This is an odd time of year. It’s odd every single year, yet every. single. year I am surprised by it. I can feel the spring moving beneath my feet, feel her stirring and shifting the heavens and the earth, yet we are ice bound, cold and wintery for yet another month. As I begin to look at the calendar I feel the panic, I start to feel for certain that there is no way, no way there is enough time for all the things we’ve planned for this season. And as for enough money, well that’s laughable.
I keep feeling that we have arrived at a point where we stand a chance of knowing what we are doing. Sort of. Well at least we have a sense of the turn of the year, the tasks and the order they’ll come along in. Booking animals into slaughter is routine and requires no agonizing, just planning. Ordering chicks for the coming year is about ticks on the calendar, weeks counted and housing needs balanced. We know what we are going to do, we just have to do it as well as we possibly can.
But now there are other levels of farming that we are just beginning to enter into. We are intentionally breeding our sow Lady B with our boar Arthur; or should I say we seem to have bred them and now we are waiting to see how it all pans out. Animal breeding is a bit like throwing cement, bricks and roof tiles in the air and hoping a house lands, that is to say it’s hit and miss. We do our best but there are no guarantees and sometimes you just have to cross your fingers and do the best with what you get.
Last year we successfully bred Lady B to a borrowed boar from a nearby farm. She was a young ingenue, he an experienced older…pig, and the union was immediately successful. Let’s just say he was enthusiastic in his attentions, so much so that her caring Farm Dad sent the boar back after just one week because he was getting pretty rough with our sweet girl. Like a pro she farrowed out in August, allowing us to sit with her through the long night, as she brought new life into the world.
After weaning (and selling) the extra piglets, we left Mama and babies to hang out in the field together. Being a groovy, long term breast feeding mama myself I was happy to let her piglets continue to nurse on her, assuming they’d self wean after a certain point. They didn’t. They ate a bunch of feed and nursed on their mama, who became increasingly fed up and aggressive towards them. This sweet, gentle pig was being asked to do too much and it showed. So we moved the babies over to the other field and let her get some well earned rest. After a little while we introduced a young, virile young lad called Arthur; they seemed to get along and we hoped for the best.
Lady B was undoubtedly keen, but poor Arthur just didn’t seem to know quite how to go about things. This time he was the inexperienced one and she the older woman with lots to teach. It took them some time to get their groove on. We were concerned when, in January, she was displaying such obvious signs of heat we thought she might call a taxi and head to the nearest disco if Arthur didn’t tend to her womanly needs; after all, a girl’s gotta eat. She displayed this with such subtle signs as mounting him, and Stephen and chasing me out of the field in case Stephen decided he fancied me more. She was ready to go. No matter how much we watched we never saw any actual action, but pigs can be private creatures and with the cold weather we weren’t exactly hanging around outside that much.
In February, with Stephen away in the UK, I was on high alert for signs of heat. I watched her back end with an unseemly interest, checking every day to see if she seemed to be in heat. I watched for signs that Arthur was interested, or the two other (castrated) male pigs in the barn with her (being related doesn’t put them off one bit if she’s in heat) or that she was mounting anything that moved. Nothing. The only thing she cared about was eating and keeping warm, I could relate.
So here we are in March, still no signs of heat and a bit of a rounding out of the tummy that we hope means there are little squiggles in there. I’ve also noted (this is where it gets farmy people) that Arthur’s package (ahem) is looking a bit wrinkly and under used (no judgement) unlike the full and swinging sack he had not so long ago. Boars will stop producing mating hormones (responsible for the phenomenon known as boar taint) if they are separated from fertile females for 30 days. I’m hoping his lack of love preparedness means that Lady B isn’t triggering him into baby making mode because she’s up the stick. In the club. Has several buns in her oven. You know what I mean.
Yes, gentle reader, this is how Stephen and I spend our mornings here on the farmstead. Checking out our pig’s clitoris and our boar’s testicles while doing calculations on gestationcalculator.com to find out when she might farrow out, when we’ll need to wean the piglets and when she can go back with the boar for a little bit of summer lovin’. And that’s all before we’ve even had a cup of tea. That’s when we’re not talking about udder formation and speculating on the relative value of a female Jersey calf (lottery) vs a male (full freezer).
On one hand, in fact on about 2/3 of my whole body, I’m basically in a state of panic about when in hell I’m going to have time to educate my children, grow a big garden (with a herb bed!), raise 300 meat chickens, take on new cows to expand our herd, milk a cow, make cheese, butter and yoghurt every day, can all the produce and stop my house from falling into a quagmire of filth with me banging my head against the washing machine as laundry tumbles over my head crying “Why? Why?!!!”.
Instead I’ll take a breath, fill out my plan for the next term of homeschool (more history, we need more history), begin my trays of tomatoes (my goal is to can 100 quarts!) and finish reading the Wintersmith to Huwyl and some James Herriot stories to Neirin. I can’t do it all at once, truth be told I probably can’t do it at all. But somehow, inexplicably, it will get done anyway.
In other news Neirin wants a bunny.