Saturday, August 7, 2010


Not long after the escaped piglet nightmare,we took delivery of two Fresian lambs. As with the piglets I was surprised by the size of them. Hazel and I went to pick them up in the Volvo, and there was no way they'd fit. I'd imagined something the size of smallish dog, and the one's selected for me probably weighed about 60lbs a piece at four months old. The guy delivered them. And today I'm going to pick them up. From the butcher.
The sheep were something of an experiment. These rams were Fresians, a milking breed, and I had in in my head that it would be nice to have a couple dairy sheep. As most people know, ewes have to lamb each spring to start milking again, and I figured that a couple ewes would yield three or four lambs every spring. I was interested to know if I could complete the cycle and slaughter them myself. The second part of the experiment was just to see what it was like to have sheep on our land, and it was the second part that made the first part, the slaughtering at home, unnecessary. We just don't have the real estate for what would amount to five or six sheep maintained on pasture. The neighbors have the space, but the pasture isn't up to speed (and wouldn't be without serious work) and our space is totally inadequate. For their enclosure I'd bought 164' of electric netting and a solar charger to power it. What I didn't fully understand at the beginning was that the ground along the path of the fence has to be perfectly cropped to keep it from shorting and running down the battery. Even under best conditions I had to supplement the solar charger with one that runs off an extension cord. Which meant that, unless I changed the way I powered the fence, I was confined to the space reasonably accessible by an extension cord. After two and a half months of moving them once a week, I decided it was time. And though I was getting professional help to do the job, slaughtering them at home wasn't something I was looking forward to; there was some element of chickening out in the decision to send them away. So now we have lamb chops in the freezer.
The pigs are flourishing on forage, commercial pig food, and food waste from a local Mexican restaurant. After feasting on left-over rice and beans and tortillas, the pigs turn up their snouts at regular old pig food, but they'll eat it if they're hungry. The largest piglet, the one the kids named Boss, is now far and away the largest pig, using it's clout to devour more of the tastiest food, but the runt, Blaze, is catching up to Nibble and will probably be her equal in size come November. Naming edible farm animals is not a good idea; Chloe and Hazel took it upon themselves to come up with Boss, Nibble (because she'll bite your hand given the opportunity), and Blaze (he's got white stripe in the middle of his forehead). And I've already heard pleas for clemency: "Can't we send some other pigs to the butcher and save these?" It is true that these pigs are charming. Starting at the beginning of the summer, we received a series of note cards with photos of adorable piglets nestled in baskets filled with straw. (And I couldn't help wondering if the photographers had to drug the piglets to get them to stay still enough to snap a picture.) The note inside was written by the piglets themselves, proving, apparently, that pigs are intelligent. The piglets just wanted to express their gratitude for having been provided such a wonderful home. The post script, however, was a request to be spared the bullet and the knife. Though we had no way of knowing for sure who had been sending the cards, we had it narrowed down to two couples with histories of vegetarianism. The sting operation took place last week. Michelle and I were to be with both sets of suspects at the same time. (We were only interested in the men; the writing was distinctly male.) Somehow we wanted to get writing samples to compare to the notes. It turned out to be relatively easy thanks to some quick-on-her-feet thinking by Michelle. The Cassidy family will be off soon on another long sailing adventure and Michelle deftly handed Jimmy a note pad and asked for contact information. (Though we already have it.) Jimmy was more than happy to apply his scrawl to paper, and with one glance we knew we had our man. He was thoroughly embarrassed.
Though the note card propaganda campaign was not effective, I have come to a finer appreciation of pigs as animals simply by daily interaction. I've heard the argument that pigs are smarter than dogs. I read the story in the Times about how pigs can use mirrors to discover the placement of a cache of food. It's their capacity for fun, though, that strikes me as significant when I ask the question: Should we raise them for food? The ability to have fun is clearly tied to intelligence. (Though there's no shortage of miserable intelligent people.) My pigs enjoy themselves and each other. It's certainly easier for them to have fun when they've got a half acre of oak forest as opposed to an over-crowded industrial pig farm with a cement floor. I've given them a place where they're free to do what pigs do. As a result I don't think I can raise pigs any more. Whether my appreciation of pigs is stronger than my appreciation of bacon remains to be seen.
Though I hadn't done much to the house for some time, a short burst of activity has yielded two decks, one (8x24) on the south side of the house and another small one at the entry door. Pictures will follow.

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