Monday night preserves – Perfect pork! We did it!

Well I have to say I am proud as punch.  Only a couple of years ago, last year even, I could only think about what it would be like to raise your own meat.  This year we have managed to become self sufficient in chicken and now we can tick anything piggy off the list too.
We’ve been the proud owners of 2 large white x land race pigs since March 2017.  We bought them from a local farmer who we made friends with when we moved into the smallholding.  He supported us with advice during the life of the pigs and we are forever grateful as this year was all about finding out what it was like to raise your own pigs and whether or not it was for us.
Well guess what – it is! 
With Ste working for a large butchers, we are lucky enough that the pigs could go to the abattoir there and we knew they were in good hands.  However we don’t have a trailer yet, so what to do.  Well around here it seems that you mention it to a neighbour and they go out of the way to help you.  Seriously.  We couldn’t believe it.  Up until now we’d not met our ‘neighbour over the river’ (all neighbours here have a “over the river, across the field, on the corner type” phrase attached to their description given our location) however we were told to call him and he’d help out.  So feeling rather cheeky, that’s what I did.  Well what a lovely man (and wife too, we were to later find out).  David and Marg – they didn’t question us and just offered the use of the trailer based on the word of a mutual friend.  Now I also must say, we only met this mutual friend as a sheep of his got stuck near our land so I made sure I found the owner and returned it.  He’s obviously never forgot as he went on to help us get the trailer contact when we needed it.
Turns out, on the day the pigs were due to go, David said he’d join me and help out too – even better as I must admit I was worrying that we’d struggle to get them on safely.  We’d not had time to familiarise the pigs with the trailer as it wasn’t ours, so we hoped for a bit of luck which came in bucket loads and combined with a few shoves with of our wellies and a bucket of pig nuts – the 2 hungry pigs barged their way onto the trailer.
We were off.  I felt slightly sick but that wasn’t the fact the pigs were going, it was at the thought of something going wrong with the journey or the papers being wrong.  I shouldn’t have felt sick though, it all went just fine.
The pigs went through the motions at the abattoir and after a couple of false starts, we got them back ready for the weekend.  Ste got a photo of them at work whilst they were hanging in the big fridge.  I couldn’t wait to reap the rewards of the happy, free range life they’d lived.  We had weights of 54kg and 66kg which we are happy with this year.

We initially got the fillets and offal home.  These were frozen on the night, with the loins vac packed.

The first night we set the dining room up for Ste to butcher the sides he brought home.  He’d cut them down at work into manageable sizes.  We worked on a wooden board resting on a sanitised new shower curtain which did the job perfectly. Everything got wrapped up and the end and went in the bin – cost a couple of pounds.

He boned and rolled the spare rib half of the shoulders giving us 8 joints.  Each one was cut into sizes that will be large enough for at least 4 people right up to feeding a tribe! 

The thick end of each loin went to the bacon tray (to be dry cured for back bacon) and the thin end into medallion chops, which gave us 27 chops.  As 27 isn’t an even number, we cooked one up and tested it on the night.  Goodness me it was the nicest chop I’ve ever had (and no, I’m not just saying that).

Now, something we didn’t realise when raising these pigs is we may have given them too much space as there was very little fat on them from all the running around they did.  There was no flare fat so I couldn’t render that down, but that’s ok – I’ll take a happy life for the pigs and little fat for us.  This did mean that the bellies were very lean and thin too.  Therefore 2 went to sausage and burger meat, 1 was boned and rolled for a nice belly pork joint and the other we trialled as streaky bacon.

I decided to use Dawn’s dry cure recipe for the bacon and we are on day 2 of that now.

The bones out of the bellies and backs went to racks of ribs, so we have 8 racks which we tested one, but it was quite tough so I will slow cook next time. 

We kept one leg for a Christmas ham so that was cut and wrapped, going straight into the freezer.  The chump end of that went to steaks.  The other 3 had the hocks taken off which went into a wet cure along with the topsides and the thick flanks.  They were weighed down with a plate so they don’t bob above the surface.

That was 6 ham joints and 3 hocks.  Once these are ready I will cook all of these straight away.

We also got 6 roasting joints off the legs.  All in all, these joints will see us through the rest of the year and beyond.  We cooked one up for lunch on Sunday.

I roasted and cooked the bones up to make pork stock which will be frozen in portion sizes tomorrow.

Out of the trim that was left over, we had 3kg of diced pork and 8kg of minced pork, 36 burgers and 120 links of sausage.

All in all, our hands are tired and our freezers are full.  The whole family chipped in, including my visiting nephew. 

We had burgers (pork and apple) and Jack declared them the best he’d ever had.  Grace preferred the sausages (spicy ones) and we had a joint roasted on Sunday which were amazing,
So we’ve achieved a life long dream, we know exactly where our meat is coming from and to top it off, there’s no air miles on this little lot of meat.  Happy days!

Shearing sheep saga but a bit of smallholding luck

For those of you who don’t know, I’ll admit it. We tried to shear our own sheep a weekend or two ago. We read up on it, ordered electric shears and watched lots and lots of YouTube videos, so we were totally prepared, right? Wrong!! So, so wrong.
It was due to be very hot on the Saturday onwards, so on the Friday after work we put the horses out in the fields to free up the stables, where they all had a good roll and enjoyed the sun on their backs.

We herded the sheep into the stables where we had the gear set up. Ste decided which one we were to do first and put her on her back in the correct position. She fought, she wasn’t supposed to do that. We must have something wrong. So we adjusted, and she settled. Off we went. “Shoot”, the shears don’t glide through like they do on YouTube. We percivere and lose about 10 litres of water though sweat. After what feels like 2 hours but in reality is 20 minutes, we give up as we’re stressing her and us.
We resorted to manual shears and the sheep standing on all 4 legs! She stood better that way. I think we did a grand job but turns out not haha!

We fear her friends were laughing at her, so we put a cry for help out. 

We are so lucky that a friend of ours responded that same night, only 2 hours later, she and her lovely husband turned up with clippers who know what they were doing! He does it for a living and had just finished his flock.

He did our 3 in no time and I am pleased to say we have an agreement for the next few years too!
In another stroke of luck, we had a couple of beers afterwards and they offered us their tup called Charlie for use at home before they use him on theirs!! This is amazing news for us and goes to show what a bit of friendship and luck can do for us smallholders.

First hatch of 2017

We started the incubator with 15 duck eggs in a few weeks ago.  The ducklings are due tomorrow and we were worried if any would arrive due to the power cut last week.  I am pleased to report these little ones were not put off by any power cut and so far we have 7 ducklings all out and looking fine.  These will all be table birds unless their weight and sex tells us otherwise.  We have a runner duck who produces a lot of eggs and she is crossed with an Aylesbury and Appleyard (they all live together) so I’m not sure what size bird they will make.  If they are female and too light, we’ll keep them for eggs only.  It will all be part of the experiment.  We’re after some heavier female ducks at some point this year.

On their way to the brooder in the barn.  Thse guys are dry and fluffy, so it’s time to go.
Soft and cute 😉

On Friday we’re going to set the incubator away again with goose eggs.  They are supposed to be harder to incubate and we’ll only fit a few in.  Again, these will be raised for the table.
Once they’re out, I plan on incubating the rare breeds we have if there’s any demand for them…I also like to see them round the place – they won’t be table birds.
We’ve gone from wishing Spring would hurry up, to full steam ahead in a blink of an eye.  It’s light enough to do jobs before 6am here now and light until after 6pm.  It makes smallholding life so much easier, especially when we work too. 
I have the early rhubarb that is ready to be picked which is a very special occasion, I love rhubarb!  The asparagus follows that and then broad beans and peas.  Hopefully lots of salad items in between too.  How lovely.
The piglets are doing fabulously, one is growing slightly quicker than the other so we’re supervising feeds.  They’re 5 weeks old today.

Slightly blurry as they wouldn’t pose for me!

To those who are on Facebook and commented (in my defense I feel 😉 ) that they will become boisterous quickly….1 week on and they are already charging around bashing in to me at feeding time.  LOL.  Super adorable still though.