A year’s worth of meat (pork this time) plus a few hints and tips.

Hi everyone – today I want to talk you through the thoroughly exciting experience we have had with the pigs and hope to share with you what we have learned along the way.  We’ve had lots of lovely questions on various social media platforms so wanted to address those.  You’ll see I’ve put links in this post where I have photos, videos or other posts relating to what I am referencing.  Remember though, we can’t get away from the fact these pigs are now meat for us and some parts of this process will upset some folk.  I am tactful in my writing and photos and the YouTube post that will be online a few days after this blog is published.

As our reader community will know, this isn’t the first time we have had pigs, it’s the second.  We had our first lot in 2017 where we bought 2 from our farmer friend who commercially raises pigs.  This was a fantastic experience for us with lots of learning.  Based on that experience, this time we decided we would buy outdoor, traditional breed pigs that are hardier than the commercially raised (indoor) pigs.  We are fortunate enough to have the outside space to give to the pigs and believe they prefer this freedom.  Although the commercial breed provided us with meat, they did no where near as well as the traditional breed (the previous average hung weight was 60kg, this time average 107kg – a huge and welcome increase).

Back in Spring, the area we chose was around 30 by 30 foot (maybe 40 by 30) and needed turning over and manuring, which you can guarantee pigs will do!  


A couple of weeks before they were due to go to the abattoir, we pulled up all of the potatoes in the adjoining piece of land and opened that up to the pigs too.  They loved it and cleared it brilliantly for us.  If you choose to keep outdoor pigs, you can reduce the amount of land you keep them on (or increase of course) but be aware it will turn to slop with a only small amount of rain and living in the deep mud is not nice or beneficial to them.  Our pigs also had a permanent, draught free shelter filled with cosy straw that we extended as they grew. 

Another consideration is how you will keep them confined to where they are meant to be.  The only method we have experience in is using stock fencing with round posts.  We have a ‘post and rail’ fence on one side that we covered in tin sheeting to a) stop them getting through and b) stop them eating the wooden fence!  The stock fencing is extremely good, I have to say that is more than like because Steven put it up ;), but it absolutely did the job.  You can barb wire along the floor to deter noses routing under if needs be, but we didn’t and it was ok.  They never tried to get out and fencing was never a problem for us.

We are often asked where we buy our weaners from and, to be honest, it just depends on who has what and when.  We like to avoid butchering in December as Steven is just too busy in his trade, so that means usually buying in March/April for October/November dispatch for us.  We buy weaners at 10/12 weeks old and raise them on the smallholding from that age to dispatch.  As of yet and for a few years to come, we have not bred our own for a number of reasons.  

Firstly, Steven and I work full time and the kids are in full time school.  That’s a lot of organising before we even bring running a smallholding in to the equation.  Secondly, the risk, cost and workload is less when buying weaners.  You don’t have to feed a sow and boar all year round, there’s no worry about healthy pregnancies and safe births, no removing the boar to give the sow peace and no consideration to having more pigs to keep the sow and boar company when they are separated.  Of course, having pigs all year round you also need to house and feed them, give them any veterinary considerations and so on.  So for us, we buy the weaners and take some of the cost and risk out of it.

These guys came to us on 4th April, just as the madness of the pandemic was taking hold, we were so grateful to still be able to get them. You can read more in my previous post.  

During the Spring and Summer of 2020, we fed them on pig nuts which we bought from the local warehouse where we buy our chicken food from, it costs around £10 a bag (25kg).  You must consider the cost to feed your pigs if you are considering raising them, these guys can consume a lot!  We also raised food in our vegetable garden for them which went directly from the ground to the pigs.  Some learning for me is, it turns out they don’t like kale!  In fact, none of the animals seem to!  If you watch the YouTube video when it’s up, you’ll see then don’t like my courgettes either, just terrible!

Raising pigs has been pretty effortless for us and I thoroughly recommend it for people taking up the challenge of smallholding.  Then you come to the dispatch.  We are lucky in that Steven is a butcher and I am not squeamish, I guess you can’t be living here.  We choose to send our pigs to the abattoir for dispatch and gutting, then we pick them up and do the butchering ourselves.  This took us 6.5 hours of working flat out one Saturday.  If you have never done this before, we highly recommend either having someone do it for you and bringing it home ready for the freeze, or having a butcher come and show you at home so you know the best way.  Failing that, familiarise yourself as much as you can on YouTube (see our video soon) and give it a go.  

The reason we don’t do the dispatch at home is pigs are just too messy and getting rid of the left overs isn’t an option for us right now.  Removing the hair, skin etc etc is more than we have the time, or inclination at the moment, to do.  It’s all about prioritising what you have the time, knowledge and skills for.  It is SO rewarding to have your own, healthy and happily raised animals in your freezer, no air miles and knowing exactly what is going in your body!

Here is the breakdown of the cuts of meat that we decided as a family we would benefit from mostly.  If you raise your own, I recommend sitting down and working out what you will eat.  Having more mince goes further for us than more joints for example, whereas you may prefer more joints.  

Where the meat is in bags, we made them up to 500g which is a good amount for the 4 of us per meal.  The joints, where we have them, are larger for having family round (pandemic allowing!) etc etc.

Diced pork – 20 packs

Minced – 31 packs

Leg steaks – 8

Chops – 22 x 2 in  pack

Belly joints – 4

Ribs – 4

Fillet – 4

Shoulder joint – 6

Sausage meat – 14 packs

Sausages – 83 packs of 9 (6 flavours)

Burgers – 15 packs of 2, same flavours as sausage

Ham shanks – 3

Ham joints – 15

Back bacon – 2 full loins (guessing 40 packs of 8 slices)

Streak bacon – 3 bellies (guessing 40 packs of 8 too)

This is enough pork meat for our family of 4 for a year, easily.  We will have pork in some form at least twice a week.

I also have rendered down the fat (back fat and flare fat) to make lard for us.  I’m really pleased with the results.

This meat is now lovingly in our freezer and we are forever grateful to be able to live this way of life.  Next time we process pigs, we will do a detailed in depth session on how to butcher one if there is any interest.  For now, we wanted to get this process done quickly and efficiently, on our day off 🙂  

Take care everyone and stay safe.  Tracy and Steven x

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.

A new way of life – a peaceful day

I simply love the days when everything feels peaceful.  
Today is one of those days, where you can sot back and relax.
Given everything that’s happening in the world right now, and what we have all endured over the last few months, I bet everyone has gone through a few conversations, or range of emotions and feelings that you didn’t anticipate you would have in this lifetime…or maybe we did?


Our days have varied so much and with one thing and another we’ve had to react differently to certain things that are out of our control and in some cases, we have to just accept that we can’t control things.  However all of that is leaving me feel very peaceful.  Right now anyway, ask me in a day 😉
Early this morning, Friday, whilst most people were still in bed, Steven and I woke up and went straight outside to let the animals out, feed and water them and do a check of everything.  It was such a beautiful morning.  Rodney came with us as always.  We then managed to get an exercise session done whilst it is still cool.  Neither of us would want to after work, especially as it is meant to be SO hot today (hot for the North East of England anyway!)
I also managed to get a few jobs done in the veg plot, starting with weeding the onion bed which I swear was weed free a couple of days ago!  It’s all done now and things are looking very healthy in there.  A couple of onions decided they wanted to go to seed though, so I snapped off the hard seed shoot that was forming in the hope that they change their minds.  We need all the food we can get after all.
Once the bed was weeded and watered, which took 20 minutes or so, I went in to the greenhouse.  Incidentally, I don’t normally water onions but I noticed the soil was dry quite far down when I was weeding and as we aren’t due any rain for days or more, the heat that we are due may make them bolt, so I gave them a good water.
In the greenhouse, I sowed 4 different beans, 1 purple climber, 2 drawf (green and yellow) and soy.  I’ll sow some more in 2/3 weeks which I will maybe put in the polytunnel for as late cropping as we can.  I don’t have more soy though, so I hope this lot work and we can save some seed from them.  They are now watered and outside enjoying the heat of the sun and hopefully considering germinating pretty quickly.  I’m generally always amazed at how quickly beans germinate.  I also have some pinto beans in the greenhouse which I have now moved out to the cold frame to harden off.  These will be kept for the winter pantry and also to grow next year. I’m going to try and save as much seed as I can this year.  

Does anyone know if growing lots of beans near each other will cause me issues with seed saving?  

Rodney stayed with me whilst I was weeding, perfect start to the day for both of us.  My favourite time of day.

I harvested a small amount of kale too.  We have more kale plants than any family would ever need, however I plan on preserving enough to last a year for the house.  Kale is also very good for chickens which is one of the reasons I have grown so much, after all, we have a lot of chickens!  Our pigs too have it, but not the sheep right now as they are due to lamb and I am hesitant to change their diet before lambing in case it’s toxic for the unborn lambs.  Call me Mrs Cautious if you like, but we only have a small number of ewes (4) and each lamb is vital to the success of the smallholding.

After a lovely, peaceful start to the day I have work to complete.  Working from home now means the commute is ideal 😉 I shall update you with the weekends antics next week.  In the mean time I’ve been having lots of fun in the kitchen, as always!  Trying a variety of bread items in our weekly menu plan.  Below are the naan breads I made from a recipe on bbc.co.uk/food – they were great!  I rolled them pretty thin to cook quickly and we preferred them that way.  They are not authentic naans which I believe use yoghurt (tell me if I am wrong?) but for us, they are perfect and my new go to for naan type breads.  I’ll pop the recipe on my recipes page.  All new recipes go out on the Friday night that I have used them.

Another quick, almost cheat meal that I have done a couple of times are these pin wheels. They are great for a light lunch for me and the kids during the week or I can add a huge salad and do it for the 4 of us on a weekend lunch time.  Disclaimer – I use shop bought puff pastry for these 😛 !  I bought 3 puff pastry in the Aldi shop on the 25th, so I will do these every other week to use them us during the 6 week challenge.  The recipe is here if anyone wants a bash. 

It’s been hot, hot, hot here lately, during the days at least.  Rodney often finds shade where he can.
The pigs are given water every day and we often make them a water hole which they take a little interest in, but not as much as we hoped! 
Grace gets the hose pipe over in to the pig pen and sits and has cuddles with them whilst the water fills up.  It takes a while as the pressure there is not great. 

Did I tell you the electricity had a planned outage for 6 hours?  Well, as we don’t yet have a generator, what else could we do except pop the quail on the Aga on a towel to hopefully regulate the heat?  I hope they hatch still! They are due Monday I think. 

That’s me for a few days, stay safe everyone 🙂


Isolation picture update….pigs, ducklings, GYO, Easter – exciting updates!

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Hello everyone! (Firstly sorry the text is so small, it won’t accept changing to larger for some reason).
Well I am busier than ever, I don’t know about everyone else?  I think a lot of people who are at home are struggling for things to do which I sympathise with greatly, I can imagine it driving them insane.  Here things are the opposite as I am working from home and the kids are being home schooled by me as Steven is still at work and will probably continue to be, given that its supplying food.  
I have been thinking about what to cover in this blog and as I’ve been undecided, it’s taking too long to get out there, so I thought I would just show you in pictures and update you with each pic.  Who doesn’t like pics after all!
I have to say, raising our own meat is so rewarding, health wise and financially!  This bird was over 2kg and has made 4 family meals for 4 hungry, chicken loving people.  The roast was Sunday, curry with shredded chicken Monday, chicken, leek and bacon pie tonight and then the carcass made stock which will make an abundance of other meals, so more than 4 really!  I do one chicken a week and every time, I can’t get over it!  I am finding I am missing having raw portions to cook from and we could always joint them but then I find it a bit of a waste, my own enemy!  
I was in the veg plot, beavering away as you do, when I literally turned round and look what was staring back at me!  We don’t normally get asparagus for another month I don’t think, regardless I am thrilled and we had some for tea last night 😀  It was DELICIOUS.

Something else we have started doing with great zest is selling eggs.  We have increased our poultry numbers significantly and now get around 40 eggs a day, which we sell.  The money we get from eggs is used to feed the poultry and the rest goes to our pot which we will use towards the 2020 goal of saving money for the whole paying your mortgage off project which we are kicking off next year.  Hugely exciting times!

Ooooh look, whilst in isolation I’m obviously needing to make 3 meals a day, which I did before really but it feels like I am doing more now.  We used to eat out once a week so maybe it’s that?  Speaking of which, we’ve taken the decision to carry on the lockdown lifestyle once it is all over as we actually enjoy it and it suits our plans and dreams very well.  Silver lining?  Anyway, I was showing you the below picture which is a quiche I made from 4 eggs, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cheese, spinach from the greenhouse and tomato.  It was SO nice.  I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying cooking right now.
Below is the area we had pigs a couple of years ago (it’s rested for 2 years since) and guess what?  WE HAVE PIGS again!! There’s a pic futher on but the below pic is to show you the work we have been putting in to part of the area that we have agreed to grow more (yes, more) food in.  As it’s had pigs on it, the ground shoud be great but there is a lot of grass, weeds and stones in it.  Rather than spend months trying to get it perfect, we have covered in thick mulch on the left, just out of this photo and shown below we have used weed suppressant.  Hope it works!  We have fruit bushes and potatoes in there for now.  I am planning on putting brassicas in to the mulch which is rotted horse muck as I researched and found out that anything leafy like cabbage, kale etc will do best in the muck this year.  If something needs to form, like a cauliflower head, that may not be too good.  Will try a couple though just so I know.  Really pleased with this area and now it’s to keep it up and stay on top of it.

 Two of my favourite recent photos, after a hard day’s work, we had a fire to burn through some items, which Ste being a man, loved.  I LOVE to see him stood, surveying his land and taking it all in (hopefully thinking what other jobs he can do).  The photo below that is when Grace came over to see us as by this point we were sat by the fire having a much earned drink.  She has so much love for her Dad and I love to see them having a good time together.  It makes all of the teenage tantrums easier to deal with.

We found this log which Ste has since kept to turn in to something, but look at this natural pattern.  Maybe by woodworm?  Fabulous to look at though.

Something else I have been doing is making scones every Friday or Saturday and leaving them, with a bunch of others things, out for my parents to collect.  Sadly it is no contact collection and along with a veg box from Ste’s shop, is their only source of food right now, so it is essential to them.  We do miss them hugely.  Anyway, here’s last week’s scones, done in a muffin tray.  They were bacon, cheese and chive and were so nice.  They froze great and Ste had one for breakfast this morning.  I heated it up a little in the Aga and served with butter – yum!

Ooooh the veg box, look at this.  We stopped the veg box deliveries a while back, along with the milk.  A few reasons which I am not going to delve in to now but I just wanted to share how excited I was when I got this delivery on Saturday – it is amazing and we have used everything except a few parsnips.  I will maybe do them for tea tomorrow, or freeze?

I mentioned my parents collecting things with no contact.  It is their Wedding Anniversary today, 42 years, and this picture shows the card and gift we left outside for them to collect.  

Just because I can’t do a post without showing the dogs, here’s Rodney showing off his balancing skills and how he now likes to sit.  Annie and he have had a few disagreements lately and he tends to hang around higher up these days!  He also likes to sit and watch the pigs, how cute is that?

Ducklings!!! We have ducklings!  Am I allowed to be excited about something else!  We hatched our own and have more hatching now.  These are for eggs, meat, sales but regardless are my favourite animals!  Look at the one in the middle.

Here’s the cake my Mam made for us for Easter – how lovely and thoughtful, left on our doorstep!

More cooking – just cheese and chive scones now but I love making these!

Whoop whoop, we managed to acquire some flour!!! I am making ALL of our own bread now and will continue to, so flour is key to us.  Also we came across a large bag of mince for £12 so this is now either eaten, cooked and in the freezer or in portions.

Finally a picture of what we’re having in abundance and are selling too.  Rhubarb and eggs!  I’d love to hear your rhubarb recipes if you have any to share and I will link and share on one of my next posts.

That’s it for now everyone, take good care of yourselves and stay home if you can.  

Pigs, more harvests and epic fail on the redcurrant jelly

Our pigs only have 3 weeks left with us now.  They’re going to work with Ste on a Tuesday and will be coming back in a different state.  I’ve got some reading up to do as to how we want to process them so I’ll be checking out blogs on here plus my River Cottage handbook of course.
The pigs have a slap mark on their shoulder which identifies them when they go to slaughter.  It’s one of the marks the vet will look for.  Think of it as a tattoo.
The farmer thinks they will be weighing in at 65 kilos.
Look at this!  A cabbage that I thought was done for!  This is one that the birds or slugs ate and left skeletal.  What a trooper this little thing is.  There’s plenty more where he came from too.  At least these are doing well this year as the cauliflowers are non existent and the broccoli all bolted.
It might look strange, posting a photo of an onion but I grew this!  Yeah!  Really excited, no need to buy any more onions again I hope! 
Now to the carrots.  I have never ever managed togrow carrots before so imagine my excitement when I saw loads growing in my black bin!  I’ve been nursing them daily only to check on them today and discover an ant’s nest.  Well I panicked and pulled them all out.  Only to be told by my neighbour that ants are pretty clean and wouldn’t have eaten them.  He said they like light soil which this bin is.
Another thing I wanted to share with you is this little gadget that my friend has bought me, how lovely is it?  It’s a dibber for planting out and I think it is very thoughtful of her.
The dogs like it too!!
Even after living here 18+ months we’re still finding trees that we didn’t know we had.  Is this one hazelnut or acorn, does anyone know?

For my records, broad beans and first peas have done dreadfully this year!  Aren’t broad beans supposed to be amazingly easy to grow?!  We’ve had some, but not loads.
Oh and the sheep broke into the new chicken area!  Hooligans!
Also a quick update on the recurrant jelly.  It didn’t work!  That’s ok though, you win some and you lose some.  The overnight dripped juice only yielded 350ml when the recipe expected over 600ml.  We got 1.5 small jars when we expected 4 – 5 so something is amiss.  I think it’s going to set solid, so I’ll maybe try to loosen it up and add water and boil up again or if I can slice it (haha oh dear) then I’ll make gravy up adding it, then I’ll freeze the gravy. 

More where they came from though, we’ll get there!  The 2nd lot of strawberry jam was just as amazing as the first though – wahoo!