The hills are alive…with the sound of piglets!

Monday December 1

At 10am this morning the sun shone, the birds sang and everything looked fresh, clean and tranquil. Firstly, I fed Charly and Camilla, the porkers that we purchased a few weeks ago. They have become dangerously cute, flying around excitedly in circles when I arrive, sniffing, squealing and generally pulling out all the stops to avoid ever being killed. I then carried the grain down several terraces to the chickens and geese and let the goats out to browse. The turkeys, now outrageously big, are as annoying as ever, behaving like those exceptionally tall eight-year-olds who always seem to be acting immaturely and getting in the way. Feeding time was its usual fiasco as they insisted on following me everywhere, tripping me up and making bizarre gurgling sounds. They really are the dinosaurs of the poultry world, with tiny pinheads and huge, poorly controlled bodies. The bantams are one-tenth of turkey size but have the upper hand at all times, chasing them around, taunting them with ‘Dah’ noises – roll on Christmas. As I finished the food round, a bitingly cold gale began whistling through the trees; the river turned into a torrent, bringing with it a blanket of stinging hailstones. All animals ran for cover and I was stuck wearing a thin T-shirt, shivering in a smelly goat shed for half-an-hour trying to avoid the aggressive advances of ever-amorous Sheridan. Finally, it eased (the wind, not Sheridan) and I returned to the house, soaked to the skin and smelling of goat.

Wednesday December 3

Hinge and Bracket – the geese – are now warming up for the breeding season. The morning routine of increasingly loud squawking, random chicken attacks and low-level flying is in full swing.

Monday December 8

Honeymoon time on the pig terrace is well and truly over. Feed time has become a hazardous affair with lots of playful charging around, including some hefty barging and the odd nibble here and there. I am seriously considering alternative feeding methods… methods that do not necessitate my entry into their domain.

Wednesday December 10

Entry onto the pig terrace is now positively dangerous. Their finely tuned hearing detects approach from 20 metres and their huge quivering snouts can ascertain whether there is food on board. Arrival at the gate is heralded by a stampede accompanied by snorting and grunting. A hefty, full-on charge halts dramatically, millimetres from my person, whereupon the serious assault begins. Knee nibbling, ankle biting, side tackling and bucket butting are planned and executed with incredible dexterity, as I try desperately to dodge piles of poo and reach the food trough with my vitals intact. I intend to discuss strategies with Martyn this evening.

Friday December 12

Teresa, a Yorkshire lass, is staying with us this weekend. Despite coming from a rural community, she appears to be ill-prepared for the antics of the Monchique menagerie. Her first visit to the pig terrace ended dramatically with a muffled scream, some expletives and a speedy retreat through the electrified gate in fear of her life. The goats were not to be outdone and Sheridan, a little overexcited by fresh oestrogen, indulged in some gentle head butting, followed by some outrageous exhibitionism of the kind usually displayed by dirty old men on commons. When this failed to attract the desired response, he then began pogoing around his yard reaching a height well above Teresa’s shoulders. Together we discreetly ignored his obvious excitement and moved on to the poultry terrace where some turkey gobbling and random goosing failed to raise even an eyebrow.

Saturday December 13

Martyn was on pig duty today (the load has to be shared). After administering the morning feed, he commented upon some vegetation growing close to the electric fence; in wet weather this can earth the fence, reducing the shock. We agreed to do something about it…soon. At 3pm, while preparing his Christmas puddings, he became aware of some unusual noises in the lounge. Upon investigation, he was somewhat startled to see a pig snorting around the ‘Quality Street’ tin. Upon discovery, the pig panicked and made a dash for the front door, nipped out and up a hill behind the house; 50 euros of prime pork heading for the sunset. Without hesitation, Martyn grabbed the swill bucket and chased it up the hill, waving the food around and making enticing noises. At one point the greedy porker stopped to investigate the bucket, but Martyn’s mistimed lunge sent her flying off again, this time along the track behind our house. Like all good commanders, Martyn took stock of the situation for a moment and decided to secure the pig terrace before going in pursuit, thereby minimising our losses.

He stepped up to the terrace and encountered his second shock of the afternoon. In front of him, wallowing in a mud bath, Charly and Camilla were quite happy, blissfully unaware of the mayhem going on elsewhere. To confirm he hadn’t gone completely berserk, Martyn popped up to the track and there, flying off to the west, was the unknown pig! I have relayed the story to several neighbours, but no one knows of anyone missing a pig. Rather more worrying is the indifference with which my story is greeted; a shrug that seems to suggest, “well, what do you expect?” I obviously still have a lot to learn about country life.

Sunday December 21

(WARNING: not to be read by the squeamish or vegetarians)

Last year we watched very carefully as the nice man on the turkey farm showed us how to kill a turkey. This year, we had to ‘finish’ our own, without the help of the nice man – things were not quite so straightforward. I went through my usual ‘bottling out’ scenario, so Martyn took over while I secured the bird. Everything went well (as far as we were concerned, not the turkey), until the post-death nervous ‘flapping’ began (bird flapping, not human). As the wings rose, I lost my grip a little, the bird spun and a surge of blood sprayed out in an arc, soaking me and everything else in its path. The flapping wings helped fan this blood into a hot, red blanket, not dissimilar to sea spray. Somehow this got mixed up with mud, so that when we finally arrived back at the house, I was completely coated, a soldier fresh from the trenches. While Martyn plucked, gutted and trussed, I retreated to the bathroom where the mud and blood face-pack had to be carefully peeled from my face with the aid of hot water, soap and a scouring pad. Life was so much more straightforward with a Co-Op around the corner!

Christmas Eve

Our neighbours arrived at our doorstep with an early Christmas gift. Her name is Liza (with a z…). She is a pretty, proud, pregnant goat, complete with a red ribbon. She was introduced to her fellow goats…who rejected her on sight. Rosie began butting, Hyacinth tried eating her ribbon and Sheridan did what he always does…attempted fornication. We have moved Liza to her own living quarters, where she will remain until she has her babies. The runaway pig has been traced to someone who lives over a mile away! She is now safely tucked in, waiting for tomorrow’s leftover turkey.

Tuesday December 30

Pig behaviour is becoming more entertaining by the day. The feed-time ankle nibbling has now stopped, thankfully, but squabbling over eating has reached giddy heights. Camilla, who is bigger than Charly, regularly butts her out of the way, in order to get the lion’s share. Charly, after some deliberation, has come up with a brilliant solution. After being butted two or three times, she calmly walks around to the front of the food trough and lays completely over it, preventing Camilla from eating. A turkey would have to survive a hundred Christmases before coming up with an idea half as enterprising. Another fun activity is filling up the water bowl. This is done from a terrace above, and the jet of water from heaven sends the pigs into ecstasy, chasing around, shoving their heads in and out of the spray and generally playing like toddlers…so sweet! Liza has settled down well, but is a little lonely. Each day we tie her up near the chickens, but when we leave her, she bleats at us pathetically. She has made a couple of escapes and taken herself down to the other goats. We can’t put her with them though, as the horseplay could damage her unborn kids.

New Year’s Day

Pig madness has kicked off again. Every time we go out in the car at night, wild pigs can be seen dashing in and out of the forest. Last night, one was bombing along the track in front of the car for five minutes. These are not the true wild boars, they are domestic pigs that have escaped and are living by their own devices. This evening, Bruno chased one and caught it on a terrace just above the road; I charged up behind yelling at the dog, who finally let go. The pig did not seem too badly harmed and dashed off into an orange grove to live another day. It appears 2004 is going to be as eventful as last year…