Animali

In this post I’ll talk about what a typical workday for the Animali team looks like. The animals we have at Spannocchia are pigs, cows, and donkeys that need to be fed at various times, and are located all over the farm. So it’s a lot of time spent with these:

Munching on flour

Munching on flour

And these:

A soon-to-be mama

A soon-to-be mama

And this guy:

In this:

our chariot

our chariot

As I went over in the previous post, we all meet at Il Muro at 8am. From there, Luke and I walk down a short, steep hill to feed the donkeys. They can hear us coming, and start braying their silly, screechy bray, which never ceases to amuse. Their names are Dante and Alba, though Luke calls them Dante and Beatrice—I don’t know why. We give them a trough full of hay, and check their water to make sure it’s full and clean. Then, we give each donkey ear a good stroke or two—the donkeys win Best Ears at Spannocchia, hands-down. They are almost a foot long, and very soft, too.

magnificent

magnificent

After the donkeys, we huff and puff back up the short, steep hill and we talk about how we really need to get in better shape. Then, we drive the Skoda up to Mulino and Il Piano, two fields that are up the hill from Spannocchia where many of our pigs live, to give them breakfast.

The Skoda

Or at least, that’s been the initial morning routine so far. But a week ago Saturday, as I was in the middle of evening chores, I was (slowly! carefully!) driving the Skoda up the hill back from the cow pastures, when there was an enormous and violent bump that shook the whole car. The roads around the farm are in pretty rough shape, just a mix of dirt and large rocks, and it’s always a bumpy ride that I’m sure takes a toll on all the farm vehicles. But when we looked back, there was no rock or bump that looked particularly big or out of place. We got out, squatted down to look underneath, and saw that the engine had half fallen out and was hanging just a few inches off of the ground. When we popped the hood, we saw one of the supports for the engine casing was shorn clean off. (At times like these, I always find it irresistible to joke, so I put on my thickest Boston accent, pointed at the engine and said “well there’s your problem right there, the engine—it fell out.”)

We put the ol’ girl in neutral and gently guided her down to the side of the road at the bottom of the hill. I was shaken up, and felt guilty, though I don’t honestly think it was my fault as I wasn’t driving recklessly. This thought was confirmed when I ran into Moreno, the Tutto Fare supervisor, and told him the bad news—the Skoda died. When he asked what happened, and I said the engine fell out, he didn’t seem remotely surprised, and instead nodded knowingly and said “ah, yes, yes, the engine” with his most adorably perfect Italian accent. His reaction made me think that it was an inevitability, and perhaps engines falling out of trucks is not an irregular occurrence at Spannocchia.

In any case, I’m not sure what we’ll do without the Skoda, but I’ll continue to describe the day as if it still were a functioning vehicle. We drive it to Mulino (which means “mill” and is where all the grain and flour that we feed the pigs and cows comes from.) We begin to feed the pigs the flour, and quickly I’ll have a fine dusting of white flour all over me, which Luke and I now consider our unofficial animali uniforms. This condition is particularly pronounced on the Mondays and Thursdays, when we go around with the tractor to the four remote pig pens and fill up with their feeders with all the flour they need for half the week.

White eyelashes

White eyelashes

After feeding those pigs, Luke and I drive down to the cows, which is about a mile away from the farm, and give them grain and hay. We then open the gates for the remote pig pens: one right near the cows is called, confusingly, “Cows pigs”, then there is Montecchio, Curva, Cappanonne, and Causa (again confusingly pronounced “cows-a”). On the way back, I make Luke stop under the fig tree so I can grab some figs for the ride back home.

Whenever we have to drive across the farm behind Giulio in the tractor, we run the risk of what Luke and I call “getting stuck in traffic.” This is when Giulio runs into Moreno, or maybe another person the farm, and they talk for about ten minutes, as Luke and I are stuck behind them. During these periods, we try to kill the horse flies buzzing around, or read the only book in the pickup: a guide to Mediterranean flowers.

We also spend a lot (really, so much) time mending fences, because the wild boar comes and make holes in the fence, and then the pigs get out (a whole post will be dedicated to the wild boar in the future). We also spend a lot of time herding pigs back into their enclosures—last week a group of 13 smaller pigs got out four days in a row. As Luke and I would approach them day after day to get them back into their enclosures, I could tell that those pigs had no respect for us.

Really, no respect for us at all

Really, no respect for us at all

We also have to mend the feeders, because the wild boar (whom I now hate) breaks in and tosses the large metal feeders all around, so we have to pick them up, put them back in place, perhaps use the sledgehammer to put their posts back in the ground, and then wire them to the posts again.

Some days, we need to walk the electric fences that keep the pigs enclosed because they aren’t registering charge, meaning that one of the wires slipped and is hitting the metal post and grounding the entire operation. Or, the charge is lower than it should be, meaning that branches have fallen on the wires, or maybe the grass has grown up too high around it, so we go around with sickles and cut it down again. It’s nice to spend an hour or so walking the fence, to have time to myself, occasionally coming across a pile of sleeping pigs, who awake with a start and run off oinking when I get close. And, to spend some time in a field with some really magnificent views.

The view from one of the fences that I walk

The view from one of the fences that I walk

Because in Animali we are sometimes working far from each other, or have to communicate with Giulio who may be across the farm, we are the only interns who are granted cell phone privileges. We have two super old-school Nokia phones (not even flip phones!) that we use to call each other. To text, you have to do the thing where you use the numbers to type in a word, then use the pound symbol to scroll through all possible words that the number-sequence could create. Strangely, I found myself reactivating muscle memory from 2006 and reverted back to this form of texting, no problem.

I hope this post gives a general idea of what I do each day. A lot of it is repetitive, and frustrating, but it’s also very rewarding too, and I hope to address my thoughts and feelings about doing this very different kind of work in a future post. But in the next post, I’ll introduce you to Luke, as he is quite a character and really deserves a post to himself.