What a difference a week makes. Last week, I was in the chicken coop with some adolescent chooks when a tiger snake dropped by for a visit. It poked its head above the hay, slithered around the edge of the coop, and eventually disappeared down another hole at the back. It focuses the mind, being in a confined space with a known killer.
12 Apr 2010 - 10:46 AM  UPDATED 24 Sep 2013 - 2:00 PM

The next day I was in a room full of food writers. Not sure which day was more fraught with danger. At least with a slithery snake you know exactly who has the poisonous bite.

The rest of the week was spent learning things. Learning about the best way to cut through a chicken’s leg and twist it so you get rid of the tough tendons in the drumstick. Thank you Shane. Learning about organics and pasture at the Penguin Organic and Sustainability Festival. (Yes, there is a town called Penguin, and yes, it is cute.) Finding out from the mate who stepped in to milk the cow that Maggie really is bossy, majestic and stubborn.

And, finally, discovering that tiny little piglets, the length of a baby’s arm, are born with glossy black hair, fine soft skin and very little fat but a big snout to suckle with. Nine of them are now tearing around the paddock, never too far from Tinkerbell, their mum, and are likely to get into mischief any day soon. When newly born, they’re slight in the hand. When they suckle, only seven can reach the upper teats, the others are on the teats tucked under Mum. They look like they’re buried. She grunts constantly as they feed, only standing up to feed herself, and even then the littlies come up underneath trying to suckle. It must be inordinately draining, having so many milk-fed infants. Unlike commercial operations, my slips (as piglets are known) will stay on their mum for up to two months. Apparently Tinkerbell will let me know when she’s sick of them.

There’s corn in the garden now; pale, fine kernels that are impossibly sweet. Nothing like the corn I know from the shops. Firewood stacks are appearing around the valley. No wonder, from the sound of chainsaws over the last fortnight. Apples are fat and red and green, the trucks taking them to market fill the roads. There’s still precious little rain and the pasture cries out for some. The tanks are better managed; plenty of water to get us through until it falls from the sky. The trees in the garden haven’t fared so well. Some of the natives, even, are looking peaky.

Our chooks are moulting. This is the time of year, as the days shorten, that chickens lose some of their feathers and go off the lay. Some days there’s only one egg from several layers. In industrial farms they can force their birds to moult quickly by starving them, that way they get back to business, laying eggs quicker than the month mine will take. More often, factory farms simply make up for the lack of daylight with electric lights. A commercial laying bird is only expected to lay for a year, so they get as much out of them as they can in that time. Some well-meaning people buy old birds from battery farms, believing they’ve saved the old birds. In a way they have, but they’ve also helped prop up the battery farm in the process.

The Plymouth Rock has provided us with three little ones. Soon there will be a second coop – maybe a mobile one this time. For now it’s all about the pigs – finding a boyfriend for Wendy, a girlfriend for Peter Pan, and then building a place for them on new land, perhaps on my bush block on the farther hill.