Saturday, January 30, 2010

Furry maniacal bulldozers, new piglets, and El Niño

Things are moving really fast these days. With the warm winter we are having, my hops started shooting up about a week ago. Likewise for roses, irises, camellias, and rhubarb. It seems like everything just went dormant, and now it is here already. Teresa had managed to throw her back out really good and had been laid up. Also some nice fellow stole our insurance settlement out of our mailbox, so we have been pretty busy on the home front let alone pedaling the farm along. I think the piggies sensed our vulnerability and figured this was the time to stage their revolution. The neighbor’s alpaca escaped into our barnyard and told the girls of his freewheeling lifestyle. I didn’t know the girls speak alpaca, but they understood fully and two of them decided to join him. When I showed up, I was quite surprised to see them wandering around the barnyard. I fed the well behaved ones to keep them focused while I opened the gate to get the misbehaving ones in. I was able to get Patata, one of our Blue-Butt sows to follow me in with a bucket of feed, but Gerbil was not so easily convinced. She wandered into the barn and planted her face firmly in the bag of winter reserve feed. I closed the cow gate behind her while I devised a plan to get her back in the pen. I built a cache pen to keep the other pigs back while I opened the gate for Gerbil. Then I had to build a corridor from the barn to the pen. I strung up two strands of barbed wire on each side, parked a car on one side, and the green beast on the other, then filled in all the gaps with old boards, bales of alfalfa, and children’s bicycles. It is funny, I can remember fixing old Volkswagens in the same manner. This was four hours later to complete. I opened the pen gate and went to get Gerbil, she had her face planted in the Diatomaceous earth. When she looked up her face was covered in pure white (it looked like a scene out of Scarface). I went behind her to nudge her along, but she needed no nudging she went right into the pen. I reinforced the iron gate with tighter chains and strung barbed wire in front of it. I estimate Gerbil ate about 14 pounds of kelp, 5 pounds of DE, and however much grain a girl can inhale in 4 hours. I was surprised to find the next day that my reinforced gate was child’s play to the pigs, they bent it like butter and I found four of them with their face in the winter feed, and two in front of Kid Pig’s pen giving him a graphic example of the birds and the bees. I dumped some feed in the pen and most followed into the pen. I Still had my wire runs handy from yesterday and strung them up again (just one each this time, and no bikes). It took a little prodding but finally they both went right in the pen. I restrung the barb wire barrier, put beefier chains, attached a heavy gauge galvanized panel, and then parked the green beast in front of it. I was tempted to say “let’s see you get through that”, but I know better. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see them driving down the road in the same truck cruising for dudes. I wish I could say it ends there, but the next day….I pull up and find 6 of the girls frolicking in the middle paddock with kid pig. They had bulldozed through the side panel barbed wire like a marathon finish line, and broke down kid pig’s fence and busted him out. Poor young Kid pig thought he was going to his first junior high dance, but quickly found himself in the evil den of domination. Keep in mind kid pig is about 50 pounds and these girls are 350-500 or so. At first they flirted and kissed noses, but then they started getting real aggressive, biting and sitting on him. This would have been ok to manage if a litter of piglets didn’t just start dropping. Gerbil threw Kid Pig in the air and bit him, and two of the other girls were trying to mount him, I literally had to get between him and two of them with a measly pitch fork. I lifted up his fence for him to run to safety, but he didn’t seem to get it. After a couple hours of the battle royal cage match, I poured some feed into the girl’s pen and all but Gerbil went under the fence. Gerbil wanted to but she was too hesitant to go under the barbed wire again. I built another cache pen and cut the fence. She went in and I reinforced the fence behind them. They were literally going ballistic; they would look at kid pig and loose all sense of restraint and manners. They kept pushing through until I put up full sized sheets of plywood so he was out of sight. I reinforced the fence with hog panels, 2x4’s, and steel posts in addition to that. While all this was going on I was supposed to be back in Tacoma unloading a pallet of electric wire fence, which I hope will soon make issues like this fewer. The driver fortunately unloaded without me, after having a good laugh at my expense when Teresa explained why I could not be there. Kid pig was exhausted, and so was I. We laid down in the middle paddock and rested. I gave him a good scratch, and he told me he was thinking about becoming a priest. That was short lived however, as he went over to the girls pen raising ruckus again. I led him back into his pen with food, and mended his fence. He is too charming for his own safety. I had a similar experience building the farrowing pen in the middle of all these girls, but that is another story. On a positive note – the half day the handful of pigs were in the middle paddock, they tilled it up about 50%. They are going to be excellent tractors. I will try to get pictures of the piglets up soon – right now I can’t find the adapter to upload.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rising rivers, quick sand, metric ton spillage, and home brew...

It has been a little bit since I have posted and I am now sifting through the drama and slap stick that occur in a 5 day stint on our shiny acre. First of all driving in you can't help but notice the Puyallup River is bloated more each day. This sparked a small fear in me, causing me to take a stroll to the old creek in the sticks out back. Happy day, the creek is behaving! It is pretty much the same as it has looked every time before. Speaking with some of the neighbors, they say it has never flooded as long as they have been here. "(Hear) Sigh of relief". I did some early spring cleaning in the barn to make way for the 2,205lbs of organic feed about to be delivered by some friendly Canadians. Unfortunately the bag spilled over in the truck and we could not move it. You don't realize how big a ton is until you have to try to think of a plan b to move it. The poor truck driver asked me if I have a tractor. I just pointed over at my 14 porcine tractors, all of which would love to assist, and could indeed move it (rendering it into a ton of fertilizer) - but it would take them at least 14 days, and everyone needed to get home for supper. The driver decided to go to his next stop and see if there was a tractor there, after which he would come back for our delivery. He took off and I trotted over to the faucet to hook up my "now unfrozen" hose for some easy watering with no bucket carrying involved. Stop there... now my new hose connector is completely flat. How I managed to drive over it when it was hanging on the wall I will never know. Possibly the pigs are playing a trick on me like some nightmarish Farside comic come to life. So Joel carries water buckets for a living after all. Now I could have worked that self pity all day if the feed guy didn't come back around 3pm limping! No, his next stop did not have a tractor, but they did have an empty grain bag that he could shovel it by hand into, so as to get it out of the way, freeing up his electric pallet jack. This poor poor soul, I will straiten up and not tell him I had to carry water. I offered him the one beer I keep in the medicine cabinet, of which he refused. In Canadian culture when you refuse a beer, you are legally deceased. Speaking of beer, I finally met the folks farming next door. They will also be in hops this spring, and are also avid brewers. As a welcome to the neighborhood they gave me a fresh growler of chilly wonder! It was a rich dark malty porter with a generous hopiness. If there is a "chicken soup for the beer appreciators soul" on the shelf at Border's, it probably has that story in it. Come Saturday, after our weekly pancake ritual, I packed the whole clan up - all clad in rubber boots (the ancient weapon on our family crest), and headed to the farm. It was the first Sunny day since we have been operating here, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The kids helped feed and water then ran off to play. Not a moment later I hear this wailing of the sort you can't make out if its joking or real. I look over and Jude is stuck in the mud where they just filled in the well work. I go over there and he is sunk up to his knees and balling -sure that this is his muddy end! I go in to pull him out and I sink up to my knees (Bear Grylls don't fail me now). I pull him out (minus boots) and he goes swishing in his socks back to mom. I managed to wriggle out (barely convincing Daniel not to come rescue me), ran and got my sorting boards (glorified plywood with handle holes) and placed them across the mud in time to rescue the little boots that were quickly sinking to China. Thank God today was the day I was able to achieve connection of a functional hose to a functional faucet, and wash away our muddy memories. Later Jude quietly asked me, "dad how did you get so strong to pull a kid out of the mud?" I told him "carrying buckets of water son". I didn't really tell him that... I am a nerd but not that much so. Over all, it was a great week. Me and my brother built the fence training pen, all our ingredients for the sow's detox came in, and this strange life seems satisfying and enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hay Day

I am not a hay expert, but many animals appear to be. Today I placed about 10 bales of straw bedding around the sows to dry things up a bit. They immediately started flipping out, tossing it around, and voraciously devouring it. For a while they all had green\yellow Santa Claus beards as they carried around flakes of the stuff. They ate themselves into a food coma and passed out in their own plate (see picture). It was hilarious. What is strange is this was straw bedding. I have purchased "quality" alfalfa for four times as much, and they did not turn into hammerhead land sharks. Goes to show that there is a science to grass, and animals can tell (whether they know it or not), if it was grown in a manner that is good for them. Next time I buy hay, I may take one of the pigs with me just to be sure I get what I am intending to.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tomatillos going and piglets coming...

This morning while strolling through what is left of our warm season garden space, I was intrigued by the small lace globes filled with seeds scattered on the ground. These are the tomatillos that did not make it into our salsa. This was our first year growing (and eating) these, so this was an interesting surprise. Meanwhile, back at the farm while tending to the girls, I noticed two of the sows seemed to be getting milk, meaning piglets around the corner! Another highlight was finding out that Kid-pig is a morning glory assassin! He pulls up the roots and shows no mercy, good boy Kid-pig.