This guest blog entry has been submitted by Amy Pachay, who along with her husband Andy raise Niman Ranch pigs on their farm located in Cass County, Michigan. Andy has been farming for many years raising pigs and sheep in a pasture system and growing corn, soybeans and hay to maintain a crop rotation. The Pachay’s also have a small Black Angus herd, Chantecler chickens, Royal Palm turkeys and a pet goat named Tilly, who believes she is a dog.
It’s officially spring! Here on our farm we’ve been seeing the signs that spring was on the way for a couple of weeks now. We’ve spotted the first Sandhill Cranes on the pasture and an early Robin flying through the backyard. The Bluebirds have been staking their claims on the birdhouses that we have provided for them and two of our Chantecler chickens have gone broody and are sitting on a clutch of eggs. In the garden, the crocuses are in bloom and the daffodils and tulips are starting to emerge. For me, the beginning of spring is bittersweet. After the long winter I’m certainly ready to welcome this change and look forward to the growing season that is ahead. At the same time, however, I realize we are about to become extremely busy with field work and planting! We’ll be putting some long hours in the next few months, so right now we try to concentrate on enjoying the weather and spending as much time together as possible.
One of the things that we enjoy doing as a family i s taking a walk here on the farm lanes. After dinner, I almost always hear, “Mom can we go for a walk?” Usually it’s initiated by 8- year- old Emma, who lives to collect beautiful rocks and fossils, a walk provides her with the perfect occasion to do such a thing. There is always something to delight each of us on these little adventures!
Before leaving the yard we are joined by Tilly, our pet goat, who along the path discovers her favorite treat: tasty oak leaves that are lying on the ground from the previous fall. Our leisurely stroll always begins with Ellie, our 4-year-old, drawing curious stares from the cows, as she cheerfully stomps through the mud puddles that have been left behind by our recent rapid snow melt. She is going to be extremely disappointed when the lanes inevitably dry up…but I won’t! Our cows contentedly continue to eat and watch us until we are out of their sight .
Next we will visit the ewes, their lambs, and Poncho, the guardian donkey. Poncho always demands a few scratches behind the ear before we can move on and if he’s ignored we are met with some very impatient and noisy braying. The ewes will usually come for a brief visit before returning to their meals. Meanwhile, their lambs join into a group and participate in their version of follow the leader, jumping imaginary objects in their path. This always gives us all a chuckle.
As we head up hill, our almost 10-year-old, Drew, overturns rocks and pieces of wood in hopes of unearthing worms. Lately, this has been a very productive endeavor. He has fishing on his mind but the ice has not yet melted from the lakes. We continue down the lane and start to get close to the field that the pigs are in. We always announce ourselves by calling, “Hey piggy pigs!” Happily they come trotting across the field, grunting all the way. They greet us for a short time and return to their business; getting something to eat, playing in their bedding, nibbling some grass or scampering across the field. The sun is setting, so we decide that it’s time to wander back to the house.
This all sounds like pure recreation right? Actually, these visits are a vital part of our job as farmers. It’s an opportunity to observe our animals with a mind that is not distracted by the daily chores that need to be done. We’ve already taken care of feeding, bedding and checking waters and this gives us a chance to have one last look to make sure that nothing was forgotten or missed during the day. Observing the animals in their natural state is a valuable tool for us. It helps us pick up on the small, often subtle, clues that someone might not be feeling well or that a feeder or waterer is not working properly. They will let us know if we pay attention! We also feel that socializing with them minimizes their stress when we have to work with them or if they are exposed to a new situation.
This is one of the farm chores that I find the most pleasurable, especially when we can all do it together!