Category Archives: Livestock

Local meat producers and Waterloo Cottage Farm

British Saddleback

Before the Shire Book of the Month, currently Pigs, changes, I want to tell you about a local meat producer called Waterloo Cottage Farm and the important role that small producers have in selling good meat from happy animals.

Meat is expensive and so it should be.  To produce good meat takes time, through slow fattening on the right kind of food, fresh air and exercise for the animals, slaughter in the least stressful way possible followed by a decent period of hanging before it finally arrives in your kitchen.

With this in mind, I visited local producer Waterloo Cottage Farm in Great Oxenden, Northamptonshire and was given a tour of the farm by owner, Kirsty Clarke.  We met in the light, cool shop, where a mouth-watering array of meat and produce was displayed.  After a brief chat about what I wanted to see, I was taken out through the back door to the business end of the enterprise.

Glorious Pig

I was confronted by lots of open pens, with several different types of pigs enjoying the sunshine.  I was wearing a long skirt and strappy sandals, so I tucked my skirt into my knickers and prepared to meet the pigs and what a gorgeous crew they were.  I have a big soft spot for pigs at the best of times, but being able to climb into the pens and actually scratch them and talk to them was a treat indeed.

Happy Pig

Saddleback Piglets

And Kirsty did indeed talk to her pigs and her care and enthusiasm for the creatures came across loud and clear.  The farm has a herd of British Saddlebacks which are allowed to mature fully in the fields and woods which surround Waterloo Farm, as well as Petrans and Ginger Durocs.  I became extremely soppy when she introduced me to the piglets who were running and rolling with their mother in the straw.

The Clarkes also have lamb and hogget, chickens, ducks and geese and they select beef and veal from local farms who also use traditional breeds.  All the animals have something in common.  They are all reared using traditional, sustainable farming methods which work with nature, not against it.  The animals are free to lead full, natural lives on healthy soil and fed on natural, local feed and the pigs are slow grown until they are 9-10 months which is a significantly longer life than an intensively bred animal. The barley comes from the farmer next door and the slaughterhouse is only nine miles away, the animals being accompanied there in a quiet and unstressed way which is better for the animal and better for the resulting meat.

Looking at the meat in the shop is a very different experience to browsing the chiller aisles in the supermarket.  The meat is darker in colour and more wholesome-looking than perhaps we’re used to and the bacon and sausages sit in great piles, pleading with you to take them home.  The bacon and hams are cured on the premises and their master butcher produces fresh piles of traditional and artisan varieties of sausages every day.

I bought some bacon and something I haven’t eaten for over thirty years – veal.  I have deliberately avoided veal because of the unspeakable practice of veal crating, but with the sure knowledge that the animal that provided this had been happy, healthy and natural, I took a chop home and had it for my supper.

My veal in the shop

I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted meat like it; it was tender, sweet and juicy and so flavourful I could have wept.  I also had some of their dry cured bacon for my breakfast the following morning and, apart from the taste, the most obvious difference was visual.  No white scum stickily coating the bottom of your frying pan here, and two rashers and a couple of fried eggs was distinctly more filling that the abominable mid-range stuff you buy at the supermarket.

Local producers do an incredible job of farming.  Not only do they help to preserve the rare breeds but they also help to preserve the very land on which they’re reared because of the sustainable ways in which they farm.  The meat hasn’t travelled huge distances and is therefore beneficial to the environment in a wider sense.  They are also firm protagonists of old skills such as proper butchery and artisan methods of preparation and, because of the renewed interest in this kind of food, many farms  are taking on apprentices.  Waterloo Cottage Farm also runs meat craft courses to encourage you to get the best out of their meat.

We must support these local producers in their endeavours by shopping with them whenever we can.  I have said it before and I will keep saying it until you do as you’re told; eat less, eat better.  Learn how to use to meat to get the best out of it and, I am convinced that properly reared, slow grown meat actually fills you up more so you don’t need as much of it.  Eat less, eat better.  It’s better for all of us.

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Filed under Animals, Ethics, Food, Livestock, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Regional, Slider

Shire Book of the Month – British Pigs by Val Porter

A clearly smiling Large White

What is it about pigs that singles them out from other farm animals?  Chickens make good noises and lay eggs, sheep are stupid but feel nice, cows are a graphic designer’s wet dream and give us milk and pursuant dairy products, but pigs are different.  Pigs smile at you, they wriggle when you scratch them and, particularly the smaller ones with long noses, are hairy, intelligent looking and you get the feeling that they truly belong in the English landscape.

The Shire Book of British Pigs by Val Porter is a glorious celebration of this animal’s transition from wild boar to domesticated pig. It starts by explaining the basics of pig keeping and the history of farming and gives detailed information about the various breeds and how they come to look as they do.  Most British breeds have, at some point, been cross-bred with Chinese stock which has resulted in the squashed snouts.

Old English pig from 1842

The pictures in this book are so glorious they’ll make you weep; whether they are photographs of existing pigs or paintings and etchings of animals commissioned by proud owners and stockmen from the past.

Like many domestic farm animals, the drive for intensive, high speed farming homogenised pig breeds and had them shut away from public view. In the decades after the war animals were raised in large-scale, purpose built buildings where the only interest was how much bacon, pork and sausages could be made as quickly as possible.

Thanks to the renewed interest in rare breeds, slow food and local farming, there has been a concomitant awareness of animal welfare and pigs are appearing in our fields once again.  The rare breed is making a comeback and it is quite usual to see Tamworths, Gloucester Old Spots, British Saddlebacks and Oxford Sandy and Blacks rootling around happily in the fresh air.

This book also covers the New Pigs on the block.  Pig breeds continue to evolve and the farmers are interested in make the breeds hardier again so that they can manage an outdoor life.  A pig with a fleecy coat is a sight to behold and I wonder how many people were aware of the, now extinct, Lincolnshire Curly Coat?

Pennywell Mini pig - so gorgeous you could just eat them ... except not these because they're pets, tiny enough to fit in Paris Hilton's handbag.

Porter’s clear and appealing writing style draws you in to the life of these delightful animals.  She has written more than forty books about livestock, farming and self-sufficiency and her enthusiasm shines through. If you like pigs, read this book.  If you like eating pigs this book can only enhance your gastronomic experience.

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Filed under Animals, Livestock, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, Shire Books

Natural Home Remedies: Part 4 – Bee Propolis

 

This jar cost £5 and should last at least 3 years

In which I discuss the origin and medicinal usefulness of Bee Propolis, it being anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, emollient and cicatrizant.

 Back in September, I reported on our trip to Audley End in Essex for Boy the Elder’s 13th birthday.  One of the groups of people we encountered was The Essex Beekeeping Association.  I think Beekeeping is a practically magical pastime that has so many positive association; nature, honey, waggle-dances*, the inexplicable ability to fly and their vital role in the ecological balance of Earth.

For humans the medicinal effects of propolis are most efficacious and it is available directly from beekeepers and from health food shops in various preparations including raw propolis, creams, lozenges and tinctures.

Propolis is routinely used for the relief of various conditions, including inflammation, viral diseases, ulcers and superficial burns or scalds. It is also believed to promote heart health, strengthen the immune system and reduce the chances of cataracts. 

Old beekeepers recommend a piece of propolis kept in the mouth as a remedy for a sore throat and I can attest to the value of this.  Put a small lump of propolis into your mouth and press it firmly into one of your back teeth.  Allow the propolis to dissolve slowly throughout the day or overnight and the soreness or phlegm is significantly reduced or gone completely.

Claims have been made for its use in treating allergies but propolis may cause severe allergic reactions if the user is sensitive to bees or bee products.  As always, I would never recommend treatment for this kind of condition without consulting an accredited Naturopathic practitioner.

Propolis has also been the subject of recent dentistry research, since there is some evidence that it may actively protect against caries and other forms of oral disease, due to its antimicrobial properties. 

There are also clinical investigations being undertaken in Japan for the use of propolis as an anti-tumour agent as it would appear that propolis may induce cell cycle arrest and have an anti-proliferation effect on C6 glioma cells.

But what exactly is Propolis?

Propolis is a mixture of various amounts of beeswax and resins collected by the honeybee from plants, especially from flowers and leaf buds. Bees have been observed scraping the protective resins of flower and leaf buds with their mandibles and then carrying them to the hive like pollen pellets on their hind legs. It is assumed that at some point during the collection and transport of these resins, they are mixed with saliva and other secretions of the bees as well as with wax.

The resins are then used by worker bees to reinforce the structural stability of the hive.  It lines the inside of nest cavities and breeding combs, and is also used to repair combs, seal small cracks in the hive, reduce the size of hive entrance and to mix small quantities of propolis with wax to seal brood cells.  These functions also have the associated advantage that the antibacterial and antifungal effects of propolis seem to protect the colony against diseases.  It also reduces vibration and can be used to seal off any waste matter that is too big to remove from the hive and might otherwise putrefy and cause disease.

Further reading:

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-healthiest-insect-produce-you-could-wish/    

* Five Boys by Mick Jackson – essential reading if you want to know about Waggle Dancing.  No, not the beer.

 
 
 

 

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Filed under Health and Fitness, Livestock, Medical, Natural Home Medicines, Wildlife

Feline killing machines and how I learned to love one

On Tuesday 10th March this year a thin, manky little coal black cat appeared in our hallway.  She wandered in, looked around the house, miaowing piteously all the while and finally climbed onto my shoulders and drooled gently down my neck.

I am obliged to point out that this is not good for several reasons. Firstly I am asthmatic, secondly I am allergic to cats, thirdly the merest puncture from a cat’s claw has me up in red wheals that itch like billy-oh for a minimum of two hours.  Lastly, but not leastly, I don’t like cats.  I am a renowned cat-hater of this Parish. I am a dog person who likes all dogs indiscriminately and harbours lurking misgivings about my friends and family who keep cats for pleasure. 

She was, however, clearly half starved so I gave her some scraps and a little warm milk which she devoured in seconds. She then curled up on the sofa and went to sleep.  .The next morning she woke up, had more scraps and crapped in Boy the Younger’s bedroom. “Please let us keep her, please, please” wailed The Boys.  “No”, I said firmly, “Her owners are probably missing her dreadfully, we are about to move house, she is clearly not house trained and I don’t like cats”.  This was not deemed to be a reasonable excuse.

I gave her every opportunity to leave, I left doors open and stared at her is a nasty way.   I did all the things one is supposed to do; I asked all the neighbours, I put some posters up and I took her to the vet to see if she had been chipped.  She hadn’t and the vet said that she was little more than a kitten, generally healthy and that it was very common for country cats to snuggle down in the back of horse boxes then wake up 50 miles from home, lost and lonely. “Lost.  And Lonely” crooned the Vet with glittering eyes.  Oh crap.

How prescient. Over the next week, she relentlessly crapped in every corner of the bedroom and began weeing on the beds for good measure.  Still, at least I discovered where the launderette is in Market Harborough and the quilts probably needed freshening up anyway.  I had earmarked the £25 I eventually spent there for other fripperies like food, but cat wee smells like nothing else on earth and it was marginally cheaper than buying new duvets. All the while I was trying to pack up the extensive contents of my house ready to move. Every time I bent down, she would leap at me and sit on my neck while I tried to work, using needle-like claws as crampons on the Helvellyn of my back, my contorted shoulders providing her very own Striding Edge upon which to torment me.

We moved on 1st April.  How apt.  Realising that she was clearly not litter trained, I bought a litter tray which is the most revolting object in existence. (remind me to fill you in on the comparative merits of cat litter brands – I know them all). I made absolutely no attempt to keep Smog (oh – didn’t I mention that we’d named her?) but she resolutely refused to leave and to add insult to injury, she was getting rather fat.  I’ve never owned a cat so the natural assumption was that I was overfeeding her and Smog was put on A Diet. 

The attacks started almost immediately and a few days later, as I was conversing pleasantly with my new neighbour, she said cheerfully “I see your cat’s in the family way!”.  “What?!” I spluttered through a mouthful of truly horrid expletives.  Surely I must have noticed?  Fat tummy, big nipples, huge appetite, sleeping more, reluctance to go out etc etc. No.  I had not noticed.  I have never had a cat. I do not like cats, particularly teenage, runaway, ASBO, pregnant cats.  Her food was reinstated and a moral lecture was administered, with the threat of the Magdalene Laundries left hanging in the air for good measure.

The 26th of April was a Sunday.  For the Wartime Housewife, this means as long a sleep as The Boys will allow, followed by coffee in bed whilst listening to The Archers.  Smog waddled into the room and sat on my shoulder.  She isn’t normally allowed in the bedrooms (not with her record) but I was feeling magnanimous and mellow, so tolerated her warm little body against my ear. 

I don’t know what made me look, but suddenly I turned my head and there was a tiny, soggy, black and white ‘thing’ the size of a hamster, lying on my pillow.   An ejector seat mysteriously appeared in my bed and I ran round the house calling for hot water, soap and towels but by the time the towels appeared, she had already popped out another one.  Another trip to the launderette loomed large.

Over the next two hours, Smog silently presented us with five black and white kittens.  I have never seen an animal give birth and other than the immediate eating of the placental sacks, I was rather envious of the ease and natural-ness with which it all occurred. The news spread like wildfire and I had a constant stream of local children filing through my bedroom, examining the kittens while I sat slightly awkwardly in my pyjamas like a rather dishevelled duchess granting audience in my chamber.

Smog was an excellent mother.  She and the kittens had a house made out of a cardboard box with a blanket in it and all was well.  Until their eyes opened and they started to move.  It became a full time job just trying to keep them all in the house as doors were constantly left open and they wandered out into the lane where they were abducted by the hoards of children surrounding the house at all hours.  She trained them to use the litter tray but it was always full and stinking and horrible.  I loathed them, and at the first opportunity, an advert was drafted, to at least recoup the vast amount of money spent on food, litter and cleaning materials, to say nothing of the increase in the consumption of London Gin.

To cut a long story short, all five kittens were eventually sold.  A friend, with more courage than wisdom suggested that Smog had given me the ‘gift of kittens’ as a thank you for taking her in.  As soon as they were gone, she settled down, stopped needing the litter tray and became her old cuddly self.  She has grown significantly over the last three months, her coat is thick and gleaming, her habits fastidious.  And she’s been spayed, thanks to the Cats Protection League.

But she has turned into a killing machine.  I kick her outside in the morning and bring her in at night (as naturalists implore us to do) but every afternoon, I find at least two mice outside the dining room window, she frequently takes out wood pigeons and has been witnessed murdering large rabbits in the meadow.  If only she’d take the trouble to learn to skin them, it would be a culinary partnership made in heaven and I would love her even more.  She went missing for three days last month (on a serial killing rampage no doubt) and I was nearly sick with anxiety.

Now, as I type, she is draped across my shoulders, purring loudly into my ear and gently clawing my back.  Strangely, I don’t seem to be as allergic any more.

Smog the Killer Cat

Smog the Killer Cat

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Chickens and How to Use Them – Day 1: roast chicken, stuffing and stock

 
 
Happy Chickens

Happy Chickens

I love chickens.  They are very pleasant creatures, with a friendly calming disposition and can be kept for their utterly delicious eggs even in a relatively small garden.  Also one moderately sized bird (about 4lb / 1.9kg) can make several economical meals if it is used to its full potential.

I based the following on feeding a family of four.

DAY 1:  ROAST CHICKEN

1.     Pre-heat the oven to 200 / 400 / 6

2.     Stuff with Simple Stuffing detailed below

3.     Sprinkle the chicken with mixed herbs and a little paprika.

4.     If you hate cleaning your oven, wrap the chicken in foil and put it in a roasting tin

5.     Place in the oven for 20 minutes

6.     Turn the heat down to about 140 / 275 /1 and cook for about an hour

7a.   If you’re using foil, turn the heat up to 200 / 400 / 6 again and open up the foil on top and put the bird back in to crisp up for 10 minutes.  To test if the chicken is cooked, dig a fork deeply into the bit between the leg and the body.  If the juices run clear then it’s cooked.  If they are pink or have red bits in, give another 15 minutes and then test again.  Presuming the chicken is cooked, go to 7b.

7b.   If you’re not using foil, turn the oven off and leave to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes while you cook the vegetables.

8.     Carve all the meat off the chicken and set aside half of it for the next day.  Keep the bones, you’re going to need them.

9.     Remove all the stuffing and serve on a plate with the carved roast chicken.  Anything that isn’t eaten is gorgeous in a sandwich with jam or redcurrant jelly.  Really.

Serve with boiled or roast potatoes and at least two different kinds of lightly cooked vegetables and use the vegetable water for the gravy. 

If there are any leftover bones and skin add them to the other bones for stock. 

SIMPLE STUFFING  

1 onion – medium, finely chopped

1 good knob of butter

8oz (250g) sausagemeat

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or ½ tbsp dried parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh sage or ½ tbsp dried sage

Juice of 1 lemon or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice

Method

1.     Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and soften the onions until translucent.  Take the pan off the heat.

2.     Add all the other ingredients and mix well with your hands, really squishing it all together.

3.     Stuff it inside the cavity of the chicken.

NB:  If you’re feeling saucy, how about adding a small tin of chestnuts, chopped, to the mixture.  A couple of garlic cloves add a bit of zing as well.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to use the remaining half of the chicken for a tasty peasant style Italian Risotto that is equally nice for vegetarians if you leave out the chicken.

STOCK

1.     Put all the remaining bones and skin into a large pan and cover with water.  Pop in a bay leaf and some 6 peppercorns. 

2.     For a light stock, simmer gently on a low heat for 3-4 hours with a few pieces of    chopped carrot, a bit of celery and a bit of onion.  Strain and use as required..

For a heavier stock follow step one, but keep it simmering for a couple of days, topping up the water, adding any vegetable water you have, and any other bones until the stock is quite dark.  Strain and use as required.

*   *   *

Before I sign off, there must be a Word about Welfare.  I know that it is very tempting to buy two chickens for £5 in the supermarket.  Before you do, have a look at the http://www.chickenout.tv website.  It is  impossible to produce a chicken for £2.50 if it has been cared for properly, with freedom to move, to peck, to roost, socialise and been fed a natural diet.    Chicken doesn’t necessarily have to be completely free range, although obviously that is what we should all be aiming for, but there are plenty of chickens available that have natural light and freedom to roam but which aren’t actually free range.  Yes, they cost more than £2.50 each but a decent chicken will last three meals and I truly believe that with a properly produced bird, who has had time to mature naturally, you don’t actually need to eat as much.  And one more thing.  Before anyone suggests that they can’t afford it, the Wartime Housewife lives on a lower income than most of you can possibly imagine but I would rather go without chicken than eat an animal who has had a miserable life. 

Look out for future blogs on meat buying and cooking with cheaper cuts.

May I extend my grateful thanks to Mr de Worde who kindly sent the photographs of his very beautiful and very happy chickens.
Inquisitive Chicken

Inquisitive Chicken

Three Happy Chickens

Three Happy Chickens

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