The Knowledge

Spring veg

I read something this morning that really made me think. It was lamenting the fact that our food is globally, intensively, mass-produced. There’s almost no sense of place to it anymore. If you landed from outer space in any country in the world, could you tell where you were by the food? You more than likely could in Italy, parts of Spain, France, South America but here?

In all the countries mentioned, food is inextricably linked to their very being, their culture, their life. But the more global our food supply has become, the more we’ve lost that sense of place.

And I’ve read all the articles saying we could, as a nation, feed ourselves sufficiently with dairy and beef, lamb etc. in the event of a global catastrophy but we’d be at a serious disadvantage for fruit and veg. Go into any supermarket now (even the high end ones) and all you will find is generic imported mainly from glass jungles in Almeria, Spain and mostly distributed through Holland.

It’s all very well to tell people to grow their own. But growing your own apart from a bit during the summer, takes a skillset and space. Most urban dwellers if they’re lucky enough to have a house spent most of their time working to pay the mortgage or the rent and tend to be time poor.

Markets are popping up in urban areas but in rural areas if there are any, there tends to be a dearth of growers. I’ve seen market stalls, farm shops etc. selling organic veg but it’s invariably imported.

Wouldn’t it be great to see farmers being encouraged to diversify into fruit and veg and given all the supports, incentives and financial aid to do so. And along with this build a local market where this produce could be sold. Instead we see government, farming bodies, farming advisory boards encouraging farmers to intensify, get bigger, spend more and lose control of their product the minute it goes out the gate.

I’ve been meaning to take four photos in my local SuperValu, one for every season to see the variation on the shelves but I’m fairly certain you could barely tell Christmas from Summer.

In a local market you would have apples in autumn, strawberries in summer, tomatoes in summer, root veg in winter, cabbage in spring/winter, asparagus in summer, beans/peas in summer. You could literally tell what month it was by what was in season. You’d have kohl rabi, celeriac, purple sprouting broccoli, kalettes, chard, multiple varied salad leaves (summer and winter), rocket, leaf celery, mizuna, artichokes, 5 varieties of kale, cabbage, parsnips, turnip, aubergine, courgettes. I don’t know about you but I have never seen chard in a supermarket. I asked for it once in a posh one and was told by the person in charge of the section they’d never heard of it.

Most people think stuff is in season all year round. In fact I don’t think they understand seasonality at all anymore. I see asparagus, green beans, strawberries from Nigeria or Nicaragua or wherever they’re imported from. They’re totally tasteless particularly the strawberries and for some reason tough but that doesn’t seem to bother most.

The joy of biting into a juicy, sweet Wexford strawberry in June is worth waiting for. Likewise the first Irish tomatoes that bring back memories of sandy, soggy sandwiches huddled in a windbreak after spending too long playing in the sea. You were starving and freezing and they tasted so good with a luke warm cup of sweet tea from a flask. Tomatoes I grew last year brought back this memory as I sat at the kitchen table eating them with Spanish olive oil and salt and I felt nostalgic. I hadn’t tasted tomatoes like that for such a long time. Back then presumably supermarket tomatoes tasted of tomatoes?

The purple sprouting broccoli in the photo above was the first I’ve picked this year. I was hoping to have it long before now having smugly planted some in the tunnel which grew huge, luxuriously green leaves but nothing else. I used the leaves as cabbage so not all was lost. The irony being that what I picked the other day came from plants that were decimated by caterpillars and I mean totally decimated.

I had chard all winter. In the veg garden it struggled a bit during the really heavy wind and rain as the stuff in the tunnel thrived. It really is the most versatile vegetable because it has the crunchy colourful stalks and the leafy green leaves. I have leaf celery in the tunnel and some that seeded itself outside. It has so much more flavour than the traditional celery only available to buy.

Pork belly with veg from garden and wild garlic mash

The plate above was mostly produced here. Pork belly from last year’s Oxford Sandy Blacks, veg from the garden picked minutes before cooking and wild garlic mash (the wild garlic from Tintern). I didn’t grow enough potatoes sadly but hopefully I’ll have more this year.

I would really love to see more markets in rural areas selling local, seasonal veg from local growers who are able to make a living wage. It’s fine and dandy if you’re living in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway but in rural areas it’s a different story.

Wouldn’t be great if an alien landed in a local market in rural Ireland in May and they could not only tell it was May from what was available but they could tell they were in Ireland? It’s not impossible and it is increasingly likely that that’s the route we need to be heading not expanding/intensifying/exporting because at the end of the day none of us can eat money!

The Now

Where to start? It’s been a while. Little did I think when we were in lockdown last March that we still would be this year. If fact I truly believe we will be next year too. But that’s too depressing a thought. I really really hope something changes and people say no more. I don’t hold out much hope for that either.

Since I haven’t updated this blog for ages, I better start with now. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have no help this year again. I’ve had a few requests from Workaway and HelpX since last summer but none really suitable. Because of this I decided I needed to get on with it and start the endless round of maintenance again myself. So far I’ve painted the house with the help of a neighbour. Next all the sheds and then the fencing. As well as this start the growing season again. It’s been a really cold April which has set me back. It’s difficult to start stuff indoors because this old house has small windows and poor light.

But nature has decided despite the cold, she’s going full steam ahead and my duck has hatched a clutch of hen eggs. She had build her nest under the same rosemary bush as last year. I tried to move her inside last year and she was not impressed, abandoning the nest. So this year I left her. I switched her eggs for hen. I must admit I felt a bit mean but I was fairly certain few if any of hers would be fertile. George my Muscovy drake is ancient. I think 14…. and he’s not great on his legs but he does get a spring in his step at this time of year. His fertility was patchy last year and this year probably even patchier. Plus I’ve decided to phase out ducks. Of the two Appleyards I got last year, one flew off with her son and never returned. I was getting phone calls most days telling me my ducks were on the road/in such and such’s garden/field etc. I have one remaining and a female off spring (not sure if it’s hers or the one that flew off.)

7 various crosses but all half Silkie

So I substituted the eggs and pretty much two days over 3 weeks they began to hatch. Something I’ve noticed with ducks is when they go broody they don’t sit all day from the start. They sit only at night for the first few days. Hens don’t do this so I did wonder if it would affect the hen eggs but it didn’t apart from the extra two days. Of the 8 eggs, 7 were fertile and hatched. So far she’s a great mother.

Last year one of these ducks (I’m not sure if it was her because the one who flew off was identical) hatched one duckling and the other hatched two a few days later. The mother of the pair attacked and killed the single duckling and the duck was distraught. I returned from work to find her calling and calling. I had seen the other duck go for the duckling before I left and I was so sorry I hadn’t separated them. She kept this up all the following day and it was heartbreaking. If it was her I knew she’d be a good mother. Lots of people have told me since that they’ve never seen a duck hatch and mother chicks but they have the reverse. I knew it would work because years ago I had a hen and a duck who mothered a single chick. They were both broody at the same time and only a single chick hatched that they literally fought over. It was the best mothered chick ever!

I keep all the chicks and it doesn’t matter much whether they’re male or female. If they’re female they go on to produce eggs. I keep the males until they just start to crow (and before they start fighting) and then cull them for the pot. I haven’t bought a commercially produced chicken now for over a year. They’re totally different in that they are much leaner and tougher so are really only suitable for boiling. But they give the most amazing stock and the boiled carcass makes great pies, curries, stews etc. Plus the flavour of the meat is much more intense than even a well-produced organic bird that fattens in a couple of months. These take at least 6 months.

Two culled young cocks
Breast and leg meat

Little by little I’ve increased the food I produce here. It’s immensely satisfying and it really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to rear and feed an animal for the table. Even with economies of scale I’m continuously mystified how a grower can make money from a bird thats sold in a supermarket for €3. It means the “farmer” (and I use that term advisedly because I don’t consider intensive factory food production farming) is getting only cents per bird.

It’s the same with pork but that is a whole other blog post. I am working my way through the two Oxford Sandy Black pigs I reared last year but again with no family or friends visiting, I’m not using as much as normal so made the difficult decision not to rear any this. I named last year’s pair, “the little shits” thanks to their propensity for escaping. At least this year that will be one fewer phone call along the lines “your pigs are gone over the road”. Instead I’ve booked half a carcass from an organic farmer who I know rears hers to the same standard as mine.

Breakfast porn (all produced here including double yolker)

Since I posted at the start a photo of a wild garlic focaccia I should probably give you the recipe. I’m lucky to live very close to Tintern Abbey (Wexford) with beautiful woodland walks. It was theoretically outside my 5km but that was just for exercise. Food shopping was deemed by our great masters “essential”. They didn’t mention foraging but I figured foraging is just as valid as supermarket shopping so I combined both especially as it’s wild garlic season.

Tintern

Wild Garlic Pesto

A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers washed and shaken dry. Put into a small blender/blitzer with a sprinkling of pine kernals or you can use walnuts. Add salt, pepper, grated parmesan and enough olive oil to give a sauce like consistency. I don’t ever measure quantities of anything in this because it’s best to taste as you go. Some wild garlic can be very strong so pick young leaves preferably. If you can’t make something without exact quantities, follow a basil pesto recipe but substitute wild garlic for basil.

I then added 3 good teaspoons to a focaccia dough made with 500g strong flour, 10g salt, 15g fresh yeast (in some warm milk with a pinch of sugar for an hour in advance to give it a boost). Alternatively use 7g dried yeast. Add a glug of olive oil and enough warm water to give a soft dough. Mix for 10 minutes on a low speed or knead by hand for 10 mins.

Prove in a warm place in a covered bowl for an hour or until doubled in size. Then flatten it out onto a baking tray. Decorate with the pesto and some leaves and flowers and sprinkle with coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil and leave to stand while you heat up your oven to 220C. After 20 minutes place into hot oven with some water in base to create steam. I use the grill pan. It takes about 20 minutes but remove from tray to make sure base is baked and leave on oven shelf or another 5 minutes.

I also made wild garlic soup using some veg I had here (leaf celery in tunnel and some purple sprouting broccoli I had in freezer from last year, ) onion, a potato, wild garlic leaves and some of that fantastic stock from my culled cocks that I freeze in small quantities. Add a dollop of pesto, olive oil before serving to make it really sing. It was so refreshing and delicious that you just knew it was good for you – in a good way not in a penitential way.

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.