Archive for the ‘Pigs’ Category

Growing pigs outdoors in Ireland, ain’t easy.  However, having said that we have been growing pigs outdoors for almost 15 years, so I guess we know a thing or two about it.

Our land is not ideally suited to it – heavy, clay soil – but you do the best you can.

In reality nowhere in Ireland is perfect for growing pigs outdoors.  There are areas of southern England where they have chalk soil that is good.

We have managed to keep our pigs outdoors all year round ever since we started to keep them.  You’ve heard it before – pigs are smart.  If it is too wet, too cold, snowing – they will stay indoors in a bed of straw.

Outdoor raised pigs produce a completely different meat to that of those raised in ‘factory’, or indoors.  Outdoor raised pigs obviously will have greater muscle tone.  While outdoors they are rooting about picking up various trace elements that occur naturally in the ground.


We’ve heard many say that there is no ‘standard’ for free-range pork.  Well there is.  Alfie is on the Bord Bia Technical Committee for Pig Meat, and it was Alfie that devised the standard.

Freerange Farmed:  a type of animal husbandry where pigs have free access to fields/woodland with defined boundaries for all or most of their natural life.  They receive their nutritional needs from prepared natural feed or from pasture or forage depending on the season.

We were the first pork producers to achieve ‘free-range status’.  However, and here is the rub…..it means nothing!  Yes, that is true.

The reason it means nothing is that most small producers use small abattoirs and small butchers, and none of these are registered with Bord Bia.  Only the big abattoirs and butchers are registered.  It is not cost effective for the small guys to pay the annual fees to be on the list of registered slaughter houses with Bord Bia.  Similarly, it is not feasible for small producers to take a couple of animals to one of the large processors.

As a consumer you have to ask yourself “what is important to you”?

Do you want to eat meat that has led a natural and healthy life outdoors, being fed organic feed?

Do you want to eat meat that has lead a natural and healthy life outdoors, being fed commercial pig meal which contains GMO soy and maize?

Do you want to eat meat that has been confined to a concrete building all its life, being fed commercial pig meal with  again GMO soy and maize, and I won’t mention antibiotic use?

The decision is yours.

You have the power to change how meat is reared in this country.

Will you vote with your fork?


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As regular readers know we changed our business model last year.  It took us a lot of chatting and discussing with friends before going down the new route, but we decided to bite the bullet and go for it.

The major change was that we now ‘grow to order’.  Rather than selling meat piecemeal, customers can now book half a pig or a full pig, and come November or so they will have a freezer full of delicious free range pork and ham.  So how did it go?  It went very well so much so, we are now offering lamb in a similar way.  If you are new to the blog… we grow our animals completely free-range, using organic meal and use no herbicides or pesticides on the property.

The Pig Whisperer aka Day Dreaming Foodie

As you can imagine we stressed and worried about how smoothly it would all run.

  • In previous years, when we had pigs coming and going on a regular basis I never ‘obsessed’ about their weight.  However, I have to admit that I was convinced these guys were not growing at all.  I guess it was looking at them every day, knowing that they would all be going to slaughter around the same time…. they seriously seemed to just not grow!  Of course, they did, but as the saying goes ‘the watched pot….’
  • The system of growing to order, having a deposit, and issuing a balancing invoice prior to collection/delivery, is definitely less stressful than selling the meat ‘piecemeal’.
  • The major bonus for us, was that we got to meet pretty much all the customers.  Some came to collect and we sat around and had lunch.  Some even came and stayed over for a night.  So from that point of view it was wonderful to meet and spend time with like minded people.
  • And of course, the bonus to the customer was that they got to choose exactly how they wanted their meat butchered, AND they could spread the payments over the year.

This year (2018) we will be taking orders again.  We will grow your pig and/or lamb to order for you.

You can order a half pig or a full pig.  You can get together with friends or family, and share the cost/meat between you.  When the time comes we will send you a ‘cutting list’ so you can decide how you’d like your meat prepared.  Your meat will be ready for you at the end of November/early December….. just in time for your own Christmas ham!

Costings are the same as last year.  A deposit of €150 when booking.  A half pig will cost you €12.50 per kg.  A full pig €10 per kg.  In 2017 a full pig weighed out at around 50 kg.

Oh, and just so you know …. half a pig butchered will fit in 3 drawers of an under counter freezer.

To fill you in on the lamb we grow – we have been growing Zwartbles sheep for ourselves and family over the past few years.  The meat is totally delicious, and now we are offering the opportunity to a wider group.  Again you can decide on a half  (€85) or full lamb (€160) which will be butchered according to your instructions.  A full lamb weighs approx. 35 kg.

Zwartbles wether

So go on, have a chat with family and friends, and give us a call to order your pork or lamb.

Orders will be taken on a first come, first served basis.  Leave a comment below, or fill in the contact form here.

At this stage we cannot even guarantee that we will have enough pork/ham for everyone…. as the pigs haven’t even been born yet!

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Oh I was so very organised yesterday.  I was really.

We had an AirBnB guest arriving, but I started the day way ahead on the preparations.  I even had time to stop and have coffee and a chat with a neighbour. Things were still okay….. I usually aim to have the house ready by 2 pm… giving us time to have a shower, and deal with anything else that might happen before a 4 pm arrival.

By 3 pm…  a bit behind schedule, but hey, I’m organised and everything is okay, I finally get to the shower.  Clean clothes on… time for some quick checking of emails, etc.

Our guest had messaged that he would be with us before dark.

Alfie gets into shower about 4.30 pm.

By 5 pm…. all hell had broken out!  Why do these things happen when you have clean clothes on???

The dogs started barking furiously.  I thought it was our guest arriving.

No. No. No.  Silly me.

I looked out the window to see our pigs in our neighbours field.  Aaargh!  This is taking ‘free range pork‘ to a whole new level.

Quick donning of wellies, grab a feed bucket and try to tempt them back to our side of the fence.  Of course they were having none of it…. they’d just broken out via the orchard so had bellies full of apples.

An hour and a half later – mist falling, darkness falling and by the way, there is no time for a toilet break…. and yes, I really needed to go – we had to abandoned all attempts to get them back.  We’d managed to tempt Ginger back.  She ate some grain while we continued to tried to convince Perky to return to the fold.  Then Ginger decided it was much more fun to join Perky running about with cattle.

Seriously pigs are the worst!

Scheming pigs

Scheming pigs

By 6.30…. shopping still had to be done, dinner still had to be cooked, and guest had not arrived yet (strange).

At 7 pm…. I get a message while in supermarket…. I am at Lissatunny and cannot find you.  Well, that’s not surprising as it is 45 minutes south of us!!!!

Many phone calls later, and a meet up in the village and our guest finally got here at about 8 pm.

Oh, and the nice clean clothes I’d put on a few hours earlier were filthy!!!!

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I’ve had various aspects of this blog post scuttling about in my head for weeks now.  However, the writing of it was catapulted to the forefront after the airing of RTE’s  (our national broadcaster) programme ‘What are you eating?‘ last Wednesday.  In the programme Philip Boucher-Hayes questions the treatment/processes applied to meat after slaughter.

Why, for instance, would a pork chop when analysed contain carbohydrates?

Real free range pork chops

Real free range pork chops

What is a ‘basted’ pork chop?  No, it’s not what you’re thinking… that it is being basted in the oven or on the bbq? No.  It means it has been injected with water, salts and nitrates.  I had been aware of how lots of processors inject their meat with water, but did not know that they are adding salt too.  Why?

Guys the water makes it heavier!  Heavier meat costs the consumer more, equals more profit!!!!  The salt etc. is added as a preservative to extend shelf life.

Let me assure you our pork chops are not injected with anything.

Twitter was alight after the programme.  Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the twitter conversation that took place, was the lack of participation from other free range pork producers.  Only one other free range producer joined in the debate.  It angered and disappointed me that others refused to join the debate.  They sat and watched as someone from the ‘factory farming’ side of things made false accusations about how, we, free range producers, operate.

There was lots of emotive language used as you can imagine….

I am taking this opportunity to set the record straight.  This is our experience of keeping pigs for the past 10 years.

  • in that time we have lost only one pig at birth.  The twitter argument was that mortality rate of piglets in factory farming is ‘only’ 5%.  However, this report from Teagasc (page 4) claims it is 11.2% and it increases to over 20% at weaner stage.
  • outdoor reared pork IS higher in Vitamin D, as the pig has been sunbathing – as simple as that – they absorb the Vitamin D into their fat.
  • Outdoor reared pork is not full of salmonella or riddled with maggots.  In fact this report shows that salmonella is less likely in outdoor reared pork.
  • Outdoor reared pigs do not die of hypothermia. Pigs are sensible.  If it is freezing cold outside they stay tucked up in their straw bed.
  • We have never, ever lost a pig to foxes.
  • Bird droppings are a threat to outdoor reared pigs, as in Bird Flu, but we’ve not encountered any problems.
  • Some free range pigs are not necessarily fed any differently to commercially grown factory farmed pigs.  If you care about what you eat, care about what the animal is fed, then ask what your meat has been fed.
  • And, yes, we have the Bord Bia Quality Assured stamp for our pork.  The only free range producers in Ireland to have that stamp of approval, I believe.

We have recently re-examined the whole question of registering as ‘organic’.  To be honest, we are not sure it would be worth the paperwork involved.  We sell directly to our customers.  They know us.  They know how we feed and treat our animals. They do not need us to have another ‘label’ in order to prove this to them.

Clarence.... the start of our journey

Clarence…. the start of our journey

I can honestly say I don’t ‘love’ our pigs.  However, I do care about them. I do care about their health, their life, their diet and even their death.

Even if you don’t worry, or care, about what the animals (i.e. meat) that you will ultimately be eating is fed, at least take time out to visit an abattoir.

I’ve written about our experience here before.  Folks the situation has not improved.  And please do not necessarily blame the abattoirs.  One abattoir owner recently told us that he has never seen such cruelty and mistreatment of animals as he sees now.  Pigs arrive in lorry loads, they are crammed into the lorries, and they are beaten off the lorry.  They have tumours.  They have broken legs.  One poor animal even appeared to have a broken back.

What kind of farming is that?

There was a suggestion in the argument that we need to ‘feed the world’ and produce ‘cheap meat’.  We do not.  We only spend 12% of our disposable income on food… back in 1916 people were spending 50% of their money on food.  We need to STOP FOOD WASTE.  Over 300,000 tonnes of food is wasted in Irish homes each year…. imagine how that could feed the world?

It is time for each and every person to think about their food.  It is time to think about how that food is reared.  Time to think how it is prepared and processed.

What are you eating? Do you know?




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Friday Photo

Who you looking at?

Who you looking at?

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This past week our papers were full of such horrific animal cruelty stories.  There was the story of 116 puppies found in a container and about to be shipped off to the UK market, there was the farmer in Wicklow who got away with mis-treating his animals, and then there was this case of incredible atrocities to pigs.

Happy pigs, grazing pigs

Happy pigs, grazing pigs

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked…. ‘oh, how could you eat the pigs? They are so cute.’

One poor lady over on Facebook, got abused from a height recently because she put up a photo of her pigs at their feeding trough.  It was a rearview photo of the pigs, and her caption was ‘nice hams’.  Now I could see exactly what she meant – they were nice hams.  However, others thought her cruel and were quite abusive about her looking at the pigs in such a way.  For heavens sake, folks!

We, as humans, need protein in our diet.

Yes, I can see all those vegetarians and vegans jumping up and down right now saying that doesn’t mean we have to eat animals.  Well settle down.  You may have chosen not to eat animal flesh and that is your right.

I, however, will never ever give up meat.  I enjoy it too much.  I will have ‘meat-free’ days, but that’s about the limit of it.

And in answer to that other question ‘are you not sad to see the pigs go off to the abattoir?’.  No.

There are two things we know.

One – the animal has had a good life here.  It has eaten well, run around the field, played with its companions and slept in a nice warm bed.  It has stayed in bed all day if the weather isn’t nice.  It has had time to lie out in the sun, and get sunburn, if it is a nice day.  Why should we feel bad about this?

Secondly – we know that the abattoir that we take the animals too, makes their death a good one.

And to all those vegetarians who get high and mighty on social media telling me that cruelty to animals is why they don’t eat meat, I would say this.

You are bowing out.  You are just opting out.

Why not take up the challenge and fight for animal welfare.  Instead of not eating meat, why not consider sourcing your meat from a humane farm.  Ensure that these unique rare breeds don’t vanish.  Help fight the battle against such cruelty.

And to those who nip into the supermarket and pick up the latest ‘good value’ cheap meat product…. think about how the animal was reared and treated and more importantly what it was fed. What has been fed to the animals is what you are feeding yourself and your family.

You can make a difference.

You just need to want to make that difference.



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We have new babies here at Oldfarm…. born yesterday morning 🙂

Piglets (Bonhams)

Piglets (Bonhams)

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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 (https://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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This week I thought I’d share with you some interesting pig facts….. these are facts that we always share with our course participants.

Copy of magazine article

Copy of magazine article

Did you know that every part of the pig is a usable commodity?  Pigs contribute to the production of 185 products from cosmetics to icecream, soap to fabric softener, candles to paintbrushes, chemical weapons to dog treats ….. as I say an awful lot of uses, not a whole pile of waste really.

It is no wonder that it is said that ‘everything but the squeal’ is used from a pig.  Did you know that a pig can squeal at 115 decibels?  That’s louder than a jet engine!!!  I have often thought that squeal would make a great burglar alarm….. trust me it is so loud any burglar would just high tail it away from that noise.

Here at Oldfarm we do try to get every part of our pigs back, not always an easy task I can tell you.  We know that the abattoirs have a market for the blood, intestines, etc.  So unless you specify you want them back, you just won’t get them.  You won’t even get the head back unless you ask for it.

We use the pork liver, heart, etc. for pork terrines.  We use the crepinettes (lining of the intestines) for encasing other roasts – brilliant for covering your turkey at Christmas!  

We render the lard – it makes the best pastry in the world!  And isn’t half bad for giving you delicious roast potatoes either 🙂

Some other interesting facts about pigs….

  • Pigs will eat almost anything – although they all have preferred tastes
  • Pigs are naturally clean
  • Pigs are very curious
  • Pigs are listed at #4 in smartness
  • Pigs are escape artists…… with MEMORY
  • Pigs can run a 7 minute mile….. can you?

Pigs running

We have often said here that moving pigs would be an excellent training activity for any rugby team!  We’ve spent 3 hours on a wet, cold, muddy November Sunday trying to get one pig back into a pen.

Final interesting fact about pigs……. they are EXTREMELY STUBBORN.



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One of the first things you are told when dealing with animals that you will eventually slaughter is do not ‘humanize’ them.  In other words don’t name them! We generally don’t name our pigs.  Yes, for ease of communicating with each other we do name the sows, but usually it is the ‘gilts’ or the ‘boars’ or the ‘3 musketeers’ – something very generic.

This post however is about how the best made plans can go out the window AND how a pig can get a name!

I’m sure it happens to everybody.  You plan out your day with all you are going to achieve, then, WHAM something happens and that’s the end of those plans.

Well that’s exactly what happened to me some months back.  Why has it taken me this long to write about it?  Well…. I wasn’t quite sure how to tell you all about it! So bear with me while I paint the picture 🙂

You will learn about the exceptionally glamorous (not) life I lead.

It was a beautiful sunny Spring day.  Perfect I thought for baking and taking some photographs.  I had a new recipe book with some lovely recipes I wanted to try.  I had envisaged a day of lovely calmness and beautiful styling and photographs.

Chores all done…. ingredients all ready… and we are ready to rock n roll.


I happened to glance out the kitchen window and see that one of the pigs in the pen closest to the house seemed to be dragging a twig or something along with him as he walked.  Mentioned this to Alfie who headed off to check.   Next thing it was ‘can you come and help, we need to isolate this pig’.

Oh, and by the way bring your camera.

So being the ever obedient obliging person I am, I got changed and off I went to help – camera in hand.

Two hours later, having isolated the pig, wrestled the poor animal to the floor and immobilized him.  He had been fully examined.  And this is where I struggled for the past few months, how do I tell you ‘politely’ what the problem was???

He had a ‘broken willy’.

You’ve heard of Free Willy, well forever more this poor guy will be referred to as Broken Willy.

He had been in a field with 8 other boys, there had obviously been some ‘horseplay’ and IT broke. I won’t go into the intricate details of how this happened.  I think you can use your imagination well enough and I firmly believe that would be way too much information (and imagine the spam that would encourage).

Broken Willy

Broken Willy

So IT had to be cleaned (and photographed) and he was isolated on a bed of clean straw to prevent infection – as it wouldn’t retract.

Infection was our biggest worry, as it was literally trailing on the ground.  So clean shed, clean straw and there he stayed until we could get him an appointment at the abattoir 🙂

When all this had been done…. the light was gone, my energy and enthusiasm for baking and all things nice had been sapped…. so baking had to wait for another day!

A glamorous life I lead, eh?

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