Tag Archives: farm life

When a Field Becomes a Bog and Eats a Big Truck

We have had a lot of rain here recently. The ground is saturated and at our place, winter springs have appeared in places where we’ve never seen them before. Being on a hill, most of our water runs off and causes standing water problems elsewhere. Over at Maypenny Farm (the destination for the young hogs), the field where we were to drop off the hog shelter looked deceptively field-like but, in fact, was more like a deep bog disguised with a top crust of soil and grass.

The field didn't look so very wet...

The field didn’t look so very wet…

It didn’t take long for things to get sticky… one minute we were inching along…

And the next minute, we were stuck fast!

Sinking fast!

Sinking fast!

We tried backing out… moving forward and over to the right where the ground looked a bit firmer, but no luck. Even in low gear and four wheel drive, there was just a lot of tire spinning and no movement in any direction except deeper.

MC - Considering the options. Going back to Germany was looking pretty good at this point...

MC – Considering the options. Going back to Germany was looking pretty good at this point…

It was pretty obvious we weren’t going to be able to haul the trailer anywhere – the tongue was buried in the mud – so we jacked it up and took it off, thinking that if we could get  the truck out we might be able to drag the trailer backwards from behind…


I called home to see if someone could bring us a couple of sandwiches… They arrived half an hour later just as we were getting the horse trailer pried off the truck hitch.

We scrounged around and found a heap of old bricks, some scrap wood, and piles of brush. We made a crude ‘road’ in front and managed to squirm forward about ten feet before sinking even deeper into even wetter territory.

At this point, the residents of Maypenny had come out to see what was going on and we were a couple of hours into our ordeal… More backing and forthing and digging and hauling of rocks to try to create a more stable ‘road’ for the truck to get a grip on… the end result of which was sinking deeper into the muddy water.

It is at this point in any bog meets truck ordeal that one calls in the friendly neighbour with a tractor.


Because the access to the field was sort of narrow and huge boulders were strategically strewn around to create an obstacle course, our initial thought of trying to pivot the trailer around before pulling it out of the way was thwarted.

IMG_8603The drama intensified as ominous clouds rolled in. Pulling the trailer back by hooking it to the tractor bucket didn’t work too well… so we turned the tractor around, jacked up the front of the trailer a little higher, and wedged a spare tire under the tongue.

IMG_8609This provided a bit of bounce and protection to the trailer jack as we hauled the trailer backwards, dragging it to safety…


Note that four hours or so after arriving in the field, the hog hut is still sitting in the horse trailer!! So much for being ahead of schedule…

With the trailer out of the way, we still had to haul the truck out. Chains, ropes, etc. were stretched from tractor to bumper, more rocks, brush, bricks, boards, etc. were strategically place and slowly but surely, the tractor pulled the truck to high ground.





As you might expect, the truck was completely coated in mud… Unfortunately, because we had the windows open for screaming at each other purposes, the inside of the truck looked just about as bad as the outside!

With truck and trailer on solid ground once again, we re-hitched and tootled down the road to the house end of the property and then stopped traffic while we backed into the driveway and up to the lawn. MC and I crawled into the trailer and shoved the hut out (this part was much easier than we had anticipated) and with all the extra bodies that had shown up for this mud-wrestling spectacle, we slid the hog hut over the lawn and into the new field.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

All that remained to do was to go back to our place and pick up the hogs. If, however, you have ever tried to move a pack of teenaged hogs, you will know this is no quick and easy job. By this point, our daylight had pretty well faded away, so we had to postpone the fence-erection/hog retrieval part of the operation for another day. I’ll spare you the details of all that (suffice it to say that MC and AB were HEROES and somehow we got the job done!!)


Happy hoglets in their new field. They are clearing it out and rototilling this area so Maypenny Farm can expand their market garden growing area.

Hog House Par Excellence

I’m not exactly sure how this has happened, but ever since the international volunteers have started to come I’ve been busier than ever!! What is most excellent about this state of affairs is the number of things that are getting ticked off the To-Do list!!

One of the big jobs that really needed to be done was to finally get the weaners (now growers, soon to be finishers) moved over to Maypenny Farm. I had managed to sort out enough electric fencing, a battery and battery-powered fence charger to make a decent-sized grazing area, but the hogs really needed a good sturdy shelter that could be dragged around from place to place in the field as we moved the pigs from one pasture area to the next.

When MC arrived, it was quickly obvious he was a handy guy. He also fast figured out that my building efforts were not always exactly square and level. Our conversation considering how we might proceed with building a new hog hut went something like this:

Me: So, do you think we could build a small hog house? Sturdy, moveable, weather-resistant… up off the ground…

MC: Sure. No problem. I must warn you, though: I like to make things perfect. [Remember, MC is an engineering student back in Germany.]

Me; [Keep in mind that my farm outbuildings are not exactly perfect – more like rickety, cobbled together structures that defy gravity and windstorms because if you use enough binder twine, zap straps, and duct tape, you can actually make something that’s remarkably difficult to deconstruct.] Do you think I would drive you crazy if we worked together?

MC: [Exceedingly politely] I am happy to work alone.

Poor MC. I don’t think he fully realized that the project would not start with a trip to the lumber yard. Instead, we collected together a pile of shipping pallets and I showed him where the heaps of scrap lumber and tin roofing were stashed (leftovers from the renovation) and gave him the nod. It’s not that easy to build something square and solid and neat when you are starting with experienced raw material that has just spent a winter under inadequate cover.

Undeterred, MC set to work. There was a great deal of banging and the whirring and whizzing of power tools. After a remarkably short amount of time, I discovered THIS in the back yard!!

German engineering on the farm... the new fully portable hog hut.

German engineering on the farm… the new, fully-portable hog hut.

Tuulen checking out the ramp into the new hog hut...

Tuulen checking out the ramp into the new hog hut…

Undercarriage of the new hut... designed to be strong enough to pull behind the truck.

Undercarriage of the new hut… designed to be strong enough to pull behind the truck.

Alas, it has been so wet since the structure got its walls we haven’t been able to paint it, but the building itself is GREAT!! At this point in the process, the hut was behind our house – a distance of about five kms from its intended new home. This meant we had to somehow move it from our farm over to Maypenny.

Turns out if you build something solid enough to withstand being dragged around by the truck and rubbed against by hefty hogs, then its final weight is eighty-seven tons. More or less. Keep in mind our house is on quite a steep hill and the road is above the spot where the hut was built and we had our first challenge – how to move the hut from the building site to the road so we could then attempt to load it… somewhere. Into the back of the truck? (the canopy could come off… twelve burly men or a crane could show up…)

When we realized it wasn’t practical to lift this heavy-duty 87-ton hulking hog hut into the back of the truck we decided to drag it up to the road using a strong rope and my big truck and then somehow get it into the horse trailer.

It’s late and I’m bagged, so you’ll need to stay tuned for how that played out… Let’s just say that there is a very good reason why this blog hasn’t heard much from me over the past week or so… It turns out that moving a German-engineered hog house from A to B is not exactly a five minute job… Nor, for that matter, is convincing five teenaged hog boys that they would be happy leaving home in the pouring rain to be re-settled in a hog hut somewhere over in the next valley…


Apparently, it is quite possible to have a week so busy that there isn’t even enough mental energy left over to post even a teeny tiny blog post. Three completely different presentations in three different municipalities on two days didn’t … Continue reading

NABLOPOMO – We should be doing more of this… mending, that is.

Dad recalls all kinds of slogans from the war and post-war years. "Make Do and Mend" was one of them.

Dad recalls all kinds of slogans from the war and post-war years. “Make Do and Mend” was one of them. [E. colin Williams]

Sometimes I think my life must seem incredibly boring to other people. I don’t actually know anybody else who obsesses quite so much over things like buckets of water! If you are fed up with the subject, move along!

The hog water troughs have long proved to be a challenge – the pigs love to dump them over, climb into them, fill their mouths with dirt and then rinse and spit into them…

The ducks are the only creatures who are perhaps even worse at fouling (fowling?) containers of water. They blow their beaks under water to clear out the mud and sludge they accumulate while sifting through sludge looking for… whatever they are looking for. Anyway, between that delightful habit, their incessant splashing and dunking, and the liberal amounts of poop they deposit while they are busy floating around in places they don’t belong, they make a mess of the hog water quicker than you can say, “[Duck] Bottoms Up!”

With all that in mind, I decided to try a new watering system for the hogs. Inspired by a similar set-up over at my neighbour’s place, I bought a hog nipple and a couple of threaded bits so I could convert a garbage can into a covered watering system.

Dad and I set about installing what appeared to be a pretty simple set-up. We wrapped all the relevant threads in plumber’s tape, drilled a big hole in the side of the plastic garbage can, and then proceeded to fasten all the bits together. We screwed the hog nipple into Part A, put Part A a on the outside of the garbage can and then threaded Part B onto Part A, but inside the garbage can, sandwiching the wall of the can between the two parts. Sounds ludicrously complicated but was actually very simple.

Hog nipple screwed into Part A. If only I'd paid more attention at the farm supply store as to what Part A was actually called... Threaded collar into which a hog nipple is inserted...

Hog nipple screwed into Part A. If only I’d paid more attention at the farm supply store as to what Part A was actually called… Threaded collar into which a hog nipple is inserted… The red ring is the outside cover of the roll of plumber’s tape.

We put some water in the garbage can so it just covered the new hog nipple installation and went and had dinner.

Testing the seal...

Testing the seal…

When we returned to check on the water level, it had dropped to just below the ring. We figured we didn’t have a good enough seal, perhaps due to the ridges on the garbage can, so we dug out our our handy dandy Roof Patch stuff and applied it liberally.

Roof Patch goop - can be applied wet - guaranteed to stop leaks. We also added more plumber's tape for good measure.

Roof Patch goop – can be applied wet – guaranteed to stop leaks. We also added more plumber’s tape for good measure.

Roof Patch goop

We repeated the water test and… noticed that the water level was dropping even more rapidly. Not only that, there was the distinctive sound of water dribbling… A closer inspection revealed that the problem had nothing to do with the nipple installation but everything to do with a nail-sized puncture wound on the back side of the garbage can!

How did we miss this hole the first time around?

How did we miss this hole the first time around?

At this point in the proceedings Dad had a nostalgia attack.

“”What we need here are pot menders.”

This elicited a blank look from me. Pot menders? Who mends pots, anyway? Apparently, during and after WWII, all of England was told to mend their pots by none other than the Queen.This was done using something called pot menders. The following image showed up in my email inbox at 2am that night as Dad thought he was losing his mind and remembering something that never existed.

Photo by ijbison on Flickr

Sure enough, these double washer-type doohickeys were fastened together on either side of the hole in the kettle or pot, fixing the broken item. It occurred to me that these days if my kettle stops working I run out and buy a new one and toss the old one in the trash bin. I don’t think you could buy anything like this any more, except maybe on E-bay and besides, I don’t think plastic would respond well to this treatment.

Needless to say, our supply of pot menders was non existent, so we cast our minds around to see if we could find another solution. Duct tape? Pond liner patches glued to the inside of the can with Roof Patch goop? Some sort of rubbery plug?

In a flash of inspiration Dad thought of roofing screws which are backed with a built-in rubber washer. We found one, slathered it with Roof Patch goop, and screwed it (gently) into the hole.Roofing screw to the rescue!Roofing screw to the rescue!Our improvised version of a pot mender in position. Our improvised version of a pot mender in position.

Ta da! Hog nipple installed!

Ta da! Hog nipple installed!

The final step was to add water and wait. The can sat overnight and we lost nary a drop of water!

The next big hurdle is installing it in the hog paddock in such a way that the hogs can’t tip it over. Stay tuned… because, yes, there is yet more to come on the subject of water containers…

NABLOPOMO – Oh, for more time to…

What do you wish you had more time to do each day? 

Now this is an interesting question, one that threatens to send me off in philosophical directions…

I lead a busy life. Nobody who knows me would ever argue about that. The farm keeps me pretty busy, I write at least one book a year, I work as a freelance publicist, review books, lead workshops, give school presentations, perform as a storyteller, do occasional radio appearances, and, most recently, have started recording audio books.

Sometimes, I just like to go out somewhere. This evening, Dad and I went to the Oak Bay Gallery Walk and stopped in at the Winchester Gallery. Jeff Molloy's exhibition A Simple Life officially opened tonight - I was delighted to see it was rich in agricultural content...

Sometimes, I just like to go out somewhere. This evening, Dad and I went to the Oak Bay Gallery Walk and stopped in at the Winchester Gallery. Jeff Molloy’s exhibition A Simple Life officially opened tonight – I was delighted to see it was rich in agricultural content…

Of course, there are certain tasks that need to be dealt with on a semi-regular basis – feeding the dogs, laundry, putting out the recycling, eating every two hours because I’m always ravenous…so you’d think that after all that there wouldn’t be a lot of time left over for hobbies.

And, you’d be right. Hobbies are exactly what I’d love to have more time for each day.

A number of years ago I made my first quilt. This first effort was entirely hand pieced, quilted, and finished - it is full of mistakes and has a bit of a random feel to it, but I don't think I could have made one that was much farmier... This first effort was entirely hand pieced, quilted, and finished – it is full of mistakes and has a bit of a random feel to it, but I don’t think I could have made one that was much farmier…

What most impresses me about this quilt is that I actually managed to get it finished, right down to adding a title and my initials! This has never happened again...

What most impresses me about this quilt is that I actually managed to get it finished, right down to adding a title and my initials! This has never happened since…

I have stacks of UFOs [unfinished objects] lurking around in various boxes and bins, piles of neatly cut triangles and rectangles and wedges and whatevers all waiting to be assembled into more quilt tops.

And quilts are not my only weakness. I love fiber (remember the cashmere goats?) and would love to knit something again. The last completed project in that genre was a super cute baby hat for my daughter. That would be the same daughter who is getting married next summer (oy!)

Spinning looks pretty cool – I have sheep, those sheep produce fleeces, and I would LOVE to make a pair of socks from start to finish!

And all those books – remember them? Even if I didn’t indulge in any of my other many passions, I could be reading from now until I tumble into my grave and be quite happy.

I enjoy going to plays, musical performances, and the ballet. Long hikes (like days long, requiring hiking boots and a backpack) are awesome! Travel of any kind, really, is something I’d love to do more of, but as you can imagine, getting away is, at the moment, somewhat tricky.

Photography, writing, sailing, baking, going to great restaurants, improving my driving skills [as in horsedrawn cart driving], designing and building my fancy treehouse/cob goat palace/gypsy vardo are all things I would happily do more of if only the days were longer! And dancing – and yoga – and making music – and being in a choir… sigh. Life is, seriously, too short. Because I didn’t even mention the garden, or seed-saving, or starting a co-op farm/farm school, or WOOFING my way around the world, or the fact I have always wanted to learn to weld.

I’ll stop there, not because I am at the end of my list of things I would do with a longer day but because this particular day is coming to an end. I write these blog entries at night after I’ve shoe-horned in as much as possible into my waking hours and at some point, I just have to turn off the lights and roll into bed.

What is strange, though, is that despite the fact there is always more I could be doing in any given day, I am rarely discontented [philosophical musing alert! I knew it would come to this!] I think that’s because whatever it is I happen to be doing – on the farm, in my writing work, or during those rare evenings when I actually do indulge myself and busy myself with a hobby, I am completely involved in whatever it is that’s right in front of me.

If I’m quilting, I’m not thinking about milking the goat. When I’m milking the goat I’m not fretting about getting the fence done around the new garlic bed. When I’m hiking up the hill hauling a cart full of water vessels because all my hoses are frozen, I’m not planning what I’ll write in an email to my editor.

Pond Freezing Over

Life is short, so plunge in with glee even when the water is chilly and you didn’t bring a towel.

Maybe it’s by allowing each moment in the day to be full and complete in itself that somehow it doesn’t bother me that it isn’t humanly possible to get to every item on my list before I croak. Maybe we have exactly the right number of moments each day and the trick is not to want to do more or something else but to enjoy each moment as it comes.

NABLOPOMO – Speed Blogging for Farmers – Sheep v Goats

Today’s NABLOPOMO challenge is to write the whole post in ten minutes.Perfect! I am running behind and only have a few minutes to get this done. So, how about a quick handy dandy guide to how to tell apart the sheep from the goats?

Goats and sheep are similar in many ways – cloven hooves at one end and a noise that sounds a bit like ‘maaaaahhhhh.’ Though, I think goats might be a bit more nasal and whiny than their sheepy cousins. You can milk both creatures, eat both creatures, and, if you have cashmere goats as we do, you can make sweaters from their winter coats, too (though, you use the shorn fleece from the sheep and the carefully combed out and collected under-fluff from the goats).


Goats are more likely to climb over their fences to escape, sheep will get down on their knees and force their way under. Goats are the ones with beards and sheep are the ones with long, floppy tails. On most farms you won’t see those long tails because they are docked when the lambs are very young, but left unaltered, they are so long they nearly reach the ground. Goat tails are short and perky and tend to stand straight up.

At the nose end, the upper lips of goats are divided, whereas sheep lips are one continuous line. Goats tend to be browsers, nibbling on bushes, brambles, and bark (though they will certainly eat grass, too, particularly if there isn’t anything else). Sheep are grazers and will eat away at pasture until they reach bare ground. Rotating them onto fresh pasture before that happens gives the grass a chance to recover and helps reduce parasite loads (more on rotational grazing strategies on a day when I have more than ten minutes).

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats would be the devious ones, pushy and greedy and quite fearless. Sheep tend to be more skittish, bunching together or fleeing wildly when threatened. My dogs, having been slammed into the side of the barn with a nasty head but once or twice after making faces at a goat are terrified of the caprines. The sheep, on the other hand, are terrified of the dogs.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Ding! Ding! Ding! My ten minutes are up!

No time to do the second part of the assignment (how do you feel about writing under such a tight deadline?). I’m breathing too hard and my fingers are quivering too much to type another word!

NABLOPOMO – Charging in for seconds! (and thirds… and fourths)

 A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed…

I don’t know why anyone thinks that calling someone a ‘bird brain’ is an insult. I have a lot of birds around (turkeys, ducks, chickens, and a cute little cockatiel up at the house) and I can tell you they know exactly which end is up.

Hen at Large

The farm birds range from a group of laying hens procured as pullets to fancy light Brahmas I raised here. We have a few spare roosters, a flock of fancy bantams, and some gorgeous Black Orpington hens. Our Muscovy ducks produce some lovely ducklings each year and the Ridley Bronze turkey flock is made up of a mix of those we grow out for holiday table birds and our breeding flock (the Ridley Bronze birds are a Canadian heritage breed that has been teetering on the edge of extinction for a number of years).

Most of the time, the birds do their own thing, roaming around hunting, pecking, posturing, and procreating. They never go far first thing in the morning because that’s when they get their major meal. Then, they scatter, scavenging lost morsels the hogs might have missed, making trouble in the hog water (if they are ducks), and sneaking off to lay eggs if they are chickens.

The turkeys have the worst case of wanderlust of all of them. They make their rounds to various neighbours (thank goodness the neighbours don’t mind too much!) and all over our property, gleefully hopping over fences and leaping from branch to branch in the trees. They know where the best bramble patches are (late, sweet blackberries are a favourite!), the plumpest seed heads on the tall grasses growing along the edges of the fields and ditches by the road, and have memorized every place where I might ever spill a few grains of feed on my rounds.

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed...

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed…

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The ducks are particularly fond of the the manure mountain and pick through the recent deposits in search of red wigglers. The pile is full of worms turning it into rich compost, so the ducks have a field day feasting.

They also do a round of the areas of the vegetable garden I’ve opened up for them – they, along with a few of the chickens, are on weed-pulling and slug-annihilation detail. The ducks are also marvelous for trimming the grass paths between the beds, a task they eagerly look forward to each autumn.

Weed Patrol

No matter how busy they have been or what treats they have managed to find during the day, every free-ranging bird on the place knows when it’s three o’clock: time for seconds (thirds, and fourths)! I will head down the hill to do the afternoon hog feed and be met at the feed room door by a sea of bird beaks and beady eyes.  The turkeys and drakes are the pushiest, literally crashing over the stacks of feed buckets in their haste to beat me to the feed bin when I enter the barn.

Yesterday, a young Tom turkey launched himself into the air at the same moment I opened the lid of the plywood feed bin. A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed and there was much thrashing and indignant complaining (from both of us!) until I could haul the bird out of the bin and send him on his way.

The birds are such a menace, the only way to get them out from under foot is to throw a bit of feed down outside. As I was doing this today it occurred to me the birds have totally won this round of farmer vs livestock (why would I think otherwise? I’m still way behind in the game of ‘Put the Turkeys To Bed’). They have very efficiently trained me to start the hog and horse feeding rounds in the afternoon by tossing bonus grub to the birds!

Afternoon Tea

Doubt my word about bird intelligence? Watch this Ted talk about crows, the way they have adapted to life with humans, and their cool vending machine… Intelligence of Crows

Sigh. I don’t have a hope if my motley flocks start talking to their wild cousins.

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