- Linhda preparing to make home-made sweet chilli sauce a couple of hours ago: “The recipe says to use 6 chillies, so I’m going to use 15.” Linhda about 5 minutes ago: “Smell the sweet chilli sauce.” You’d think I’d know better, right?
- Getting pigs this weekend. This fast forwards our plans to make a smokehouse…
- Linhda quote #1 today: <looks at her breakfast yoghurt> “This looks and smells gross. Here, you eat it.” Linhda quote #2 today: <after learning of a country dance in a nearby town> “I want to go… and learn to do a jig… like the hillbillies.”
- Honey, our biggest pig, has one blue eye and one brown eye! She’s the David Bowie of the porcine world!!!! I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain that means her babies will be even tastier.
- This morning I have piglets eating out of my hand, though they still startle at any sudden movement. For the record, piglets are not polite eaters. Seriously, no manners at all.
- Bruce was outside tonight when he started to bark with intent. I went out to see what was up, and he’d found the biggest freaking fox I’ve ever seen. He and I chased it off. Seems like the big man earned his keep… On a related topic, I’m contemplating getting a gun, and just the thought disturbs me a little.
- We have a scarecrow (Cecil), dressed in farm formal, a hanging fake bird, and a perched fake owl. The only bird that goes anywhere near the veggie patch now is a Willy Wag-Tail. They’re basically the fox terrier of the avian world anyway, and they only eat bugs. All-in-all, our bird denial day was a huge success! Weirdly enough, the only bird that died was a starling I found caught in a mouse trap. That was a little surreal…
- I found the first thing that the piglets don’t seem to want to eat – celery leaves. They eat every other green thing we put in front of them, including carrot tops which even the chickens don’t like. Hell, they spent five minutes trying to eat my filthy old volleys off my feet. Celery leaves, on the other hand, are apparently gross. On a related note, my favourite piglet, Honey, has dry skin on her back. I’m now googling “piglets with dry skin”. Yes, I’m *that* farmer.
- Going to make mulberry wine today. How hard can it be? We’ll just have dad try it first. If he doesn’t go blind then I’ll call it a success…
- Got two more piglets. More than that, we learned exactly what NOT to do when keeping pigs. Or goats. Or sheep. Or poultry. Or young children. The guy we got them from was the small-holding version of a puppy farm. Despite the fact that both these piglets are destined for our freezer, I felt like I was saving them.
October was a huge month. This was when we had the first blossoms come in on our new fruit trees in the orchard.
Watering that many fruit trees is a challenge. We wanted to irrigate them, but drippers are ridiculously slow when you want to deliver 10 litres or more per watering. The solution I came up with was to cut the bottoms out of 2 litre soft drink bottles, stake them under the trees, and have the irrigation dump into them. This keeps the water pretty much where you want it, and reduces run-off. It works a treat!
Our mulberries also ripened. I was determined to use as many as we could. We put down some old curtains as drop sheets and harvested by shaking the tree. The trick is to not shake too hard, so you only get the really ripe fruit. Doing this we were able to harvest a few times, and made mulberry jam, stewed mulberries, and even tried mulberry wine (it was a terrible failure).
We also continued work in the veggie department. I had set up a small hothouse back in August and the seedlings had come on nicely.
Many of these were planted out. In addition to that, we were seeing progress across all of our veggies, in every bed, and even in pots.
With the veggies coming on, and with our permaculture philosophy creating an enticing ecosystem for the local wildlife , we noticed a problem with birds. The biggest pests were pigeons getting into the leafy greens. I want to avoid too much netting, and The Patch is too big to entirely net anyway. Our solution was a scarecrow and some plastic owls we bought at the local cheap shop.
It’s interesting the way these work. They definitely keep the pigeons and starlings out. However, things like willy wagtails and magpies just ignore them. That doesn’t matter at all though, as the birds that ignore our scare-tactics don’t actually hurt the plants. We have next-to-no bird damage on our veggies, but still have a heap of birds in and around the veggie patches.
Our harvest was great too. Linhda pickled our first beetroot, which is, hands-down, no exaggeration, the best beetroot I’ve ever tasted. To the point where I horde it in the shed and only bring it out for us. I’ll normally share anything in my garden with anybody, but I go all Gollum on my precious beetroot.
Linhda also made chilli jam, which was fan-freaking-tastic. As she was making it she said “The recipe asks for 6 chillies, so I’m going to use 15 and this habanero…”. Needless to say, the results were spectacular!
We took our last goat to the “Other Farm”, and were pleased with the results. We’d fed him on a little longer, and the meat return was nice.
We had a couple of smaller, miscellaneous animal events also. Firstly, the bearded dragon was released. It was warm enough and he was certainly fat and healthy enough. I wasn’t sure where to let him go, and chose the pepper tree under which was stack our wood.
We also had some Welcome Swallows hatch babies under the carport. They nested right where I park my car, so I made sure to only half park it under the carport. I love those swallows, and would rather put up with some bird crap on my car than try and move them on. It didn’t take long and we had 3 or 4 babies. It only seemed a couple of weeks later and the babies were flying, and shortly after they left. Hopefully they’re back next year…
Linhda and I spent nearly 2 weeks in Canberra (for my work). While we were away dad made a stock ramp. Getting animals in and out of the trailer can be tricky, and is only going to get trickier as the size of the animals increases. With that in mind, dad and I came up with a plan, refined it a little, and then dad did most of the work while I was away. The result was perfect!
The biggest news of October, however, was pigs! We got piglets!!!!! As explained before, my five year plan was to get pigs and a milking animal. In September I had started gearing up to get the materials to create the infrastructure for pigs, and in October we got them.
We found somebody selling Large Whites on gumtree . I gave them a call and they were really very helpful. They had a smallish farm an hour or so north of us, and the pigs seemed to be how they made a bit of their income. They were more than happy to go over pig husbandry with us, and showed us around their own stock. I got to love up on both the mother and father of our piglets, and they were so sweet!
Large Whites are the biggest commercial breed, and from my research they seem to be the most popular commercial breed here in Australia, as well as in the USA and the UK. This is because of their size, as well as their large litters and the amount of milk that the mothers produce.
Pure Large Whites are apparently a rare breed though, as they are normally crossed with other breeds. For example, Large Whites are apparently not great at ham production, so some people will cross with them to increase the ham size.
The babies we got are Large Whites with a touch of Landrace in them. I believe that they are mostly Large White, as we’ve since had other pigs that are crosses and the originals are by-and-far the largest. They also have pricked ears, which is a Large White trait, while the others have floppier ears.
Anyway, we wanted to get breeding stock, which obviously isn’t possible when all of the pigs are related. With that constraint in mind, we got two girls and one boy with the plan to breed from the girls and feed the boy on. I named them “Honey”, “Smoked”, and “Ham”.
The babies were around 3 weeks old when we got them. It took maybe a day to have them eating out of my hand. They’re super inquisitive, friendly, and cute as hell.
They were skittish around me for a week or so, but never once were they scared of Bruce. Bruce is a 40kg bull mastiff x American staffy, and scares pretty much everybody he meets. Not these piglets though. They’ve always loved him.
That first pig buying experience was amazing. The people were knowledgeable and friendly, and you could tell just how well they cared for their animals. Yes, they raised them for money, but everything was done properly and the result was happy, healthy animals.
The flip-side to that is the second batch of pigs we bought. Two thirds of our first purchase was breeding stock, and we wanted some that we could feed on and eat without having to wait to breed our own. We found some “Small Whites” advertised on gumtree and they were surprisingly cheap. We went to check them out, and found pretty much the opposite of our first experience.
This second guy was the small-holder version of a puppy farm. His place was FULL of animals – poultry, goats, sheep, a horse, pigs, dogs, kids. There was no feed left anywhere, and not even enough water. The mother pig was quite protective of her babies, and this guy’s method of safely getting the piglets was to coax them out of a hole they’d dug under the back wall using food, block it off so the mum was trapped, and then chase the babies around an acre with a butterfly net. When he caught one, he’d race to the driveway area, being chased the whole time by four dogs, which he’d be kicking and swearing at, and two larger pigs that were free-ranging around the area. It would have been comical if it hadn’t actually been quite dangerous, not to mention distressing for the poor piglets.
We got two females from him. We wanted females so we could avoid boar taint. We’re not sure now if this is will end up being a huge problem with our pigs. I’ll discuss that in more detail in my pig threads , but having the girls removes the risk altogether.
We went from planning to have pigs at around the 5 year mark to actually buying two lots within 9 months. And they’re awesome!