Friday, 30 July 2010


Three years ago, pretty much to the day, a worn out sports reporter from the West Midlands stumbled his way onto a croft on the island of Westray, carrying some vague (VERY vague) ideas of making a better way of life.

I look back at that man and wonder what the hell he was thinking.

Still, more by luck than good judgement, I'm doing all right. The derelict, unloved farm we bought is now semi-derelict and much-loved. The Stoneyhall herd of Saddleback pigs is registered with the British Pig Association, my two big girls Molly and Kim continue to produce prime porkers, while Kim's daughter, Little Kim, is expecting to farrow for the first time on September 3, the day war broke out (and my parents' wedding anniversary, as it happens).

Westray Pork is available on a regular basis at Dounby Butchers on Orkney Mainland.
We've got chickens and ducks too - and before winter we'll have a decent roof on the house and maybe even a second bedroom.

So, late/early on this Friday morning with Arnold Layne seeping from the speakers, the pig farmer watches the light struggle to heave its way into the sky, and he's a happy man.

This has been no escape to "The Good Life". We're not the Tom and Barbara that I suspect may folk south who know us believe. I'm still the grumpy old cynic and I'd rather be a real farmer than a hippy, while the whole thing would never have worked had Sally not been happy (so she assures me) to carry on her career.

Nevertheless, there'll be pork in the freezer this winter, with tatties, swede, cabbage, carrots and leeks to go with it. I'm really quite proud of what we've achieved so far.

My great grandfather James Bews left a small Orkney farm in 1879 to seek his fortune in England. I can't help but wonder what he would have made of my occasionally ludicrous attempts at farming. I can only hope he would understand that I've finally found a place where I feel truly at home and where I plan to spend the rest of my days.

Incidentally: Kim is very much better, almost frisky by her standards. The ankle problem disappeared as quick as you could say "trip to abattoir". Quite who's fooling who I'm not sure, but the Wolf-pig will sort it out when he comes here next month.

Incidentally 2: I'm not suggesting that my parents' wedding had anything to do with Hitler's decision to invade Poland. . . that was more the result of an unwise bet at my great uncle Heinrich's 20th birthday party - we'll never hear the end of that.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Moll's hols

I had a feeling it was a bad idea, but blundered on regardless. After all, Molly needed a good seeing to and I needed to make sure we had pigs ready to go to the butcher next spring. She was off to see the boar.

There had been a snag - quite a bit one. Garry's boar Boss's back legs had gone and he was off to the great pigsty in the sky. Gaz has shipped in a replacement, but he's less than a year old and the L-plates are still on, not to mention the fact he's a bit of a shortarse.

Still, we decided to give it a go - what could possibly go wrong?

Molly harumphed and grumped her way down to the ferry, drawing alarmed looks from tourists in the queue as my girl whiled away a few minutes banging at the walls of the trailer.

Later that evening I received a call from a weary-sounding Garry. Molly had arrived no problem. She'd gone into a paddock with the young boar and two other females. She picked a fight with the boar and then beat the living snot out of the two females.

Garry got her out into a paddock of her own, but she quickly broke out and waded in for round two. Somehow Garry broke things up again and doubled up the electric wire which seemed to do the trick.

So, Molly's over there on an extended holiday, enjoying the lovely views of Scapa Flow, Hoy and Graemsay from Garry's place and it looks very much like a wasted trip.

What she doesn't know is I have the wolf-pig lined up to put her in her place. That'll teach her.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Prestcombe Dinah 47 (Kim)

Kim poked her nose out of her hut as she heard the gate into the top field rattle and the unmistakeable shake of sow nuts and barley in a bucket.

She eased herself out of the doorway, carefully put a front foot on the ground then decided she couldn't manage the second. She went down onto her knuckles and shuffled towards me.

I hurried over and put the food down. She tucked in - so clearly nothing wrong with the appetite. She quickly got back up to her feet and, as the morning wore on, she moved easier around her paddock, if still a little stiffly.

This has been going on for a couple of weeks and - if I'm honest - Kim hasn't been right since her last litter nearly a year ago. While the ground was soft it wasn't a problem, but we have had a long dry spell in Westray with cool northerly winds so the soil is packed hard as concrete.

The vet came by on the monthly tour of the island and gave Kim a thorough examination. The old girl was good as gold, but didn't really want anyone touching her ankles. The vet's diagnosis came as no surprise. Kim has arthritis, it's unlikely to get any better and she almost certainly won't be able to stand up to the strain of carrying and nursing piglets.

So the decision I've been putting off for several months now looks unavoidable. Kim's been a real pal and taught me more about pigs than anyone else. I'd love to keep her as a pet, but she's in pain so it's probably time to say goodbye.

Sometimes I hate farming.