Friday 5 October 2018

Hop Swags and Pig Clubs

Enjoying a gorgeous blue sky today. It's a bit crisp out and post-frost but I have the fire lit in the range here and all my jobs done, so a chance to put my feet up and enjoy a break chatting on here. I've gone all Kent and had a bit of fun paying homage to the Hop Festival we used to enjoy each September in Faversham.

Tops of beeches in our pig paddock starting to turn colour. 
The town would fill up with happy 'hoppers', Morris Dancers, musicians, booze outlets (mainly local brewer Shepherd Neame) and dozens of hopefuls selling swags of spent hop bines from carts and vans to people who wanted to wear them round their head like a crown, tie them round prams, cars, bikes or the dog or carry them off to loop as swags indoors. Well, this year, we have our own hops - the big plant at the top of the veg patch is now 5 years old and throws up huge long bines which scramble up through our growing willow 'tunnel'.

Fixed to the front of our wood store I still have that magnificent fallow-buck skull and antlers. This was a white-phase 7-8 year old "Master Buck" (King of the Rut) revealed to us by the Wildlife Ranger in our local Challock Forest. A spent force (thought the Ranger) after his 2 week spell in charge of the rutting stand with no access to food or water (lest some young pretender take advantage) he would have eventually been ousted, exhausted, to go and have a lie down and often, with fallows, that would have been his lot. I made a mental note of where he was (well hidden down in his ditch-grave) and left him 2 months or so to clean up a bit, then went back to nab the skull. That was 2005, before I started blogging so I'm afraid no link to a post. It seemed only fair to garland the lad with our hops.

These have suddenly started flowering in the 'woods'. I don't
recall planting them but we must have. Cyclamens, of course.
I vowed long ago to give you our story "warts and all", the things that worked well and the things that did not work so well. A little minor rant-een then on the subject of pigs and deciding to buy 3 this year which nearly resulted in a freezer-space problem and has sullied our relationship(s) with some contacts. For that latter reason, the story comes as a "no names, no pack drill" one in which I go nowhere near identifying anyone.

From little IRISH acorns gathered on Tara Hill, ancient seat of
Irish kings, do mighty Irish oaks (eventually) grow.
Readers may have heard of the concept of "Pig Clubs". This is where pig keepers like me have enough space for more pigs and may be surrounded by folk who would love the idea of pigs and would love to try them out but do not have the ground, money, herd number or perhaps the need for a whole pig at the end.

Back in the egg business after the Summer egg-drought.
The Pig Club is a small group of people who club together to buy the pig in the first place, arrange for the farmer to house it, then pay for feed and vet calls if needed, visit it and bond with it, bring their kids round to tickle its belly if they like, then share the costs of final haulage, slaughter and butchery. They then divvy up the meat how they like and everyone's a winner. Some pig club owners choose to make a little money for them selves out of this but some do it just for the love of the thing.

Friends of the Blog may know that up to this year we'd always 'done' just 2 pigs. Our freezer(s) could cope with that. We'd eat 1 and a half pigs through the year, and the other half would be off loaded on family. Remember we can not sell on the open market - we have none of the necessary licences or certificates (Food Hygiene, premises, facilities).

The Amelanchier is struggling this year to do flame-red autumn
This year, back in February, when deciding how many piglets to order, I put out there on the Internet groups, that I'd be happy to do a Pig Club this year if anyone wanted to 'play'. I got plenty of good feedback and just one person sounding warning bells (make it all legal, contracts and what not, or you'll be left holding the baby, get sued for not delivering the promised meat, get into arguments about vet bills, blah blah. I should have taken more heed!). Enough positive noise anyway, to encourage me to order the 3rd piglet and start organising for clubbers to be able to be there at the breeder and choose their piglet, see him/her brought home, cuddle their new baby.

On line shopping. Our copy of the German dice-game Qwixx
Long story short, as soon as they needed to actually BE anywhere and cough up any money (or pig food etc) , my enthusiastic 'clubbers' faded like Scotch Mist  - too busy this weekend or abroad, breakdown on the lorry etc. Not a one of them actually showed up here or ever came to see their pig and I spent the best part of our pig-season nursing a nagging doubt that they never would, and we'd be left just "doing 3 pigs" and then trying to cope with 3 carcasses (about 210 kg of meat!). One clubber eventually volunteered that they "only really wanted sausages" and asked me to select them a part carcass and get the butcher to do the necessary after which extra cost they would show up (honest) with some money. Ummmm.... nope.

Nice looking shoulder joint.
Thank Heavens for family, then and our reputation for delicious pork. Several were happy to take a bit extra this year. Suffice to say that by NOT killing all the lambs this year (We have saved Babóg and Ebony for killing as 'hogget' next year) and by 'Parma'-ing 2 whole legs, we found enough freezer space and were not embarrassed by volume. A lesson learned, though.

No mousing opportunities left now the tunnel is clear.
We will definitely not be doing three pigs next year and any pig-clubbing we decide  to do had better be on a non-returnable deposit basis. It was worth a try and it was great fun to have the three, Bo, Luke and Daisy, but two's enough.

This, too, is enough for this post.Good Luck now.

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