Farm update for winter 17-18.

Well, where to start… I haven’t been very good at keeping the blog posts updated over the last year or so. But I do post pictures on Facebook quite regularly, so follow us there. So what of winter 2017 into 2018…Mud, muck, wood, stone, pigs, pork, fat, snow and more mud.

The latest news is the vegetarian pig farmers have called it a day. It was lovely to have livestock on the farm, and as animal lovers it was great to spend time with such intelligent animals. But, we are firstly horticulturalist and we never set out to keep livestock. As accidental pork producers we found after a few years of practice we became quite good at keeping happy pigs. We developed a good outdoor breed and systems of rotating them onto fresh land each week.

We have about 70 customers, many of whom were vegetarian families that appreciated eating only the occasional meal of healthy happy meat. But for us it was a lot of work that tied us to visiting the land morning and evening every day, whatever the weather (we don’t live on site). So, 7 pigs went in December and the last 8 went in January. We immediately grabbed the opportunity to escape for a couple of weeks holiday before the pork was ready to collect from the butchers.

We have spent the last 2 days sorting and delivering the orders and fitting the rest of the pork into our freezers. Today i have been rendering the fat to making lard. This is something i couldn’t have done a few years back, but i have learnt to detach myself from them as animals and deal with the product as food. I have learnt a lot about healthy fats and dismissed much of what we were bought up to believe. In actual fact lard is not bad for you or more fattening.

Lard is a great fat to cook with as it heats to a much higher temperature and is more stable (unlike fashionable olive oil). Meat and fat from pasture fed, free ranging animals is is so different than from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It is higher in conjugated lineolic acid (CLA) which is good for you in so many ways  (it may be one of our most potent defences against cancer). Pasture fed fat is lower in the bad saturated fat, it has 2-4 time more omega 3 fatty acids,  more concentrated with antioxidants such as vitamins E, C and beta-carotene, along with increased levels of other disease-fighting substances.

At the end of the day you are what you eat – and the same goes for the animals whose meat, milk and eggs you put in your mouth. We should not only be concerned about what we eat, but what our food eats as well.

Rendering fat to make lard… There are different ways to render the fat, i find the simplest is just to put it in a deep tray in the oven at a low heat 140C. Great if you have a Rayburn that is ticking away. If you cut the fat into small pieces the fat turns to liquid quicker and gives you small bits of crackling. This photo shows the different stages, from slabs of fat, cut into small pieces, slowly heated in the oven, giving liquid fat and bits of crackling.

I start with slabs of clean pork fat, i have to request this back from the butcher, otherwise they trim it off and through it away. I usually bag this up and freeze it to feed to the chickens and wild birds through the winter. This time there is no room in our freezers, so i have had to process it to keep it. Once rendered and made into lard it should keep for a year in the fridge or longer if frozen.  I take the trays of fat out of the oven every hour or so and strain off the fat, then put it back in for longer.

As the fat becomes more brown so does the liquid, so the first batch looks cleaner and will have less pork taste (better for using in cake and pastries). The liquid fat is yellow like a vegetable oil and as it cools it turns white and hard. You can see in this picture the cold bottom layer of fat is already hardened to white and the fresh on top still yellow. Now i have quite a mass of lard, i would like to use some of this to make soap. Our good friends Phil and Lauren gave us some soap they had made from animal fat, for Christmas and it is lovely to use, very moisturising and bubbly.

Who would have thought all of this from a pair of strict vegetarians of 30 years. Well these days, for me, it is more about self sufficiency and minimal impact on the planet.

So what else have we been up to. In Autumn we took the delivery of a new caravan for woofers, this time we built a roof over it straight away to protect it from the weather and give a nice dry entrance. I am sure it will develop over time to become a dry cloakroom entrance space, perhaps some sides and a seat or two. This roof space will also gather, much needed, rain water for the nursery plants. Have just added another IBC, giving another 1000lts of water collection potential.

The mud at the field this last Autumn has been unbearable. We did a lot of tractor work during the year, which compresses and churns up the ground and there has been so much rain. We did an acre of potatoes which were harvested in October and had to be moved to the entrance by tractor. But the ground was so wet by then we were left with sloppy mud all over the site. We couldn’t get in and out of the field without putting on full overalls and wellies, something had to be done. So we got a mini digger to scrape all the mud from the entrance and re-dress it with local stone from a neighbouring farm. We then gave the old entrance shelter new cladding so it is now weather proof. We got some lovely wavy edged local larch and it is looking fantastic. We can now stay clean from our car to the shed to change into work clothes out of the rain and mud. So much more civilised and enjoyable.

The field of potatoes was not so much fun and we probably will not do it again. This was our second attempt at an acre and both times we have ended up digging most of them by hand. This is why we originally got pigs five years ago, to clear the ground after the potato crop. Probably a great crop to grow in a drier climate, but here in Wales the Autumn rains come to early. Yet again the harvester couldn’t cope with the wet ground. After harvesting a third of the crop it rained all night and on and off till now, so the tractor couldn’t get the harvester through the crop.

Thankfully we had the help of two very keen woofers and the four of us spent three hours a day digging potatoes for the best part of October. At the end of all that work we had 18 dumpy bags of very muddy rather scabby potatoes, they were eventually collected and once dry only weighed in at 4 tons. These spuds were grown as seed potatoes and unfortunately only 1.5 ton passed inspection. So much for feeding the world….

We have had lots of snow this winter, and i hear there is more to come. We live a couple of miles from the land, not far really, until we have to battle through foot deep snow to feed and water animals and scrape the snow off the tunnel. It is seriously hard going, but also extremely beautiful. My son Joe accompanied me one day, and we had fun snow boarding and making a snow man to welcome visitors to the farm.

So what for the coming spring….

We have just had delivered 18 ton of muck, i have collected 3/4 ton of organic potting compost. I have just had this years seed order delivered, including 25kg of onion sets, and lots of different squash and pumpkin seed. So we are going to be busy over the next six weeks. Firstly getting the hot bed going in the polytunnel ready for propagating seedlings for sale and planting. Then planting out our acre field where the potatoes were last year with bulk crops of onions, peas, beans and leeks (squash to go in later). The raised veg beds need mucking and preparing for the high maintenance crops. Only 25kg of potatoes going in this year, mainly to be planted and dug up early, a reliable waxy variety ’Charlotte’. A new polytunnel to go up and the barn needs some major repair work. Not to mention a whole heap of machine repairs and maintenance that i will leave to Dave to think about. Roll on the longer days and some dry weather.

Thanks to Ohara and Helen for this lovely bit of artwork for the field.

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