Archives for posts with tag: pigs

Today was the day to take the pigs to Lockerbie abattoir; Thursday is pig day so all the pigs from across the region that are ready for slaughter are sent at once. We were meant to go last week, but the cold weather in the preceding weeks meant that few pigs made it to the abattoir and as a result it was fully booked.

In preparation for the move, we built a temporary area of fencing by the gate (with electric fence netting) and fed the pigs in there every day. We didn’t feed them the evening before the move to improve their receptiveness to following the bucket.

Our driver arrived with the trailer at 7.30am and we had until 8.30am to load our pigs in, Lockerbie being 90 minutes away when towing a trailer and the abattoir closes its gates for new arrivals at 10am. As I’ll describe, the deadline meant a bit more stress towards the end for us and the pigs.

My first mistake was to drop food in a couple of spots away from the gate. This meant the pigs wandered off at a few points to return to those spots to finish up the food. I intended them to stay away from the gate while the trailer was coming in, but ended up giving them some comfort zones to go to when they decided they weren’t bothered about walking up the ramp into the trailer.

I’m using this post as a place to note things I’ll change if we do this again and this is the first one:

1. Put food only in the place you want the pigs to stay for the duration of loading. For example, in the area by the gate, on the ramp and in the trailer.

When the pigs did come to the bottom of the ramp, they were obviously suspicious of it. It’s made of shiny, hard metal and even with the gripper treads on it, they didn’t like the slippery effect it had. I sat in the trailer for a bit with the bucket of food, which didn’t seem enough to get them up the ramp and they wandered off to the other bits of food lying about.

2. Improve the appearance and feel of the ramp. Use bracken, carpet or turf to cover the ramp so the pigs are more comfortable walking up it.

I got them back to the bottom of the ramp for a repeat of the above. We were running out of time, so we resorted to guidance and pushing with pig boards, using the gate as a crush to stop the pigs escaping backwards. This latter tactic was needed because the electric fence netting was totally inadequate at keeping them in by now (not power in it for everyone’s safety).

3. Build a proper stock handling area at the gate or work out a way to build one temporarily for moving animals into trailers. The proper version would involve moving the big gate onto new gate posts and installing two smaller gates to act as a funnel into a trailer. We’d then run post-and-rail down the sides to keep the animals in. The temporary one would use stobs and hurdles with boards at the bottom to create a pen.

We did get one pig into the trailer and she was very happy munching on her food. It wasn’t so bad after all. The other one kept ducking under the gate, because the ground slopes away from the gate and the pigs had dug it lower still. It didn’t seem possible that a pig would fit under, but she did.

After quite a few attempts the second pig got very wary and would hardly come close to even be in range of a good shove. She would come up to individuals and have a tickle or a rub; any indication that someone was approaching her from behind or the side and she dashed off. Slightly wild suggestions were being put forward at this point, such as getting a person at each leg and manhandling her into the trailer (not so outlandish as I thought; I’ve since heard a story about a pig in Portugal where the pig was grabbed by a group and bodily taken to slaughter). She just wouldn’t get close enough for that.

4. Be more patient. Spend more time coaxing and soothing the pigs. Not easy when there’s a looming deadline. Shoving pigs about didn’t sit well with the approach we’d taken up until then.

It was getting a little stressful by this point, so I decided to take one pig to the abattoir and leave the other behind. This was pretty upsetting, thinking of the lonely pig by herself in the field for a week. The other alternative was to leave both pigs until next Thursday and try again. I couldn’t face more of this and resolved that one slaughtered at the abattoir for sale and one slaughtered at home for our use would be the best, least stressful solution. Our neighbour came down towards the end and confirmed his view that home slaughter is by far the best way to do it and that this was the right choice. I felt slightly better.

On the way to the abattoir our driver recommended a home slaughterman, who I phoned right then. He said he could come next Thursday, so that’s what we’ll do. We’ll do lots of jobs in the field to keep pig number two company and get by.

The abattoir itself was full of large, rough pigs, some of whom had docked tails and scars from intensive housing. Our pig had a big pen to herself and plenty of straw, which seemed pretty decent to me. Many of the pigs got better housing in the abattoir than on their farms I suspect. I said my goodbyes and left, still thinking of the pig we’d left behind in the field; this was the worst part for sure. Our wwoofer Stephanie, a vegetarian, bravely came with us and summarised her trip as “Not my favourite day.” She does now know her enemy and can’t say that her wwoofing trip wasn’t eventful.

One final thought about the trailer, which is maybe not compatible with a stock-handling system:

5. Get the trailer into the field and feed the pigs in it for a couple of days beforehand. This is recommended by lots of people and in lots of books; we couldn’t do this because someone else was bringing the trailer on the day.

It didn’t snow here at all last year and our neighbours told us that the freak snow of 2013 was, well, freak snow. So we’ve been telling plenty of people that snow is quite rare here. Our current WWOOFer was a bit disappointed by this, coming from Provence where snow is properly rare. Right on cue, here it is:

P1030011 (Large)Pigs in snow:

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Do you wanna build a snowman? Kester was not impressed with the snowman.

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The pigs have successfully chewed up the square and seem to be a little hungrier. Being greedy myself, I thought we should move the pigs to churn up a bit more ground. So it’s time to move them. Consideration 1: The arc is too heavy to move (our neighbour’s small tractor could hardly move it once it was in the field). Action 1: Move the fence. I worked out the fence could enclose the area between the existing square and the mature trees, which would work nicely.


Before I moved the fence I hacked a path for it through the bracken with a slasher, which is the best name for a tool I know. I find it has advantages over a strimmer on some tasks. It’s quieter, you can think as you go, you can clear up as you go, and it’s fun, fun, fun. Slash, slash, slash.

Next I had to distract the pigs with food, while I picked up the fence and moved it. This is easy as pigs love food and are easily distracted by it.


They were quite content for the hour and fifteen that it took me to move the fence. I was quite pleased, though I was one panel short after my pacing measurements didn’t quite work; I had to do a little jiggling to move the ends closer. Now, instead of a square we have a teardrop shape, some of which has been chewed and some of which is dense bracken.


When we moved here, we had a lovely big lawn interrupted by some shrubs and a long mixed border. We’ve written about our veg. patch and the stages we’ve gone through building it. The biggest concern we’ve had is, how do we grow vegetables if we’ve got only 15cm of turf to work with before hitting stones? Our answer is to build up and do raised beds, no-dig style (the annual vs. perennial vegetable discussion is for another day). With the caveat that this may be TLDR, I’ll go into the over-thinking I went into when considering the raised beds.

We looked at top soil: expensive and not in keeping with building the veg. patch from scratch, which posed a second question: what have we got to work with? Garden compost. Bracken. Seaweed.

We used the existing garden compost from the old compost heap and have grown some fine brassicas in it this year. We’ve built two new compost bins that will start supplying garden compost next year.

I realised that bracken was a possibility when I researched methods of bracken control as part of the field improvements. In doing so, I read a few pamphlets about bracken control:

The third one mentioned potential uses for bracken as a by-product of controlling it or even as a crop in itself. This was a revelation. The first use that jumped out at me was as a compost and mulch. Obvious now and a simple way to get organic matter into our veg patch.


After starting work on one area where we’re clearing the bracken for an orchard, it became apparent that bracken mulches and composts itself as a survival mechanism. Each year’s fronds die down and are flattened by the next year’s, offering a mulch to further exclude competition and as protection from the worst of the winter weather. As a result, there is a layer of excellent compost in the denser stands if you rake off the last two years’ worth of fronds. This means we have composted bracken and bracken fronds to use as soil improver and mulch respectively.

The photos of the bracken mulch show how much we are piling on in one session. It reduces an awful lot.


Our bracken management plan has now got two aspects.

  • One is using the bracken from areas that we’ve not go plans for yet (exposed slopes and the like). This harvesting allows frost to get in and boosts the under layer, weakening and containing the bracken. It should hopefully stop the spread in some areas. The bracken’s utility as a crop for the garden means we’d like to keep some of it in less useful areas. The photo shows one area that we harvested.


  • Removing the bracken from areas we want to use for something else. Here we strim three times a year (spring and summer). The other approach is using the pigs to dig up and destroy the rhizomes. This will severely weaken the bracken, though we may need to strim a bi to finish the job. Pigs aren’t eating the bracken (it’s unpalatable to livestock in the main).

In the second aspect, we have to have a replacement for the bracken, otherwise the soil will erode. So far we’ve planted an orchard with under-planting of raspberries, strawberries and wildflowers. Some grass is regenerating too. When the pigs are finished we’ll use more trees there to hold it together. You can see the current situation in the photo below. The slope was dense bracken like the patch on the right.

P1020857The final component is seaweed. Not long after we moved here, a lady suggested that we should take bags with us to the beach every time we went and then set the children to collecting seaweed for the garden. It’s a great idea and one we’ve done on and off as free hands have allowed. Below is some seaweed mulch.


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It has been another stunning Indian summer day today with warm, yellow-gold sunshine and a misty haze at dusk and dawn. The leaves on the copse in the garden have begun to dry and fall, a constant background murmur like water running over stones. The country seems to be expectant, gulping in the last gasps of sweet summer air before battening down the hatches for winter. I’ve always been a sucker for autumn; there’s something about cold mornings, blue sky and the sound and smell of decadent decay that seems to distil the essence of the year, for good or ill, in its prime.

As a Yorkshire lass, and the child of a teacher, September is also as much associated with new beginnings as it is the settling of the year into its pomp. And so, at Plunton, September is also the start of a new adventure, in the form of two beautiful saddleback pigs. Bramble and Bracken arrived from Port Logan today to become our lean, mean weed-munching machines. Shy at first, they’ve already started nibbling away at some of the tangle of weeds in the field.

Their new home is a 0.4 acre patch, about 25m from the garden wall, and bordered with electric fencing. We’ve filled their sty with dried bracken, made a wallow in the bottom corner and weighted down an empty plastic tub for water.

The farm who supplied and delivered them, on their way to a show in Cumbria, declared that they will love it in our small square of mud and weeds. They certainly seem to be enjoying playing hide and seek in the bracken. They still seem more piglet than pig and make a lovely, low grunting noise which sounds disconcertingly like the Jaws theme.

Officially on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watchlist, British Saddlebacks are good all-rounders, providing great pork and bacon and, crucially for us, are robust rootlers so should start to get on top of all that bracken. We only have the space to keep one in the freezer, so if anyone fancies some outdoor-reared pedigree pork for Christmas, let us know.

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For the first time in what feels like forever, we had a completely blank calendar this weekend and an unusually cool August decided to give us a final hurrah of warm sunshine. Saturday morning was spent tidying up a little after our last WWOOF visitors, the fantastically helpful and efficient Georgia and Stefano, and decanting our first batch of apple wine.

We also got out into the field to put up more electric fencing in preparation for the pigs. We have ordered a pair of female weaners who should arrive later this month. Georgia and Stefano prepared the ground and helped us with the fencing, now we just need to sort out the battery, patch up the sty, connect up some hoses and get a trough and we should be good to go. We’ll have a pig for ourselves and another to sell on, so if anyone fancies some outdoor-reared pork for Christmas, let us know!

Saturday afternoon saw us go on another brambling expedition along the road and into the fields. We gathered around 4kg of brambles and finally visited the small lochan in the field behind our house. A pair of swans were floating serenely on the surface with their awkwardly adolescent cygnets, rabbits startled to see us from their hedgerow hides and deer dashed away, glimpsed through green and pricky gorse. The uneven and rocky ground had been thoroughly worn down by years of cattle marching over the turf to create rutted paths around the thorniest brambles and most gristled gorse. In short, we were great galumphing intruders on a landscape shaped as much by animal as man with only the presence of cattle, feed containers and ancient dry-stane dykes to remind us that this landscape was as human as it was animal.

A quarter of Saturday’s brambles are fermenting merrily for bramble wine and the rest have been packed in the freezer. Today, while I worked, Matt took the kids exploring in the southern part of Cally Woods at Girthon. Matt had planned to forage for mushrooms but there was nothing to be seen, so he made notes of likely locations and a crab apple tree for future expeditions. He and the kids did discover The Temple, an old folly, and lots of coppiced trees for climbing, like this hazel.


In other news, Iris lost her first tooth on Friday and got 50p from the tooth fairy. Hers is called Twinkle, apparently, although Georgia tells us that in Italy they have a Tooth Mouse who collects milk teeth in exchange for a Euro (or 1,000 Lire when she was wee, which impressed Iris mightily.)

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Plunton Sunset

An up-and-down month, with the welcome distraction of lovely visitors, birthdays, sunny weather and the children off for the summer holidays but work has progressed. We’ve finally started tiling in the kitchen, with the back and sides of the inglenook tiled using the leftover wall tiles from the bathroom. We’ve ordered more to arrive later this week so we can complete the hearth and a backsplash. I’ve also been making over some old light fittings using spray paint and patience.

The garden has got a little wild as we haven’t had any WWOOFers for a while – partly choice due to visitors and partly because we had our first WWOOF no-show. That was a bit of a shame as we had to refuse a lot of requests for the same time period due to having already accepted one placement. One of those things, I suppose, but a touch frustrating. We have more WWOOFers coming in the first week of August, so we will be doing outdoor projects with pallets and probably more harvesting then. We’re also meeting with our neighbours this week to talk all things pig. The pig sty/ark is now in our field but we need to sort out fencing, a trough, hoses for getting water to them and, crucially, buying said pigs!

The upstairs bathroom has had a little attention. We hope to redecorate in there next year sometime but in the meantime the window and bath were grimy and the old ill-fitting lino on the floor was providing little protection against splashes. So I dismantled the window to give it a good clean and plan to overhaul it at some point this summer too. The bath needed drastic measures. It needs re-enameling but that is expensive and only worth doing once we have finished redecorating in there, lest it gets damaged again. In the meantime, the pitted surface gets lots of ground-in dirt. The answer was to apply a paste of borax substitute and lemon juice and then scrub. It now looks pretty good but keeping it up will be a challenge. We also bought a couple of metres of cheap lino to recover the floor so it is a bit more water tight. Not quite a makeover but for less than 30 quid we have a non-shameful bathroom!

The final project underway is Iris’s bedroom-to-be. We have set ourselves the target of having her room ready for her birthday (and ideally by the end of the school holidays) but it also needs to host guests over the next six weeks, so this week we have started the messy jobs of removing all the hardware, painting and fixing up the window and shutters and stripping the wall and ceiling paint and lining paper. Most of this is happening at night and currently the hardware has been stripped and polished, the shutters sanded and primed and about 50% of the walls are stripped. The walls aren’t in bad nick, really, so will just need a bit of patching and filling before repainting. It’s also pretty warm for Scotland just now, so stripping paper with the steam wallpaper stripper is extremely hot work! Iris has decided she wants green paint on the walls so we’re awaiting the arrival of a few tester pots to see what works best.

Rather than pictures showing the work in progress, I thought I’d add one of the amazing sunsets we’ve been enjoying recently. My pictures don’t really do it justice but one advantage to being in a west-facing bedroom stripping wallpaper late at night is enjoying watching the summer sun go down!

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We have a new gate in our field. The company that installed it (James Smith Fencing) were so quick and efficient that we didn’t even spot them doing it! We just noticed it in all its gleaming galvanized loveliness while we were in the field on Saturday morning. Iris and Arthur have reported that it is good to climb and feels nice and sturdy. The next job is to rebuild the drystone wall where it was widened for the gate to go in.

The old gate was rusted, had broken hinges and was attached to rotten fence posts. We also wanted to make a wider opening so that it is easier to get trailers and machinery in and out of the field. The medium-term plan is to have pigs in the field to start digging out the bracken. We’ll move the pigs around over time and plant trees as they clear each bit of land. So now we have the gate we need to look into electric fencing, a pig ark and getting some weaners. We will use the old gate as a support for climbing plants at the back of our long border in the garden and the fence posts will probably end up as firewood.

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