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….
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.
As we have found in this lifestyle, animal husbandry is the number one priority. Animals are very bad at telling you they are not well till it’s almost too late.
Our sheep were sheared in June and Bluemli got a little nick above her eye. We carefully sprayed it with iodine which would have been the end of it had she not then rubbed it (her eye) on the wall of the shearing shed. Now the iodine was in her eye! Next, her eye clouded over, then it swelled up. We administered antibiotics and a painkiller. But just as it seemed to be improving, it would get worse again.
As it happened, the vet had to come out for Sarka. She has a heart problem and seemed to be having some sort of anxiety attack. The vet administered three injections (antibiotic, painkiller and diuretic) which worked brilliantly, she even has a clean bottom now. The vet took a look at Bluemli’s eye, told us we were doing the right thing and to carry on. We did, bit no improvement. So the vet popped out again and gave Bluemli an injection into her eyelid. It was, unsurprisingly, hard keeping her still (we have since bought a contraption to help should we need to do that again). Plus we upped the frequency of the antibiotics and painkiller and also administered an eye cream. Poor old Bluemli, it was an injection a day, sometimes two. She started avoiding me (as I was the one who held her still). She we unaware it was actually Nicole giving her the jags (or jabs if you’re English).
However, it worked and her eye is almost back to normal. We are delighted.
So why a photo of pigs above? Well, just as we were tidying all the medicines away, we noticed one of our pigs was not eating. The books were quite clear on this, if a pig is not eating, it’s not well.
So, on a wet Saturday evening after a particularly heavy downpour, we tried to corner her in the most muddy, slippy conditions you can imagine. Eventually we managed it – it took three of us sneaking up with sheep hurdles and constructing a square around her.
Diagnosis, slight case of pneumonia. In the middle of summer! So, the vet gave her antibiotics and then told us she’d need a five day course. He also added he was impressed with our setup and that the pigs seemed very healthy and happy (the pneumonia notwithstanding). That was music to our ears as it’s our first time keeping pigs.
So, today we injected a pig for the first time. Same basic principle, except for the noise. Boy oh boy do pigs squeal when you corner them. But, we managed it (me holding and Nicole injecting) and already she is perking up. And she’s getting a few extra treats from Nicole, Blackcurrants plucked straight from a nearby bush proving particularly popular.
It has, as ever, been a busy spring. On top of moving here in March, we have expanded our animals to include pigs, more sheep and we been through lambing . And along with this, we have our day jobs plus carrying out repairs to the new house, unpacking and arranging for new bathrooms.
The sheep needed two main jobs, automated water and a shelter. While there are many streams and springs, in the dry weather they dry up so we need to have troughs of water in each of our fields. During dry spells, this has meant transporting 20l water carriers daily across to keep them replenished. Thank goodness for the quad bike. In the meantime, we have purchased a water tank, troughs and much plastic pipe. The plan is to bury the tank near the top of the hill where a natural spring emerges. All the troughs will be plumbed in and filled with natural spring water all powered by gravity. We’re just waiting on a date for the man with a digger to come and dig a big hole for it.
For the shelter, we chose a central location that can be reached from most of our fields. I ordered the bits needed to build one only to realise, when they were delivered, that it would be too small. So, another order later, I moved all the wood and corrugated iron up to where it was needed. At this point, the sheep were not impressed – they don’t like to see humans carrying things!
Next, it was time to build it. On a pleasant weekend in May, I got started. I had designed it with the support posts sunk into the ground to keep it in place in windy weather. So, time to dig a few more holes.
And two days later, it was ready. Fortunately, the weather had proved not to be midge friendly, so that helped a lot.
And the sheep were now suitably impressed. They like their shelter. The lambs especially so. You can see the finished shed in the picture at the top.
Meanwhile, the pigs have been going from strength to strength. They grow really quickly and have turned into quite large animals in a matter of weeks And this despite our scales being wrong and causing us to underfeed them for a bit. Amazingly, they have not trashed their entire pen. Perhaps it’s because they are quite large. Perhaps it’s because the Kune Kunes are more grazers than diggers. Or, perhaps, they like gardening. At one point it seemed like they had a nice area of lawn, a flower bed full of blooms and a digging area. Since the recent rain, however, the digging are has expanded. We may get next year’s potato planting area yet.
Hay cutting will be upon us shortly but the hay shed is still under construction. I need to order some smaller planks as I can’t make it as deep as I’d hoped due to the hill behind it. Seemed a shame to trim the planks to make them fit. They are now earmarked for another project (see below).
And now we have decided to change our minds and lamb next year. So a whole lambing complex with decent shed and paddock in front of the house is on the drawing board. It will be great having the shed close to the house and being able to keep an eye on the lambs through the kitchen window. All I have to do now is build it!
I am pretty sure I mentioned earlier that one of the first things our new piglets did was go straight through the electric fence and make a break for it.
So, we did some research on how to contain pigs. And the prevailing wisdom was that electric fences, in themselves are not enough. Even for pigs that have been trained to respect them.
So, new pig pen it was then. And the clock was ticking. Our two little weaners were still pretty small, but they were growing and they don’t half grow quickly. So, despite the fact that we were bang slap in the middle of lambing (3 hourly checks, interrupted sleep, tired, the whole tiredness thing), we order a steel gate, posts and stock fencing. Prevailing wisdom also recommended two strands of barbed around the base to stop them trying to get their noses under it and lifting it up. And of course, the gate hinges need to be reversed.
And on Good Friday, or thereabouts, construction began. Of course, the tractor and the post knocker hadn’t arrived, so it all had to be done by hand. I got cracking. The first post gave me a false sense of security. I dug a 3 foot hole (for a large corner post) pretty quickly and concreted it in. The next one I hit rocks about 18 inches down. Same on the next one. And the next. Hmm, off to the DIY shop for new tools, a post hole digging long chisel and a special post spade were procured. But it was hard, hard work getting through the stones. Eventually, 5 of the 7 corner posts were in. The gate hadn’t arrived so I left the gate posts for now.
Time to knock the standard posts in with the post driver. Same problem, rocks at 18 inches. There’s a particular noise a post makes when it hits a rock and you just know that’s as far as it’s going. I heard that a lot.
But, one post at a time, I made progress. Until post number 9 which was roughly half way. I was tired now and should have stopped. But “one more post” I thought to myself. I set it up, raised the driver, brought it down, caught the edge of the post and toppled the post driver (very heavy) onto my head. “Ouch” I said (or words to that effect)! Nicole came running and got me an ice pack (frozen chips) which I placed on my head. I didn’t have concussion (we checked), but the danger was compression. So after talking to NHS online for a bit, I was dragged to A&E in Dumfries. They were great, they patched my head up with superglue and sent me on my way. This was Easter Monday!
Anyway, I took a day off and resumed construction on the Wednesday. I got the rest of the posts in (more carefully), the gate arrived and it and it’s posts went in. I put in the stock fence and two strands of barbed wire. Nicole suggested we put the electric fence around the perimeter too, a good idea, so in it went.
And we were ready for the grand opening ceremony. And not a moment too soon!, our weaners were growing and already looked too big for their small run.
We created an opening in the small run. They emerged straight away, grunting happily. Then they started tearing round the arc at quite some speed. They loved the extra space. It was great to watch. A job well done.
Nicole and I have a habit of coming up with an idea and then just getting on with it. So it was with our pigs. That said, I did spend an hour or so with friends of ours who had their first pigs last year. While it was very useful, it also gave us a false sense of security.
We got our gilts last Friday. I had prepared the arc and an area surrounded by an electric fence. Our friends’ pigs had a similar setup and they had no problems so far as we know.
We got our wee piglets and let them loose in their new home. Now, had we done our reading before, rather than after this event, we’d have been better prepared. But, we let them loose and we watched them. They tried out the electric fence a couple of times and retreated from it. It all seemed good.
Later that day, I left them for a moment to get some food for them. When I got back a few minutes later, it seemed awfully quiet. Had they finally gone into the arc I asked myself. I looked and they were not there. I looked behind the arc. No piglets. Just then I caught a flash of white disappearing behind the greenhouse.
Quickly I ran in and called Nicole – “They’ve escaped” I yelled in a mild panic. Nicole rushed down, cornered them and caught one with ease and passed it to me. I stepped back to let her catch the other one. I looked at my pig, who was struggling and showing surprising strength. When I had calmed her, I looked up and the second pig and Nicole had disappeared, totally.
I looked round and tried to figure out where they had gone. A few minutes later, I heard a shout “I’ve got her” as Nicole emerged from the chicken run, pig in arms. Turned out that piglet number 2 had showed a surprising turn of speed, had charged through 3 stock fences, through various bushes with Nicole in close pursuit (in her slippers). Finally, she had corned the piglet in a paddock. Poor Nicole had lost her slippers and cut her hands vaulting barbed wire stock fences, but had shown an amazing determination.
So, we stood there, pigs in arms, pondering what to do. Nicole wanted to put them in the house. I wasn’t so sure. In the end, we put them in the arc (which is what we should have done in the first place) and placed a gate across the opening. We secured them for the night and retired for a much needed fino.
Next day, we built a smaller run inside the electric fence with chicken wire. They’ll stay in there for a week or so while I construct a pig proof, stock fenced area. I started on that today but progress has been slow due to the large number of subterranean rocks. I also fitted a door on the arc so they can be safe and secure at night.
In the meantime, the piggies have really settled and are more than happy with their arc (which they love) and their small outdoor space – for now. And Nicole has worked her usual magic such that have gone from snarling at us to eating from our hand and presenting themselves for back scratches.
The lessons we learned? Well, first, it may be home for us but for the piglets it’s anything but, they need to be shown the arc which can quickly become a safe haven. Second, while we think they’re cute, to them we are unknown large scary predators and their first instinct will be to run. And third, electric fences are not, in themselves, enough to keep pigs in. They actually need to be trained as to what to do, otherwise, if they get a shock, they are as likely to bolt through the fence as back away from it.
Today we ventured into a whole new area, rearing pigs. We had been planning to do this once we got here to Auchenstroan but initially we found it difficult to find weaners for sale locally. Then, we posted on the Smallholding Group Scotland and within hours were offered weaners that were not too far away. We said “yes” and booked 2.
So, it was time to prepare somewhere
for them to live. We spent much time thinking about this. In a way, we were almost spoilt for choice. Finally we chose a site close to the house. In fact, we are really pleased because we can see them from or kitchen window.
So, next it was building the pig arc. We had brought our two pig arcs up with us so I set about constructing one of them. The pigs are getting the wooden floor – lucky them.
And then we had to wait as the piglets were too young. But today, it was time to collect them and we headed over to collect them. We were given two gilts. They are Gloucester Old Spot crossed with Kune Kune.
Fate is a strange thing. We had been planning to take our trailer to collect them. But we broke it last weekend and it hasn’t been repaired yet. So we checked they would be OK in the back of my car (Freelander). When we got there, they were tiny, smaller than terriers! We’d have looked foolish loaded them into a trailer!
Anyway, we drove back and let them out into there new run. It was a bright sunny day and within seconds they were doing what pigs do, foraging with their snouts. And they were having a lovely time.