Tag Archives: farm life

Midsummer Night Sky

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One of the glorious things about this time of year is how long the days are… By ten pm I am still scurrying around, putting the last of the chickens to bed. One of the worst things about this time of year is that at ten pm, I am still scurrying around putting the last of the chickens to bed…

X is for This Way Up

Piglets are not the only thing that’s been incubating around here. We are also hatching out various types of poultry in a couple of very basic incubators. These do not automatically adjust if temperature or humidity is off a bit, so I check the temperature manually several times a day and adjust as necessary.

x marks the eggs

Ridley Bronze turkey eggs in the incubator.

I also need to adjust the position of the eggs, turning them from one side to the other several times a day. To keep track of which side is up, I mark the eggs with X’s and O’s. Each time I turn the eggs I also record the temperature and note the direction in which I turned them (left or right). Each incubator (one for turkeys, one for chickens) has its own chart.

Every time I open the lid of an incubator, adjust the temperature, turn the eggs, add a bit of water to the tray in the bottom (to raise the humidity) I think about the broody birds who do such a good job of hatching out eggs and give them a silent nod of thanks for helping to reduce my workload just a little (we also let some of the birds sit on their own nests – the ducks and bantam hens make the most amazing mothers).

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.)

V is for Victoria-Vancouver-Victoria and a Victory over Violence

On Sunday I had a quick business meeting over in Vancouver. Saturday night I slept in the truck once again, still on piglet watch with Olivia. Sunday morning down on the farm started a bit earlier than usual because of my ferry departure, but was otherwise completely normal. No piglets. No nesting. Full teats, but she’s had those for a while now. So off I went thinking I was in for another night in the truck after I returned.

I took the 9am ferry over to the mainland and was just about to drive off the boat when a text came in from LS, who is visiting from Berlin and holding the fort while I was away. Olivia, according to LS, was behaving strangely. He sent a couple of photos of her pen. She had been busy in the couple of hours since I left the farm. She had stripped leaves from the bushes in her run and scattered them around in her bed inside the safety pen. She dragged in mouthfuls of sticks and twigs and added them. She rooted around and fluffed up the hay from underneath the fresh debris and mixed it all together. Olivia was nesting!!

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LS summoned T (soon-to-be-SIL), who has been present for a couple of prior farrowings… There followed the most stressful series of texts as I headed into my meeting, made a presentation, and politely declined a lunch invitation (“Sorry! Must race back to the ferry – Olivia is in labour!!)

I made it back to the terminal in time to catch the 1pm boat, flew into the house at 3:10, pulled off my meeting clothes, pulled on my grubbies and rubber boots and raced down the hill. The guys had done a fabulous job of setting everything up – the heat lamp was positioned over two nursery boxes (used to contain the piglets as they awaited the arrival of their siblings), fresh towels were at the ready, Olivia was in her safety pen, the wet leaves and sticks had been removed and replaced with clean, dry hay (which she had been reorganizing all day).

The first piglet arrived at 4:01. Olivia lost her mind, leaped to her feet, spun around, and tried to kill it. This pattern was repeated every 15 minutes or so for the next couple of hours, but because of the new safety pen, each piglet was plucked out of the pen before Olivia could do any damage to either the piglets of to any of us [thanks to earlier helpers MC and SP, who built the pen after long discussions about crazy sows. Now that we know it works, I’ll post a how-to article soon with more details of what we came up with as a solution to porcine matricide.] By 6:30 pm we had 11 healthy piglets – 6m and 5f. We were feeling pretty smug at this point and settled in to await the expulsion of the placenta, knowing from experience that she would have no interest in nursing the piglets until that was done. It took some time and some massaging of her teats to stimulate contractions, but in due course it arrived just fine.

By now it was after 9pm and we began the process of trying to introduce the piglets for nursing. At which point we were thwarted by Olivia’s ridiculous (and terrifying) insistence on pouncing on any piglet that wandered anywhere near her. She ate a meal, we let her outside to stretch her legs and relieve herself – she paced and turned and nested and lay down and got up and steadfastly refused to have anything to do with nursing. Her attacks were slightly less vicious, though – she was tossing piglets aside but not savaging them any more – only two had superficial bite wounds and those were from earlier in the evening.

The piglets were all in good shape and warm under the heat lamp, so at about midnight we decided to stop stressing everyone and get a few hours sleep. In the past, we’ve had some luck with sows figuring things out without anyone being around. The piglets had already figured out how to escape from the safety pen (by slipping under the lower rail) so we left them to it and headed for the house…

Which is where I will leave this post because if I had a terrible night, tossing and turning and fretting and wondering what I would find in the morning (piles of crumpled bodies? a contented sow suckling her young?) then it seems only right you should suffer the uncertainty along with me for a short time… Fear not, as soon as there’s another break around here I’ll finish the story…

A is for Ack (or Argh, or Ai Ai Ai!!!)

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April 1st arrives along with a challenge: the A to Z Blogging Challenge, to be precise. Along with some 2000+ other bloggers, we’ll be posting 26 posts during the month of April, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet (we get Sundays off). I signed up a while ago thinking that surely thing would have settled down a bit around here by now. Hah! Somehow, life is busier than ever and the thought of 26 posts over the next month is a tad horrifying.

When the To-Do list includes tasks like 'Back the horse trailer up a slippery hill, threading the needle between trees, hog pens, a narrow gate, up and over a stump that should have been ground down a little more than it was..." it's hardly surprising when the truck slithers off the bank and comes to rest perilously close to the side of the barn.

When the To-Do list includes tasks like ‘Back the horse trailer up a slippery hill, threading the needle between trees, hog pens, a narrow gate, up and over a stump that should have been ground down a little more than it was…” it’s hardly surprising when the truck slithers off the bank and comes to rest perilously close to the side of the barn. Looking at this photo I see I need to add “Take empty vegetable boxes to the recycling depot.”

The TO-DO list has developed some kind of multiplying plague – every time I scratch something off (Move Storage Container) six more items appear (finish chicken turn-out pen, change fences in garden to keep ducks/winter weed-control-team out, plant peas, plant potatoes, start more seeds in greenhouse, harden off larger seedlings, sort best breeding turkeys and establish new pen, continue plow training with Brio…).

That said, the DONE list is looking pretty good these days, mostly thanks to my marvelous German visitors. We now have a new farrowing shed, a new portable hog shed (in position in the leased field at Maypenny Farm),  moved the shipping container, made new curtains for the guest room, planted rhubarb, dug drainage ditches, sanded and oiled the downstairs kitchen counters, put another coat of stain on the cupboard doors, cleaned out the brooding house, and moved the latch on the turkey house door. That last item may have been a task needing only three minutes and a single tool but the To-Do list had got so out of hand that it took me six months to get to it!! The greenhouse was scrubbed and polished and trays prepped in good time for the season and the daily general help around the place has been just fantastic.

Huh. I started out thinking this was going to be a doom and gloom post about how my TO-DO list simply could not handle the addition of 26 blog posts this month, but once I started looking at all we have accomplished around here over the past few weeks, maybe I will find a way to manage after all.

(For regular readers: Turkey hen update:  She lives!! The hen who was rescued from the eagle’s talons of death a few days ago is doing just fine – eating, drinking, pooping, and chatting.)

Sometimes, You Add an Impossible Task to the To-Do List

When we rebuilt the house, we had to empty it of all our stuff and ourselves. We stashed ourselves in Kelowna, in a guest suite at a neibour’s place, and in a downtown condo… We stashed our stuff in a couple of neighbours’ barns and in a big steel storage box, a shipping container a truck and crane dropped off on the front lawn.

We still have some stuff to sort through in the shipping container, the ultimate destination and purpose for which has yet to be decided. Suggestions have included renting a helicopter to pick it up and lower it into a narrow slot between some cedar trees and an existing outbuilding. In this plan, the container would be converted into a workshop. Another thought was to have the truck and crane return and haul it down to the farm area where it could become the central core of a new barn. This second plan is practical but lacks the excitement of the helicopter lift… We are also undecided as to where, exactly, it would go down in the farm area.

Meanwhile, it has been squatting like an ungainly beast straddling the remaining front lawn and the area that is supposed to be levelled, landscaped, and used for lovely, convenient parking. As we seem unable to decide exactly what to do with it for the long term, we thought we should at least get at the landscaping project, which meant the shipping container needed to be moved.

I have been mightily impressed with the skills and enthusiasm of my volunteer helpers and thought I’d see what might happen if I put “Move shipping container” on the daily To-Do list. It didn’t need to move too far – 20 feet back and a dozen feet over and only a little bit uphill… Those German guys are strong and determined and I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask…

Turns out that if you add a couple of Germans to a conversation with a handy future son-in-law, borrow a winch, maneuver the truck into a strategic position up on the road, run cables and chains and straps through the hedge, use levers and pulleys, a couple of jacks, and wedge some round logs and fence posts underneath… it is possible for three guys to move a shipping container before they’ve even had a chance to grab a sandwich for lunch!!Jpeg

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Compare the relative location of the container and the bricks with the previous picture to see how far they moved that sucker back! Then they had to pry it sideways before jacking it up and levelling it in its new temporary but at least out of the way position.


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I am afraid I cannot let these gentlemen go home. Not ever. I wish I had more daughters to marry off… I’ve even taken to baking oatmeal chocolate chip cookies hoping they might want to stay just a little longer…

All in a day's work for my MC and SP. Thanks, guys!!

All in a day’s work for my MC and SP. Thanks, guys!!

 

 

 

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!