In the second part of our smallholder feature on rearing pigs for meat, CLEMMIE GLEESON discusses things to consider from the arrival of your first pigs through to organising slaughter and butchering, and the delights of home-produced pork.
Never lose sight of where your pigs are ultimately going – on to the table
For most smallholders the arrival of your first weaners is a momentous occasion and usually the start of a life-long passion for pigs, but in all the excitement do not forget your paperwork.
This was covered two weeks ago but, to summarise, you will need to take a movement form with you when you collect your pigs. The breeder will need to fill in some information as will you, and you have the responsibility to return the relevant page to the trading standards department of your county council.
If the pigs arrive at their new home late in the day you may decide to put them straight into the ark and put a barrier (a bale or two maybe) across the doorway to keep them in until morning. Otherwise in their unfamiliar surroundings the youngsters may not know where to put themselves to bed and end up spending the night outside.
From the start it is important to keep in mind what the plan for the pigs is, ie taking them to slaughter. Not just in terms of not becoming too sentimental about them, but also to prepare them for another journey in the trailer.
Training them to follow a bucket is very simple and some pig keepers practice loading them onto the trailer as they get bigger. Some pigs will load very happily without too much persuasion, but others can be very suspicious of stepping outside the familiarity of their pen.
If you want to avoid potential problems it is best to be prepared. It will make it less stressful for both you and the pigs. Developing a good relationship with the pigs is also, of course, helpful if they should have any medical problems or anything else requiring attention from you or a vet.
Some smallholders name their pigs but many believe that given the pigs' final destiny it is generally better not to do so as it makes parting with them more difficult, particularly if there are children in the family. Having said that, children are often more matter of fact about rearing animals for meat than adults. However, this does not mean that you should not enjoy paying them some attention and fuss – pigs love to have their backs scratched and to be hosed down in the warmer months.
When it comes to feeding traditional breeds of pig, the key is to avoid over-feeding. Traditional breeds are prone to get very fat if they are overfed (some more than others) so it is best to take advice from wherever you buy your weaners as they will no doubt be experienced in their particular breed or breeds.
It is worth finding out in advance what the weaners are being fed before you collect them so you can arrange to have a bag or two ready at home and continue feeding them what they are familiar with. The breeder may even be able to sell you a bag or two. Some believe that a typical finisher pellet is too high in protein for a traditional breed and therefore choose to feed a sow pellet, which has a lower protein content.
Your pigs will enjoy waste vegetables and fruit from your holding (and their meat will benefit too) or from a local greengrocer if you can make friends with yours. Remember that it is illegal to feed any waste food from your kitchen.
It is difficult to know when your pigs are ready for slaughter if you have no previous experience, but general rule of thumb is that for pork traditional breeds are ready at around six months of age. Again, take advice from the breeder as they will know the best age for their particular breed. Most people wait too long with their first lot, maybe because they are dreading the pigs going, or because they think that more time equals more meat, but during those extra couple of months the pigs are likely to lay down more fat.
As butchery is generally charged per kg you will see that it is better to send them sooner next time.
Contact your local abattoir(s) well in advance. Some big operations may not take private kills of just a couple of pigs and others may have restrictions on it. It is helpful to know in advance what the policy is for the abattoir you would like to use and which day of the week they take pigs. Also find out whether you need to book and, if so, how far in advance so that you can be as organised as possible.
In most cases they will deliver the pigs to a butcher of your choice within their usual rounds if they don't offer butchery service themselves. If your closest abattoir is several miles away it may be worth finding out if they deliver to your local butcher as it will mean less travelling for you and fewer food miles. Charges for slaughter and butchery vary, but as a guide expect to pay around £15 per pig for slaughter and around 65p per kg for cutting. Sausages will cost more – around 85p per kg.
Talk to your butcher if you have particular requirements of how you want the carcases to be butchered. They are generally more than happy to talk you through the options and do it how you want. They will usually supply the pork already frozen (specify if you want to collect it fresh) with each package of joints or chops labelled. If you want half or quarter pigs kept separate then make sure you request it. Butchery is a skilled job, but it helps to have a basic understanding of the different cuts when you discuss your needs with the butcher.
When the time comes to take the pigs to the abattoir allow plenty of time for loading them onto the trailer – particularly if you have not been able to practice loading them.
You will need to ear tag or slap mark your pigs with your herd number. Ear tags and the appropriate implement to apply them are less of a financial outlay so may make sense if you only have a very small number of pigs.
It is probably best to apply the tags when the pigs are eating and are distracted. Aim to apply the ear tag in a single confident action following the manufacturer's instructions.
The pigs may shake their heads immediately afterwards or they may not even notice what you have done. Do double check that the tags are still attached before you set off to the abattoir, as the pigs will not be accepted without them.
Allow plenty of time to get to the abattoir for your appointed time (if you have one) and remember to take any directions you need, plus your movement form. You will need to complete part of the form ready for the abattoir to fill in their section. Abattoirs are generally designed for large lorries to deliver livestock so turning space is not usually a problem, but if you are not confident reversing your trailer then you should invest some time in practising as you will need to back up to the unloading area.
There will be someone to help you unload the pigs and once they are off they will lead them up the race to the holding pen for you (using boards behind them).
Saying ‘goodbye' to your first pigs is difficult for many smallholders. Most people agree that pigs are very appealing creatures and it is easy to become very fond of them, but it is important to remember your reasons for having them in the first place and that your pigs have had a good life with you on your holding.
Collecting your meat from the butchers is a celebration of that, and you should really enjoy finding ways to use all the cuts and joints you bring home. Do not underestimate how much meat you will get back and therefore how much freezer space you will need. You may need to invest in a chest freezer if you do not have one (or enough space in one).
Previously unpopular cuts such as belly have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years and recipe ideas are endless, particularly if you have access to the internet.
Take the opportunity of asking your butcher his thoughts on the carcases. He will no doubt say they are ‘very fat' compared to the lean commercial pigs he is used to dealing with, but his advice may affect how you rear you next pigs. You may decide to trim the pork chops (if the butcher has not done so already) but many people swear by a bit of extra fat which bastes the meat during cooking and really adds to the taste.
Rural Payments Agency (for holding number) 0845 603 7777.
Defra Livestock Identification Helpline 0845 050 9876.
Contact details for your local Animal Health Office can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/animalhealth/about-us/ contact-us/animal-health-offices.htm.
Contact details for manufacturers of slap-markers and ear-tags www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/id-move/pigs/slapmark_makers.htm.
For information about selling meat contact your local Environmental Health Office.
Regulars - FG