The Predator

I finally caught one of our bigger predators in action! I heard a screech outside which I thought was a bird, so I took my camera and here’s the result!

There is a growing population of frogs and toads in the ponds and I have worried about them going out of control. This young monitor lizard takes care of that for me!

Frogs in the Garden Pond

Having ponds for rainwater harvesting, lots of frogs and toads are attracted to the garden. This is good because frogs are a sign of good ecology and they keep pesty insects under control. Here is a video of frogs spawning, one female and two males! The white foam is a nest in which the eggs are deposited. The foam nest protects the eggs from microbes and predators, to some extent – I have seen the turtle in the duck pond eating the frog eggs!

Rainwater Harvesting

If you look around the village you will still see old water cisterns built many decades ago before running water became available in households. Some of these have been abandoned, broken but a few are still in good use. Rainwater harvesting is particularly crucial if you have livestock, crops and drought seasons, as well as failures by the municipal waterworks to provide continuous running water.

Currently, we have three ponds that harvest rainwater. The first (photo above) is home to some 30-40 tilapia and floating water plants. It is located next to the house on the south side catching a good amount of rainwater flowing off the edge of the roof. It’s about 146 cubic feet (or about 4 cubic meters). I keep two buckets under the overflow pipe to collect more rainwater during an overflow.

The second (photo above) is located on the north side of the house and has a volume of about 70 cubic feet (or 2 cubic meters). This is home to water hyacinth, water lettuce and frogs. We didn’t put fish in this pond because the fish kills the water hyacinth and water lettuce. The presence of frogs and tadpoles make sure there are no mosquito larvae in this pond. The water in this pond is used as drinking water for sow Number 3 who also loves eating the water lettuce.

The third water reservoir is this (photo above), the duck pond. Some water lettuce thrive here but not the water hyacinths which the ducks eat immediately. This pond becomes dirty (build up of mud, organic material, algal blooms) when the duck population is high – that is, over a dozen ducks. This pond is not large enough for that many ducks. At the moment, I have only 8 ducks and it is the rainy season so the pond stays reasonably clean. The water plants also keep the water clean, preventing algal blooms. There are also 2 turtles in this pond, plus an impressive chorus of frogs and toads. These and the ducks ensure that mosquitoes do not thrive in this pond.

Rainwater from the first two ponds have been crucial during the Bohol (2013) and Leyte (2017) earthquakes which knocked down power supply to the island for several weeks. Without power, municipal water pumps are non-operational and cannot pump water to many households. We were able to use water harvested in these ponds for cleaning, for the animals to drink and for flushing.

Now we are seriously considering building another pond to harvest rainwater run-off from the roof of the new pigpens. This pond would be closer to the pigpens and would ease use. A rain garden nearby, where the ground slopes, might also be an excellent feature to catch water that overflows from the pond.

Cicada

At last, captured a cicada performing its famous ear-breaking song. 😉 This would most probably be a male cicada singing to attract a female. Most cicadas go through a life cycle lasting 2-5 years; there are others that have 13-17-year life cycles. Enjoy! 🙂

A Better Pig Accommodation

Two months ago, I finally got one of the pigpens rebuilt. It is Sow Number 3’s pen. I wanted better accommodation for her when she farrows around the last week of August. The old pigpen has a leaky nipa roof and the fences and door serve as aperitif for Number 3. Several times Number 3 escaped from her old pen and terrorized the village. 😉

The old pigpen with the new pigpen being built around it.

I came up with the design of the new pigpen based on observations and interactions with Number 3, studying pigpen housing standards and designs on the Internet and discussing the design plans with Trevor and the carpenters Kelly and Jessie.

The real test of the new design will be when Number 3 farrows. We will put the metal barrier and light for the piglet creep space into the pen soon. The pigpen has a total area of about 25 square meters, a comfortable space for one pig. My ideal is a large pasturing area, but we don’t have that much space. This is the best we can do!

The new pigpen allows more air and sunshine with a higher roof. It is certainly more durable than the old pen which was built using bamboo and wood. Such a pen is fine if we were keeping a pig for fattening, but a sow is a strong and powerful animal weighing up to 150 kilograms.

There will be two more large pens to be re-designed and built (for Sow Auntie Brownie and Pinky Boar) and two smaller pens for fattening a pig or two. The old pens are still usable but they are falling part and require much maintenance. I am hoping construction will be push through in September. The new farrowing unit will include an escape hatch for piglets (so they can enjoy the garden while they are up to 3 weeks old and give their mother a chance to relax).

Later, Trevor and I will look into developing the gardens (and possibly a pond or rain garden) around the pigpens so the area will be cooler, more productive and provide forage for the pigs.

Our foreman Kelly and the finished pigpen!
Lots of space for Number 3!
The feeding trough can be filled up from the outside of the pen.

 

First Farrowing for 2017

This is our first farrowing for 2017, also Auntie Brownie’s first parity. She is probably considered a late bloomer (at 2 years of age). The boar is a year younger, Brownie Boar (born and raised here as well). We decided on selective in-breeding, pigs are aunt/nephew relations. I was quite nervous about this but genetics of both pigs are very good so it was worth the try.

Auntie Brownie gave birth to 11 piglets. A 12th piglet – the last – was born dead. We decided on a no-intervention policy during farrowing. She started nest building at around midnight then farrowed at 8AM until 9AM.  I watched her farrow from a distance.

On the fourth day after farrowing, we had to go to the city for our weekly shopping and left the sow and piglets to a caretaker – with bad results. When we returned in the afternoon, the sow was stressed and kept crushing her piglets. The next day, one piglet died of crushing. Another piglet was found dead after 2 days apparently from crushing as well. The caretaker had stressed the sow by going into the pen and making a lot of noise and fuss. Because of this experience, we decided not to leave the sow and piglets to other people even for just a second – at least until the piglets are strong enough not to be crushed – about 4 weeks old.

The piglets escaped into the garden before they were 7 days old. This allowed the mother to relax. We will incorporate such an escape hatch for piglets when we re-design and re-build the pigpens. By foraging in the garden, the piglets get exercise and try exploring and eating a range of vegetation. This helps make them stronger and wean them naturally.

As usual, we did not mutilate the piglets – we did not cut their tail or their teeth. However, buyers demand that the male piglets be castrated. We will keep one uncastrated male piglet for ourselves. We have proven that there is no boar taint in intact male pigs not beyond 6 months of age.

Two Farrowings in December 2016

We had two farrowings in December 2016. Sow Number 1 (second parity) and gilt Number 3 (first parity). Number 3 gave birth to 4 piglets on the evening of December 25. Number 1 gave birth to 11 piglets on the evening of December 30.

Both Number 3 and Number 1 were serviced through artificial insemination by Ogie from Corella. It costs PhP1,500 per AI. Number 3 was inseminated with a Large White boar while Number 1 was inseminated with a mixed Pietrain boar.

Number 3 had only 4 piglets so they were exceptionally large, she had a bit of a hard time delivering them (roughly 30 minutes between each piglet). She successfully reared all of her 4 piglets without supervision, no crushing incidents. The piglets – 3 males and 1 female – were sold at weaning age of 6 weeks for PhP2,500 each. The males were castrated by Bebe at PhP50 each.We prefer not to castrate the piglets but buyers insist on buying only castrated male piglets. Because of this, we have opted to keep 1 or 2 males from a litter to keep for ourselves, un-castrated.

Sow Number 1 showing all her teats!

Number 1 crushed 4 of her 11 piglets. She also had enormous troubles farrowing, perhaps a kind of sow hysteria. We kept the piglets away from her throughout farrowing until she was able to relax and lie down to allow the piglets to suckle. The piglets were sold at weaning age of 6 weeks for PhP2,500 each (actually, buyers keep asking for discounts so we sold the piglets for PhP2,400 each and the runt sold for PhP2,000).

Overall, we consider the 2 farrowings a success, with a total of 11 piglets raised with no problems. Their tails and teeth were not cut, they were not injected with any vitamins, supplements or antibiotics. For iron supplement, which can be critical in some cases, I use instant iron drops instead of injections. We decide on much less intervention during farrowing next time.

Slowing Down on the Ducks

Here is a video from four months back. We had two ducks hatch eggs, a total of 12 ducklings. From this we ended up with only 6 ducklings. Mortality rate remains high. The fatalities were due to trampling by other ducks during fights and feeding, and savaging by pigs.

Good rearing behaviour in ducks seems to be inherited. Some ducks are better than others. One duck managed to keep 6 out of 8 ducks alive. While the other duck had all her ducklings killed within a few days because she insisted on bringing them to the boar. Not very smart.

Ducks have not been laying much as well. This may be due to two factors: first is insufficient nutrition and second is the disturbance caused by roof renovation from March until May. I have taken measures to provide better higher protein feeds although things have not completely settled down yet. One duck has started laying eggs.

I am not devoting a lot of time to the ducks. I spend more time looking after a boar and two sows. I am still hopeful that the ducks will manage – will learn – to look after themselves insofar as breeding is concerned.

Cooking them Old Ducks

duckbreasttonight1

This is duck breast – cooked in its own fat ala duck confit – then seared in a non-stick pan to crisp the skin. Instead of a soggy, bland stew, duck confit is – in my opinion – the best way to cook a duck more than 6 months old. At this age, the meat of the duck begins to toughen. By cooking in its own fat is it possible to realise superb tenderness and taste. Below I describe how I prepared this way of cooking duck.

duckbreasttonight2
Half of the duck breast served with rice and the Bohol-anon ‘law-uy’, simple foraged vegetable greens.
  1. For this batch, I use 3 large adult ducks, age 6 months to over 1 year. You must select duck that is very fat to produce the appropriate amount of fat. The dressed weight of the duck is 1.7 to 2.5kg. Better if you can get bigger than 2 kg.
  2. The duck is washed and cleaned. I rub the skin of the duck with salt to clean it thoroughly. Then I cut the duck into large pieces: wings, breasts, legs, backbone, neck. I cut at the joints and never break any bones.
  3. The fat and skin of the duck is removed and set aside as these will be used to render duck fat. However, DO NOT remove the skin on the breasts and legs. The skin on these portions of duck must be kept on to keep the meat moist, flavourful and to produce the crisp skin that is most sought after in duck dishes.
  4. The duck pieces are salted and rubbed with herbs and spices. I used thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, pepper. For each kilo of duck, I used only 1 tsp of salt. I did not use a lot of salt because this dish is not a way to preserve the duck for extended period of time. If your purpose is to preserve the duck, then you must follow the French way of making duck confit.
  5. I placed the duck pieces in a sealed plastic container and kept it in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You can marinate longer if you wish, for example, overnight.
  6. A good stainless steel or cast iron pot may be used, large enough to put all the duck inside. Begin by placing the pieces of duck skin and fat in the pot first. Next, place the duck wings, neck, and backbone. These are pieces of duck that has fat and skin and will be rendered. Keep the breasts and legs for later cooking. In the pot pour a cup of water.
  7. Start to render the duck fat by heating at medium high. Keep the pot covered at all times. When the water starts to boil, lower the heat to keep simmering. Keep the pot covered at all times. In my experience, the fat is fully rendered in 15 to 30 minutes! It is fast if you have a good fat duck and good pot.
  8. Transfer all the duck fat to another pot where you will cook the duck breasts and legs. I had enough duck fat to cover all the legs and breasts of 3 ducks. Place the duck breasts and legs into the oil. Place one head of crushed garlic in the pot.
  9. Cover the pot and cook over medium high heat until he oil boils. When the oil boils, lower the heat to maintain simmering. Simmer for 1 hour and turn off the heat and let sit – DO NOT OPEN THE LID OF THE POT – for another hour. The duck will continue cooking.
  10. Open the pot and inspect the duck meat.Use a fork to check if it is tender enough. Otherwise, simmer again in oil.
  11. The duck may be kept this way in oil in the pot and reheated everyday to keep from spoiling. The duck should keep well for several days but no more than 1 week.
  12. To prepare the duck, all I do is scoop out some duck fat into a non-stick pan. Then I place the duck breast/legs with the skin down and cook until the skin is brown and crisp. Place the duck breast/legs on a plate and garnish with vegetables or serve with stew.

The result is absolutely tender, absolutely delicious duck. It is not necessary to have young fattened duck for this way of cooking duck. Try it. Bon appétit!

Wildlife @home

I couldn’t sleep, it was nearly 2am, I got up to visit the loo and lo and behold, the reason why there isn’t a single rat running up on the roof!

Update: A week later, one of our neighbours captured a python and placed it inside a plastic screen cage. They wanted to sell it to a zoo in Loay. As far as I know, this is illegal. The zoo refused to buy it and instead instructed them to return it to the wild. However, the people who captured it were too scared to set it free, so they left the python in the cage on an empty lot near our home. I found this very upsetting – they left that snake to die. I emailed the DENR and asked them to come immediately to get the python and release it into its appropriate habitat. The next day, they arrived!