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 has 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.

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!

We’re on the home straight!

The plan is to send the 2017 batch to slaughter at the end of this month and so we need to get to grips with what to do with the resulting several hundred pounds of juicy joints, chompworthy chops and scrummy sausages which will be heading our way in the very near future.

If anyone’s interested we’re thinking of offering meat boxes at around £75 per quarter pig, £150 per half and £275 for a whole carcass (lovingly prepared by our friends at local butchery Cox & Laflin). There will potentially be an additional charge for courier services which we’ll know more about soon – but in the meantime, if you’re looking to fill a spare corner of the freezer then do let us know. It’s a first-come-first-served kind of thing and we already have a few orders which have come from folks known to us locally, so pipe-up if you’re keen!

While you’re positing potential pork-based pursuits, have a think about this one. Looking to next year and the potential expansion of the Yarner herd to fill-up the woods next door, we’re looking into the possibility of setting-up a pig club, where folks invest in meat pretty much in the same way as oenophiles invest in ‘en primeur’ wines.

The idea is that people who are looking to enjoy high-quality, free-range, organically fed pork buy a share in a pig which we then acquire for them, feed, nurture and, ultimately, despatch and ship-out – butchered, packed and ready for the freezer. We’re still working on a pricing structure for this but the ball-park figures are going to be similar to those above – possibly a little less if we can attract enough customers and make the numbers work.

Everything’s at the dreaming / outline planning stage right now; however, it would help us enormously to know what people think of this idea, so do let us have your thoughts on the subject (whether they be good, bad or indifferent) by dropping us a line at hello@greedypigspantry.co.uk.