Why do we raise pigs? It’s almost time…

 Let’s talk pigs!

When we got our first pigs in 2017 it started us along the path of dabbling in being self sufficient in meat.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and the pork lasted us over a year!  Since then we have raised lots of our own poultry and haven’t looked back.  This strange old year has seen us acquire our second lot of pigs, something we plan on doing every year now.  They really are lovely to have on the smallholding and (so far) have been no hassle at all.  

Since April 4th, we have raised 2 Gloucestershire Old Spots cross’ which were12 weeks old when we got them.

They are truly a fantastic breed of pig to raise based on temperament alone.  They are going to be with us until early October and then heading to the butchers as ultimately that is what we raise them for.  However there is a dual purpose to having pigs on a smallholding, especially if you need ground turning over!  

Below left is the land we started with in 2017 and then after we left it lay fallow through until 2020, shown on the right (or bottom if on mobile).  We didn’t want to run pigs on the same ground too close together in case the area became “pig sick”.  Not only did we want perfect pork, from free range, outdoor raised pigs but we also wanted the land to be used to grown on for 2021.  Manured from 2020 pigs and not a nettle in sight as they had them for their supper.

                 

As is always the case here on the smallholding, it was all fin and games deciding how to bring them home as we don’t own a trailer.  It seemed silly to use a favour (where we normally get our trailers) for 2 small piglets (weaners) so we set about adapting the car, smallholding style.

We, Ste, made a pig shelter out of an old IBC tank which we filled with straw and saw them lovely and snug.  As they got bigger he cut their entrance bigger and eventually gave them an extension.  It was so funny watching him try to convince them to use it!!  Incidentally, it’s made out of internal house doors that we got free off Facebook Marketplace.

The pigs had 2/3 of the land we have planned to grow on and during Spring and Summer 2020 we didn’t leave the other 1/3 of the land go to waste.  I spent what felt like an eternity covering it with rotted horse muck until you couldn’t see the grass any longer.

Eventually it was ready for the potatoes I’d decided to grow there.  I literally pushed the potatoes in to the muck and covered them with grass clippings and spent straw from the duck house (ok to use straight from the house unlike chicken manure).  The potatoes were fantastic and we are eating our way through them now.  
Once they were done with, we opened the, now HUGE, pigs up to work through the area, clearing any remaining potatoes we’d missed and eating any nettle roots that hadn’t died off.  As Ste took the pallets down to open the are up, the pigs naturally helped.
                         

They have done a fantastic job or turning the whole area over and I can’t wait to get growing in it for 2021!  We were thinking of putting a commercial size polytunnel there but I think on reflection we should grow in the space and see if we can manage it, before committing to such a big spend.  There’s still a little section of the ground, shown below, with some fruit trees in it.  We are taking those out once they are dormant over Winter as it’s not the right place for them.

So I hope this post has shown you why we raise pigs and in one of the next posts I will show you what meat we have filled our freezers with and how we plan to use it.  I’ll keep them separate to this one, so those of you who prefer not to know, don’t have to look.

Take care, talk to you soon, Tracy.

Maximising our outside space

When we were looking for a smallholding, I wanted as much land as possible.  When we moved here, initially we were pleased that we hadn’t got as much land as we’d originally set out to get.  Now, 18 months later and feeling like we have lived here forever, we’re hoping to get more land at some point.  That’s another story, but my point is, when we were looking for a place, we attended River Cottage Summer Fair where we met Tim Maddams.  A lovely chap who we got on talking to about our hopes and dreams.  He couldn’t believe the price differences in what we could buy in North East England, compared to “down South”.   We too were shocked.
We also stayed at a working farm for 2 nights, whilst we visited River Cottage and met a lovely family who we also got on talking to.  It was calving season and as we stood watching a mother give birth to twins (which I didn’t even know cows could do) the farmer was telling us that it’s a lot harder to manage 4 acres than it is 40 acres.
We looked shocked and he said, ‘land management – it is all in the land management’.  We need to make sure we rotate, rest, harrow etc etc as and when we can.  It’s easier said than done, as we don’t have the tools that farmers do, so we make do and mend.  (I rolled my field using the tyres on my fiesta for example!).
So part of what we have is the area knows as Chickenville.  Not surprisingly, this has housed our chickens since we moved in.  They’ve done a great jobs of killing the weeds and the floor is now just mud.  So these chickens have now been given part of the little paddock.
Chickenville was a dense and dark area when we bought this place.
 
Little by little we have chopped the trees down and turned them into fire size pieces ready to keep us warm in the following year’s winter.
 
This is double depth to the wall and one of Ste’s favourite places!
So back to my original point, of using your land wisely.
This is how Chickenville looks today.  What a cracking space.  Now the chickens are out using the little paddock, we’re wondering what we could use this space for.  Time will tell, we’re not in a rush to make any mistakes.
 

Party plans amongst other things

I don’t know if I am imagining it but I think I can already see the difference in the fields from the rain.  I’m hoping for some sun after the downpours we’ve had and then maybe everything will have a growth burst.  The greenhouse has been firmly shut up to keep the heat in for the last day or two, opposed to the previous week when the doors were flung open along with every vent I could find as things were struggling in the intense heat.  Ah the lovely British weather.  I wouldn’t change it for anything!

Now speaking of the greenhouse, the tomatoes are thriving since I planted them in my well-rotted muck from my lovely horses.  However something else is growing in there too.  Mushrooms!  Lots of white rubbery ones and some tall skinny grey ones.  I said to Grace, my daughter who is 9, that I wonder if we can eat them.  Of course she looked horrified but I will find out and Steven and I will have them if they are edible.  I won’t give the kids them in case I get it wrong, but also they both hate the texture of mushrooms.

We are throwing a big party in a little over a week and I’ve been preparing like mad in between everything else.  I’m going to try and make a few homemade items in addition to the shop bought (sauces etc) to give people a literal taste of what we’re all about.  I was thinking about the following.  Breads – Onion bread, Sun dried tomato bread, Apple Cider bread and a seed bread.  Now granted, these will be made in the bread maker, but all the ingredients will be fresh and there’s obviously no dreaded e numbers in there.  As I will need to make a couple in advance, does anyone have any experience which of these breads might freeze better?

Asparagus is something else we have in abundance, so I am going to make an asparagus quiche as we have a couple of vegetarians.  Is there any other sides or BBQ food that would be doable with asparagus?

Rhubarb – the rhubarb and ginger jam that I made is happily sat in in the pantry waiting patiently to be put to good use.  I *may* use some in the sponge cake I am going to make for Jack’s birthday cake but I need to give that some thought as I’ve never used the flavour jam in cake before.  However for the BBQ if I have enough rhubarb and have time, I may do a rhubarb chutney. 

Eggs.  I’ll also do some hard boiled hen and duck eggs (if the ducks start laying again by then as the ducklings only just hatched) but I don’t think the geese are going to grace us with their eggs any more this year.  If they do I will hard boil some of those too, as I’d like to show the different eggs we have on offer here.

I’m also making frittatas to chop into small squares and serve as nibbles to pick up with a cocktail stick.  We’ve had comments off rude people before about frittatas being pauper food, so I am going to make it stand out and hold its own. 

Now I think that’s all we have edible ready at the moment and reading back, I’m really pleased with it! 

When we’re back from holiday our cockerels will be almost ready to eat so that will be our next test.  I’m not sure I am ready to be there for the slaughter, which I know I should as it’s not fair on Steven to do it on his own, but I will happily take its feathers off and watch as he gets it ready for the oven.  I will do a Sunday lunch for family and we can all have a feast to celebrate him having a happy, healthy life and in return us having a happy, family meal.

Speaking of meat, we have 6 ducklings in total now.  Isn’t that fabulous?  We have learnt from the goose mistake and have secured their water area so that they should be able to get in and out safely.  They may find it hard to get in and out of their house, so we will keep an eye on that and make any changes they need.  As much as I love the ducklings, I can’t help but let my mind wander to what sauce goes best with duck.  Come the winter, we should be getting a nice freezer full of meat (the boys) and some extra eggs from the girls once they’re old enough.

Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend everyone 🙂