TFWF#34: where we taste fame and suffer famine

Its been a very exciting and full month and we just have to start this post with proof that we are, at last, famous. Following on the heels of my successful little chat on the Radio Live Home and Garden show (at 6:20am) we were on a PR high and the requests for interviews literally came flooding in… from at least one newspaper, the Otaki Mail. I talked about the interview in the last post and one morning, at the beginning of the month, my mate Doug (the Landrover genius) emailed me with a photo:

Otaki

My fifteen minutes of local Otaki fame

It you fancy a ‘right good read’ then check out the whole article by clicking on THIS. And I promise you there is more to come as we spread the word of ethical eating.

The winter has really taken its toll over the last month and the pigs are doing what anyone would do, using all their energy to keep warm. The upshot of this is that the growers (the pigs we turn into tasty product) are not getting big enough to take to the market. We try to take pigs to the abattoir at about 60kg, at this size the fat is just about right and the economies work well, the last three were just 50kg each and at the following farmers market we sold out of everything except two lots of sausages and bacon (which I had purposely stocked up on). All of this meant that I had to take the difficult decision to skip a market weekend and give the pigs time to grow bigger. Whilst I hate to let customers down I really had no option and on the flip side it did mean that I got to spend a bit longer with little Fred (who is now ticking on 9 weeks old) and I have been able to do a great deal of planning and farming.

Its been busy on the farm with another pig arc being built, two new paddocks being fenced and a new style of trough being created. You may remember when I first started farming I was keen on trying to build everything out of pallets, the chicken houses, the breeder huts and the feeding platforms. Some worked better than others and whilst the breeder huts have been and all out success, with Reuben and I now able to knock one up in 53 mins, the feeding platforms have not managed well in the mud and constant rain/damp of winter. I realised that in the excitement of being fed the pigs were actually losing quite a lot of food into the mud, it was time for feeding plan B and I already had the perfect solution on the farm, plastic barrels.

As you can see another very simple solution made easy with the help of an old farming book that Reuben lent to me. The open top drums are cut in half with a jigsaw, then bolted together and screwed onto some chunky wooden off cuts (to stop them from rolling around). The key quality is that they waste less food on the ground and can retain the moisture of wet feed, like brewers grain. They are not perfect yet as some of the bigger pigs have already managed to break the wooden feet off but they are far better and more efficient that the wooden version.

This month we also had our first visit from the vet (other than our annual check). Arriving onto the breeding paddock one day it was soon clear something was amiss. The sound of the car signifies food and normally all the pigs come running, this time was different. Lying on the ground in the paddock was Paula, as I drove towards her there was no movement and my heart dropped. The health of my animals is paramount to my whole reason for the farm and it is always a horrible feeling to think that one of my animals might have died on my watch. As I got closer there was no movement until almost upon her she looked up with sad eyes and stared at me from under her long, floppy ears…whew. Paula stood and was able to move but she was hobbling terribly and something was dreadfully wrong, I called the vet. The vet was great, she got to the farm within a few hours and after a good examination she noticed a big scratch across her back which was supported by a large bruise (barely visible on a black pig). She administered a pain-killer and we slowly walked Paula back into her hut.

Paula shortly after farrowing in May

Paula shortly after farrowing in May, looking a lot fatter than she does now.

Paula came good after a few days and in the meantime she got breakfast and dinner brought to her in bed. It’s a mystery what happened to her as there is nothing in the paddock to fall off or bang into. My only thought is that now her and Marigold have been weaned they are starting to go on ‘heat’ and Marigold was having her first heat after weaning. I think that she may have mounted Paula (yes it does happen) and hurt her in the process. As Paula is the dominant female I am sure she will get her own back.

I will leave you this time with a final tale about weaning the Large Black piglets. Reuben and I made our little capture hut out of pallets and plywood and fed them in the hut for a few days. By the time we were ready to transfer them they were happy to walk in the hut but as it was only big enough to get 5 or 6 at a time we had to keep opening and closing it with the piglets slowly becoming reluctant as they realised that their mates were going in but not coming out. After a good amount of squealing, panting and sweating (mostly from me) we managed to pick up the 17 piglets and transfer them from the breeding paddock down to the grower paddock. With the job done I took the following photo, they seemed happy with their new digs, I however ached all over and needed my bed.

The Large Black piglets, now 10 weeks old, are moved into the grower paddock with their fancy new Pig Ark.

The Large Black piglets, now 10 weeks old, are moved into the grower paddock with their fancy new Pig Ark.