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Starting from scratch

Pigs don’t seem to mind the snow and cold

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I am hoping that winter is almost behind us. I am hoping that the snow will soon melt. I am hoping that the groundhog, that saw his shadow gets eaten by the resident fisher cat seen on our trail camera in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong, I love winter but we don’t own snowmobiles, we don’t ice fish, and I’m too scared of breaking a leg to become an avid downhill skier. This makes for a long winter.

Our farm is situated at the top of a valley, very close to the base of Mount Monadnock. The weather we experience here is different than other parts of Dublin. The wind sometimes wakes me up at night, howling through the trees. Sometimes our driveway needs to be plowed again from snowdrifts, even if there is no freshly fallen snow.

I don’t think that the pigs mind the snow or the cold. They bundle up in their little three-sided structure during the cold mornings and later afternoons. It is actually quite warm in their home, since the roughly cut pine boards make an excellent wind-break. When I put fresh hay down for their bedding, I always take a minute to stay out of the cold wind. The snow on their roof has actually melted, because of the body heat that they create when inside.

In the daytime you can see them rummaging around the tree stumps looking for something to munch on under the deep snow. The stumps are leftover from the gigantic pine trees cut down to let more light into the paddock, and then cut up to be used to build their structure and other rough outbuildings on the property. If it is really sunny outside, they will stand perfectly still and bask in the sun. When they begin to fall asleep, they lean sideways then jerk back into consciousness, avoiding tipping over completely. Black pigs in the sun could get pretty warm, I gather. It is quite comical to drive by the farm and see all these black pigs against a white snowy background, standing perfectly still.

During the warmer weather a few weeks ago, the chickens got a taste of spring. They were able to go outside and peck at the frozen green and brown ground, as all the snow had melted away. On our last snow day, I noticed that the chickens were louder than usual. They had food and water, but they still seemed cantankerous.

I opened their door to the outside paddock to let the ducks out and a hush fell over the crowd. They were in complete disbelief that their clear ground was now covered up with white fluffy snow. They collectively chose to stay inside, as not one chicken ventured out with the ducks. They resigned themselves to the fact that this was how it was going to be, and settled down quite quickly. Every once in a while when I open the door for the ducks, they try to make a break for the outside world, only to stop dead in their tracks again when they see snow.

I don’t fare well in the snow. Our driveway is built on an incline and, more times than I can count, I have almost lost my footing on ice, hiding beneath a thin blanket of snow.

Recently, my son asked me why I wear the same clothes every day — long underwear and a sweatshirt. I told him because my day consists of going to the barn in the morning, coming back up to the house to make breakfast, taking them to school, doing odd jobs around the house then maybe venturing back down to the barn before I pick them up from school, after which I make supper. The pigs and chickens don’t care that I wear the same clothes every day. I look forward to mornings out for coffee with my girlfriends. It gives me a reason to shower and put on clean jeans — over the long underwear.

I must be thankful, though, for two things this winter. The first is that our water froze in the barn for only two days. We had made preparations for winter by installing a heater in the water room and it worked quite well, except for the very cold snap we had not that long ago. In order to bring water to the animals during this time, we needed to drive the tractor up to the house and get water from the kitchen. In order to fill everyone’s water trough completely, we needed eight buckets of water and the tractor only held five buckets at a time. That combined with the walking up and down the stairs to get into the kitchen made for a very long process.

The second thing for which I am thankful is that the productivity of our laying hens has kept up quite nicely all winter. We are producing at about 50 percent, which is very good for winter. There is no special trick for keeping them in production. We keep the lights on all day and into the evening, make sure that they have lots of food, and plug all the holes in the walls with straw to keep the barn as warm as possible.

During these last few weeks of winter, being stuck inside allows me to finish, or in some cases begin, my indoor projects. Once the weather is warmer, I will venture out into the sunshine, slipping in the mud as I walk down my driveway, hoping that this will be the year that my pigs stay within the confines of their fencing.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com.

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