The original pig shelter, like a lean-to I made from corrugated iron, blew away one stormy night. It was patched up a bit but was never intended to be more than temporary accommodation for the piglets when they first arrived. They're quite hefty girls now and like nothing better than a good scratch-on so their poor shelter has taken quite a pummeling from their rear ends. We have now invested in a plastic pig ark which we got from Solway Recycling, a company that collects and recycles waste agricultural plastics and operates the National Farmers Recycling Service. It's a robust shelter big enough for a sow and litter so is a good long-term investment for our Lawson Park Herd. I have been using dried reeds for their bedding which is just as good as straw and about quarter of the price (straw is about £8 a bale due to it being in short supply). So, they like the reeds and are now lovely and warm in their new house. It might seem like a bit of an unnecessary luxury but it has been proving a bit difficult to get our 'grower' pig to slaughter weight. Getting a pig to this weight is much quicker if they are kept warm and indoors but ours are burning off loads of energy running around their lovely field. We are also walking them every day to the paddy fields to act as natural rotivators for a grassy patch we want them to turn over so we can seed oats. They have also burning up energy to keep warm at night. Their new cosy home will mean they don't have to use so much energy so should help to fatten them a bit quicker. I measured them today to check their weight. There is a formula you can use if using an ordinary measuring tape which is girth (in cm) squared, times length, times 69.3, equals weight in kilograms. However, I used an animal measuring tape which if you measure their chest gives their weight in pounds. Ours are currently 128lbs (58 kilos) which is fine to slaughter out as a porker but a baconer needs to be taken up to about 80kg. Not sure if we will make this before Christmas. We'd ideally like to have our own meat to sell at the Coniston and Torver Farmer's Market and Art Fair we are organising for 11th and 12th December in the Consiton Institute.
I haven't posted any pictures of the chickens for some time as they have not been looking at their best. They all at one point had horribly bare arses where they had been plucking each others or their own feathers out. It was quite a sorry sight, the blame being down to pesky little mites. I fed the chickens on raw garlic cloves for a week. Apparently the mites don't like the taste so stop biting them and in turn the chickens stopped plucking out their feathers. I also used an organic powder called Diatromaceous Earth which is finely ground fossils of prehistoric fresh water single celled plants called diatoms.The tiny hard and sharp diatoms scratch off the insects waxy coating, causing it to dehydrate. Anyway, just as their bum feathers grew back, the chickens got on with their annual molt. Feathers were strewn everywhere like a fox massacre. They went off their food and their plucked little bodies would huddle together quietly waiting for their new growth. Now though, although looking great, due to the short daylight hours they have stopped laying. We tried putting a shop-bought egg into the nesting box as we thought it might encourage them back into laying but no luck with that. Some people put lights in their hen houses as this can keep egg production up through the dark months but we have no electricity source where they are. You can buy hybrid chickens that just keep laying all year so this might be a future option. In the mean time, shall we keep feeding them with no return or is it time to make a big batch of chicken stock?
The new orchard here has progressed a lot since intern Campbell Guthrie finished preparing the planting zones this summer, for 21 fruit trees. The orchard concept is to plant a selection of the hardiest varieties from Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland, each chosen for their suitability to this exposed and wet south westerly spot.
The first trees to arrive were the Welsh ones from the very helpful Gwynfor Growers, so these have been planted this weekend, metre squared spaces cleared of grass and now mulched with deep bracken. Each tree hole was dug square (following the new RHS advice) and fed with a handful of bonemeal and seaweed. Varieties chosen are Snowdon Queen (a pear found at 600 feet up the mountain - should love it here), and apples Cissy, Croen Mochyn, Pig Aderyn, St Cecilia &Bardsey Island.