Sunday, 8 September 2013

A farewell to pigs

Tonight I have bagged up 12Kg of sausages, 9Kg of chops, 4Kg of spare ribs. I have salted one 7Kg ham, and I have another one waiting in the cool box. In refrigerators and freezers up in the void there is a veritable mountain of pork...

But I get ahead of myself. This week is the first time we've had pigs commercially slaughtered. Previously, we've slaughtered pigs here on the farm, but if you do that firstly need cool weather, and secondly you can't sell the meat, or even give it away. Two pigs, each of them substantially bigger than me, are far more than I can eat; and processing them would have needed me to call on a lot of support from friends.

So after a lot of swithering I decided to get them slaughtered commercially. I organised for them to go to Lockerbie slaughterhouse, and organised for them to be delivered from there to my favourite butcher, Henderson's in Castle Douglas. Again, if you slaughter commercially, you have to have them butchered in a commercial standard, health approved butchery, or you can't sell meat. Henderson's, apart from being my butcher of choice, also quoted a very favourable price - £50 per pig.

Legally, the pigs had to be ear tagged to go to slaughter. We didn't have the requisite tags, but the Tarff Valley farmer's co-op was able to have them made up for us at twenty-four hours notice, which I thought was pretty good. There was some debate about what trailer to use. Finn has an animal trailer, but it's seen better days. After looking it over carefully, James, who was going to be driving (my car doesn't have a tow hitch), decided to borrow a trailer from a friend of his.

Finn decided to send one of his pigs with mine, so on Wednesday evening we loaded his pig into the borrowed trailer, and I towed it over the hill to my croft. I dismantled the electric fence in the gloaming, and then had a long fight with the ScotEID website to register the transfer of the pigs (in these food-safety conscious days, every animal movement on or off the farm has to be recorded), went to bed tired, and slept remarkably well. Thursday morning I was up at six, getting the pig trailer into my yard, seeing that Finn's pig was fed and watered, and organising barriers to help direct the pigs into the trailer. At seven, Finn and James came over to help load.

We were a little concerned that my pigs might fight with Finn's. They are from the same litter but hadn't seen one another for six months. So we divided the trailer into two with a hurdle. I then filled a bucket of pig food and went to call my pigs. They came willingly enough, but were amazingly reluctant to cross the line where the electric fence had been. However, I coaxed first one, then the other, over the line and round into the trailer. In the trailer they greeted their brother with no sign of hostility, and munched their breakfast contentedly. We closed the ramp and headed off to the slaughterhouse.

Coming round Dumfries bypass we were pulled over by police, doing a routine vehicle check. James was doubly glad he had brought the better trailer! But the police, after ten minutes, let us proceed with no problems, and shortly we arrived at Lockerbie. My phone was playing up, and wouldn't get Google Maps to direct us to the slaughterhouse, but I knew roughly where it was, I thought. Eventually after getting lost twice and having to ask for directions (also twice), we found we'd driven straight past it three times - it's a remarkably small, anonymous building, unsignposted. But the people there were friendly and efficient, and handled the pigs calmly and with remarkable gentleness. It was good to see such obvious concern for their welfare. And so I said goodbye to my pigs.

After slaughter the pigs were transported by border meats to Henderson's, on Friday. I hadn't discussed with Henderson's in advance how long they would take to turn them round and was expecting them sometime next week, but when I dropped in on them on Thursday lunchtime they said they would cut them up on Sunday morning and have them ready for half past twelve. They would have done me 'cured' and sliced bacon, but obviously you can't do a traditional cure in that time, so in fact the bacon would simply have been injected and then sliced, as much modern bacon is. Instead I asked them just to give me the bacon in flitches which I shall cure myself.

The pigs weighed around 90Kg each going to slaughter; Henderson's reported 70Kg each deadweight. By coincidence, that's what I weigh.

My friend Jude and I duly collected the meat at lunchtime; it's an extraordinary amount. I had ordered a freezer in good time, but the one I'd ordered was out of stock and couldn't be delivered. So I've ordered another, but it hasn't yet arrived. Fortunately Finn had a large second hand fridge-freezer in the void. I've filled that, and the remainder has gone into James and Vicky's freezer...

Except for the hams. I have two boned out hams, each 7Kg. I brought them down to the winter palace in the cool box. There are various web pages about onto how to make air dried ham; I read several and then decided to experiment. I wanted to do a honey cure, so I mixed up


  • A kilogram of salt
  • Half a jar of honey
  • A desert spoon of crushed pepper corns
  • A desert spoon of mustard seeds
  • A desert spoon of saltpetre
  • A couple of tea spoons of cloves

This made a very sticky paste, and I thought it looked fine - until I tried to apply it to the ham. But it doesn't adhere well, and it's important to get salt into every cut surface of the meat. So I mixed up a mixture of

  • 1.5Kg salt
  • 0.5Kg demarara sugar
  • 1 desert spoon of saltpetre

and I've rubbed that carefully into all the surfaces of the meat. I've then stuffed my original honey paste mostly into the bone cavity, but also sort of spread it on the outer surfaces.

I've taken a plastic container which once held 25Kg of mineral lick for the cows, drilled some holes in the bottom, lined it with kitchen paper and poured in a couple of centimetres of salt. Into this container I've placed my ham. Tomorrow I'll cut boards to loosely fit into the top, and pile about 15Kg of stones onto them. The ham will stay in that, under the house, for a month, and then be hung up in a wire mesh cage in the roof of the woodshed through the winter. If all goes well, I'll then have air-dried ham. If all goes badly, of course, I'll just have a lump of rotten meat, but we'll see.

I'm not yet sure whether I will dry-cure and air-dry my other ham. I'd like to, but I'm aware I'd be taking a substantial risk. It would be much less risky to brine-cure the other and then freeze it. I'll think on that overnight.

But I ended the day with a celebratory meal of sausages, and they were good!
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