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Uh-Oh, The ‘Hoods’ Have Arrived

August 12, 2014

Rehoming Rescue HensAfter all this time you’d have thought we’d have learnt.

“We’ll do some research before we get any more animals”. 
“Yep, it’s much easier when we know what we’re letting ourselves in for.”

That should have been enough don’t you think? In future, we’d find out what we were about to embark upon before we increase our livestock and in particular double our chicken flock with rescue hens. But that wouldn’t be any fun….

Saddleback pigs in August

Saddleback pigs in August

When it came to our first attempts at pig rearing last year, we absolutely did our homework. We trotted off to Old Farm and spent a day learning about fencing, feeding and generally caring for pigs before our two saddlebacks arrived. Even then we continued to learn throughout the months that followed, quickly realising that nothing can fully prepare you for the first time you have to take animals off to slaughter.

Rehoming Rescue HensWith the chickens we were self-taught. We assumed hens would be straightforward, lots of folk we know have them and so far our hens have been purely for their egg laying capabilities. We’d planned to get some brooders this year for the freezer but with a fox lair close by, knew we’d have to build runs etc to contain them at night so that, at least, is still on the ‘to do’ list.

Rehoming Rescue HensThe internet has been a great resource for us over recent years and poultry books helpful but nothing can really prepare you for rearing livestock. I did chat with the woman on the end of the phone line a wee bit when I rang to enquire about the 5,000 hens she was rescuing and hoping to re-home:

“We have a small flock of hens, how well will ex-batteries integrate with them?”
“Fine, no bother at all.”
“We’ll take four then”
“Would you not have room for a few more?”
“Ok, we’ll take eight”

Some hours later….

“You’ve done whaaaat?”

This all happened several months ago. Back then we had an attractive little flock, led by a very good-looking White Sussex cockerel. Sadly, the local fox began to pick the chickens and ducks off, one by one, boldly and in midday light, until he finally reached the prize he was looking for – Bob, our magnificent rooster. We hope he choked on one of the glorious tail feathers that weren’t left strewn on the lawn in Bob’s last fight for survival.

We haven’t seen the fox since.

After the horrors of helplessly watching our flock diminish, we were left with just three little hens, two of whom were broody and sitting on fertilised eggs.The eggs hatched, four healthy little chicks were born and our flock increased back to a manageable size of seven. Happy days. Then the phone call came…

Oh-Oh, the hoods have arrived“The hens are being released, I’ll met you Thursday at the handball club”

Eeeek! Seven to fourteen hens overnight and if they all lay eggs, that’s a lot of omelettes!

I should mention at this point that although I’ve referred to the hens as ex-batteries, due to a European ruling in 2012, commercial hens these days are no longer confined to the wire cages of old, they are now kept in ‘enriched’ cages where they can at least flap their wings. In the case of our new arrivals, they’ve come from a free range environment. That said, free range commercial farming and free range hobby farming are two different things. Commercially the hens are replaced every year and from what I can gather, the year old ones simply destroyed unless rescued. That leads to my point about the ‘hoods’.

Rehoming Rescue HensAfter the hens had been here a few days I googled ‘rehoming ex batteries’. Apparently, far from the featherless, poor little things I’d conjured up in my imagination, rescue hens are very street wise. Even free range, they’ve been reared in cramped conditions, sharing space with thousands of other birds and have had to adapt, learning to fight for their small bit of territory.

During the week they’ve been here, we’ve noticed they’re very brave and wander around bits of our property the other hens never ventured to. They’re also very friendly and don’t mind being handled. They haven’t figured out what the scraps thrown out the window are yet and they sleep almost on top of one another, even though they now have space to stretch and move around. Some of the hens were quite featherless, perhaps from being picked on but they’re certainly holding their own with our existing flock. Already we can tell our feed bill will be rising considerably and although ex-batteries aren’t supposed to lay many eggs, that message doesn’t seem to have reached our new ladies and we now have more eggs produced than we can manage.

Rehoming Rescue HensOverall, the hens seem to be integrating nicely and if one of the recent chicks does turn out to be the cockerel we think he might be, his father’s very good looking son, he’ll be a very happy lad indeed surrounded by so many ladies. They may however, take a bit of persuading to be receptive to his advances as I somehow think the new girls wont be taking any nonsense, no matter how long and glorious his tail feathers might be.

And as for our homework? Well our bee suit arrived this week so we best start looking into those beekeeping courses as the honeybees I wrote about in June have not only stayed, but have bred like mad.

If you’re thinking of keeping hens, the Consumer Association have a handy guide and if you’re thinking of re-housing ex-battery or rescue hens, have a list of common health problems you might meet.

Have you thought about rescuing hens or already done so? How did you find the experience?

Food & Drink

Crispy Potato Skins

January 4, 2014

Crispy Fried Potato SkinsA recipe for crispy potato skins isn’t one you’d traditionally expect to find in a blog in January when we’re all thinking about regaining our pre-Christmas figures, but it’s one that will firmly remind our family of this particular New Year holiday with my parents.

Potato skin peelerWe don’t own very many gadgets, but as a woman who suffers from almost debilitating arthritis, my mother has several and this electric potato peeler was our daughter’s favourite.

Grandmother and daughter made the bowl of thin crisps simply by adding the metre long peelings into a saucepan of hot oil for a few seconds, draining them on kitchen paper and sprinkling them with rock salt. I’d love to try them oven baked too for a healthier version.

The crispy potato skins tasted as good as any packet of crisps without the additives and preservatives usually associated with them. Organic or blight free potatoes would be the best choice of spuds to cook to make sure there’s no residue pesticides on them, but whatever your choice, ensure the potatoes have been scrubbed before cooking. Maggie from the Food Born & Bred blog wrote a helpful post about cooking oils here if you’re wondering which one is the best to use.

If you prefer your crisps ready-made but chemically free, Aoife Cox from The Daily Spud wrote a very informative post about the project and Kaethe Burt-O’Dea’s plan to dominate Ireland with her Sarpo Axona crisps which you can read about here.


Food & Drink, Lifestyle

From Pig to Pork ~ Part 2

December 27, 2013

The last month of being a pig ‘farmer’ was an emotional roller coaster ride as far as our eating habits were concerned. Having reared our first two free range pigs for the table this year we questioned every piece of meat we bought or cooked and whether we should be eating it at all.

Free Range Pork Back RashersOur ten-year old summed the experience up for us “oh Mum I do wish I could be vegetarian as I so love animals and don’t want to eat them, but they taste soooo good!”

It’s just as well she was thinking that way as we now have a freezer full of pork, over 120 kilo of it to be precise, from rashers to belly, hams to chops, that are set to last us for the next year!

My last blog post finished as we dropped our two saddlebacks to the abattoir on the Thursday morning. On the Saturday I took myself off to O’Gorman Meats in Castledermot, Co Kildare to discuss cuts and ask if there was any possibility that Mr G could either help with the butchering or watch it being done. It was a complete surprise to walk through the doors and instantly recognise the butcher behind the counter. Unbeknown to us, our daughter’s friend’s father managers the shop. What a relief! Several people had asked us how we could be sure we’d be getting our own pigs back. When I said hello to Brendan I instantly knew we would be.

O'Gormans Farm Shop in AthyO’Gorman’s is a bright, clean and efficiently run establishment and it came as no surprise to see trophies in a cabinet proclaiming that they’d just won Best Rural Butcher Shop and Best Overall Butcher Shop 2013/12014 by the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland. The let downs of butchers a few weeks ago turned into delight as I could see for myself the pride the staff felt for their workplace and the efficiency with which they carried out their trade.

Although insurance, health and safety etc prevented Mr G from having a go at butchering our pigs himself, Brendan was happy to allow him to watch and talk about the different processes and cuts. He phoned the following Wednesday letting me know that one of our pigs would be butchered that afternoon and Mr G headed off to watch.

Mr G was impressed how quickly the work was carried out. He mentioned how sharp the knives were (put all of ours to shame!) and how he was happy to leave the butchering to the experts. A short while later he arrived home with two very heavy bags of meat that had been divided, weighed and individually packed into family sized bags for us.

Eight days later I took another call from O’Gorman’s, letting me know the cured pig was ready too.

We chose to have one pig for pork and one for bacon, giving us a mixture of cuts. There’s a few pieces in there I’ve never cooked such as the collar and streaky joints so I’ll be scouring the internet for some ideas – where’s a good Pork cook book when you need one?!

Pork Chops

4 chops = 2.5kg

Bar the kidneys, we left all the offal with O’Gorman’s though did bring one pig’s head home as well as the feet and trotters for my adventurous friend Elaine to make Brawn with. I tasted a slither and am sure if it had been enclosed in pastry and I’d been told it was a pork pie I’d have demolished it but the slither sadly stuck in my throat as I thought of the images she’d emailed me of the cooking process.

So was it worth rearing our own pigs? In answer to some of the questions asked:

  • Yes! Although it was a bit of a drain on resources during the six months or so of rearing them due to the fact that we weren’t allowed to feed them out of date food or vegetable waste from shops and had to buy grain. I did however, grow a couple of beds of beans for the pigs to help with their protein intake and we fed them weeds and grubs from the garden too. Overall it was definitely cost-effective to rear our own pigs.
  • The taste from free range pigs that have led a longer than usual life than factory farmed pigs is far superior to anything you’ll have tasted before. Really, there’s no comparison.
  • There’s no shrinkage or milky, liquid floating around in the frying pan with the bacon.
  • The meat is fattier than the factory farmed pork we had been used to but that gives it a lot more flavour and the best pork crackling eaten in our house for years.
  • Pigs were by far the easiest animals we’ve ever had the pleasure of rearing and were no trouble at all, though we were summer farmers and it would have been quite a different experience heading out to feed them during this current storm!

Would we do it again? Quite likely yes once the ground has recovered. We’re also discussing the possibility of rearing chickens for the freezer on the lawn that was once used for soccer and has now become just a weekly mowing chore.

There’s something quite humbling about rearing your own meat and not taking the animal for granted that you’re about to eat. As carnivores we feel it’s important to remember that.

As we tucked in to our first home reared ham this Christmas it was with the knowledge that the animal that provided it for us had led a good life and not a factory farmed, mass-produced one.

If you’d like to try the recipe here it is, though it could be used at any time of the year and not just for Christmas… We asked our butcher to cut the joint to the size of our largest saucepan.

Honey & Mustard Glazed Ham

Honey & Mustard Glazed Ham

Honey & mustard a glazed ham recipe

3.5kg ham joint
Celery, carrots, onions, bay leaf
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp mustard powder
Whole Cloves
zest from one orange
2 tbsp honey

Soak the ham overnight in a saucepan filled with water to remove excess salt (though this wasn’t really necessary for our free range pork), drain the pan then fill again with fresh water until the joint is covered. Add the vegetables, pop on a lid and bring the water to the boil. Simmer the ham joint for 30 minutes per kilo with the lid left on but ajar, topping up with hot water as necessary.

Once cooked, remove the ham from the water and place on one side to cool. Turn oven on to 200ºC and line a baking tin with tin foil.

Place the ham into the baking tin. Remove the outer skin from the joint but leave a good layer of fat which can be scored with a sharp knife in diamond shapes. Place a whole clove in the centre of each diamond shape.

Mix the mustard powder, honey, orange zest and brown sugar together then brush it all over the ham joint (heat the mix slightly if it isn’t runny enough to brush on). Pop the ham into the oven uncovered and cook for 20 mins, keeping an eye on it to make sure the glaze doesn’t burn.


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)


Pigs – Do You Think They Know?

September 25, 2013

pigcloseup“Do you think the pigs know they’re going for slaughter?”

It’s a question several people have asked me since our young pigs were delivered. With the wisdom of those who know everything, others have casually mentioned:

“they know what’s in store for them you know”

Well how can they know, unless pigs can read our minds?? How can they possibly know that they won’t be living long, happy lives routing around in our little copse, but instead will be taken on a hair-raising journey in the back of a bumpy trailer, before being dispatched to pig heaven in the next day or so (or to be more precise, our freezer).

Saddleback pigs in April

Saddleback pigs in April

After our cute little saddleback piglets arrived here ready to roam outside back in April I thought I’d be writing several posts sharing tales of their escapades and antics. I hadn’t expected that being a Pig Herder (my official Department of Agriculture name) would be so uneventful!

Saddleback PigsOver the years we’ve cared for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chickens, dogs, cats, ducks, pet rats, kittens and horses but I can honestly say of all of those, our pigs have been the easiest to mind. They’ve been such good-natured, amusing animals, they’ve been a pleasure to look after.

Continue Reading…


Sunday Snap: Midsummer in the Garden

June 23, 2013

Today’s snap was so difficult to choose! It’s a cloudy, showery day here in the hills and the vegetable garden looks quite dull in the photos, but we have some pretty flowers blooming too. After much deliberation I’m sharing a photo of our garden with you that was taken this afternoon (mostly because it’s unusually tidy having been strimmed and weeded!) and have Instagrammed the pretty floral pics.

Greenside Up Garden, 23 June '13

All the vegetable beds are full now, with seeds or plants starting to germinate or grow. The polytunnel is bulging with salads, corn, squash, beans, herbs and tomatoes and we’re harvesting strawberries daily.

We’re looking forward to watching the garden grow over the next couple of months and reaping the rewards.

If you’ve a link to photos of your own garden I’d love to see them, being the nosy kind of gardener I am 🙂


Our Saddleback Pigs from Oldfarm Settle In

April 30, 2013

Warning: This post is about pigs that will be reared for food. 

Free Range SaddlebacksOver the coming months I’m hoping to share a few posts of our two Saddleback pigs (who will remain nameless) that will be living their lives with us, outdoors, in a free range environment surrounded by cattle from the neighbouring farm. They will be fed GM free grain and vegetables from the garden before they reach the appropriate weight and we arrange to have them butchered.

Saddleback Pigs ArriveToday’s the day we’ve been working towards for many years. Thanks to Alfie and Margaret for delivering them, our Oldfarm pigs arrived in the back of their trailer and were ushered out into their new woodland home.

Greenside Up SaddlebacksA long time ago Mr G and I shared dreams of becoming more self-sufficient in our food. We started with the vegetable garden, followed by the hens for their eggs (still working towards hens for the table) and at last the pigs.

drinkingsaddlebacksWe started this particular adventure earlier this year by attending a Oldfarm Pig Rearing course. When we returned home we cleared undergrowth and trees, built a house, installed fresh water, were given straw by our generous neighbour, sourced feed and then added heap loads  of electric fencing. The Department vet was called in to inspect the pigs new home and once the go ahead was given in terms of our herd number, we were able to discuss delivery.

Sideview of SaddlebackWe’re a little nervous about our new boars (mostly of them escaping into the vegetable patch!) The realities of rearing animals for their meat for the first time are starting to sink in for Mr G. Our children have mixed feelings but we do feel it important that they learn that food doesn’t come out of packets and the importance of good, healthy, wholesome food.

If I began to feel too attached to our new little guys, I’ll be watching this video clip from the Compassion of World Farming about intensively farmed pigs that I hope will act as a reminder about why we’re doing this.

At the moment our Saddleback pigs are four months old and we’ll be aiming to slaughter them at around nine or ten months old complete with their teeth, tails and testicles. Factory farmed pigs can be slaughtered from four months upwards and will never have seen the light of day.

For us now, the fun and realities of rearing animals for food is just beginning… I’ll keep you posted.

Speedy Saddleback Pig




What’s in the gardening bag?

April 20, 2013

full bagI’m out and about a lot now visiting various gardens and as a result my gardening bag is overflowing. In need of a good clear out, the contents were emptied this week and it was a bit like opening up the Tardis.

There’s one important item missing though. Can you guess what it is? The answer’s at the end of the post.

Gardening Bag

  1. Leather gloves for those tough jobs but in need of repair. Good job I now have
  2. a lovely selection of Showa gloves!
  3. Selection of mostly empty seed packets.
  4. A dibber (or dibble depending where you’re from). Useful for making holes in the soil for garlic etc.
  5. Nether Wallop Paper Potter
  6. Various shape & size plastic plant markers
  7. Empty chocolate wrapper. Need I say more…
  8. Lollypop stick plant markers – can be composted when finished.
  9. Plastic spacers for joining poles together.
  10. Hand trowel.
  11. CD for hanging in the garden to scare away the birds.
  12. Scissors – always useful.
  13. Ph soil test kit.
  14. Secateurs – Felco a favourite present for passing horticulture exams and by far the best I’ve ever owned.
  15. Compass for working out the direction of a garden.
  16. My favourite hand tool & I’m hoping to replace it for a decent quality one (see 21) one day.
  17. Permanent markers for the plant markers – pencil washes off!
  18. Ph soil tester that has never ever worked. Now used to make holes or tie string to.
  19. Wooden stakes and string for marking straight rows.
  20. Penknives of various shape and size.
  21. Broken number 16. Favourite hand tool is also a cheap one that has to be replaced annually.
  22. Tie wraps that often come in handy.
  23. Hand fork.
  24. A four-inch bamboo stick that’s useful for measuring distances between seeds when sowing.  Used to have various sizes but appear to have lost them all bar this one!
  25. An unmarked rude paperclip. Have no idea…

Have you figured out another useful item that’s missing? It was the main reason I emptied the bag as I was hoping to find some in there………it’s a ball of string!

Do you keep any other useful items in your gardening kit?