Thursday, June 24, 2010

Various voracious eaters

Today was piglet-picking day. Haggis and I motored in the "new" flatbed Nissan to go get our feeder pigs. We chose three "gilts" (or young sows). Gilts are less trouble than barrows (young boars that have been castrated), but they don't grow out quite as fast or as economically.

For a small outfit like ours, less trouble is more important than fast growth. And these Yorkshire/Landrace/Canadian types will grow plenty fast. They'll eat a pound of food each a day and double in size in the next two-three weeks.

The same farm that operates our slaughterhouse also gets in feeder pigs and sells them on at a small profit. Smallholders like us will always bring the grown pigs back to butcher, so this is a form of "vertical integration."

Good business sense on the part of the farm family.

The new flatbed is performing well. After some trial and error, I have the tailgate set just so, and although it's held together by regular hardware: strap hinges and barrel bolts, it doesn't rattle as you go down the road. The next project is removable stock-sides, so we can transport lambs and small to medium pigs without a trailer.

Full grown, 280-300 pound pigs will still need a trailer. I can't lift a pig that big, even if the pig would let me lift it. Four guys could do it, but there's only two of us. The butchers say that they won't be able to loan us a trailer in the fall, so I'll have to start looking out for one.

The preferred way to grab a squealing piglet is by the hind feet. This doesn't hurt them and they can't struggle much. But that doesn't mean to say they enjoy it.

However, since their destination after this unpleasant carnival ride is a nice well bedded pen with a full dish of food and clean water, they should just shut up and let me get on with it.

Haggis is rather nonplussed by piglets these days. They don't respond to his herding abilities quite like chickens do, so he's learned to avoid them, as he so often does with sheep. What a sorry mutt he is, such a poor excuse for a shepherd dog. So called. But he does love to go for a ride in the truck. Here he is, still sat there even though the doors been open for ten minutes. He's still out there as I write this, hoping for another ride, even though he must be quite hot since it's muggy today.

I've been on weed and bug patrol every morning. Today is too moist to weed. the weeds don't die unless they can be dried out after you pull them. But the potato bugs were out.

Here's a potato bug larva, a couple of mating adults, and a larva being squished between two leaves.

I either squish them or pick them. If I pick them I drown them in a pail of water we keep handy. If I squish them I get nasty potato bug juice on my hands.

Don't ask what the brown stains are on the sides of my dungarees.

We can keep the potatoes sufficiently free of bugs this way that they continue to thrive. It helps that the soil is fertile and that the summer has been nicely watered. Hearty plants better survive the onslaught.

But Colorado potato beetles, to give them their "proper name," are voracious and they multiply quickly. I've seen them eat a whole patch of three-feet high potato plants down to two-inch stumps in less than ten days. This was in our college's garden, and the student gardeners were picky about picking, so they lost their crop.

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