Saturday, 12 January 2013

Daisy. No Daisy. Daisy. No Daisy.

I remember in my childhood plucking the petals off a daisy one by one. "She loves me, she loves me not".
In a cruel play on words, I now find myself virtually flipping a coin over the continued existence of a pig called Daisy.

Daisy, our sow.
She has reason to look so worried.

Here's the story behind it.


A couple of months ago I was offered two breeding sows for nothing...and I turned them down.
If I was more cold-hearted I could have taken them straight to the butcher for sausages. But then so could the person who was offering them to me. That's not what small scale pig-keeping is about.

But the economics of keeping and rearing pigs are becoming harsh. For in the two years we've been here, animal food costs have gone up by 50%. I can not put the price of my pork up by that much.

But, more seriously, the price of weaners has plummeted. I hear tales of them selling for £1 each at market. Nobody can afford to feed them up any more.

Surely worth more than £1 each at market.
Daisy with the baconers.
In the past, the cost of feeding and maintaining a sow, plus getting the boar in, would be offset by the sale of maybe half the piglets. The rest of the pigs could then be brought up to slaughter weight. In fact, I'd worked out a system whereby a couple of boys would go at 6 months, the girls a couple of months later, and a couple would be kept till the ripe old age of one year as baconers.

Daisy looking very skinny at the moment.
Well, she has only just finished feeding eleven piglets.





But when the price of feeding up your own pigs is going up and up, the last thing you need is to be stuck with eleven - and that's if you only breed the sow once a year.
I am too small scale to be able to deal with the meat from that many pigs, let alone the cost of getting them there.



So I have come to a very difficult decision. Daisy has to go. I was speaking to my animal feed supplier yesterday who was agreeing that this is such a shame, as Daisy is a good mum, a healthy pig and has a lovely temperament. She would not be easy to replace further down the line.
But, at the same time, I cannot justify keeping her just as a pet.

Besides, it would be so much more convenient just to buy in weaners as and when I wanted them. That way I could much more easily respond to customer demand. I could plan for periods when the ground could be rested and Sue and I could have more freedom to spend time together away from the farm.
And I could try different breeds of pig. Maybe Tamworths or Large Blacks, curly Mangalitsas or even those Iron Age pigs. What's more, the weaners cost next to nothing at the moment. My very problem could be turned to my advantage.

So, as you can see, it has taken a while, but I have come to a very difficult decision. Daisy has to go. (If I keep saying it, it will get easier). Daisy has to go. Daisy has to go.

That was it...till today. When things got a bit more complicated again. And now I just don't know. I am genuinely torn. I can see all the advantages of going over to buying in weaners. But breeding pigs has been such a fantastic thing to do and Daisy is such a lovely pig. But then she will have to go eventually, and the longer we have her the harder it will be.

So what happened today to make the decision harder.
First, this...

Lured by food, the three in the cage
at the back were not difficult to catch.













A smallholder friend of mine took THREE piglets off my hands. I didn't even charge him. More of a favour between friends. He has already given me a whole load of electric fencing to use when I strip graze my sheep next year.

Now, I was expecting him to take two anyway, so three did little to change my mind. But he does know somebody who may take the other two boys. Right now, I'm not even worried about getting anything for them. It just saves me money in food bills every time one moves out.

But then, not half an hour after he had gone, I sold another TWO. A couple from just down the road who want to try their hand at pigs. They won't be going just yet, as a few arrangements have to be made. I have even offered to take them back if it does not work out, and to help with the first few bags of food. And to help out when the time comes to send them off.
For things would have been so much less stressful when we started out if that level of support had been there for us.
Irresistible
So we're now down to six piglets left, two boys and four girls. And we may even get down to just the four girls. That would be ideal. I never wanted to be spending all my time trying to sell. We would have enough for our own needs and some left for a few regular customers.

All I need to decide now is... Does this mean Daisy stays???    I really don't know. It's on a knife-edge.

...   ...   ...

I don't believe it! I've just left composing this blog post to answer the door. Somebody else interested in buying a piglet.

But I still think Daisy will have to go... Just keep saying it.

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