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A Pile of Piglets

A Pile of Piglets

Two and a half weeks ago (to be precise), Mrs B. went into labour on a cold and breezy April afternoon.  In all the years we’ve been breeding our pigs, this is only the second time that Mrs B. has birthed out during the daylight hours.  We were grateful for this miraculous eventuality, but it didn’t detract from the fact that it was a very, very cold evening for sitting inside an unheated barn.

Despite our familiarity with the pig birthing process, it really never ceases to amaze and delight.  Baby piglets really are extraordinarily cute little creatures and when 13 of them arrived hale and hearty, we couldn’t have been happier.  Their teeny noses and plump little bottoms are one of the most pleasing things the human eye can behold.

Unfortunately, the weather was not in the mood to celebrate our basket of new arrivals and proceeded to lash us with winds, rain, snow and ice storms for the next two weeks.  This necessitated keeping Mrs B. and the piglets tightly tucked away in the farrowing barn, for fear of wandering piglets getting caught in the cold and freezing.  Mrs B. showed no signs of wanting to frolic in the ice rain, instead enjoying her post birth extra rations and the warmth and cosiness of her babymoon barn.

This weekend, however, brought with it the warmth and sunshine we had been dreaming of, through the long cold winter months.  Thoughts of ice storms and snow banks were banished as the sun beat down, renewing our spirits and relieving our harrowed senses.  The pig, with her babies, was released from her natal confinement and allowed to bask in the warmth of the sun, creating a mattress of warming delight out of the straw she lay on.  The piglets had their first taste of outdoor life, snuffling and snuggling in a big pile that almost seems to move as one.

Allow me to illustrate.

 

If I could further press my point…

You’re welcome.

While the piglets had fun in the sun, their parents took the opportunity to soak up some rays too.  But, of course, their Mama always had a watchful eye on her little ones.

 

This may be the last batch of piglets under our care for a while, as our friends are taking custody of our breeding pair this year in order to give us a well earned winter off.  Though I’m very much looking forward to the prospect of a family vacation and some down time, I can’t say I’ll be happy to see them go.  The pigs, and their offspring, are a continual source of joy and pleasure to us.  We are lucky indeed to share our lives with such wonderful creatures.

Ten For That, You Must Be Mad!

Ten For That, You Must Be Mad!

It’s a deal, it’s a steal…it’s the Sale of the fucking Century! A whole side of pork for how much? That’s bloody amazing, I’d like to buy ten. No, shit, make it a round twenty and I’ll throw a party in your name.

That’s pretty much the reaction I want when offering our pork, chicken, eggs and honey for sale. And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to buy some, then I expect you to be forever grateful to be included in such a privileged and happy few. So quit your whinging and pay up.

At least that’s what I feel like saying when I’m thrust into the role of salesman. You see I’m not a natural salesman. In fact, you could go so far as to say I’m an anti-geezer. I don’t so much wheel and deal, as shuffle uncomfortably and undersell myself rather than risk the embarrassment of asking you for money. That manifests itself in ways that make it damn hard to corner the market in organic farm produce. You see, when I know that my product is so far superior to anything else it’s practically Aryan, I can’t help but form the unreasonable opinion that I shouldn’t have to sell it at all. Customers should be beating a path to my door, thrusting handfuls of cash and images of their grubby children under my nose while begging me to sell them pork to feed to their malnourished little Jasper who would otherwise have to subsist on Pop Tarts and Cheez Whizz.

Of course it’s all subconscious avoidance of having to sell. It’s kind of ironic since in my day job I’m in charge of global sales and marketing for a software company. Our software products are bloody amazing too and should sell themselves as well, but at least at work I’ve overcome my reluctance to sell, sell, sell and have got to grips with it. So why can’t I get into the swing of hawking our wares for our delicious, wholesome farm produce?

The hard truth is I have the overpowering, deeply ingrained image of a salesman as some kind of sleazy Swiss Charlie, happy to take your last dollar and underpants with a smile and no remorse for leaving you stood butt naked and penniless with nothing to cover your tonker except a poorly manufactured set of decorative plates and a Certificate of Authenticity that, on closer examination, appears to have been printed earlier that day on a dot-matrix printer circa 1982.

Needless to say, I’m not enthusiastic about either becoming that sleaze, or having other people perceive me like that. So, as I’m sure all you psychologists can see, my avoidance stems from a deep seated need to be socially accepted and held in esteem. Shit, blog writing really is therapeutic. Unfortunately, that little revelation probably cost me a lie down on a cool leather sofa and the opportunity to drop into conversation that “I’ll have to talk to my therapist about that”, but on the plus side it might have saved me a hefty stack of cash and a punch in the face.

So, what I’ve decided to do to overcome this particular barrier is to channel the power of Monty Python. Like Harry the beard seller in The Life Of Brian, I’m going to introduce some humour into my selling. No, no, no. Ten? You’re supposed to argue. “Ten for that, you must be mad!”

I’ll be bigging up our pork, waxing lyrical about our honey (bad pun, sorry), giving it large for our monster chickens. And if you’re not sure or try to haggle without a sense of humour, then be prepared for an unexpected gourd and a fake beard made of goat hair. Whatever happens, you’ll be left with something better than a hand-painted plate.

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!