A little over a year ago, we sent off two Herdwick ewes to slaughter. I was stunned by the quality of the meat that came back; it was quite superior to any lamb I had eaten. Feeling rather evangelical about it, I gave my teaching colleague Chris Fear a leg as a barter for writing this wonderful article about the loss of mutton from the British menu.
Among the many radical and regrettable transformations in British eating habits since the second world war, none is more baffling than the decline of mutton. Lamb of course is just as popular as ever, and more so now that it can be produced and bought all year round and imported from New Zealand with no additional costs passed on to the shopper. The leg of lamb, chops, and mince can be found within twenty minutes from most people’s houses or on the way home from work.
The same has not happened with veal, even though veal is to beef what lamb is to mutton. This is perhaps because many people consider it unethical to eat cattle before they have reached maturity. Yet they think it better to eat lamb than mutton, not for any particularly ethical reason, but because mutton has a reputation for poor quality and toughness. Probably this reputation owes to the fact that the post-war generation, quite inexplicably, began to cook meat quite badly. Mass catering in schools and a creeping culture of convenience at home made careful preparation difficult. The primary casualty of this cultural transformation in kitchens was of course liver, which is still wrongly despised by almost all Britons, who have only ever eaten it overcooked, but mutton may have suffered the same fate. Today the general disinterest in mutton is reflected in one English idiom in particular, “mutton dressed as lamb”, which is almost exclusively applied to women who try and fail to appear younger than they are. “Mutton” here stands for a haggard old ewe. It is a cliché that reinforces a value judgement: why have mutton when you could have lamb?
But there are several reasons why mutton should be preferred to lamb. The first is consistent with some people’s ethical concerns about veal. When you buy mutton you are buying an animal that has had a longer life than a lamb. Typically the lamb is slaughtered at four to six months; at a year old he becomes “hogget”; add another year and his meat is mutton. I don’t know enough about relative weights, costs, and the statistics of modern husbandry to say this with any authority, but it seems to me that if everyone eats half a mature sheep in a year instead of a whole lamb, then half as many sheep are bred, raised, and slaughtered. Overall, even if the same amount of meat is produced, the process is less intensive, and less damaging to the environment.
To help me to articulate further reasons to prefer mutton I was very kindly given a leg by my friend Emma, who runs Farrantshayes Farm, a large smallholding near Exeter, with her husband Jon. They keep native and rare-breed pigs, cattle, and sheep, including Herdwicks—one of which donated her a leg to my noble cause. Herdwicks are the sheep with white heads and darker fleeces that you might have seen in the Lake District, to which they are thought to have been introduced by Norse settlers in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Almost all Herdwicks today still live in the Lake District, so Emma’s and Jon’s are members of a tiny diaspora. I’ve wanted to eat one of these exotic and ancient-looking things ever since I first clocked a flock of them while out walking near Coniston a few years ago. It was just before lunch.
Our Herdwick ewe was two to three years old and had been suffering from a recurring lameness, so Emma and Jon had sent her to early slaughter. In large-scale farming these are known as “cull ewes”. Mostly they go into what you would call “processed” products marketable as lamb. The lamb döner kebab is usually mechanically-reclaimed mutton—so you have probably already eaten more mutton than you realize. Kebabs are very far from a waste of good meat, as connoisseurs from the Middle-East (and Berlin) know, but there are nevertheless better ways to cook proper cuts. And the leg is a proper cut, the perfect centrepiece of a Sunday roast, yielding as it does enough meat to feed a family of four with extra for sandwiches. Rack of mutton is also extremely good, and perhaps more obviously superior to its counterpart of lamb. But like rack of lamb it is out of place at a family roast; it typically only attends very special occasions. As with any animal, the biological and therefore gastronomic differences between the hard-working parts of the sheep which require more cooking—all that gambolling about in the daffodils and fleeing from hungry ramblers—and the saddle, which is the “upper crust”, are amplified by cultural significance.
After slaughter our ewe was hung for three weeks. It is worth explaining why this is so good. Hanging meat is extremely important for its flavour and tenderness. It also reduces the water content, which paradoxically makes it moister when it’s cooked well, and protects it from being damaged by the freezer. Unlike mutton, lamb cannot be hung for very long, because it doesn’t have the fat to protect it from quick deterioration. So it is normally hung for up to seven days, though in the industrialized world of meat production it can be considerably less. People know that supermarket meat isn’t as good, but they can only guess why. The answer is, above all, that it has not been hung for long enough. It therefore lacks flavour, and is full of water, which means it is more easily damaged by the freezer and dries easily when cooked. Relative to hanging time, what the animal has been fed is irrelevant. Mutton can be hung for longer than lamb because there is more fat on it and running through it. The meat is therefore not as “wet” when it reaches you, and it is a beautiful deep oxblood colour, almost wine, and of course a cut of mutton is bigger than its equivalent from a lamb.
Roasting a leg of mutton is straightforward. You preheat the oven and prepare the joint according to your taste (salt, garlic, rosemary, anchovies, olive oil, salt, pepper, and more salt). As with any roast, you need to blast it in a very hot oven for half an hour, then reduce the temperature and cook it long enough but not too long. Then you must rest it. It should be well browned on the outside and pink or preferably rare in the middle, not grey all the way through. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has described and explained the optimal process in a section of his River Cottage Meat Book called, boldly but not inaccurately, “A Theory of Perfection”. He provides the temperatures and timings you need. Traditionally in Britain we do it the other way around from Hugh. We turn the temperature up at the end, in the attempt to get the colour we want. Then, once we’re confident that it’s grey to the bone, we eat it as soon as possible, “while it’s hot”. This is all wrong, and mutton doesn’t respond well to such torture. A high oven drives moisture out of meat that has already been cooking for some time, so it will be dry and tough. (And there is no such thing as “sealing” meat.) Removing it from its cooking juices immediately gives it no chance to re-absorb them. And if it hasn’t been rested, it will bleed onto your plate—unless you have ruined it already. No, no, no. The browning must be done first; the slower cook provides time for any lost and additional liquid (white wine) to be absorbed, and the rest, at least fifteen minutes, gives the juices time to get settled ready for carving, and leaves you time to make gravy. It won’t go cold for ages, don’t worry.
The flavour of mutton still has the unmistakeable sheepiness that you love in lamb. But owing to its relative maturity and to the fact that it has been hung properly (if you have got it from a good source such as Farrantshayes), it also has some characteristics of beef, especially on the outside. It is deeper and more iron-rich than lamb, more serious, more autumnal, where lamb is inescapably sweet and vernal. So mutton can be paired with many red wines that might overpower lamb. The fat doesn’t seem to hang around on the palate so much either—or in the teeth. But is it tough? No, not if you have cooked it correctly. If you have cooked it badly, it will be, but so will lamb, and beef, and pork. In fact, if it has been well hung and properly cooked, it is as tender and moist as the best lamb, and like all lower-half cuts it gives you some margin for error to achieve this. Vegetables are customary, but optional. Wine is customary, and not optional.
It's been a seriously busy few weeks here at Farrantshayes! Last week we took Megan, our rare swallow bellied Mangalitsa gilt, up to the pig exhibition tent at Mid Devon show. Literally thousands of people passed through the tent and were able to meet British Lops, Large Blacks, Oxford Sandy and Blacks, Tamworths, Kune Kunes and Gloucester Old Spots. There was a public vote as to which was the most popular breed and guess what- our lovely curly girl won! We were awarded with a hamper of rather yummy food and drink and Megan went home to her sister and friend Bree to boast about her adventures. She was impeccably behaved at the show and charmed the public, allowing hundreds of people to stroke and fuss her. A fabulous ambassador for the breed.
As a breeder it doesn't get more exciting than selling your youngstock to one of the leaders in your field. We were thrilled, therefore, to deliver two Mangalitsa weaner gilts to the famous 'Pig on the Beach' hotel, part of an innovative hotel chain that not only keep a thriving kitchen garden but also rear their own pigs! They specialise in 'piggy bits' and dishes; obviously the Mangalitsa is a prime product in the charcuterie world and as the 'wagyu' of the pork world is highly desirable. We delivered the girls into the capable hands of their stockman Tony earlier this week and several staff turned out to welcome them to their new home!
The girls have a lovely enclosure with saddleback pigs and chickens for neighbours as well as a super view of the Dorset coastline. What spoiled girls they will be! If you're there on holiday them do go and say hello to them.
In other news, we will soon have some yummy minty mutton burgers available. Mutton has been a taste revelation for us- as I type there is a mutton stew in the oven and the smell is out of this world. Mutton is really lamb that's had a life- a sheep over two years old. Let me know if you'd like to try some mutton burgers on your BBQ this Summer! We will also have our first lot of Mangalitsa pork sausages- I can't wait to try them!
We are running the first ever DASH 'taster course' on Saturday August 10th this year from 10am -1pm. It's aimed at those intrepid souls who are thinking about dipping a toe in the smallholding waters, those who would like to get a sense of what life on a real smallholding might really be like or those who would simply like to spend a day on our 'micro- farm' learning about our wonderful cattle, sheep, pigs and horses! It's priced very modestly as we would like to offer an option for those who might struggle to afford the price of a full day course - lack of money shouldn't be a barrier to chasing your dream. Bottomless tea, biscuits, laughs and a taste of our most recent Mangalitsa charcuterie included!
We will cover basics in the following areas:
*selling your produce
*converting existing buildings on the farm
*how to smallhold alongside your 'day job.'
and any other questions as they arise!
Book through Devon Smallholders with Carolyn on firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to meeting you and sharing the highs and lows of the journey so far- and hopefully starting you on the road to your own smallholding adventure!
So chuffed to announce the long awaited arrival of litters from our two blonde registered gilts, Molly and Doris! The sisters did really well for first timers- Molly delivered five beautiful blondes- three gilts and two boars- and Doris trumped her sister with six -five boars and a gilt. They will all be 'birth notified' with the British Pig Association but now begins the process of deciding if any are good enough to go on to be breeding stock, so we have been studying the breed standard diligently. If you're looking for a Manga of breeding quality, from us or anyone else, then look out for the following:
Black brows and lashes
White tail with black interior, unless red, when tail should be red.
Mouth, hooves and teats black.
Minimum of 12 well placed teats, evenly spaced.
Grey or yellow hooves
Too long ears
Dark brown tips to hair
Black or brown bristles
Of course with any rare breed it is an excellent idea to familiarise yourself with the breed standard. I have my eye on a few gilts from Molly's litter who I feel have potential but they will need a closer examination to be sure. I'm willing to be brutally honest about my own stock to illustrate this point. The image above is of the litter where I don't feel there are any of breed standard. Note the pink belly on the boy on the top left and the black spot on the underarm of the piglet nearest the camera. They're very pretty- but even at two weeks I don't feel any of this litter will quite make the cut, and this is just as it should be! Only the best examples should go forward to create the next generation. Don't trust a breeder who will sell you unregistered, low quality animals to use for breeding and if you want breeding stock, be clear about that to whoever you are buying from. Any responsible breeder will be willing to help if you are honest about your intentions. Look to see if the breeder has their herd registered with the British Pig Association (BPA)- this is usually a mark of someone who knows their stuff.
I am very disappointed that no less than three gilts from Tilly's first litter who I sold on a year ago specifically as meat or pet girls are now being bred from, or plan to be. It is truly sad- they were sold in good faith on these terms. It is a matter of great concern to me that they could potentially be unwittingly crossed off with a very closely related boar and potentially produce inbred offspring with birth defects who would then go on to dilute the quality of the breed at large. I can and do of course castrate boars before they leave the farm, thus ensuring they won't end up being used for breeding, but it is more difficult with gilts. Our non BPA registered girls- Red, Molly and Tilly- are on the downhill road to retirement, but I will as of now be hanging on to any gilts they produce and using them for our own meat stocks so that I don't have the worry of finding out that people I've sold them to are using them for breeding in order to make a quick buck.
The Manglista gene pool (puddle?) is getting smaller and smaller. There are now only 30 or so registered boars in the UK (we have two of them here) and in order to cross a sow and boar they need to be three generations clear- i.e no shared relatives within three generations on either side. This is getting more and more difficult and I spend many evenings poring over pedigrees, ensuring that my planned matings don't clash. It's not unfair to say that we have scoured and travelled the country these last eight months for unrelated breeding stock- it's a real challenge! But we have met some excellent experienced Mangalitsa breeders who are trying hard to improve the breed.
Indiscriminate breeding of non registered stock is a real danger to the future welfare of any rare breed. Birth defects are a concern and just crossing your unregistered gilt/sow, who may or may not be a good example of the breed, with any boar who is big and woolly, is surely not a good idea. I'm sure this is a frustration shared by many rare breed breeders where inbreeding could potentially be an issue.
This isn't me saying 'buy from us' by the way. It's just saying that whoever you buy from, whatever the animal, do your research, think carefully and ask questions. Of course we all had to start somewhere with breeding- for us we are only few years into the journey- but if you ask the right questions early on you could save yourself a lot of heartache further down the line.
Remember those two remaining ewes that were keeping their legs crossed? Well, we waited. And waited. And waited. We had booked a weekend away and spent a lot of time begging those last two girls to drop their babies before our much anticipated two nights away in glamorous Sussex. So naturally, at 11.10am on the Friday morning the first one started giving birth. With a bit of help from Jon a neat, pretty little ewe lamb was born to one of my two favourite girls. Result! Now, with the car packed and ready to go, the hotel room ready and waiting for us, we were ready to.....oh no. The FINAL ewe chose 4pm to start to drop a lamb in the front field and immediately run away from it in utter horror. She had to be physically carried inside to convince her that (in close quarters) her baby was in fact worth bothering with. Mum and son were happy and feeding when we left.
The next morning we had a text from our wonderful farmsitter (who is also, fortunately, a former veterinary nurse), a little confused about the numbers of lambs meant to be in each pen. She had every right to be- the last lamb now had a strapping little brother! It turned out that the ewe that we thought had finished really wasn't. After we had left she had quietly got on with having another. Good girl!So the final total is eight lambs- three ewes and five rams. They all seem healthy and bright- we've been amazed at how quickly the Welsh Badger lambs are up, on their feet and feeding. In their natural habitat of Wales I suppose they have to be pretty resilient as they mostly lamb outside on the hills.
After a lambless first year at Farrantshayes we are now officially the proud owners of no less than five Welsh Badger Faced lambs- and we aren't even finished yet! Two of the girls are still keeping their legs crossed- probably because of this awful windy weather we have been having. We had a lovely open morning for friends with young children at the farm last Saturday with cake, squash and the opportunity to stroke a lamb. Some of our visitors were a bit nervous at first but the lambs had no such problems- they are confident little things!
We are so in love with our Mangalitsa pigs that we have decided to expand into breeding purebred BPA registered stock. This is the perfect excuse for a building project for Jon and five new custom designed pigpens have gone into one of the sheds at the top of the farm so that we can bring the herd in from the worst of the weather. Little Bree and Jamie came on the 20th January; Jamie is our future breeding boar and one of the last two deep red boars in the UK.
Molly and Doris arrived on the 26th January and are really tame already. They have very beautiful fringed ears! We are hoping to see their first purebred pedigree litters this Summer; our boar Pumba is certainly very taken with them! Recently we managed to trace Marmalade's breeding back through his eartag and after a lot of detective work (hue vote of thanks to Lisa Hodgson, the breed rep) we have now managed to register him with the British Pig Association. With fewer than 30 Manglitsa boars in the UK, this is a wonderful thing not just for us, but for the breed in general. What a great start to the year!
This last weekend has seen some of our lovely young pigs and steers go to their new homes. Red's latest litter of Mangalitsa weaners were collected by two sets of excited new owners this morning. Two little red boars went off to Keith, Sophie and their family in Axminster and two blonde gilts and their blonde brother are travelling down to North Cornwall to live with Rob. Tomorrow we are delivering Kev and Kingdom to their new with David and Aly (who run the wonderful https://www.hotsmoked.co.uk/ )
near Tiverton, where they will be spoiled 'only cows'. It gives me such a nice warm glow to see our carefully raised young animals go off to people who are really going to care for and appreciate them; I love meeting fellow smallholders as well, so it's really a win-win!
The build of our 'Class Q' conversion of a former commercial chicken shed to a domestic home is finally complete and who better to cut the ribbon than Jon's visiting family friends, Mike and Marsha? It was lovely to be able to show everyone the outcome of 21 weeks of solid work by Jon and his team.
Arya, our yearling Dales pony, has been away at 'pony summer camp' with experienced horsewoman and native pony producer, Cath Anderson, for a bit of education and socialisation this summer. Cath has been taking her out and about and she's been behaving beautifully. She's a bit of a clumsy girl (I can relate to that!) and is still looking rather 'gawky', being a yearling, but having positive experiences of the world this early on can only be a good thing for her all round education. It isn't about winning shows as such; it's about turning her into a well balanced young horse who is level headed enough to take part in a range of activities. With there being so few Dales ponies left (they're on the 'critical' list of the RBST), it's important for the breed to be out there showing what they can do. We are hoping she will be a true 'all-rounder' and are even thinking about breaking her to drive, something that we can enjoy together. Ernie is missing her while she is away but he's getting lots of individual attention. Plus, there's no one to compete with for hay!
As we are one of the only Mangalitsa breeders in the South West we were asked to take along an example of the breed to the inaugural 'pig tent' at North Devon Show. The co-ordinator of the tent wanted an example of each of the 12 recognised breed and of course it's a nightmare trying to get a Manga as they're so rare. So we decided that Billy, a castrated boy from Tilly's first litter, would be the show 'exhibit'. He was duly subjected to a wash and brush up, which he was suitably scornful about.
The woolly 'sheep-pig' caused quite the stir in North Devon. Very few people had seen a Mangalitsa before and were very curious. Billy put up with being stroked by hundreds of people, which bearing in mind he had never even been off the farm before, was pretty good of him. We sat with him and fielded endless questions. One lady even wanted to spin garmants from his wool. I don't think they would have been terribly comfortable to wear!
It was a tiring but rewarding day for all of us. To be fair, Billy spent much of it asleep! We met several people wanting to get involved in the breed and buy meat weaners. Of course we were clear (as we always are) that we don't sell breeding stock, though we hope to move into registered purebred Mangas in the not too distant future.
School only broke up a week ago, but the pace of life is only ramping up on the farm! We are in the final five weeks of the build on 'The Chicken Shed' - a large building on the farm that used to house a commercial chicken flock. We gained planning permission under what's known as 'Class Q', which allows for the conversion of redundant agricultural buildings. This is the 'before picture'- the 'after picture' is to come, but suffice to say that under Jon's expert project management, it's gone from a sad old shack that was literally no use to man nor beast, to looking deliciously swish!
On the basis that even in the holidays 'every day's a school day' I have been trying my hand at baking bread. My first effort (pictured) looked a little wonky but tasted delicious enough to convert me over to putting the effort in to making this staple on a regular basis. I am off to Clyston Mill, a National Trust historic flour mill just down the road in Broadclyst later this week, to source some truly local flour.
Herdwick sheep are famous for the quality of their mutton and we are truly enjoying ours, especially the burgers made for us by Coles of Ottery. They are a little fattier than conventional lamb burgers, but this really does add to the flavour, which is deeper, richer and more like beef than lamb. Whilst the 'Herdies' didn't fit into our flock of petite Welsh Badger Faced sheep very well (they were on/off lame for ages, despite ours and our vets' extensive investigations) they seem worth keeping for the mutton alone.
There's been a heatwave in the UK this past week, with temperatures reaching a heady 30 degrees. Unfortunately this coincided with Tilly's due date. When she didn't emerge for breakfast one morning we knew it was time and moved her to the new farrowing pen, where she went without complaint.She seemed a bit quiet, but we attributed this to the heat and set her up an oscillating fan to keep her cool. Late Wednesday night she had nine piglets with relative ease. All seemed well.
As the heat grew even more intense we noticed that Tilly wasn't up and about. I gave her water through a hose, which she sucked greedily on like a straw. Things weren't right; we began supplementing the babies with milk replacement. The 'runt' ('Spike' ) was bottle fed so we could ensure he got his share.
Over the phone the vet advised dousing Tilly with water to keep her cool and monitoring her. Sadly one piglet died overnight and another (the only remaining gilt) was in a bad way. Our lovely vet Fi arrived on Saturday morning, gave Tilly antibiotics and painkiller (she had, it seemed , mastitis, possibly caused by heat stress) and took the little gilt into the surgery to administer IV fluids. Sadly, she too later died. However, our darling Tilly is slowly recovering, up on her feet and drinking. This morning she even ate a few pig nuts. I've been feeding the seven remaining piglets every 2-3 hours, which has been exhausting. And it's now raining and much cooler, so hopefully this little family are on the road to recovery and mum will soon be taking back the reins. Cheeky little Spike seems to still like feeling special and coming out for his bottle; he's a serious cutie so I'm indulging him for now!
Today has been a day of playing 'piggy jenga.' Reliable old Mangalitsa sow Tilly is most certainly in pig so it was time for Marmalade to be introduced to his new wife, Red.
This entailed everyone moving pens, as Red has a liking for jumping on top of fencing so needed to be in the most secure pen with her new amour.
The Tamworth crosses and their mate Billy (who we kept from Tilly's last litter) seemed to like their new neighbour and pen. I think Billy recognised his mum, but who knows.
As I am writing, all the cattle are finally out in the fields enjoying the fresh grass on this breezy May day. At times it felt like they'd be imprisoned in the sheds forever, not least on the memorable day when the first two calves arrived. Kenny (named after recently deceased comedian Ken Dodd) arrived early one morning when the rain was hammering down so hard that it sounded like nails been thrown onto the roof. We breathed sighs of joyous relief at his safe arrival; his mum is Amber, the cow with most 'personality' (for that, read 'awkward') and we popped down the road for a congratulatory Indian. On arrival back at the farm after an excellent Masala, we were shocked to find a second bull calf, out of Audrey, who definitely wasn't meant to calve for another few days! He was a strong little fella, who we named Kev, after our decorator. Third past the post was yet another nice bull calf, this time out of Petal, one of the second time calvers. He was named (rather grandly) Kingdom, after the museum dedicated to Isambard Kingsom Brunel, which was opened in the week of his birth.
By this time we were rather hoping for a heifer calf to join the herd and were rewarded with a pretty, delicate little girl - Karma.
Last to calve was our secret favourite - herd leader and matriarch Ange, who was overdue and looked thoroughly fed up. When she started calving at 10pm on Friday night we thought that things would move along quite quickly. Jon valiantly stayed up with her until 4.30am on Saturday, but there were still no signs of the calf. I got up as dawn broke, took one look at her and called the vet. Our wonderful vet Fi arrived, equipped with a calving jack, but this baby was just too enormous and after much effort all round, a C section was decided to be the only way of saving her. We were warned that it was unlikely that the calf would be alive after such a long battle, so steeled ourselves for the worst and saddest outcome. It felt like a miracle when a HUGE bull calf was pulled out and took his first breath. He was the same size as calves nearly a fortnight older than him and he had only just come out. There was no other possible name for this chap, and it was bestowed upon him there and then.
This time I'm blathering on about balancing smallholding with the teaching 'day job' and missing the birth of our first livestock.
Due to some technical difficulties, it's been a while since our last update but plenty has been going on down on the farm! The Mangalitsa piglets all went off to fabulous new homes, some as pets and some to be brought on for charcuterie. Their collection dates were rather affected by the snow though! We also collected our pigs for Pigshare 2018- five Tamworth cross Oxford Sandy and Blacks. We have found a very local breeder (just outside Cullompton) and the opportunity to get the 'food miles' on our pigs down even further was just too good to pass up. We kept one Mangalitsa boar back from Matilda's litter- a little brown lad called Billy- and he is in an indoor pen, as it's just too cold and muddy for little pigs outside at the moment- getting to know his new ginger friends. We have also invested in two more Mangalitsa sows- Maggie and Red- purchased from a breeder who was downsizing. We really do love the breed-they're so hardy, unusual and personable! They're due to have litters in a month or so, so some of the people who didn't get a chance to buy from Matilda's litter may yet get an opportunity to own one of these wonderful pigs this Summer.
It's been a very exciting time on the cattle front. We brought the five Devon girls who were due to calve into the warm inner barn, with cosy individual pens made up for when the calves were born. We certainly weren't expecting two to calve on one day, but that's exactly what happened. Amber had a smart little bull calf who we named Kenny (after recently deceased comedian Ken Dodd) in the early hours of the morning of Wednesday 14th March and Audrey had another bull calf,who we've called Kevin at about 9pm that evening. Both delivered unassisted - rare for first time calvers. There was only one hairy moment when another, more experienced expectant mum tried to 'steal' Kenny from Amber, who (at that point) was still not that bothered about him. All's well that ends well though- after being taken off hurriedly into a private pen away from the interfering 'nanny' they've bonded beautifully. All we need now are some nice heifer calves from the remaining three girls who can go on and join the herd.
As I type we are in the midst of round two of 'The Beast from the East- snowy weather that is unheard of down in Devon. It does make the farm look beautiful, but all the water troughs freeze. Getting water to all the animals using just a bucket and a wheelbarrow is not much fun, especially in sub zero temperatures and (like farmers around the country) we simply can't rest without knowing everyone is fed and watered.
This morning we headed off to the butchers to collect the cured bacon and gammon from the four pigs who went off in December.It looks absolutely delicious. We used the last of our bacon from the first pigs a few days ago and were dreading the thought of buying supermarket bacon again. So much water comes out of it in comparison to our homegrown stuff. There is a bit more fat but I tend to just trim it off and feed it to the birds, who really appreciate it in this cold weather. Failing that, it crisps up beautifully in the pan and is a real treat!
It was Jon's second trip to our abbatoir/butcher this week as on Monday he dropped off two of the store lambs we bought last Summer. Before they went we had to trim their bellies (they need to be clean and mud free) and I took photos of their eartag numbers for the paperwork that I need to fill out to be sent to ARAMS- the sheep and goat movement authority. Every time a sheep or goat moves location a form needs to be filled in and sent off- arduous but entirely required. These two will be coming back to us in a couple of week's time as vac packed lamb. A couple who took part in last year's pigshare is having a half and it's very rewarding to have our first returning customer- we must be doing something right!
I have also been working on designing the labels for our meat. I wanted to incorporate the farm logo and have labels that are suitable for freezing, as the current ones tend to fade.Vale Labels in Wellington have been most helpful and have created a label that will fit into the printing machine at our butcher, so hopefully when the lamb comes back it will be sporting our branding- very swish!
One of the tough things about combining a day job with smallholding is when exciting things happen, you are invariably in a meeting. So on the 8th January it fell to Jon to act as 'pig-wife'- as Tilly the Mangalitsa delivered no less than 13 piglets! As the average litter for this breed is 5.6 piglets, this was something of a shock and as novice pig breeders we were thrown into the thick of trying desperately to keep them all alive. Nine survived- seven girls ('gilts') and two boys ('boars').
They are the first livestock bred by us to be born on the farm, so we are rather proud of them. They are a dazzling variety of colours and it's very easy to 'lose' half an hour just sitting and watching them play! Mum is doing well but is very protective, so we keep a respectful distance. One of the boys is the colour of a baby fawn and full of personality; Jon is rather taken with him so I suspect he will be staying! The rest are for sale- do contact me if you are interested!
The lovely Becky from 'The Landsman' magazine approached me a few months back and asked if I would be willing to write a 'warts and all' account of our smallholding experiences in 2018. How could I POSSIBLY pass up the opportunity to tell a readership of 50,000 people about our daftest and most embarrassing mistakes? Not satisfied with this I thought I would add in a picture of me attempting to drive a tractor whilst looking like I should be shovelling tarmac or holding a STOP/GO sign.
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