We finally laid dad to rest two years after his death, in the sea off Kilgorman beach. It was a sad but magical day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the wind and waves were gentle.
As we walked over the dune carrying his ashes and red roses, I saw the sun glinting on the sea almost directly opposite “the gap”. The tears immediately began to fall.
That was the first of many signs.
I had scribbled a few extra lines onto a well-known poem the day before his anniversary after a walk on Duncannon beach. We had read the original at his funeral and when I saw the sun shining across the sea and on the shells I thought of him, as I always do.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep“
I am the sun glinting on shells
I’m the sun’s reflection on tide
I am the wind that blows your side
I’m in the darkening clouds that cry
I am there where you are, I did not die
The second sign – the roses we threw in after his ashes, were washed back onto the beach, in a line, along the shore where he always went for a run after a swim.
The third – a seal appeared and swam where we had scattered the ashes. In all the years we have never seen a seal in that close and generally they are only at either end of the beach at the rocks.
I’m not religious and after he died I tried to feel he was still here (as people say) but there was nothing. He was gone and it was final. I found that the hardest aspect but gradually began to accept that once we die, that’s it. There is nothing else. Of course that doesn’t stop you thinking of the person, remembering them, missing them.
But yesterday that changed. I really felt he was watching us, that he approved and he was happy. He was somewhere behind the scenes orchestrating the whole thing and sending that seal to make us realise.
I tried to take a photo of the seal but his head vanished out of sight only to reappear a few seconds later when I wasn’t ready. Then we saw 3 roses bobbing in his place.
The clouds darkened as we walked off the beach and began to cry. But it was shortlived.
Later that evening, driving home the cloud formation and light over the county Wexford countryside from the new M11 motorway was breathtaking.
And even later the sunset spectacular.
I’m glad we waited as long as we did to lay him to rest. It felt right, it felt final, it was a good goodbye.
Today was D day. The pigs were trained for the last few days to charge up the ramp of the trailer for food. If you do this a few days in advance they have no fear of it and there is no stress on loading (especially for me). Generally I find they gallop up the first day you put the ramp down but if you were to rely on them to do that, it wouldn’t happen. I reckon they’re like horses and can sense your mood. If you’re desperate for them to go in; there’s two chances they will!
They got fed royally for the last few days. I went to Tintern (Colclough walled garden) to get the last windfalls and the gardeners were delighted to help me load up. I’ve promised them sausages and to keep them sweet I made them a blackberry cake. I love getting my own veg here. I take out annual membership of both it and the abbey for €30. Then I can get my own fruit and veg for an additional small donation. It’s all grown the way the monks would have done in the past. Because there’s so much wind here and because they have a huge variety of apple trees, there are loads of windfalls. Most people get them for horses but I’m one of the few looking for them for pigs and the gardeners don’t get sausages from the horse owners……
I always feel sad for days before the pigs go. It’s very hard not to get attached to animals (for me anyway) and to be honest I’m not sure quantity would make any difference. I fight with myself if I really want to do this. I wonder should I become a vegetarian more often than I have hot dinners, but the fact is I love meat. And then they do something to really annoy me, like knock me over or escape. But funnily enough these never did. In fact they were the only pigs I’ve ever had who never escaped (and it’s not due to better fencing). And they were a Duroc cross (nightmares apparently). My neighbour looking at all my fencing posts said it looked like a gallops. I think they were permanently confused by the layout and couldn’t be bothered taking a chance.
In training the pigs, I inadvertently trained the sheep and the goats. But with the goats that’s no achievement. They’re that nosy and adventurous they’d jump off a cliff. In fact they’re a damned nuisance. They managed to nibble the insulating tape off the wiring for the lights on the trailer. I hadn’t enough fencing posts to fence the trailer off from them. And I stupidly thought they wouldn’t bother because they’ve plenty to interest them. Never ever underestimate their ability to p*ss you off.
And then the woofer announced she had a dying grandmother. When I heard this I thought to myself – wow, French grandmothers go from alive to dying faster than a Ferrari does 0-60! I couldn’t help but be skeptical as the last French woofers had a dying grandmother as well.
I had been relying on her being here to help with loading. I had also asked her to stay an extra week to mind the animals while I’m away en famille scattering dad’s ashes, at long last. So all my plans were upscuttled.
However, today went smoothly and to plan and next weekend I have the young lad to who minds all here while I’m away (and is very capable and reliable).
Next month I’ll have to do it all again with the sheep. And I’ve decided to try and cure the skins. It’s a shame there are no tanneries left on the entire island. Using sheep skin and wool is far more sustainable than synthetic fibres. How have we become so advanced and yet so backward? So many skills are being lost, rearing your own food, butchering, tanning skins, knitting, even crochet.
At least I can rear my own animals for food and I can knit and crochet. It remains to be seen if I can tan skins.
Meanwhile I made up spice mixes for my sausages and gave them to the butcher. Making traditional breakfast sausages is no problem. Making dinner sausages (fennel and red wine and apple and sage) a bit more of a problem. I asked could they use a coarse plate for mincing (they only have one) but normally mince twice. So they’re going to only mince once. I think the solution is to get my own mincer and sausage maker, not the Mickey Mouse one I have.
Speaking of Mickey Mouse, my poor tunnel bit the dust before Storm Lorenzo even hit. But I managed to save the last of the tomatoes and it didn’t do a bad job at all. I’ve a freezer full of tomato sauce cubes for use during the winter and I’ve eaten my fill of fresh.
In two weekends it’s two years since I moved in here. In two years I’ve achieved a lot and I’m happy with the progress. I knew it would be a marathon and not a sprint. I’m staying the pace and I’ll get there eventually, but meantime I’m becoming more and more self-sufficient and eating better than I ever could have imagined.
There isn’t any number of stars that can be awarded for that.
Next week the winter slimdown begins. The “small” pigs will be booked into the abattoir in Camolin. The sheep will have another 6-8 weeks – I should be able to say of peace – but their main tormentors are the goats who aren’t going anywhere.
They will be fed in the trailer in the field for a couple of days in advance so they get used to it. Then they’ll be driven up the afternoon before and settled into straw-filled pens for the “off” first thing the following morning. I’m sure I’ll feel dreadful when the time comes but right now they are incredibly annoying teenagers. They run straight through me for food and even brazenly annoy the big pigs who swing their heads sideways to spear them with a tusk. I happened to be in the firing line one morning. Thank goodness I had jeans on. I still got a hefty red scrape down my thigh.
I collected the turkeys from the place I get all my poultry. I had booked them months ago but he kept telling me to ring him on such and such a date. Then when I collected them I was almost told tuck them up in bed with a hot water bottle. The questions he asked me. Was I sure I had a good warm house for them, could I keep them separate from other poultry, could I keep them in a minimum of 10 days and then watch them when I let them out……. I finally asked had they just come off a heat lamp. He said they were off it a while but I’m not so sure. Anyway on day 7 they flew over the shed/stable half door so that was that.
I tentatively let them out into the field and they appeared to just be happy to potter about in front of the shed. So I kept an eye on them. Then the ducks decided to take flight. They do this regularly and usually just fly over the high wall out onto the road. But this time they were up a serious height and I knew by the sound they had cleared the neighbours trees across the road. I totally forgot about the turkeys who I had left snoozing in the sun in their open doorway.
I ran across the road but couldn’t see the ducks. Then I caught a glimpse of what I thought was one three paddocks over. All the paddocks had horses in them and all had electric fencing around them. Luckily I could hear my neighbour in the stables so shouted up to ask him to turn off the power. He told me the ducks had been in several times in his dunkel and the pond. They had obviously figured out a way to get back. We walked down through the field but couldn’t see them anywhere. Than lo and behold saw the three of them along the hedge being followed by a line of bemused thoroughbreds. We hunted them back and I caught them and clipped their wings.
I suddenly remembered the turkeys. Yep, they’d vanished. I called the woofer and the two of us went searching in two separate fields. I thought I could hear a commotion at the back of the hayshed so went to investigate. They were sauntering around with a lot of curious pig onlookers. The pigs on seeing me started demanding food and there wasn’t a chance in hell I could shepherd them back safely so I had to try to catch them. I managed to grab one and handed her to the woofer. I had to corner the other in the middle of a big pile of nettles and just reach in and grab her.
After this I decided I’d have to move them back into the sheds off the yard. The fields are just too open. The problem is that even though I’ve got four sheds, one is for feed and since the hens decided to lay in it I’ve had to move the dogs out, particularly as Nelly is very partial to an egg and has perfected the art of cracking it and eating the contents. That meant the last shed had to be converted for dog shelter when I’m out or away. There was only one thing for it, move them into the duck shed and hope the ancient grumpy Muscovy drake wouldn’t decide to eat them for breakfast.
I cleaned it out and put their straw bale in. Then set up a sliding door so they’d be at the back and the ducks at the front. Cedric the cock flies up onto a ledge at the back. This morning all were still alive.
Yesterday when it started to rain in glimpsed out to see them trying to get out through the gaps in the green gate instead of turning and going back into shelter. My cousin reminded me that my grandmother always said they were the most stupid of all the birds. She kept goats and poultry. My mother had a school friend, a Jewish refugee called Annie Polesi (during the Second World War Castlebar took in Jewish refugees and they set up a hat factory). Annie was scared of the turkeys so my mother devised a system where she left stones on the pier telling her she’d left for school so she didn’t have to come up the driveway to call for her. She always laughs that Annie was scared of the turkeys. Geese I’d understand.
The last woofer of the year arrived a week ago. I need to get the last of the painting finished. So far it’s taken her a week to give the balustrading on patio one coat and with a bit of a push (from me) the gates. Last year it took the two wonder woofers two days to completely finish two coats. I think I’m done with wwoof.com. I registered with HelpX but there’s a fault in their system so if you don’t constantly update your listing you slide down the heap and get no enquires. So far I’ve only got mostly Americans looking for a convenient B&B.
It’s a shame really because the right people can benefit so much from it. 25 hours work in return for full bed and very good board plus a chance to experience another culture. But I suppose human nature being what it is, the vast majority see it as a cheap holiday.
The Mickey Mouse tunnel has almost done its job now although the tomato crop has been very poor. I think I stuffed in too many plants and they got mildew. Plus they are so late ripening. Some are only starting to ripen now. The wind began to pick up the other day (even more than usual). I have last year’s cover over this year’s, as it’s ripped in different places in an an effort to give 100% cover and some wind resistance. It’s worked so far but it was looking like it would take off last week. I got a brainwave and borrowed rachet straps from my neighbour. If I can just keep it on another few weeks……
I’m getting a proper tunnel for next year but as there’s a 6-8 week lead in time after ordering decided to wait until early next year to order it.
I’m not looking forward to the winter. I think I hate it a little bit more every year. It’s not the cold that gets to me but the dark. I live for light and the sun. The evenings getting darker and darker are soul destroying. The sooner they abolish daylight savings the better. Give me darker mornings any day. It means you get to wake up slower which can’t be a bad thing.
For now the push is on the get everything winter ready and to slim down the animal population and minimise the workload for the shorter days.
The summer slithered into autumn as it always does but somehow it seems to do so earlier and earlier every year. It’s not even September but already there’s a definite morning chill even on a glorious sunny day. The work outside has somewhat stalled due in part to the rapid and early departure of the last woofers. But I was glad to see the back of them. I’m getting another for a month on 23rd September and already wondering if it’s a mistake. I think the key with woofers is to have somewhere for them to stay away from your house so everyone has their own space. A lot of these young kids are very clueless and don’t seem to have grasped the concept of personal space. Plus I will never take a couple again. Suffice to say you don’t get twice the work but you get twice the food bill.
The Airbnb ramped up a pace after a very slow summer. I discovered my place wasn’t coming up on searches for the area and got onto their helpline. They admitted there was a problem and worked to sort it. It’s still not at a level where it’s worth my while so I decided to up my prices. I don’t want clientele coming down here for a weekend drinking. I don’t want the budget traveller who just wants a bed for the night. Funnily enough when I raised my prices, much to Airbnb’s consternation (“you are now so many % more than similar accommodation” ) I got more bookings. I also decided to offer a cooked breakfast rather than the inclusive continental one, at an extra charge and got customers for it.
However, despite providing a better breakfast than most 5 star hotels I don’t think they are impressed. (And I have to say in my defence I judge hotels (for an award) for many categories, breakfast included. I know if I got a breakfast anywhere of even half the quality, I’d award full marks.
So now I’m wordering is Airbnb the right fit for here or should I try and get on a “farm stay” site. I think there are so many places around doing Airbnb already, it’s a scrabble for the visitor who hasn’t come to rent a holiday home or is in their own camper van or tent.
In the midst if all this, I decided to set up a business. Myself and another baking-loving woman bought a wonky black van to sell coffee and cakes from, at markets, festivals and events.
We have officially set up the company, registered for tax and been cleared to start baking by the EHO. But there’s a lot of stuff still to do including lots of recipe testing, costings, sourcing environmentally friendly packaging, finding a coffee supplier, a coffee machine, a generator, sign writers. The list is endless. But all going well we’re looking at a launch date beginning of October with prosecco on tap, jazz and of course cake.
The pigs have grown so much that they’re almost ready for the off. They’re getting to that annoying stage now. They’re big and strong and very greedy and will run straight through me for food. Yesterday one even attempted to vault the electric fencing like she sees the goats doing. The goats are like grade A showjumpers, the pigs like a badly-mounted cob out hunting.
The sheep will probably stay here until early November although they too have grown and have taken to head butting me to make me move faster to the trough. One has even shoved between my legs and carried me backwards and I’m not light.
And so inevitably autumn will slide into winter and my freezers will once again be full. The circle of life will continue and next spring begin again.
In the meantime I’m loving the 5 chicks scurrying around after their mother who clucks continuously to keep them in line and tell them where she is. The limpy hen who I found with a broken/dislocated leg and splinted is making a great recovery and everyone is enjoying the Indian summer.
Hard to believe it’s my second summer here. Of course it’s nothing like the first but then I never expected it to be. I hear and see people complaining about it, but I’m out in it every day and believe me; it’s not bad at all.
Like last year, the hayfield (now named that officially) was cut and baled on schedule and in glorious sunshine. I opened the gate and all the animals streamed in, two by two as in the ark. They sniffed disinterestedly at the shorn grass and then headed for the margins where they all grazed happily as the sun sunk slowly on the horizon and the tractors across the gripe raced to cut the barley.
Woofers are thin on the ground this year apparently. I received an email telling me that some counties had little or no applications and as a result they had to lay off staff at HQ here. I was inundated but they all want to come in July or August. Obviously I would prefer they could be spread out a bit more, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Of all the applications I received, one couple weren’t put off by my grumpy reply telling them they would be on a week’s trial. I have found this sorts the men from the boys. They agreed by return so then I had to continue with my grumpy replies “sorry, I’m full”. I feel its only manners to reply. Unfortunately few reciprocate.
So far they are getting on fine. They won’t set the world alight but they remember to feed and water all and that’s the most important thing here.
They work here in the morning then have the afternoon free until evening feed. If they decide to go off for the afternoon on the two bikes I’ve arranged for them, then obviously I do the evening feed. But surprisingly most afternoons they hole up in their bedroom on IPads or on Facetime to friends and family. I don’t know, maybe it’s old fashioned to expect them to maybe want to see the area? I know if it was me I wouldn’t want to waste a lovely sunny afternoon in my bedroom.
They have finished painting the purple fence. I realised last year it was a monumental mistake but it had cost me a fortune so I decided to live with it. In trepidation I went to pick another colour. The guy who advises in my local hardware is a whizz and told me I really would have to use the same brand as anything else worked better on virgin wood. So because only a few shades come in 5 litres, I was restricted (the purple didn’t and that’s why it had been so expensive).
I chose cornflower blue and I’m happy with it.
They are out there now touching up the lime green on the doors. Then when they finish that, some of the lime wash on the gable end of the old stone shed has come off (I think because the application was too thick) so that has to be redone.
The grass is struggling to grow thanks to a severe drought (the ground here is like a rock) and the hens. I had seeded the area and the hens were in constantly scratching and pecking so I fenced it off from them. It began to grow and appeared to be really thickening and greening up. I walked out there recently and realised it’s a dense groundcover of everything but grass. However, I’ve let the hens back in and I’m getting lovely deep yellow-yolked eggs again so at least they’re happy.
My veg garden is beginning to grow after a very poor start. My tomato plants are drooping with green fruit, the courgettes are flowering and beginning to leaf up. I’ve been eating my own salad now for a few weeks and have started picking peas. I have kale ready and purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages coming on fast. The beans in the tunnel are flowering and the hanging baskets of strawberries and tumbling tomatoes are starting to produce. I’m not the most patient gardener. I get disheartened at failure. But I’m doing a lot better this year than last when I literally had no place to grow stuff. I tell you I’ve a heightened admiration for gardeners. Rearing animals is a hell of a lot more straightforward.
The fruit bushes I planted won’t do much until next year mainly because they were just kept alive for most of last. The raspberry canes were making great headway until the goats got in. I’ve now reinforced all the fencing and the gates and if they get in again it will be due to human stupidity.
I made a rhubarb and strawberry crumble with some of my own strawberries and rhubarb I picked in the Colclough walled garden at Tintern Abbey. I had lunch a few years ago in a two star Michelin restaurant in Carcassone in France. I was underwhelmed by it to be honest, except for the way they had made the crumble. They had baked it first adding water and putting it in the freezer for a while before baking. I spoke to chef to winkle this information out of him.
It’s basically half butter to flour, rubbed in not too finely. Add sugar and then a couple of tablespoons of cold water to get it to clump. Stick it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes then spread out on a baking tray and put it in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, scraping it in from the edges to prevent it burning.
You obviously need to soften your rhubarb in a pan with sugar first so it’s a bit more palaver. But believe me it’s so much better than soggy, half-raw crumble topping.
The day finally came after much procrastination, “I’m going to get sheep. ” It was time to collect them. Having said that I’ve been saying I’m going to get Dexters, a parrot and a chihuahua for years. The chihuahua has been on the list the longest. Years ago when we were small children my dad’s youngest sister had one. She went off on holiday somewhere and we were asked to mind it. My mother, never a big animal lover wasn’t impressed when he cuddled up with us in bed. Dad just laughed. He adored dogs. To this day I remember that dog and the absolute heartbreak when he was taken away. I’ve said for years I’m going to get one and I will.
There are people up the road who breed parrots and I’m avoiding them like the plague because I know what I’m like.
So I finally got around to applying to the Department of Ag. for a sheep herd number. After the fiasco with my pig herd number I was dreading having to deal with them again. My application had hardly hit the mat when I got a call from a man wanting to come to do an inspection. “Ahhh, I’ve got visitors at the moment can you leave it for a week or so?” He replied no, he was going on holiday the week after and it would only take 20 minutes. I almost fell out of my standing. The pig one lasted well over an hour. I said yes.
He landed and didn’t even bother putting on boots. Yer man who did the pig one did and the ground was like a rock after weeks with no rain. I thought to myself I might be onto a winner here. All he seemed interested in was getting my bank account details. For payments. Don’t make me laugh. I asked did he want to see the sheep accommodation. “Ah no, I can see you’ve loads…….”
Then being the cheeky git I am while he was merrily ticking boxes I asked if he could include a cow(s) on the application. He said yes, but you’ll need a crush but just send me a text when you have one. Yahoo!
Actually a crush is high on the list because they are damn useful for pigs too.
So then I waited. And waited. The Zwartbles lambs were ready for collection at end of May. Mid-May I rang and got the usual civil servant spiel……. staff off sick/on holiday/backlog/under-worked/over-paid…… the last two are mine. They told me to ring next week. I did. And then lo and behold, Enda the postman staggered in with numerous heavy brown envelopes. Then for several days after he arrived with more. I’ve a swanky shiny herd book, duplicate books, record books, official letters, a big long herd number for TWO sheep and n’er a cow yet. Don’t be fooled, all this is to keep people employed and has a small bit to do with traceability.
I left here at 10am to be in Bennettsbridge at 11. I had to stop for diesel, get a slow puncture pumped and to pee. But I arrived close to 11. I assumed my sheep would be separated and it would just be a question of loading them and off I’d go. But when I arrived Suzanna said you can select your own. So we rounded the entire herd of lambs up and I got a brief lesson. Which were the cross breeds/the pure breeds/the wethers (neutered males)/tail less or with tails. Was a lot to take in. Then she discovered some had scald (a foot infection) so I got a lesson in separating sheep and treating them. The whole thing took 2.5 hours. I was exhausted and actually needed a drink (alcoholic) at the end of it all. Talk about baptism by fire. I actually think I could work with sheep now except there’s nothing to grab the feckers with. At least the goats have collars/horns.
My greatest fear with sheep was they live to kill themselves.
I put them in the small pigs’ shed. I had rung my neighbour on my way home to ask if he’d give me a hand to unload them. Honestly you can’t beat country folk who don’t bat an eyelid at such requests and indeed take them in their stride. He helped me then I realised I’d forgotten to get some hay from Suzanna. He said he’d give me some and arrived down with a huge wheel barrow load. The goats were thrilled.
I really have great neighbours. I know they think I’m spectacularly batty but they humour me and I think they actually enjoy the distraction.
So next day I decided to open the door and let them out into the fenced paddock. The goats had been in and headbutted them. Then when I went off to leave them to their own devices, the ponies (belong to my neighbour) decided to chase them around the paddock. I arrived back to see them plough through the electric fencing to get away into the pigs’ field. The weedy field full of dock and ragwort. There they met the pigs who greeted them civilly by touching noses and then went about their business. I could see the lambs relax visibly. To date they haven’t budged from this field. It is weedy but it’s full of varied grasses and herbs and flowers and they seem very happy browsing. So much so that they have absolutely no interest in me and my bucket of barley. But at least now the one with the white bib lets me scratch his head, His brother is much more wary.
I love watching them. They seem very relaxed. When it’s windy or raining they shelter under the hedge of hawthorn and are warm and dry. They’ve even dug a bank to lie against. They are super cool with the pigs. The little pigs charge up to them to say hello in the morning. I always knew that pigs are socially very advanced but to observe their interactions with the sheep really confirms this.
The more I observe animals the more they fascinate me and the more respect I have for them. We could learn a lot from them and we need to.
Every year it gets harder. This year I’m already dreading October. The reason? The Tamworth Two. It’s difficult to convey the joy they fill me with – watching them run, play, cavort around the fields and then flop down as if dead when they tire; reminiscent of toddlers who are found face down in lego.
They are joy, they are fun, they are mischief, cheekiness and bravado. They don’t learn. They get snapped at, snarled at and chased by the big pigs and they don’t give a damn. They come back for more. When I kneel down to take a photo of them they nibble at my feet, my jeans. If my phone is in my back pocket they do their best to get it out.
Last year’s pigs never moved in to the hayshed to sleep with the big pigs. These did off their own bat. Now that I’m getting sheep and I need their shed, it suits me but I never intended moving them. I moved the fencing but they just took a deep breath and darted under it: into the goats.
Yesterday having spent the entire day on my feet getting organised to collect the sheep: raise and test fencing, clean out their shed, drive into Wellingtonbridge to get the trailer washed inside and out, then fortify the hayshed to stop the hens getting through it into the field to the waiting family of hungry foxes. I had just poured a glass of wine to sit and enjoy the evening sunshine when I glanced over at the gate I had earlier reinforced against goat incursion. I did a double take because I’m not used to seeing pigs there.
In the past I’d have dropped everything and run out to get them back in. But with experience comes wisdom and a certain amount of laziness. I knew that when it got cold or there was another heavy shower they’d dart back. I hadn’t factored in the goats. I saw the black one with the horns lower her head to get the angle of the puck just right and then I waited. Squeal. Then the white one added her two and fourpence. Suffice to say there was no further sighting, at the gate, of the pigs.
Later I went out to check and they were snuggled up with the others and the little Silkie cock hiding from Cedric the big cock who is a monumental bully.
I know that they will have a great summer. I know they will have had an infinitely better life than the vast majority of pigs on this planet but it really doesn’t make it any easier. The other day I thought as they twined themselves around my legs looking for a belly rub how like puppies they are. And we would never even contemplate eating dogs. Having more pigs probably would make it easier because you don’t get to know them so well. But at the back of my mind the whole time is what sort of personalities do factory-raised pigs have? The chances are they would be just as full of joie de vivre as these guys, full of playfulness, full of cheek – if they only got the chance. But we never give them that chance. Instead they lead miserable, unnatural lives confined indoors and not even able to express their normal behaviours.
To be a meat eater is a struggle. It’s an even bigger struggle when you raise the animal, when you feed it, when you almost fall in love with it. Believe me it’s much easier to go to a supermarket or a butcher and buy a piece of flesh. You can detach yourself to the extent that you don’t even think. But maybe we need to start thinking and stop detaching. Maybe if we did, we’d stop factory farming. And maybe a lot more of us would become vegetarian.
These are just my random thoughts. I don’t think it should be easy but I never thought it would keep getting harder!
The final straw in a long line of stolen hens (and my last duck); the bastard took Mrs. Mazel Topf the araucana. I was really upset by this. I loved watching her strutting past my window with her fascinator bobbing. I also loved her blue green eggs. It’s always the hens you love that they take.
The hens had been getting out behind my fence into next door which is a 7 acre field. At the top of the field there are 3 bungalows and the narrow field lane running between my place and these houses holds no end of fascination for them. Plus the houses only have sheep wire around their gardens so the hens are getting into the gardens as well. Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence for hens too.
The fox had been seen a few times in this field and when the hens were out there they were sitting ducks (well hens really). When Mrs Mazel Topf was taken I got a brainwave and put a radio out on the fence. It kept him away for a few days but he wasn’t going to be fooled for long. I finally did what I should have done long ago and went and got a couple of rolls of chicken wire, tying wire and a thingamyjig for cutting it and twisting it.
Between myself and the woofer we blocked all the gaps. Then we let the hens out. They paced up and down trying to figure a way out but we had them stumped.
The chap who did the fencing around my veg garden is coming back in a couple of weeks to fence the rest properly for me. We had decided on sheep wire until I realised the hens were able to squeeze through it. The object is to keep them on my property as I really don’t think the fox is brazen enough to come in with 4 dogs here. So he has suggested using up some old fencing panels he had and as it’s not going to be very visible I agreed.
He put up this picket fence in an afternoon and it’s a really decent job. The area in front I’ve already started planting up to give a cottage garden border effect. Having had no garden for a year and a half it’s been a joy designing it. In a previous existence I was a landscape designer. But that was sitting in an office on a drawing board. This was actually laying it out and selecting the colours and textures I wanted, then digging into old roots from the trees that were removed. I think I’ll be digging out roots for a long time to come. I put some new topsoil here as well.
On the veg garden side I’m just waiting for the seedlings in the tunnel to get big enough to plant out. It’s still a bit cold at night so I want to harden them off first. The strawberry plants are in and some herbs and a horse radish. I had intended planting the herbs in the fruit garden but until the hens are fenced out that’s not possible. They demolished a fennel plant on me and they’ve even had a go at some of the perennials in the flower border.
The grass seed I planted at the back of the house is beginning to grow. Although now the hens are confined in the yard, they’re not helping matters. The area in the first paddock that had been cleared had to be harrowed so that I could seed it. I asked my neighbour to do it for me. He has his mares and foals in my third paddock so it’s a fair swap.
I decided to dig out the docks by hand and spent the next day at it. It’s a backbreaking job not helped by a load of curious onlookers. Just when I had the wheel barrow full the goats would jump into it, knocking it over. They can clear the electric fencing like grade A showjumpers.
The excess grass seed mix that was sent to me includes perennial rye grass as well as fescues, timothy, cocksfoot, chicory, forage herb, clovers and birds foot trefoil. I’m looking forward to seeing it once germinated. I hope the sheep will enjoy it.
Speaking of sheep I’m still waiting to get my herd number from the Department of Ag. despite being inspected at the beginning of April. It was the same with my pig herd number. I doubt there are many new number applications in Co. Wexford so not sure why it’s taking them so long. When I ring I get the usual excuses – backlog, staff on holiday/sick/leave etc. It’s very frustrating.
While the woofer was here we got the old shed completely whitewashed including the gable end that we didn’t get around to last year. Unbeknownst to me she took on to white wash the big shed that we painted last year. I was out in the field pulling the docks and didn’t see what she was doing. It looks great but it’s a total waste of the lime putty I had to get couriered here from the Natural Lime Company, not to mention a waste of money. Plus it will probably run off in heavy rain.
I also got a new tin of the lime green paint. I thought I had saved the code but it had vanished. Luckily the place I bought it were able to check back how many tins they had mixed this time last year so I knew it was the correct shade.
I got some lovely compliments recently, one from a couple I was speaking to in Duncannon. They asked was I living here and where. When I told them where I was they said “you have done such a fantastic job with the place.” The chap who did the fencing told me he remembers this place as a child and it was like a chocolate box cover with whitewashed sheds and a beautiful garden. He said he was delighted to see it being restored to its former glory.
Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened when things aren’t happening quickly enough, especially if you’re like me and have no patience.
When I moved in there was a huge mound in front of what had been the pig sty. They had obviously dug out for a septic tank and piled the soil high on either side. Three big trees had grown on the mound in front of the sty and one arched over the gate screening out the neighbour’s sheds. I had hoped to keep it and just prune it back but when the others were removed I was told it would be very unstable. So it had to come down as well.
This just left the mound which had some old shrubs in it and a lot of junk buried plus the stumps of the trees. Now it’s cleared and the area looks huge. They came back with topsoil at the weekend and drove the dumper into the septic tank. I wouldn’t mind but initially they had buried the tank. I said when they came back I wanted to be able to access it in the event of a blockage or some such. Their reply “ah sure we know where it is”……. “That’s a fat lot of use to me if I have a problem,” I replied. So I insisted they uncover it. Of course it was my fault he then forgot about it and drove across it.
They then rebuilt the lid with a raised manhole and gave me the number of a chap locally who fences in his spare time. I need to fence off an area in front of the mickey mouse tunnel for growing veg, away from the destructive chickens. I also need to fence animals out from my yard which means pulling out all the make shift fencing that the old farmer had put up. As my son would say he was a typical old rooter. A hodge podge of a barrier with any old scrap he had lying about. Over the years bits had collapsed and I found myself blocking the gaps with other crap. However the wily goats easily cleared it and now the piglets are in danger of figuring a way through.
The chap arrived last night and we decided posts with high tensile sheep wire. But the area in front of the old pig sty is very visble so I told him I want something that looks good there. In my mind I had a picket style fence that I could use as a support for creepers plus a gate to get into the veg patch. He told me that will be as expensive as all the rest of the fencing combined and looked at me as if I was slightly batty or maybe majorly batty (sometimes it’s hard to tell).
I’m already laying out in my mind a cottage garden full of flowering perennials. I can’t wait to get stuck in. I also have to find someone to neaten up the exposed side of the pig sty. The chap fencing told me he’d just drive a digger into it. Why? It might not be as old as the stone shed beside it but it’s part of the stamp of the place and I use it for my hens. The lack of any real empathy for our built heritage here is why we have littered the countryside with horrible houses and bungalows.
Last weekend I finally planted my fruit bush cuttings (various currents and gooseberries) that I had brought with me from Moynalty. They’ve been sat in pots for a year and a half now. Last summer I nursed them through the 10 weeks of drought just about keeping them alive. I was so thrilled to finally be able to plant them I stood back to admire them for ages.
Last night when the fencer was here he said its a shame you’ve planted them. I said surely he could drive the tractor between the rows. He then muttered about the old apple tree. I told him I had a soft spot for it. He sighed and said “I thought you might”. It’s the only living thing that survived the house renovation and was only discovered when the trees choking it were cut down. It’s half dead but also half alive and I’m hoping now it’s got light it might revive.
Behind it is the fence line where I often have a chat with Honky. The pigs use that area as their toilet and if I happen to go out while they are there, I get a grunt of a greeting. I tipped all the old straw from the hayshed out there under an old bent conifer and they’ve taken to sleeping on it. That also warrants a grunt when I appear. I love the social aspect of their communication with me. It’s very civilised. It’s an acknowledgement of my presence and a hello.
Having this area totally enclosed from the chickens and any other animals means I can finally grow herbs. All my herbs to date are in pots on the patio. The chickens ate them all so I gave up planting them.
The goats got into the yard when I was away at a wedding (thanks to a gate not closed properly) and destroyed a fig, a wisteria and a Virginia creeper I was patiently coaxing to grow up my freezer sheds. I was so upset but last year they did the same to a rambling rose and it’s come back beautifully so fingers crossed they all do too.
The massive builders rubble mound at the back of the hayshed (from the house renovations) has been cleared as has the mound added to it from the yard. I discovered Honky sunning herself on it one day.
Then a few days later was driving down the road and the sight of it horrified me. It was like an image of Calcutta and I half expected to see a load of street urchins rummaging through it. Thankfully they landed out of the blue to remove it a few days later with a massive 23.5 tonne digger.
The levelled area is now fenced off and I got some grass seed mixes from a farmer who had some leftover. There was a chat on the Facebook page Regenerative Farming of which I’m a member and I said I’d love to seed it with something other than rye grass. He offered to send me some and it arrived yesterday. Hopefully the sheep coming at the end of the month will enjoy it when it grows.
I also got the dreaded Teram “weed control” and gravel pulled up. Weed control in inverted commas because it did nothing of the sort but that was probably because it wasn’t put down correctly. They were able to fill a soak hole we dug with the gravel to try to minimise the flooding in the yard after heavy rain and last night we had a lot of rain and most of today and it seems to be working. I scattered grass seed yesterday evening after raking all the stones up and the rain was very welcome. I’m looking forward to having a lawn again even if it will be very small.
So there has been a lot of progress really. I keep telling myself it’s a marathon not a sprint but I have this vision in my head and I want it done now.
At the end of the day you can only hope you will leave the place better than when you found it. That’s my aim.
Saturday when they came back to pull out the second massive stump, I had to head off to collect the piglets. I left them with my phone number, loaded the big dog crate into car (putting down the seats) and spreading a huge tarp underneath. I was only going to Clonroche but I may as well have been going to Mars. Every field in Wexford has a road around it. And the roads aren’t necessarily road worthy…….
R apparently denotes “rural”. I decided in reality it denotes “rubbish”. L denotes “local” but that should be “ludicrous”. We pay taxes for this……?
It took me 40 minutes to travel 29km or 15 miles. They obviously factor in being stuck behind the local farmer with no wing mirrors.
The piglets were in what looked like a lovely place. Two sows were stretched in the sun in a paddock with an arc. He had the weaners in a shed. He calmly went in and caught them insisting on sticking his tag in one ear and mine in the other. The only time in my 6 years of pig keeping I experienced this. So the poor little feckers were more tag than pig.
We put them in the cage with straw in but they still skidded and stressed the whole journey home. The men were engrossed in the big stump removal when I got back and my standing helplessly asking them for a hand to unload the piglets went ignored.
Eventually the elder came over and we lifted the cage out and coaxed them into their shed stuffed with straw, food and water.
I decided it would be better to keep them in a few days before letting them out. I’ve never had wilder piglets. They had obviously never been handled and were totally freaked anytime I even opened the door. I kept them in almost a week. Then let them out into a small fenced area. They approached the fence, got shocked and one promptly dived through. She happened to meet the big pigs coming back in for their post-breakfast siesta. I’m not sure who was more shocked.
The second stuck her snout on it. Ouchio.
For a few days they remained confined. Then I went to the vets to get a wormer and enquire why one was a bit bald. They told me I’d need to inject a wormer and a delouser sub-cutaneously. I’m always wary of introducing pigs into my place and I prefer to keep the new ones separate until I’ve treated them. I had never injected pigs before but Mary told me how to do it. She suggested asking my neighbour who had helped us with Honky. He happened to be driving out of his yard as I arrived back. We confined them easily and he held them while I injected them. One was no problem, the other wriggled just as I put needle in and half of the dose dribbled down her neck. Bugger.
I rang the vets and they made me up another dose. My neighbours said they’d collect it for me. Later that evening they arrived up with their bull mastiff and a French bulldog on leads. The neighbour who’d helped me earlier arrived as well. Needless to say the piglets were freaked and there wasn’t a chance in hell they were going to cooperate. They bolted. Through fencing.
For the next 20 minutes 4 adults were given the run around by two slippery piglets. We gave up. Peter took the dogs home. Larry the other neighbour had long gone so myself and Susan sat on the deck in evening sun with a glass of red and listened to the happy grunts of two escapee piglets. The woofer arrived out to close in the hens and vanished. Eventually she appeared at the gate to say she’d coaxed them back in with food. Success.
Next day the digger driver’s dad held the piglet and I injected her like a pro. However, they’d got a taste of freedom and that little paddock wasn’t going to confine them. Just as the digger man drove a fully laden dumper of topsoil over the septic tank and got stuck in it, they headed for the hills. I was running out to try to round them up when I heard the frustrated swearing. I came back to find his wheel in the tank and the concrete lid had disappeared.
I gave up chasing the piglets. Utterly pointless and instead lowered the electric fencing and reinforced gaps. Meanwhile the Diggerman pulled the dumper out with his digger. I resigned myself to feral piglets but when I went out later I found them finishing off the last of their feed and settling into their shed for the night. At least if they were going to be feral they knew their way home.
My neighbours with the dogs named them The Tamworth Two and the name rang a bell. I had a vague recollection of it so I googled it. I hadn’t realised they’d made a film about the pigs.
I often just sit and watch them, they fascinate me. These weaners are barely 8 weeks old and were just weaned when I got them. So far they’ve moved home, explored all around and still found their way back for bed and board. We really underestimate the intelligence and resilience of animals. How many human babies or even puppies could do that?