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Category Archive: hobbies

Keeping pigs

At last our first batch of baby weaners have arrived! We collected them this morning from friends of ours who breed Berkshire pigs. They came with completed DEFRA forms which showed the movement from their birthplace to our smallholding.

We chose the Berkshire breed because they are a traditional British, rare breed of pig. The meat of which is white in contrast to their black coloured skin. The meat is described by enthusiasts as “quality meat” and being of a “distinctive taste”, which Pat and I agree is absolutely delicious (both having “tried before we bought””! pardon the pun!).

As the Berkshire pigs have black skin, unlike white skinned pigs, they do not suffer from sunburn and they are one of the hardier breeds of pigs to keep; which are ideal for us as beginners!

Our piglets are both boys (boars) and were chosen by Pat because he thought I may not get as attached to them as I would almost certainly do if they were females (the thought of having piglets of our own has crossed my mind already).

Both piglets seemed to settle into their new sleeping quarters almost as soon as we had unloaded them from the Land Rover! Within ten minutes, they were outside in their pen, snuffling and foraging amongst leaves and twigs, as though they had been here for years!

 

 

Fun In the Paddock

We allowed the pigs Romeo and Julian into the paddock today while I poo picked after our horse Freddie. The dogs Jess and Marnie came with us and even the cats put in an appearance. Both Piggies were very well behaved and didn’t wander too far away from us.

After Romeo was kicked by Freddie the other day, he has learned the hard way not to try to eat horses hooves and today he grazed with Freddie instead of considering him as lunch!

It was so hot, that after a while, I decided to give them a bucket of water, which to the dogs astonishment, the pigs both tried to climb into!

After watching them trying to unsuccessfully cram their entire body into the small bucket that I had provided them with for what seemed the fifteenth time, I relented and set about making them a wallow.

 

What’s a wallow?

To those of you who don’t know what a wallow is, it is a hole which when filled with water and pigs churning through it, turns to cold, thick wet mud!

When it get to this point, the pigs delightfully bask and roll about in it like big beached whales! It helps them cool down. The wetter and dirtier it is, the better they like it!

We have been suprised how clean the pigs keep their living quarters. Contrary to what we had heard about pigs smelling and being dirty animals, they are in fact very clean. They never poop or soil in their living quarters, instead having an area in their enclosure that they toilet in. This means no cleaning out of their living quarters, just the occasional top up of straw.

 

THE FINAL COUNT DOWN…..

Someone let it slip that the boys will be going to the Abattoir on the 06 September 2010, although there were enough clues around as well. The metal ear tags arrived this week complete with hole punch (Applicator) and Pat left a sheet of paper on the desk in the office, which depicted all the different types of cuts you can get from the carcass. Apparently, they will arrive back with us in their new form on Friday 10 September – our Wedding Anniversary. I have been assured that this was not done intentionally!!

I have got used to the idea of the pigs going. I have tried my hardest over the past few months not to spend too much time with them. It has been alot easier to let them go that I first thought, as recently, they have got so large and they now seem to know their own strength. I can no longer venture into their pen to collect their feed buckets without being jostled into and knocked about by them. They look like huge armadillos and when they put their weight behind them, they are like mini bull dozers!

The pigs started putting on weight too quickly a few weeks ago. Pigs put fat on their backs as opposed to their bellies, so you must keep an eye on the size of their neck and behind their ears.  We could see that they had grown an extra chin and their necks were getting thicker, so we cut their one scoop down to 3/4 of a scoop, twice a day. However, we still kept feeding them the vegetable peelings and fallen apples. They have now completely cleared their 40m x 20m pen of greenery and low branches and they are now rooting well into the mud. It is nice to see them in their natural wooded environment.

TAG FITTING

Today we had the task of fitting their metal identification tags. We had sterilised the applicator prior to using it and had planned to do it at tea time whilst both pigs were preoccupied with eating. Pat stood patiently behind each one of them waiting for his chance to pounce. We had read somewhere that the tags should be fitted to the outer part of their left ear. Julian had his fitted first. It was very quick and didn’t appear to hurt him in the slightest. In fact, he didn’t even acknowledge that it had been fitted. Romeo was a little different. He didn’t flinch, but shook his head, flapping his ears immediately afterwards, before continuing with his quest to get to the bottom of his feed bucket.

Pat measured each pig with a tape measure. Both were almost the same. Romeo being slightly rounder than Julian at 40 inches in length and 48 inches around his girth – just under his armpits. He measured 2ft in height.

 

We calculated that each of them now has approximately 250lbs of live weight and approx 75% of this will be dead weight. Pat seemed to be quite content with this. He has already decided that we will have mainly sausages, bacon and small joints from each carcass, as they are easier to sell. I am still mulling the idea over in relation to eating them and I have told Pat that I will know if he tries to blind feed them to me without my consent!

Although we will both find it hard next week, we know that this is farming and it is better to know where your produce comes from. Both pigs have been very fortunate in having such a good life here and that is far more than the majority of pigs bred for meat have.

D-DAY MONDAY 06 SEPTEMBER 2016

Today was very difficult for both myself and Pat. It was probably alot harder for Pat as he had the unpleasant task of taking both boars down to the Abattoir, which luckily for us was not too far away. We used the one just outside Charing Village, which is called Anglo Dutch Meats and is just off the A20.

We decided when we got the pigs that we were going to transport them to the Abattoir in a horse box and because of this, we used the same horse box as their living quarters from the day that we acquired them as weaners. This way, they would be used to going up the ramp and into the horse box, which we deduced would be alot easier when the day came to take them down to the Abattoir.

At 8am, Pat, instead of feeding the pigs in their pen, put the buckets of feed into the trailer and the pigs obligingly went back inside to eat, before Pat lifted the ramp and shut them in.

He then took them both straight down to the Abattoir. I didn’t go with him, so the following is his version of events after he left the smallholding.

“I arrived at the Abattoir early, after driving past it the first time; I was feeling quite upset about the pigs going and I had been trying not to get emotional by focussing on thinking about other things!

Before I had left, I had completed a form for DEFRA which is a Report of a Pig Movement made under the General Licence for the Movement of Pigs. It is a requirement by Law to complete one of these forms every time a pig is moved away from the Registered Premises where they are kept.  The information that goes on the form is the date and time the pigs were loaded and departed the premises, the address premises, the contact details of person transporting the pigs, number of pigs being moved, where they are going to and the reason for taking them there. 

Upon arrival at the Abattoir, the DEFRA form was signed and I completed some paperwork for the Abattoir. The pigs were unloaded and stamped with an identification number. They were then escorted into a building. I arranged to go down to make the collection of the meat four days later, Friday 10 September.

I felt bad all day, but I know that this was what the pigs were bred and reared for. They had a fantastic life free ranging with us and now I am really looking forward to trying the meat.”

I am not as upset as I thought I would be. When I think about the pigs, I try not to think about where they are now, but try to remember the good life they had, in particular, the times when I let them out into the paddock and the last few weeks of their lives when I opened the gate into the wood and our back garden!!

I think it would have been alot easier to let the pigs go for meat if we had a larger number of them. I grew up on a farm and even when I bottle fed lambs, I knew that they would eventually go to slaughter. We only had 2 pigs and I think because of this, it was far easier to get to know each of their individual personalities.

Pat is keen on having some more weaners next year. For me – at the moment, I am not too sure. Next year seems a long time away and time is a good healer.  I have been told by other farmers who breed animals for meat that it does get easier. Only time will tell I suppose!

It has been some months since the pigs were culled and packaged. After a few weeks of trying not to think about them lying in their “crypt”; our chest freezer every time I walked past it, I plucked up the courage to lift up the lid and peer in at them. I saw what I expected to see; packs of professionally packaged sausages, bacon and vacuum packed joints of meat. However, now i had seen the pigs in their new form of packaged, normal looking meat, I found it really hard to make the emotional connection between our pigs and the meat. I was expecting to find myself becoming upset and I wasn’t the slightest bit unhappy. I found myself wanting to try the sausages, to see what they tasted like.

When the sausages were cooked, (we had chosen pork and apple and pork and leek) they tasted marvellous. Both pigs did us proud, they had a happy and good life with us here and this was reflected in the taste of the meat. It was an honour to eat the bacon and sausages that they provided us with.  I am pleased that Pat and I embarked on this experience, it was an interesting and emotional journey for all of us, but it was very rewarding, definately worth it and something that we both wish to do again.

In 2016 we will be getting four more weaners… watch this space for some more piggy antics!

Sausage making

In April 2016 we enrolled on a sausage making course (read about this on our Sausage Making page) and ended up returning home with two Gloucester Old Spot piglets (above) in the back of our Land Rover, one male and one female.

The piglets needed worming and treatment for skin mites, so after a visit to the Vet, we set about giving them their first injections of Ivermectin. Despite us following the Vets instructions on how to administer the injections, the piglets were not amused! Our neighbours later reported that they had heard the pigs squealing from their house and they are some distance away from us!

Injections

The course of three injections needed to be given at 10-day intervals, so we managed to rope one of our Daughters into giving the second one and Pat and I tossed a coin to determine who was going to be delivering the third ones! The pigs tolerated the third injection much more than the first two, as by this time, we had discovered that by giving them a bucket of feed to get stuck into, it took their minds off of what lay in store for them! The piglets skin was quite rough to the touch when we intitially brought them home and we noticed that they were acting very uncomfortably and scratching alot, however, after the second dose, the skin was much pinker and they seemed much more comfortable and content in themselves.

The following month, we added a further pair of male Berkshire piglets to our menagerie. Luckily, these were already vaccinated and were of roughly the same size as our Old Spots. Despite our reservations about putting them all in together straight away, they all got on very well and were soon chasing each other around the trees in their enclosure.

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Sausage making

Last year we tried our hand at keeping pigs for the first time, the experience of which was a great learning curve. Country Smallholding Magazine are to publish our Pig Keeping Feature in their September 2011 edition, so if you are interested in reading how we got on, buy a copy of the magazine.

After trying our free range pork, Pat suggested that we try our hand at making home made sausages, so after booking ourselves onto a course, one Sunday afternoon in April, we found ourselves driving down the M3 with all sorts of images going through our minds on how the course would progress.

The day

We met up with our”Tutor” and four other eager participants around an old style, pine farmhouse table in a converted shed. In the centre of the table, was a bowl of pork mince, a pair of old fashioned weighted scales and an ominous looking bowl containing fluid, with what looked like long condoms floating around in it.

We were each given a pinny to don, a mixing bowl and a sheet of instructions, before we took it in turns to move around the table, weighing out the mince, adding rusk, water and our chosen ingredients. We chose ginger for the flavour of our first twelve sausages and pepper for the remaining twelve. After kneading the soggy mixture with our hands, we took our places at the large plastic sausage filler. Pat took his place at the helm of the machine, with the turning handle and I stood to his left at the nozzle end of the machine. 

Stuff that mince

I waited until Pat had stuffed the mince into the end of the machine and had replaced the handle, before I fished one of the sausage skins (pigs intestines) from the bowl of salty water. Once it was unravelled, it resembled a long stocking. I tied a knot in one end and fed the open end over the nozzle. I really was amazed how much sausage skin I actually needed to feed over the nozzle before I reached the knotted end. 

When the skin was in place, we were finally ready to go and with Pat turning the handle and me feeding the meat through the skin, I soon had quite a nice little pile of sausage curling up on the table in front of me. 

After tying up the other end of the sausage, our Tutor showed us how to twist one end of the first sausage, one way, then picking up the other end of sausage and twisting it in the opposite direction. The end result produced a complete string of twelve professional looking sausages.

We then swapped places, with Pat feeding the empty skins over the nozzle end and me turning the handle at the other end, much to the amusement of our fellow sausage makers! At one point when I put air into the sausage skin as opposed to meat, someone shrieked that I had missed my vocation as a balloon maker! In my defence, with my small and ropey arms, I found that turning the handle was extremely hard work, much harder than I had expected, so much so, that at one point I found myself practically laying over the machine! In addition, I am a little on the short side and the table top was slightly too high for me, making the task in hand much harder than it needed to be.

At the end of the course, we were allowed to take our prized sausages home with us, along with the two Gloucester Old Spot piglets that we purchased from the farm.

We reminissed the days events over a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich when we arrived back home. The sausages had a nice texture, but were lacking in flavour. Possibly because we didn’t add enough ingredients. We both concluded that we had enjoyed the experience, but agreed that the manual way of making sausages is quite time consuming and we didn’t think that this would be suitable for anything other than a smallscale, or hobbyist type of set up.


 

We have decided that for the time being, we will stick to our local abbatoire for the slaughter, the preparation and the packaging of our meat, as although this is probably a more costly way of doing things, it is relatively quick, there is no outlay on machinery; manual or otherwise, there is no mess and the end product and it’s packaging look far more professional than we would have been able to produce.

How We Got Into Bee-keeping

We have both always had an interest in keeping bees and wildlife, but the time has never been right in either of our lives to start. My Great Grand Mother was a keen Apiarist and it would have been lovely to have had her around nowadays to be able to discuss how things have changed over the years.

We enrolled on a Bee-keeping Beginners Course with Ashford Beekeeping Association and we were thoroughly hooked! This has now become somewhat of an obsession for Pat and it has engaged me enough to offer to set up and manage the Ashford Bee-keepers Association website for them.

Our bees

At the Ark premises in Camden we now manage between ten and twenty colonies of bees, some of which are here, some of which are in out apiaries located close by. Some of these colonies, we acquired as nucleus’s from another Bee-keeper, others we both went out and collected as swarms! Funnily enough, the swarms are the most docile of the colonies of bees that we have!

When we first started out as bee-keepers with our own two primary colonies, we sited the bees next to our greenhouse and in front of our vegetable patch. During the summer months of that first year, this proved to be a grave error of judgement, as Pat soon found out one morning whilst digging amongst the potatoes, that working in shorts in the flight path of the bees coming out of the hive was not one of his better ideas! Nor was trying to escape the bees by running backwards through the panes of glass in the greenhouse! After spending the rest of the summer digging the potatoes in his Bee-keeping suit, Pat reluctantly gave in and decided to relocate the bees.

Repositioning of our bee’s

After careful consideration, they have now been sited at the back of our Orchard in a south facing position. Our bees forage on oil seed rape, field bean, chestnut, ivy, pussy willow, lavender, fruit trees, vegetables and lots more.

We have surrounded the hives with a semi circle shaped mound of earth, in order to get the bees to fly directly out of the hives and up and over the wall of earth. Thus, guiding them up and safely out of the way of head height!

Over the past few years, we have built upon our knowledge of keeping bees, which has taken us through the continual experiential learning cycle through to taking examinations in bee-keeping. We are still both totally enamoured with how fascinating and rewarding, on a personal level, bee-keeping is to us and this year we have decided to pass on the knowledge we have gained to others who are also interested in becoming bee-keepers.

We do courses now!

In March last year we ran an Introduction to Bee-keeping Session, with a view to familiarising participants into the craft of Beekeeping. This session included how to get started, what to consider, the costs and the rewards to be gained from Bee-keeping. We have also taught Gardeners from Hever Castle and Godmersham Park in Kent the art of bee-keeping, please see testimonial from Neil Miller, Head Gardener at Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent below.

We followed this during the months of April and August, with a 4-session Theory Course for Beginners, along with another 6 in 2011! All courses have proved popular and in light of this, we also offer seasonal one to one beekeeping tuition at a cost of £25 per hour. This is a practical session on a training hive in our own apiary, with protective clothing included. During this session, there will be the opportunity to have hands on experience.

This tuition has proved popular as Birthday and Anniversary presents, for those people who have an interest in becoming Bee-keepers and for Bee-keepers who are in their first year that are in need of a little reassurance.

In 2009, we bought a Bee-keeping Supplies Company and became agents of the well known Maisemore range of products. This has meant that we are able to source, supply and stock quality bee-keeping equipment, accessories and clothing at very reasonable prices.

This year we are pleased to have supplied bee livestock, equipment, tuition and supplies to well known establishments including Godmersham Park, Ashford, Kent, the Ashford International Hotel Kent and Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent.

Learning to be a bee-keeper

Anyone can learn to become a Bee-keeper. The craft of Bee-keeping does not discriminate anyone. Bees can be kept in a small garden, located on a roof in the town, in the country, or even on a static boat! As long as there is easy access for the Bee-keeper and consideration for any close neighbours!

Bee-keeping can be learned by the young, the old and the disabled alike. There are many types of equipment on the market which are designed to make Bee-keeping more readily accessible to the elderly and the disabled. Please ask for details in relation to this. The protecting clothing range that we stock comes in many colours and sizes from childrens size to large adult sizes. If you would like to join one of our courses, please see our courses page for details of future courses, or contact us for more information.

Why I love DewlapToulouse Geese’s

Weighing between 20-30lbs depending on the sex, ganders are heavier than the geese. DewlapToulouse are usually grey in colour, but they can be buff. Giant Dewlap Toulouse prefer not to move about quickly because of their weight. They make good garden pets and are very inquisitive. They have a large dewlap on their throat and very soft, loose feathering, which is wonderfully silky to stroke.

Breeding

Giant Exhibition DewlapToulouse are often in high demand and in very short supply, as owing to their size, they are difficult to breed from successfully. Our Dewlap Toulouse generally start to lay their eggs from late February through to June, however, in different climates, this can be earlier, or later. Giant Dewlap Toulouse geese are very docile most of the year, however, from December during the run up to breeding season up until the end June the Ganders can become very aggresive. They do this because of a hormone build up and because they want to protect their mate and any goslings that they may have. 

Dewlap Toulouse eggs need incubating for approx. 30 days and the unhatched goslings are very lazy and often have to be “helped gently” from their shells. Toulouse eggs are notoriously hard to incubate and many fertile eggs do not make it through the final stages of incubation.

The picture below is of Bertie, a Giant Dewlap Toulouse gosling from our 2009 hatch. He is also pictured again on the photo beneath, with Poppy, a Roman Gosling. Sadly Bertie is no longer with us. You can read about Bertie in the feature I wrote entitled “My Goosey Gander” in the Christmas 2010 edition of the Practical Poultry Magazine.

Giant Dewlap Toulouse goslings are not very attractive when they are very young, they grow large very quickly and they don’t have long to wait before they inherit their parents good looks!

Our breeding pairs are unrelated and have been sourced from a number of different, reputable breeders around the UK. They each keep to their own mates, during the non-breeding part of the year they will all happily wander around together, but during the breeding season we separate them to prevent the ganders from fighting. Often the pairs will avoid each other where possible, but we learned to do this from experience as sadly we lost a gander during the breeding season by not separating the pairs early enough.

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