Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Rogue male

He knows, the clever little bastard.

Every time I turn a corner there he is, about three or four yards away, keeping one exceptionally beady eye on me, judging the distance perfectly, absolutely confident the pig farmer has neither the speed nor the agility to catch him.

He's the last of the holdouts, the Outlaw Josey Wales of the chicken world. If he had a middle digit he would undoubtedly raise it skyward in scorn at farmers in general and small-time pig farmers in particular.

Much as I loved having hens all over the place, they were becoming more numerous and a threat to our veg garden - not to mention the fact that there was chicken shit everywhere.

So I built a hen run next to the small stone building which until recently had been a winter pig house. I'm pretty pleased with it - it's got a gate and everything.

Biting down my terror of chickens, I grabbed hold of the 17 hens one by one and transferred them to their new quarters. Most seemed happy enough. That left the five cockerels.

Adam - the oldest of the bunch and as close to a nice guy as cockerels get - was tempted into the hen run and quickly settled in. I caught two of the young ones and pulled their necks. Another was allowed in with the hens and behaved himself well enough to earn a reprieve.

Which leaves us with Josey Wales.

Reckon I'm gonna need to round me up a posse.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

What we did on our holidays

"Have you remembered it's our wedding anniversary?" said Mrs Pig Farmer.

"Err. . . cannot tell a lie. . . no," I said. "But don't go getting all superior - it's 5.30 in the afternoon so you forgot too and the middle of traffic gridlock in Galway City Centre is no place to discuss this anyway."

"Good point. Happy anniversary."

"You too, now can we get the bloody hell out of here? It's like driving round Stoke."

It wasn't a holiday as such, we were in Ireland to meet up with Sal's brothers and say a final farewell to their parents at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

As my brother-in-law Martin pointed out, his dad Ray was not one for the big romantic gestures - unless you count lifelong belief in the communist cause - so it had come as some surprise to find that his final wish was that his and Marion's ashes be scattered over the coastline of the west of Ireland.

I strongly suspect that the cliffs were a little different when they visited 20 years ago. The natural beauty and the spectacular seabird display remain, but the place is a tourist magnet with a whacking great car and coach park, underground restaurant and gift shop. Still lovely, but hard for someone used to solitude of Orkney to cope with. However, that wasn't the point - Ray and Marion's memories of the place are what mattered.

Sal and I scouted the location on Saturday and, at 2.30 in the afternoon, it was a heaving mass of humanity. Fearing the repercussions of a coachload of tourists from New Hampshire getting covered in communist remains, we got up there good and early the next day.

Sally, Martin, Alan and Steve went past the "Do not pass" sign, opened the end of the long cardboard box Mart had packed his mum and dad in and tipped them over the edge, wisely keeping their mouths shut as the onshore breeze ensured some ash, at least, was scattered inland.

"From here you can see the Atlantic, the Aran Islands and the Connemara mountains," said the fella, opening the patio door of the rented cottage with a flourish.

The pig farmer looked at the sea about three miles away and, shrugging off a moment of homesickness for Westray, made a valiantly polite attempt to appear impressed. He would have said something, but yer man was up and running. I'd completely forgotten how the Irish can talk - which is odd considering I have a Dublin-born mother who learned to talk some time in 1930 and has hardly paused for breath since.

We stayed in Doolin, a fine spot on the Clare coast with a couple of good pubs and boat trips out to Aran and the cliffs. But - and I never thought I'd say this about the west of Ireland - it was so busy. I reckon I've been spoiled.

We were in O'Connor's in Doolin. Outside the rain was hammering down and inside damp, unsmiling tourists were steaming nicely as they tried to decide whether or not they liked (a) Guinness and (b) traditional Irish music.

The pig farmer and friends were having no problem with (a), but (b) was leaving him a little cold. I like a little traditional music, the pipes especially, but you can't help but get the feeling in a lot of pubs that once the tourists have left, the locals breathe a sigh of relief, happily close the blinds and get out the karaoke machine.

"We have made very good progress," said the pilot, casually ignoring the fact that, thanks to the Icelandic volcano, we were the best part of a day late. "Such good progress that we have completed the journey in 45 minutes and Kirkwall airport isn't open yet."

Terrific. You finally arrive home and Orkney is shut.

Once the ground control team had finished their breakfast and we'd been on a sunshine tour of airspace above the islands, we landed to the most beautiful, warm day yet this year.

Later, kicking my heels around town, I noticed the Norwegian flag flying above the town hall. Things seem to have changed while I've been away.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Mrs Pig Farmer counts her blessings

"Little Kim and the Wolf-pig have done the deed," said the pig farmer as he was handed a mid-morning cuppa.

"How do you know? Was he smoking a cigar?" said Mrs PF.

"No. She's got muddy footprints and slobber all over her back."


"Yeah. Just think yourself lucky."

Saturday, 8 May 2010

New faces

The last chords of Led Zep's Misty Mountain Hop died away and I heard the clicking of trotters on concrete behind me.

I removed the earphones and turned around to see a little ginger pig looking very hopefully at the bucket I was holding.

We had one of those "What the hell are you doing here? How the f**k did you get out?"-"Groink" conversations as I led her back to the shed, unbolted the barrier, put food on the floor and let her in. I tied a pallet to the barrier for extra height and bolted it back on.

Annie the Tamworth gilt is our latest acquisition, the hope being that she'll produce lots of little Tamworth/Saddleback cross piglets. Tamworths have a reputation for being lively - skittish even - and very vocal. On neither score does Annie disappoint. It's an interesting contrast with her room-mates, the laid-back Saddlebacks Martha, Aretha and Tina.

Four of our ducks have been sitting on eggs for a while now and yesterday, the most attentive of them hissed like hell at me when I went over to give her some food. Sure enough, there was just a glimpse of a couple of little yellow fluffy balls under her. I'll be making a duck nursery today.

And, finally, Dotty the mare - now with my stepdaughter Amy in Essex - had her foal this week. Touchstone Optimistic, a colt, arrived on Wednesday night and is big and healthy.

He's called Smarty Pants - that's going to take a bit of living down in the playground.

Here he is with Dotty and Amy.