Sunday, May 23, 2010

Piglet Mania!

Chloe and I picked up three piglets in Ellsworth this afternoon. The ride was fine; nothing like the pig stench of last year when the so-called piglets we got were really pigs and not well suited to transport in the back of the Volvo. I knew these were real piglets, and like last year they came is sizes small, medium and large, the largest being no more than twenty pounds and the smallest no more than 12. I hadn't really thought about the implications of size. I should have. Last year after I hauled the pigs out of the back of the Volvo, they roamed around a bit and then slept for a couple days. These were pigs who'd lived a hard few months. When I dropped them into my pig oasis, they seemed to realize right off that they were in a good place. Today's piglets were another sort. They'd lived a pleasant life in a barn out back of Frank's house. They're mom and dad were there. So when I reached into the back of the Volvo and grabbed Medium and Small and dropped them inside the fence they immediately were looking for a way out. Large didn't wait and bolted right out the back and off into the woods. Catching Large wasn't easy, but we got her when she got cornered between the car and the fence. In the mean time, Chloe and Nadya were inside the enclosure trying to make friends with the other two piglets who wanted nothing to do with them. That's when we learned the real and tragic limitations of our fence; the holes in the fence were just a bit larger than the piglets. They didn't go under or over but through. I followed them through the woods trying to herd them back home, but it was no use. The terrain north of the pig pen toward Camp Stream is thickly wooded with dense underbrush. I did my best to track them, but at some point they got separated and I started to follow one of them. This one, the smallest, made its way back to our house and down our driveway to the neighbor's house. Imagine their surprise when a very small piglet, smaller than Ox (our cat), trotted through their yard. At least I was able to enlist their help. We got the small one, (I can't remember how; it's all a blur.) and then turned our attention to catching the third who could have been anywhere at this point. I thought he was gone, a feral pig loose on Sis Porter Rd. We had one thing going for us: These piglets did not like being separated. The large piglet was in the pig pen, and the last fugitive eventually made it's way back to the fence looking for a way to join his sister. After a ridiculous hour of frantic effort, we had all three. Against the odds, really. Piglets are fast. At one point, tired of dodging this way and that for a little animal who could clearly out maneuver me, I had one of them on a straightaway. Running as fast as I could I couldn't catch her. (Sure, I'll admit I've never been much of a sprinter, but I was running pretty fast.) We put all three of them in a small hastily made section of the chicken coop and barricaded the door with heavy digging implements. I gave them food and water and said good night....
The next day I knew I had to address the piglet problem. They were fine where they were for the morning so I went off with the girls for Chloe's soccer clinic and returned shortly before noon to make a piglet-proof enclosure. I strapped on my tool belt, grabbed my cordless drill and headed outside. Only to see the curly tailed rear ends of three piglets head south down our driveway!!?? I'm not going to write what came out of my mouth; this is a family blog. Fortunately, the neighbors were home and outside. Otherwise, they'd have been gone for good. We fanned out to divide and conquer. The smallest piglet was the first to peel off and get separated from his siblings. I followed him and got lucky when he got mired in grass so tall that I easily caught him. (Plucked him off the ground by his hind legs; that's the only way to carry a fugitive piglet.) Again, the details of catching the other two are blurry, but it wasn't nearly as strenuous as it was the day before. So, how did they escape? Up against the chicken coop door I had piled up a post hole digger, a soil tamper and a heavy digging bar. They had pushed their way out. These piglets have spunk! This time I fastened the door shut with screws. I had been thinking that I should make an enclosure within the pig pen. Something to hold them until they were big enough and relaxed enough about their new environment. But I decided to make them a stall inside the barn. It will be their place for the next few weeks. When we return from our trip to Cape Breton, maybe they'll be ready for the pig pen.
More than once over the last 24 hours I have thought: Is this worth it? I don't think so. They just drove up the price of bacon.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


In case there's still anyone out there checking to see if I'm still posting, here's an update. The greenhouse in the pictures below is still awaiting plastic. We have been eating a little asparagus out of the garden this past week, but everything else is plodding along waiting for warmth. Hazel and I made a pilgrimage to Fedco to pick up the trees and potatoes we'd ordered. Only one item was not available, a cider apple tree of French origin called Medaille d'Or. There was a tree I couldn't remember ordering called Evans. (But there it was on the order form in my own hand writing.) Back at home I looked through the catalog and couldn't find an apple tree by the name of Evans. Then I remembered; Michelle had convinced me to order a cherry tree. Our little orchard is now comprised of six apple trees, two peach and one cherry.

Chickens. We had been plagued by the difficult-to-eradicate problem of egg eating. My guess was that the practice may have started when there were too many chickens for the space and the nesting boxes were inadequate. Also, we could have been feeding them too much scratch (a mixture of oats and cracked corn) and they were driven to supplement their protein intake. It might have been all of the above. Once chickens discover that they can eat their own eggs it's a hard habit to break. There could have been just a few offenders; hard to tell. I suspected that the nesting boxes were the greatest contributor. In a swift and decisive move, I built and installed new nesting boxes and boarded up the old ones in the matter of an hour. The old boxes were too shallow so the nesting straw would quickly get displaced leaving nothing but bare wood. The eggs would drop with a thud and frequently have cracks. Perhaps this is how the egg eating started in the first place. An egg dropped and broke and the chicken looked down and thought, "Oh, what have we here?" The new boxes are 12 inches deep and filled with straw. Since the change, the cracked egg problem has disappeared and there has been no sign of egg eating. Ta!Da! The only other issue is that of the escapee. More or less every day a chicken gets out. We suspected that it was a repeat offender. Flying the coop happens, apparently. I had a lot of practice catching this chicken. The easiest way was working as a team with Hazel. I'd herd the chicken around the perimeter of the fence and just as it approached the door to the coop Hazel would open it and the chicken would hop back in. One day, after days of frustrating chicken chasing, I caught it and brought it in the house and called for Michelle who wrote a bold E on one the the chicken's legs with a black marker. E for Escapee. As we suspected it was the same chicken every time. Eighteen well behaved hens and one trouble maker. I just need to improve my fence to fix this problem. Sooner or later we'll have to address all the fencing issues. Deer protection for the whole place. Chickens out of the garden.

Four of the 12 panels of the screened porch are in place. I underestimated the amount of time and space needed to prime and paint twelve wood doors and their screens. I've settled on a system of addressing three doors at a time and installing them just to get them out of my way. I've been having issues with the paint and primer as well. The primer is a Benjamin Moore oil based and the top coat is water based. The primer was taking forever to dry and it was difficult to apply evenly. I would allow days of drying and it would still feel not 100% dry. The problem is when the latex is applied and dried and then heats up as when the door is exposed to the sun the latex was blistering up in spots. A call to Benjamin Moore was not entirely satisfying. The primer hadn't adequately cured before I applied the latex. The guy on the phone thought that the blisters would suck back down and everything would be ok. I have my doubts. My solution is to give the primer an absurdly long curing time.