The Why

For quite a number of years now, I’ve been rearing and growing my own food (well trying to). I say trying to, because as any hobby gardener knows, growing your own food is difficult. Every growing year is different and it’s a constant struggle balancing environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, sun or lack of and rain or lack of. Yes, even here we have prolonged and very dry spells.

My maternal great grandparents’ grave

Lately I’ve seen quite a lot of commentary about how we are living longer now (than we did in the past.) We humans love trying to comfort ourselves that we are doing everything right and everything is all right with the world. Of course, the vast majority of times we are utterly delusional. And this is one such case.

The photo above is of my maternal great grandparents’ grave. As you can see they lived to a great age. Sadly two of their children did not, but one son did. Usually back then children died from something as simple as a lack of antibiotics. My maternal grandmother had 12 children (my mother is the youngest). She lived to the grand old age of 94. Her husband, my grandfather was in his late 80s. My mother is 87 and the only one still living. All her siblings (except one, a surgeon who emigrated to the US) lived well into their 80s and even 90s.

I digress slightly here to tell you a funny story about her last living sister, before she died. She was 97. We all thought she would make the tonne. She was funny, fiesty, witty and very, very well read. They all were. She awoke at 5am the day she was to die and asked her equally elderly husband (a few years younger) was it time for a martini. He said no, it was 5am not pm. She had got a taste for martinis from her brother who had emigrated to the US and who returned regularly for visits.

She later died quietly and we all felt sad he hadn’t given her a martini, her last. After her funeral I saw one of her grandchildren carrying a tray filled with martinis over to the others. I stood quietly with tears in my eyes and said ‘sláinte Ita, you taught them well!’

Obviously genetics play a part in longevity. The genes for longevity are in all 4 branches of my maternal ancestors. But I am fully convinced that nurture (nurture vs nature?) plays an equally important role. And by nurture I mean diet and lifestyle. We now have an horrendous diet in comparison to back then. We eat highly refined processed foods and a huge amount of refined sugar and carbohydrates. In addition, our intensively produced food is sprayed regularly with what I call ‘icides’ (pesticides and herbicides). Cide is Latin for killer or the act of killing. What kills pests is also killing us, albeit more slowly.

These ‘cides’ are killing the soil and all its inhabitants. These inhabitants (earth worms, microbes, beetles, insect species) all beaver away below ground synthesising nutrients essential for plant and crop health and indirectly for us. The simple fact is, our food is not as nutritionally beneficial as it was in the past. How could it be?

It’s not only food grown in the ground that’s less beneficial. Animals reared on this grain and grass produce food for us. If we need a healthy soil to grow our food, so do they. Ruminants (cattle) are herbivore. They never evolved to eat grain. They don’t need it. But we are impatient and want to fatten them up in a shorter time. So we feed them grain. We feed it to dairy cows who have been bred to produce vastly more milk than they ever needed to in nature. And because they produce all this milk they need more intensive feeding.

A huge proportion of the grain (and the protein soya) is produced in far flung countries and shipped here. Of course it’s grown in heavily-depleted soils and sprayed within an inch of its life. It has to be because it is grown as huge monoculture intensive agriculture.

It’s no surprise that beef from grass fed only bovines has healthier fat. Fat that we need for healthy brains and hearts. This fat has more saturated fat than trans fat. Trans fat is produced because the animals are fed an unnatural diet. Likewise eggs and pork from pasture-fed hens and pigs is also healthier. The latter are different to bovines though because they are omnivores. There is no earthly reason treated food waste couldn’t be fed to them and it would make eminently more sense than destroying rain forests in South America and shipping the ‘icide’ laden crops half way around the globe. Obviously this food waste would need to be real food and not the processed crap people pile into their trolleys (that I wouldn’t give to any of my animals here.)

So intensive animals apart from leading a miserable unnatural life produce food that is less beneficial for us. And in doing so are trashing nature, the environment and ecosystems. And we in turn are dying younger and from more disease.

The only winners as far as I can see are big food and big pharma. And don’t kid yourself that they care about the human race. The only thing they care about is their bottom line.

This is why I live the way I do. I appreciate not everyone can. People are time poor now or money poor. People have no space to grow and to buy real food is expensive. But it’s also true to say that many people can afford to but choose not to. Personally I’d prefer to spend my money on food rather than pharma.

Nothing in life is easy. But equally nothing in life is impossible. Humans have survived thus far by being resilient. We are facing a huge wake up call. If we don’t improve the way we produce food we will have nothing left to produce food from.

The New Season

I seem to have lost interest in writing lately. Not sure why. Maybe it’s since I finished my book and published it. It took a huge amount of effort and time to get it over the finish line. It’s almost a year since she (Honky) left now. I don’t think a day has gone by since that I haven’t thought about her and it’s still like a punch in the gut.

Honky’s tree

I finally got around to planting a tree for her. It’s a Betula jackmontii (the white barked birch). It’s a small ornamental tree. I was going to plant a tree out where she loved to lie in summer but the goats…….

So I settled for the garden and now I can look at it every day and hopefully think about her in happier times. So here’s to your life Honky and I hope your book will make people think about how we treat pigs and maybe make a small effort to source pork from pigs that had a good life. It’s called Honky and Hugo and the Great Big Pig Heist.

Her book

My first Workaway of the year was a German (Monika) who was here for 3 weeks. She was an enthusiastic photographer especially interested in birds and absolutely relished being so close to the sea here. She set off most afternoons on my bike and cycled to the beach to walk, read, birdwatch. The nearest sea to where she was from in Germany was 600kms!

Mutual love

She loved my dogs and cats and they her which was remarkable because she had never even had a pet as a child. She asked for a cat but was told no. I can’t get my head around not allowing a child a pet. Responsibility for animals makes them into a more decent human being.

I have a new Workaway now from Finland. She stays until the end of the month then I have a French girl for June followed by a French lad for July. And one of my German Workaways from late last year recommended my place to her friend, so she arrives for the month of August.

I took the Finn to walk in the woods in Tintern and to see the abbey yesterday. The bluebells were in full bloom and I thought about Monika who had missed them. They were just beginning to appear towards the end of her stay. I took a few photos thinking I would send them to her. Just as that thought went through my mind, my phone beeped and it was her sending her photos. Telepathy or what?

Bluebells in Tintern

She took some of the animals and some of the various scenic spots I took her to.

Gina GoatyMcGoatface
Gina
Silkie chick
Loubielou
Carnivan Strand
Cliff walk Arthurstown
Slade harbour

Some lovely photos and it was great to get them. I particularly love the one of the cliff walk at Arthurstown. It’s a really stunning walk.

And finally to end, I took the plunge and changed the yellow door. After almost 5 years (and probably at least 2 before that) it was beginning to fade, as it faces due south and there is a lot of sun here. There is more sun and less rain here than anywhere else in the country. Another reason to love it.

I haven’t quite decided if I like it. What do you think?

Pink door

No More.

I’ve had Wwoofers/Workaway people here for the last 4 years. They’ve been for the most part a great help/addition to the place. They live here, eat here, work here and in return are free to explore (under their own steam) in the afternoon and at weekends.

My own eggs and kale

I cook great food. Most of it is reared or grown here. The rest is local, seasonal and mostly organic. I make my own bread, cakes, pastries. I use really top quality ingredients. There is no convenience/highly processed food ever used. Not even frozen chips!

Up to this I’ve bent over backwards to accommodate vegetarians. I drew the line at vegans. I even drew the line against my temporarily vegan daughter. But now I’ve decided no more. No more catering for dietary requirements. No more double cooking. It’s a waste of fuel and time apart from anything else. No more catering for those with allergies. This might sound harsh but I’m totally fed up with those that tell me they’re allergic to ‘x or y’ but then happily eat ‘x or y’ when concealed in processed foods.

Home reared lamb chops, home grown kale, psb and potato cubes with rosemary and garlic

I’ve changed my profile on Workaway to state this. I know most applicants will totally disregard it but at least I’ve covered my ass in this regard.

And now I’m prepared to start another new season here and welcome a Finn having had a German vegetarian for the last 3 weeks.

Thanks for reading.

The Larder

Larder cupboard

I wasn’t going to bother to update this blog. I kinda have an idea for it. But circumstances changed this year, so here goes. Bear with me, I may wax lyrical.

Last year I had no help (Woofers, Workaway, Helpx) and stuff ran away on me. The place went to hell in a hand basket. I was trying to run a small business, baking cakes, that was hellishly time consuming, but literally paid nothing. I covered my costs but my time was free. That’s unsustainable is anyone’s books and to add insult to injury, my beloved animals were suffering and the place was falling down around me. I had worked so hard up to this to try to restore the outbuildings and get the garden up and running but I just couldn’t do it all. Something had to give.

This year started off differently. My amazing neighbour helped me paint the house. I got all the out buildings painted myself because I was on a roll. Then I began to get applications from Workaway. My first one was an Italian who did a lot of weeding and painting.

Then I got the most surprising application of all. An Austrian lassie who was a carpenter. I had put on my profile, more in hope than expectation that I needed help with carpentry. She replied that she’d like to come here. I said yes and sent her my mobile number and suggested she communicate from now via WhatsApp. I arranged to meet her off the bus in New Ross. But I got the days and dates mixed up and sat like an eejit for 40 minutes waiting for her while she was doing a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. She was arriving the following day!

True to form I hadn’t really read her profile. I get so many applications that I just say yes to the vast majority because as you enter into a conversation with them you sort the men from the boys. Generally when I tell them what I expect, I never hear from them again. And what I expect in return for full bed and board with fabulous food (I haven’t had one nationality not be flabbergasted at the food here), is not a lot. I figure if they’re not prepared to do what I ask, they’re no loss. So I had only read her profile as I was sitting waiting for her on the wrong day.

Early days

So when I actually read it, I got a shock. She was a carpenter who worked as a cabinet maker. I suggested to her I really needed a storage solution for a corner in my kitchen that had a washing machine and a cupboard in it when I bought the house. I didn’t want a washing machine in the house so put mine in the shed opposite. I then installed a dishwasher in the kitchen and removed a cupboard to do so, putting it where the washing machine had been. But due to my general baking obsession and the business, the worktop above it had become storage space for tins, bowls and boxes of flour. It was a towering, tottering mess.

We pulled out the cupboards and got a plumber cum electrician to seal off the plumbing and move the socket up to accommodate my 30+ year old microwave. But we discovered a builder’s melee of heating manifolds and a power unit. Any larder cupboard had to make access to this mess a possibility. We sat at the kitchen table and drew a plan. Then we started to measure. This house, although renovated is probably well over 200 years old. The floor sloped as did the ceiling and the walls were plaster board.

Measuring up

We went to buy the wood. Holy God, the price of the stuff. Thanks to Brexit and Covid (well they’re given as the excuse for absolutely everything now) the cost was eye-watering. A very nice man in Foulksmills Stores suggested we use mdf and ply and trim the ply with wood. We ordered what we needed and they agreed to deliver the next day. In the meantime the Austrian told me she had never made anything out of a dedicated workshop and she needed tools. The only tool I had was a swanky Dewalt drill I’d invested in a week before. But as usual neighbours here came to the fore. ‘What do you need’? They had circular saws, clamps, supports, hand tools, screws, rawl plugs. You name it. One neighbour wheeled a mucking out wheel barrow full of stuff to my gate, shouted at me and said ‘here you go, shout if you need anything else….’

Workshop in my yard

She found lots of problems. She was used to having the right space, the right tools. I kept telling her that my dad, an accountant, was a hobby carpenter who built a summer house in our garden without so much as a drill. He built dog houses, guinea pig houses, benches, cupboards, shelves, doors etc. and he hadn’t a fraction of the tools or workshop space she was used to. Then I took her down to the local joinery, who were delighted to give her a tour and tell her the exact same thing I had told her (re my dad). They bemoaned the fact that modern carpenters can’t do anything when there’s a power cut (no computers). She listened. She took it in and she rolled her sleeves up.

Local joinery

In a couple of days I had two units built, painted by me, (I wasn’t sitting on my hands) and installed. Then we cut the doors and went back to the joinery who loaned her a nail gun to put the trims on. In the picture below she’s adjusting the legs from the kitchen units (Cedarwood Kitchens) that we’d removed to reuse. She designed a removable board that allows access to the pipes etc and also access via a kickboard and a side panel.

We put one door on. We adjusted the shelves, we designed the spice rack for the door. We painted and installed the trims, the kickboard, the side panels, the architraving at the top and the handles. I made so many runs to the local hardwares for bits and pieces then I went to buy the paint. I intented going with Little Green but their mixing machine was broken so I went with Colourtrend. The doors are Kimono red, the little repurposed chest of drawers (bought in a junk shop place) Foxmount and I went with a cream colour called Nude Bisque for the interior. I wanted to unit to be totally unlike the shiny, white modern kitchen that was here when I bought the place (which I hate and want to change).

Repurposed chest of drawers

As we had cut the chest of drawers in half but she had left an overhang to support my ancient microwave, I said why don’t we make a narrow shelf unit for wine bottles? We did and it worked.

Spice rack

We then designed a spice rack to go on the smaller door. We went to the joinery to buy off cuts and get them to cut it. They misunderstood her units and when I went back to collect it, they were great big chunky pieces. The joinery owner said they’re her measurements and she’s a carpenter so basically don’t argue. I replied well she’s the carpenter but I’m the client and I don’t want a great hulking unit like that. When I got home she told me they’d read her metric units as imperial. In fact we went back to plane more off. We ended up with a class rack.

Stuffed to the gills

The photo above is with kitchen stuff literally thrown in. I had stuff all over the house (the house is small) and I just had to remove it. But it’s already almost full. It’s a bit like the M50, the more lanes you build, the more cars use it.

But the thing that most impresses me is this young woman. A farmer’s daughter set to inherit the farm who went off to train to be a carpenter. She’s sharp, intelligent, smart. She could do anything. If she was here, she’d have been browbeaten into university because everyone knows that if you’re intelligent here you go to college. Except why? There wasn’t an option when I was leaving school to learn a trade. I was smart, intelligent but I hadn’t a bloody clue what I wanted to do. In my fantasies I wanted to be a vet or a doctor (told I wouldn’t get the points), a journalist (told I wasn’t good enough at English). I know now I was more than good enough for all the above but I was also very good with my hands and have a keen eye (did photography as an elective in UCD and was told I had ‘a good eye’.) But no one ever suggested anything like carpentry. If they had my life might have been so different.

Neighbour’s granddaughter teaching her to ride.

I think we all need more options. This Austrian is here learning about the Irish way of life, learning to ride, caring for horses, preparing horses for the sales (with my neighbour), discovering she’s a talented carpenter who can manage without a workshop and state of the art tools, learning to cook, learning English.

Making larders. She turned to me at one stage and said ‘maybe we could go into business making larders…..’

The Book

Finally a project I began a few years ago is nearing completion. “I started so I will finish” springs to mind, except I probably wouldn’t have got around to finish this if poor old Honks hadn’t departed.

I made the awful decision to end her life on the 15th June past. I don’t think I will ever get over it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I did it for her. I don’t think a day as passed since, when a reminder hits me in the guts and winds me deeply. I feel as much guilt and remorse as I would have done for a beloved family member. Maybe that makes me odd or abnormal but I’m at the age now that I really don’t give a damn what people think.

Her leaving me made me decide once and for all to finish something I started in 2016. I had written a book and submitted it to a few publishers. It was rejected. I hadn’t a clue what I was at. It was awful but I knew the idea was a good one. I got professional advice and reworked it. Then I got more advice and decided to finish it and commit to it.

It’s gone to my editor now for a final edit and she’s been fantastic and really supportive. Then Helen Joy who I’d asked in the beginning to illustrate it was on board as well. We had got to know each other initially on Twitter. Then we met and have been in contact ever since. She even met the diva herself and had previously done some fabulous sketches.

Helen is a smallholder who also rears pigs at Swanbridge Porkers. She understands how we fall for these magnificent animals and grow to love their personalities, their quirkiness and their downright pigheadedness. They say you love someone with traits similar to your own. Well that applies to animals too.

So all going well Honky the book (final title to be decided) will be published before Christmas.

The synopsis:

Honky makes friends with a young autistic boy, Hugo. Hugo is lonely, as she is because he finds it difficult to integrate in a noisy school. She can’t be reintegrated with her siblings after she was removed as a very sick piglet. They have a lot in common and start to explore the area where they live. They meet an abandoned donkey called Mikey. They discover an intensive pig farm and are horrified by it, so plan a daring rescue. But will they pull it off and what will be the outcome for hundreds of released pigs?

A lot of it is based on reality. I discovered the abandoned donkey in a derelict cottage and rescued him. I found him a home thanks to Twitter with the help of Lucinda O’Sullivan, food writer for the Sunday Independent. The setting for the book is based where I lived in north Meath. My experience of rearing pigs and farming ethically is the raison d’etre for the story.

I would love people to begin to connect how their food is reared is vital to their health. Animals ethically reared for meat, vegetables grown in healthy soils make good nutritious food. When we treat animals inhumanely, when we trash soils we produce low grade food. It’s really that simple.

And with everything we need to start with the children.

In memory of Honky (Her Royal Honkyness) born on my smallholding 24th August 2015 and died here 15th June 2001.

As an aside, I always knew this blog was finite and in the back of my mind I intended to turn it into a book. I mean if yer man who wrote A Year in Provence could do it, why couldn’t I? Maybe moving from one end of the country to the other with pigs isn’t as glamorous as moving to France but who’s to say it’s any less interesting?

So as they say “watch this space.”

The Knowledge

Spring veg

I read something this morning that really made me think. It was lamenting the fact that our food is globally, intensively, mass-produced. There’s almost no sense of place to it anymore. If you landed from outer space in any country in the world, could you tell where you were by the food? You more than likely could in Italy, parts of Spain, France, South America but here?

In all the countries mentioned, food is inextricably linked to their very being, their culture, their life. But the more global our food supply has become, the more we’ve lost that sense of place.

And I’ve read all the articles saying we could, as a nation, feed ourselves sufficiently with dairy and beef, lamb etc. in the event of a global catastrophy but we’d be at a serious disadvantage for fruit and veg. Go into any supermarket now (even the high end ones) and all you will find is generic imported mainly from glass jungles in Almeria, Spain and mostly distributed through Holland.

It’s all very well to tell people to grow their own. But growing your own apart from a bit during the summer, takes a skillset and space. Most urban dwellers if they’re lucky enough to have a house spent most of their time working to pay the mortgage or the rent and tend to be time poor.

Markets are popping up in urban areas but in rural areas if there are any, there tends to be a dearth of growers. I’ve seen market stalls, farm shops etc. selling organic veg but it’s invariably imported.

Wouldn’t it be great to see farmers being encouraged to diversify into fruit and veg and given all the supports, incentives and financial aid to do so. And along with this build a local market where this produce could be sold. Instead we see government, farming bodies, farming advisory boards encouraging farmers to intensify, get bigger, spend more and lose control of their product the minute it goes out the gate.

I’ve been meaning to take four photos in my local SuperValu, one for every season to see the variation on the shelves but I’m fairly certain you could barely tell Christmas from Summer.

In a local market you would have apples in autumn, strawberries in summer, tomatoes in summer, root veg in winter, cabbage in spring/winter, asparagus in summer, beans/peas in summer. You could literally tell what month it was by what was in season. You’d have kohl rabi, celeriac, purple sprouting broccoli, kalettes, chard, multiple varied salad leaves (summer and winter), rocket, leaf celery, mizuna, artichokes, 5 varieties of kale, cabbage, parsnips, turnip, aubergine, courgettes. I don’t know about you but I have never seen chard in a supermarket. I asked for it once in a posh one and was told by the person in charge of the section they’d never heard of it.

Most people think stuff is in season all year round. In fact I don’t think they understand seasonality at all anymore. I see asparagus, green beans, strawberries from Nigeria or Nicaragua or wherever they’re imported from. They’re totally tasteless particularly the strawberries and for some reason tough but that doesn’t seem to bother most.

The joy of biting into a juicy, sweet Wexford strawberry in June is worth waiting for. Likewise the first Irish tomatoes that bring back memories of sandy, soggy sandwiches huddled in a windbreak after spending too long playing in the sea. You were starving and freezing and they tasted so good with a luke warm cup of sweet tea from a flask. Tomatoes I grew last year brought back this memory as I sat at the kitchen table eating them with Spanish olive oil and salt and I felt nostalgic. I hadn’t tasted tomatoes like that for such a long time. Back then presumably supermarket tomatoes tasted of tomatoes?

The purple sprouting broccoli in the photo above was the first I’ve picked this year. I was hoping to have it long before now having smugly planted some in the tunnel which grew huge, luxuriously green leaves but nothing else. I used the leaves as cabbage so not all was lost. The irony being that what I picked the other day came from plants that were decimated by caterpillars and I mean totally decimated.

I had chard all winter. In the veg garden it struggled a bit during the really heavy wind and rain as the stuff in the tunnel thrived. It really is the most versatile vegetable because it has the crunchy colourful stalks and the leafy green leaves. I have leaf celery in the tunnel and some that seeded itself outside. It has so much more flavour than the traditional celery only available to buy.

Pork belly with veg from garden and wild garlic mash

The plate above was mostly produced here. Pork belly from last year’s Oxford Sandy Blacks, veg from the garden picked minutes before cooking and wild garlic mash (the wild garlic from Tintern). I didn’t grow enough potatoes sadly but hopefully I’ll have more this year.

I would really love to see more markets in rural areas selling local, seasonal veg from local growers who are able to make a living wage. It’s fine and dandy if you’re living in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway but in rural areas it’s a different story.

Wouldn’t be great if an alien landed in a local market in rural Ireland in May and they could not only tell it was May from what was available but they could tell they were in Ireland? It’s not impossible and it is increasingly likely that that’s the route we need to be heading not expanding/intensifying/exporting because at the end of the day none of us can eat money!

The Now

Where to start? It’s been a while. Little did I think when we were in lockdown last March that we still would be this year. If fact I truly believe we will be next year too. But that’s too depressing a thought. I really really hope something changes and people say no more. I don’t hold out much hope for that either.

Since I haven’t updated this blog for ages, I better start with now. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have no help this year again. I’ve had a few requests from Workaway and HelpX since last summer but none really suitable. Because of this I decided I needed to get on with it and start the endless round of maintenance again myself. So far I’ve painted the house with the help of a neighbour. Next all the sheds and then the fencing. As well as this start the growing season again. It’s been a really cold April which has set me back. It’s difficult to start stuff indoors because this old house has small windows and poor light.

But nature has decided despite the cold, she’s going full steam ahead and my duck has hatched a clutch of hen eggs. She had build her nest under the same rosemary bush as last year. I tried to move her inside last year and she was not impressed, abandoning the nest. So this year I left her. I switched her eggs for hen. I must admit I felt a bit mean but I was fairly certain few if any of hers would be fertile. George my Muscovy drake is ancient. I think 14…. and he’s not great on his legs but he does get a spring in his step at this time of year. His fertility was patchy last year and this year probably even patchier. Plus I’ve decided to phase out ducks. Of the two Appleyards I got last year, one flew off with her son and never returned. I was getting phone calls most days telling me my ducks were on the road/in such and such’s garden/field etc. I have one remaining and a female off spring (not sure if it’s hers or the one that flew off.)

7 various crosses but all half Silkie

So I substituted the eggs and pretty much two days over 3 weeks they began to hatch. Something I’ve noticed with ducks is when they go broody they don’t sit all day from the start. They sit only at night for the first few days. Hens don’t do this so I did wonder if it would affect the hen eggs but it didn’t apart from the extra two days. Of the 8 eggs, 7 were fertile and hatched. So far she’s a great mother.

Last year one of these ducks (I’m not sure if it was her because the one who flew off was identical) hatched one duckling and the other hatched two a few days later. The mother of the pair attacked and killed the single duckling and the duck was distraught. I returned from work to find her calling and calling. I had seen the other duck go for the duckling before I left and I was so sorry I hadn’t separated them. She kept this up all the following day and it was heartbreaking. If it was her I knew she’d be a good mother. Lots of people have told me since that they’ve never seen a duck hatch and mother chicks but they have the reverse. I knew it would work because years ago I had a hen and a duck who mothered a single chick. They were both broody at the same time and only a single chick hatched that they literally fought over. It was the best mothered chick ever!

I keep all the chicks and it doesn’t matter much whether they’re male or female. If they’re female they go on to produce eggs. I keep the males until they just start to crow (and before they start fighting) and then cull them for the pot. I haven’t bought a commercially produced chicken now for over a year. They’re totally different in that they are much leaner and tougher so are really only suitable for boiling. But they give the most amazing stock and the boiled carcass makes great pies, curries, stews etc. Plus the flavour of the meat is much more intense than even a well-produced organic bird that fattens in a couple of months. These take at least 6 months.

Two culled young cocks
Breast and leg meat

Little by little I’ve increased the food I produce here. It’s immensely satisfying and it really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to rear and feed an animal for the table. Even with economies of scale I’m continuously mystified how a grower can make money from a bird thats sold in a supermarket for €3. It means the “farmer” (and I use that term advisedly because I don’t consider intensive factory food production farming) is getting only cents per bird.

It’s the same with pork but that is a whole other blog post. I am working my way through the two Oxford Sandy Black pigs I reared last year but again with no family or friends visiting, I’m not using as much as normal so made the difficult decision not to rear any this. I named last year’s pair, “the little shits” thanks to their propensity for escaping. At least this year that will be one fewer phone call along the lines “your pigs are gone over the road”. Instead I’ve booked half a carcass from an organic farmer who I know rears hers to the same standard as mine.

Breakfast porn (all produced here including double yolker)

Since I posted at the start a photo of a wild garlic focaccia I should probably give you the recipe. I’m lucky to live very close to Tintern Abbey (Wexford) with beautiful woodland walks. It was theoretically outside my 5km but that was just for exercise. Food shopping was deemed by our great masters “essential”. They didn’t mention foraging but I figured foraging is just as valid as supermarket shopping so I combined both especially as it’s wild garlic season.

Tintern

Wild Garlic Pesto

A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers washed and shaken dry. Put into a small blender/blitzer with a sprinkling of pine kernals or you can use walnuts. Add salt, pepper, grated parmesan and enough olive oil to give a sauce like consistency. I don’t ever measure quantities of anything in this because it’s best to taste as you go. Some wild garlic can be very strong so pick young leaves preferably. If you can’t make something without exact quantities, follow a basil pesto recipe but substitute wild garlic for basil.

I then added 3 good teaspoons to a focaccia dough made with 500g strong flour, 10g salt, 15g fresh yeast (in some warm milk with a pinch of sugar for an hour in advance to give it a boost). Alternatively use 7g dried yeast. Add a glug of olive oil and enough warm water to give a soft dough. Mix for 10 minutes on a low speed or knead by hand for 10 mins.

Prove in a warm place in a covered bowl for an hour or until doubled in size. Then flatten it out onto a baking tray. Decorate with the pesto and some leaves and flowers and sprinkle with coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil and leave to stand while you heat up your oven to 220C. After 20 minutes place into hot oven with some water in base to create steam. I use the grill pan. It takes about 20 minutes but remove from tray to make sure base is baked and leave on oven shelf or another 5 minutes.

I also made wild garlic soup using some veg I had here (leaf celery in tunnel and some purple sprouting broccoli I had in freezer from last year, ) onion, a potato, wild garlic leaves and some of that fantastic stock from my culled cocks that I freeze in small quantities. Add a dollop of pesto, olive oil before serving to make it really sing. It was so refreshing and delicious that you just knew it was good for you – in a good way not in a penitential way.

The Porcine Patient

Grounded

Honky the pig or HRH (Her Royal Honkyness) is disabled. She is immobile. She can’t stand or move much more than shuffle forwards or sideways. She now needs as much care as a disabled human (feeding, watering, cleaning).

Her daily routine is as follows:

Breakfast at 7.30am followed by a drink of water.

She shuffles forward most days for her bucket so that I can clean under her. I remove all the wet, dirty straw and replace with fresh. I clean her tail. It got infected by her sitting on it in her own waste. I clean it with warm saline, dry it then slather it in honey. It was very inflamed and I was afraid she’d get septacemia. But the honey has sorted it.

Then I tackle her back elbows which are effectively pressure sores. I clean them and alternatively slather honey or a waxy barrier cream I got from the chemist on them. So far this is working and she seems to be comfortable enough.

She’s eating really well. She seems happy in herself and she’s interested in what’s going on around her.

I give her some seaweed and sea spinach I gather at the beach. She also gets lots of haylage. This keeps her occupied when the others are gone outside. Seanie (the rescue donky from the Donkey Sanctuary) pops his head in and shares some of the haylage with her.

Then when the others come back in they all have a snooze until its time for the evening feed at around 4pm.

She gets fed and cleaned again and her sores treated. She gets more haylage and is then bedded up with fresh straw. If it’s cold she gets a blanket and a heat lamp.

Before I go to bed I go out to check her and give her a banana.

I’m not writing any of this because I’m looking for sympathy. I know there are loads of people out there who think I should shoot her. That I’m keeping her alive when she has no quality of life, that I’m being cruel etc.

Well the fact is it would be much easier on me to shoot her (or get her shot). I hurt my back recently because of her, it’s not easy trying to move a 350kg animal. I don’t need to hurt myself. But how can I destroy a perfectly healthy, happy animal because she can’t get up? We keep humans alive with infinitely poorer quality of life than she has. Why do we treat humans differently to animals? We all share the same planet. We all have our place. We are not better than animals. We are not more important or more necessary (in fact, if anything we are less necessary).

She is here because of me. She has lived this long because of me. She didn’t ask for any of this. And as long as I’m able, I will care for her. When I decide her life is not worth living (because she will tell me), I will make that decision. I’ve done it before and I will do it again.

But for now she’s staying and I will do my very best to keep her healthy and happy.

Snuggled up and cosy with the others

The Donkey

I got a mad notion one night recently and decided to “rescue” a donkey (as in take one from the Donkey Sanctuary.) I’d been thinking a lot about one I had actually rescued a few years ago; who is now in a lovely home in Cork. I had called him Sarcozy because his feet were so overgrown he looked like he was wearing high heels (similar to his diminutive namesake.)

Seanie

It came about, because one day I went for a cycle with the dogs and as usual my neighbour’s dog, Bubbles was waiting at the gate. He wore a collar that gave him a shock if he moved outside his own perimeter but the batteries frequently ran down and he was very quick to realise. I didn’t mind because when you’ve 4 dogs anyway, what difference does a 5th make? I’m sure I get called all sorts by the few (very few) who throw their eyes up to heaven and mutter when they have to slow down on the narrow rural road with grass down the middle. Generally I just mouth “pleasantries” back at them..

Anyway one day, the bould Bubbles who paid no attention whatsoever to me and athletically vaulted garden walls to have a nosey, came out of the deserted cottage at the end of the road with a hedgehog in his mouth.

I managed to retrieve the poor little thing and took him back to where I thought he’d been found. I made a mental note to go back later and leave out food for him and his family. It was a bitterly cold, damp day but I was really busy baking all day so didn’t get down until dusk. When I got back he was still there curled up and frozen so I brought him back here and set to action with my syringe and my, by now, fail safe combination cure of honey, kefir and salt.

.

Harry

I put it out on Twitter and asked for advice. Mother of God, some of the replies I got. You’d swear I’d actually set out to torture and maim the mite. Most of them (and they were mostly UK based) were shouting aggressively to take him immediately to a hedgehog rescue. I’m not sure why but most of these accounts assume everyone else on Twitter is (a) English, (b) living in the UK, (c) living in an urban area down the road the road from a local hedgehog rescue open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! Instead of the reality, in the middle of no where in a goddamn pandemic where travelling is restricted and at 10pm at night. You wouldn’t even get a doctor at that time.

Anyway I digress. I got him warm with a hot water bottle, got fluids into him (switched to cat milk immediately), they can’t tolerate cow’s but kefir would have the lactose fermented so it probably wouldn’t do him any harm, got the fly eggs laid by a bluebottle off him. He thrived and the Kildare Wildlife Rescue got back to me next day after I had left a voicemail on their helpline. They sent a volunteer to collect him and took him into their care.

I was sad to see him go but knew it was for the best. I think that’s why I decided to adopt a donkey.

Incidentally poor Bubbles was hit by a car and trailer just a few weeks later, being driven down the road early on a Sunday morning like a lunatic. He survived a few days after but sadly didn’t make it. I’d say he had internal injuries because otherwise hadn’t a mark on him. He was a beautiful, spirited, gentle, kind dog who did not deserve that. I was heartbroken.

I contacted the Donkey Sanctuary and in a day or so had a reply, then a phone call, then an inspection. My feet hardly touched the ground. I suppose this is the time of year when they need to off-load. I was offered Seanie. Told he had spent his entire 18 years tethered. Of course she knew as soon as she walked in the gate I was a soft touch. She commented several times that every animal looked so healthy and was flabbergasted at the big pigs stretched out snoring in the hayshed.

Seanie arrived a few days later and has settled in really well. He’s the boss over the goats which is just as well. They need manners putting on them. The big pigs are afraid of him too but the small (#littleshits) couldn’t give a damn.

Seanie and the #littleshits

I named the small pigs the #littleshits from early on. I’ve been keeping pigs for 8 years now and these almost cured me of my addiction. They broke my heart escaping. I braced myself every time my phone rang and usually in the middle of baking (one cake in oven with 10 minutes left), another ready to go in and another in process) – for the inevitable “your pigs have gone over the road…. “

They had made firm friends with the goats and followed them everywhere. The goats are cute enough to find their way back in the way they got out but the #littleshits just kept going. I walked out into yard one day and heard the familiar grunt conversations between them, except this time it was coming from the road. I just happened to see them trotting past the gate. They had discovered next door’s dog (poor Bubbles’) food was left outside the back door. They knew the yard across road had a big dung heap that flooded and was marvellous for a wallow. Don’t even ask what they looked and smelled like after that.

The walk of shame

I had them booked in the very last day (before Christmas) I could at the abattoir. But one day I just flipped and rang to get them in sooner. They roared laughing when I told them why.

Yesterday was D day. Everything went smoothly until I tried to pull out of the field. It was very wet but my jeep is 4WD so I wasn’t that worried. But the wheels started to spin. I ran up to my neighbour (the best tractor mechanic in the country) to see could he give me a pull. He arrived down to see. Messed around with the brake lever and said the brakes had seized. He went back to get a trolley thingy and in the lashing rain and the mud, slid under the trailer with a can of WD40 and a hammer. I stood there praying. It worked. He then drove around the field in a big circle leaving massive wide tracks. But I got to the abattoir. I hate doing this with a passion. It never gets easier. Even though they broke my heart, I still feel guilty and sad. But the alternative is become vegetarian because I won’t eat intensive pork.

Today I pulled all the reinforced fencing out and the goats moved into their shed. Life goes on. The goats miss them I know, but they have Seanie now.

The Reality

HRH

As anyone following this blog knows by now, I have a pig I raised from the day after she was born when her mother rejected the litter. She’s had all sorts of problems including apparent back leg paralysis after a bad dose of scour as a 2 day old piglet (she never even got her mother’s colostrum.)

We (myself and my son) rehabilitated her doing our own version of physio. She survived and thrived.

Until the 25th of April past when I went out to feed her and she didn’t come. I could see her but she wasn’t getting up. I went out to her and discovered although she wanted to, she couldn’t get up. I’ve written about what I went through with her in previous posts but I just wanted to update anyone interested.

Now, I’ve been accused of all sorts when it comes to her, mainly by intensive animal torturers. I really don’t care what people who make a living out of making animals’ lives miserable think. I’ve always ploughed my own furrow. I will always look after my animals to the best of my ability and I will decide when any animal has a life not worth living. Believe me, I know when that is having watched my father die a horrible death from dementia.

We’ve had our ups and downs over the last few months. There’s been times I wondered how much longer we could go on. She really struggles when she’s in season. She almost always goes off her food and the last few months has gone cracked (no other way to describe it). She seems to go into a trance and acts completely abnormally becoming convinced the goats (both female), the horses and ponies can somehow “scratch her itch”. So much so she invariably overdoes it trying to charge up and down the fenceline. Eventually when she exhausts herself she barely manages to drag herself into bed to sleep it off for two days. Hormones how are you. I decided to change her diet (I read up constantly on diet and food and pigs are very like humans.) This has made a massive difference and now she is a lot calmer and if she goes off her food, it’s only for one feed.

She obviously did something serious during one of these “events”. And as a result has become very unsteady and regularly falls down. Her back legs seem to get confused and criss cross or don’t spread far enough to balance her. But she has become very adept at getting back up again herself (sometimes after a rest as in the above photo). Often when I see her down I rush out and help her up holding her tail to give her that extra “whoosh”. If she’s not trying herself I wouldn’t have a hope of getting her up. She weighs the guts of 350kgs.

Recently I was out with her and had helped her up. I turned to walk back into shed and she made a noise. I turned because it wasn’t the usual sounds she makes. She had gone down again and the noise was to ask me to come back to help her up. I did and she allowed me to help her back into the shed. I was absolutely amazed and humbled at her intelligence.

Now we have a routine. She mainly gets her food in bed. She has struggled in the past to get up if she lies in a dip in the floor of the shed. But we overcame that by putting a very heavy tractor tyre in it which prevents her sliding down. Then after her breakfast she decides if she feels like going out. Often she doesn’t and will wait until the afternoon. Most of the time she goes out and comes back in unaided. But occasionally she needs help. If I suspect she’s in pain I have an armory of veterinary painkillers and anti-inflammatories my vet has given me. I also have a physio neighbour who is more than happy to come in to help her. She has done a lot of work on horses in the past but a pig was a first. She told me she had been telling her human clients and laughed at how many asked her how she got a pig up on the table……

Recently Carole the physio said she thought she may have a degenerative disorder so we’ve done loads of research and have come to the conclusion it’s a form of muscular dystrophy. She has a lot of muscular indentation (for want of a better description.) Whatever is wrong with her, she’s effectively handicapped. But for now she and I am able to manage it. We will continue to manage it as long as she’s happy, is eating well and able to live as a pig should. If and when she can’t then serious decisions will have to be made.

But anymore than a beloved family dog or cat, why should her life be any different? She is my pig. I adore her. And I will know when she doesn’t want to go on because I know her every thought. I raised her the same way I raised my kids.