The Pig and Poultry Gazette, vol. 1

The other name for this post was going to be "Turkey Attacks!" but sshhhh....I don't want them to know I'm talking about them.

Nic and Ady and family were going off island for nine days, so asked if anyone could help look after their animals while they were away: four pigs (at time of asking) and assorted poultry, i.e. countless chickens, 6 turkeys, 8 geese and some ducks.  Somewhat nervously I volunteered - that was on a sunny, blue-sky day on a cheerful walk around the nature trail.  Actually looking after the animals included, as I'd expected, at least one day of torrential downpours, gales and falling over in the mud (me, not the animals).  All par for the course for hardy croft owners and my respect for Nic and Ady knows no bounds.  There is no let-up; come what may creatures must be fed and watered, and God knows this winter has been enough to test any crofter, however resilient.

Barbara, Tom and Piglet
The pigs were relatively straightforward, although just before Nic and Ady left the island I bumped into Ady and found out the penultimate piglet had had to be slaughtered slightly earlier than planned...Tom, its dad, had been getting too interested and trying to mate with it. It's never boring living with animals!
On my first day, all three pigs - Tom, Barbara and the last remaining piglet - were lined up at the top of their pen staring down anxiously towards the path, waiting for someone, oh, anyone to come and feed them...they'd been deserted for at least two hours! A noisy, joyous, if reproachful grunting greeted my arrival and the three of them hurtled heavily down the bank towards the gate where the feed is kept.  I'd also brought a bag of food scraps which I tipped over the gate, and within seconds, the pigs were mulching around in it, eating fast, but getting distracted by my throwing pig-nuts into the pen.  I attempted to scratch them behind the ears, but only Tom appreciated this treatment - Barbara reacted with suspicion and grunted at me, and I couldn't actually reach the piglet as he was too fast.  So I had to content myself with chatting to them and filling up their water by cunningly employing a stick to reach the tipped-over trugs without having to actually get into the pen...

Before the pigs, I'd run the gamut of a reception committee of poultry, also lined up to see who was coming up the path; except for one very slow chicken, who turned up late to the feed looking extremely perturbed. (Interesting behavioural observation: As the days passed, generally it was the chickens that noticed me first, while the geese, turkeys and ducks only seemed to catch on after the chickens had already taken up their place around the feed bin.  But there was one group of chickens that was always a little bit slower than the rest and on my way to the pigs I would bump into them hurrying as fast as they could down the muddy slopes, clearly annoyed that they'd overlooked feeding time yet again...)

Turkeys approaching...
On the first occasion I managed to scatter their grain without mishap; they were so intrigued by this new routine that they clearly forgot to worry too much about the actual food.  It was a different story a couple of days later, when I donned my hardiest waterproofs and headed down the stony trail towards the croft.  It was raining and I had to lift up the heavy stone on top of the bin, set it down carefully and then get the feed out.  As usual, the chickens were gathered waiting and as I started to scatter the feed, I heard the sound of the geese and turkeys catching on. Those turkeys are total drama queens.  There is no other word for it.  With squawks of outrage as if to say"Why didn't you tell us you were coming?!" they run down the croft, flapping their wings and lowering their heads as if going into battle.  And on this occasion they were!  Just as I had a cup of feed in my hand, the oldest and biggest male turkey, his blue wattles quivering with determination, came up and started pecking the bag and trying to get into it.  I fended him off with the lid of the bin, but he kept coming back and, as I bent down to pick up the stone, he flew at me with an especially loud squawk!  I'm ashamed to say I did not preserve my dignity...I yelled at him and then inadvertently sat down in the mud.  I tried to tell myself I had scared him off, but I think it may have been the other way round...
...getting closer...
Returning humiliated to the castle I explained dolefully that I had been attacked by a turkey...sadly it only made people laugh.  The next day, I made sure I practised my assertiveness training and despite the torrential rain, assumed an air of competence and ability to deal with any poultry...but I didn't hang around long with the feeding.

Be afraid!
The very last day I spent a bit of extra time with the pigs and was sorry to be ending my shift.  It has been a great experience and reminds me of how nice it is to have some responsibilities here for creatures other than myself, and how much of a commitment it is too...just as over Christmas, knowing I had to look after the chickens kept me going through the awful gales...I had to overcome my fear of the dark to go out and shut them in after dusk, 70 mph gusts or not, and returned with a great sense of triumph - not to mention the pleasure of listening to them clucking away contentedly in their straw.

We have now been offered chickens by Jinty, who is trying to rationalise her large flock by giving some away.  Caution has to be observed though, apparently it's important to have three chickens rather than two as then they are less likely to fight (they can't work out the pecking order when there are three...a bit like humans maybe), and the type of chicken is also important!  Ali up at the cottage has made the mistake of taking on small black chickens next to the large white ones she already has and the small ones are getting bullied.  We are looking for henhouses and already looking forward to fresh eggs.  It is not too much of a commitment, either, because everyone on the island likes having chickens, so if either or both of us are away, there will always be someone to look after them.

And in other news this week:  The rain earlier in the week caused the burn to rise by around 18 inches in just one day, but by the next day, it had fallen again.  I am still not used to how quickly the weather can change here.  No-one has removed the tree trunks from the river yet and my enquiry as to when it might happen met with the response, "I'm sure Dave or Rhys or somebody will remove the logs when they need them."  There is no such thing as a deadline on Rum...
The drama of getting fuel here continues. On Tuesday, someone finally came off the ferry who had a licence to drive the tanker...we were meeting the boat and so we saw him get off, but then once we were home, watched the pier mystified as the tanker did not move for at least an hour (Yes, we do watch the pier on boat days to see what's going on!)
Then I saw Sean turn up at Mel's office in the tractor, so rang her to get the news.
"The tanker man is too fat to get into the tanker and he doesn't fit behind the steering wheel."
So in the end Sean did the driving just as he would have done in the past, "supervised" by the tanker man, who got to have a ride on the tractor and a look at the castle, before going back on the boat a couple of hours later.  Our first visitor of the season!
He was followed closely by our second, an Italian man with a carrier bag and an iPad, who wandered around the village consulting his iPad at all times and looked at us suspiciously when we tried to get him to remove his headphones so we could talk to him.  But he did seem to have a purpose:
"The castle, is it open?"
"Yes, there will be a tour at 12.30."
"Very good."
So at 12.30 Mel waited at the castle for 15 minutes without him turning up.  Where was he? Where did he go between arriving at the village with his iPad, and departing from it two hours later, still clutching his iPad and carrier bag and not looking us in the eye...? We will never know.  But still - a bit like the first swallow - the first tourist has arrived.

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