On Monday, I went to work as normal. But it wasn’t a normal day. It was the day I sent my pigs to slaughter. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? So harsh. So final. Well obviously, it is. But it was something that we knew we would have to do and had somewhat prepared ourselves for it.
The night before, myself and my partner talked through how we felt. Shitty, I think was the word that came to mind. Like we were betraying their trust. It was a sombre evening, but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t feel a little bit emotional about the whole thing.
They were loaded up into the trailer the following morning. There was a bit of apprehension from them at first. Even though we had talked about it, we didn’t get around to leaving the trailer up at the woodland a few days before so they could get used to it. They were eventually coaxed in with their breakfast trough, and once one of them was hungry enough to venture inside, the others followed suit. They were really relaxed during the journey and went to sleep amongst the copious bales of straw. When they opened the trailer at the abattoir, the guy even said “Wow, looks like you’ve got yourself a pig hotel in there!”. I’m pleased he thought so, because their final journey was important to us.
They ambled out of the trailer and down a little corridor to where they go into a holding pen. Apparently, they were just sniffing the floor and completely oblivious to the whole scenario. I’ve talked about the slaughter process in a previous blog post, but essentially, they are stunned unconscious first, and then the deed is done. It’s quick and lasts only a few seconds. My other half didn’t hang around, and far as we’re aware, they had a swift and dignified death.
When the owner of the abattoir first saw the pigs, he said they were small. Not too small, still at slaughter weight, but they were lean and not big enough for bacon. During our research, we were under the impression that pigs get up to ‘porker’ weight between 18-20 weeks old, ‘baconers’ you should take up to 24 weeks. Ours were just over 21 weeks, and I thought, what difference would a few weeks make? Apparently, a lot. In fact, because our pigs were rare breeds, they are what is referred to as ‘slow growers’, so they take a lot longer to get to bacon weight. The guy said they needed to be twice as big. I thought they were pretty big as they were, but having seen pigs at different ages at the Devon County Show, I suppose they weren’t as big as some. For bacon, we should look to get them anywhere between 8 and 10 months old, which is at least 3 months more than what we slaughtered them at. At least we know for next time, and considering we were first time pig-keepers, I don’t think we did too badly. We just need fatter pigs!
Instead of bacon, we got a lot of joints, leg, belly, shoulder, chops, a handful of sausages and the offal. Personally, we don’t eat offal. My other half might have a go at making some liver pâté but I think the rest will probably be given to the dogs a treat. We are also going to make our own sausages and burgers now that BBQ season is fast approaching. We’ve got the equipment on order and a guide from Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall, what could go wrong?! I’ll keep you posted.
This morning we sampled the first of the sausages, and boy were they good. They say there isn’t a taste comparable to that of raising your own meat, and they are right. But I think that’s because it’s not all about the taste. When you raise livestock, you know where the animal has been, what it’s eaten, how it’s been treated, literally from birth till death. That knowledge is a wonderful thing. Your taste is affected by various things; how a dish looks, smells and in our case, the story behind it. All of that contributed to a very enjoyable breakfast! The eggs on the plate were also from our own chickens, so half of the meal was from animals we had raised ourselves, which is pretty damn satisfying if you ask me.
When we moved to the country, part of the plan was to become more self-sufficient. We are making progress and the next stage is getting the vegetable patch up and running. This will not get done for a while yet, considering how much we have got on currently, but it is most certainly on that very long to-do list!
Part of the reason why I love the countryside so much, is the animals. Whether that’s the farming side of things or local wildlife. I was only reading the other day about hedgehogs and how to encourage them into your garden and how seeing one is a pretty rare thing, due to their numbers being in decline. I have only see a hedgehog once in a garden, and lets just say, Billy the dog got there first and it didn’t end well, for either of them. The hedgehog didn’t make it and Billy ended up with a face full of spikes. Not ideal.
So, I was pleasantly surprised after a scorching hot day of sunshine, followed by a spectacular thunder and lightning show overnight from mother nature, that I discovered two adult hedgehogs in my garden this morning. Well, Billy discovered them, but this time he was far more cautious and just whined in their general direction, rather than going in for the kill.
It is unusual to see hedgehogs in the daytime. To be fair, although it was light, it was still only 6am (no lie ins when you have a cockerel in your back garden), so I guess they were probably in the midst of making their way back home, when Billy disturbed them. I had considered that they might be thirsty considering the temperature, so left out a shallow bowl of water for them and retreated inside to give them some room. I watched from the bedroom window and the chickens began to notice them too, which worried me slightly as I didn’t want them getting injured. I left it about half an hour and when I went back down, with a pouch of wet dog food I had dug out of the cupboard, I found they had gone. Part of me was pleased, as it meant they were healthy happy hedgehogs who had gone home safe to their nest, but part of me was slightly disappointed that my house didn’t need to be converted into a hedgehog hospital just yet. Maybe next time.
My other half has got a trail camera, so tonight I decided to set it up outside, near to where the hedgehogs were this morning. I took out some more water and the dog food (milk and bread upsets their tummy so wet dog/cat food is something they like). As we were leaving to go back inside, I heard a sort of prolonged huffing from the hedge a bit further down. We shone the torch about and low and behold Mr and Mrs Hedgehog were in there! We waited around for a bit, but decided it was best to leave them to it and hopefully the trail cam will pick up any nocturnal activity. How exciting! I will keep you all posted.