pigs


Hi everybody and welcome to the final instalment of The Hog Blog! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it and I’m pleased to let you know that Nicola’s adventures raising her pigs continues beyond what she has written about on this blog so there is a good chance that more instalments may appear somewhere in the future.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 4

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 4

I spent today sorting out who gets what and what will be left. By the time I have given Jules and Joe their share and taken some for me, the pile looks smaller. But there is still a lot to sell and it takes about seven minutes to clear the lot. We cooked a small pan of the sausages in the kitchen, opened the office doors, allowed the sweet smell to roll up the building and it worked. People arrived with their purses and cheque books and then it was gone. I just managed to write down who had what in time. But then there were the disappointeds. I kept having to nip back to my own supply and raid the sausages and chops – but not giving my joint away. Then I felt like Jonesy in Dad’s Army, sidling up to some of the disappointeds with a small package and nodding at them conspiratorially.

Meat is currency, and getting cash back for it gives me a good, wholesome feeling. I worked harder physically for that pork than I have in a lifetime of sitting at a computer. But I still have only made a tiny dent in my original costs, and those costs will rise if I get more to fatten. I am hooked, and write out cheques like a mad woman who has won the pools.

So, I can do meat. I immediately order another couple of fatteners from the farm in Devon. They will be about a couple of weeks behind Trotter and Elvis in age – so now I will get meat from three pigs instead of one. And I will still have my breeders, Elvis and Mabel. That will be the next learning curve.

Love has not sprung up between them yet, but I am hopeful. Elvis is incredibly friendly – almost gobby. I have clothed him in my mind in a rather jaunty leather jacket and some torn jeans – I know he will grow up to be a quirky ne’er-do-well, just my sort of a bloke. And I hope that my precious, stand-offish Mabel with her priggish lace cap will quiver with desire and fall under his spell. I now know I was over Beatrix-Potter’d as a child.

The weather at the moment is amazing. Still frosty and freezing at night, sunny during the day. It’s like skiing weather: it’s perfect. In the afternoons, at about 4.30, it is magical, with the sun going down on a golden pink sky and opposite a silvery full moon has risen already. We have a little robin friend. He keeps hopping about the pig pen pecking at something on the ground – maybe husks of straw or something the pigs are dropping. When he is there the wagtails are not. I heard robins were the bullies of the bird world; maybe it is true.

The End (for now)

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

buy Go Slow England Buy Go Slow England

I realise that I’m posting very late in the day today but having been at the London Book Fair the past 3 days I’ve been frantically catching up on a backlog of emails. Sorry to make you wait! Some good news that I found waiting for me is that our July release What About China? will be getting featured in an influential book trade publication. More about What About China? later but in brief it is a book about how to answer awkward questions about climate change such as “What is the point of doing anything when China opens a new power station every week?”

But for now here’s another instalment of Nicola’s Hog Blog. Have your tissues ready.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 2

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 2

We arrive early at the abattoir and I go in to sort out the paperwork. Three forms for one pig. A pig movement form, a transportation form and a what she has been eating form. One of the forms is three pages long and I understand none of the questions. They are in code. The guy who manages the abattoir is about 65, with the ginger grooved wrinkles and the deep, watery chested voice of the dedicated smoker. His ‘office’ is a sort of freezing cold garage with a tiny electric fire at one end and a small wooden table and chair at the other. He is an old hand. He is not overly friendly. He’s seen it all before. I feel like an idiot. I am behaving like a ridiculous townie at a cocktail party, enquiring about his job and whether he ought to have a bigger fire, and oh gosh, these forms, how on earth does one make head or tail of them? He groans and lights another fag.

Help is at hand from a lovely young man in a white coat and white wellies: the man from DEFRA. He helps me fill in the forms, then helps us get Porker down the ramp and along a long, stone corridor. He is so gentle and sweet with her ‘Come on lovey, come on sweetie’, patting her gently and encouraging her down. Pigs don’t like going downhill much. I instantly like him and trust him and there is a lovely, straw-filled pen waiting for her with a drinking bowl and everything. I give her a pocketful of pignuts and stroke her nose for the last time. She is next in line. I walk away. Turning once I see her just rooting about in the straw like normal. I am not worried.

I make arrangements to collect the carcass in three days and return to work. Feel strange all day. Quite grown up.

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

buy Go Slow England

Goodness! It looks like the end is nigh for dear old Porker. Nicola shares her thoughts…

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 1

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 1 

Bitterly cold with a strong easterly wind, but the sun is shining and there’s a frost on the mud, so not claggy, but sparkling. I meet Tom in the field, he’s already reversed his Landrover and trailor up to the gate and is asking me which pig? I point to Porker, feeling like Judas except I didn’t get the 30 pieces of silver. No, I had to pay much more than that for this particular act of treachery. Porker, as usual, is at the front of the queue so it’s easy to open the gate and let her out and start shutting it on Mabel. The new little ones escape too, though, and rush up the straw-ridden trailer ramp as if they are just sooo excited about a trip to the slaughter house. Tom puts them back in the pen and Porker is alone. He loads up the ear tag thing and advances up the ramp to insert it. I walk away and look over the fence, dreading the moment I will hear her scream. How unfair to have to have this shock and pain and then go to the abattoir with nothing nice happening in between. I resolve to tag the next one at least two weeks before slaughter and then give him treats in between so he’s forgotten all about the ear when the trailer time comes. A pineapple I am thinking, or some kiwi fruit, their favourites. No scream comes at all. Tom comes down the ramp and says he dropped the tag at the last moment because she moved her head. He loads up another. I think maybe 50 wasn’t enough? Second attempt resoundingly successful judging by the terrific noise. Pigs are the most dramatic creatures on earth. They should all be on the stage. If you don’t believe me pick up a piglet, gently and kindly, and they’ll make the sort of noise that is only heard during the last few minutes of a Jacobean tragedy when all on stage are tortured and killed and there’s a lot of fake blood.

Nevertheless the sound produces fear in me. The same sort of fear one feels when holding out your precious baby to the surgery nurse for a jab. I immediately give her an apple to cheer her up. She eats it happily. Good.

Off we go then in the Landrover to Frome. Cross country – through Chew Stoke and over hills and down dales. Sun bright and low, flickering through hedges, blinding round bends. And Tom talks. We chatter about family, animals, bloody paperwork, how things have changed. I’m getting old: I enjoy it.

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

buy Go Slow England Buy Go Slow England

It’s time for another Hog Blog and I think you will agree that it’s starting to get a bit dramatic!

Cheers, Thomas

buy Go Slow England Buy Go Slow England 

The Hog Blog – January 2008, part 2

The Hog Blog - January 2008, part 2 

Rang abattoir in Nailsea today. Porker has only four weeks or so left to go. I need to hire a trailer and also get her an ear tag or slap-mark of some description. Not sure how to go about it, but I phone the North Somerset council man and he tells me which company to order them from. He is also, he says, coming to inspect me in February. Blimey. Order ear-piercer and tags with my herd number stamped on them over the internet and they arrive in the post. Fifty ear tags minimum order. Oh well, I shan’t have to order again in a hurry.

I have a mad two weeks trying to get out of going to the Nailsea abattoir (I hear gossip from Steve the butcher at the farm shop that a mate of his sent some rare-breed pigs to Bakers and didn’t think he got his own pigs back; and there were bits missing that he had specifically asked for). But I’m worried about not having any alternative. People keep telling me about nod-and-a-wink travelling folk who come with a small gun and do it in the field. On research, they don’t appear to exist, or only do it secretly.

Steve says there’s another abattoir in Frome which is smaller and less commercial and gives me the number of a mate who knows them. The mate recommends them and I worry about the fact that it is 27 miles away rather than eight. My address book, which used to be filled with city numbers, is now criss-crossed with numbers for trailer hire folk, ark builders, mates of mates who shoot pigs in fields on the sly, farmers and hedge trimmers, oh and abattoirs. Weird. It is make my mind up time. Every time I look at Porker I feel like a traitor.

Later that month…
Time up. I opt for the Frome abattoir. But how to get her there? Ring Pete the hedge trimmer as he is a Long Ashton local. He tells me to ring Tom James who keeps cows in the field below me. Tom is brilliant and agrees to help (for £60!) We talk pig on the phone and I like him. He meets me in the field the next day and we check to see he can get his trailer in and every question I ask (there are many) he answers patiently and kindly.

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

It’s time for another instalment of Nicola’s Hog Blog! (Nicola’s the editor of our British Bed & Breakfast and British Bed & Breakfast for Garden Lovers books you know).

Cheers, Thomas

buy Go Slow England Buy Go Slow England 

The Hog Blog – January 2008, part 1

The Hog Blog - January 2008, part 1 

I collect two little Berkshire boys from the farm, one to be Mabel’s husband in the summer, one for the table. Elvis (the breeder) has a quiff, and Trotter is a bit friendly. He already knows what sex is about because he keeps trying it on with Elvis, who wriggles away. They seem much smaller than the girls when they arrived, and less robust. Just taken away from Mum they view the girls as something bigger with nipples and so rush about them madly trying to get cosy. The girls behave like teenagers who have just discovered their little brother in their bedroom, going through their things. They charge into the ark as one and use their snouts to hurl the boys up into the air and out into the cold. But they don’t care! They rush back in again, sometimes between the baffled girls’ legs and just snuggle in the straw with each other. I suspect their own mother has treated them thus for a few weeks, bored with the constant breastfeeding. Can’t say I blame her. This circus continues until nightfall and I have to leave – worrying about the murderous, jealous look in Mabel’s eyes and Porker’s strong snout. Could they kill the boys?

I get home, cook supper, sit on the sofa and worry. Then I borrow a torch and drive back to the field to creep up on them and make sure that Mabel and Porker are not lying in their cosy bed, with Elvis and Trotter shivering outside. Instead I find them all asleep. Mabel and Porker curled up in a huge heap on one side of the ark, Elvis and Trotter entwined in a tiny heap at the other end. In between them is a pig-made hillock of straw.
These are the boundaries then, as well-defined as a long-married couple who sleep in the same bed but manage never to touch each other.

Over the next few days there is one bitten ear. Victim Trotter; biter unknown. Other than that, and a few shrieks at feedtime when the boys are roughly pushed aside to eat at the edges, there is little trouble. All is calm.

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

It’s been rather info heavy on the blog this week so I figured that a new Hog Blog instalment was well overdue. Don’t forget to pick up The Guardian on Saturday and The Observer on Sunday for the Go Slow England supplements (see yesterday’s post) and have a great weekend!

Cheers, Thomas

buy Go Slow England Buy Go Slow England 

The Hog Blog – December 2007

The Hog Blog - December 

Weighed them with Jackie’s son Alex, who didn’t have any wellies so wore carrier bags over his shoes and tucked into his socks. Unfortunately the pigs thought there might be something interesting to eat inside these strange bags and so tried to eat his feet. Very funny.

So… how to measure a pig. You take a piece of string (two pieces of string) and measure once around the tummy, just behind the front legs and then from the middle of the ears to the end of the bottom. Then you have to get the calculator out and do a weird multiplication and division thing and you get, apparently, the approximate weight.

Mabel weighed in at 110.7 lbs, and Porker 115.9 lbs. The right live weight to be ready for the chop is about 140 lbs. No wonder she didn’t like me measuring her!

They are standing in so much muddy water now that the ark really may end as one.

The whole of December is cold until Christmas. Iced up water that needs to be cracked open with a welly, biting northerly wind, then the water pipe freezes completely. They have enough to keep going for a few days like that but if it doesn’t thaw soon I don’t know what to do. Now worrying pipes might burst. No more long, lazy walks through the field, more like a quick whip round then straight back into the pen. No greenery now there for them though and they need to have some grass, so they do like their walks. So cold I can’t stand still with them and have to keep jumping about. Pete the hedge man actually phones me to say that the open door to the ark is facing east and that’s where the wind is coming from. He says I must open the back door and leave the front door in – they will be cosier. He is right!

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

buy Go Slow England Buy Go Slow England 

The Hog Blog – November 2007, part 1

The Hog Blog - November 2007, part 1 

Pete has cut all the hedges and I can see for miles! Pete is a lovely chap, probably in his sixties and lives down the road but on this side of the railway – as he was at great pains to point out. He does all the hedges round here. I might ask if he can do fencing as well – we need more pigs and more fences. But not at the price of the last lot. £1,800 for the pen and the surrounding fence, the hard standing and erection of the ark – which was nearly £400.

Mabel will need a companion soon. I can’t believe Porker is nearly half way through her life. Saw lots of dunnets today, this autumn has been the best I can remember, and the putting to bed time of 4pm is stunning just now: pink skies, amazing cloud formations and that winter twilight which is so special.

They are eating so much now I am constantly at the feed place, but now that the shed is up I can buy in bulk assuming I can borrow a bigger car.

Nicola

Previous instalments from The Hog Blog

Leave a comment

Subscribe to this blog in a reader

Subscribe to this blog by email

Next Page »