Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Piglets move into the 'big pig' pen

Fennel & Mustard arrived
Over Christmas and new year we acquired a few piggy additions. 2 porkers; one slightly older cross

‘Fennel’ who having fulfilled his role as company for the second pig until our new girl arrived. Fulfilled his other intended purpose and is currently stocking the freezer.

Fennel ready for the coldroom
The second ‘Mustard’ a Berkshire barrow (castrated male) we purchased with ‘Fennel’(from the same people) though he was a lot younger and smaller. And has since been residing in a ‘piglet pen’ with Rosemary our most recent addition.

Personally we don’t castrate our own pigs for our own consumption. However we have learned that there is often requests for this locally. As there is a general belief in ‘bore taint’. We have never experienced this, however most of our porkers do not reach ‘working’ age. But I guess this will be an experient for us. If anything it seems to have set him back in size, by comparison to those we have kept from our own litters.

Anyway, back in December we decided we wanted a second breeding sow. So began making enquiries to source a piglet from another bloodline. I guess eventually Smokey and Sage for that matter, will retire, so it would be good if we could keep a bore from our thier stock that would not be related to this sow.

Last litter at Maes-y-Delyn
And since we were contacting other breeders (though we don’t really consider ourselves breeders, as such, though we do breed them, so guess we are really) we thought we might source a ‘porker’ for ourselves. Given we lost a piglet with our last litter, leaving us porkless, or at least low on pork supplies.

So we found ‘Rosemary’ our new girl, who we picked up from a certified breeder just after new year. And ‘Mustard’, as Berkshire barrow (castrated male) who arrived just before Christmas, along with a company porker; a slightly older male cross,‘Fennel’ (as pigs are social they really shouldn’t be kept alone) from another smallholder.

Rosemary arriving
Fennel having served his purpose of keeping Mustard company until Rosemary arrived. Fulfilled his other purpose of stocking our freezer earlier in the month, before he became a working bore.

So now that Rosemary and Mustard are a lot bigger (though Rosemary although supposedly 3 weeks younger, is still a lot bigger), it was about time we introduced them to the ‘big pig pen’. And our big pigs- Smokey and Sage.

Integration has gone reasonably well. We only had one attempted escape; in that Rosemary, being the more adventurous of the two, explored the grass outside their fence along the roadside!

Tip number 1 when introducing livestock to a new environment (especially when there are other animals inhabiting it)- Check your electric fencing is working before hand!

Rosemary (left) & Mustard (right)
Fortunately Rosemary only took a little encouragement to go back into the pen. And no I didn't take photos I was too busy getting her back in.

We have since replaced the section that had burned out; probably due to the chickens going under it and shorting it out on the barb- downside of free range birds, they have no boundaries!

Either way you’d think we should have learned by now and not make such a basic error. Now the fence is working, the little ones have tested it on more than one occasion and seem to be learning to respect it.

All 4 together
But generally seem happy to run about, play and wallow. They are learning not to interfere with the bigger pig’s food. So we have been trying to spread it around, whilst keeping them near in the hope of minimising stuffles over food. But there’s still plenty of grazing and grass clipping regardless. So no one is going to go hungry.

Generally they all seem to be getting along. As I’ve mentioned before they are social animals and will naturally congregate. And the little ones have been spotted snuggling up to the big guys- I’ll try and get a pic… it’s very cute. So watch this space and we will keep you up to date.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Farm Tour

No, not a tour of our farm, though I do have to admit it has been suggested more than once- Especially by friends with little ones, as our animals are so quiet.

But yes we actually paid to take our daughter and visit someone else’s farm, to look at their chickens, pigs and cows.

commerical free range trailer
This local family business, Freckle Farm, run by Rob, Deb and thier children are basically doing pretty much what we do, but operating on a commercial level. Though early days, they are servicing our local area with fresh eggs, local pork and beef through a local abattoir and butcher- so minimal ‘travel miles’. And also selling direct to thier 'subscribers'.
We went with the intention of learning a thing or two and supporting a local enterprise of similar values to our own. I must admit, we were reasonably reassured to know we’re not running a bad show! And that our practices can transfer to a larger scale... not that we have any plans as such, but it is tempting.

Freckle farm is the type of farm as you imagine as a child; with free ranging animals, happily grazing on pasture and doing all the things that chickens, pigs and cows should do.

Their holistic management of the property and rotational approach to managing their land and stock was very similar to how we have to operate, being on such a small area (by comparison).  

They had full servicing trailers for hen houses, with built in waterers and feeders that they connected to their bore system, where we have small tractors that we move around or just free roaming birds.

We also breed chickens for the table, not just for eggs. So the issue of separating or crossing breeds was not a logistical issue for them, as it is for us.

They also breed thier own flock- currently trying to meet the local demand! And have around 1500 birds (at the moment) including chicks. That we (along with most other kiddies- yes the chick was supposed to be for the cub not me) got to hold them. Thier brooders were large purpose built boxes/container with heat lamps (though really not neccesary in the qld summer). In thier 'brooder shed', so almost a large version of wardrobe conversion.

homemade chicken tractor with back yard chooks

They also utilised their own water and waste/ grey water systems, as we do to feed their ‘food forest’; similar to our ‘dwarf orchid’. With a very similar mantra to ours, that everything has to be productive or have a purpose.

They also compost and have worm farms, which I would like to have seen more of. Particularly for activities to engage the kids, though obviously our little one would have been too young; there were plenty a little older that would have love getting dirty!
All the kids did however get an egg... not to eat, but to throw into the pig pen for the pigs. I assure you pigs love eggs! Well any dairy really.
Freckle farm pig housing
It was only a short walk from the house to the nearest pig paddock (on this occasion). Which we were grateful for, as although it is supposedly autumn it was still very hot!
These paddocks rotate and are therefore temporary; housing and electric fencing.

Short nosed Berkshire

 It was interesting for us, as they also breed ‘heritage stock’, for their pork and beef. They also have Berkshire pigs- though theirs are ‘short nosed’, where ours a ‘long nose’.
Regardless of the variation, Berkshires are heritage listed and on the vulnerable or rare breeds lists worldwide. They are becoming increasingly popular with smaller scale, pasture fed farmers. Probably for similar reasons to that of their decline from the 1980’s to now- As Berkshires are one of the few pig breeds that thrive on grazing. Not all pig breed do, there are others, but again they are usually heritage breeds. (I guess this may have been a contributing factor to their decline during the surge of intensive farming.)

Similarly they did mention how their ‘black pigs’ are better equipped to deal with free ranging in this climate. Especially after one little one commented that pigs were supposed to be pink. You wouldn't be able to do this with 'pink pigs' here, as they would burn and would develop serious issues as a result.

Immediately behind us on the 'track' was the cattle. Funnily enough they were apparently waiting to be moved on to thier next pasture. Again as they are rotated, allowing each to recover and the natural manure to do its bit. At freckle farm they run Nguni cattle, a breed I was unfamiliar with, though Matt had seen them before. Considered to be of European beef heritage, this breed had thrived in Southern Africa and very harsh conditions; believed to be the traditional herd of the Zulu tribe.

Nguni x jersey and calf
They run these for similar to the reasons we and they chose Berkshires- they survive well in the Queensland climate. The local tradition is Brahmans or occasionally droughmaster, for thier tick resistance. However these also being a beef bred are of smaller frame are also more resistant to drought (handy here). But also potentially better for a smallholder situation. So we will definitely be looking into this breed when we are ready fro another cow.

They also had a few Jersey/Frisian crosses with the Nguni for milking, though for their own use (at this stage). This is something we have not progressed to as our block is probably too small to run a working bull. This breed also has amazing colours and patterns to their hides, another point of interest to us. As we believe in utilising as much of the animal as possible... Either way you have to admit thier pretty cute!

For the trip back to the house the kids and anyone who wanted a break got to ride on the back of the hay trailer. Where, sat in the shade of the trees Rob and Deb spoke to the group about how they came to farm this way and answer any questions. You could hear the passion they had for what they were doing.

We had a lovely morning and we do enjoy meeting other farmers (I use that term loosely when refering to ourselves) and seeing thier practices and ideas. I would advise anyone to seek out what is about in thier local area. Not necessary farms, but produce markets... you maybe suprised. Even if your not a farmer you could always take away something small. Even if it is just an appreciation of how where your food comes from, something everyone should know.

Herbs are in!

Well this season’s herbs are in, well at least some of them. As I couldn’t wait for my seeds to propagate I bought some established seedlings to give our herb patch a ‘kick start’, as I want to be able to harvest and use them ASAP.
I guess there are pro’s and con’s to using either.
My first preference would be to propagate your own from seed, as you can get some really exciting heirloom varieties online and their really cost effective. A packet of 40-200 seeds (depending on what your buying) can be as little as a dollar, compared to an established seedling costing $2-10. The major down side is patience (which I do not tend to have a lot of) and planning, another area that I often fall short on with the chaos of everyday life.
Second to that would be established seedlings or plants. The upside being you have a plant (not just the hope of one) and you can use it sooner. Generally I prefer to buy local herbs/seedlings from local sources- markets, friends etc. As local varieties that are established or flourishing are more likely to survive in my garden… Especially given my tendency to let them fend for themselves!
These locally sourced plants are also more likely to be older varieties or ‘heirlooms’. Meaning they should have better flavour than engineered varieties and can be very interesting in colour and form. They will also seed and the seeds will produce in future seasons. Engineered varieties are developed not to seed; therefore you have to continue to purchase the plant every season/year. Although ‘heirloom’ seeds and seedlings varieties are becoming increasingly popular; probably due to their flavours, colours and ability to collect the seeds, that they are now widely available in most DIY shops, garden centres or online sellers.
So on this occasion these were sourced from our local DIY store as I knew I would be unable to plant out anything bought from the local markets. So rather than buy something I wouldn’t get to use; as I have lost seedlings due to this before. And I wanted to get ahead and get cooking as soon as I could.
I will still be propagating some more herbs and a few different varieties of those I do. As I have intention of filling a few gasp in the current herb patch. But also want to expand a second edible area.  

But back to this area, before planting the existing herbs (tarragon, local lavender and bay tree) required a little pruning and the soil needed some serious TLC, following the weed stripping! So I actually used my own compost (as well as some purchased) and worm tea from my worm farm for the first time!
Worm tea is the ‘worm castings’ (basically their poo) diluted down with water. The compost was the material left after the worms had broken down their food/ bedding etc. As we started another level in the worm farm, so they gradually migrated to this section... Though I may have possibly put a few in the herb patch too. Guess they will only do the garden some good!
So the compost (along with some bought material) was turned through the soil, the plants were planted and then the worm tea applied before all were ‘soaked’ in… So we will be cooking with them soon.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Sustainable living/ Self-sufficiency

This is probably something that comes up more on our Facebook or Google+ pages than the blog itself. And as a ‘smallholding’ blog some may question its place on this site, or potentially the name of the page. Some refer to this as sustainable living, others may consider it‘self-sufficiency’ and it even boarders on ‘eco-friendly living’. Whatever you call it I guess the principle is inevitably intertwined with our lifestyle choice; as a couple and now a family; with the arrival of our daughter, living on our smallholding. Although the two are not mutually exclusive either after all there are many reasons to live a more sustainable or self-sufficient lifestyle.

For some it’s a conscious decision to live a more ecofriendly; with concerns about waste or resources… I have heard myself referred to as a ‘hippy’ at the super market for buying ecofriendly washing/laundry powder. Others would say we don’t go far enough…

For others it maybe a conscientious choice to understand what we are using (chemicals etc.) for their health or the health of their families. Do we really know what many of these products/chemicals really do? And surely reducing our reliance on them cannot hurt. It may in fact be economic, after all cost is a major factor for almost everyone.

Or it maybe a combination of the above and some others...

In our case we are predominantly ‘off grid’. Given we do not have the usual town supplies of water, sewer etc. much of this decision was dictated to us. Many of the ideas, tips discussed were often passed on by friends and family. Some from being a poor student, others we have had to investigate due to the restrictions of our lifestyle and circumstances. I guess over time its evolved to be a subject in its own right. Even to a point where a colleague asked my advice as“you’d know this”. And given we are soon to be parents I guess this area of discussion may become a more prominent issue, as well as prompting the decision to officially include/discuss this topic here. Although we have informally touched upon it in the past.

So for posts you will find the labels “make your own”, “sustainable”,“self sufficiency”, “household”depending on the content.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Queensland Climate

Now despite living a more sustainable lifestyle, this page is not a lecture on climate change!

This is more to do with the climate we live in and how it affects the animals, plants and lifestyle here. (Though have to admit how our choices continue to effect the climate, this will affect how it affects us...)

Winter sunrise
Anyway, so whilst some may accuse me of 'bragging' and other think it of little consequence; particularly those who have lived in the tropics their whole lives, to us the climate is a huge factor in our lifestyle. And something we have to learn to live with, plan around and occasionally, just deal with.

Winter Sunset

We are in North Queensland, part of the "Sunshine state", whose motto is 'Beautiful one day, perfect the next'. And with an average of around 270 days of sunshine and average (highs) temperatures of 23-30 degrees, you could see why.

Climate data for Mackay (Mackay Aero 1950-2013)
Record high °C (°F)35.8
Average high °C (°F)30.1
Average low °C (°F)22.9
Record low °C (°F)16.5
Rainfall mm (inches)317.1
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.2mm)16.617.716.7
Source: Bureau of Meteorology[9]

But don't be miss-led. This tropical environment can be volatile and extreme.

The wet season is the summer and dry season in the winter (there is little in between). A vast contrast to the four seasons we grew up with in Wales... a temperate climate; so it would not have been unusual to see all four of those seasons in one day!

The wet season brings our main source of water- as we are not on town mains, but rely on collecting rainwater, or storing water from the bore (similar to a small well). However it can also bring with it cyclones.
A cyclone is a weather system generated by the warm sea temperatures. Its effectively the same as a hurricane, but rotates the opposite direction; hurricanes occur in the Northern hemisphere, Cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere.

Cyclones are rated in a similar fashion to hurricanes too. Each are named and rated category 1-5 (5 being the most extreme). These are dependent on wind speed, pressure and rain fall. And can be exceptional destructive!
So we have to adjust and be prepared. The 'wet season' is also when we gather most of our water supply. As we're not on 'town water' we rely on storing rain water or pumping bore water (like tapping into a well, of sorts).

And this cycle of vast rains (and being Welshman we thought we knew rain!)and prolonged dry seasons also affects our animals ;and we have to accommodate appropriate housing and feed in systems, so they stay dry and healthy. And obviously what we plant, though this I'll touch on more in the garden section.

So the climate here is an everyday factor and something we are also having to learn from and adapt too.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Turning 'Fennel' into Pork

Ok so this is not a miracle process that turns veg into meat. Fennel is/was a pig we purchased around Christmas. And although it has been a very busy time here at Maes-y-Delyn. But Sunday we managed to fit in our first pig without any assistance from start to finish. (Well we butchered it Monday evening)

So be warned this post contains details and images of butchery.

Fennel & Mustard
Now it’s not that we haven’t processed out own pork before. And we have done most of it ourselves in the past; but generally with a hand from a friend (or two). But this was my first one from start to finish (as I usually don’t get a look in when it comes to the butchering).

This bore was almost of working age and didn’t appear to be putting on any further weight. So he wasn’t the biggest, but then that is ideal for a home kill.
Fennel had been living with us for a few months now. He was always destined for the freezer. But his main role was as company for Mustard the barrow we bought until Rosemary our future (fingers crossed) breeding sow arrived.

This is because (and not many people seem to know this) but pigs are very social animals. And are not meant to be kept solitary. Even though we have a large breeding pair, she would not be running with these guys until she is a little older (And bigger); for both her own safety and because of the height of the electric and barb fencing.
So either way Fennel had been on borrowed time. And Sunday was the day.

As always preparation is everything. We try and set up and have all our equipment clean and ready to go before.
For a pig kill you will obviously need a means of dispatch. This is actually one of the most common questions we get asked. So we use a shot to the head (just off centre from an imaginary cross between ears and eyes) followed by a ‘bleed’ with a knife to the throat. We consider this quick and efficient.

He didn’t see the shot coming and was calm until the end- as any stress not only traumatises the animal, but in turn spoils the meat.

You will also need a means of scalding the pig, so as to remove the (or majority of the) hair. We use a bath tub filled with part boiling and part cold water (boiled using our keg over a gas burner).
The ideal temperature for scalding is 64 °, so we aim for 66-67 as the temperature will drop slightly when the pig is in there.

Then it’s quick work using the edge of a clean shovel (or a spade) to agitate the water (and the skin) and remove as much of the fur/hair as possible.  Once you have removed as much as possible carefully transfer your pig to your work area.

We use a foldable table. (It’s just easier to work at waist height than leaning or bending to work off the floor).
To remove the remaining hair we use ‘bell scrapers’. These were the first time we had used these and they worked really well. The round open base make a good surface for scraping and the hooks on the end allow for the removal of toe nails from the trotters.

I guess that’s one of the good things about processing an animal yourself. Is that you can take the time to process those parts that other people may not consider using.
And if you ever raise and then kill an animal you appreciate and try to use far more of it… or at least we do.

From here we hang the pig on a spreader. This needs to be inserted behind the tendons, so it will take the weight.
Once hung up, we then rinsed down (to wash off any hair that’s just sticking to the skin- it can get tacky) but try not to soak the meat too much. (You should never wash the inside though.)
This allowed us to see any remaining hair, these we we then 'shaved' using a sharp knife.

From here we prepare for gutting.
First job is to remove the voice box (if you haven’t already, as this area can hold blood from draining that may coagulate and spoil the meat.
Next carefully remove the genitals (if male) and cutting around the anus. This will require tying off with string until you can remove it with the intestines. This is to avoid contaminating the carcass and therefore the meat.  
Now begin gutting, a mistake here will cost you. Once you have safely made an incision, try and work with the handle inward with the blade outward. As this minimalises the risk of piercing the intestines.

Working with gravity, you use a sweeping motion with your hands along the spine (from inside) to work the organs out.  We are careful to catch and separate the useable organs. Now we’re aware there are many that would not consider eating or saving offal. We have been told numerous times that you shouldn’t eat offal or that there are too many good cuts to worry about it. But when you’re responsible for the death (and life) of an animal it seems important to utilise as much of it as possible. The liver alone was almost 1.5kg of meat- and when you have raised and fed an animal organs that filter or process are not a concern. Besides you can always see if their healthy.

So we kept the liver, kidneys, heart, and caul fat, trotters and we finally removed the head. We kept this too. Though we are yet to decide what to do with it. Surprisingly there are a few options; brawn, roasting or boning out.

The carcass and head were then transferred to the cold room over night to chill down. There's no need to hang pork for any longer it doesn't have any benefit like beef or venison. So the following evening cut it up into joints, chops, fillets and diced pork for curries or stews. Was also chance for us to give the meat saw a run.

As for the offal, most went in the freezer, however given it was St Davids day we used it for faggots.

As we ate most of before I remembered to take a pic these are the leftovers I took to work for lunch the next day. (Much to the amusement of my work colleagues.)

Faggots are a traditional welsh meal. Using mince from various cuts, including liver with diced onions, sage and pepper and beaten egg. You can also put breadcrumbs in (I’ve read in some recipes) but we don’t.
These are then formed into balls and baked in the oven in an onion gravy.