New life – in December

The last thing I expected when we went out the other day, was what happened. Driving down the lane to pick up some items from Wilkos, I got a phone call. 5 minutes later we were heading to our friend across the river. He had a ewe that needed stripping of milk and he wanted to show me how to do it, given we will hopefully have some lambs in April!
He lambs from December onwards as they show their sheep and in order for them to be a decent size, they have the lambs now. Bit chilly if you ask me but they seem to thrive.
We arrived to happy faces as always. A lovely couple who we have very similar interests with. We stood having a 2 minute catch up when David turned round and said “great timing, this ewe has just started lambing”!
Off we went with them and moved her to a pen on her own. This was her 2nd lot of lambs and according to their scans she was having twins.
David grabbed a bucket, washed his hands and told Ste to do the same. Ste looked shocked but did as he was told. 2 minutes later he was elbow deep and helping out. David delivered the first one and Ste delivered the second.
It never ceases to amaze me how amazing nature is. I managed to get it on video.
So we’re getting ready for our little lambs come April, fingers crossed we’ll get some!

Some people won’t want to watch this, so don’t.  For those who are interested, please enjoy!  Ste delivering his first ever lamb.

David told us about a couple of things to get in for when we lamb, iodine which I have and something else which I can’t remember the name of. You squirt it into the lambs mouth within a few hours of birth? Any ideas?
Finally – I just wanted to say thank you for sticking with me whilst life is busy.  I’m not posting as much as normal, but that will pass once December is through. 

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!

Chicken and egg

We have been extremely lucky as our chickens have not gone off lay which we expected over the winter.  We’re getting plenty of eggs each day still and combined with the youngest lot coming into lay in December, we’re very pleased with our daily yield as previously we’ve gone down to zero over winter.  I am going to start recording the daily amounts in my diary, yesterday was 10 from 37.  I was  supposed to start it once the whole bird flu thing has passed but it seems that is hanging around a while and I don’t have time to wait for it, it will now be business as usual in this household.
With eggs in mind, I am very conscious that we need to be paying more respect to the humble egg.  We have them at our disposal and it should play a bigger part in our journey to self-sufficiency that it has.  Therefore I shall be making more of an effort to have them as the main ingredient in at least 1 evening meal starting next week.  Wednesday’s meal will be shrimp egg foo young.  I had this many years ago and it was delicious but I’ve never had one since.  I’ll also be using them more in my day to day life, eggs for breakfast or as an ingredient.  I use a fair few, but shall give them more stage time!
Now to the goose.  As per a previous post, we are very surprised to have 3 geese eggs hiding in the shed.  I wasn’t expecting them at this time of the year, and hadn’t researched something else to do with them (yes, they’re just eggs, I know).  Last year I made lemon cake and it was delicious.  We have enough sweet food in to feed an army and I am cutting back on sugar intake for a while, so cake didn’t appeal to me.  I will spend some time looking for other people’s suggestions, so if you have any, please shout up.
Today, Ste and my Dad have been putting a greenhouse frame together and covered it in mesh. This is going to be used as a fruit cage this coming year. It is very light to lift so I can see it lending itself to multiple jobs.

Grace and I collected the soil from the ever growing mole hills and put it into one of the new beds. It only took 20 mins and we may as well see the silver lining in it. 

I put together one of my Christmas presents which is a seed organiser.  I will be filling this tomorrow.

The next door neighbours children have spent the afternoon here and seem to have enjoyed it. I fed them tea after giving them a couple of hours with the ponies.
Also, home made pizza on the menu yesterday – love home made 🙂
Now for a night in front of the fire.

Halloween 2016 round ours

We spent a lovely Halloween with neighbours and family.  We invited our only neighbours round, there’s one family from over the fields and the other 2 lots live close to us.  My lovely parents came too.  I cooked for everyone and those who wanted a drink brought some booze and nibbles.  I made pea soup (witches brew), Thai pumpkin soup (seasonal of course), pumpkin and chickpea curry, chilli con carne, sausages (20 glazed, 20 plain) with jacket potatoes and a wholegrain mustard mayo, plus a whole host of breads, salad and sides.  It went down a storm and I will be doing the sausage glaze and soups again.  I’ve yet to try the curry and I wasn’t overly fussed on the chilli, even though everyone else loved it.  The kids ate all of the plain sausages as expected.  Steven painted faces (adults too!), he has a fantastic creative side.  I made sure everyone was fed and watered and I took great pleasure in looking round our kitchen, warmed by the Aga, decorated in Halloween items and knowing that friends and family seemed to be really enjoying themselves in our “new” home.  It really does feel such a cosy, welcoming house.  So our first Halloween was a very happy one.  It’s an excuse to get together if nothing else… Steven did point out that we didn’t used to celebrate Halloween in the previous house haha!
Here’s some pics which we’d love to share with you.


The front of our house (which we never ever use normally!)


Trying to be a serious vampire

Matching spiders.  3 generations, me, mum & Grace

We also had some potentially very exciting news which we’re hoping to know more on soon….watch this space J

Visiting friends and last of the rhubarb

This morning we drove to see a good friend at her livery yard where she keeps her horse. She’s moved there since we moved into our smallholding and we’ve not got round to going to see them, so today was the day for that.
It was lovely to catch up and the kids made some new animals friends too!

When we got home the rain started, which is a relief. I think I’m the only person  pleased by the rain! The fields are gasping for it and the mineral dressing I’ve just put on the smallest paddock won’t be worth it until it rains in. It’s due to rain most of today and tomorrow then be sunny again next week, which is just perfect.
The kids and I walked the puppies out as usual and took our food for free book which we recently ordered. I was surprised that I couldn’t find damsons in there but maybe I missed them. Here are ours in the orchard.
When we got back, Rodney was tired and wet so he decided to dry off and have a snooze next to the Aga.  There were some other berries that I couldn’t identify either, so will Google when I get chance.  I didn’t get a photo this time round but they are red berries with a yellow base, small and the leaves have 3 points larger but similar in style to the hawthorn (which has 5 points I think).
Given the wet weather, I decided to use up the last of the rhubarb that I picked and made rhubarb and vanilla jam. It is a huge success despite the expense of the vanilla. I will definitely make that each year.

Today is Ste’s last day at work for the week. I bet he can’t wait to finish. We’re going to collect the wild plums tomorrow, assuming they’re ready and a few windfall apples if any are there. They’re not ready to twist off the tree just yet so I’ll not remove them directly. We’re off to a party tonight, a great way to start the holidays as a family of 4. I’ve loved my week off with the kids so far. I might even put a lottery ticket on to see if we can extend it permanently!
Kids ready to walk out and see what goodies we can identify
My rescue hens are producing extremely well.  This one looked more painful!