Friday 1 April 2016

Somerville and Ross

One of my annual name plaques for the pig ark.
Welcome aboard, Somerville and Ross. No, not the 'Irish RM' ladies, but this year's brace of gilts (female pigs) who came to us at 9 weeks of age, just yesterday. Regular readers will know that our pig-gathering missions are usually a bit epic - 2 hours+ drives down to Kildare where we take Charlotte and a substantial picnic. This year could have been slightly further as we had locked onto a breeder in Wicklow but by happy chance the guy was heading up this way this week and suggested we rendezvous with him and pigs in Boyle market square, just half an hour's drive away.

The new pigs - Ross on the left, Somerville right.
We had not decided for 2016 which variety we would try this year after going with Tamworths in 2014 and Berkshires in 2015, having worked our way thus through the likely varieties coming from the Kildare breeder (FreeRangePigsIreland.IE). We had briefly toyed with the idea of his "Iron-Age" pigs (a Tamworth x WildBoar) but worried that they might be a bit tusky, mean and dangerous. Then our good friend Rob found in Facebook a group associated with and promoting the variety "Oxford Sandy and Black" (OSBs) including in Ireland. I joined the group and put out a shout asking if there were any OSB breeders at all near us.

The piglets in the dog-crate in the back
of our car.
Step forward, Dermot A of Winetavern Farm in Stratford, Co Wicklow who is a little further away from us that even the Kildare guy but hey, we thought, shove a stop at Silverwood's for refreshments into the mixture and you still have a workable mission. We placed our order last 'back end' and then kept in touch with Dermot through the winter while the piglets cooked, then farrowed, then weaned. When I phoned last week to confirm that we were still on, he told me of the plan to come up to Boyle, where a friend and earlier customer needed some boar-piglets castrating and also his breeding sow collecting for bringing back to Dermot's boar in Wicklow. You may have spotted that this could well lead to OSBs from Dermot's bloodlines being available soon as close to us as Boyle. This puts a whole new slant on the 2017 choices!

Dermot's truck signage
Dermot turned out to be a superb bloke, keeper of 100 pigs on 3 acres, well experienced in pedigree breeding and showing, full of helpful advice but also very very practical, relaxed and easy going. He knew that we did not want these gilts for showing or breeding from so he had selected for us a couple of girls with slightly 'wrong' colouring - they are meant to be 'sandy' coloured (from blond through to very ginger) but well spotted with black splotches. One of ours has too many black spots and these joining up into 'patches' which would be a breed-fault at a show, the other not enough spots. If you know us at all you'll know we don't give a fig for 'show standard' (hence our three "nearly-westies"). We are more about healthy animals, meat quality and flavour. I only mention the spotting in case someone reads this who knows OSBs, sees the pictures and judges Dermot, us or Somerville and Ross negatively.

Home now and briefly rested in the sun.
The piglets are utter charmers and already more friendly than either of our previous 'batches'. Previously I have unloaded the pigs and they have vanished into the straw bed from whence you take a good month persuading them (with food and general schmoozing) to come anywhere near you.You eventually manage to get them to accept a tickle of the ear or a scratch of the back and then a tape measure round their 'bust' when trying to estimate weight. No such reticence with these ladies. We dropped them in home at about 3pm yesterday and left them to sleep off the trials of the long journey (3.5 hours all up). I took food into them this morning and never saw them - just rustling straw. Lunchtime I saw them but they stayed (not very well) hidden. But this evening I took them more food and 2 heads popped up out of the straw bed, and they came trotting over to get their noses into the food bowl while I was still holding it. I was able to stroke a back with no resulting protest or scarpering.

Clean straw. new home in our pig ark.
Thanks to Dermot and to all involved in this pig story. Charlotte agreed to come with me despite the lack of long car-ride and one of Liz's picnics and was as superbly practical and helpful as ever, especially at the stage where, in the open of Boyle car park, we had to transfer 2 wriggling piggies from Dermot's 4 x 4 to the crate in our car. C just grabs them by the back legs the way you are supposed to do, and walks over with piggy dangling from her hand head-down, completely subdued, quiet and relaxed. No harm done and no pigs vanishing between the parked cars into the traffic or local shops.

A full house for the village play on Thursday night
While I had C's undivided attention, when we were back here we had a good long chat about pasture improvement (re sheep), I captured Nanny Óg so that she could do a hands-on examination of kid-filled abdomen (they were kicking!), ever bigger udder and tight vulva (not ready yet), and she also demonstrated how to start halter-training our new ewe-lamb Rosie. My plan is to start Rosie this young so that by the time it comes to her first shearing (Spring 2017) she will accept being sheared while standing up the right way as we did last year for Sue's ewe 'Pink'. This is so much easier (on me and the sheep) than the upside down wrestling commercial method we have to use on Lily and Polly and (possibly) Myfanwy. M is quite tame so she may take halter restraint OK.

This is all you can see of Liz in her prompters
'cubby hole' off stage-right if you are on stage.
She is well hidden from the audience, obviously.
In a busy week, the only other thing we have had time for has been the village play, where Liz has been co-opted as 'prompt' as well as costume-seamstress and a variety of admin functions (tickets, booking, obtaining props and raffle tickets etc). I have become the official photographer. Final night is tonight even as I type this but if this showing is anything like the Opening Night and Thursday, then the whole will have been a huge and delightful success. They played to 3 full houses (It seats about 110). It has gone down enormously well and is much talked about as being a very enjoyable night well threaded through with loud laughter and audience members snorting into tissues or cheering with joy as a popular character from an earlier act comes on stage again. The actors (3 are complete novices) have had to learn fast how to pause while laughter dies down before continuing with their lines and Liz has had to learn that they have stopped for a good reason, and do not need prompting, not because they are frozen in fear! It has been a good thing and everyone is quite tired and looking forward to tonight's final performance - there are solid plans for the entire cast and crew to adjourn to the pub for a wind-down drink. More on the play and stuff on the Lisacul website, as ever. I am off down there soon to watch the end of it and join in the celebrations.

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