Monday, 6 August 2012

To pig or not to pig?

For many reasons, pig keeping and the dream of self-sufficiency* go hand in hand. Tom and Barbara did it. Hugh did it. And so did we - as soon as we realised we were spending €700 a year on pork products at the local supermarket.

This money, we reckoned, could buy us pigs and feed them until time for slaughter. We could theoretically sell a pig, buy and feed more pigs, and keep ourselves in pork - forever.

For their part, the pigs would live in the woods, clear the land of unwanted vegetation, consume our meat-free food waste, turn weeds from the veggie beds into manure, and provide all the sausages, ham, bacon, lardons, roasts, salamis, filet mignons and more that we could possibly want.

(The €700 obviously excludes the set-up costs of fencing and housing, and the costs of slaughter if you’re using an abattoir, but you get the picture. Eventually, it would be a self-sustaining part of our lives.)

Now, for other reasons, we are looking again at this decision. In fact, there’s a distinct possibility that these two will be the last pigs we keep:


Partly, because carrying food and water hundreds of metres up and down the valley twice a day means we have very little freedom to do other things with our time. (If it’s too much to ask other people to do when we go away, isn’t it too much to ask of ourselves?)

Partly, because they are costing us more than that original estimate. These pigs, for example, will not go for slaughter until November when they’ll be over 1.5 years old. They cost us roughly €15 a week to feed. They’ll be too heavy for me to slaughter on the land and so will need to be taken to the abattoir.

Partly, because they’ve done their job of clearing the woods. If they stay there any longer there won’t be any woods - they’re that good at clearing them! They also damage the soil structure so severely that the land takes years to recover.

Partly, because since watching “Forks over knives” recently, we’ve all started eating much less meat. (It’s a film that describes the benefits of eating a veggie or vegan diet and I highly recommend watching it. Some of the points will genuinely surprise you and it might even save your life.)

Add a couple of these partlys together and we can look forward to spending €15 a week on veggie seeds or produce in the local market. We still have chickens, rabbits and geese for when we feel the need or desire for meat but, if we do the almost unimaginable and make the jump to a vegetable-based diet, we can sell these animals to other people and actually Make Some Money to buy these veggie seeds and products.

Which is a long-winded and largely unedited way of saying: We’re changing. One thing this challenging, exciting and enlivening (yet ironically, financially impoverished) lifestyle does is present you with the opportunity to grow, develop, play and explore new ideas.

On a personal level, I have never enjoyed taking the life of an animal, even though I can argue that the animal was always intended to feed me and my family. I have always been thankful to the animal, but could never shake the thought that ending a life is spiritually... an abomination (seems a bit much but it’s the word that feels appropriate).

Yes, it will be nice not to kill any more.

*We are so far from the reality of being self-sufficient it’s not even funny. I remember seeing a couple talking about being self-sufficient after about 15 years of constant work. It seemed a long time at the time, but now I think it’s reasonable.


Sarah W said...

Thanks for a thought provoking and well timed blog Alex - we were having a very similar conversation just the other day! I am the killer and butcherer here and totally get your thoughts on the taking of lives - I can do it (and I'm proud of having taught myself how to) but it will always give me pause for thought.

We've kept rabbits, ducks and hens for a few years but this is our first pig keeping year. Just a thought but if you decide to continue with pigs then it might be worth considering kune kunes which is what we're rearing this year. They are smaller and therefore more manageable and they graze rather than root. We don't give ours any supplementary food other than scraps and a cup full of pellets scattered each evening (as a preventative 'rattle the tin for capturing in case of future escape' method). They cost us about €5 a month in pellets I reckon. Obviously you get less meat than from 2 normal pigs but there's only the two of us so I'm hoping there will be plenty for us.

This alternative life is certainly an interesting one that brings the opportunity to make some much more challenging and developmental decisions than the ones we used to make in offices! I look forward to hearing the outcome of your musings.

Arch said...

Well put Alex, I would find it hard to kill the pigs just for a ham sandwich !

Haven't seen the programme you have been talking about but did you see the very very very interesting horizon this week re fasting, up shot of which was that if you fast for a day alternating with a day of eating and this is eating anything you want it may per long your life by 50% at it is in mice !

If you haven't seen it try and watch it on the net in appears to be a real breakthrough in health your risk factors all go, it switches your body into repair mode instead of ageing mode,

It's so simple in concept but hard to do.

It lowers your rick factors to the point were you can happily eat animal fat with no ill affects.

So guess what I am now doing ?

Kill animals, I have always found it easy to go hunting shooting that is you brain goes into kill mode and if you eat what you kill then it feels ok but I would find it very hard to kill an animal I had been feeding and got to know

Try going hunting or get an air rifle and shoot pigeon on your own land you may feel happier about the whole thing meat for free the crack of dawn the best time

Just a thought !

Arch said...

Just been looking at your photos on Facebook, all looks very relaxed and inviting can just imagine cracking a bottle open with a steak on the grill, am sure it's blissful !

Tractors paint is fading abit, ever thought of selling it and getting a little grey Fergie and painting it red would be just the thing and look the part of the little red tractor and just the size for small scale farming ?

the devolutionary said...

A neighbour gave us a little red tractor last year when his farming days came to an end - with a bucket on the back, and a plough, a Canadienne and a fiercely dangerous-looking huge blade thing. It's an old Renault and it's MASSIVELY appreciated (and used as little as possible). So the Fordson is just a feature now. And a lesson. And a story.

Arch said...

Tomatoes look good and am sure they taste even better, are they grown in a poly tunnel or glass house ?

Poly tunnels seem to be the way to self sufficient living as you can get almost all year production ?

Did you get chance to watch Horizon re fasting with Dr Mic Mosley ?

If you don't watch anything else regarding life and food etc watch this.

You can have your cake and eat it but not today !

I know your there Alex I can hear you breathing ?

the devolutionary said...

Arch, I did just watch "Eat, Fast and Live Longer" on youtube - the Mic Mosley doc you mentioned. Very interesting and thought provoking. Thanks for that.

The last line in your comment troubles me, though. I know you may mean it as a joke, but it can be read as worrying and rather threatening.

Arch said...

Re the fasting, have been trying it out and am feeling good on it , am doing the day on day off or I should say under 500 cals one day then under 1500 the next, trying to work the 500 cal day down to 200 !

Great morning drink good for you and can help with neg mood swinging

Two heaped teaspoons of Cocoa power, one of sugar or honey and a big pinch of chilli power, in a mug boiling water, 100% more healthy than coffee !

Oh and a splash of soya milk or udder puss if your into milk, this is just so you don't burn your mouth !

See you have extended your season, maybe you should stay open for Christmas as Christmas in France is great and yurts are all weather if they have stove in, would be totally romantic and great fun.

An outdoor Christmas dinner around a bonfire would be interesting and very pagan mid winter feast as it should be, spit roast something maybe ?

the devolutionary said...

Let us now how the fasting thing goes, Arch. That's definitely the kind of thing worth blogging - it could be that you're ready to start your own...

Kalba Meadows said...

A really interesting post, Alex. You've voiced some of the conclusions that we came to here about keeping pigs (more in a sec) and it feels as though you've pointed a finger at the emperor's birthday suit in the process! Round here keeping a couple of pigs in just the way you describe is kind of the holy grail of alternative lifers. We've got some woodland here, complete with an old stone cloture that was used 60 years ago for pigs, and have thought a lot about sticking a couple up there. But, you know, having fiddled about with numbers and the back of an envelope, and also looking at how it would tie us here even more than other things do, we decided that there are cheaper (and ultimately more humane) ways of clearing the woodland. We don't eat a lot of meat - maybe once or twice a week - not out of any particular convictions but because we like vegetables and just feel so much better on them. Far better, we thought, to let others keep the pigs (and goats, and sheep - we've toyed with them all!) and support them in doing so by using some of the money saved to by their produce. That's exchange; that's community.

the devolutionary said...

Exactly, Kalba. I think self-sufficiency is an unattainable goal. I think about the way life must have been a couple of hundred years ago, where people have roles in the community according to their interests or equipment - miller, butcher, baker etc. We can't do it all ourselves and it's exhausting to try. Community is definitely the way ahead, with a sharing of time and/or produce to spread the workload. (Dairy was the thing that brought it home to us and, facing the massive commitment, plus winter housing etc, we thought it would be much easier to find someone locally who makes milk - although we haven't done this yet.) The prospect of life without pigs feels much easier and lighter - and freer. We're both looking forward to it.

Sarah W, I forgot to thank you for your comments. It's great to hear from another self-taught butcher. One other positive aspect of taking a (possibly permanent) break from pigs is that our chickens and geese will have even more tasty scraps than they're used to!