Back in the fold

On our return last Saturday from a week away in Pembrokeshire, it was good to be reunited with our cat Beau, the hens and pigs. Though we had a wonderfully relaxing time with our three dogs at a cottage near Solva and St David’s, just minutes from the coastal path (would highly recommend it: The Cheese House), we enjoyed settling back into The Smallholdings way of life. James’s sister Mandy had looked after our small flock and miniature herd beautifully – and our barbed wire efforts the week before had paid off: no pigs escaped, thank goodness. In the event that they did or there was any other porcine bother to deal with, we’d left the number of the very helpful breeders, Linda and Dave Aldous, who we bought the trio from back in August, on the kitchen table.

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On Sunday morning, we let the hens out of their run and into the garden to scratch about in the grass and bask in the autumn sunshine, so we could enjoy their company as we pottered about doing jobs. Throughout our holiday we’d feasted on their eggs – in cooked breakfasts (we found two of the young, small Ixworth pullet offerings poached on a toasted muffin just right), omelettes, cakes and, one of our favourite comfort dishes, cheese pudding, and somehow that underlined for me just how special chickens are. You can begin to take their cheery natures and tireless productivity almost for granted, but when you crack open one of their offerings and see the lovely orange-yolks, you fall in love with the feathered characters all over again. We treated them to some over-ripe plums, which they relished, and lashings of corn. Big Jeff as we call our diminutive Araucana cockerel seemed to have grown over the week we were away – though he’s still keen to be picked up – as did the three pigs, one of whom is especially plump. Feeding them at the same time in the same trough, we couldn’t work out why he’d grown more than his brothers until we closely observed them eating. Unlike poorly/naughty pig (ie the one who got sick and then burrowed under the fence to freedom) and bully pig (prone to knocking the others out of the way when we’re giving them a fuss and attempting to bite our hands), porky pig, as he’s currently known, has a fantastically speedy way of eating. He hoovers up the pellets at a terrific rate and so consumes more than his own fair share. Poorly/naughty pig is a complete amateur in comparison – he’s easily distracted away from his meal and frequently stops scoffing to come over and see us for a scratch behind the ear if we’re around. Porky pig also likes a stroke but only once the business of eating is over, which is only right, of course. He also tends to fall over so he’s flat on the ground and can really relax as we do so! Quite eccentric and rather endearing, really.

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We’re seriously considering separating him from the others for a while and slimming him down a little – perhaps taking him up to the kennel and small sty near the house where poorly/naughty pig enjoyed his stay so much. Having not seen them all week (the trouble with these short autumn days) except by torchlight when we’ve fed and watered them in the mornings and evenings, we need to take another look at his weight and see if we should take such drastic measures. Has anyone else found that one of their herd has grown fatter than his counterparts? Would love to hear what you did, if anything, about it…

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We also went foraging, or some might say scrumping, for apples to supplement the pigs’ diet and came back with quite a crop

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