Well I've just come back from a really informative weekend at East Ilkerton Farm (Hidden Valley Pigs) in North Devon where I got to sample the life of a ‘small holder' through an introduction course run by Simon & Debbie Dawson of UKTV's local hero acclaim.
Being my first ever SH course (and incidentally a generous birthday present) I was somewhat unsure as to what to expect (& what I should really already know) if I'm honest, but I need not worry as Simon & Debbie confidently took the reins and casually talked us through the delights that lay in store for my partner & I over a cuppa tea & excited introduction by Darcy the dane!
Moments later the practical education started with the butchery segment of the course (lead by Debbie) in which the main cuts & inside tips/techniques required to deal with such a beast were explained, demonstrated & finally supervised. Before I knew it everything was portioned up ready for the pot/freezer & I'd gained the confidence needed to have a go again myself once at home. It was then on to the Bacon curing & sausage making lesson which was yet another first for me! Still having been tipped off that pork may be on the menu I'd taken the liberty of packing a bottle of my own home made cider (12%ABV of clear Dorset liquor) to which I received a very warm response as to its suggested inclusion (with fresh garden Rosemary) into the sausage mix. **Although this was only ‘officially' received after an obligatory taste & quality check by Simon ;-)** Now although they didn't get the full rest needed to mature the flavours it has to be said that these home made porkers were an absolutely fab lunch when combined with Debbie's freshly made butter, still warm white loaf & runner bean chutney (incidentally I must get the recipe for that).
Following lunch we tool a walk around the grounds, pointed out the chickens we intended for the pot and worked our way down the step hill side to the barn where the beautiful conditioned birds met their maker in a humane & swift fashion. With Simon's every observant eye keeping us in check, we set about dry plucking the birds & managed a half decent job before darkness finally got its way & North Devon's unpredictable climate finished off our resolve with an unpleasantly cold down poor. However all thoughts of the cold were pull to one side once we'd been handed yet another much needed cuppa tea & warmed up in front of the cottage fire in time for supper.
On Sunday morning (after a poor nights sleep in the ‘boutique' hotel in Lynton, courtesy of yet more un-seasonal howling winds) we returned to East Ilkerton Farm to receive our days schedule & obligatory cuppa tea before setting off down the hill side for pig manoeuvre's! Pre-warned by Simon that some may prove to be easier than others I was felt mentally prepared for any stubborn old sow Simon could conjure up (I'd got ahead on myself at this point), but boy I hadn't banked on "Geraldine". For sure she's a beautiful beast, being a Wild boar crossed with a Tamworth but "stubborn" really doesn't do justice to her & so I have to admit partial defeat when discussing how ‘we' loaded her into the trailer as the truth be told, she really only loaded herself in after a large about of bribing with pig nuts & some strenuous jostling from Simon, Debbie & myself! Still loaded she was & so we were on our way to reunite her & her offspring in the new enclosure.
After that ordeal I made a mental note to myself (along the lines of "serious consider things before taking on any pigs in years to come!" before watching Simon reverse the now empty trailer up to the ‘General's' pen, lower the ramp & very quickly step back as the huge Berkshire Boar jumped straight in with no prompting what so ever! It seams that offer of food & sex that inevitable follows a ride in the trailer for the ‘General' has left and impression somewhat! However unfortunately for him it was just food and an injection behind the ear this time.
With the pigs sorted and a healthy hunger on us we retired to the cottage once more for another cuppa, warm up by the fire & chicken butchery lesson. All went well with the lesson (another box ticked) until the smell of burn soda bread permeating from the oven demonstrated that even old hands can get it wrong at times! Still as tasty as ever (even if a little over done) Debbie dished up her bread & veg soup as our final meal with the delightful couple before detailing the animal husbandry tasks for the afternoon.
Off once again we headed up to the opposite side of the valley to round up the sheep, Grey Faced Dartmoor crosses I believe & every bit as compliant as Simon had lad us to believe after the Geraldine fiasco that very same morning. Upended, feet clipped, mineral injected & head spray tagged to denote ‘done', we worked are way through a good few before the weather closed in on us once again & it was time to call it a day. I guess the ‘weekenders' realisation of the long drive back (to land locked Oxfordshire & world of F1 on Monday morning) in wet cloths has dissolved the remaining enthusiasm I had.
All in all the weekend was a great success (thanks again guys) & so I would hole heartedly recommend that anyone thinking about the idea of becoming a small holder should go on such a course as it really does give you a good incite into "real" life you could end up with. However "keep it real" as the shock of working in a rural landscape & barn, compared to the exuberant air conditioned office I normally have was somewhat of a culture shock!
Still given enough time to ride out the credit crunch, provision of a suitable plot & good willing I'm quite sure which lifestyle I prefer & it doesn't come with a 7 way reclining chair!
All the very best guys & I hope you help convert many move to the joys of rural scene.