So today has been an interesting day full of many surprises and surprisingly, no lows. In my book this is a good day. Let me tell you a bit more about it so that you too can sit back in your chair, rock back with your hands behind your head and say, ‘Yes… that is a good day.’ As well as being a paramedic, I also live and work on a farm. The farm work is very much a minor side line at the moment but changes are afoot that might change that forever. The farm is primarily an arable farm and so that means we grow Barley, Wheat, Rape (I love that one, especially when you hear some of the local farmers shouting ‘Alright there Jock! Got much Rape done this year?’ ‘Not yet mate, I’m looking at getting some Rape done in the next few weeks or so. You know, if the weathers nice like.’), and we also grow beans. That side of the farm is mostly looked after by my wife’s mum but we pitch in where we can, especially around harvest time. So, the story goes that my wife and I really really wanted to get involved in the farm in a big way. Sadly, it didn’t look as though that was going to be possible because as farms go, this is only a small one and therefore can’t support more than one wage. The solution? Diversify.
We decided that livestock was going to be our route into the farm, as the site had several large buildings just standing empty. But not only buildings, no, that wouldn’t be much use would it? No, those lovely buildings are also surrounded by a few acres of grass land. Ch-ching! Sold!
The next question was what kind of livestock we should go for. My wife was dead keen on getting pigs and so we looked into that first. The thing with pigs though, depending upon breed, is that they can be escape artists and so we were reluctant to have them outside. The grassland is also shared with horses and we read that horses and pigs don’t particularly get on. Or maybe it’s just my wife’s horse that doesn’t get on with them. I’m not sure, but we moved away from the idea of keeping the pigs outside. The main reason was that they would decimate the grass and therefore starve the horses. Not really what we wanted. The next logical step was to look at having pigs solely in the barns. We even had a rep from a huge pig growing company come out and size the buildings up. He was pretty keen and really tried to sell the idea to us.
‘Yup, I reckon you can have a few hundred pigs in this here barn, maybe another fifty over there, and if you convert that there building where you keep all the machinery, maybe another two to three hundred there.’
‘We keep our machinery in that barn though. It’ll rust outside.’
‘I see. Well, what’s a bit of rust next to juicy pork leg eh?’
‘Won’t they get a bit cramped in there? How much space will they actually have per pig?
‘Per pig? Hell, pigs don’t really understand these things like you and I. Most important thing for a pig is that they don’t get lonely, which in this case they won’t because they’ll be standing ass to ass.’
‘Ooookay. Well, thanks for your time. We’ll be in touch.’
After that we decided that animal welfare was pretty high up on our agenda. The thought of being cramped in a hot smelly barn, standing in your brothers shit, in the dark, and trying not to fall asleep for fear of suffocating kind of put me off. I can remember that meeting as though it was yesterday. Not so much from the point of view that our worst fears about where that bacon in your sandwich comes from, but because our hopes were crushed that day. I looked much like this guy.
Can I be more happy?
A few weeks later when we were doing some cleaning at the farm we stumbled across these strange looking cylinder things.
‘What are these funny looking cylinder things, wife?’
‘They are feed hoppers.’
‘Feed hoppers for what?’
‘Chickens. Chickens and turkeys. Mum and Dad used to look after them.’
‘Here? Here on this farm? In these barns and around the farm and here on this farm???’
‘Do you think we could do that? Saying as its been done here before and we have all the equipment right here?’
‘Don’t see why not.’
I could have kicked myself. No, that’s not true. I could have kicked my wife.
So we started to really look into how exactly her mum used to look after turkeys on the farm. As it turned out, the farm used to produce free-range chickens and turkeys in a big way. They’d have them from a day old and look after them while they grow fat in their own time, just wandering around the farm and living a good happy life. We felt as though we’d struck gold. It was everything we wanted and, the livestock wouldn’t suffer. It would have a good life with us. We made a few calls and a few weeks later, our new lodgers arrived.
Well this is nice isn’t it? Much better than in the brochure.
I think they are about six weeks old here. They’re so inquisitive, and highly amusing. We took on 1850 in total last year. When they’re small they’re no trouble at all, and didn’t really eat that much either. But then they get bigger, and they look more like this.
Listen up Bitch… I’m top dog in here. You’d better watch yourself or you’ll get shanked!
Near the end they were eating close to 750kg per day. The wife and I would move that by hand in bags we spent ages filling. You can’t imagine how time consuming and back breaking that is. In fact I can vaguely remember saying, once it was it over all over and they were off to the factory that I couldn’t see myself doing that again. But you do don’t you? It’s just as well really as we are about to take on 3100 this year. I was expecting numbers similar to last year but I almost fell off my stool when they told me that figure. It became apparent that we would need another feed silo and fast and so that’s where me and the wife have just been, trying to find one. As luck would have it, there is a guy just up the road who has a feed silo for sale. Wife and I went to have a look and found to our horror that it was set up as part of an automated feed system. We were about to thank him for his time (as we don’t have an automated system remember) when he said he’d sell us the lot, the silo and system altogether and not only that, he’d sell us whatever else we could see, pack it all up for us, transport it to our farm and install it too. I mean, has Christmas come early or what? If this works then not only will our output be doubled but our labour will have halved. Now, in my book, this is a good thing, and therefore a good day.