Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Butchery course

At the end of the year our friends' two Gloucester Old Spot pigs are off to the 'market'! In previous years the abattoir has done the slaughter and the butchery, but last time the butchery was not up to scratch, so this year we thought we might do that bit ourselves (home slaughter is not permitted). We have read books and done a bit of home butchery before (boning out) but wanted to learn a bit more so we enrolled ourselves on a 1 day butchery course through DASH (Devon Association of Smallholders - there is a link to this organisation on the links section of this blog). You have to be members to go on the courses they offer and they do offer quite a selection of things you can learn.

The course was held at a small mixed farm (or large smallholding) to the East of us. The day started with a good cup of coffee and chocolate biscuits, which was a very good start. After this we had a farm tour which included advice on feeding and general management of cattle and sheep. The owners of the farm have seen over time that many people take on stock without the slightest knowledge of how to look after them. It is not the case that cattle and sheep just eat grass and you can just put them out into a field and let them get on with it. They will need supplements and various other things depending on what you are breeding them for, the state of your grass and your soil. They also (and this seems so obvious but according to the farm owners it doesn't seem to be for some people) animals need fresh water!

As mentioned this was a mixed farm and is organic. They grow much of their own animal feed too. As I have said before I am rather in love with long wool sheep and this farm had the most wonderful Leicester Longwools which they breed for wool and also cross them with Texel sheep for meat production. A few of the lambs were put into a crush (a metal cage which doesn't hurt them but means that you can handle them as you may want to when giving vaccinations or worming. In this case we were able to feel the lambs to get an understanding of what a lamb for meat should feel like.

The farm also breeds Ruby Devon Cattle a breed native to this area. We saw the cows and calves and also met Daddy bull (from afar). 'Baby' bull, 3 months and built like a small housing estate was put into the cattle crush (a bit similar to the one used for sheep but MUCH bigger and stronger so that we could feel the various cuts on a live animal . Both the bulls are for breeding purposes and showing and win lots of awards, their services as bulls are very popular and the farm gets inquiries from all over the world for their 'you know what' (don't like to say it on a blog, I might get lots of strange messages!!!!).

The farm used to breed Oxford and Sandy and Black pigs but now only raise the weaners, sadly they didn't have any when we visited as they are rather beautiful. Talking of beautiful the farm sells free range organic eggs from their Welsummer hens which are just lovely.

After our tour we moved to the cutting room. The farm has its own cold room and cutting area and sells its meat locally to the general public and to pubs. We started with a lamb carcass and the farmer (who is also a butcher and stockman) jointed this and boned some joints out, some of us had a try. I quite like boning out, there is a certain sense of satisfaction of being able to get a bone out without leaving much meat on it.

After we had eaten our packed lunches and sampled some of the home made soup at the farm we made sausages and burgers. This was quite fun but we had done this before. Really what we need to do is to take a side of pork (when they are ready) to a butcher (and you can do it at this farm) and watch him joint it and help if we are allowed (which can be done in some cases). You really cannot learn butchery in a day! We also realised that there is a lot of equipment that we don't have that we would really need in order to cut up our carcasses so we are not sure now whether we can do this this year. For example, it is advisable to hang carcasses in a cool room for at least two weeks, many abattoirs can't do this as they don't have the room and we most certainly don't have the right facilities for this at the moment.

The whole day was very interesting and made us think a lot about what we might want to do. I think we both feel that before we get any stock we want to go on other courses to learn specifically about the care of the animal; sheep for example can be hard work and keeping them would need careful consideration before going down that road. Cattle need a lot of room and you probably wouldn't want to go down the route of breeding as there is milking to be considered (and that means lots of early mornings and probably more milk than you could cope with). You can buy a couple of steers (castrated bulls) and raise these for meat, but again cattle need a lot of care and time. Pigs seem simpler and we do have some experience of pig keeping, but again you should know what the potential problems are before buying a couple of weaners.

The day ended with tea on the lawn and a nice chocolate cake. We met lots of interesting people and the folks at the farm were great. It was an instructive, enjoyable and thought provoking day.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Show time part the last

Sorry, the Holsworthy show was over a week ago and no post. To be honest getting a bit bored reporting on the shows as they are much of a muchness, if we didn't go to them for work I think I would probably only go to one a year!

The weather for the show was not as good as Okehampton but better than North Devon. It had rained a lot just before the show and the ground was a bit boggy but you could have managed without wellies. The day was windy and overcast and it set in with really serious drizzle just at the end of the show (just about the time we were sampling a small beer in the beer tent!). Holsworthy Show beer tent is very well run but a local landlord who would never run out of beer unlike Okehampton and the beer tent is probably the biggest of all the ones at the 4 shows we went to. I can thoroughly recommend the beer tent at this show (hoping for a free pint for commission!).

We had a huge stand at the show and managed to fill most of it up with a fantastic 12 foot long walk banquet walk through table. It got lots of interest and really is a fab piece of garden furniture, good value too, but probably heavy so you would want to put it somewhere where you weren't likely to need to move it. We put one outside the beer tent too!.

Entertainment at the show; pretty standard stuff really. Good amount and diverse range of stock including some wonderful different sheep varieties. My favorite has to be these wooley white ones not sure if they are Devon and Cornwall Longwool or Dartmoor, but aren't they brilliant, mind you wouldn't want to keep them in a wet field, imagine the shampoo you would need to get through! This blackface is also rather nice but you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of those horns!!!! It is troubling when you start looking at sheep and think how pretty they are mind you!

Again we were in a good position next to the main general entertainment ring and the one display that caught my eye was the falconry. Now I found this a tricky subject as the birds are kept in captivity and fly for displays and I suppose for exercise too. I have looked up falconry and feel a bit better now. It seems that in this country falconers can only work birds that are bred in captivity (I recall the falconer at the show saying that some of his birds were rescues?) and it is illegal to take feral birds for falconry (or for anything actually). It is such an ancient sport and I must say watching the birds fly and swoop past your ear at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour with their long talons and vicious looking beaks was really fantastic. The birds and the falconer put on a great display and encouraged folks from the crowd to come into the ring and hold our their (heavily) gloved hand for a bird to perch on. This Golden Eagle was looking right at me, I hope he wasn't thinking I would make a good dinner!

That is the end of show season for us now, but it not a time to rest. We need to plan our marketing for this coming winter and will need to start thinking sooner rather than later about which shows we want to do next year. No rest for the wicked!

Chicken update

Well our poor hen with the prolapse is back to normal, scratching about and looking good, thanks to a lot of TLC from us and our friends who came to stay for a few days last week. However, two things.

1. She still hasn't laid an egg now over two weeks since the incident. Whether she will again I don't know. She is a hybrid (Warren or ISA not sure which but they are very similar) and they can have a short (but intensive) laying life so we will see. If she does lay we still have the risk of another prolapse so the longer she goes without laying the better as it gives her a chance to heal inside.

2. She is now moulting! Poor thing, if its not one thing its another. I did think to start with that this was related to the other hen pecking at her but I don't think so and it is moulting season. This in some ways is also good for her healing process in that when they moult they tend not to lay. We will have to make sure we give them supplements during this time to keep their energy up as their bodies now spend a lot of goodness moulting and getting ready to grow new feathers. We don't know yet whether this is a partial moult or a full one, she had a partial one in January (the coldest time of the year!!!), so this could be a full one. In this case she is going to go very bald. They look dreadful in moult, ragged and disheveled but when the feathers grow back they look good as new again - well pretty much. As they get older they don't get quite back to normal and old hens do look a bit ragged.

The plan is to get more and I am thinking about Black Rocks as although they too are hybrids they don't lay quite so many eggs in a year and therefore have a longer life (both laying and overall). They are also very hardy birds and don't mind the weather. Our girls have been huddled in the outbuilding a lot recently sheltering from the rain, wind etc. When it snowed earlier this year they refused to come out at all. There is a lady who raises Black Rocks about 45 minutes away; there are only a few registered Black Rock growers in the country and only one approved breeder, not sure why but it means that there are only a few places you can get them. She also has some other interesting breeds, Marans (the picture on the right is of a Cookoo Maran), Blues and this rather nice Magpie (picture below). I am interested to talk to her to find out if Black Rocks are the way to go or whether we should have a mixture or try something else. Will keep you posted and will have piccies of whatever we get. (pictures posted here are taken from www.organicpullets.co.uk, the website of the breeder I have mentioned)