The further adventures of Neale's second foray into rare breed pig keeping. Here follows the diary I kept following his antics back in 2011, with his new clutch of Gloucester Old Spots.
Weaners due any day
I’m really excited. Mike Bant has confirmed we are able to have two little girl Gloucester Old Spots in the next week from the same place we had our last lot, Her Majesty’s Prison Hewell Grange in Worcestershire. Already we have prepared their area putting in a new field gate on the second side of their triangular pen area to allow large vehicle access from both sides, although we still haven’t planted any trees but plan to do so in the coming weeks. I’m particularly excited as I am going with Neale this time to pick them up in our friends working Landrover which has been stripped out. Remembering the state of Neale’s Nissan X-Trail last year after the one journey with our new pigs, and the ensuing projectile diarrhoea, we’re really relieved we can use a vehicle you can literally hose down, but haven’t quite come clean(!) with our friend about the possibility of that happening yet.
Character-wise I loved our old Berkshire and Tamworth pigs but the Gloucester Old Spot was a lot gentler and easier to cope with. Towards the end of Tallulah, Lola and Oinky’s lives I really didn’t like being in the pen with Tallulah, the Berkshire, in particular. Mainly because she bit me quite hard and just rammed me which considering she was 84kg was scary. However don’t let that put you off Berkshires. She was the most beautiful, the most ballsy and the funniest to watch as she was always doing something, such as running, wallowing, rooting, checking out the hedgerow, kicking her football etc.. Despite all that we plumped for the Gloucester Old Spot this year but we may well go back to Tamworths and Berkshires in years to come or perhaps some other rare breed. Already the names in the frame are Fatima and Flora but I’ll keep you posted as the debate is still raging!
Despite a busy weekend for Neale and me the highlight was collecting our new pigs from HMP Hewell Grange on Saturday morning. We set off this time in our work’s van, an old Ford Escort van whose boot we’d stuffed with loads of dry straw. We didn’t bother using our friend’s Landrover in the end as sadly he was away. Mike Bant, the farm manager, is one of those really interesting guys who has got a good story to tell no matter what subject you might be talking about so it took some time to actually get round to the subject of the pigs. The prison farm is a nice little set up and the two prison inmates we met were interested and polite, although Mike did say he could see why some of the others who work on the farm had ended up in there; no initiative or work ethic, cutting corners wherever possible etc….!
Due to the restrictions on movements of animals we could only collect this weekend because Mike was expecting two Gloucester Old Spots back on Monday who had been loaned out to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. This meant the farm would be closed off on Monday for three weeks before any stock movement would be allowed again. Unlike last year when Neale bought the pigs in late March and had whatever was left, hence three different breeds from three different litters and all different ages, we literally had the pick of the litter of Gloucester Old Spots Mike showed us. We wanted to have two gilts (girls) so we could grow them on beyond six months if we wished without worrying about boar taint becoming an issue. Boar taint which becomes apparent after six months renders the meat pretty much useless for anything other than sausages (where seasonings can help to mask the taint).
The weaners were only 8 1\2 weeks old and had just left their Mother 10 days earlier so they still looked like piglets to me. In the end it was more the case of what piglet Mike could catch that decided our final selection and in fact we ended up with three, Fatima, Flora and what was clearly the runt, Freya. Mike popped them all in to a holding pen whilst we went inside his office to do the paperwork and payment. They’d gone up this year to £55 per weaner although Mike gave us a fiver off for the runt. When we went back outside Freya the runt was ambling round the yard happy as Larry! She was small enough to squeeze under the holding pen gate so was off having a nose around oblivious to the Jack Russell – the only ‘Great Escape’ from HMP Hewell Grange. Worryingly she was already becoming quite a little character.
Freya was remarkably easy to catch and didn’t seem at all phased but her two sisters screamed so loudly it was deafening, but once inside the van they settled down very quickly and the entire journey back was really uneventful, even peaceful with them gently snuffling around in the straw. I really wish I’d been there the year before when our Berkshire, Gloucester Old Spot and Tamworth were in the back. Apparently they fought for most of the journey as obviously they had only just met each other and were scared having been removed from their own litters. Neale said it had been hilarious with the car rocking from side to side with the pushing and shoving. This time the three sisters didn’t appear at all stressed and by the time we arrived home an hour later they were asleep.
Another error we made last year was turfing the weaners out of the car into the pig pen without introducing them to their pig house. As a result it took them a few weeks to realise they could sleep under cover in comfort. This time we carried them into their house, stuffed to the rafters with straw which they immediately burrowed into, and blocked them off in it for a couple of hours. They clearly loved this so much we had a job to coax them out but our trump card was Sydney our labrador.
Sydney who has an eating disorder (basically eats anything and everything non metallic) had eaten our turkey and several boxes of chocolates this Christmas so he currently looks like a medium sized pig. Well our weaners certainly thought so because they made a bee line for him and followed him around the pig pen. Very much a symbiotic relationship in Sydney’s view as he can amble around surreptitiously eating their pig shit whilst they think he’s eating grass and follow suit! At one point I though Sydney was going to get a shock as it looked as if they hadn’t been completely weaned! Amazingly it was the runt, Freya who was the first to come out of the house, the first to come up to me and the first to nuzzle Sydney. “Oh no” I thought – I knew what was happening! The human gene which recognises cuteness had (in my case) clocked Freya’s unbelievable cuteness both physically and in character. Neale is fighting it hard but on several occasions I saw his nostrils flaring widely in an attempt not to succumb. I can see this particular batch being very adorable. I’ll keep you posted.
Friends no more
Having got off to a wonderful start Sydney, our labrador and surrogate piggie Mum, fell out with his new family rather spectacularly this week. It was all over the carrot I’d left in the pigs trough for them to munch on. Sydney true to form had taken to running into the pig pen to greet his new Gloucester Old Spot family before shovelling the pig shit down his neck and wandering off to the pig trough in the hope of finding food. As I was always waiting for this action his tactic was to swerve away from the trough about a foot before reaching it, look at me and wander off with a resigned look. However when he saw the carrot gleaming in the trough on Wednesday he couldn’t contain his excitement. He slyly picked it up hoping none of us would notice and tried sloping off to a corner of the pig pen. Unluckily for Syd the three, greedy, rare breed pigs had noticed and ran after him nipping him. When Syd finally lay down to munch his carrot Flora did the unforgivable, as far as Syd is concerned, and actually tried to take a bite of HIS carrot. Well you might not think labradors are an aggressive breed but Syd virtually roared at her, growling and snapping. Abruptly the love affair came to an end!
Really, honestly I thought there could be no greedier animal on the planet than a labrador, what with Syd eating the Christmas turkey, a chicken and porcini dish, three bars of single estate Rococo chocolate and a large box of expensive Artisan du Chocolat salted caramels all in three days! But clearly our new Gloucester Old Spot pigs are more focused than even him. I honestly don’t remember our old batch of pigs nipping until they were much older and braver but this threesome are quite ‘in your face nippy’ already. Not a bad thing as this sort of counteracts their cuteness factor enabling me to think about how tasty they’ll be!
Considerably bigger and ballsier
Apologies as I realised I had not updated the Pig Diary since February and time marches relentlessly on. I’ve been somewhat occupied with organising modifications to my Mother’s house down in Devon to enable her to continue to enjoy living there but allowing for ease of living. Always tricky to be site foreman from a distance of 180 miles! In between hurried trips down there I have been slinging food our three little piggies way without really noticing their development, either physically or characteristically.
The one good thing about my absences has been my daughters, Laura and Lucy, have noticed them for the first time and are quite adamant that they are seriously looking forward to eating this lot! This has a lot to do with the frighteningly aggressive way in which they push and shove for food. They even jump up and rest their fore-feet on the fence. I thought Sydney our labrador was the greediest thing on the planet but it turns out these pigs are, and a lot more in your face about it. Remembering Oinky, I assumed that Gloucester Old Spots were more docile; they’re certainly meant to be. This lot have been biting fingers, nipping boots, ramming legs, so much so, that none of us go in the pen with them without someone else diverting them with food. At least we’ve been sticking rigidly to the prescribed number of scoops of their organic pig food with only a few carrots and apples every now and then so hopefully they’ll be leaner than the last lot.
Surprisingly we are nearly two thirds of the way through eating Tallulah (Berkshire), Lola (Tamworth) and Oinky (Gloucester Old Spot), our last batch of pigs. They were much more endearing than this bunch and I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that the current threesome are sisters so they already came with a pack mentality and consequently are bolder. Tallulah, Lola and Oinky seemed far gentler although at the time I remember thinking Tallulah and Lola quite fearsome towards the end. We’ve just had the most delicious Wiltshire cured Lola ham for Easter c/o the Dukeshill curing team. Amazingly it wasn’t at all fatty which must be down to a Tamworth’s conformation as I remember Lola being a long, relatively thin pig. Tallulah’s leg was very fatty but she looked like a barrel by the end. Our guests were raving about it and we had to provide them with doggy bags at the end. The whole yummy leg only lasted two days, washed down with piccalilli and pickled oranges and with egg and chips on day two. It always amuses me when new Dukeshill customers say they couldn’t possibly get through a whole ham. Granted if you live alone you might be bored after three weeks of ham ‘this and that’ but it is such a versatile food, keeps forever in the fridge and all ages seem to love it. Why wouldn’t you have one?!
Farewell little pigs
There hasn’t been much to report on our three Gloucester Old Spot pigs that hadn’t happened to our last three rare breed pigs. Twice a day stand well back and sling a bucket of food in the general direction of trough and repeatedly go out to refill their water butt which they love up-ending! I don’t know how they managed to do it but every time they splashed me with mud. Because they insisted on knocking over the water butt we ended up with a small corner pond next to the butt which never dried out. Like the last pigs they loved rolling, sitting and walking around in this muddy sludge and because they were so greedy and assertive they would jump up at the fence whenever they heard me coming, hence the splatterings!
Anyway this last Monday was D-Day for them. This time Neale had booked them into a relaunched abattoir at Bishop’s Castle run by a consortium of local farmers/producers which seemed to be a well run, small operation. There Fatima, Flora and Freya were unloaded along with a variety of other rare breed piggies. Unlike last time I didn’t have any pangs of guilt or sadness, just relief at not having to get changed again every morning! This time I was present during the butchering. Glynn and Radek did a splendid job of creating an enormous number of a variety of joints, chops, boned and rolled bellies as well as producing a nice stash of sausages from all the trim, and a lot of face meat for Neale to attempt brawn. Wow, what a taste sensation that was. Absolutely delicious, so succulent and tasty. Served with our Dukeshill Piccalilli and one of our lettuces from the garden it was a sublime summer lunch. Slightly fattier than our Dukeshill potted ham hock and with a subtly different flavour it took an age to make, mostly because it was so fiddly to remove the meat from the fat, so in fact using the head meat from our three pigs we only managed to produce two loaf tin sized brawns. We will keep you posted as to how the brawn development at Dukeshill goes!