Farmyard Bling

I joked to a friend the other day that I have joined the world of Big Ag, because I have had to join the Pig Trace programme, which includes getting government approved ear tags with unique numbers so that the pigs can be tracked every time I report that I’ve moved them.

It’s no joke of course.  Traceability is something the Canadian Pork Producers associations have been working on for some time.  Disease is part of the business of raising livestock, whether for meat or for products like eggs and milk.  It happens, even on state of the art, super hygienic, bio secure meg farms (maybe more so there, but that’s another topic).  Last year, the Pork Producers and the government finally made it mandatory for ALL pigs to be tagged when when going to slaughter.  The rules are more complicated than that, in that breeding stock movements have to be reported too, but the main concern seems to be that they want to be able to trace where pigs came from when they’ve been slaughtered.

My pigs last year were almost turned away at the slaughter house because they weren’t tagged – it was a month after the deadline for the tagging programme to begin, and I’d somehow got the impression that I’d be exempt because my pigs were born before the cutoff (wrong).  However, they did the job, and I found out later that the government was fairly lenient in the first year of the programme while producers were getting into gear with the new requirements.

However, this year, I knew I’d have to knuckle down and tag the pigs.  The Pig Trace website is a wonderfully succinct little resource, and after perusing it, I duly got myself an account with Pig Trace and ordered three tags (the tags were $1 each, the postage was $12 – hubby said I should have ordered 100 to make the postage worthwhile, but it would take me 30 years to use up that quantity).

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look carefully – small yellow tags, just visible

Tagging pigs is fun.  I mean fun like roller coaster fun.  There’s the lead up as you prepare your gear, make your plan and get your pigs in a happy place (this involved food of course).  That’s the first uphill slope of the coaster.  Then you make your move, go in, grab the ear, place the applicator and tag – the downhill of the coaster, and squeeze – HARD.  The pig’s head whips up, startled, and that’s the curve after the slope.  the applicator tool releases if the two parts of the tag connected properly through the ear, and the pigs ear just slips away from you.  If it went well, the ride feels pretty good.  If it doesn’t quite go according to plan, well then – the ride gets exciting.  One of the pigs jerked her head just as I squeezed, the applicator slipped out of my hand while still in the pigs ear, and – we’re off.  Pig with set of pliers (the applicator is like pliers) hanging from her ear, banging around, the other two pigs flying around sharing her panic.  Through the electric fence twice – through the wallow, round the shelter, back again.  We finally cornered her, and I was able to finish the squeeze so the ear tag was done, and get the applicator off.  Poor little piggy.  Then I had to do the third pig (the barrow) – whose trust level after all that was not great.  I considered leaving him till later when they were calm again, but fortunately, everyone settled back to their dinners almost immediately, so I went in and tagged him without drama.

But let me tell you – the Pig Trace website gives you no indication of all the fun that ear tagging involves – except for maybe a hint when they mention that tagging a mature pig isn’t a lot of fun.  You need to go to the link here so that you can see just how simple they say the procedure is.  And while you’re there, check out the graphic which portrays where to put the tag in the ear.  It’s a cartoon pig for Pete’s sake, with little x marks for the ear tags.  So cute!  I guess the reality is that the Big Ag farmers all know how to tag pigs already and don’t need a picture.  That’s fine, but if they’re requiring backyard producers (which is essentially what I am) to comply, then a little guidance in the form of a video, or even a photo of a pig with the tag in the correct place would be helpful.

Fortunately there’s YouTube and Google.  Now that I’ve done my pigs, I know why there are zero videos of pigs being done.  It would make the job look a little too exciting.  Actually there is one video – and it does look a little exciting – but I had discounted it because the guy freely admitted it was his first effort at tagging, and it was moreover a different tagging applicator than the one needed for my tags.  A couple of British sites mentioned that food was a good idea while tagging pigs, and a NZ site mentioned that a second person would be helpful, which I’d figured out from the various videos, since not one of them had someone tagging alone, except the cows in crushes.

In retrospect, restraining the pigs might have been a smarter idea, as it would have given me more control and less chance something like that chase with the pig with the applicator banging around her face while she ran. On the other hand, cornered pigs are not happy pigs – they know full well there’s nothing good in it for them, and trying to catch the ear and hold it still might have been the challenge. So, in the end, I’ll probably do it over the feed bowls again next year, but maybe feed in a smaller space, rather than the open paddock, so that I limit the escape routes.  On the upside, I feel better about the tagging process than before I started.  The pigs really only reacted to the tag application for a brief moment (except for pig #2), and were back in their feed bowls within a second or two after I’d tagged them.  They seem oblivious to the tags now. It really does seem much like when my daughters got their ears pierced.

I kept an eye on the pig that got tagged second for a day or two.  I think her ear was a little tender (what a surprise) because she wouldn’t let me touch it, but there’s no seeping or swelling, so I think she’s OK, and this morning I was able to lift her ear to check the underside before she pulled away from me.   I found out after the fact that infection is quite common with tagging, and that there’s yet another gadget you can buy that lets you remove the tag to treat infection if need be.  They certainly don’t mention that on the Pig Trace website either.

Further research also elicited the little gem that I should have figured out for myself – ti’s smart to write down the tag numbers somewhere before you tag the pigs, or right when you do it, because they get muddy pretty fast and therefore illegible.  Now that my pigs have been wearing their earrings for a couple of days, I can see why.  Or rather I can’t see – the numbers have been covered in mud.

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blue ring, right leg – these birds are 11 weeks old and need to join the main flock

The young chickens got some jewellery this weekend too – and seem to be keeping theirs much cleaner than the pigs.  A partial solution to my flawed plan to keep track of the different generations of chickens in my layer flock involves coloured leg rings.  I was a little daunted by ringing the main flock (50 birds) so we decided to ring the young birds – only 9.  Younger daughter and I whipped through that task just after dusk when the birds were sleepy and were done in 5 minutes.  No website, no video, no infection risks, no adrenaline surge (at least for us, maybe for the birds).

So, anklets and earrings – the youngsters are growing up.

Summer growth

Piglets, chicks, flowers – all growing like crazy.  I may not be saying much on the blog, but there is stuff happening here.

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An hour after they arrived, 6 July. Abut 6 weeks old.

The piglets arrived two weeks ago, they’re around 8 weeks now. Their mama is a Large Black, called Olivia and the boar is a Berkshire.  They are sturdy, energetic little things, growing fast.  They also move as a unit, like a well trained platoon. It’s easy to think of them as the Three Musketeers, except that being pigs, they’re all over the concept of “all for one” and not at all interested in the more altruistic ideal of “one for all”.

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3 Musketeers, aged 8 weeks.

While they respect electric fence to a point, it apparently has to be an electric fence worthy of their respect, and ours was not up to snuff when they came.  To be fair they came a week earlier than expected, and we had to really scramble to get the fence set up in time, but I was aware that there wasn’t much of a charge on the line, and vowed to troubleshoot it at the earliest opportunity.  I was not prepared for their robustness or their confidence.  The pigs we’ve had the previous two years were far more timid in their early days.  I think this trio has the advantage that they were born on a farm very near here, and they are siblings, so that they have always done everything together, and have moreover been doing that in a wooded acreage with a pond at one end, where, as I learned later, they also considered the electric fence to be more of a guideline than an actual rule.

So long story longer, they got out on Friday, five days after we got them.  I was at work when I got the call:  “The pigs got out”.  Fortunately this isn’t our first experience with pigs, and even more fortunately, pigs are highly food motivated.  Turns out their bid for freedom was more to do with the fact that one of the kids had opened the gate to come in with dinner, and the pigs simply pushed through in their eagerness to ambush her.  We have a wire across the gate entrance to discourage this kind of behaviour, so that we humans can deliver dinner without becoming part of it, and the piglets, being quite small, and the fence not giving much charge, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that this particular scenario would happen.  In normal circumstances, I’d have been home in an hour, and able to roll up my sleeves and start troubleshooting the fence but that night I was meant to be in town after work to meet hubby to sign some papers with him (new car).  I whipped home from work, sussed the situation with the pigs, and decided I’d go to town to sign the papers quickly then come home again (quick is relative – that would have been about 90 minutes minimum), rather than staying in town to have dinner with hubby as originally planned.  While we were in our meeting, the girls texted to say “pigs are safe in fort knocks, stay for dinner”. They’re French Immersion kids, hence the creative English spelling, but the gist of it was clear from the picture they attached.  The pigs were indeed contained in a version of Fort Knox – with boards at pig height all the way around their paddock, so that they couldn’t push through the hog wire fence that is behind the electric most of the way around. We had dinner.

That weekend, we did some troubleshooting and ended up sinking a second grounding rod (earthing rod for those in the Antipodes), bought a new extension cord, and ultimately have also recently purchased a new energizer – I gasped slightly at the price, but it’s a Sta-fix, which have to be special ordered here, as we don’t have a dealer.  The feed store had ordered it for someone who changed their mind, and it was just sitting there the day I went in to get a new one.  It seems like it was meant to be for me, and though it’s more powerful than I really need right now, there are plans to take electric fence out to the fields for chickens and sheep, and this charger is good enough for that.  Sta-fix is a brand out of NZ, who are the world leaders in electric fence.   According to the instructions that come with it, it will keep in pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, bulls and kangaroos. Can’t wait to get the kangaroos.

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Mama Hen and family, 3 days old

Mama Hen hatched nine chicks from a clutch of 12 eggs a month ago, and she’s still got all nine, so we’re very impressed.  We’re not quite sure if it’s 4 pullets and 5 roosters, or 3 and 6, but we’ll find out eventually.  The eggs were from different hens, hence the different colours of chicks.  At this point we’re working on integrating Mama and the brood with the rest of the flock – the roosters are proving pretty contemptuous of the chicks and pretty vicious towards Mama, so I’m trying to do it gradually.  Mama herself however is keen to get back into the hen house, so I hope things smooth out soon.

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Mama hen and family, 6 weeks old

On the topic of chicks, we have 140 broiler chicks coming in a few weeks, and hopefully one good thing about this sweltering heat wave we’re in will be that brooding them will be a snap, though I’ll need it to cool off a couple of weeks later when they go out on pasture.

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The flower bed is the work of our younger daughter, who has also been my right hand while I’ve been at work managing water for all the critters in the heat, and feeding pigs on the evenings that I work.  The trellis has been there for years, legacy from an old clematis that never did well on it, and has been gone for eons.  She built and filled the bed,raised all the flowers from seed and transplanted them – et, voila!  My grandmother and my father’s sister both had that sort of knack – making it look so easy, and having things come up so lushly.  That’s sweet peas in the far back, zinnias, cosmos and nasturtiums, with some calendula she rescued from the veg garden in the box to one side.  She’s got her sights set on developing a perennial bed next year.  My veg garden also looks quite lush right now, but not from my efforts – it’s mostly weeds.  There are veggies in there and we’ve done quite well with some things – quite a lot of basil for a couple of batches of pesto for example.

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Annual family pesto assembly line, we made 7 batches in the end.

Tomatoes and potatoes, cukes and pumpkins also look pretty good.  But my good intentions to do succession planting came to nothing and unless I get cracking right now to get some more seeds in, I won’t have much of a fall garden.  But it’s so darn hot out these days, that I just wilt out there, so about the only garden job I really get done on a regular basis involves standing in the garden at dusk with the hose, thinking about nothing in particular while I soak everything, including weeds, and if it’s been really hot, even myself.

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cooling off

You can’t take the country out of the kid…

Our eldest is close to the end of a month long trip in China, having the time of her life, exploring and experiencing a different culture.  Though she has enjoyed the classic Chinese icons like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, her most effusive writing has been about more rural experiences.  Since this is in theory a farm blog, I thought I’d include excerpts from two emails.  The first one is about her stay in a ger in Mongolia, the second is about her stay in a small town called Hongkeng, where they were given a room in a toulu (one for tourists, with toilets – not always a given in China).  She sent pictures of the time in Mongolia ( didn’t include every picture), but I haven’t received any from Hongkeng; however Google images gives one an idea of what she’s seeing – I recommend dong a search for Hongkeng village and clicking “images”.  I’ve included her quotes verbatim, so please excuse spelling – she’s typing on her phone.


Some pics i took while waiting for the sun to rise so we could start herding the sheep etc. So they might be kinda blurry cause there was no light and i had numb fingers since it was super cold.  Some more pics of The home we stayed at, some of the herd we managed to round up by ourselves  (a bit pathetic as we found out later, compared to the roughly 300 sheep that the 1 local guy on his scooter rounded up in the same amount of time by himself that it took 7 of us to find the ones in the pic). Me all wrapped up in a scarf they gave me and ready to watch the sun rise. A pic of the sun rising  (can you see the wind turbines way waaaayyyy in the distance? It might be too blurry). And a pic of a hill marker- they use these as land marks so they can find their way through the vast almost never ending expanse that is the inner mongolian plains because they are nomadic and all of the inner mongolian countryside looks pretty much the same- like a huge sea of never ending grass and dusty dirt flowing on and on and on through rolling hills and rocky rolling sloppes and lumps and rises and massive flatish plains- so they put hill markers here and there both for navigation and for communication and so they can find each other when they move  (they can leave each other messages at these markers using the placement of piles of certain rocks, paintings, carvings, and flags or other scraps of cloth).

Hongkeng toulu village is amazing- so beautiful and so unique and peaceful. It looks like nowhere else on this earth! I’ll show you pictures when i get home- cause they’re all on my camera not on my phone.

And yes the room we are staying in in the toulu we are staying in does have some of its own unique quirks, but it is definitely not that bad. For one thing there is really good airconditioning and honestly that alone is enough to make me really love the room. Also it is super clean and actually looks fairly recently renovated. The beds are pretty comfy too! And yes there have also been a couple of bugs etc but only (so far and thank goodness) in the bathroom and the hallway outside our room- not in out actual sleeping area. And bugs are just part of being in the countryside.  And boy are we in the countryside! This whole village is an actual active farming village! Rice fields, bananas, taros, ducks, geese, chickens… and lots of other things! Sooooo cool! Mom you would love it here- the way the whole village farms the land as one and raises their own food and uses every square inch of good farm land… the young and the old, women and men, all work side by side… everyone works together but they just work slow and steadily- no hurry no stress- when they are tired they rest, when they are hot they move to the shade (and drink hot tea- yes you would totally fit right in)… they butcher their own meat too at each meal! If they are having chicken for dinner then when it is time to cook they just go outside (the chickens here just wonder freely around the village and surrounding farmland and jungle- they are seriously all over the place, especially around the toulus i think because they get food scraps there) and grab a chicken or two or 3 (however many they need) they bring it back into the courtyard and they can get it from clucking to cooking in about 3 mins flat! I got to watch one of our hosts do the whole process and i learned a trick or 2 that i will share with you when im home. I bet you never guessed i would learn this on my trip!!!


Circles of Life

Were we led all this way for Birth or Death?  There was a birth certainly.  We had evidence and no doubt.  I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different.

T.S. Eliot (Journey of the Magi)

When we were younger, in our twenties, with all of life ahead of us, weddings came up frequently among our friends and acquaintances.  Never a summer went by without at least one or two to celebrate.  A few years later, everyone was having babies, and there were showers and christenings to participate in.  As offspring of older parents, we both began dealing with the loss of our parents soon than most of our acquaintances, both through old age and illness, but it wasn’t long before cousins and friends began grieving such losses themselves.  The last few years has been a plateau with hardly any of these life passages, but suddenly we seem to be back on this particular circle – a colleague lost her daughter last week to an anaphylactic reaction which was too strong for her epi-pen.  An old friend of my father’s passed away last weekend, after a few years of increasing ill health.  On the other hand, a friend of my daughter’s is getting married next week.  Another colleague is about to go off on maternity leave.

Yesterday, my plans to work in the vegetable garden, getting caught up on weeding, transplanting etc were abruptly put on hold when Lifeline called me to say that my neighbour’s alert button had been activated, and he wasn’t responding to their call, would I please go and check.  This happened a month ago, and turned out to be a false alarm – he’d knocked his bracelet while working in his greenhouse, and never realized it (he’s very deaf).  So I wasn’t initially concerned.  However, long story short, this time was different.  When we eventually got in (we have a spare key), we found him on the floor of his bedroom where he’d been since the night before. His wife is away visiting grandkids, so he was on his own.  He was OK, but we called the paramedics anyway – at 94, with brittle joints, it seemed risky to let him move and he was complaining of pain in his shoulder.  Poor guy – he was furious that his body was letting him down like this, but he was telling me that his body is wearing out after a life of hard knocks.  And in the same breath, he’s telling me how many grandkids, and great grandkids they have, and his pride comes through loud and clear.

Once he’d been taken to the hospital, and we’d locked up behind the paramedics and come home again, it was hard to go on with all the mundane things of the day. Eliot goes on to say in his poem Journey of the Magi, that: “this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us”.  I would have flipped that yesterday to say that watching an aging man used to a physical independent life have that independence wrested from him by a failing body is a hard and bitter agony.  He was not happy that I called the ambulance.  Due to his very poor mobility, I’m sure he’s worried that it’s not long before he needs to be placed in care.  And he will hate that.  But his wife is tiny, and elderly too, there is no way she can cope if he falls like that.  I hate that I was the person that has started the ball rolling that will probably lead to him losing his independence, but I know I was right to call the paramedics.  Life is tough sometimes.

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And then…this morning, when I went to let the chickens out, I could hear cheeping from the broody coop.  Right on schedule Mama the broody hen was hatching her eggs.  She wasn’t happy to have me check on her, but at that point in the morning two little golden balls of fluff had emerged, and by lunchtime, a black one, a white one and two more golden ones were evident.  She was sitting on 12 eggs, so we’ll see how many more hatch, but I was reminded of the inexorability of the force of life.  It surges onward, powering this cycle of birth and death,  all the ups and downs of life in between.

Gon Out. Bisy. Back soon.

In Which Dawn is very Busy and Cannot Find Time to Write the Blog, so Decides to Let Faithful Followers Know that She Has Not Forgotten, but is Just Busy and Will Get Back to Writing the Blog Eventually.  

But rest assured, the layer hens are producing lots of eggs, have not bust out of their new fencing – yet, and the honeysuckle is reviving but at a pace I can cope with.  The new brushcutter is a wonder, and I have cut huge swaths in some brambly areas.  Today is the last burn day until October, but things are too wet to burn, so we are now relegated to making piles of cut brambles ready for that time, unless our friend Mike has time to do some chipping for us (he’s an arborist) before then. The Veg garden was tilled last week by Hay Guy, and I’m hoping to be ready to plant peas and potatoes tomorrow – a little late for both, but not by too much, I hope. Onions and tomatoes are in seed trays, basil too.  Speaking of Hay Guy, he cut some hay across the road last week as well – the earliest in my memory – I think in his too.

One teen is back from her Spain/Italy trip – loved it, despite the rain over there.  Barcelona and Pompeii were definitely highlights.  She is gearing up to stage manage the upcoming school musical, among other busyness, and is thoroughly enjoying her Chemistry class.  The other, finished university for the year, and soon to be no longer a teen, is heading to China with a friend in a month, so is also fairly busy pulling together last minute details.  Hubby’s business is booming, and he is looking at hiring yet another team member this year.

Pigs are supposed to arrive the end of May – maybe I’ll be able to squeeze in time for a post then, and broilers some time after that.  This is a year in which the focus is to maintain the status quo.  I have moved to a full time position in a larger branch of the library, just a short commute down the highway from here.  Not as close as the small local branch I’ve enjoyed so much this past year – but – full time.  I couldn’t pass it up.  Double the pay, full pension.  You know.

So. Working full time and farming full time is not as easy in my fifties as it might have been had I been twenty years or so younger.  I’m not totally sure how I’m going to manage everything when I already found myself fairly stretched last year, working part time. And it’s not like I farm at a scale even approaching what most would consider full time.  We’ll see.  I have the younger teen on hand to help out, unless she gets a better paying job elsewhere.  It seems obvious that I need to spend my “spare” time carefully – and screen time, even in the form of blogging, may not be my best choice.  I have more than once this past month caught myself passing up family time to sit in front of my computer screen, and that’s backwards.

So this is just to say, we’re still here, still doing our small farm thing.  Among other things.  I just won’t be posting about it very often, at least for now.

I hope you all have a great summer/winter (depending which hemisphere you’re reading in).  I do check all your blogs pretty regularly, but I may slow down on commenting (maybe that”ll be a good thing for some of you!).  I look forward to hearing about winter in Christchurch and Melbourne, summer in northern BC, Ontario, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, PEI, the UK and France.

P.S.  I tried to find a classic Pooh image of the “Gon Out. Bisy Back Soon” quote, but couldn’t find one I liked.  The Disney version gets the point across well enough. Here’s an image of the classic version to satisfy my Engilsh soul.


Poisson d’avril

Or April Fool’s Day, depending on your background.

For years on this day, there was a lot of back slapping and hugging around my house as the kids endeavoured to tape paper fish to everyone’s backs surreptitiously.  It’s a French tradition, brought into our family through the girls’ Franch Immersion in school, where all their teachers were from France or Quebec.  For a charming example of some fish, check out Brat Like Me’s blogpost today, which is what reminded me of the tradition.

But my kids grew up, and the tricks got trickier.  The most outstanding one in everyone’s memory is the year my youngest used food colouring to change the colour of the milk – blue.  A 4L jug of milk, brand new – blue.  Do you know what colour macaroni cheese becomes with blue milk?  Or tea?  Or porridge?  It was the joke that lasted for days.

I keep thinking my kids are growing out of childish traditions, but apparently not.  This morning, while I was outside doing chores, the youngest, now 17, taped paper over the electronic “eye” on my computer mouse, and dyed the coffee cream pink, and then left for school.  I guess she was being easy on me – pink is not so bad in coffee, and I troubleshoot mice all the time at work, so it was a matter of a minute before I figured out that one, but…

Is it immature of me that I toilet papered the whole doorway to her room?


Blackberries Beware!

I got a new toy today.  There were a lot of jokes at the feed store about my new method for decapitating chickens, but in fact, this toy is a serious piece of equipment.  With this thing, I have a fighting chance of keeping the blackberries at bay.  Maybe even the hawthorns.

Meet my new Husqvarna 545 FX forestry saw.


Weighs about 18 lbs empty.  You should see the harness, it has it’s own instruction manual.  (well, kind of).  The harness will make this large cutter possible for me to use for longer periods.  It will handle blackberries, hawthorns, small trees, tall grass, and broom.  Not as entertaining as getting goats, which were highly recommended, but will do the job in my limited time off.

This is a thing of beauty.  I can’t wait to get going with it.