Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Wor Horse - Jaspar's Carrots

You have met the sheep, the hens and the piggies. Now to introduce you to one of the most well loved croft animals, "Wor Horse" Jaspar the rescued Shetland pony.

Jaspar is like a great big fluffy teddy bear and a family and guest favourite. He loves cuddles and especially his top lip being tickled! He seems to grow through the winter when he gets his wooly bear coat, then slims down to super slinky Jaspar in the summer!

Shetland ponies are a small hard working breed that has been around for more than 2000 years.  For their size they are the strongest of all horse breeds and were well used throughout the UK, and especially in the North east of England as pit ponies. Thank you to the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society for the background to this remarkable breed - http://www.shetlandponystudbooksociety.co.uk/about-the-breed.

We are so grateful to have this little man. He was abandoned in a farmers field when the poor farmer went out of business. A passing vet pulled over a farm worker in a nearby field and asked if he knew who the pony belonged to because if he was not taken off the grass immediately he would die!  He was so fat and could barely move. Apparently (according to our farrier Mick) Shetlands will walk all day in their native country for a few blades of rough grass. When not in their natural habitat, Shetlands, with their barrel belly, are very greedy, and prone to obesity and laminitis. Laminitis is a nasty disorder for horses.  According to Wikipedia, laminitis is a progressive disease that can eventually lead to the horse having to be put to sleep. It does not just affect horses surprisingly, but any ungulates, although horses seem more prone.  For more information on laminitis, please check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laminitis.  In Jaspar's case, the kindly farm worker rescued him and took him off the field to his own smaller garden to graze.

As luck would have it, the farm worker was none other than our own guardian shepherd Sinky (of the Thank Ewe blog fame https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8040445772055115604#editor/target=post;postID=7016434076975598527;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=postname).

And as these things sometimes are destined to be, one time when he was tending our little flock, I mentioned we would love a small pony. So, off we all trooped to Sinky's garden to see the cheeky chap up close. And it was love at first sight.  Within a day or two, he was our latest addition to the croft.

He is such a nice natured Shetland - which I have since found out is unusual. He does however have their cheeky streak, and he does like to try to show us he is the boss.  But as with most Shetlands, Jaspar can be trained with food. We just shout his name and he knows if he runs over, he will be rewarded with a juicy carrot!

Jasapr was put on healthy diet, and given lots of exercise.

After a few months, we decided to see if he could be ridden. Off he went to a fabulous local riding school, Slate Hall (http://www.slatehallridingcentre.com) and the team led by Marion and Paula, worked their magic on Jaspar.

We went up regularly to help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPUYcpNav7Y&feature=youtu.be

From being a muddy field pony, he quickly became the heart melter for the pony club, and when ever we went to see him, he would be brushed to a shine, with hooves perfectly polished and pretty braids in his hair. He was transformed!

He was also broken in and we were told he was one of the nicest Shetland's they'd ever worked with, despite struggling to find a saddle and tack small enough! Check him out jumping here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VijwAo4gok&feature=youtu.be

It has turned out that our little Jaspar is bomb proof in all areas - riding school, jumping, grooming, transporting,  road and beach walking, even good amongst heavy traffic (well, bin lorries - there is not that much heavy traffic up here usually).  We would often see him being ridden around Seahouses by the pony club girls.  And he loved the other ponies' company too.

But we missed him. Terribly.

So, back he is, at the croft, and we are searching for a little field mate for him. He likes the pigs, ducks, hens, dogs and sheep, but he would love a pony pal. The search is on - in earnest - someone needs to share Wor Horse's carrots!

You can see more of Jaspar and his home at:

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Flying Pigs

Yay! The piglets have arrived!  We knew yesterday they would not be very long in coming because mummy had built a big nest to farrow in, and she just could not settle.

She kept coming up to us for back rubs; she made mud wallows; she paced the holding area; she stood up; she lay down; she stood up again, but nothing was comfortable for her, poor thing.

She had a huge feed last night and then this morning, when I crossed the field to the stables, I expected to hear her usual squeal for breakfast but all I heard and saw was Flossie. I quickly fed Flossie then ran into the stables to be greeted by 3 little pigs! They must have flown out!

Mum was still uncomfortable though. She kept standing up, then sitting down, then lying down and in between pushing with her contractions. After an hour of watching her struggle, she finally delivered her fourth and last piglet, and compared to the other three, this one was much bigger.  So that would explain her distress!  What was especially sweet though was how, even as she pushed through the pain of her contractions, she was aware of her other babies and adjusted her tummy so they could still feed! Amazing instinct from this young first time mum!

Check out this You Tube video if you want to see the actual birth:


The piglets have soft downey hair, blue eyes, stuck back ears and the cutest little curly tails! They already know their mum's grunt and she knows their squeaks. When she lies on her side, they sometimes can't reach the top line of teats, so mum wriggles to reveal her lower row to save them stretching too far.

So, after an eventful few hours, and thanks to the grace of Mother Nature, we have Budle Bay Croft's first ever pigs born.  Mum is knackered. Piglets are greedily feeding. What is so adorable to see though, over and above the gorgeous little piglets and their clever mum, is Snooty's pal, Flossie, snuggling up next to them all and looking out for her extended family - so sweet!


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pigs in blankets

Living on a bucolic small holding means we can move the animals around the fields according to the seasons, their needs and our fancy.  Yesterday we had a shift around for a very exciting event. Snooty, our rare breed Middle White pig, is due to give birth this week.  

Why we have a pregnant sow goodness only knows (whoever he is)?  We always said we would not winter pigs again after the desperately cold water 3 years ago when we needed to boil kettles just to give them drinking water because everything was so frozen. It was so cold,  Amazon couldn't deliver Christmas presents, and here on the croft, my hand even stuck to the food scoop!  But, when we searched for 2 healthy weaners to fatten for Christmas pigs in blankets and Nigella's Coca Cola ham (http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/ham-in-coca-cola-171), Stephen, The Kind Pig Farmer, said why not be brave, and have a sow and a weaner instead? 

The plan was to fatten the weaner, and then let her go on her festive trip after the sow had her babes, so that the sow would not be lonely (pigs like pigs company you see). Well here is the thing. Snooty is sweet and all that, but we have fallen rather in love with her pal Flossy (yeah, the festive feast, and called Flossy because a guest's toddler thought that she looked like fluffy candy floss). Well, looks like we will have 2 girls and a load of piglets at Christmas and a rude, undressed turkey!

Anyway, we have taken her out of the Hogswarts woods, emptied Pigglywinks and set up the nursery in The Lamb Joint.  Not because there is any special pig-ubator or anything in there - no - its just the pig ark is too low for me to stand up in, and if I am going to have to get involved in anyway, I need to be able to stand up.

So,  Jaspar the pony was teased with apples into the Haugh (that's the river meadow).

The Kune Kune pigs, Harry Trotter and George Kluney Kluney (the better looking one), were tempted with quince, hay and plums into the orchard.

And the sheep herded into the bottom field on the promise of some sheep snax.

Well, at least that was the plan. But anyone who has any common sense knows that working with animals can be unpredictable. So, Jaspar went to the childrens' play ground, the Kune Kunes got mixed in with the sheep. And the sheep in turn behaved more like cats when trying to herd them, with half the flock in the bottom field, almost all of the rest in the top field and 5 cheeky lambs in the orchard!

After much shenanigans, we now have the right animals in the right fields, and a pregnant sow getting bigger (and grumpier) by the day.  She has been taking herself off to the shallow parts of the river to lie down and cool off. And she is fighting Flossy for food, ensuring she and her babes get sufficient! 

 Middle Whites are an interesting breed, very docile, they don't root (which can cause havoc with fence posts) and they enjoy nothing more than being tickled to sleep.  This traditional English rare breed originated in Yorkshire in the late 1800's, and is an endangered line.

I am often asked how many babies our girl will have - truth be told I don't know for sure. Apparently she could have anywhere between 5 and 11!  I have absolutely no idea what I will do with 11 piglets.  I am assured by the kind pig farmer that people want to buy weaners to fatten.  I am equally assured by the kind pig farmer that people want to buy weaners to breed from. I surely hope so, or we will be having suckling pig for Christmas dinner, and not the traditional turkey.

I am also often asked whether pigs need much intervention when they have their young. Again, truth be told, I have absolutely no idea. I have been reading up on the matter (google is a Godsend) and asked around. It does seem like they are similar to our Jacob ladies and just get on with it. But, if there is a problem, they will need some help. And here's my next concern. Is it the sort of help the ewes need, i.e. put your arm in, maybe move the lamb about a bit and then pull it out in a downwards direction with a contraction? Or is it something even more technical altogether? According to The Kind Pig Farmer, they should just pop out like shelled peas.  There might be one that's "sheeted" but apparently I just pull it off (yuk). Some of them might have long umbilical cords too. Now sheep umbilicals just snap off when they are born, and with a drop of iodine, the lamb is protected from infections. However, it seems that with pigs, I might need to cut the cord to 6 inches with scissors and then treat with antiseptic.  Now that sounds all fine and dandy, but The Kind Pig Farmer also went on to advise me that they are slippery little blighters (the piglets, not the cords), so I have to make sure I don't launch them across the stable when I first pick them up!  As it's Snooty's first litter The Kind Pig Farmer said he wouldn't expect a huge number of piglets, probably 7 or 8 absolute maximum and that she may need help at the beginning to get them latched on to the teats.  He went on to say that I shouldn't be surprised if I get stillborn ones at the end, as it's quite normal. I think we will cry. 

So, several times a day, I am up there, checking her over, looking for signs that she has started to build a big nest with all the straw bedding around. When I see this, apparently she'll be farrowing within 12 hours or so.  And then I will be needing to do need lots of checks. I think our guests will want to see this miracle happen - and it will certainly make their holiday more memorable. The guest who come at Easter time are always enthralled by the new life from the sheep (http://budlebaycroft.co.uk/experience) - such excitement to have it at this time of the year with the pigs!  Let's hope I don't make a pig's ear of it. 

For now though, until there is news of the arrivals, the kettles are a-boiling and the blankets are a-warming.  I just need the piglets! 

For oink-ernaty updates, watch this space, or check out Budle Bay Croft's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/budlebaycroft)!

More information on, and images of, Middle White pigs, please check out the Middle White Breeders Club (http://www.middlewhite.co.uk), Tedford Cottage Farm (http://www.pigkeepingcourses.com/Pages/PigKeepingCourses.aspx) and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_White). Thank you for your images, invaluable tips and advice!