Autumn’s arrived at the Smallholdings

The view from our roof - James rebuilt our chimney last weekend with our builder friend Peter
The view from the Smallholdings’ roof over our plot – James rebuilt our chimney last weekend with our builder friend Peter. You can just about see the pig ark gleaming just below the willow trees and the layers’ shed, a camouflaged shade of green, to the right

After a spectacular summer, I’m ready for cooler days, darker evenings and all the riches that the season brings: apples, hedgerow fruits and nuts, woodsmoke, burnished leaves, woollen jumpers, corduroy… One of the disadvantages is that our Araucanas shut up shop until February (when there are once again enough hours of daylight to inspire them to start laying again). However, Audrey and Margot have done their best to furnish us with pale-blue and -green beauties until now. We’re a tad disappointed with the performance of our Black Araucana trio, however, who have laid no more than a couple of eggs since we brought them home at the end of May. Either that or they are creating an egg mountain we are yet to discover (it has been known).

Araucana eggs
Araucana eggs

On the theme of stockpiling, James and I spent the best part of Bank Holiday Monday afternoon stacking logs under the lean-to – a lovely outside-but-inside job to do when it was lashing down all day. Also in store is an abundance of windfall apples kindly donated by friends and family – the most generous offering came in an old potato sack from James’s colleague Norman the other day. This lot will keep our three Oxford Sandy & Black weaners happy for some weeks if we keep the fruit cool and dry.

apples

Our Ixworth cockerels have been enjoying our garden’s surplus runner beans, blackberries and courgettes and have grown into fine, large chickens. Their female counterparts are also laying excellent eggs – the shells may be rather dull, but inside are magnificent large orange yolks, which more than compensate for their outward appearance.

The Ixworth boys are thriving in the new run we made them at the end of the garden
The Ixworth boys are thriving in the new run we made them at the end of the garden

Jeffrey, the Araucana cockerel we’ve raised from a few weeks old in the layers’  run, is growing into a fine specimen, seems to be enjoying the all-female company and displays very gallant behaviour, allowing his ladies to eat and drink before him – so far.

Jeffrey the Araucana cockerel
Jeffrey the Araucana cockerel

 The manners of our young pigs don’t bear comparison with those of Gentleman Jeff, though. They practically mugged me every morning for  breakfast, so I thought I’d catch them on camera this morning!

Porcine displays of affection

Ever-curious, the OSBs often sniff out a photo opportunity
Ever-curious, the OSBs often sniff out a photo opportunity

For our first foray into pigkeeping, James and I were determined to maintain a level of detachment from our porcine charges, lest we found that we couldn’t do the deed and take them off to the abattoir, resulting in more pets and no ham, sausages or chops. During the five months or so that they were rootling around at the end of the garden, we gave the pair a good life and enjoyed their company, but we didn’t stroke or pat them and avoided naming them – we’re still not keen on giving a moniker to any animal that will ultimately be eaten. Having managed the whole cycle, from picking out our piglets to bringing home the bacon, we now feel we can relax a little and make a fuss of them, plus I can’t help feeling that more affection from us will make our trio a little happier and boost their welfare in general.

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The Oxford Sandy & Blacks seem more interested in us, too, and love bolting over to have a good scratch courtesy of our Wellington boots every time we enter their run. It’s also lovely to give their back or neck a good pat, stroke or rub and see how much they enjoy it.

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I don’t think this will mean their end is more difficult to carry out – hopefully, knowing that they’ve had as good a life as possible will make it easier. I’d love to hear from other pigkeepers about their approach to affection…

Partial to a good kip on a regular basis, the trio of Oxford Sandy & Blacks regularly emerge from the ark rather sleepy
Partial to a good kip on a regular basis, the trio of Oxford Sandy & Blacks regularly emerge from the ark looking seriously cute and rather sleepy

The three little pigs

IMG_3731.JPG So now we have a herd, not a pair, of Oxford Sandy & Blacks. The reason we’ve acquired another member of the boys’ litter is partly due to finding this breed rather moreish and partly down to feeling the need to slightly increase our scale of pigkeeping lest we become too attached the individuals concerned (of course, both these reasons are linked). We needn’t have feared the later entry wouldn’t be accepted. As soon as we released him from the dog crate (which he managed to force open several times on our way back to the Smallholdings!) and introduced him to the others over a feeder full of pig nuts, the trio of brothers were thick as thieves. The following morning, I snuck down to see how the incomer was faring in the ark and felt suitably reassured.

IMG_3689.JPG They’re proving even more entertaining now there’s a third porcine character in on the act. James has held the fort over the past week, as I was in Mull with my sister Kate to do a CL feature and also have some holiday. My phone seemed to enjoy the break on this stunningly beautiful island, too, and refused to pick up Wi-Fi, which meant not being able to blog or Tweet while away – no bad thing, I guess. It was a truly slow, restorative few days away with a kindred spirit, taking in the special landscape and character of this wild place.
Of course, I spoke to James every day who kept me up to speed with porcine and poultry news, including a particularly odd tale of going down to feed the Oxford Sandy & Blacks one night and discovering one of them chewing on a stick, which was hanging out of its mouth like a cigar, another climbing on top of a bale in the house and number three tearing a load of straw apart on the floor and throwing it about in the air. James didn’t have a camera on him at the time, but below is another picture showing their sense of adventure.

IMG_3774.JPG Of course, I missed the OSBs along with our three dogs, cat and chickens but there was plenty of livestock – mainly sheep – on the Inner Hebrides island to interest us.

IMG_3786-0.JPG We returned from our Scottish mini-break on Tuesday evening and, after a Country Living day out of the office yesterday, am at CL HQ today catching up with work, including editing copy for our Christmas issue and reading proofs for November – we always work a season ahead (with shoots and features often being written a whole year in advance), which takes a little getting used to again after a holiday. Feeding the ever-appreciative pigs and making a fuss of Audrey and Margot always makes a great start to the working day, though.

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Little pig tales

James and I have missed having porkers around since our first two, a fine pair of Gloucestershire Old Spots, went off to the abattoir in early March. But I didn’t realise quite how much I’d felt their absence until last weekend, when we took delivery of our Oxford Sandy & Black boys. Pigs are a delight and I don’t want to be without them ever again! I can’t describe or explain why they make me so happy, but they do! Does anyone else out there feel like this?
We really must get a trailer! Had the straw delivered a couple of weeks ago and then needed to transport it down the garden
We really must get a trailer! Had the straw delivered a couple of weeks ago and then needed to transport it down the garden in the car

On Saturday morning, we were – typically – still preparing the ark for the new residents. Having disinfected it we still needed to fill it with straw. Then there was a great kerfuffle trying to find papers containing our County Parish Holding number (still total novices, we’d quoted our herd number instead!), after which we finally headed over to the smallholding of Linda and Dave Aldous, on the edge of the charming village of Wethersfield, north-west of us in Essex. Having visited three weeks earlier, we’d picked out our two little guys so Linda and Dave had wormed and tagged them for us ready to go.

More small piglets
Two-week-old piglets – ever seen anything cuter?

However, we couldn’t resist a peek at the couple’s litter of fortnight-old piglets – just beautiful! It inspired us to consider breeding from a sow one day – imagine them at a day or two old: even smaller!

IMG_3540 Next came the task of lifting the surprisingly heavy and seriously wriggly chaps into the dog crate in the back of our car – James volunteered to attempt this and I was only too glad because the squealing was ear-splitting.

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Once home, after a circuitous, windy route down country lanes due to a diversion, we introduced our newcomers to their digs. They immediately seemed dwarfed by the comfrey, thistles and nettles through which they will rootle and munch before long.

In context of run

James and I took our lunch down so we could enjoy watching them settle in and it was hard to tear ourselves away, but we left them to it while we resumed our cockerel coop build for which we’re converting part of the layers’ undercover run.

Wallow

We were soon back to admire the porcine pair and dug out and filled a wallow they could cool down in.

Portrait of our pair
Portrait of our pair

On Sunday, we set up a table and chairs by the entrance to the run and invited James’ parents and sister Jackie over to meet our latest acquisitions.

Eating's one of their favourite activities
Eating’s one of their favourite activities

Everyone enjoyed observing their antics, though the boys spent a surprising amount if time snoozing. In fact, these two seem to sleep for quite a large part of the day compared with the Gloucestershire Old Spots, though perhaps they’re more active at night.

An afternoon nap
An afternoon nap

Pigs are meant to be crepuscular a creatures after all. I was delighted that the Oxford Sandy & Blacks received such a good welcome on Twitter. Liz Shankland (of @TudfulTamworths and author of the excellent Haynes Pig Manual), breeder of the eponymous ginger variety even gave them the stamp of approval.

SnoutWe are so besotted with them that we are going to pick up a third this evening! Sounds a little crazy, I know, but we’re a little concerned that it’s becoming all too easy to become attached to them and if we’ve a trio they’re more of a herd than a pair is. We checked with Linda and Dave that introducing one of the piglets’ brothers won’t be too disruptive but they’re confident that the animals will all remember each other and there’s no chance of bullying the way there might be with chickens. So James is picking me up from the station tonight when I get home from CL HQ and we’re then shooting over to Wethersfield where there’ll be one more little porker to pop in the car and bring home to the Smallholdings. Pig tail

 

Feathery flirtations

Despite being woken by the early morning calls of our cockerel quartet, neighbours Gloria and Larry presented us with a veritable trugful of their organically grown produce this week – an aubergine so glossy and black, runner beans so sweet, and red onions of such uniform, blemish-free appearance that the vibrant collection looked like it was destined for the village show – not our kitchen. Along with the assurance that we will be finishing the cockerel coop down the end of the garden soon in order to relocate our vocal flock, we presented them with a box of our girls’ finest – as ever, handed over the hedge between our gardens – and they returned the eggbox full of the prettiest tomatoes. James and I love this kind of bartering!

20140801-072633-26793814.jpgMeanwhile, the cockerel culprits have been enjoying the run of the garden, but naturally can’t resist ruffling a few feathers by visiting the girls – Margot and Audrey didn’t quite know what to make of their suitors yesterday.

20140801-072959-26999076.jpgMargot soon made her escape and left her chum and the boys to it.

20140801-073314-27194452.jpg I couldn’t help feeling that Audrey enjoyed the confidence boost – she is moulting furiously and isn’t looking her glamourous self.

20140801-073854-27534248.jpgWe’ve more boys arriving at the Smallholdings tomorrow – this time of the porcine variety. Can barely contain my delight at the prospect of picking up our Oxford Sandy & Black weaners in the morning. At around the same time my friend, CL colleague and fellow East Anglian Jackie is collecting her first clutch of hens. Almost too much eggcitement for one office to handle!

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