Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Running Up That Hill

I am afraid to maybe jinx this, but screw fate: I think Stump is going to pull through.

My Sunday post was a little optimistic; we had just received a probable diagnosis, which felt really good. But really, by Sunday, her hips weren't just little points that stuck up on her back, you could see them swooping down her sides. You could count ribs from 20 feet away, and her general pathetic listlessness was getting worse. By Monday I was asking the Big Man what I should do with her body were I to find her dead, and by Tuesday [spoiler alert: I am not a good farmer] I was sitting on the floor of the barn with Stump, drinking an "I am completely distraught and out of my element" beer, having a good cry about the painfully short life she got and trying to work out my feelings of general inadequacy.

Last night I left her locked alone inside, with 2 quartered apples, a pile of rice pudding, some peanuts, a peanut butter/pepto bismol mix, and a pot full of water mixed with pedialyte and red gatorade (the result of a hilarious conversation with a Rite Aid employee). And, miraculously, this morning, the food and drink was mostly gone. I let her out for the day to socialize and forage. This evening after work, I separated her again (she knows to follow me up to the barn after I dump feed for the others; I'd been giving her a few alone hours with special food for a week or so now), gave her some rice pudding and apples, and watched in awe as she ravenously devoured them. It was likely more food than she'd had in a week, gone in 15 minutes flat. I dumped more food in, and when I came back in an hour she was still eating (in the past she would have been too tired after 10 minutes, and I would have found her asleep under a pile of straw).

So, I am exhaling a preliminary "phew".

The new pigs, meanwhile, have emerged from under their thorn bush, but are not yet ready to be friends.

And, in answer to some queries, a brief garden tour:

This is the garden. The white, kaaba-looking structure is for the delicate, delicate eggplants.

Greens. Turns out, I planted too many. Salad is now a requisite with every meal. This is only about a third of them.

Leeks, with cauliflower behind, potatoes to the left, and tomatoes/cucumbers to the right.

Melons! I did an experiment. The ones with black plastic under them are about 2x bigger and infinitely less munched-upon than the ones without. Remember this.

We planted both onions from sets and onions from seed. These are the ones from sets; about 15 inches tall. The ones from seed look like the tiniest blades of grass. But, sets are supposedly more vulnerable to disease, more expensive, and less varieties are available.

Celery. This picture is for my grandmother, all the other ladies that give me a pitying, eyebrows up look when I mention that I'm growing celery, and the 1976 How to Garden book that quoth "Even the most experienced of gardeners do not deign to attempt celery" with no explanation as to why. Because of you, I am expecting this entire row to sink into the earth or become covered in locusts any day now.

Corn plot, with squash scattered throughout, and a slug trap (coffee mug full of beer) in the middle. Slugs, man. So far, my Most Wanted enemy.

Not pictured: broccoli, turnips, radishes, potatoes, thai basil, the herb garden, peas, beans, the garlic plot and brussels sprouts, winter squash, all of which are marvelous, as well as peppers that look boring still and won't grow quickly, carrots that won't germinate, zucchini which for some absurd reason I am the only gardener that might not have enough because WHY WON'T YOU POKE OUT OF THE GROUND, blah blah blah, life is full of disappointments.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New Pigs and Pictures

Yesterday we picked up 3 more piggos, two Tamworth cross ladies and a Large Black Hog boar. So far they've done nothing but hide together in the far corner of the paddock under the thorn bush. That's ok; they need some time to get used to their new area and their new pen-mates. They seem to have bonded together pretty quickly.

When we were picking up the pigs, we asked the farmer, Tim, about poor Stump, who has only been getting bonier and more pathetic over the past week. He said immediately: "Worm 'em." Right on the spot he gave the three new pigs a deworming shot and showed us how to do it, and he also sent us home with a syringe and enough dewormer for Stump and the two others, who probably have worms too but aren't showing it. All the farmers we've met so far have been incredibly helpful and supportive. Tim actually offered to drive the hour and fifteen minutes to our place when it's time for us to castrate in the spring, to help out and show us how he does it.

It was easy to give Stump the shot, although she did put up a little protest. The other two, however, at about 70 incredibly muscley pounds, took quite a lot of effort to flip over and pin down. They were not pleased. If you've never heard a pig scream, it's pretty difficult to describe. It is the noise, perhaps, for which the term "ear-splitting" was invented, because it actually feels like something in your eardrum is shattering. They put up a big fuss, but after they get the shot they just stand right back up like it was no big deal. Which, of course, it wasn't. So hopefully little bag-of-bones Stump is on the road to recovery...we shall see.

As for Little Man, he healed up good and got chucked back in the brooder with the others on Friday. Even though he's still got some scabs, no one seems to be bothering him at all, and he seems glad to be back.

It is a hot day today. So hot, that Spotbellied spent some time trying to fit herself into their water tub.

So the Big Man dug them a little wallow...

which they really enjoyed.

Meanwhile, the garden is looking's already time to hill the potatoes, my cucumbers and cantaloupe have blossoms, the tomatoes have buds, and the brassica family (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and brussels) are getting gigantic. I harvested a big bowl of mesclun this morning, along with some garlic scapes and herbs.

Potatoes in the front row, leeks, cauliflower and tiny turnips in the row behind, tomatoes and cucumbers in the back.

This evening, when it (hopefully!) cools off a bit, we're going to finish the trellis in the back row for the cukes, tomatoes, beans and peas.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stump and Little Man Need Chicken Soup and Daytime TV

I was going to write a semi-triumphant post about the garden; about how I diagnosed a hungry nighttime enemy and how beer, glorious beer helped me to strike a strong blow in favor of squash leaves and bean leaves everywhere while racking up dozens of slimy bodies that I ruthlessly piled into a mass grave... but unfortunately my evening chores focused instead on a sick lady and a sick little man, and I have only pictures of them to post, so the garden will have to wait for another day (sigh).

First up is Stump.

This is Stump.

The way the piglets were until last week was this: there was the biggest and most beautiful, Spotbellied. There was Stump, whose tail was half gone and who has a thick coat of red fur, no spots and is kind of oddly shaped, but (as it so often goes) has the most personality. And there was Little, who had some spots and a nice shape, but was, you know, very little. Then all of a sudden Little was huge. And Spotbellied was huge. And Stump was not.

Hams! Actual thick, delicious hams, walking around!

Stump has no hams.

It was hard to tell if Stump had gotten smaller or if the other two had just taken off. I spent a lot of time watching them together, and it is true that when i dumped food out for them, Stump tired of gobbling quickly and would wander over to poke about at me, at the ground, at the water. None of this is particularly worrisome, just a sign that Stump is perhaps not the best grower.

Then I noticed some troubling poop. I hear that new parents talk a lot about their baby's poops (is this true? I have it from several sources.), and I think it must be evolution. Poop is full of information. I have been closely monitoring Stump's poop this week to get a handle on the situation, and so far, it is clear that there are no (unmicroscopic) worms involved, but there is sometimes certainly a lack of, shall we say, structure. I thus took it upon myself to clean out and hose down the entire indoor pig stall last night at 9 PM. The girls are now living outside round the clock (I figure more room, more air and more sunshine can only help the situation). I let Stump in for a special her-only feeding session in the evenings. She seems to prefer chicken feed to anything else these days.

It is also awesome to note, that even though the other two are MUCH larger than she is, she can still scare both of them off if she wants a minute at the feed when they are around. I don't know how she can manage, but she kicks ass.

Then, there is this guy:

Little Man.

His problem is not so big, I think. The chicks have been getting feathers, which looks like it must be uncomfortable or something [spoiler alert: I know nothing about chickens. But the way they fuss over their grown-up feathers reminds me of kids getting adult teeth, and it is awkward enough looking to seem slightly painful], and Little Man here seems to have pulled out a few big ones (or someone else still open), leaving an open wound on his wing. And, here's the crazy thing about chickens: all the other ones just want to peck at it. This I did not know (although I suspected), so I brought him up to the house to clean him up a bit, then dumped him back in the brooder, only to see several other chicks start pecking at his bloody bits. So now he is spending the night in a remote location (a/k/a the kitchen table), where he can hopefully mend up before being thrown back in with the horrible, cannibalistic chickens.

The Hospital Wing/Wing Hospital

The thing that keeps me from worrying in both cases is that Stump and Little Man are both still acting completely normally. They have energy, they have (at least some) appetite. I will be nervous when Stump decides not to come nuzzle at me, or not to somehow fight off the comparatively gigantic pigs at the food pile. Or when Little Man doesn't cheep and run around his little convalescent tub when I intrude to refill his water.

So for now we wait, we watch, we segregate a bit, and we be a little more gentle with these two. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

We only buy things that match our piglets.

We have purchased a tractor. It was a months long process finding the right one, but so far I am pleased with my ultimate decision.

We wanted a tractor with the following attributes:
Power steering (so it'd be easy to drive on our hilly terrain)
Diesel engine (so we can run it on WVO in the warm months)
Three Point Hitch (so we can use implements)
Power Take Off (so we can use implements that spin)
55+ Horsepower at the PTO (so we can use bigger implements)
A loader/bucket (so we can move shit around that isn't on wheels)

Basically, we need a tractor that is useful in the front and useful in the back. Since we're only going to have one, it needs to wear many hats. A tractor with these qualities is not cheap, I see them on Craig's List for anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000, depending on age, condition, ego, etc. I wanted to spend under $4,000, we have a $10K budget this year for farm/house improvements and it needs to go a long way. We've been going to auctions and I've been religiously checking Craig's List and Ebay within a 2 hour radius, and many machines have slipped through my fingers. At the auctions I'd been the second highest bidder on half a dozen tractors, but my price was firm. Last weekend I went to an auction and bid on an International 674, it was pretty beat up but it had a loader. The tractor ended up selling for $3,500 (I bid up to $3,250.) When it was up, and I had lost, a fellow approached me and said he had an International 574 for sale, but it didn't have a loader. I took his information and went on my way.

The thing about our list of desired attributes is that all of them are inherent to the machine, you can't increase horsepower, you can't add a PTO if the machine doesn't have one, etc. All of them but a loader, that is. Loaders were made at the time both by OEMs (original equipment manufacturers, Ford making loaders for Ford tractors) and by aftermarket companies (Bethlehem Steel making loaders for J. I. Case.) There were also, as can be expected, homebrew loaders, and everything in between. Some loaders can bolt right on to some tractors, and pretty much any loader can be modified to fit pretty much any tractor with enough patience and money, although some might look pretty silly. The other thing is that most of the time the parts cost more than the whole, Loader + Tractor > Tractor that comes with a loader. If I could find a cheap loader that could fit this 574 then it'd be a good buy.

I went through Craig's List and Ebay again and happened upon a nice loader, at the time it was only $10.50. The more I looked at it the more I liked it. The construction is quite rigid, there's plate steel between a pipe frame, whereas many other loaders only have the pipe frame. The bucket tilts and has down pressure (some buckets are a trip style, where the bucket is fixed in one position but you can pull a lever to make it dump it's load, then you have to bring it down to the ground to reset it. Other buckets have hydraulic tilt, but instead of using the hydraulic pressure to push the bucket down they just let gravity do the job. The nice thing about a tilt bucket with down pressure is that if you ever get a flat tire you can use the loader to jack up the front end.) This bucket came off of an International, so while the front brackets may not be perfect, the general fit will be correct. The auction was up at 10 PM on a Wednesday, and as of then I had not seen the tractor. I took my chances and bid on it, thinking worst case I could resell it or even scrap it and recoup the price.

I ended up winning the loader for $220, and on Friday I bought the tractor for $2,850, delivered to our door. The tractor had belonged to the seller's father, who passed away recently. The seller had 5 Ford tractors and wanted to keep it that way. I had to put a new battery in it and rewire the starter, which is pretty minimal. It has a few small hydraulic leaks and a coolant leak but I hope to ferret them out in the coming weekends. All in all, not bad for a 40 year old machine. Johnson's aunt can hopefully haul the loader up here from southern PA and we'll be in business. The immediate tractor projects, fence post digging and brushhogging, are not loader related anyway.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"They always sing if they are happy."


The post office actually called us this morning, two hours before they opened, because the lady felt bad for them cheeping in their little box. So the Big Man picked them up and moved them to their bigger box -- the brooder -- where they spent the day lightly pecking at each others' butts, running about on top of each other, tanning, and drinking a lot of water. You have to teach them about food and water by dunking their heads in each when you put them in the brooder. That's apparently enough for them to figure it out, because they had worked through a surprising amount of each by the time I got home from work. They are also extremely interested in trying to catch any fly that happens into their space. Alert and active -- that's what you want to see at this stage.

They seem to like their little box, but I tend to freak them out and send them screaming for the corners when I poke my nose in. That's a big bonus of the cow trough that we're using as a brooder -- no actual corners for chicks to get stuck and crushed in.

At this point, our main concern is to keep them warm, watered, fed and protected. I am anxious to see if the heavy chicken wire top is enough protection from predators. I wouldn't be nervous, but for two sightings of 3 foot long milk snakes in the past two days.

Ideally, their brooder would be somewhere with more natural light, their bedding would be deeper and made of wood shavings, and we would be using river sand as a grit instead of...whatever the Agway gave us. A mortality rate of 1 to 2% is expected for most chicks. Since most of ours are bizarre old breeds, they are supposed to be a bit hardier. We shall see.