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Ever had one of those days!  I had a great story to write, I typed it up, I added pictures, I posted it, and… it was all scrambled when it posted!  Ahhhh!  So, instead of taking the time to redo everything, I’m giving the brief version in pictures.

Below is the snapping turtle that showed up at our construction site:

 

Following are some pictures of the wagon train that went by our house.  It is called the Friendship Wagon Train and it raises funds for Camp Winnebago in Caledonia, MN.

 

Below is what will be one of our farrowing rooms.  These will be the last rooms to be completed because they will be the last rooms the pigs will need.

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Running motivation from a poster

 
“Is it raining?”, Brandon asked me at 4:30am, the morning of my 1/2 marathon race in Duluth.
 
“It doesn’t matter”, was my response.  After training for months, I wasn’t worried about the weather or my stiff knee or the wind.  None of that mattered.  I just wanted to soak in the feeling of the day, and virtually nothing could ruin that feeling.
 
I love the feel of race day.  Joy and pain and energy

Max didn't run fast enough

and exhaustion and smiling and crying and accomplishment.  It’s a high that is hard to describe.  The race went well, but the weekend was about so much more than the race itself.  The weekend was about bringing the four corners of my life into the center.  I call these four corners the “four F’s”. 
 
The four F’s in my life include family, faith, fitness, and farming.  Which F is taking priority depends on the day or hour, but often only one is in the center.  What is so great about Grandma’s Marathon weekend is that the priorities in my life come together and intertwine, and it is very seldom that this opportunity arises.   It’s a powerful feeling… pork power.
 
 
 

With four days left until my 1/2 marathon race, I thought I would be more ready mentally.  But my thoughts have been distracted by pig barns and boar collecting and finding a job  and preparing to host our neighborhood pignic.  The fact that my knee is only half ready for the race hasn’t really bothered me with everything else that’s going on.

I’m sure Brandon is building hog barns in his sleep at this point.  We have gilts arriving in three weeks and one of the buildings needs to be ready to receive them.  Gilts are the female pigs before they have had a litter.  Once they have had a litter of piglets, they are then called sows.

Boar collecting has been “interesting” in a temporary facility.  In my old boarstud, I felt completely safe with narrow alleys and secure gating.  In the sow unit it seems as if the alleys are too narrow so the boars don’t want to walk there or they are too wide where the boars can turn around.  I don’t enjoy coming head to head with a boar.  I would rather stay at his tail.  I know it’s all part of growing pains, but it is just that, a pain.

I’m also at a point where I need to decide whether pigs are my job choice.  There’s definitely plenty to do, if that’s what I choose, but I’m not by nature an animal person.  So I’ve been looking into what my employment options are.  I have to say, after being a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, finding a job isn’t as easy as one may think.

Finally, we host a “pignic” every June to show appreciation to our neighbors and the people we do business with for helping us achieve our business goals.  It’s a fun social event, but of course there are details that need to be taken care of ahead of time.  Every year in the past, Brandon has roasted a hog and we have served pork sandwiches.  I told Brandon the other day that there is no way he is going to have time to roast a hog this year.  I thought he may refute the statement, but he agreed.  So, yesterday I ordered pulled pork from our local catering guy, Russ.  It felt so weird to be ordering pork since we always make our own, but I guess we need to know our limits, and I think we’ve already crossed those.  So the pignic plans are underway.

And then there’s the half marathon.  This is the most relaxing part of my life right now.  I love to run, even with a bad knee.  I love the race atmosphere, with energy that is palpable.  I love that I am pulling two huge pieces of my life, pigs and running, into one place.  Go pork power!

Farrowing Barn Construction

Construction on our pigs barns is moving along quickly.  The walls are all up and the tin is on the roofs.  When the project is finished we will have four barns in all.  Two barns will be for gestation.  That is where the sows are bred and hang out during their pregnancies.  One barn is for farrowing.  This barn is where the sows will have their piglets and nurse them for around 20 days before the baby pigs are weaned off of the sows.  The final tiny barn is my boar stud.  The boar stud is where the male pigs live.  This barn already exists, and I have continued to work there during construction.  I go in twice a week to collect semen from the boars, add extender to the semen to give it a longer shelf life, and put it in tubes to be used to breed the sows.

The boarstud is getting a makeover during construction, so the boars needed to be moved.  On Wednesday, Brandon loaded up the boars and hauled them up to our existing sow unit.  This will be their temporary home until renovation of the boarstud is complete.  The boars love this new home!  They are surrounded by approximately 1000 females and it appears they are enjoying the hormones in the air.

Yesterday, all of the lab equipment and other supplies necessary for collection were moved to the sow unit.  My daughter Maddie has been to the boarstud with me countless times and she was an invaluable resource for our employee Will as he set up a collection pen for the boars in the gestation barn.  Maddie felt pretty good about being able to give orders to the barn manager.  She did a terrific job laying out the collection pen.  Yesterday evening, Brandon and I made sure the new facility was going to work for collection by working a couple of the boars.  It appears this temporary set-up should work just fine.

While all of this construction and moving and collecting are going on, I’m still finding time to train for the 1/2 marathon.  Teresa K. and I are going to run the “Udder Run” tomorrow morning.  This is the race that happens during our towns “Volksfest” celebration.  It’s called the Udder Run because of our towns huge ties to agriculture, dairy in particular.  The weather is supposed to be cool, which is perfect for running.

Summer vacation is officially here for my kids!  They had their last day of school yesterday and celebrated by having about 25 classmates over to our house for a party.  The 9th and 10th graders hung out together while the 3rd and 6th graders kept me posted on what the older kids were up to.  I completely trust my girls, but they forbid me from checking in on them, so I needed to have someone report back on the older kids whereabouts.  The classmates had a great time playing football, capture the flag, and having a mud fight in our pond.  All good, clean (well not all clean), fun for kids. 

Today, the first day of summer vacation, my oldest three children headed off to work.  Our kids will not be spending their entire vacation going to sports camps, hanging out with friends, playing video games, and watching TV.  Instead, they are expected to work on the farm, even if that means missing out on some of the events their classmates are taking part in.  Our children don’t always find this fair, but we feel work experience is an important piece of raising responsible, self-reliant future adults. 

After I delivered all my kids’ friends to their respective homes today, I went for a run with Teresa K.  The 1/2 marathon in Duluth will be Teresa’s 1st 1/2 marathon and she is so ready.  I have been training with her for a few months, and just when I got done whining about my lung problems, I started having knee issues.  I’ve been wearing two knee braces on runs now and I think these will see me through the race.  I’m not pain-free, but the discomfort is tolerable.  Teresa is a yoga person and has had no injuries or illness.  Maybe I’ll try to work yoga into my training routine next year.  Couldn’t hurt.

As I sit down to write, my mind is pulling me in 500 other directions.  I’m thinking about the bars and bbq I need to make for my nieces graduation, the training run I should be doing, the phone calls and appointments I need to make, the endless list of household chores, planning our annual pignic, my husband who has become as scarce as a clear spot on our kitchen counter.

Lunch Break

Brandon has begun construction on a new barn, actually three barns, to house our sows that will make replacement gilts.  The sows that live in these barns will be bred with semen that has the maternal characteristics we find favorable in a sow.  The sows in our current unit are bred with semen to create butcher hogs.

So construction has begun and Brandon is in his element.  He functions best

Checking out the farrowing barn pit

when the stakes are high and the deadlines are tight.  Even after being married to him for 16 years, I’m still surprised at the environment that he thrives in.  I don’t know a lot of people who enjoy dealing with the constant hiccups and headaches that arise when tackling a big project.  Brandon appears to welcome the challenges.

Yesterday my four kids, my nephew, four high school boys, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, and Brandon laid the flooring for our farrowing barn.  Tomorrow the walls will go up on one of our gestation barns.  The project keeps clicking along and the weather hasn’t been too much of a hindrance.  We have pigs scheduled to arrive the first week in July, so the gestation barns need to be ready.   Stay tuned as the barns take shape.

 

Exactly where does your food come from?  Brandon and I had the opportunity to answer that exact question yesterday during an “Oink Outing”.  The MN Pork Producers connected us with 4 moms from the Cities who answer the daunting question of “What’s for supper?” every day.  We also had the opportunity to visit with Chef Paul Lynch of Fire Lake Grill House.  Chef Paul shared with the moms and us how easy it is to prepare pork, did a cooking demonstration for us, and finally served us a delicious meal.

Following our meal at Chef Paul’s restaurant we drove to our farm for a tour.  The four women who were unfamiliar with farming had excellent questions ranging from, “What do the pigs eat?” to “What have the high corn and soybean prices done to our farm’s profitability?” and everything in between. 

Society has access to so much information that it is sometimes hard to sort out fact from fiction.  That is why we really appreciate the opportunity to show people what exactly it is we do, and more importantly, why we do things the way we do them.  It is not only in our pigs’ best interest to be comfortable and healthy, but in our best interest to raise production animals in a comfortable and healthy way.

Your food doesn’t come from a grocery store or a restaurant.  Your food comes from a farm.  Happy Eating!

Kendrah & Hal

Our border collie, Hal, has amazing instincts.  He lives to herd anything.  Cattle, sheep, cars, children… he’s not picky. 

This afternoon I was washing the dishes and looking out my window at the amazing view of our pastures, fields, and neighboring farmland.  As I stood there scrubbing fried egg off of a skillet my mind wandered to who knows where.  My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a 4-wheeler and barking.

I focused in on where the noise was coming from and quickly realized Hal was trying his best to help my brother-in-law herd the cattle.  Unfortunately, my brother-in-law wasn’t try to herd the cattle.  He was trying to move them from one pasture to another.  Hal wouldn’t allow it.  His instincts told him to keep those cattle right where they were.

I giggled to myself, because it was quite a funny site.  Then I felt guilty, because I’m sure my brother-in-law saw no humor in this situation at all.  I grabbed Hal’s leash and figured I would at least try to remove Hal from the situation.  I hiked out into the pasture, down our big sledding hill, and up to Hal, the cattle, my brother-in-law, and Andy, an employee.  Hal paid no attention to me, he had work to do.

I had seen Hal follow our 4-wheelers many times, so suggested that Andy drive his 4-wheeler up towards our house.  Andy slowly moved up the hill with me walking beside him.  It worked!  Hal ran along behind the 4-wheeler.  Whew!  The cattle were moved onto fresh grass and the work day continued. 

It looks like we may have one more job this summer… training Hal.

We broke ground yesterday on our sow expansion project.  There wasn’t a golden shovel to scoop the first dirt.  No press to capture the moment in photos.  All that was needed was a backhoe, a willing crew, and sunny weather. Thankfully, we had all three.

A farmer’s work day is always long, but now Brandon’s days will become extra-long.  Yesterday he started work at 6am, took a 10 minute lunch, snuck away to Maddie’s junior high concert from 7-8:30pm, went back to work and finished up around midnight.  Although the days are long, I think Brandon is really glad to be moving forward with the project finally.  Planning and doing all of the groundwork gets long and feels unproductive.

Training for a half marathon sometimes feels that way… it gets long and sometimes feels unproductive.  I’m trying a different approach to the training this year.  I’m only running 3-4 days a week in hopes of staying injury free.  We’ll see how this approach works and if my final time suffers because of it.  Seven weeks to go!

As I’ve been spending time training for the Duluth 1/2 marathon, Brandon has been working on plans for expanding our farm.  A lot has changed since the last time we expanded in 1997.

In 1997 Brandon was 25 years old with relatively little hog experience and not much of a track record in agriculture.  The steps it took to get a loan for a 1600 sow expansion were few and the biggest challenge was convincing Grandpa Schafer that expanding the sow herd was a wise idea.

Flash forward to 2011.  Today we are looking at doing an expansion that is half of what we were tackling in 1997, but the requirements from our lending company have been ten times what they were in 1997.  From balance sheets to building plans, from hog health status to manure management, the list of requirements seems to be never-ending to me.  Brandon is a patient man who thrives on planning and implementing those plans, so jumping through all of the hoops doesn’t seem to bother him.

I figured that Brandon’s production records would speak for themselves.  He has created a fine-tuned system  in our sow unit, with pig numbers any producer would be happy to have.  But times continue to change in agriculture and the challenge to run a profitable business continues to increase.  Lending company’s seem to have an inflated concern about the perceived risk in agriculture.  Regardless of whether this concern is legitimate, we have to follow the lending company’s rules in order to secure funding and expand our business.  This is where passion comes in.  It’s our love of farming that keeps us moving forward in the challenging industry of agriculture.