All good things…

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Much though we love our pigs whilst they’re with us, at the end of the day, we know that there’s only one reason we got into pig-rearing, and that’s to feed ourselves.

With this in mind, Monday saw the latest batch of Tamworths safely loaded on to the charabanger and off to the abattoir. When last seen, all three were happily munching on chopped apples with their tails as curled as a big box of curly things, which can only mean that they were entirely happy and unaware of their impending fate, a statement that many pig producers might struggle to say of their stock.

It’s an emotive issue, and I completely understand those that hold differing views to ours; however, in our opinion, as committed carnivores, the best thing we can do is take direct responsibility for the meat that we consume and ensure that the animals from which it comes lead the most enjoyable of lives before dying with dignity. It’s a pretty straightforward contract between pig and diner – treat the animal with respect and care for it’s wellbeing at all times – and if you can’t do that yourself then support those that do, rather than simply chucking an anonymous lump of clingfilm-shrouded Play-Doh into your supermarket trolley without a second thought.

Anyhoo, climbing down from the soap-box and returning to the subject of porky loveliness, this is precisely what now fills the chest freezer in the pantry. We’ve been fortunate enough to attract a number of much-welcomed meat sales this time around, whilst still retaining well over 90 kilos of pork for ourselves – which means that, even by our gluttonous standards, there’s a heartily-fed winter to come. From roasting joints to chops and loin steaks to mince (by way of the ubiquitous banger) we’ve processed as much of our pigs as possible, which seems only sensible. Waste not want not and all that.

Actually, that’s a useful  reminder. Enough of this waffling – there are livers in the fridge that need turning into pâté. No rest for the wicked!

Still waiting for spring to arrive…

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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.

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!

Monsoon season’s here!

Whilst this picture might not entirely drive-home the nature of today’s weather, the set of dripping waterproofs and mud-covered wellies sat in the hallway are testament to the fact that our otherwise fairly pleasant summertime has taken the day off. It’s like Rangoon out there this morning.

On the whole, rearing pigs is both a fascinating and rewarding occupation, and one that we’re wildly excited about pursuing in a more substantial way as the months progress. All that said though, there are some mornings – potentially those where a tincture or two may have been enjoyed the previous evening – when being forced from a warm bed to trudge miserably through mud and poo to clear out a sludge-laden Mexican hat feeder whilst being assaulted by sweaty, screaming, drooling pigs is simply not top of the pops, even for the biggest fan of all things porcine.

Given that we’re now only ten days from bringing the 2017 batch experience to a conclusion, close attention is suddenly being paid to the long-range weather forecast, in the hope that their final morning is a dry(ish), clean(ish) and relaxed(ish) affair – rather than becoming a Benny Hill blooper reel featuring three crap-covered pigs running around a mudbath being chased by a dung-encrusted, well-upholstered bald bloke.

Clearly, offerings to all of the relevant household deities will be made in the coming days… no point in taking any chances.

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.

How big?

Well, the weekend didn’t go quite according to plan, and so we’re playing catch-up now. Ear-tagging still needs to be done sometime this week but there’s another job that needs doing first.

Before I can talk with the butcher about our cutting list, we need to know how much porker we’re talking about processing, and so today’s lunchbreak was spent fondling mud-covered pigs whilst waving a tape measure about the place. [Note to self: measure pigs before/during their first feed of the day, when they’re fresh from a night’s kip on new new-mown hay. Do NOT wait until lunchtime when they’ve been rolling in dung, widdle and various other forms of beastly mud and oomksa].

Anyhoo, the results are in and I can officially confirm that these guys are mahoosive! They’re averaging-out at 128 kilos each at present, with a couple of weeks to go… how did that happen? Given that the usual estimate is 64% of dead weight ending-up in the freezer, that means we’re looking at 245 kilos of pork – that’s a lot of bangers!

Portion control is an art…

…which I’m not sure I possess in any great way.

We’ve over-shot the runway a bit in terms of how long we’re keeping Batch 1 versus the store of food we calculated we’d need… it’s not going to get us through to the end of the month.

This being the case, we’ve used the opportunity to try another organic feed provider – just as a comparison. Thus far, all the pigs we’ve kept have merrily dined upon tucker from the chaps at Hi Peak – purveyors of fine organic fodder at more the reasonable prices. “So what were the results of swapping the nosh?” I hear you ask. Well, I’m not sure whether it’s down to the fact that the stored Hi Peak food was getting to the end of its shelf-life, or that this new grub from Allen & Page is just fundamentally made from more appealing stuff; however, either way, it’s clearly the piggy equivalent of crack-cocaine, as the gang nearly killed me in the rush to get to the Mexican hat feeder when the dinner gong rang yesterday evening.

So, all’s well in the nutrition department – next job this weekend is to work out where all that feed’s going, so it’s time to break out the tape measure and calculate latest weights. For those of you that aren’t entirely au fait with gauging the poundage of a pig, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s all very simple. Essentially it’s the circumference of the body just behind the front legs (or the ‘heart girth’, as it’s known) squared and then multiplied by the length from ears to tail – the sum of which is divided by 400 to give the overall body weight. Easy when you know how; however, it does rather beg the question “who the hell was it that woke up one morning and decided it was a good idea to go around squeezing and measuring pigs in an attempt to guess their weight?”.

Whilst we’re in essential maintenance mode, there’s another task which needs to be performed this weekend – one that could either be an absolute breeze or, on the other hand, could as easily turn into complete Armageddon. It’s time to dig out the pliers and stick identity tags in the little darlings’ ears. A two-person job this one, so wish us luck!