Category Archives: workaway

W is for Why is Nature so Weird?

Able assistants ME and LS at the Harrowing Farrowing. Talk about stepping up to the plate! These two were GREAT!

Able assistants ME and LS at the Harrowing Farrowing. Talk about stepping up to the plate! These two were GREAT!

We arrived down at the barn early the morning after Olivia delivered (and rejected) her 11 piglets. Overnight, one of them had wandered into the safety pen but didn’t get out of the way fast enough and was squashed. The others, though, were under the heat lamp. Olivia was completely uninterested in lying down and letting anyone have a drink. By this time, the colostrum clock was ticking – if newborns don’t get that first milk produced by the sow, they miss out on all sorts of antibodies that help keep them healthy until their own immune systems have time to kick into gear.

Milking a fidgety sow is no picnic. As ME stoked, massaged, and cajoled the sow, I did my best to milk a bit from each teat into a small container. Each time I had accumulated about 3ml, I’d draw it up in a syringe, catch a piglet, and convince the screaming, snapping, squirming little creature that I wasn’t trying to kill it. Usually when a few drops touched the piglet’s tongue it would realize what was going on and have a total attitude change. Of course, the attitude change was short-lived because 3ml doesn’t last a hungry piglet long at all.

After I’d hand fed a couple of piglets (starting with the smallest, weaker ones and working my way up to the hefty brutes), I would join in the massaging, cajoling, cooing, and pleading to try to get Olivia to lie down and do the job of feeding the babies herself. Though she was quite happy to talk to us (and be massaged), every time a piglet came close (either wandered in to the safety pen or was placed there when she happened to lie down for a moment) she would charge, pounce, and toss. Piglet screams are heart-breaking to hear.

I milked a bit more, hand fed another two or three and tried to figure out what the next plan might be. It’s not uncommon to use a sedative like Stresnil to stop sows from savaging their piglets. This, though, would have required a trip to the vet as I didn’t have any on hand, so I turned to my phone and consulted google. Of the many suggestions offered (some useful, some downright rude), one comment made some sense.”Give her a pint of stout.” This was from an old pig farmer who had probably helped more sows farrow than I will ever have the chance to do. A quick search online and it seemed that giving her a bit of beer might actually help stimulate milk production and that the amount that would be transferred to the piglets would not be harmful.

At this point, I was looking at losing a whole litter of piglets if I didn’t take drastic action, so I hiked up the hill and grabbed some Corona. I mixed two bottles with Olivia’s breakfast chow (which she slurped down quite happily) and waited and watched. While we waited for the beer to have some effect, I milked some more and continued to feed the remaining piglets a few droplets of the precious colostrum. After a bit, Olivia sighed and settled into her hay nest. We massaged and she exposed her teats. I brought her a piglet and she leaped to her feet, spun around, and threw it aside. We waited 15 minutes and tried again. Same result. I gave her another beer and more kibble and we repeated this whole routine, cringing at the squeals of hungry piglets being soundly rejected by their mother. At this point I was thinking maybe I had completely miscalculated. Perhaps this was going to be a sow who would become violent after drinking. Maybe Olivia was going to be the exception to the happy sow rule.

Olivia is a large pig, outweighing me by several times over. I eyed her, looked at her hungry piglets, and cracked open another Corona. She happily guzzled it down along with a bit more feed, we waited 15 minutes and repeated the massage routine. Now onto us, Olivia braced herself against the safety pen wall, determined to stay on her feet no matter what. In what was likely the only mildly humourous moment during this entire ordeal, after four beers, a lot of breakfast, and two humans massaging her tummy, she could not resist and sort of eased herself down the wall, rolled on her side, and sighed.

When in doubt, a pint of stout... or, a bottle of Corona.

When in doubt, a pint of stout… or, a bottle of Corona.

Tentatively, I brought her a piglet. It latched on and started to suckle. Olivia shifted a bit to get more comfortable. Before she changed her mind, I grabbed another piglet, and then another. We now had three nursing and she was finally starting to behave like a proper mother. I added more piglets until, hallelujah, they were all nursing, and making that very particular happy piglet snurgle snuffle noise that is oh so much better than than the screaming in terror squeals we had been hearing up until this point.

At long last, Olivia agrees to feed her hungry children...

At long last, Olivia agrees to feed her hungry children…

Now 48 hours after farrowing, we have 8 survivors – one more was squashed on the second overnight and a third was smaller and weaker and couldn’t compete with the other, hefty siblings. I suspect it might have survived if Olivia had been more cooperative early on. Unless something strange happens (I shouldn’t tempt fate by even speculating what might go wrong at this point), the rest of the little porkers should do just fine.

With their bellies full and now quite familiar with the route between Mama and heat lamp, the piglets are catching up on their sleep.

With their bellies full and now quite familiar with the route between Mama and heat lamp, the piglets are catching up on their sleep.

Can you hear their cute little snores?

Can you hear their cute little snores?

After all this trauma, I was left wondering what purpose this aggressive/rejecting behaviour could possibly serve in the wild? Had these piglets been born out in the bush somewhere, none would have survived. Does anyone have any idea why this happens? Olivia is now behaving like the perfect mother – nursing regularly, being very careful when she lies down to give them a chance to get out of the way, watchful when humans are around (though, not being overly aggressive at all with us, which is a good thing). I can understand her temporarily losing her mind during the birthing process (been there, done that), but this extended period of wanting nothing to do with the piglets is really strange. Several people have suggested that perhaps this is why the Large Black Hogs are an endangered hog breed, but it turns out this can happen with other breeds as well. Can anyone out there shed some light on this peculiar problem? (And, for background, this is Olivia’s second litter.)

Image

T is for Teeny, Tiny Tractor

It may be modest in size, but our little lawn tractor has been chugging around the farmlet for years. Here, ME is hauling a load of soiled hay from the goat pen down to the new potato beds.

T, is also for Truck… Yesterday, I was speaking at a school in Shawnigan Lake and one of the teachers mentioned she had been reading the blog. Not having read any more about the piglet watch, she assumed the piglets had arrived and I was once again sleeping in the house. Alas, no. As in, no piglets. Yes, to still sleeping in the truck and getting up to check on Olivia every couple of hours. T, needless to say, is also for Tired.

G is for … Sorry… I Have to Say It: Great German Guests

After the past number of weeks of glowing, gushing, grateful posts about my Great German Guests, it seems like there can be no other theme for today’s post. Indeed, this evening the house is overflowing with Germans – AB is back for her third stay – MC is here for another couple of days and MC’s two friends – also from Bavaria – dropped in for a quick visit as well. NEVER have the dinner dishes disappeared so fast! Imagine a whole team of Germans scurrying around your kitchen figuring out a better system for putting everything away! And the efficiency with which that dishwasher is loaded! Ach du meine Güte!

german flag

What a shame my German mother was not still here to enjoy the company of our young visitors. In an odd twist, just about everyone who has come to stay has been from Bavaria, which was my mother’s adopted home after her family fled from East Germany as the Russians invaded. I grew up with stories of Bavaria and of the war (Mom was born in 1939) and it’s very odd to hear many familiar place names and some distinctive phrases from the region popping up in conversation.

grandparents day cover

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of when my Omi would come to stay (or, when we would go to visit her in Bavaria). I used to love Omi’s stories, one of which was eventually woven into the picture book, Grandparents’ Day. Omi’s family spent some time in Brazil where, as a child, she was bitten by a poisonous snake. The result of that encounter left a spectacular scar on her leg and hearing her tell the story of what happened next (which involved a blacksmith and an impromptu cauterization of the oozing wound with a super-heated poker) was so awful and so cool I loved/hated it when she would say, “Have I told you the story about the snake?” The process of taking such a grim tale from its original state to the final, more-or-less appropriate-for-young-children format was quite the journey…

Hearing all this German being spoken around the dinner table recently has awakened some corner of my brain where, apparently, quite a bit of German has been sleeping. How is this possible that a language can lie dormant for decades only to be activated by endless conversations about how crazy it is we have all these nice big roads and such ridiculously low speed limits? What’s really strange is that I understand the most when I’m not really trying to listen… kind of like the way you see better at night when you don’t look directly at whatever it is you are trying to see.

Speaking of night… time to sign off: Guten Nacht!

 

 

F is for Fancy and Farewell

For the last year or so the passenger side door handle in the truck has been missing in action. Someone who shall remain nameless but who might be my only child snapped it in her haste to exit the vehicle… The result is that for more than a year every time I’ve had a passenger aboard we’ve repeated a rather silly ritual that unfolds something like this:

Passenger swipes at the door and looks puzzled.

Me: Oh. Sorry (I am Canadian after all – the apology comes first.) The door handle is broken – hang on a sec.

I leap out of the truck, run around the vehicle, and open the door from the outside.

There follows a few standard quips about chauffeurs and how some jobs get on the to-do list and never get off again…

Regular passengers who are quick and motivated learn to crank down the window (hard labour) and can sometimes reach out to get the door open before I can sprint around the truck. This race elicits another standard exchange that begins with “sorry – I’m not quite fast enough,” as I reach the passenger door just as an arm is reaching out the window.

This is better than the times when I am distracted, leap out, and race off into the feed store or hardware store or wherever completely forgetting my poor passenger is trapped.

When I realize I’m alone inside I usually realize what I’ve done and race back out to rescue the prisoner. The apologies are profuse in cases like this.

When MC was first trapped in the truck on Day 2 of his visit he declared he would fix the handle. We got busy and lots of other projects got in the way and I began to fear he might slip away and escape without having a chance to design a solution… I needn’t have worried. A couple of days ago he came up with this utterly ingenious and elegant solution:

20140407-184247.jpg
Voila!! A fancy new door handle! Functional and cool and made using stuff found lying around.

Sigh. I am going to miss MC and SP. Their departures loom and it will be with a heavy heart that I bid the boys farewell…

E is for Excellent Expeditions

Funny how sometimes it takes having a visitor to get you out and about and exploring the neighbourhood! That’s exactly what has been happening since we started hosting our lovely volunteers – we’ve been tootling around southern Vancouver Island, showing them the sights and falling in love with our amazing home all over again.

The Kinsol Trestle on Vancouver Island is the largest remaining wooden trestle in the Commonwealth - the recently rebuilt and refurbished structure contains 60 percent of the timbers from the original completed in 1920.

The Kinsol Trestle on Vancouver Island is the largest remaining wooden trestle in the Commonwealth – the recently rebuilt and refurbished structure contains 60 percent of the timbers from the original completed in 1920.

I’ve lived here for many years and our family visited the island a number of times before that, but today was the first time I’d ever been to the trestle. D and T made sure to document our visitors’ experience of the day:

IMG_9076[1]

Everyone was a little soggy, but the rain softened as the afternoon wore on and despite the weather we all enjoyed our outing.

Everyone was a little soggy, but the rain softened as the afternoon wore on and despite the weather we all enjoyed our outing.

A couple of weeks ago we all trekked out to East Sooke Park, another glorious destination not so far from here. IMG_8891[1]

It would have been hard to have picked a nicer day! The sun came out and between the hiking, the dogs romping, and the tasty picnic, we all came home happy and relaxed.

IMG_8886[1]

Volunteers from our place and from Maypenny Farm enjoying a day at the beach at East Sooke Park.

Even when we are ostensibly ‘working’ we try to throw in a bit of fun… When I had to take a load of ducks to Salt Spring Island for processing (the nearest facility that will take ducks at the moment) we allowed a bit of extra time for sightseeing. No visit to SSI is complete without a trip up Mount Maxwell, a visit to Ruckle Park, something to eat in Ganges, and a round of frisbee golf.

DCF Marcel Saltspring Mount Maxwell

DCF Mount Maxwell Sunrise

 

IMG_8841

Lambs at Ruckle Park

IMG_8812

Frisbee golf is a lot harder than it looks. The course on Salt Spring Island is pretty cool – an easy stroll from downtown Ganges in a big park.

It was great visiting Salt Spring again and taking some time to poke around. If I ever leave the ‘big’ island, I could imagine myself living on Salt Spring once again.

For regular readers, there’s a connection to SSI in my books… I lived there in the early ’80’s and again a number of years later when my daughter was born at the Lady Minto Hospital. Those years on Salt Spring were great and when I was looking for a Gulf Island on which to model the fictitious Tarragon Island, I of course chose Salt Spring. Three books followed, two with Tarragon Island in the title, if you are curious and want to go searching. There is another planned and my recent trip reminded me why I set those books where I did. But, all that is the subject for another post… maybe T is for Tarragon Island?

Trouble_on_Tarragon_Isand_cover

[p.s. Who knew? I just googled ‘Tarragon Island’ looking for a cover photo to add and discovered that the third book, Trouble on Tarragon Island has its very own wikipedia page.]

 

How I Know My Neighbours Rock!

When your turkey gets nailed by a passing eagle, you discover who your friends are...

When your turkey gets nailed by a passing eagle, you discover who your friends are…

With the good weather, the grass is starting to grow again, so I’ve been letting the turkeys out of their smaller pen to roam and graze in the strip of grass between me and my neighbor’s place immediately to the north. Things have been going well over the past few weeks as the turkeys have settled into their new routine quite happily. The boys are in full display mode and the girls flirty and happy to accept the Toms’ advances.

I was up at the house just finishing up some computer work when someone banged on my office window and nearly gave me a heart attack! Carol, spattered with blood and holding a turkey hen in her arms stood outside looking like someone who has just had a run-in with a bald eagle. Turns out, she had just had a run-in with a bald eagle!!

She had a front row seat from her place as an eagle swooped down and pinned one of my good-sized hens to the ground. Carol raced outside to come to the hen’s rescue and despite yelling and waving her arms the eagle was very reluctant to relinquish its tasty lunch! When he finally did move, he didn’t go far and it sounds like it was seriously considering taking Carol on as she scooped up the injured bird and sprinted over to my place.

Fortunately, I was at home and with the assistance of my wonderful German volunteer farm helpers, was able to assess the damage. The skin had been torn off on the hen’s back, but that wound seemed fairly superficial. On her right side, though – a couple of puncture wounds from the eagle’s talons and a big piece of flesh ripped off and hanging on…

All things considered, there was very little blood – and the hen was alert and a bit indignant as I checked her over. She was panting and a bit shocky, but remarkably feisty considering her close brush with death. 

I called my other neighbor to the east, the Surgeon’s Wife who caught The Surgeon on his way home from work. He called me right back and stopped in at the local vet’s office to pick up a curved needle and a bit of suture thread on his way home. A few minutes later we had all convened in the Surgeon’s barnyard and made a makeshift operating table on the lid of our feed bin, pulled out into the late afternoon sun so as to take advantage of the light.

Flushing the puncture wounds left by the eagle's talons...

Flushing the puncture wounds left by the eagle’s talons…

The Surgeon donned gloves and flushed out the puncture wounds with hydrogen peroxide. SP (our most recent arrival from Germany) covered the bird’s head with a facecloth, and I held her firmly so we could see what we were doing. Before you could say, “Jeez, I have the best neighbours in the world!” the hen was all stitched up and slathered with antiseptic ointment. SP had already prepared a large dog crate with fresh bedding and a clean towel, the recovery ward for our lucky bird.

The Surgeon deftly tying fancy knots using a pair of pliers! We have a pact to stock up on suture supplies... we've been talking about it for ages and today was a great example why basic stitching materials are essential to have on hand.

The Surgeon deftly tying fancy knots using a pair of pliers! We have a pact to stock up on suture supplies… we’ve been talking about it for ages and today was a great example why basic stitching materials are essential to have on hand.

Stitching up the patient...

Stitching up the patient…

At least, I hope she will continue to recover. I checked on her an hour ago and she was actually up and walking around, looking steady on her feet, bright and perky in her demeanor. We shall see how she does overnight. If we get lucky and a terrible infection doesn’t set in, she might just survive the ordeal.

Whew! We were both glad when the field surgery was over and done with!

Whew! We were both glad when the field surgery was over and done with!

I can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who jumped in to help save the turkey hen. Keep your fingers crossed she will make a full recovery!

 

Shoehorning a Portable Hog Shelter Into a Horse Trailer – Where’s the Bear Grease?

After building the most lovely of hog shelters, MC and I had to figure out how to move it up to the road and into a vehicle for transport over to the new hog field at Maypenny Farm. We hitched the truck to the ‘tow bar’ on the hog hut and dragged it up the hill. Easy peasy! The heavy duty runners (built out of posts that once held up our old deck) slipped over the gravel like an Olympic skier skims through powder. Maybe not quite like that, but it was way easier than I thought it was going to be and the next thing I knew I was zipping around the block to pick up the horse trailer. Hitching was a snap with MC giving extremely accurate and precise hand signals (in Germany, there’s some sort of license specifically for anyone who wants to haul trailers around… part of the prep for taking the license test involves learning a very effective hitching communications system…). Before I knew it I was back up on the road in front of the house and had backed the trailer up to the hog hut… I was humming at this point, smugly thinking we were ahead of schedule. Hah!!

Image

Even with the metal roof off, it was quickly obvious just how tight a squeeze it was going to be to shoehorn the hog hut into the horse trailer.

If we had been lifting in something the size of a dog crate, we would have been laughing – a sixteenth of an inch on either side is plenty of wiggle room. When the structure in question weighs… well, a lot, it took some German ingenuity and lot of good humour to rig up a system to haul that sucker aboard.

Image

I kept finding myself thinking of the anonymous souls who used ramps and pulleys and levers and who knows what to build the pyramids and erect Stonehenge as we improvised a ramp using a couple of planks and attached a come-along to the tow bar of the hog hut at one end and the steel divider inside the trailer at the other. There followed an awful lot of pushing and heaving and ho-ing and grunting and levering to inch it up the planks until it wedged firmly against the back of the trailer frame.

Image

More shoving, wiggling, jiggling, prying, squeezing and cajoling followed until finally, the hut was persuaded to board the bus…

Image

At this point in the proceedings, the hog hut was well and truly jammed half in and half out of the trailer. Somewhere in behind the hut is a trapped German…

MC is 6′ 8″ tall and it was quite the feat of contortionism for him to squeeze past the stuck hut and escape… Our task was not yet complete, however. The hut was just a bit too long to shove all the way in without first removing the heavy steel divider to which the come-along had been fastened. More hammering, prying, lifting, and a bit of sweating followed before we were able to remove the divider and get it out of the way. The hut was so heavy and jammed in pretty tightly that we couldn’t budge it without help from the come-along. So… MC gallantly plunged under the horse trailer…

Image

He was able to fasten the come-along to the underside of the trailer frame and with a bit of cranking and more shoving we were able to squeeze that thing inside and shut the door! We were no longer ahead of schedule, but we were on our way. Little did we know what traumas awaited us at the other end where, we learned, loading the hog hut was going to be the easiest part of a very long day.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the “Let’s Get Those Hogs Moved” saga…