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.