Goodbye piggies, see you on my plate

Goodbye piggies, see you on my plate

Well today was the day of slaughter for Billy and Bobby. It took weeks of searching to finally find someone who would come and kill them for us. We could and maybe should have done it ourselves, but we were in office jobs only months ago! This is a big step. Normally the “Kill Billies” do the killing around here but they retired. We were getting scared and Rob started looking up how to do it ourselves (meaning we’d have to borrow a gun) when our neighbours who are the local butchers gave us someone to contact. That person put us in contact with a young guy who used to work in a slaughterhouse and now wanted to make this a business. So he came over and did it for the first time privately, meaning he came with no equipment other than a rope, bar, knives and a gun.

So you might be interested in how it went in case you want to do this yourself, or are just curious. If you aren’t then you probably don’t want to read this post.
Paul (I’ll give him that name as I don’t think this guy is registered as a business yet), came over this morning at 7:50am just as Rob was putting the final touches on a 9-foot high A-frame hoist he made (in a bit of a panic I must say as it was a bit wobbly). We asked around for a tractor with a bucket on it that could lift to 9-feet but couldn’t find one so had to build the frame. We weren’t supposed to feed the pigs for 24hrs before to have their stomachs empty, but Rob gave them some hog grower pellet food soaked in half a bottle of brandy just before anyway, to calm them down. Other things we needed were a hose nearby, a place to put the guts/skin/head (which was put in our compost and covered with considerable horse manure that we had gotten from a neighbour), and the truck beside ready to go. Rob also setup the walk-behind tractor to use with the hoist to pull up the pig.

I went to help finish the wobbly A-frame as Klara watched some cartoons and then when I was back inside, at 8:39am, I heard the gunshot. It took them an hour and a half to drain the blood on the field, drag the pig from the pen across a patch of grass and down to the truck, hoist it up (the walk-behind only helped a tiny bit) and cut it up. The second (bigger) pig waited in the field. No screaming or even anything from that pig. Maybe that was due to the brandy.

When I returned from dropping Klara at preschool, with Sam sleeping in the back of the car on this cool autumn day, I wandered down to help. Paul was sawing the pig in half and bagging each half in a white cloth.

They told me they’d need help with the second pig as it was too big. Paul even asked me to call the butcher and ask if we could bring it whole dead pig there and use their hoist as the three of us + tractor wouldn’t be able to pull it up. Even if it did, would our wobbly A-frame hoist support the weight? When I was walking to the house to make the call (which was fine with the butcher in the end, they are good friends to have!), Rob called out and asked if I wanted to see them kill the second pig. I said yes.
When I returned Rob was scattering pellets on the ground and Paul was taking aim with the rifle. He made a mental X between the ears and eyes (do not shoot between the eyes he said) and shot. With one shot in the brain it was obvious the pig was dead immediately. How awful to watch. It was a first for me and quite a shock. I pictured the life leaving the pig as it twisted and turned on the ground for a good few minutes. After 2minutes Paul put a knee on the neck of the pig, facing away from me. I thought he must be tender at heart after all as he was holding the shaking pig down. Rob even followed and held the back down. I came closer and walked around the pig and realized Paul hadn’t been holding it down but slitting its throat, there was a large pool of blood forming around the big slit.

After a few more minutes it was time to drag the pig. They each took a foot and told me to grab the ear. We needed to drag it headfirst to avoid pulling against the grain of the hair, as it would make the dragging harder. Rob could hardly get a handle on the ear on the first pig so before I grabbed it Paul poked a hole in the ear and told me to put my finger through to use it as a handle!!! No way. I said there was no way I was putting my finger through a hole in the pig’s ear. Definitely not after the shock of seeing my first animal killed. So Rob did it. He was also a little shocked I think but he had to kill chickens and rabbits, etc. during survival camp in the military. I guess just the fact that he was in the military helps. When I was dragging the pig by the foot the skin felt so human. When they stopped for a break I just held on to the foot for a while, it was so strange. Then we very awkwardly lifted it into the back of the truck using the wheelbarrow and off they went to the butcher.

At the butcher, they had to wait a while. Another man and family showed up at the same time with a dead elk in the back of their truck. They had gutted it and skinned it before – not sure where. Paul and Rob were able to use a proper hoist though and did what they needed before putting the half-pigs in a large freezer containing a cow, sheep, and now elks and pigs. We have to wait 10 days for the cuts, they seem to have good business!

Rob returned with the innards/skin for the compost as the butcher didn’t want to put those in his garbage, we kept the feet for the dogs. We had three pages of possible cuts of meat to choose from so Rob just chose a variety. 3 hams in one side, bacon, various kinds of sausages, etc. Now we wait.

I will miss the piggies. I will miss putting any and all food waste in the pig bucket in the kitchen (except bones and citrus pretty much) and having to go feed them twice a day. I’ll miss them escaping all the time and seeing Rob flip out whenever they break through the fence. I’ll miss worrying about them in the night and hearing them smash into the metal fencing as they fight. But, I’ll enjoy them in my plate and I know for sure we’ll get more some day. They did do a fantastic job of digging up and fertilizing the field we put them in. Goodbye piggies.

Fitting in, in the Slocan Valley

Fitting in, in the Slocan Valley

Slocan Lake, as seen from Idaho Peak

Most of my postings make it sound like we are completely isolated here. I did enjoy having time as a family when we arrived but we are by no means alone. The valley in which we live, the town, even the neighbourhood, are all full of very interesting people and things to do. The thing is, everybody is so very different from each other.

I’ve been trying to learn more about the area, reading about the Doukhobors (Russian pacifists who were exiled and setup communities in the valley where we live), the Sons of Freedom (a sect of the Doukhobors who set fire to their own homes while standing naked in protest to the government, had their children taken away to residential schools and who made terror attacks), also reading about the Japanese interment camps that were setup to take Japanese during WWII (but the Japanese had to build their own homes with no insulation and had little food the first winter). This valley has a lot of history and I don’t remember learning about it in school.

One thing I don’t know much about is aboriginal people. So when my sister sent me the link for a free 8-week program learning about aboriginal culture I jumped at it. Topics to be discussed were herbal baths and ethnobotanical education, perfect! I signed up without another thought. Two weeks later I looked up the dates to put them in my calendar and came across another part of their website. It reads, “Who: self-identified Indigenous cis women and their families, as well as other marginalized populations such as trans, 2 spirited and intersex women.” Apparently, the course is about learning to deal with trauma. This is about the trauma the aboriginal people faced in their lives or past generations. While I am very glad this workshop exists, I am also very glad that I didn’t show up there the first day as unaware as I was! How embarrassed I would have been to be selfishly there just to learn about herbs in their culture.

Some of the people around are very different to those that I’ve met before, especially in Europe. I love Europeans (why I lived there for 11 years and live with one here!) and I am Canadian and grew up in Canada, but these are not Europeans or Vancouverites. There are real hippies here, many people who grew weed for years and years to sell (and who think our herbs are weed despite our explanations), others who take drugs for spiritual journeys, and those who arrived here buying a section of forest and did absolutely everything themselves by hand. Some people live in Nelson and see others every day; some live on their remote land and see others only when absolutely necessary.
I’ve had people tell me I look different, maybe that’s my Belgian heritage, and maybe some think our commercial approach is be boring, but we are having no issues making friends and really like and respect our new friends and neighbours.

The thing about life here in the Slocan Valley and the Kootenays is that because people are so different, as long as you respect them and their history and differences, it seems that you can live together and appreciate each other.

Little Slocan Lake, where a family with 100 sheep, etc. lived in isolation for decades

As for selling herbs, no matter their background, most people respect their bodies and mental health. Therefore, for people here and elsewhere, we need to find out which herbs help people instead of just what is easiest to grow.

The home birth

The home birth

Waiting for the big day

What a relaxing experience. It was so lucky that neither baby nor I had any complications, that we had the most amazing midwife/gynaecologist, and that this was my second child. I think if any of those things had been different, the whole experience would have been different, but it wasn’t. 

My mom was visiting and had been around for days, we were doing various projects and hanging out. It was pretty relaxed. After a shockingly painful first birth (it wasn’t bad compared to others but the pain sure took me by surprise when I thought I’d rather die than continue and even after a course I had no idea how to manage contractions), I was expecting the worst. I was two days overdue so received a sweep from my midwife during our appointment the day before. The midwife prepared me to be induced the following week, she said I was pretty far off as the baby hadn’t dropped and my cervix was back and closed. Saw my neighbour in the grocery store afterwards and she gave me the ingredients to a labour cocktail (which thankfully I didn’t need) so I bought all that to prepare at home. Then Rob and I went around running tons of errands in Nelson, ate spicy thai for lunch, I drank tons of fluids and finished up paperwork in the evening. So I went to bed relaxed. At 4am my period cramp style cramping contractions woke me up. After 30min I started to time them and they were about 5min apart so I woke Rob up. He made me eggs for breakfast (which I later threw up…) and I called the midwife at 5am. No answer. So I ate and bounced on a ball and called again at 5:45. No answer again.

I was a bit concerned but it was still early days so no panic. Finally at 6:15 the midwife on call phoned and told me she’d sent the two midwives on the day shift to see me. One called and said I was still early so she’d be by at 10am. A little shocked at first, I realized this is what I needed to expect from a home birth.

Out for a walk between contractions

Meanwhile I took a bath for an hour, walked around the garden in a robe and sat on the love seat swing in our garden (where I threw up after a particularly bad contraction in front of a very confused Klara). At 10:30am the midwife arrived and said I was 5cm dilated. Apparently I had already been 2cm the day before but all other signs had showed that I was far off. 

Then the midwife left to an appointment in the nearest town 10 minutes away.

Rob prepared the bed and we thought it might be time for my mom and Klara to head off to my sister’s place for the day. It was impossile to keep things together in front of Klara, even though my mom was occupying her.  

I was told not to take another bath as things might progress too quickly. So I sat on a ball in the bathroom and listened to a hypnobirthing youtube video. First time listening to the whole thing and it was quite relaxing to listen as I breathed through contractions.

An hour later my favourite midwife showed up at the house with all her equipment. She set everything up for a while: the baby emergency equipment station in the bedroom, all the supplies, etc. After a while of hanging out she put in my antibiotics at 1pm (needed them as I had that bacteria they test for).

It was just so weird: the whole time though I was still able to breath through contractions and felt relaxed.

At 2pm, I was still traumatized from my first birth and expecting things to get crazy so I asked for my water to be broken. The midwife called the second midwife to tell her to come back from her appointments and we all went to the bedroom, after I thew up again with another bad contraction, and the midwife broke my water. 

I lay on the bed for a couple of contractions but it was too painful so I asked to stand up and put my hands on the bed. I even asked if I could deliver this way (since in Switzerland for Klara in the hospital there didn’t seem to be another choice than to lie in the hospital bed to push). So I stood there and moaned while the liquids poured out of me. After 4 contractions I felt the baby already dangling between my legs (yes, without the epidural you feel everything!). I asked Rob to take pictures or describe things but he was in shock and had forgotten the phone downstairs. Not that I’d post those pics here…

Then the baby was out! Rob didn’t even have time to catch him! (the midwife did 😉

See what I mean about relaxed? We just went step by step. The second midwife got stuck behind a hay delivering truck on the road so only arrived as they baby came out. She heard “it’s a boy” as she walked up the stairs to the bedroom.

It took 30min for my placenta to come out but I was ecstatic that it was over so didn’t mind the moving and pushing, etc.

The following part was a bit painful though. After managing the birth I decided to go through the 4 separate stitches I needed without anesthetic. Ow!

I lay on the bed for the next 4 hours with our new little Samuel trying to nurse and cuddling him while the midwife cleaned my legs and they both did paperwork. Rob had to go outside and take care of the animals. Sam was 55cm and the midwife had to measure him twice to be sure, he is quite a big baby.

I really never thought it possible but what a relaxing experience! After all that back and forth a home birth was 100% worth it. Sam also turned out to be the calmest baby I could ever imagine and in great health so I am so very grateful.

Farm life never sleeps

Farm life never sleeps

Whoever said that writing a blog, consulting, taking care of a newborn, taking care of a toddler, building a social life in a new place, and running a farm wouldn’t be easy (and that was pretty much everybody I know) wasn’t lying. It is indeed a challenge. I have a two week old baby and I am prepping for an interview for a second consulting contract in two days. It is nearly midnight and I just took a quick shower after finishing laundry and Rob is still downstairs finishing off the jam that we were making tonight with the kilos of strawberries that are growing in the garden. We froze strawberries, fed them to all the neighbors we had over last night as a little get together to introduce Sam, and have now made two batches of jam, a batch of syrup and two batches of strawberry muffins. In addition to Klara eating them constantly too. Although, Klara is such a help in picking them that her eating as much as she can take (or even me eating so many) isn’t putting a dent in the amount we are harvesting. 

We have so many projects ongoing but they are being overrun by this damned pool! I’ve spent countless hours trying to clean the pool (figuring out how to setup the vacuum, putting chemicals in, vacuuming, putting more chemicals, waking up in the night and running outside to turn off the filter because I can’t sleep knowing how much electricity that thing it consuming!). Rob built a fence around it which took a while too, once we figured out how we should build it. In general, pools are such a complete waste of resources but now that we’ve invested so much in this one I at least want to enjoy it. Rob’s daughters are arriving in a few weeks too and the whole experience here for a 8 and 9 year old is considerably different with a pool.

Other projects were building raised beds: buying the wood and treating it, digging out all the plants from the hoop house beside the pig field to access the sand, carrying up the sand from the field in a wheelbarrow, buying soil and peat moss, etc. to fill the raised bed, building the bed. Then finally planting the beds.

We’ve also started work on the deck. With my mom here for two weeks it was a huge huge help and she actually helped with projects around the house too. I would wake up from a nap and she had scraped old paint off the deck so I could treat the wood. In addition to taking care of the kids and cooking and cleaning up. Completely amazing. I am trying to keep on top of things since she left, hence the title of the blog post – farm life never sleeps. The work has now taken the place of my nap. With a newborn feeding every 2 hours minimum, although Sam is an angel who sleeps well and hardly ever cries, he likes to be held always and I do need to be up half the night feeding him.

It is so fun though!!!

Then a dog killed a chicken

Then a dog killed a chicken

This is Summer. The chickens peck at her enough that she would never hurt them. They even eat her food and she runs away.

Just when things were calming down before the baby. I was taking a nap and Rob comes into the bedroom with an awful look on his face. He had gone outside to find Eva lying on the ground, a chicken on her paws and Eva licking it. Oh, and the chicken was ripped open with a leg over her shoulder! Rob ran to yell at Eva and as Eva ran off the other chickens came to peck at their friend. They started with the yolk of the egg that was inside her… great friends!

We weren’t sure if Eva killed her. Innocent until proven guilty and all. But there was no way a hawk came down with Eva and Summer outside and no other animal could have gotten in there either. I googled it and wrote to the dog training school nearby, both sources said it was most likely Eva playing with the chicken and accidentally killing it. 

Then there was the matter of what to do with this dead, ripped open chicken. We weren’t going to eat it and couldn’t give it to Eva. We googled again if we could give it to the pigs. Apparently yes, so the pigs got their treat. 

That evening, as I was putting the pigs to bed (giving them some last food and closing the door to their house) I noticed that the head and throat and both wings of the chicken were lying on the ground near the pig house. Not wanting to attract bears or other animals to the pigs, I had to pick them up and get rid of them. So, I walked all the way to the river with the dogs and threw the head and wings in. 

Now Eva has to stay on a leash whenever we aren’t outside with her. We asked the dog trainer for a private lesson at the farm for tips but the trainer mentioned a method involving tying a dead chicken to Eva’s neck! Ew!

Her personality did not change a bit after she was spayed. A week later she was back outside harassing those poor chickens.

EDIT: Eva has since killed another chicken! I didn’t put her on the leash one day since I thought Rob was taking her for a walk. We were sitting inside with my sister and nephew talking and I forgot about the walk. Then my sister left and about an hour later Rob goes outside to find Eva chewing on a poor chicken’s neck. The chicken was still alive and apparently he could see the heart beating inside the open chicken. My nephew was in for a treat as he then witnessed Rob chop the head off the chicken and feed it to the pigs. We couldn’t eat this one either as it was probably full of Eva’s bacteria – and she eats all the chicken and dog poo outside so she has tons of bacteria. She has been spayed since but that changed nothing. Eva is a hunting dog and now needs to be on a leash whenever we aren’t outside or the chickens aren’t in bed. Luckily we are outside a lot and she sleeps outside now so gets to run around at night. However, we are down to 6 chickens…

SPECIAL OFFER: Spend $30 or more and get FREE shipping in Canada