A double edged sword, this is a scenario we have been through before a few times now we have a well advertised web site a broad spectrum of friends so many people know where we are and what we do. On occasion people who for some reason or other need to get rid of live stock somehow end up in touch with us, this time round it was through a friend of a friend of a friend, the message was that someone had to leave their smallholding and wanted all her livestock re-homing free to anyone who can collect. Fiona and I responded interested in the sow with piglets and a trio of gees. There were 8 goats, 3 sheep, 3 adult pigs and 5 piglets, 8 chickens, 3 ducks and 3 gees all in little more space than a large garden and no money to buy feed for the animals. We agreed to take all of the animals accept the goats which we are not set up for, goats eat small trees and jump meter high fences easily so they just don’t fit in to our system. However we agreed to help find a home for the goats with someone else, we put an ad on TotalFrance.com and found a home for all of them within two days.
We visited the site on the Tuesday and provided some much needed straw for bedding and a couple of sacks of urgently needed feed for the pigs. We arranged to return on Friday to kill the two adult male pigs for pork, which was distributed among friends’ theirs and ours. While ringing around acquaintances for homes for the goats we also agreed to let someone else have the sheep which we did not need, this left us with a trio of Chinese gees, a trio of Muscovy ducks, 8 Maran chickens some copper and some cuckoo with cocks and hens in both colours and the sow with five piglets at foot.
The sow pictured below is very underweight having been underfed and feeding five hungry piglets herself. The nourishment needed buy a sow due to give birth is nearly twice that of her maintenance ration, a typical maintenance ration for an adult pig is 3 kilos of high protein food, so by the time the sow is due, she should be fed around 5 to 6 kilos of high quality food. Maintaining this ration will still see a sow lose weight over the first few weeks after giving birth unless you give her even more food each week typically around half a kilo more per day, a sow who gives you a large litter will need perhaps and extra kilo per day each week until you separate the piglets from her. The reality is she won’t eat all this food herself after 3 or 4 days the piglets will start to eat some of the food themselves by the time the piglets are three weeks old they will be able to eat as much as half of the food they need as solids, this gives the mother some relief from having to provide them all their needs. An underfed sow will not share her food but she will give the piglets all the milk she can make from the rations she gets and she will also give her own body mass over to milk production, the result will be an unhealthy emaciated sow who could eventually die from her efforts. The sow is now back at our place in our barn being fed as much food as her and the piglets are able to consume in a day and plenty of fresh water is being made available too. In the spring they will all be put outside in a concrete pigsty with ¼ acre paddock to root around in and fed plenty of grain and comfrey until they gain enough weight to make good pork and bacon.
The hens have been put in with our Maran cockerel and the rest of his brood and the cockerels are housed separately for now. They are in good shape and the hens have settled enough to keep laying eggs for us.
The 3 Chinese geese and the 3 Muscovy ducks are in an outside house built in the middle of our orchard which has plenty of grass left after the sheep have been moved on in their normal rotation around our growing number of paddocks. The geese will have gained enough weight by spring to get them laying and hopefully sitting on their own eggs to hatch them and bring them on in time for nice fat geese ready for Christmas 2012.
So what’s the second edge of the sword then? Well having reduced our livestock levels and planed to have a pig free winter reducing our need for winter feed and the inevitable cost, we are now flush with stock again. Free animals are never free from some kind of cost, feed, medication, vets and housing all cost money and the time, morning feeding time just rose by 10 minutes or so and an evening trip across the fields to lock up the ducks and geese will become another evening chore which has to be done every knight come rain or snow.