Pig Wires

The piglets have been escaping every day.

DSC_0137

Welcoming committee

It is not uncommon to pull into the driveway after work only to be greeted by the usual menagerie of chickens, only NOW that coterie is intermingled with the random piglet, or two.

Or eight.

The wire line that we use to keep them in their enclosure is laughably inept when it comes to piglet-containment.

A full grown hog will obey the wire.  A full grown hog understands the zappy power it wields and responds with appropriate reverence and caution.

On beyond zebra.

On beyond zebra.

A piglet, however, can be zapped and zapped and zapped and still, the lure of BEYOND THE WIRE is just too strong to ignore.

The laughable, ineffectual wire.

The laughable, ineffectual wire.

The wire itself is a fickle instrument.  It is strung from post to post only inches from the ground where it has the best chance of dissuading potentially wayward piggies.

The flaw in the system is that the wire must remain free of grasses, mud, and other things that will sap its energy.

So, for example, if weeds grow up around the wire, those weeds will draw the energy out and diminish the strength of the zap.

Lots of other things have this same effect and, as a result, maintaining the wire is an ongoing process.

So, when something like a Tornado-Level Storm hammers through the area, taking down tree-sized branches as it goes, our little pig wire really can’t compete.

Tree-sized branch lying ON the pig wire

Tree-sized branch lying ON the pig wire

Which is what happened last week.

The storm came through, complete with marble-sized hail, crazy strong winds, and grey-out condition clouds. And once it passed, all of the piglets had made their Nature-aided getaway.

Those dinky defectors were nowhere to be seen when we grabbed the chainsaw and started breaking down that enormous branch, piece by piece, until the wire could be unearthed.

The stronger pull

The stronger pull

And when it was all finally cleared and back up to speed, everyone was magically back home with mom.

Feeding time has that effect.

No matter how the travel bug may bite, the stronger pull is always that of the feed trough.

Sigh.

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When Goats Fly

I can’t believe I haven’t told you about the goat kids.

Life has gotten insanely busy over the past month and there has been precious little time for such lovely frivolities as blog post writing, but it is verging on criminal that the goat babies haven’t been shouted about from the rooftops.

So, on with the shouting.

Stinky Love Man and his Ladies

Stinky Love Man and his Ladies

Back in January, we borrowed a buck from some friends. We knew we wanted to expand our small tribe but didn’t want to commit to the maintenance and olefactory torture that comes with year-round buck-having.

Goat gestation takes 150 days, so we assumed we’d see kids sometime around the end of June or beginning of July.

And that’s just what happened.

Freshly born goatlets.

Freshly born goatlets.

Dot (who was born on applewood farm two years ago) kidded first.  When we went to check on her, her two girls had just been born.  They were still wet and messy and beautiful and crazy cute.

There was no trouble with the birth, but Dot seemed to be troubled by the fact that these two creatures appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and now wanted to start using her as a milk dispenser.

She kept walking away whenever they tried to nurse.

This was troubling, but the babies continued to be alive for hours and days and eventually weeks, so we decided they must be getting some milk and left it at that.

Two days later, I took a break from work to go let the dogs out and check to make sure the pigs had water and see whether Janie had kidded.

Birth, al fresco

Birth, al fresco

When I looked in the first goat shed, I found Dot and her girls, but no Janie.  I looked into the second goat shed and still no Janie.  Then, I glanced down the hill of the enclosure and noticed movement under the pine tree.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that not only was Janie sitting under the pine tree with her brand new, lovely sons, but she had also given birth to them right out there in the open.

Everyone involved seemed quite pleased.

The boys had clearly been born hours before and were already dry and fluffy.

And yes, goat babies are probably the cutest creatures on the planet.

DSC_0211The kids are now about three weeks old and all six goats are living harmoniously together.

I try to let them out of their enclosure about once a day to wreak havoc on the farm, frolick with the piglets (who are ALWAYS escaping), and munch on the wonderful leafy greens that are apparently way better than the leafy greens on their side of the fence.

When they are not busy wreaking or frolicking or munching, they will turn absolutely anything into a toy.

It can be climbed!

It can be climbed!

Favorites include lawn chairs, picnic tables, ladders, and benches.

If it can be climbed, a goat kid’ll climb it.

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When goats fly.

And fly off of it.

And they will repeat the performance ad infinitum.

DSC_0271Unless, of course, they are busy reading.

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Chicks and Tractors

Chick hatching season is upon us and, so far, we’ve got 11 new chicks bopping around the farm.

All the hens seem to go broody within weeks of one another, so we tend to see a sudden drop off in egg production every May and June.

Mama and her solo chicklet

Mama and her solo chicklet

One of the hens was sitting on a clutch of six eggs.  The first egg hatched and she stayed on the remainder of the clutch for another day.  Then, she took her solitary little yellow ball of fluff and left.

And she never came back.

The problem here is that the remainder of the eggs are undoubtedly fertile and are most likely only a day, or possibly hours, from hatching.  Being abandoned at this stage of the game ensures their shell-bound death.

The upshot being that that hen sucked.

So, we dusted off our incubator, fired it up, and placed the remaining eggs inside.

Within a day, we had three more chicks (the two remaining eggs ended up not hatching – one wasn’t fertilized and the other wasn’t fully developed).

Since Sucky Mama camped out in our mud room with her solo chick, we thought it might be worth a shot to introduce the remaining three to her and see if she would take them in.

We brought her all three, placed them nearby, and waited.

After about a minute, she moved toward them gently and, just as all seemed like it might go pretty well, she began pecking at them viciously.

In the safe zone.

In the safe zone.

Removing them as quickly as possible from Sucky Homicidal Mama, we created a little space for them indoors with food, water, and a heat lamp.

We knew we had a couple of days before they’d be ready to go outside, so we went to find our old chicken tractor to see what sort of condition it was in after being abandoned for almost two years.

Hahahahahaha

Hahahahahaha

It wasn’t in good condition.

It had largely been reclaimed by the earth and, when we went to lift it, pretty much fell apart and laughed at us for thinking we could use it safely.

And then it laughed some more.

Time to build a new chicken tractor.

We happened to have a few spare pieces of 2×4 in the garage and some old 1″ pvc from last winter’s mini hoophouses.  These made the structure of the tractor over which we simply draped some 1″ chicken wire that we secured with staples and zip ties.

side note: There is nothing in the world more useful than zip ties.

DSC_0150The end product looked WAY better than its predecessor and we were pretty stoked to move the abandoned chicks into their new digs.

The chickies will stay here, learning how to be chickens in a safe and protected environment, until they have feathered out and are at least half as big as the others.

Without the benefit of a mama hen to show them the ropes, this is a necessary precaution that will keep them alive and well.

And, because Karma is a swift and merciless bitch, Dave found Sucky Homicidal Mama’s only chick having drowned in one of the mini troughs we keep for chicken/dog/cat water.

Which is why, as the old saying goes, you should never ditch your eggs before they hatch.

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A Swarm in June

Trying to take the bees away.

Trying to take the bees away.

A friend of ours found a bee swarm on a sapling in his yard and asked if we might, pretty please, come take it the hell away.

Another friend of ours just had all her beehives decimated by a bear, so this seemed like a no-brainer problem-solving mission.

All we had to do was go get the unwanted bees and bring them to where they’d be appreciated.

That’s all.

Easy, right?  Ha.

Bees tend to swarm in early June.

But, let’s back up a moment.

As winter settles in, all the male bees (drones) are booted from the hive to conserve resources.  In the spring, they are reared again and the hive comes back to full capacity with a select handful of new drones expected to mate with the queen and start the cycle over again.

Bees communicate through pheromones which are produced by workers, drones, and the queen.  These are shared when members of the colony feed each other, thereby passing the pheromone (and information) from bee to bee.  The queen produces her very own, Extra Special Queen Pheromone which attracts the workers to her and gets them to do all the stuff she wants them to do (draw comb, forage for pollen, and tend the brood, specifically).  Since everybody in the hive knows that they can’t survive without the queen, they’ll pretty much do whatever it takes to keep that lady happy.

Because if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

In May, when temperatures start to warm up, the newly-repopulated hive becomes more and more crowded until a large portion of the worker bees lose contact with the queen. When they reach this point and are no longer receiving her pheromone signals, they believe they are queenless and are motivated to create a new queen.

This is when swarming can happen.

Because there is no space in a colony for more than one queen, and because over-crowding can motivate a swarm, the old queen will leave, taking about half the colony with her.  This group goes in search of a new home, which can take hours or days.  Since the queen is not a particularly strong flyer, she will need to stop for breaks and THIS is when people tend to see large swarms of bees on tree branches, doorways, cars, etc.

These potentially daunting clusters are merely the queen bee taking a pit stop and her colony surrounding and protecting her.

From this resting place, scout bees will go off in search of new digs and the swarm will tend to stay where it is until that new spot is found.

Our friend’s sapling happened to be this swarm’s resting place.

So, the other night, armed with a bee suit, a smoker, a bee brush, a hive super filled with drawn comb, a bee patty, and a rubbermaid container with a tight-fitting lid, I went to get that swarm.

Getting the main cluster into the box was the easy part (the bees didn’t really see that coming, so they were moved before they had a chance to assess the situation). It was the remaining bees that were the trouble.  They’d dispersed and scattered, making a catch of any significance pretty impossible.

2,432... 2,433...

2,432… 2,433…

This was when I started collecting bees one by one, allowing them to crawl onto my hand and then placing them into the bin.

It would be a gross understatement to say that this exercise required a display of patience and calm not typically exhibited by this particular beekeeper.

But it was also really, really lovely.

The sun was setting and the bees were being rescued and the world was silent except for some crickets and, of course, the bees, and everything was pretty gosh darned great.

I didn’t want to leave any bees behind, so it was important to be peaceful and methodical.  By the end, I felt reasonably sure I’d gotten almost every bee.

A bear-proof fortress.  Maybe.

A bear-proof fortress. Maybe.

From the swarm site, I drove with my friend’s new hive to the site of the most recent Bearmageddon and did my best to set up her hive with the new bees.

In a day or two, I’ll go back with a frame of drawn comb that has eggs and brood in it.  This will give the bees what they need to make a new queen.

That is, if they’re still there.

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Slow-Roasted Pork

The piglets were born on Saturday and by Sunday night, the weather had gotten really cold.

After finding one little one dead on Sunday morning, we needed to ensure that the remaining nine were as protected as possible insofar as we could interfere.

We could pretty much only interfere by making sure that their shed was protected against the overnight chill.  With temperatures dropping into the low 40s, those little guys would need more than just Mama to keep them going.

Once again, it was a job for Farmer Dave.

Dave is pretty great at ensuring that the animals have what they need to make it through the cold.

He started by hanging a sheet where the larger cracks would potentially let in rain or cold and, over that, draped a huge tarp to cover almost the entire face of the structure. Once that was done, he brought a couple hay bales to block openings around the shed, and then hung a heat lamp.

This was a good start, but it wasn’t enough.  The piglets were still visibly shivering and a visibily shivering piglet (while ADORABLE) is not one that’s going to survive.

The next step was to affix two space heaters to the wall, high enough that Mama couldn’t reach them, but low enough that the heat would reach its intended targets.

Hay and Heat Lamps and Space Heaters... Oh My!

Hay and Heat Lamps and Space Heaters… Oh My!

This step made me panic because I was sure that a) the heaters would fall and set the hay on fire and burn the shed down and kill everyone inside or b) the heat would rise and go out the top of the shed and never reach the piglets and they would die.

Dave patiently tolerated my worrying and went so far as to demonstrate the automatic turn-off function on each heater when tilted sideways.

So, then all I had to worry about was it not keeping them warm enough.

Toasty warm ramshackle mess

Toasty warm ramshackle mess

The last step was to bring bath towels to stuff into gaps in the side wall where we could feel the heat escaping.

The end result was the most ramshackle looking mess you ever saw.

But it totally worked.

Despite our electric meter spinning like a levitating graphene (look it up), we could rest easy knowing that these nine little piggies and their big, fat mama would make it through this cold spell.

That's one hot mama.

That’s one hot mama.

At one point, Mama even moved the whole gang over toward the doorway.

Evidently, she needed to cool down a bit.

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Coming Full Circle(ish)

Girl Pig had her first litter yesterday.

Sophie and I were hanging clothes on the line when we heard what was clearly Two Pigs Fighting coming from the pig shed.  I ran to investigate and found Girl Pig in a tussle with Boy Pig and it seemed like intervention was in order.

Knowing she was pregnant and likely close to pigging out, I figured she was trying to nest and he was ruining it for everyone.  I managed to get him out of the shed, but he kept getting back in.

The third time I got him out, I noticed that her mucous plug was coming out and that’s a clear sign that piglets are imminent.

I called Dave for back-up.

Dave arrived quickly and wired off a small area around the shed to keep Bubble and Boy Pig out of the newly-minted Maternity Ward.  This gave them the shed-in-the-woods and the lion’s share of the pig run, leaving the old shed and a small bit of land for the new mama and her litter.

Gimme four!

Gimme four!

She immediately started nesting and positioning the hay to prepare for birth and within ten minutes, the first piglet was born!

Girl Pig was definitely surprised by the proceedings.

It was fascinating to watch her agitation and uncertainty after each of the first four piglets were born.  They came out roughly 15-20 minutes apart, and it seemed to take New Mama the better part of the first hour to digest what was happening.

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She had a break of almost an hour between #4 and #5, but then she found a comfortable position, settled in, and easily birthed the rest.

Within hours of birthing the piglets and placentas (pigs have two), all of her offspring were nursing and doing really well.  We saw no signs of a runt or of any deformities–an unusually high success rate for a first-time mama, for sure.

Of the ten, beautiful piglets, there was one who didn’t survive the night.

The one that didn’t make it was moved aside by Mama.

While this is totally to be expected (newborn piglets can fail for a number of reasons), it still totally bummed me out, so I went to go visit the rest and watch them nurse for awhile.

Aside: If you are in a bad mood, please feel free to stop by to watch the piglets nurse. I promise you will feel better after doing this.

Bubble and Boy Pig, in lovely exile

Bubble and Boy Pig, in lovely exile

Girl Pig was born right here last August and has now made a litter of her own.  It’s a very cool thing to see happen.  It’s important, however, that we keep Bubble and Boy Pig away from these guys for the first few weeks lest jealousy, aggression, or other piglet-harming behavior arise.

This is especially important because Bubble is also pregnant, but isn’t expecting for about another month, give or take.

Ideally, we’ll keep Bubble separated from Girl until she also pigs out.  At that point, we’ll finish Boy (his work here is done and it’s time to move on to porkier endeavors) and allow the ladies and their offspring to start having playdates.

Oh yeah.

Oh yeah.

In the meantime, we’ll be snuggling piglets.

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The Right Wing

It was an otherwise peaceful, sunny day when it happened.

Since none of us actually saw it happen, we’ve had to piece together what most likely happened, and take it from there. Because by the time any of us saw Fluffers, he was, to all appearances, dead as a rock and being eaten by the dogs.

Sophie and I were on the deck when she said, “What have the dogs got?”

I looked and saw Charlie and Darwin nosing into what appeared to be a completely dead duck. I screamed to Dave that the dogs had killed one of the ducks and we ran to see what the heck could possibly have happened.

Now, our dogs are dumb and goofy and sometimes spazzy, but they are not bird killers. They have lived for years harmoniously alongside a great many chickens and have never threatened a single one. So this was confounding. What would have made them do such a horrible thing?

When we got the dogs away from Fluffers, we saw (to our immense relief) that he was not dead, but merely injured on one side. Upon closer inspection, we found a decent sized puncture wound under his right wing but other than that, nothing.

But Chatters was nowhere to be found.

And THAT didn’t make any sense because the two ducks spend all their time together, constantly waddling, side by side, around the farm.

So, when we heard Chatters all the way on the other side of the farm honking for her man, we started putting the pieces together.

“Hey, Dave?”

“Yeah?”

How much do I suck?  Thiiiiiis much!

How much do I suck? Thiiiiiis much!

“Remember that hawk that was incessantly flying overhead about ten minutes ago?”

“Yeah?”

“Well…”

And we realized that the most likely narrative was this:

Duck. Down.

Duck. Down.

Fluffers and Chatters were tottering along on the other side of the farm when the hawk who had been studying the free-ranging flock for SOME TIME swooped down, grabbed Fluffers (puncturing him with a talon in so doing), made it to the other side of the farm where he could no longer take the weight, and dropped him, creating a movement that captured the attention of the dogs who came running to investigate.

While this helped us both feel immeasurably better about our dogs, we realized what a harrowing experience it had to have been for poor Fluffers.  He was visibly shaken (and visibly shaking), bleeding a little, and walking with a decided limp.

DSC_0051We sequestered the reunited pair in their coop for safety (and peace of mind) and will keep an eye on how he heals over the next week.

And in the meantime, I’m keeping my slingshot loaded and ready.

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