Brahmas and chicks, oh my

There they are!  The four beautiful new hens!

They´re installed in the Silkie coop, which although it´s made for much smaller tenants, is very roomy right now, since the Silkies made a mass migration into the other coop with the big girls.

Oh, hello!

They´re so relaxed, laid back.  They came strolling out, carefully but unconcerned.

They seemed quite pleased with the grass.

So beautiful.

They´re huge!  Big, cushy birds, like if a couch was a chicken.  We carried them over from the driveway in the evening, one under each arm.  HW´s nodded off on the walk.  We put them in the coop with the two remaining Silkie roosters, who must have been pleased.

In the greenhouse, the chicks are rocking the chickery with their stepmom.

They´re just too cute, with little white bibs and butts.

Trying to crawl under for a warming.

I offended her, obviously.  That´s the angry mom face.  And stance.

One egg didn´t hatch. Two out of three ain´t bad.

HW hasn´t stopped laughing at how big they are, compared to “Mom”.  They can stand up while wrapped in a wing, and pop up to eye level with her.  They´re not going to fit under her for very long.

 

A little nap.

Surprise! Additions to the family

I came home from work to find two new little black chicks bouncing around the box with (step-)Mom!  They´re already done?  Time flies!

I came back later with a camera and it was a different story.  Nothing to see here.  The chicks were stowed.  She has one more egg too.

Mom´s looking good.  She´s had time to regrow her feathers during her confinement.

I had to coax and poke and weather firm chicken growling to get a peek at a chick.  Oh!  There´s a little head.

There´s one!

They are as big and as lively as a week-old Silkie chick (these are Ameracaunas- they´re going to grow up to have cheeks!)

Time to break out the chickery:)

Also this evening I unexpectedly took receipt of four gorgeous Brahma hens.  They are large, and serene, and sweet!  So lovely.  They were taken directly to bed, and we´ll get to see them tomorrow:)

 

 

Spring

Gosh, it´s been too long – I´ve been so busy!  It´s garden and greenhouse time – very busy.  Everyone is well, the piglets are no longer -lets, just pigs, the bees are busy, the hens are entertaining and entertained.  I have lots to share…but for now, a glimpse:

The bunnies are grazing in the field alongside the hens and robins.  They are almost all brown- some have tufts of white fur that haven´t fallen out yet, making them distinguishable.  There´s always a rabbit around with a frond of greenery hanging out of its mouth.  Low-speed chases happen – I suspect they are mating chases.

 

Sometimes I accidentally count the bunnies in with the guinea fowl.

The guineas stick closer to home than I initially expected.

They can really get into a good dust bath too.

The dust bath is the most popular activity of the season, now that there are warm sunny days to laze around in and  wile away the hours sticking a leg out awkwardly…

This is the guinea spot in the woods, right by our path.  I suspect she´s laying her eggs here.  Can you see all three?

This is the hen who thinks she´s a Silkie, always hangin´ with the fluffballs.

The Silkie tribe is becoming adventuresome (safety in numbers?), and every day venture a little farther into the woods to skritch in the leaves, or come a few feet farther down the path to the house.

Led by their intrepid leader, the Colonel:

The bees are full team ahead hauling in pollen. (I meant “steam”, but that makes more sense)

Returning a soggy bee to the hive, incoming bees use my hand for a landing strip.

Finally finished the Guinea house

There can no longer be more procrastinating;  the guinea house has to be moved out of the greenhouse, so I have to finish it.  It needs a roof.

The guineas have been faithfully roosting on top of it since I built it, and I gave up completely on plan A of training the birds to go in at night.  For them, there is no in, only the highest possible perching point.

Well, that´s over now.  I put a roof on it.  I made an extra door perch, so they hopefully they will learn to creep into the house from the perch.

I had some help from carpenter chicken:

I´m totally helping.  Can I poop on this for you?

Can´t put things down for a second.

Then, dusk fell, and the guineas came home to find that their house had been reno´d while they were gone.  Extreme Makeover:  Guinea Coop.

 

 

They went straight to the top; sat on the roof.

I hope they decide a roof is a pretty great idea once they are outside, and it rains.

Volunteer Sunflowers

In the vicinity of the bird feeder, there are a couple of sunflowers sprouting!

I wondered.

Out of all the pounds of black oil birdseed, a couple seeds escaped consumption, and found fertile ground.

I wonder if they have a chance to make it to maturity?  I´ve had a hard time growing sunnies on purpose, because they are very tasty when young!  To many consumers.

This one has been sampled:

Birdhouse: occupied

HW found one of the half dozen birdhouses I put up last spring on the ground.  Its mounting stick had broken off.

Surprise!  It had been occupied!  The hole was customized too.  I was pleasantly surprised and gratified – I saw NO sign of any of the birdhouses I put up being used, ever, but clearly, I was wrong.  Cool!

We have lots of snags and I know of dozens of holes in trees, many known to have hosted bird families, around here, so I thought my birdhouses weren’t terribly necessary, with all the options at hand (or wing).

Now I´m going to have to make the round of birdhouses and check them all, see if they need cleaning.  I kind of mounted them in trees at random.

Of course, I see some fibers in there that are familiar.  There´s some polyester stuffing (cozy!) out of one of the dog´s blankets – a duvet that he opened up, and some of my string line that a mouse chewed.

The nest and the inside are pretty worse for wear, wet and gunky.  Perhaps the house was lying on the ground for some time.  The wood is soggy, but still smells like cedar, and I think will dry out fine for a respectable re-use.

There was a vacated chrysalis of unusual size attached to the roof of the house (inside).  What the heck came out of that?

First boxed hen

I´ve put the first broody hen of the year to box.  She´s been determined to brood for a couple weeks, daily protesting the removal of her clutch.  I´ve relented, and put her on three pretty blue eggs (Ameracaunas).  I hope she can do it;  she´ll be the first of my Silkies to sit on a clutch of alien eggs.  If it works, it will be an ugly duckling situation.  My last attempt at egg swapping was rejected – they rolled the big eggs out and down the ramp.

She´s not a very good-looking hen; in fact, she´s an unusually ugly little lady, but she´s feisty and single-minded, keeps her eggs tidy (not allowing them to spill out),  and has been steadfastly resisting my attempts to break her up, so she might turn out be a great mother.

Latest smart pig trick

I forgot to keep an eye on the pigs´water, and they got thirsty.

So, they pushed their water dish across their lot to the fence where I throw their food.  Hey!  We need a refill!  Not only that, but they put one of their dog bowls into the water dish.  Fill this up while you’re at it, would you?

You see the problem here?

So intelligent!  I don´t have to worry about them needing anything.  They´ll let me know.  They are plenty capable of communicating.  I can always tell when they’re due for a meal by the sound, and the sensation of eyes watching me.

They dug a hole (really it was A.P. that dug the hole).  An ambitious endeavour, and it successfully formed a wallow, all on her own.  She dug down to reach water, and then widened it out.  The pink pigs never took initiative like that.  They were content to flip over their water bowl, but it would promptly absorb and disappear.

 

Invasion of the fluffballs

This is supposed to be the layer coop.

There´s been a full scale cooporate takeover.  The Colonel has moved in, and brought his ladies with him.

There´s been a couple Silkie hens that decisively moved in with the big girls weeks ago, but HW noticed the Colonel exiting the layer coop in the morning, and told me he suspected a relocation.

I think, because of the rain the last few days, that the Silkies couldn´t be bothered to walk the 40 feet back to their own coop, and just went up the proximate ramp.

The flocks hang out surprisingly intimately all day, piled up in the same dirt bowls, eating together, laying eggs in each other´s coops, and when it rains, huddled shoulder to shoulder under the nearest coop with their shoulders hunched up (the guineas too).  I LOVE this!  I´m so happy they get along.

I´m over the moon that since the integration of the flocks this winter and their coexistence in the greenhouse, that I can retire the tiresome, rickety Silkie un-“tractor”, and all the birds are fully free again.  What they do with their freedom is sometimes unexpected, and usually entertaining.

That´s the Colonel in the foreground. White.

 

 

 

Sometimes a name alights on a being like a hawk landing on a fencepost.  Here to stay.  The rooster formerly known as Snowball (we do our best, until their real name arrives), is now irrevocably, unquestionably, the Colonel.

The Colonel is the Big Boss of All the Chickens around here, ruthlessly laying down the law and keeping Jacques in line (that´s the big Copper Maran rooster at the back of the coop), despite Jacques being about 5 times his size. This was very unexpected.

Any human visitors think it´s absolutely hilarious when I point out the big boss.  They point;  that guy? The pint sized pompom?  That big rooster is scared of HIM?  No way! Then they are usually treated to an exhibition – the Colonel marching authoritatively towards the giant, showy rooster who dared to come too close, and Jacques the Giant hastily looking for somewhere else to be.

Jacques gets no respect.  The Colonel keeps him looking over his shoulder.  HW calls him a punk.  He´s still growing into his leadership role, I think.  He´s pretty good with his hens, unselfish and a food announcer; they like him, but he can´t count, and doesn´t organize them very well;  they scatter, and scattering is not good for chicken longevity.  Also, he attacks me daily.  I whack him with sticks and throw water on him; he has a short memory.  The Colonel doesn´t hesitate to rescue me, which is nice, but feels like the wrong order of things.

The Colonel keeps track of eleven Silkie hens, and they typically flow in a big group without stragglers (It´s awesome to observe chickens in as free a state as possible- they have a culture, and it evolves; they are in charge, and I serve them, with shelter, food, and evening security lockup).  The Colonel has one young protege, a blond rooster that rolls with the big flock, but there are four more roosters that are exiles and just huddle at a distance.  These poor roosters are due for rehoming – they´re on Kijiji.  They´re quite gorgeous, and they´ll make great rooster-leaders if they get a chance.

Deluge

It seems here in Nova Scotia we’re getting a piece of the rainstorm that has been creeping up the Eastern coast and is currently flooding Ontario and Quebec, and New Brunswick.

After a mostly just drizzly day, the rain is hammering down now, and the wind is gusting. The ground is too saturated to absorb any more water, and all my water collection vessels are full to the brim.

The hens spent the day ducking into the greenhouse when it squalled (I´m so loth to evict them, although it´s about time to plant the second half); the pigs spent much of the day in bed, staying dry.

Hugh rode a 200km brevet today; a soggy ride.

What really matters to me when the house is hammered by wind and rain is knowing that all my animals are as dry and cozy as we are in the little house. The hens are hunkered in tight, tested coops; the pigs are on a pallet piled with hay, above the rising puddles in their house; the bees were flying today, their hive is lashed down and they have a jar of syrup; and the guineas are high and dry (literally) on their tall coop, still in the greenhouse.

Let it rain!

Growing piglets and oinker games

The oinkers are growing!  They still have long legs, and act like dogs in ways. They stretch first thing out of bed, they jump around when they’re excited, and they love to run.

Seeing how much they love to run makes me sad about all the pigs that are confined in quarters barely large enough for them to turn around, where their only function is to eat and grow fat.  Clearly lethargy is not their natural state.

They love a good sprint.  They celebrate the coming of food by an exuberant oinking lap around their enclosure, usually with a figure eight through and around their house.  They’re very athletic pigs.

HW loves the pigs (he doesn’t seem to have any conflict with adoring them and having to kill them later).  He’s disappointed when he comes home from work and I’ve already fed them (so I tend to wait).  Either way, he visits them while he’s still in his work clothes, and then he comes in saying something like “Those oinkers are funny!  I was sitting in their house with them and…”

You were what?

He’s been actively trying to tame them.  We can do anything to them while they’re eating;  Spots tolerates HW petting her at other times, but A.P. won’t stand for it.  He also snorts at them, although I’ve told him he’s probably saying something insulting in their language.  They love it though, they immediately get louder and oink back when HW comes down the trail, snorting.  He’s kind of good at it.

Yesterday his story was:  “I was out there chasing those oinkers around… ” (You were what?!) “They love it!  They know that it´s play, because as soon as I stop, they run up to me.  But they LOVE to run.  Then when I left I looked back and one pig was flopped out on the ground, legs out – no, not in their house, just in the mud – then she got up, walked in a circle, and flopped down again – she was all tuckered out!”

So HW plays games with the pigs too.  I haven’t even witnessed him sitting in their house or playing chase, let alone when I had a camera.  But I can hope.

The introduction of two bowls (recycling the dog bowls):

 

It worked perfectly, exactly like I expected.

Oh, you’ve got something good over there?  I wants it.

One pig gets jealous and pushes the other off her bowl.

Displaced pig coolly walks around to the vacant bowl.

Repeat.

Repeat.  Repeat.

Both are eating constantly, but quite sure the other bowl is better.

Peak Seedlings

My garden starts are taking over our tiny house.  A few have gone out, but more are still inside, and have just been potted up.  This is the maximum volume of starts in the house – peak seedlings.   The bulk of them are due now to go out to the greenhouse, and then the starts will steadily be on their way out the door.

This is just the downstairs windowsills

Some of the fastest-growing tomato varieties have grown legs in just a couple days (you know who you are, Ropreco).  It seems I just can´t avoid getting leggy tomatoes, unless I adjust seeding dates by variety – not sure I´m that dedicated.

I can now announce the newspaper pots a success.  They hold up just fine. I´m totally going to do this every year.  However, it´s the slightly stiffer (or more impregnated with coloured printing ink)  advertising paper that comes in the middle of the paper that works best- I made a couple with normal newspaper and they sort of melted.

Future pasture

Our neighbour surprised me by showing up in his tractor to till some of our pasture.

Our “pasture” is more a memory of a field.  Abandoned for a decade, there´s very little actual grass left in the former field.  It´s choked with goldenrod, berry canes, scrubby bushes I don´t know, and the local invading species scourge – glossy leaf buckthorn.  Plus the incursion of poplars from the edges.  If we hadn’t cut down 100’s of seedlings the last few years, the former field would be entirely closed.

As it is, we have about one third of the total former field cleared. The other two thirds are worse off.  Two summers ago, we moved the pigs around on this part, they dutifully rooted, and I followed with seed.  I got some clover established but that was about all.  So, our neighbor came and tilled for us.  He says that he will till once more to smooth it out some, I´ll seed, and then we´ll see how much of the “unwanted”s grow back from the roots.

 It always amazes me how much work can be accomplished with petroleum energy.  Massive change to the surface of the earth in a matter of hours. Now, the field is transformed.  For one thing, the view across it is uninterrupted by a bunch of twigs growing.  I look forward to the green mist of germination over it.

Eventually, we’ll get this pasture back to graze-able.

Guineas getting along

I thought this hen was about to expire.  She spent a couple days hunched up in the greenhouse (no neck), with her eyes half closed.     When hens get like that they aren´t feeling well.  Sometimes they pull through it, sometimes they die.  This hen is very old.  She could be six or seven years old.  She retired from doing eggs some time ago.  But it seems she´s pulling through, and has decided to camp at a higher altitude today.  Her neck is getting longer too.

I haven´t planted anything out in the GH yet, so the doors are open for the various fowl to come and go.  Mostly they don´t go in there unless it rains; they are reveling in playing outside and have had enough of the greenhouse.

A guinea update – on the first night of freedom the new pair came back to the greenhouse!  The second night, they were all up on the guinea house together- adorable!  They don´t spend the day together – they travel in two separate packs all day, but they´re cool.  They know where they live.  The three-pack has a favorite spot by the trail, where the hen nestles down into the leaves under a little tree.  I think she´s laying eggs, but not yet broody.  She didn´t pick a very secret spot.

 

 

The ticks came marching two by two

There are at least nine ticks in this picture.

I was out in the garden half the day, putting in some starts.  I go back to my pots of broccoli, and I find a mass of competing ticks playing king of the mountain on the popsicle stick (gross!).

Ticks climb up things, and then wait at the very tip of a branch or stick, reaching out their little legs like they want a hug, waiting for a mammal to walk by, and then they will drop  or grab as you go by.   The two on the right hand pot are in position.

Here, the popsicle stick must have been the highest point, so hot property.  They also like to sit in wait on the rim of buckets.  While I was taking the picture, and thinking how long is it going to take me to kill all these ticks?  a couple dropped and set off at a clip straight towards me.  They must have a great sense of smell.

We have lots of ticks.  Stand still anywhere, watch the ground, and you can find a  tick walking toward you.  This is not a fun feeling.

And where there are real ticks, there are phantom ticks.  There´s nothing like the first tick bite of the year to start up that feeling of ticks crawling all over you, all the time, even if it´s actually your hair or the tag in your shirt.  Less than ten percent of the time, it is a real tick, but ´tis the season to be on edge.

I need several platoons of guineas out here to mop them up.  Speaking of which, they all seem to be getting along.  This morning when I opened the greenhouse, the new ones led the charge out the door and flowed straight into the woods. 

I caught sight occasionally of the new ones in the woods, confused, squawking, but at the end of the day they were all together again, and standing around the greenhouse.  Hopefully the new ones will show them around.

 

Additions to the farmily

Two new guinea hens!  Delivered in a feed sack.

Birds in a bag

Of my remaining guineas (three died before maturity), I´ve been thinking I have only one hen.  Maybe.  They all have wattles.

I just got it explained to me though, that they do all have wattles, and the gender difference in guineas shows in the SIZE of the wattles.  And their overall size.  So yes, I have one hen (had).

Regardless, I wanted to even out the numbers some by adding a couple of hens.  That would make three hens and two cocks; a better ratio. They arrived this evening.

I carried the sacked birds to the greenhouse in my arms, their little feet holding on to my hands through the bag.

I set them down in the greenhouse.

Do NOT peck that bag, ladies!

My hens immediately showed an interest.

I brought in the chickery and placed it around the bag.

The screen doors are off their hinges at the moment, so I used one of those to rest on top of the chickery cage for a lid.  I tipped it up to reach in and slide them out of the bag.  They were peaceful in the bag, but after being back in the light came on like a couple of jumping beans.

They were not happy about being caged.  Not one bit.  Racing up and down the walls in agitation.

Uh oh.  One´s a guy!  That doesn´t help at all!

He´s quite a bit bigger than her, with much bigger wattles.

It took about a tenth of a second for my original guineas to discover the interlopers. They popped their heads in the GH before I turned around.

And then, sure enough, the males squared up at each other through the screen, vigorously pecking at the barrier.   Back and forth, like a typewriter.

The originals were quite worked up, and there was much scampering in and out of the greenhouse (Did you see them?  Take another look!), but not a lot of noise.

I left them to it.

My big plan was to wait until it got dark enough for the originals to head for bed, whereupon I would shut them in the greenhouse, release the newbies, and they would have overnight to work it out together in the confines of the greenhouse.   I was sorry about the zoo cage, but it was only for about an hour, and I didn´t want to risk the new ones taking off in fright and getting lost.

Maybe I shouldn´t have over thought it.  A little later, a little darker, I shut the greenhouse doors and  lifted the screen door/lid off the new arrivals who were ready to blast out.  Hen first, they burst out, flew across the room and skidded to a stop right into the group.    They came to a halt, silence fell (!), and all of them proceeded to stand there looking around suspiciously, like they always do.

What?  Oh, we know each other.  We´re cool.

In three seconds, the new birds are indistinguishable from the old ones.  They´re just hangin’ out like they´ve never spent a day apart.

I thought they were going to fight.  Maybe they were just excited.

Well, that was easy.

 

From farm to spa

Two lucky hens went for a long drive in a box.

I have a long-running ad on Kijiji to divest of Silkie roosters, rather than axe them, and sometimes I sell hens and eggs.  Keeping the flock manageable.

I think it´s simply hilarious to put them in EGGS boxes.  No one else thinks it’s quite so funny.  “It’s like the chicken and the eggs…which came first?  The eggs are going to come out of the box, but not right away?… Oh never mind”.  Also it´s like the Boxtrolls.

Grumpy chicken is not pleased with the box

Anyway, two hens went for a long drive (they made hardly a peep), and got a major lifestyle upgrade.  I got a text late in the day reporting that the hens  had loved every minute of a shampoo and warm blowdry (I bet they did.  I bet they’re simply gawgeous. ), and they also enjoy being held and petted. We’re not on the farm any more, Dorothy.  They’re probably hoping I forget to pick them up from this spa weekend.   It´s the bouff I´ve always dreamed of! I’ve always wanted a good blowout. I can´t even imagine how fluffy they got.

I did choose two of the shyest, most anxious and retiring chickens, because I had a feeling they were going somewhere to be pets, and they could appreciate the lifestyle upgrade.   I didn’t know it was going to be a spa package upgrade.

Coming soon to a neighbourhood near you: purse chickens.

Piglets First Wallow

I dumped the pigs’ muddy water out into a handy trench they´d dug right by their house.  I am so grateful that they have not yet learned how joyous it is to dump their water out themselves, at which point we have to take measures to prevent them from doing it.  So far they´ve been very restrained and let us do it for them. 

Each pig took a jubilant flop into the mud, one side, the other, and then Hey it´s my turn, the other pig.

They didn´t linger.  They came up evenly coated with mud, glistening except for one dry strip down the middle of the back, indistinguishable from the other.  No socks, no blazes. Just mud.

Mud pigs look exactly alike

By the time I got my camera, they had moved on to other activities, like scratching on  a cutoff tree.

Ummm, the ear. Yes!
Oh yeah, the neck. Oh yeah.  Other pig leaves….

 

Oh and the other ear, uh huh, yeah.
And for a good undercarriage scratch, you can drag your belly across the stick

Newspaper “pots” for tomatoes.

Another experiment.

I hate plastic; I might not have enough plastic pots anyway; they wouldn´t be deep cylinders.  So I tried making some pots out of newspaper to pot up my tomatoes into.

I rolled them around a bottle (half-sheet each), crunched in the paper on the bottom, slid the cylinder off the bottle,  and then turned over the half inch at the “brim” to the outside.  That´s what keeps them rolled.  Takes about 20 seconds each.  They kind of try to unroll anyway, but they hold together great once a little soil goes in them.

It remains to be seen how well they hold together once they have a plant in them and get watered.  But if all goes well, I can write the variety right on the paper with a Sharpie, and I suppose I can put them directly in the ground as is (that´s a lot of newspaer ink, though).

Ready to accept transplants.  We shall see.

So far, so good

Pigs

The piglets are settling in, and getting a little friendlier.

They are kind of like dogs in some ways.  They stretch out their back legs behind them when they first get up, wag their tails, enjoy a good sprint, even do some barking, which sounds like whooping cough.

These pigs are so dynamic, I can’t believe the difference from the 2014 pink pigs.  They are not lazy or laidback.  They express themselves with a good back and forth sprint the length of their fence, whenever we come out with their food, or a treat.  They´re deep into rooting already, and don´t sleep in.  They´re up with the chickens.

Plowing with your NOSE. I can´t get over it.
So cute!

AP  (“my pig”) is pushy (the one with a blaze).  AP is bolder.    Spots, or Spotty, has more white on her face – her blaze is patchy.  She also has white lower eyelashes on her right eye.

They have a big splashy go at the dog bowl.

They have a big wrestle over it, but it seems to come out equal, so we haven´t introduced a second bowl yet.

Joinup!  First contact, helped by the prospect of some milk:)

Cleaner Bees

I’ve got my bees at work cleaning up the frames that were centrifuged last year to get the honey out.

Since that whole event was a catastrophe of timing, FAR too late, I held these sticky frames over the winter in Rubbermaids, which worked really well.  Now it´s warm I set one out by the hive with the lid off for the cleanup crew.

The frames fit in there like they would in a super

The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots.  Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.

Missed a spot. Bees concentrating on their work.
Bees hanging out at the hive upper entrance, still wrapped in tar paper.

The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality.    The frames go from this:

Wet, sticky, leftover honey everywhere

to this:

Clear, clean, and dry

Pristine.  And a boxful in a couple days.  They get a snack out of it, too.

 

April summer

The mud season might be very short here in Nova Scotia this year.  Or  else we´re just being served an appetizer of summer in mid April.  20° C and sun sun sun.  I got a mild sunburn on my second garden day.  The ozone layer ain´t what it used to be.

The chipmunks are back!  Where DO chipmunks spend the winter? The birdsong has changed.  Sparrows are here rummaging under the feeder, and the birds that wintered over have moved on to the good wild food.  Swallows have been seen – the rumours are flying, the first tick bite reports are coming in, and the peepers started up yesterday morning.  That means bugs and buds are right behind.

The chickens are all being encouraged out of the greenhouse, although we haven´t lifted their coops out yet, and they are reveling.  Making fools of themselves in a group bath.

Unexpectedly, the Silkies are still hanging out with the layers.  

Or at least, hanging around nearby, like wannabes watching the cool kids.

As usual, the guineas are furtively skulking around in the bushes.  They march around systematically cleaning up (hopefully, vacuuming up ticks).  They look like rocks, with their heads down all the time. 

The pigs are reveling too.  They have dug themselves a nice hole and stretch out with extended hooves, basking in the sun and pig-snoring, but I haven´t been able to catch them at it on camera, they leap up as soon as they hear me, and they have good ears.

First Real Garden Day

I´m going to be so sore!

We were attacking the garden today, replacing fence posts; the old ones were rotten and broken (“these should last for a year” – three years ago!).  Shaping garden beds out of the remaining areas of our fenced space.  These spots have been covered with waste silage plastic (as seen in background) for a year or more, and the earth is awesomely root-free.

In other words, digging shallow trenches.  Which immediately filled with water.  Digging that is like wet concrete, clumping and dragging on the boots and shovel and resisting being dumped out of the wheelbarrow.  Especially since I´m digging to the clay layer, which will be filled in with wood chips.  Getting that topsoil off to pile on the beds, instead of supporting weeds in the aisles.

This…
…will look like this after an infusion of wood chips

But the bugs aren’t out yet!  So it´s all glorious.  Any day now, the bugs, the peepers, and the tree buds will all pop out at once, so it´s time to enjoy the peaceful working conditions.

Can you tell I´m really into mulch?  So nice, though, to just peel off the mulch blanket and sow.

My first planting!  Spinach, two weeks late, according to my planting calendar. I felt like I should start gardening like I mean it, so I put some brain work in in the winter planning the planting schedule for starts and direct sowing, and it sure feels good now to have a simple schedule to follow.

I mapped the garden in seven areas, for crop rotation, estimated how much of X thing I want to grow, and then calc’ed back/forward from frost date and made a calendar.  Now all I have to do is follow it.  Far less thinking.  It´s nice to not be mapping each little bed for “what was in here last year/previous two?”  Tedium.

Provided my last frost date projection (guess) of May 21 is not wildly off (actual date fluctuates between Apr 30 and Jun 1 in the last five years), the planting calendar will be a wild success.

Inside, the starts are thriving.  Again with the calendar, I shouldn’t have too-leggy tomatoes and too-late celery when it´s time to transplant out, thanks to my planned and staggered starting.  Yes, I´m just now figuring this out. 

Atlas melon sprout is pushing up a huge chunk of dirt on that tiny stem
All of them like to lift up a little dirt, but not that much!

First springy day.

I was in shorts all day today.  The snow earlier this week is all gone in the clear areas, and it was warm!  These are the loveliest days of spring. The (very few) days before all the bugs come out.  It would have been the first barefoot day of the year, but I cannot go barefoot here.  Thorns everywhere – berry brambles and hawthorn, and I’ve had a hawthorn in my foot before.  Alas, here I live in boots. The mud season is here. This year the robins are back long before the spring peepers.  The peepers will announce the bugs.

My bees obviously made it through the winter well, having a good fly today in the blessing of the sun.  It seems like all of them are facing the hive – the backwards flight, calibrating on the hive location.

The pigs are captive and content, so things are a whole lot less exciting around here lately- thankfully!

Tail wag – munching grass

They’re getting into rooting like old pros in the soft ground now.

This is Adventure Pig (A.P.), the great escape ringleader

And warming up to me.  They come snorting up the camera, and then scamper away.

The hens were having a good day in the mud world today.  I saw them slurping up worms like spaghetti.  The chickens don’t know it, but these are their last days sleeping in the greenhouse.  As soon as the rain is done, their coops are out!  I´m sure they can’t wait; there´s a week of sun coming, and they´ll be released outside at first light (as opposed to the past frosty interim days, where I keep them locked up until mid-morning when it warms up.  .  Summer chicken life – FREEdom!

Inside the chicken dome it was spa in the sun time.  They make divots all over to bathe in, today’s location (odd) was by the figs and feed sacks (oh well).

Knocked one over

I lone that I got this picture proof of how well they get along.  As a generality, they tend towards their own birds, but as individuals, the layers and bantams can get in the bath together.  I´m so grateful they’re successfully integrated, because I won’t have to surround the Silkies this year to protect them from the other chickens.  They can be free ranging too.  It will be interesting to see how much space they actually use now the flock is so much bigger.  Silkies barely “range” at all.

The pigs are coming around

They’ve mastered the art of “looking hungry”, learned that we are the food, and have made a new routine of excited oinking and running around when we come with the scoop.  They even approach!  I throw the food – (OMG, run away!) they sprint around, and then saunter back to eat. They no longer try to run through the fence, but pull up an inch away.

I was taking pictures through the fence and they came so close (Is that a snack?) I thought they’d touch it.  Cute!

They bury themselves in the hay in their palace, sometimes ears showing, sometimes a black back, sometimes nothing.

Is there even a pig in there?

Then when we come down the trail, they burst up out of bed, look out, and emerge with straw all over their face.  Or just the ears pop up, a sentry.  Early-warning  snack detector.

Got snacks?

Once I couldn’t see them at all from outside the fence, and sure they were gone, I started looking for a breach in the fence.  Then Boufff!  the hay exploded and two pig heads popped up.  I went in to fix up their bed (Run away!), but one pig couldn’t resist coming back to see what I was doing in their house.  Messing up their bed, obviously. We had it perfect!

They’ve started to tear apart the intact bales that form their windblock/bed.  It was a matter of time.  We go in and pile the hay back in bed that they’ve pushed out, they rearrange it again.  Long as they’re cozy.  It’s still cold at night.

Gotcha, pigs!

I recommend sheep/chicken mesh electric fence for pigs.

The night was stormy, a mini-blizzard.  In the dead dark and strong wind, we went outside and wrestled the fence into place and plugged it in, then extracted the so-very-successful two-strand, in a big snarl, naturally.  The pigs were willfully asleep.  There was shouting, yet they refused to wake up.  It was cold outside, they weren’t budging from the hay nest for nothing.

We caught them!  The mesh fence works.  In the morning, the pigs bolted away from the sight of us, ran into the fence at top speed ….and then sproing! bounced back.  They tried it again and again, but eventually concluded that A: they don’t fit through it, past the nose, and B: the fence bites back.

I wouldn’t put it past them to figure out that only the horizontal strands are hot and selectively chew their way to jailbreak, but until then, our piglets are under control.

They are SO different than the last pigs.  Besides being bigger when we got them, these pigs are feisty, and wild, with opinions.  The pink pigs were totally into cuddling, crazy for touch, until they got too big for that to be safe for me (perhaps because of being weaned earlier?).  We won’t be petting these guys anytime soon.

Most pertinently, the two-strand fence that failed so spectacularly this time  worked with the last pigs.  They screamed blue murder when they got shocked.  These pigs don’t peep at it.  We did have problems, but, the user-problem variety.  We got lax about keeping it hot- it’s easy to find excuses to not carry batteries around – serenely thinking they’ve learned what the fence does, we don’t need to keep it hot all the time. 

Pfft! The troublemaker noticed once, maybe by accident, that the fence wasn’t always hot.  After that seed was planted, sometimes it’s off!, he felt it was a reasonable risk to test the fence, and did, every single day.  The moment it wasn’t hot, grounded out by their rooting or a dead battery, he was out. Then, he would target the energizer, chewing and ripping the leads off and sometimes hiding them in the pig house.  This practice definitely delayed the restoration of power.

A very educational mistake on our part.  Won’t happen again (I’ve got a solar maintainer on the battery now – way cheaper than the admittedly awesome solar energizers).

This is the usual view of them.

Then they look back, balefully.

Is it gonna be the garbage can again?

They wait until we leave, to eat. I’m conditioning them to the sound of approaching food, but so far we mean flee!.

They’re super cute, with their upright ears,  long straight tails and white socks. Hopefully, they will come around and become friendly.  Eventually.

In fact, recovering the escapee(s) only took three days, better than I hoped for after my initial googling.

Round two, Piglets in the lead

Sure enough, the piglets went to bed in the pig house.  Excellent. 

We closed up the fence in the night.  We’ve so got these pigs now.

In the morning, HW went to feed them.  They both bolted, straight through the fence like it wasn’t there.

You’d think, maybe there’s something wrong with the fence.  They don´t even squeak when they go through it.  HW, having had the same thought, is checking the fence the hard way, every day, and it’s on.  He’s getting a good lift,  even with big boots (I will not check the fence that way).

On my way home from work, I met my pigs coming out the road.  This is disconcerting, to meet one’s livestock strolling up the road you’re driving down.  Oh hey!

They looked small from the driver’s seat, vulnerable, like a couple of toddlers confidently taking a walk together.

I chased them all the way home, although they kept pulling over to the shoulder for all the world to let me by, and they weren’t afraid of the truck.  They kept stopping on the side of the road, looking back at me.  Go aheadWhy aren’t you passing?  They were afraid of ME, though, when I stepped out of the truck and charged them.  Zoom!

That did it.  they’re expanding their territory now.  The pigs can’t be marching up the road visiting the neighbours.  That’s just embarrassing.  (This is all embarrassing, it’s just kind of funny too, and if it helps someone else-).

I extracted the stored chicken fence, schlepped it over and starting setting it up around pigland, knowing the piglets would be moseying over from the driveway, hungry after their big run home.  I was about half done when they showed up, and seeing me, hid themselves.  I finished anyways, rushing, leaving a big funnel open.  If they go to bed at night again, then we close the fence in the night, muhahaha!

I lurked.  I waited.  I furtively encouraged the pigs from the woods to pigland vicinity.  I watched from afar.  The pigs approached the sizable gap in the fence, did some sniffing, had a discussion, reached consensus, turned, and purposefully marched off into the woods.

Oh GOOD GOD!  I set off at a run, down our trail, and got in front of them.  It was a near thing.  They were headed somewhere, deliberately.  Now it was dusk, and I walked back and forth in front of them, and after they turned, kicked around making noise until they wandered back in the vicinity of pigland again.  This time, with dark falling in the woods, they were content to root around under the bird feeder, winding down.  I waited, for ages, until I saw them hesitantly take steps into the confines of the fence, and I retired.  NOW we’ve got them.

Spoiler:

Yes, now we’ve got them.  This works.  Two-strand electric fence for pigs?  No way!  Chicken/sheep mesh fence – yes.

 

 

 

Man vs Piglets, day 1

In the morning, we did two things.  I went out and tracked the missing piglet, and HW moved the “good piglet” from the greenhouse to her own bed.

Right at dawn, he went to the greenhouse, looking for the piglet.  We knew she’d be cozy, that she’d take liberties with the chicken hay fort and make herself comfortable.  She’d taken apart some bales and made a huge haystack, and then buried herself in it.  He had to dig for her.  Then he grabbed her by two legs, a front and a back (picture that) , and carried her outside, from the greenhouse to piglandia.  I saw him coming down the trail hanging a starfished pig, head limp.  She made a couple of slightly irritated grunts, like “Don’t bogart the covers”, but that was it.  Her eyes didn’t open.

She slept right through it!  HW slung her into her bed in the pig palace, mounded the hay up over top of her, and she didn’t twitch.  She stayed there, soundly asleep, until past noon.  I had to reach into the hay before I left for work to be sure she was really in there.  Dead to the world at noon.

I set out in the morning to track the missing pig, which was very informative.  She had practically followed us back, and stayed out of sight in the treeline, but used our trails and come right up to where she (a foot tall pig), could see the greenhouse.  She’d popped in and out of the trees looking at the greenhouse from different directions, walked up and down our driveway, out and back on the road a fair ways, had a look at the quad trail, meandered through the orchard, and then gone back out where she’d originally jogged, into the woods.  In other words, she knew exactly where we lived, and where her sister pig was, by the time we went to bed.

Pigs don’t mind using trails and roads one bit, and walk in straight lines on them, but off-trail, they move in long S-curves.  Also, they retrace their own steps, walking almost in their own footsteps.  Hoofsteps?  The little bit of snow on the ground was nice, kept all the information.

I put out sprinklings of feed just a bit closer in than her nearest look-sees, knowing she would probably follow her own tracks back in in the morning, which, judging by Sleeping Beauty, might be quite late in the day.

HW got home before me.    At work, I got a text:  Zero pigs.

Okay, now they’re officially both at large.  Awesome.

Later I found out the details, that he had walked up and found Adventure Pig standing outside the electric fence, Good Pig standing inside the electric fence, and on his approach, both of them took off, Good Pig whizzing through the two-strand like it wasn’t there.

When I got home, both pigs were eating from one of my bait piles right next to the greenhouse (we considered using the greenhouse to trap them), and spent the evening scuttling around in the treeline, watching me watch them.  At least they’re together, and happy.

We raised up the strands of the fence and turned it off, hoping that Sleeping Beauty would give the pigpen rave reviews on Travelocity and both pigs would choose to retire in there together come nightfall.  Then we would sneak up in the night to restore the fence, trapping them behind the electric tape (again), bahaha!

Because that’s been working so well thus far.

Actually, my week-long plan to get the pig back is ahead of schedule.  Except for the zero pigs development.

 

The unexpected piglets

We were planning to get a pair of pigs again this year.  We have the customers lined up, and we felt “up to it” again.  In theory, pigs aren’t a lot of work, but in reality, they escape and rampage or wreck things at very bad times and can be exhausting.

We were not planning to get pigs in March, with snow still on the ground, but they came available.  Black Berkshires, raised organic, and born outside on January 31.  We’ve had some COLD temperatures since the end of January, so these must be hardy pigs.

So with two days notice, we reactivated the dormant pig palace, set up the electric fence, made a cozy pig bed, and bought feed.

Then we went to pick up our pigs.

The farmer was all business, ready with the plastic garbage can he used for piglet transfer.  He grabbed up one pig at a time out of the litter (we asked for females, because they’re “less trouble”), dropped it screaming into the can, and shut the lid.  He and H.W. carried the can the short way to the truck, and dumped the can, piglets sliding out, quite confused.  we had a tarp and some canvas down in the back of the SUV.

The ride home was long.  The farmer had said we might get a piglet up in the front seat with us, seeing as we didn’t have a pet carrier, but we didn’t get a visit, thankfully.

There were occasional sounds from the back, little grunts, with a question mark on the end.  Also occasional smells.

It was an hour’s drive home, on Nova Scotia’s winding roads, and still twenty minutes away, the piglets started to get carsick.  Little retching noises started, between the grunts.

Home.  Two miserable little pigs in the back of the trunk.  Is it over?

I grabbed one and set out for pigland.  HW followed behind me.  I carried mine in my arms, which exhausted both of us.  HW put his over his shoulders, which got him kicked in the face.  My pig periodically screamed, kicked and struggled, then rested up for the next bout.  By the time we got there, her eyes were closed like she was ready to fall asleep.  I set her down inside the fence and she stood still and calm.

Then HW came up with his piglet, now hanging over his back, apparently pretty comfortable (the pig).

Hamming it up

HW set her down inside the fence, and we both looked up to see Piglet 1 blithely trotting through the two-strand electric fence (yes, hot) like it wasn’t there.

I sprinted away, trying to circle out in front of the pig, to send her back towards our land, where she’s obviously going to want to rejoin the other pig, right?  This rapidly turned into trying to gain on the pig (“running” a ways to one side of her, through dense brush), and then, trying to keep the pig in sight.  A $100 bill, scampering off straight into hundreds of acres of Crown land and woodlot.  Pigs are FAST, and she wasn’t even running, she was out at a steady, relaxed trot.  I´m not even sure she was running from me, or the memory of the garbage can.

I lost her.  HW came up behind me eventually, saying that pig’s gone, give it up.  He had thrown his pig into the greenhouse, which has doors to shut.  The birds were in an outraged uproar.

Oh, and now it was almost dark.

We went home.  Piglet 2 was a dark shadow shape in the greenhouse, scuttling from one end to the other.  The birds, any that hadn’t already gone in their coops before the intruder came in, were treed on the roofs of the coops, furious!  Most of the layers were crowded on the guinea house, the highest point in the room.

Completely beaten, we retired, debating the feasibility of calling and buying another pig.  “Hey, we lost one, can we have another?”   Maybe not.

We can’t have just one pig, it will be unhappy.  It can’t live in the greenhouse, and if we put it in the electric fence, it will just run out too, looking for the other pig.  The lost pig is going to be sad, and lost, and cold!

Well, pigs are smarter than that.

I consulted Google.  Other pig bloggers were encouraging.  Advice item #1: Don´t chase them.  No point at all, they will run farther if you chase them and you won’t catch them.  Encouraging item #2: Piglets are champs at surviving in the wild.  They will almost never be gotten by predators.  Too smart and fast, and they are, in their wild form, a top species.  They also rapidly revert to wildness, once escaped.

What to do?  Feed them in the woods.  Move the food closer to home every day.  They like food, so they can be baited back with food, until you’ve baited them right into their pen and shut the door behind them.  Maybe a week or two.

That allowed me to sleep, although I was still worried for the lost lonely pig (spoiler: I needn’t have worried).

Oh, and the best possible way to contain pigs?  Two-strand electric fence.

 

Happy about living naturally