Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Pump It Up

Listening to: The Complete Stone Roses
Drought update: A little rain forecast for tomorrow

The curse of the cock's egg seems to have passed, but not before giving us a last metaphorical custard pie or two in the face.

The pump finally arrived on Saturday afternoon and our good friend Mr D gave up a good chunk of his Sunday to guide me through the fitting of it. It was a straightforward job up to a point, that point being the one where we flipped the switch and all the sockets in the house stopped working.

Mr D is, fortunately, a patient soul so we unplugged everything, restored the trip switch to the favoured position and plugged all appliances back in. It seemed to work. In the last three days I have had five baths. I smell really nice.

I had also decided that it was time to move the trailer next to Eric and Ernie's paddock in the hope they will get used to it in time for their final journey in a few days time.

I backed the Land Rover up, attached the trailer and set off - or tried to. There was a scraping sound. The wheels weren't going round. Sure enough, the brakes had seized. Totally my fault for leaving it there in all weathers for the best part of three months. Should've jacked it up and left it on blocks with the brake off. Ho hum.

My stepson Pat has done a couple of years studying to be a motor mechanic (three terms mechanics, two terms welding, one term sharp intakes of breath, tutting and saying 'I can't touch it until Tuesday week'). He explained what had happened in extreme technical detail. He might as well have been speaking Bulgarian, so I asked 'what are we going to do'.

'Take the wheel off and fix it'. Great. I made the token effort of handing him a spanner or two, while Mr D offered more useful suggestions - for example 'don't lie under there, it might fall off the jack onto you' (a piece of sound advice, I thought).

Shortly afterwards the trailer was fixed and I was in the kitchen mixing Yorkshire Pudding batter. The cock's egg was still sitting in the salt pig (a kind of ceramic jar). I suggested we go to Noup Head and throw the thing into the sea.

"You don't believe all that bad luck crap do you," said Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer, who tends to come over all no-nonsense and Wolverhampton when the subjects of superstition, religion and Russell Grant come up. Tip: never ask her what her star sign is, the answer will take a lot longer than you expect.

She's right. It'd probably land on a fishing boat below, get jammed in the engine and sink it with all hands.

I'll stick to keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Not so special delivery

Listening to: Walking Wounded (Everything But The Girl)
Weather: Bright, but cloudy - still no rain
Piglets are: perky, but only a little pinky

Malc's tip for today - don't believe websites and their promises, particularly when it comes to the delivery of goods.

On Monday the pump that brought water from the well in the bottom field up to the house and farm buildings gave its last rattle and expired.

Having put the toys carefully back into the pram, I checked the internet, found the pump we needed and, attracted by the promise of next-day delivery, got on the phone.

Now, I know we live in a remote corner of the British Isles and it takes family and friends from England as long to get here as it does to get to Johannesburg, so I wasn't going to hold them strictly to the next-day thing (you'd need a helicopter and we're some way behind the Royal Family in the queue for those), but I hoped that by paying the extra, we'd get it maybe the day after.

Sure enough: "We can't guarantee next-day delivery for that postcode, sir. It'll take a couple of days to reach you. . . err perhaps three," he said, hastily hedging his bets.

"Fair enough, we're used to that here," said a reasonable and easy-going trainee pig farmer. "But hurry it along if you can, we're having to lift buckets out of the well and I'm starting to feel like we're in an episode from The Waltons."

"No problem, Jim-Bob. I mean, sir."

This was on Monday morning. On Thursday morning I headed down to the village to pick up our gleaming new Clarke 120. It was conspicuous by its absence.

I decided to be calm(ish) and wait for the lunchtime ferry to get in - maybe the pump would be on that. No dice.

When the evening boat proved to be pumpless, I called the, as yet, unnamed company - it's Machine Mart.

"Where's my pump? Who's got my pump? What have you done with my pump?" I inquired.

"I don't know, sir. For that postcode we hand it over to a local carrier."

"Who would that be?" I asked.

"I don't know, sir," said voice on the phone, trying not too successfully to show an interest.

"Any chance you could find out and let me know when I can expect it? I'm trying to run a farm here and the only thing between me and total social exclusion is the bottle of Lynx my 17-year-old son left here last month."

Ten minutes later (quite quick, I thought). . .

"Hello sir. We believe the Post Office have the pump. It left Inverness this morning."

We had a brief discussion about website promises, exactly how many days Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday constitute and I gave up, realising that this customer was never going to be right.

What's irritating is that, if the Post Office are going to deliver it, why didn't they put it in the post in the first place?

A first class letter takes two days to get from my mother's house in Devon to mine at the opposite end of the country. So far, the pump has taken four-and-a-half days to get from Nottingham to somewhere between Inverness and Westray. You could have flown it to Tokyo and back in that time. I can only assume Dick Turpin held it up on the way.

"Stand and deliver! Your money or your life!"

"Don't shoot, we've only got this Clarke 120 self-priming pump for domestic, farm and light industrial use."

"Let's have a look, then. Nah, it's the wrong fittings. On your way then."

Despite having a store in Dundee, Machine Mart cannot guarantee next-day delivery even to Aberdeen or Inverness, so what hope do we have in this far corner of the realm?

Goodnight, pa.

Monday, 19 May 2008

It's no yolk

Listening to: Get Up Stand Up (Bob Marley and The Wailers)
Weather: lovely
Little pigs are: 'beefing up' nicely

Snailbeachshepherdess has pointed out that, in Shropshire at least, a yolk-less 'cock's egg' such as I found on the floor of hen house the other day is considered bad luck.

Pshaw! I thought. What tosh, balderdash and nonsense. I don't believe in stuff like that. Besides, I live in Orkney, having left Shropshire's charming hills and valleys, cosy pubs and ghastly Tory MPs behind a year ago.

Why I'm surprised that the water supply failed for the umpteenth time this morning I don't know. The only thing that it had going for it was that it failed just AFTER I'd had a bath.

The pump on the well in the bottom field had decided that a 12-hour day was a bit too much and has packed up. There's nothing to be done apart from put a new one on and take a bit more care with it - either by fitting a float switch or switching it on only when we need it (like when we are running a bath).

I've ordered another pump, but it won't be here for a couple of days, so we are having to rough it. First priority was to make sure the pigs have enough to drink. My stepson Pat and I have just got back from filling buckets from the well - quite a pleasant job in the warm sunshine. I've put another bucket of water in the toilet to fill up the tank and now I'm off to fill up some containers with drinking water.

As far as washing is concerned, I'm planning to spend a little more time with Eric and Ernie over the next couple of days, hoping nobody will notice which of us smells the most.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Can we fix it?

Listening to: a bit of punk and plenty of reggae (detox from all the prog rock)
Weather: still lovely
My ears are: sunburnt
Wild things: gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, arctic terns, dolphins off Noup Head

Eric and Ernie's last days are proving to be happy ones. They have a big paddock, regular meals, the weather is lovely, they have a water trough to tip over several times a day and a hut to slowly demolish.

The lads have been making some 'improvements', adding to the ventilation by busting some of the planks off the sides. All well and good in the daytime when it has been quite warm, but night-time temperatures are still chilly and I don't want the pigs losing weight and condition at this late stage.

So I grasped hammer and nails and stepped over the electric fence for a quick repair job. There was some timber lying around, but not very much. Certainly not enough to cover the gap - I didn't like to ask where the rest had gone.

So I got more wood and was about to fix it on when the pigs emerged from the crater they had been digging, realising that something interesting and quite possibly edible was happening.

Ever tried to repair a pig hut while two near fully-grown pigs snuffle and barge at you? It's not that easy. Having decided that the plank, hammer and nails weren't worth eating, they turned their attention to my boots and - more alarmingly - my trousers.

When the nibbling and tugging approached my gentleman's zone I decided enough was enough and retreated, covered in pig slobber and swearing lustily. Bob the Builder never has to put up with this kind of treatment.

Later I went to collect the eggs. The hens have been on good form lately. We get four eggs most days, sometimes five and the day before yesterday there were seven.

Last night there were four and this. . .

. . . any ideas?

Monday, 12 May 2008

The rolling maul

Listening to: Rockaway Beach (Ramones)

A quick update from the pigshed. Everyone is fine (fingers crossed). Even the little one we had to work quite hard to 'get going' on Saturday night is standing his corner.

Kim's eight piglets are growing quickly, having got about half as big again as they were when they were born on Wednesday. They are exploring the pen, taking milk in an orderly fashion and sleeping peacefully under the heat lamp. If they were human, their parents would vote Lib-Dem.

Molly's dozen next door are really lowering the tone of the neighbourhood. There's a hell of a lot of squeaking, squealing, scuffling and biting when it comes to feed time and, when Moll gets up to eat or drink, they gather under their heat lamp - not to cuddle up and sleep, but to form the rolling maul perfected by the 2003 England rugby team.

Molly has been good as gold so far, but I hope her rowdy and demanding offspring don't wear her out. Just watching them leaves me exhausted.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Midwifery for backward beginners

Listening to: cockerel crowing, curlews and snipe calling, rabbits laughing at me behind my back
Weather: opposite of whatever the BBC says it's going to be

It was a long, busy night in the pigshed - Molly the sow produced a litter of 12 piglets.

It proved to be far more of a 'hands-on' experience than Kim's farrowing on Wednesday (you may remember she fired her eight piglets out in an hour while I was having my tea).

It also turned out to be exceptionally messy. I've no idea why I'm surprised by that; I was present at the birth of both my children, I've seen quite a few animals born and blood and goo are all part of nature's miracle. The stash of old towels we had put aside proved to be very useful.

Molly had been in a mood all day and I became increasingly anxious as time went on. She kept lying down and sitting up, occasionally discharging a little blood. With my neighbour Marcus away from the island until the end of the month, I called John-Paul the Saddleback breeder in Thurso.

"She keeps sitting up then lying down again, is that OK?"

"Yes, she's probably stacking the piglets up before giving birth."

"Stacking up? As in air traffic control?"


"Fair enough. Live and learn."

Molly finally settled down at around 6.30, going into the kind of trance that often accompanies a farrowing. There was a lot of heavy breathing and the occasional contraction, but very little happened for two hours, by which time I had convinced myself the piglets were going to be stillborn and we might even lose Molly.

I consulted the books, got the hot soapy water and 'investigated'. There was no obstruction, so I made a couple of calls.

"Stop worrying you fool and let the sow get on with it," was the gist of both conversations, so the fool stopped worrying and let the sow get on with it.

About 9pm the first piglet slithered out, an hour-and-a-half later we had eight and the process slowed. Molly reached double figures, but the 11th piglet was tiny and wasn't breathing. There was a faint pulse so I cleared the gunk out of his airway and held him upside down for a few minutes as you're supposed to. Sal rubbed his chest for a while and, as a last resort, I tried mouth-to-mouth, but there was no response and he just faded out.

Two more piglets followed and both Sal and I were relieved when the appearance of the afterbirth signalled the end.

With 12 piglets and 14 teats, competition was fierce for the best spots and there was far more nipping, shoving and squealing than there had been with Kim's litter. We did our best to referee, but were both tiring. Sal went off to bed and I spent another hour trying to get them organised before deciding to let them sort it out for themselves at around 2.30.

I checked them again first thing this morning and all were happily suckling while Molly rumbled contentedly.

I'm going back to bed.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The aaah factor

Listening to: Confusion (New Order)
Weather: still glorious, but wind picking up
Birdwatch: swallow in the pig shed this morning.

There's a serious attack of cuteness in the pigshed where Kim's piglets are still doing fine (said he, tempting fate).

There's little to say - just as well as I finally flopped into bed at 4.30, half-an-hour after dawn - except that Kim has been marvellous. Saddlebacks have a reputation as excellent mothers and she is gentle and careful with her litter. She clearly knows a damn sight more about pig farming than I do.

Here's a shot which shows you just how big she is - or, alternatively, how small the piglets are. . .

After almost a full day of suckling, the piglets have stopped long enough to allow Kim to eat, drink and provide a little more fertiliser for next year's potato crop. They are snuggling up together under the heat lamp in their creep (nursery area). . .

Molly is very close to farrowing now. She has been flat out for most of the day and gave a couple of drops of milk when I felt her teats this evening - only eight to beat.

Oh yeah, amid all the piggy excitement, I almost forgot. The Boy took and passed his driving test yesterday. The lanes of Devon will not be the same. Well done lad.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The magnificent eight

Listening to: Banana Pancakes (Jack Johnson)
Weather: the glorious run continues
Surf: flat and the water's a bit chilly yet
Pigwatch: read on

It's not often I feel like hugging a 400lb pig, but I do now.

The waiting is over, we have piglets. I suspected Kim was close this morning. Her teats were like little grapefruits, she had gathered all the straw in her pen into one nest and was a bit off her food.

I carried on as normal, not wanting to get my hopes up and, as I usually do, stopped what I was doing to watch The Simpsons. After TV, sausage and mash, I checked the pig shed, the plan being that myself, stepson and father-in-law would wander down to the hotel for a pint or three.

First I noticed blood near Kim's rear end. 'It's started', I thought. Then I spotted a very small pig's backside. . . and then six more. 'It's finished', I re-thought.

Indeed it had. Seven piglets were getting stuck into Kim's 14 teats (and still managing to have arguments) and I found an eighth stuck in the straw in the creep. I quickly wiped him down, shoved some of the excess straw out of the creep and pushed him the general direction of the milk bar.

He didn't do much apart from shiver and I noticed he still had the cord attached. I snipped that off, popped a little antiseptic spray on and guided him towards a nipple. He still seemed unsure what to do so - so I realised I was going to have to show him.

No, I didn't get down and have a good suck, I put the nipple in his mouth, drew off a little milk and we had a Eureka moment. Matey-boy is now suckling with the best of them.

I should point out that Kim was an absolute star. She popped the piglets out in just over an hour, lay down next to the creep so the piglets could enjoy the benefit of the heat lamp while they suckled. I couldn't have wished for it to go more smoothly.

I've dived inside to write this and have a cup of tea, but I'm going to be in and out of the shed all night, just to make sure. More details and pics tomorrow no doubt.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

All quiet on the pigshed front

Listening to: Crossroads (Tracy Chapman)
Weather: Sunshine, warm southerly wind

There have been some new arrivals in the pig shed. Don't get excited, the sows are still keeping me waiting, so there are no piglets yet.

What we have got is a couple of young Blackbirds.

The parents did a terrific job of getting the nest built in the rafters without me or anyone else noticing and there were two little beaks poking out the first time I saw it.

I've taken to tiptoeing around Kim's pen and talking very quietly in my pig-human conversations (probably a good idea to help get a calm vibe going for the upcoming farrowing).

The female blackbird spends much of the day on the nest, while the male zooms in and out with food and, if he realises I'm about, flying in different directions to take my attention away from the nest.

The sows, on the other hand, spend most of their time sleeping as they get larger and larger.

I've seen smaller and more mobile bull seals than Kim. . .

In other news, Dave from the blog with the ever-changing title (click on Life is an Elaborate Metaphor for Cricket) visited last week. In a run of lovely weather here on Westray, he managed to turn up on the only dreich day in ages.

Still, after breakfast, a natter and the tour of the pigshed, I whisked him off to see some seals and then go to Noup Head cliffs where guillemots, razorbills and fulmars are massing before dropping him off near the south end of the island just as the weather was brightening and watching him stumble away looking for puffins and the ferry back to Kirkwall. I hope he had a good time.

Friday, 2 May 2008

The Levellers

Listening to: Blind Dog at St Dunstans (Caravan - geddit! Well, you will soon)
Weather: Bloody glorious, midges even, then very rainy for a bit and then glorious again.
Cider is: best taken in moderation
No: piglets yet (Sunday is my guess)

So here I am with Westray's answer to the Chuckle Brothers. A beautiful day has just given way to a really sharp shower that is going on so long that the Shower Evaluation Unit are about to upgrade it to Raining.

We're trying to get the caravan level.

It's not that easy.

I'm really glad I'm not doing it on my own.

There's one hell of a lot of 'to me, to you' going on. Every so often one of them (not sure which is Paul and which is Barry) disappears and reappears with some magic piece of kit which is going to make sure my father-in-law Ray can get to sleep at night without the blood running to his head.

I'm standing here like a spare part, smiling, holding and fetching things.

So far we've managed to bend one of the four legs the caravan stands on. Even I know that's not good.

Not only that. but we're running out of concrete blocks to prop the whole thing up.

With the help of a damn clever little jack thingy and some more 'to me to you'ing the ultimate law that is the spirit level is obeyed and Chez Ray is ready to rock.

Only snag is, we've managed to lift the one side of the caravan so far that the concrete step I made on Monday (damn fine it is too) is now too low for a 79-year-old communist to clamber aboard unaided.