The Dawning

Yesterday I drove back to Camolin to collect my pork and bacon. I had got a phone call unexpectedly the previous evening to say it was ready. They had said it would be the week following the bank holiday. I get my bacon dry cured which delays the process.

I frantically started to defrost the smaller freezer, firing all the stuff in it into the huge one and switching it on. That and clearing out some stuff that was “past it” made a bit of extra space as luck would have it.

The dawn in every sense of the word

I couldn’t believe the amount. Last year I had filled the boot. This year I had to put the seats down to get at least two extra huge sacks in. I wasn’t sure I would even have enough freezer space for it all and panicked. I contacted a few people who said they’d like to buy some and thankfully have sold a good bit already.

120kg of pork

I charge €10/kg (€12/kg for sausages) and it is a lot when pork is so cheap in the shop. But, let me give you an idea of what it costs me to get to this stage.

Two weaners €65 each plus diesel to collect them.

Straw for the first week when they’re kept in and afterwards €2/bale x 10 plus diesel for collection.

Feed – rolled barley and peas for 6 months. A 25kg bag of barley costs €6-7. A 40kg bag of peas €12.

In the beginning they get a scoop of barley (450g) and a scoop of peas (600g) twice a day between them. So approximately a kg of barley and 1.2kg peas a day.

In a few short weeks they get this each. So 2kg barley and 1.2kg peas each per day.

Then as they begin a rapid growth spurt this doubles again so 2 scoops barley each or 4kg a day and 2.4kg peas.

If I calculate the full amount over 4 months and half approximately for 2 months this is

Barley 24 cent/kg x 2kg = 48c x 30 days = €14.40/month x 4 = €57.60 plus €28.80 for 2 months.

Peas 30 cent/kg x 12kg = 36c x 30 = €10.80/month x 4 = €43. 20 for 4 months and €21.60 for 2 months.

So per pig feed = €151.20 plus diesel to drive and collect it all.

Abattoir plus butchery in total €300 plus 4 trips of 52km pulling a trailer for 2. Lots of diesel!

And my time – over an hour a day every day for 6 months. Incalculable!

So what I can actually calculate amounts to €376.20/pig or €752.40 for 2 pigs.

And each pig butchered is about 60-65kg. So at €10/kg you can see I’m only barely covering my costs.

I’m not in this to make money thankfully and if I cover most of my costs by selling the excess, my wages are paid to me in pork. So next time you think a small producer is ripping you off go back through these figures. Because a small farmer/smallholder is not even paying themselves a living wage never mind the minimum wage for dragging out in every type of weather twice a day for 6 months.

But, the pigs have a lovely natural but short life, living as pigs should – grazing, rooting, mud bathing, sleeping and socialising. And the poor tortured pigs on intensive farms don’t have a life in comparison. I know which meat I’d prefer to eat.

And this pork is produced from locally grown barley and peas (no imported GM rain forest, orangutan slaying grain). It supports local co ops and their employees as well as the farmers growing the grain. It keeps a local abattoir and their butchers in jobs.

By buying local you are supporting so many people.

The Tamworth Two

The horrors

Saturday when they came back to pull out the second massive stump, I had to head off to collect the piglets. I left them with my phone number, loaded the big dog crate into car (putting down the seats) and spreading a huge tarp underneath. I was only going to Clonroche but I may as well have been going to Mars. Every field in Wexford has a road around it. And the roads aren’t necessarily road worthy…….

R apparently denotes “rural”. I decided in reality it denotes “rubbish”. L denotes “local” but that should be “ludicrous”. We pay taxes for this……?

It took me 40 minutes to travel 29km or 15 miles. They obviously factor in being stuck behind the local farmer with no wing mirrors.

The piglets were in what looked like a lovely place. Two sows were stretched in the sun in a paddock with an arc. He had the weaners in a shed. He calmly went in and caught them insisting on sticking his tag in one ear and mine in the other. The only time in my 6 years of pig keeping I experienced this. So the poor little feckers were more tag than pig.

We put them in the cage with straw in but they still skidded and stressed the whole journey home. The men were engrossed in the big stump removal when I got back and my standing helplessly asking them for a hand to unload the piglets went ignored.

Eventually the elder came over and we lifted the cage out and coaxed them into their shed stuffed with straw, food and water.

I decided it would be better to keep them in a few days before letting them out. I’ve never had wilder piglets. They had obviously never been handled and were totally freaked anytime I even opened the door. I kept them in almost a week. Then let them out into a small fenced area. They approached the fence, got shocked and one promptly dived through. She happened to meet the big pigs coming back in for their post-breakfast siesta. I’m not sure who was more shocked.

The second stuck her snout on it. Ouchio.

For a few days they remained confined. Then I went to the vets to get a wormer and enquire why one was a bit bald. They told me I’d need to inject a wormer and a delouser sub-cutaneously. I’m always wary of introducing pigs into my place and I prefer to keep the new ones separate until I’ve treated them. I had never injected pigs before but Mary told me how to do it. She suggested asking my neighbour who had helped us with Honky. He happened to be driving out of his yard as I arrived back. We confined them easily and he held them while I injected them. One was no problem, the other wriggled just as I put needle in and half of the dose dribbled down her neck. Bugger.

I rang the vets and they made me up another dose. My neighbours said they’d collect it for me. Later that evening they arrived up with their bull mastiff and a French bulldog on leads. The neighbour who’d helped me earlier arrived as well. Needless to say the piglets were freaked and there wasn’t a chance in hell they were going to cooperate. They bolted. Through fencing.

For the next 20 minutes 4 adults were given the run around by two slippery piglets. We gave up. Peter took the dogs home. Larry the other neighbour had long gone so myself and Susan sat on the deck in evening sun with a glass of red and listened to the happy grunts of two escapee piglets. The woofer arrived out to close in the hens and vanished. Eventually she appeared at the gate to say she’d coaxed them back in with food. Success.

Next day the digger driver’s dad held the piglet and I injected her like a pro. However, they’d got a taste of freedom and that little paddock wasn’t going to confine them. Just as the digger man drove a fully laden dumper of topsoil over the septic tank and got stuck in it, they headed for the hills. I was running out to try to round them up when I heard the frustrated swearing. I came back to find his wheel in the tank and the concrete lid had disappeared.

Oops

I gave up chasing the piglets. Utterly pointless and instead lowered the electric fencing and reinforced gaps. Meanwhile the Diggerman pulled the dumper out with his digger. I resigned myself to feral piglets but when I went out later I found them finishing off the last of their feed and settling into their shed for the night. At least if they were going to be feral they knew their way home.

My neighbours with the dogs named them The Tamworth Two and the name rang a bell. I had a vague recollection of it so I googled it. I hadn’t realised they’d made a film about the pigs.

I often just sit and watch them, they fascinate me. These weaners are barely 8 weeks old and were just weaned when I got them. So far they’ve moved home, explored all around and still found their way back for bed and board. We really underestimate the intelligence and resilience of animals. How many human babies or even puppies could do that?

Pigs are truly amazing.

The Spring

          Post-breakfast snooze

The beginnings of spring were felt almost it seemed in mid-winter with buds on trees and daffodils in flower in January. I kept looking at them hoping we wouldn’t get more snow to bury them. So far we haven’t and we are in the middle of another mild spell after a brief cold one.

 

All the animals are out enjoying the mild winter and the pigs in particular have spent relatively few days in bed. Apart from a post-breakfast snooze if it’s cold, wet or windy.

 

Having barely had contact with the vets since I moved apart from the weaner who cut herself, I had that awful experience with Honky’s pedicure. And then one day I noticed the fat cat appeared very fat. He was always at the door inside the shed in the morning waiting for his breakfast so figured that was why.

I had installed a cat flap in the newly replaced windows that up to this had been propped open to allow the cats to get in and out. But one morning after a very vicious storm I opened the door to a soaking wet shed that seemed much brighter. The entire iron framed window had been blown into the field.

The shed is south facing on that side and most of the wind we get here is southerly or south easterly. I had had new glass put in in the summer and by some miracle it was still intact despite big stones that had been rooted up by the weaners. I decided I had better get the window closing properly and the cat flap was installed. Up to this the feral cats from the stable yard across the road had begun coming in for food. The cat flap stopped them for a while. It didn’t stop the goats though…….

The goats hear me in the shed with the cats and jump up on the window sill for a nosy and what better way to have a nosy than stick your head through the flap? Thankfully Freda Goaty McGoatface can’t manage this with her horns.

Anyway I noticed the fat cat had what appeared to be big jowls. But one morning whatever way I looked the jowl appeared lob sided. I felt it and he made a low growling noise. It dawned on me it was a massive abscess. I rang the vet and made an appointment. It was Thomas one of the vets who had treated Honky that day. He said yes it was an abscess and inserted a syringe to see if he could draw the fluid but nothing came. He gave me antibiotics and told me to see how he was in a few days.

Two days later it burst as I was trying to give him his antibiotic. Initially I thought he had got sick. It drained for well over a day. I assumed that would be the end of it. But a massive hole appeared in the skin and underneath you could see the fang marks into his flesh. It was horrific. He seemed very unwell and wasn’t eating. I took him back to the vet who said straight away it had developed into cellulitis probably caused by Pseudomonas and it definitely was a cat bite. He said cats are totally vicious when fighting and go for the jugular. They also have a lot of very nasty bacteria in their mouth.  He injected him with both a new antibiotic and a pain killer and told me to bring him back every day for the next three days.

 

He thought he would need surgery to remove or debride (I had to come home and Google that) all the infected tissue but couldn’t do anything until the infection was cleared. At the next check up he said he thought it might heal on its own and he wouldn’t need surgery. I was so relieved and he seemed better in himself. But then a couple of mornings later I noticed the area was very hot, inflamed and the skin seemed very taught so made an appointment. They decided to take him in. Thomas rang me at lunchtime to say he had cleared away a lot of necrotic and infected tissue and strangely enough, fat. Then stitched him up and put a drain in. He said it would need a lot of cleaning and care but I could pick him up later that evening.

When I collected him he was still very staggery so I left him in the cage. He wouldn’t eat or drink and kept making awful howling sounds. The effect of the sedation wearing off. I don’t know what sedation does to a brain but it really can’t be good. Looking at what Honky went through and knowing how I felt after I last had a general anaesthetic it’s no wonder that they try not to use them on elderly people or anyone with dementia or Parkinson’s.

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I spent the next few days dragging 5 litre bottles of sea water up from the beach, boiling and cooling it and bathing him in it. I also dripped honey into the wound and fed him kefir (antibiotics wipe out all bacteria including the beneficial ones and they need replacing). I also diluted Citricidal which is grapefruit seed extract and a powerful antimicrobial and used it for cleaning the wound. He had to go back the other day to have the drain removed and this time it was Mary who had also treated Honky and the weaner. She isn’t happy about it at all as the swelling is back so wants to have him in on Thursday to do a biopsy and possibly culture the pus to see what the bacteria is. He’s had four antibiotics already and they are not working. The sign of things to come with bacterial resistance? It’s not only humans who will be affected but animals as well.

It’s worrying because he’s an old cat. At 10 he’s the longest surviving cat I’ve ever had. When I lived in Meath, cats were regularly wiped out on the road as it was impossible to keep them in. He has only survived because he is so damn weird and nervy and afraid of his own shadow. He is also the gentlest cat and has played with every kitten who has passed through.

Meanwhile back on the ranch the goats continue to amuse and frustrate. I had to boost the electric fencing to three strands and for the moment it is working although they will still jump it or dive through it to follow me down the fields. I feel guilty restricting them so but until I get a fence erected to stop them getting in around house they have to be contained. They demolish plants and jump on or in everything including the car or a ladder if you happen to be up it or not. 

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A couple of weeks ago I was jarring up marmalade one evening when I heard a commotion at the gate and someone calling me. I went out to find Paddy who had cut the trees down in summer and another man. “I hear you’re looking for a pocán” says he. “I am” says I. “But I only want the lend of him.” He says straight away “a bit like a man?”.

Lots of laughter and innuendo later he gave me his phone number and we will do a deal. I asked him what he did with his goats and he said nothing, they were like his children. I get that. It’s funny both goats and pigs are highly entertaining, intelligent and thoroughly frustrating but you get to love them in a way I can’t imagine loving cattle or sheep or even horses of which I have experience. He reckons my goats are older than I thought they were so I will borrow his billy at the end of the month. The gestation is five months so that means kids around the beginning of August.

I wonder will motherhood calm them down any?

 

 

The Weaners

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Or also known as the horrors, the pests, the terrible two. You get the gist? Two (big) piglets by the time I got them here. I couldn’t find quality pigs on Done Deal, just the usual rubbish from someone who keeps a few pigs and breeds indiscriminately. Buyer beware really applies when buying livestock but particularly pigs. I have bought half-starved, runty piglets in the past because I was desperate and because I felt sorry for them but it’s not advisable. It took me twice as long to fatten them.

I got this pair in a convoluted fashion. I had asked friends if I could buy a couple from them when their sow farrowed however she aborted and they said they were looking for piglets as well. I told them if they found any let me know and I’d take two. They sourced them in Galway and I collected them from their place a week or so later in north Tipperary.

I had actually bought a trailer. Years ago I sold my horse box and I had steadily cursed ever since. Having to borrow a trailer is a pain and although most people don’t mind lending them, I hate being under a compliment to anyone. It was years since I’d pulled one and I was wondering if I’d still be able to reverse it etc. You can laugh but it took me a long time to be able to competently. It had taken a lot of practice, away from the “helpful” comments from men in particular. Actually in the end I was better than a lot of men!

Then there was the question of the driving licence. Somehow in the meantime, it had become law that you have a trailer licence. The thoughts of doing another test….. but one day I looked at my licence and lo and behold I had the trailer category ticked. Phew.

I asked around down here and a neighbour down the road called in one evening to say he had one. I had a look at it and I was in business. I then had to get a hitch on the Ceep (carjeep) or baby toe rag as my builder friend refers to it.

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Reversed in like pro

All that organised and the day was set. But I was still nervous about driving it. It was just over a two hour drive but it took me closer to three. You just can’t go whoring around bends pulling a trailer and boy were they bendy roads. It was a sunny bank holiday Monday so I just took my time. Pulling an empty trailer is a pain because it’s fierce bumpy.

Luckily I was staying the night and not making the return journey until the next day. After an evening of great hospitality and far too much wine (me), Alfie decided to catch the pigs rather than herd them in much to the amusement of a couple of Mexican American friends staying there as well. You wouldn’t get that in a 5 star hotel.

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Photo courtesy of Mexican American guest

I set off in great trepidation. It was a hot sunny day and I had a massive hangover and I was nervous and it was a long drive. Three and a half hours later I was on the road out of New Ross and itching to get home for a cup of tea. There was a massive tailback for roadworks, of course there was. Isn’t there always when you are dying to get home?

I made it and ran into my neighbour to give me a hand to unload them into the stable. I was leaving to go back to Meath the next day so I wanted to keep them in until I got back. He was a great help and we got them unloaded easily.

Today they are free range as in really free range. They are immune to the electric fence and are having a lovely time ducking in and out under it at will to graze with the horses. To be honest I’ve given up trying to keep them in because unless they get out on the road which is unlikely, they can’t do much damage and the neighbours are all pretty relaxed about escapees.

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They will have a great short life (albeit twice as long as a commercial pig) and will then head to Christy Byrne’s abattoir in Camolin, probably in October. Another outing for the trailer.

At the end of the day a good life and a good death is all any of us want.

 

 

Upp