Archive for the ‘Pigs’ Category

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!


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?


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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Yes, it is a reality!

Pigs do get sunburnt.

Mind you, it has fascinated me that over the past few months ‘sunburnt pigs’ has been one of the major search engine terms used to land on my blog!  Not sure what country people were searching from, but it sure as anything wasn’t Ireland.

However, for those readers not living in Ireland, we’ve had Summer here!  Yes, sunshine for 10 whole days!  A record for sure!

We had bitterly cold winds all through May and then on 30th May the sun shone…. and did so up to yesterday.

The sunshine has meant that we’ve had to check on the pigs more often than usual to ensure that they have water to drink and water for a wallow (mud bath).

Clarence enjoying a bath and shower

Clarence enjoying a bath and shower

You know the way people say pigs are dirty because they cover themselves in mud? The reason for the mud?  Pigs don’t have sweat glands so have no natural way of cooling down.  Rolling in the mud cools them down, and the mud caking on them draws out the heat.  So it acts as a sunscreen.

I have often considered getting some sort of a spray on sunscreen for them – especially  for the little ones, who aren’t as proficient at rolling in the mud. Sunburnt ears can be quite uncomfortable and I’m sure itchy!  However, when you read about all the nasty chemicals in sunscreens, maybe we should consider the mud option 🙂

Gosh, they were all in such bad temper yesterday – heat was getting to them for sure.  Temperatures soared to 27 deg. C on Saturday and Sunday here.

It was cold showers all round.

Queuing for the Shower

So if you do keep pigs, remember they need even more attention and more water in hot weather.  And if you don’t keep pigs, don’t ever think they are being ‘dirty’, they are just looking after themselves 🙂



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It suddenly dawned on me this week that I have never written about our courses!

Running the pig rearing courses really came about quite by accident.  We were working away raising the pigs, selling the pork and we often had people suddenly arrive on the door-step (literally) and start quizzing us about how we raise the pigs, how we market the pork, how we got started.

So we stopped and had a think.  If people were calling on us to get this information there must be a market. Right?

So we ran our first Oldfarm pig rearing course, and over the years they have grown in popularity.

pig rearing course

I thought in this post, however, I would share some of the reasons why people come on the course and what they hope to gain from the day?  Invariably the answers are much the same….

  • cannot buy decent pork or bacon, so we thought we’d grow our own
  • I worry about what is being fed to animals
  • I’d like to be a summer pig farmer!  Not going to be a winter pig farmer – that’s too much hardship
  • It is the next step on our aim to be sustainable.
  • I’m not sure…. I have a ‘romantic’ idea that I’d like to keep pigs…. so today will make me realise the reality
  • My grand-parents always kept pigs

We’ve had chefs who want to do the ‘farm to fork’ element.  We’ve had people who currently live in suburbia (and maybe keep a few hens in the back garden), but dream of one day having a small-holding.  We’ve had others who are thinking of starting a business of their own.  And most recently of all we had a group of allotment owners from Balbriggan who are keeping pigs at one end of the allotment – now how’s that for an idea for other allotment owners.

Before each course we wonder what the people will be like, will the group gel, will there be good repartee with the group and with us.

Without fail, I think I can honestly say we have met some lovely people.  The conversation over lunch is always about food and the provenance of food.  The course is scheduled to finish at 4 p.m. invariably there’s another pot of tea made and we all sit about talking for another hour or so – exchanging food related stories and recipes.

It always pleases us when people decide yes they are going to go ahead and keep pigs – and we love to hear their adventures into pig farming.  And it is also good if people decide that they don’t want to keep pigs – that’s a learning too!

However, you don’t have to just believe what I say…. Dee and Maggie …. both of whom attended our course have written separately about their experience, and are also now pig farmers!

If you’d like to learn about pigs, we still have a couple of places left on our next course on Saturday, 15th June.  Or keep an eye on our website for details of upcoming courses.

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I know, Auntie Laura, I know you are cross with me for not writing for so long.  To be honest there hasn’t been a whole lot to write about.

The weather has been dreadful.  I’ve had the two girls with me, and with them squabbling and jumping the fence and annoying the farmer that’s been about the highlight of life around here.

However….. the past couple of weeks have been so busy.

I’ve had more babies!  11 to be exact.  Just yesterday.  They’re very handsome and so so cute… but then with me as their Mum and their Dad – Polonius – is a bit ‘hot’ too.  So these guys are going to be very very handsome.  I will send you a photo soon.

Pinky & Polonius with family

Pinky & Polonius with family

Pinky had 8 babies last week….. all black and white, except for one girl who is just the image of her Mum.


I suppose the biggest news of all around here is that Perky is now on the twitter machine.  She is so bossy that one.  And she never stops gloating about being on twitter.  It’s easy for her to be tweeting.  Her brood are nearly all grown up now.  Sure she’s nothing to do all day!  She wouldn’t have been so free and easy with her tweets when her lot were younger.

I heard the farmer say that 3 of her brood were a bit small so he’s moved them into a shed on their own.  They’ve perked up a lot since the move.

Three Musketeers

Three Musketeers

The seven dwarfs (they’re Gloucester Oldspots like me) are still living with Perky… I am looking forward to them moving over to the wood to live with me.  (Could you imagine the beautiful babies we could have?)

Seven dwarfs

Seven dwarfs

So, Auntie Laura, we now have 44 pigs living here on the farm.  That’s keeping the farmer busy.

The babies are sleeping now, so I had a bit of time.  I’ll take some photos later and send them on to you.

All my love.




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Dear Auntie Laura (4)

Auntie Laura,

This is just a quick postcard really.  I’m on a little holiday – I think humans called it a ‘mini-break’!

Tis lovely to be away from the children for a little while – why am I calling them children when they’re almost fully grown???

Anyway, I am here visiting Polonius.  He’s the boar here at Oldfarm.  He’s handsome in a dark, broody type of way – don’t you think?

Will write more later!



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Oh Auntie Laura I am so so excited!

My humans thought I was very peculiar when I said I wanted to write to you.  They didn’t think you’d want to hear about my babies… but I just had a feeling you would!

And now you’ve written back to me!

You must be the kindest human in the world!  I want the whole world to see your letter to me!

And you’ve been on a plane – wow!  I’ve never seen one of those things, I’ve heard the noise the make alright, but did you know that a pig can squeal louder than a plane?  Isn’t that something?  I can give you a demonstration when you visit.

And you’ve thought of names for my babies!  I think I like the sound of this Beatrix Potter human, she must have been very clever.


I’ve had a brilliant idea!

You are coming to visit which has me jumping about with excitement (but I have to conceal it from the babies).  You know what children are like if you tell them something… I’d never hear the end of it… “is she here yet?”…. “how many more sleeps?” …. they would surely drive me crazy!

My brilliant idea is that when you visit we can sit down together and decide who shall be named what!  Would you like to do that?

Is the end of June a long way away?  Do you live far away?

I am so looking forward to finally meeting you!  Maybe you will send me a photograph of you, but I know you will be different from other humans and I will know you instantly.

By the way I am not sure about this Matt human… pigletnap indeed! I shall be keeping a close watch on him!

lots of hugs and kisses,


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Dear Auntie Laura,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you ‘Auntie Laura‘?  I just feel that I can call you Auntie because you’ve given me my name!  And I do so love it, I think it quite suits me really.

It’s a cuddly kind of name – which I am.  Some humans might not think so, but I am, really I am.

When are you coming to visit?

Did my humans tell you that I had babies last week?  Eleven of them.  I am rather proud of them.  They are quite a handsome bunch.  They are white with grey stripes, and ginger with grey stripes. Here are some of the first photographs taken of them.

Jemima's babies at 1 week old

Do you think you could help me with names for them?

Eleven names is an awful lot of names!  I heard the humans say that 11 is the number you need for a football team…. BUT, excuse me, pigs don’t play football.

I’ve heard say that we’d probably be quite good at rugby though.  We are very good at ducking, diving, and side-stepping, so I guess that is what they mean.  How many are on a rugby team?  Would 11 be enough?

The babies are growing up so, so fast.  They come outdoors with me every day, and have started on solids already.  Some of them are already starting to get picky about what they eat!  Do you have the same problem with humans?

Jemima's babies deciding what's for dinner?

I’ve had so many visitors since the babies were born.  A nice human called Mona took these photographs when she visited last week (I believe she’s actually quite famous!).  She had some small humans with her.  I liked them an awful lot.  They brought me extra nice things to eat – apples, oranges and bananas.  I hope they come visit again.

Well, that’s all the news from me for this week.  I am quite busy.

I hope you’ll come visit me soon, before the babies get all grown up.


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Twice recently I’ve been asked “how come we got into pigs”?


Back in 2008 I read an article in the Irish Times about a day long course on ‘how to’ with pigs.  As I’ve said many times before I wanted to get hens.  But A wanted pigs.  So I suggested we do this course – more of a learning experience for me as I knew zilch about pigs!

So one sunny autumn Sunday we drove up to Sligo and attended a course.  A was totally enamoured by the pigs…. and, of course, there were some for sale!

We came home and chatted about it, and it was decided that we would get 2 pigs to see how we got on.  The sty (rather stylish one) was prepared and we were ready.  The plan was to raise them for our own table and to share with friends and family.

The following week A headed back up to Sligo with trailer to collect the 2 boy pigs.

Silly me.

Never let A go on a shopping trip…. he came back with 3 boy pigs…. well, you couldn’t leave one behind on his own!!!!!!!

3 pigs huddled in cornerThe new arrivals

We’d been told not to give them names so they were known as 14, 15 and 16 – their ear tag numbers.

They settled in nicely.

I went off to work daily.


One Saturday morning (and we were now into winter time, so I was going to and from work in the dark!) I was sat down and told we had a couple more pigs!  (I really was in the dark!)

A had decided he liked the pigs so much to go and buy some girl pigs!  We now had Lucy, Pinky, Perky and Floppy.

Alfie and pigs

And what do you get when you leave boy pigs and girl pigs share the same house and field?

You guessed it….. a lot, an awful lot, of baby pigs.

To be precise we had 48 baby pigs.

Suddenly we were in the pig business.



And that’s how it all started. 🙂

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Is there such a thing as a good death?

I know a dismal question to be asking at the start of the new year, but after our experience yesterday I think it is an important one.

Yesterday, we had determined to take our oldest sow to the abattoir.  She has been with us for over 5 years and has had a really good life here in Redwood.

Lucy, the sow enjoying vegetables

We know we treat all our animals – both domestic and farm – well.  (Sometimes I wonder if we treat them too well – especially when you are trying to tempt them into a trailer with a bucket of food and they are ignoring you cos they just aren’t hungry!)

So yesterday Lucy was loaded onto the trailer.  As she was older and much, much bigger than our normal delivery, our local small abattoir could not take her. (We later learnt that she weighed 280 kgs!)

We don’t like to send the pigs on a long arduous journey in a trailer so thought we were doing her a favour by taking her on a short trip to Roscrea.  How wrong we were!!

Alfie arrived at the factory, and was told that he had to go to a ‘special’ area as he was delivering a sow and they (sows) don’t go into the main area.  We weren’t told this on the phone when booking.  He was, however, in the main delivery area long enough to witness a dead pig in the yard being carted into the butchery area on a forklift.  And worse still a semi-alive/semi-dead pig lying in a bin in the yard.  He also saw factory staff washing out a double height trailer – with the pigs still in it.  They started hosing at the top level, washing all the effluent down on top of the pigs on the lower level.

These were factory reared pigs – so they had had a horrible life, and were now being treated equally badly in death.

Alfie left and went to the ‘special’ area – which was basically a 20 ft open topped trailer – where farmers were backing up their trailers and offloading sows.

The trailer was already full of sows (obviously from differing herds which causes its own difficulties), and who it appeared had been in this trailer for a number of days – they were lying 2 deep in their own excrement and had no access to water.

This did not stop people from beating pigs into the trailer with wheel braces.

Bear in mind there was no more room in the trailer, in fact the trailer was already overloaded.

So what was now happening was that the new sows were walking in on top of those already on board.

All pigs were stressed and shocked and some were wounded.

How long they were going to be in this trailer for we do not know.

We cannot say that the factory were outwardly condoning this, but they were not supervising the offloading, trying to stop the behaviour or providing a second trailer.

We know there are strict Department of Agriculture guidelines – but why were they not being applied in this instance.

We have contacted both the ISPCA and the Department of Agriculture to report this appalling treatment of animals.

And another thought for everyone out there.  These pigs were very very stressed which of course does effect the meat and not in a good way – this is what goes out into the food chain!

Beware where you buy your pork from!

Lucy came home and went to a more humane place.  She had a good life and a good death.

An Update:

I am delighted to report that late yesterday evening we had a call from a senior representative of the company who asked to come and talk to us about what had happened.

Early this morning 2 representatives called and have been here for the past couple of hours.  They have assured us that changes have been put in place already.  They explained the reasoning – EU regulations – for some of what Alfie witnessed.  The sows cannot be offloaded to existing holding pens within the factory area – hence the offloading directly onto a holding trailer outside the factory perimeter.

The good news is that

  • The hosing down of the trailers with pigs on board, as described above, has been stopped with immediate effect.
  • There will be a company representative supervising the loading of sows and more trailers will be provided.
  • And they are looking at an alternative way whereby the sows from each herd can be segregated within the trailers.

So, overall a good result.

It is particularly good, don’t you think, that a company reacts and deals with a complaint openly and honestly.  Well done to them.

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I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked – why?

Why do we do the delivery runs ourselves?

Would it not be better/cheaper to have someone else (courier) do the job for us?

And yes, we have looked at the various options.  But in the end, you know what, we get to meet our customers!  It is as simple as that!

We have over the past couple of years built up our customer base.  Our customers understand when we say that we do not ‘kill’ until we have enough orders and the pig is ready for eating!  Then once the meat is butchered and ready to go, we have a frantic couple of days of delivering the fresh meat to everyone.

Last month we had 3 pigs to deliver so that was pretty hectic…. but look at the beautiful places we got to!

One day it was to various points around counties Limerick and Cork… culminating with a delivery to Blair’s Inn in Blarney and The White Sage Restaurant in Adare.

Front of Blair's Inn, BlarneyFront view of White Sage Restaurant, Adare

Some day we will have time to stop and enjoy some food with these guys! The menus are amazing!

And since those deliveries we’ve had people call us who live near us, who came across our name on the menus at both these venues!  Small world, etc!

The following day it was off to Dublin to deliver to lots of families around the city and to meet their dogs (who also enjoy a pork bone or two!)…. we met Sheeba, Storm (who’s particularly found of good bones) and Oscar – all beautiful friendly dogs.

The last stop that day was at Seagrass in Portobello and look what Sean offered us with a cup of tea! Wow!  It all tasted as good as it looks!  If you haven’t been, you need to go there, seriously!

Platter of tapas from Seagrass Portobello

Yesterday, it was a delivery run to Galway.  This time as we were closer to home we took things a little bit easier and stopped for two separate cups of tea and chats!  I’m telling you if we were to stop for a ‘cuppa’ with all our customers, we might never get home!

But that’s why we do what we do… so that we can meet and get to know our customers!

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