As if by magic…

A lack of promised pictures I know, here are a couple but I do have more to follow:

We’ll deal with the second one first. It’s Barbara Pig and the piglets (who have been named by Star and Dragon and I *think* are called Bacon, Biter, Gammon and Speedy but there seem to be more than four names banded about so I think they may keep changing!). They are thriving and looking really happy in their new Pig Palace. Ady and I spent Sunday building a huge new shelter for them to live in with gifted galvanised sheeting and our own many used fence posts. It is big enough to be the new maternity pen for sows as and when needed with up to 12 or more in a big litter in the future. It has enough headspace (just) for us to get in there too if needed while still being low enough to be cosy for the pigs. It faces south with a small opening and an area inside where they are totally sheltered from the elements on all sides. The floor is two plastic coated mattresses which mean it won’t get muddy or wet and it has a deep layer of straw bedding which we’ll keep topped up. Tom Pig has his usual landrover topper home with a board base and more straw bedding. They have a massive run which is currently divided in half so they piglets can get away from Tom if he is aggressive to them although so far they all seem very amicable and family minded together. We have another sow coming soon so will have a breeding trio and at any time may have any non-weaned piglets still with a mother and two or three we may be fattening to eat.

The ground the pigs have left behind is lovely – their own manure perfectly trodden in and composted down, the ground drained well by their trotters and all weeds, reeds and rushes cleared away. They have been moved five times now since we had them and the first and second patches they were on are growing back now as lush green grass. The intention is to leave them on their new area for good with the odd rest time for it when we may move one or more of them to another area to prepare it for growing for us. Pig keeping so far has gone well for us and I am excited about selling our first piglets, getting another sow and later on this year processing our first meat.

Moving the pigs across was the same fairly easy task it has always been with the new fence being put up and the old fence left operational until the last possible moment when it is turned off, the pigs lured across to their new area with the feed bucket and the new fence turned on once the battery and electric fence gizmo and solar panel all moved across. (We power the fence with a small solar panel which trickle charges a 12v battery – aside from times when the grass has grown up or the fence has otherwise been shorting out and drained the battery the solar panel keeps up with demand and it is a self sufficient little system). Tom and Barbara know the drill and happily trotted over following Ady but the little piglets were just not up to the walk or the adventure and the feed bucket as yet holds no real motivating lure for them. Ady managed to grab one and walk across with it squealing (they are quite the noisiest little animals around!A quick google suggests 100 decibels plus, louder than a chainsaw!) which had Barbara following him baring her teeth and playing the Mama Pig Protector role admirably. After a few false starts and some comedy slipping over in the mud chasing piglets capers Ady shut Barbara and the one piglet in the new house and held her back with all his body weight and a pallet while Dragon calmed down Bonnie Dog who was equally excited  by all the drama and added to it with her own barks, yips and desire to round everyone and everything up. Star helped me corner the remaining piglets and I caught them, held their mouths shut to reduce squealing volume and took them across the mud one at a time to reunite with Barbara. A very fraught 10 minutes or so which I now wish someone had caught on camera and set to the Benny Hill theme tune music as I’m sure it would have been a winning clip on youtube!

Monday was spent tidying up after the Big Pig Move, digging out fence posts, gathering up some of the manure rich old straw bedding ready to create some lasagne beds in the next couple of weeks once we designate a growing area and planning out the next phase of Croft 3, Year 2. We’ve been looking at processes and conducting a sort of time and motion study on ourselves in order to make best use of resources, energy and make life as easy as possible. This has involved moving things like feed bins so that we can get as close as possible to them with the car when the delivery arrives but still be able to fill up the smaller feed bins on a weekly basis without walking too far. I’ve been applying permaculture principles to our planning and trying to think ahead as to what potential issues could be. An example of how we’re getting better at this is that we have put down pallets to protect the pathway we walk twice daily between the feed bins and the animals so that it does not go to mud within a week. We are planning to create a proper path there in the next month or so but it is better to not let it go to compacted mud first.

We then built our second galvanised sheet and fence post construction – what we are calling the Shit Heap Hider. For a whole year we have been gratefully accepting any cast off scrap material from fellow islanders whenever it’s offered. We have wood, metal and other random stuff all of which we don’t have a use for right now but may do in the future. It is this heap which has provided fish boxes and other plastic crates for my container growing in the polytunnel, the frame for the roof on the new buildings and more so it is valuable stuff. It just looks really untidy. While asthetics are not our number one priority really we are ever conscious of being sited on a nature trail on a National Nature Reserve and we don’t want to live on a bombsite either so we have built something to store it all in. We have constructed it on a slope (frankly it’s hard to build anything *not* on a slope on our croft) and will make use of that by putting some gutter pipe on the roof to collect the rainwater which will be the water for our pigs and our turkeys when they come next month. We’re also using the back of the shelter to be the back of the duck enclosure (we pen the ducks at night so that we can collect their eggs which they lay in whatever random location they happen to be sitting in unlike the hens who will go into the chicken house to lay so we have been penning them at night and getting all the eggs rather than none of the eggs). The side of the shelter will also be the side of the turkey enclosure so we will be using less materials to build them all and less fencing to go around. See, getting smarter.

That second photo? An audience with Nic. There are several universities which visit Rum as part of their field trips each year. Some come for the geology, the archaeology, the wildlife, the scenery. We’ve had people studying the rats, the red deer, the manx shearwaters, the plantlife, the newts, the rocks and fossils, the earthworms and more. This group are interested in the people and the realities of life on an island. We talked to a  group from this course last year just after we arrived on the island about our hopes and plans and what we wanted to achieve and the course leader contacted us to ask if we’d be up for doing the same this year. They arrived while we were working, muddy and grubby and fully ‘in action’. The kids were in the piglet pen so they got a really good snapshot of what our days involve. They stood, those 30 young people and their 4 tutors and listened to what to my ears sometimes sounds like a script these days. Our story. The story of how we were Ordinary Citizens, Living Ordinary Lives just a couple of years ago. But we had A Dream. We thought there was A Better Way. (I’ll stop with the capitals letters now!). We talked about how we had proper jobs and a house, running water, a TV, private health care, company car, pensions schemes and paycheques. How we also had stress, traffic jams, supermarkets, Monday Mornings, meetings and a feeling that this couldn’t actually be all there was to life, how there had to be more. How growing food at our allotment and in our garden, tending to our chickens, walking on the beach, in the woodlands, talking, dreaming, feeling free was what we really wanted to be doing. How we’d go on camping trips and exist without electricity, have to carry our drinking water to our tent and ration it’s usage, collect firewood to build a campfire and feel like we were properly alive for a few days only to return to our house with sinking hearts and ponder why we needed so much stuff in our lives.

I told this group of young people, most of whom were struggling to find a spot of ground to stand in that wasn’t swallowing their inappropriate footwear into the mud (really – deck shoes to walk to a croft rather than wellies? And why have they no coats? In my day…..) about our year in a campervan, living with people all around the UK, doing things differently. Working for food, a bed for the night and the satisfaction of being part of something that makes sense. About how we found ourselves here on Rum at the end of our journey, starting from scratch with a bare field at the end of a crappy track where it rains more than it doesn’t and when it’s not raining there are probably midges. I stood in my patched up jeans, infront of my car that doesn’t really work, while my kids played in the mud with the piglets and tried to convince this group that really we haven’t always been hillbilly types, that this is Living The Dream.

Some of them shuddered when I talked of no electricity, no TV, no mobile phone reception. Some of them visibly paled when we talked of only having been back to the mainland twice since we arrived here a year ago. Some asked about the cinema, McDonalds, shopping (as a recreational activity, not as a means to purchasing essential items like food!). But some of them really got it – we were asked how Ady and I had met and whether we ever dreamed we’d end up living here. At the end several of the students came and shook our hands and said they admired us, were impressed and inspired, thought we were doing an amazing thing and wanted to wish us well. Then on Monday one of the students came back again to buy some eggs and chat some more. Knowing we had managed to reach someone to such an extent and convinced him we were worth coming to visit again means a lot.

We’ve had a few ‘repeat visitors’ in the last month or so, people we don’t actually know ourselves but have visited Rum twice now since we’ve been here and have been keen to catch up with us. People who we chatted to in our first week here when we were staying at the castle and saw us in our first flush of enthusiasm, students who were here when the static was in it’s first location along the nature trail. I’ve had at least four people tell me they’ve been following this blog to see how we’re getting on and how much they can see we’ve achieved in our first year. That motivates us to do more, make it happen and carry on.

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