The pigs & our bumpy road to self sufficiency

November 6, 2013

Saddleback PigsDo you ever stand back and wonder how on earth you ended up in the place you are in?

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.

drinkingThe Journey

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.

Empty copseSo, 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.

clapper boardTake two, a week later.

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 😉

exitIn 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.

The killing

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)


  • Reply Richard FM Conlon November 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Interesting insight into the realities of animal husbandry.

    • Reply greensideupveg November 6, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      It’s been an interesting journey Richard. They were certainly the easiest of all our animals to mind, from hamsters to ducks.

  • Reply Maggieg November 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I need to locate a “cheap” trailer as well. Loading can be very stressful but having had experience of horses helped and helpful friends and neighbouring farmers but best of all was advice from abattoir owner. Park the trailer in their field the last few days and feed them in it. That’s going to be my plan; when I get my trailer that is……

    • Reply greensideupveg November 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Agree! The trailer seems to be the key Maggie. Very tricky to do it easily without one. I was kindof reassured to hear that Lorna doesn’t have a trailer either and she’s a proper farmer 🙂

  • Reply ayearinredwood November 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

    We regularly put the trailer in the paddock even when they are not going to be shipped off…. just feeding them in it once in a while makes it an ‘ok place’ to go! And so makes life much easier!

    Oh and ladies when you do go looking at trailers…. go for one with high sides – they can climb!!! 🙂

    • Reply greensideupveg November 7, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      We’ll start with the car with a tow bar I think but thanks for that sound advice Margeret, can only begin to imagine how traumatic watching that would be!!

  • Reply Lorna November 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

    We used to put the sheep and the goats into the van and then into the boot of the estate (it’s only sheep farmers that have trailers really amongst us commercial farmers!) – Being dairy we have neither jeeps, towbars or trailers 😉
    I am thinking of getting pet lambs this year – didn’t last year as we were so tight on space for calves and nothing has changed in terms of housing and more calves to be born next year but might corner off an area for them. The problem with sheep is they roam everywhere but I reckon if we fence off an area of the garden, it will cut down on the lawn mowing a bit 😉
    Quite the saga but it makes for brilliant reading Dee and glad to hear you were happy with the way they were killed.
    Brian and I are part of a E-CO2 group and every six months we are invited to a talk / visit etc but we rarely have time to go and they are often miles away. I’ve been to one and as one was in Bunclody on Monday, we felt one of us should go. Brian went and it sounded really interested. McDonalds went through the whole process (yes, it is 100% beef, to get the consistency right, the temperature is important and 65% fresh meat is mixed with 35% frozen, it is 20% fat which reduces to 10% when cooked – it is all a very exact science). He saw the whole process of killing and boning etc too. Even though it is a large factory, it’s all very calm. The animal is led up and stunned first, then the heart. You might think that their legs would be flailing etc but there is none of that. He was v impressed with the whole procedure. In a way, I wish now I had gone and I could have written post on it all but up against it with time.
    Hope Rashers and Sausages taste yum.

    • Reply greensideupveg November 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Thanks Lorna, really glad to hear you enjoyed it 🙂 Ian viewed the butchering and I’m hoping to next week. Seeing the head here on the kitchen table was a bit disconcerting but all part of the process I guess! We’re considering lambs next year for the freezer… Watch this space!!

  • Reply unahalpin November 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Great post as always Dee. Glad to hear that you were happy with how it all turned out and that it hasn’t put you off rearing your own meat in the future.

    • Reply greensideupveg November 7, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      Thanks Una, far from it having tasted the first piece. I do think we’ll ever buy factory farmed again.

  • Reply Urs Tobler December 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Very interesting blog and I enjoyed reading it. I often thought I could write a book on how not to start your own business and had to smile reading about your adventure.

    • Reply greensideupveg December 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Urs, and yes it certainly has been an adventure!

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