Sunday, November 18, 2012

Three little eco-piggies and their straw bale house

The blog is dead; long live the blog. After trying to sound the Last Post on my last post, I received several comments (thank you) saying they were sorry to see it go. We received a couple of bookings for our holiday cottage, the people mentioning that they’d been reading the blog, people liking Gabrielle’s new Facebook page for the gite also mentioned the blog and Dave, an old friend from Brighton, who knows a thing about business and writing took me to task and told me I must keep blogging. So, here we are, risen from the still-warm ashes is the new blog … broadly based on the old blog.

getting to know each other
Sunday morning and I got up to feed the cats, set a fire in the stove, make a pot of tea (taking a cup to Gabrielle, of course) and then switch on the telly for a repeat of last night’s Match of the Day. Once the Arsenal game was over, and still in my pyjamas, I put my wellies on to go and feed six hungry pigs. 

We are in the habit of just having two or three pigs at a time, so why six? Local pig farmer Laurent won a local prize for the best farm this year and so ran an open day. Their pigs are housed inside and effectively hermetically sealed from the outside world and its germs (hence he never needs to administer antibiotics). Everyone who enters the building has to take a shower and change their clothes. For the open day, he put an old sow and four of her piglets in an enclosure for the visitors to see. He couldn’t return these pigs to the barn, in case they carried with them some problematic microbes, so decided that we would look after them.

piglet buries himself in warm straw
As I helped out on the open day, once people realised that I was English, they easily deduced that I was “l’anglais qui va prendre en soin les porcelets”. This didn’t quite make sense to me but I kept hearing it from different people. At last, with all the preparations made and the first few hundred people through the gates, Laurent took me to see the indoor pigs outdoors. He put his arm round my shoulder and said, “Stuart, I’ve got a favour to ask you…” Aha, so that’s what everyone was talking about.

The piglets, four castrated boys, came to us at 8 weeks old (the barn-raised pigs are normally weaned at 3 weeks) when they would be robust enough to cope with life in the open air. We then had the conundrum of how to manage them alongside our existing pair, two Tamworth x Berkshire gilts (= young female). How would they get along with their big sisters? Could we manage to feed them, ensuring that the bigger, old breed (hence put more fat on) pigs ate just their ration and the youngsters got theirs? We couldn’t find any advice in any of our books and toyed with the idea of separating them with an electric fence.

just big enough for the tiddlers to enter to eat
In the end, we built a new pig house, put the youngsters in the original pig ark, which is surrounded by pallets, so we could keep them separate as they got to know each other. Within a day, they were all together but, with a hole too small for the girls, only the tiddlers could get into the pen, so we fed them inside and the gilts outside. We’re still doing that now and it works fine. As soon as they were able to choose, the boys decided to doss down in the new pig shelter with the gilts but amusingly had the habit of taking their afternoon siesta in the pig ark.
And the new shelter? We didn’t have money to spend on a shelter to house six pigs that would never get used again, so constructed (with help from my visiting mum) a more-than-adequate structure out of pallets, straw bales and some reclaimed sheets of insulation. Now wasn’t there some sort of parable warning of the perils of pigs building their house out of straw? Not having wolves in this part of France, there is no risk of lupine huffing-and-puffing and so the pigs are as safe as houses in their straw-bale eco-home.

"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!"