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Keeping pigs

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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