Pocáns & Piglets :
It’s around this time of year when the days start to lengthen and the weather starts to get a bit milder that the blood of the smallholder starts stirrin’. A small niggling itch begins with you looking wistfully at the remains of where your tunnel was last year. The itch builds up to a massive irritation until you can get out and start clearing, hoeing, digging in compost and planting seeds. Well that is if you have a tunnel. I had to dismantle mine which is only a small Mickey Mouse one anyway. I was trying all last year to get someone to give me a price – that didn’t make me fall over with the shock – to remove a massive mound of building rubble dumped at the back of my hay shed from the house renovations. This space was earmarked for a proper tunnel. By the time I got a reasonable price it was well into autumn and now I’m waiting for him to come when the ground dries up.
I bought a small one in my local feed stores and painstakingly assembled it. Then I spent every night it was windy jumping out of bed expecting to see it lying in a heap in the field, or worse- airborne over Cardiff. This year I’ve decided to relocate it to the other side of the hay shed where it will still get plenty of sun but will have a lot more shelter. But first I need a mini-digger to level the area and remove some subsoil that was dumped there years ago. I was out manually trying to shovel it the other day with the first Woofer of the season when the neighbour stuck his head over the ditch and roared “what on earth are you at?” He gave me the phone number of that most elusive of species – a man with a digger. Delighted with myself I rang him straight away. “When you do want it done?” says he. Cheekily I replied “today”. “I’ll be there first thing tomorrow”, says he.
This morning he arrived with a JCB. I, in my innocence thought maybe he was pulling a mini digger on a trailer behind, but no. I looked at him and said “that yoke isn’t going to fit in here.” Of course him being a man and me being a woman, he had to see for himself and agree that I was right. Back to the drawing board.
Ham, bacon and sausages…
The next itch is thinking about getting more pigs. I’ve become a fair weather pig farmer since moving. I did breed in the past but couldn’t cope with the stress of trying to sell piglets as weaners or risk fattening them and not having buyers. At the stage I was feeding them organic feed and it is twice the price of conventional. Now I feed conventional barley and beans but I need to get a source of beans or peas closer to here.
It’s always difficult buying stock on Done Deal. There is an awful lot of rubbish on it. People who don’t have clue what they are at, are breeding pigs. They don’t understand nutrition and often keep the pigs in atrocious conditions. Ideally I prefer to buy stock from an organic source or at least from someone who doesn’t feed the stuff intensive pigs are fed. It contains GM soy and maize.
Last year I got my two weaners from a friend who picked some up for himself and held onto mine until I got a chance to go and pick them up. I swore I would never get pink pigs again (they get sunburnt badly) but of course these were (pink) – supposedly a cross between Welsh white and middle white. I reckon they had little or no middle white in them and quite a lot of whatever they use in intensive farming but they did have the lop ears of the Welsh. They were very nervy and unused to handling in the beginning but turned out to be the friendliest, happiest and funniest pigs I’ve ever reared. In fact it was really difficult to part with them. They regularly escaped but were very easy to get back. They spent their summer in one of my fields with my neighbour’s horses and when they fancied a change of scene broke into next door’s mares and foals. I had a few startled drivers on my road when they rounded the bend and came upon my two trotting after me and a bucket. You don’t often come across pigs on the road.
So now I’m on the lookout for more. Ideally I like to get them in March at around 8 weeks old to be killed late October. That means ham, bacon and sausages for Christmas dinner and breakfast. I made black pudding a few years ago and swore never again. My kitchen looked like a murder scene. But maybe I will organise myself better this year. It’s a shame however, that I moved from an area where my local abattoir was 5 minutes away to here – where it’s a good hours drive in Camolin. That’s one thing (among many), smallholders can thank the EU for and not in a good way. They made so many rules and regulations primarily designed to force small abattoirs out of business and now animals have to be transported miles to be killed, increasing stress on both man and beast.
Billy goat banter
A funny thing happened one evening a couple of weeks ago. I was just about to jar up a batch of marmalade when I thought I heard something outside. I had dropped a hot sterilised jar on the floor and it had shattered everywhere around the four dogs slobbed out at my feet. Of course they all jump up in a frenzy barking. Two men were outside, one of whom had cut down the trees for me during the summer. They say in unison “hear you’re looking for a pocán*”. I said “I am but just a loan of one.” “A bit like a man?” says one. “exactly”, says I.
Lots of laughing and innuendo followed and an offer of a loan of a billy goat for my two females. Gestation is five months and obviously it’s better to kid in summer. I thought mine were a bit young yet but the billy goat owner reckons they are at coming up one. So I’m thinking I will get a loan of his billy soon.
Tales from a Smallholder is a series of posts by Margaret Griffin featuring fortnightly on the YLFN Blog. Margaret is an agricultural and food scientist turned smallholder who writes about her life at www.uppedstickswithpigs.com. She also hosts Airbnb guests on her smallholding and is available as an accredited trainer in food: cooking, baking, curing, brewing, fermenting, pig-rearing and of course, smallholding.
Illustration by www.mizzwinkens.com
pocán* – The Irish word for a male Billy goat