squash bugs, guineas

Gotta tell you that the two male guineas we bought at the small animal auction in May have answered our most elevated hopes.  At least, Beth thinks so, because she got them on the word of something she’d been reading that said guineas were death to squash bugs, and since she thinks those things are her personal enemies especially created from the slime of Gehenna by the Old Boy himself to suck the life out of her Waltham butternuts and strew misery and suffering from roof tree to root cellar, she had to get guineas; and, lo and behold, this summer the bugs wiped out the winter squash crop at the (guinea-free) monastery, but at home, where volunteer squash came up in the compost bins (and everywhere else) and the guineas were free to patrol anywhere they chose, not a nasty little grey critter was to be seen.  And the squash and pumpkin vines have been out of control, lush and beautiful, with more and larger fruit that we remember ever seeing.  Not only that, but the loopers never really got going on the cabbage and there are thirty to forty beautiful cabbages out there waiting for the first frost, when some will come in and hang in the root cellar and the rest will be made into sauerkraut.  You think that has nothing to do with the guineas on patrol?


Today marks two weeks since the calf Rocky broke his femur at twenty-four hours old.  He’s been in the charge of the girls (our small mammal farm staff) on three daily feedings of five pints each of raw milk (colostrum, in the beginning), which is way more than you’re told to give them but very likely not as much as he’d have been taking if he could have been with his mama, and he’s never scoured or had a sniffle, and today he followed the girls into the calf pasture and had a run with the older bottle boys, and he hardly limps.  Yee-haw!

Now this one is about a calf with a broken leg, and it’s not over yet, but we’ve seen how animals can recover from fractures, and even though this one was really bad — back left femur snapped and articulating in any direction — and he was only about thirty-six hours old, he has been in a loose box for five days now on three or four feedings of whatever Mama was making plus a bit of whey and clabber, and today he got up completely on his own and indicated his wish to go outside.

Maybe we’ll live long enough to learn something from this farming life.

So this one is about little pigs, and what works with them; see what you think.  See, last year we got four pigs to keep up at Barry’s — those are the ones we raise and butcher with other families in the community, and it’s lots of fun.  Yes, they get commercial feed, full of nasty stuff, not like our farm-fed pigs, but we wouldn’t miss it for the world, and every July finds us looking for three or four feeder pigs to fatten.  We’ve bought some from the F. farm before, and while they are kept indoors and on a slatted floor, in the past they’ve made the transition to outdoors and a straw bed just fine, but this year — last year, that would be — they up and took sick on about day five, just started hacking and coughing and lying around looking tired.  If this happens to a pig, it’s already a big problem, not a little one, but we didn’t know that then and the vet didn’t come for two days.  When she got there the biggest piglet had already died, and although the vet shot them full of stuff and left three days’ dosages, all but one of the pigs died.  Now F.’s farm, like we told you, has sold us pigs before, and, bless them, they replaced the three that had died, because they had died so soon after we brought them home.  So we moved the surviving piglet to a different barn, cleaned the pigpen out with a power washer and bleach, and bedded the new little guys down warm and snug, giving them plenty of clean water and commercial feed.

But low and behold, on day five one of the new piglets started coughing, and by the next morning all of them were at it.  This time we knew and had the vet out stat, and went through all the same high-powered meds and stuff, and in the end the piglets lived.  Cost us twice as much in vet bills as we had in the piglets themselves, but of course what’s that when life is at stake?  (This is what’s known as irony.)  So we were back in business, and spent the next six months pushing feed into those piglets, only something had gotten messed up in there because not one of the four ever did much good, but just ate hog feed and made messes and stayed small and puny, like a calf will sometimes do when he’s had pneumonia really bad when he was little.  Even though we held off butchering until March and they ate just as much as our pigs from the year before had eaten in the same time, these guys weighed in at barely HALF what the previous years’ pigs had done.  Waste of time, labor and money.

So far, this is not a success story — but hold on, there’s more.  Gluttons for punishment, we bought our community piglets from F. again, and these were still fine after three weeks, so when he had another batch available, we — the home farm — picked up three to start for next year, not knowing if we’ll have any piglets of our own before spring, and always needing some more pigs coming on for all the whey and buttermilk we generate.  Day Nine:  piglets are panting.  Day Ten:  they’ve all got coughs, short, dry ones, and when they’re not standing around panting they are lying down panting, or falling over from exhaustion after crossing the pig pen and, yes, panting.  Now, we are slow learners, but we knew already that piglets could get three or four times as expensive in a hurry and still make only half as much bacon, and that seemed pretty pointless, so we determined not to call the vet.  If these guys couldn’t pull out of it themselves, better to let them die of what ailed them and start over with a batch from somewhere else, somewhere where they raise their pigs so fresh air doesn’t kill them.  Pragmatists though we may be, however, we are humane, and would of course do our best to make their final hours comfortable.  “Comfortable”, in this case, meant that every couple of hours someone would take down a bucket of buttermilk or clabber and pour it in the trough (after one feeding, we knew they wouldn’t eat swill).

The little pigs would be lying in a huddle in one corner, panting away, but from force of habit they sprang up at the sound of the milk pouring into the trough. They’d start out gobbling like troopers, but after four or five laps, or slurps, or whatever, they’d just collapse, keel over right there on the straw, gasping for air.  Poor little boogers, we’d think, and leave them, expecting every hour to be their last.  We gave them extra bedding when the night was cool, and clabber five or six times a day, but we were just waiting for them to die.

Only by day four, the little boar was up, tired, thin, looking exhausted, but nosing around the pen and grunting when he saw us coming.  Then one gilt got up, too, and began to take an interest in life.  The second gilt was slower, but within a couple of days she was also looking for regular meals, and then all of them were raising Cain whenever they heard boots on the gravel and now they are eating like they are trying to make up for lost time.

Was it the raw milk?  the natural probiotics, the lacotbacilli?  the regular fluids, in the right form, and the piglets’ instinct to gobble whatever was poured into the trough?  Who knows?  But we at the farm are ready to consider it a genuine Raw Milk Cure.

So that heifer we pulled the calf for did very well, and nursed her baby like a champion, besides putting pounds and pounds in the bucket, but about day three we noticed, idly, that her labia were not tightening up terribly quickly, and on day five (some us think in slow motion) it occurred to us that her bum looked just a little sore.  Investigation changed that to a LOT sore, in fact, nasty looking, abraded, maybe torn, in three places, and quite infected.  Well, what would you expect from a battered bottom the flies and manure had been on?  This was on a Friday, and I was all for calling the vet and in quite a dither, but calmer counsels prevailed and we made a trip to the dollar store instead.  Hydrogen peroxide comes in a peri (squirt) bottle and those tubes of triple antibiotic ointment are like they were made to order for anointing a cow’s posterior.  Twice daily we squirted where it seemed to do the most good, and gave her a good squeeze of 3-A as well, and by Monday morning she looked like a new cow, at least from certain angles.  In a week’s time she was all better, and we had one more experience to chalk up on the board headed “Learning”.

calf dystocia

New experience:  we pulled a calf.  Not too difficult, and I wonder if we’d given her a couple more hours would she have done it herself — probably — but it was a big bull calf, laid right but with his shoulders pretty tight in the passageway, and a little traction on first one leg, then the other, had him out in just a few minutes.  Dystocia, I think it’s called, and a lot harder to finesse in human births than with calves, which lead with their front feet.


This time of year things go by so quickly, it’s like watching an I-max film at several times normal speed.  Apples, tomatoes, peppers (and I wish there were more), okra, onions, corn, all needing to be harvested at once, fifteen or so gallons of milk to deal with daily — thanks be there are still calves on the bucket — and all the fall cover crops and winter vegs to get in, get watered, get germinated, get weeded, and weeded again.  Plus two hours stuck in Pittsburgh traffic yesterday, and the bearings shot on the front driver’s-side wheel of the farm vehicle.

Do not attempt this at home.


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