P is for Portland (bet you thought I was going to say ‘piglets’)

Technically, the day isn’t over, so there is still a chance Olivia will deliver, but when I was down at the hog hut a little while ago, she seemed uninterested in going into labour. Even without playing midwife to a recalcitrant sow, it has been a busy day. With the help of current volunteers ME (Austria) and LS (Berlin) we flew through the morning rounds and then headed up to OUR Ecovillage to attend the Mark Lakeman talk titled, Re-becoming Villagers.

ME having a look at the Sanctuary at OUR Ecovillage

ME having a look at the Sanctuary at OUR Ecovillage

Here’s a quick video, if you are interested in some of Lakeman’s ideas about re-imagining our urban spaces.

I love the solar-powered cat palace! In today’s talk he also showed slides of the coolest Chicken Coop on the planet! If I had known about it before Dani and I went to Portland a couple of years ago I would have made a pilgrimage! Of course, the City Repair Project and Urban Permaculture Design is not all about making life comfortable for chickens and cats. At its heart, this way of thinking is all about making our grid-organized urban centres into spaces where people can once again find community. The ideas are so simple and yet we seem to collectively have forgotten that we need places to gather, to sit, to stroll to – places where we can share gardens and water holes. Transforming a section of suburbia can start with the simple addition of a bench or two, planting food-bearing trees and vines, and adding personal/artistic touches designed and then created by neighbourhood residents.

Portland has been leading a revolution in terms of such community-led initiatives and the work being done there has inspired similar projects all over North America.

I was a tad bummed that I had to leave after the morning’s talk and before I had a chance to connect with everyone over lunch and then participate in the afternoon’s hands-on session.

Many thanks to LS who took a few photos of the goings on…

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How would you redesign the intersection closest to your house?

lakeman draws photo by LC

Sigh. However, I had to race back to Victoria to take part in a Food Swap, leaving ME and LS behind.

The Food Swap was pretty cool (literally – it was pouring – we were all very glad to be under cover of a tent as the event was held outside). The concept is simplicity itself – take food of which you have lots (I, for example, currently have lots of eggs as all the girls are laying and the CSA and markets don’t start up for another few weeks) and trade for goodies you fancy. I came home with a nifty assortment of unique items like flavoured salts, macaroons, lemon squares, homemade BBQ sauce, fancy tea, beef jerky, and fresh rosemary and bay leaves. The items available to swap and the quantities people were willing to swap for was all up for negotiation. It was a lot of fun to see what everyone brought and to bring home some very tasty treats to share with everyone here back at the homestead.

Victoria Food Swap

If you are in the Greater Victoria area, check out the Victoria Food Swap Facebook Page or blog  for more information. The location will change each month to make the event convenient for as many people as possible.

O is for Oh, Oh Ornery Olivia

And so another fitful night passes in the truck and still no piglets. This waiting around reminds me of my mare’s gestation. Horses are notorious for being flexible in their due dates and, apparently, though nature more or less decides what day the foal will arrive, the mare can control the hour.

Bonny and Brio

Bonny and Con Brio, about 3 weeks old

Given this was our first foal (come to think of it, our first birth) on the farm, we wanted to be well prepared. We built a new foaling shed and fenced a new paddock so mare and foal could have some privacy. I readied a garden lounge chair, sleeping bag, and flashlight. We took Bonny’s temperature twice a day and dutifully kept a chart, watching for the telltale temperature drop that would indicate the imminent arrival of the foal. Dad and I went on a now legendary shopping expedition to the drug store to beef up our equine medical kit. The list of purchases was a bizarre one – everything from balls of string to latex gloves to baby bottles to half a dozen giant tubes of personal lubricant. I cannot imagine what the other shoppers or the sales clerk were imagining when they saw the two of us and this unlikely assortment of goodies. We fondled Bonny’s udder for days and when it seemed she was about to pop, I started camping.

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Brio has always been quite the character. Here she is smooching with her farrier, Mitch.

Bonny was always a roller and even though she was hugely pregnant at this point, this did not stop her for indulging in one of her favourite activities. Each time she rolled that first night I slept in the lawn chair (it seemed like six hundred times, but was probably more like every hour) I leaped out of the sleeping bag convinced she was in labour or colicking or something dire… Nope. Just rolling in the grass, snacking a bit while she was down there, heaving herself to her feet, looking curiously at me and my flashlight.

Another night passed and another and another. TWO WEEKS passed and still no foal!! By this time, Bonny was the size of an elephant and I was exhausted. She was still rolling around on a regular basis (though by this point she couldn’t get all the way over any more and had to roll on one side, lumber to her feet, turn over, and roll on the other side), her temperature was dipping and rising, her udder was the size of a cow’s, and it didn’t seem possible she could hang on to that foal any longer.

Conventional wisdom says that mares are most likely to foal in the wee hours of the morning, so I wasn’t so concerned when I left Dad on mare watch while I went off to do a short shift at the bookstore where I worked at the time, I had no sooner arrived late in the afternoon when Dad called the store in a panic. “What do I do? It’s happening!”

“Call the vet! What’s she doing now?”

There were strangled cries from the other end of the line, grunting and then Dad came back and shouted into the phone, “It’s here! It just plopped out on the grass! It’s trying to stand up! Oh no!”

Then there were fumbling sounds, more grunting and a bit of swearing, and Dad came back on the line, panting – “It’s trying to stand up but it’s going to fall on the electric fence!! Come back! Drive fast! I’m holding it up!”

The line went dead and I sprinted out of the store and raced for home. That was the longest 20 minutes of my life and by the time I got back home, it was all over. The cutest little foal in the world was standing up in the wobbly way of foals. The vet was there, scratching the filly’s backside. Bonny was completely unperturbed. Within another half an hour Con Brio was nursing and an hour after that was cantering around the field before collapsing in the grass for a short nap.

I could not believe I missed the big event after my lengthy stakeout!

dcf brio plowing

Brio’s most recent lesson in being a horse… here, being introduced to the spike harrow.

 

N is for Neverending Nights of Nothingness

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Nada. Nothing. Nobody. Nary a piglet in sight. Honestly, I am beginning to wonder what sort of mind games Olivia is playing with me! Last night as I snuggled into my sleeping bag on piglet watch once again, it started to rain rather hard. Over the roar of raindrops on the roof of the truck cab, Iago’s (the barn cat) wailing was so piteous I could not resist and let her inside.

I was as stretched out as possible on the back seat in the cab and each of the dogs had staked out a front seat. When the cat arrived, our peaceful arrangement went to he!! in a handbasket. First, Iago visited each of the dogs, purring and chirping and rubbing her head against their faces. This is a peculiar kind of torture from the dogs’ perspective – they know they are not allowed to chase the cat and inside the cab, there is hardly room to turn around, never mind play tag.

After she had tormented the dogs, Iago crawled into the back with me and plunked herself on my head, purring and cuddling. This was too much for Tuulen, whose jealous tendencies are legendary. He leaped into the back seat and squeezed himself behind me. There followed a licking war. Tuulen licked the cat, the cat licked me – each tried to be cuter and more cuddly than the other so I would stroke only cat or dog, but not both.

Iago sat on Tuulen’s head so she could have better access to my face and stop him from talking to me. He protested by pushing her out of the way and trying to wriggle out from behind me and onto my pillow… He is far too big to fit on my pillow, particularly when that space is being defended by a determined cat.

Meanwhile, I was getting pretty desperate for sleep, so I burrowed under my sleeping bag and left them to fight out their turf war somewhere above me. Eventually, after both had fallen off me and the back seat a couple of times, they each managed to stake out an acceptable bit of territory and fall asleep.

I must say I was toasty warm, but man, oh man – what I would give for a decent night’s sleep in my own bed!! Come on, Olivia! Deliver!

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M is for Moss and Maybe a Mushroom?

M is for Moss and Maybe a Mushroom?

I’m actually not sure whether that’s some sort of fungus-mushroom thing (my knowledge in this area is minimal… microscopic… miniscule…) or some kind of squidgy alien being. The photo was taken on the day of our recent expedition to the Kinsol Trestle. But, I like the photo (which is so quintessentially west coast wet) and am heading out into the rain to spend another night camped out in the truck on piglet watch, so I don’t have time to craft an m-filled missive. There. I’m all caught up on my A-to-Z posts!! For now. We shall see what the morrow brings!

L is for Late Nights in the Hog Pen

After weeks of waiting, we are back on piglet watch, this time in the newly designed and constructed hog hut. We’ve had terrible troubles with our sows panicking during farrowing and then lashing out at what they perceive to be the cause of their pain – their new piglets. When Olivia had her last litter and I tried to intervene and get the piglets out of the way until she could finish delivering everyone, she came after me. Let me tell you it is no fun to be tossed in the air by an angry sow, flung aside like I was of no heavier than a scrap of cloth.

After that rather scary incident, I was very leery about getting between Pearl and her piglets and thought I’d be very discrete, staying way out of the way while she delivered her little ones. That was a mistake. Well, perhaps not a mistake when it came to protecting myself, but a mistake in terms of saving the piglets.

We had been busy preparing a safety pen for everyone and were about a day away from completion when Pearl went into labour a tad ahead of schedule. So, I had to improvise with a couple of pallets and a gap between the pallets and the hog shelter wall. By the time I had maneuvered this makeshift safety pen into position, Pearl had dispatched three or four piglets. She continued to deliver and after I had the protection of the pallets, I was able to pull four more to safety. We dried them off, put them under a heat lamp, and waited until she had delivered the afterbirth before warily putting the surviving piglets back in with her. Even though we had a creep set up and an area with a heat lamp in the hog shelter (for the piglets to stay out of the way), she still managed to squash two more during that first night! So, after all was said and done we wound up with two piglets out of a litter of eight.

A day later, we also had a lovely new safety pen built inside an old horse trailer and positioned in Olivia’s pen. Olivia has been eating and sleeping in there for several weeks now (with the back door open so she was free to come and go) and late this afternoon when she was producing milk, I locked her inside. She is quite comfortable in her ‘den’ but this new, smaller area with its low walls allows me to safely work around her. I can reach in to assist and remove piglets as they are born. They will stay close by under a heat lamp, but out of the way so the risk of squashing is minimized.

It usually takes mom and babies about 72 hours to learn to talk to each other. Mom has a special grunt that means ‘get out of my way while I lie down!’ and another that means, ‘I’m lying down now – come and eat!’ As soon as they have this all sorted out, I’ll open up the back door of the safety pen and they can all come and go as they please, but meanwhile, everyone should be reasonably safe.

Had I known how stressful this whole farrowing process was going to be before we started down the rare hog breeding path, I’m not sure I would have started on the journey! But now that we are on the road, I have to admit there are few things cuter than new piglets. Not that any appeared last night. I slept down in the truck and checked on Olivia every couple of hours, but she slept through all my nighttime visits.

I started writing this post last night thinking I would finish it in the wee hours of the morning when I could post photos of the new arrivals. Hah! Unless Olivia gets in gear today and delivers everyone during the daylight hours, it looks like another night wishing the truck was just a couple of inches wider so I could stretch out properly.

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Meanwhile, I will enjoy these little cutie pies, who hatched yesterday. Can we all say ‘awwwwwwwww!’

K is for Kindle… Kinda

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For some reason, it took me a while to figure out that even though I don’t own a Kindle per se, I can still take full advantage of being able to download and read all sorts of great titles using my Ipad and Iphone. Because, of course, there’s an app for that.

Having discovered this Kindle app, I have been delighted to find I can read some of my favourite magazines at a fraction of the price and without having to worry about adding to all the stacks and stacks of old paper magazines I really should be recycling (but can’t bear to part with because, you know, I might just need that article about the benefits of mason bees or the best way to use kale in a casserole…).

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Not only was I delighted to be able to browse through virtual magazines to my heart’s content, when I was desperate to find something decent to read about the nuts and bolts of farming with horses, I was able to shop at some crazily late hour and download a couple of good reference books. These were not only delivered to the Ipad instantly (so I could read in bed), but I’ve been able to schlepp them around with me ever since so I could bone up on stuff like drag harrows when I’m standing in the lineup at the bank (now that I’m the proud owner of some awesome farming devices, I need a crash course on how to use them), I didn’t even need to have the Ipad with me as everything syncs automatically to my phone.

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I have both a spike-tooth harrow and a spring-tooth harrow, a fact I am still finding hard to believe…

For those of you who are shaking your heads in disbelief that I somehow missed this memo, I’m curious what books you are carting around in your phone/Ipad/Kindle/other e-reader. For those of you who, like me, took a while to warm up to the idea of virtual books, what’s holding you back?

 

J is for Jenny and Josh

"Prove It, Josh!" by Jenny Watson

“Prove It, Josh” by Jenny Watson

Somehow when it came to choosing a profession (or two) I picked a couple that really don’t make a ton of money – writing fiction and farming. As a result, I’ve always done other stuff on the side to help support my writing/farming habits…

One of my contracts is working as a publicist for Sono Nis Press and one of my tasks in that capacity is creating short videos that feature SNP authors and their new books. I really enjoy these projects (I have fantasies about film-making, something I’d like to do on a larger scale at some point…) and today posted the most recent over on the Sono Nis Press channel on YouTube. I love Jenny’s description of the process (agonizing!!) of writing a novel. For anyone who thinks writing a book for kids is easy, have a look.

(and for more information about Sono Nis, visit the Sono Nis Press website.)