This year’s season of new arrivals on the farm hasn’t gone as smoothly as usual. First up, turkeys. I put on a batch of 24 eggs to cook in the incubator just before I went off to Australia in mid-April. I candled them when I came back and unfortunately half of them were duds. Of those remaining dozen, only half hatched, and sadly there is only one survivor, Hans (or Hannah - time will tell) Solo. I attempted to get Pilgrim to foster HS, since she’s been sitting on eggs for ages, but she was having none of it. Poor HS went flying through the air, catapulted by his neck. I certainly hadn’t expected that reaction from the usually very docile Pilgrim. Fortunately HS was none the worse for his ordeal. He’s been in solitary confinement ever since (apart from occasional stints in the finches’ cage for a short while) overnight in his box under the brooder and during the day in his little run, now that’s he outgrown the hamster cage. I have tried to integrate him with Shirley’s chicks, but they gang up on him!
That brings us to the chicks. Shirley appeared one morning with eight balls of fluff, three sandy coloured ones and five yellow ones, a couple of those with black splodges. As ever, she was a devoted mum, keeping all the other hens well away from her babies. She saw off Summer the huarizo who was gently sniffing at the chicks out of curiosity when they pottered into her field. Shirley pecked Summer firmly on the nose and sent her packing!
Shirley soon taught her babies that I was The Being That Dispenses Food, and every time they saw me they came skedaddling en masse at top speed towards me, tiny wings flapping for extra speed. Shirley brought up the rear protectively. So when one morning after a very stormy night, just a couple of very soggy chicks came hurtling over to see me I knew that something was wrong. Chris helped me hunt and we accounted for six chicks. One, nicknamed Spot, was hypothermic so she went to warm up under Hans’s Ecoglow brooder. (That was one of the occasions when he became an honorary finch.) The other five chicks went under the red lamp in the stable. Spot rallied for a while but sadly we lost her a couple of days later. I think she’d just been too weakened by her cold, wet motherless night. We’ve found a few feathers that might be Shirley’s but she’s definitely gone. The drawback to allowing poultry to free-range is that losses occur from time to time. Shirley had been going into the barn at night with her babies, but I’m guessing that for whatever reason she didn’t that ill-fated night. Still, we have five survivors who are full of beans. I put Hans in with them today but they beat him up, the poor poppet, so I’ll have to keep the species separate for the time being. It’s a shame for Hans as he seems lonely, but he’ll be OK. Psychologically damaged, like Pilgrim who was another sole survivor of a brood and seems to have trouble accepting that she’s a turkey, but otherwise OK. And now onto pigs. Up to now Rosie has popped her babies out with no problem This year didn’t go to plan at all. She finally went into labour and had her first piglet at about 10 a.m. There’s often a gap of about half an hour after the first piglet before the next one arrives, but for Rosie this time the delay dragged on for over two hour. This was worrying and not like her at all, so it was time to get help. I called the vet. He came about an hour later, and by then piglet number two had just been born. Poor Rosie had to put up with some delving and number three piglet came out in the vet’s hand. He said he’d felt number four a long way down the birth canal. He gave her a dose of oxytocin, and we were to inject her with it twice more, every two hours. He also gave her calcium, explaining that her contractions weren’t strong enough and this treatment would help labour along. Poor Rosie was in labour for ten hours overall. She had seventeen piglets in total - yes, seventeen! - but unfortunately the last five were stillborn. That’s to be expected when labour goes on too long, but still a shame. Our dozen surviving rascals are now huge and very lively. They like being sung to and having their tummies tickled! They haven’t yet ventured out of the nursery wing in the barn but it won’t be long before they follow Rosie out into the field. Incidentally, the vet came again a week later to do the yearly compulsory test for Aujeszky’s disease. (This is because our pigs are raised in the open and the sexually transmitted disease is rife in the wild boar population.) This involves the vet cutting the pig’s tail and taking a swab of the blood for sampling. All previous years Rosie hasn’t batted an eyelid over it, but this year she took one look at the vet, remembered very clearly the last thing he’d done to her, and fled! It took us a few tries to get the necessary blood sample. Pigs, like elephants, evidently have extremely good memories!
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