One of today’s tasks was to castrate the male piglets born last week. We castrate the males to prevent accidental breeding and also to protect meat quality. Meat from male pigs that are not castrated can have a distinct flavour which is quite off putting. Males can also fight with each other and get aggressive, so the benefits of castrating are many.
While castating is pretty routine during calving and lambing, with pigs it requires more planning, more time, and the right state of mind.
The first task is to catch the male piglets and take them away from their mothers. Pigs can be very protective and aggressive if the hear squealing or feel their piglets are in danger, so it is not safe to do it in the pen with the sows. I catch the piglets by first moving their mothers across a fence and then grabbing ahold of the piglets and putting them into a plastic tub in the side by side. Once I have caught all the males, I can let the sow back in with her female piglets and take the males elsewhere.
With calves and lambs, we use a small rubber band to cut off the circulation to the testicles. This method is quick, easy, and in young animals heals fairly quickly. Because of the anatomy of pigs, that method isn’t possible, so a surgical method is required. First each piglet gets local anaesthetic and long lasting pain medication. After giving the anaesthetic time to work, two cuts are made and the testicles are pulled out. While this is certainly painful, when no anaesthetic is used the reaction of the pigs is much greater, so we do what we can to minimise the pain. The little pigs heal up very quickly and within a few hours are back to their normal selves. It is a stressful time for all parties involved, so it’s always nice when the job is done and we can relax in the sun.
I was able to return to a shearing day at a friend’s this year. Shearing days are always busy, and this was no exception. With 570+ sheep to do, 8 shearers in all (6 or 7 going at once), skirting fleeces and keeping the flow of sheep going there were plenty of jobs, and plenty of help.
The shorn sheep in front and the sheep to be shorn behind. They came up the chute on the right to the shearing floor.
It is always enjoyable to meet other sheep and fiber enthusiasts and spend the day talking mostly about the two. I manage to resist bringing home any fleeces, which given the large pile of my own was probably wise, but it was hard to pass on some of the lovely crimpy ones.
Many hands make light work. Several ladies discussing the merits of this fleece while it is being skirted.
I also sheared a sheep for the first time, which was a good experience but I’m not planning a career change! It is tiring work, and the professionals make it look easy, so I’m happy to pay them to do it.
Spring is being very elusive this year. It seems like January was warmer than March and April. While this was certainly nice in January, we are missing the warm weather now. Normally we have very few calves like this one that need to be warmed up when they are first born whereas this year we’ve already had several in to dry off. Middle of the night checks, also rare in a normal year, are happening every night, in case any new calves are born and need to be warmed up. The forecast is for somewhat warmer, but unsettled weather for this week, so hopefully spring will finally arrive.
I find myself wishing for warmer weather for several reasons, one of which is a desire to exchange winter attire for summer. I don’t recall feeling this way in previous years but this year I’m desperate to ditch the heavy warm coveralls and winter boots for lighter coveralls (or even none at all!) and my comfortable boots. I’m itching to walk without mud, puddles, and especially ice and cold dictating my choice of footwear and the path I take. Until mother nature chooses to oblige us, I’ll be stuck tromping around in my winter wear and looking forward to warm summer weather. I know that wishing won’t make it so, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.