It’s a numbers game at Oxbow farm
Let’s play with some numbers. Here at Oxbow Farm, along with all the chickens, we have four ducks, four sheep, four goats and four Yorkshire pigs. I do not, however, have four children. I have two. Maybe I should have had four to help with the workload around here. But really the wait time for the actual benefit of free labor to kick in is pretty long, and it is not really free in the end, so I will settle for my two wonderfully perfect children and a great farmhand.
The other thing that comes in sets of two here at the farm is winter gear. Because the public would not appreciate manure-covered clothing at school, we need two sets of jackets, snowpants, boots, hats and mitts. So my children walk down to the barn in big chunky boots and mismatched, ripped and duct-taped snowpants and jackets that are either too big or too small. We find what we can at secondhand stores to fill this need. As long as they are warm for the hour that they are in the barn helping with chores, who cares what they look like.
Let me give you a bigger number: 16. That is the number of piglets we have. After our September column about my continuously escaping pigs and our unexpected piglets, we had another batch of piglets. Out of a possible 20, we had 16 little cuties survive.
Now I want to go back to the number two. As I write this month’s column, that is the grand total of piglets I have sold — they are all for sale, by the way. I knew that it would be difficult to sell pigs to backyard farmers in the wintertime, and established, full-time farmers usually have their own piglets from their own breeding pair, so they are not looking for pigs. But that was the chance that I took having my boy and girls living together. Things happen.
As it turns out, I had 10 boys and six girls. I decided to move all of the boys away from their mothers so that I could try, a) to keep track of who was who, b) give a big push to sell these males, and c) give the poor mothers a break. They are almost ready to be weaned completely and they are driving their mothers crazy wanting to nurse.
Anytime one of the mothers stands still, the babies are there looking for a drink. The mothers are actually losing weight, walking around so much trying to keep the little ones at bay.
Paula — my most fabulous farmhand — and I set off to separate the pigs last week with two dog crates and all of her muscles. With so many piglets running around, it was difficult to catch a boy as he was running past. When we did catch one, Paula and I would work quickly to get the pig into the crate before he even knew what was going on. Some were easier to place in the crates than others. Some never made a noise or squirmed. Of course, it was the biggest ones that screamed the loudest and wriggled the hardest. Some got legs and heads twisted in the not-live electric fence, and one almost ran for freedom. The mothers almost seemed happy that we were taking some away. After the first squawking piglet caught their attention, and they snorted their disapproval, they kind of ignored us. Thank goodness, as it could have gotten dangerous if they had been agitated.
After three trips from the field to the barn, I now have 10 slightly confused piglets in my barn waiting for a new home.
I also have four severely confused goats who are wondering, ‘Who are these strange creatures living in our stall?’
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. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.