Thursday 13 August 2015

A Pig in a Poke.

An excellent list of As, Bs and Cs
gets Em-J a handsome 425 points.
This blog has now been running for so long that our dear niece, Em-J, who first appears as a lock-gate wrangler on our 2007 narrowboat holiday aged just 9, has now moved all through 'big school' and come out the other end as one of the tens of thousands of students getting their 'Leaving Cert' results this week. For my UK readers, Leaving Cert is equivalent to 'A' Levels although thought to be slightly higher by many UK Universities. The exam takers take up to 9 subjects and the Cs, Bs and As all contribute points to the final score. These points mean you will either get accepted by the colleges and Uni's or not. We are very proud of both the 'victims' we have anything to do with (Em-J and one of Liz's students, Tilly) who both came out with superb results and enough points to get to Uni (all be it Tilly is actually moving back to the UK and had applied to Gloucester Uni.). UK readers may also be interested to know that these courses and exams are standard across the whole country - all the students sit exactly the same exams on the same days and time, papers are marked nationally too and results come out all from one database and website. Anyway, well done Em-J and Tilly. We are very proud of you.

Piglet pyramid. There are 12 here. 
An amusing distraction and adventure came our way on Wednesday this week when we were asked to help "catch 9 piglets". These babies belong to our friends Rob and Sue and had found themselves born into a pig ark in a big grass field instead of a barn where they had been intended to be born. Worse, the nice new grass field the parent pigs had been moved to just before farrowing had become a victim of the heavy rain through July and August and was a quagmire of 4-6 inch deep mud, too squelchy to run through in wellies.

The author releasing one bagged piggy in the barn
Total pig-ignorami may appreciate the following study notes.

  • 5 week old piglets squeal and scream like mad if you upset them by trying to lift them up or take them away from Mum. They make a ferocious racket!
  • They are the size of a Westie (dog) and weigh about the same, maybe 7-8 kg? 
  • The normal method is to grab them by one or both back legs and let them hang head-down, which makes them go quiet. 
  • Piglet legs taper fiercely down from ham, through shank-end and hock to trotter and there are no nice knobbly heels or joints to get a grip on so if the pig's leg is muddy it will slip through your hands like a sausage coming out of a hot dog. 
  • Fortunately, 5 week old piglets are quite narrow at the pelvis and if you have big hands you can grab a chunk of back end which is cleaner, and lift the piglet like that.
  • If you are on your own and dive into the ark to grab a piglet, you may catch one but the remaining piggies will scatter to the 4 winds in panic, out of the ark door and into the field where, trust me, you are not going to catch them. 
  • Full grown sows and especially boars are over 100 kg and can easily knock you flying and make a serious mess of your good looks if they attack you. They can also run much faster than a wellie-clad person across a muddy field. 
  • Parent pigs, especially sows do not like you interfering with their babies and making them squeal. They will surely come over to investigate even if they decide you are not actually murdering their offspring.
  • On the other hand they are also hungry, greedy animals and if they realise that by investigating the squeals, they might be losing out in the food being handed to their colleagues at the other end of the field, they will probably say "Oh... alright then" and trot back to the shouting food-deliverer. 
Safe, warm and dry in the new quarters. 
You may by now have started to get a picture of the fun we had. Rob had tried to catch them on the Tuesday but he was working solo, so he had only managed 2 before his already injured leg cried 'Enough!' running through the mud. Grown up Grandson Lewis had grabbed a third. There were 9 for us to catch, but on Wednesday, we were going at it mob-handed - 5 humans. Rob went off to the top of the field armed with copious amounts of food in a rattly bucket, to distract the grown ups. Liz and Sue were armed with many feed sacks and cable ties plus straw to lay on the mud to make a bit of a path. I had a big mesh frame to use as a gate for the ark and Lewis had the job of going into the ark to catch and bag piglets. I stood outside the ark with the gate wedged against the opening with my foot to stop barrelling piglets from charging out when they realised what Lewis had in store for them. 

Liz's normally clean and precious pink Hunters do not look
quite so pristine now!
In the event, the plan worked and Lewis was able to catch and bag all 9 piglets one by one. Once the piglets were cable-tied into their bags they went quiet and only wriggled, trying to get to their feet when all visual clues had vanished, which was a mercy as the sow then ignored them and just looked baffled. One piggy did escape past my gate but kept circling back to try to be with its siblings inside the ark, so I got a chance to lift him back in. Periodically Lewis would pause to hold the gate while I marched bags across to the ladies, who would then ferry these wriggling bags to the barn and release the captives. One of the sows did get a bit upset by the squealing and come look, but she seemed to relax when she could see the babies through our gate. She made one lunge-attack at Sue's hand but never tried anything with me and never even tried to nudge my legs. We just paused to let the squealing subside and everything to calm down and the sow would trot back over to Rob, till the next set of lifts and squeals. 

Liz took this superb pic of 'our' sparrowhawk.
We had arrived at 11:30 and had a cup of tea before we started, and we had them all rounded up and another tea plus a slice of cake by 1 pm. A good and enjoyable mission, which I know Rob and Sue much appreciated our help in. Great teamwork. 

Wrapped around that job I am now also helping JD Bob with his cattle. The old boy has slipped on the foot-steps trying to get down from his tractor and badly barked and bruised his shin, so he is hobbling around like an 'aul' wan'. Forking silage and throwing 25 kg sacks of cattle feed around are a bit beyond him so we are helping out. I love cattle anyway and until I came here I had only had to do with dairy animals. It is nice to get some experience of these big, beefy, 2 year old Charolais and Limousin bullocks

This female sparrowhawk stands helpless to move her badly
broken left wing. 
Then on Wednesday evening at 7:30 pm an experience which was at once a once-in-a-lifetime thrill AND an upsetting horrible tragedy. The thump on the kitchen window set the dogs barking and told us of another bird-strike but we get a few of these and they are normally chaffinches or sparrows which seem to bounce off OK and you rarely find them injured on the ground. This, though was a magnificent female sparrowhawk. Sadly, we quickly saw that she had smashed one wing, compound fracture with blooded bone ends sticking out through broken skin. She was not defeated, though and would happily have raked my hands with those razor-sharp talons while lying on her back and had a go with the beak. We needed to drop an opaque cloth over her and I put on my chainsaw gloves just to try to pick her up and get a look at the injury. Tom the turkey did not help - he took exception to the bird-of-prey screams and the fact that every chicken in the place was clucking loudly and anxiously, and charged over intent on stomping her to death. Liz fended him off while I rescued the hawk.

As far as we know there is no vet round here who even knows about birds (chickens), never mind a specialist wildlife rescue centre who could help fix this fine-tuned thoroughbred. It can only have been agony for her everytime she 'bated' and flapped in a panic, to have the whole wing grating against her shattered humerus. There was only going to be one outcome to this. Although I hated having to do it to such a beautiful, beautiful bird, the only sparrowhawk I have ever got this close to, we took  few pictures and then ended it for her. I apologise if I have upset anyone with this. 

Baby turkey in the sick bay.
This morning we woke up to a sick young turkey, a patient for the sick bay. When she did not emerge from the shed pleading for breakfast, I went in a found her standing on the floor looking pathetic and with a badly swollen and blooded side to the head just behind her eye. The swelling was almost closing the eye. We have no idea how she got injured (kicked aside by Tom in his heroics last night? It might even have been the sparrowhawk having a go before it hit the window) but all you can really do in these circumstances is give them quiet, warmth, food and water (plus cod liver oil if you choose) and pray that they might recover. Some do. Some just mope around for a while and then you find them stiff and dead. This little one has hung in there all day and is still alive at the time I write. We have put the 'electric hen' (warming plate) in her crate as a substitute 'cuddle' with her gang.

...And then there were the Perseid meteors. Unusually we had lovely clear skies last night so we could already see a gazillion stars including the broad sweep of the Milky Way overhead. We had gone out to gaze upwards at around 11 pm and were quickly able to see the streaks of the meteors running through from roughly NE to the East. I tried to take a few pics with my 'posh' camera but although I took over 2 dozen long-exposure pics, I never managed to have the camera open when a meteor whizzed through. They either just beat my shutter release, or they waited till the shutter clicked closed. Never mind, we SAW them, which was the main thing. Most of our UK contacts were complaining of cloud cover and a no-show. I will not bore you with a pic, which would surely just be a black square - blown up on screen you can see the myriad stars but not, I think, on a postcard sized print. The Perseids are going great guns till about the 15th, so maybe you will get some clear-sky luck tonight? Good hunting.  


Anne Wilson said...

Bit late now Matt but you should have contacted 'Eagles Flying' in Ballymote.

Matt Care said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Care said...

Good suggestion which I must admit we did not think of. I will email them now to see whether they would have been able to help. I don't suppose there will ever be a next time, but if there is, we will know. Thanks