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Month: April 2012

Living With Pigs

Living With Pigs

Do you love pigs?  Of course you do, who doesn’t?  I’ve loved them from afar for many years but now I have to the good luck of getting up close and personal with them on a daily basis.  There is little in the world more engaging to watch than happy pigs.  They run, they frolick, they root and scratch and eat with their elbows on the table.  Yes they do remind me of my children but with slightly higher personal hygiene standards. Now that our farm is beginning to expand I have a few chores to do each morning and we have a few more housekeeping elements to take care of on the weekend.  Each morning the pigs get a good feed up and some fresh water, the same again each evening.  This weekend we (Stephen) cleaned out their pig cottage and popped in two lovely fresh bales of hay for eating/snuggling/plopping on.  The pigs were most pleased and duly frolicked about, enjoying the bouncy freshness. This afternoon I helped shift the stinky hay into the newly built composter next to the pig field.  I was ably assisted by a very keen, strong and super helpful six year old boy who dug, shifted, wheel barrowed and generally farm boyed around.  After a while, though, he required a rest and a snack so I finished up myself. The cold breeze was soon unnoticed as I moved barrow after barrow to the composter.  The spring sunshine warmed my face and the pigs antics warmed my heart.  Watching them chase each other around, happily munch on food or pasture or scratch themselves on their favourite cottage corner is the best entertainment anyone could wish for.  The time went quickly and too soon I was called inside for some Mumming duties; scraped knees to be tended, food to be made. By the end of this year the field they occupy will be ploughed and available for planting next year; their rooting noses will dislodge grass, hillocks and anything else they come across.  They are creatures full of curiosity and playfulness, fully enjoying the freedom of a life on grass under a boundless sky.  I feel so lucky to have the chance to observe them, to share this time with them, to care for them. I know the time will come when we have to let them go, that is the nature of a farm and I know it will be hard.  But in the meantime I’ll enjoy them and do my best to make sure they have a lovely life, a life any pig might envy.  Considering the amount of time they spend napping it is a life a human might envy too, including me!

Building Rome in a Day

Building Rome in a Day

We love us some history around these here homeschooling parts and right now we’ve hit paydirt, Ancient Greece and Rome baby!  After many, many, many months on Ancient Egypt (which was great but went of forever) we’ve finally come to the bit I was super excited about.  Luckily Huwyl loves history too so I have someone to share my obsession enjoyment with.

Last week we began reading about gladiators and who doesn’t love that?   What 6 year old boy wouldn’t want to learn about semi naked and heavily armed chaps chasing each other around a dirt floor until one of them is killed?  That’s some good bloodthirsty action right there.  Yes there may be lives lost and some excessively oiled chests being aired but all in all it is good PG fun.   After reading all about it what could be more awesome educational that building your own arena?

 

A dinner plate covered in sand, some wooden blocks and our (extensive) selection of playmobil were the perfect props for Huwyl to create his very own gladiator ring.  It might not have been a perfect recreation of the battle of Carthage but it was a happy hour in which quiet fell upon the house and gladiators fought to the death.

That’s how it is done Russell Crowe.  That is how it is done.  

Good Things

Good Things

It can be easy to forget, in the midst of exhaustion and struggling with health and work and…well, you know how that tune goes; but this week seems to have been about reminding me how many good things I’m surrounded by,

Simple, quiet moments with the boys enjoying a gentle game; nourishing food that is easy to prepare and eat; new additions to our farm (floofy pics coming soon!); beautiful spring flowers delivered by our neighbour.  And on top of that friends who share their time and thoughts with me, friends who listen; family who help out, talk, and laugh with me; plans for fun times just around the corner

I’ve been wrestling with some things, health stuff, energy stuff…It’s felt uncomfortable and made me scratchy.  I’m twisting this way and that but new beginnings are coming, a new approach to certain aspects of my life.  I don’t like feeling I have no choice, even if it is my own body doing the talking, I know I’m daft like that.  So I’ve been feeling the gloom, under a cloud as it were.

This week has been a little message I think.  A message that says Look, look at what you have.

Looks good.

Big Black Porkers

Big Black Porkers

It’s been a crazy busy month. Spring hit early and after a rather feeble attempt to finish the painting in February which, to be honest, I enjoyed about as much as being made to watch back to back episodes of Inside The Actors Studio (sycophantic nauseating drivel) while having my toenails filed with an angle grinder, March and April have been all about the farm.

I feel justified in calling it a farm now since we have done some irrefutably farmy things since the snows melted. The first and possibly most pant-wettingly exciting of them all is the PIGS. You might remember a post from last year, Is It Too Early For Pigs? Well, if not, then suffice to say we’ve been planning these for an awfully long time and my desire for a black pig or four was finally fulfilled just over a week ago.

Like everything we undertake, the reality was never as simple as our imagination led us to believe and this certainly took some doing. Two or three weekends of building turned $100 of lumber, some off-cut steel siding, scrap left over from the house build and a 6′ steel rod into The Mansion. This bad boy of pig housing sports an 8′ x 8′ reinforced plywood base, a 2′ wall with extra thick reinforced panels to take porkers lolling against them, has a cathedral ceiling, a door solid enough to rebuff the Spanish Inquisition and was filled with two bales of the finest hay that money could buy.

In hindsight, putting the wheels on before building more than the base would have been a smart move, since trying to lift several hundred pounds of wet wood alone and “slip on a wheel” to what turned out to be a poorly-aligned makeshift axel was nothing short of a bitch. In the end, I used the axel as a tow bar, attached a chain to it and dragged the beast into position. OK, it wasn’t the most elegant solution and I did put the tractor’s front-loader through one of the gable walls which needed a teansy repair, but I was pretty pleased that even though the steel bar bent, The Mansion didn’t break and I managed to get it perfectly level in the field. Only a bloke could appreciate the wonder of that. I showed Emma the bubble on my spirit level as proof and she barely stifled a yawn. I expected at least gasps of awe or perhaps a cup of tea, but sadly neither materialised.

I actually think The Mansion could withstand a direct strike with a smart bomb and did seriously consider a) moving the boys and Emma into it so they could appreciate first-hand the wonder of level floors in a bumpy field and b) converting it into a shelter in the event that the Belgians ever invade. Unfortunately, we had four piglets coming in a week from Big George which meant The Mansion would have to remain a pigsty.

The following weekend I focused my attention on the electric fence. As many will attest, I struggle to wire a plug successfully so the challenge of wiring up a fence to carry 20,000 Volts without turning a sizeable chunk of our neighbourhood into one giant magnet was rather daunting. However, spurred on by the thought of Emma and the boys with perpetual static-hair and the risk of attracting stray ferritic asteroids, I studied several configurations and managed to get it all wired up without incident. I drove in my grounding rods (all 6′ of them) and even wired under a gate.

The switch was flicked on at 4:32PM and 14,200 Volts coursed through the circuit. Relieved, if slightly disappointed, to not see blue arcs pulsating between the lines ala Matrix, we drove immediately to Big George’s to get the pigs. We opted for four females, wanting to keep a couple for breeding next year. They were about 8 weeks old, small, cute and mightily annoyed to be grabbed by the hind legs, stuffed into a pet carrier and bundled into the back of our Mazda 5 for the drive home.

The first two we released into their new field were the smallest ones. Winnie, our Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog, who at 7 months is showing all the “guardian” instincts of Pol Pot, decided at that very moment to charge into the electric fence and welcome the new arrivals. Needless to say the sight of 75lbs of slavering dog being electrocuted was enough to scare the piglets senseless and they decided to bolt in the opposite direction through the now-dead fence and off across the field. I yelled for Emma to chase them, but since she’s asthmatic and has about the same acceleration as a 1972 Austin Maxi, the chances of her catching two nimble, fear-crazed piglets was always going to be slim.

So, after fixing the fence I took off after her to discover they’d evaded recapture in a hedgerow and were nowhere to be found. I must say, the thought of having electrocuted my dog and lost 2 piglets within a minute of releasing them was about as depressing as a French Country Kitchen With Matching Rustic Tile Backsplash. It took nearly an hour for me to find them and get them herded back into the field. Unfortunately, they’d obviously had so much fun watching Emma and I have near cardiac episodes that they both ran under the wires and bolted again.

Nearly another hour later, Emma nabbed one against the fence and I snatched the second as it was wriggling through squealing like a toddler who’s been told he has to share. This time they got locked into The Mansion with their two siblings and we collapsed into a heap.

It turns out that the pig I nabbed had defecated on me which shouldn’t have been a massive surprise since every animal we have ever owned has chosen to excrete, urinate or otherwise express their displeasure by propelling some kind of fluid on me. From ninja-spinning dwarf lop rabbits, cats who like to pee on my boots, incontinent dogs and sick chickens, I’ve had it all. The lesson here? Farming: tiring, unpredictable and there’s often quite a lot of shit. But despite that, I’m chuffed to bits. After a week of fattening up, all the pigs are too big to get under the electric fence now and Winnie won’t enter that field anymore. In fact, the electric fence is turning out to be a huge boon. Not only is a fake electric fence keeping both dogs off my newly seeded lawn, but the cat (of piss-in-boots infamy) got electrocuted this weekend which, with the notable exceptions of dunking them in a bath or making them wear booties, turns out to be the most hilarious way to get revenge on a cat without being arrested.

So, there you go. We’re officially pig keepers and proper farmers. Anyone in the Ottawa area that wants to buy pasture raised pork in the autumn, we’re selling three halves (and keeping one for ourselves). I can almost taste the bacon already so be quick!

Piggles!

Piggles!

Saturday was the big day, the day we’d been waiting for, preparing for.  Our desire to keep pigs goes back many years and on Saturday we were picking up four long blacks, a heritage breed that is currently endangered.  We chose this breed for lots of reasons; hardiness, tastiness, heritage…iness.  Stephen spent many hours building a beautiful home (also referred to as ‘the cottage’ and more spacious than many places I have lived, it certainly has a better view), rigging up an electric fence for their security and building a custom piggy trough from reclaimed materials on our land.

We proudly released the first two little oinkers into their new home, happily watching them explore and snuffle about.  All was blissful.  For about 1 minute.  Then the dog (Winnie the dozy blonde) ran straight into the fence, knocked out the power just at the  moment that the little piggles we checking out the fence.  Freedom was theirs and off they went straight down the field.  And off I went in pursuit.

Two fields later they went through a tangly hedge I couldn’t squeeze through and I lost them.  Literally.  They were gone and I couldn’t find them.  It was horrifying.

For the next hour we all searched as much of our 35+ acres as we could for the two cat sized pigs, but to no avail.  I was devestated.  In tears I trailed along the road outside our land, just to make sure they hadn’t wandered out onto the road.  I was hot, exhausted and in despair.  How could we have lost them in the first 5 minutes?  After a decade of planning and excitement all was in ruins.

Then hope, Stephen shouted that he had them, I raced back to the field as fast as my middle aged, asthmatic body would allow (seriously I have the cardio functions of a peanut) to find that the pigs were back in their enclosure.  I breathed a sigh of relief as Stephen turned the electric fence back on and they were once more safe and contained.

I think I was about halfway through my breath of relief when they ran back out of the enclosure heading once more for freedom.  You see, dear reader, it turns out teeny piggles are not deterred by electric fences, or any other kind of fences for that matter.  Of course we didn’t know this until later.  For now we were too busy chasing the little sods down the field again.  I managed to get one of them (squealing in a ear piercing fashion) into the pig cottage but the other was gone.

To cut a long story short about an hour later I was again chasing a teeny piggle across three fields having found her in the woods on the other side of our land.  Stephen nabbed her, in the cottage she went and we collapsed in a heap ready to give in the whole bloody affair.  Welcome to farming.

Suffice to say the other two went straight into the house, no roaming for them.  The farmer friend we bought them from recommended we get them settled for a few days in the house, get them used to where their food is and then let them out.  Apparently the really wee ones will go under the fence but theoretically they’ll return pretty quickly.  As they get bigger the fence will be more of a deterrent and will hopefully contain them and keep our veggie garden from being piggy molested.

I tell you what, it’s a bloody good job they’re cute.

Easter

Easter

Easter morning dawned bright and beautiful but the main attraction for the boys wasn’t the weather…

A cadbury’s cream egg for breakfast is  tough to beat  and highly traditional in our British household!  The boys enjoyed a good dollop of choccy in the morning and then we spent the majority of the day outside.  And what a beautiful day it was.

We couldn’t have ordered nicer weather, it was fresh and spring like, perfect for our snow exhausted souls.  The sun shone, the grass greened and the children frolicked.  Stephen and I worked on the farm all day, he worked on animal enclosures and landscaping, I chopped up trees and made a start on clearing our fence line.  I was amazed at how well the boys played as we worked, in fact Huwyl was a massive help, hauling out logs and old trees bigger than himself.

Needless to say after a day in the sun and fresh air both boys were spark out at bedtime and slept deeply for 12 hours.  As Stephen and I enjoyed the sunset outside while we put the animals to bed, a flock of Canada geese flew overhead.  They were so low I felt I could reach my hand up and brush them with my fingers.  The sounds of their wings beating were loud in the air around us as we gazed up at them, spellbound.  The sound was the same as brushing your finger along a feather, that soft crisp noise resounded as they swept gracefully by.

All I could think to say was “Well I’ve never seen that before.”  So many first already experienced here and so many more to come.  So much to look forward to.  So much to celebrate.

Out for a walk

Out for a walk

If you took a walk through our fields you would see any number of signs of spring.  Nettles sprouting, leaves budding, geese flying overhead.  There’s no getting away from it, spring has sprung!

As well as the glories of spring unfurling herself, you might also run into some seriously suspicious characters up to what appears to be no good at all.  What are they doing, you might wonder.  Ritual magic? Lord of the Rings recreations?  Ninja Camp?

All I know is eye contact is best avoided lest you fall under their influence.  They are cunning, ruthless and masters of disguise…

Proceed at your own risk.

Sights of Sunday

Sights of Sunday

Apparently April has something of a sense of humour, so after an equinox at 29C we are starting the month of showers with…snow.  Yep.  Rain, wind and snow, oh and it’s cold.  Not a day to be outside in.

See, no one wants to go out.  So today is about warmth and comfort; a favourite dinner, a warm fire.

All the comforts of home.