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,
Even at 3 months old and about 15-20kg they have a really powerful kick
They squeal when being picked up, they squeal a lot and very loud and very high pitched.
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.
[caption id="attachment_210" align="aligncenter" width="224"] Pigs like grass, they have chewing the grass like crazy since arriving. It also doubles as a play area and bed.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_211" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 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.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_212" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Me inspecting the herd on day one.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_213" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 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.[/caption]
These pigs, like many in New Zealand (and probably elsewhere) have been fed on out of date bread from the local Tip Top bakery, bread is a good bulk food but not good for taste or health so my first goal was to get them eating properly.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!
[caption id="attachment_214" align="aligncenter" width="640"] 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.[/caption]
Just two weeks away from the arrival of the pigs and the fencing has begun. Now, to most people, fencing is neither glamorous nor exciting so I thought I would give you something to listen too while I tell you about the trials and tribulations of waratahs, electric insulators and high tensile wire, click on the video below and carry on reading:
Now that you are suitably amused by the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby it's time for a little lesson in pig enclosures. The first thing to know about pigs is that they make Harry Houdini look like a man with three thumbs, pigs are the real escape artists and unless you make your fields pig proof you are likely to lose a few, or worse, all of them. A couple up the road who make apple cider vinegar (more later about them) lost a pet Kune Kune to an incident with a neighbours market garden and a shotgun, another reason to ensure they don't get out.
Last monday myself and my trusty advisor Reuben (more about him later too) started work on the fencing. Initially I was hoping to get away with using electric fencing tape to mark out the individual paddocks in the field but apparently that would just end up as a ball of fencing tape tied to a pig as he happily trotted across the to the neighbours. The fear I had was having to dig tens of deep post holes into some of the rockiest ground in NZ , an ancient river bed covers the whole farm, but the answer was the simple metal waratah.
[caption id="attachment_171" align="aligncenter" width="224"] A line of steel waratahs.[/caption]
Metal waratahs are Y shaped fence posts that you hammer into the ground about every 6 meters. Sounds easy but trying to get these things straight and facing the right direction whilst aiming to miss the football sized rocks proved a complete challenge. Add to this the unbelievable noise of metal on metal as you hammer down the post and you are in for a night of aches and pains and ringing ears. Twenty waratahs later and we had the outline of paddock number one and time for the wire.
After much careful placement and confused looks the poles were in and it was time to learn the skillful art of bending, twisting, threading and cutting high tensile fence wire. I have seen many farmers and workers on TV tieing fences and they make it seem like the wire is as flexible as string, the reality is that unless you are Uri Gellar metal actually doesn't want to bend and especially doesn't want to be tied to a post.
Just as we were finding pliers to tie the difficult bits and pulling bits of wire out of our exposed skin a friendly local farmer popped around to say hello. Andrew Martin lives up the road and his family were one of the founding families of the area, festooned in his farming overals and 'cowboy' style hat he drove one of the largest tractors I have ever seen all the way through the farm to the back paddock where the pigs will be kept. Stopping for a chat he saw the mess of the wire we were making and offered to show us a tip or two. Without further ado he grabbed a piece of wire, fashioned it into a handle, twisted a perfect knot and snapped (yes, snapped) the end off the wire, it was a piece of farming art.
[caption id="attachment_177" align="aligncenter" width="224"] The high tensile wire is connected to the waratah via an insulator, this stops the electric fence from being earthed.[/caption]
I am pleased to say that I can now tell you that the fencing for paddock number 1 (River Field #3) has been completed and the place is really taking shape in time for the arrival of the nine large black pigs due to be delivered in two weeks time. It never ceases to amaze me all the things I am learning and the amount of improvisation that farming is. In addition to the fences this week I have built a gate from scratch, plumbed in 200m of plastic piping and a push button drinking fountain, run out of petrol, hit my foot with a pick axe and driven over my UHF radio.
Which neatly brings me to this weeks Farm School Detention. This week is all about remembering where you put things. Having spent 30 mins searching for some tools in the paddock grass, which is up to my hip, I proceeded to reverse the Land Rover over my two week old UHF radio, which I had taken out my pocket and placed (carefully) on the bonnet of the car. When you live in an appartment its not a major issue that you lost the remote down the back of the sofa or placed the keys in the fridge, when you are working in a 5 acre field its easy to lose almost anything in the grass, even the Land Rover.
Finally for those who follow the trials and tribulations of the Land Rover, this week she was taken to the 'doctors.' After I ran out of petrol on the farm (the gauge is not working) she started to paint the floor black with the exhaust fumes so I bit the bullet and drove ten minutes up the road (at no more than 70kph) to the mechanics, it was one of the scariest things I have ever done and Claire, who was following in the Holden, tells me the fumes were reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. Turns out one of the rear brake cylinders was seized and the two front calipers were worn out. She is due back mid next week and then I am going to work on the door latches so I don't have to wind the window down every time I want to get out the car....don't ask.