The Rudge Family Specializes in Animal Husbandry at Aurora Mountain Farm
This story originally ran in the Fall 2014 (V8I3) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.
It’s springtime at Aurora Mountain Farm, and there’s a four-day-old piglet wrapped in a towel on the living room floor. Simone Rudge sets a bowl of whole milk and beaten egg beside the tiny creature, coaxing her to eat. The piglet buries her snout in the nutritious mixture, then slurps and grunts her way to the bottom of the bowl. Simone and her husband, Tom, relax. There’s a good chance this adorable runt is going to make it.
In the barn, the piglet’s brothers and sisters have one-hour supervised feedings with their mother every four hours. The rest of the time they’re kept in a separate pen under a custom-built brood lamp, close enough so the mother can smell them and touch their noses. The Rudges use this set-up to reduce the number of “squishings” that occur when an exhausted 200-kilogram mama pig shares a pen with ten miniscule offspring she can’t feel and who aren’t yet quick enough to get out of the way. Piglets are frequently lost in the first, crucial week.
This new system seems to be working.The three-week-olds and two-week-olds are thriving, and the four-day-olds are looking pretty good. So are the 102 fluffy, yellow chicks in a temporary coop in the garage.They’re a week old now and developing wing feathers. Soon they’ll be strong enough to go outside, and gradually the high tension of nurturing new life will give way to the calmer, daily routines of animal husbandry.
It’s an emotional thing when the farm loses an animal, Tom says. “Anytime you lose something, it becomes an issue. What happened? What did I do wrong?” Then he adds, “If we’re in charge of it, like at processing time, it’s a different thing.”
Of course. The focus at this farm is meat—chicken, pigs, cows, and goats. These animals, so carefully nurtured now, will ultimately be slaughtered for market. I ask the obvious question: “Is it hard to do the slaughtering?” Simone either doesn’t hear or chooses not to respond. She doesn’t have to.In the silence I realize the important question is, How are the animals treated when they’re alive? And on this farm, the answer to that question is clear. It’s lying at my feet,wrapped in a towel.
Simone and Tom met at university, in Alberta, and came to the Yukon in 1987 after a couple of years of wrangling for an outfitter near Atlin. They settled in Crestview, the subdivision of choice in the ’80s for those moving to Whitehorse from the off-grid life.People kept backyard chickens. A posse of bikers lived down the street in a shack with no plumbing. (“The best neighbours in the world, as long as you share a beer with them once in a while,” according to Tom.) But as loose and breezy as Crestview life was, it was just a pit stop on the way to their dream: a homestead farm in the bush.
After an often heartbreaking five-year search for the right spot, Simone and Tom landed 65 fertile hectares on the far end of the Takhini River Road, in 1999. The first thing they did was build a chicken coop and buy 20 peepers. “The chickens had a house before we did,” Simone laughs. The couple and their two kids first lived in a tent and cooked in the trailer. Then Tom built a 600-square-foot shop, and the family moved in. Temporarily. But after 14 years of homeschooling, as well as a rough-and-tumble family life, they’re still there.
I ask where everyone slept. Simone points to a dim alcove off the living room.“Those are bunk beds. So Graham’s room was 6 feet by 3 feet. He’s still there. In his bed.” I look up and realize that lump is a head of curly hair. Graham’s just back from Berwyn Larsen’s birch-syrup camp and bone tired. They’re letting him sleep because on this farm young life gets what it needs to thrive. Y