My Book Has Almost Been Published Today! YAY!

My book, Pigs, Poultry and Poo: An Urbanite Couple’s Journey to Country Life was supposed to be published today, but a slight delay with the printers means it will be delayed by a bit – only a few days hopefully.  I’ll blog as soon as I know!  It tells the story of how we started with the animals, and introduces some of the characters I’ve blogged about over the last year or so….

The nice Amazon people will sell it to you if you click on the link to the right.  —–>

Rats – again

The rats have returned, and are attacking our feed again.  Not a huge surprise I guess, especially after Howard had been in there and broken open a number of bags, therby leaving food all over the place.

So I’ve been scratching my head about what to do, because I really didn’t want to buy the metal bins.  Unfortunately I realised that I didn’t have a choice, unless I was willing to keep feeding a growing rat population.  Having made that decision I did a search today to find the best place to buy some feed bins, without paying an arm and a leg.  I stumbled upon a discussion on a horse related forum where the last recommendation was to use an old chest freezer, on the basis they are vermin proof, insulate and last forever.

Where would I get such a thing?  Well, as last year I bought a nice new shiny freezer, I now have four chest freezers which I will need to get rid of at some point.  Two problems have nicely cancelled each other out, and as a bonus I get to clear some more space in the main barn.  Tomorrow I’m selling some meat, and I’ll use the opportunity to empty a couple of the freezers.

I love it when a plan comes together…

Poo Watch

Our Alpaca poo piles continue to provide an artistic, if scatalogical, touch to our fields.  Yesterday I noticed this particular gem.  I’m starting to wonder if they are deliberate:

Lamb watch:  Still just the one, but it’s doing fine.

Ex-bat egg watch:  Still none.  Really, I think they’ve become lazy.

Tracks in the snow

I’m ambivalent about snow. It’s nice when it falls, and it does make everything look prettier. It also brings a measure of silence into the world which can be very calming. On the other hand slush, and icy slush are often just around the corner.

One delight of snow is that it shows tracks clearly so that I can see how the animals roam. For example our dogs run all over the courtyard when we let them out, covering nearly every corner in ten minutes. Or the geese; over the course of the first couple of hours this morning they’d visited the front gate, trekked around where they normally lie a lot, and also visited the hay shed.

The sheep hadn’t moved around much, I think they take the whole of the day to explore the field, and if they know the grass isn’t great they might not visit part of a field for days. Or at least that’s my guess. This morning I was able to trek across some virgin snow during the feed, and as you can see from this photo I was trailed by three ewes, all hopeful for some extra food, and now starting to head back to one of the piles of feed I had left for them. The tracks wander back and forth as they trail behind me trying to work out how to get into the bucket, and get some measure of advantage over each other:

Ice, ice everywhere, nor any drop to drink

This weather plays havoc with our water systems, at least those for getting water out to the animals.  Basically everything has frozen up.  Actually worse than that, several pipes have burst (in the last brief thaw) and I’ve had to turn all the water off, so even if it wasn’t frozen, it still wouldn’t work.  I need to fix the pipes before turning it back on, and I’m going to wait until it gets a little warmer.

So what about water for the animals?  Well in the olden days (last year) we used to carry buckets of water out to each of their troughs.  This would take an hour or so both morning and night, involve getting water down our wellies, and be a generally miserable affair.  Not any more.  This year we bought a device which allows us to carry up to 80 liters of water in a wheel barrow, it’s called an H2go Water carrier bag, and can be obtained from Amazon.  It’s made the whole process quite a lot easier.  I can fill the water carrier while having lunch or whatever, and then wheel it out to the animals.  Two trips a day should do all of the animals, and it takes a lot less time and effort.  Yay!

Other animals

We have a whole selection of animals which we care for, and they keep us busy and happy.  In addition to the animals we’ve specifically chosen to look after we also support, or at least host, quite a number of other creatures.

Pheasants – we often have pheasants hanging around.  We don’t allow shooting on our land (not that anyone has ever asked or tried) so we’re a bit of a safe haven.  At the peak last December we had five males and at least three females, all hanging out.  One of the males had unusual white feathering, and he is the only one left with us.  He is a little trepidatious, so getting a photo of him is tricky, this is the best I’ve managed so far – I’ll try again:

As well as the pheasant we have crows.  Many many crows.  They hang out all over the field, and wait for feeding time.

We also have a large tiding (that’s the term according to wikipedia though it doesn’t sound nasty enough) of magpies.  The most I’ve ever managed to count is eighteen in one go.  They disappear whenever I’m out and about, but quickly return and are rather aggressive with the crows when it comes to getting the left over feed.  They also like to perch on the sheep, possibly because there are bits of food in their fleeces from where the ewes get in the way when I’m pouring it out.

We have a myriad of other birds who hang around, particularly in our hedges.

We also have a plethora of rodents.  I’ve already talked about rats, but we have mice, voles and moles.  I know about the mice and voles because our cat, Honor, regularly brings them in to the house.  Usually she plays with them for a bit and then leaves them lying around where I’m most likely to step on them (except for the occasional time when she hides them so they can slowly decompose… there are some drawbacks to underfloor heating).

The moles have become extra excited in our big field and there are a load of molehills.  this can be an issue during lambing time, which is still a couple of months away.  It’s not that they threaten the lambs in any way, more that from a distance a mole hill looks rather like a tiny Soay lamb curled up on the ground.  There have been a number of occasions when I’ve run towards a small Soay lamb thinking it’s been abandoned, and cursing its mother, only to realise it’s a mole hill.  Usually there isn’t any one around to witness my embarrassment.

Our last permanent set of residents are the rabbits.  We have a warren or two down the bottom of the field, and next to the woods.  In the spring and summer we often see them hanging out, though they scarper whenever we get near.

We have other visitors.  Foxes, though I haven’t seen them for a while, and deer, though it’s been several years since I last saw them.  A couple of hedgehogs have been with us and one may well be hibernating under our hay, which means I try to be careful while getting the hay, and I tend to keep to walking on the pallets we have the hay sitting on.  Next door’s ferret also likes to nose around!

All in all we are rewarded with much wildlife.

Freezing

After each holiday trip we fill our freezers.  Actually we usually over-fill them, and on three occasions (so far) we’ve had to buy new freezers.  We now have four large chest freezers, two bottom halves of fridge/freezers and we’re borrowing my in-laws small chest freezer.  As anyone who has visited recently knows we also tend to send anyone who visits away with as much meat as they’ll take.  Unfortunately this still wasn’t going to give us enough space for the fifteen lambs on the last holiday trip.

I managed to fit five into our existing freezers, but we needed a new freezer to not have the rest go off.  We ordered a new, industrial, freezer early last week and it was delivered to us late on Monday.  We’d had to pick the meat up early on Monday, but fortunately the cold spell which hit us at the time meant there wasn’t as much rush to get them into official freezer storage!  We gave the freezer time to settle and then switched it on and loaded it up.

We decided to buy extra big, and it’s roughly the equivalent of four large chest freezers.  As you can see from the picture below, nine lambs and even some pork really don’t touch the sides.  It also is much easier to see what’s in there and get to it.  I’m hoping this means we can get rid of all but two of the chest freezers which we can keep for emergency overflow…

What this means is that we’ve drifted a little further away from self-sufficiency both in cost and meat quantity (we have enough meat to last us for three years or so, if we eat pork and lamb every day!), though I’m hoping we have peaked for the moment!

Glorious sunshine

This morning was lovely.  Though definitely cold, the sunshine made it worth it.  Here is Muga having just had a little conversation with the ewes on the other side of the fence:

Bertie seems to be getting a little more perky.  He still needs help to get up, but not as much.  I’m hoping he’ll be getting up on his own next week.

Also our Suffolk with a double H on her, continues to have real footrot issues.  We bathed her hooves in a footrot control bath a couple of days ago, and injected her with antibiotic today.  She’s been feeling very sorry for herself and staying out near the old cow hut in the field and not moving around much.  This morning she actually came in to the area next to the animal restaurant for the first time in a couple of weeks, so hopefully that means the bath had an impact.  We’ll bathe her hooves again on Monday.

Winter Grass

Our fields are still lush and have a lot of grass available for the animals to eat.  This might lead one to believe that they don’t need any additional feed.  Unfortunately this isn’t the case.

Quite a few years ago a vet told us that we’d need to get hay in over the winter to feed the animals, as there wasn’t much goodness in the grass left in the fields.  I’m not sure we entirely believed her, but we trusted her so did as we were bid.  We fed the animals about what is recommended (the advice varies form specific amounts through as much as they will eat in fifteen minutes all the way to as much as they need – with no explanation as to how this might be determined), and didn’t think too much on it.

Since then we’ve learnt that the animals will tell us when it’s time to start giving them hay.  It starts with the cows.  During the height of summer they ignore us, spending all their time at the bottom of the field, and really lazing around and enjoying the good life (and getting rather fat we’ve noticed).  During the warmer months they won’t stir themselves to come for food, and will only deign to eat our food if we take it to them.  This starts to change in the Autumn, when they will walk a little way for food, but are still happy to miss out if they’re somewhere else at the time.  For the last couple of weeks we’ve been at the other extreme, they wait for us to bring them food at the fence or gate – whichever is nearest to us when we take the feed bucket out.

In fact, if we don’t give them food fast enough, or enough volume, then they both express their outrage by mooing rather loudly.  As Winter progresses they will start mooing loudly whenever they see us in order to encourage us to get food out to them as quickly as possible, and then in the worst months they will moo loudly and at length until they are fed.  The challenge is that they are Dexters, who have a reputation for being greedy, and as already mentioned, they’ve become a little fat over the summer.  So we’ll need to keep them on a diet, and hopefully the mooing will not be too loud…

The other animals who change behaviour are the lambs.  The ewes and rams who’ve been with us for a while know that feed is good and will come all year round.  the more adventurous lambs discover the joys of feed early and they too will tend to approach us at feeding time.  The more reticent lambs however, they won’t come near us.  Not for food or love.  The only thing which might encourage them into a set of hurdles is if all the other sheep are heading in that direction.  That’s starting to change.  They’ve realised that the stuff I throw out to them is food, and they’re just as keen as their elders to get hold of it.  In a month or so they will be completely biddable, well, when a feed bucket is involved!

They all still eat the grass, but it’s really not giving them much more than water.

Domination

Determining the order of dominance is very important to animals (and to humans, though people try to pretend it isn’t).  With the animals dominance is mostly determined through violence, though usually it isn’t particularly dangerous.  Over the last three days there have been three incidents of varying severity…

Bertie and Boris

Bertie isn’t well as mentioned in several prior posts.  He’s still not getting up, and often I’ll help him stand up, leave him standing and return to find him slumped on the ground.  The other goats have been hanging around him, mostly I think to steal his food, but Boris has been particularly assiduous in her attentions.  “Aaah,” thought I, “she’s concerned about her brother.”

No.  She isn’t.  Yesterday I’d got Bertie up on his feet, given him some hay and solid food and wandered off to start feeding the others.  For some reason I had to go back to the animal restaurant, and there I saw Boris administering her version of love.  She rammed Bertie just above his back legs, totally wiping him out, and then stepped over his head to get to the food he’d been enjoying.  He looked completely dazed by the experience.  After that I put two hurdles up so the other goats couldn’t get to him.  He seems much happier with the arrangement and I haven’t seen him totally sprawled out in such a manner since then.  But it’s clear – Boris is the boss, of Bertie at least.

Muga and Haan

Until this week there has only been a small section of fence, maybe six feet, where Muga and Haan might meet.  They may have met, but it hasn’t been obvious.  Now there’s a much longer stretch and over the last couple of days Muga and Haan have been sizing each other up.  Mostly there’s been some fake charges, and a little bleating and some disdainful shakes of the head.  They have also managed to charge each other a couple of times, the resounding crack of their heads echoing across the fields.  In the process Muga has wrecked the strand of electric wire along the bottom of the fence, and I think that might also have stopped more ramming.

Muga at least has been taking out his anger on some other posts.  Haan, other than his little dance with Muga, seems much more relaxed and hasn’t caused any problems.  He’s a young ram though, so who knows what he’ll be like in years to come.  We’ll probably need to keep them at least two fields apart.  Or double up the fencing…

I think it was a draw.  No dominance agreed…

Bernard and Gaffer

Now that all the weaners have gone I felt it was time to get all the sows together in one place.  It’ll make it easier to feed and manage them, and means that at least one of our pig areas will be rested for a while.

Moving them is easy, just shake the bucket of feed and lead them along.  Soon they were all together, food was on the ground and all was well.  For about thirty seconds and then Bernard and Gaffer kicked off.  Rearing up and trying to bite each other’s ears.

I’ve not seen two sows fight quite like that before, they really were having a go at each other and making quite an horrendous racket.  They’d shared a fence for several months and there must have been some harsh words exchanged, and now it was time to settle it properly.  I figured they needed to work out their differences and then they’d be fine.  Also, there was very little I could do to intervene, the old advice about not getting between two fighting dogs has got to go threefold for pigs.  After a minute or two it calmed down to the usual fighting, with them just pushing at each other’s side, and then a little later it seemed that it was all agreed.  It wasn’t until I fed them this evening that the result was revealed.  The dominance of that little group starts with Bernard on top, then Hacker and then Gaffer.  Gaffer had clearly lost that little fight – and probably the next round with Hacker which I didn’t see.

The good thing is that they don’t really seem to hold grudges as all three of them were in the hut sleeping together quite happily.  Before I disturbed them with food that is, when the dominance was clear to see as Bernard pushed both Hacker and Gaffer off the first pile of food, and Hacker pushed Gaffer off the second pile… then Bernard came round again to push Hacker off the second pile, she then pushed Gaffer off the third pile, and Gaffer moved round to the first pile.  This merry-go-round usually goes on until all the feed has gone.

Another incident the other day also made me think of dominance, specifically the pecking order.  I was getting some food for the chickens, which involves bending down to get feed from the bin we store it in, when the cockerel jumped up and pecked me in the middle of the forehead, before landing back and staring at me insolently.  It hurt, and I responded violently – I threw the feed in my hand at him.  Which really had no effect on him, and he just started pecking away at it.  I did also speak severely to him, but he seemed to ignore that as well.  Still, I’m counting that as a win for me.