Springing forward

It has been another busy couple of months in Mid Devon, but today feels like the dark and cold of the seemingly endless winter, is slowly turning a corner. I did not wear my big coat out today, so spring must be here!

It has been a particularly wet and miserable winter. Everything is so much harder when it is just one big mud-rink of a sloppy mess. Even though on the cold days when the outside pipes are frozen, at least it means that the ground has momentarily hardened, making everything slightly less mucky, so you look forward to those days.

Usually the first signs of spring in the countryside are the daffodils sprouting up and the fields once again filled with sheep and new born lambs. Well the lambs came, as did the daffs, but the lambs were kept inside barns, whilst the daffodils wilted underneath the 4ft of snow we had. Then the snow melted, we were back to mud-fest and then the blooming snow returned again. It was hard-going!

Now even though I said I looked forward to the cold days (hard ground and maybe a bit of frost), snow days on the other hand are not something you look forward to when you have animals outside. You worry about their welfare, them getting enough food and water, and you worry about predators. The water which you re-fill, freezes instantly, so you have to continually top it up with warm water. Snow covers the grass and food containers, and the animals aren’t quite intelligent enough to know that their breakfast is hiding underneath all this weird cold white stuff. The chickens think anything over about 1 inch of snow is a completely impassable danger-zone, so rarely leave their coops. And then there’s the chore of actually getting water to the animals that aren’t in your back garden. The ones which are either an Antarctic trek away, or a very scary drive down roads which have definitely not seen a salt truck. Once you’re there, it’s up a very steep hill, no where near a working water source. It was a struggle to say the least, exhausting at times, but we got through it and have learnt some valuable lessons for next time!

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, we actually made it away on an actual holiday! We went to visit my brother and his family in Palma, Mallorca. It was lovely! We had just gone from -5 degrees Celsius and 5ft snow drifts to a rather pleasant 19 degree sunshine, shorts and t-shirt weather! Between our parents and very helpful neighbours/work colleagues, the animals were well looked after and it all went off without a hitch. We count ourselves very lucky that we were able to leave the farm for a week and that we have some very generous family and friends.

Talking of the animals, the pigs are doing really well. They are full of personality and are growing excellently. They love a back scratch and will try and use you as an unwitting scratch post if you aren’t paying attention. Which is fine when you’re not ankle deep in mud and quite easily destabilised by a determined pig with an itch! Also if you bend down anywhere near them they think it’s an offer for a piggy back ride! Cue trotter mud prints on the back of your coat. Always an awkward explanation when someone points out you’ve got a muddy back!

The ducks and chickens are also doing well, despite the cold snap, we’ve been receiving at least 2-3 eggs a day, so I must be doing something right! We did have a chicken patient in the house for a few days, after a particularly nasty case of the ‘squits’. But after a few baths, and a few days inside, we think she had just been having a hard time laying an egg (potentially her first as she was last spring’s hatch), which did eventually pop out and after a few final checks, she was reunited with the flock.

Our Silver bantam female duck has been giving us the run-around in terms of teasing us with being broody and then completely changing her mind. She laid a clutch of 19 eggs in the hedge, then rejected them all when I transferred them to a safe nest box. Sadly when she rejected them, the crows took advantage of the situation and ate them all. Slightly disheartening to say the least! She currently has another load of eggs in the broody box, but on a daily basis changes her mind whether she’s going to sit on them or not. I’m not holding out much hope if I’m honest! So as a contingency plan, I’ve gathered some of the other ducks’ eggs and placed them in the incubator. Lets hope they don’t all turn out to be boys!

It’s been lovely seeing the lambs out in the fields this week, it’s really made me excited for getting our own. The sheep in the photos are of a tenant farmer who had some sheep lamb inside and also some which have been lambing out in the field, it is really wonderful to watch!

We ourselves are planning on taking on a couple of orphan lambs for fattening in April. I have contacted a breeder of some rare Devon Closewool Sheep, who is lambing at the beginning of next month and will hopefully have some orphans going spare. Luckily for us, he said he keeps the girls for breeding and we are more than welcome to the boys. The reason I’m pleased with this arrangement is that this reduces the likelihood of me getting attached, as another un-productive mouth to feed is not in our best interests financially! We agreed that we can take on ‘productive’ animals, so these first lot of lambs will be for the freezer, but there are future plans to have a small rare breeding flock. But baby-steps first!

Amongst all of this we will be moving house within the estate next month, as well as hosting an open day in the gardens for the National Garden Scheme. So the pressure is on from all sides in terms of trying to be as organised and efficient as possible! Unsurprisingly this means blog updates will again be few and far between, but I hope to keep the Instagram and Tweets going where I can!

Wishing you all a fabulous Easter break and think of me working 18 days straight, in one of my many sideline jobs as a housekeeper & private chef! Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll still get time to stuff my face with Easter eggs! #berudenotto

Advertisements

New Pigs and Old Enemies

A very belated Happy New Year to everyone. Christmas 2017 was hectic but good fun. It marked my first one as a Mid-Devon resident.

It also was the first time I cooked Christmas dinner for over 20 people in my new job. I think it was a success! I then had a week of organisation and tidying of my own house, as well as visiting friends and family around the country, before having the parentals over to stay for actual Christmas. Christmas Eve was slightly overshadowed by the glass of our wood burner cracking and falling out. Obviously being a Sunday and Christmas Eve, nowhere was open. So we persevered and heated the house with an open fire, not ideal considering the flue is the wrong shape, so most of the smoke did not escape up the chimney. Cue a collection of sore throats and stinging eyes, not the ideal way to spend the festive season. Despite that, we did have a lovely time, filled with lots of lovely food, good company and far too many presents.

The food was particularly a hit, mainly because of the pork, including sausages and bacon all from our very own rare breed Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. I know I am biased, but the flavour of our hand reared meat was second to none. Making your own ‘pigs in blankets’ for Christmas dinner was certainly an achievement, which we remain very proud of. Also, lots of people received bacon and sausages as Christmas presents from us, which although unusual, I think were received well.

One present that I received, I have to mention, mainly because it involves a future addition to the menagerie. The other half has agreed that at some point this year I can take on an orphan lamb (or two) for fattening. Eeek! It will involve bottle feeding 4 times a day in the beginning, but the cuteness will certainly take over the inconvenience. I’ve asked if it can move into the house temporarily, but this has been met with a firm ‘no’, so it will probably end up in a barn and then out to graze perhaps with our friendly neighbours’ pygmy goats. So watch this space!

The first week of 2018, unfortunately brought us some sadness. Our beloved rare breed Silver Bantam drake, whom we affectionately named ‘Yoda’ due to his beautiful green head, was taken by a fox. This happened in the middle of the day. We had him about 4 years, he was our only unrelated male and life-partner to Princess Layer, our white Silver Bantam female, so we were all devastated.

A few days later, 4 of our chickens also disappeared in the middle of the day. There were so many feathers left behind we were almost sure they’d also all been taken by the fox. I spent a good hour searching nearby fields and although I did find lots of chicken footprints in the mud, alas no chickens were to be found. One of the missing was my favourite cockerel Bow, a massive Cuckoo Maran, but his feathers were the most left behind. I feared the worst and assumed he died trying to protect his girls.

The next morning I was getting ready and I heard my bantam cockerel Rocky conducting his morning crow, and I thought to myself that I am going to miss him and Bow’s duet. Every morning they would have some sort of X-factor battle, trying to out-crow one another. Bow’s crow being much louder and erratic than Rocky’s, almost comical. As if by magic, I then heard Bow’s distinctive crow in the distance! I genuinely thought I was hearing things, but I threw on my coat and wellies and went off to follow his call.

I found him in a neighbouring farm’s barn, proudly stood on a stone wall, crowing in all his magnificent glory. By some miracle, despite losing an awful lot of feathers, he seemed unscathed and only had a couple of scratches on his comb. I think he was happy to see me and calmly let me scoop him up and I reunited him with the rest of the flock. About half and hour later, we then got a phone call from the person who owns the nearby barn, who said she had spotted another very cold looking chicken perched by her car this morning. I went to where she described and sure enough, there was one of our missing Gold Laced Orpingtons, shivering on the floor by the parked cars. Unfortunately she seemed a bit more shaken up than Bow and was not as pleased to see me. After about half an hour of trying to guide/chase her back to our garden, I resorted to using a fishing net to catch her. Whilst carrying her back, I distinctly heard another cluck from a nearby field. Sure enough, missing chicken number 3, one of our buff rock bantam girls, was also in the hedge of the nearby field. Another half an hour of crazy chicken catching, and I had recovered 3 out of the 4 missing chickens! I was so happy! They were clearly chased and dispersed by our familiar old enemy, and I imagine that the remaining missing Black Maran, was not quite fast enough to escape Fantastic Mr Fox.

The next few days we kept the entire flock (now reduced to 18) inside their enclosure, whilst we came up with a plan of action. We considered electric fencing, but it is expensive, not completely fox proof (nothing is!) and also would not only electrify the foxes, but also the chickens, ducks and our inquisitive dogs. Woody our lab cross is already petrified of the pig fence (after being shocked a couple of times) and won’t go anywhere near the woodland, I don’t want him scared of going into his own back garden. Luckily (or unluckily) a few nights later, Mr Fox did return, for the last time. Whether that fox was the fox that killed our chicken and duck, we won’t ever know, but what we do know is that there is more than one fox out there, but there is now one less. I appreciate that we are living in the foxes territory, I appreciate that they need to eat. But there are so many pheasants, rabbits and other rodents to feed them in their natural environment, they do not need to take our livestock. It is an emotive issue so I won’t say anymore on the subject.

Finishing on a lighter note, the New Year brought us new pigs. Three Large Black weaners. These rare breed native pigs are rarer than the Siberian Tiger, with less than 200 breeding sows in this country. They are often referred to as the Cornish Black, as the breed’s origins are from Devon and Cornwall. They are also referred to as the ‘elephant pig’ because new born piglets resemble tiny elephants because of their large ears and straight tails. Their hair is unusually fine, soft and silky in comparison to other breeds of pig.

We have wanted this breed ever since we decided we wanted to keep pigs, but we found it difficult to obtain the pigs locally. We still had to travel over an hour to get these ones, but I’m sure you’ll agree they’re absolutly worth it. We have had them about a week and they have settled in nicely and are getting used to the electric fence, but they are loving snuffling around in the undergrowth and are already fans of belly scratches. I have spent most of the last week in bed with the flu, so I am looking forward to getting better and spending a bit more time with my baby elephants…I mean pigs!

Waste not, want not 

It’s been a tough few months out here in rural Devon. Several things have happened that haven’t been the greatest. I haven’t wanted to write about it, but I think it’s important to share the failures as well as the successes, because that is life and my blog was always about sharing our journey, warts and all.

We’re currently on our second set of pigs that we’re raising for meat. The first trio of British Lops that we hand reared was a great achievement and certainly the meat that they produced was highly regarded and every time we ate some, we felt humbled. We slaughtered them at the end of May and by October, we had probably eaten about half of the meat we got back. 


Our 3 British Lops & a freezer worth of home grown, free range pork.


The meat was kept in a large chest freezer in a garage at the farmyard, our place of work. Work men had been coming and going for months due to building works. During the second week of October my aunt came to stay. I like to cook our rare breed pork for visitors, so as usual, I made a trip to the freezer to get out a nice bit of pork belly. I was devastated to discover that all the meat was defrosted and swimming in a bloody liquid. All of it was ruined. It had been a couple of weeks since I’d last been to the freezer and everything was fine then. The meat was room temperature when I found it, meaning it could’ve happened anywhere between 2 weeks and at least 5 days previous. 

It turned out somebody had physically unplugged the freezer. I asked around but everyone denied knowledge, not that finding out who it was would’ve helped. The meat was irreplaceable. I doubt whoever unplugged it realised what they’d done (the freezer is one end of a triple cluttered garage & extension lead goes to plug socket at other end), but somehow that makes it worse. If it had been a power-cut or faulty switch, I think I would’ve coped better than thinking it was pure ignorant negligence that meant I had to bag up and bin months of hard work. We put blood, sweat and tears into raising those pigs, they even made fame in a magazine! Yet here I was trying not to gag on the smell of rotten meat and trying not to cry at the same time. It’s safe to say we’ll be investing in some socket locks next time!

The sadness of the week continued when one of our ducks escaped (not unusual) but somehow managed to get out onto the road and got run over and killed by a tractor. We didn’t know at first, as she just didn’t come home for bedtime (this was unusual), so we spent nearly 2 hours trying to find her in the dark and rain. It was only the next morning when I walked the dogs down the road, did I come across part of her remains. She was this years duckling hatch, so only a few months old. Again, seemed such a waste. For days after, our breeding pair (her parents) and her brother Luke, went out into the field looking for her. Her brother seemed lost, as they were inseparable, and it was so sad to watch.

Luckily our loner duck Rae (last years hatch but likes to do her own thing) took him under her wing (pun intended) and began socialising with him, and now they are often seen together. This makes me happy as Luke was clearly unsettled by his sisters sudden departure, but sweet that he’s now found a new buddy in Rae to hang with.


Lastly, we had to kill three of our five cockerels. This in itself was inevitable, and something that we had planned to do. These three males were Bantam birds, part of the first incubator hatch I carried out earlier in the year. Four out of six eggs hatched, and three out of four chicks were cockerels. Unlucky for my first time! We already had an existing Bantam cockerel Rocky, plus later hatched a Cuckoo Maran cockerel in the following incubator hatch. My plan was always to raise them and then eat them. There was never going to be a lot of meat on them, as they’re not table birds, but they’d be ok in a stew or for soup. 

I’d previously butchered and cooked a pheasant, so I was confidant I could do these chickens. The plan was for my partner to humanely ‘despatch’ (kill) them in the morning and then I’d pluck, prepare and butcher them myself. I had instructions in book form and also access to several YouTube videos. What could go wrong?!

The first part went smoothly. We have a derelict outbuilding where we could kill them out of sight of the other birds. But plucking them would be an issue due to lack of room and the fact that once they’d been let out, our other birds would be straight over being all nosy and it could potentially distress them.


My partner had made a wooden frame a few months back to hang a heat lamp from, so I utilised this in our kitchen, to tie the birds to for plucking. I covered the kitchen floor in bin bags and got to work. It wasn’t too difficult once you got into the swing of it, but it took me a while to get confident. By the third bird it was quicker and seemed easier. 


Just to keep me on my toes, during plucking, I heard the postman pull up outside. To prevent him from thinking I’m some sort of weirdo with a kitchen set-up like something out of an episode of Dexter, I quickly rushed outside to intercept the mail before he got to the front door. On returning back to the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of my hair in the window, which was actually covered in feathers. Oops! Didn’t quite pull it off after all!


After plucking, comes the slightly gross bit of butchering & removing the birds innards. As I said before, I’d done it with a pheasant and it seemed pretty straight forward. Well, chickens are different and I struggled big time. Not with finding the idea of butchering difficult, but the physical removal of everything, without nicking any of the vital organs, I found near impossible. I tried for an hour. I called my partner and even he, who has gralloched many deer, also struggled and we ended up accidentally cutting the gall bladder, spoiling the bird.

So after four hours of hard work, I had to admit defeat and threw away the birds instead of putting them to good use. I felt deflated, disappointed and defeated. But saying that, at least a tried. I can put it down to a learning experience. I can’t be good at everything right?! But it has made me more determined to learn how to do it properly, so that I would feel more confident next time.

So that’s a summary of my last month or so, certainly more downs than I had hoped for, but it’s all part of the process I guess. We have a busy winter coming up, lots to harvest and produce to make, so plenty to keep me busy and out of trouble.

Smallholding life is amazing, but sometimes it’s tough. But I guess if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it right? Despite the testing month, I’m still confidant this is the life for me and I’m looking forward to the next lot of Pigs going to slaughter, so that my empty freezer can be filled for winter! 

Fruits of my labour

Once again it has been a while since I've posted, so apologies for lack of updates.

Some of you may know that I've recently started a new job as a part-time housekeeper for a family of 6, which mainly includes being their personal cook.

Due to the summer holidays, the past three weeks have been full on, what with a house move thrown into the mix too, but I have absolutely loved every minute. I've been able to try out a variety different dishes, preparing large meals for up to 15 guests (including a celebrity) and all has been a great success. To be asked where I professionally trained (ummm I haven't, does Google count?!) is a huge honour and I feel very lucky to be given this opportunity.

I have also joined a team of online bloggers and working alongside a kick ass business called 'Women Who Do', putting together our reviews of recipes for people with busy lives who don't want to compromise their mealtimes. Because hey, we all love good food even if we only have 30 minutes to prepare it! So every week we are given a recipe to try out and we rate it based on ease & flavour. I skipped weeks 2 & 3 due to working ridiculously long hours those weeks, but will hopefully be featuring in this weeks video. Please check us out at http://www.womenwd.co.uk or via several other social media outlets 👍🏼

Aside from all the cooking, the animals have been growing in size (luckily not in numbers) and we decided it was time to sell off some of the birds so our back garden is a bit more grass and a bit less feathers (and poop!). At our peak we housed around 30 birds (a combination of ducks & chickens) but we are down to a more modest 20, with three more due to go in the next few weeks. It's been a great experience helping to raise the chicks and ducklings, but as we head into autumn (it's not far away!), it's sensible to get the numbers under a more manageable level.

The pigs are also doing well and loving woodland life. They have almost doubled in size and are certainly a far cry from the timid and shy weaners we bought two months ago. They're full of energy and absolutely love it when I get the camera out for a selfie!

The little tinkers have also decided that despite their water trough being perfectly fine for the first two months, and also fine for the previous lot of pigs, that one of the little divas (or all three) decided it would be far better to empty it out (big heavy rock and all) and use it as a pillow in their pig ark! Funny little pigs! Hopefully it was a one off moment of naughtiness, else we will have to come up with a more robust way of providing water for them!

I now have two weeks off, which should be filled with book reading and naps, but instead I will be putting together the beginnings of a business plan, utilising the kitchen garden of the estate and making products good enough that people might want to buy them. No rest for the wicked eh?! Watch this space!

Bake offs and Show offs

So far, unemployment has suited me very well. Apart from having no money (who needs that anyway right?!) I have spent the last few weeks since leaving my job with Lidl, mainly cooking. Researching meals, planning menus and preparing lunches, dinners and desserts. I’ve never been busier. It actually takes a lot more time than you think, especially when you’re not used to making everything from scratch. It has been fun though and I have I been trying out lots of different dishes. My other half has been loving life! This is not all for his benefit though, this is all for my new job.

The estate my other half works on as Head Gardener was looking for a new Housekeeper around the time I handed in my notice. Pretty good timing right? I always believe in seizing opportunities when they arise, so I put myself forward and was really pleased when I got offered the job. One of my main duties as housekeeper will be cooking for a family of six, in a lovely newly refurbished manor house. I can’t wait. I just hope my cooking is up to the challenge, bearing in mind one of them used to be a food critic! I have high expectations to meet, but I can only get better I guess.

Other than that, the animals have been keeping me busy and I got the opportunity to show off my rare breed Silver Appleyard ducklings at the Mid Devon Show yesterday. I recently became a member of the Rare Breed Survival Trust and offered to help out at their stand during the day. As part of the stand they like to showcase some rare breeds, so I offered up my ducklings as they are always a hit with people, especially children.


In addition to helping the charity out, I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to meet people, network and gain knowledge from people who keep and raise rare breeds, something that we are looking to go into in the near future.

The day before the show, in true British Summer style, it rained really heavily, which left the ground incredibly soft and wet. In no time at all, it was churned up into a complete mud bath. Luckily we recently acquired a 4×4 so it was perfect to transport the ducklings and myself to the show safely. However, I’d never really driven a 4×4 before, let alone used the four wheel drive whatsit, so like many others ended up stuck in the mud and ended up getting winched out by a tractor. Despite being slightly stressful, it was actually quite fun!


The ducklings loved the attention they got during the show and everyone who came to the stand was completely taken by them. I got asked lots of questions and people had a genuine interest, not only for the cute ducklings but also rare breeds. I met lots of lovely people and made some excellent contacts, from business networking to potential future customers! The stand also won second prize, so a great day all round. I even got to sample some local cider and cheese, so I was a happy girl indeed. Roll on next year when I think we will try our hand at entering into the poultry show! 


 

Farm dramas

I have just realised that it has actually been over four weeks since my last blog post, so apologies for the radio silence. Lots has happened, including quitting my job and currently being unemployed. Fear not though, there are plans afoot and I am in the process of being offered another job, with some side-line perks.

Our Oxford Sandy and Black weaners are now fully settled into the woodland and are loving life amongst the brambles. They were a bit more hesitant around us to begin with compared to the Lops, but they have certainly become a lot more comfortable in human company and currently enjoy a good ear scratch and back rub whilst eating their breakfast. Spoilt much?!

osb2

osb1

osb3

We have also experienced our first pig escape. I was at work, so I missed all the fun/anarchy, but it just goes to show you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to ensuring the electric fence is indeed electrified. No harm was done, to the two pigs that escaped or the surrounding gardens, and I’m pretty sure they thoroughly enjoyed their little outing. One of the pigs didn’t actually escape and was visibly upset that she was left behind and missed out on the others’ adventures. Let’s hope she doesn’t initiate another break-out to see what all the fuss was about.

We recently decided to make our own sausages, out of the meat that we got back from our first lot of pigs. We bought all the materials and machine, and spent a warm summers evening sausage making. For future reference, don’t pick one of the hottest evenings of the year to make sausages, it’s hard work and we had to keep refrigerating the meat to ensure it didn’t get too warm.

When making the mince for the sausages you need 1/3 of fatty meat (such as pork belly) and 2/3 of lean meat (such as shoulder or leg). As our meat came straight from the butcher/abattoir, it wasn’t all neatly packaged and diced, ready for the mincer. We had to spend a considerable amount of time de-boning it and removing any excess fat or skin. The meat does not look anything like our pigs, but whilst trimming away unwanted bits, my other half came across one of the pig’s nipples, still attached to the bit of pork belly. Although sometimes it is good to distance yourself from what the meat once was (for emotional purposes) this was a stark reminder that our pigs gave their lives to feed us, so it was a sobering but welcome part of the process. Also, no-one wants a pig’s nipple in their banger (as it were), so we happily removed it, only quality bits of meat in our sausages!

sausmak1sausmak2sausmak3sausagesfinal

The whole process from meat preparation, to mincing, to actually filling the sausages took about 4 hours. 4 hours for 24 sausages is not a hugely economic way of making food, but it was our first time and next time we’ll be a whole lot quicker. We will probably prep at least twice the amount of meat in advance, so that the actual sausage making part is a lot slicker. It was good fun though (apart from all the stressful bits) and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of giving it a go. Gone are the days of sausages being filled with ‘lips and arsehole’ but good quality home-bred pork sausages are certainly something you can not beat.

Our first lot of Silver Bantam ducklings are almost a month old now and partially feathered. They are growing in confidence and under the watchful eye of their mum, doing really well.

silvapp

We also have a second lot of ducklings, now about two weeks old, and they are still yellow and fluffy. Their arrival was somewhat dramatic (once again they arrived slightly earlier than expected), meaning that we had to set up an intensive care unit in the house. Cagney, our Miniature Silver Appleyard, was sitting on a nest of nine eggs. Six successfully hatched and when my other half went in to remove some of the partially hatched/dead eggs, as he went to throw them in the bin, one of the eggs started peeping! Slower hatched eggs usually mean they are the ‘runt’ and in the wild, survival of the fittest would mean they would probably not make it. Feeling confident though, my other half returned the egg to the nest in hope that it would hatch under the safety of mum. After a few hours, he returned to find the chick hatched, but it had been rejected by mumma duck. Fearing that it would die not being brooded (kept warm) by its mum, he rushed it indoors and placed it in one of our existing chick brooder boxes, under a heat lamp. It looked very weak and we were not entirely sure it would make it.

duckling1

Fast forward 24hrs and it was fluffed up, peeping and stumbling/running all over the place. Success! We gave it another night in the incubator for extra strength and then my other half stealthily snuck it in under mum during the night, and she was none the wiser when she woke up the next morning with seven ducklings, instead of six. We aptly named this duckling ‘Seven of Nine’ (only Star Trek fans will get the reference) and although slightly smaller than the others, it is doing really well (always the one sticking close to mum) but you would never tell it had such a traumatic start in the world. Duck heroes do exist and I luckily have one living with me.
duckling2IMG_7178IMG_7177

Other than that, life on the farm is as busy as ever, we have had several visitors and it is always nice to share with others, the lifestyle we have quickly become accustomed to. I can’t imagine exchanging this back for city life and I thank my lucky stars everyday that we have been given the opportunity to get stuck in with rural countryside living.

view

Which of course includes saving the occasional lamb from finding weird and wonderful ways in which to kill themselves. This one was lucky that on a hot summers day we were walking past, having just fed our pigs. Silly thing had gotten it’s head stuck in a fence and had been completely abandoned by the rest of the flock.

sheep1

A bit of elbow grease, as well as kneeling in a lot of sheep shit, and this little guy was free to trot on it’s merry way to join the rest of the woolly suicide clouds.

sheep2sheep2.5

Honestly, sheep are a nightmare to manage and are constantly getting themselves into mischief, often finding new ways to die on a daily basis. Which probably means it will no doubt be the next animal we end up getting….. #watchthisspace

 

 

New arrivals

We have new pigs! On Thursday, we went to pick up our new weaners; three Oxford Sandy and Black gilts (girls). It’s been a weird few weeks without pigs. Part of me has enjoyed the fact that there is one less set of animals to look after, and it’s given me an extra 20 minutes in bed every morning. I have missed them though.
Oxford Sandy and Blacks are another rare breed pig and we decided to go for three girls this time, to see if there was any difference in temperament. They were a bit wary of us to begin with, but that is natural and we are giant predators to them whilst they are so small. The more time we spend with them, the more they will feel relaxed around us. They are ridiculously cute. 



I had some friends up for the weekend and it was nice to have some female company and catch up with my besties. Where we live is quite rural and I haven’t had the time to make any friends locally. Although there are people at work I get on with, it’s not the same as having your best friends round for a cuppa/glass of wine. 


Although we have eaten some of our own sausages and pork chops from our British Lops, I hadn’t cooked anything fancy with the meat. So last night, whilst consuming copious amounts of prosecco, I cooked some pork belly for the girls. I used a recipe from the River Cottage Handbook No.14; Pigs and Pork by Gill Meller. Gill is a chef at River Cottage, but also writes and promotes rare breeds, buying high welfare pork and raising your own. It went down a treat.


I am currently reading the above book, which not only comtains recipes, it also talks about pork, the associated farming industry and hints and tips about pig keeping. At the beginning of the book there is a very stark description of a life of a pig in an intensive farming environment. When I read it, I cried. It just really struck a cord with me, having just experienced raising pigs in a smallholder environment and us ensuring the highest possible welfare. Not all pigs are afforded this luxury. The more I read about what happens in intensive farming, the more passionate I become about what I’m doing. Not only with my pigs, but plans for the future and becoming more self-sufficient. Below are a few quotes taken from the book, which contains detailed descriptions of what pigs go through during intensive farming, and I have only highlighted a small amount of the ‘discomfort and psychological stress’ these pigs experience. If you are interested, please give it a read, I would highly recommend expanding your knowledge of this if you are a meat eater.

“We kill around 10 million pigs a year in Britain, 70% of which have been intensively farmed. That’s bad enough, but only 30% of the pork we eat in this country actually comes from British pigs. The rest is imported – from countries where welfare standards, in many cases, are so low they would be illegal in Britain……a breeding sow within this system spends her life confined on concrete, pregnant and unable to move naturally….her piglets are forcibly removed before their immune systems have developed….a short but torturous life of frustration, antibiotics and aggression ensues. Intensive pig farming has been shown to affect our health….drug resistant bacteria & hyper-viral pathogens pass from pig farms directly to us via pollution of the water course the spreading of slurry on fields and the crops we eat, even through the air we breathe.”

This is pretty terrifying stuff. But Gill ensures the reader that if us as consumers reject low quality, budget meat and only choose high welfare pork and other meats, farmers will be forced to improve their farming methods. It has certainly made me think twice, and I now try my hardest to avoid supermarket meat. But if I genuinely can’t, I don’t begrudge paying that little bit extra and buying organic or free-range products. I can then sleep well at night, knowing I’ve contributed to making the world of food production a better place, not just meat, but all food produce. 

Sorry for the rant, but if this blog helps my friends, family and other followers think more about the food they eat, I feel I’ve achieved something. It is important to spread the word and talk about this, rather than trying not to think about where your meat comes from, and what sort of life it’s had. Part of my grand plan of becoming a smallholder is raising awareness. I think we all have a responsibility to do this. This blog helps, but it’s reach is limited. So, I have got in contact with an editor of a magazine called ‘Practical Pigs’ (it too also has a limited audience!) but it is one step closer to getting the message out there. I can’t say too much at this stage, but watch this space!


Anyway, enough about pigs. In other news, my Silver bantam duck hatched five healthy, fluffy yellow ducklings a couple of days ago. Like the pigs, they too are massive time-wasters. All weekend myself, my partner and friends have spent time ogling at how cute they are. They don’t stay small for long, so it is important to waste as much time as possible with them. It certainly has a de-stressing effect on me, so why the hell not. One of our other ducks, a Miniature Silver Appleyard, is also sitting on a nest of eggs, due in a couple of weeks, so I have that to look forward to as well.


Lastly, our foster chicken Andi, returned after an absence of about three weeks. I had resigned myself to the fact that she had been eaten by a fox. Not only because that is a high possibility in the countryside, but because I found a dead chicken outside of our local foxhole recently. I had to do a double take, as I had a sinking feeling that it was one of our chickens. It wasn’t, but it was obviously someone else’s chicken. We don’t have any nearby neighbours that keep chickens, the nearest would be over a mile away. Clearly not far for a hungry fox. Despite the fact there are an abundance of pheasants to satisfy their appetite, I guess the lure of chickens is far too much for them to resist.


I have very conflicting feelings about this issue. On the one hand, I do not want a fox to kill my beloved birds and would happily let my other half dispatch him if it came close to doing so. This is unlike me. If the fox crept in at night and stealthily took one chicken to share with its fox family for dinner, I could get over that. What I can’t accept, is the fact that they will kill every single one of my birds given half the chance and then only take one away with them. This upsets me. But I also accept that it is part of nature, and part of living in the countryside. Survival of the fittest at its best. We are living in the fox’s natural environment. Building houses, keeping fowl and unwittingly taunting the fox into being inquisitive enough to see what all that squawking and quacking is all about. It is instinctive behaviour, it is only doing what it was born to do. That doesn’t mean I must like or accept it. Hence the conflicting feelings of hate, but begrudging acceptance, that one day, a fox will inevitably kill one or all my flock. It is unfortunately a risk we take, despite the fact we do all we can to prevent it from happening with several safety measures in place. I’ve yet to see a fox out here, but my other half saw one in a field, in broad daylight. The time when my flock free ranges in our garden. As I said, it is an inevitable consequence of keeping chickens and ducks, but I hope for Mr Fox’s sake, he doesn’t try and do it when my other half is at home!

To end on a happy note, the hedgehogs that were washed up in the storm from my last blog post, did come back to visit us. I managed to capture one eating the dog food I left out. The video is on my Instagram page @andthentherewerepigs but here is a screen shot of the spikey little snuffler. Spring watch, eat your heart out.