Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mud, glorious mud


The weather today will be mainly rain, interspersed with frequent showers, downpours and general all-round humidity. It was wet yesterday, it’s wet today and it’s going to be wet tomorrow. In fact, it’s wetter than a very wet thing that’s been soaked in a bucket of water and left under a running tap.

The ground is like a sponge to walk on. Cultivating such soil is a no-no and there's a danger that the soil can be compressed and damaged when in this state. Curiously, our sheep walk in set tracks in the field when moving about but spread out to graze and, as they're half the size of a ‘normal’ sheep, I’m not too worried about their pasture; the pig paddock is another thing.

We normally don’t keep pigs over the winter but due to special circumstances we were looking after four pigs for a local farmer until up to slaughter weight, which meant keeping them over the heart of a very wet winter. Pigs are heavy, disturb the ground with their snouts and, at this time of year, there’s nothing but roots to interest them, even the acorns long having finished. They’ve turned their paddock into some sort of homage to the Battle of the Somme.  

Much is made of pigs’ delight in rolling around in mud but that's mud that is cooling and protecting in summer: an organic sun tan lotion. However, this is a different thing and I felt a little sorry for these barn-raised pigs sploshing around in this cold exterior and we spread plenty of straw around several times to try and improve the situation. This is a one off for us, never to be repeated but must be a real issue for farmers who are rearing free-range pigs through all four seasons. Free-ranging pigs is good for the pigs but can be really bad for the land. Some people have remarked to us how adding all this organic matter (straw) must be good for the soil but I’ve been mixing cob for our barn renovation and, to a clay soil, one adds water and straw and mixes it on a tarp by marching vigorously all over it, which is just about exactly what the pigs have been doing. I fear that when it dries out, we’ll have ourselves one hell of a slab of ‘organic concrete’. That might be the time to ask one of our neighbours to plough it.
video

Now the French word for mud is ‘boue’ or, and I think this is slang, ‘gadoue’. Do you remember the 1984 pop party record Agadoo, by Black Lace? It went, “Agadoo doo doo push pineapple shake the tree …” I’ve rewritten it:

If you’ve nothing else to do, watch the original on YouTube and sing along with my new lyrics … I did!

     La gadoue, boue, boue, mucky piggies fondue, 
     La gadoue, boue, boue, could do with a canoe
     To the left, to the right, jump up and down and twist about
     Come and dance every day in this sloppy muddy goo

3 comments :

Wendy said...

brilliant Stuart, glad to see that you're using your convalescence creatively.

dszarka said...

Stuart...have you read any of Joel Salatin's books? Polyface Farms. They have an excellent system to raising pastured livestock that builds the soil. I'm new to your blog, but regardless of how many animals you have, there's a way to adapt his methods. You wont't have to worry about compaction or mud pits again!

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Dszarka,
Thanks for posting a comment. I have heard of Joel Salatin but haven't yet bought any of his books. Have you a suggestion for the first one I should get?
Our smallholding is only around one hectare and the fields are divided up so that we can rotate the sheep around and we also need, for the most part of the year to keep the ram (and his mate for company) separate from the ewes. That then doesn;t leave us any scope to rotate the pigs, no is it necessary during the summer months that we usually keep them. This was a one-off situation that we won;t repeat. It has been exceptionally wet here over the whole winter and we'll be very happy to get some dry days and some sun also.