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Posts Tagged ‘free range pork’

Our participants on Saturday’s pig-rearing course were another great bunch….. and among them was a fellow-blogger.  I hadn’t come across Matt’s blog – Deefer Dawg – before, but I have to admit I spent quite a bit of time yesterday morning, reading back through some of his stories.   So, of course, I had to ask Matt if I could share his post about his experience on our course…..  so over to Matt

Course Participants - April 2014

Course Participants – April 2014

Yesterday, saw me up early again (OK, not quite so early) for my own education, my Pig Rearing (one day) Course all the way down in Tipperary, almost a 2 hour drive. This proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant day in which we all learned a huge amount and, in my case, finally got to get hands-on with live pigs; we’d been feeling a bit like ‘book experts’ with both pigs and the bees – a wealth of ‘book-learning’ but zero practical experience!

The course happened at Old Farm, near Portumna in North County Tipperary which is a lovely small holding centred around a beautiful old house and with a goodly rambling collection of outbuildings and ‘Pop Larkin’ style piles of “stuff” which are all works in progress and projects which will get completed “when there is time”. The people were a superb couple, Alfie and Margaret, friendly and welcoming but obviously capable, practical and very knowledgeable, him a stockily built former off-shore commercial diver (North Sea Oil Platforms etc) and later diving instructor all around the world, a natural speaker and presenter with a fascinating style of training which had us all gripped, engaged and amused throughout. Margaret took more of a support role, on this course anyway, and looked after the admin and catering side of things but she is an award winning Blog Writer with a very enjoyable ‘voice’ (by her own admission sometimes given to rants against officialdom in the food industry). Her ‘A Year in Redwood’ blog (http://ayearinredwood.com/) has won “Best Blog of an Artisan Producer (Ireland and UK) 2014″ and Best Lifestyle Blog 2012. She served up scones and coffee as we arrived and a superb lunch which gave us a choice of pork meatballs in tomato-y sauce or casserole of sausages and chick peas, all their own pork, naturally.

They are both driven advocates of all things organic, welfare, free range, low food-miles, Transition-Town and non GMO and were a big part in establishing a Free Range outdoor pig Quality standard mark (Q-Mark) within the Irish ‘Bord Bia’ food production quality standards people. Prior to that Bord Bia officials were almost entirely interested in meat for export and pigs by the tens of thousands from “nice clean, healthy” factories, all pink and free from mud, but who never see the daylight or (gasp!) dirt from which they might catch disease. Old Farm had quite a task on their hands trying to get Bord Bia to even come and have a look at their small production set-up, which was interested more in local markets and where pigs went (another gasp!) OUTSIDE and got muddy! Alfie raves against their rules which do not allow him to use brewers grains from the local organic micro-brewery or whey from the local organic cheese maker in his feeds. He despairs that he can sell pork mince but not as meat balls or burgers – for us the lunch had meat balls with (fresh) chopped onion and herbs in and their own eggs to bind them, where commercially he’d have to use sterile, dried onion and herb and some kind of chemical gloop to bind.

The pigs were an obviously happy, healthy collection which he keeps as full families. One enormous Saddleback sow was showing off 4 remaining youngsters in one pen, and we rousted another whole gang out of their siesta during our walk-about – a massive cross-bred boar, 2 huge sows, one pregnant and the other with 8 4-month old piglets ‘at foot’. Further round still were a group of market-ready boys and girls who we could scratch, tickle and get to know a bit better; the piglets with sow and the big old boar we had to just admire over the fence. I was amused to find that the 8 piglets were not some kind of blurry mix of all the breeds of pig in their make up, but were all different and all close to one or another of them, so you had recognise-able black and white “nearly Saddlebacks”, Gloucester Old Spots, Duroc and so on.

I could see immediately what is meant by pigs being like rotovators, rooting up the ground and clearing any brambles and weeds. The pig pens were finally reasonably dry after a very wet winter and were now a grass-less, dark brown/black crumbly tilth which you could have raked smooth and planted veg straight into. There was not a weed or leaf anywhere. Old Farm keep quite a few pigs and have them all year round, so they rest fields regularly and even have doors both ends of their pig arks so that they can split fields with electric fencing and the pigs get access to the ark from either half.

All in all an excellent, enjoyable day and a superb course. Thank you Alfie and Margaret and the menagerie at Old Farm, and also to my co-students who were all a great bunch, all beginners like us. Good luck with your own pigs; I think we were all going to go ahead with pigs; even those who were a bit undecided to start with and were on the course to see if they still thought it was a good plan. My only ‘negative outcome’ (as they say) was that Old Farm are firm advocates of electric fencing throughout, and Alfie was a bit doubtful (though politely and nicely so) whether my style of fencing would do the job, but we’ll see. If Mapp and Lucia manage a breakout and we find them picking up their own windfall apples, we can always add electric fence strands at a later date.

 

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Elaine over at The New Farmerette wrote an excellent post during the week about her experience of registering their sheep/lambs for the Bord Bia Quality Mark.

It was such a timely post, as we have been having a bad time with crazy bureaucracy this past week.

So I thought I’d share our experience thus far.  It truly is a comedy of sorts!  I hope you have the patience to read all the way through…

Back in early 2010 Alfie started questioning why was there no ‘mark’ for free-range pork?  There is for chicken, but not for pork.  There are ‘marks’ for organic pork, but nothing for free-range.  We thought it would be a good accolade for Oldfarm Pork.

So the quest began.  He approached Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board).  They refused to talk to him as an individual farmer.  There had to be an ‘association’.    Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps we should have seen the flashing lights at this point!

Anyway, Alfie continued on.  He spoke to other free-range pig breeders and the Irish Free Range Association was formed – with about 20 people.  Alfie was nominated as the Chairperson.  And thus the long journey began, as Bord Bia would now talk to a free-range producer.

For 2 years every other month, Alfie travelled to Dublin to sit on the pig meat board. I might point out that the board is mainly made up of industry representatives who were not too keen on having the small producer represented.

Alfie’s hope had been that if they approved a ‘free-range’ label it would include ‘non gmo’ but there was absolutely NO WAY this was going to be allowed.  (Says a lot about our food??? board)

At the end of the 2 years, a framework was agreed as to what the definition of ‘free-range’ was.

Hallelujah I hear you cry!

BUT WAIT!!

As Alfie had worked so hard on this, we thought we ought to be among the first to go through the whole process.  And then the fun began!!!

In March we had a visit from the Bord Bia representative, a very nice man.  He had never ever seen pigs in the outdoors!  He told us we shouldn’t be allowing the hens to mix with the pigs????? Bird flu I think was the reason!  And the best bit…. we shouldn’t have the wild birds landing in the fields!  Righty oh, how am I to stop that???

He was rather shocked we didn’t have the vet’s number pasted on sheds everywhere… and was incredulous that we hadn’t had the vet in over 3 years!

When he left we were left with a list of procedures to put in place.

  • A pig health plan
  • A farm safety statement
  • Water testing
  • DNA testing
  • Some signs to put up about the place

Nothing too onerous we thought.

We started with the water test.  Alfie called the Environment Section of the County Council to arrange test.  It cannot be done on line, you have to call in!  The cost is €40.  So we drove to Nenagh (a 50 mile round trip).  Thankfully, I stayed in the car!!!!  Alfie went into office….. you cannot pay for the water test with cash!  you cannot pay for water test with card!  you have to use cheque or postal order!!!  See why I was glad I stayed in the car????

So a fuming pig farmer returned to car, we had to drive to post office, queue there and pay €2.90 to get a €40 postal order.  Then drive back to County Council Office.

Test was carried out about 2 weeks later, and there were some minor impurities found in it, so it was suggested we re-test from a different tap.  Another €40.00.  The technician came back, did the second test and graciously accepted €40 CASH!!!

Water passed the test.

The next stage was the DNA test.  The DNA test is arranged via the IFA.  This time it was an expenditure of €80 in order to get the DNA tag and gun.  Alfie risked life and limb sticking this ear tag into Polonius Hogworth on 15th May and sent it away.  Up to this week we had not had a reply, so Alfie called them.

The sample has still not been examined!  Could we have a receipt at least to say we’ve sent you the DNA sample?  You should see what they sent us?  A blank sheet of paper – not headed paper – it could have come from anywhere!  I could have typed it up myself.

Oh, and by the way, they were shocked to hear we wanted a copy of the results of the DNA test!  They don’t usually issue that? WTF did we pay the €80 for?  I could have sent them a photo of Polonius to prove he is a pig… a big one, almost as big as a small horse, but he’s all pig.

Polonius Hogworth I

Polonius Hogworth I

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’re thinking it can’t get any worse???  You’re wrong?

IT CAN.

Last week Alfie rang Bord Bia to get a list of ‘Quality Approved’ butchers and abattoirs.  Well boys and girls….. the only place we can send our pigs to is to one of the major processors!  The giants like Rossderra and Kepak.

There are no small artisan butchers or abattoirs approved.  I would suspect the annual fee of €2,200 would certainly play a part in this.

We are not willing to send our pigs to the big boys…. we may not get our own pig back.

So where do we go from here?

Alfie wants to continue to see a project he began over 2 years ago through to an end.

Personally, I would like to walk away. We have so far wasted so much time, effort and money on this.  Anyone else have any thoughts?

 

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It has been a difficult few weeks here in Redwood.

As you know Alfie was in hospital for a couple of weeks, followed by more weeks on medication.  Then to compound it all I got struck by some bug…. nothing serious just days of discomfort and total exhaustion.

All of this forced us to think about what we are doing here.  Owing to human illness our ‘production’ has dropped dramatically this year which naturally means no sales.  You can’t sell what you don’t have!

Keeping pigs is not difficult, but it is physical.

While Alfie was in hospital he worried about me out feeding the pigs on my own.  I don’t mind feeding them, it is jsut heavy work carrying meal and water to them.  However, there are other aspects that I just can’t manage on my own…. like loading them onto a trailer!  And, in fact, while I can drive forward with a trailer on the car, do NOT ever ask me to reverse the car with a trailer on.  Co-ordination goes out the window!

So this past couple of weeks, we’ve had to seriously consider whether to continue on with what we are doing.  Can we afford to keep going?  No sales, means a serious drop in income and there are still many mouths to feed.

The decision, after much tossing and turning of sleepless nights, and churning out different ideas and plans, is that we will fight back.

It is going to take time.  We have, we hope, come up with a scheme that will kick into place should illness strike again.

So we are back working on getting pork to people.  Four pigs loaded into the trailer this evening for their final journey tomorrow!

Perky has had her new litter.

The Gloucester Old Spots are growing nicely.

And just when we had made the decision to continue, look what arrived in the post!

McKenna's Guides Best in Ireland 2013

Thank you so so much to John and Sally McKenna – you have no idea how timely this was!  For non-locals John and Sally produce the best guides to food and places to eat and stay in Ireland – don’t travel without their guide.  To have our pork included as a ‘Best in Ireland’, well that is such an honour.

So we’re back, and we’d be delighted to take your orders!

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Tis a much maligned piece of meat, pork belly!  However, cooked properly it is the most delicious meat.

Pork belly with cabbage

Perfect Irish Pork Belly

Of course, you need to start with a good piece of meat to get the perfect roast too!  So do put some thought into sourcing your joint first.

As we keep saying here…. you need to know what the animal is fed!  It does effect the final outcome!  If the pig is fed ‘bad stuff’, the meat will not be good.  Simple!

We don’t often get to keep pork belly for ourselves… but there was a small piece in the freezer at the weekend…. just perfect for two.  I grabbed it quickly before a customer came and took it away! :)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg. free-range pork belly
  • Salt

Method:

Heat oven to 150 deg. C

Score the skin well.  Dry with kitchen paper getting down into the score marks too.  Sprinkle liberally with salt….. don’t be afraid…. you cannot overdue the salt at this stage.

Place meat on shallow oven tray lined with foil.

Roast at 150 deg. C for 2 hours.

Raise the temperature up to as high as your oven can go!  Mine goes to 240 deg. C and finish off pork for half an hour.

You will end up with delicious succulent meat and the crispiest, to die for, crackling!

Irish Pork Belly with roast potatoes.

We served ours with roast potatoes – cooked in with the meat.  And the first of our cabbage from the garden, just sauteed in some butter!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Now there’s a title for a blog post!

So what am I going to say about ‘sausages’…. well lots actually!

Here in Redwood, and I think like most Irish people, we kind of like our sausages.  Up to a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to say ‘our sausages’ and really, really mean ‘our’ sausages.

When we lived in Dublin our favourite sausages of all were Superquinn sausages.  Then we moved to Redwood and tried lots of different local butchers – the sausages were nice but not as nice as those far away Superquinn ones – you know what you can’t have, etc.  So when visitors came from Dublin and asked what could they bring?  The answer was always Superquinn sausages!

Now we have our own sausages…. and we, of course, love them. It is many, many years since I’ve had a Superquinn sausage.

two types of sausages on a white plate

So what do you reckon goes into those white things???

Thank you to Lily at A Mexican Cook in Ireland for this photo

We can be quite obsessive here looking at sausages in supermarkets.  Have you ever read the labels on sausages?  The colour of the sausages is a dead giveaway to us….. there is virtually no meat in them!

And what is even more wonderful, we have had two customers who have recently told us that our sausages have replaced Superquinn sausages on their shopping lists!  One lady just stocks up her freezer with kilos of our sausages every few weeks!  We have definitely arrived!

So what makes our sausages so good?

Our sausages are made with pork!  Good quality, gmo-free, free-range pork.  So the breakdown of what goes into the sausages is :

  • 80% pork meat
  • 10% pork fat
  • 10% herbs, spices and rusks

What doesn’t go into our sausages – gmo’s, additives or E numbers.  So when they are made we deliver or freeze them immediately.

We love them just fried for breakfast.

Irish free range sausagesThank you to Paula at Paula’s Sweet Treats for this photo

With pasta for dinner.

Or with beans for another mid-week dinner.

So how do you like your sausages?

 

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We are still in recovery mode from a great day out at Tullamore Show on Sunday last!

Since we moved from Dublin, I have had some involvement with the show in one way or the other almost every year.

Alfie & Claire at Tullamore Show

I have attended as a spectator, I have been an organiser and now this year I was an exhibitor.

The Tullamore Show (fondly known as the ‘show’) is the biggest one-day agricultural show in the country – and I’ve even heard it said that it is the biggest such event in Europe!  I am not sure about that but last Sunday 60,000 people attend – all in just one day!  That is some amount of people.

The amazing thing about the Show is that it is organised entirely by a band of volunteers in Tullamore.  People give of their time and of themselves year, after year.  Many have been on the committee for more years than they care to remember .

When I worked with Offaly Enterprise Board I was part of the organising team for the Artisan Food and the Arts & Craft marquees that they sponsor.  This year, however, I was on the other side of the fence.

Stand at Tullamore Show

We took a stand in the Artisan Food tent.  Our first time to venture into this type of promotion for our free-range pork.  It was different being on a stand, rather than involved in the organisation. But then there were advantages because I knew the organisers too!

We had a great day.

Hot!

Tiring!

Aching feet!

Aching back!

Fuddled brain!

But a good day!

Over 10 kgs of sausages were cooked up by Sarah (thank you, Sarah!)

It was wonderful to meet so many people who are passionate about food – both others who were exhibiting, and those who were attending.  We met some wonderful people.  We met people who keep their own pigs.  We met people who haven’t eaten pork in years  - we converted them!  We even met people that we had only known via Facebook… so it was wonderful to meet in person.

There was a great camaraderie among the exhibitors – lots of exchanging of tastings!  We got to taste lovely breads from Coolfin Bakery in Banagher, marvelous cheese from Mossfield Organic Cheese, gorgeous cakes from Sweet Creations, and then there were the major ‘pick me ups’ from The Hot Irishman!

If we met you at the show…. we look forward to hearing from you again!

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New arrivals…

This week has been a really busy week for us here at Oldfarm.

We have had 25 new arrivals!

Perky and her litter

Perky and Floppy, two of our Saddleback sows had litters this week.  The Daddy was a Landrace/Saddleback cross, so the litters are a mix of black and white and pink and black pigs.  All for the sake of variety!

Perky was first to produce…. and it was really only luck that we spotted her and realised how close she was to having them!

For the uninitiated, the pregnancy time for pigs is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days! All very well if you know when they’ve been busy????  However, Farmer Alfie has a theory that the sows also get very cross when their time is due, so he had noticed that Perky (normally quite a placid pig) was very cross last week.  Then on Tuesday afternoon we happened to be in the garden, and I glanced over to see her pulling dry grass from everywhere she could.

It is quite fascinating to watch the sows when they are ready to have their litter. They literally build a nest!  They scout about for their preferred spot and then start nest building.

Last year Lucy (our oldest sow) went to a lot of bother with her nest building.  She managed to find some plastic put that on the ground first, and then piled straw and dry grass on top!  They really are quite clever.

Back to Tuesday and Perky’s nest building… to help her along we gave her an extra bale of straw which of course made her task easier.

And then on Wednesday morning when we checked there she was with 12 new babies.  Four days later, they are thriving and if the sun is out and there is any warmth at all they are out and about with Mammy.  Once again nature is terrific to watch, even at this tiny stage (they are the size of pups) their instinct is to route!

Having fun outdoors!

All of this, of course, does make you feel really bad about pigs that are born in those factory-style schemes.  Born on concrete, mother not able to move, never getting to route about in the earth.  Definitely not a good life.

Our pigs, do end up on the table, but they live a healthy outdoor life before then.

On Thursday, Floppy had her litter…. she had 13 babies…. she always has the biggest litter.

Cuddling up together...group hug piggy style!

Look at these little guys – just hours old!

Now the task ahead is pork sales, suckling pig, bonham sales or even how about ‘adopt a pig’??  More later!

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So here we are at the end of January which is tagged as the bleakest month of the year. What could be nicer then than sitting down to a nice piece of roast pork with crackling? Well nothing really!

So with this in mind, Farmer Alfie, has decided it is time for another pig to go to the Happy Hunting Ground in the Sky!

Seriously though, we have had some great feedback from customers who had some of our pork and bacon prior to Christmas….

I remember you asked for feedback on the pork and I am happy to say we were
delighted with it.  We had the shoulder roast the other day and it was
delicious.

I had one of the chops on Friday night, and I can safely tell you that is the best tasting pork I have tasted since I was in Spain last year, where I had some Iberico pork (and those pigs are fed on acorns)!  My 11 year old was also very impressed with the sausages!

Those of you following my blogs will know that our pork is much darker than that which you buy in the supermarket (probably akin to dark turkey meat).  It is also much much tastier, as the comments above verify.

When we started out selling our pork we opted for the ‘box’ system.  We chose this route as otherwise we found everyone wanted to have pork steak!  Guys there are only 2 pork steaks per pig!  So that wasn’t going to work!  We offer customers a choice of 5 kg, 10 kg or 15 kg ‘box’ or, of course, you can opt to buy a half or a whole pig.

So if you would like to taste our truly yummy pork… contact us and we will send you on the details.

Or follow our progress on our Facebook page.

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One of my favourite foods is roast pork… especially the crackling.  Now, if you are like me and like roast pork and crackling, try buying pork anywhere with the skin still on.  I have to ask my butcher to cut a piece specially for me and to leave the skin on.  So having got fed up of having to do that, we decided to keep pigs for ourselves, and you’ve read some of the episodes of live with our pigs.

In recent months we’ve taken 3 pigs to the abattoir, and in fact, have been extremely pleased with the response from customers as to the meat.  Our little artisan business has grown and developed organically through sending out emails to family and friends, spreading the word about our pork.

One of the comments we have had from some people is that the meat is often quite fatty.  It is, that is the nature of free-range and rare breed.  It was interesting to see the comments on Ear To The Ground, RTE’s farming programme last week where they discussed the Irish Pork industry.  Take a look…. it is towards the end of the programme, but it is worth watching the conversion!  http://short.ie/6eheh6

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The joy of pigs! eh!

The first thing I thought when I got up this morning was…. “it’s not raining”.  That was good, second morning in a row that I’ve got up to a dry start, maybe I thought I could get some time in the garden today!  It kind of went down hill from there for the next few hours!

Farmer Alfie was due to take 2 pigs off to the butcher today, and silly me asked if he needed a hand loading them!  Off we went to get them into the trailer.  Let me tell you at this stage these guys are 70 kg each!  And boy are they strong.  So we got one guy in…. he wasn’t too impressed about it and was doing his damnedest to get back out… he almost knocked both Farmer Alfie and myself out of the way in his efforts to escape.

Now we are in to the really difficult part.  The trailer door is closed with one unhappy, confined pig inside and we need to get another one in there!  Farmer Alfie managed to catch victim number two and as he virtually fell into the trailer with her I was being thrown out by number 1, but had at the same time to get the door of the trailer closed!  Great fun!  And in the midst of all this, Clarence the boar and the 5 remaining boars have escaped from their field and gone walk about!

Clarence being the guy he is headed straight off to the field where the sows were…. well wouldn’t any guy??  Farmer Alfie managed to coax him back to his own place while I went in search of the other 5 – guess where they had gone – straight down the driveway and out onto the road,  away off on a big adventure!  You wouldn’t believe how pigs can trot and run!  I had grabbed a bucket of grain for them and despite my calling and calling (which they would normally respond to… thinking hey food!) they just kept trotting along.  So there we are with 5 pigs heading off to the junction. Luckily one of our neighbours was coming along at the t-junction on a tractor and could see me waving frantically at him (I am still a 100 yards behind the pigs). Friendly neighbour realised something was going on, and swung around the corner!  You should have seen those five pigs turn and start running for home!  Even funnier with me trying to run and keep ahead of them with the bucket of grain!

Got them all back into the field, and Farmer Alfie headed off with 2 in the trailer. You’d think that would be enough activity with pigs for one day!  Not a bit of it.

Farmer Alfie decided he had 20 minutes to spare before heading off to the Village Hall to paint the stage, so he might as well take one of the sows over to visit Clarence for a little holiday.  So once again the Reluctant Apprentice is roped into duty.

Lucy, the oldest and biggest sow, is the one chosen for the romantic holiday.  But she wanted none of it.  We got her out of her own place and then she did everything she could to get back in.  Meantime, Clarence and his 5 buddies have decided to come and take a look (the turkeys even joined in the fun – they took the prize seats, looking on from their perch on the fence).

It took a lot of persuasion and spilling of mud and sweat to get her over to the other paddock, where, of course, she duly turned up her nose at any advances being made by Clarence!

Let’s see what tomorrow brings……

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