Chapter 32 – Onward

I was 32 and had been a fultime farmer for 3 months. I was elated, exhausted, happy, worried, frustrated, jubilant and proud. The days were warm in that May way- sun strong and hot on your skin but with a gentle chill from the breeze. As we worked in the garden, all morning and afternoon, the redwing blackbirds would call out from the poplar and prickly ash with their signature conk-a-reeeee song. As we’d head in for lunch, the apricot tree and Nanking Cherry bushes in our front yard were blooming like a party was about to happen, and a herd of hummingbirds had arrived to celebrate and indulge. As we did early evening chores, the spring peepers started to go to town, filling the lovely period right before dusk with a million little froggy tunes.

The kidlettes were old enough now to start eating on their own and need less of their momma’s milk, so I started half-time milking. The mommas were milked in the evening, and then they rejoined their babies for the night, separated once again in the morning. I was making soap and feta and chevre and yogurt with my share of the milk. Metallika who had the triplets stayed with her kids full time as they seemed to need all the milk she had to give. I noticed that her three kids, as they fought to gain control of the two teats, would often end up raising their mom’s hind quarters up off the ground. As soon as I could wean those little buggers, she’d get some relief. Even though we’d bought expensive goat-specific fence and lined it with a hot electric fence wire, I saw the goats starting to climb on the fence, leaning over and then knocking down the electric wire. It was pretty easy to get aggravated with the goats-why was the grass always greener on the other side for them? I ended up selling Catalpa and her yearling daughter to try to simplify things a little.  We could see the goats’ pasture around their shed was not going to be enough space for proper grazing, so I started tethering the other 3 mommas during the day on long leashes, out in the various lush grassy areas near enough to keep an eye on them. I wished I could fence in a series of huge paddocks, but we just didn’t have the time or money, and the problem with goats seemed to be that they were nearly impossible to fence in. Tethering seemed a good alternative.

The gardens were getting installed mid-month as the soil warmed, and the direct seeded early spring crops were ready to start harvesting. In the now-uncovered hoophouse, the area we’d cordoned off from the ducks had beautiful greens and tomatoes growing in it. After the hoophouse disaster, we immediately ordered a new covering to arrive ASAP. Andrew installed a second set of baseboards on which to mount a second set of wiggle wire tracks. This new whole piece of plastic would have two points of attachment to the frame instead of just one. We wondered why the manufacturer hadn’t just told us to install two in the first place. Andrew also suspected the screws that cam with the hoophouse kit were rather flimsy and even not up to the challenge of holding down the parachute plastic. He re-attached the tracks that had been ripped off my the wind with longer screws as well, and then we recovered the hoophouse plastic. Now we had a new hoophouse that would be held down much more firmly and with twice the amount of wiggle wire in twice the number of tracks that were attached much more firmly. Our ducks lived in the hoophouse at night, and they weathered that period when we had no cover on their home just fine, even when we had torrential rains soak their bedding thoroughly. They were exceptionally vocal, and laying lots of eggs- so they were happy! When we let them out of the hoophouse in the morning, they’d race around the corner of the end wall in a stream, like a school of fish, straight out to their pasture.

All our errands were coordinated with the weekly delivery drive into town, which now also included CSA shares. Mornings on delivery days were rather stressful and hectic; we had to pick and pack our share boxes, get the egg orders together, organize the to-do list for errands, meanwhile doing all the regular morning chores. One of us would go and one of us would stay on the farm to keep an eye on things. We were too nervous to leave our farm unattended for too long, and the delivery trip could easily become an entire day with the hour and half each way. It was crazy how much time just the simple errand running could be. When it was my turn, I’d also try to coordinate socializing with friends, while avoiding getting stuck in rush hour on the way back- I always needed to get home for the evening milking.

The 3 big pigs grunted over their shared meals of soaked organic grains mixed with whey from my cheesemaking.  Their harvest date was nearing, meanwhile they kept getting moved onto fresh turf in paddocks to help us prep a wild bramble covered slope into something we could work with.They ate, rooted, wallowed and snoozed in the sun. We started getting a crazy idea of trying to breed pigs because we were having a really hard time finding the next round of young piglets, and because of Rosie. She was a magnificent specimen of a gilt, and a sweet natured girl, but she was going to be our pork. We decided to think about it seriously; Pork? Or possible piglets? We came up with some “pig math” that looked pretty promising, but it was definitely uncharted waters. There’d be a boyfriend boar to buy for Rosie and months of waiting if we decided to go for it.

We finally did locate and buy 8 piglets from a sort of shady operation run by a older man who was definitely a character. His sows looked plump and healthy, but all his pigs were kept inside all the time. He also callously pointed to a boar who was getting sent to slaughter that day, saying something about hot dogs or something. I felt irritated that he was so nonchalant about it, and glad we could get some of his piglets out of there and give them a proper pig life, rooting in the soil and soaking up the sun. The man would not stop talking. He claimed he saw a panther in the hills the night before, as he bagged up the piglets into woven plastic feed bags. They were stressed and immediately started pooping in the bags which we had set in the back seat of the car. We kept saying, ok, so…. we’re going to go and get these pigs home, and he just would not stop yammering, we finally drove off with a wave out the window, which had to be open to handle the smell. Even as we drove away he was still talking!

When we got them home, the dense and wiggly piglets were impossible to carry out to their new paddock, and we didn’t have a driveable path. We ended putting two at a time (in their woven feed bags still) into the wheelbarrow to get them across the mucky farmyard and over to the green expanses where their first paddock was set up. To see these poor piggies experience grass and dirt for the first time was absolutely heartwarming. As they dug in right away, they made little coo-like grunts, like “can you believe this? What IS this delicious stuff?” At first they began by just skimming the top, lifting the grass up with their pink snouts, scraping icing off the cake, but soon they were getting down deep into the soil. They were eating it! Piglets in barns have to be given iron shots because they can’t access the natural minerals in the soil. It was just so encouraging to see our piglets instantly engaging in natural behaviors while finally getting to feel the sun on their backs.They were very skittish, as the only experience they’d had with humans had been when they’d been hurt or stressed- getting castrated, tails cut off, and then being grabbed by the back leg to be put into a bag. Poor things. But soon they realized we were their friends who brought food. That first afternoon we noticed the 4 pink piglets looked like they had gotten sunburned. One of the biggest girls we had named Muscles had it pretty bad across her shoulders. The piglets had a shelter to hole up in, but the irresistable grass and dirt kept them out in the sun. We tried to make a sun shade over their 16 by 16 fot square paddock, but tarps are pretty much worthless, and way too fun for pigs to pull down and rip apart.

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 32 – Onward

  1. I was warned about sunburn for pink pigs in time, so that when my first piglets wanted to spend all day rooting around, I knew to shoo them into their shelter for part of the afternoon – it didn’t prevent some scaly skin even so, but it would have been much worse. So what did you end up doing for them?
    Everyone I know who has raised goats has also raised the issue of fencing them. I’ve seen pictures of them in tree branches, so I’m sure they could climb anything. Sounds like tethering was a good solution. Did the babies stay close to the mamas?

    1. For the piglets, we kept wrangling shade in one way or the other, as well as giving them a diet to promote nutritional healing, and they worked through it. Quite a shock!
      Tethering was for mommas to be away from their babies during the day so I could milk in the evenings, and then re-join them in the goat paddock over the evenings. The babies would have run all around otherwise. It worked out pretty well, as long as you are around to keep an eye on them.

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