TFWF#33: where I get interviewed and the pigs learn about electricity

Every week on the farm I have a number of work goals to achieve. Of course daily chores like feeding, pumping the water, testing the fences and checking the health of the pigs, all have to be done, but because we are still setting up the farm I also have a large amount of structural and livestock management projects to attend too.

This week/month the key goal is to wean the piglets, move the Sows from the rooted up land to grassy paddocks and introduce the gilts to the boars. Starting with Paula and Marigold, the Large Black sows who have clearly had enough of their 17 children, I have fenced off another section of the breeding paddock with four strand electric wire fencing and built another farrowing house.

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One of the farrowing huts. Measures 2.4m x 2.4m, has no floor, it fitted with straw and pallet walls (which provide insulation).

Weaning piglets is something that I have not had to do yet so I can only rely on what I have read to find the best way. The Sows (mothers) are being literally drained by the piglets and they need to be moved asap to ensure all the pigs (mother and children) are healthy. The plan is to firstly move the sows into their new paddock and then construct a small pallet feeding ‘room’ that I can feed the piglets in, close the door and lift them into the ute (to transfer them to the grower paddock.) Having set up the paddock for the mothers I then needed to build a new Ark for the piglets in the grower paddock. Followers of my blog from the start will have already seen the Ark’s that I built months ago and by now I am pretty good at building stuff so I set to work.

The first job was to buy wood and having found my favourite timber merchant (Rangitikei Timber) I bought over $1000 worth of wood. Then I bought a mitre saw and with the help of a few half pallets and an old kitchen cupboard I built my first workbench.

With this in place I enlisted Reuben to help me cut the 4.8m lengths of wood in order to construct Ark3 (so named because it is the third Arc I have built). The Ark took about 4 hours, even with some major modification to the build in order to account for the roofing steel being too short (my fault).

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Ark3 – the latest addition to pig town.

Having completed all the works required for the big move all I need to do now is to move the pigs. Given that this is the hardest part of pig farming I managed to convince myself that I was too busy this week and left if for a another week. That said I will be immensely relieved when all the movements are complete.

One of the related issues to the piglets growing up is that they totally destroy the paddock and therefore the ground needs to be rested. Unlike the big ruts that the sows make the piglets just soften the top few cm of soil and in particular they like to dig around the boundary. As they create little waves of soft soil they gradually push it towards the electric fence line and once on the fence it earths and reduces the power of the shock throughout the whole farm. This week I had not got around to walking the perimeter to check for soil on the wire and Thursday afternoon I paid the price for not making sure the electricity was on.

As I went around to feed the pigs I noticed Hugh and Ruth (who live in a paddock that has an outer perimeter fence adjoining the DOC forest) were missing, thinking they would be in their hut I slowly made my way to their paddock, they were not in the hut. Panic took over me as I know that any escape outside the farm puts the animals at risk of being hunted (I live in fear of pig hunters thinking they have hit the jackpot and have since installed cameras and signs around the whole farm), I ran into the paddock and the far fence line.

I really didn’t have to go far because there, just behind an old 7 wire fence line, was Hugh and Ruth looking me straight in the face (with a sheepish look in their eyes). My heart stopped, how on earth did they get there, how would I convince them to come back and how would they get through the fence!

Now, if this was a Stephen King novel or a suspense thriller of some kind then the story is about to get very tense, the reality is a lot less interesting. Ruth spotted the green bucket I was carrying and like a Bambi version of a 100kg pig she launched herself through the fence and bounded towards me, ears flying in the wind. Hugh, a little more aloof, looked at Ruth and realised he was about to miss out on dinner and literally rammed the fence, lifting a section about 5 m long, and bounded over to the bucket.

That night I hastily put up a single strand of electric tape around the fence line and went to bed. The next morning they were still in the paddock and I set off to Feilding farmers market knowing that I would be out in the dark that night making sure that electric tape was working, secure and powerful.

This week I continued my marketing blitz and general climb up the ladder of fame with an at home interview with the Otaki Mail. Vivienne came round to see me and ask the tough questions, actually they weren’t too tough and she was a lovely lady. We chatted for a bit and then I took her for a tour of the farm. After a few cheesy photos of me with the pigs we returned to the house and the interview was over. I hope to be able to share it with you next blog.

This weeks ‘farm school detention’ comes in the form of a very tired piece of driving and all the blame is squarely placed on Fred. Having had a few late night and early morning I realised that I was starting to make a few mistakes. I had accidentally left the water running twice and drained the storage container (which causes a air blockage and silt build up), I was constantly forgetting things on the opposite side of the river and the worst was to come one very chilly morning.

As I was feeding the pigs in the breeder paddock, silhouetted by the snow capped Tararua range, I decided to take a short cut through one of the paddocks. The paddock was resting and so with no pigs in residence the gates were open. I had driven through this gate many times and at 2.44m wide it is a little wider than the car, not a problem for a careful driver. But this morning I was not careful, I was tired and as I took the corner too early I heard a terrible scraping noise as the gate post and the car met. Getting out the car, almost in a stupor, I was relieved to see that rather than the paintwork being destroyed all the way down the side of the car I had actually only just cracked, smashed and pulled off the plastic running board. Maybe not the $1000’s worth of damage I initially thought, but still I reckon Fred owes me a couple of hundred bucks.

And finally, before I go to bed, I would just like to thank all the customers that I met at Feilding and Hill St (Thorndon) last week. I love seeing the regulars and having a chat but I also like meeting new people and talking about what I do and why. Please keep coming, please keep telling me what you think about our products and most of all please say hello, even if you don’t need any delicious bacon, sausages or pork that week. THANK YOU!

Masterton, Maggie and Marriage

Its been almost a month since my last post, so much has been going on that I simply haven’t found the time to sit down and get blogging. The beauty of this is that I have a lot to tell you.

Going back a bit now the Masterton A&P show was on the 15th February and Jeremy from Longbush had invited me to come and view the rare breed pig judging in order to get a better understanding of the different breeds and their characteristics. It’s a two hour drive from Woody’s Farm to Masterton so I set out early to avoid the rush. Of course being New Zealand early on a Saturday morning the rush consisted of two cars and a horse float, not so much of a traffic jam than a pleasant distraction from the wonderful scenery and 100ft drops off the side of the road. Having passed through Masterton I arrived at the Carterton Showground dead on 10am as agreed only to find my reliance on Google Maps had been a little short sighted. I quickly realised I was at the wrong location, turned off the GPS and used my brain to find the Masterton Showground in Masterton. Arriving at the pig display I was very pleasantly surprised to find an excellent environment for the pigs (very different to the Royal Show in Fielding) and an amazing display of the greatest and largest pigs in the country, Large Blacks and Berkshires a plenty were supported by the Duroc, Large White, Landrace, Saddleback and Tamworth breeds. I spent my day slowly get sunburnt as the pigs were raised from their slumber to grace the ring and hopefully be judged best in show.

The day was a great success, I learnt about the judging requirements for each breed met some great people and had a stomach load of hotdogs with lashings of ketchup.

Leaving the show a little early I had another exciting visit on my hands. This time it was to collect our latest addition to the farm. Jeremy had given me the heads up about a 12 week old female Large Black that was available from a friend of theirs in Carterton, she was a registered pure breed and related to the Large Black sows being shown at the show (see above photos), she would make a perfect breeding sow. Clayton and Leanne own Wallowing Heights which, aside from being a stunningly clean and modern pig stud, is a children’s garden and farm park. Both Clayton and Leanna are lovely people and having shown me my new little girl they introduced me to their total breeding herd, a fine collection of good looking, happy pigs and if anyone wants to see a good range of different types of pigs I can highly recommend a trip to Wallowing Heights. We then had a good look at all the other animals, giant bunnies, miniature ponies and real life dragons before loading Maggie into the stock crate on the back of the ute. Maggie was quiet for the two hour journey back to the farm and was clearly very happy to get back onto dry land.

Maggie arrives on the farm, check out that long back.

Maggie arrives on the farm, check out that long back.

I introduced Maggie to Delia and watched as they got acquainted. I thought that Delia might bully Maggie, being a few weeks older and quite a bit larger. Initially Delia put Maggie in her place but by the next morning Maggie was starting to show her true colours and by the end of the week Delia looked like she had become the little sister in the relationship. A few weeks on and they are a delight to watch together as they skip around the paddock, bathe in the wallow and generally act like little lambs.

A week after Maggie arrived the pigs had to take a step back in priority as the farm was transformed into a sparkling venue for Claire and my wedding. We had been planning this for months and the moment we bought the farm we knew that the reception had to be in our back yard. The last few days before the wedding were a manic rush of preparation, decoration and organisation (some of which I forgot to do, but that another story.) Claire has already written a wonderful blog here about the day so I am going to leave you with a picture of my beautiful wife and a very happy, and quite dapper, farmer. See you next time..

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The Three Amigoats!

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Today the farm gained another goat, partially to replace the goat we tragically lost a few weeks ago but also to help out some friends who, like us, had recently lost a goat leaving their remaining goat all alone and lonely.

Emily, a Boer Goat, came from down the road in Peka Peka so her journey was short and sweet. Upon arrival she was keen to get out the pig crate that had been the source of her confinement for 30 mins and meet the others. I had earlier rebuilt their pallet house and the two boys were hanging out at their new pad. The sound of Emily bleating happily after getting out the car had the boys running and within seconds a happy, goat like, nuzzle and head butting session had begun.

The boys first meeting with Emily.

The boys first meeting with Emily.

For the initial meeting I kept Emily on a lead just in case the boys were not yet ready to share their home with a girl and a fight broke out. All went well and it wasn’t long before Emily was carefully placing pink cushions on the floor of the pallet house and complaining about the toilet seat.

The boys watch as Emily rearranges the furniture and lights a scented candle.

The boys watch as Emily rearranges the furniture and lights a scented candle.

Its now been a few days since Emily moved in and the three are getting on like a house on fire. The boys have shown Emily around the 10+ acres that they have access to and every morning we see them wandering up the farm track from the river, meanwhile Emily has been a calming influence on the boys and they now seem more eager for scratches and petting.

I am sure I know what you are thinking whilst reading this and the reality is that we are not sure of the ages of any of our goats so the possibility of baby goats in the not to0 distant future is a complete unknown. I for one have always wanted to farm goats so maybe, one day, the offspring of Emily and Charlie (or Michael) will be gracing the pages of this blog.

Woody’s Farm gets a great ‘Delia!’

Two days ago our latest addition to the farm arrived. Having travelled by livestock haulier just over 1000km from Gore in the far South she arrived in Levin. The hand over was unceremoniously carried out on the side of state highway 1 and consisted of me carrying her from the back of a truck full of cattle to my hand made stock crate in the back of the Colorado. A short car trip followed back to the farm and one more quick journey in my arms and Delia was home.

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Delia is the second of our Berkshires and is destined to be a mate to Hugh when she is old enough. At just three months old she is at least 3 months away from being capable of breeding, and for that matter dealing with the bundle of energetic muscle that is Hugh.

Delia is currently in the transit paddock (RP3TA), she will spend a week or so there while I keep and eye on her, check for ticks or any other issues and then, when she has full regained her strength from the journey, I will let her join the Large Black girls in the larger paddock. Delia is a little bit smaller than the others but is energetic, in very good condition, and I suspect can look after herself.

Her final home will be in the big paddock (ASP01) along with the other sows and it is here that the breeding herd will be established. Delia, like Hugh, is rarebreed registered with the New Zealand Pig Breeders Association and as such their offspring will be registerable and they in turn will continue to help keep the rarebreed Berkshire Pig a little less rare. By doing this we are not only making great pork, bacon, ham and sausages but we are also keeping alive one of the oldest breeds of pigs, one that only recently was on the brink of extinction.

When Free Range become free reign

Its been busy on the farm with setting up the breeding paddock, houses, water and electric fencing. Just a few days ago I managed to finalise the gravity fed water pipes to the main paddock and we are ready for breeding stock to arrive. And here is where the problem lies.

Buying pigs is not difficult, TradeMe (the ebay of New Zealand) has hundreds of them available, but to get the right breeds and bloodlines is very difficult. So I was very pleased last week to see an advert for a purebred Berkshire Sow in pig to a purebred Berkshire Boar for just $350, I made the call immediately and a little over a week later I had borrowed a trailer off Kapiti Free Range, enlisted Reuben and set off on the 3 hour journey to the Hawkes Bay to pick up the start of my breeding herd. The advert stated the pig was between 12 and 18 months old (they had some cross breeds for sale at the same time) and a little research showed the sellers were registered with the Pig Breeders NZ association, I was excited and eager to get her in the back of the trailer.

Unfortunately the reality of pig farming is not always the free range dream that we see in pictures, on packaging and even on the websites of reputable companies. Upon arrival at the host farm we were confronted by a yard of dogs, farm equipment and the stench of poor animal husbandry but no farmer. After a few calls and emails I eventually got a call to say that he was off site but could come back in a few minutes. Having spent half an hour on site Reuben and I had made a few observations which were not making me want to buy any pigs:

– The Berkshire sow was laying in a makeshift hut and looked older than her 3 years old than the owner had now decided to tell me she was. She was undernourished, had no water was being kept in a very dirty enclosure and was having to share the space with an ill boar.

– The images on the Trade me advert were clearly of the batch of pigs in the second paddock (who were closer to the 1 year mark), these pigs however had no water, were very dirty and a Berkshire Sow was bleeding from an incorrectly fitted nose ring.

– There was a very ill looking boar laying on the floor with an open wound on its back legs and a displaced hip, the wound had been open long enough for maggots to form. In addition to this the boar was malnourished and its skeletal structure clearly visible.

I quickly told the man on the phone that I was not interested and that we would leave the farm, he said nothing and I hung up. We left almost immediately, right after I took a few photos (the worst of which I have not included in this post).

The pictures above show the farm we visited on the left and my farm on the right, my pigs have about two acres to wander, lots of grass and water, his have about 10 square meters of space, no water and did not look happy. So there is most definitely a difference between true free range and many peoples understanding of what free range is. I would ask that you don’t just buy meat based on marketing, you buy it based on evidence. Ask for pictures, ask for a farm tour and always insist on happy pigs.

I want to leave you with a little video that I like and thought I would share it with you. Progress comes at a cost and sometimes you need to go back to the start if you value the true cost of your food:

The stork has arrived!

At long last Claire and I have officially become pig farmers. On Wednesday 11th December Gill and her husband turned up at the farm with nine little weaners loaded into the back of their flatbed ute. Having very carefully structured the entrance to the ‘transit’ paddock so there was no way out we backed up the vehicle and one by one extracted the pigs from their overnight home in the cage on the back ute. Grabbing a rear leg with one hand and scooping them up under the belly with the other hand seemed to be the most efficient method but taught me three lessons,

  1. Even at 3 months old and about 15-20kg they have a really powerful kick
  2. They squeal when being picked up, they squeal a lot and very loud and very high pitched.
  3. They tend to urinate under stress and their urine stinks, so much so that I couldn’t stand the smell of my own clothes afterwards and went straight home to wash (it is possible that this was a boar scent and not urine but I am not sure and either way, it stank).

So after all the waiting and excitement and stress and reading books and watching videos the pigs have arrived, been settled and are happily grazing.

Pigs like grass, they have chewing the grass like crazy since arriving. It also doubles as a play area and bed.

Pigs like grass, they have chewing the grass like crazy since arriving. It also doubles as a play area and bed.

The pigs 'tucker' is a multifeed from Sharpes, basically a nut shaped pellet made of grains, legumes and supplements. I feed them on a home made 'feed station' made from two pallets.

The pigs ‘tucker’ is a multifeed from Sharpes, basically a nut shaped pellet made of grains, legumes and supplements. I feed them on a home made ‘feed station’ made from two pallets.

Me inspecting the herd on day one.

Me inspecting the herd on day one.

Ah, a wallow. I was told that if I made a small hole and filled it with water the pigs would do the rest and create a lovely big wallow.

Ah, a wallow. I was told that if I made a small hole and filled it with water the pigs would do the rest and create a lovely big wallow, seems to be working.

These pigs, like many in New Zealand (and probably elsewhere) have been fed on out of date bread from the local Tip Top bakery, bread is a good bulk food but not good for taste or health so my first goal was to get them eating properly. I was a little worried that a change in diet might be a shock to the digestive system for them but I needn’t worry as the first thing they did was tuck into the grass and the weeds, making a serious difference in just a matter of hours. Grass is an excellent free feed for the pigs but as they are omnivorous it cannot be their only meal so I have been feeding them a pellet looking food supplement designed to get them bulked up. Initially the feed was welcomed with relish but I have noticed that whilst seeming to enjoy the food the feeding has slowed, in true business man style I have started to keep a spreadsheet and maybe one day, if you are lucky, I might share it with you.

So far so good, the pigs are happy and well fed and watered, I will be keeping a close eye on them day and night because the best way to learn is to watch, and I also suspect they are hatching a cunning escape plan through the electric fence and onto freedom. They will stay in the small transit paddock for a week and then I will move them into the larger foraging paddock next door where we will get to see if the famous Pig Ark stands up to the job.

As a final note, I am well aware that most of you reading this are only doing so in the hope that one day I will post a cute picture of little piggies, well here it is, but remember that one day you may well be enjoying these little fellers in a totally different way, yum!

Buster and Little Red. Claire has already given these two names however this is not an issue because we really don't know which of the nine they actually are so all the Blacks are called Buster and the red are Little Red.

Buster and Little Red. Claire has already given these two names however this is not an issue because we really don’t know which of the nine they actually are so all the Blacks are called Buster and the red are Little Red.

All pigs are equal…but they are NOT like cattle or sheep!

At the advice of Jeremy from Longbush Pork I attended my very first NZ A&P show. I was quite pleased because my first A&P show was the ROYAL show in Fielding, surely if it had been given the grand name of ROYAL SHOW it was going to be good. I had recollections of the grand East Of England Show that I used to attend with my parents in Peterborough (UK) many years ago, with its massive tractors, trucks, shows, candyfloss and many other events slightly related to agriculture.

I arrived on the first day of the show and it was most definitely not in full swing. Amongst the crowds of stewards were a few visitors hiding away in the tents where an Italian gentleman was showing his new range of cookware and New Zealand’s most famous Port was attracting, literally, crowds of absolutely no one. I circled the show looking for two things, the pigs that I had come for and some food that I had come to need. Food came in the guise of a packet of chips and a bottle of pepsi, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat another of those hot dogs on a stick. The pigs were elusive, studying a map I could see where they were supposed to be but all I could find were horses and cattle and a few storage buildings. I circled three times before choosing to wander into one of the storage buildings and sure enough, looking very sad, was the greatest and largest of New Zealands pigs just waiting for….anything to happen.

Dont get me wrong its not just a New Zealand thing that pigs are treated like, well, pigs but its always a real disappointment to me that an animal we know has the same intelligence of a three year old child doesn’t get the same treatment, recognition or even humanity that we give to cows and horses. While the horses pranced around inside the dry main arena and the cows enjoyed their own marquee tents the pigs laid on concrete, with no water or feed, in an outbuilding being looked after by a teenager barely capable of lifting a bucket to put water into the empty pigs water troughs (after being ordered to by a passing stranger). Are we ashamed of pigs?

So after driving for a hour to Fielding the Royal show was not the pig buying ground that I had expected, in fact it was not even a place that pigs should be if they are going to be treated like that. No wonder that pig farmers are looked upon with derision and kids don’t know that bacon comes from a pig, pigs are like the child of the 19th century – neither seen nor heard.  In fairness I should say that it was only the first day and if I give them the benefit of the doubt probably the worst day for me to visit (lets hope they had water every other day). The few pigs that were in situ were a good selection of breeds so I took some photos:

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It appears that many do not share my view but I think pigs are beautiful, all of the above breeds are special and should be treated as such. I would like to think that perhaps in some small way I can get New Zealands to start to respect the pig and enjoy them more in both life and death. Perhaps even bring the sexy back to pigs that the horses and cattle still enjoy at the A&P shows around the country. Pigs are not dirty, they are not to be ashamed off, they are to be treated with respect and eaten with relish…