Truth be told, it has not been the best summer I can remember. We are still counting our blessings that we got the hay in when we did as sunny days have been conspicuous by their absence. And recently, there has been quite a lot of heavy rain. So the ground stays wet.
Now, our pigs have a decent sized run but with all the rain, it has turned into what can best be described as liquid mud. It’s up to their knees and almost impossible to walk in. It’s the sort of mud that pulls your wellies off and won’t give them back.
Pigs may like mud, but even they seemed to be struggling a bit in this quagmire.
So, we gave it some thought. Our original plan was to have two runs side by side as it’s not a good idea to put pigs onto the same ground two years running. But recently, we decided it would be easier on us to keep pigs only every second year.
So, we decided on an extension. Over the weekend I put in new fence posts. We had to wait for the concrete to dry on the big ones, but this morning I added the fencing and it was time for the opening ceremony. I cut a doorway from the existing run into the extension. Of course, the pigs having spent all morning watching my every move, were now focused elsewhere! So, we got some lettuce and tempted them over.
They were straight through and it was clear they were really happy. This patch had just been left so it was tall grasses, weeds, berry bushes and shrubs. Pig heaven. Making their happy grunting noises, they explored this new area. The ripe blackberries soon disappeared. As did the cow parsley which seems to be a particular favourite.
And it was a bonus not having to wade through all that mud.
We gave them lunch as normal but they ignored that. By mid afternoon, they were worn out and had retired to the pig arc for a well earned nap.
There’s something special about seeing happy animals. I expect they’ll be up bright and early tomorrow for more foraging.
Mind you, there is something about pigs and mud, they do seem fascinated by it….
Readers of this blog might remember that a few weeks back, Mrs Mills went missing, turned out to be broody and hatched 13 chickens under a bush in the garden.
Well, miracles of miracles, all 13 are thriving and turning into proper little hens. They, of course, go everywhere. The netting around the runs does not contain them, nor does the stone dyke that borders a part of the run. Truth be told, Mrs Mills is also partial to a bit of wall hopping herself.
The run border is in the process of being upgraded as it will double as a lamb paddock in the future. But that’s another story.
One of the problems that arose from Mrs Mills and her family was that Mrs Mills had stopped using the hen house. Now our hen house has a fox guard, namely it automatically opens and closes depending on light levels. So, the hens are always safe at night.
Given our hen numbers have, thanked to Mrs Mills more than doubled, we purchases another hen house again with automatic door opener and closer. We set it up close to Mrs Mills’ favourite nest spot.
She basically ignored it.
So, we hatched our plans. We surrounded her nest area with sheep hurdles using chicken wire to cover any gaps. We also set up netting above the nest. We waited till nearly dark. We stood in the midgie infested evening sun waiting for the old hen house door to close. Once it did, we then calibrated the new hen house door so it too knew at what level of darkness to close.
We caught Mrs Mills and also her 13 chicks and stuffed the chicks in a box. We transported them to their new home.
At 5, we were up again to calibrate the opening light levels.
So far so good.
Day 2. Mrs Mills and chicks returned to their old nest under the blackberry bush. We tried to repeat day one’s exercise of catching the hens but they were not quite sleepy enough and within seconds, 6 chicks were up, gone and scattered around the garden. We retired, defeated, and left them to it.
Day 3, we chopped down the blackberry bush and other vegetation. We also netted off an area around the new hen house. We enticed Mrs Mills with some tasty pasta bits and secured her into the area. The chicks were able to pass through the net, so they made their way in in their own time. We put some raspberries inside the hen house. Mrs Mills went in and nested – yes! We thought we had it cracked. We removed the netting so they would be free to wander in the morning.
Day 4. Mrs Mills, now wise to our plans, nested early in the hedge some way from the new hen house and secure area. We had to wake her and entice her with more pasta. Fortunately, tasty bits were more than tempting and we secured her again. Faced with no choice (her old nest having disappeared), she went into the hen house.
Day 5. Mrs Mills chose to roost in the hen house with no intervention from us. We were delighted, now they would be all be safe at night. And she has slept there ever since.
The sun is shining today, though there are plenty clouds around. One of the things we have found here is that the weather is pretty variable and the forecasts also vary day to day. This makes haymaking something of a lottery.
The day we chose to cut our hay was the second in what was forecast to be a few days of dry weather. Of course, it rained two days later. We got our hay in but it wasn’t quite ready, still a bit green. It has been stacked loosely so that it can dry a bit more. One field turned out to be drier and that hay is now stacked away. However, the other bales soon heat up if stacked, so now they are leaning against each other with plenty of air circulating.
The new hay shed is looking good, though, we are very happy with that.
Our animals have been keeping us busy. One of the pigs (Ant or Dec) went off her food and looked a little bit out of kilter. Of course, it was the weekend and a long discussion regarding whether to call the vet ensued. The pig keeping book, however, was quite adamant – if a pig is not eating, it’s not well. So, on a rainsoaked Saturday evening under power shower rain, the three of us, in our wellies and waterproofs, tried to corner the afore-mentioned pig in what was now a sea of slippery, watery mud. Of course, she had seemingly recovered and was equally intent on not being cornered. Fortunately, she stopped for a breather and we carefully constructed a pen with sheep hurdles around her. Diagnosis was possibly pneumonia, so a quick shot of antibiotics was administered.
Then the vet dropped his wee bombshell, she needed a five day course. I say bombshell because, with sheep, it’s just the one injection and also we had never tried giving pigs a jag up till now. So, next day, we caught her in a pen we constructed outside the pig arc and managed, without too much ado, to giver her second shot. Day three, she was wise to this and in an instant sent the sheep hurdles flying. No more jags! Fortunately, she has recovered well.
Next up was Scarlett, one of our ewes. She had taken to spending a lot of her time in the shelter. After this went on for a few days, we started to suspect something was wrong. We had already checked her over and she was alert, would get up and come over, but she was always in the shed.
So, she too was tempted into a pen (using sheep nuts). The fact that she was eating was a good sign. We inspected her all over for maggots – nothing. Not flystrike then. We were puzzled and about to let her go when Nicole spotted her ear – basically, the area around her ear tag was infected.
So, we had to get the ear tag out. This proved quite hard. We wanted her not to suffer, but we couldn’t get cutters in to snip it. Luckily, following Bluemli’s eye injection, we had purchased a headstock. So we fetched that and secured Scarlett. She could still move, but all we now had to do was control the head, not the whole sheep. Using wire cutters, we snipped the main part of the tag away. Then, while trying to get into the bit that went through the ear, Scarlett shook her had and out the tag popped. That was a relief I can tell you. So we administered iodine to clean the wound and an antibiotic in case the infection had spread.
She’s looking better, but still a bit attached to her shed!
Our 13 chickens are growing. We can’t believe that they have all survived. Their mother, Mrs Mills, has basically been living rough for three months so they are not inside the safety of a hen house. Plus, there are cats that live around and plenty of buzzards and kites. On top of this, the chicks can still get out of the pen and wander far and wide including into cat territory. We suspect the presence of George, our large dog, is acting as a cat deterrent.
Anyway, with a total of 22 hens now, we needed another hen house so one was duly purchased and erected (yesterday). We also purchased the automatic door opener (they are really brilliant). This one required calibration to set the light levels so the door opens and closes at the right times. So, we were out last night amidst clouds of midges waiting for the light to fade. We thought we’d calibrate it to close around the same level of light as our existing hen house. Of course, being Scotland and a bit northerly, we have extended twilight, so it was a bit of a wait. Midge nets became essential.
Finally at around 9:45, hen house one closed and we then calibrated hen house 2 to close at the same time. Then, we rounded up Mrs Mills and her brood of 13. This was fairly easy as Nicole had set up sheep hurdles and netting to surround their camp site. All were safely transferred to their new home. Then, it was up at 5 this morning to calibrate the opening light level.
We have bets as to whether Mrs Mills et al will use the hen house this evening or attempt to carry on camping :).
We have also got the new water system in and up and running. All the fields now have water coming from a tank buried near the top of a hill. It is fed by a small stream. It only really fills up after heavy rainfall, but that’s fine.
It’s great not having to take 20 litre water containers over. Plus, now, the troughs stay full making it easier for the animals to drink from them.
It was a big job, but the plumbing went in surprisingly well, no leaks, well none that I have found anyway. Just have to bury some of the blue pipe to keep it safe from animal hooves.
Our veggie patch and herb gardens are doing well. Nicole has spent a lot of time keeping the weeds under control and nurturing our crop. We are enjoying a steady stream of salad and veggies. We are looking forward to the turnips ripening so we can enjoy them with some local haggis.
And, while all this is going on, we have been having some house renovations done. Basically, we’re having two new bathrooms installed and the existing (downstairs) bathroom transformed into a large utility room with freezers etc.
We are starting to think we need a holiday. But with so many animals, holidays are tricky to organise.
And finally, the housemartins have fledged – here they are shortly before they took off. It’s amazing watching them all swooping and diving in the evenings.