Animal magic

Eggs are dwindling, as is the way at this time of year. I could just about scrape enough together for CL’s designer Chris’s usual order today. Last night, James and I opened the lid of the nesting box to discover a mere three had been produced by our dozen-strong flock! So just one in four delivered the goods yesterday. Next on our round was the visit to the pigs, which is always enjoyable and I have come to realise why, despite my best efforts, it’s been so easy to become fond of them – they are so dog-like!


The way they charge towards us, practically galloping across the run (their warm and enthusiastic greeting probably down to being peckish rather than an interest in us), echoes the way the two Labradors, in particular, are very excited to see us even if we’ve been out of the room for a matter of seconds. Then there is the sheer pleasure they take in the act of eating and the expression of concentration on their faces – the Labs are also similarly entirely absorbed in their breakfast or tea. In fact, it’s not just me; all three dogs are fascinated by the porcine interlopers that have invaded part of their garden. Amy, the slightly younger and athletically built Lab, can’t stay away and is often found nose-to-nose with one or other of the Old Spots.

She’s probably after their food and there’s an occasional confused bark (perhaps a canine protest: why are they allowed to eat so much?!) but it’s mostly pretty friendly curiosity that prevails.

Amy can't work those two animals out
Amy can’t work those two animals out

Have you heard about The Pig Idea?


It’s not often that the good life comes to town, but yesterday in Trafalgar Square everyone was talking about pigs and a movement that is sweeping across the capital. So, CL’s chief sub editor Michele and I couldn’t resist heading down during our lunch hour to join in the conversation. Spearheaded by  restaurateur (and former Masterchef Winner) Thomasina Miers, The Pig Idea is aiming to change EU legislation that makes feeding pigs food waste, which has passed through a kitchen, illegal due to fears that it will lead to the outbreak of disease. The argument is that London eateries produce a great deal of nutritious waste that is currently ending up in landfill and if it was properly treated by cooking at a high temperature, it would be safe for these omnivorous animals to consume.


Fellow campaigners include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who demonstrated a recipe for trotters to a fascinated crowd and pledged his support for the campaign, while other visitors queued around the square for the free pork-themed food on offer served up in the pop-up restaurant tents using the meat from pigs raised at Stepney City Farm on a diet of spent brewer’s grains, whey, unsold fruit and vegetables and a tofu byproduct – to prove the movement’s point. Hugh estimated that they had fed around 3,000 people yesterday using just five of the pigs, of which nothing was wasted in the spirit of nose-to-tail cooking and eating. I couldn’t help feeling swayed by The Pig Idea, but I’d be interested to hear from anyone of the opposite persuasion – do let me know. For more about The Pig Idea, click here.

Meanwhile, back on our patch, we continue to enjoy plying our own porcine pair with all kinds of free and foraged food such as acorns, apples and pears. They race towards us whenever we approach in anticipation of the impending snack – reckon they’d beat the Labradors hands down.

Elsewhere, the chickens we are raising for Christmas are enjoying their new extended run, which James finished off the other day. It’s great now that all our animal enclosures are finished and we can now get back to renovating our own house – I know what we’ll be doing this weekend!

The five cobbs we're raising for Christmas
The five cobbs we’re raising for Christmas

Treasure hunters

The hybrid flock busy themselves all day by scratching around
The hybrid flock busy themselves all day by scratching around

It’s always fascinating to see the hens’ reaction to anything on the ground that glints and catches their beady little eyes. With their perfectly shaped beaks, they dig deep into the soil and unearth all kinds of ‘treasure’, such as prettily armoured beetles, and even old pieces of glass, which we are always surprised to find still littering our plot despite our best efforts to clear it. What has amazed us these past few days, though, is the pigs’ tendency to not only root out interesting artefacts such as old farm tools (which I wrote about the other week; ‘Eccentric hens and pigs on a dig’), but their instinct to take the shiny items and squirrel them away in their ark like treasure.

Rootling around comes naturally to pigs
Rootling around comes naturally to pigs

James discovered a stash, which included this crushed Adnam’s can. What do you think inspires them to do this? And have any other pigkeepers come across this intriguing behaviour in their own herd?

20131115-072754.jpg Our porcine residents are proving to be a complete pleasure – their behaviour is so interesting to observe. Frequently, I have seen them chase each other around their run like dogs, then – all of a sudden – freeze, standing stock-still and then continue to charge about. That, I could watch for hours. This weekend, a little housekeeping is required, as a breeder told me this week that it’s necessary to scoop up their mess from the latrine they created, lest they start using the rest of the boundary. We must finish barb-wiring the bottom of their fence, too, so that their powerful snouts don’t rootle their way out and cause mayhem in the village. Anyone else have smallholding jobs lined up for the weekend?

A wee piggy query


The boys are coming on nicely and there’s no need to even announce breakfast or tea – they shoot out of their ark right up to the gate as soon as we open the latch and they’re up for a stroke and pat whenever we see them. It’s huge fun at the weekend to introduce them to visitors – last Sunday my cousin, her partner and their two young children thoroughly enjoyed feeding them apples and acorns. Our only small concern this week is that one of the boars has started weeing right outside the sty in the mornings before eating. Has anyone else found that their porcine charges do not necessarily keep to their latrines?

Up until now they have upheld the scrupulously clean reputation of their fellow beasts, so we were both aghast when we heard the distinctive tinkling sound of an animal relieving itself and caught him at it with the torch. Given the waterlogged state of the mud due to the rain these past few days, James and I can’t help worrying that it’s going to become a rather unsavoury pool soon and that the pair will start tracking the liquid into their perfectly kept ark. So we’re thinking of moving their feeder and drinker further away – this will hopefully mean that the offending pig will feel the need to run over to his nosh before even thinking about his toilet requirements as his companion will have a headstart otherwise. What do the seasoned pigkeepers  out there reckon – will this work?

Asides from that tiny query, all’s well on the micro-holding front. In fact, I’ve brought in two boxes of eggs to sell at CL HQ for the first time in ages, which should put a smile on my colleagues’ faces.

Eccentric hens and pigs on a dig


Is it me or is our white Araucana Audrey looking increasingly eccentric – but still very beautiful, of course – in her old age? Having just completed a second moult this year, which is one too many in my book as I’ve never heard of a chicken shedding more than once a year (what is going on there?!), her plumage isn’t looking quite as full and luxurious as usual (her pantaloon legs haven’t restored themselves yet), so perhaps that is what is giving her that quirky edge.


The two Gloucestershire Old Spot weaners are doing very nicely and have just passed the three-month old mark. We worked out last weekend that we should keep them only until 21 January as, being boars, their meat will taint after that (due to hormones kicking in), which seems like no time away. So, we’re determined to make the most of them; I enjoyed watching them turn over the ground this morning. When they first arrived three weeks ago, we worried that they’d clear the area in a matter of days they were such efficient Rotovators, but thankfully it’s still keeping them out of mischief. They’re turning up all kinds of interesting artefacts, including parts of old farm tools that must have been buried in the ground for years and years. It’s like having our very own Time Team!