Sunday, 30 August 2009

What? Already?

There was a large pool of watery mud where no pool of watery mud should have been. What had been hard, dry ground only 24 hours earlier was now the kind of brown sludge they put on the roast dinners at my old school*.

Chas and Dave**, the two Saddleback porkers, looked like rugby league players from the depths of a 1960s winter. The pool in question just happened to be inside their hut.

"@%£^," I said. Loudly.

"@%£^ing hell. It's not even September yet."

A glorious summer in Orkney has given way to spell of unsettled weather. Unsettled is something the weather in the Northern Isles does exceptionally well and this week has involved some warm sunshine, heavy showers, strong winds from the west, north, then west again, more sunshine, lots more rain and a bit more wind from the west. . . and the north.

One night's rain had churned up Chas and Dave's paddock quite impressively. I had anticipated this and we had dug a trench around their hut and filled it with rubble and chips (that's gravel to you in England).

The drain had failed to work spectacularly mainly because Chas and Dave had dug it up, spreading the rubble far and wide. . . the little scamps.

So. I put enough food down to keep the boys occupied for 20 minutes or so, ducked inside the hut and, bent double, started to shovel mud out. It didn't make a massive difference, but it was a start. Two barrows of sand and chips went in, followed by the wooden base of an old bed I use as a temporary barrier here and there.

I bunged in a whole bale of straw and, for the next hour, watched as the lads helpfully spread it all around the paddock. Idiots.

They spent a chilly night in the hut, but seemed none the worse when I arrived, feed bucket in hand, at what I now think of as The Baseball Ground*** the next morning. I peered inside the hut and it was a mess. The bed was in danger of sinking and a move into the main pigshed was a must for the boys. The hut was due a concrete base.

Mrs Pig "Farmer" was - at 11am - still in dressing gown and jammies as she pottered around the kitchen, singing along to Al Green.

"I'm tired of being alone with these pigs. You ought to be with me," I might have said.

"Oh me, oh my. Just let me get some clothes on," Sal might have replied.

Now Sal's never been too confident with the pigs, but she was a star, tempting two lively young boars with the feed bucket from paddock to pigshed in a matter of minutes while I played backstop.

"Look What You Done For Me," I should have said.

* A lower/middle-ranking private school whose motto was Aut Vincere Aut Mori - either to conquer or to die. Jeez!

** They don't "oink", they "gertcha".

*** Derby County FC's Baseball Ground was a notorious mudheap in the 1970s. There was barely a blade of grass on the pitch come mid-November. Funnily enough, Derby were champions twice in the early 70s and never came close before or since.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The peedie* brat

We're having a cup of tea and then we're off on a rescue mission.

We have to rescue Teddy the Shetland pony. Not that he's being mistreated or anything, not by humans anyway.

He and Merlin are still with the neighbours where Merlin is covering their two Shetland mares. Ted, not having the appropriate equipment, is kind of left out and is spending his time on his own, looking a little forlorn.

So Mrs Pig "Farmer" approached June (our neighbour) this morning and before she could say anything, June came out with: "Oh that peedie brat, he won't let poor Teddy get anywhere near the mares."

So Ted is coming home this afternoon and already has a load of carrot tops and apple cores and peel (Sal's been making chutney) waiting for him. He can keep Little Kim company while Molly is over in Orphir getting it on with The Boss.

The peedie brat will be left to get his jollies for a while longer.

* Peedie - Orkney dialect for small.


"Hi Malcolm, I've got swine flu. I've been in bed for several days," said our friend from down the road.

"Oh no. Are you OK now?," said the pig "farmer", wondering whether the "swine" part of the conversation had any significance.

"I'm much better thanks and the kids haven't caught it fortunately. Anyway, what I'm ringing for is to ask if you have any bales of hay to spare."

Hay deal done, I was left wondering why I get jumpy every time someone mentions "swine" flu and why it's called "swine" flu. I looked it up here and as far as I can fathom, it's a bit like infections that circulate in pigs in America and Europe.

The word the site uses is "similar".

"Similar". Not "same".

I shall now start referring to Manchester United as "Arsenal" because their red shirts are similar to Arsenal's.

I'm not saying that anyone in the UK is going to suggest we take anything like the horrific, shameful, brutal and unnecessary wholesale slaughter of the pig population by the Egyptian government highlighted by Compassion in World Farming earlier this summer. However, the UK government webpage on the outbreak uses the word "swine" 43 times.

Now, I haven't heard of any backlash against pork by the level-headed British public. Indeed, the price of pork is higher than it has been for some time (still far too low for pig farmers to make anything like a living), but associating pigs with a potentially fatal infection is hardly helpful.

So, on behalf of pigs and pig farmers everywhere, can we knock it off? If you get the bug, you've got flu. Get to bed, consult a doctor if necessary and when you feel better, treat yourself to a big bacon sandwich (from a free range British pig of course).

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Pig "farmer" in shock transfer swoop

Here at Pig Towers we like to concentrate on our youth policy, but, having said that, we are always open to a dabble in the transfer market.

So, with deadline day approaching, here are our two new signings. . .

Tristan and Isolde are Tamworth/Gloucester Old Spot crosses - with a lot more Tamworth than Gloucester if you ask me - brought over from the neighbouring island of Wyre.

We're not exactly farming's answer to Manchester City, but they're valuable additions to the squad, especially as they'll be ready for slaughter just before Christmas. They're cute enough and getting used to us, but I much prefer Saddlebacks who are considerably more laid-back and easy to handle.

Kim's piglets are doing fine, putting on weight and trembling a lot less than they were a week ago.

Soundtrack courtesy of Adam the cockerel and Francis the drake.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The seven-day itch

We forgot all about the midges.

I can't believe we went to the Highlands in August and forgot the midges.

Bugger, bugger, bugger.

Mrs Pig "Farmer" is covered head-to-toe in bites, although my offers to rub in something soothing have so far fallen on stoney ground. Her loss.

We have two bottles of Avon Skin So Soft in the bathroom, stored for the two days a year when the wind drops enough for midges to appear in Westray. How hard would it have been for me to chuck one in a bag?

Still, scratching aside, we had a decent enough time. Scotland is lovely, the kind of country Ireland could be if it wasn't for the mad bungalows all over the place.

The pig "farmer" even went clothes shopping - one of the most depressing and frustrating hours of his entire existence.

A pack of socks and a plain black "going to town" jumper should have taken all of five minutes. I had a thorough look at everything on offer, made my selections and decided I'd better stop wasting time in Waterstones and get on with the clothes shopping.

I found socks - packs of seven for £10 (probably two months' wages for the eight-year-old who made them). I ignored the ones with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc - there lies the path to madness.

"Hello, NHS Direct? I can't leave the house, I've got one Wednesday, one Friday and it's Saturday. What should I do?"

Armed with a pack of seven in different shades of grey I went in search of a plain, black jumper. Easy, right? Wrong. Pursuit of the Holy Grail would be simple by comparison.

Modern shopping centres, even in somewhere as otherwise pleasant as Inverness, are dismal, airless places flogging the kind of tat that would have embarrassed the Steptoes.

After an hour spent dodging the Stepford shoppers, bouncing from one bunch of corporate shysters to another, wondering just which idiot thought to sew together a jumper and a shirt and then sell it for more than £20 to other idiots, I gave up. "Life's too short" and all that.

I had seen one jumper I liked - a Marks and Sparks one in schoolboy grey with a couple of buttons - but it was £30 and, despite the price indicating it may have been made by someone older than 12 and on something approaching a living wage, it was outside the budget (£30 is more than 100kg of pig feed).

I found solace in Inverness's Victorian Market where there is a real rarity - an independent record/music shop. Not very Victorian I suppose, but that didn't stop me rifling the shelves before buying a British Sea Power album for my daughter (as long as she lets me download it first).

Of course, I should have left the jumper shopping to Sally in the first place. This morning as we waited for the ferry back to Orkney, I strolled along the shore at John O'Groats sipping a cup of builder's tea and enjoying the midgelessness of it all and Sal went to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and bought a plain black jumper, size large, the kind pig "farmers" wear when going to town.

Nice one.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Shakin' all over

Kiwi the piglet (she's all black) couldn't stop her head wobbling. She couldn't stop her whole self wobbling as she tottered around the pen.

Further examination by the pig "farmer" revealed that all but two of the seven were shaking to one extent or another. This was something entirely new in a so-far untroubled pig-keeping career.

Were they mentally damaged? Were they differently-abled? Were they just a bit chilly?

They seemed to be feeding well (they hardly stopped for the first 24 hours), so there should have been no reason to panic, but I'm a worrier and consulting the internet is rarely a good idea - one Australian website convincing me that the whole herd would have to be slaughtered.

I slept on it. Next morning I considered calling the vet in Kirkwall, but it was Saturday, the day of Orkney's County Show and the piglets were, shaking aside, lively enough. They were getting out and about, running around and there were even a couple of fights. In many ways they were progressing quicker than previous litters.

Still worried, I stuck a query on the British Saddleback Breeders' Club forum and was guided to an article that described Congenital Tremors - a condition that occurs sometimes in Saddlebacks. The piglets' nervous systems have been damaged and will take a short while to heal. As long as they are feeding normally they should be right as rain in about four weeks.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

Nature's other miracle

The piglet shoved his brother out of the way, latched onto the teat and began sucking greedily. I relaxed, happy to hear the slurping sound of a young pig getting his first milk.

Once again we are celebrating nature's miracle. No, not Wolves' promotion to the Premier League*, but the arrival of the Kim's litter of seven piglets.

Ten minutes earlier the same piglet had been upside down while I swung him from side to side in an attempt to clear his lungs of the mucus that had damn nearly drowned him. He wheezed a bit, spluttered, coughed and then. . . not much.

I shoved a finger down his throat, explained the 'no dying without written permission from the pig "farmer"' rule and hauled out a great glob of goo. His nibs gave a great big "ahehehem" and looked altogether brighter. I snipped his cord and pushed him in the general direction of the milk bar.

Two o'clock in the morning is hardly the best timing, but it's a relief to have the birth out of the way, not least for Kim who has had a rough time of it. She's a well-built girl, if well-built means 'along the lines of HMS Ark Royal' and the added weight of pregnancy has made life very difficult over the last couple of weeks.

Mercifully, that bit's over, the seven seem healthy enough and, for Kim, eight weeks of motherhood follows. For me, it's time for boiled egg and soldiers and a few hours sleep.

* The real miracle will be if they stop up.