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.
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!
Once the animals are fed, he collects the eggs, using any bucket he can lay his hands on to do so. This one being an empty horse supplement bucket that Jill uses who keeps her horse with us. It’s a job he can do himself and I like the sense of achievement he gets from it. Looks like he does too?
The weekend finally has arrived when we reached an important milestone in our drive towards self sufficiency of meat and took on 2 piglets.
They are large white cross landrace. Large white are best known for bacon pigs according to the internet, but we shall be keeping these for 6 months and using them to fill our freezer with goodies that we hope to see us through 12 months. I have no idea if 2 pigs will give us enough meat for a family of 4 for 12 months or not. I will let you know in 18 months time!
We collected them at 9:30 on Saturday morning and of course used a method of transport most people wouldn’t….but that is us all over !
They settled in amazingly quickly considering they have never felt straw under their feet before and have only known their mother. The farmer, a neighbour friend, was kind enough to lend us a heat lamp as they still need to be under heat for a few weeks yet.
They are from different litters (same father, I need to find the piggy term) but get on well. Both similar sized, so there’s less chance of bullying.
They are very young so we’re feeding them their feed in milk at the moment and will eventually get them just on to the hard feed in a few days. The milk is very good for them anyway though.
Grace named them – not me! Sunflower and buttercup. They’re both girls and will live in the barn until the warmer weather comes, when they then have a job to do. I need part of a paddock turning over as it’s riddled with nettles and weeds. I hope they do a good job!
We plan on feeding them home grown veg to supplement their hard feed which is their primary feed source of course.
Ste said something that really stuck with me at the weekend. Our smallholding is nearly complete. How nice of a feeling is that?
‘Nearly’ as we have some other arrivals due soon 😉
We moved into our smallholding 1 year ago today.
We had moved out of our family home on November 27th and into my Uncle’s house which was mostly unoccupied by him for the next 7 weeks. It sounds nothing now, but when you are waiting for something, time drags. Here I am now in disbelief that a year has gone by.
As most of you will know, we couldn’t be happier living where we do. The failed sales, drop outs, useless solicitors and estate agents and the long scary journey to pick the keys up was all worth it.
On moving day, Steven had gone with my Dad, brother in law and a friend to the lock up where our worldly belongings were, Mum was on childcare duty before and after school. I had to drive 45 minutes to get the keys, that would be fine it the roads hadn’t flooded, the sat nav hadn’t failed and my phone gave up en route! Literally! I’d managed to get there ok but it took twice as long to get back and with no phone I couldn’t let people know I was safe. It was worth it though, walking in to the new house, setting the alarm off and not knowing the code – everything fell straight in to place.
I haven’t missed our old house like I thought we would. We have a lot of memories in that house, but they came with us and the house is now being lived in by another family.
We were meant to live here – I am sure of it.
So we moved into our little smallholding at the end of a lane, set in 4 acres of the beautiful English countryside, that sits alongside a river, standing proudly against the beautiful backdrop. We have a barn, greenhouse and veg plot plus 2 small open barns that we utilise.
Here’s a few memories from our journey, please celebrate with us before we go feet first into 2017’s journey.
We would not be without one now. Simple as that. It sounds cliché, but it is the heart of our home. I’ve written about it many times. You simply can’t beat Aga food. I’m building up my Aga kitchen wear over the years. It’s great stuff.
We keep our bums warm on it, it dries our clothes, heats our hats and gloves, makes the dogs feel cosy, bakes amazing cakes, taught my daughter the love of cooking and provides a comforting warmth for poorly children.
The vision hasn’t changed – on our smallholding, I want to produce as much of the food my family consumes. How possible that is will change year by year, hopefully increasing.
Last year we started with chickens for meat and eggs. We put a stake in the ground and tried 2 of our Cream Legbar cockerels. This was the first time we’d slaughtered our own birds and we weren’t overly impressed with the first one but the 2nd one was nice. We then made friends, read blogs, researched more and discovered a new breed (to us) that we are going to use this year, Ross Cobbs. Over the year we put 7 more cockerels in the freezer, and had countless eggs from the hens. We sold a lot which covered the cost of the feed through Summer and Autumn.
|Our layers that we brought with us – the oldies|
I didn’t keep records for these, but I am this year. Our first egg from the hens we brought with us was a double yoker, a sign of the bountiful things to come.
Almost immediately we bought some hatching eggs and put them in the new incubator that Steven had got for Christmas.
The hatched into lovely little chicks, the first of many!
The geese came a couple of weeks after moving in. We’d had this planned for so long, we just needed to source some. We found some advertised locally and made our first new smallholding friend. A small family renting a farm in a town not farm from us. We soon went back for ducks when we decided to get them too. It’s good to have the right contacts.
The asparagus shot through, literally a few inches a day. We were astounded.
Another goose hatched but Mamma goose didn’t want to know…..so we took him under our wing and that’s where Ryan’s story started.
We started to uncover and prepare the veg beds for planting. We had no idea what anything was like, the soil, if anything was lurking underneath or how things would go. We couldn’t wait!
We’ve bought 2 chest freezers, second hand and working perfectly, to house the next year’s meat and any fruit and veg that can’t be used there and then.
We have learnt to look forward, plan ahead but more importantly, be flexible. The weather, animals, kids, work, farmers, everything has an impact on what we do and we have to be ready to adapt at that very moment. Self reliance is a key aspect of the new lifestyle.
One of my fondest things. Good food on the table (good, not expensive), with a family all sat round together, gives you time to bond. It also means I need to occasionally lose the plot trying to get my son to eat his veg, but I am human so let’s move on.
I have loved putting food on the table in 2016. I found the summer more difficult as I wanted to be outside all of the time, so I will be prepared for that in 2017. Now we have a dining room, I’m taking over from my Mum who used to invite the family round for Sunday lunches. I really enjoy seeing people enjoy the food I’ve made. More importantly – it’s made from good stuff. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not there yet, bad food slips in sometimes, but again, I’m human and such is life.
I’ve been making my own bread, using the bread maker. The bread is amazing, I know what’s in it and I can work it around my time. This works for me and as we know, we do what works for us.
I have tried all sorts of cakes, my first one being to repay the farmer for helping us when we moved in. He lifted our stables from the artic lorry to our house (along the lane) and had met us only the day before.
|The stables going up|
Most weekends we have had family and friends over and most of the time they are fed and watered and go away happy.
Oh Fence! Soon after moving in we started on fences. We paid a contractor to put a fence along the bottom of the field. Cows had grazed it before and they didn’t need confining as the field next to us was the farmers, who owned the cows. Well my horses wouldn’t respect any boundaries without fences and given the river was right at the end of the field down a ditch, I didn’t fancy calling the fire brigade to rescue my horses at any point! Steven was working full time, we had no fencing tools and it made sense for the first fence to get someone in. It was done within a couple of days and we were very pleased.
As soon as that one was up, Steven took over the reins. We bought an auger and the power tools needed to put the fences up. It was just as well as it seems fencing on smallholdings is a never ending thing?!
|Good boy for staying put Jake!|
2016….what a year.
We’ve got used to being supplied by oil and ordering it in, having a painfully slow internet connection at times (I work from home 3 nights a week, it’s not just a Facebook moan!), going out to lock up and check on animals at all hours, put others before ourselves and taking strength from each other when days seem a bit much.
We have learnt to embrace how we see life and not to feel ashamed by it. Wanting to grow your own, raise and slaughter your own animals, enjoy looking at a field and shovelling sh*t, seeing beauty in things others just see dirt or moan that it smell and generally living the good life, looking up at the stars just because we can and not being afraid of the dark (it’s very dark here!).
|Buddy has always loved his cuddles.|
We have some of the best views all around us. I kid you not, there isn’t a day goes by that I am not thankful for them or some aspect of what we have.
The kids have played outside, just like kids should.
The the second part of the self sufficient movement came along. We bought 3 lambs and are raising them to have their own lambs in 2018, filling our freezers with lamb.
So all in all, we have lived, laughed and loved. We have found out forever home – let’s carry on enjoying every minute (and forgetting the ones we don’t).