wrote this article a few months ago...fast forward to August, and we can't eat those 2 females quite yet...you see...Mr. Kermit and Mr. Ernie flew the coop during the summer months and well, we will just say it was love at first sight!! Or, luck for them males that both females happened to be in heat during their great escape??? Unlucky for us??? We shall see - we have a pig adventure for sure coming our way this winter...thank goodness I managed to learn pig castration very quickly...now rewind back to April...
Now, during all the hogging the food drama, miss Patty Piggy was put in with Kermit the Hog in November. And in March she was showing definite signs of having babies! We moved her to the barn garage just in time! Though, we completely forgot she was from the first batch of pigs - the ones that learned to open the garage door by lifting up on the handle...so out she got! She built her nest in the hay pile and had 7 babies!!! 1 didn't make it, I honestly think he came out before she lied down, and hence, she lay herself right on top of him...poor thing :-( That night, Miss Piggy and her 6 babies were moved to the barn garage. Miss Piggy did pretty well for this being her very first litter, but still, with her size and the size of the piglets, two didn't make it. Both snuggled themselves up under her chin and just could get out when Piss Piggy moved - such as life with pigs I suppose. Those piglets that did survive those first few days are doing great! 1 female and 3 males! Of course - all the males are now castrated - that was an adventure...and that is a story for a different day!
Now to rewind a bit...we got 3 piglets, and then what? Ohhhh that's right....Baaaaaa Baaaaaa!!