Octavia our British Lop gilt is now officially a sow as she has had her first litter. Nine were born on Saturday afternoon, outside in the drizzle. She has a lovely farrowing arc full of fresh straw but could not be persuaded to birth in it and she spent all of Friday and Saturday morning collecting bracken and moving the straw to make a big circular nest out in the field. All nine were born within about an hour, each one being moved inside the arc to keep warm. It took another hour or so for her to deliver both afterbirths and another couple of hours before she would move into the arc with the piglets. She unfortunately rolled on one on the first night, a common occurrence in the first few days as the piglets aren't so fast to get out of harms way. We have 8 left, 3 girls and 5 boys. We'll have to tattoo and register them in the next few weeks and get out local Lop expert Carole Barr to have a look at them. There may be some in the litter which are good examples of the breed (relating to ear shape, length, number of teats etc) worth registering which we can sell on for breeding. The rest will be growers for meat. We will probably keep a couple as growers as the meat will be a good supply for Lawson Park and the Honesty Shop in the village. If anyone wants to buy a rare breed British Lop, or some of our pork, please contact us!
Three full-time residential Land and Garden Internships are now available for 4-6 weeks each, to run between May and the end of September. We are looking for proactive people who are engaged in horticultural study or that of a closely-related subject (e.g forestry) and/or have a keen practicing interest in gardening and land management. Previous experience of practical horticulture is essential.
The produce from Lawson Park Farm farm provides for those working and living at Lawson Park and for food-related projects we run locally, nationally and internationally. The farmhouse is surrounded by woodland and circa 15 acres of land (largely managed organically) that contains ornamental gardens, a new orchard, extensive kitchen gardens, a polytunnel and wildflower meadow. We also keep chickens, ducks and pigs. The gardens open to the public annually under the National Garden Scheme and to visiting specialist groups to whom guided tours are offered. Under the leadership of resident warden - artist Karen Guthrie - the land has been developed over the last decade with an emphasis on productivity, sustainability and manageability, marrying contemporary elements with traditional materials and features.
Duties will include general garden and land maintenance, establishment of new cultivated areas, propagation, harvesting, arboriculture and animal care. Although the practical work is often routine, you will have the chance to develop and further your personal interests as well as having the opportunity to participate in diverse Grizedale Arts projects. You will be paid £100 per week and we provide full board in the Lawson Park farmhouse.
These last few months waiting, getting excited about the new arrivals and now we discover that Octavia our pig is no longer pregnant. It seems likely that she was pregnant as she stopped coming into season after being served by a boar back in July. This would have made her due next week but because her mammary glands never developed, we have had to come to the conclusion that she lost her litter. From talking to Carole Barr, whose boar we borrowed to cover Octavia, she must have re-absorbed her pregnancy. This sounds quite gruesome but actually it makes sense for mammals that produce large numbers of offspring. If there's a problem with say just one embryo, rather than the whole litter being aborted, that one embryo can be reabsorbed into the body and the others can carry on to full-term.
From looking online, it doesn't seem that uncommon for a pig to lose her litter this way, but in proper pig business this translates financially as 'empty days' and the aim is to minimise empty days. This is done by either slaughtering the unproductive animal or taking it back to the boar as soon as the re-absorbtion is discovered. Fortunately we don't have to think in these terms as she's not our cash cow, so I think we will minimise her empty days by getting another grower in to keep her company. We'll take her to the boar soon and aim for a spring litter.
The pigs have done a brilliant job of turning over their original field. So much so that we have to fence another two fields for them to work over. This field that they expertly rotavated with their snouts will be planted in the next couple of weeks with a pig grazing mix from Woodhead Seeds. It's a mix of cocksfoot, chicory, timothy grass, white clover and rye grass. A very good supplement to their diet.
There's pork all over the place at the moment; brining in buckets, bubbling in pots, outside in the smoker, hanging in the porch and in the kitchen, in the fridge and in two freezers. We have made potted pork, five different kinds of sausages, ham, bacon, pate, tongue confit, lard, crackling, stock, plus all the other usual cuts like shoulder, ribs etc. The ears went to Alistair's mother-in-law who used them for a Chinese New Year dish, we've used it in a stew for a dinner for 22 school kids visiting from Gravesend and packs of bacon have been handed out as an alternative to Thank You cards. Anyway, we have used every bit of this lovely pig we reared and still have tons left which will feed a lot of visitors over the next six months. We have a new little grower in the field now, a boy called Collingwood, he's keeping Octavia Hill 'company'. He's a bit of a sex pest but as he's only a quarter of her size, I don't think she's noticed.
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?
We bought a couple of weaners a few weeks ago, two very cute 2 month old British Lop pigs. Although they look like standard, everyday pigs they are the rarest of the six British rare breeds, but still very edible. One is for fattening up and one we will keep for breeding. Before they go their separate ways, they are loving their lush lodgings.