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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cecil arrived here in February, a gangly youth with pimples and a breaking voice. He came with friends of mine from Tipperary as well as their two dogs for the weekend. I had got a notion that I missed having a cock strutting his stuff around the place. Remind me why again because I did nothing but swear at my last one for crowing before 5 am even in the middle of winter. If I happened to be awake he drove me crazy because shortly after the cars flying to Dublin started tearing down the road and there was no hope of any more sleep. Somehow I had convinced myself that it would be different here.
He wasn’t here a wet week when he started to try to crow. Ah, I thought how sweet. He sounded like a teenage boy who goes to say something and all that emits is a squeak. But by heck did he find his voice and now he uses it incessantly. He crows every hour on the hour all night long. I couldn’t figure out why I could only distantly hear him in my bedroom which is closest to the hen house but yet when I went into the bathroom I could hear him much louder. It dawned on me that the bathroom Velux is obviously much less air tight that the rest of the windows.
Recently my neighbour told me he was going to stick him in a pot if he didn’t calm down. I made up a load of excuses that he was young and eager and he would settle. I also told him that he could also be hearing the cock across the road and confusing him with Cecil. Well it was only a “white lie”.
I named him Cecil after my neighbour and friend in my last place. Cecil was an elderly gentleman bachelor farmer. He was phenomenally well-read and knowledgeable about the countryside and animals. I learned so much from him about everything to do with animals, particularly horses. Cecil adored horses and he had bred a few good ones in his day. He still had an elderly thoroughbred mare – Polar Princess, who had won a few big races and he adored her. He looked after her like she was his baby making up big buckets of bran mash for her on cold winter evenings when he religiously and at the same time, brought her in from the field across the road from the yard. When my kids started riding they kept their ponies in his yard and we always made them bran mash after a hunt. He used let them help him feed the pet lambs and cut up the chunks of raw meat for his dogs. I still have a vision of coming home from work and going down to collect them and seeing my daughter standing on an upturned bucket with a big blunt knife trying to hack up a lump of meat. During lambing they used come tearing in the door from school, sling their school bags into the house and run down to “help Cecil”.
Cecil also had an old cockerel he loved. He had him so tame he used eat out of his hand. When he died he was devastated so I asked a friend to give me a replacement for him. When I gave it to him he was thrilled but his nephew who had inherited the farm not so much. Sadly the replacement didn’t last long and then poor Cecil was knocked over by the mare which triggered his epilepsy and ultimately his demise.
I suppose for this reason I am fond of Cecil because he makes me remember his namesake. Between him and another old bachelor farmer Hugh, I had so many laughs as a young mother and learned so much from both of them. Plus they were both so good to my children who still have fond memories of them to this day.
I really hope he settles down and the neighbour doesn’t insist he is put in a pot. Cecil au vin? Because you can’t really live in an old farm yard and not have a cock strutting his stuff now can you?
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.
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.
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.