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! 

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Famous Five Minutes

The last month or so has absolutely flown by and although I’ve been mega busy, I don’t have a lot to show for it! Although I did find an amazing reference book which has some useful and equally hilarious chapters!

Obviously aside from working hard, cooking and housekeeping, I have also spent some time seeing friends and family. I’ve been to Wales for a wedding, Liverpool for a hen do and Southampton for a general visit of friends. There have also been multiple visitors who have come to visit us here on the farm.

It’s great fun seeing their reactions to the remoteness, how beautiful it is (we’ve been lucky with the weather on most visits!) and how much our lives have changed. I feel very privileged to be here and the other half certainly works his butt off every day to ensure we remain here as long as we can.

I have continued to try and be adventurous where I can with my cooking, and it all seems to be going well. I even tried flambéing some beef the other day. I was initially terrified it was going to leave scorch marks on my bosses’ recently painted kitchen ceiling, I was relieved when the flames were slightly smaller than I had anticipated, but impressive nonetheless!

I have yet to make any produce yet in relation to my side-line business idea, but I have booked myself onto Food Safety course in a couple of weeks. I am hoping to confirm most of the knowledge I already hold, learn some new skills and get a certificate in the process, so that I am able to sell any produce I decide to make.

Aside from that, there have been some animal antics which have been keeping me busy. A few weeks ago, a beautiful stray cat appeared in the farmyard. It was a very thin, but very affectionate Bengal. An expensive stray, so we were convinced it belonged to someone. We began feeding it over the bank holiday weekend, as it was desperate for food, but the plan was to take it to get scanned at the vets for a microchip on the Tuesday. It turned out the cat had been stolen from Worcestershire and when the receiver/buyer of the cat in Tiverton found out the owner had contacted the police, he helpfully let the cat out and of course it ran off, completely disorientated in a foreign environment. Luckily it found our yard and as one of the guys that works there already ‘sponsors’ a stray farm cat, Lucy the Bengal (we later found out her name to be) obviously thought it was a safe place to stay! She was such a friendly cat, thin due to a rare kidney condition, so we were only happy to return her to her rightful owner, although a little bit sad to say goodbye.

My involvement with ‘Women Who Do’ continues, I recently wrote a guest article for their blog focused on the theme ‘Taking a Chance’ and I described my life as ‘Somewhere between Downton Abbey and the Good Life’ which I think is a fairly accurate reflection! If you would like to read the article and in the process check out how WWD are connecting and supporting business women in your local area, then please click here: www.womenwd.co.uk/single-post/2017/09/01/Somewhere-Between-Downton-Abbey-and-The-Good-Life

Lastly, the article I interviewed for in the Autumn issue of Practical Pigs magazine has been published. Despite being quite a niche audience, I got an incredible amount of support, not only from family and friends who rushed out to buy copies (you’re welcome Kelsey Publishing!), but from fellow members on social media forums, even strangers on Instagram who tagged me in their post, describing my journey as ‘inspiring’. Also, someone attending the house where I work, recognised me from reading the article as they had bought the magazine with a view of getting pigs.It made me all warm and fuzzy on the inside, thinking that I may have helped to encourage just one other person to raise their own animals for food, or even just to reassess their own food buying habits, and think twice about the journey their food has been on before throwing that packet of meat in the trolley.

Not a bad 6 page spread! 😉

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?!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bringing home the bacon, sort of

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.