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  • Writer's pictureNic

3.20.16 Letter to friends

Dear Friends,

I really thought that handing off my business and our move to Sharpsville (SV) would leave me with more time to write, but alas it has not worked out that way.  Instead I find each day chock full of people and places and tasks.

I head out every morning; first to feed the pigs, oh wait, did I forget to mention the pigs?  Well, there are now pigs (more details later) and they get fed.  Then if it is a school day, I drive the kids 10 minutes to school, they all go to the same place/same time since the SV high school and middle school are joined together and they have the same schedule.

Then I drive back to the home we are currently living in and take the dog for a walk.  It’s 37 incredible acres that I can explore every day with the dog, rain or shine or snow.  Several weeks ago we startled a herd of deer bedded down in some tall weeds.  I about had a heart attack, since my eyes comprehended “deer-running” but my adrenaline went with “aughhh!! death and destruction erupting out of weed patch!!”

Ano (our mostly great dog) of course, took off after the first deer which placed him smack dab in the middle of about 6 deer running flat out. You must picture it… Rapidly disappearing blur of black dog, brown deer leaping through trees and sunlight in the snowy wood and I am wearing insulated work coveralls, insulated jacket, insulated muck boots, I am moving about as fast as a two year old in a snowsuit, yelling “No bad dog, no come back, here, cooome HERE!!” No luck.  After “running” about 50 feet I gave up and stood still listening to the incredible silence of a snowy woods.  “ANOOOOOO!” listen.  “Ahhhh-NOOOOOOO!” listen.  After the fifteenth time (or so) I stood trying to figure out how this had exactly happened and what to do next when I heard the faint jingling of dog tags and brush crashing and in swooped Ano from a very different direction than the one he had run off in, panting, deer-less and very satisfied with himself.  I was so relieved that he had come back that I simply turned and slogged back through the snow home, thoroughly spent and it was only 8am!!


Snowy walk

We have seen merganser ducks, bald eagles, the great blue heron, hawks, ospreys, voles, chipmunks, fox squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, flocks of bluebirds, sunrises galore, fox prints, coyote prints, swirling fogs, driving rains, and whiteout snow squalls.  There’s always something to marvel at.  After I get the dog home, usually uneventfully but  beautifully, I feed him his breakfast and do my devotions.  Next it’s a variable round of home chores, church responsibilities, or farm work (not our rental farm but our very own farm).  

1.2016 momcam pigs and frost 030

[Set-up to prune the apple trees]

I try to swing by OUR farm every day, feed the “barn” cats who live in out unoccupied house, check on everything, and complete any tasks that I can work on like: moving shrubs, pruning apple trees and grape vines, etc… That wraps up around 3pm when I go to the school to pick up the kids.

[snow fort built by Riah and his friend Pierce]


[preparing for community spaghetti dinner fundraiser during the kid’s youth group “30 hour famine”  Jed, our dear former neighbor and Riah’s best buddy, came up from Pittsburgh on the BUS to join us!]

3.2016 30 hour famine 012
3.2016 30 hour famine 019

I am blessed beyond belief with kids who want to talk, and talk! They each want to share about their day, their troubles and happinesses.  They discuss their classes, their classmates, the presidential election, dating (the futility of high school romance) and any everything else.  There are some days that Mike and I pick them up and fleetingly consider the merits of a “chauffeur window” to silence the cacophony in the backseat, but only for a second or so.

Once we get everyone home.  They embark on homework and I start making dinner and Mike prepares for evening church meetings, or works on sermons, or takes a break.  I usually feed the pigs their slop around 6pm.

So-PIGS.  We made the decision in November to look for a breeding pair of American Guinea hogs (not guinea pigs which are small rodents from Peru).  This is a heritage breed of pig that was once common and is now moderately rare.  Built along the lines of a potbellied pig, black and very hairy, they are renowned for their docile temperament, ability to graze, and great mothering skills.  They only grow to be about 250-300lbs and are considered a great homestead pig.  We decided to get a breeding pair to keep and planned to eat (eventually) their offspring.  So we found a nice farm family who had an unrelated male and female (boar and gilt) that were quite young (6mos and 1 year) available January 2/3ish.

So we went ahead and took time over Christmas break to built a “pig tractor” also known as the “pig-o-tiller” which is basically a mobile pig pen so they could stay with us at our rental farm until we move over to OUR farm. 

12.2015 Christmas and Pigs 079

[Using the grinder to built the pig tractor]

Two days before we drove up to pick up our piggies, we received a phone call from the farmers, “Surprise! Your gilt is going to have piglets.  Soon.  Like in a week or two!” Wow, regroup.  Needless to say, the prospect of two pigs for the the next 4-6 months seemed like a pretty low key and easy entry to livestock, but now we were looking at 6-10 pigs in the coldest part of the winter and we are the greenest greenhorns imaginable (yes, we’ve read a lot, and I  re-read all of Jim Herriot’s veterinarian books, fiction of course, but really what does that qualify you for? A library card, that’s what!)

Mr.Feeny and Feeona arrived squealing like… well, like pigs on a damp, mild, January evening.  We installed them in the pig tractor and they seemed pretty relaxed by the next morning.  Four days later, getting the kids ready for school, I found four perfect little hairy piglets with Feeona in the straw.  But she was in distress, four and half hours later, after many frantic phone calls and struggling to figure out how best to help a 50lb laboring pig, Mike assisted in delivering the last piglet.  After such a traumatic entry to the world, that little guy died around midnight, I found another dead piglet in the straw when I was helping tidy up, so out of 6 piglets, we now have 4 (2 boars, 2 gilts).  We think we ran into trouble because Feeona was so small and the “father” (not Mr. Feeny) was very big.  The piglets each weighed 1.5 lbs and the average is 1lb.  Either way, it has been fun and interesting to watch what a great mother Feeona and how careful she was around the new piglets.  

[Pig tractor early in the morning with heat lamps for the tiny piglets, during the deep cold Feeona had made a big straw nest and the piglets would stay buried when she was up and about.  There’s a piglet’s back just peeking through the straw in the picture below.  The tiny piglets would lie together in a row and each would make a little grunting noise in turn, one after the other, like a kettle simmering.]

1.2016 winter fun piglets 013

We ended up having to separate Mr.Feeny, not because he was aggressive towards the piglets, but because he, as a 6 month old pig/piglet (the swine version of manchild)  was used to snuggling up next his mama’s belly.  He did not want to let the piglets lay on the warmest spot so he kept moving them out of his way.  So he earned his own third of the pen by day 5.  

[All the pigs are almost double in size since this photo]

piglets 1 14 16 mom canon 024

Since then, we have built another tractor and he resides in one and Feeona and the kids are hanging out in the other one.  Next week we will be moving the little boars over to join Uncle Feeny.

We went yesterday to Union City, PA and picked up a used hay wagon that we are converting into a mobile henhouse and we’ll be getting chicks (future egg-laying hens) in about a month.  Later this summer we are going to experiment with meat birds once we’ve gotten over to our place full-time.

Crazy, I know.  But it is an adventure that we have always dreamed of.  We are reaching out to many great people who have loads more experience than we do for insight and guidance.  And the congregation keeps asking Mike to work more pig anecdotes into his sermons.

We continue to be grateful for God’s call to this place at this time.  If you haven’t already heard, Mike’s ordination and installation is coming up on April 10th at 4pm with dinner to follow at 6pm, if you are planning coming, just email me with a head count for dinner by April 1st. (Happy Birthday Ellen H. and Sam A!)

mike invite 4 10 .2

I will try to write updates more often, but I’ve said that before 😉

Much love, Nicole

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