Happy endings and new beginnings

So today was the last morning that I will get to feed our three British Lop pigs. Tomorrow they will be taken to the abbatoir at 21 weeks, and turned into food for our table. We had to re-tag them with our herd number and individual pig identification numbers in order to move them legally. This is sort of like ear-piercing back when I had mine done in the 90’s. Although on a much larger scale. You ever tried to pierce a pigs ear? Yeah, harder than it sounds! Distracting them with food is key and my other half and colleague did a grand job of it, despite Stumpy (our most boisterous pig) being a tad difficult to handle! I think the moral of that story is to ear tag your pigs as young as possible, where they are slightly easier to manage. Oh and don’t choose a pig because of it’s Stumpy tail, thinking it’s going to be the cute little runt…in our case it was the complete opposite!

In summary, our trio of pigs have been an absolute pleasure to raise and of course I am sad to see them go. I’m not completely heartless, I’ve loved those pigs and they certainly knew it. In fact they took advantage of that more often than not! Just so you know, when a 100kg pig jumps on your back when you bend down to scratch a belly of another, you know about it!

They have been fun, mischievous and they’ve taught me so much. Not just about pig-keeping, but about the whole process about raising animals to eat. I’d like to think I’ve given them a good life and in some ways a good death. Death is something that comes to every living thing and without getting too in depth about my experiences, I think what matters is making the most of the life you’ve been given. Being happy is key to that, because you never know what is round the corner. I think these guys have had a life a lot of pigs would dream of and every bacon sandwich I make from them, I will appreciate more than any meat I will ever purchase from the supermarket. To be grateful and humbled by the food you eat is not something that we tend to think about much as consumers, but this experience has certainly made me feel both.

With every ending there is a new beginning and this weekend we went to see the pigs that will be replacing our British Lops. We decided on a different rare breed called the Oxford Sandy and Black. It is a similar size and weight to the British Lop, still a lop eared breed, but their markings make them quite distinctive. The breeders were kind enough to let us visit and meet the piglet’s mother Florence and her eight piglets. She was a lovely pig and with this being her first litter, they said she has been an excellent mother. She was very calm and relaxed with us being there and even posed for a selfie with me, giving me a bit of a lick in the process!

We will be getting them in about three weeks and this time have opted for three gilts (pig speak for girls) instead of boars, to see if there is a difference in behaviour and to experience raising both genders. I can’t wait.

You may remember our first lot of chicks that hatched in the incubator. They are now outside and doing well. I am in the process of switching them from eating chick crumb, to grower pellets. We have been currently waiting on another batch of eggs in the incubator, which hatched a couple of days ago. Out of six eggs we had five hatch successfully and they seem to be doing well. They are a mix of Maran’s and Orpingtons, both quite large breeds of chicken. They all have slightly different markings to each other, which is great because at least this time we can tell them apart, as the last lot looked pretty identical! I am determined to handle these guys more and they seem slightly less terrified of me already.

When chickens are young they are still very vulnerable to their surroundings. Heat plays a huge part in this, too little or too much can cause problems. One chick in both batches of chicks I’ve hatched, has suffered from something called ‘pasting’. This is when their poop dries up before it’s passed properly and can clog up their cloaca (the opening in which they pass waste and also lay eggs, if they’re girls). Both of the chicks that experienced this were the youngest and last to hatch, so it could be a combination of being the ‘runt’ or that the dry heat from the heat lamp has affected them the most. Sometimes it’s caused by lack of drinking, despite having access to plenty of water, some chicks are a bit slower than most to learn they need to drink as well as eat! Pasting is very easy to manage if you are keeping a close eye on them, some warm water and cotton buds usually does the trick to clean them up. Last time it only lasted a couple of days before they started drinking properly and everything returned to normal. Other than that, they all seem to be happy little chicks!

The Devon County Show was this week and we decided to go and give it a visit. I have recently joined the Rare Breed Survival Trust, which does it’s bit to promote and advocate rare breeds. What with the rare breed British Lops, soon to be OSB’s and also our Silver Bantam ducks, it seemed logical to get involved with the society. I went to visit the RBST tent at the show, introduced myself and will be hopefully helping out on the stand at the Mid Devon Show in July, which is round the corner from where we live.

We had a great day, saw lots of animals I resisted the temptation to buy, and ate and bought lots of yummy local produce. It certainly has given me the prompt I needed to take my smallholding dreams and make them a reality. I have lots of ideas about breeding programmes and making produce to sell, but it’s mostly about having the time and the money to do it all. Slowly slowly catch a monkey as they say! There’s lots to learn and I have the time and space to do it, but it is a bit like this blog, the book I am writing and the gazillion and one other things I want to do. Less procrastination, more doing is my summertime plan!

But first, I need to get through the large amount of cheese we purchased!


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