Saturday morning shopping is not normally one of my favourite pursuits and I’m not normally eager to set off on such trips.
However yesterday was different with an eager, early start preparing our slightly underused trailer for a trip to the northern end of Northumberland to collect our new pigs.
The accommodation had been sorted out in the past week and everything was in place ready for their arrival.
Our choice of Tamworth pigs is mostly because they are hardy pigs who can easily manage living outside all year round. They are also full of character and are officially a rare breed so we’re helping on that side too.
This time around we have bought 4 weaner gilts with the idea of keeping two for long-term pedigree breeding. These are a little over 9 weeks old and even to my untrained eye they look pretty good – bright-eyed and alert.
The breeder had already marked out the two likely contenders to keep for breeding next year. They are all birth notified for their pedigree records but apparently official pedigree registration is only necessary in order to breed pedigree offspring in the future.
We will take a few weeks to see how they develop before deciding which ones to register. The only concern is that we may eventually decide to keep them all because we can’t choose between them.
After a very blustery first night in the North Pennines, they were up bright and early for their breakfast. They seem quite happy with their new surroundings even though they are just a bit too short for their feed trough. Needless to say they manage just fine by climbing in with the food!
After reading a number of warnings about the potential difficulties of herding pigs, taking time to have a dry run at loading the trailer seemed a good idea. This could not have gone more smoothly and within a minute or two of arriving at the trailer the pigs were quite happy to go up the ramp.
In the end they happily went in and out of the trailer a few times with only minimal encouragement via the food bucket so there are no great concerns about loading them up on Sunday.
And finally a quick reminder of their woodland home with a shot of them having their last evening meal with us. After all the time they’ve been here I don’t think they could have had a better life anywhere else – a longer life perhaps but not any better!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!