True to form Bossy Boots waited until the worst weather of the week to start labour and at twelve o’clock Wednesday night I was out laying a straw bed in the cowshed to bring her into. By 2 am I decided it was a false alarm, left her tucked up nice and warm and headed off to bed. By morning she was looking very close, but not uncomfortable and I popped her back into the paddock while I brought the others in for milking. You guessed it ... no sooner had I filled the shed with cows and calves ... Bossy Boots sat down in the wettest part of the paddock and promptly gave birth to a bar of beautiful chocolate and white heifer! By the time milking was finished she had nearly completed the yucky motherly things and was ready for a congratulatory feed and cuddle. ‘Gumboot’ was up and tottering around and, with a bucket of Sweetfeed for encouragement, I was able to get them both back into the shed and out of the rain. By Sunday Bossy Boots was needing a hand with her bulging udder and Pumpkin and Pie were quite happy to oblige. This time it was the food chain doing a shuffle to the left and a shuffle to the right as the milk Pumpkin and Pie were drinking from the calfateria now went to Mrs Pig and her eleven piglets ... and are they growing! At the beginning of the week, eleven piglets could squeeze through the calf pen railings when I let Mrs Pig out to have a snorkel around in the forest. By Saturday six could squeeze through, and today there were only four following after her. Hopefully, the local-handy-man-who-empties-my-bank-account is arriving tomorrow morning to start the new, woopty-do pig pen (he has heard I have just sold the autumn-born calves!).
The first litter Mrs Pig had were sold a week before Christmas last year, to the Wellington ‘Samoan Spit Market’, for an amazing ‘in-the-pen’ price. The chap who came to buy them on behalf was prepared to pay porker price for nine-week-old piglets! My aim is to have that timing again one year! Her second litter was split – seven were sold at weaning and I was able to fatten three at the neighbour’s piggery. With the litter she has now, I will be able to raise all eleven if I wish, as I will have a proper mini piggery and plenty of milk. My timing this year has missed the ‘spit market’ but will coincide with Easter and I hope the money I get for the porkers will go most of the way towards buying four-day-old calves in the autumn. Things go round and round; everything supports everything; one lot of hard work gives you the means to start the next lot of hard work!! (Something doesn’t seem quite right?)
But it’s the challenge I tell myself – I am a proper farmer. It’s a Lilliput Farm granted, yet the physical skills, the mental cunning, the marketing strategies and the property management abilities required to conduct the farm are full-sized. To run a small place successfully is a great challenge – there is no room for error.
The weather has stolen my November. What is usually the time for celebrating the best seasonal snippet of the year has been sabotaged. The whole of November has been a continual grind through the mud and a constant battle with the polar winds. And it was the inconsistencies - one minute with three layers of clothes and a woolly hat leaning into the southerly – the next, down to your knickers in the blistering sun. Do you take the cover off the horse or leave it on? Should you let the calves out, or keep them in? Do you plant the basil, or is it going to freeze tonight? I feel as if I have been at war with the environment this month, rather than at peace and I have missed my time to communicate leisurely with the earth after the antagonisms of the winter.
The month has seemed a continual cycle of finding food and feeding out. At the crack of dawn, the birds heave me out of bed to start the morning round. With Albert and Buppy fed it’s off to the cows and calves. The calves get a wake-up call with a bucket of Sweetfeed and each cow has her breakfast as she takes her turn in the milking bay. Before milking starts I let Mrs Pig out of the calf pen and into the forest to have a good scrounge amongst the cows’ leftovers from the night before and after the milking has been done, baleage is next – a wheelbarrow full for each cow. This has to be carted out into the forest for them to return to from the milking shed paddock. Then it’s off to the orchard to cut grass – a big armful each including one for Mrs Pig. The calves are kept shut in the shed to encourage them to eat the fresh baleage and straw given to them after the cows have gone and it’s during this time I savour my breakfast. With me fed and full, Mrs Pig is enticed back into her pen with a bucket of scraps and milk, the calves are let out, the water barrels are checked and refilled and I start the ‘foraging’ round.
At the moment there’s silver beet to pick for Mrs Pig, broccoli heads to cut for me, and broccoli plants to pull for the cows. There are nasturtiums to trim for Mrs Pig, salady things to gather for me, and fodder beet to lift for the cows. There’s gardening rubbish for Mrs Pig to fossick through, herbs for me to dry and store and chicory leaves for the cows to chew. Mrs Pig makes short work of the grapevine cuttings, I make short work of the last bucket of grapefruit, and the cows make short work of a slice of straw each. Lunch is shared – usually with Albert, but mostly with the birds and the insects that hang about the side veranda. After lunch, I sort out a bucket of spuds from the storage box. The not-so-nice ones are boiled for Mrs Pig, the better ones are for my tea, and the cows go out onto the roadside for a couple of hours grazing. Early evening sees the morning routine repeated and at night, as I tumble into bed with a full tummy, my mind refuses to switch off until it has done a systematic check of every mouth on the place to ensure it received its daily due. Now, this doesn’t take into account the horses, who were last seen disappearing over the back and down to Rata! With the grazing paddock next door being shut up for hay I was allowed to put them in the paddock behind it, but the contractor coming to plough the paddocks behind that one left all of the gates open!! I shall have to trek off tomorrow and find them once the local handyman is organised with the pigpen building.
One has to acknowledge though, that with all of this endless round and a round of carting edibles, the end result is me being very well fed. I have no problems tucking into a wholesome casserole with ample amounts of fresh vegetables. I harbour no guilt as I cover my rhubarb crumble with custard or my homemade ice cream with freshly shelled walnuts and piles of still-hot chocolate sauce. My philosophy is ... I’ve chased it ... I’ll eat it! But, it’s no wonder that, in the time of long ago, peasants were peasants and remained that way – there was no time for them to think of higher things.