Friday, 25 May 2007


Continuing with the story of the piglets, after a few days Daisy became less precious about her babies and the OH managed to take the dead piglets away. Then she would come away to eat and we were able to see what we had got, 4 females and 2 males.

The book explained how to castrate the little boys but we didn't like the sound of it, no anaesthetic and the swift use of a scalpel. We could of course have taken them to the vet but I'm afraid cost has to be considered.

We decided to overcome the castration problem in what we thought was a fairly novel way. We would EAT them before they got too big, ie as suckling pigs. We arranged for our friendly retired butcher to come and slaughter them. However we didn't want Daisy to know what was happening to them and we were worried about Daisy's reaction if she heard them squealing, we could imagine her chasing us and the butcher until she got them back, and an angry pig is not to be trifled with.

Another novel solution was required, the answer was to take them out of her earshot. SIMPLE!!! Well not that simple actually. What we came up with was to load them up in our stock box and drive them into the wood, where we would get the butcher to do the deed!

The only problem was explaining to the butcher that we wanted him to go into the woods with us!!!!! He looked somewhat bemused at us not wanting Daisy to be upset but luckily he had got used to our strange English ways and was happy to do as requested. We had 2 lovely suckling pigs which we popped in the freezer until we were ready to eat them, and Daisy still had her 4 little girls to look after.

The photo was taken shortly before the boys had to leave, they were enjoying a family wallow in the mud. Some friends wanted 2 piglets to fatten for themselves which would leave us with 2, perfect as this meant none of the piglets would have to go to the abattoir!! The only difficulty would be getting them away from Mum.

Yet another novel solution would be required but it was going to prove much more problematic. See the next post for our ingenious efforts and whether they worked!!!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Daisy does it all by herself!!!!!!

Back to Daisy's story, we had made her a really nice farrowing pen complete with rail to stop little piglets being squashed by rather large mummy pig. Unfortunately she didn't like it, maybe it was the Nursery rhyme wallpaper or lack of satellite TV, who knows but she wouldn't stay in it and if a very large pig decides not to stay in a pen then she doesn't and that was that.

We left the gate to the pen open and fed her in there in the hope that she might decide to avail herself of the facilities we had laid on, but no. And she gave us a lesson in the real nature of pigs.
She made herself a nest in a thick patch of brambles and other shrubs, she had made a tunnel through the undergrowth and there was only one way in, which she could easily defend!!! The nest was scooped out of the soil, and because of the thick undergrowth even when it rained she didn't get wet. What a very clever pig!! But then why not it's what pigs or any other animal knows how to do instinctively, otherwise they wouldn't suvive.

July 3rd 1997 and Daisy starts farrowing, we were very excited, and watched what was going on from a distance, she wouldn't let us get very close. Little pink piglets kept popping out effortlessly and seemed to know what to do, how to find a teat and hang on. We couldn't see exactly how many because Daisy got upset if we tried to approach. In fact we felt pretty helpless especially when she inadvertently squashed three of the piglets. We couldn't even get the bodies away!!! She had made her nest safe from predators and she counted us amongst them.

Now as you know I am a great believer in books and despite the panic that the Pig book had caused me previously[see The three big pigs], I had studied the book for farrowing tips. It recommended iron injections for the newborn piglets, so I had collected the appropriate solution from the vet. It also recommended cutting the piglets tails short to avoid tail biting, and of course castrating the male pigs to avoid tainted meat. This is where luck and Daisy came into the equation. We were quite prepared to attempt the first two recommendations but Daisy was having none of it. She was not letting her little darlings out of her sight, and although the OH had managed to remove the dead piglets [I haven't seen him run as fast since!!!!] we had no chance of sneaking the live ones away even one at a time. I think I have mentionned the noise a piglet can make.


And as it turned out there was absolutely no need for iron, they were free range getting all the minerals they needed from the soil, and they weren't interested in biting each others tails as they had lots of other fun things to play with outdoors. Such problems only affected housed piglets but the book didn't mention that!!!! So lucky for the piglets that mum knew best.

And as for CASTRATION we only had two males and I'll come back to them later.

But once again I had been led astray by a book, and the moral of this tale is leave nature alone as she generally knows best.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Ironing Ducks

Just to let you know that the ewe is recovering from her nasty experience with the flies and all the rest are okay at the moment, so fingers crossed.

Now to something funny as requested by Sylvie from the Ile de Re.

Having successfully kept Hens and Turkeys we decided to keep some ducks, for the table of course, so off to the local market where we bought 6 ducklings. Oh they were so sweet, little yellow fluffy things, to die for. How would I ever let the OH kill them? I had the feeling that we would have those ducklings for life.

To start with they were in an outbuilding with straw in one corner and a little tray of water, then as soon as they had settled in we began to let them out into a courtyard during the day. While they were small everything was fine but as they grew, which was very quickly, they were like naughty children,making as much mess as possible.They had graduated from a small tray of water to a large bowl and they paddled the water and other unmentionables everywhere!!!!!!!. Wherever they went a trail of smelly mud followed them. It was impossible to keep the area clean.
I began to count the days to when they would be big enough to slaughter, so much for keeping them forever, I couldn't wait to be rid of them!!!
The day finally arrived for the little dears to meet their maker and as usual we had a book to tell us what to do, "Poultry Keeping for Peasants" or something like that!!

The OH ignored the method given to dispatch the ducks because it looked too awful, instead he used his tried and trusted method[no I won't go into details but it's quick and painless].
Then we did the plucking, we had a duck each and quickly got rid of the feathers,or so we thought. Ducks being water birds have a layer of very fine down to protect them from the cold, and these fine feathers were resisting our efforts . I went back to the book to see if there were any hints on removing these feathers.

This was going to be another occasion when I was glad we had no neighbours. I read with disbelief the instructions for removing down feathers, but felt I had to give it a try.

I followed the instructions to the letter: take the duck and lay it on a flat surface, cover it with a clean cloth, take a moderately hot iron and IRON your DUCK!!!!!!

Yes I know what you're thinking, did she really do that? YES I DID. And I ended up with a duck with perfect CREASES and nicely ironed DOWN FEATHERS!!!!! Of course it didn't work, how could I have thought it would?

I always meant to write to the Author of that book to ask him if he had ever IRONED A DUCK but I suppose I didn't want to admit that I had tried it.

The moral of this tale is don't believe everything you read in books!! And to prevent any of you from trying the above method a blow torch quickly and easily singes off the down feathers!!!!

We haven't kept ducks since!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Flystrike strikes

One of the most appalling problems that sheep encounter is something called Flystrike[Myiasis].This occurs in spring and autumn when the weather is wet and warm and the sheep have long woolly coats. At this time of year it occurs before the shearer has been and in the autumn it's when the coat is growing for the winter.

There is one species of fly that lays it's eggs in the damp wool of sheep, the eggs turn into larvae that feed on the wool, these then turn into maggots that feed on the flesh of the poor unfortunate sheep. If it's not detected quickly enough the animal will literally be eaten alive. So at this time of year we are constantly on the lookout for the first signs of flystrike, this is usually a ewe looking miserable and not staying close to the rest, dark stains also appear on the wool.

I was checking the flock as usual yesterday when I noticed one of the oldies looking depressed, I went to check her and there were the telltale signs I hate to see. I went back to fetch the OH and the scissors, antibiotic spray and fly reppellant. To treat the problem you have to cut away all the wool that is infested with eggs and maggots, then spray the whole area with the antibiotic spray and finally put on the special fly repellant. It's one of the most unpleasant, no disgusting jobs that I have to do for the sheep but if it's left untreated it must be the most horrendous death imaginable. You can understand where the saying "to make your flesh crawl"comes from. It makes me shudder just writing about it. I finished cleaning her up and had a good look at all the other ewes but they seem to be okay. We left her in the field with the flock. I went out later to check on her and as she was still looking very sorry for herself I decided to bring her in for the night, it would make it easier to keep an eye on her. I also brought in Number One with her to keep her company.

She looks clear of any reinfestation this morning so we put the two ewes in a small paddock where we can keep a close eye on her for the next few days. Now we know that the flies are about we shall have to be extra vigilant until they are shorn. Luckily the flies need atleast 2 ins of wool to lay their eggs so the sheep are safe for the summer months. If it's a mild wet autumn then we treat all the ewes with the fly repellant, it's expensive but worth it for the peace of mind.

I remember Tony Robinson used to do a TV series called "the worst jobs in the world" and cleaning up sheep with flystrike was one of them, and I would agree whole-heartedly. I hope that this will be the only case this year but it's unlikely considering the warm weather we are having at the moment.

One of the least pleasurable aspects of sheep farming!!