Monday 19 October 2020

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

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Unwanted visitors - real life on a smallholding

I thought I would give you guys a smallholding reality post.  Life isn't as always rosy as people assume.

There's a pandemic on and no one told the local rats.   Yes, rats.  Horrible, dirty, nasty things.  The only animal I would not waste time being upset over its loss!  I do have my reasons for such strong opinions.  Over the 4 plus years we have lived here, they have caused us untold hassle.  We have lost both feed, eggs and animals to them.  The feed can be replaced but the animals not so easily.  The critters tend to pick on the smaller animals and this time it is the quail. 

We've recently lost 8 of the quail in an overnight attack.  The quail live in the greenhouse frame that is covered in mesh.  We have secured the frame to the ground and bricked around the edges to try and prevent anything digging under it.  

The rats took on the challenge and not only buried under the greenhouse but also the bricks.  They can dig as well as any mole!

For now we have moved the quail back in to the nursery which has the high rise, "rat proof" cages until we figure out how to get around this.  We don't like them living in there, we prefer them outside.  This Sunday we will try and secure it a little better.  Maybe mesh the floor inside the frame to prevent them coming up if they dig underneath.


So yes, smallholding life isn't always easy and unexpected loss of our animals happens when you least expect it.  I hope this helps some people who may be looking to move to a smallholding or raise animals, to understand there's the good and the bad days.  By far, the good outweigh the bad, so don't let this post do anything other than raise awareness :)

Take care everyone, Tracy.

Friday 2 October 2020

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.

Wednesday 30 September 2020

Days spent in the vegetable plot

The nights are drawing in and we're seeing the veg plot slow down.  This was one of our cabbage spots this year, I hope to have more cauli and purple sprouting broccoli early next year, which is just off the picture here.

I am super proud of the cabbages I've grown this year, there's actually enough to last us until the Spring cabbages come through which I am thrilled about.

Yes, this picture is posed, but the man LOVES his home grown raspberries - these have never let us down, every year they are prolific.  I'm going to take some cuttings off them when I find out how!

Grace took this beautiful photo of one of the sweet pea colours we have.  Simply fabulous.

These are the long purple podded climbing beans that were a bit of a last minute addition.  In no time at all they have gone crazy and snapped the canes that I put in to support them.

Grace and Jack sometimes help out too.  Can you see Jack?

The scarlet kale below is prolific but I have a reservation!  The leaves are so curly that creepy crawlies hide in them easily and they're a pain to clean.  I'll see what flat leaf varieties I want to grow for next year I think.

Here's to the last few days where the veg plot looks green and lush, before the frosts nip their leaves and the ground goes to rest for the Winter.

Monday 28 September 2020

Early Autumn Garden Planting

Throughout September, I've been looking at my plans and taking advantage of free P&P from some of the seed companies, specifically T&M in this case.  I'm super excited to receive my seeds that I'll be getting sown through September.

Whilst researching I came across a variety of spinach called Giant Winter which I can't wait to see growing.  It is expected to reach maturity in just 50 days and is specifically for growing over winter.  In fact you shouldn't sow this variety in Spring as it will bolt.  It's also an heirloom variety meaning I could keep my own seed from it.  Culinary wise it can be used for baby leaves or cooked once mature.  

We use spinach a lot, in salads, soups, smoothies, stews and stir fries so it is something I would love to grow all year round instead of getting a pack from Aldi every week.  I am also planning on growing perpetual spinach which is an old favourite and a reliable all year round variety according to the source of Google!  I'll try some in the polytunnel and see how I get on, maybe putting some in and out to compare?

Mixed salad leaves are another vegetable we use daily, combined with the spinach.  I have to be careful not to run out as we do have a lot of it, which is the case right now actually.  There's lots of varieties that you can choose from year round, however I'm going to try a few different ones and will report back!  In the photo below you can see I've multi sown radish and just off the shot are peas which I hope to overwinter.

This weekend saw me spending a good few hours in the polytunnel stripping it of the tomatoes that were in there, taking all of the tomatoes off them meaning I have zillions of green tomatoes now.  I did a little video on it here if you'd like to see.

Take care everyone, lots of things going on in the world so take care of your own little world.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Ever changing....but that's ok

I wrote this blog early September and then, you know, life happened, I'm sure you can relate?  Since I started writing it, here in England we have seen my parents been able to help a little with the school run, then see that privilege be revoked due to local lockdowns and we think it's allowed again now!  Does anyone actually know what's going on?  To be fair, we are carrying on as we are, we don't socialise much and we go to the same couple of shops.  I am working from home and Steven is still at work but they are covid secure, which leads me to the start of my ramblings earlier in the month.

I've stopped talking about things getting back to normal and I'm working on the premise that this is normal.  Otherwise I risk spending forever "waiting" for something that actually, I'm fine without.  What I mean by this is, we're adapting, to everything thrown at us.  Working from home, social distancing, sanitising and so on.  Soon enough I'm sure we will be able to hug loved ones again, or maybe even decide to accept the risk and do it anyway.   Controversial, but my kids and I miss hugging my parents.  My parents don't go to anyone else's house and we are very careful ourselves, so maybe we do accept the risk, in time.  

So yes, except for that I am quite happy with the state of affairs right now and I won't be spending weeks and months waiting for things to change back to how they were.  Time to crack on.

Earlier this month saw Jack returning to school first, after almost 6 months off.  He was so excited and nervous all at the same time.  Driving home after dropping him off, it was a hazy Autumnal morning, which had started off with a distinct nip in the air.  It turned in to one of my favourite days of the year weather wise.  Bright and beautiful but not too hot.  The animals had some sun on their backs and didn't need to take shelter from the relentless rain we had the week prior.  Everyone was at peace for the day.  

Jack returned home after the school day with tales of their new routines and expectations.  I'm glad he is back as he needed the company of children and I have a positive feeling that this will not be as bad of a Winter as the media would like us to think (time will tell).  Grace too has now returned and is concentrating hard on being a vet which has been a dream for her since she could speak.  She has a natural ability with animals, that you can't teach, so I know she will do well.

I too am back working after a lovely time off with my little family, still from home at the moment though lots of people are returning to the office with a mix of office and home.  Given this respiratory disease I've just been diagnosed with, I won't be on the list of people next to return as it's simply not worth the risk.  I'm sure this morning Boris' team have just said people should work from home again anyway, like I said, I can't keep up and to some degree don't want to.

September is one of my favourite months with thoughts turning to next chapters of school and seasonal produce.  Whether you think Autumn is 1st Sept (meteorological calendar) or 22nd (astronomical, equinox I think?) makes no difference, the nights are drawing in, the mornings getting cooler and despite the odd random scorchers of a day, you know it's on its way.  The leaves are very slowly turning to different shades of browns, oranges and yellows and the squirrels are gathering acorns and hiding them in their stash for their own little winter pantry.

Speaking of the winter pantry, we have been harvesting some great things.  The plums are having a marvellous year! I used a fair few to make plum sauce to go with duck and it was so nice.  I am trying out freezing them whole this year so that we can use them when we need them.
The onions and garlic have been great - I think I am going to do some caramelised onions in the slow cooker and then dehydrate some to make powder - I've read good things about them!
Drum roll!! We have our own brambles/blackberries, whatever you call them where you are from (do let me know?)
This is so exciting as we used to have an abundance of wild ones in the old house and when we moved here they were dismal.  So we planted our own and this is the first year we have had a decent harvest from them which is brilliant.
The raspberries as always are looking fabulous.  In fact I think I will take some cuttings from these as we have not managed to grow any half as good.
Below are the latvian soup peas I have grown which are now safely stored in a jar to either grow from next year or use over the winter.  
Greek gigantes beans - these guys just blew me away!  Again, for the winter pantry I am thrilled that these have worked as they seem few and far between.  They will dry out on the plant and also be saved for winter use.
The runner beans were late in this year and if nothing else, we can enjoy the flowers they produce.  Fingers crossed we will get some beans from them too.
Borlotti beans are another of my favourite to look at!  We use them fresh or dried and next year I'm going to have an abundance!
I couldn't leave out a picture of Lydia wrapped up in her PJ's for the colder nights.  She's dropped a lot of weight this year, we think she is feeling her age.  The rug will help keep her warm to prevent her using energy on keeping warm and burning calories.  She's starting to look older on her body though her eyes remain youthful.

I've given the pigs extra straw as it's been down to 6 degrees centigrade here and the horses are mostly in on a night now.    

We are reducing numbers of egg laying chickens we have in stock as we approach the colder months when they generally slow down or stop laying.  It costs us too much to feed and house them through until February or March when they start laying again, so we pass them on to families who only want a few hens and will take good care of them.  

The quail we hatched a few months ago have also been sold to a lovely lady who simply lives for the pleasure of her animals.  She took 6 girls from us to keep her other girl company as she had only 1 girl and lots of boys.  We have the baby quail left which will replace the ones we've sold, they're inexpensive to keep due to being so small.

The garden hasn't started to slow down yet though, the tomatoes are not quite peaking, maybe another week, and I've still to have what I would call a glut of courgettes.  Speaking of which I have been chopping them and putting them straight in to the freezer which I didn't know you could do but I saw it on YouTube so it must be true, right? ;)  I'll report back once we use them, though it'll be in stew and soup so I think it'll be just fine.

Speaking of soup, I'm managing to use plenty of my cabbages in soup and it's been delicious.  We're having one soup night a week (with lunch time soups too).   The night is a soup and pudding night, with home made crusty bread to be frugal, cheap and cheerful.  Another good thing about Autumn, soup season!  I love it.

I'll leave it here for now, take care of yourselves and please leave a comment and let me know how you're doing and if you enjoy these posts.  Bye for now, Tracy x


week 17 w/c 22 April Just photos :)

April 22, 2024 - Week 17