Sumer Is Icumen In

beltane_dawn2018

Finally, after what has been pretty much universally acknowledged as a thoroughly miserable winter followed by an atrocious spring 2018, a glorious Beltane sunrise appears to have heralded-in a spot of decent weather.

And no sooner has the sun popped-out but the entire place has taken on a rather tropical look; with hedges, lawns, paddocks and the wood beside us all suddenly exploding into life. It’s amazing how nature tends to pick up the slack and get itself back on track when it needs to; however, one suspects that this gorgeously warm spell will also result in more than few aching backs and corresponding long soaks in Epsom salt-laden baths.

And so, in the space of no more than a few days, we move from packing the pigs with additional bedding straw to refilling their wallows several times a day and offering cooling hose-downs on a regular basis. As always though, the Tamworths are taking it all in their stride and seem to be entirely happy with the Mediterranean conditions that we’re all currently being treated to. They really are remarkable creatures.

veggies_05may18

Not so remarkable is our ability to cope with a little hard graft. Now that the rain has stopped and the paddock has dried-out, we’ve been going like the clappers to make up for time hitherto lost to foul weather.

This has involved a rapid re-digging of our vegetable plots before planting several hundred onions & garlic sets, a similar amount of potatoes, beans, peas and other sundry legumes, which will hopefully get us back on track as far as our veggie growing’s concerned.

The raised beds are now in their third season and, with last autumn’s application of several tons of well-rotted cow dung, the soil within them is now really rather spectacular. Here’s hoping that we’re in for a bumper harvest as compensation for such a stinker of a start to our year!

And finally for now, and ostensibly as a post-script to the previous posting, you’ll no doubt be delighted to learn that work on the polytunnel goes on a pace. Through heartless press-ganging of unsuspecting houseguests into the thankless task of digging post-holes in ground heaving with granite lumps of various sizes, we’re finally at a stage where the (extremely well-anchored) frame can start to go up.

At this rate we’ll have it fully functional just as I start to draw my pension.

Surely some mistake? No rain!?

pigs_23apr17

What we’re seeing here is sunshine on ginger pigs. I mention this, as here on Dartmoor it rather feels like we haven’t seen the sun in several years – not least the pigs, who really only experienced this sensation for the first time earlier in the week.

Given that the poor little blighters have had to endure some truly grim conditions since they landed at Greedy Pig HQ, it’s a minor miracle that they’re even here to tell to tale, let alone piling on the weight and generally thriving. Nevertheless, thriving they are, which is testament to the hardiness of the Tamworth breed and the main reason why it’s unlikely we’ll be moving on to other flavours of pig… we’re confirmed ginger addicts.

So, several weeks later than intended, we’re finally at a point where we can turn over the veg-beds and get ready for planting-out. The paddock mower has put in it’s first appearance of the year and next week we’ll be welcoming long-time chums Pammy & Jonny for a weekend in the country, having first extorted promises from them of assistance in finally putting up the polytunnel. Exciting times!

Still waiting for spring to arrive…

pigs_07apr18

OK, the snow is (hopefully) a thing of the past; however, we’re still in the middle of a rainy season of near-biblical proportions and it’s starting to become a little tiresome now.

March saw Devonshire gaining the dubious distinction of being the wettest place in Britain, with double the average monthly rainfall for the time of year depositing itself on the county (the majority seemingly landing right here) and sadly it doesn’t look like the foul weather is letting-up as we move into April.

Despite our concerns during the coldest spells the weaners have sailed through the whole thing with flying colours, braving the snow with complete abandon and facing-up to the following deluge like real troopers. Likewise, the rescue hens seem to be entirely happy to wander about in the rain, clucking, scratching and grubbing for worms like it was the middle of summer – this, despite the fact that nearly all of them are missing a fair few feathers and looking more than a little bedraggled.

On the laying front we’re currently inundated, with an average of seven or eight eggs a day appearing in nesting boxes. Last week saw a haul of ten eggs in a single day, which means that not only are our new arrivals in full swing but the pensioners (whom we had presumed to be beyond their laying days) are back in production too, so we’re currently knocking out cakes, lemon curd and other sundry egg-based fancies like there’s no tomorrow. Also, anyone foolish enough to come near the house leaves with the gift of egg… whether they like it or not.

eggs_06apr18

Sadly, this joyful fecundity does not extend to the entire household. With the weather having set itself firmly against us we’re now several weeks late in getting onions, garlic and potatoes into veg-beds, whilst we’ve had to hold back on the usual ritual of filling every windowsill in the house with trays of sundry seedlings, simply because the soil is still so cold and boggy.

To make matters worse, the chitting potatoes that have been stored in the workshop have clearly succumbed to the unseasonal winter blast and well over half have gone rotten, so we’re going to have to start again, assuming stocks are still to be had. The hedgerows have yet to really burst into any semblance of spring colour and the ramsoms on the drive (much sought-after for fresh pesto, bear garlic lasagne and other drool-inducing loveliness) are only just getting to a point where they can be harvested – almost a month behind last year’s crop.

All in all it has been a long and unpleasant winter, with spring showing very little sign of picking up the slack just yet. One can only hope that at some point soon the Dartmoor weather gods will decide to show their benevolence and redress the meteorological balance with a spell of sunshine and blue skies.

In fact, I’m off to build a wicker man to speed the process along…

Just when you think it’s all plain sailing…

snow_18mar18

Things all went a little bit bonkers at the weekend, with at least six inches of snow arriving from nowhere and dumping itself onto the paddock. As always, the timing of this one was entirely terrible – primarily as the pigs are still only nine week old tiny-tots and therefore far from being fully geared-up for adverse weather conditions.

Additionally, this unscheduled winter wonderland arrived at precisely the same time we took delivery of another half-dozen rescue hens, all of whom are now of the firm opinion that they’ve gone directly from the frying pan to the fire.

Proof, yet again, that the Dartmoor weather gods are fickle gods.

So, the poultry which we were hoping to segregate evenly across the capacious Chickenopolis estate for a few days have instead spent the last 48 hours on lock-down in the chicken run, so one can only imagine that it has been like a feathery version of ‘Bad Girls’ in there. Luckily though, there are no obviously major casualties about the place, despite there being a fair haul of feathers strewn about the place right now.

Going back to the piglets, they’re basically living in an igloo at the bottom of the garden but nevertheless, and despite some really major misgivings about how well they would hold-up to such inclement weather, when last checked they were all merrily buried in three-foot-deep barley straw at the centre of what turns out to be a surprisingly warm & cosy ark. At breakfast feed time this morning I was more than a little tempted to crawl-in and grab forty winks myself!

In conclusion then, Monday morning is finally here and the amber weather warning is a thing of the past, the icicles outside my office window are slowly starting to thaw and the sun is shining once again. Obviously, the next thing we can look forward to is the inevitable tsunami of mud that this alpine adventure will leave us to deal with… although, on balance, when compared to the recent snow & ice I know which I’d rather be dealing with.

We’re back in business!

batch2_15mar18

Last Sunday saw the day starting with the trusty charabanger taking to the mean streets of Devonshire on a mission to scoop-up another batch of weaners.

Predictably, what began as a sunny, blue-skied day quickly deteriorated into the misty, rain-filled ghastliness which has become the norm this winter; however, regardless of the foul weather, by mid-morning we were officially back in the pig business!

As you can see, the lure of the ginger pig was too strong to resist and so, after months of debating whether to go for Mangalitsas, Oxford Sandy & Blacks, Large Blacks or Gloucester Old Spots, we finally opted for a repeat performance of our first batch at Yarner Lodge,  with three rather tiny, rather gorgeous Tamworth piglets tumbling out of the back of the trailer and into the paddock.

As you can see from the photo above, the girls are still a little ‘stand-offish’ and this hasn’t been helped by the atrocious weather that we’ve been enduring this week – the seemingly constant rain and icy blasts of wind have rather restricted our new arrivals to barracks. Nonetheless, they’re happy enough – eating plenty, drinking plenty, crapping plenty and, when the weather allows, already getting down to the important work of ploughing-up everything in their way.

The ark is rammed to the rafters with bedding straw, so hopefully our latest arrivals will be happy to hunker-down and sleep through the cold snap that is forecast to arrive over the weekend. Once we’ve got through that one, we have our fingers crossed that this rather unpleasantly soggy winter will finally clear off and make way for some form of half-decent springtime. Roll on Easter and spud-planting!

Hang on. With you shortly…

pigpen_feb18

So the idea was to have fresh stock in the paddock by now, with yet more ginger pigs scheduled to arrive via the trusty charabanger over this past weekend. However, it seems that there has been a bit of a mix-up with dates, meaning that our weaners are still only about six weeks old and so, apart from the fact that they could do with staying with mum for a while longer whilst they really get to grips with the concept of becoming fully independent, it’s highly likely that the poor little mites would struggle to survive the current ‘Beast from the East’ weather which we’re experiencing. At this stage, the received wisdom is to keep piglets housed in around twenty-eight degrees of heat. Given that today, with wind-chill, the Met Office tells us it’s supposed to get down to around minus five, now doesn’t seem to be the best time to be welcoming the patter of tiny feet. Introducing the new batch to outdoor living is probably best left until slightly less refrigerated times.

The revised arrival date is 11th March, by which time it’ll hopefully be looking a little more Spring-like around here. This also gives us a little more time to charge the fence batteries, disinfect the feeders & scrub the pig ark and so, whilst we’re keen to get cracking (or is that crackling?), things are probably working out for the best.

Chorizo is the way forward

charcuterie01

OK, so the six weeks we had to wait before finding out whether we’d managed to create an even vaguely palatable bit of charcuterie were pretty tiresome; however, the old adage about good things coming to those who wait clearly still rings true, as it seems that we have ended up creating some fairly spectacular chorizo from our Tamworth pork.

This whole charcuting business is becoming rather addictive and so, despite the fact that we now have more chorizo in the larder than one might reasonably shake a good-sized stick at, the basic components of (a rather more hefty) batch two are currently sitting in the fridge, whilst the office is strewn with recipe books as we ponder precisely which route we take next with our continental sausage making adventures.

At the same time, there’s a substantial amount of research going on into the mysterious and arcane world of smoking (the culinary sort – not just the common or garden ‘having a wheeze on a Woodbine’ variety) and so, gentle reader, expect to be regaled with further reports of our forays in to the artisanal world of smoky wursts, salamis and bacon in the very near future. Whether you like it or not.

And then there were none.

Mirabile Dictu! We’re pig-free!

They say that every day’s a school day and that has certainly been true of the Batch 1 experience.

Whilst in large part our Tamworths were supremely easy to look after, one thing which they all had in spades was intelligence. All pigs are bright but these guys were in a league of their own – an attribute which, in turn, made them both a joy and a nightmare to be around.

With reference to the latter, Number 3 proved to be a master escapologist with a strong sense of what was and was not an acceptable pastime for a young pig about town – and the trailer (or ‘charabanger’ as we’ve come to know it) was absolutely not on the approved list.

On the scheduled D-Day, whilst her larger brother and sister quite merrily climbed aboard the bus for the abattoir, Number 3 decided that this wasn’t the smart move and – much to our chagrin and the general disgruntlement of her siblings – kicked-up an unholy stink which concluded with a mass-reversal down the ramp followed by a sprint for the safety of the ark.

Fast forward a week and, after a solitary sojourn with extra bed-space and prime pickings from the Mexican hat feeder, Number 3’s behaviour was even worse than before. Given that by now she was weighing-in at over 130 kilos (every last gram hell-bent on not going into the trailer) the second attempt at despatching ended in an unscheduled and highly unwelcome workout for yours truly, plus another week of splendid isolation for our unruly gilt.

As well as being super-smart it would appear that most pigs are also nothing if not capricious. This being the case, and having hassled our chum and local farmer friend Steve Palmer to turn-out on a rainy Monday morning to help with the titanic struggle which clearly was going to be loading attempt number three, our errant porker decided that instead she would nonchalantly saunter up the ramp to grab a final breakfast of pig nuts & chopped apple, all with next to no assistance required.

The bloody creature clearly revelled in making us look like prize chumps!

Nevertheless, chumps or not, I have used the past tense here and so I can confirm that, after a short trundle down the A38 followed by the most casual and stress-free of trailer decants, Number 3 finally shuffled off this mortal coil at around 9am this morning. Next stop, a spot of the Butcher’s art at the redoubtable Cox & Laflin and the last of our sturdy troop will then reappear in a few days’ time as chops, bangers, steaks, and sundry other cuts. A magic trick of which I wholeheartedly approve.

It’s gratifying that the feedback we’ve received thus far has been universally positive, with friends and neighbours who invested in a box of our organically fed, hand-reared Dartmoor pork telling us that it’s some of the best meat they’ve ever tasted. Certainly, from the extensive product testing that’s been going on around here [agreed: it’s a hard life] I can confirm that it really is delicious stuff, with a sweetness to the meat which we’ve not tasted in the previous flavours of pig that we’ve kept in the past.

Undoubtedly, we’ve had our trials and tribulations with the Tamworth but nevertheless the end product (whilst a little fatter than we initially had in mind) is proving to be entirely excellent in every way, and so it’s a breed which will definitely be on the agenda again when we’re ready to re-stock.

For now though, it’s time to scrub down the ark, dismantle the electric fence and clear away the small mountain of bedding straw which has accumulated at the bottom of the paddock. Time also to get serious about a proper business plan for future batches and to start making the necessary moves to acquire the parcel of woodland next door, which we’re keen to expand our production into. Exciting times.

So, expect no further pig news for a while. But fear not! There are other equally fascinating things going on here (he says, with tongue firmly fixed in cheek) so do stay tuned. If you’re keen to try some of our rather splendid porky produce, then please feel free to drop us a line at hello@greedypigspantry.co.uk and we’ll add you to our ever-growing meatbox waiting list.

Next project for completion… THE POLYTUNNEL. Ooh, the drama!

There’s always one.

A lot of our early thinking on the subject of rearing Tamworths was informed by historic news coverage of the once famous ‘Tamworth Two’, a duo a ginger pigs called Butch and Sundance who escaped their appointed abattoir to live as fugitives for a week or three before being recaptured and happily retired-off to a rare-breeds centre in Kent on the back of their new found celebrity.

“They’re clearly going to be escapologists… how will we keep them in their pen?” we asked ourselves when they first arrived; however, as time passed we began to realise that, far from suffering acute wanderlust, this lot were basically quite a stay-at-home gang. Just how much they loved their surroundings here in Yarner Wood was proved today when the time finally came to offer fond farewells to our latest lodgers and take them on a short drive to Ashburton…

Loading pigs, in my modest experience, is a bloody nightmarish job. Regardless of the so called ‘tried and tested’ opinions at large about making the job easier – either by having the trailer in the pen for a few days prior to removal, starving pigs the day before departure so that they’re more biddable, getting them used to walking around the pen at heel, so they feel compelled to do as instructed – all of this, to a greater or lesser degree, is hogwash. Pigs just don’t like trailers. They don’t like walking up gradients, they don’t like the booming noise their trotters make on the tailgate, they absolutely don’t trust the interior of even the most palatial trailer and they don’t trust you – no matter how well you were getting on the day before abattoir day.

And so today, after an obscenely early start to ensure that our little darlings were cleaned and gleaming when they met their maker, all three pigs were introduced to the temporary corral I had spent my Sunday afternoon lovingly crafting and gently coaxed toward the trailer, within which various piggy delicacies had previously been strewn with gay abandon – just ready for three well-balanced, contented, cheerful and hungry (no Sunday supper) porkers to take full advantage of.

Result? Complete chaos. After an overture of studious trailer avoidance coupled with furious destruction of the hitherto unsullied grass that the corral had been built upon, the tempo slowly rose (on both sides – loaders and loadees) to a crescendo of screaming, sweating pandemonium, which left all concerned feeling more than a little fragile.

And so Diane and I did what any right-minded people would do when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. We had a tea break.

Half an hour later, feeling a lot more ‘zen’ about things and considerably more ‘at one’ with both myself and my piggy chums, I wandered back down to the paddock, climbed inside the trailer with a trug-full of pig nuts and started to gently coo and ululate in an attempt to attract attention.

Amazingly, the effect this had on both the boar and the bigger of the two gilts (who we shall call Gilt01) was quite remarkable, with the pair of them stopping the mining operation they were busily engaged upon to slowly start ascending the ramp, as if hypnotised.

Five minutes later, we’re plus two passengers (busily tucking-into the aforementioned porky delicacies) and yours truly is suddenly feeling like the universal pig-whisperer. Even better, just at that moment the current Mrs Clayton-Smith arrived on the scene to revel in my skill and derring-do and to watch me masterfully guide the third passenger of our little charabanger to her seat.

Result? Complete and utter chaos on a bicycle. When the thick-end of roughly one hundred and thirty kilos of muscle and teeth decides it’s not having any, it is most assuredly NOT HAVING ANY. Not only would Gilt02 not even start to consider the idea of jumping aboard the magic bus, her already ensconced siblings started to decide that maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all and, given that they’d finished the canapés and fizz, maybe it was time to head back to the comfort of the family ark.

Long story brought to a short close? I cut my losses and headed off to the abattoir with only two passengers.

The idea I had was that I could deposit the boar & Gilt01 and then make a fast dash home to try again with our lonesome traveller. Sadly though, the lairman at the abattoir had other ideas and so the upshot is that we now have a single pig in residence until next Monday, when the whole torrid nonsense begins again.

Suffice it to say that the Sunday starvation rules will be in full force, the trailer will be parked right in the middle of the pig-pen for at least a couple of days before lift-off, both myself and the mem-sahib will be doing our very best porcine equivalents of Barbara Woodhouse or Cesar Millan (take your pick, dependant upon your age/location) and I will be in the back of the charabanger again, pig-whispering like a good ‘un when Monday morning comes around.  Sheesh.

 

 

 

 

Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

… it tolls for the pigs.

The deed is done – the abattoir run has been booked and the butcher is already sharpening his cleaver in anticipation. End of the month = end of the pigs. Luckily for us, it will also signal the start of the sausage-scoffing season. Woohoo!

Time to start running down the freezer in anticipation of our pending porky payload.