Moving pigs can be fun sometimes

Last weekend I decided it was time to move the latest litter out to the woods. It’s handy for us having them in a shed near the house but in the end these are outdoor animals.

I’m sure I could sense a huge sigh of relief from Sissy when she realised what was happening.

Not many mothers would enjoy 6 weeks in a shed with 6 unruly piglets – however cute they may be!

Keen to get outside

Keen to get outside

They were all happy that be outside despite the windy weather and immediately had a good nose around.

Stragglers soon caught up

Stragglers soon caught up

In no time at all everyone was happily investigating their new home and discovering electric fencing for the first time.

Peace and quiet eventually descended. I had to go back to check a little later because it seemed so quiet but I needn’t have worried.

Although it was a first for the piglets, Sissy was obviously happy to be back outside and set to work churning up the ground.

Not the best preparation for having your picture taken…

Happy to be back in the woods

Happy to be back in the woods

 

For sale: Tamworth weaners

We have 4 Tamworth piglets (castrated males) available for sale out of the most recent litter . The mother – Sissy – is a registered pedigree sow, very good-natured and calm around people. Sow and her litter can be seen if required.

The Tamworth is good hardy stock and ours happily live outside in woodland all year round although we usually bring them inside to farrow as can be seen in the photograph.

Tamworth weaners for sale

Tamworth weaners for sale

If you want to help support a rare breed and would also like some great home-grown pork for your freezer then these come highly recommended. Born on Jan 12 so they will be weaned, wormed and ready to go by early March

We are in the Allen Valleys (Northumberland) at the very northern end of the North Pennines. All buyers must have a CPH number

Price is £45 each but could do a deal for a single buyer taking all 4 of them. Use the form below to get in touch:

First time TB test for the Dexters

It always feels odd to refer to our cattle as a “herd” particularly as we only have 2 cows with their 2 calves from last winter. However that is the proper collective noun and, according to the official letter, we were to arrange for a new herd TB check which had to be completed before the end of 2016.

As might be obvious from the date of this post, that deadline was not met although not without trying. The main problem was that the cattle took an immediate dislike of the vet and one in particular – Nellie – was so unhappy about the idea that she jumped the fencing despite the barbed wire catching her leg. Luckily no permanent damage was done to the cow …  and the fence survived the incident too.

Obviously improvements were needed so we got a few more cattle hurdles (10ft wide by 5ft high) which meant we could make a larger secure area for penning them in. With the cattle crush fitted at one end of this pen, the hurdles could be removed to reduce the space available without any risk of escape attempts.

Penned in and ready for testing

Penned in and ready for testing

After a few more practice attempts with the new setup, I was happy that we could securely pen them in before the vet arrived. Of course, I had learnt the first time that they will happily stroll through the cattle crush on request when I’m the only one there but I still wasn’t sure what to expect when the vet was present too.

On the day of the vet’s first visit everything went relatively smoothly with the cattle being very helpful about getting in the pen ahead of the vets arrival. They weren’t so happy about being in the crush but I’m not sure I’d like that part either.

The cattle crush doesn’t hurt them at all and it greatly reduces the chance of injury for them (and the vet) during the procedure. In the end, the whole process on the first visit took no more than 30 minutes for all four of them with most of that time spent encouraging the cattle through the crush.

Three days later is the key part with the follow-up visit when the vet checks for any reactions to the injections from the first day and I’m sure the cattle were aware of the significance. They did eventually agree to go into the pen for me but it took a little longer than I would have liked which added to the tension.

Ready for the follow up check

Ready for the follow up check

Thankfully, we are in a very low TB risk area within the UK and there wasn’t much chance that one of ours would be a reactor when tested. However, there is always an element of doubt that is only dispelled once the all clear is received so we were very relieved to get the good news.

As a result of the lower risk around here, we have a 4 yearly testing programme which means I can relax now before I have to do it all again in about 2020

Happy to be out again

Happy to be out again

Mixed feelings after the latest farrowing

Everything had been going according to my rough plans so it looked like the next farrowing would go smoothly. As usual there is always something that can go wrong and experience tells me that it probably will so it becomes an exercise in looking for the positives.

About a week ago both sows were brought in to the farrowing shed near the house to get Sissy settled and then a day or so later Esther was moved back to the woods to her usual home. Changes in surroundings are less stressful for a pig when it has company and we wanted to avoid any stress in the final days before Sissy farrowed.

Happiness is some straw on your nose

Happiness is some straw on your nose

Unfortunately work commitments meant that I had to be away on business until the Thursday night (12 January) but my calculations had her due to farrow over the weekend or maybe Friday if a little early. I’m sure everyone can tell what’s coming next…

I’m told that it seemed to be a normal quiet Thursday afternoon and then suddenly by about 6pm there were piglets everywhere. In the end she had a litter of 11 which was a huge increase on her first litter.

However, unlike last year when all 5 piglets survived, this time at least 3 piglets were already dead or very close to death at birth. Even though  we know that this is always a possibility with every farrowing, it’s no less upsetting but Sissy didn’t seem to notice – especially as she kicked/squashed 2 more piglets over the next hour or so.

Sissy and piglets at 2 days old

Sissy and piglets at 2 days old

Eventually the situation calmed down and we could relax knowing that the remaining 6 piglets were suckling well and looking very strong. Sissy seemed to adjust to motherhood again after the trauma of farrowing and, as with last year’s litter, proved to be a very attentive mother from the second day onwards.

She always welcomes a break from the shed though and is happy to wander around our courtyard snuffling for any unexpected treats she can find. It’s good to get away from the kids now and then.

Sissy getting a stroll outside

Sissy getting a stroll outside

In the meantime, I’m busy making notes of the hard lessons learned this time around and hoping to improve the situation for the next farrowing in a couple of months time. There are positives in that the surviving numbers for this litter are 20% up on her last litter and Sissy coped really well. It’s good to remember that the outcome could have been much worse…

I know it’s been a while but…

The last couple of months have seen a few changes that have been a bit of a distraction from the blog updates but now it’s time for a fresh start with more regular postings. Hopefully now we’re finished with the Christmas and New Year period things can return to something like normal – whatever that is!

 A Quick Catch-Up

The recent events that somehow never made it on to a proper blog update before include a few successes but also a number of “failures” which I prefer to consider as lessons learned.

There was a successful AI attempt for the first Tamworth sow – Sissy – and she is expected to farrow sometime on or after 12 January. After enjoying this success for a month or two, it was time for more AI with the second sow – Esther – but sadly I think my timing was wrong on that occasion and it didn’t take.

Sissy (right) is getting close to farrowing

Sissy (right) is getting close to farrowing

The second attempt with Esther was almost 3 weeks ago now so I’ll find out in the next few days whether that was successful or not. Immediately after that it’ll be time to move Sissy into the shed nearer the house ready for farrowing partly for her comfort with the weather but also for our convenience as it’s closer to the house. This time we’ll keep sow and piglets in there until the piglets are weaned at about 7-8 weeks old, it’s easier to catch them in a shed rather than chasing them around the woods.

While I’m on the subject of failures, there was an attempt at a TB test for the cows and calves but things didn’t go to plan and a minor escape attempt meant that we had to postpone the test until later this month. In the meantime I have reinforced the defences and, as usual it seems, I’ve learnt a lot more from the problems than the successes.

Sunrise over the Dexters

Sunrise over the Dexters

The cows are doing well with their extra homework when I get a chance to work with them. This mostly involves getting them used to being penned in for a while and being moved one at a time through a cattle crush. I think that they’ll always be able to spot a vet at 50 paces so I need to be sure they’re securely penned in first before they realise what’s happening.

On a brighter note, the third “pet” chicken has started to lay eggs at last. This is the Columbine which lays a different coloured egg so it’s easy to spot when she delivers the goods. Admittedly she’s only laid 2 eggs so far – one on Christmas day and another on New Years Eve – but it’s a start. There are usually 1 or 2 eggs each day now which is as I’d hoped when I bought these 3 chickens a few months back.

Greeny-blue or Bluey-green?

Greeny-blue or Bluey-green?

When we have enough it’s nice to give some to the guests in the holiday let but the supply is a little unpredictable at times. This will improve with the longer days as spring arrives though so perhaps by then we’ll be back to filling the freezer with quiche…

Happy as a pig in…

After a couple of months for the pigs in their new location, there have been some considerable signs of wear and tear especially given the wet weather that we’ve had more recently. It’s a gentle reminder (as if I needed one) that it doesn’t take long for a couple of pigs to properly muck up a new pen.

What a mess!

What a mess!

Now that we’re a little more organised with the pens and electric fencing in the woods, it was only a matter of a minor house move with a bit of fence post improvements and the pigs were safely housed in the next door enclosure.

A couple of barrow loads of straw gets dumped into their house and the 2 sows are quite happy on the firmer ground with a selection of green growth to chomp on.

That's much better!

That’s much better!

I’m quite fond of the muddy coloured socks they seem to be wearing in this picture but sadly that quickly washed off.

Time to start planning ahead for next year with the first farrowing due in mid-January (for Sissy) and potentially another AI attempt for me next week on the second sow (Esther).

Time for some new faces

Updates on the blog have been rather sparse lately but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening behind the scenes. Mostly the time just goes with the amount of work needed during summer but a new day job has taken up some time and the converted barn/holiday let has been pleasantly busy as well so the work on changeover day can mean we’re a bit busy!

Finally, after a couple of false starts with too many other jobs or plans getting in the way, we finally managed to fit in a trip to get some more “pet” chickens. This also involved preparing a small pen nearer our house because these will be the egg producers and I want the eggs to be close at hand!

The adopted flock that we took over when moving here – White Leghorns I think – are only laying intermittently now. However I’ll forgive them for that because we know the youngest of them must be about 3 years old by now.

So here’s a brief introduction to the 3 new arrivals – from left to right: Birdy (a Speckedly), Barbra aka Babs (a Columbine) and Bessie (a Light Sussex):

New arrivals adjusting to their surroundings

New arrivals adjusting to their surroundings

They are just a few weeks short of point of lay but we have high hopes for some interesting eggs because they should each lay fairly distinctive eggs and we’ll be able to tell which was laid by each hen.

These definitely won’t be the cheapest eggs in the world but I’m not approaching this side of things with a commercial mindset. It’s more important to have our own eggs and to enjoy a spot of chicken watching which is a great relaxation technique after a day in an office!

Wall repaired and good as new

As luck would have it, a few days after discovering the collapsed dry stone wall in the woods we arranged with someone from the village to deal with the repairs. Barely a couple of days later they arrived and got all the repair work completed in around half a day!

Given more time I’m sure I could have done the work myself (eventually) but it would have taken me days or even weeks because there are always many other jobs on my To-Do list. I’d been meaning to move the pigs to an electric fenced pen close to this area and that meant I couldn’t really afford to wait too long to get the wall fixed.

I’m really pleased with the results and I’ll happily admit that it looks better than anything I could have done. Our neighbour is probably also happy because his sheep can go back in the adjoining field.

Wall repairs all done

Wall repairs all done

Glen the bull comes to visit

Last Sunday afternoon the 2 cows (Daisy and Nellie) got a pleasant surprise when the bull (Glen) arrived. He is a fine looking beast but still remarkably placid and easily managed – just make sure you don’t get between him and his chosen girlfriend!

What a fine specimen

What a fine specimen

He very soon chose Nellie as his ‘best girl’ and stuck closely to her all the time which understandably meant that Daisy was left out of things for a while. Eventually Glen did make more of an effort to show Daisy some attention so she’s a little bit happier about his being here now.

However it was Oscar (Nellies calf) who suffered the most in the beginning because he wasn’t allowed anywhere near Nellie for a few days and this effectively completed the weaning process. This was probably a little overdue as he is 8 months old now but he is an opportunist and if the milk was on offer then he made sure he got some!

Daisy feels a bit left out

Daisy feels a bit left out

Even after a week here, both the calves will occasionally try to boss Glen around but he’s quite happy to firmly show them who’s the boss while being gentle enough that they don’t get hurt.

Putting the calves in their place

Putting the calves in their place

Sometimes it’s best to call in a professional

While on the hunt for the missing chicken eggs that aren’t getting laid in the nest box, I came across a major problem with our dry stone wall boundary in the woods.

As far as I can tell this must have happened in the last day or two but I can’t be certain as the ground dips down suddenly here. As a result, it’s possible to go into the woods on the way to feed the pigs without even noticing that anything is wrong down the bottom of the hill.

Inside looking out

Inside looking out

Luckily we don’t have any livestock in this part of the woods although I was considering extending the pig electric fencing to here in the next week or two. Perhaps more importantly though, it’s fortunate that our neighbour has already moved his sheep out of the field on the other side!

I’m perfectly happy to take on any minor walling repairs and I would even consider tackling a small rebuild but this is a bit more than that. After pacing out a quick measurement it seems that the main damage covers around 4-5 metres but any repairs would need to include some rebuilding on each side too.

Outside looking in

Outside looking in

Luckily it’s clear from these pictures that all the existing stones from the section that collapsed should be reusable. We also have a small supply of extras stashed away for just such an occurrence which helps to keep the repair costs down.

It’s definitely time to get in touch with the Dry Stone Walling Association to find a professional though – not least because they’ll be so much quicker than me and besides I don’t think I can spare the time anyway!