Tag 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.)

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!

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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

 

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Lambs at Ruckle Park

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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?

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[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.]

 

German-engineered Cookies

Can you spot the German-made cookie?

Can you spot the German-made cookie?

Last night I popped a batch of oatmeal/chocolate chip drop cookies into the oven right as I was racing out the door to do the dusk rounds. I asked the Germans if they might be able to pull the cookies out when they were done. Without hesitation the Germans said they could manage, though they couldn’t guarantee there would be any left by the time I returned.

When I eventually got back to the house an hour or so later, not only had the first batch been removed from the oven and cooled, the rest of the batter had been turned into cookies as well. When I looked at the second batch, though, they looked totally different! No blobby, random-shaped, ‘arty’ cookies were these. Instead, each must have contained an identical amount of dough which had been shaped into the most perfectly round cookies ever to have come out of my oven!

The boys explained that the random blobs created by the scoop and drop method just didn’t look right and they couldn’t imagine how they would shape themselves into cookies. The German-engineered solution resulted in lovely, uniform cookies. Not that any of them lasted very long. Lumpy or lovely, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies disappear pretty fast around here.

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

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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Jpeg

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!!

 

 

 

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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!!)

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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.