Updated: Apr 12, 2022
Raising our own turkeys for Christmas dinner was our first foray into producing our own meat, a big step on our journey to self sufficiency. Next up was pork.
Of course, it would have been easier to buy a couple of weaner pigs (piglets that have been weaned from their mum) to fatten and then kill and process at home (you can do this for your own consumption - but meat consumed by anyone else has to be taken to an abattoir). But, we don’t do much by halves, so last autumn we bought Terry & Betty, a breeding pair of pigs.
2 weeks later, Betty had an unexpected litter of 8 piglets, all of which survived - survival rate for piglets is a bit iffy because the mum can roll on and squish them, or even eat them! So our first batch of piglets were ready in March. It was really important to us to be there for them for the whole journey, beginning to end, so Olly drove them down to the abattoir in Dingwall. It was hard to say good bye as they were loaded in the trailer not the ferry, but it only really hit me when Olly called to say he had dropped them off. I shed some tears for those lives I had nurtured. If I wanted to continue to eat meat, this is what I had to face. This is what every meat eater should face.
We are very small scale, we can’t get wholesale feed, and we like to feed them quality food, so it isn’t cheap to raise the pigs. In order to make any profit from it we needed to sell direct to customers, which involved getting the pigs sent back up from the abattoir to a butchers in Orkney, where they were butchered and wrapped, then we sorted the joints into quarter boxes (4 boxes worth of meat per pig), plus the largest pig was used to make hundreds of sausages.
We kept a whole pigs worth of joints for ourselves, and sold the rest to local people on Orkney. I feel really proud to be able to provide this super local food, but as this was the first time we had ever done it, it was pretty nerve wrecking too. Would it taste any good? Would people be pleased with it?
The weekend the pork came back Olly and I roasted a shoulder joint. We were over the moon (and relieved!) when we tasted it, and it was delicious. And my favourite part, the crackling, was the best I had ever eaten, or cooked for that matter. Phew!
The gestation period (how long they are pregnant) of a pig is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. We weaned the piglets at around 9 weeks old, and gave Betty a week or 2 on her own before breeding her with Terry again. This means we’ll have a couple of litters a year - our next litter in due in May. I can’t wait to have lots of tiny crazy pigs running about the place again!
I love keeping pigs. They are such characters. I love their noises, their big floppy ears, watching them run and root around. I love how our animals are connected - surplus milk from our Jersey cow can be fed to the pigs and chickens, who of course love to lap up the super creamy fresh milk. The chickens love pecking up insects where the pigs have been rooting. The rooted ground disturbs the seed bank and allows different plants to grow, which Mango eats and then produces milk from.
Terry enjoying a good scratch from Olly