Rearing pigs in woodland
Do you like the idea of eating home-reared, free-range pork? We do, so we’ve taken the plunge by rearing four saddle back pigs for the kitchens at Rippledown and The Pines Garden. Read on to hear about our experiences and the exciting opportunities for school visits and adult courses coming this year.
Pigs are known as ‘the small holders friend’ and are by far the easiest of livestock to rear - arguably easier than chickens – as long as you have the space. The first thing you need to know about pig rearing is you never keep one pig on it’s own. They are sociable animals and need company so two or more is a must. Two just didn’t seem enough so we purchased four weaners from a local pig farmer in July. Weaners are piglets who have been weaned from their mothers and are usually around seven to ten weeks old.
The second thing about pigs is they are most happy if they have space to explore and root around so the location of where we were keeping them was very important. Their natural habitat is Woodland so we’d decided to use an overgrown patch of woodland next to the Pines Gardens down the Road in St Margaret’s Bay.
Rearing pigs in woodland has added bonuses: it provides them with shade so as they don’t get sunburn – a real consideration given they arrived in the middle of summer – and they are able to forage naturally for grubs, roots, and other treats that supplement their diet and ultimately make their meat taste better.
Building a pig sty
For added shelter and economy we decided that a straw bale pig shelter would be most suited to the woodland location. One of the gardners at The Pines Garden told us his father – who farmed in Wales – had always made straw bale shelters for his pigs, so we kept with tradition and success! With twenty four bales of straw, a large sheet of old shuttering and a sheet of tarpaulin we were able to build the warmest, driest and cosiest pig shelter possible. Our four weaners settled in very quickly and too our surprise quickly went about burrowing tunnels in their lose straw floor.
Over the next four months the pigs enjoyed routing and foraging around in the woodland, eating everything and anything they could get their snouts on! As well as their basic feed of pignuts we also supplemented their feed with vegetable waste from our organic gardens, apples, acorns and chestnuts. All in all these were some very well pampered pigs.
Many a happy hour was spent watching the pigs rooting for some unseen tasty morsel or scratching their rears against a well worn tree stump, but we had to remember that these pigs were being raised for livestock and would eventually be slaughtered and eaten. In early December the time came to say goodbye. It was with mixed emotions that we sent our pigs to slaughter locally in Adisham, its wasn’t easy and we never took process lightly but were proud in the knowledge that we had reared our pigs to the very best of our ability.
Processing the butchered pork
On collecting the butchered meat we went about processing it. At first this is a daunting task but with a few good meat books and some helpful internet resources we set about preparing the roasting joints, making pate, curing bacon and soaking the hams in a Wiltshire cure. That first bacon sandwich made it all worth while and we we’ll be doing it all again starting in mid February.
Pig lessons for school groups
Keeping our own pigs has been such a rewarding experience and we hope to share this with everyone who visits Rippledown. With pigs being around almost all year school groups will be able to come and:
- Learn about the history of pigs and our relationship with them
- Pig habitat and the importance of pigs to british woodland
- Discuss food ethics and talk about where our food comes and how it’s produced.
Pig rearing courses and cooking courses
For adults we hope to have some hands on pig rearing courses at Rippledown later on in the year. Also in the pipeline is a pig processing course, where you can learn about the processing and cooking of butchered meat, curing hams and making bacon. Watch this space or contact us for details.