When Mr G and I packed our bags, sold our town house, left our jobs, all our friends and family and almost all of our worldly goods to move to rural Ireland we thought we knew what we were doing. We’d talked, we’d dreamt, we’d planned but it wasn’t until a couple of months after arrival that the enormity of what we’d done, what we’d left behind, really struck me. If we’d known what lay ahead would we have taken those steps, would we have ever been brave enough to make such momentous life changes and embark on this long and bumpy road to self sufficiency?
I’ve written a post before about our dreams of becoming self-sufficient and how the reality has differed from those early ideals. Little did we know when we stepped onto Irish soil over fifteen years ago that it would take us until now to finally own livestock and embark upon the challenges involved with rearing our own pigs. But despite the delays, the twists and turns, we never gave up on our initial hopes.
And now we’ve done it! Towards the end of our first pig rearing adventure, everything seemed to conspire against us but at last our two saddlebacks have made their final journey and thankfully, all my worries aside, it was relatively stress free.
I wrote a post expressing my mixed feelings about rearing pigs for the table the night before we were expecting to take them to the abattoir. Little did I know then that our plans would run adrift and it would be almost a month later before we finally loaded the pigs into the trailer.
During that month it rained, and it poured and then it rained some more. What had been an idyllic, dry, woodland for the pigs all summer long, filling their lives full of dappled sunny shade, soon became a soaking wet quagmire of a muddy mess. During the last week of that extended month our boars decided to chew the rope that tied the makeshift bridge together, resulting in feeding time becoming a chore to be argued over and dreaded in case of slippage or falls. Then, because they were growing daily and there was the very real worry that our pigs would become too large for the abattoir equipment, we had to ration their diet. Just like the male species in the human world, the pig variety doesn’t like being put on a diet either, not one little bit. During the last few weeks the harsh reality of autumn/winter farming began to rear it’s head and a new respect for ‘real’ farmers grew.
So, between transport problems and an abattoir/butcher letting us down, it was three weeks after writing that worrisome blog post that we headed outside at half past seven one cool Wednesday morning to load the boys into our neighbours trailer. We don’t own a trailer or a car with a tow hitch – there’s another lesson learnt in our big list of life lessons! Don’t get livestock if you can’t, at the very least, tow them yourself anywhere! Two 100 kg pigs will not fit into the back of a Primera estate, really they won’t.
Anyway, back to the morning in question, two hours later the pigs were still running around the woods and we had to wave our neighbour goodbye without them.
Actually that’s not quite true. Two hours later they had put themselves very stubbornly back to bed and were not coming out for love nor apples. During those couple of hours the largest pig learnt that my geraniums were quite tasty, my wide-eyed daughters learnt that their mother can single-handedly push a very large pig back into its run if it dares to escape into her garden, and Mr G learnt that you can’t bare back ride a freaked out pig, even if it is by accident. We both learnt that we were going to have to be a bit more canny if we were ever to load two happy, free range pigs into a trailer and we would have to learnt it fast.
The trailer arrived the day before the new scheduled date to the abattoir. Having learnt our lesson, during the previous week Mr G had built a corral, we held back on their food for a day so the pigs were hungry prior to loading, and we weren’t under time pressures. It still took three hours to entice them into the box as well as an adrenaline spiked panicky phone call to the ever patient and helpful Alfie & Margaret of Oldfarm, the experts at free range pig loading. There wasn’t much they could do for us over in Tipperary but their experience and sympathy for our plight was calming and reassuring and ensured we didn’t give up in despair.
Oh the joys of loading free range pigs who have the space to run around… We now know exactly why they’re more expensive than factory farmed pigs 😉
In the end, a pile of apples, a shake of the feed bucket and Mr G walking along blocking their retreat with a pallet, saw both pigs loaded and us sighing with huge relief. They settled down for the night in the trailer, nestled in a cozy bed of straw. We drank a glass of wine in front of the fire, calm in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be repeating the escapades of the previous week.
At 8.00am the following morning, our jovial, cattle farming neighbour arrived once more (I sometimes wonder what our farming neighbours must think about our novice pig farming attempts) and he and I headed off to a recommended, family run abattoir, 20 miles away.
I was a little apprehensive on the journey. I wanted to witness the killing to make sure it was quick and kind but had been told that the public weren’t allowed to watch, viewing was only for the vet and the workers.
As I walked around the small, quiet yard to the back of the clean sheds, looking to see where we should park the trailer and unload, I came upon two pens. Inside one were half a dozen or so smaller pink pigs awaiting their fate. I hadn’t known what to expect to be honest but they didn’t seem overly stressed. They weren’t crowded, they were all healthy looking and running around inquisitively. At the back behind a low screen was a man in a long apron. Although my view was restricted, I could tell that he was herding a pig along a narrow walkway then shocking it with electric paddles directly to its head. Once shocked and on the ground, a chain was attached to the pigs hind leg, it was hoisted up, moved around the corner and from his actions, I could guess that it’s throat had been cut quickly, within a few seconds of the initial shock.
Strangely I was relieved. I’d heard all sorts of tales about the killing in recent weeks, each more horrifying than the last and having reared and cared for our pigs for many months, it was hugely important to us that their last minutes weren’t of terror and that the stories weren’t true. I felt as reassured as I could be under the circumstances. We’d expended a lot of time, money and emotional energy into this decision to rear our own meat for our table and at least I’d now seen with my own eyes that their end would be quick and efficient. My friendly farmer reversed his trailer back to the pens, we unloaded and ushered the two pigs into an empty one, closed the ramp and quietly walked away.
Part two coming soon…. (note, part 2 is here now)