Posts Tagged ‘grow your own’

Nemo: the results

So, having done The Deed, plucked him and gutted him, we discovered that Leghorn x Buff Orpingtons don’t, in fact, carry a lot of weight (ie meat) especially when you’ve been feeding him ad lib with the layers and haven’t been deliberately fattening him for the pot.

So rather than cooking up a roast chicken dinner, we instead roasted the bird on Sunday night and last night B made the most delicious risotto! Lots of peas and garlic, more chicken than we expected – plus the magic ingredient, fresh cream!

If I’m honest, while the dish was scrummy, the taste of the chicken didn’t stand out in the same way that out home reared pork and sausages did.

We’ve decided that this is because we roasted him and then let him sit for 24 hours before cooking him again in a risotto, rather than munching our way through the chicken as soon as he came out of the oven.

Still, it’s really made me think about the chicken I have so glibly purchases in the past and I have a feeling I’m reconsidering my diet. Do I really want to eat the Bird’s Eye chicken pieces in the freezer? What about the shop’s own ones?

Now that Nemo is no longer crowing in the chicken run, the death of a chicken for my dinner means a lot more than picking up anonymous ingredients in the supermarket. I’ve only eaten shop-bought sausages on a handful of occasions since putting Vicky and Albert in the freezer last March and while I have eaten plenty of bacon and gammon, I’m not sure if I’ve had a shop pork joint since then, either.

But pigs are different: I don’t slaughter them at home, for one thing. And, for another, other than sausages, pork isn’t a basic ingredient for me. I rarely ate it before we got the pigs and my consumption of pork has increased dramatically in the past year, mainly because, for the first time in my life, I’ve found that I actually like pork: it’s just the taste of poor welfare standards that I disliked before, even though I didn’t know it!

Maybe the “he had a good life” thing is something we just say to kid ourselves but I either believe that or I become vegetarian. And since that’s not on my agenda, I’ll put welfare first. A good life, a good death. I’ll always let my chooks free range, maybe develop a system where I can keep any broilers in their own pen for the last month or so in order to put some weight on them, but that’s for the future.

For now, I can report that the chickens spent yesterday dust bathing in the sun, pecking at bugs and grubs and generally demolishing the old vegetable patch (it seems they really like kale!). They were feeling so good that seven of my eight layers popped an egg out for me. Fat Boy was on top of the world and even found the time to tell Flint off (the little guy took advantage of the tensions between Fat Boy and Nemo to pester all the hens), not to some special time with Buffy, his favourite.

Happy chickens - 16 February 2009

Happy chickens - 16 February 2009

It was a good day.

Nemo 0, Humans 1

Following on from yesterday’s post about Fat Boy and Nemo’s fight, I can report that I summoned all my courage and Did The Deed. Many, many thanks to both B and Jennie for their help. Yes, you did help. Lots!

The kill was horrendous. I still can’t believe how hard it was. That was one stubborn chicken and I’m afraid that the immediate death I’d hoped for was not forthcoming. But we did it and I’m certain he didn’t suffer too much.

Plucking was hard but not as hard as I thought it would be, certainly not once I’d got used to it. However, I failed miserably at plucking the wing feathers so we ended up cutting most of the wings off. Shameful, I know, but I just couldn’t shift them!

I was most worried about the gutting and drawing but although Jennie and B were convinced I was about to slice my fingers off, that actually proved to be the easiest part, if a tad on the messy side!

However, there was a major downside to the whole thing. Although he’s got great legs, the rest of his body barely contains any meat! I guess the Buff Orpington / Leghorn cross won’t be taking off any time soon! Scrawny is not the word!

So, rather than the delicious roast dinner I was drooling just thinking about, we have instead decided to delay the Taste Test. Last night, we roasted him in the oven and tonight, once I’ve been to the shops to get the right ingredients, we’ll take what meat there is and make a risotto. Not quite what I was hoping for but, having done it once, I know I can do it again. I’ll just make sure that any future breeding results in a more dinner-friendly outcome!

I’ll let you know how it tastes tomorrow!

Happy Valentine’s Day

According to B’s work colleagues, our relationship is “lacking romance and spontaneity” because of what she got me for Valentine’s Day.

The new Grubs and Glug in the Eglu - 14 February 2009

The new Grubs and Glug in the Eglu - 14 February 2009

I don’t see what’s wrong with asking for two new Grubs and a Glug so that your Bantams and Silkies are no longer forced to eat out of a cat bowl and a margarine tub and drink out of a dog bowl! I like my present. I think it’s great.

And that means I am having a happy day, especially as we’re having a Special Meal tonight: sausages from our own pigs, eggs from our own chickens and, although I didn’t grow the potatoes myself, I will be scrubbing them and making the chips.

It’s a delicious meal: turn the oven on to about 200 degrees, and while it’s heating up, plop some some oil in a roasting tray so it covers the bottom and whack it in the oven to heat up as well. Cut up the potatoes into chippy shapes / wedges / whatever and when the oven’s ready, chuck them in the tray. Swirl the oil around so it covers the chips and then put back in the oven for just under an hour, but do check regularly and turn the chips over.

Cook up the sausages on the grill or, if you’ve got good quality ones with limited fat, put them in with the chips about half an hour after the chips go in. Baste them with the oil (add more if necessary) and make sure they stay moist so don’t stray too far from the oven!

Once the chips have been cooking for just under an hour, take the tray out and so long as the chips are cooked*, make a small nest in the chips for each egg you want to cook. Crack the egg into each nest then whack back in the oven for about 5 minutes.

It’s not pretty once served but my, it’s delicious!

(*If the chips and/or sausages aren’t cooked properly, put them back in as the eggs really don’t take more than about five minutes to cook but you don’t want to over-cook them!)

Seeds!

Thanks to my own tentative seed shopping, but mainly due to the generosity of Granny Anne, I now have a respectable seed collection, consisting of:

  • A “mini greenhouse” containing an ornamental squash mix. I don’t have high hopes but it was only 75p from Lidl!
  • Dwarf French beans
  • Garden peas
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Spinach
  • Red cabbage
  • Parsnips
  • Onions
  • Swiss chard
  • Swede

Plus some wild flower seeds that I will scatter in the pig field, just to see what happens.

Seeds!

Seeds!

But, as the collection grows, so do my nerves.

I have never grown anything.

I killed my cactus!

What on earth am I thinking?!

Seed catalogues

I am starting to look at vegetable seeds in an attempt to decide what I want to grow this year and whilst I’m no closer to deciding what I want to try my hand at, I also need to make a decision about where on earth (excuse the pun!) I’ll get whatever it is I plan to grow.

A bit of googling brought up these sites, all of which seem to be recommended by various allotment sites.

But, are they any good? Are they over-priced or spot on? Is there somewhere better I can go?

Suggestions and advice for a novice, please!!

Eggs as they should be

This is why we keep chickens:

Eggs as they should look - 15 December 2008

Eggs as they should look - 15 December 2008

Howling Duck Ranch did an eggs-ellent (sorry!) post the other day called ‘Crack and sniff: How fresh are your eggs?’ and I agree wholeheartedly with everything she says.

It’s simple when you think about it.

Home produced eggs taste even better than the overpriced shop bought organic free range ones.

It’s the same as anything. If you treat your animals with love and devotion and care for them as living creatures, and do more than just meet their needs, they’ll be happier and you’ll taste the difference.

Delicious 🙂

Getting stuff done

Despite a slow start thanks to the below zero temperatures on Saturday night which came hot on the heels of a torrential downpour on Friday night, resulting in a thick layer of ice everywhere (i.e. I had to break the ice on the pigs’ water bowls and then make three trips with three buckets of water to refill said water bowls, not to mention providing the chickens with water), I actually managed to get a lot done yesterday, which made up for Saturday’s sofa-hugging.

Once I’d fed the pigs and finished carting buckets of water everywhere (not easy when you’re not sure if she mud is frozen over or if appearances are deceptive), adjusted the boundaries of the weaners’ and Bailey and Brini’s enclosures to give them some new ground to keep them occupied, and braved the very cold water to clean their feed bowls out, I had a quick coffee and then cleaned the Cube and Eglu out. The chickens tend to leave me to it when I’m scraping out their poop trays but Mama Silkie and her chicks were not happy with me interfering with their sleeping arrangements and clucked and cheeped furiously at me from the other end of the Eglu run!

All the muck then made its way to the lasagne garden, as did several sacks of dirty hay and muck that I’ve been meaning to put on their for weeks but somehow never got round to it. It had rotted down quite nicely in the sacks so I hope it will continue to do so on the lasagne garden. In fact, I hope the lasagne garden as a whole actually works – I know I’m not doing it properly but I don’t enough enough compost to make it work in layers so one area has a layer of cardboard topped by a layer of food waste and then grass cuttings, topped by another layer of cardboard and finally covered by a large tarpaulin.

The rest, however, is a bit more skinny than that. Cardboard, then food waste, then cardboard. And that’s it. Another section now has cardboard, the hay and muck from yesterday and then cardboard. I’m not at all sure how this will turn out but gardening is a whole new learning curve for me and, if I’m honest, my objective was simply to have a dig-free patch so I’ll be happy if this is the only result!

I then, at long last, got round to putting the various doors and planks I’ve been collecting to good use – specifically, using them to stop me ruining any more of the field by poaching it up as I walk. Because there’s no set path, I just walk without paying any attention to where I’m going and inevitably end up “avoiding the mud”, thereby creating even more. So I’ve taken action and have laid the doors and planks over the worst parts so that the areas I’ve poached can have a break and recover from my thoughtlessness. Other areas have been topped with the dirty straw from the pig arks, which has made quite a difference. I’ve got lots more to do but am now paying attention to where I walk!

Once that was finished, I headed back indoors for some more coffee (yes, my blood is in fact a medium Gold Roast) and some soup before heading back out to prepare the pigs’ food, then feeding them and the chickens and making yet another couple of trips with water to refill the weaners’ bowl – and Tia and Scrumpy’s who, I was not amused to notice, had managed to fill theirs with mud. And, thanks to T and A, the field gate is now hanging quite happily on its hinges, so I no longer have to worry about the pigs making a real bid for freedom the next time they get out of their enclosures!

Once the animals were done, the dogs and I headed for home, picking B up from work on the way. And then, finally, our reward for working so hard recently: roast dinner at Jennie’s who, as always, didn’t just meet but beat all expectations by serving up a delicious roast beef (with yummy yorkies!), a mince pie/crumble/cake concoction that was served with the largest amount of whipped cream I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring (which I did, gladly), followed by home made mince pies…

The waistband on my jeans was complaining by the time I got home but my taste buds were utterly delighted. What a great end to the day, especially as we got to watch Mamma Mia!, something I’ve been wanting to see for ages.

Cheers Jennie – much appreciated by B and I 🙂

And many thanks for the cards. Brilliant!

British Sausage Week 2008

Thanks to LittleFfarm Dairy for letting me know that it’s British Sausage Week. Hurrah for sausages!

My favourite sausage meal is bangers n mash though I’m usually happy with most sausage meals. Unfortunately, ever since we put Vicky and Albert in the freezer, I’ve gone off shop-bought sausages big time. This is because our sausages were 100% pork – we only wanted chops and roasting joints so instructed the abattoir and butcher to put everything else into the sausages with no added extras.

Albert and Victoria - 17 March 2008

Albert and Victoria - 17 March 2008

In fact, I think the only thing that could beat our sausages will be the day I pluck up the courage to make our own, adding leeks and herbs and spices to the meat…

Hurry up, Harold!

Harold - 20 September 2008

Harold - 20 September 2008

Busy bees

I’ve had a couple of fun and productive days up at the farm. On Tuesday, B spent the day with me and we got Scrumpy’s ark shifted (it might not sound like much but the next time I have to have one of the pigs, I’ll take some photos of the process so you can see how complicated life is when you keep your pigs in a modern version of the traditional fold!) and then yesterday, Jennie came to help (again!) and we got started on the lasagne garden. She took some photos and detailed our work over at Jennieworld.

I’m thrilled that we’ve got started on the veggie garden. I’m a beginner at this whole smallholding thing (as you can tell from reading my blog) but at least when it comes to animals, I have an idea of what needs doing. The basics are the same for all livestock (water, food, bedding, secure fences, comfort, health) and it’s a matter of figuring out the details. But when it comes to plants… I’m less than a beginner. I’m a total novice. I have never in my life even attempted to grow something, other than a dimly remembered experiment in science aged 10 – something about a test tube and a bean. Oh, and some cress in a hedgehog container so that the cress grew up and looked like the hedgehog’s spikes. I don’t know what happened to the cress (I have no memory of it growing) but I know mum used the hedgehog as an ashtray for over a decade.

All that is a way of illustrating how much I need some help and while Jennie claims she knows very little, very little is in fact a step up from where I am. Besides, the extra help yesterday was invaluable. Even between us, we only just managed to finish everything in time for me to leave at 4 to get to work, so I would have been stuck on my own!

What I’ve really enjoyed about B and Jennie’s contributions is twofold. First, having an extra pair of hands. Both bemoan their lack of physical contribution but they’re the only ones that are bothered. Me, I get bothered by having to, for example, put the ark next to where I want it to go, go back to the previous site to get the rubber mats, put them down in the right place and position to ark over them, then go back to get the bedding that can be reused, then make yet another return trip to get their water bowl… Having someone there who can make these trips while I put up the electric fence makes life much much easier and speeds up the whole process considerably. B and I finished and were able to have lunch at about half past one. On my own, I would have been a lot later! The same with the garden. On my own, I would have got the cardboard and some of the compost down, leaving me with much more to do! Instead, today I just have to collect a small amount of cut grass and then go round and get the used hay and straw I’ve been saving from the pig arks. These piles have been sitting out in the rain so they should be good and damp and ready to kick start the composting. Not to mention all the pig poo that needs collecting!

So, you see, having an extra pair of hands is fantastic. So is the company. I quite enjoy being on my own, probably because with animals about, you’re never truly on your own. But while the animals make me laugh on a daily basis, it’s great to have someone to laugh with, to share the joys and beauty of working with animals. Company makes light of the worst jobs and deepens the sense of satisfaction of a job well done.

So, to B and to Jennie: thank you for your help and for making the time and effort to come to the farm and spend your time with me. It’s more appreciated than you know.

Pigs for pork? Or pigs as pets?

It surprises me that, given all the interest other people have displayed about my pigs, the one question I’m rarely asked is how I can bear to put my beloved pigs in the freezer. I don’t know if this is because they see inescapable link between pig and sausages etc or because they’re too, I don’t know, tactful to ask. Either way, they don’t. And so I rarely think about it. No, that’s not true. I think about it a lot. We’re still enjoying the meat from Victoria and Albert and yet I miss them. Especially Albie.

Albert and Victoria - 17 March 2008

Albert and Victoria - 17 March 2008

And yet missing them doesn’t make me regret putting them in the freezer, or even buying them in the first place.

We bought them for meat and in March, they duly became large roasting joints (4kg legs!!), chops the size of the dinner plate (more like steaks) and 47kg of sausages.

And I’ve never tasted pork like it. B isn’t a huge fan of pork and even she raves about how good it tastes. The chops are divine and the sausages are just out of this world.

Almost as good as the taste is the knowledge that we reared them and we know exactly what they ate and how they were treated. Those pigs were happy pigs, no doubt about it. And that, my friends, is part of the reason why they taste so good.

We let them grow at their own pace; if it took a bit longer, so be it. They were lean and in great health because of it. Obviously, the quicker you can fatten your pig, the less it costs you, but unless you prioritise the welfare of the pig, if they grow too fast, they develop fat, not muscle. Cheap cuts of meat are fatty because they’ve been produced cheaply. Lean cuts costs more because the producer took their time over their pig. Chances are, the person who takes their time also allows their pig to live a more natural life, so the pig’s happier all round.

And when you can do it yourself and produce your own pigs for the freezer, the pig’s even happier. Smallholders do this best because we don’t have huge herds so we can give each sow, boar, weaner and piglet individual attention. I sat in the rain this morning on an upturned feed bucket, giving Harold a cuddle because he looked a bit down in the dumps about the bad weather. Soppy? Totally. Foolish? Probably. Happy pig because he got a belly rub and a chin tickle? You bet!

I shall miss Harold very much when he takes his final journey but if it wasn’t for my love of sausages, I wouldn’t have him or any of the other pigs. This isn’t a post about vegetarianism because I think that’s a separate issue, one whose focus shouldn’t be on smallholders like myself who treat our livestock with all the dignity and love and attention they need, plus a whole lot more. No, the focus should be on the intensive (not large scale, there’s a difference) farmers who only care about the profit per head, who battery farm their pigs and obey the laws regarding the space each pig allowed by mere fractions of millimetres. But, as I said, that’s not today’s topic of choice.

Yes, my piglets have been bred for the freezer. That’s why I introduced Tia and Scrumpy to Bob. One day, I’d like to have a go at producing Kune Kunes for breeding purposes, but that’s a long way off. For now, they’re strictly meat or pets. Or both. Mine are!