A busy weekend of highs and lows

Sometimes it’s nice to take it slow at the weekend and enjoy the slower pace of our new life with the wonderful scenery around us. Since we moved to the new house I’ve always been very conscious that I should be grateful for the combination of persistence, good timing and dumb luck which got us here.

One of the real pleasures of living in this part of the North Pennines comes at the start and end of the day with great scenery in the morning and huge star filled skies at night. The frosty start this morning while feeding the pigs was a typical example especially the way the rising sun hits the fields on the opposite side of the valley.

Sunrise over the valley
Sunrise over the valley

However this weekend was not one of those easy-going, relaxed weekends. Instead it was spent taking on a couple of important jobs which we had never tackled before so there was a certain amount of apprehension. In my experience there is only way to go when faced with that kind of problem and that is to tackle it straight on, just get on with it.

Chicken slaughter

Our first homegrown chicken
Our first homegrown chicken

The biggest deal in my mind was the need to”rationalise” the chicken flock before any problems could arise. There are too many males after the eggs that hatched earlier this summer so some of them have to go.

We finally got up the nerve and took the opportunity on Saturday to slaughter our first chicken.  This one had been one of the eggs that a hen was found sitting on soon after we moved in.

A great deal of internet research was done, many messages exchanged with helpful people on web forums and a number of slightly gory YouTube videos as well.

In the end I decided on neck dislocation using a broomstick which seemed the most hands-on without actually having to look him in the eye while doing the deed. There was a little uncertainty after doing this so I also tried a manual neck dislocation just to be sure but I’m certain now that the first attempt was successful.

On reflection I realise that it wasn’t anything like as difficult as I’d expected apart from the concern that we hadn’t done the job correctly. The biggest fear leading up to this was always that inexperience might mean a botched job but as it turned out this was unfounded.

The feeling might have been different if the 2 remaining “pet” chickens were involved as a result of illness or injury but these white chickens were inherited from the previous owners when we moved in. They seem to be naturally flighty and want to avoid human contact so the sense of attachment is greatly reduced.

On this first time we also decided against the full gore of plucking and gutting to help ease ourselves into the idea of raising chickens for meat. For this occasion we decided to pluck a little so we get the general idea but to just take the most accessible bits for eating.

My first attempt at chicken dissection were nothing special but I managed to remove the breast meat and some of the thigh/leg as well. A generally successful first go at this with a little experience of each aspect but the next time we really need to take things a stage further – assuming we can bring ourselves to do this again of course!

Trailer collection

Shiny new trailer
Shiny new trailer

Over the weekend we also collected a shiny new Ifor Williams trailer which is just in time for some gentle practice (especially reversing!) before taking the pigs off the abattoir in a couple of weeks.

Having never towed any kind of trailer before I was worried that my shiny new toy might not look so good by the time I got it home.

It turns out that towing this trailer is no bother at all – in fact it’s no wider than a Subaru Forester and only slightly higher. When loaded with livestock the driving experience may be a little different of course but I’m much happier to know how it handles in general.

The trailer might be considered to be a little too large for just 2 pigs who are making a one way trip of less than an hour. However I prefer to think that they deserve to go in style, especially as they have been such characters and absolutely no bother to look after for the last 4 months!

I’ve already wondering what breed to get next year and hopefully after one more set of weaners next year I can swing it so that we get a couple of breeding sows for the longer term.

What next?

There are many more things in the pipeline which will be covered by future blog posts in due course – fruit trees and bushes, broadleaf trees for the woods and of course like any keen veg grower I’m already making plans and shopping lists from seed catalogues!

Ideas and suggestions are always welcome though…


A shiny new toy to play with…

It’s always a good day when the post  man delivers a parcel, the tightly wrapped cardboard box is a tempting prospect that is hard to ignore. Even when I know what is inside the sense of eagerness to open the box is powerful

Unopened Parcel
Unopened Parcel


Since we moved here there have regularly been problems with deliveries going to neighbouring houses which have similar names to our house. On one such occasion our neighbours were away for a few days and got back to find that UPS had tried to deliver 3 times and each time they went to the wrong house!.

This is most likely because the first house name that delivery drivers come across are like ours (but a word less) so they don’t bother to read the full address as written. Where possible I now make sure to emphasise this crucial piece of information in the delivery instructions on-line but it’s not always possible.

As luck would have it, on this occasion they did go to the correct house for once… unfortunately no one was home at the time so the parcel was taken to the local post office!

So what is it?

What was inside the parcel you may ask? It was our shiny new mincer/sausage stuffer in preparation for when the pigs come back from the butchers around the end of this month. We will be having another trial run at making sausages very soon using meat from the local butchers to make sure we perfect our ideas in good time

Fully Assembled
Fully Assembled




Pig check point – 26 weeks

After reaching 6 months old, their departure is getting ever closer so I’m monitoring the progress of our two weaners more closely to provide some useful reference information for the future. Even after having them for just 3-4 months I cannot imagine a situation in the future when I wouldn’t have some pigs for at least part of the year.

The 26 week weigh-in

The usual calculation has been repeated yet again…


Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.91 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 1.00 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.91 ² x 1.00 x 69.3) = 57.4 kg

No Tail

Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 1.00 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 1.05 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (1.00 ² x 1.05 x 69.3) = 72.8 kg


The measurements and weight calculations each week may not have any direct effect on the results but it is very useful to have a record of their progress over the final month or two. It will be particularly interesting to compare the difference in weight gain for these two with any future pigs we have because there is still no obvious explanation for it.

There are just one or two more important jobs left to be done – firstly, collecting our shiny new trailer which will be needed to transport them to the abattoir and secondly deciding on a cutting list so that the butcher knows how we would like the carcasses dealt with.

I’m still having difficulties imagining what two pigs worth of pork will look like but luckily we have a chest freezer which is fairly empty so just ave to hope it will all fit!

The sausage making trial last weekend was a minor shambles and a timely reminder that you get what you pay for. The cheap and cheerful manual mincer we originally tried using was just not up to the job so a proper electric mincer/stuffer is now on order!

Pig check point – 24 weeks

As we get closer to their departure it’s a good idea to keep track of their progress more closely. We may not be able to change much this time around but it should be useful reference information for the future.

The 24 week weigh-in

The usual calculation has been repeated but this time I took measurements a number of the times over the weekend to give an average figure.


Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.89 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 0.97 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.89 ² x 0.97 x 69.3) = 53.25 kg

No Tail

Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.94 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 1.03 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.94 ² x 1.03 x 69.3) = 63.07 kg


It seems that No Tail is still growing faster than Twirly despite living in the same environment and being fed twice a day with the same feed. We were told that they are not directly related, at best cousins, so there might be some difference resulting from the family tree perhaps.

With just 5 weeks to go, the reality of the situation is becoming all too clear. There are many things to get organised in advance but at least the abattoir is booked. Next on our list of jobs is picking up our shiny new trailer (hopefully in a week or two) and preparing the cutting list for the butcher.

We plan to try making our own sausages and curing bacon but the rest is headed straight for the freezer with a roasting joint top of the list for the oven!

The countdown clock is ticking …

Pig heaven on earth
Pig heaven on earth

Pig check point – 22 weeks

A few more weeks further down the line and it’s time for yet another Pig check point!

The 22 week weigh-in

The same calculation will be repeated but after the slightly surprising result last time it is becoming more obvious that one pig is noticeably heavier than the other.


Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.85 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 0.95 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.86 ² x 0.95 x 69.3) = 48.7 kg

No Tail

Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.9m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 1.0 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.9 ² x 1.0 x 69.3) = 56.1 kg


As time goes by I can feel that, despite my best efforts, there is a definite sense of attachment growing. However I’m doing my best to get past that and there will be no change to our original rule that the pigs are only here until November. Besides we’ve already ordered our shiny new livestock trailer so we can take them to the abattoir – which reminds me, that needs to be booked in advance so I mustn’t forget to do that.

The gap between the two is now clearly noticeable when you see them together but they get fed at the same time and there are no obvious signs of bullying while they eat? Perhaps the one with a tail is just less efficient when it comes to rooting out extra food while foraging in their woods?

We will no doubt need to keep an eye on this and possibly adjust the feeding level for the final couple of months to avoid the larger one putting on any extra weight. Hopefully it won’t matter too much if they are slightly different weights but I’d definitely rather not have one too fat and one too thin!

Pig check point – 19 weeks old

Meal time for the pigs!
Meal time for the pigs!

Four weeks on from the previous pig measurement session seems like a good time to check on the progress of our two Tamworth weaners.

By doing this it also brings home that they will not be with us for too much longer if we meet the planned schedule for taking them to slaughter in early/mid November at about 26 weeks.

In 2 months or less there will be no more tramping off to the woods twice a day with a bucket of pig feed which will be good. However it also means that one of the best bits about having them – the “pig watching” moments – will also come to an end.

To distract myself from any melancholy feelings, I’m focusing on the great meat they will provide us, the sausages and bacon we can make and I’m also thinking about the next 2 or 3 weaners we plan to get in spring next year.

Our resolve to raise our own animals for meat will have been tested for the first time and hopefully we will have risen to the challenge

The 19 week weigh-in

The same calculation for pig weight from metric measurements applies and I’ve included it below for easy reference::

Heart Girth ² x Length x 69.3

This time I decided to measure up each pig separately as they’re getting that much older but as we have not given either of them specific “pet” names I’ll resort to temporary names based on their physical appearance – Twirly and No Tail – although the difference is not visible in the picture above


Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.78 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 0.96 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.78 ² x 0.96 x 69.3) = 40.48 kg

No Tail

Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.81 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 0.94 m

This means that the approximate weight is: (0.81 ² x 0.94 x 69.3) = 42.7 kg


Rather unexpectedly, the “Twirly” pig is slightly behind the other despite apparently being  slightly larger when we first got them. However, allowing for discrepancies as a result of my measuring skills, the difference is negligible particularly since this is only a rough estimate to monitor progress.

Although I have no past experience to go by, I’m still hoping that they will be around 60-65kg by the time they go to slaughter if all goes to plan. We’ve supplemented their food from time to time with the occasional cabbage (including juicy caterpillars) and reduced their pig feed ration a little to compensate particularly as they have such a wonderful spot in the woods to root around in.

It’s possible that our inexperience means we’ve over estimated the reduction in feed and they’re certainly keen to get their food each meal time but they don’t look or feel malnourished and I can vouch for their weight as they often stand on my toes when I’m feeding them!

Pig check point – 15 weeks old

I hope they enjoy the view
I hope they enjoy the view

The two Tamworth weaners arrived on 20 July so they’ve only been here for just over 4 weeks now but to me it seems longer. The twice daily feeds are hugely entertaining and they look to be having a wonderful time in the woods.

One thing I’ve certainly been surprised by is their impressive turn of speed on the rare occasions that I manage to quietly sneak up on them before  rattling the food bucket. Maybe I should start running regular piglet racing events in the North Pennines?

They were born around 1 May so they are around 15 weeks old or if all goes well just over half way there according to the information I’ve read.

They will be going off to slaughter at about 26 weeks of age but this is only a rough guide and working out the weight helps clarify this as I’m aiming for around 60-65kg if all goes to plan.

The first weigh-in

Engrossed in their breakfast
Engrossed in their breakfast

According to a range of sources the calculation for weight from measurements using metric units goes something like this:

Heart Girth ²  x Length x 69.3

Now that they are more comfortable around humans it is possible to think about measuring them to gauge their progress. Distracting them with their breakfast also helps to keep them occupied and there were none of the problems I’d expected.

The “Heart Girth” (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) was about 71 cm  which is 0.71 metres (because this calculation uses metres).

The length was roughly 85 cm (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) which is 0.85 metres

So using the approximate measurements I’ve taken on the larger of the two pigs I get this:

Heart Girth = 0.71 x 0.71 = 0.5041

Girth Result * Length = 0.5041 * 0.85  = 0.428485

Approximate weight = 0.428485 * 69.3 = 29.69 kg

However I noticed in the Haynes Pig Manual (by Liz Shankland – http://www.biggingerpigs.com/) that a small deduction should be made for Tamworths because “they don’t have much of a rear end”.

According to this calculation the larger pig weighs somewhere between 25-30kg so perhaps a little behind schedule for their age. However I’m aware that the slower growing rare breeds like Tamworths can easily put on a little fat if you’re not careful so I’m happy with the general progress and will only increase their feed a bit at a time.

The plan is to take them off to the abattoir around the beginning of November which is about 11 – 12 weeks from now and by then they will be 26 weeks or just a little over. A second weigh-in at the end of September will give a better idea of how they are doing though.

Their handiwork

All the predictions about the rooting capabilities are proving right so it’s lucky that they are in some well-established woodland which can take the beating…

Great for clearing willowherb
Great for clearing willowherb

They were particularly fond of something which was growing among a patch of nettles but I can’t name that plant because they ate it all very quickly! Luckily the dry stone wall is very solidly built and has probably stood for many years so they’ll have to work hard to knock it down!

Even nettles don't stand a chance
Even nettles don’t stand a chance


Do pigs have allergies?

Within a day or two of getting our two piglets we spotted a rash on their bellies which was a bit disconcerting for us first time pig keepers. As far as I remember this rash wasn’t there when they were collected earlier in the week but we kept a close eye on things over the next day or so.

Rash on pigs belly
Rash on pigs belly

My thinking at the time was that this rash had appeared on their bellies because there are so few bristles which means there  is less protection for them. Also as that is closest to the ground they’re more likely to come into contact with something that might have caused it.

I suppose this might have been a reaction to something they ate given that they came from a stone barn with straw and ended up free ranging in mature woodland. I doubt that pigs have allergies but I don’t know that for certain and I suppose anything is possible/ However there were no obvious signs of these bumps anywhere else on their bodies so my money was on a reaction to something external.

Nettles perhaps?
Nettles perhaps?

Are pigs susceptible to stinging nettles? When we first put them in their patch they spent quite a lot of time munching on something which was growing among the nettles.  I’m not sure what that plant was (perhaps some kind of low-growing elder?) but  it’s all been eaten now anyway and the rashes are considerably improved as well.

We’ll obviously continue to keep an eye on things but for the moment the rashes are fading. Most importantly, the pigs are both happily eating, drinking and occasionally running around like lunatics in their expanse of woodland which must be a good sign!

If you go down to the woods today…

So the big day finally arrived on Saturday and we headed off to pick up the latest additions with a combination of excitement, anticipation and trepidation. Despite the preparations over the past months with a day at a breeders, an introduction to smallholding day and plenty of reading on the subject, nothing matches the feeling when you actually get started with something new like this!

Given that the car journey back again from Yearle Tamworths took about 90 minutes, I was surprised to see quite how chilled out they were by the time we got them back home. Even more surprising perhaps given that they are not used to a great deal of human contact and certainly not used to us clumsy beginners.

Chilled out passengers
Chilled out passengers

Even after unloading from the back of the car they were still quite content to just look around for a couple of minutes while we arranged things for the short trip round the back to the woods. I can’t help thinking that if we’d left it any longer then we would have had to borrow a bigger dog cage from the local vets.

Two is company
Two is company

There had been a fair amount of thought about which breed to try for our first weaners but in the end the fact that we expected to “free range” them in the woods led to the idea of a couple of Tamworths. Maybe next time we’ll try a different breed but we have plenty to learn with these first two I think.

I hope they appreciate their new home in the woods but they’ll never truly understand the effort needed to drag a pig ark through 3 fields and a wood with a quad bike. It’s certainly not something I’d want to do too often but at least the ark made it in one piece.

Pig heaven?
Pig heaven?

And below I have included a better close up picture which I have labelled Pig 1 and Pig 2 because they won’t be given any names. It just seems safer as they will only be with us until early November – we’ll give them the best life we can until that point but ultimately we are raising them for meat and mustn’t forget that.

I did wonder whether Butty and Chop would have been good names though?

Pig 1 and Pig 2
Pig 1 and Pig 2