Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Lovely George

So here’s my dilemma. I love keeping pigs. They are fantastic creatures with great personalities and are a real asset to both the farm and our lives. If ever either one of us feels down, cross, frustrated, it’s the pigs that we go to see and tell our woes. A bit like the dogs, they are always there for us with a friendly grunt and a ten tonne body weight to lean into you ensuring that you stick to your end of the bargain with a hearty belly scratch. I don’t have a problem, most of the time, with sending them to slaughter. I know that my pigs are the happiest, healthiest pigs on the planet and that they want for nothing. I know, in the majority of cases, that I would not be able to keep them past their slaughter stage anyway.. what would I do with them when they become lumbering beasts who hover up pound after pound of vegetables and pig nuts (and that’s not necessarily the weight version of pounds either)? I realise that it is totally impractical to keep pigs for any longer than 7 – 8 months old unless it’s for breeding. I enjoy the meat that they produce and feel very privileged to be able to sample the highest quality pork available in the knowledge that I have done everything I can to ensure that the animal I am eating has had the upmost respect and best care that it could ever have had all the way from birth to death. How many meat eaters can say that? I am truly lucky. But here is the dilemma … I’ve fallen in love with George.

George came to us in April in a trail of errors and knee jerk reactions. It’s a long story which I will not bore you with, suffice to say he arrived without the usual consideration that goes into the thought process when buying weaners. He wasn’t planned and that is my mistake. He and Nelly are brother and sister, which I guess is the whole crux of the situation. He lived with Nelly for the first few months and a few weeks ago we separated them for obvious reasons. Although the pigs are still all together, Nelly is in a separate pen, then our new lovely Large Black weaners and then George. He is the most adorable pig. Very cuddly, very intelligent, always happy to see me and always up for a good belly scratch. In an ideal world George would not be Nelly’s brother and therefore able to be her husband, but he is not. And so time is fast approaching for me to weight George and schedule him in with the abattoir – but I can’t. I just can’t. Everyday I feel this big black cloud hanging over me and I don’t know how to make it better. I desperately try to think of a way out, another way of doing things, but there just doesn’t seem to be any other solution.

Writing the above brought me to tears, so I went and sat with George for a bit. Couldn’t decide whether I wanted to do it as an act of masochism or if I honestly thought it would help.

He has to go. There is no other plan. I could sell him but what happens if he goes somewhere where he is really unhappy. I would have saved him from his death only to condemn him to a life of misery – I know which I’d prefer. I can’t hire him out as a boar because he can’t be registered as pedigree as his ears were too short or he doesn’t have the right number of teats or something, I don’t know – either way it will be difficult to hire him out without that. Irony of it is though that any descent pig farmer would be silly to refuse him based on credentials created by a breeding club over the calm beautiful natured, beautiful looking pig that he is, but that’s the way it works. I could get another girlie for him who isn’t his sister but I haven’t even tried to start breeding with one gilt so to invest in another would be fool hardy. We can’t keep him as a pet as it would be tragedy if the lure of Nelly got so much that he busted through fencing to be with her – we just can’t take that risk.
By talking it though with you things seem a lot clearer. If you think I am wrong, give me a better solution. If you think I am cruel, think about the animal you’re eating next time you tuck into a bacon sandwich or chicken salad. How did that live? Would you even know? And if you’re a vegetarian, hats off to you! I couldn’t do it. It’s funny, isn’t it, to think of all the animals that wouldn’t live and all the animals we wouldn’t see every day if the whole world was vegetarian. Oh, the irony.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

I don’t even want to look back and see how long it has been since I last wrote to you all. Shocking state of affairs and one for which I apologise whole-heartedly. It has just been soooo busy!! Oh my goodness – I’ve lost a stone in weight (which is fantastic by the way!) but purely because of all the rushing around! I still eat like a horse, obviously!

So, let me fill you in. The Cow Shed is finally finished and looking fabulous! It hosted our first ever Hen Weekend and was perfect. For those of you not following Park Mill Farm on Facebook or Twitter (why ever not??) the whole weekend went really well. The Hens camped in the back orchard, underneath the apple trees, and they had the Cow Shed to party in. On Saturday Olly taught them Clay Pigeon Shooting and then it was back to the Cow Shed for lunch and sausage making in the afternoon. That evening we had a BBQ and even the weather was semi-respectable in the end (after a very shaky start!)

Hen Weekend

The very same day that the Hens left we turned the Cow Shed into a studio apartment for some friends to come and stay the night which proved it’s true versatility. Its next booking is for a sales meeting next week and I can see the farm being a really great venue for all different types of occasions.

Chilling outside the Cow Shed
Chilling outside the Cow Shed

Our next batch of pork will be ready on Saturday. The pork has already sold – even before the pigs head off to the butcher – which is fantastic and just goes to show that people really can taste the difference between slow-grown, happy meat and the meat bought in supermarkets.
The apples are just starting to fall from the trees here so the pigs’ diet will mainly consist of apples from now until around October. They just love apples – it’s their best thing ever – closely followed by tummy scratches of course! We are going off to have a look at some Large Black weaners on Friday with a view to getting some. Gloucestershire Old Spots, Large Blacks and Saddlebacks have to be my favourite breeds and to have a few of each would be lovely. They will become our Christmas meat as well and should taste fantastic after all those apples!

Nelly, my breeding sow in the making, is continuing to be an absolute delight. She and her brother, George, are just the friendliest pigs I’ve ever met and anyone who comes to see them just falls in love. It’s Nelly and George who are in the forefront of the first Hen Weekend picture. Over the next few months I am going to have to turn my thoughts to getting Nelly ‘in pig’. We are going to time it so she has her first litter in March/April next year. Can’t wait!!

We are also looking to increase our chicken numbers. Our egg round is fully booked and I would love to be able to extend it. We are building another enclosure for them which will be slightly larger than the one they presently have, not that it matters too much as they all wander free range around the full 20 acres during the day, but I am sure that I must lose a lot of eggs that way. Occasionally I’ll find a duck or chicken egg abandoned somewhere where the magpies have had a tasty meal of it.
The farm is starting to look really good. The sweet-peas are amazing and bring so much colour to the place, along with the foxgloves, snapdragons, larkspur and cosmos. Everything is bursting with life and it’s a great place to be. Winter seems like a distant memory and a mere speck on the horizon and summer 2011 is good. We have brought a wood-fired pizza oven to put outside the Cow Shed so that when we hire it out for parties we can cook magnificent suppers on it for people. It’s great fun and looks fantastic and just makes a BBQ that more special.

Anyway, I’m going to have to shoot off. We’ve got Year 1 of our local primary school coming to visit in half an hour so I want to be all ready for them. They came a couple of months back and had a great time feeding the pigs and seeing all the animals, so much so, they wanted to come again! Just love it!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

WOW!! I have just been up to the fruit cage to pick our first crop of strawberries. Not a lot in number, I admit, but what they lack in quantity they make up for in shed loads in flavour – they are possibly the best strawberries I have EVER tasted – and believe me I’ve been through a few! Obviously there is a certain amount of bias in this tasting but I have to say they are truly delicious!

They have reduced dramatically in number since the photo was taken!!

My first ever strawberries

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Life sure does get busy when Spring comes around! Seeds to be sown, pigs to be fed, eggs to be collected, grass to be mown, flowers to be planted. It’s all nice stuff though so you don’t seem to mind!
The Cow Shed is coming on a pace. We should, fingers crossed, have most of it finished by the end of this month which would be lovely. We’ve decided to take a break after that for the rest of the year and just have the farm to ourselves for a while, which will be great. Although the builders have been fantastic, it will be nice not to have them around for a bit. It is going to be a lovely building and a real joy to work in. The builders have done a really good job.

The ducks going in front of the builders van - notice the builders dog inside looking very bemused!!
We had two new arrivals at the weekend. Two gorgeous Gloucester Old Spot piglets have now joined the Park Mill Farm family. I have to say, they are the most friendly pigs I have ever met. Within ten minutes I had one of them asleep on my lap, positioned just so a belly scratch could be accommodated! We have acquired a proper pig sty for them too which is far too big for them at the moment. Yesterday, I got in there with them and it was actually a really nice place to be. Whenever I want to hide from the world, I think that may be the spot where I’ll go!!
Being greeted by the pigs
Our new piglets!!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Oh my goodness!   There is so much to tell you, I hardly know where to begin!   Let me think… pigs… I’ll start with pigs.   Well, the back orchard is completely trashed!!   With four pigs having spent four months in there over the winter there was no chance it was ever going to be anything else!   But my plan was always to take them off it in Feb so it has a chance to dry out, I can then tickle it with the rotovator and sow beautiful wild grasses and flowers in there, so come late Spring no one would ever know.    And so far, so good.   Olly and I moved the pigs at the weekend to Front Field.  In our naivety we thought this was going to be an easy job and that we would just be able to shake a bucket of pig nuts at them and they’d follow us like rats to the Pied Piper.    In reality, it wasn’t quite that simple.   Firstly, we had not taken into the fact that the electric fence had such great retention powers.    Even with the thing off and lifted up out of eye shot of the pigs they did not want to cross the line where it had been.   We tried coaxing them with pig nuts, apples, nudging them over with our hips, tapping them lightly on the bums with sticks…. Nothing.   They were not budging!    Eventually, however, the lure of the green grass beyond become too much.  The girls were the bravest coming out first and being really quite easy to then walk to Front Field – the trick, we found, was to keep them between the hedge line and yourself.    After we had put the girls into their new pen we went back to the boys which is where our troubles really began – bearing in mind we thought this would be a half hour job, at least 45 mins had gone by and only half of the pigs had been moved!    The boys were a lot more cautious but after a while they too came out of the old pen.   The difference being then is that all they wanted to do was to trough down on the lush green grass that lay just beyond and not bother to move any further, and let me tell you – to try and move a 100lb pig that does not want to move is not as easy as it seems!   Oh, we must have looked comical, the two of us.   For ages we could not get these pigs to move and when we finally did, they were off!   Eventually we got them into Front Field which brought us on to our third challenge – we had two pigs in and two out – was it possible to get the two that were out, in, without letting the two that were in, out?   The answer, dear reader, is no.    We got one boy in, a girl came out.  Boy that was not in decided it wanted to go to the other end of the field to where the pen was and the girl was in hot persuit.   Olly had a dustbin lid that he was using as a board to try and direct the pigs in the right direction – I was using my knee – the dustbin lid was more effective, although not much!   And… pigs can run fast!!!    By the time we finally had them all in the new pen safe and sound chomping on the pig nuts that they had so resolutely refused to acknowledge during the move, Olly and I were exhausted.    It was all we could do to grab a couple bottles of beer and sit out with them and enjoy their new home.

The Back Orchard after the pigs!

The pigs enjoying their new location

In two weeks time the boys go off to make our delicious pork packs.   Being really happy with the slaughter process last time, but a little disappointed by the butchery, we have sourced a great new butcher who will go and pick up the carcasses for us and butcher them.   Not only that, he will let us be there when he does which means we get to know a lot more about the different cuts of meat and how the whole process takes place.   It also means we can get the butcher to joint the meat exactly to our specifications which is great.

In other news, the geese have laid their first eggs!   I was beside myself with excitement when I first saw them – they’re huge!  We had two so Olly and I decided to have them for breakfast on Saturday.   Olly wanted his fried whilst I had images of boiled egg with giant Marmite soldiers.   Of course, it was only once I had boiled the egg that I realised I didn’t have an egg cup big enough so cracked it over a Marmity toast.   They were delicious and very filling.   We wait expectantly for the next one!

Our First Goose Eggs!

Mrs Goose summoning up the energy to lay another delicious egg!

Our first guests  have arrived in The Stables and seem to be having a lovely time.   We try and keep out of their way as much as we can as I think there is nothing worse than the feeling of someone breathing down your neck so I have to say we haven’t seen a great deal of them.  But of the times that I have they say they are happy and loving the place which warms my heart immensely!

Sadly, I said goodbye to Gloria at the weekend.   She (he) was living quite a solitude life with me as her only friend.   Pavarotti our lovely cockerel kept chasing Gloria as soon as they were in close proximity so she never had a chance with the other hens.  As a result, Gloria took to chasing the ducks for a little action, which, as you can imagine, didn’t go down well with the ducks!   In the end, some lovely friends with a little boy who fell in love with Gloria and had 6 hens of their own took Gloria for a new life in Leominster.    I hear she is settling in well and I am sure she will be a lot happier there than she was here.   I cannot admit that I won’t miss her though.   She became a good friend and we could usually be heard speaking chicken to each other around the farm.   She followed me around and was the first cockerel I could pick up and put on my shoulders with no problem at all.   Here’s to you Gloria.  I hope you’re very happy!
(forgive my torrent of pictures - a little shrine to Gloria!)

Chicken in a Basket..

From little chick....

First time seeing her (his) reflection

My mum!!

Messing around with the boys!

Not your best side!

Caught asleep!

Peck on the cheek!

To her last day on the farm.  xx

Beautiful girl (boy!).   Best tranny cockerel in the world!!
Lastly, the Cow Byre (I think I may change the name to Cow Shed as more people know what I’m talking about then) is coming along very well.   We are converting it to an office/kitchen and I have to say it is going to be a beautiful building.   We were restricted by Conservation as to how much we could rebuild against simply repairing it and it is great that the old walls remain albeit strengthened and that most of the original tiles will go back on the roof.

Nothing at the farm is straight - not even the Cow Byre!

The root damaged caused by years of ivy was incredible.  The builders have done a fantastic job.
So, we are in March finally and although the nights still have the bitterness of the winter we are emerging from, the days are crisp and clear with a hint of warmth.   The bulbs are coming up, the birds are building their nest and the plant pots are being unearthed from their winter hiding for another bumper growing season.   Life is good here at Park Mill Farm.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Something happened to a member of my family today that put into very sharp focus just how delicate and precarious our interwoven lives are.   Someone whom I love very much was involved in a head on car collision.   Fortunately, and but for the grace of God, no one was seriously hurt, but enough damage was done to make everyone think.    Think, ‘what if’.   If the worst case scenario had happened today my life would have been shattered into a thousand pieces, not to mention that of the rest of my family and yet it started as just a normal day, with it’s normal frustrations and daily routine that we all think nothing of.   We take so much of our lives for granted that it’s difficult to imagine what life would be like if something  tragic happened but maybe every once in a while we should think ‘what if’.    Maybe it would make us take things a bit slower, maybe it would make us tell each other that we love each other a bit more often and maybe we would be a lot more thankful  for what we have and the people in our lives who make it so rich.   For fear of sounding like an American sitcom with a moral tale to tell, like the Crosby Show, or other such tosh I am just very happy that my friends and family are all safe and well, albeit a little shaken and bruised in one instance.

For a slightly different reason, my husband is a little shaken and bruised this evening but more in the holistic, hangovery way .   He and some of his eldest and dearest friends went over to Ireland at the weekend to watch the French narrowly defeat the Irish in the 6 Nations Rugby after which the boys felt the need to drink Dublin dry until half three in the morning! 

The farm continues to march forward into Spring.    We had a huge amount of rainfall on Sunday and as a result everything is feeling a little boggy but when the sun shines you can feel it’s promise of Spring warmth.    It’s time for a massive Spring Clean around the farm – I have no idea how we manage to attract so much rubbish yet it seems that piles of ‘stuff’ appear out of nowhere.    However, it is my personal challenge to make the farm look beautiful this year, even with the builders around – with great planting and lots of recycling I am sure we can whip this place into shape.

So, that’s it for this Valentines Day.   My husband has spent the last 10 years protesting about the fact that he doesn’t believe in such nonsense and he’d done it so well that this year it hadn’t even registered with me that it was Valentines … until he turned up back from Dublin with a bottle of champagne and a beautiful card!   Feel really guilty now that I didn’t get him anything at all!!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Spring is almost here and that is fact.    Do you know how I know this so conclusively?   Firstly, my lovely girls have started laying eggs again after at least 8 weeks of nothingness and secondly I found the pigs sunbathing this afternoon instead of huddled up in their shed!    There definitely seems to have been the seismic shift today that you sometimes feel with the changing of the seasons.    The last few days have been really windy, and I mean REALLY windy, yet today the sun shone brightly and there was not a breath of wind and the transition from winter to spring seemed complete.    That is not to say that next week it won’t snow, but for now the feel is that things are emerging from their winter slumber.   Like the pigs who have ventured out of their shed, the bulbs are poking their noses out of the ground.   

This change of weather means that it is time to start sowing some seeds in the lean to.   Sweet pea is always first with me, along with peppers and those I will sow tomorrow.    Olly and I are on the brink of buying our first polytunnel which we are very excited about.   I do have some in trepidation about erecting it though – I just can’t see it’s going to be an easy job.   I am also blessed with a husband who’s default setting when we are working outside with each other is that of ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ – he obviously being the former and me the latter.    He is quite open about this and  although he thinks of me as Slave, he would probably publicly call me his ‘Assistant’.    I don’t know why I say probably because he has, in fact, said that I am his ‘Assistant’ when we are working outside.   You can probably tell by my mentioning /ranting at this that I take umbrage to this but actually, I can say that in a bizarre way I do like it.   There is a pleasure in the inevitability of the fact that he will shout at me when we are working together, probably at some critical moment when I should have anticipated his next move and didn’t and that at some point, through no intention on my part whatsoever  I will do something to cause him pain, either through my lack of strength, over enthusiasm or  lack of forethought.   He knows it’s going to happen and so do I and it is that that makes us perfect for each other, because when the sun sets and the job is done and we are still in love.   Just doesn’t stop me dreading the next time!!

When I say it’s been windy – it really has.   For most of Sunday, Olly and I spent our time holding onto the roof of the Duck and Chicken house (with him shouting at me!).    We re-roofed it about 18 months ago but didn’t replace all the joists as we didn’t think it was necessary, as a result the wind got underneath the corregated plastic that we put on there and was lifting up the whole thing – rafters, joist and all.   We managed to hold it all down with a bit of tattered tarpauline and some bits of rope but the ducks and chickens were not impressed.   The roof made a huge racket when the wind blew and they were all at sixes and sevens until the wind died down.

So, 2011 hurtles on.   I cannot quite understand where January went to but, nevertheless, we are here in Feb.   We have now started building work on the Cow Byre which is coming on a huge pace and I will upload some photos to our website,, very soon.   We hope to have it finished in a shell form by the end of April which will be great.

2011 also brings a new event to the farm.   We will be hosting “Heaven of the South” here on the 21/22 May which is cycling event (it’s not a race).   Basically 300+ cyclists with their friends and families will arrive for a weekend of camping, during which they will cycle either a 75km or 100km route around the Cotswolds.   All we have to do is entertain and feed them for the weekend.   Should be great fun.   If you are interested go to www.heavenof  for more info – you don’t even have to do the cycling part, you can just come for the party!!

Anyway, for one who hasn’t written in ages I’m going to leave it there.   Lots more is happening and going on but it can wait for another day.   I will write more very soon in an attempt to bring you fully up to date with our lives on the farm.    I spoke to our Aussie blog reader the other day (I should think he’s the only one) who told me that we definitely need more pictures so I am going to make that my task.   If they are not on here in the next couple of days, check out our website – they’ll be on there.