Saturday, 5 May 2012

Weaning Day

Saturday 5th May 2012

Yesterday was a wearing day. Nothing to do with the smallholding, but I had work in the morning and another appointment at the hospital in the afternoon. Everything was OK, but it was an emotionally draining day.
So it was that I blearily woke up, still in my smarter work clothes, on the sofa at 4:20am! Apart from a few showers, the weather was pleasant enough to work outside today - and that's what I did, from half past 4 in the morning until weariness beat me at 7 in the evening. 

Weaning piglets
Main job for the day was to wean the piglets from Daisy, their loyal but worn out mum.

Last time I weaned the piglets off their mum was the first time I had done it and I didn't really know what to expect. I had an ingenious plan to erect an electic fence to create a new enclosure next to the wooden fenced pen. A gate could be unscrewed and Daisy tempted into the new area, then I could screw the gate back on and mother and litter would be separated. The plan actually worked like a dream!
Having never erected an electric fence before, I researched as much as I could and found a very friendly company in Scotland who answered all my questions. Out of interest, an electric fence does not need to run in a loop to make a circuit. It works by completing a circuit through anything that touches it, through the ground and into a metal rod driven into the ground at the business end of the circuit.
But still I was unsure of myself and so I put it off until it really had to be done. I started by connecting it up around the inside of the wooden fenced enclosure, so that the pigs could learn about this new boundary without being able to panic and pass straight through it. This resulted in a few shocked squeals until they learned, which did not take too long.

However, by the time everything was ready, the piglets were gone nine weeks old and Daisy was thoroughly fed up with them. Her teats were scarred (piglets have needle-like teeth) and she needed a rest. It is almost impossible to keep the sow's weight up when she is feeding a full litter, but it wasn't long before she came back into very good condition.
We had read all about providing the piglets with 'creep feed' to ease them onto a solid diet, but our enquiries suggested this was not necessary. In fact, from the age of about two weeks the piglets had been attempting to eat solid food, and by weaning they were all tucking in and competing enthusiastically, even with mum!

So we had learned from our first litter. Commercially piglets are weaned off the sows much earlier, but it is much better to leave them with her till 8 weeks. But we knew that we needed to be ready to separate them at this age and not beyond.
Daisy has stayed in relatively good condition with this second litter and I suspect that they almost weaned themselves anyway.

On the other side of the fence
I've sown the seeds
of a late autumn feast for the pigs.
Daisy has enough grass to be going on with
... for now.
Before tempting Daisy away from her offspring, I had a plan to make some adjustments to the route of the electric fence. This was a process which involved much walking up and down the fence, lifting and shifting the plastic posts which hold the wire.
The idea is to create an area where I can plant all the spare Jerusalem artichokes left from last year, as well as a few seed potatoes and maybe some other fodder crops. When the time comes later in the year, I will move the electric fence again so that these become accessible to the pigs. They will love being able to snout around and find food naturally. Besides, Jerusalem artichoke is a great food for pigs. Unlike potatoes, its nutrients are just as available to pigs when uncooked.

The Grass Really Is Greener On The Other Side
Daisy followed the feed bucket straight throught the gap before the piglets even realised what was going on. Once through, Daisy set about the task of munching every blade of grass she could get into her mouth, while the piglets could only look on from the other side of the fence!

And so it was that the piglets spent their first night in the ark on their own.

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