Sunday 8 June 2014

Settling in

The pigs are settling in well and seem to be quite happy. They were out of their house and exploring the patch the morning after arrival, the grassy bit, the woods and the storm-water 'ditch'. They are always together and they amble around making quiet little grunt noises, a cross between an adult pig's bass-y grunt, and the wheeze of an asthmatic man. It is loud enough that they cannot actually hide from you once they are exploring - you can always hear the faint chuntering noise coming from whatever tall vegetation they might be in, or from the ditch.

Muddy noses - we've been a-rootling!
With the ditch being quite deep (4 feet?) and steep sided, I'd been worried that they might tumble down into it and not be able to get back out, so I had dug out a more gentle ramp - I needn't have worried. These ladies are long leggedy beasts, very agile at the jumping and running. They used my ramp to drop down into the ditch but then made their way towards house and happily sprang out up the near-vertical bank back into the Secret Garden.

Yellow Aquilegia
So far they have grazed a fair amount of the herbs in their patch, quite enjoying the foliage of the Cow Parsley (Queen Anne's Lace) and my 'pig nuts' (commercial pig food) were immediately recognised as food and wolfed down. They have also made some bits of tomato vanish but have so far turned their noses up at anything else we have tried including foods I have read they 'should like' - banana, pears and carrots. We'll just keep trying things till we hit on a good treat, I guess.

Logging for Bob again - sycamore this time
Readers may not know that feeding pigs is all very controlled and restricted now (if you are law-abiding!) since 'Foot and Mouth' in 2001 and Swine Vesicular Disease; you should not feed anything that has been in a human kitchen. No more left overs and 'swill', certainly nothing that contains meat or animal fat, so even bakery waste which can include pizzas, lardy cakes and pork pies. You can buy or grow fruit and veg especially for the pigs and you can, if you want to, run a special boiler away from the house kitchen, to create hot mashes or swill from, for example, potatoes and peelings. We are pretty much using the commercial ration supplemented with special offer or end-of-life-for-sale-cheap fruit and veg (when we can find something these ladies will eat!)

Choc a block full again. Bob's sycamore is the split wedgy
stuff at the top. It splits nicely while still green.
I am trying to befriend them and get them to trust and even 'love' me. They are nervous little girls and wary of coming close. I go in there and sit down quietly talking to them and curiosity brings them near. They have come to within 12 inches today but their courage seems to fail them and they dart away again. I have made a point of not bothering them when they are inside their ark. That is their 'safe' place. I might sit a few yards away and talk to them but I will not invade their space. Hopefully they will soon get confident enough to come right up to me and accept a scratch on the ear, a tickle of the 'tummy' or a food treat. My 'pig bible' (Liz Shankland's "Haynes Pig Manual") describes the pigs being delighted to see and hear you and running up squealing an excited welcome. I wonder if I can get to that stage? I have to admit I find them utterly, utterly charming so that some cynical friends on Facebook are starting to suspect that when we get to slaughter time I might have a problem.

These toadstools popped up in the horse muck in one of our
planters, looking when they first emerge curiously like hen
eggs laid blunt end down.
We also have an ongoing light hearted 'argument' going with Anne and with my pig training course guy. They are convinced that only electric fence will contain pigs, and seeing the way Anne's pigs have quickly ploughed deep holes in their peaty soil, I can see why. I am baulking ( a bit nervously, I must admit!) at buying and using an electric fencer, and going with Liz Shankland's suggestion that good high-tensile sheep fencing with a strand of barbed at ground level should work. It is said that boredom and hunger make them try to escape, so we are hoping that our patch is sufficiently big and interesting. Also, the worry can be about burrowing in soft ground and potentially lifting your posts out by pushing their noses under the fence and lifting. Our ground is, as we know from the bitter experience of digging, not soft - it is clay with head-sized boulders in it and, in the pig area, a fair amount of big-tree roots (60 foot spruces!). So far the little piggies have not done any digging, just a bit of nose-ploughing in the litter layer, a couple of inches down. We'll see. I have been offered loans of fencers should a problem develop and we spot some escape attempts, and I can always buy one in a hurry locally.

Guinea Fowl keet at 6 days
Meanwhile, we have had a mini tragedy which it gives me no pleasure to tell you about. I was on my first-thing-in-the-morning dog 'patrol' prior to releasing the poultry from their houses and did not realise that our littlest gosling had sneaked out of the goose house (possibly through a small gap under the door). I accidentally walked the three dogs onto him where he was hiding out of sight round a corner. They were on leads but were on him in a split second and that was his lot. We are back to the one gosling, George Junior. I am kicking myself - I had heard some noise from the adult geese and should have gone to check minus dogs - then I would have found him and been able to return him to Mum and Dad. Ah well, that's terriers, I guess. Entirely my fault.

Keets already starting to look Guinea Fowl shaped.
The 11 keets are thriving and putting away their diet of chick crumb with lots of "salad" - they love their greens these guys and actually graze a lot of grass as adults. Their chick crumb comes with finely chopped grass (3 mm lengths or so) and finely shredded lettuce which it is great fun to see them dive onto and then try to run away with their prize so that the other keets cannot have it. I think I have already posted that keet No.12 who hatched with the un-absorbed yolk sac did not make it, and the 4 eggs that were left proved to have partly developed but dead embryos. So good fertility (16 out of 16) and, for eggs rescued from a wet hedge into a borrowed, not-particularly-sophisticated incubator, 11 is a brilliant result, One of the babies is giving us slight concern as his toes do not straighten - he walks with his toes curled round, on the side of his foot, but he gets about OK and certainly wins plenty of the lettuce fights. We will look after him a bit and hope that he does well. He is certainly OK running forwards and that, in our experience, seems to be what Guineas spend 99% of their time doing.

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