As usual, we have not been very good at keeping our blog up-to-date, so apologies to any Penybanc followers. This is a short update going to the very root of what we feel smallholding is all about: Life, Death and Sex (well Reproduction really, but it doesn’t sound as rock n roll….).
Starting with Life. 4 September was an auspicious day as our gilt gave birth to her first litter of eight super cute piglets, thus coming of age and becoming a sow. Barbara (the pig) has always had a lovely temperament, but we were warned by people and literature that, when in labour, she might become aggressive and that she might eat the piglets once they were born. Whether because she is an Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB) or just her particular personality, but she was a delight throughout the whole process. Barbara started showing signs that she might farrow the day before and started making a nest. We gave her rushes and straw, all of which she used. She also decided to add clods of earth and nettles, to make a rather untidy looking nest in her house. At 3a.m. I checked on her and she was still making her nest in an almost trance like state, not seeming to even notice me with my torch until I was right next to her peering into her house. By 8a.m. there were four piglets and we thought she must have finished as she was showing no symptoms of labour and stopped to eat breakfast. After eating she returned to her house and duly popped out another four piglets, while grunting gently and seeming very relaxed that I was in the house with her, catching and drying the piglets as they came out. Unfortunately, the runt did not survive, but the other six gilts and one boar are now strong and very inquisitive. They have already started eating solids and learnt some valuable lessons about electric fencing. There are more photos of the pigs in our GALLERY and a little video of them HERE.
On the chicken front there has been both Life and Death (which actually, thinking about it, was also the case with the piglets). We continued to pursue our ambition to keep Australorp chickens and finally managed to hatch eight chicks out of 36 eggs we incubated in total. Every single one of these had to be helped out of their shells, which is controversial in itself. We were extremely happy, though, as finally we were sure we should get at least a couple of hens. Seven of those chicks survived (one died just a couple of days after hatching) and, after several weeks in a box in the kitchen, went outside into a little run within our main chicken run in July. Sadly, one night the electric fence was not on as the battery ran down in the night and a fox (our first experience of one since being here) got in and killed six of the chicks and left one in a very sorry state. We nursed that one back to health against the odds. We knew he had recovered when he appeared
in our living room and hopped up onto the sofa! We then finally found someone who could sell us more mature Australorp pullets and so bought two. We didn’t think we could have any more bad luck but one of the Australorps, on the second night she was with us, escaped from her enclosure as well as the outer electric fence and all that remained of her in the morning was evidence that there had been a struggle in the orchard. It has all been a bit upsetting and we are in the process of upgrading our chicken housing and fencing before making any more purchases, not least because all the comings and goings of various chickens seems to have upset the pecking order.
On the Sex front, being a smallholding on such a small scale, we can’t justify keeping males of most species. So only the chickens have actual sex and the rest only ever meet a human with a straw of semen! All the action has left the chickens needing saddles to protect them when they are mounted by the cockerel and Barbara
didn’t seem to mind being inexpertly artificially inseminated by us. So next up was our little Jersey Cow, Dimple. We had an experienced technician come and artificially inseminate her with semen from Sparky the Jersey Bull when she was bulling (which we could tell because of her loud and constant lowing). Dimple should have been bulling again yesterday, but as she wasn’t it seems that she may be pregnant. Arrrghhh! That means that in nine months time, there will be a calf and, more importantly, I will have to learn how to milk a cow and do it twice a day every day!!!
On that note, I need to sit down for a cup of tea. But before I go, here are a couple of recent photos of Melinka and Dusk for those of you who are interested. Ta ra!