Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh Shenanigans

Animales interns had a crazy day today!

Greg and I walked up to Pig Hill as usual to feed the miaili and miailini and check fences. At some point Nello, the giant polar bear-esque boar, escaped from his pen and wandered into the mill where we keep all the grain. The pictures don’t do this guy justice— we guess that he weighs around 500 pounds— but he’s not very excitable, so we chased him at a snail’s pace back into his pen and went to feed the rest of the pigs further up the road.

Then it was time to check the fences. They’re divided into three main sections, and two of them weren’t working, so we started walking to the back pasture where the third section has a breaker. Once you figure out which sections aren’t working, you have to walk along the fence until you find the spots where the current is broken. As we walked, we came across a sow who had just given birth to nine miailini. We found another sow last week while walking fences, so we knew what to do more or less. We went back to the mill to get buckets to carry the piglets, and returned. The tricky thing about collecting them is that the mothers can become upset and step on them as she tries to protect the “nest.” We put the 9 mialini into three buckets and then encountered the next tricky thing: actually getting the mother to follow you. The first time we did this, Giulio was with us and the sow came along pretty easily. The sow today refused to follow, despite our pleading “Qua! Qua!” [“Here! Here!”… the Italian equivalent to “Sooooeeeee!”].

Even after we grabbed sticks to prod her along she refused, sniffing around her nest looking for the miailini and making all sorts of strange and angry sounds. We assumed that, like the sow last week, she would follow the squeals of her babies, but this one was particularly stubborn. At one point I actually thought I was going to get mauled, because I tripped on some of the thick underbrush and fell backwards just a few feet from her, with a bucket of squealing miailini in my arms. Fortunately I still had my prodding stick in hand so a somewhat panicked thwack on her nose kept her away. According to Greg, pigs do bite. Hopefully I won’t find out.

So finally we decided to take the miailini back to Pig Hill and come back for the mama. We had gotten a fair distance away before we heard her crashing through the bosco [forest], and managed to get her into one of the enclosures near the other mama miaili. Greg and I thought she would be happy to be back with her babies, but in our haste to get them situated in the shelter we forgot to close the gate, so she ran out and started back for the trees. Again we wrangled her into the pen, only to see her escape through a hole in the recinto [fence]. Dio mio! We couldn’t catch her that time, so after 15 or 20 minutes we just decided to leave the gate open and give her some space to go in on her own. In the meantime, we repaired the hole in the fence. Rather than join her babies, she disappeared into the bosco. We figured, correctly, that she had gone back to the nest. Sure enough, we found her there and she was even more obstinate than before. After another 15 or 20 minutes we decided to try our luck bringing some of her miailini back in one bucket and some grain in another. Once she heard the squeals, she met us in the bosco and was successfully corralled. Feeding the pigs usually takes an hour or so, but it was 11:30 before we finished. Giulio called and told us to leave the fence and start milling grain because all the cibo [food] bins were empty. Four bags in, the mill overheated, which is something interns can’t fix. We found Riccio who fixed it, then needed Greg to help him give one of the mamas a shot [she’s sick and, sadly, as of this afternoon all of her miailini died]. I was milling and realized after a while that they’d been gone a long time. Turns out, since the fence was never fixed this morning, nine pigs escaped from their pasture and were wandering all over the place. Now I realize why we check it first thing every morning.

By then it was 1 p.m., time to meet back at Pulcinelli for lunch. After almost a half hour, Max showed up. The sheep had broken down a fence and had to be rounded up from the vineyards… again.

I really love the unexpected things that come with the bestiame [livestock]. Our chores are the same each day, but our tasks are constantly changing. Today was frustrating, but becoming more hilarious in hindsight by the minute. Now it’s time for vino e cena [wine and dinner]. And tomorrow is a brand new day!!

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