Saturday 8 March 2014

Pig Pen

Pig pen main gate. The orchard is on the left.
What with having freezers full of meat, portions of cooked stuff and veg and having leeks and sprouts still growing, our weekly shop is normally a very modest affair - bread, milk, bakery stuff, wine etc. Just recently though we have gone into 'project' mode and we seem to have been shelling out money hand over fist. The poor old hoover finally needed replacement and Liz is buying a 2nd hand sewing machine. There is the beehive and now the frames and other equipment and there will soon be the bees themselves. There are the parts for the pig ark. We have had a tow hitch fitted to the Fiat (that one was €400) and we are looking for a small stock trailer. Most recently there is the fencing for the pig pen.

We always knew how vital good fencing is to any livestock enterprise and that is one of the biggest costs you will face. Fencing the orchard in 2012 cost €600 and, last year, the East Field set us back €1050. I use a good local contractor who we call 'Paul the Fence'; a one man band with old but efficient fencing gear and a seriously ancient MF tractor with a 50 kg weight 'pile driver' on the back for the big posts. He's a great bloke and we get on really well. He does not mind (and seems to appreciate) me helping out labouring and we chat away, yarning while we work swapping stories and the time flies. He loves his food, so Liz, who loves to cook for an appreciative audience gets into top 'catering' mode baking biscuits and cake for tea breaks and potato cakes or home made pork pie, hot for lunch stops.

Monkey-strainer pulls the 'barbed'
Neither of us had actually kept pigs before or, indeed, done any pig fencing so we are only guessing but I have read and seen described a version which is basically sheep wire with a strand of barbed top and bottom. The top strand dissuades pigs from trying to rear up at the fence and look over. The bottom stops them trying to root underneath from whence they can push up powerfully potentially lifting the posts out and the fence up high enough for them to get under. Some systems back this up with an electric fence (or even rely solely on the electric fence) but I cannot bring myself to trust only that method, so I like something physical in the way of containment. Also electric fence 'pulsators' are mad money!

So we decided to go with the sheep wire and high tensile (green) barbed wire. We also decided that even though a polygon roughly 35 m N/S and 25 m E/W was way way too big for what 2 piggies would need, we could give ours a satisfying and exciting environment (and save fencing money) by allowing them all the area between the existing orchard fence and the existing East field fence. Our N/S runs were already there and would only need the bottom strand of barbed adding. Our E/W runs already had their end posts against which we could strain our wire going that way. We just needed a gate and since this was to be just a pig and pedestrian entrance (no tractor access) Paul had a spare one from a previous job lying about.

Main rain gulley is now the 'wallow'
You can see from the map above that this pen gives the pigs (from left to right) a bit of grass meadow (which may not last long!), then the lovely gnarly bank with its sticking out hawthorn and beech roots and the huge black spruce trees. Then there is the 'under the trees' bit in the shade of the spruce and, on the east side, the big ashes I am re-coppicing at present. This was TK-Max's vegetable plot till he inadvisedly planted the spruces as saplings in the 60's and is more recently a 'forest floor' of thick pine needle litter. Finally, along the east side is the 8 foot wide, 3-4 feet deep rain gulley which takes all the rain water from the house roof and yard. We thought this would make a nice wallow for the pigs, but it created for the fencers an interesting task of running fence across it at either end. Lots of splodging about in wellies too, especially on the Thursday morning when it rained and rained and soaked us through to the underclothes!

All completed now, though and we are all very pleased with it. Paul was joking that we will have to let him know if it 'works' and contains the pigs, so that he can then add 'Pig Fincin' to his adverts.

In the 'pig ark' department, I have all the parts for a nice ark on order. It is to be one of those 'Anderson shelter' style huts you see in fields of outdoor-reared pigs, with a curved galvanised corrugated iron roof. Our local builders' providers proved able to supply the curved sheeting and we both raked out our 2-Pi-R mathematics from school to find that for a 4 foot radius curve, you'd need a 12 and a half foot sheet to start with.

The Fiat gets a tow hitch.
The steel man asked that I come along to see the sheets rolled (and to explain to him exactly what I was after) so that we both knew what we were at. I was happy to. The rolling 'mill' turned out to be an ancient and venerable, rusty dusty beast about the size of a dining table with an old fashion electric motor and flappy drive belts, which they hefted out of the corner of one of their sheds into the daylight with a forklift. The guy ran our (3) sheets through several times each, turning up the tension at each pass, and then setting the sheet down against floor markings to check we had an 8 foot wide 'building'. Fascinating to watch. The sheet and the wood will be delivered on Monday. That's my jobs sorted out for next week, I'm thinking.


Mr Silverwood said...

It's really all starting to come together now then, the once off cost's are the killer but it is all taking shape nicely.

anne wilson said...

Fencing looks good.

Matt Care said...

Thanks Anne. And yes, Mr Silverwood. If we had a 'quid' for every time we'd said we thought we'd finished with one-off set-up costs, we'd be rich. We seem to keep dreaming up new projects (bees, pigs etc) that all need setting up. Anyone for deer? Big Cats? A few giraffes strolling about?