This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
One of the best feelings in the world is lying in a cozy bed and listening to the rain hitting the roof. The recent moisture has got the springs flowing again and we have arrived at the seasonal time of water abundance. I’ve been thinking about how different my life is during the wet months, like a switch flips into a new reality.
During the dry months water is always at a premium. We pump from a spring on the bottom of the property for drinking and household water, and from the pond for our agricultural needs. This fall we’ve had trouble with the spring water pump, a submersible Grundfos that is almost 20 years old. It hasn’t been capable of pushing the water that it used to, so there hasn’t been enough.
Once the rains come, the spring at the top of the property starts to flow again and our water woes are over for the year, but even though there have been a couple of good rain events this fall, it wasn’t enough to get the spring going. I’m glad to feel the anxiety of water lift off my shoulders for the winter, a respite that gives me time to scrape up the money for a new pump and get it installed before the dry season returns.
I love living in a Mediterranean climate, but the variability can be tricky to manage. Last year the fall was so wet that we had a helluva time bringing in the cannabis harvest, but the pastures grew lush and vibrant and there was ample forage. This year was a stellar cannabis harvest, and there was enough rain to start the pastures growing, though not near as much as last year.
We got three new pigs this week, all young KuneKune boars, whom we’ve named Hank, Tank and Hotdog. Hank and Tank are both 6 months old with big, floppy ears. Hank is all tan colored, and Tank is orange with black spots. Hotdog has similar coloring to Tank but is much smaller, just weaned. We’re making friends, Hank and Tank will let me scratch their ears while they eat, but Hotdog is still wary.
Over the last ten years we’ve raised a few different breeds of pig, starting with a Duroc and a pair of Red Wattle x wild boar. The Duroc was sweet and gentle, but the Wattle crosses were intense and wily. After that we raised another pair of Durocs, and then, after a gap of a few years, we started working with the KuneKunes.
Bred by the Maori people in New Zealand, KuneKune means “fat and round”. They have a very mild temperament and like to forage and eat grass and other greenery. They don’t need grain, but are a slower growing pig that packs on a lot of lard. Unlike the long, lean Durocs and other pigs bred to convert high input grain diets into lean meat, these pigs are lower calorie input and are happy eating whatever comes from the garden or orchards.
Last year we got Georgie, a young Guinea Hog x KuneKune boar, and he grew up and successfully bred our KuneKune sow. The resulting piglets have characteristics of both breeds, and the boar has gotten larger and is a lot to handle. He still has a sweet temperament, but he’s high energy and has a very different personality from the KuneKunes.
This recent round of piglets is our first sojourn into pig breeding. It has been a great experience, but also a learning lesson of what pig genetics we want to work with. Our goal in bringing home the new KuneKune boars is to begin anew with pure KuneKune breeding. My hope is to find someone with a young KuneKune sow who would like to trade for a young boar.
We’re pretty sure that Ms. Piggie is pregnant again, so we’re hoping for another round of piglets to bridge the transition until Hank is old enough and we’ve secured a breeding sow. Ms. Piggie is almost three years old, and we’re not sure she’ll still be able to breed by the time Hank comes of age, but if so, then that would be an added bonus. Our feed costs are up with the addition of more pigs, but it’s an investment I’m willing to make to move in the direction I want to go.
I love the slower mornings on these short days. Without the hectic schedule of the busier months, I’m able to take the time to sit on a bucket and scratch pig ears while they eat. I’m coming to enjoy working with livestock more and more as the years pass by. Animals have much to teach about the rhythm and cadence of life. Keep it calm and mellow, don’t move fast, pay attention and stay in the present. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!