The Tree and The Hen

Alnus glutinosa

Last year I vowed I’d plant a line of trees to screen my neighbour and improve my view. But like a lot of vows, it never happened. I also intended planting a copse in my third paddock which is the biggest and borders a huge intensively-farmed field; regularly lashed with glyphosate. There is a deep gripe between us and I’d say the run off into it is toxic. It’s a crying shame that people care so little about the environment or their own health. But they don’t. The copse I plant will hopefully stop the drift into mine.

Of course it’s too late now; they need to be planted bare root. I wanted to scatter some of dad’s ashes under this copse as well. But there is always next autumn.

So I was delighted to get a root up the you know what from a tweet I sent about ideas to remember Matt. Matt Care was an Englishman who moved to live in the west of Ireland with his Irish wife. They set up a smallholding and had their own poultry, sheep and pigs. Matt also grew a lot of his own veg and was a great man to take on tasks the rest of us wouldn’t dream of. He did his own butchery (amongst other stuff). He was in our smallholder group and regularly updated his Twitter with tales of his smallholding life. He was always in good humour and willing to help in any way he could with advice, swapping recipes, methods, ways of doing stuff or just have a good moan with.

I sent him a horseradish root as a result of a conversation we had about same. He was tickled to hear it had originated in Mayo, brought to Dublin by my mother, transplanted to Meath by me then dug up and sent back to the “wesht” to him in Roscommon. In return he painted a sign for my pigs when I had admired the signs he had painted for his own pigs.

The sign finally put up

He told me to buy him a beer at our next smallholder gathering. Sadly he never came to the last event and now I’ll never get to buy him that beer. He died on the 7th of December last, suddenly. He had been unwell and was waiting heart surgery I think. It was a shock to the rest of us. We had all got used to his banter and regular posts.

I thought of him several times over Christmas because he always decorated his Christmas cakes to a theme and he would tweet about his home-cured “hang sangwiches.” He loved the local lingo and referred to cups of “tay” and talked about “The Old Boy” down the road who he seemed to have been butler, chauffeur and cook for. We all felt we knew him as well.

Anyway in response to my tweet a suggestion was made to plant a tree in his memory – a Twitter Wood as it were. A tree planted by the person who “knew” him for him. So like Twitter the trees would be scattered all over the world.

I loved this idea. I had already planted a tree in memory of Fat Kitty and I found it really therapeutic. It somehow perpetuates the circle of life. I had spoken to the man in the nursery the day I bought his (FK’s) tree, about planting a screen and told him I’d come back to buy the other trees later but in the normal course of events that would have been put on the long finger.

This morning I woke up to another beautiful blue sky. I jumped in the car and went to buy the trees I’d discussed with him. But they wouldn’t fit. He offered to deliver them. I managed to fit one in and planted it for Matt when I got home. It’s an alder which is a native tree. He delivered the rest of them this evening. I picked out a weeping birch for dad. The other alder I’m going to plant in memory of my martini-loving aunt who died in her 98th year.

The following day I planted the rest of the trees and as I was digging I started thinking about who will benefit from these trees, who will look at them, who will sit under their shade, who will wonder about who planted them. Am I the only one who looks at trees and thinks about stuff like this?

The new hens are allowed out now and are truly free range. In the first few days you always have a few hairy evenings getting them back in. But last weekend “bet all” as they used say in Meath. The araucana was missing. Typical in that she was the one that cost me the most. I closed in the rest and went walking around looking for her. My fields are bordered by a 7 acre field beside me which has thoroughbred mares on it. I told my neighbour who owns them he could graze my last paddock. He took me at my word to open a gap, except he bulldozed a gap…….I said to him don’t go complaining to me if my pigs get into yours. He won’t. But the people at the top of his field might.

Araucana

Anyway as I was walking down in the half light I could see a big bird wandering aimlessly in the distance. As I approached it didn’t fly away. It was the araucana. She was three fields away and in a neighbouring field. How she got down here on her own I’ll never know. Of course she wouldn’t let me hunt her back and flew into the ditch. So for the next 10 minutes she flew from one side to the other while I ran through the gap stumbling over big mucky tractor ruts. Then I got fed up and dived into the brambles hoping to grab her but missed. She seemed to settle in a shallow hole and stupidly instead of leaving her and making a note of where she was I tried to grab her. She scooted in further. She completely vanished. I rooted around for a while hoping she’d come shrieking out but no luck. I walked back to the house and a burnt pot. I’d only gone out to close the hens in.

I poured a glass of wine but then decided I’d go down one more time with a head torch. Lo and behold I could just about see her in the rabbit hole. Once it’s dark it is much easier to catch them as they are less likely to try and flee. I grabbed her by her tail feathers and hauled her out, much to her indignation. I have named her Mrs Mazel Topf (sic) and she reminds me of a mother in law at a wedding with stout ankles and a fascinator. She’s also the colour of a cuckoo maran that my son described as being like that of a static tv screen.

She began laying the other day and she actually does lay a bluish coloured egg. Well it’s a duck egg blue. The irony being that most ducks lay white eggs. It’s becoming fashionable now to have hens that lay different colour eggs not that it makes a “hapeworth” of difference to the taste.

Getting back to the trees. It’s a really nice idea to plant a tree in memory of someone you loved or even a beloved pet and let’s face it the environment needs more trees. Why don’t you plant a tree this weekend or if you don’t have the space for a tree – a bee friendly plant? As that horrible supermarket says “every little helps”.

In memory of Matt Care, Roscommon.

The Fat Cat

Always broody looking

The Fat cat aka Fat Kitty was put to sleep today 21st March 2019. I had him almost exactly 9 years. I found a photo of him from May 2010. We got him from a farm in Trim Co. Meath. He was pulled out from his nest between bales of straw by my daughter and her friend from pony club. She later read that when you take a kitten away from it’s mother too early it makes them very nervous. He was really, really odd. My brother called him The Enigma because he only ever got a glimpse of him. When strangers arrived he hid. In fact he hid under my bed when my daughter came home from university and then used sneak out and sit on the stairs observing her from a distance until he decided it was her. My son named him the Fat B*astard (he never stopped eating) and as he had mostly been called Kitty up to this, he became Fat Kitty. It suited him. And he knew his name.

Keeping watch over Honky robbing chicken food

He played with my first Jack Russell. He played with every kitten. He was gentle with the piglets that I raised (initially he was scared of them). He then slept out in the woodshed with Honky in my last place. He often lay on the ground in front of the pigs and had a roll. They would sniff him and he would jump up and hop off indignantly. My son described his run as a “big gay one” and it was.

When I decided to move here I actually had sleepless nights worrying about how he would cope. If he escaped he would be so freaked he would head for the hills. When he was outside he reverted to really weird and there was no way you could catch him. It was a major operation to fool him once the removal company had left. He knew something was up and was highly suspicious. I did manage to catch him and The Thug, my daughter’s cat who I was minding when she went off around the world. They both spent the night in the empty house and next morning were put into cages and travelled down here. Neither stopped complaining for 4 hours. They didn’t get on and had fought from the beginning. In fact FK had been to the vet a couple of times with injuries. The Thug was far more aggressive than he was and he always came off the worst.

I had to keep them in for a month. The Thug went out after 3 weeks and FK escaped one night when I opened the door to let the dogs in. I was distraught and figured that was last I’d ever see of him. But next morning he appeared out of the hay shed and when I opened the front door he shot back in. I think he slept with the pigs and realised if they were here, it was home. He didn’t go out for another few weeks. And then he was more relaxed than he’d ever been. He seemed to be much less freaked when strangers were around, and there was a lot with builders, plumbers, roofers etc. He loved the fields and used lie up on the ditches waiting for baby rabbits to appear. He lay under the hedge in the first paddock watching all the goings on out on the road and around the yard.

He was a different cat: until Nelly appeared. He wasn’t scared of her initially but when she grabbed him in her mouth and shook him, that really freaked him. He vanished for a day and a night. Once more I thought I’d never see him again. Once more he reappeared but he wouldn’t come near the house or the yard. It was about this time I began to feed him in the shed and put his bed out there. He spent the nights outside during the Beast from the East. He was actually quite cosy because he had a luxury dog bed on top of straw bales.

I thought he and The Thug had reached an entente cordiale as they seemed to just circle about each other all last summer. But I think now this abscess that ultimately killed him was from them fighting. The results came back as a round cell mass caused by his attack or defence cells fighting an infection. It was a type of lymphoma. He just couldn’t fight off the infection that set in after the surgery to remove the mass. He had 7 antibiotics, anti-inflamatories, steroids, two surgeries, a night on a drip, intensive care treatment here including from my son and his NICU nurse girlfriend when I went to my aunt’s funeral in Galway. He was almost put down twice but we gave him every fighting chance.

Relaxing in the sun on Paddy’s Day

This last week he was eating, drinking and seemed not to be in pain but only because he was still on the anti-inflamatories. Since he stopped them and went onto the steroids he virtually stopped eating and was pitifully thin. Last night before I went to bed I watched him wobble over to his litter box and realised the swelling on his neck was making him lame in his front shoulder. I made the decision I probably should have made a week ago.

I rang the vets first thing and asked if any of the vets were in the area would they call in. They rang me back to say Mary was. She treated both Honky and the weaner pig last summer. She sedated him first so he just went to sleep on his chair. Then when she administered the stuff he began to breath really roughly. I was very upset because it reminded me of when dad got his first morphine when he was dying.

I buried him in the field I kept promising him he would be out again in the summer when he got better. I’m going to plant a tree beside him soon, something that flowers now. And from now on I’ll think to myself Fat Kitty’s tree is flowering.

His grave

I went for a walk in Tintern at lunchtime. I cried the whole way around and God help anyone who said anything to me about Nelly not being on a lead. We only came across a couple and their young children who took one look at my tear stained face and said nothing. I picked some lesser celandine and ferns for his grave and there’s a small clump of primroses growing beside where he’s buried.

I told him to find dad and go sit on his knee and tell him how much I miss them both.

When I got back to the house his empty chair made me cry again.

He was just a cat; but he was my cat.

Be happy Fat Kitty.

The NWS

Tintern woods

The new woofing season has begun and all of a sudden I’m inundated with applicants. They all have waffley bullshit on their profiles, for the most part translated by Google and I quote ” I think I own a great spirit of collaboration and adaptation, coupled with a full application of everything I do……….” And they all love animals and sustainability and the countryside; until the reality hits and they have to get out of their pit to feed same animals – in the countryside – before they feed themselves!

But one chap decided he didn’t need any old Google help and just sent me his in Spanish. I replied that I had done one year of Spanish which amounted to: muchas gracias, como se llama, uno, dos, tres Cerveza, donde este etc. He then sent me muchas the sameas above.

I took a woofer for a week, a French lassie who was at a friend’s the previous week. I actually needed her for the following week but was hoping she would work out and stay but she told me she had her next place lined up in Bantry. She’s a graduate of some sort of environmental/sustainability degree – gawdelpus.

I’ve now decided to tell them all they can come for a week’s trial. I was really spoiled by the two I had last summer and suspect I will go a long time before I get half as good.

The sap is beginning to rise though and I’m itching to get stuff done again. I was able to look out the window in winter and just sigh. Funny how longer daylight and warmer temperatures change your perception. I was out with said woofer having decided that it was pointless looking for a “man with a digger” trying to level an area on the opposite side of the hayshed where I had the Mickey Mouse tunnel last year. My plan is to move the tunnel here where it will get almost as much sun but will be sheltered from the south and the south west. Every time there was a storm last summer I was up in the night squinting out the window to see was it still there or was it airborne over Cardiff. Larry the neighbour appeared on the ditch like the proverbial hurler and proceeded to lambaste me. He said phone Jack “he has a digger” and gave me his number.

I ran into the house and grabbed the phone. It’s a mobile but it spends that much time plugged into the wall it may as well be a landline. Jack answered and said “when do you want it done?”. I said cheekily “today”. He replied he’d be there in the morning at 9.30am. I couldn’t believe my luck. I raced off down to Dunphy’s of Campile. You’d want to see this place. Stuffed to the gills with everything from a needle to an anchor. You have to duck going in the door so as not to get whacked on the head by a colander. If there is a tradesman coming out, you’ve to turn sideways to protect your modesty and are full frontal into a line of paint cans. Then you’ve to stand and wait your turn while one of the taciturn brothers takes their time to serve the person in front. They go off looking for each item individually, including out back, answer the phone, take in deliveries, tot up bills, do the invoices. So it can be a long wait. A resident Englishman (there every single time I’ve been) turns around and informs new customers “you best not be in a hurry.”

I digress. I was there to buy a new spade. One of said taciturn brothers helpfully dug (no pun intended) me out a womany one. I also wanted fencing posts and wire. Do. Not. Ask. How. Much. anything is because then they have to go off to check and this adds another ten minutes. Stuff purchased so I had to drive around the back to get loaded up. Same brother came out to load me up while the line in the shop grew ever longer.

Next morning – no sign of the woofer crawling out of her pit so as I was awake at cock crow (literally), I was out like an idiot feeding the animals. Then grab some breakfast to be organised for the man with the digger, who was late. He appeared at the gate on a JCB. I couldn’t see what I assumed was a trailer behind with a mini digger. I ran over to open the gate for him. Then it dawned on me it was only him on his JCB. I told him he wouldn’t fit in. “Show me,” he says. Why do men never take your word? He agreed he wouldn’t fit.

So back to the drawing board. My son says hire one and he will come down and do it. But he needs to check his roster and I need to book a digger and don’t you know the digger will be booked up for weeks and then his roster will change.

What I have decided though is to wait a few weeks before agreeing to take anymore woofers. The weather is just still too unpredictable and after a day’s rain yesterday where we got absolutely nothing done apart from bake.

And the less of that the better.

Coffee cake

The Spring

          Post-breakfast snooze

The beginnings of spring were felt almost it seemed in mid-winter with buds on trees and daffodils in flower in January. I kept looking at them hoping we wouldn’t get more snow to bury them. So far we haven’t and we are in the middle of another mild spell after a brief cold one.

 

All the animals are out enjoying the mild winter and the pigs in particular have spent relatively few days in bed. Apart from a post-breakfast snooze if it’s cold, wet or windy.

 

Having barely had contact with the vets since I moved apart from the weaner who cut herself, I had that awful experience with Honky’s pedicure. And then one day I noticed the fat cat appeared very fat. He was always at the door inside the shed in the morning waiting for his breakfast so figured that was why.

I had installed a cat flap in the newly replaced windows that up to this had been propped open to allow the cats to get in and out. But one morning after a very vicious storm I opened the door to a soaking wet shed that seemed much brighter. The entire iron framed window had been blown into the field.

The shed is south facing on that side and most of the wind we get here is southerly or south easterly. I had had new glass put in in the summer and by some miracle it was still intact despite big stones that had been rooted up by the weaners. I decided I had better get the window closing properly and the cat flap was installed. Up to this the feral cats from the stable yard across the road had begun coming in for food. The cat flap stopped them for a while. It didn’t stop the goats though…….

The goats hear me in the shed with the cats and jump up on the window sill for a nosy and what better way to have a nosy than stick your head through the flap? Thankfully Freda Goaty McGoatface can’t manage this with her horns.

Anyway I noticed the fat cat had what appeared to be big jowls. But one morning whatever way I looked the jowl appeared lob sided. I felt it and he made a low growling noise. It dawned on me it was a massive abscess. I rang the vet and made an appointment. It was Thomas one of the vets who had treated Honky that day. He said yes it was an abscess and inserted a syringe to see if he could draw the fluid but nothing came. He gave me antibiotics and told me to see how he was in a few days.

Two days later it burst as I was trying to give him his antibiotic. Initially I thought he had got sick. It drained for well over a day. I assumed that would be the end of it. But a massive hole appeared in the skin and underneath you could see the fang marks into his flesh. It was horrific. He seemed very unwell and wasn’t eating. I took him back to the vet who said straight away it had developed into cellulitis probably caused by Pseudomonas and it definitely was a cat bite. He said cats are totally vicious when fighting and go for the jugular. They also have a lot of very nasty bacteria in their mouth.  He injected him with both a new antibiotic and a pain killer and told me to bring him back every day for the next three days.

 

He thought he would need surgery to remove or debride (I had to come home and Google that) all the infected tissue but couldn’t do anything until the infection was cleared. At the next check up he said he thought it might heal on its own and he wouldn’t need surgery. I was so relieved and he seemed better in himself. But then a couple of mornings later I noticed the area was very hot, inflamed and the skin seemed very taught so made an appointment. They decided to take him in. Thomas rang me at lunchtime to say he had cleared away a lot of necrotic and infected tissue and strangely enough, fat. Then stitched him up and put a drain in. He said it would need a lot of cleaning and care but I could pick him up later that evening.

When I collected him he was still very staggery so I left him in the cage. He wouldn’t eat or drink and kept making awful howling sounds. The effect of the sedation wearing off. I don’t know what sedation does to a brain but it really can’t be good. Looking at what Honky went through and knowing how I felt after I last had a general anaesthetic it’s no wonder that they try not to use them on elderly people or anyone with dementia or Parkinson’s.

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I spent the next few days dragging 5 litre bottles of sea water up from the beach, boiling and cooling it and bathing him in it. I also dripped honey into the wound and fed him kefir (antibiotics wipe out all bacteria including the beneficial ones and they need replacing). I also diluted Citricidal which is grapefruit seed extract and a powerful antimicrobial and used it for cleaning the wound. He had to go back the other day to have the drain removed and this time it was Mary who had also treated Honky and the weaner. She isn’t happy about it at all as the swelling is back so wants to have him in on Thursday to do a biopsy and possibly culture the pus to see what the bacteria is. He’s had four antibiotics already and they are not working. The sign of things to come with bacterial resistance? It’s not only humans who will be affected but animals as well.

It’s worrying because he’s an old cat. At 10 he’s the longest surviving cat I’ve ever had. When I lived in Meath, cats were regularly wiped out on the road as it was impossible to keep them in. He has only survived because he is so damn weird and nervy and afraid of his own shadow. He is also the gentlest cat and has played with every kitten who has passed through.

Meanwhile back on the ranch the goats continue to amuse and frustrate. I had to boost the electric fencing to three strands and for the moment it is working although they will still jump it or dive through it to follow me down the fields. I feel guilty restricting them so but until I get a fence erected to stop them getting in around house they have to be contained. They demolish plants and jump on or in everything including the car or a ladder if you happen to be up it or not. 

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A couple of weeks ago I was jarring up marmalade one evening when I heard a commotion at the gate and someone calling me. I went out to find Paddy who had cut the trees down in summer and another man. “I hear you’re looking for a pocán” says he. “I am” says I. “But I only want the lend of him.” He says straight away “a bit like a man?”.

Lots of laughter and innuendo later he gave me his phone number and we will do a deal. I asked him what he did with his goats and he said nothing, they were like his children. I get that. It’s funny both goats and pigs are highly entertaining, intelligent and thoroughly frustrating but you get to love them in a way I can’t imagine loving cattle or sheep or even horses of which I have experience. He reckons my goats are older than I thought they were so I will borrow his billy at the end of the month. The gestation is five months so that means kids around the beginning of August.

I wonder will motherhood calm them down any?

 

 

The Pig’s Prayer

It’s the Chinese New Year on the 5th of February and this year, it’s the Year of the Pig.

HRH

So in honour of the pig I’d like to pen a short prayer.

Let every pig live free – of cage and pen.

Let every pig feel the sun on it’s back, the rain, the hail, the snow and the wind.

For in experiencing sun you must experience the bad.

Let every pig decide when to sleep or root; eat or not.

Let every pig wallow.

Let every pig leg it to soft shelter when the heavens open.

Let every pig toss fresh straw to make a bed.

Let every pig grunt greetings to pigs or people it knows.

Let every pig wag it’s tail for joy.

Let every pig lie and bask in sun or shade.

Let every pig snuggle it’s young unhindered.

Let every pig explore.

Let every pig escape.

Let every pig taste sweet, sour and umami.

Let every pig choose…..

 

to behave as a pig: as nature intended.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The End

It’s just over a year since I upped sticks with pigs. Not sure where I’m going with this blog but glad I wrote it down as I remembered it. Having your dad die from dementia concentrates the memory. I don’t care how many people read this but I’m glad I’ve written it down now for posterity and hopefully my descendants.

The goats came about one evening when I was up a ladder waving a sweeping brush trying to get errant ducks down off a roof. The stupid duckers (that should be an “f”) fly up around roosting time. If they’d stay up there it’d be grand, but they don’t. The dopey duckers fly down once it gets dark and are sitting targets for le renard/brer fox. Well anyway my mobile rang in my pocket. Answer it and it’s D, my neighbour “do you want goats?” Sigh. “D, I’m up a ladder trying to shoo stupid ducks down, can I talk to you tomorrow?”……..

To cut a long story short, as dad was fond of saying (but he never did), I agreed to go look at them. A few days later he rang me to say he’d be down for me in 10 minutes. Five hours later still no sign. Could you explain this to any other nationality? But anyway to us Irish that’s normal. He explained later he’d got a “call out”. He’s one of the best tractor mechanics in the country I’m told.

We took off a few days later at short notice (me) to look at the goats. I jumped into his van and asked how far is it. “About 10 minutes”…….. the answer to every question in rural Ireland is the same. We got there in five. It was an empty, bleak, boring Irish cottage with a “garden”……..an acre. Around the back a ramshackle shed with two kids, one tied up. They were adorable and so friendly. I had been told they were male and female, unrelated and not “done”. The black one had horns so I assumed this was the male. I said to D “can we take them now in your van?” I was upset at the one chained. He said yes and proceeded to shove tool boxes up to the front. We lifted them over the wall and into the van and drove back with lots of “baas” and currant production in the back…….

I have to say that they were belong to his brother (who had bought them as pets for his kids but they’d got fed up of them). We weren’t just robbing them.

So we got them home and I took the chain off “the male”. I put them in the pigs’ stable and put back up the electric fencing around a paddock for them.

I named them Freddy and Fodhla (Fola). Days later I spotted Freddy squatting to pee. It suddenly dawned on me that Freddy was actually Freda but now they just respond to Goaty McGoatface and love when I sing “The Lonely Goatherd” to them.

They’ve done their bit climbing and escaping but not as much as I’ve been warned.

I can’t stay mad at them for long though because they are just so damn cute.

What’s new for 2019? Well hopefully I will continue working to restore all the outbuildings and get a garden and proper tunnel on the go. I’ll start taking Woofers again from spring and continue with AirBNB.

I got five ducks killed, plucked and freezer ready from a place I had bought new pullets in during the summer. The day I collected them I also collected my turkey from the farm shop in New Ross. I almost fell out of my standing when they told me it was €89. The farmer who killed my ducks almost fell out of his several times. He was killing and plucking turkeys the same day. He told me he will sell me a couple of poults next September to rear myself and he will kill and pluck for me and the two of them won’t cost the colour of €89.

I had my own ham for Christmas and gave one to my neighbour who supplied all my water during the heatwave in summer.

It gives me immense satisfaction to produce my own food but particularly meat. Pigs and poultry are reared in the most horrendous conditions in this country (for the most part). I know what I’m eating has eaten, how it lived and how it died. If you’re going to eat an animal, that should be the least it deserves. Pigs are supremely intelligent animals. We have to get off this pedestal we have put ourselves on (mostly due to religion). We are not better than animals. We share the planet with them and we must respect them. If we don’t, we are fucked. Not to put a tooth in it.

The Honks

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Anyone familiar with my story up to this will know that I’m potty about pigs but extra specially potty about one. Honky is a pig I reared from birth. She was completely bottle fed by me having got severe scour and almost dying. Then when I tried to reintroduce her to her siblings they bullied her so she effectively became a member of the household.

Eventually she was moved out and socialised with her own sort but she still has a big part of my heart. The fact that she’s an utter wagon is neither here nor there. She’s grumpy, touchy, easily irritated but also when she feels like it and entirely on her terms – affectionate and loving. She also gives me a huge welcome if she hasn’t seen me for a few days and she demonstrates extreme happiness.

From birth she’s had foot problems. The vet where I lived before said she had laminitis and so I fed her special food for horses who suffer the same. She tends to get bouts particularly when she’s in season and there’s been times she wouldn’t get out of bed even to eat. I’ve seen her walk on her elbows when it’s been very severe.

However, recently I noticed her front feet were very long and in need of a trim. Then I discovered one hoof was split. I spoke to the vets in Wellingtonbridge and I also enquired with a man who pared cattle’s feet. He said straight away that she wouldn’t fit in the crush he uses to hold the cows as he had difficulty even holding weanlings. So the vets decided the only option was sedation. You can’t just lift a pig’s foot like a horse and you can’t just do anything to her Honkyness. She is super sensitive to any interference on her person.

The vet practice rang me to say they were having difficulty sourcing the sedation for pigs and over a week went by. I called in one day to see what the problem was and was told they had got it and would be out the next day. I got a brainwave and asked my neighbour who is a blacksmith if he would be here as well to advise. He agreed.

During the summer one of the weaners had cut her foot very badly probably on some glass or barbed wire or rusty barrels that had been dumped and buried on the land here by the previous owners. I had spent ages picking up anything I had come across but pigs being pigs had obviously rooted up more. It was a really nasty gash but I figured out that it couldn’t be stitched but it needed a deep clean and she probably needed an antibiotic shot. A young slight woman had come out and to say she rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in is an understatement. Most vets have very little experience of pigs and are even scared of them. She asked me to try to hold the pig and she dived in and began cleaning the wound. Holding a 65kg squirming, squealing pig is not easy and it took us all our strength to get the wound cleaned. She was marvellous so I asked for her to come out to sedate Honky.

They rang me to say they were on their way and I rang my neighbour. Another vet had come along, a young man who also was really impressive. You might wonder why I am commenting like this but I’ve had experience of calling vets in the past to come to treat a horse who were patently scared of horses and vets who were totally useless with pigs. Just like any profession there are many more average than excellent.

They had a look at Honky and estimated her weight. I suggested in the region of 300 kg and they thought it was in the ball park. Mary drew up a syringe of the sedative and said that she reckoned it would be more than enough. I grabbed a bucket of food and gave it to Honky then got the other two out with their food. She got the needle in behind her ear easily and we waited and we waited. I asked how long it would take to act and she said about 5 minutes. After about 10 she appeared a bit shaky on her feet but then she can often appear like that. They kept saying any minute now. She started to shake her head and make strange noises but showed no sign of going down. It was like she was trying to clear a fog from her brain. I said I don’t think that is going to work and they decided to give her another dose. This time she was much more irritated by the injection and they just about managed to get it in. And then we waited and waited and waited.

She started to go down but fought it tooth and nail. Then eventually she keeled over.  But she had managed to stagger back up and over to the only place in the shed that wasn’t bedded and she began to slam her head down on the hard ground as if she was rocking to get back on her feet. My immediate instinct was to rush over to stop her hurting herself. They all screamed at me to stay away from her. She could crush and kill me. So we could do nothing but stand and watch this horror hoping the sedation would take enough effect and she would stop. But it didn’t. Larry my neighbour shouted that she was going to do herself serious injury and jumped over the fence to grab a rope. He knotted it in such a way that he was able to get it in her mouth and behind her tusks and he pulled her down. Immediately Thomas lay across her head and Mary set to work with a very blunt set of clippers. At this stage it was getting dark and they had to work with only light from a head torch and fast to get the job done before the sedation began to wear off. Mary said to me to get more straw to surround her with and as I squeezed behind Larry he released tension on the rope and she began to move. Even with two doses that would floor an elephant she wasn’t fully sedated.

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After about half an hour of paring her feet and cleaning out an infection in one they were almost finished. Larry once again released the tension on the rope and she began the head slamming again. He had to tighten it as they sprayed blue spray and gave her injections of anti-inflammatory and antibiotics. Then they told me it “should” wear off in an hour. Four hours later I was still beside her shoving straw under her head to prevent her bashing her brains in. I couldn’t leave her for a minute. I had let the others back in as they were going crazy at the door wanting to go to bed. They of course wanted to investigate what was up with her.

I sat beside her stroking her head and shoving straw under it for ages. At one point she began grinding her teeth and it was so severe I was really worried she would bite her tongue and choke on the blood. Then she began frothing at the mouth. At this stage I was completely terrified and too scared to leave her for a second. I had put my phone in the house to charge or I would have rung the vets to come back out. She began to vomit a huge amount of green bile that smelt horrendous and I had to try and clear that out from under her head. Eventually the head slamming began to slow down to just periodic bouts and I was able to get up. I banked up straw all around her, left her but came back out to check her every half hour. At about 10 pm she had moved into a normal lying position with her head up. To say I was relieved was a massive understatement.

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Finally the head slamming stopped and she appeared to be sleeping

I checked her a few more times before going to bed and considered checking her during the night but figured out what she needed was sleep and peace and quiet.

Next morning she looked up when I went into feed the others but didn’t get up. I carried her food over to her and she took a mouthful but seemed to find chewing painful. I’d say she had bitten her tongue. I tried her with a bowl of watered down cream as I had some in the fridge but she wouldn’t even take that. I had to go into the vets to get more antibiotics and copper sulphate for a footbath, so got a brainwave and bought yoghurt and bananas. She delicately ate a whole bunch of peeled bananas (she’d normally eat the skin as well). I couldn’t get any fluid into her but was relieved she had eaten the fruit. She never ventured out of bed all that day or the next.

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Sick, groggy and disoriented the next day

On Sunday morning she refused her food again but ate the bananas and yoghurt and this time I managed to get some kefir into her. She had got up on Saturday but was very distressed and agitated. She would lie down then get up again on repeat. I put the radio on and it appeared to settle her. I left it on for two days.

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Listening to LyricFM

During this time my neighbour was popping in to check on her (and me) and he said he reckoned it was a big mistake to sedate her. The vets had said that pigs aren’t like other animals and you can’t reverse the sedation. It was a miracle that she didn’t have a heart attack during it or do herself a serious injury. I don’t think I could watch any animal go through what she did again and certainly not her.

It was such a relief on the Sunday evening when she was actively shouting for her food because I had to begin the antibiotic powders then (the injection they had given her was only good for two days).

Then on Monday when I discovered her outside,  I was overjoyed. If anything had happened to her because of the sedation I don’t think I would ever have forgiven myself. I know she had to have her feet treated but sedation must be extremely hard on pigs. The whole thing was an absolute nightmare and I was fit for nothing after the stress of it.

They say you should never get too fond of animals you rear for food but Honky was given a pardon days after her birth and she’s the very same to me now as a dog, a cat or a horse. I love her and in her own way I know she loves me.