Keeping Pigs – the joy and the heartache

Oh man!  Today was abattoir day.  I brought my two pigs off first thing this morning and oh Lord how I hate it.  Consequently I have felt pretty miserable today.  And I’m glad that I felt miserable, for it would surely be worse if I didn’t care.

I do care.  IMG_5543

I care about my animals.

I care about what I feed them.

I care about what I feed my children.

We are not vegetarians and I really believe that I would be hard pushed to find better quality meat for my children.  And so I put myself through a day like today.  It is my least favourite day of the year – but I will most definitely continue to do it.

Photo 67_Mucky Pig. jpg

If you are thinking of keeping pigs, please don’t let my moaning put you off.  I assure you that feeling this way is natural – but it does pass.  Think of  the rewards of rearing these beautiful animals with love and kindness for five or six months.  Roast pork with amazing crackling, real sausages, thick rashers of bacon, ribs, ham, fillets, crubeens and much much more… Not to mention the respect it teaches us for our animals.

Here is a blogpost I wrote on my old website that will help you along your way if you are thinking of keeping pigs.  I am so proud that this piece earned me a place as one of three finalists in the 2012 Guild of Agricutural Journalism Awards.

“Earlier in the year Eamonn and I attended our first Butchery Course with Pat Whelan in Clonmel, and there we learned the basics about butchering our own meat.  A month or so later, we were ready to bring the first of our own two pigs to the abattoir.  This was a new and rather huge learning curve for me, but I was extremely fortunate…

 My introduction to butchery with Pat Whelan was followed up in Carlow with a hands-on lesson (while butchering my own pig) from Peter Salter who owns Farm To Fork Butchers in Carlow Town.  The fact that Peter’s family own the abattoir where I was taking our pigs, meant that Peter was on hand to talk me through the whole daunting process of taking a pig to slaughter.  I felt like there was great continuity to the process – leaving my garden to an abattoir two miles away, going from there to Peter’s shop and finally working with Peter on butchering the pig.  What started as a comment from me on Facebook about the amazing ribeye steaks I had picked up in Farm To Fork, ended with me finding a fantastic local butcher who was willing to help me in any way he could. Like so many that are starting on a pig-rearing journey, I had a hundred and one questions and Peter  patiently worked through them all with me.

As we had suspected, the first pig was too fat (weighing in at 104kg) but with Peter’s help, I got the pure pork sausages I had longed for, lots of roasts, the fillet, crubeens and more.  I drew the line at keeping the head – and I know that some of you will say that I should have used every part, but needless to say I didn’t waste it; I gave it to a friend of mine who was delighted to receive it.  The second pig weighed in some weeks later at a more respectable 88kgs giving us an ample supply of ham and rashers.

Of course, the bottom line in all of this is the taste, and you can imagine how anxious we were to taste those first sausages.  Would a diet of mainly fruit and vegetables produce tasty meat?  The answer?  A resounding yes!  The sausages, the roast pork (with great crackling), the rashers, all the cuts – all outstanding.

And so the cost..

2 Saddlebacks                                                                        €55 each (8wks old)

Fruit & Veg                                                                              €0

Pig Finishers                                                                           €50  (5 bags)

Abattoir                                                                                    €20 per pig

Farm To Fork                                                                          €170 (butchery & lesson for two)

                                                                                                  €70 (butchery of second pig)

Quality of the meat:                                                                Priceless!

My pig rearing journey this year has been a massive massive learning curve.  Would I do it all again?  In a hearbeat….”


Since I wrote the above post I have learned that saddlebacks can be reared very sucessfully on fruit and vegetables and bags and bags of finishers are not required.  After a certain amount of time, a pig will stop growing and lay down fat and while we initially had meat with too much fat, experience has taught us to know when our pigs are at the ideal weight.

You’ll find more information on rearing pigs in your back garden in “Food from an Irish Garden” – the perfect Christmas gift and in shops now. 

3 thoughts on “Keeping Pigs – the joy and the heartache

  1. I love this! Can’t wait to read it. You’re so creative Fiona. I do not know how you find the time to do all that you do. You just must love it all! God bless you richly – your friend Cindy Bledsoe Tilly – Kansas City, Missouri

  2. Pingback: I Am A Sausage Maker.. | Fiona Dillon Writes

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