The power of pigs

photo.JPGThe pigs had their way with the elder tree in the end. On Sunday morning, we discovered that it had been well and truly felled. Apart from the quite remarkable strength that must have been used to perform the feat (if only we had a pig cam – we could have witnessed the event), what was most surprising about this strange vision was how shallow the victim’s roots were, though I’ve since discovered this is a common feature of the species. We’d been determined to preserve the tree due to it being an attractive feature in the garden, the shelter it provided to porcine residents and their feeders, and that we had always intended to pick its flowers to make cordial and bubbly. Our attempts to safeguard it included electric fencing and posts strung with strands of barbed wire, but the porkers simply stepped through any defence that came in their way.
The mightiness of the pigs is the theme of the week as Skinny pig (formerly misnamed Bully) continues to flex his muscles by turning his ark a full 180 degrees on a regular basis. James is baffled as to how he achieves this in the knee-deep mud that surrounds it.

Skinny pig communes with the flock
Skinny pig communes with the flock

We think both instances of brute force are probably down to boredom, sadly – the trio have well and truly cleared their run of vegetation and seem to be looking for other forms of amusement. It won’t be long before they head off to the abattoir, but James is worried that their next project might be trying to escape – not only had Naughty and Porky knocked over the elder, but they’d burrowed under part of the fence. So, in a belt and braces approach, he might be running a strand of electric wire around the bottom of the boundary this Sunday, just in case!

No doubt, smallholders up and down the country have similar chores in mind for the day of the rest. Whatever your plans for the weekend – enjoy!

James and I enjoyed the considerably less arduous task of clearing and tidying the potting shed at the weekend
James and I enjoyed the considerably less arduous task of clearing and tidying the potting shed at the weekend

A porker’s progress

The lone free-ranger Skinny pig
The lone free-ranger Skinny pig

Bully, who should really be known as Skinny pig, is shaping up nicely in his separate bachelor-style pad for one. The fact that he has a meal to himself twice a day – and an extra helping to build him up – means that Porky pig can’t muscle in and eat more than his fair share, denying Bully his rightful ration. In fact, our slimmer Oxford Sandy & Black seems to have come into his own in general. Not only does he appear to be perfectly happy in his own company and is merrily piling on the pounds,  but he has even mustered the strength to turn his ark around 180 degrees, so the opening is directly opposite that of Naughty and Porky. Presumably, so he can keep an eye on their comings and goings. James discovered this on his day off yesterday and filled the newly appointed accommodation with straw, as the previous lot ended up dragged through the mud.

We took a delivery of fresh straw at the weekend – this winter being so wet, we've got through quite a bit
We took another delivery of fresh straw at the weekend – this winter being so wet, we’ve got through quite a bit

He’s filling out well, while Porky is losing a few extra pounds and Naughty is catching up, so it will be just a couple of weeks before the trio are ready for the abattoir. The Oxford Sandy & Blacks have been a joy to keep and we’re very tempted to recruit more for our next miniature herd, but there are so many kinds of pigs out there to try! Still, it seems a little tasteless to discuss such matters just yet, while we still have our lovely trio charging about, so I’ll save that topic for another time. Happy weekends all!

Porky (left) and Naughty are getting on nicely in their plot for two
Porky (left) and Naughty are getting on nicely in their plot for two

 

The cockerel comes of age

Our beloved Jeffrey, who was thrown in for free when we bought four pretty Araucanas in late spring, has just lately shown all the signs of adulthood. Back then, at just five weeks old, he was more fluff than feather, and James especially enjoyed heading down to the coop, scooping him up onto his lap and having a cheeky cuddle.

2015/01/img_3068.jpgWe’ve enjoyed watching him grow over the months, keeping him friendly by stroking him and his increasingly magnificent plumage and indulging his whims – he loves eating corn direct from our hands (a painful experience without the protection of a thick glove) and the scoop. Being the novelty male, he probably gets more of a fuss than the rest of our flock, though he is now redressing this imbalance by turning his attention to the ladies himself.

2015/01/img_4521-0.jpgThere was quite a kerfuffle among the hens last Sunday and I couldn’t think what the noise was due to, so I headed down to see what was occurring and found Jeffrey trying his luck with one of his harem. Then another and another. He’s suddenly woken up to the fact that he is surrounded by a selection of beautiful hens – and it’s his job to not only guard them (rather touchingly, he and the girls travel round the garden in a group these days) and herald the morning, but to ensure there’s a new generation of poultry. Perhaps we’ll try incubating a few eggs this year to see if we can raise their young. We like the idea of taking on more cockerels – after all, breeders sadly have no use for the majority and they dispatch them after only a few hours, days or weeks. It’s just the need for more fencing and coops as they tend to fight – in spring particularly – over their territory and womenfolk. There isn’t enough weekend already for the jobs we already want to complete, so inviting more Jeffreys into the fold will sadly have to wait. The Henmobile’s taken a backseat while James concentrates on our spare room – putting up a ceiling and getting the walls ready for plastering so we can use it as a nursery. I’m incubating one of our own at the moment: our baby is due in May. I’m hoping to have a home birth, so we’re especially excited about the prospect of that particular delivery at The Smallholdings this spring. Other thrilling recent events include the fact that Araucana Margot started laying her stunning pale-blue eggs at the weekend! A whole month earlier than expected! Happy henkeeping all.

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New digs for the pigs

The tools ready for the job in hand
The tools ready for the job in hand

We should have guessed that our plot to move Porky Pig into a separate area in the run wouldn’t quite go according to plan… On Saturday afternoon, we set to work sectioning off a portion of the land with posts about two thirds of way down its length. As we already had stock fence all around it, only strands of electric wire were necessary to segregate the well-fed porcine creature from his smaller siblings.

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After sliding about in the quagmire-like conditions, James fixed the partition in place. As luck would have it, one of his customers was keen to re-home a small ark: the perfect dwelling for Porky, and James brought it back in a truck from work last Friday. With lashings of straw lining it and providing a veritable welcome mat by the entrance we just needed to perform the simple task of luring said pig into the bachelor-style pad.

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The straw sticks to the mud and pig droppings on James’s boots a treat

However, what we didn’t reckon on was a distinct stubbornness and suspicion on the part of Porky. Not only was he not that peckish – we had drip-fed them during the afternoon in order to avoid getting bitten as we walked around their run – but he seemed to smell a rat. Whenever we shook the jar of pig nuts under his nose in a bid to draw him over to the new dwelling, he stood stock-still and refused to budge. The slimmest of our trio, Bully Pig (can’t help feeling now that this is a misnomer; we judged his nature too early on!), however, scampered in without a hitch – no doubt keen to enjoy a portion of food in the absence of Porky to knock him out of the way.

photo.JPGSo, after a little debate, we decided to settle for the situation – at least it was a chance to fatten up the little guy. James then made a corrugated-iron enclosure off the main gate to the run so he could siphon-off Naughty pig for a cheeky extra portion of food. Seeing that Porky wants to stay put, this has proved quite an easy operation – apart from when, living up to his name, Naughty leapt over the enclosure to explore the garden. Now James keeps him company while he dines so that the escapee doesn’t get the chance to forage further afield once he’s finished his meal. So, hopefully, we’ll have three equally sized porkers by the end of the month.

photo.JPGElsewhere at the Smallholdings, our chicken flock is diminishing, not due to Marek’s disease, which seems to have been killed off by the properly cold weather just before Christmas, but the sheer old age of some of our trusty and productive brown hens. We’re resisting the urge to draft in new girls until the Henmobile launched. Just a few jobs left to do on that, so after the recent distraction of separating the pigs, we’ll be back on the case.

Happy weekends all!

A Happy New Henkeeping Year!

Our hybrid flock in the considerably colder winter of 2012-3
Our hybrid flock in the considerably colder winter of 2012-3

During a great few days of holiday over Christmas, in between the bursts of festivities, James cracked on with the Henmobile – the new home for our main laying flock, who currently reside at the end of the garden. Since losing three of our birds to an illness called Marek’s due to, what we think must be, diseased ground (we’ve kept chickens on the same patch for eight years and the mild autumn meant bugs weren’t killed off but incubated), we decided that a moveable coop was the answer. And it’s coming along nicely. First, James made a chassis having ordered four wheels and bought the right lengths and widths of wood to make a frame for the base. photo.JPGThen we put together the various panels of an ordinary pent-style shed he’d pre-painted in a pleasing mix of sage green and cream. It went up on Saturday surprisingly quickly and now all that’s required is a felt roof, a nesting box, perches and a shelter where the hens can feed and keep dry, which we’ll produce over the next couple of weekends. We’ve rather enjoyed simply wheeling it around the garden and when he had completed the chassis, James climbed aboard and used it like a skateboard to glide past the kitchen window and amuse me. At first we thought we could simply roll it up and down along the same lines of the garden, but by applying a little pressure either side of the rear when pushing we can place it anywhere we like. It’s going to be rather good fun – I only hope that Jeffrey, the Araucana cockerel, and the girls take to it as much as we have.

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Another task for this weekend is to create a separate area in the pig run, where we can feed Porky Pig, our largest Oxford Sandy & Black, a smaller ration than his considerably slimmer counterparts. We decided against putting him in the old-fashioned pigsty by the house in case he became distressed at being parted from his brothers, so hit on the idea of luring him into a fenced-off section of the plot during mealtimes, which should do the trick of evening out our porkers before they go to the abattoir at the end of this month. So, plenty of smallholding activity to be getting on with! Anyone planning new accommodation, livestock or anything else for 2015? In the meantime, a Happy New Henkeeping Year all.