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

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!

Three little pigs went to market

Today I took our second set of pigs to the abattoir. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write, but a lot has happened in the past year! 

Our first set of pigs went to the abattoir in May, but I couldn’t bring myself to go along as I imagined it would be far too emotional and traumatic for me. We never name our pigs and although I see them everyday, I tried to limit my time with them, so as to not get too attached. Despite this, these pigs still got a lot of attention, back and belly scratches, the odd bucket of apples, as well as a few pumpkins at Halloween. I loved those pigs.
 

This morning I got up early and it was pouring with rain. It was cold and dark and I felt apprehensive at best. I know the pigs have had a good life, better than most, but I just wanted to ensure they had a stress-free, humane and dignified death, as much as I possibly can. 

I had arranged to meet Steve, a long-standing member of the farm team on the estate, at the woodland just after 7am. He is experienced in all things farm related, including driving a trailer with live animals, so it made sense to ask him to help, rather than struggle by myself, plus having two people makes it a lot easier. It was lashing down with rain and still dark, so I headed up to the woodland in my waterproofs and my head torch. 

The pigs were already in the trailer, having happily been fed and slept in there voluntarily for the past few days. As soon as they saw me they got excited, mainly because they were expecting breakfast! Unfortunately I had to disappoint them, and instead I made a fuss of them in the trailer whilst Steve secured and locked them in. The back was filled with cosy straw and they have plenty of space to lounge around in there. They were most displeased when the bucket of food failed to make an appearance, so I quickly made my exit out of the side door, as being trapped in a trailer with 3 hungry pigs weighing approximately 85kg each is something you probably shouldn’t do for long!

All hitched up and secure we tried to drive away in the Landrover, but unfortunately due to an abundance of rain overnight, resulting in wet leaves and soggy ground, we weren’t going anywhere fast. The woodland that the pigs live in is on a slope, so every time we tried to move, we ended up sliding down, to the point where we got wedged against a tree.

Luckily, because it’s a farm we weren’t stuck for long, as Steve went to get the tractor to pull us out. With a bit of extra help from my other half, who drove the Landrover with the trailer attached, and Steve behind in the tractor making sure they all didn’t slide down the hill, the boys safely got the pigs out of the woodland and onto suitable ground. Not the best start to the day, but it could’ve been worse I suppose!


Before we set off, I checked on the pigs to make sure they were ok and not stressed out by their bumpy start. As I peered through the air vents they seemed pretty much unfazed by it all. They were snorting away, snuffling in the straw, no doubt checking that their bedding wasn’t hiding any stray food-pellets! So off we set, the journey took about an hour and all went smoothly, despite it being a very wet and windy morning.

As we drove into the farm where the abattoir is located, I was surprised to see a lovely detached house at the entrance and a couple more nice houses down the lane, one in fact right by the abattoir building itself. I assumed that the people who own and work at the abattoir live there, but it was odd to think that anyone would want to live that close to that sort of establishment. But at the same time, it was also quite comforting, as it made me think that it can’t be that bad an environment, if people are living on the doorstep.

We had to wait a few minutes in the yard, as there was already another person with their trailer backed up against the entrance, but soon enough we were reversing our trailer up to the doors. When I got out, I expected the place to smell of blood and meat (like a butchers sometimes does) but it didn’t, it was all quite normal and clean and the radio was playing in the background.


The main guy in charge came up and happily greeted us and helped encourage the girls out of their trailer. Noses to the ground, they were curious as to their new surroundings, but with some gentle coaxing, they made their way down to the holding pen without too much fuss. The guy even said that he much preferred pigs to sheep, which made me think we were his favourites so far that morning. After a quick exchange of paperwork, a brief chat about what cuts of meat we wanted back and some smalltalk with a couple of the other guys that worked there, we agreed that I would pick up all the meat at the same time in about a week. This is because bacon takes longer to process and cure, and is also the bit we missed out on last time (because those pigs were too small), so we wanted to make sure that bacon was on the list this time!

Mondays are a busy time for the abattoir as that is generally when people drop off their livestock. The last Monday in December is again probably busier than usual, with only a few weeks left before Christmas. The abattoir asks that you arrive before 09.30hrs, and even with our mishap we arrived a good 45 minutes before then. As we drove off, there was a queue of about 6 more vehicles all with trailers and livestock, so we certainly picked the right time to get there else we could’ve been waiting a while, so you definitely would want to get there early to avoid queues. 

And that was it. The process was fairly seamless and non-traumatic for both myself and the pigs. I had all the paperwork prepared beforehand, with everything now done online with the EAML2 system, which you use to notify the movement of your animals. I brought along a piece of paper with what cuts of meat I wanted, and the whole process probably took about 15 minutes, if that.

I tried not to think about the next stage too much, but I know from my research that it’s relatively quick and painless and just another part to the process of raising animals for food. 

I feel surprisingly ok. I don’t feel as bad as I did last time, although there is always a tinge of sadness, but I try not to dwell on that. I like to remember them in their woodland, never wanting for anything and being appreciated not only in life, but also in death. Feeding us and our family and friends, and feeling confident knowing exactly the process that’s been involved in their journey at every stage. Knowing where my food has come from, how it’s been treated, what it’s eaten, knowing it’s been happy and appreciating the sacrifice it’s given. Not a lot of people can say that and I’m proud of what we have achieved and hope we can continue to do the same in the future.

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!

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.