Tag Archives: pigs

Westwick Ham – the Grand Unveiling

Over the weekend the 4 month wait to sample our own Parma Westwick Ham was up.  It was a very exciting moment and really lovely that my Dad who helped us make it 4 long months ago was here to sample it.

Westwick Ham

Westwick Ham

Soon after they arrived I took it down from the Verandah ceiling.  It was as hard as wood which I took to be a very good sign.  No squishy bits and no foul smell. When I unwrapped it it looked less than inspiring, a bit of mould on the outside but again nothing to indicate it was rotten or otherwise good to eat.

Looking underwhelming at first.

Looking underwhelming at first.

I think in this day and age where most food is neatly packaged in plastic, looking completely sterile the idea of eating meat that has not been cooked and in fact has been hanging in my verandah miles away from a fridge or freezer is… disconcerting.  But I trusted to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the millions of farmers (especially Italian and Spanish) who have been there before me.  I am so pleased I did.

I gave the ham a good sniff and it smelled like… well like Parma Ham. Then we tasted it.  It was delicious,  salty and just like Parma Ham!

Looking better.

Looking better.

We carved up a big batch (that took forever by hand (this stuff really is like wood!) to take to my Uncle and Aunt’s House warming party and paired it with some dried apricots to take the edge of the saltiness of the Ham.  It was a huge hit and it was totally exciting to contribute something so unusual that we had made.

Next time we will be making double the quantity and we are thinking of looking for a second hand meat slicer because it really was very hard to slice.


6 months keeping pigs

We started keeping pigs in January. We had often talked about getting pigs, with the usual pattern being that Becky would suggest that we should have some and I would tell her that we don’t have enough space, and we should get something more manageable first. Ironic, then, that pigs ended up being our first animals (not counting cats – they are pets), and that it was me that ended up taking the first steps.

We had realised that our orchard, which had become more of a meadow with some trees in it, would be extremely difficult to clear of grass, brambles and other weeds. We weren’t going to be able to realise our plans to have a large vegetable plot there unless we could solve this problem. We didn’t want to use chemical weedkillers, and Becky’s dad’s rotavator hadn’t proved up to the job of cutting through turf this thick. You can get an idea of how bad it was from the picture below.

Spoiler: we did eventually get pigs.

Spoiler: we did eventually get pigs.

We met Veronica and Jo at a town fete, where they had a stall selling various kinds of meat, including that from their berkshire pigs, and I quizzed them about what was involved in keeping them. We quickly realised that it wasn’t as big an undertaking as all that, and that we had enough land. More importantly, perhaps, the pigs would make short work of clearing the land, destroying any vegetation smaller than a tree. It began to look like a plan.

As it happened, we were able to help Jo and Veronica out in return. Their land had become horribly waterlogged by heavy rainfall over winter, while ours was relatively dry. We took four of their weaners – twice as many as we had originally planned – and kept them on our land for a couple of months. Normally you’d take new weaners at 2 months old, but at 4 months old these were much larger animals, and within a week they had already ripped up much of the turf.

A pig-chewed wasteland.

After just a few days, a pig-chewed wasteland.

Our first set of pigs were with us through a ridiculously rainy period. Going out to feed them was an exercise in desperately trying to keep our boots on our feet as the sucking mud attempted to claim them. Keeping the food dry enough for them to eat it was a challenge, too – normally you just scatter the food on the ground so they can root around for it, but this wasn’t an option here. For much of the time we fed them out of a couple of old bin lids, which just about worked, though in their enthusiasm to get to the food they would frequently tip a fair bit of it into the mud.

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

The pigs themselves seemed not to like the rain very much, and were frequently indoors. At the time we put that down to the fact they had been literally brought up in a barn, but we have subsequently discovered with the second lot of pigs that they actually spend quite a lot of time sleeping, and presumably just preferred sleeping indoors rather than in a giant swamp.

One rather charming aspect of having pigs is how sociable they are. They travel around the pen in a group; you rarely see one on its own. A common experience when we come out to feed them or just visit and see how they’re doing is for a single piggy face to pop out, but invariably the other two will scramble to follow. They even like to chase each other around the pen. They follow us around, too (for obvious reasons) and aren’t shy about nibbling on our wellington boots or even (as I discovered this morning) on my trousers. Having said that, it isn’t all rainbows and sunbeams; our pigs fought over food, shoving and biting to get the best spot. That was when they were havig to crowd together to get the food out of two bin lids – perhaps just a side-effect of feeding in a confined space, therefore.

We are now a month into our second lot of pigs. We have expanded the pen in the hopes that they will work their magic on a corner of our garden that has become quite infested with brambles. This time we have a group of three, and at 2 months old they are much smaller than the last lot. So small in fact that I was able to carry them from the car to their pen when they first arrived. (You carry them by the back legs, as otherwise they would easily wriggle free.)

New pigs!

New pigs!

The new gang have got straight to work digging up the expanded pen. They don’t seem to be making a lot of impact on the brambles yet, but they are still quite small and have only been in for three weeks. They are enjoying having the brambles there, though – they have dug a system of tunnels through the undergrowth, and have got so far in that when they go inside you can’t see them at all, prompting occasional panics that they might have escaped. They also enjoy the craters that their predecessors made which, now it’s hot and sunny, make excellent wallows for them, and the logs we left in there for them to scratch themselves on.

The bramble patch makes a shady spot to sleep.

The bramble patch makes a shady spot to sleep.

Keeping pigs really hasn’t turned out to be all that much work. There was a big push at the start when we had to build the house and so forth, and every time we get a new group in we have to strim any plant life around the fence that has grown in the interim (which will otherwise short it out). We feed them twice a day and top up their water; we change the electric fence battery and refresh their bedding once a week. We also need to regularly patrol the fence to check for any grass or other weeds getting tall enough to short out the fence. That’s about it.

It isn’t a cheap hobby. Obviously, you need land, and you need enough money to pay for housing and fencing. We spent about £700 in total setting up, which covered all the components to a pig ark large enough for 8 pigs (we saved a little by assembling it ourselves), fence posts and wire for the electric fence, a couple of recycled car batteries, an energiser and a recharger. We also put in an electricity and water supply to the far end of the garden to save us carrying batteries and water back and forth (not included in the £700). Of course, there’s also day-to-day costs like feed, but because we have so far had our pigs on loan, we haven’t yet had to pay for this. Our pigs eat Dodson and Horrell sow & weaner pencils, supplemented significantly by grazing as well as waste from our vegetable plot (you can’t feed them anything that’s been in a kitchen, but as long as you do any trimming on site before taking it in, all is well – and they love weeds too). We expect that over time these costs will be paid back to us in delicious pork (and perhaps in time money paid by customers wishing to have delicious pork).

I get a lot of surprised reactions from people when they discover we keep pigs, and even more so when I tell them we kill and eat them. Indeed, when we gave away sausages and chops to our neighbours earlier this year one of them almost turned it down, saying “it wouldn’t feel right”. Almost all of those expressing shock at the idea are meat-eaters themselves, who seem content with the idea of eating a battery-farmed chicken or pork chop but shocked by raising an animal yourself in comfortable conditions and humanely killing and eating them after they have had a happy life.

A happy pig.

Wood from our pear tree makes a nice scratching post.

For myself, I couldn’t be happier about it. If you eat meat then I think there’s an obligation to try and make sure that the animals have been well-treated, and I don’t see how you could do much better than looking after them yourself. Our pigs seem pretty darn happy to me, and I’m confident you won’t get a better welfare standard anywhere else.

Looking ahead, we plan to continue having pigs for the forseeable future. We still have land to clear, but even when that’s finished we’ve enjoyed it enough that we intend to carry on. We will probably move beyond the “pigs on loan” way of doing things to buy our own weaners and sell them to paying customers. Perhaps we’ll even experiment with different pig breeds.

I have to admit, I never thought we would get pigs but now that we have, I’ve no regrets. It’s hard to believe we’ve only had them for 6 months. In that time they’ve become quite a fixture. It’s now much harder to imagine not having pigs.

Ham Hock for Dinner

I’ve never made Ham Hock before and I think I’ve only eaten it once before and it was called a pork knuckle.

So knowing we had a homemade Wiltshire Cured Ham Hock in the freezer begging to be eaten sent me running to the internet for inspiration. I expect you could buy a hock from a good butcher, but I haven’t ever seen one in a supermarket and it isn’t a cut I am very familiar with.

Wiltshire Cured Ham Hock Perfection!

Wiltshire Cured Ham Hock Perfection!

It is a tough cut of meat with lots of tendons and ligaments but as you know these are perfect for long slow cooking.  I remember when cuts of meat like this use to be considered thrifty but I don’t think they are anymore.  For example lamb shanks (which is the same cut on a lamb) can be quite expensive.  At £10 a kg they are still cheaper than chops (about £15 a kg) but it isn’t like lambs’ liver at £2.22 a kg!

I believe in paying for good quality meat with the highest ethical welfare standards and that comes with a higher price tag I’m prepared to pay (and then eat lentils for the rest of the week).  But formerly thrifty cuts of meat have become very fashionable here in recent years and that seems to be driving some of these prices increases (not an increase in welfare – although lamb is much better than pork in that regard) which is a shame.

Finally these cuts of meat that require long, slow cooking aren’t as thrifty anymore because of rising energy prices.  A while ago a read a great article on A Girl Called Jack’s blog (I think) which pointed out that energy prices are now so high that many people can’t afford to have the oven on for 3 hours to cook a tougher cut. A very good point!

I do think there are two short cuts to the last problem.  Firstly slow cookers if you have one – they use a fraction of the energy.  Secondly a haybox – which continues slowly cooking the meal on residual energy.  I’ll be using a slow cooker for my meal here and I’d like to look into hayboxes as well. But I do accept that both these solutions might require resources/skills which many people wouldn’t find easy to come by – so cheaper cuts, still not as thifty for most people as they used to be.

Back to the cooking and away from the ranting.

This was the most useful starting point: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1341/ham-hock-and-lentils.

Partly because I already have a half box of Puy Lentils to use up.

After reading a number of recipes I decided to slow cook the hock in the slow cooker for 3 hours until it was falling off the bone and making lots of lovely stock, then use that stock to cook lentils and shred the ham on top.  I don’t cook a lot of whole meals in the slow cooker because it seems to make everything taste a sort of pallid pale brown.  But I do use it to help me cook bits of meals – dried beans, stock and pulled pork are where the slow cooker really comes into it’s own. This is one of those occasions when it will be vital, I need to cook the meat for a long time but I don’t want to constantly checking on it.

Slow cookers use considerably less energy than the oven or gas hob would for the same purpose. So this will save me money as well.

The lentils are cooked with onion, carrots and the dreaded celery* in the stock from the Ham and then served shredded on top.

*Dreaded because whilst I don’t like it, I don’t love it and sometimes it feels like there are painfully few ways of using it up.  Probably fodder for a future blog post.

My Other Shed is made of Wood

I really think that getting back into my gardening groove has helped our luck.  After yesterday’s extravaganza of planting, today I worked out a whole list of plants I can plant now to fill the gap in the brassica section (and bought some seeds to fulfil my plan), I planted 3 large pots of parsley, 1 pot of clary sage and 1 large tray of kohl rabi.  I’m starting everything in pots so I can better protect them from the evil slugs.

So the good news is that we met some lovely people today who might… might want to keep a beehive in our orchard!  This is very exciting news.  It might come to nothing but it would be so exciting to have some bees buzzing around pollinating all our vegetables. I also found a spare packet of basil seeds that I forgot about!

"Two Sheds" Josh.

“Two Sheds” Josh.

When we first moved here the house came with a shed.  But it was far too small for our needs.  Keeping pigs and planning to keep hens comes with a need to store equipment, straw and feed.  Then we have all the garden tools you would expect from people who have a huge garden and vegetable patch.  So fairly early on this year we bought a new and bigger shed to which we transferred all most of our gardening equipment and the broken chest freezer (thanks Freecycle!) we use for storing pig feed.

But I was determined to keep the old one, it was the green thing to do after all. The new-old shed was in good working order, just a little small, and I knew we would outgrow the new shed very quickly.  We keep 2-3 bales of straw around at a time and I really wanted somewhere to put all that straw – somewhere that was not our verandah.  Verandah’s are for lounging on with cool minty drinks, not for storing straw, kindling and other bittes and oddses (ours is a work in progress!)

After successfully scavenging free concrete slabs for the base of the new-old shed, Josh was fired up to get it up as quickly as possible.  In a relatively short space of time he’d finished putting the shed up and filled it with the bales.

I feel like we have made incredible progress on our Tinyholding in just the last 6 months and having the pig hutch, the new-new shed (with water and electrics) and the new-old shed all up and working contributes a lot to that.  We are not DIY naturals but Josh in particular is getting really good and picking up new skills all the time.

Looking down the garden now I can just see the end of the new-old shed begging for a bit of bunting to cheer it up!

In other news I went up a ladder and had a good squeeze of our Parma Ham which is drying the verandah.  This is the first time I’ve dared do it (I still haven’t opened it up for a sneaky peak).  To my delight it was really solid and hard with no soft or spongy sections (which I’m assuming would imply it was rotten).  We only have about 1 month to go before eating it!

Another day on the Tinyholding

What a trying day!  Well not really but for about two hours this evening it felt like it.

When the going gets tough, the tough, eat a bowl of Eton Mess the size of their head!

When the going gets tough, the tough, eat a bowl of Eton Mess the size of their head!

I worked hard (at my paid work job) all day, really worked my socks off on a report.  It was a huge chunk of work and I was feeling really good about getting so much done.  Then as I tried to save it to the Network something happened – I don’t know what but it corrupted the file horribly.  The only version which escaped was saved at 10.19 am – I had finally finished the report at 4.30pm. I’ll be spending most of Monday redoing the whole thing.

Much swearing happened. I might appear delicate on this blog but in real life I sound like a proper potty-mouth.

But as soon as dinner was eaten and a fat little baby was sound asleep I was determined to banish the blues and headed out into the garden.  Setting slug traps was a grim therapy but a good job done.

I use a small plastic container (like a small yoghurt pot) filled with cheap, cheap beer.  The sluggy demons have eaten my entire lettuce crop, my entire purslane crop, the best courgette and 3/4 of my Mooli.  I will not be beaten.  I laid a good number down and I have a lot more left to do before this war is over.

On the way down to the veg patch I saw the first dogrose of the year.  I missed making anything with rosehips this Autumn and hopefully I’ll do better this year.

Proto-rose hip jelly.

Proto-rosehip jelly.

Then I managed some planting – new salad leaves, new purslane and a 3/4 row of Chop Suey Greens a sort of edible Chrysanthemum. The Purslane and Chop Suey Greens are from the James Wong range at Suttons. I’ll be interested to see how they do this year (already I know purslane is extra vulnerable to slugs).

The pigs have been in a great mood all day. They are growing in confidence, getting much happier with handling and starting to move into the part of the pen which is overgrown (which we would like them to eat through!). Banking up the potatoes (again!) they came out to see what I was up to and had a good rummage around.

Proto-Damson Jam

Proto-Damson Jam

The damson is covered in little green fruit. I already know how amazing it tastes from last year so I’ll be preparing early to make the most of the harvest in jam, jelly and baking.

After a good 45mins in the garden and a large bowl of Eton Mess all is right with the world again and I’m finishing some knitting.

Foraging the Back Garden

We are well into the hungry gap now and until our perennial vegetables (well just Kale actually) are established we are supplementing our early cut and come again salad with foragings from the garden.

Lots of salad.  Yum Yum!

Lots of salad. Yum Yum!

[In the above salad is Fat Hen, Chickweed, Sorrel, Bloody Dock, English Mace and Mizuna]

I met the lovely Wild Food Forager a few months ago and she kindly popped round one afternoon to give us an edible tour of the weeds in the back garden. I didn’t want to pop some hemlock into lunch by mistake!

I learned a lot.  Thankfully I had properly identified Fat Hen and now we eat lots of it whilst waiting for the Spinach to come up.

Fat Hen

Fat Hen

There is also Chickweed (I’ve been pinching out the tops for our salads), Hogweed (I tried one of the young shoots – it tasted very green), Wild Sorrel, Nettles, Ground Elder (I probably won’t be eating a lot of that!), Goose grass (edible but barely!), Elderflowers, Rowan, Dogrose Blackberries and Cow Parsley.

Wildfoodforager was surprised we had no Comfrey (and so was I!) I think one of our plans for next year should be to plant some perhaps under the apple trees;  like nettles, they are so valuable for our composting system.

At the moment I’m letting the Fat Hen and Chickweed grow instead of weeding it.  It gets picked and eaten like any other herb/vegetable.  But I think that Josh and I might have a tussle over that 😉

The nettles won’t make it near the dinner table though – they are far too valuable for the compost heap.

All this has reminded me I own Food for Free and Weeds both by Richard Mabey.  Time to get reading I think!

Finally a picture of the new pigs. The previous pigs did so much digging that they actually created a wallow – they didn’t need to use it much living here in the Winter, but going into the Summer I think the new pigs are going to love it!

oink oink

oink oink


Bank Holiday Work

So moving up here is a lifestyle choice – which means that instead of going away for the bank holiday weekend we were desperately finishing the new pig pen and doing lots of gardening. But it was all great fun!

Our 3 new Berkshire Weaners are happily installed in their huge pen.  They are so tiny it is really easy to lose them in the pen/pig hutch, so I keep thinking they have escaped… only they haven’t, they are just tiny.

After that it was back to more vegetable gardening.

I have planted out all the squashes now (6 butternut and 1 blue banana), a couple of cabbages (Duncan) and the only 3 sweetcorn that made it.  I think sweetcorn in the North will be a bit of a pipe dream from now on but we will see. The rest of the cabbage and about 5-6 cavelo nero need hardening off over the next week before they go in.

I also caught a couple of beans which had germinated which I missed the first time and chucked them in where I could.

The other big job was banking up the potatoes.  Since we have clay soil here I’m trying a new technique of using grass clipping, they rot down over time so you have to bank them up more regularly but it is a million times easier than trying to hill up our soil. Josh worked hard on mowing the lawn so I’d have enough grass clippings for the job.  So far so good.

The win/lose tally is dipping into nature’s favour though:

Lost 1/2 the last salad planting, 1/2 the purslane and the best looking courgette plant to the slugs.  Pass the beer traps please.

I’ve also had cat trouble – my lovely permaculture circle beds are purrfect litter trays.  I’ll be bringing out the rubber snakes soon! In the meantime I lost a good chuck of carrot seedling.  Maybe I’ll replace with a couple of radishes?

We did get our first tiny pea pod of the year – very exciting!