Friday, 29 October 2010

To eat meat or not to eat meat

I’ve always been a meat eater. There was no teenage dabble with vegetarianism. My refusal to eat liver had nothing to do with principles and everything to do with taste and texture (plus it’s really stinky when cooked). But then I never had to confront the reality of what it really means to be a meat eater. Actually, no, I remember one incident in my childhood when, while on a family holiday in France, I came face to (furless) face with a skinned rabbit and realised with shock and bucketfuls of tears that the nice Mr French Farmer did not, like me, keep the bunnies because he thought they were furry, cute and fun to play with.

In recent years, the principles have moved up the food priorities leader board, leaving taste and texture trailing behind. Luckily for me, in many cases superior taste goes hand in hand with principles. Who wants bacon rashers that stew in a frying pan of milky liquid? Who wants chicken breasts plumped up & glistening with injected salty water? Unluckily for me, in most cases superior prices also go hand in hand with principles. This is where rearing our own pigs comes in.

Yes, I named our four pigs, but somehow, the fatter they got, the more emotionally detached I felt. Nevertheless, knowing how worried I get if Nessa disappears hunting for a whole day, and how tearful I get when the sick little kitten on “"Animal Hospital” fails to make it through the night, I was not completely confident that I would get through the “taking pigs to slaughterhouse” experience emotionally unscathed. As I collected windfall apples for the last supper a feeling of guilt crept over me. The pigs would simply be happy to get an extra afternoon treat. I knew what was coming next. This wasn’t a good sign. A few weeks before I had reached a deal with myself – if I couldn’t accept the slaughtering of the pigs, then I would have to go the whole hog (pardon the pun) and embrace vegetarianism. No halfway house of no pork, bacon and ham, all meat would be for the chop (oops, pardon the pun, again!).

So the pigs are now gone. On Thursday next week, Dave will be collecting our bag of pork products. How do I feel? To be honest, I’m still working that out.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

That’s life……

Well the pigs have gone off to ‘meat’ their maker, and it was our first experience of seeing the animals we had cared for, taken to the abattoir to complete the food cycle. We were obviously a little apprehensive about this final chapter, but knowing that the pigs had had the best life possible, we were also keen to make the last two days as stress free as possible.

The butcher had kindly loaned us the use of his trailer, so we picked it up the day before so I could do some practicing of reversing. I had already done a dummy run to the abattoir which is a small family run unit with  a tight 90 degree reversing manoeuvre  needed to back the trailer into the unloading bay. After a couple of tries back at Banceithin, and with Phil waving me back, I thought I should be ok. We decided to load the pigs up in the trailer the night before so we weren’t having to mess around in the dark the next morning, as our time slot at the abattoir was 7.00am. We put a bed of straw down, and the girls happily trotted up the ramp into their bed for the night.

IMG_5257 IMG_5261

(not sure about my facial expression)

We were ably assisted by my niece and nephew, Helena and James.

We then left them to get acquainted with their new surroundings for the night.

The alarm rang at 5.45 am (I used to get up at that time every day for my 2 hour commute into London!) and the team headed off into the night. It took around 40 minutes and we were the first to arrive. I managed to reverse first time into the slot, and 3 of the girls trotted out round the corner, one proved a bit stubborn but eventually made her way out to join the others. It was all getting vey real at this point, and we were all keen to get away. Phil had got the paperwork completed, including the ‘food chain’ form which I had forgot, and with a queue of farmers behind us we took a deep breath and drove back out into the Welsh hillside. Thinking our ordeal was over we talked about how the pigs had had a great life, especially when you compare it to the majority of animals whose meat fills the shelves at the local supermarket, and that made us feel slightly better. It was at this point we remembered that we didn’t retain our copy of the animal movement licence, as well as forgetting to pay the  slaughter man! Take a deep breath……..  9 point turn with trailer, we’re heading back to the abattoir. Due to the amount of farmers waiting, and the lack of space, I parked further down the lane while Phil and James jogged up the road to sort the paper work out. It was very busy at this point and Phil was drastically trying to get someone to take the cheque. Finally a friendly bloke went past with ‘paint’ splattered overalls and pushing a wheelbarrow, saying ‘Oh, I’ll take that me darling’, popped it in his mouth and trundled off….

It is quite strange not having the pigs to look after any more, but I am looking forward to trying some of the pork in a weeks time!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Yesterday Dave was pierced by a bee stinger. This morning we pierced the pigs ears. Bad things come in threes. Who’s going to get pierced next? Maybe a nose ring for the puppy.

The bee sting was my fault. I lulled Dave into a false sense of security by telling him the bees were sleepy, but “accidentally” woke them up minutes before Dave approached the hive. Well they looked sleepy when I peered under the feeder, but maybe my shifting of the feeder sent the aroma of sweet sugar syrup dregs down into the hive. I’m all togged up in my beek suit, gloves and all, and Dave’s in jeans & jumper and gloveless. Off comes the hive roof. All’s well. Off comes the feeder. Yikes, angry bees! Whoopsy. I’ve never seen Dave move so fast in wellies. He has a lovely red swelling on the wrist to show for it. Meanwhile, back at bee central, small clusters of disturbed drowzy bees are clinging onto leaves of the sapling in front of the hive. They’re clearly not up to clearing the 5 inches between them and the hive entrance. I lend a helping hand by transporting them one by one by gloved finger from plant to door, but many are either too weak or too recalcitrant to get from plant to finger. It’s a lost cause. That’s a handful less bees for the winter cluster. Obviously this will prove a crucial mistake come March!

As for the pig piercings, the weather was, quite frankly, bloody miserable, perfect for a spot of trauma (ours) and blood (theirs) before breakfast. The mean looking piercing gadget was primed and ready.


The tub of disinfectant was on hand. The rain was coming in horizontally. Roused from slumber by the promise of a late breakfast, the girls stumbled out of the ark blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. Heads down in the trough, time for the dirty deed. Clunk! In it goes. Did Davina squeal? Did she even flinch? Nothing. No reaction. She just carried on eating. Not even the blood was a distraction. Unbelievable.


So with a distinct lack of any trauma whatsoever, the girls will for the remainder of their days - being precisely 21 hours and counting - be known as Pig Number 1 (Davina), Pig Number 2 (Ally), Pig Number 3 (Harriet) and Pig Number 4 (Alice).

Friday, 15 October 2010

My Big Society

Stuff the coalition, two fingers to Red Ed, come the next election I’m voting for the honeybees to take over the running of the country. Instead of Dave’s (as in Cameron not Pickworth) “Big Society” we’ll have “The Big Colony”. There’s a queen, the males are only good for one thing & collapse & die after that, the females do all the work … so far, so normal. OK, so there are some downsides, like the fact that most of us will only live for 30 days, but everyone will have a job and somewhere to live, and there’s a 24 hour all-you-can-eat honey buffet. Bees are great, that’s all there is to it.

As some of you know, last month I had a bee related disaster. My colony was on the brink of collapse. The likely cause was starvation. How guilty did that make me feel?! Thousands and thousands of little buzzy lives were relying on me, and I let them down, but who’d have thought that in two weeks of bad weather a whole colony could work its way through its honey stores, leaving themselves with nothing to feed themselves or their brood. The poor queen stopped laying. At the start of September much of the colony had died, there were no eggs or larvae and not a drop of honey or a speck of pollen left. Needless to say there were tears and much self-recrimination.

There was not a moment to lose, “feed, feed, feed”, advised the Bee Inspector. Twenty kilos of sugar and 8.5 litres of water later, and my amazing little colony has restored itself, winter brood is hatching and the foraging bees have been out and about collecting replacement nectar and pollen. Today we saw a bee staggering up to the hive entrance dragging along its bulging sacs of bright orange pollen, like a shopper heading home after the winter sales. A last minute flurry on a Michaelmas daisy perhaps?

So it’s time for final preparations before the bees settle down for their long winter sleep. The hive roof is insulated, the final feed is being guzzled and the mouse guard to ready to be screwed over the hive entrance. The key question is whether the bees now have stores of honey to last until March. They say that an experienced “beek” just has to heft the back of the hive to know instantly the precise weight of honey stores. It seems to me that hefting is a risky business. An overly hearty heft could launch the whole hive into the hedge. I hefted my hive with caution. As a beek of a mere 4 month’s experience my assessment of the weight of honey stores was “bloody heavy”. Lacking a “bloody heavy” to kilos conversion chart I’m thinking of using my own measuring system by estimating the hive weight based on equivalent number of Charlies, with each Charlie equating to 7 kilos. He’s a whole lot of cat!

Anyway, I shall leave you with an interesting fact picked up at last week’s meeting of my local Welsh Bee Keepers Association (a monthly mid-week autumn evening highlight on the Lampeter social calendar). During winter a shrew will climb into a hive, pick off individual sleepy bees from the edge of the colony cluster and precisely nibble just the bee’s furry thorax to snack on the energy packed muscles used by the bee as it beats it’s wings to regulate the hive temperature. The shrew equivalent to a Kellogg’s Special K yoghurt coated snack bar!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The grass is greener on the other side……

We have all used this saying throughout our lifetimes, but I am taking this literally this morning.

IMG_5161 IMG_5162

The ‘D’ day for the pigs is 4 weeks away, and it was decided to move them to the pasture on the other side of their ark, where indeed, the grass was greener (in fact it had grass). This wasn’t for the idealogic reasons of letting them frolic in long grass before heading to the butchers, though they will enjoy it. But for the more selfish reasons of giving them extra grazing to hopefully improve the meat texture and flavour. They are also getting a bucket of windfall apples most days for the same reason.

The pigs did love it when they ventured into the new pasture. We opened up the rear door and they came cautiously through before sprinting around, ears flopping around.

We do have very happy pigs