The Larder

Larder cupboard

I wasn’t going to bother to update this blog. I kinda have an idea for it. But circumstances changed this year, so here goes. Bear with me, I may wax lyrical.

Last year I had no help (Woofers, Workaway, Helpx) and stuff ran away on me. The place went to hell in a hand basket. I was trying to run a small business, baking cakes, that was hellishly time consuming, but literally paid nothing. I covered my costs but my time was free. That’s unsustainable is anyone’s books and to add insult to injury, my beloved animals were suffering and the place was falling down around me. I had worked so hard up to this to try to restore the outbuildings and get the garden up and running but I just couldn’t do it all. Something had to give.

This year started off differently. My amazing neighbour helped me paint the house. I got all the out buildings painted myself because I was on a roll. Then I began to get applications from Workaway. My first one was an Italian who did a lot of weeding and painting.

Then I got the most surprising application of all. An Austrian lassie who was a carpenter. I had put on my profile, more in hope than expectation that I needed help with carpentry. She replied that she’d like to come here. I said yes and sent her my mobile number and suggested she communicate from now via WhatsApp. I arranged to meet her off the bus in New Ross. But I got the days and dates mixed up and sat like an eejit for 40 minutes waiting for her while she was doing a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. She was arriving the following day!

True to form I hadn’t really read her profile. I get so many applications that I just say yes to the vast majority because as you enter into a conversation with them you sort the men from the boys. Generally when I tell them what I expect, I never hear from them again. And what I expect in return for full bed and board with fabulous food (I haven’t had one nationality not be flabbergasted at the food here), is not a lot. I figure if they’re not prepared to do what I ask, they’re no loss. So I had only read her profile as I was sitting waiting for her on the wrong day.

Early days

So when I actually read it, I got a shock. She was a carpenter who worked as a cabinet maker. I suggested to her I really needed a storage solution for a corner in my kitchen that had a washing machine and a cupboard in it when I bought the house. I didn’t want a washing machine in the house so put mine in the shed opposite. I then installed a dishwasher in the kitchen and removed a cupboard to do so, putting it where the washing machine had been. But due to my general baking obsession and the business, the worktop above it had become storage space for tins, bowls and boxes of flour. It was a towering, tottering mess.

We pulled out the cupboards and got a plumber cum electrician to seal off the plumbing and move the socket up to accommodate my 30+ year old microwave. But we discovered a builder’s melee of heating manifolds and a power unit. Any larder cupboard had to make access to this mess a possibility. We sat at the kitchen table and drew a plan. Then we started to measure. This house, although renovated is probably well over 200 years old. The floor sloped as did the ceiling and the walls were plaster board.

Measuring up

We went to buy the wood. Holy God, the price of the stuff. Thanks to Brexit and Covid (well they’re given as the excuse for absolutely everything now) the cost was eye-watering. A very nice man in Foulksmills Stores suggested we use mdf and ply and trim the ply with wood. We ordered what we needed and they agreed to deliver the next day. In the meantime the Austrian told me she had never made anything out of a dedicated workshop and she needed tools. The only tool I had was a swanky Dewalt drill I’d invested in a week before. But as usual neighbours here came to the fore. ‘What do you need’? They had circular saws, clamps, supports, hand tools, screws, rawl plugs. You name it. One neighbour wheeled a mucking out wheel barrow full of stuff to my gate, shouted at me and said ‘here you go, shout if you need anything else….’

Workshop in my yard

She found lots of problems. She was used to having the right space, the right tools. I kept telling her that my dad, an accountant, was a hobby carpenter who built a summer house in our garden without so much as a drill. He built dog houses, guinea pig houses, benches, cupboards, shelves, doors etc. and he hadn’t a fraction of the tools or workshop space she was used to. Then I took her down to the local joinery, who were delighted to give her a tour and tell her the exact same thing I had told her (re my dad). They bemoaned the fact that modern carpenters can’t do anything when there’s a power cut (no computers). She listened. She took it in and she rolled her sleeves up.

Local joinery

In a couple of days I had two units built, painted by me, (I wasn’t sitting on my hands) and installed. Then we cut the doors and went back to the joinery who loaned her a nail gun to put the trims on. In the picture below she’s adjusting the legs from the kitchen units (Cedarwood Kitchens) that we’d removed to reuse. She designed a removable board that allows access to the pipes etc and also access via a kickboard and a side panel.

We put one door on. We adjusted the shelves, we designed the spice rack for the door. We painted and installed the trims, the kickboard, the side panels, the architraving at the top and the handles. I made so many runs to the local hardwares for bits and pieces then I went to buy the paint. I intented going with Little Green but their mixing machine was broken so I went with Colourtrend. The doors are Kimono red, the little repurposed chest of drawers (bought in a junk shop place) Foxmount and I went with a cream colour called Nude Bisque for the interior. I wanted to unit to be totally unlike the shiny, white modern kitchen that was here when I bought the place (which I hate and want to change).

Repurposed chest of drawers

As we had cut the chest of drawers in half but she had left an overhang to support my ancient microwave, I said why don’t we make a narrow shelf unit for wine bottles? We did and it worked.

Spice rack

We then designed a spice rack to go on the smaller door. We went to the joinery to buy off cuts and get them to cut it. They misunderstood her units and when I went back to collect it, they were great big chunky pieces. The joinery owner said they’re her measurements and she’s a carpenter so basically don’t argue. I replied well she’s the carpenter but I’m the client and I don’t want a great hulking unit like that. When I got home she told me they’d read her metric units as imperial. In fact we went back to plane more off. We ended up with a class rack.

Stuffed to the gills

The photo above is with kitchen stuff literally thrown in. I had stuff all over the house (the house is small) and I just had to remove it. But it’s already almost full. It’s a bit like the M50, the more lanes you build, the more cars use it.

But the thing that most impresses me is this young woman. A farmer’s daughter set to inherit the farm who went off to train to be a carpenter. She’s sharp, intelligent, smart. She could do anything. If she was here, she’d have been browbeaten into university because everyone knows that if you’re intelligent here you go to college. Except why? There wasn’t an option when I was leaving school to learn a trade. I was smart, intelligent but I hadn’t a bloody clue what I wanted to do. In my fantasies I wanted to be a vet or a doctor (told I wouldn’t get the points), a journalist (told I wasn’t good enough at English). I know now I was more than good enough for all the above but I was also very good with my hands and have a keen eye (did photography as an elective in UCD and was told I had ‘a good eye’.) But no one ever suggested anything like carpentry. If they had my life might have been so different.

Neighbour’s granddaughter teaching her to ride.

I think we all need more options. This Austrian is here learning about the Irish way of life, learning to ride, caring for horses, preparing horses for the sales (with my neighbour), discovering she’s a talented carpenter who can manage without a workshop and state of the art tools, learning to cook, learning English.

Making larders. She turned to me at one stage and said ‘maybe we could go into business making larders…..’

The Book

Finally a project I began a few years ago is nearing completion. “I started so I will finish” springs to mind, except I probably wouldn’t have got around to finish this if poor old Honks hadn’t departed.

I made the awful decision to end her life on the 15th June past. I don’t think I will ever get over it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I did it for her. I don’t think a day as passed since, when a reminder hits me in the guts and winds me deeply. I feel as much guilt and remorse as I would have done for a beloved family member. Maybe that makes me odd or abnormal but I’m at the age now that I really don’t give a damn what people think.

Her leaving me made me decide once and for all to finish something I started in 2016. I had written a book and submitted it to a few publishers. It was rejected. I hadn’t a clue what I was at. It was awful but I knew the idea was a good one. I got professional advice and reworked it. Then I got more advice and decided to finish it and commit to it.

It’s gone to my editor now for a final edit and she’s been fantastic and really supportive. Then Helen Joy who I’d asked in the beginning to illustrate it was on board as well. We had got to know each other initially on Twitter. Then we met and have been in contact ever since. She even met the diva herself and had previously done some fabulous sketches.

Helen is a smallholder who also rears pigs at Swanbridge Porkers. She understands how we fall for these magnificent animals and grow to love their personalities, their quirkiness and their downright pigheadedness. They say you love someone with traits similar to your own. Well that applies to animals too.

So all going well Honky the book (final title to be decided) will be published before Christmas.

The synopsis:

Honky makes friends with a young autistic boy, Hugo. Hugo is lonely, as she is because he finds it difficult to integrate in a noisy school. She can’t be reintegrated with her siblings after she was removed as a very sick piglet. They have a lot in common and start to explore the area where they live. They meet an abandoned donkey called Mikey. They discover an intensive pig farm and are horrified by it, so plan a daring rescue. But will they pull it off and what will be the outcome for hundreds of released pigs?

A lot of it is based on reality. I discovered the abandoned donkey in a derelict cottage and rescued him. I found him a home thanks to Twitter with the help of Lucinda O’Sullivan, food writer for the Sunday Independent. The setting for the book is based where I lived in north Meath. My experience of rearing pigs and farming ethically is the raison d’etre for the story.

I would love people to begin to connect how their food is reared is vital to their health. Animals ethically reared for meat, vegetables grown in healthy soils make good nutritious food. When we treat animals inhumanely, when we trash soils we produce low grade food. It’s really that simple.

And with everything we need to start with the children.

In memory of Honky (Her Royal Honkyness) born on my smallholding 24th August 2015 and died here 15th June 2001.

As an aside, I always knew this blog was finite and in the back of my mind I intended to turn it into a book. I mean if yer man who wrote A Year in Provence could do it, why couldn’t I? Maybe moving from one end of the country to the other with pigs isn’t as glamorous as moving to France but who’s to say it’s any less interesting?

So as they say “watch this space.”

The Porcine Patient

Grounded

Honky the pig or HRH (Her Royal Honkyness) is disabled. She is immobile. She can’t stand or move much more than shuffle forwards or sideways. She now needs as much care as a disabled human (feeding, watering, cleaning).

Her daily routine is as follows:

Breakfast at 7.30am followed by a drink of water.

She shuffles forward most days for her bucket so that I can clean under her. I remove all the wet, dirty straw and replace with fresh. I clean her tail. It got infected by her sitting on it in her own waste. I clean it with warm saline, dry it then slather it in honey. It was very inflamed and I was afraid she’d get septacemia. But the honey has sorted it.

Then I tackle her back elbows which are effectively pressure sores. I clean them and alternatively slather honey or a waxy barrier cream I got from the chemist on them. So far this is working and she seems to be comfortable enough.

She’s eating really well. She seems happy in herself and she’s interested in what’s going on around her.

I give her some seaweed and sea spinach I gather at the beach. She also gets lots of haylage. This keeps her occupied when the others are gone outside. Seanie (the rescue donky from the Donkey Sanctuary) pops his head in and shares some of the haylage with her.

Then when the others come back in they all have a snooze until its time for the evening feed at around 4pm.

She gets fed and cleaned again and her sores treated. She gets more haylage and is then bedded up with fresh straw. If it’s cold she gets a blanket and a heat lamp.

Before I go to bed I go out to check her and give her a banana.

I’m not writing any of this because I’m looking for sympathy. I know there are loads of people out there who think I should shoot her. That I’m keeping her alive when she has no quality of life, that I’m being cruel etc.

Well the fact is it would be much easier on me to shoot her (or get her shot). I hurt my back recently because of her, it’s not easy trying to move a 350kg animal. I don’t need to hurt myself. But how can I destroy a perfectly healthy, happy animal because she can’t get up? We keep humans alive with infinitely poorer quality of life than she has. Why do we treat humans differently to animals? We all share the same planet. We all have our place. We are not better than animals. We are not more important or more necessary (in fact, if anything we are less necessary).

She is here because of me. She has lived this long because of me. She didn’t ask for any of this. And as long as I’m able, I will care for her. When I decide her life is not worth living (because she will tell me), I will make that decision. I’ve done it before and I will do it again.

But for now she’s staying and I will do my very best to keep her healthy and happy.

Snuggled up and cosy with the others

The Donkey

I got a mad notion one night recently and decided to “rescue” a donkey (as in take one from the Donkey Sanctuary.) I’d been thinking a lot about one I had actually rescued a few years ago; who is now in a lovely home in Cork. I had called him Sarcozy because his feet were so overgrown he looked like he was wearing high heels (similar to his diminutive namesake.)

Seanie

It came about, because one day I went for a cycle with the dogs and as usual my neighbour’s dog, Bubbles was waiting at the gate. He wore a collar that gave him a shock if he moved outside his own perimeter but the batteries frequently ran down and he was very quick to realise. I didn’t mind because when you’ve 4 dogs anyway, what difference does a 5th make? I’m sure I get called all sorts by the few (very few) who throw their eyes up to heaven and mutter when they have to slow down on the narrow rural road with grass down the middle. Generally I just mouth “pleasantries” back at them..

Anyway one day, the bould Bubbles who paid no attention whatsoever to me and athletically vaulted garden walls to have a nosey, came out of the deserted cottage at the end of the road with a hedgehog in his mouth.

I managed to retrieve the poor little thing and took him back to where I thought he’d been found. I made a mental note to go back later and leave out food for him and his family. It was a bitterly cold, damp day but I was really busy baking all day so didn’t get down until dusk. When I got back he was still there curled up and frozen so I brought him back here and set to action with my syringe and my, by now, fail safe combination cure of honey, kefir and salt.

.

Harry

I put it out on Twitter and asked for advice. Mother of God, some of the replies I got. You’d swear I’d actually set out to torture and maim the mite. Most of them (and they were mostly UK based) were shouting aggressively to take him immediately to a hedgehog rescue. I’m not sure why but most of these accounts assume everyone else on Twitter is (a) English, (b) living in the UK, (c) living in an urban area down the road the road from a local hedgehog rescue open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! Instead of the reality, in the middle of no where in a goddamn pandemic where travelling is restricted and at 10pm at night. You wouldn’t even get a doctor at that time.

Anyway I digress. I got him warm with a hot water bottle, got fluids into him (switched to cat milk immediately), they can’t tolerate cow’s but kefir would have the lactose fermented so it probably wouldn’t do him any harm, got the fly eggs laid by a bluebottle off him. He thrived and the Kildare Wildlife Rescue got back to me next day after I had left a voicemail on their helpline. They sent a volunteer to collect him and took him into their care.

I was sad to see him go but knew it was for the best. I think that’s why I decided to adopt a donkey.

Incidentally poor Bubbles was hit by a car and trailer just a few weeks later, being driven down the road early on a Sunday morning like a lunatic. He survived a few days after but sadly didn’t make it. I’d say he had internal injuries because otherwise hadn’t a mark on him. He was a beautiful, spirited, gentle, kind dog who did not deserve that. I was heartbroken.

I contacted the Donkey Sanctuary and in a day or so had a reply, then a phone call, then an inspection. My feet hardly touched the ground. I suppose this is the time of year when they need to off-load. I was offered Seanie. Told he had spent his entire 18 years tethered. Of course she knew as soon as she walked in the gate I was a soft touch. She commented several times that every animal looked so healthy and was flabbergasted at the big pigs stretched out snoring in the hayshed.

Seanie arrived a few days later and has settled in really well. He’s the boss over the goats which is just as well. They need manners putting on them. The big pigs are afraid of him too but the small (#littleshits) couldn’t give a damn.

Seanie and the #littleshits

I named the small pigs the #littleshits from early on. I’ve been keeping pigs for 8 years now and these almost cured me of my addiction. They broke my heart escaping. I braced myself every time my phone rang and usually in the middle of baking (one cake in oven with 10 minutes left), another ready to go in and another in process) – for the inevitable “your pigs have gone over the road…. “

They had made firm friends with the goats and followed them everywhere. The goats are cute enough to find their way back in the way they got out but the #littleshits just kept going. I walked out into yard one day and heard the familiar grunt conversations between them, except this time it was coming from the road. I just happened to see them trotting past the gate. They had discovered next door’s dog (poor Bubbles’) food was left outside the back door. They knew the yard across road had a big dung heap that flooded and was marvellous for a wallow. Don’t even ask what they looked and smelled like after that.

The walk of shame

I had them booked in the very last day (before Christmas) I could at the abattoir. But one day I just flipped and rang to get them in sooner. They roared laughing when I told them why.

Yesterday was D day. Everything went smoothly until I tried to pull out of the field. It was very wet but my jeep is 4WD so I wasn’t that worried. But the wheels started to spin. I ran up to my neighbour (the best tractor mechanic in the country) to see could he give me a pull. He arrived down to see. Messed around with the brake lever and said the brakes had seized. He went back to get a trolley thingy and in the lashing rain and the mud, slid under the trailer with a can of WD40 and a hammer. I stood there praying. It worked. He then drove around the field in a big circle leaving massive wide tracks. But I got to the abattoir. I hate doing this with a passion. It never gets easier. Even though they broke my heart, I still feel guilty and sad. But the alternative is become vegetarian because I won’t eat intensive pork.

Today I pulled all the reinforced fencing out and the goats moved into their shed. Life goes on. The goats miss them I know, but they have Seanie now.

The Reality

HRH

As anyone following this blog knows by now, I have a pig I raised from the day after she was born when her mother rejected the litter. She’s had all sorts of problems including apparent back leg paralysis after a bad dose of scour as a 2 day old piglet (she never even got her mother’s colostrum.)

We (myself and my son) rehabilitated her doing our own version of physio. She survived and thrived.

Until the 25th of April past when I went out to feed her and she didn’t come. I could see her but she wasn’t getting up. I went out to her and discovered although she wanted to, she couldn’t get up. I’ve written about what I went through with her in previous posts but I just wanted to update anyone interested.

Now, I’ve been accused of all sorts when it comes to her, mainly by intensive animal torturers. I really don’t care what people who make a living out of making animals’ lives miserable think. I’ve always ploughed my own furrow. I will always look after my animals to the best of my ability and I will decide when any animal has a life not worth living. Believe me, I know when that is having watched my father die a horrible death from dementia.

We’ve had our ups and downs over the last few months. There’s been times I wondered how much longer we could go on. She really struggles when she’s in season. She almost always goes off her food and the last few months has gone cracked (no other way to describe it). She seems to go into a trance and acts completely abnormally becoming convinced the goats (both female), the horses and ponies can somehow “scratch her itch”. So much so she invariably overdoes it trying to charge up and down the fenceline. Eventually when she exhausts herself she barely manages to drag herself into bed to sleep it off for two days. Hormones how are you. I decided to change her diet (I read up constantly on diet and food and pigs are very like humans.) This has made a massive difference and now she is a lot calmer and if she goes off her food, it’s only for one feed.

She obviously did something serious during one of these “events”. And as a result has become very unsteady and regularly falls down. Her back legs seem to get confused and criss cross or don’t spread far enough to balance her. But she has become very adept at getting back up again herself (sometimes after a rest as in the above photo). Often when I see her down I rush out and help her up holding her tail to give her that extra “whoosh”. If she’s not trying herself I wouldn’t have a hope of getting her up. She weighs the guts of 350kgs.

Recently I was out with her and had helped her up. I turned to walk back into shed and she made a noise. I turned because it wasn’t the usual sounds she makes. She had gone down again and the noise was to ask me to come back to help her up. I did and she allowed me to help her back into the shed. I was absolutely amazed and humbled at her intelligence.

Now we have a routine. She mainly gets her food in bed. She has struggled in the past to get up if she lies in a dip in the floor of the shed. But we overcame that by putting a very heavy tractor tyre in it which prevents her sliding down. Then after her breakfast she decides if she feels like going out. Often she doesn’t and will wait until the afternoon. Most of the time she goes out and comes back in unaided. But occasionally she needs help. If I suspect she’s in pain I have an armory of veterinary painkillers and anti-inflammatories my vet has given me. I also have a physio neighbour who is more than happy to come in to help her. She has done a lot of work on horses in the past but a pig was a first. She told me she had been telling her human clients and laughed at how many asked her how she got a pig up on the table……

Recently Carole the physio said she thought she may have a degenerative disorder so we’ve done loads of research and have come to the conclusion it’s a form of muscular dystrophy. She has a lot of muscular indentation (for want of a better description.) Whatever is wrong with her, she’s effectively handicapped. But for now she and I am able to manage it. We will continue to manage it as long as she’s happy, is eating well and able to live as a pig should. If and when she can’t then serious decisions will have to be made.

But anymore than a beloved family dog or cat, why should her life be any different? She is my pig. I adore her. And I will know when she doesn’t want to go on because I know her every thought. I raised her the same way I raised my kids.

The Transformation

From eyesore to landmark. Whatever you think about the colour, you can’t disagree with this statement.

Finally, over a month shy of three years, I got the hayshed painted. I loved it from when I bought the place. But I really, really wanted to get it painted and repaired. I asked around, I asked neighbours, but no one could recommend anyone; until I got the name of a good painter to paint my stairwell. He gave me the name of this chap and despite the “damn disease” which held it up by months, it’s finally done.

I drove up on the Campile road which is a good bit higher than my house and laughed my head off. Before I had to slow down and squint to see my place. Now it’s like a big bright beacon nestled into landscape. It’s wonderful.

The weather is changing after a pretty dismal summer. You can feel the chill in the air early in the mornings. The garden is neglected, the tunnel is neglected. There’s so much weatherproofing to be done yet on fencing. But I had no help all summer so it’s all become a bit overwhelming. Spending so much time baking for Cake Dames isn’t helping as it’s eating into my time.

Ducklings

The ducklings are growing rapidly. One is already bigger than his mothers. The last chicks hatched yesterday. They’re a Silkie bantam cross. The bantam had been sitting on them outside when Storm Ellen or Francis was fast approaching (they came on each other’s heels. I tried to put the top of a cat box over her to give her some shelter but she took grave exception and screeched off her nest protesting loudly. I then caught her and moved her and the eggs inside but she abandoned them. Luckily the Silkie was already on a clutch that hadn’t hatched so I gave her these.

The Little Shits

The weaner OSBs (Oxford Sandy Black) are finally beginning to grow. Blackbum is catching up with his brother. They’re funny, cheeky and into everything. I love the quacking sound they make when they come into the sleeping big pigs only to get snapped at for their trouble. Pigs have a distinct pecking order and whippersnappers are rapidly put in their place. The quacking is a “hello-how-are-you” sound.

Honky is still here after yet another setback. She celebrated her 5th birthday with a packet of chocolate biscuits but wasn’t in great form that day. For now, we’re taking one day at a time and she’s happy, relaxed and eating really well these last few weeks.

HRH

I’m not looking forward to winter but it’s been such a shitty year I don’t think I feel as much dread as I would normally. I just want this year to be over and the world and people to start living again. I absolutely hate the way we’re living now. I hate shopping, I hate going out anywhere I’ve to cover my face. Hopefully we will start to see the light next year.

Bad year for tomatoes

In the meantime I’m going to preserve as much of the food I grew as possible to enjoy over winter. My tomatoes are the worst ever (neglect and blight got the better of them.) The Mickey Mouse tunnel for all its drawbacks produced stellar crops in comparison.

Here’s hoping to a sensible, balanced and intelligent approach to the next year with plenty of people growing their own food because that might be the only good thing to come out of all the craziness. If nothing else we should realise now that our food security is held by a safety pin and it will take very little to disrupt it.

The Hayshed

After almost three years I’m finally getting the old hayshed painted. I’ve been trying to find someone reputable to do it since I moved in (and not the chancers who regularly call and call me misses and refuse to take no for an answer until I tell them I’ve no say, they need to talk to mister: who’s away working in Dubai). Luckily they don’t chance coming back when they see Nelly, the Rottweiler. Until the next one calls….

The chap doing it was to start at the start of “lockdown”. Don’t think that would’ve stopped him but he’s had a few health issues. Finally he rang the other day to say he’d be here in morning to power wash it. He almost drained my deep well so I switched to the shallow one and the new (2015) pump gave up. You actually couldn’t make it up. Now I’m waiting for the pump crowd to come sort it who promised they be here last Thursday.

He told me go to Foulksmills Stores to get the paint (red, green, grey basically). I asked when the chap showed me the drums on the shelf, “do farmers not care what colour they use?” He said “not really, they just use whatever was used last.”

Not to be deterred, I asked had I other options. Was there a paint chart? He looked bemused and said he’d go and see (with a pesky-women-who-think- they’re-farmers expression on his face). After a few minutes he reappeared with a massive chart. I asked can I pick any of these? I was assured I could. So I stood there scratching my head wondering why everyone paints their barns red, green or grey.

I immediately saw a lime green that I’ve painted all the shed doors with. Too good to be true? I ordered it. I was driving home when I got a phone call. The paint would cost me an extra €50 a barrel (a barrel of the standard stuff is give or take €100). So it’s obvious now why farmers stick to the stuff on the shelf. But I’ve ordered this on the basis of a mm square sample on a paint chart and it’s going on a huge haybarn. This will either be a stroke of genius or a disaster and the pessimist in me is thinking it will be the latter. But can it be any worse than the rusting red it is currently?

Summer has slipped into Autumn (August). Still no help. Lots of applications from HelpX, Workaway but nothing suitable. I’m getting really panicky now because I have no time and so much work to do outside. There are so many fences to waterproof. I got a small stretch done but it’s just piecemeal at this stage.

The tunnel has been overtaken by giant man-eating courgette plants. So much so that my grapevine went yellow. Possibly because they literally suck all the nutrients out of the soil. I got fed up today and lifted three of them outside. Not sure they’ll survive but I’ve two left smothering the tomatoes and beans.

My veg garden is a weed mecca. Probably doing great stuff for biodiversity but not great for me. Today I saw to my consternation that the spuds had blight. I’d been watching them like a hawk and kind of smugly patting myself on the back that the wind here would stop it. Famous last thoughts. I chopped the leaves off today and picked the few spuds the bantam had uncovered. The only hen that can fly over the fence. I eat very few potatoes so I’m leaving them where they are for now.

Normally at this time of the year my freezers would be emptying because I’ve been feeding helpers, visitors, guests, friends but that’s all stopped because of this covid-craziness. Now I’ve freezers stuffed to the gills with pork, lamb, duck, turkey, chicken and beef I bought from a local regenerative farmer. At least I won’t starve if they decide to close the country again.

The ballerina troup (Silkies) are growing fast and I really need to move them on now. Their mother, Mrs Topknot Thomas is sitting on more eggs. The broody hens hatched out 6 French Copper Black Maran eggs between them, thanks to another smallholder pal who provided the eggs in return for sourdough.

Her Royal Honkyness is still here and still staggery but getting in and out and making a lot of noise when anything/anyone displeases her. She’s currently moulting and is bald from her tummy to her mohawk.

Blackbum is eating rings around himself but is still tiny. He might be ready to go to the abattoir November 2021!

And that’s all from Three Paddocks Smallholding. I’m excited that a UCD Ag classmate is calling next week. That’s as exciting as it gets here lately!

The Piglet

Having gone through weeks of hell with Honky I was ready for life to return to normal. To nip out at 6.45am to feed all and be back in bed with a cup of tea at 7.15 to listen to the news before the day starts.

Blackbum

But it wasn’t to be. One morning I noticed little Blackbum didn’t want to get up and had no interest in breakfast. This was highly unusual because normally after a week or so new weaners get into the swing of life here and are out bawling with all the rest as soon as they hear the dogs bark. But these, despite being here over three weeks still hadn’t got into the daily rhythm. They also ate very little.

I had discovered that what little I had left them was being polished off by the goats. The goats barely eat their own food so to see them eating the piglets’ food soaked in milk was infuriating.

I watched Blackbum for a couple of days and saw him drinking a lot. I had a gut feeling all wasn’t well but then I’d go back to check on him and he’d be out rooting. Sick pigs don’t root. Or do they?

Last Saturday I was going away for the day so decided to load him up and take him into the vets first. The more dealing I have with vets (about pigs), the more I’ve realised they know nothing about them. Initially, when I felt he wasn’t right I rang to get the dosage for a wormer I had here. They are both really small and the wormer only had quantities for larger animals on it. The vet said you can’t give that if they haven’t had their iron injections. Bloody hell, free range pigs don’t get iron injections. They’re out with their noses in the soil hours after birth; getting iron the way nature intended. Not like the poor bastards raised in concrete sheds on rubber matting (if they’re lucky).

Anyway I loaded him into the dog crate and she examined him. Said he had pneumonia. My good pal Martha in Wales (who farms free range pigs) said he needed Penstrep. I suggested this to the vet but she said no, Baytril. Vets hate when you make suggestions. She gave him an anti inflammatory and said that would stop him drinking so much. It didn’t. The antibiotic had no effect. I got onto Martha again. She said if Penstrep doesn’t work try Draxxin. I rang the vet. No, she had no Draxxin and it would take days to get it but I was to bring him in, again!

She examined him again. He still had a temperature and he’d lost more weight (which he could ill-afford to). She gave him what she said was a drug in the same family as Draxxin. She also gave me steroids.

When all the scientists were arguing about what cured Covid and what didn’t, some expert concluded that steroids worked. I then saw a tweet from a vet saying that finally the medical profession was catching up with the veterinary one. When all else is failing, prescribe steroids. This flashed through my mind.

I went home with him with literally zero faith he was going to recover but like with Honky, he wasn’t going to die of starvation on my watch. I got milk, kefir, honey, garlic, egg and cream and I made up a daily concoction and syringed it into him several times a day. He fought me with vigour. At times he looked like he liked it but mostly he acted like I was trying to kill him. God knows what the neighbours thought I was doing to him.

My neighbour asked me one morning how he was and my reply was “well he’s still here.” He asked me did I want him to inject him with Penstrep. I said no initially because the last injection he’d been given was a long-acting antibiotic and I didn’t want to overdose him. But then thought what is there to lose, so said yes.

The next day he called in and injected 0.5ml. The vet had only injected 0.2ml. He was only just over 7kg but it seemed a tiny dose. The following morning he shot out from under the straw and ate breakfast. The first time he’d eaten anything in days. He had also stopped drinking gallons.

On left, eating

Since then he’s made steady progress and although he’s coughing like a wheezy old codger on 60 Woodbines a day, he’s out and about rooting and more importantly eating rings around himself. My neighbour who thinks vets are a complete waste of money and also thinks I’m crazy every time I call one out is now nodding sagely saying “I told you so”…..

And what’s worse, I’m beginning to agree with him.

There’s been a dearth of applications from Woofers/HelpX/Workaways and any I’ve had, I felt wouldn’t be a good fit here. But out of the blue I got one from a Uruguayan vet (the irony) who’s been in Limerick for a few months and wants to improve her English but also get experience working on a smallholding. When she asked would it be okay to do an on-line English course for a few hours a day but she’d work mornings, evening and weekends, I said yes straight away. Usually I get asked how many hours they have to work and you know that they’re more interested in the hours they have off.

Now maybe I can get back to normal without worrying about sick animals. I hate when any animal is unwell. It also means that it takes up masses more of my time. Time that I can ill-afford. I’m already so behind on stuff in the garden and polytunnel and there has been literally no maintenance done this summer. I realised during the lockdown that it would be virtually impossible to keep this place running on my own. I need helpers. I also miss having them about the place. And worst of all I’ve a tonne of food in the freezers that needs cooking and eating.

The Aftermath

Finally, we are slowly beginning to get back to some degree of normality. I refuse to say the “new normal” or use any of these dreadful phrases that have become synonymous with this whole disastrous episode in my lifetime.

Perfect imperfection

Life, apart from human life, carried on and nature bloomed and survived and even bettered. It was noticeable early on that there were more insects, even bees about. Somehow the air seemed cleaner. The weather obliged and we pretty much had sunny days since the end of March with little or no rain and now drought conditions.

Bantam and her Silkie chicks

The hormones were flying and both my little bantam and the new Silkie hen went broody. One of the ducks followed suit a few days later. Unfortunately the bantam is notoriously secretive about where she lays her eggs. Even leaving one in a nest is not enough to make her keep using it. She had vanished again and I’d assumed she’d gone broody rather than been taken by a fox. But I had quickly forgotten about her when my daughter appeared at my door back (from Australia) as a surprise. I couldn’t say much at the time because of the outrage that would have caused. She flew from Sydney to Hong Kong to London to Dublin and then came down to visit me. No one died and we had a nice time catching up. But unfortunately I had no idea how long the bantam was missing and it took me ages to find her.

Often they are lying in plain sight but you’d be hard-pressed to see them. This was the case with her. One day when she had hopped off the nest to perform her ablutions, I checked the eggs. They hadn’t been fertilised. How did I know? I shook them and I could hear the liquid swishing about inside. I removed them thinking she’d give up but she stayed put so I got a brainwave and put the Silkie’s eggs under her. I didn’t think for a minute she’d stay another three weeks but as luck would have it the duck went broody so I could pop the eggs under her if she gave up. She was sitting on six. Then the Silkie went broody so I put the remaining four under her.

The bantam stayed the course and hatched five out of the six and two days later the Silkie hatched two. I had broken one accidentally lifting out a rogue egg laid by another hen.

Under perennial cover

I was so thrilled that the little bantam was finally a mother after seven long weeks and what a mother she has turned out to be. In fact they both are. It’s humbling to watch them care for and teach the chicks. Nature really is marvellous.

My poor goat Bad Lola then appeared to develop mastitis and was miserable. I had noticed a couple of days before she wasn’t interested in her feed and seemed hunched and listless. Then I saw her “elder” as they say in these parts. It was engorged and red looking and she had difficulty walking. (Her elder is her udder). I rang the vet and they gave me an antibiotic which had no effect. It was around the time Honky had got sick so I have to say she didn’t get as much attention as she would have done normally. I had assumed it was mastitis. But when the antibiotic didn’t work they gave me another. When I got the second vet out for Honky, I asked him to have a look at her. He told me “to milk all the poison out of her” and showed me how to. It was the first time I’ve ever milked anything but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and it seemed to give her huge relief.

I’m not sure but I said to the vet this looks and smells like milk, not poison but heck I’m not a vet so who am I to argue? The next day I decided it most certainly was milk and the more I milked her the more she’d produce so I stopped. She seemed to get better but to this day still has a huge elder. My son’s girlfriend asked if there were mares and foals nearby. Apparently goats regularly have phantom pregnancies. Not only were there mares and foals beside me but there was a pony in foal in the field with her.

Poor bad Lola

Because I was so wrapped up with Honky I really neglected all my seedlings in the tunnel and they either died from lack of water or damped off. I also planted peas out before a cold snap and they perished. Even the newly emerging potatoes were zapped by frost. The irony being we’d only had a handful of frosts all winter. I also had really really poor germination across a range of seeds. I re-sowed a lot but still nothing. Very frustrating. As a result I’m behind with beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Peas and beans

The hens have got in a few times and caused major destruction. The wind blew the doors open one morning I was out walking. Another time the door probably wasn’t bolted properly. Earlier on the ducks got in and savaged all my lettuces and got drunk on the beer in the slug trap. You couldn’t actually make that up.

The lettuce I picked up on the beach just before they shut the country down is still providing. A group of gougers as my dad would have called them had a bbq and left all their rubbish behind them. I picked up one of those “grow in the bag” ones they’d chucked and planted it. It survived the drunken duck attack too so it obviously is the lettuce equivalent of a cat!

I got two new piglets. Pedigree Oxford Sandy and Blacks or OSB for short. They’re tiny. But they’re the best electric fence trained piglets I’ve ever bought in. People selling will always tell you they’re used to electric fencing. But they almost never are. Thank goodness they’re not like the pair of curabucs I had last year. I had enough stress to be dealing with so I went and bought some plastic mesh netting and surrounded the electric fencing with it. It worked a treat but I don’t think they were going to dive through the fencing like all the others did. I only increased their area last weekend and it took them most of the day to venture into it.

Meeting HRH

I decided not to get sheep this year. I still have a freezer full of lamb. I think the Zwartbles breed, although lovely sheep are just too big for me and too lean. The meat hasn’t a scrap of fat on it. I do miss having them though. Maybe next year I’ll go for a smaller rare breed like Jacobs.

And finally after SEVEN, long stressful weeks it looks like Honky is on the mend. I’m almost afraid to type that but I have to have hope that all the effort, time and money I’ve spent won’t have been in vain. I got her portrait sent to me as I saw that the framers was opening after being closed for weeks. It’s absolutely her, The artist, Rachel Dubber captured her essence from a photograph. I left it in last weekend to be framed. I can’t wait to see it.

It’s almost the longest day of the year. Hopefully the second half won’t be as miserable as the first and now we realise what’s important. I can’t wait to start cooking for friends and family again. I can’t wait for people to act normally again and stop looking fearfully at you as you pass. I can’t wait for us to start being human again.

The Cut

The first cut is the deepest, right? I haven’t been updating this blog as I would have done normally because a lot has been going on, but also a really hurtful comment cut me to the quik and I just couldn’t pick myself up afterwards.

Normally stuff like that doesn’t bother me. The person who made it is a nasty piece of work, obviously with a lot of personal issues but there are times when comments do hurt.

Anyway I picked myself up as I always do and got professional advice. The professional in question was hugely encouraging and told me never to listen to people like that and always go with my gut. He said to me you know your animal better than anyone else (just like you know your child). Isn’t it interesting how people like the nasty piece of work have neither chick nor child, but yet sit in judgement on those of us who do?

My baby

Life was chugging along nicely, despite the lockdown. One Saturday evening, after a day working outside in garden, I went to feed all. The only one who didn’t appear was Honky. I called her then could see her lying in between my first two paddocks. I went to see what was up. She was lying in the shade and couldn’t seem to get up, even though she was trying.

I rang the vets and Thomas arrived in less than an hour. He checked her thoroughly and said she had a slight temperature but she’d been lying most of the day in the sun. Other than that nothing else wrong. He gave her a vitamin injection, a steroid, an antibiotic and told me to see how she was over next few days. He gave me an antibiotic and an anti inflammatory to inject for the next three days.

Sick and sore

She stayed out all that night, much to my distress but at least it was warm and there wasn’t rain forecast. I dragged out straw and banked it up around her. I left her water and food and checked on her several times before I went to bed. I didn’t sleep much and was back out to her at 5.45am.

My good friend Martha in Wales (a small free range pig farmer) had messaged me and suggested it might be mycoplasma arthritis and she’d need a different antibiotic. I waited until 9am and rang Thomas. He met me and gave me the new antibiotic.

She jumped up the next day after my neighbour injected her. I had tried but couldn’t get the needle in and she had got really distressed. She jumped up after he injected her and started to stagger towards the shed so we went behind her encouraging her to keep going. The relief was immense. At least I knew she was in and had shelter.

She improved daily and was mad to get out. I had fenced off a small area outside the shed initially but she had stumbled out as far as the fence and looked sadly at me. So I made the biggest mistake ever and let her out. I went into the third paddock to check the newly-planted trees and heard a shriek. I think the sow chased her and tried to bite her (re-exerting her dominance). When I got back to her she was distressed and seemed to want to go back to the shed. She was falling and stumbling but I went behind her and held her tail to steady her. I don’t know how I knew this. I think I’d read it somewhere but it worked. She managed to make it back but was really distressed and hyperventilating.

I’m not sure but I think she must have injured her back because she was back to square one. I rang the vet and he suggested giving another course of antibiotics. I went and got them. But then started thinking; I really felt like I needed a second opinion. My neighbour recommended another vet. Initially when I spoke to him he was reluctant to barge in. But I convinced him to take a look at her. He arrived out and thoroughly checked her over, gave her a pain killer and injected her with the second course of antibiotic and anti inflammatory. He said if she didn’t stand up it wasn’t a great sign but felt she would in an hour or so and told me to check her. She stood up two hours after he left!

She perked up initially and then went back downhill. I felt she was in pain and remembered sachets of anti-inflammatories the original vet had given me after she’d had her feet pared. I started her on them and once again she picked up. But she was struggling to walk. I asked another neighbour to have a look at her. She’s a physiotherapist and had told me she’d worked on horses.

She began to treat her daily. After 10 minutes the first day she stood up and had a wee. We held onto each other in disbelief. From then on she was able to stand easily and walk backwards…

Going forwards was more difficult and her right leg didn’t seem to know what to do. Carole reckoned she had the equivalent of a slipped disc. She worked on her every day for a week. She worked on the muscles mostly, hoping that taking the tension out of the leg and lumbar region would relieve the pressure on her nerve.

Physio

A couple of days after the second vet had come out, he rang to see how she was doing. When I told him about the physio his exact words were “wow, keep it up.” He told me she could stay on the anti inflammatories for quite a while and to see how she was on them.

Second time out

After another session with Carole, I left her do do some work outside. When I went to check her later she had vanished. My heart stopped and I ran out to look for her. I found her out at the back of the shed having a root. I panicked and tried to get her back in. She was mad at me but managed to get back in with difficulty – cutting her back feet badly when she fell.

She was back to square one again. This time she was depressed and literally stopped eating. She hadn’t been eating a lot but I had managed to get some food and “nice stuff” into her (mostly fruit). I was really worried. In fact three times I had planned her funeral. Every time I had done, she made a comeback.

I decided to throw the kitchen sink at her one last time and then give up. I knew I had to get her to eat. I kept at her coaxing her to eat, trying to fool her by putting “nice stuff” into her food. The tramp sussed out the nice stuff like a heat-seeking missile and spat her own food out. She even refused to drink. I sat beside her with a syringe and squirted water, then kefir into her mouth. She began to grab the syringe and suck like mad. I balled up her food and she ate some from my hand. Initially she was really gentle but as she got the taste for it, I was afraid she’d bite me and having had to go on two antibiotics in the past after she accidentally bit me, I really didn’t want to go there again.

I got a spoon and she learned really quickly how to eat from it. I’m not sure if the reason she’d given up trying to eat was that sitting up was sore or what. But anyway she’s now back eating and drinking herself. She had a lot of involuntary jerking when she stood up in her back right leg but that seems to have settled. So now I’m hoping she will start to get stronger standing and moving. She’s making a better attempt moving forward and doesn’t seem to lose her balance so easily. She’s not out of the woods by a long shot but she’s much more herself.

The comment made was that I was keeping her alive for my own “ego” and to publicise my blog …….

I’m not sure how being that stressed with worry about her, I couldn’t sleep or eat properly benefitted my ego, but sure lookit. On the positive side I reckon I’ve lost a stone. And as for publicising this blog………

I have never given up easily on anything in life and I won’t give up on her as long as she isn’t suffering or miserable. I saved her life at two days old and fought to keep her alive. We (myself and my son) worked on her when she couldn’t walk, doing our own rudimentary physio on her. I have looked after her every day since, making sure she was healthy and happy and never in pain.

Just because she’s a pig and not a dog or a horse with laminitis, doesn’t mean she isn’t worthy of effort. Just because she’s a pig and most pigs are reared in miserable factory farms, doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve a good life. Just because she’s a pig doesn’t mean she can’t be a pet. Just because she’s a pig doesn’t mean I can’t love her.