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Signs of Life

Signs of Life

First of all thank you to everyone who said such nice things to us after I wrote about Morag.  In person, on facebook, in the comments section we were met with kindness and understanding.  Thank you.  

Well last week was a bit of a funny one.  We are used to death in some ways on the farm, we are used to being in control of the lives of animals and part of that is deciding when the end should come.  But when a death is sudden and unexpected it feels very different, especially when we lost a favourite girl.  But life goes on, whizzing along whether you like it or not.  In my experience its best to grab onto it and hold on tight, joy is always worth having.

All around us now are the signs of new life, there will be more as the spring progresses with new chicks arriving this week and more gardening planned too.  The grass is greening, trees are budding, herbs are coming back to life and there are babies everywhere.

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The pastures are greening up as the morass of mud slowly recedes, giving hope to the possibility of being able to walk across a field without being ankle deep in mud.  I mean really, just imagine. We have plans afoot for new infrastructure on the farm this year that will help us combat the spring mud season (and the winter snow season) but right now we are grateful for being able to walk across the cow field without actually getting stuck.

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Planting from years past and natures own goodness is all starting to come into leaf, making my thoughts drift forward to warmer days of harvesting and storing.  Right now the wind still holds a pinch of winter, but we’ve had some tasters of jacket free days…dare I even dream of sandals?

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Inside the seed trays are simply full of leaf and life, though the prospect of having to pot on around 250 tomato plants caused me to declare this week a Farm Week, a week where we focus on the tasks that really need to happen now but can’t be packed into an already packed weekend.  What with classes, friends, chores, chicken moving, calf feeding….the hours just seem to run away with us.  So this week I’m enslaving my children, giving my children an invaluable hands on educational experience,  and really trying to catch the tail of spring as she whizzes past us, greening everything in sight.

But really the main preoccupation this week has been a beautiful baby calf, one week old yesterday, who’s beauty just astounds us.  There really is something utterly magical about a newborn anything, they hold such perfection and such promise; she is certainly no different and we admire her to anyone who’ll listen.  Frankly if they’re not listening we’ll still go on about her.


Every six hours she’s fed by hand, stroked and admired, cuddled and fussed.  Stephen has robbed himself of sleep to keep her on the perfect schedule, plodding out there as the moon rises and shortly after as the sun chases her to the horizon.  Wee Morag stumbles around like a drunken Bambi, making you laugh as she tries to head butt you in the face for more milk while the bottle is held an inch from her mouth.  There really is nothing so bonkers as a cow’s face looming at you.  I’m learning to wear a second layer when it’s my turn because between frothy milk mouth and shiny cow bogeys, clothing doesn’t stand much of a chance.  She’s learning a little about the world and meeting the other cows from the safety of a leash so that she can’t be accidentally stood on.  She’s received some licks from her sister and they’ve all had a good sniff.  I think they’ll all get along very well.

But for now she still occupies the deluxe suite, the barn set aside just for her with a corral that she can boing around in without risk of harm.  The boys go down every day and spend time with her, enjoying her enjoyment of strokes and scratches and hugs.  We can’t replace her lovely Mama, the devoted attention she would have received as they roamed together each day.  But we can give it all we’ve got and hope it’s enough.

So far, she’s doing wonderfully.  She is wonderful.

Pig Tales

Pig Tales

So no sooner had I my new lens in my sticky grasp when my entire camera went kaput.  Gone.  Utterly dead.  It has now been sent away for repair (hopefully) but sadly my favourite season of the year will be pretty much over by the time I have a decent camera again.  All that to say that the pictures might be a bit sub-par for the next little while!

Luckily piglets are cute no matter what you use to take the photo, cute, wriggly and….well cute if you must know.

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The night they were born is one I’ll never forget, no matter how many more farrowings there are on this farm.  Our lovely Lady B let us sit next to her the whole time, rubbing her tummy and comforting her.  Her body knew what to do but, like any new Mama, she was a little wild eyed, looking to us for reassurance.  “Is this normal?” she seemed to say, “It’s okay, ” I’d say, “You’re doing brilliantly, clever girl.”  In the dark of a summer night we sat next to her in the straw and watched her birth tiny little black piglets into the world.

As they emerged we helped rub them down, getting the birth sac away from their mouths, moving them towards her teats.  She developed a wonderful ‘udder’ during her pregnancy with plenty of teats for those insistent little mouths.  Despite her inexperience she nursed them carefully and they thrived on her milk, tucked away from the world in their own little private nest.

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We only ran into trouble once, after piglet number 6.  I’d taken a break (it was 1.30am) and gone inside to check on the boys, but it was really an opportunity to read up a little on how long each farrowing should take.  Stephen and I quickly concluded that something was up, she’d been trying to pop out a piglet for nearly and hour but while the others had come easily, this one just wanting making it’s appearance.

In the week she was due I’d read everything I could get my hands on about pig birthing; videos had been watched, the internet searched, books pored over.  I knew that we may need to ‘go in’ but that it is best not to if possible.  It seemed like we had no choice so I scrubbed up, carbolic soap and a scrubbing brush turning my hands pink and hot.

As soon as I came back into the shed I could see the fear in my lovely pig’s eyes, she knew things weren’t right as much as we did.  I spoke to her reassuringly and Stephen stroked her belly soothingly but there was really only one thing to do.  Drawing on all my James Herriot watching as a child I went in and felt around for the piglet.  It is an extraordinary thing to feel a creature prior to birth, his little teeth letting me know I’d found his mouth.  I swept my hand around him to release him and thankfully that was enough, into the world he came with a big rush.

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After a while it seemed she was done, she was up and about and, having birthed 7 piglets,  it seemed her work was over for the night.  We headed back to the house, knowing dawn was only a couple of hours away.  We were exhausted but thrilled, the first breeding on our farm had resulted in a wonderful litter of 7 pigs!

Imagine our surprise when, 3 hours later, Stephen went out to check on the new family only to discover 11 piglets!  Our clever lady had gone on to birth 4 more piglets without any help from fussy farmers at all.  We were thrilled.

Over the last month we’ve watched them grow, watched them emerge at 3 weeks out into the world, snuffling the earth as they were born to do.  We’ve gone from fussing over the new Mama, checking on her every hour, letting her out for regular breaks and food, to finding new homes for the piglets who were starting to eat us out of house and home!  In the space of a month and a half we’ve gone from maternity ward to flying the nest, such is the way with pigs.

The experience has been a wonderful one, the planning of new life on the farm and then seeing it all come good.  The new piglets have new homes and we are already thinking ahead to breeding the wonderful Lady B again, but this time with our own farm boar, Arthur.  As we move more and more towards livestock independence on the farm I can’t help but feel more secure, knowing our future is a little bit more in our own hands.  And when a future contains piglets, it’s a future worth having.

Piggles 2013

Piggles 2013

On Saturday we set off into the wide blue sky to purchase three little piggles that will be living with us for the next few months.  We had seen pictures but really nothing can prepare you for the cuteness of a naughty, snuffly, black and white piggle.

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As you may have noticed these are not exactly the same breed of pigs we had last year.  Last year we went with Large Black pigs from a local farming friend, but he told us at slightly short notice that he had no pigs for us this year, disaster!

Luckily we were able to find the breeder of these beautiful Berkshire pigs, still a rare and heritage breed and they may well have more piglets in the fall that we can raise up for breeding.  I have to admit these little guys have captured my heart, they are so full of curiosity and sparkle, the thought of breeding more of them in the future fills me with delight.

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As well as being fantastic providers of meat pigs really are such a huge asset to any farm.  They turn earth, fertilise it and renew it for the following spring, their gifts to us are many.  In return we aim to give them the best life we can, yummy food, plenty of fresh air and sunshine, wallows for hot days and fresh straw beds for the cooler ones.

Now that we have these little guys to look after (as well as new meat birds, baby chicks and even some ready to lay girls en route) things are getting busier on this farm of ours.  Spring and even summer seem to have simultaneously sprung keeping us moving and busy throughout the day.  Fernwood Farm is full of life once more, just the way we like it.