Saturday, September 15, 2007

Weights and Measures: a note in the diary reminded us that we had to “worm” our two pigs, which is to say that we need to administer a medicine that will act against intestinal worms as preventative maintenance. We bought the wormer (vermifuge in French) and a graduated syringe with a brass end that they can chew without damaging it, from the vet. The instructions on the bottle said we should give 0.5 ml per kilogram of pig, so we needed to know how much our pigs weigh.

Some weeks before, vainly trying to save our potatoes and tomatoes from blight (called mildou [mildew] here) we decided to buy a fungicide (authorised for use in organic agriculture!) to protect them. The dosing instructions on the packet were immensely useless, advising me (in French) that I should apply 2 kilograms per hectare (2.5 acres) bearing in mind that it was only a one kg packet. There was not even a suggested rate of dilution. Imagine yourself standing in front of a half-hectare field, next to a convenient tap, with a watering can in one hand and the packet of blue powder in the other: where could one possible start making sense of it all?

For the poultry wormer, the 240g tub of powder proudly states that it will treat 200kg of feed. Now we only have ten chickens of different sizes who are not going to munch their way through 200kg of feed in the required week that they should eat the treated grain. I had to measure what they ate in a week, weigh it, and then calculate the equivalent in worming powder, and it’s not much. The necessary amount wouldn’t get our kitchen scales off zero. What would have been more useful is a volume measurement in millilitres or (fractions of) teaspoons, related to weight or volume of feed. In the end, I tipped the whole tub out and spooned it back using quarter-teaspoon measures to work out how much volume the 240g tub comprised, then calculate how many quarter-teaspoons I should add to 20 kg of feed, job done.

Back to the piggies: my problem here was not so much non-existent or unsuitable measures for the product, just that I needed to find out how much our porkers weighed. The only thing we have suitable for weighing something so heavy as a young Maori pig, were the bathroom scales. After several unsuccessful attempts to make our pigs stand with all four feet on the scales, I ended up having to pick them up and weigh us both, then subtract my own weight.

As you might imagine, holding 40 kg of squealing pig, unused to being this high up, while trying to keep steady and read the scales, was a whole lot of fun. (See top photo).

As a postscript to all this talk of giving the pigs and poultry their worming medicine, I recently came across the website of Huntstile Organic Farm, specifically the page on organic farming, where they explain that for organic farmers, “parasite problems in farm animals are controlled through regularly moving the animals to fresh pasture and other preventative methods rather than routinely dosing the animals with drugs.” It’s been our first year with pigs and sheep and so we’ve followed conventional wisdom. We shall find out more and see if we can organise our animals and their paddocks so that we can avoid unnecessary medication in the future.