Thursday, May 3, 2012

Good fences make...

I know. Good neighbors. Blah blah blah.

Good fences make sane farmers.

A few hours after the piglets arrived, they took themselves for a little jaunt around the farm. Someone (with a snout) jiggled the gate just enough to pop out the tiny bolt I had hastily slipped into the two large eyebolts that comprise the latch. As I came around a corner, I got to watch the last two piglets leap, then wriggle through a slightly larger gap between the second and third rails to join their fellow escapees heading for the orchard. After a frantic phone call to Sharon (on the farm, when we get a signal...cell phones are as good as walkie-talkies), we gently guided the herd back around to the shed. Luckily, at this age they are still staying close to each other and with a little coaching they casually strolled back into their pen, en masse. We did some quick reinforcing of their wooden pen and substituted a longer bolt for the gate latch and they seem to be staying put. (Knock on wood!)

When the piglets first arrive on the farm, we spend a little extra time with them every day so they can become familiar with us and get used to our coming and going, heralded with a whistle to reduce the startle factor for creatures even more near-sighted than Sharon. Maybe our friend Chuck can outfit them with glasses? We also supply a little treat now and then, which will make moving them from paddock to paddock much easier.

Since the goal is for our pigs to be pasture and woodland raised, our next step is introducing them to the electric netting fence. When pigs get shocked or stung by a bug, their instinct is to barrel forward. So when we're first training them to the electric wire, we put it inside the perimeter of the wooden pen that (theoretically) they've already learned not to go through. Makes training easier on everyone: Being tangled up in an electric fence while getting intermittent shocks isn't fun. Just ask the farmer who got tangled up one evening when putting the chickens to bed...

Speaking of chickens, a few of them have taken to flying over their electric net fencing. We have a few sections of 42" fencing we bought from a friend enclosing a large area around their portable coop and the shelter that houses their feed tray and provides extra shade. Most days they stay in just fine. But right after we move them to a new spot, a few will try to return to their previous location. And then the chicken herding commences. It wouldn't be so bad, but they seem to really like to scratch and hunt for bugs in the freshly mulched-loose soil around plantings like the garlic and baby fruit trees. Finding young garlic cloves half excavated from their rows makes us less happy with the chickens. We love selling their eggs, appreciate the fertilizer they spread for us, and welcome their aid reducing pest pressure, but we had to break out our old 48" fencing to hold them in a smaller area while we planted potatoes yesterday. They couldn't resist coming over to visit us and look for bugs in the freshly turned soil. Happily, the 48" fencing seems to be working for the time being.

As we expand and reconfigure the main growing enclosure this year, electric fencing won't be the only kind we're moving. We'll also move and extend some of the eight-foot-tall woven wire fencing and twelve-foot black locust posts. We're expanding our fruit and vegetable production and with all the deer we have passing through the field, the only way to protect the crops is with a BIG fence. If anyone wants to come out and help string fencing in June, let us know. We always welcome help on large tasks like that.

An update on the high tunnels: All of the tomato plants are in, as well as the ginger, cilantro, and cucumbers. Peppers, eggplants, etc. are almost big enough to transplant as well. We had to open all the sides yesterday for the first time, as the temps were approaching 100° before noon.

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