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 Winter

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The pigs pushed their way out of the shed on day 2

All the dire warnings and predictions came true. It was relatively benign up to Christmas apart from epic rain which obviously managed to seep into my old well and the water turned brown. It took me a few days to notice and when I did it was in the toilet. The worrying thing was I’d been drinking it and hadn’t noticed.

There had been horrendous rain a few days before. I was out checking the pigs one evening and could hear all this water. I walked down to the gate and the water was pouring out of the field opposite and running down the road. My big shed looked like it was floating.

When I realised my water was affected I rang Wexford County Council. To this day I remain impressed at how speedily they reacted. It was coming up to Christmas and one day there was a knock at the door. It was the guy in charge of this area. He told me I lived on the Low Road (who knew?). He also said they’d be out in the next couple of days to put in a drain at my gate. They were and it worked.

The run off from the field opposite is because a lot of the land around is leased to agricultural contractors who farm intensively. They removed all the stones in the soil for growing carrots and between that and compaction from heavy machinery and the fact they couldn’t care less about the land means the drainage is minimal. It still pours out but at least not into mine. I later found out that my yard and house had flooded from it in the past.

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So grim and grey in this picture

The builder who had renovated my house came out to talk to me about a possible extension and opening up the west facing wall to some light. He promised he would be here after Christmas when he was quiet, to make a start. He arrived in February. I’ll never forget one of his workers telling me the warnings about the predicted snow were right. He said if they say it’s coming from the east we always get it here. Storm Emma was coming up from the Azores and they were predicting Armageddon if she met the cold east winds now named The Beast from the East, but at this stage I was still sceptical.

However, I stocked up on animal feed just in case. I remember the poor man in my local Agri was really flustered because the place was mayhem. Tractors with trailers, jeeps with trailers and cars all waited patiently as they were loaded up with feed. He told me he hadn’t stopped since 8am to even get a cup of tea and it was now 2pm. I got double what I would normally then went into Wellingtonbridge to the SuperValu. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the entire wall where the sliced pans are normally stacked was empty. The milk section was as well. I was okay because I make my own bread and I had plenty of milk in the freezer.

But back to the buliding. I had decided I didn’t want to do a room but instead a partially covered patio/deck area. They were going to knock an old alcove out in the dining room and put in a window and knock out the kitchen wall for double patio doors. But first they had started on the roof. The roofers had got the felt on and were heading off for the weekend. I asked if we get snow will it hold up and they said of course. I really hoped they were right.

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It did hold up, impressively. And there was a mountain of snow on it. I was terrified if it slid off on top of me walking out from under it, I’d be buried in an avalanche. The roof was a godsend though because I was finally able to leave wellies, wet gear, buckets, gloves etc outside rather than dragging them into the house.

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We had some of the worst snow in the country. The worst in 72 years. My neighbours said it was all my fault for moving to the “sunny southeast”. But they were great. They called in to see if I was okay or if I needed anything. We took turns to go to the shop (“walking” actually crawling through snowdrifts in places) and luckily I was able to bail out two of them with milk when the local shop was cleared out and couldn’t get deliveries. Everyone I met on the road informed me the shop had no milk. All I was worried about was if they still had wine. I did get some strange looks when I said this.  Walking to the shop was lovely because everyone you passed had time for a chat. I thought to myself this must have been like what it was like in the old days when people had time for each other.

By now farmers and my neighbour who has a JCB were out clearing the roads. It was the same story all over the county. It was farmers who cleared roads probably because the council just didn’t have the manpower.

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There’s an old saying apparently that if snow is lying on the ground in March, you’ll have more before the year is out. It was hard to believe that we could ever get more but we did. Thankfully not a lot. But the cold and the grey and the rain was never ending. It seemed like it would never get warm again. My builder friend said he had heard it was going to be like this until June. Thankfully he was wrong and it began to improve at the end of April.

I was by now 6 months in my new house and I was itching to get out and make a start on the outside.

The Neighbours

Wexford people are some of the friendliest in Ireland. When we were kids we spent our summers in north Wexford, my mother always said this. She was a Mayo woman and I think she missed the easygoing friendly ways in her native county. When I moved in I couldn’t believe how lovely and welcoming my neighbours were.
Firstly I think they thought that I had bought the place as a holiday house and seemed to be genuinely pleased that I was going to be living here. There are a lot of houses closed up which I presume are holiday homes.

Neighbours dropped in cards, little gifts, called in for a chat and a cup of tea. People driving by stopped to say hello, one man warning me that he had seen my dogs squeezing out under the gate, “there are a lot of young lads tearing down this road you know.” You’d find it hard to imagine anyone tearing down my road apart from tearing out the ditch trying to pass a wider vehicle.

I was given their mobile numbers and told call them if I needed anything or wanted to know anything. One older lady called in with a warm apple tart and the parish newsletter.It was through her that I met one of the daughters of the old lady who had lived in this house. She also arrived with a gift and a card and we had a lovely chat about her parents and grandparents who had lived here. She was thrilled to see animals back in the place and particularly pigs and poultry. Her mother had reared poultry and her father pigs. He was a great gardener growing all their vegetables even courgettes which back in those days no one had seen before or knew how to cook. Her father owned the bakery in Campile but he still managed to feed a family of 4 daughters on 4 acres.

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Before Christmas I decided to ask them in for a glass of mulled wine and mince pies and they all piled into my tiny sitting room and had a lovely evening. Even though where I’m living now is even more remote than where I lived before, I have much closer neighbours. In the beginning I thought this would drive me crazy but it really doesn’t and it’s nice to know there is nearly always someone around during the day. It makes it feel very safe. It also means if I’m away the house is safe. I have almost never turned on the house alarm. My last house didn’t have one so anytime I have turned it on I’ve forgotten and set the damn thing off coming back in.

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But as I was getting acquainted with my neighbours so too were the pigs but their new neighbours were less than impressed. I’m surrounded by horses here. The lane beside me leads up to 10 acres which borders my fields and there is a thoroughbred yard across the road. Beside me they have sport horses and ponies. The pigs on realising that they had neigbours and being very friendly inquisitive animals immediately poked their snouts through the by now diminishing hedge and grunted.

What followed was chaos – snorting, galloping, tails up and thundering hooves. The pigs were perplexed which made them even more inquisitive. I looked out one Sunday morning to see my neighbour beside me holding one of his horses lathered in sweat. The animal had got itself in a state just hearing the sounds of the pigs beside him.

Horses are scared of pigs because back when wild boar roamed freely they were big and powerful enough to take down a weak horse or a foal. It’s an ancestral fear. But with a lot of patience and work I now have horses in my field closest to the house with two weaner pigs cavorting around and they are all quite happy together.

Even in the animal kingdom proper introductions are everything.

The Unpacking

I would think it took me 3 months to fully unpack and that’s not counting the 15 or so boxes of kitchen stuff in the shed to this day. This house was renovated as a holiday house and not much thought was given to storage. There is no where to put a mop, a bucket or a vacuum cleaner and the sparkling-shiny-white-newly-installed and almost never-used kitchen from Cedarwood is useless for me and it doesn’t suit the house. It needs to be changed but it’s on the very long list.

Plus the kitchen was as dark as a dungeon. Me who lives for sunlight and cooking had managed to buy a house with the most depressing kitchen on the planet. The whole west facing wall was solid, not even a small pane of glass in the back door. The kitchen window was north facing and they had managed to put in the smallest window possible. I hated being in it. One of the first things I did was get onto Munster Joinery to come and replace the entire panel in the back door with glass. The difference that made was unreal.

But back to the unpacking. There is no hot press – none, nada, zilch. To those of you that don’t understand this particularly Irish term – it’s an airing cupboard. Where in the name of all that’s holy was I going to store sheets, towels and bedding? At the top of the stairs is a small door leading into the attic. I threw the boxes of stuff in there. In winter it is Baltic, in summer (now) it’s hot enough to boil the few bottles of wine left over from various booze cruises.

Apart from the unpacking the trying to find stuff has to be the most frustrating. You remember you’ve seen that item somewhere, but where? And then the stuff they have lost. I was there most of the time they were packing up. I saw them labelling boxes. So where has it gone? How can stuff just vanish? The trifle bowl was the most frustrating, that and the pasta maker. It’s not like I use them often but I needed the trifle bowl for the annual family Christmas dinner (after Christmas Day) we take turns hosting and after a glass of wine one night I decided it would be a brilliant idea to invite them all here…….I knew they were both in the same cupboard in the kitchen in the previous place, still in their boxes. I hunted everywhere and ended up buying a new trifle bowl on Amazon that just made the final delivery day before Christmas. A couple of months later I drove back up to the old house to get some last bits and pieces and I went into a really depressing cold, empty shell and looked in the cupboard. There they were in at the back on the bottom shelf.

I had decided I would stay in my new house that night and the next and then drive back to Meath to organise moving the animals. I was worried about the sow, Lady Lavinia who had never set foot in a trailer in her life and was very clever and very, very suspicious of them. All the times I had loaded up her offspring she had never been temped up the ramp for food. I knew Honky and Parker (my accidental pet pigs) would be fine as they had both been in trailers before and would do anything for food.

I also had sleepless nights over the cats. I have one old cat who we named the fat cat or Fat Kitty. He’s the most nervy odd cat in the history of odd cats. You can’t just bend down and scoop him up when he’s outside but you can when he is in the house. I had to leave him and my daughter’s cat (who I inherited when she went off on her world tour) behind with the pigs. I knew I had to capture them both the night before the move so I could put them in cat boxes on the day of the move.

I didn’t realise how freaked they would be at the empty house that I left them in the night before while I went and stayed with my son again. On the plus side the pigs were happy to see me back as they always were after I’d been away.

Tomorrow was another day and I was still tired and weak from the tummy bug.

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Fat Kitty trapped in the old house

 

 

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The Thug too