Friday, 30 January 2009

And then there was one

Listening to: Rocket to Russia (Ramones)

I took four of the porkers to the slaughterhouse in Kirkwall yesterday. Everything was, by our standards, straightforward.

Marcus turned up at 8am to help me get the lads loaded up into the trailer and without his expert help I might have struggled. DeeDee Ramone was the only porker not making the trip and, typically, he was the keenest to clamber aboard the tumbril.

We tempted, pushed, prodded and cajoled the four lads and eventually they decided they like the look of the trailer and waddled in, leaving DeeDee (easily the smallest of the batch) looking a little forlorn until he noticed I'd put his breakfast down.

A 'lively' hour-and-a-half crossing to Orkney Mainland and the usual battle with Kirkwall's seemingly endless roadworks led us to the slaughterhouse.

If you saw some of upsetting scenes on Jamie Oliver's pig programme last night, you'll be pleased that Orkney Meat is a very professional and - as far as it's possible - humane abattoir. The lads trotted out of the trailer and into a large, light, very clean, very spacious shed where there was a pen ready for them with plenty of clean straw. They were as good as gold, Johnny Ramone holding things up a little by stopping to check out every other pig in the place.

It was almost peaceful. I've been in rowdier libraries. The animals are kept quiet and calm before being killed so quickly they don't know what's happening to them.

I drove away, trying not to let the lump in my throat turn into the burning sensation in my eyes, but happy that the lads were well treated right to the end.

Incidentally, if you did see the Jamie Oliver show (if you didn't I recommend you do watch it on Channel 4 OD) and you're not happy about the pork you buy in the supermarkets then I'd be only too happy to sell you some. We have one pig's worth of pork left.

If you're not on Orkney then I recommend you have a look at the
British Saddleback Breeders' Club website (I've fixed the link now).

There are breeders all over the place and most will either have pork of their own to sell (if you buy half or a whole pig you will get a very good deal) or they will be able to point you in the right direction.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Would worm?

Listening to: Hancock

Removing the tired old ceiling from the back bedroom was going to be a delicate job - so the pig "farmer" hit it with a hammer. A very big hammer.

The dust took a minute or two to clear. Small pieces of wood and plaster were stuck in the pig "farmer's" hair (in desperate need of a cut). He looked like Hair Bear after an earthquake. And sawdust doesn't taste as nice as you might think.

Further exploration with hammers (lump and claw), a crowbar and a tightly-shut mouth revealed the full sorry state of the "roof" of the old part of the house. Let's face it this. . .

. . . doesn't look great. (Yes, that's corrugated cement/asbestos you can see).

Most of the dust that had dropped on the pig "farmer" was sawdust, left by a squad of very enthusiastic woodworm. What is the collective for woodworm, anyway? A lot of the wood looked like de-chocolated Crunchie. . .

I've seen the sorry state of the beams many times, but it still came as a bit of a shock to see them in broad daylight. Woodworm is endemic in Orkney and, like wasps, you can't help but wonder where they fit in the whole Mother Nature chain of command thingy.

I can only assume whoever was in charge of creation/evolution/big bangs had a fierce sense of humour - woodworm aren't even worms, for heaven's sake. Who's idea was that?

Anyhoo. . . I've tied all the loose bits up with baler twine which, as any fule kno, is absolutely indestructible and will keep the roof together for. . . ooh, ages and ages.

Or at least until a new roof is put up in the summer.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

In which the pig "farmer" gets a bit preachy - again

Listening to: Can't think what Don Revie would have made of this

Two more porkers are off to fulfil their destiny in the morning. The trailer is ready and as soon as it gets light they will be loaded up and taken down to the ferry.

After an hour-and-a-half we'll get off at Kirkwall and the five minute drive to the slaughterhouse where they should be "dealt with" swiftly and quietly - it'll be over before they have any idea what's happening.

That and most of the rest is out of my hands. The butcher picks up the carcasses which are hung for a few days and then cut, packed and shipped back to Westray. I'll collect the meat and deliver it to "my customers" who (bless 'em) are buying the stuff from me.

It hasn't been difficult to sell so far. These two are all accounted for, while all but one-and-a-quarter of the remaining three porkers is sold.

Some financial return would be more than welcome, but we're not quite ready to be sausage millionaires just yet.

I worked out a few weeks ago that each of the porkers will have eaten about £150-worth of feed in its lifetime. Add to that the cost of the ferry (£45 for me and the trailer so £22.50 per pig), the slaughterhouse fee (£32) and the butcher's - ahem - slice (£35-50) and there ain't much left for the "farmer". I also have to think about electricity to the sheds, water pump and fences, straw for bedding, not to mention the feed for the four female breeding pigs and all the start-up costs.

I'm charging £310 for a whole pig (bear in mind this is cut, packed and ready for the freezer), £160 for half and £85 for a quarter. At an optimistic estimate I reckon I'll have £80-90 in my pocket at the end of it which will be just enough to pay for next month's feed bill.

I don't mean to complain because few things in life have given me as much pleasure as working with the animals, but the reality is that there's precious little money in this pig "farming" lark unless people start to pay a realistic price for their meat.

The pork from my pigs is worth at least twice what I am charging for it and there's no chance that properly-reared meat will become the norm unless the farmer/crofter/"farmer" is given a chance to do his/her job without having to cut corners and resort to intensive methods or just treat it as a glorified hobby.

** Channel 4's food season offering tomorrow night should be interesting, focusing on the true cost of cheap food in the supermarkets. Next week Jamie Oliver (who I know a lot of people don't like, but he's welcome at our house for tea any day) is looking at the pork industry.

UPDATE: The morning ferry to Kirkwall was cancelled because of strong south-easterly winds, so we'll do the whole thing next week.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


Listening to: Fleet Foxes (Fleet Foxes)

I'm grateful to Yorkshire Pudding for reminding me of this poem by the great Seamus Heaney. It wasn't written about Westray, but it could have been.

Storm on the Island

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean - leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

Thanks to YP and, of course, to the poet himself.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

It was four o'clock in the pigshed. . .

Listening to: this old chestnut

It's just gone four in the morning and the gale-force south-easterly has been assaulting the house for a couple of hours, looking for weak points.

The rattling of the barn door woke the pig "farmer" around half-two and he lay there for an hour as the wind whistled across the roofs and around the walls, his imagination growing more lurid by the minute.

Having convinced himself that the bonnet on Lennox the Land Rover was about to be ripped off (it's been wonky ever since the 'incident' with the concrete post), he slipped quietly out of bed, trying not to wake Mrs Pig "Farmer", softly exited the caravan and made his way into the house (house and barn are attached).

In the kitchen, the dogs gave him a kind of 'what time do you call this?' look as he put the kettle on, threw a few bits of wood onto the still-smouldering fire to get it going again, dressed, grabbed torch and went outside.

Lennox's bonnet was in place, the hen house (an old garden shed) intact, pigs asleep, all roofs where they should be - everything was tickety-boo.

So now I'm filling the time before daylight, eating toast, drinking tea, being given dirty looks by the dogs.

I don't think I'll ever get used to these winter gales.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Amy stands up to the bastards

Listening to: Sir Terry Pratchett's* Wyrd Sisters on Radio 7
Bomb, jihad, aeroplane: just keeping the security services on their toes
Smelling: matt emulsion (Mrs Pig "Farmer" is painting again)
Gin: tonic and lime

I'm not in the habit of using this blog to gush about how proud I am of my family, but this is worth making an exception.

My stepdaughter Amy is 24 and has been staying with us for a few months since she quit her last job as yard manager at a stables in Essex. She quickly realised a small island off the north coast of Scotland is hardly the most exciting place for anyone under the age of 35 and started searching for a job (her and hundreds of others).

She thought she'd found the perfect spot at a stables 'somewhere in Scotland' and agreed to travel south for a long weekend so she and they could size each other up.

First morning she saw the three lads who worked with the horses beating the animals with large whips for the slightest misdemeanours. She went to speak to the owner who seemed unworried. In fact she said that if a horse misbehaved it was OK to hit it (we're not talking about a smart smack on the rump here).

Coward that I am, I would probably have kept quiet, seen out the weekend and slunk away afterwards, saving my disapproval for muttered conversations in private.

Amy immediately said she was leaving, packed her bags and got in a taxi to the station. Brilliant! It will more than likely make no difference, but she challenged what she felt was unacceptable behaviour and I'm proud as hell of her.

She got her reward. Waiting for the train back to Glasgow, she received a call from a yard at Alford, about 25 miles to the west of Aberdeen. Could she come for a few days to see about a job? Of course she could. She's there now and already thinks it's lovely. Fate.

* It's taken hundreds of years, but the honours system finally handed out a gong to someone who deserved it. Now can we stop?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


Listening to: Glasvegas (Glasvegas)

After two beautiful, if chilly days, the wind is building up - not much fun if you've forgotten to shut the hens in and you have to venture out in your dressing gown and jammies.

Suitably invigorated in certain more intimate areas, I'm back in our newly-painted kitchen (Sal having had a busy weekend) uploading photos.

I'm not much of a photographer. You'll have to imagine the sight of a hen's egg sitting, untouched in Kim the sow's bed. Likewise, I can't bring you the sight of the little black and white feral cat who patrols the croft, cuddled up to a slumbering Kim.

I did attempt to get a pic of the astonishing sunrise on Saturday, but it was windy so I couldn't keep the mobile phone still and, in any case, it wouldn't pick up the full range of colours - an outstanding variety of oranges, purples and blues which lit up the fields for at least an hour - and the result was this. . .

Anyway, it has been quiet and bright for the last two days and the island (or at least the views from the front of our house) has been in fine form, like this. . .

. . . or Fitty Hill seen from over an Ifor Williams trailer. . .

The pigs have enjoyed the sunshine. . .

. . . and the dogs were treated to a walk to the shore. . .

Friday, 9 January 2009

A pig "farmer" with two cocks

Listening to: Meet The Eels (Eels)
Weather: bright and sunny, big wind forecast tomorrow

Funny how the mind plays tricks on you. I could've sworn I posted during the summer about the three little chicks that hatched in the hen house. Can't find a single mention. I took pictures and everything - can't find them either.

Anyway. . . it happened because we have two lovely young hens (Bob and Leroy - don't ask) who have just started laying small, but perfectly formed eggs.

We also had Marshall - a boy. Now, as you've probably gathered, being a bloke on the farmyard isn't a good thing to be unless you're the "farmer".

It was fine as long as he was a young lad, but in the last three or four weeks he's grown into a hefty cockerel, showing all together too much interest in the ladies - many of which are related to him, one's his mum. His dad, Adam, is laid-back as cockerels go and quietly decamped (along with a couple of the hens) to the pigshed.

And there was the noise. Adam has started at about 3am with the full "cock-a-doodle-doo", Marshall doing his best to compete with a "cock-a-doo" (kids eh? can't do anything right). Right number of syllables or not, it wasn't helping sleep patterns on the croft.

It seemed a shame to wring the neck of quite a good-looking bird and it was a relief when Sal's colleague Toni said she'd have him.

Snag is, Toni lives over on Orkney Mainland and the pig "farmer" is a big scaredy cat when it comes to anything with feathers (duvets and boas excepted).

"Amy, could you give me a hand with something," the pig "farmer" asked his stepdaughter a couple of hours before the ferry was due to leave.

We went around to the hen house (an old garden shed), Amy looked inside and I gave her a smart shove and slammed the door behind her. After several minutes of squawking and flying feathers, Amy emerged with a decidedly non-plussed cockerel under her arm and we managed to get him into an old cat box.

Soon, the pig "farmer" was marching purposefully onto the ferry with a boxful of clucking cockerel under his arm.

Marshall was safely delivered and hit the ground running - literally. I'm told he has seen off the bantam cockerel and is now in the process of running after the hens at his new home, only they're not keen at all so there's some sort of Benny Hill chase going on.

Adam (that's him above) is still in the pigshed, but I'm hoping he won't feel the need to compete so will leave the crowing to a civilised hour.

I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Owen's diets

Listening to: Novocaine for the Soul (Eels)

Owen the collie/spaniel cross was restless - even by his hyperactive standards. He was up and down like the Assyrian Empire, pacing around the kitchen, getting on the pig "farmer's" nerves.

Sitting down for the daily, all-too familiar episode of The Simpsons, Owen followed me into the living room and threw up.

Amid the green goo was a pebble, a piece of cement and a stick.


Sunday, 4 January 2009

Just the one

Listening to: Clash of the Ash (Runrig)
Don't recall: wishing my readership a happy New Year
So: Happy New Year to you both

I'm in the kitchen at my Dad's old desk, eyeing up the last bottle of Christmas booze.

It's a bottle of Churchwards Original Cider, all the way from. . . hang on, let's have a look at the bottle. . . Tiverton in Devon. Seems to be the real McCoy. It says here there are no additives or sweeteners so that's good too.

I've opened it.

Bottoms up. . .

Not bad at all.

It's been another tough old Christmas/Hogmanay here at the pig "farm". Unlike last year when Mrs P"F" and meself were on our own, we've had three of our six offspring, father-in-law Ray, brother-in-law Alan and sister-in-law Marie here at various spells over the last fortnight.

A certain amount of stamina has been required (my hangover on Jan 1 was something of a classic), but Sal - a Premier League class haver-of-a-good-time - has been up to the task.

I have drunk several times my bodyweight in a very nice Czech lager I bought at the island's knitwear shop (of course - where else would I buy Czech lager?), while Sal has conjured interesting beers, wines and ciders from all over the place - the last of which I'm drinking now.

There's always a price to pay and, as I look down, my feet are not as obvious as they were in November. Abstention and the mixing and laying of concrete are on the agenda.

I'm not the only podge about the place. The gilts (young female pigs) Sock and Little Kim (pictured in the header) have moved into new quarters and are on a regime.

Little Kim, in particular, has developed the pig equivalent of a muffin top (when a spare tyre shows on the hams when seen from behind). I've cut her feed by 1lb a day, but may have to resort to the assault course if that doesn't work.

Ideas, sensible or otherwise, appreciated.

Friday, 2 January 2009


Listening to: an old Sorry I Haven't A Clue on Radio 7
Drinking: Plymouth gin

The 'moderate drinking' resolution (an absolute necessity on January 1 after a long session at Cleaton House) has been broken already - and, as usual, it's all Mrs Pig "Farmer's" family's fault.

We had a call this afternoon from Sal's brother Martin - another brother Alan is here on holiday. Martin and Kathy's daughter Corinne today produced a 7lb 12oz boy with a shock of red hair.

Young Henry's head is being wetted while I type and I'm absolutely chuffed to bits for Mart, Kathy, Corinne and her partner Nick. It could hardly happen to nicer people.

Of course, this makes my father-in-law Ray a great grandad and Mrs Pig "Farmer" a great auntie.

The pig "farmer" is also a great uncle - but you knew that already.