Learning the hard way


It took us years to get the garden’s fertility just so. And it took me three days to get this year’s garden planted. But here it sits: untouched and rotting on the ground because we cannot eat a bite of it.

I have been putting off writing this post for a long time. Partly because it’s a hell of a bummer of a topic and partly because I was still doing research. The research is done and it’s time to face the facts: we have to abandon the vegetable garden.

Why? The short answer is that the ground is contaminated with the eggs of Ascaris worms from the pigs. We are ideal hosts for them, as are the chickens and the Boll Weevil cat. Parasites like these are why you are warned against composting dog and cat feces.

What we have learned here is that pig farming and gardening should never ever be combined. This is common knowledge in tropical and third-world areas, but totally unknown to us temperate North Americans.

Here’s the long answer:

The latest pigs had large roundworms. This is pretty common in modern domestic pigs. The breeder we use usually worms the piglets before we get them. Either one or both of our piglets evaded him on worming day or we already had Ascaris ova in our soil (from previous pigs or passing cats, who love to use the garden as a litter box). We wormed them and thought nothing more of it, as it did not affect their meat.

In pigs, roundworms are called Ascaris suum and in humans they are Ascaris lumbricoides. However, these worms are “indistinguishable morphologically” [1] and are now theorized (though not proven) to be the same species.[2] The ability of A. suum to infect humans was proven last year in a case study by the CDC. [2]

Ascaris eggs cannot be killed by freezing temperatures.[3] Bleach cannot kill them, either.[4] This means that there is no chemical we could drench the soil with that would not also kill us and the wildlife. They often survive microwaving and irradiation. They have been repeatedly proven to live 5 years in the soil – even after desiccation – and one study I read showed that the eggs were still viable after 15 years.[5]

Temperatures of 122 degrees for a minimum of 2 hours can kill them.[6] Soil solarization can (but does not always) raise the temperature of the soil to 140 degrees.[7] However, it only affects the top 6 inches of soil and we have eggs at least 2 feet down thanks to the holes the pigs dug – and likely rainwater and earthworms have carried them farther down yet.[8] [9]

So we don’t really have any realistic options for removing the eggs from our soil. (An unrealistic option would be to excavate the site and replace the soil entirely. However, that would be massively cost-prohibitive and unless we sent the soil to a hazardous materials dump site – which is even more costly – we would be passing the problem along to someone else because any facility that accepted the soil would screen it and resell it as fill to another customer.)

I am not convinced that microscopic ova cannot leach upwards into clean raised bed soil, but I might consider installing raised beds to grow ornamentals or plants whose edible parts have no contact with the soil, though this would limit our options to peas and corn. Anything else sits in or on the ground. Matt has suggested his pet crop, wheat. I think this might be a viable option so long as we are careful during planting and harvest about dust (eggs can become airborne and be breathed in[10]) and do not use the straw in the chicken coop.

Our best bet is to move the food growing operation to the front yard and hope that the ground there has not already been contaminated via compost, my boots, and my tools. Over the former vegetable garden we would be best off to grow grass or “pave” the area by putting in hardscaping and/or a structure such as a pergola or greenhouse.

Please learn from our mistake. Keep pigs well away from sites where edibles are being grown and do not use pig manure to fertilize crops. Rotating pigs and vegetables, as we have done for the past several years, is a terrible idea.

— Amanda

[1] Miller, Leigh Ann, et al. “Cross-Transmission of Ascaris Infection from Pigs to Humans at an Organic Farm-Coastal Maine, 2012.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (https://cste.confex.com/cste/2013/webprogram/Paper1636.html)

[2] Leles D, Gardner SL, Reinhard K, Iñiguez A, Araujo A. “Are Ascaris lumbricoides and Ascaris suum a single species?” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22348306 )

[3] Selendy, Janine M. H., ed. Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment: Challenges, Interventions, and Preventative Measures. John Wiley & Sons, Oct 7, 2011.

[4] Brownell, Sarah A. and Nelson, Kara L. “Inactivation of Single-Celled Ascaris suum Eggs by Low-Pressure UV Radiation” Appl. Environ. Microbiol. March 2006 vol. 72 no. 3 2178-2184 (http://aem.asm.org/content/72/3/2178 ) [NOTE: This is just one of many scientific articles I read in which sodium hypochlorite is mentioned as being used to remove the outer layers of the eggs to hasten embryonation.)

[5] “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption; Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food; Draft Qualitative Risk Assessment of Risk of Activity/Food Combinations for Activities (Outside the Farm Definition) Conducted in a Facility Co-Located on a Farm; Availability; Proposed Rules.” Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Parts 1, 16, 106, Et al. (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-01-16/pdf/2013-00123.pdf )

[6] “Bio-intensive Approach to Small-scale Household Food Production.” International Institute for Rural Reconstruction. (http://collections.infocollections.org/ukedu/uk/d/Jii06be/3.5.html )

[7] Stapleton, J.J.; Wilen, C.A.; Molinar, R. H. “Soil Solarization or Gardens & Landscapes: Integrated Pest Management for Home Gardeners and Landscape Professionals” UC Statewide IPM Program,

University of California, Davis. http://ucanr.edu/sites/Solarization/files/114635.pdf )

[8] Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., et al. “Soil Transmitted Helminth Infections: The Nature, Causes and Burden of the Condition” Disease Control Priorities Project. (http://www.dcp2.org/file/19/ )

[9] Kraglund, H O; Grønvold, J; Roepstorff, A; Rawat, H. “Interactions between the nematode parasite of pigs, Ascarissuum, and the earthworm Aporrectodea longa.” Acta Vet Scand. 1998;39(4):453-60. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9926459)

[10] Weintraub, N.D., Skye. The Parasite Menace: A Complete Guide to the Prevention, Treatment and Elimination of Parasitic Infection. Woodland Publishing.



Hey, what’s going on out there? Wait, is that . . .



My evil plan to lure the pig placidly back into his pen if he ever got out failed miserably. He wanted no part of my cookie. (It was a fresh baked still warm peanut butter cookie. What kind of monster doesn’t like peanut butter cookies?) He didn’t want carrots or bread or anything else I came up with. He wanted grass and that was all he would accept. I couldn’t even get his head out of the dirt unless I shoved him.

Carrots didn’t work so I tried sticks. Shoving and pushing made him fall over but he got right back up without a sound and kept rooting like nothing had happened. So I kicked him square in the patootie. Nothing.

Picking him up was not an option. The most I can conceivably carry for a hundred yards is 50 lbs. The pig, having roughly my dimensions, and being similarly composed of bone, organs, and muscle, probably weighs roughly what I do, which is 150 lbs. And when the thing you are carrying wriggles desperately it’s a multiplier of at least five fold.

I thought about letting him roam until he wanted water – which is only available in his pen – and then simply closing the pen door after him. But after following him around for a few minutes I saw that he had grand plans to renovate my yard. He spread out the burn pile, overturned edging rocks, bit pieces of scrap metal, and snorkeled a long line through the lawn, digging a six-inch deep trench with his face. I just knew he would eventually bite his way into the chicken pen or uproot my precious new peach tree or upend the garbage cans.

I went to the band shed and armed myself with a few of Matt’s logging slings. Since Mr. Pig didn’t care if I invaded his personal space I put my arms right around him and made a cincher out of a sling. Have you read The Story of Ferdinand? Well, this sling was the equivalent of Ferdinand sitting on the bee. Mr. Pig went apeshit. He ran from one end of the yard to the other squealing and barking and spinning in circles to try to shake me – and the sling – loose. Eventually he made the connection between the evil sling and his foodbringer and he started lunging at me when I jerked on the sling. I panicked and dropped it when he charged me and he picked the end up in his mouth so he wouldn’t trip on it and ran away. This from an animal that has spent the last five months flipping over his water dish because he thinks there’s a well under it. An animal that doesn’t know his name (“Black,” for the record) or retain any memory of the electric fence zapping him five minutes after biting the wire.

What finally worked was harassment. I channeled my inner border collie and chased him hither and yon, slapping his wiggly butt with a switch, until he was snarling mad. He has four legs but they’re no match for mine when it comes to stride and I was able to swing around in front of him when he got to the door of his pen and chase him back and forth and back and forth until he finally realized the only way he was going to be rid of me was to get back in his pen already.

Which he did.

But not without a well-placed boot in the hinder from me.

The chase made me feel spectacularly stupid but I have one saving grace: I backfilled and compacted his escape hole before I started working on getting him back inside his pen.

Butchering day is March 30th. I am counting down the days.

— Amanda

Chocolatey goodness

Well, not so good or I wouldn’t have fed them to the pig.

Yesterday I made malted milk chocolate chip cookies. Yes, they are as good as they sound. (Or so I’ve been told. So far I have resisted their siren call. They smell like Whoppers®!) But nine of them stayed in the oven too long and were dark and crispy instead of golden and chewy.

I generally assume that pigs, being omnivores, can eat pretty much anything people can eat, but given what I’ve been told all my life about a molecule of chocolate being certain death for dogs, I thought I’d check it out.

As you may have suspected, given my sarcasm, no, chocolate is not highly toxic to dogs or pigs. The theobromine and caffeine in chocolate can poison them but they have to eat a lot of it. As a general rule, of course, it’s not wise to feed candy of any kind to pigs or dogs (or cats or rats or guinea pigs or toddlers near their bedtime . . .) but it was that or the garbage can for these cookies. This handy site tells you just how much chocolate you can get away with feeding to your dog (OK, actually the idea is that you can calculate how much damage Poochie has done to himself while rifling through the groceries or how much damage Junior did to Poochie at the BBQ). The approximately 2 ounces of chocolate chips in the cookies I threw to Black Pig present no threat. The worst that could happen – according to other, less lawyered-up websites – is he would get hyped up. (Incidentally, he did. When it started snowing he ran in circles around his hut, barking and generally acting like a nut job.) The calculator told me that it would have taken about twice that amount of semi-sweet chocolate to make Black throw up or get diarrhea and twice that amount to cause serious damage.

Now, before anyone starts drafting an angry letter, let me state firmly that I’m not going to make a habit of giving the pigs chocolate. This is, in fact, the first time I have given chocolate to them. We sometimes inherit old baked goods in a diagonal manner from a local food bank (because they, too, would rather feed my pigs than a landfill) but, oddly enough, there’s never anything chocolate. (Because they, like us, give chocolate anything the priority on their plates.)

I am also not going to start indiscriminately feeding chocolate to dogs or other pets, either. But I am pleased to know, once and for all, just how much is too much should I find a friend’s dog with his face in their birthday cake. (Which is 100% possible: it happened to us with Bucky Cat at a bachelorette party. It was a Care BearsTM cake and the little bastard was streaked with rainbow frosting from his toothless gob to the tip of his twitchy tail. We were only out of the room for five minutes.) I am also pleased to know that if Black finally tunnels out of his enclosure à la Charles Bronson in The Great Escape I can lure him back in with a cookie without hurting him in the process.

— Amanda

Dead red pig: FYI


Most of Red looks like this now.

Interesting facts:

  1. Red’s problem was not an illness or a disease.  It was, as I originally suspected, a dislocated hip.
  2. You can safely give pigs plain, uncoated aspirin at a rate of 5 mg per pound of body weight once every 6-8 hours.*
  3. Sausage-making really is disgusting.  Matt’s making some right this very second and the noises are both horrific and hilarious.  Lots of squelching and squealing and ketchup-bottle-farting sounds are coming from the KitchenAid.

— Amanda

*My reliable source is Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences school.

Brr, baby, brr!


27 degrees this morning! That’s pretty cold by my standards. The coldest it’s ever been in our neighborhood (which is elevated and gets a touch of lake effect from the surrounding ponds and lakes) was 17 degrees F. That was a nasty winter.

Still and all, 27 is pretty nippy. The outside faucets were frozen so I had to fetch pig and chicken water from the guest bathroom (which is sort of an extension of the utility room at times).

I dread going on my walk later, although I’m going to do it, by gum, even though it means putting on “long janes,” gloves, a scarf, two sweaters, and wrapping my ears. (Incidentally there are two good things about walking and jogging in freezing weather: 1) No dogs to chase you because they’re all hiding somewhere warm, and 2) No dog poo in the soles of your shoes because it’s frozen.)

The animals don’t seem too concerned. Black pig* came flying out of his house when he heard the feed pail, same as ever, and the chooks are likewise carrying on as if the whole world isn’t slick, sparkly, and unnaturally stiff.

Keep warm!

— Amanda

*Black pig no longer has a Red pig to keep him warm at night because we had to slaughter him early. (And we had to do it ourselves because all the vets and butchers were either out of the office or booked solid during the holidays.) We aren’t sure what was wrong, which made the evisceration sort of an autopsy. The upside is that he is out of his misery and we are confident that he is edible. Matt is going to do the butchering (and curing and smoking!) himself this weekend, which should make for some interesting posts.

This just in: piglets


On Friday we headed north in the pickup truck and came back loaded down with 1600 lbs of pig food and two freakishly adorable piglets. (This time, no apples.)*

The food came from a different supplier this year as our old favorite, Wolfkill, has been bought out by Cargill (the humongous corporation that owns Purina, among other brands) and has closed (rumor has it, for five years minimum). The new stuff doesn’t cost much more than the old and has almost exactly the same composition, but it does mean driving into the next county to get it. But we got so much on the first run that we may not even need to make a second trip!


This is how we found the piglets this morning: asleep in their food trough.

The piglets have the same dad as last year’s and each have a different mother. We had clever names planned but they didn’t stick, so as yet the little guys have no names. They also haven’t got the sense to sleep in their house, but a little straw and some cold weather ought to right that.

— Amanda

* Last year we also brought home a 50 lb-size dog food bag full of apples from the yard of our pig breeder. 30 minutes after we left, the tree we had been picking from was blown over by an incoming storm – but I made so much sauce from those apples that the tree lives on to this day in our pantry.

Porker pricing 2011


Our little freezer is getting mighty full! That’s a good feeling. (The pink stuff is unrendered lard.)

Now that the 2011 piglets are pork (we picked up the fresh meat portion of Red on Saturday and the smoked part will come in about a week) we were able to calculate our costs for raising them.

This year we kept one whole pig for ourselves (last year we split Leroy with Matt’s folks in exchange for them paying for cut and wrap). That, in addition to the fact that these pigs were much more feed efficient, meant that our cost was way down! Last year our price per pound was $3.27, and this year is was $2.84! Big difference! Leroy (last year’s pig) had a hanging weight (split carcass without innards) of 95 lbs and this year’s pig, Red, had a hanging weight of 208 lbs.

I wonder how we’ll do next year?

— Amanda